1763-1769: King George encroaches on the independence of the colonies through taxation without representation.
- February 10
- The French-Indian War ends.
- The French and Indian War lasted from 1754 to 1763. The antagonists were the British and Americans on one side, and the French and certain Indian tribes on the other. It was fought over disputed territory in America, principally in western Pennsylvania, which at the time was claimed by both Virginia and France. Many land companies had been formed in Virginia to promote settlement of that region. The French, however, refused to acknowledge Virginia's claim upon the territory and proceeded to build forts in the area to defend it.
George Washington, then in his twenties, was appointed commander of an army of Virginian soldiers and led the first attack against the French fortifications. Washington was chosen in part because of his knowledge of western Pennsylvania, which he had acquired on an earlier land surveying expedition. Despite Washington's courageous leadership, his forces were repulsed by the French. General Edward Braddock, an Englishman, subsequently led an army composed of English and American troops against the French, but this effort also failed, and Braddock himself died of wounds received in the battle. His army, under new command, retreated to Philadelphia, leaving the western frontier vulnerable to attacks by the Indians and French. As a result of Braddock's defeat, many Americans began to realize that they could not rely upon the English army to protect them, and that they must protect themselves.
The Treaty of Paris (not to be confused with the 1783 Treaty of Paris) ended the war, and in accordance with this agreement, France ceded Canada to the British, along with French territory east of the Mississippi River. Spain also ceded Florida to the British. As a result, Britain controlled all of North America east of the Mississippi and Canada.
The French and Indian War was one engagement in a long series of wars between the French and English global empires. Beginning in 1689 and continuing intermittently through 1815, these imperial wars ranged from the European continent and its surrounding seas to the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and North America, and also to the Indian Ocean and subcontinent. The French suffered a great strategic defeat in the French and Indian War. This is one reason the French were later eager to assist the Americans in their rebellion against the British empire in the 1770s.
The French and Indian War was in part a mercantilist war. Mercantilism is the practice of using the power of government to control the economy in the hope and expectation of increasing the wealth of one nation. It is not a device for increasing the wealth of nations generally but of a single nation. The method of mercantilism is monopolistic. (A monopoly is an exclusive privilege to develop or trade in some good or product.) By gaining and granting monopolies to those people and companies whom they control, governments hope to increase the wealth at their disposal.
Mercantilism is also sometimes described as economic nationalism, since it aims at enriching one nation at the expense of another. It is based on the belief that in international commercial trading, one nation must gain and another must lose. The system of mercantilism was severely criticized by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations. Smith argued that when nations enter freely into trade agreements, unfettered by mercantilist policies, both benefit. Mercantilism, he argued, is the equivalent of economic warfare, and indeed often leads to war between nations. On the other hand, free trade, unencumbered by mercantilist practices such as government subsidies for certain industries, tariffs, monetary restrictions, and so on, tends to promote peaceful relations between countries.
The French and the English both viewed their colonies in North America as sources of wealth for themselves, and not primarily as potential trading partners. Although the English defeated the French, they did so at the cost of enormously increasing the national debt of Great Britain, which in turn necessitated the raising of taxes, thus causing great domestic unrest.
The American colonies were affected as well, because Great Britain compelled them to pay taxes to relieve the British national debt, and also exploited them for the economic benefit of the mother country with little regard for the effects on the colonists.
- October 7
- King George III proclaims a ban westward migration in the colonies.
- The ostensible reason behind this intensely unpopular prohibition was Pontiac's Rebellion, a large Indian uprising which began in the Ohio country in May 1763.
Arguing that the British Army could not guarantee the safety of settlers in western lands, the crown forbade all colonial migration west of the Appalachian Mountains. The Proclamation Line was the first major instance of policies that would soon prove unbearably obnoxious to the Americans-policies that, in their view, violated their unalienable rights to liberty and the acquisition of property in the pursuit of happiness.
The colonists' resentment over measures such as the Proclamation Line lingered for some time, and found voice in the Declaration of Independence. One of that document's 18 charges against King George III states that "He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."
- April 5 and 9
- Parliament passes the Sugar and Currency Acts, respectively
- The Sugar Act levied duties intended to finance the large British military presence in North America that was necessary to protect the colonies from being retaken by the French or Spanish. The Sugar Act also provided for more effective control over colonial trade and allowed customs officials to require suspected smugglers to stand trial in a vice-admiralty court in Halifax, Nova Scotia, rather than in local colonial courts where the defendants were more likely to be acquitted by juries made up of fellow colonists.
