This period in American history is one that is labeled as a time of change. Change for the American people as a whole and a change in the control of the British government. From the time of the first voyages across the Atlantic to the beginning of the quest for independence, people in this land were, even sometimes unconsciously, beginning to gain a sense of self-motivation and loyalty to those around them that had accompanied them into this New World. The people had gained almost a new identity; one that strayed drastically from the places in which they had came from. This feeling is one that could be labeled as American Patriotism. This patriotism would make these people eventually stand up for what they believed to be an injustice done unto them by a higher power and make them fight for their right to live freely in the way that best suited them. Not in a way that best suited the King of England some thousand miles away.
The events that led up to the American Revolution are all said to have sparked the Colonists into battle in one way or another. Many events had greater significance than others; one such event would be the Boston Massacre. The Boston Massacre was in some ways a turning point in the minds of the American colonists in their thoughts on the British. But why was the Boston Massacre such a turning point for the Colonists? To answer this question one must look at the events that lead to the Boston Massacre to fully understand the state of mind that the colonists were in.
Since the end of the Seven Years War against the French, the British had gone into a great burden of debt. England finally confronted the matter when it appointed George Greenville to Prime Minister in 1763. Facing a debt that had nearly doubled since 1754, from 73 million pounds to 137 million pounds, Greenville had to find new ways to gain funds without taxing the already heavily taxed English people.1 Greenville assessed the situation and determined that since the colonists had been a major beneficiary of the war time expenditures that the Americans should be the ones to pay a greater share of the cost for running the empire.2The question did not dawn on Greenville to think about the justice of taxing the Colonists. Greenville created and proposed a couple of different laws that were designed to tax the Colonists in order for Parliament to gain funds.
The first act that was passed by the British Government was the Sugar Act. This act, passed by parliament in 1764, laid down tariffs on certain imports such as molasses and sugar. This alarmed the Colonists. It was the first act that was specifically designed to raise taxes, not just to channel trade through Britain. The Sugar Act was imposed on the colonists during a time of postwar depression.3This made the Colonist even more worried and aware of Britain’s impending power over them.
The next act that Britain imposed over the Colonist was the Stamp Act. This act required stamp taxes to be put on most legal documents and printed material. Colonists had to pay the tax if they wanted to buy a newspaper or even needed a will drawn up. Taxes were even charged to those who bought things such as playing cards and paper. This act hurt many colonists. The heaviest burden though fell on businessmen who used more legal documents than most ordinary people. “Never before had a revenue measure of such scope been proposed for the colonies. The act also required that tax stamps be paid in sterling, which was scarce.”4The Stamp Act immediately fell under close scrutiny of the Colonists.One of the more notable pamphlets protesting the Stamp Act was, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, written by James Otis Jr., an attorney from Massachusetts. This pamphlet looked at the ideas of James Otis Jr. and stated his thoughts that Americans were “entitled to all the natural, essential, inherent, and inseparable rights” that the British people had, including the right not to be taxed without consent. Otis also stated along with many other people in the colonies during that time that Parliament should not be allowed to tax the Colonies because they were not represented in Parliament.5Another protester of the Stamp act was Patrick Henry who stated to the American people, “No taxation without representation.” This put Parliament under extreme pressure. Colonial legislature petitioned Parliament to repeal the act along with The Stamp Act Congress and the Sons of Liberty. Mass meeting were held in order to gain favorable movement against the act and delegates were sent an intercolonial congress.6 Under so much opposition, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766.
The Colonists were joyous that the Stamp Act was repealed but knew that the British were still going to tax them. They saw that the British had passed other acts that raised taxes, such as the Townshend, Declaratory, and Coercive Acts. Another act that outraged the Colonists was the Quartering act. This act gave the right for British troops to be quartered in the homes of the colonists against their consent. All of these acts along had made the feelings in the colonist grow more towards hostility and rebellion more than ever before. This assumption makes it easy to understand why the colonist acted in such ways as they did. It led to such events as the Boston Tea Party and The Boston Massacre.
The Boston Massacre, as it was labeled, took place on the fifth day of March in 1770. Fire bells rang out and alerted the townspeople of a fire. Many people fled to see exactly where the fire had taken place. This brought many people into the streets along with many British soldiers. Soldiers of the 29th Regiment, commanded by Captain Preston, who were stationed at the Customs House, began to get taunted by the numbering people amongst them. A crowd emerged among them and solid snowball began to fly through the air. Soldiers began to dodge snowballs and throw their bayonets.7 Several snowballs pelted the officers and among the hustle a single shot was fired.This shot led to a number of shots that were released into the crowed. When the smoke cleared three people lay dead with two more to die, one on the following day, and eight more wounded.8 The men who lay wounded:
? Samuel Gray, killed on the spot by a ball entering his head.
? Crispus Attucks, a mulatto, killed on the spot, two balls entering his breast.
? James Caldwell, killed on the spot, two balls entering his back.
? Samuel Maverick, 17 years old, mortally wounded, he died the next day.
? Patrick Carr, mortally wounded, died on the 14 day of march.
? Christopher Monk, 17 years old, dangerously wounded.
? John Clark, 17 years old, dangerously wounded.
? Mr. Edward Payne, merchant, standing at his door, wounded.
? John Green, dangerously wounded.
? Robert Patterson, dangerously wounded.
? David Parker, dangerously wounded.9
Captain Preston and seven of his soldiers were then arrested and tried for the crimes.Why did the fire bells ring out without there bring a fire? Why did so many people commune at the Customs House? These questions were looked at during Captain Preston’s trial and since to determine the actual guilt of these soldiers. Loyal Britons concluded that the fire bells rang as a signal to inform the towns’ people to attack the guards. Captain Preston stated in his trial that “the towns people, in order to carry matters to the utmost length, broke into two meeting houses, and rang the alarm bells, which I supposed was for fire as usual, but was soon undeceived. About nine some of the guard came to and informed me, the town inhabitants were assembling to attack the troops, and that the and that the bells were ringing as a symbol for that purpose, and not for fire.”10 This assumption by Preston is that his Regiment was forced to fire on the crowd. Other testimonies though gave opposition to this theory. A black servant, known as Andrew, gave his account at the trial. “I met my acquaintance at the bottom of school street holding his arm. He said the soldiers had begun to fight and were killing everybody. One had struck him with a cutlass and almost cut off his arm..I went to the corner and seven or eight men came out. We were in line with an officer before ’em, with a sword in his hand, a laced hat on, and a red coat, and I remember silver on his shoulder. They then filed and went to the Customs House. The men seemed to be in great rage…I went from hence to try to get to the Customs House and get through the people..I heard the grenadier who stood next the corner say damn your blood stand off, or back..I saw the Grenadier attempt to stick him with his bayonet. There was a bustle. The stout man had still hold of the bayonet. After the mulatto was killed I took him to be that man.”11 Andrew gets the point across that it was the soldiers that were to be at fault.
In the end only two of the soldiers that were tried were committed. The two that were found guilt only received a slap on the wrist.12
The Boston Massacre was an unjust act in the eyes of the Colonists. They viewed this as one more atrocity that the ruthless British parliament passed off. This was one of the many things that made the Colonists look towards a revolution to make their lives better. The Americans were truly gaining a sense of national being and patriotism. This American Patriotism would be considered one of the major advantages associated with the Americans in their win over the British in the American Revolution.