Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774

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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
131
CHAPTER 5
Imperial Reforms and Colonial
Protests, 1763-1774
Figure 5.1 The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering (1774), attributed to Philip Dawe,
depicts the most publicized tarring and feathering incident of the American Revolution. The victim is John Malcolm, a
customs official loyal to the British crown.
Chapter Outline
5.1 Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and Indian War
5.2 The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty
5.3 The Townshend Acts and Colonial Protest
5.4 The Destruction of the Tea and the Coercive Acts
5.5 Disaffection: The First Continental Congress and American Identity
Introduction
The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering (Figure 5.1), shows five Patriots tarring and
feathering the Commissioner of Customs, John Malcolm, a sea captain, army officer, and staunch Loyalist.
The print shows the Boston Tea Party, a protest against the Tea Act of 1773, and the Liberty Tree, an elm
tree near Boston Common that became a rallying point against the Stamp Act of 1765. When the crowd
threatened to hang Malcolm if he did not renounce his position as a royal customs officer, he reluctantly
agreed and the protestors allowed him to go home. The scene represents the animosity toward those who
supported royal authority and illustrates the high tide of unrest in the colonies after the British government
imposed a series of imperial reform measures during the years 1763–1774.
The government’s formerly lax oversight of the colonies ended as the architects of the British Empire put
these new reforms in place. The British hoped to gain greater control over colonial trade and frontier
settlement as well as to reduce the administrative cost of the colonies and the enormous debt left by the
French and Indian War. Each step the British took, however, generated a backlash. Over time, imperial
reforms pushed many colonists toward separation from the British Empire.
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
5.1 Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and
Indian War
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
• Discuss the status of Great Britain’s North American colonies in the years directly
following the French and Indian War
• Describe the size and scope of the British debt at the end of the French and Indian War
• Explain how the British Parliament responded to the debt crisis
• Outline the purpose of the Proclamation Line, the Sugar Act, and the Currency Act
Great Britain had much to celebrate in 1763. The long and costly war with France had finally ended, and
Great Britain had emerged victorious. British subjects on both sides of the Atlantic celebrated the strength
of the British Empire. Colonial pride ran high; to live under the British Constitution and to have defeated
the hated French Catholic menace brought great joy to British Protestants everywhere in the Empire. From
Maine to Georgia, British colonists joyously celebrated the victory and sang the refrain of “Rule, Britannia!
Britannia, rule the waves! Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!”
Despite the celebratory mood, the victory over France also produced major problems within the British
Empire, problems that would have serious consequences for British colonists in the Americas. During the
war, many Indian tribes had sided with the French, who supplied them with guns. After the 1763 Treaty
of Paris that ended the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War), British colonists had to defend
the frontier, where French colonists and their tribal allies remained a powerful force. The most organized
resistance, Pontiac’s Rebellion, highlighted tensions the settlers increasingly interpreted in racial terms.
The massive debt the war generated at home, however, proved to be the most serious issue facing Great
Britain. The frontier had to be secure in order to prevent another costly war. Greater enforcement of
imperial trade laws had to be put into place. Parliament had to find ways to raise revenue to pay off the
crippling debt from the war. Everyone would have to contribute their expected share, including the British
subjects across the Atlantic.
Figure 5.2 (credit “1765”: modification of work by the United Kingdom Government)
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
133
PROBLEMS ON THE AMERICAN FRONTIER
With the end of the French and Indian War, Great Britain claimed a vast new expanse of territory, at least
on paper. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the French territory known as New France had ceased to
exist. British territorial holdings now extended from Canada to Florida, and British military focus shifted to
maintaining peace in the king’s newly enlarged lands. However, much of the land in the American British
Empire remained under the control of powerful native confederacies, which made any claims of British
mastery beyond the Atlantic coastal settlements hollow. Great Britain maintained ten thousand troops in
North America after the war ended in 1763 to defend the borders and repel any attack by their imperial
rivals.
British colonists, eager for fresh land, poured over the Appalachian Mountains to stake claims. The
western frontier had long been a “middle ground” where different imperial powers (British, French,
Spanish) had interacted and compromised with native peoples. That era of accommodation in the “middle
ground” came to an end after the French and Indian War. Virginians (including George Washington) and
other land-hungry colonists had already raised tensions in the 1740s with their quest for land. Virginia
landowners in particular eagerly looked to diversify their holdings beyond tobacco, which had stagnated
in price and exhausted the fertility of the lands along the Chesapeake Bay. They invested heavily in the
newly available land. This westward movement brought the settlers into conflict as never before with
Indian tribes, such as the Shawnee, Seneca-Cayuga, Wyandot, and Delaware, who increasingly held their
ground against any further intrusion by white settlers.
The treaty that ended the war between France and Great Britain proved to be a significant blow to native
peoples, who had viewed the conflict as an opportunity to gain additional trade goods from both sides.
With the French defeat, many Indians who had sided with France lost a valued trading partner as well
as bargaining power over the British. Settlers’ encroachment on their land, as well as the increased British
military presence, changed the situation on the frontier dramatically. After the war, British troops took
over the former French forts but failed to court favor with the local tribes by distributing ample gifts, as the
French had done. They also significantly reduced the amount of gunpowder and ammunition they sold to
the Indians, worsening relationships further.
