The Causes of The American Revolution

Author: Uva Stanley
School: Prospect Heights Middle School, Orange County Public Schools
Grade Level: Middle School
Time Estimated: 10 days (50 minute periods)

The American Revolution is the foundation to all of U. S. history. By studying our birth as a nation, we gain a better understanding of who we are and we are better able to foster and preserve the vision of our founding fathers. Students will study events that led to the revolution and people who fostered liberty from England to gain an understanding of the causes of the American Revolutionary War. They will interpret and analyze primary sources. Using the information gleaned from these sources, they will fashion a front page of a newspaper that resembles one written during the Revolutionary Era. The students will include 4 articles on separate events of the Revolution on their front page.


Historical Background:

The American Revolution began in the mid 1700s and ended with the Treaty of Paris signed in 1783. As John Adams said, “The revolution was effected before the war commenced. The revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.” Following the French and Indian War, the colonists began feeling the confidence that victory brings. They increasingly saw themselves as a separate entity, one that could defend itself against any opposing threat. Of course, King George III and Parliament were viewing the situation quite differently. They were affirming their need for the colonies in order to remain a world power and to generate revenue through taxes and trade. Prompted by this perception, the British government increased control over the colonies and levied taxes, which in turn led to the rebellion known as the American Revolution.

One tax imposed upon the colonists was the Sugar Act in 1764. This tax was suggested to Parliament by Prime Minister George Grenville, who felt the colonists should help pay the debt accrued by the French and Indian War. This act placed duties on molasses and sugar. It was not only that Parliament passed this tax that grieved the colonists so, but that the British took great strides in enforcing this law. The British would stop and search colonial ships for smuggled goods. As a reaction to this tax, the rallying cry “taxation without representation” was born through the ideas of Samuel Adams and James Otis and noised throughout the colonies. In 1765, the Stamp Act was proposed. Under this act, the colonists were required to pay for a stamp or seal to be placed on all paper goods they bought. These goods included legal documents, licenses, newspapers, pamphlets and playing cards. Refusal to buy these stamps could mean jail time or a fine for a colonist. Reaction to the Stamp Act was loud and demonstrative. The colonists boycotted those goods or simply refused to buy the stamp. This caused British merchants to appeal to Parliament to repeal the law and they did in 1766. Only one year later, Parliament came up with another tax, the Townsend Acts. This law placed duties on imported glass, lead, paint, paper and tea. The monies collected from this tax paid for military costs in the colonies and the salaries of colonial governors. Women began taking an active role in the resistance to increased British control. They formed the Daughters of Liberty who promoted a boycott of all British goods. “The tighter the cord of unconstitutional power is drawn round this bundle of arrows, the firmer it will be,” boasted Sam Adams as he observed the colonies unify in the boycott. Not all their actions were peaceful. We often don’t hear about the gangs who tormented Loyalists, causing them to sleep with pistols by their bedside or the young boys who pelted would-be customers with dung, dirt or snowballs spiked with seashells. It is not so surprising that the “Boston Massacre” occurred. In March 1770, a soldier was injured in a fight with a dock man. The Redcoats retaliated by placing notices throughout Boston warning of an attack on the townspeople, if this raucous behavior continues. An outraged crowd of Patriots gathered at the Custom House, taunting and jeering at the nine-man guard. The crowd threw snowballs and brickbats. The guards being out numbered by the angry mob, fired in self defense. When the air cleared, five colonists lay dead or dying. One month later, the Townshend Act was repealed.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea at a cheaper price directly to the colonists. Parliament hoped this would end the boycott of the tea and decrease the smuggling. Colonists, fearing this would set a precedent that would put the colonial merchant out of business, made a united front against the Tea Act. When three ships carrying British tea docked at Boston Harbor in November 1773, the Sons of Liberty demanded they leave immediately. (The Sons of Liberty were a group of men whose purpose was to protest taxes and intimidate tax collectors.) When Governor Hutchinson failed to force their departure, the Sons of Liberty devised the Boston Tea Party. They dressed up as Native Americans in order to hide their true identity, entered the 3 ships and dumped the contents of 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. This type of patriotic activity was the kind in which Sam Adams, master planner of the Sons of Liberty, reveled.

When news reached the shores of England, Lord North, the new Prime Minister was filled with rage and indignation. Parliament decided to punish Massachusetts with The Intolerable Acts, as the colonists named them. Their given name was the Boston Port Acts. There were 4 intolerable laws imposed on the colonists through these acts.

  1. Boston Harbor was closed until it could pay for all the tea that was dumped in to the harbor.
  2. The royal governor could decide if and when the Massachusetts legislature could meet.
  3. Any crimes committed by a royal official would be tried in England, not the colonies.
  4. Colonists were forced to provide living quarters, candles and beverages to British soldiers.

Parliament intended to make an example of Massachusetts causing the other colonies to separate from Massachusetts for fear of being treated in the same manner. They also thought that Massachusetts would need their trade so badly that they would yield to their requests and pay back the cost of the tea quickly. What actually happened was the reverse of England’s hopes! The Intolerable Acts united all the colonies. Outraged by the audacity of England to take away the basic rights of the Massachusetts colonists, the other twelve colonies were spurred into action. They came to the aide of Massachusetts, making sure needed supplies were transported and distributed to them.

It came as no surprise that eventually the only recourse appeared to be war. It began on an April day in 1775. The British had received word that the colonists were stockpiling the King’s munitions in Concord and they aimed to retrieve them. Colonists in Lexington received word the Redcoats were marching their way bound for Concord. A group of brave, proud colonists took their stand on the Lexington green. Confronted by the Redcoats and asked to retreat, these men remained vigilantly stationary. Someone fired a shot, the “shot heard round the world,” and the American Revolutionary War began. Students will be studying key events that led to this Revolution.


Major Understanding:

The American Revolution, the birth of our nation, was fueled and powered by many individuals and events. Looking at primary source accounts of key events will contribute to an understanding of the causes of the revolution and the struggles colonists faced as they moved from being loyal to the King to rebelling outright against him.



Students will:

  1. Interpret and analyze primary sources.
  2. Write a front page for a newspaper.
  3. Sequence selected events of the American Revolution on a timeline.
  4. Using primary and secondary sources, be able to describe the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, the Boston Massacre, The Tea Act, the Boston Tea Party, the Intolerable Acts and the Battle of Lexington and Concord.


Standards of Learning:

USI.1 The student will develop skills for historical and geographical analysis, including the ability to

a) identify and interpret primary and secondary source documents to increase understanding of events and life in United States history to 1877;

b) make connections between the past and the present;

c) interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives;

d) evaluate and discuss issues orally and in writing;

e)interpret patriotic slogans and excerpts from notable speeches and documents.


USI.6 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the causes and results of the American Revolution by

c) describing key events and the roles of key individuals in the American Revolution, with emphasis on George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine. (This unit will emphasize the key events.)