|The Proclamation of 1763
Historians consider the first step toward American independence to be the French and Indian War and its aftermath (including the Proclamation of 1763). The French and British were rivals in North America as their colonial land claims were geographically close and both were actively competing for resources and prestige. This rivalry eventually spilled into war, with the French and American Indians versus the British Empire and its American colonists. The British won, and as a result, kicked the French out of Canada and any land they (France) claimed west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Great Britain found itself in a bind. The Native Americans living on the land formerly controlled by France weren’t too thrilled to suddenly be under British sovereignty (rule/control). In fact, they tried to rebel against British Rule (in the unsuccessful Pontiac’s Rebellion from 1763-1766). In an attempt to prevent future hostilities between British colonists and American Indians, Great Britain created the PROCLAMATION OF 1763 with the goal of warming Native Americans up to British rule.
The proclamation created a boundary line (also called the “proclamation line”) between the British colonies on the Atlantic coast and American Indian claimed lands west of the Appalachian Mountains. The British never intended the proclamation line to be a permanent border between white and Indian lands, but a temporary boundary that the British could move westward in an orderly, lawful manner if they so wished. The Proclamation also contained language that suggested the British Empire would maintain control over their colonies to make it easier to protect colonists from Indian attack. This seems relatively one-sided in favor of the British; however, the Proclamation did forbid British private, individual purchase of land claimed by Native Americans, and that land could only be purchased by government officials “at some public Meeting or Assembly of the said Indians.” British colonists were also for bidden to move west of the boundary line (the Appalachian Mountains) and settle on Indian land, and colonial officials could not grant land to British colonists without approval from the crown (British government).
Problem was, by 1763, many British colonists had already settled west of the proclamation line or had land claims west of the line yet to be settled. The Proclamation also contained text that granted land west of the proclamation line to British soldiers who had served in another one of Britain’s wars in Europe.
Prominent American colonists joined forces with land speculators (people who make money buying/selling territory) in England to lobby the British government to move the boundary line further west.
Oh, and the British had to figure out a way to PAY for the expensive war they’d just won against the French and Indians. …But more on that later…
The Stamp Act (1765)
When we last left our heroes, the British and their colonists had just won the French and Indian War and kicked France out. Hooray! Except, guns, ammo, uniforms, horses, food, and soldiers’ salaries are reeeeally expensive. The British Empire had to figure out a way to pay its war debt. They had a brilliant idea, or so they thought. Since the British Army had protected the colonists from the French, the British government decided to have the colonists shoulder the debt. How does a government generate revenue (income, cash) to pay its debts? Through levying (collecting) taxes.
Back in England, Parliament passed The Stamp Act. This required colonists to pay a tax, and, in turn, get a stamp they had to affix on most printed materials such as newspapers, pamphlets, marriage licenses, and even playing cards. Putting the stamp on the document was proof that he or she had paid the tax.
The colonists were very angered by the Stamp Act. Their anger was about more than just having to pay an extra tax. Colonists felt their freedom, as British subjects, was being threatened because they had no say in making the law. Colonies did not have representatives in British Parliament to vote on their behalf, and the British government hadn’t asked the colonists their feedback on the idea before it was made law. In other words, the colonists resented being taxed without their consent (permission).
Groups of colonists responded in a variety of ways to make their disapproval of the Stamp Act known:
activist groups stopped stamped papers from being unloaded from British ships.
merchants boycotted British goods to put economic pressure on the government
nine colonies selected representatives and formed the “Stamp Act Congress” which declared that taxes could not be collected without colonists’ consent, and officially stated, in an early show of colonial unity, that Parliament must repeal the Act.
colonists eventually rioted, and some tax collectors were even tarred and feathered (a way to publicly humiliate someone. See picture.)
Additionally, the British levied taxes on other everyday items used by colonists, similarly without input or consent. These products included sugar and tea. The tea tax would really become a sticking point with the colonists. This “taxation without representation” only caused additional anger.
Because of the economic and social pressure the colonists put on England due to their disapproval of the Stamp Act, the British government eventually repealed (got rid of) the Stamp Act. Success! Maybe? Kind of? We’ll see…
The Quartering Act (1765)
“To quarter” means to give soldiers a place to stay.
Lieutenant-General Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of forces in British North America, and other British officers who had fought in the French and Indian War, had found it hard to persuade colonial assemblies to pay for quartering and provisioning (feeding and supplying) the British troops when they were on the march. Therefore, he asked Parliament to do something. Most colonies had supplied provisions during the war, but the issue was disputed after the war ended. The result was the Quartering Act of 1765, which went far beyond what Gage had requested.
The Quartering Act required colonists to put British soldiers up in their homes. In addition, the colonists had to provide fuel, candles, beer, and transportation for the troops.
As far as Parliament was concerned, it seemed only sensible for the colonists to bear some of the burden of protecting the Crown’s possessions in America. Parliament had plans to send an army of 10,000 soldiers to America to keep the peace between the colonists and the Native Americans on the frontier and enforce the Proclamation of 1763.
