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The French and Indian War had been expensive for the British government, costing approximately $350,000,000. Since the American colonists had benefited most from the war, the British felt that the colonies should help pay the war debt. Their attitude was that more money could be raised by a stricter enforcement of the Navigation Acts. King George III felt that the colonies were too independent of England, and he wanted to bring them under more direct and stricter control of his government. For these reasons, a new colonial policy restricting colonial freedoms was carried out by the British.
To refrain by concerted action from using or purchasing a product or service.
The Proclamation Act of 1763.
--The first move the British government took to exert more control over the colonies was the Proclamation Act of 1763, which closed the newly acquired lands west of the Allegheny Mountains to American trappers and settlers. The English wanted the Americans to remain along the Atlantic coast, partly because the colonists could be controlled more easily there and also because the English wanted to avoid trouble with the Native Americans. This order angered the colonists, who felt these western lands belonged to them.
The Grenville Program.
To raise more money in the colonies, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord George Grenville, ordered an increase in old taxes and the levying of some new ones on many imported goods coming into the colonies. To enforce these new taxes, the Quartering Act provided for 10,000 British troops to be stationed in the colonies, fed and housed by the colonists.
The Stamp Act.
The first direct tax levied by England on the colonists was the stamp tax. The Stamp Act, passed by Parliament in March 1765, placed a tax on all newspapers, pamphlets, legal documents, and even calendars and playing cards used in the colonies. An official government stamp had to appear on these documents to show that the tax had been paid. In response to the stamp tax, colonists set fires, rioted, and held debates in the colonial assemblies.
--In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry warned the king of England of the possible effects of such a law. Several of the members accused Henry of treason, to which he replied, "If this be treason, make the most of it." The House of Burgesses drew up the Virginia Resolves condemning the Stamp Act and maintaining that only the colonial governments had the right to levy taxes.
The Sons of Liberty.
Opposition to the tax was led by a secret organization called the Sons of Liberty, whose members included some of the leading citizens in the colonies, among them Paul Revere of Massachusetts. Deciding that the stamp tax should not be paid, the Sons of Liberty staged parades and protests, destroyed the stamps, and drove out the stamp distributors. The Sons of Liberty also enforced an unofficial boycott of English goods.
The Stamp Act Congress.
In October 1765, representatives from nine colonies met in New York to draw up a protest against the Stamp Act. Led by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, the delegates drew up a Declaration of Rights and Grievances stating their loyalty to the British government but protesting the tax. The representatives claimed that they were entitled to all the rights and liberties of Englishmen including the right to tax themselves through their elected representatives.
--British exports to America declined as a result of the boycott and Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766. At the same time, however, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act which asserted Parliament's right to make laws binding on the colonies.
The Townshend Acts.
The new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend, proposed a new series of taxes to increase English revenues from the colonies. Taxes were to be levied on lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea. Part of the money raised from those new taxes was to pay the salaries of the officials who were enforcing the law. Until that time colonial assemblies had paid those officers, but the new law severely weakened colonial control over them.
--To eliminate smuggling, the officials were given writs of assistance to enter many places to search for and seize any goods that had come into the colonies illegally. Colonists accused of violating the laws were to be tried without a jury and punished. Any appeals from these trials were to be taken to England.
The Colonial Reactions.
The colonists reacted by boycotting English goods. During the next two years, more and more merchants refused to buy English products, and the people fully supported them in the boycott. Because the boycott spread through the colonies, the sale of English products fell almost 50 percent. Because the Sons of Liberty were gaining popular support, the British sent troops to Boston to maintain order.
The Boston Massacre.
The British troops that were stationed in Boston encountered problems with the local citizens. The problems persisted until a riot broke out in March 1770 between a group of soldiers and the town workers. As the riot spread, additional soldiers were called out and some of them fired into the crowd, killing five people and wounding several others. This incident increased the hatred against the British that was growing in the colonies.
--Meanwhile, British merchants complained to Parliament about the severe loss of business. Parliament listened to the merchants and repealed all of the Townshend duties except the tax on tea, which remained as proof to the colonies that Parliament still had the power to tax them. This intentional oversight did not bother the colonists very much, since smuggled tea was cheaper than English tea.
The Committees of Correspondence.
The lack of communication was a serious problem for the colonists. Under the inspiring leadership of Samuel Adams, a Committee of Correspondence consisting of twenty-one men was formed in Massachusetts to keep in touch with similar committees in the other colonies. A chain of communication was formed with the other colonies by sending fast riders with the news.
The Boston Tea Party.
Tempers flared and emotions took over in 1773. When the East India Company faced near bankruptcy, George III gave it the right to sell tea to the American colonists at a lower price than smuggled tea. Many colonists opposed this move, fearing that it would hurt the colonial tea business. The company sent out ships loaded with tea to Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The officials at Philadelphia and New York refused to allow the ships to dock in their harbors, but the governor of Massachusetts allowed the ship to dock at Boston harbor. The colonists were so infuriated by this decision that they dressed as Indians, boarded the ship, and threw the tea into the harbor.
The Intolerable Acts.
In order to punish the colonists for destroying the tea, Parliament passed a series of acts against the city of Boston. Because these acts were so harsh, the colonists referred to them as the Intolerable Acts. The port of Boston was closed, with no ships allowed to enter or leave the harbor until the tea was paid for. The charter (constitution) of Massachusetts was taken away from the colony. Town meetings were not permitted without the consent of the governor. All officials were to be appointed by the governor. More British troops were moved into Boston and stationed in the houses of the colonists. British officers and soldiers who were accused of crimes against colonists were to be tried in England, not in the colony where the crime was committed. The Northwest Territory, which was partly claimed by Massachusetts, was annexed by Quebec. Since these acts adversely affected all the colonies, not just Massachusetts, they served to unite the colonies against the British.
The First Continental Congress.
A movement spread among the colonies to call a general congress represented by delegates from all the colonies. The delegates would decide what steps should be taken in overcoming the problems with the British government. In early September 1774, fifty-six delegates from twelve colonies met at Philadelphia. Many of the leading figures were present, including Samuel Adams and John Adams of Massachusetts, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, and Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania.
--After lengthy debates the First Continental Congress drew up a Declaration of Rights and Grievances which openly denounced the Intolerable Acts as being unjust and unconstitutional. The Congress also drew up a list of colonial rights: life, liberty, property ownership, the control of taxation by the colonial legislatures, and others.
--The delegates agreed to organize an American association that would buy no goods from England until the Intolerable Acts had been repealed by the British government. The Congress also urged the Americans to arm themselves. It was hoped that the petition would lead the king to settle the dispute. In the meantime, the Congress adjourned until the following May, agreeing to meet only if the colonial grievances were not settled.
--All of these events were building toward a climax of war with the British. The arrest of Samuel Adams and John Hancock had been ordered by the British, an event which resulted in the famous rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes. The battles of Lexington and Concord were fought a few days later. On May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress met and organized an army with George Washington as the commander-in-chief. The war had begun and the British would have to fight hard if they were to hold the colonies. Thus, the growing spirit for independence had led to the beginning of the Revolutionary War.