In 1763, British Prime Minister George Grenville passed new legislation aimed at solving some of the empire's problems stemming from the French and Indian War. The colonists cried, 'Taxation without representation is tyranny!' They organized boycotts, the Sons of Liberty and the Stamp Act Congress until some of the new taxes were lifted.
Increasing British Control
Back in 1688, the English prime minister had stated that if no unnecessary restrictions were put on the American colonies, they would continue to grow in wealth and in numbers. So, Britain put few restrictions on America and offered very little military help. This policy has come to be known as salutary neglect. For 80 years, the colonists became accustomed to this arrangement, but it came to an abrupt end in 1763 with a new prime minister, George Grenville. In the aftermath of the French and Indian War, the colonies and the empire struggled to figure out their new relationship. It's unlikely that either side expected the result of this tension to be war and finally, independence of the colonies.
The French and Indian War was expensive for the British government
The French and Indian War was the American theater of Europe's Seven Years' War. Britain got what it wanted, becoming the world's dominant colonial empire. But the war effort had been very expensive, and when it was all over, Great Britain needed to pay its debtors, organize a government in the newly acquired lands and guard the colonists from Indian attacks.
Grenville's Policy Changes
Grenville had created a series of policies to help achieve these goals. First among them was the Proclamation of 1763. This set a border line for the western edge of the colonies to keep the settlers and Native Americans apart - in order to avoid another expensive conflict. But it only made things worse for everyone.
The colonists were frustrated that they couldn't move west into the land they had fought for and won. But even worse, leaving the Ohio Territory unpopulated opened the door for Pontiac's Conspiracy. With encouragement from French inhabitants, Native Americans united under an Ottawa leader, named Pontiac, in an attempt to win the territory and give it back to France, whose presence they preferred over the British. They attacked the weakly guarded forts, terrorized settlers who had defied the proclamation line and raided towns along the western frontier. Despite these successes, France refused to get involved. Pontiac's Conspiracy fell apart, but it still frightened the British government, who responded by sending 10,000 troops to guard the proclamation line. It was a military expense they couldn't afford.
Sugar, Currency, Quartering and Stamp Acts
The Sugar Act, in 1764, increased existing taxes on sugar products and some other imported goods, such as wine, coffee, textiles and indigo. But even more important to the colonists was the punishment for dodging the tax. Violators would be tried at a new court in Canada, depriving colonists of their right to a trial by a jury of their peers. Grenville also passed the Currency Act in 1764, forbidding the colonies from issuing any paper currency. This destabilized the economy of several colonies. Early the next year (1765), Grenville approved the Quartering Act, requiring colonists to provide food and shelter to the soldiers they hated without being reimbursed for their expenses.
Worst of all was the Stamp Act, which Grenville forced through Parliament in March of 1765. This required a stamp on all printed materials, including legal documents, newspapers and leisure materials, such as playing cards or almanacs. It was the first time that Americans had been required to pay a tax directly to England instead of going through their colonial legislatures first.
To make sure all of these laws were enforced, Grenville insisted that customs officers take advantage of British writs of assistance. These were blank search warrants, allowing officers to inspect colonial ships and warehouses. England thought this would close the loopholes that had allowed the colonists to evade the Navigation Acts 100 years earlier. But what they hadn't thought about was that the new laws affected some of the most influential members of colonial society: publishers, merchants and lawyers. A Boston lawyer, named James Otis, represented several merchants in court against the writs of assistance. He lost the case but made a name for himself and aroused the public against yet another policy.
Patrick Henry called for unified opposition to the Stamp Act
When the Stamp Act passed in 1765, word had barely reached the colonies before a fiery young member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, named Patrick Henry, wrote a statement calling for unified opposition to the Stamp Act. He claimed it violated the English Bill of Rights. Only the Virginia assembly could tax Virginians since they were not represented in Parliament. His boldness frightened some of his colleagues, but Henry was unyielding. 'If this be treason,' he defiantly announced, 'make the most of it.' The House of Burgesses passed the Virginia Resolutions in May, newspapers printed them widely and people in other colonies took notice.
New York merchants started calling for a boycott, asking colonists to voluntarily stop buying the taxed items once the law went into effect. James Otis published a pamphlet convincing colonists that 'Taxation without representation is tyranny.' In July, another Massachusetts colonist, named Samuel Adams, organized a secret society called the Sons of Liberty. At first, they just stirred the pot with protests and publications and spread the word about the upcoming boycott. Soon, though, individual chapters of the Sons of Liberty emerged in towns throughout the colonies. Many of them began harassing people who had contracted to become stamp agents, forcing them to resign. Later, the Sons of Liberty terrorized anyone who cooperated with the British laws.
Repealing the Stamp Act
By October, James Otis had called for a Stamp Act Congress to be held in New York City. Representatives of nine colonies attended, and together they wrote a petition to the king requesting the repeal of the Stamp Act before it went into effect. They asserted that it was a violation of their rights as British citizens for a new tax to be placed on them without having direct representation in Parliament. Though King George III ignored their letter, it was an important step toward unified opposition to the king, and many of the emerging leaders in different colonies met each other for the first time.
The Stamp Act Congress wrote a letter to the king requesting repeal of the act
On November 1, 1765, the Stamp Act went into effect, and business ground to a halt as a result of the organized boycott. Riots broke out in a few cities. Imports decreased so much that British merchants even began asking Parliament to repeal the Act. Meanwhile, the king generated almost no revenue from the Act, while paying out a lot of money for the agents and officers who were there to collect the taxes. King George III fired Prime Minister Grenville. After a heated debate, including an appearance by Benjamin Franklin, Parliament decided to repeal the Stamp Act in 1766 but asserted their authority to tax and legislate the colonies directly by passing the Declaratory Act.
Americans thanked the king by expressing their loyalty and lifting the boycott on British imports. And they celebrated their own victory; they recognized that it was the first time this generation had successfully defied the king and won. It wouldn't be the last.
Following the Treaty of Paris in 1763, which ended the French and Indian War, a new British Prime Minister, named George Grenville, set about solving some of England's problems. The Proclamation Line of 1763 kept most colonists east of the Appalachian Mountains, but it emboldened the Native Americans in the Ohio Territory. An Ottawa leader organized Pontiac's Conspiracy, hoping to restore the land to the French. In response, Britain sent thousands of troops to guard the line, angering the colonists. Then, Grenville passed several pieces of economic legislation, which could be enforced through writs of assistance. The worst was the Stamp Act because it was a direct tax, and the colonists had not had any representation during its passage. Colonists like James Otis, Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams emerged as leaders during this time. The Virginia assembly officially condemned the new legislation, merchants called for a boycott and the Sons of Liberty were organized. Finally, the Stamp Act Congress brought leaders from across the colonies together in protest. With the urging of the British public, the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766.
After watching this lesson, you should be able to:
- Understand the significance of the end of the French and Indian War
- Describe the Proclamation Line of 1763, the Sugar Act, the Currency Act, the Quartering Act and the Stamp Act, and the issues the colonists had with these
- Identify George Grenville, James Otis, Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams
- Explain how the colonists organized against the Stamp Act and why it was eventually repealed