British Reforms and Colonial Resistance (1763-1766)
When the French and Indian War finally ended in 1763, no British subject on either side of the Atlantic could have foreseen the coming conflicts between the parent country and its North American colonies. Even so, the seeds of these conflicts were planted during, and as a result of, this war. Keep in mind that the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War) was a global conflict. Even though Great Britian defeated France and its allies, the victory came at great cost. In January 1763, Great Britain’s national debt was more than 122 million pounds [the British monetary unit], an enormous sum for the time. Interest on the debt was more than 4.4 million pounds a year. Figuring out how to pay the interest alone absorbed the attention of the King and his ministers.
Nor was the problem of the imperial debt the only one facing British leaders in the wake of the Seven Years’ War. Maintaining order in America was a significant challenge. Even with Britain’s acquisition of Canada from France, the prospects of peaceful relations with the Indian tribes were not good. As a result, the British decided to keep a standing army in America. This decision would lead to a variety of problems with the colonists. In addition, an Indian uprising on the Ohio frontier–Pontiac’s Rebellion–led to the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade colonial settlement west of the Allegany Mountains. This, too, would lead to conflicts with land-hungry settlers and land speculators like George Washington.
British leaders also felt the need to tighten control over their empire. To be sure, laws regulating imperial trade and navigation had been on the books for generations, but American colonists were notorious for evading these regulations. They were even known to have traded with the French during the recently ended war. From the British point of view, it was only right that American colonists should pay their fair share of the costs for their own defense. If additional revenue could also be realized through stricter control of navigation and trade, so much the better. Thus the British began their attempts to reform the imperial system.
In 1764, Parliament enacted the Sugar Act*, an attempt to raise revenue in the colonies through a tax on molasses. Although this tax had been on the books since the 1730s, smuggling and laxity of enforcement had blunted its sting. Now, however, the tax was to be enforced. An outcry arose from those affected, and colonists implemented several effective protest measures that centered around boycotting British goods. Then in 1765, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act**, which placed taxes on paper, playing cards, and every legal document created in the colonies. Since this tax affected virtually everyone and extended British taxes to domestically produced and consumed goods, the reaction in the colonies was pervasive. The Stamp Act crisis was the first of many that would occur over the next decade and a half
* Sugar Act. Parliament, desiring revenue from its North American colonies, passed the first law specifically aimed at raising colonial money for the Crown. The act increased duties on non-British goods shipped to the colonies.
Currency Act. This act prohibited American colonies from issuing their own currency, angering many American colonists.
Beginnings of Colonial Opposition. American colonists responded to the Sugar Act and the Currency Act with protest. In Massachusetts, participants in a town meeting cried out against taxation without proper representation in Parliament, and suggested some form of united protest throughout the colonies. By the end of the year, many colonies were practicing nonimportation, a refusal to use imported English goods.
** Stamp Act. Parliament’s first direct tax on the American colonies, this act, like those passed in 1764, was enacted to raise money for Britain. It taxed newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, broadsides, legal documents, dice, and playing cards. Issued by Britain, the stamps were affixed to documents or packages to show that the tax had been paid.
Organized Colonial Protest. American colonists responded to Parliament’s acts with organized protest. Throughout the colonies, a network of secret organizations known as the Sons of Liberty was created, aimed at intimidating the stamp agents who collected Parliament’s taxes. Before the Stamp Act could even take effect, all the appointed stamp agents in the colonies had resigned. The Massachusetts Assembly suggested a meeting of all the colonies to work for the repeal of the Stamp Act. All but four colonies were represented. The Stamp Act Congress passed a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances,” which claimed that American colonists were equal to all other British citizens, protested taxation without representation, and stated that, without colonial representation in Parliament, Parliament could not tax colonists. In addition, the colonists increased their nonimportation efforts.
Source: The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/timeline/amrev/britref/ (Accessed: 1/28/2016)