Parliament passed the Currency Act to soothe British merchants, who complained about the colonies' issuance of worthless paper currency. By extending to the rest of the colonies the Currency Act of 1751, which had applied only to the New England colonies, the Act restricted any further issuance of paper currency and required that all such currency in circulation eventually be retired.
The Sugar and Currency Acts elicited strong opposition among the colonists. They objected to the economic hardship they would suffer as a result of the acts, and also questioned their constitutionality.
One response was from James Otis (1725-1783), a Boston attorney who wrote a pamphlet entitled "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved." Otis was one of the first to argue that Parliament had transgressed the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" by taxing the colonists even though they were not represented in Parliament.
Another protest appeared in a petition of the New York General Assembly to the House of Commons, adopted in October 18, 1764. The petition did not deny Parliament's jurisdiction over trade, but did assert the natural right of the colonists not to be taxed without their consent:
"[A]n exemption from the Burthen of ungranted, involuntary Taxes, must be the grand Principle of every free State. Without such a Right vested in themselves exclusive of all others, there can be no Liberty, no Happiness, no Security; it is inseparable from the very idea of Property, for who can call that his own, which may be taken away at the Pleasure of another?"
This right, the Petition went on to claim, was a "natural Right of Mankind."
The Sugar Act, 1764 -- Full Text
The Currency Act, 1764 -- Full Text
- March 22
- Parliament passes the Stamp Act
- The "hated Stamp Act" required that all newspapers, pamphlets, almanacs, advertisements, legal documents such as deeds, wills and diplomas, and even playing cards and dice in the colonies were to be printed on specially stamped paper, which was to be shipped from a London central office and distributed in America by special agents after payment of a revenue-raising tax.
The colonists foremost objection to this tax was that it had been levied without their consent. The Americans had long been aware that the Stamp Act was coming, and once passed, the act did not take effect until November. This allowed ample time for resistance to build up in the colonies. The boycott, which had been so useful against the Sugar Act, was again utilized to protest the Stamp Act. In addition, mob threats against appointed stamp distributors discouraged the implementation of the act. By the time shiploads of the stamped paper arrived in America, virtually no customs officer was willing to attempt to execute the Stamp Act. When the date for the enactment of the Stamp Act came, business in America went on with scarcely a pause, and without the stamped paper. Courts carried on as usual. Unstamped newspapers continued to be printed, urging the populace to remain firm.
The Stamp Act brought to the fore a question that had been smoldering for a long time in America: just how much authority, and of what kind, did Parliament have over the colonies? Following the Stamp Act, a great many men took up their pens to write upon this question, including Thomas Whately and Daniel Dulany. Eventually the Stamp Act Congress issued the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which put into words the understanding of Parliamentary authority with which the colonies had lived for decades. Throughout the firestorm of controversy sparked by the short-lived Stamp Act, Americans were at least agreed upon one thing: there should be no taxation without representation.
- May 15
- Parliament passes the Quartering Act of 1765
- The Quartering Act required civil authorities to supply lodging and supplies for British troops stationed in America, even forcing the colonists to provide for soldiers at their own expense.
To the colonists, the Act looked suspiciously like an order to the colonial legislatures to tax themselves, unless they retained the right to refuse to comply, or to comply only to the extent that they wished. To retain this right, many colonial assemblies were careful not to supply the full amount of stores demanded by British troops, or to make sure that it was understood that supplies and lodging were being offered as a free gift.
The Quartering Act -- Full Text
- October 7
- The Stamp Act Congress convenes
- The passage of the Stamp Act and the Quartering Act elicited strong objections from the colonists. The British were equally emphatic in supporting their position, which was that Parliament had the right to legislate for the colonies. The British view was stated by Thomas Whately in a pamphlet entitled "The Regulations Lately Made." Whately was a member of Parliament, secretary to the treasury, and principal author of the Stamp Act.
Whately agreed that no Englishman could be taxed without the consent of his representative; but he argued that the colonists were like the great majority of those living in the British Isles who did not vote for representatives to the House of Commons, but were none the less "virtually" represented in the House. He argued further that the Parliament spoke, not only for their constituents in the home isles, but for the entirety of the British empire.