Additionally, the French and Indian War had drained the British treasury, and Britain had emerged from the war with debt exceeding 140 million pounds, about half of which it had borrowed to defend the American colonies. Taxes had already been raised in Britain so high that people were rioting in protest. There was simply no money in the treasury to build barracks in the colonies and fortifying the troops with provisions and other necessities. From the British perspective, housing and supplying the troops was the least that the colonists could do.
The Quartering Act angered the colonists. They were suspicious of the troops and believed that they had been sent to America not to protect the colonists but to control them. The colonists also felt that the British should have asked for their approval before passing an act that affected their personal lives and their wallets..
When 1,500 British troops arrived at New York City in 1766 the New York Assembly refused to comply with the Quartering Act and failed to supply housing for the troops. The troops had to remain on their ships. For failure to comply with the Quartering Act, Parliament suspended the New York's governor and legislature in 1767 and 1769. In 1771, the New York Assembly finally allocated funds for the quartering of the British troops.
The Quartering Act was resisted and not enforced in all of the colonies, except for Pennsylvania.
The Townshend Acts (1767)
When Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, it insisted that it still had the right to tax the colonists. According to the British, even though the Americans did not directly elect representatives to Parliament, they were virtually represented – in other words, those that did serve in Parliament always considered how its actions would affect the colonists and their interests. After 150 years of mercantilist policies, though, the Americans had good reason to not be fond of virtual representation.
Many Britons were quite upset that Parliament caved in to colonial demands and repealed the Stamp Act. After all, taxes were at an all-time high in Britain to help pay off the debt generated by the French and Indian War and there was little sympathy for the Americans’ claims of “no taxation without representation.” One of the Britons who felt this way was Charles Townshend, who became the British Prime Minister in 1766. He immediately convinced Parliament to impose a small indirect tax on glass, lead, paper, and tea. The tax was “indirect” because it was collected before the items reached colonial stores. Since the tax would then be include in the price that the colonists paid at the stores – and not added onto the price like with the Stamp Act – Townshend hoped that the colonists would not even notice they were paying a tax.
The colonists, however, were not as easily duped as Townshend hoped and they recognized that they were paying higher prices because of the tax. They saw the tax as yet another example of taxation without representation. Similar to their protests of the Stamp Act, the colonists organized boycotts of British goods.
The Townshend Acts also reintroduced the colonists to writs of assistance, which Parliament had unsuccessfully attempted to in the colonies in the 1600’s. A writ gave British customs officers the right to search colonial homes for smuggled goods – without a search warrant. From the colonist’s perspective, similar to the Quartering Act, these writs violated the right to privacy in one’s own home, a long-cherished and protected right in Britain.
The Boston Massacre (1770)
On March 5, 1770, a mob of colonists in Boston began to harass British troops, taunting them and throwing snowballs. The situation soon got out of hand and the British soldiers eventually opened fire on the colonists. Five colonists died, including Crispus Attucks, a man of Wampanoag Indian and African descent, the first African-American killed in the name of American independence.
A young Boston artist, Henry Pelham, created an illustration of the event. Paul Revere (yes, that Paul Revere) closely copied Pelham’s image, and got credit for it. The illustration you see accompanying this placard is the Revere image. Both Pelham and Revere added some inflammatory details and took some creative liberties when making this work of art, essentially making it a piece of pro-independence propaganda. Captain Preston of the British Army is shown ordering his men to fire, and in the background of the picture, another musket is shown firing out of a window. The building creatively labeled “Butcher’s Hall” is actually a British customs office. This illustration was popular in the colonies and was widely circulated.
After reading several eyewitness accounts of the event dubbed “The Boston Massacre,” most historians now think that the colonists’ taunts and snowball throwing provoked a British response. At the time, most colonists believed the British soldiers had started the conflict and were completely at fault. Enraged citizens of Boston called a town meeting to demand removal of the British troops and argued that the soldiers should stand trial for murder. British officials agreed to the colonists’ demands.
Since Massachusetts at that time was still part of the British Empire, the soldiers had the right to a defense lawyer and a trial by jury. It would be difficult to find an impartial jury and an attorney that was skilled and willing to defend men the colonists assumed were murderous butchers. It was none other than John Adams (the John Adams who would become the 2nd president of the United States) who stepped up to defend the soldiers. Adams argued that if the soldiers were endangered by a mob of angry colonists, they legally had the right to fight back (self-defense), and were innocent. If the soldiers had been provoked but not actually endangered, the soldiers were at most, he argued, guilty of manslaughter (a less serious charge than murder). The jury agreed with Adams. Six soldiers were acquitted completely, and 2 low-ranking soldiers were found guilty of manslaughter. Their punishment? Branding on their thumbs.
Samuel Adams was so outraged by the acquittal of the soldiers, that he stopped selling his tasty beer to them…..not really. In fact, what he did do was introduced the idea of Committees of Correspondence to spread the news of British injustices from colony to colony. By communicating with each other, the committees became the basis of a political network to unify the colonies.
