Creating A "Green" Future: The American Revolution, Consumer Action, and "Ecological Intelligence," Part 4 of 6

Part One --- Part Two --- Part Three Part Four --- Part Five --- Part Six

North American colonists had access to a great deal of land and to an abundance of raw materials. As a result, they enjoyed an extraordinarily high standard of living (higher, in fact, than just about everyone else in the world except royalty).

Colonial exports, such as grain and timber, enabled them to buy and enjoy a huge array of consumer goods, nearly all of which were imported from England. (Even if the British didn’t actually manufacture the goods, Parliament made damn sure that the goods went through a British port before being shipped on to North America.)

Colonists wanted those goods. They enjoyed those goods. Having access to those goods made them feel like full citizens of a huge empire.

We think of our colonial ancestors as wanna-be Americans from the get-go. But almost until the last moment (ie, up until about 1760 or 1765), British colonists prided themselves on being British. On being part of the most powerful empire in the world. On being able to wear the same clothing and eat from the same kinds of plates as people back in England.

Moreover, they understood that the raw materials they exported to England helped make England great (again, basic but crucial materials like timber, ore, grain) The cycle of trade connected colonists to the mother country, and the colonists were, in turn, particularly aggressive in acquiring consumer goods.

Put another way, the colonists saw themselves as full partners in the imperial economy and the British nation. The operative word here is “partners.” Colonists assumed and expected to be treated as full citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities as any other citizen of the empire.

But starting in the 1760s, Parliament began imposing rules, regulations, and, yes, taxes on the colonists without their consent. Why Parliament did so isn’t important here.

What does matter is this: the colonists were angry (insulted, is more like it) and decided to resist. They could have used violence, but they opted to use something else: the marketplace itself.

Next time: Consumers, revolution, and going green