Causes of the American Revolution in the South
By Phil Norfleet
The standard textbook reason given for the outbreak of the American Revolution is summed up in the short phrase: "No taxation without representation!" This, of course, refers to the unhappiness caused in the British Colonies by the actions of the British Parliament in London, during the years 1763-1775, following the end of the French and Indian War, to levy taxes on the colonists which had never been authorized by the various colonial legislatures.
I agree that the above described taxation issue was a major cause for political discontent in all thirteen of the British colonies. However, I also believe there were other factors, some not quite so honorable, which led the ruling classes of Virginia and the Carolinas to call for revolution and support political independence from Great Britain.
My lifetime of experience in dealing with men of many different nationalities and socio-economic groups, has led me to conclude that people are motivated almost exclusively by self-interest. Even though these same people may claim to be acting on the basis of high moral and ethical principals, they usually are found to be acting in the anticipation of some sort of tangible, material gain which will accrue to them personally. Accordingly, I believe that at least three factors (including the taxation issue) were major causes of the Revolution, at least in Virginia and the Carolinas:
1. Parliamentary Taxation Policies
By the end of the French and Indian War, the debt of the British Government had almost doubled in size from what it had been at the War’s beginning, from £73 million to £137 million. This may seem like a modest sum by today’s standards, but you must remember that the annual income of the British Treasury at the time was only £8 million. This means that the National Debt was more than 17 times greater than the National Income! Payment of just the interest on the debt required £5 million of the total £8 million of income!  Furthermore, the level of taxation in England was several times more than in the American colonies. Since much of the war expenditure had been in support of the 30,000 man army sent to North America, that had finally defeated the French and made the area safe for the British colonies, Parliament believed it not unreasonable to increase the tax burden on the colonists. Accordingly, in early 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act which required that all legal documents in the colonies would require a stamp which had to be purchased from British Agents. However due to bitter resistance on the part of the colonists, the Act was repealed about one year later. Subsequently, other revenue generating measures (such as the tax on tea) were passed by Parliament, applicable to the colonies, but they all met with fierce colonial resistance. Relations between the British colonies and the Mother Country rapidly deteriorated.
2. Colonial Dissatisfaction with the Indian and Land Policies of the British Government
On 07 October 1763, King George III signed the famous Royal Proclamation of 1763 that established a boundary line from Canada to Florida beyond which no white settlement was permitted. The line ran roughly along the Appalachian Divide, all land drained by watercourses which flowed westward into the Mississippi River, not eastward into the Atlantic Ocean, was to be reserved for the Indians. The net effect was that most of the land gained from the French in the recently concluded Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in the colonies) was excluded from white settlement.
The Proclamation of 1763 was intended to systematize Indian affairs and set a clear and enlightened policy governing the acquisition of Indian lands.  Four new provinces/colonies were established from the lands ceded to Great Britain by the French and Spanish at the end of the French and Indian War. These provinces were Quebec, East Florida,  West Florida  and the island of Grenada. All French and Spanish ceded land, lying outside the three new mainland provinces, was to be reserved for the Indians.
Because I consider the Proclamation of 1763 to be of fundamental importance in understanding the British Government’s land and Indian policies in the years just prior to the Revolution, an extensive excerpt from the proclamation follows:
This denial of white settlement upon the lands lying on the western waters caused great dissatisfaction among the wealthy planters of colonial Virginia and North Carolina. Many of these "great men of affairs," including people such as George Washington in Virginia and the Blount brothers in North Carolina, were land speculators, who had assumed that the annexation of the French territories would result in a financial bonanza to them derived from sales of the western lands.
The Proclamation also infuriated the many small subsistence farmers and hunters, who lived on the Frontier. These people included many squatters, who have already been described in my essay on the Western Movement. Of course the squatter element, already being a lawless group, simply ignored the Proclamation and moved onto the lands of the western waters before the ink on the document was even dry! The more law abiding and responsible people on the frontier obeyed the proclamation, but they didn’t like it!
The historian, Bernard Knollenberg, who made an extensive study of the causes of the American Revolution in the 1950’s and 1960’s, tells us that:
After the Indian treaties of Fort Stanwix and Hard Labour were concluded in 1768, the British Government did agree to move the Proclamation Line westward into the region of the upper Ohio River. This was done primarily to appease the great land speculators, who included not only Americans but also Britons (such as Lord Dunmore, the last Royal Governor of Virginia).  In 1772, Lord Dunmore approved grants of western land to veterans of the French and Indian War, including a grant of over 20,000 acres to George Washington.  In 1774, in an action euphemistically called Lord Dunmore’s War, the Virginia militia defeated the Shawnee Indians and forced them to agree to the white occupation of Kentucky. Basically, Governor Dunmore had provoked the war  to assure access to Kentucky for land speculation purposes, from which he expected to make a substantial profit. Unfortunately for Dunmore, the coming of the American Revolution dashed his hopes for a western financial bonanza!
The above concessions notwithstanding, the Virginia and North Carolina colonists were never satisfied with the official British Indian and land policies. It was widely believed that removal of British authority would open the floodgates of westward migration.
3. Heavy Debt Burden of the Great Tidewater Planters
In spite of their enormous land holdings, most of the great Tidewater planters were chronically in debt to British merchants. The well-known historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, tells us that:
I am personally convinced that a major factor causing many of the wealthy planters to embrace the Whig cause was the delightful prospect of renouncing all their debts to the Scottish factors, as the result of a successful War of Independence! In 1804, the American historian and essayist, Oliver Wolcott, wrote that:
1. John Mack Faragher, Editor, The Encyclopedia of Colonial and Revolutionary America (1990), page 367.
2. Page Smith, A New Age Begins (1976), pages 166-167.
3. This province encompassed all of the modern State of Florida, as far west as the Apalachicola River.
4. This province included the region between the Apalachicola and Mississippi Rivers, from the Gulf of Mexico to 31 degrees North Latitude.
5. Bernard Knollenberg, Origin of the American Revolution 1759-1766 (1960), page 105.
6. R. C. Simmons, The American Colonies from Settlement to Independence (1976), page 323.
7. Bernard Knollenberg, George Washington The Virginia period, 1732-1775 (1964), page 95.
8. Sanford Wexler, Westward Expansion: An Eyewitness History (1991), page 5.
9. Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution 1763-1776 (1957), pages 35-36.
10. Ibid., page 39.