Why were so many Americans reluctant to seek independence?

Battle of Lexington, illustration from Recueil d’Estampes Representant Les Differents Evenemens de la Guerre qui a Procure l’Independancey, 1784, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Battle of Lexington, illustration from Recueil d’Estampes Representant Les Differents Evenemens de la Guerre qui a Procure l’Independancey, 1784, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Even though open-warfare had broken out between Great Britain and her colonies in the spring of 1775, many Americans were still reluctant to see the colonies seek independence from the British government. Many leaders in the colonies saw the struggle as a fight with a corrupt Parliament and still had deep respect for their young king. Besides the strong familial and cultural ties between Great Britain and her American colonies, inclusion within the British Empire offered a number of benefits. First, the American colonies enjoyed the protection of the world’s strongest navy and one of the world’s best armies. With the British Navy protecting American shores, there was little chance of France or another European power attacking America. This powerful navy also extended its protection to American shipping which could sail the oceans of the world with little fear of being attacked while flying the British flag.

Staying within the British Empire also held certain economic benefits for Americans. While most Americans disliked the economic system of mercantilism imposed on them by the British government, Americans enjoyed the fact that it was the people of Great Britain who bore the great expense of the protection afforded by the British military forces and the government services rendered by the British Government. While many colonists had fought alongside the British during the French and Indian War, the British government had carried a far greater burden, financially and militarily, in that long, epic struggle. It was the British Navy which stopped reinforcement of French forces in Canada, while it was the British Army, supported by scattered American forces, which decisively defeated those isolated French forces. The British people paid for these victories with higher taxes on everything from land to cider while the American colonists provided negligible financial aid in the struggle with France.

Finally, many colonists suspected the cause of American independence would fail and were fearful of British retaliation. This concern was understandable when one considers how the English Crown dealt with rebellion in the British Isles after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Glorious Revolution toppled James II as the King of England and installed William and Mary as the new sovereigns. James II, his son, and their supporters, called Jacobites, would attempt to regain the Crown over the next sixty years. The Jacobites led major uprisings against the new sovereigns. The last major uprising of the Jacobites was brutally crushed in 1745, only thirty years before the American Revolution, with ruthless and thorough efficiency. Many Jacobite rebels were executed while many more had their lands and titles seized. Many rebels were deported to British colonies in the New World. American colonists had good reason to believe the British government would deal with the rebellion in its colonies with the same harsh but effective measures.