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PRELUDE TO THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR

By 1770, the 13 colonies were no longer just a fringe experiment out in the wilderness; together, they were a country of 2.5 million well-fed, educated, and experienced people. The American population was one-third as big as that of the mother country, and America had a lot more land. The problem was that the English couldn't recognize a grown-up nation when they saw one; they insisted on treating America like a spoiled child. England thought it was time for the child to make himself useful and do his chores.

These chores had to do with raising 140 million pounds (billions of dollars in modern money) to pay for the debt Britain had run up fighting its wars protecting the colonies. Up until this time, the colonies had skated by without paying taxes to the mother country. Now mother Britain was in need of cash and considered the colonies big enough and strong enough to help.

Also, because the American Indians were still kicking up a fuss — and who knew whether the French and the Spanish would stay defeated — Britain believed the time had come for the colonies to pay for the standing army of 10,000 troops that Britain was helpfully sending over.

New thoughts about freedom

Schools in the colonies spent a lot of time teaching students about classical life in Greece and Rome. Athens and Rome were often viewed as democracies where people helped decide on their own government, and teachers drilled this idea into the heads of the colonists' children.

Settlers also had a selective idea of their rights as Englishmen — rights that had been slowly expanding since the Magna Carta in 1215. The colonists' idea of English liberty was selective because they concentrated on their lack of representation in Parliament without proposing an alternative solution to funding the army that Parliament had sent to defend them.

Finally, the colonists were influenced by the left-wing of British politics — the radical Whigs, who distrusted everything the king did as a potential attack on their freedom. The Whigs saw corruption everywhere in the royal government, and they weren't always wrong. Although the British government hadn't seen a lot of tax revenue from the colonies, it had enjoyed a fair amount of profit. This profit made the colonies worthwhile based on the theory of mercantilism (discussed earlier in this chapter), which held that the power of a country can be measured by how much money it has.

London was a long way away, and the colonists had no trouble slipping a little trade to other places where they could make a profit. No matter how many Navigation Laws the British passed, they couldn't control the colonies. As the colonies got richer, their side business of trade around the Navigation Laws got larger. Britain felt as though it had paid to take a date to a dance, but that date was dancing with everybody else.

 
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