“No taxation without representation.” This popular phrase of the mid-1700s gives off the impression that grounds for the American Revolution lay in unfair taxes imposed upon the colonists by the British government. However, as Bernard Bailyn argues in his book The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, the colonists based their cause for revolution on more than just a complaint against unfair taxation. Bailyn describes the influence of pamphlets that circulated throughout the colonies, the change in political views over time, and proves the Revolution to be primarily an ideological struggle, as well as one of social and political implications. American political thought can earliest be found in the pamphlets that circulated throughout the colonies. Pamphlets allowed colonists to exchange ideas and refute each other’s arguments about political theory. The inclusion of the freedom of expression with the Constitutional Bill of Rights reflects that the colonists recognized the value of this exchange of ideas in creating and maintaining the ideal political system. While other forms of communication existed during this time, “everything essential to the discussion of those years appeared…in pamphlet form.” Still, colonists did not simply lash out with emotionally driven arguments, but strove to sway their ideological rivals with rational arguments. As the Revolution drew nearer, Americans came to believe that achieving freedom was a part of their “destiny.” Sources of American political thought could be found in ancient classical works, Enlightenment thought, religious ideas, the English Civil War and the Commonwealth period, and in opposition thought. All educated colonists were familiar with works of the ancient world, and these works were cited throughout Revolutionary writings. However, such citations were primarily used to give their viewpoints more credentials, and they weren’t necessarily used in an accurate context. Politically, the primary controversy leading up to the American Revolutionary War involved the question of sovereignty. Most importantly, colonists focused on the inevitable necessity for the individual to give up certain liberties or rights in subjection to power. Colonial leaders agreed about the necessity of a strong government to protect the general public against the natural “depravity of mankind.” At the same time, men such as Thomas Jefferson feared the power of a standing army over civilians. This apprehension towards military control adds to the significance of the year 1763, which many historians consider crucial in the coming of the Revolution. From 1763 until the beginning of the Revolutionary War, colonists perceived British actions as a conspiracy to seize their liberties. Colonists did not see passage of laws such as the Stamp Act as a mere means for the English to raise money. Rather these laws were seen as despotic measures and a means for England to reassert the dependency of the colonies upon the mother country. The colonists’ suspicions that the English government was deliberately plotting against them were confirmed when in 1769 John Wilkes, who opposed both the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act, was denied his elected seat in Parliament.
The Coercive Acts removed the last of any doubts from colonial minds. Americans now believed that England was intentionally trying to enslave the colonists with these laws and its standing army. Bailyn describes the changes that took place within the colonies that would contribute to the coming of the Revolution. Colonial towns were only loosely connected under a central government, so most people spoke primarily in the interests of the locality. Each local community elected its own representatives who, in turn, made laws concerning taxation, distribution of wealth, and even the worship of God. In England, however, about ninety percent of people did not choose their reppresentatives in Parliament. Through virtual representation, the goveernment claimed, a group that would reflect majority interests represented the people. In the colonies, however, virtual representation was rejected in favor of actual or direct representation. When new policies were enacted by Britain on the colonies in 1763, it challenged the colonists’ way of life, which had been shaped by their collective ideologies for more than a century. Ideas about political systems took a course in America that deviated greatly from the course being followed in England. With the Stamp Act, Britain became an external power infringing upon the internal rights of the colonies. Furthermore, because the king, George III, was supposed to be just one branch of three in the English government, and under the restrictions of political checks, the colonists believed that neither his nor Parliament’s power should be able to extend over America. Ideas about liberty and religious establishment, however, presented problems within the new nation. While Jefferson wrote, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” Patrick Henry argued that living without slaves would be an “inconvenience” to America. With regard to religion, there existed a state religion in the Church of England, and during the colonial period, local communities had their own established religions. Ideas about liberty, however, contradicted the ideas about imposing certain religious doctrines on citizens. Due to the denominationalism that had flourished in America, groups such as the Baptists argued passionately in favor of “freedom of conscience” as part of their inalienable rights as citizens of the new nation. Bernard Bailyn aptly shows in The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, justification for revolt rose out of a complex combination and evolution of ideologies that involved more than just taxes or freedom of religion.