The principle of "virtual representation" was not warmly received by the colonists. Daniel Dulany, an attorney educated in England and a member of the Proprietary Council in Maryland since 1757, wrote a pamphlet entitled "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of Raising a Revenue, by Act of Parliament."
Dulany's pamphlet was a departure from the argument put forth in James Otis'The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, which had stated that the colonists should be represented in Parliament. Instead, Dulany tried to establish a line separating the authority of Parliament from the authority of the colonial legislatures. He argued that Parliament did indeed have legislative authority over the colonies in all matters, except the levying of taxes for the purpose of raising government revenue.
In October, the Stamp Act Congress-the first independent colonial conference-was convened in New York, in response to a call from the Massachusetts House of Representatives for a general congress to meet and discuss the colonists' grievances against Parliament. Delegates from nine colonies participated in the Congress, which first met on the 7th of October.
On October 19, the Congress adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, written by John Dickinson (1732-1808), an attorney from Pennsylvania who would later be a prominent participant in the constitutional debates. The Declaration contained fourteen resolutions. It set forth "the most essential rights and liberties of the colonists, and... the grievances under which they labor, by reason of several late acts of parliament." It was thus the first "officially" stated position of the colonies on the issue of Parliament's authority to tax them.
On October 29, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, led by Samuel Adams, adopted resolves asserting that the colonists' rights were "founded in the law of God and nature, and are the common rights of mankind."
- March 18
- Parliament repeals the Stamp Act and passes the Declaratory Act
- Colonial merchants agreed not to import any goods from Europe, nor to use the stamps required by the law in most business transactions, until the Stamp Act was repealed. The merchants' action caused an immediate and sharp decline in the consumption of English goods by the colonists. At the request of British merchants, Parliament finally repealed the Stamp Act and removed some of the more stringent measures of the Sugar Act.
After a long and spirited debate, Parliament also passed the Declaratory Act, asserting the authority of Parliament to legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever."
The "Examination of Benjamin Franklin in the House of Commons," which took place on February 13th, is important for an understanding of the disagreement between the colonists and the British on these points. During the course of his examination, Franklin stated that the consensus among the colonists was that "the authority of parliament was allowed to be valid in all laws, except such as should lay internal taxes [i.e., direct taxes to raise revenue]. It was never disputed in laying duties to regulate commerce." The colonists "considered the parliament as the great bulwark and security of their liberties and privileges"; however, their respect for Parliament had been "greatly lessened" by, among other things, "the prohibition of making paper money among themselves," the "new and heavy tax by stamps," and the "taking away at the same time, trials by juries, and refusing to receive and hear their humble petitions."
Franklin's testimony helped bring about the repeal of the Stamp Act, but it also created a widespread impression among British politicians that Americans objected to internal taxes, but not external taxes on trade. In fact, it was in the purpose, not kind, of taxation that colonists drew a distinction. Americans objected to all taxes by Parliament for the purposes of raising revenue, while admitting Parliament's right to levy taxes solely for the purpose of regulating trade. This position was later clearly formulated by John Dickinson, in his "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies."
- June 29
- Parliament passes the Townshend Acts.
- The Townshend Acts levied duties on glass, lead, paper, paint, and tea. They also established a separate Board of Customs in Boston for the purpose of ending the
colonists' violations of the trade laws and ensuring the strict enforcement of the Act.
Parliament was ripe for the proposals of Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would die within three months of the passage of the acts which bore his name. The country gentlemen in Parliament had pushed through a reduction of the English land tax, thereby bleeding the government's revenue, and Townshend's promises to wrangle money from the quarrelsome Americans were suddenly quite attractive. He proposed to do this by levying a full barrage of external taxes upon the colonists, on the understanding that the colonists objected merely to internal taxes. This impression, however, was false, and soon, as they had during the Stamp Act Crisis, colonial writers such as John Dickinson and Samuel Adams were again taking up the pen to attempt to define the boundaries of Parliamentary power.
