Could the British colonists of the Americas be considered "radicals"? To what extent?

Jewels Haskell

Need A Revolutionary Recap?


Colonial life was wrought with turmoil and conflict in the midst of the 1770s. With the Proclamation of 1763 and the rejection of salutary neglect, the colonies officially became a source of broiling trouble for Britain. In an attempt to pull in revenue in order to pay back debts assumed during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Britain attempted to tax the colonies in virtually every possible manner. Some examples of these taxes include:

Sugar Act: Placed tax on foreign sugar and luxuries. Smugglers were to be tried in admiralty courts without judges.
Quartering Act: Required colonists to house and care for British soldiers stationed in the colonies
Stamp Act: Required stamps to be placed on every paper good within the colonies. This was the first direct tax on goods that were not being exported or imported, but merely used within the colonies. (AMSCO)

These acts, along with many others, inflamed the colonists with an insatiable rage for British defeat. Many sought "ulterior" motives to avenge the British through acts of violence, bullying, and yes, even terrorism. Through radical groups such as the Sons of Liberty, citizens of all classes lashed back against the lack of "taxation without representation." The growing cry for independence was exemplified through events such as the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party, along with general hate crimes.

The Sons of Liberty


It is unknown exactly how the Sons of Liberty began. Many infer that it began under Sam Adams in Boston in early 1765. (1) The radical group rose from the ashes of the Committees of Correspondence, which were groups formed by the public in order to rally up patriotic sentiment against the British in the early 1760s. However, with the birth of the Stamp Act came the true beginnings of the Sons. The Sons of Liberty often utilized public demonstration and terror tactics in order to get their ideas across to the British. The following is an example from a merchant's diary in April:

"Violence broke out with the arrival of a shipment of stamped paper to the Royal Governor's residence. Cadwallder Colden, the acting Royal Governor of the New York colony and scholarly correspondent of Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Samuel Johnson, was extremely frightened of the patriotic group and so locked himself up securely inside Fort George immediately after he received the stamped paper from British officials. A few hours after receiving the official papers, a raucous mob captured the governor's gilded and spectacular coach and reduced it to a pile of ashes. From here the mob (consisting largely of extremist elements of the New York Sons of Liberty) raced uptown to the home of Fort George's commander, smashing numerous windows and breaking into the wine cellar to sustain their "patriotism" before descending on the rest of the house in a convulsion of vandalism." (2)

The Sons spread themselves through all classes with the use of the mob mentality. They tended to covert with city gangs in roughhousing and lawbreaking. These groups were very much prominent in the daily life of city dwellers in the 1770s, and often threatened the livelihood and mental stability of the innocent commoners living amongst them.

The Boston Massacre


On March 5th, 1750, a small group of colonists began to terrorize a formation of British soldiers settled in front of the Customs House in Boston. The conflict escalated until shots were fired into the crowd, leaving some wounded and five dead. There were many witnesses to the event, and yet much of the alleged truths cross each other in different ways. Witnesses such as James Woodall claimed that a British soldier only fired out of confusion after a heavy stick was thrown at him. (3) However, Peter Cunningham alleged that he heard Captain Prescott, leader of the British regime in the area, order the men to load their weapons. Many claimed that Prescott never told the men to fire, and even reprimanded the soldiers and told them to put away their weapons. And yet, the combined forces of the angry mobs surrounding the event, and the propaganda that followed created even more radical anti-Britain hysteria. The colonists appeared to be growing ever more reckless and out of control.

The Boston Tea Party


In the aftermath of the Tea Act of 1773, a group of radical colonists (set with Native American guises) in headed to Boston Harbor and dumped 342 chests (90,000 pounds) of taxed tea into the water. (4) Many colonists absolved from tea altogether in protest (an incredibly radical move for the British -- imagine an American giving up caffeine and you get the idea), and instead chose to drink "balsamic hyperion." This act of defiance against the British set the colonists apart as uncontrollable and testy. The destruction of the tea symbolized more than just property, but the destruction of British commerce and rule itself. Wasted, unused tea washed up on the shores of Boston for weeks after the event.

Tarring and Feathering, and Other Hate Crimes

Many colonists partook in hate crimes against Loyalists to the British. These injustices included tarring and feathering, in which a Loyalists body would be stripped, covered in hot tar, and then coated in bird feathers. "Pitchcapping" was also a method used, in which a paper cap was bound to the head, covered in tar, and then allowed to cool. The cap was then torn off, usually disfiguring that person for life. Ears were often lost in the process. The colonists also "railed," which involved straddling Loyalists on sharp fence railings and parading them around the city. These hate crimes were well publicized and rallied with the help of furious mobs of colonists. Tarring and feathering often resulted in death. (5)


As a United States history student, colonial mob rule is generally legitimized, as it was a tool used to gain "liberty and the pursuit of happiness." However, it is difficult to pursue happiness when you're too busy having hot materials poured onto your skin and then pierced with heavy barbs. My point is, in the process of fighting for a taste of freedom, the colonists managed to radicalize daily life of the 1770s with violence and uproar. Often the humiliation and degradation of few is the price to pay for the freedom of many -- and yet still, that price is paid again and again throughout history. This wiki page humbly concludes that the birth and formation of our country is no exception.



(2) 1765




And AMSCO! (And general knowledge!)