Seeds of Revolution
The city prospered in the first half of the 18th century. Streets were paved and gas lights installed, making the streets brighter and safer at night. Schools and theaters were formed and by the 1750s, Christ Church and the Pennsylvania State House, now known as Independence Hall, were built. Philadelphia had developed into a true city, but as it became increasingly established, accomplished, and self-sufficient, a need for change also became evident.
In the 1760s, resentment towards British rule was mounting among many residents. England incurred a large debt during the Seven Years War, and attempted to impose unprecedented taxes on the colonies to help pay those debts, without the consent of the colonials. The British felt that since the outcome of the war was beneficial to the colonies, they should bear some of the tax burden, but, under the Magna Carta, colonies were entitled to a vote in the policies that affected them. By 1764, the British Parliament was realizing the increasing importance of the colonies and attempted to gain more control.
Meanwhile, colonists were increasingly frustrated that they had no voice in the governmental decisions of a distant ruler and were starting to wonder if their relationship with the crown did them more harm than good. Tensions escalated with the Stamp and Townshend Acts of 1765 and 1767 respectively, in which the British imposed a direct tax on stamps and an import tax on products including lead, paper, paint, glass, and tea. In both cases, colonists revolted and successfully boycotted the importation of British goods until the acts were repealed. The phrase “no taxation without representation” became popular during this time.
After the boycotts, the only remaining food tax imposed by England was on tea—but not for long. In 1773, the famous Boston Tea Party took place in Boston Harbor. The massive protest was a response to the Tea Act, which allowed England to sell tea in the colonies with no import taxes. Revolutionaries broke into a British ship the night before it was scheduled to arrive in Boston and dumped an estimated 90,000 pounds of tea overboard. The radical act of defiance further inspired revolt among colonists along the eastern seaboard.
The British government was outraged and responded by passing five acts that became known as the Intolerable Acts. While their action was an attempt to regain power and order and scare the colonists into submission, it backfired, and incited the other colonies to unite in support of Massachusetts and resolve to not be taken advantage of by England. Benjamin Franklin, who considered himself a loyal British subject until then, was staunchly against what he called the “capricious English policy.”
The tide was quickly turning and there was a call for a general congress of the colonies to meet and discuss the issues. The First Continental Congress was held in September 1774 in Carpenters’ Hall in Philadelphia, chosen because it was centrally located to all the colonies. The 55 delegates represented all the colonies except Georgia, and as a result of the meeting, the Articles of Association, a formal agreement to boycott British goods, was drafted on October 20, 1774. It was wildly successful; imports from Britain dropped 97 percent the following year, showing that the colonies could be powerful when they banned together. The Congress agreed that if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed, the colonies would cease to provide exports to Britain after a certain date. They also planned for a Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia for May 10, 1775.
© Karrie Gavin from Moon Philadelphia, 1st Edition