The Nonviolent History of American Independence

Independence Day is commemorated with fireworks and flag-waving, gun salutes
and military parades . . . however, one of our nation’s founding fathers, John
Adams, wrote, “A history of military operations . . . is not a history of the
American Revolution.”

Often minimized in our history books, the tactics of nonviolent action played
a powerful role in achieving American Independence from British rule.  Benjamin
Naimark-Rowse wrote
, “the lesson we learn of a democracy forged in
the crucible of revolutionary war tends to ignore how a decade of nonviolent
resistance before the shot-heard-round-the-world shaped the founding of the
United States, strengthened our sense of political identity, and laid the foundation
of our democracy.”

One hundred-fifty years before Gandhi, the American colonists employed many
of the same nonviolent actions the Indian Self-Rule Movement would later use
to free themselves from the same empire – Great Britain. The boycotting of British
goods (tea, cloth, and other imported items) significantly undermined British
profits from the colonies. Noncooperation with unjust laws eroded British authority
as the colonists refused to comply with laws that restricted assembly and speech,
allowed the quartering of soldiers in colonists’ homes,
and imposed curfews. Non-payment of taxes would prove to be a landmark issue
for the independence movement. The development of parallel governments and legal
structures strengthened the self-rule and self-reliance of the colonists and
grew local political control that would ultimately prove strong enough to replace
British governance of the colonies. Acts of protest and persuasion, petitions,
pamphlets, rallies, marches, denouncements, legal and illegal publications of
articles, and disruption of British meetings and legal proceedings were also

Some of the most powerful boycotts in nonviolent history occurred in the New
England colonies against the British Crown. Though the term boycott would not
emerge for another hundred years until the Irish
coined it during tenant and land struggles
, what the colonists called “nonimportation
programs” dropped British revenue in New England by 88 percent between 1774
and 1775. In the Carolinas, colonists deprived the Crown of 98.7 percent of
import revenue. Moreover,
in Virginia and Maryland, the rate reached an impressive 99.6 percent participation.

Resistance to the Stamp Act of 1764 through 1775 dropped revenues 95 percent
below what was expected. The British could not even pay for the cost of enforcing
the Stamp Act throughout the colonies, and it was repealed in 1766. Newspapers
published without paying the Stamp Tax used noms de plume to avoid reprisal.
Courts closed because lawyers and judges refused to pay the Stamp Act for the
printing of court documents….

Read more