The Boston Tea Party (1770)
As part of the British need to pay war debts incurred during the French and Indian War, they continued to tax the colonists. The British felt this was fair given the resources used to defend the colonists. The colonists felt this was unfair because taxes were being levied without colonial input or consent in Parliament.
John Hancock, an influential Bostonian, was angry the British were still passing taxation laws in Parliament (back in England) without consulting the colonists. Hancock organized a boycott of tea imported from China and sold by the British East India Company. Their sales in the colonies fell from £320,000 to £520. By 1773, the company was in debt and had huge supplies of tea in its warehouses it was unable to sell. Plus, smugglers (like Hancock) were sneaking tea in to avoid British-imposed import taxes.
The British government passed the Tea Act, which gave the British East India Company permission to sell tea to the colonies directly. The Company could sell their tea more cheaply than small colonist-owned businesses and smugglers. It gave the East India Company a complete monopoly. If you wanted tea, you basically had to purchase it from this one company. No one else could compete.
Interestingly enough, the Tea Act actually lowered the price of tea. The colonists still opposed it. They saw it as yet another example of England making decisions that affected the colonists without consulting the colonists.
To protest the Tea Act, American Patriot group Sons of Liberty organized the “Boston Tea Party.” Disguising themselves as Native Americans, colonists raided three British ships in Boston Harbor. They smashed open 340 chests of tea (9,000 pounds of tea worth £10,000) and dumped them into the harbor. A crowd of colonists looked on with approval. Tea washed up on shores around Boston for weeks. From the colonists’ perspective, this was simply a last resort to protest the British abuse of their rights.
From the British government’s perspective, the Boston Tea Party was an inexcusable and unnecessary act of mob violence. Parliament responded swiftly and harshly to punish the colonials, shutting down Boston Harbor, occupying the city, and not budging until the British East India Company had been repaid for the tea that was dumped. These laws imposed on colonists were called the “Coercive Acts” (coerce means “to force”), which became known widely in the colonies as the “Intolerable Acts.”
The First Continental Congress (1774)
Like the Stamp Act Congress which had formed to give an official colonial response to the unpopular Stamp Act, the First Continental Congress was a response to the Coercive/Intolerable Acts (the British response to the Boston Tea Party). The Congress was planned through the Committees of Correspondence, an organized way for colonies to communicate, and became a way for colonists to organize and unite in the days leading up to the Revolution. The Committees of Correspondence chose to meet in Philadelphia because it was a large, influential city, plus it was centrally located.
We know there were many differences among the colonies—different economies, social structures, religions, etc., but at the First Continental Congress, these differences were put aside. Colonies agreed, for the first time, to work together to protect their collective rights. They felt the best way to officially complain about their treatment to the British government was as one unified group, instead of 13 smaller, distinct colonies.
Representatives from 12 of the 13 colonies met. Distinguished men such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, George Washington, and Patrick Henry attended. After seven weeks, the Congress wrote the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, as well as official appeals to the King and the British people. They hoped the king would listen to their complaints.
Don’t forget: even though the colonists were angry and held the First Continental Congress, they still remained loyal subjects of King George III. They were NOT demanding independence from England and considered themselves British.
The First Continental Congress had three major accomplishments:
Tt called for a complete boycott with all trade from England. There were to be no imports from or exports to England. Violators would be tarred and feathered.
It formed a force of minutemen, colonial soldiers who would be ready on short notice to resist a British attack.
It agreed to convene a Second Continental Congress in May 1775 to continue colonial discussions.
Lexington and Concord (1775)
Parliament rejected all petitions and requests that came from the First Continental Congress. In April 1775, British troops left Boston and marched to the nearby communities of Lexington and Concord. They planned to seize stores of colonial gunpowder and arms (weapons) and to capture “rebel” leaders like Samuel Adams and John Hancock. The colonists, however, received intelligence weeks before this expedition and had been warned of an impending (approaching) British search. As a result, they had moved most of their supplies to other places for safekeeping. They had also received details about British plans to march the evening before, and this information was rapidly shared with the local militia (military units).
At Lexington, colonial minutemen—colonists who had joined the militia—were waiting for the British when they marched into the town square. No one knows who fired the first shot, but when the smoke cleared, eight colonists were dead and ten were wounded. The British, known as “Redcoats” for the color of their uniforms, marched on to Concord where they were met by more minutemen. After a nasty battle in which the British were caught in an open field, the British retreated. On their march back to Boston, minutemen fired on the soldiers while hiding behind fences and trees and caught them by surprise. At day’s end, the British suffered 273 casualties, while the colonists suffered fewer than 100. These battles became known as the “shot heard ‘round the world” thanks to a poem written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 called Concord Hymn.
After the battles of Lexington and Concord, which proved to be the TRIGGER of the American Revolutionary War, thousands of minutemen from the area gathered around Boston in anticipation of the next battle. The Second Continental Congress met and drafted another appeal to the king for the violence and taxation to stop. They did not declare independence at the Second Continental Congress. However, sensing that the violence would not stop immediately, members of the Congress selected a man named George Washington to lead the army of minutemen gathering near Boston. The Revolutionary War had begun.