The erection of an independent board of commissioners in Boston to enforce the Townshend duties was also troubling to the colonists. Customs officers in the colonies had long been known as a crafty lot. The salaries of the Board of Customs men were to be derived from the duties they collected in the colonies. This meant that they would be royal officers operating in the colonies independent of the colonial assemblies, and far from the reach of Parliament. A customs official could amass a fortune by accepting bribes on shipments illegal under the provisions of the Sugar Act, or by seizure of offending ships and cargo. Seized goods were traditionally sold, and a third of the proceeds went to the English treasury, a third to the colonial governor, and a third to the customs official making the seizure. There was great incentive for abuses of the customs service, and no effective power to curb such abuses.
The colonists' fears soon proved well-founded. When the Liberty, one of the ships of wealthy merchant John Hancock, was seized on a dubious pretext, Bostonians were enraged. Frightened at his first taste of Boston's predilection for mob justice, the customs commissioner called to England for troops to protect him in the execution of his duties. The result of such pleas was that increasing numbers of British soldiers were soon being transported across the Atlantic. This, in turn, aggravated colonial suspicions of a tyrannical British design.
- Parliament passes the New York Suspending Act.
- New York, which contained the largest number of British troops, was the most uncooperative of the colonies in carrying out the provisions of the Quartering Act of 1765. Parliament finally reacted in July of 1767, suspending the New York Assembly until such time as it complied with the Quartering Act. The suspension never went into effect because New York had already complied on June 6, nearly a month earlier. In acquiescing, however, the assembly nonetheless denied the validity of the Quartering Act and Parliament's authority to require colonial assemblies to supply monies for specific purposes.
In September, a general instruction was issued to all the royal governors of every colony, forbidding their assent to any act of a colonial house of representatives that would change their constitution. This was aimed against the colonial assemblies' claim of holding authority comparable to that of Parliament.
The attacks upon New York's legislature and the ability of the colonists to impact their own constitutions set an ominous precedent, in the colonists' view. They saw a despotic design in Parliament's readiness to sacrifice colonial assemblies for the sake of winning the argument over the proper place and extent of legislative authority.
- November 5
- The first of John Dickinson’s “Letters from a Famer” is printed in the Pennsylvania Chronicle.
- Dickinson's "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies" were published in serial form throughout the colonies between November 1767 and January 1768. In these letters, Dickinson stated sharply and clearly the colonists' reasons for opposing the Townshend Revenue Act. In their view, direct taxes on the colonies for the purpose of raising revenue were unconstitutional, whereas duties levied for the purpose of regulating trade were legitimate.
- February 11
- Samuel Adams composes the Massachusetts Circular Letter to the other 12 colonies.
- The Massachusetts Circular Letter was written by Samuel Adams (1722-1803), a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. It was sent to the speaker of every house of representatives in the other colonies. The letter declared that the Townshend Revenue Act was unconstitutional, and exhorted the other legislatures to join together in protesting to King George against the act.
The principle involved, as stated in the Circular Letter, was that the political authority of any legislative body rightfully originated in and was limited by its constitution. But, the letter stated, one of the "fundamental rules of the British Constitution" was that no one could be deprived of his property without his consent. The letter further argued that it was simply not possible for Americans to be represented in Parliament. Therefore, although Parliament might have the authority to impose taxes on the colonies for the purpose of regulating trade, it had not and could not have the authority to impose taxes for the purpose of raising revenue to run the government.
- April 21
- The British Secretary of State for the colonies responds to the Massachusetts Circular Letter.
- The earl of Hillsborough, newly appointed Secretary of State for the colonies, answered the Massachusetts Circular Letter with a circular letter of his own. He ordered each colonial governor to dissolve the colonial assembly if it took favorable notice of the Massachusetts Circular Letter. He ordered the Massachusetts governor to dissolve the assembly of Massachusetts immediately if it refused to rescind the letter. The colonial assemblies responded with spirited defiance against these orders.
- June 8
- The British Secretary of State for the colonies orders General Thomas Gage to deploy forces to Boston.
- In response to complaints from the customs commissioners in Boston, the British Secretary of State Lord Hillsborough dispatched two regiments to the colony, with two more following soon after. As a result of this deployment, a Boston town meeting asked Governor Bernard to call the legislature into session to discuss the issue. When he refused, a town meeting was called on September 12 and subsequently produced the most radical denial of parliamentary authority up to that point.
The troops, rushing to protect the customs agents, encountered little danger in Boston. The following summer, two regiments were removed to Halifax, but two were left behind. Meanwhile, colonists bitterly watched the customs commissioners continue to plunder American shipping.