United States, Independence Movement, 1765-1775
Walter H. Conser
Decade of nonviolent resistance from 1765 to 1775 that resulted in de facto political independence from the British for a majority of the American colonies. Although often overlooked by historians, the three campaigns that composed this movement operated without force of arms or violence in trying to compel the British government to change its policies….
Three campaigns—against the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767, and the Coercive Acts of 1774—were the focal points of the independence movement. In each case Britain’s introduction of laws affecting the taxation and governing of the North American colonies prompted a campaign of opposition….
The most important types of resistance in this decade of opposition were nonviolent forms of action. Methods of protest and persuasion included demonstrations and parades in behalf of a resistance campaign, the development of political iconography supporting the campaign (such as the Liberty Tree), and the publication of broadsides naming supporters or opponents of the resistance campaign. A mock funeral in Wilmington, North Carolina, in October 1765 dramatized many of these methods. According to the contemporary newspaper account in the North Carolina Gazette, some five hundred Wilmingtonians (out of a total population of eight hundred) met to protest the Stamp Act. They paraded an effigy of Liberty, symbolizing the rights of the colonists that were under attack by the British Parliament. The crowd put the effigy “into a Coffin, and marched in solemn procession with it to the Church-yard, a Drum in Mourning beating before them, and the Town Bells muffled ringing a doleful Knell at the same time.” Just before the crowd interred the coffin, they checked the pulse of Liberty, and were delighted to discover that Liberty was still alive. They “concluded the Evening with great Rejoicings, on finding that Liberty had still an Existence in the Colonies.” Significantly, the newspaper account ended with the observation, “not the least Injury was offered to any Person.”
Methods of noncooperation varied. Social boycotts of persons opposed to the resistance campaigns are well documented…. Economic forms of noncooperation [included] nonimportation [and]…nonconsumption…[of British goods as well as] refusal to export American materials…such as…lumber.
Methods of political noncooperation included refusing to use existing royal political, judicial, and legislative institutions as well as refusing to dissolve colonial assemblies or intercolonial bodies such as the Continental Congress when ordered to do so. Political noncooperation also involved settling legal cases in [alternative] courts or clearing the papers of incoming or outgoing ships without the required stamps as in the Stamp Act campaign.
- Conser, Walter H., Ronald M. McCarthy, David J. Toscano, and Gene Sharp, eds. Resistance, Politics, and the American Struggle for Independence, 1765-1775. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1986.
- Schlesinger, Arthur M. The Colonial Mer¬chants and the American Revolution, 1763-1775. New York: Atheneum, 1968.
Excerpted with authors permission from:
“United States, Independence Movement, 1765-1775″ by Walter H. Conser, Jr. from Protest, Power, and Change: An Encyclopedia of Nonviolent Action from ACT-UP to Women’s Suffrage, Roger S. Powers and William B. Vogele, eds., Garland Pub., NY, 1997, p. 542-545.