Indians’ resistance to colonists drew upon the teachings of Delaware (Lenni Lenape) prophet Neolin and
the leadership of Ottawa war chief Pontiac. Neolin was a spiritual leader who preached a doctrine of
shunning European culture and expelling Europeans from native lands. Neolin’s beliefs united Indians
from many villages. In a broad-based alliance that came to be known as Pontiac’s Rebellion, Pontiac led a
loose coalition of these native tribes against the colonists and the British army.
Pontiac started bringing his coalition together as early as 1761, urging Indians to “drive [the Europeans]
out and make war upon them.” The conflict began in earnest in 1763, when Pontiac and several hundred
Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Hurons laid siege to Fort Detroit. At the same time, Senecas, Shawnees, and
Delawares laid siege to Fort Pitt. Over the next year, the war spread along the backcountry from Virginia to
Pennsylvania. Pontiac’s Rebellion (also known as Pontiac’s War) triggered horrific violence on both sides.
Firsthand reports of Indian attacks tell of murder, scalping, dismemberment, and burning at the stake.
These stories incited a deep racial hatred among colonists against all Indians.
The actions of a group of Scots-Irish settlers from Paxton (or Paxtang), Pennsylvania, in December 1763,
illustrates the deadly situation on the frontier. Forming a mob known as the Paxton Boys, these
frontiersmen attacked a nearby group of Conestoga of the Susquehannock tribe. The Conestoga had
lived peacefully with local settlers, but the Paxton Boys viewed all Indians as savages and they brutally
murdered the six Conestoga they found at home and burned their houses. When Governor John Penn put
the remaining fourteen Conestoga in protective custody in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the Paxton Boys broke
into the building and killed and scalped the Conestoga they found there (Figure 5.3). Although Governor
Penn offered a reward for the capture of any Paxton Boys involved in the murders, no one ever identified
the attackers. Some colonists reacted to the incident with outrage. Benjamin Franklin described the Paxton
Boys as “the barbarous Men who committed the atrocious act, in Defiance of Government, of all Laws
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
human and divine, and to the eternal Disgrace of their Country and Colour,” stating that “the Wickedness
cannot be covered, the Guilt will lie on the whole Land, till Justice is done on the Murderers. The blood
of the innocent will cry to heaven for vengeance.” Yet, as the inability to bring the perpetrators to justice
clearly indicates, the Paxton Boys had many more supporters than critics.
Figure 5.3 This nineteenth-century lithograph depicts the massacre of Conestoga in 1763 at Lancaster,
Pennsylvania, where they had been placed in protective custody. None of the attackers, members of the Paxton
Boys, were ever identified.
Click and Explore
Visit Explore PAhistory.com (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/paxton) to read the full
text of Benjamin Franklin’s “Benjamin Franklin, An Account of the Paxton Boys’ Murder
of the Conestoga Indians, 1764.”
Pontiac’s Rebellion and the Paxton Boys’ actions were examples of early American race wars, in which
both sides saw themselves as inherently different from the other and believed the other needed to be
eradicated. The prophet Neolin’s message, which he said he received in a vision from the Master of Life,
was: “Wherefore do you suffer the whites to dwell upon your lands? Drive them away; wage war against
them.” Pontiac echoed this idea in a meeting, exhorting tribes to join together against the British: “It is
important for us, my brothers, that we exterminate from our lands this nation which seeks only to destroy
us.” In his letter suggesting “gifts” to the natives of smallpox-infected blankets, Field Marshal Jeffrey
Amherst said, “You will do well to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as every other
method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” Pontiac’s Rebellion came to an end in 1766, when it
became clear that the French, whom Pontiac had hoped would side with his forces, would not be returning.
The repercussions, however, would last much longer. Race relations between Indians and whites remained
poisoned on the frontier.
Well aware of the problems on the frontier, the British government took steps to try to prevent bloodshed
and another costly war. At the beginning of Pontiac’s uprising, the British issued the Proclamation of 1763,
which forbade white settlement west of the Proclamation Line, a borderline running along the spine of
the Appalachian Mountains (Figure 5.4). The Proclamation Line aimed to forestall further conflict on the
frontier, the clear flashpoint of tension in British North America. British colonists who had hoped to move
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
135
west after the war chafed at this restriction, believing the war had been fought and won to ensure the right
to settle west. The Proclamation Line therefore came as a setback to their vision of westward expansion.
Figure 5.4 This map shows the status of the American colonies in 1763, after the end of the French and Indian War.
Although Great Britain won control of the territory east of the Mississippi, the Proclamation Line of 1763 prohibited
British colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains. (credit: modification of work by the National Atlas of
the United States)
THE BRITISH NATIONAL DEBT
Great Britain’s newly enlarged empire meant a greater financial burden, and the mushrooming debt from
the war was a major cause of concern. The war nearly doubled the British national debt, from £75 million
in 1756 to £133 million in 1763. Interest payments alone consumed over half the national budget, and the
continuing military presence in North America was a constant drain. The Empire needed more revenue to
replenish its dwindling coffers. Those in Great Britain believed that British subjects in North America, as
the major beneficiaries of Great Britain’s war for global supremacy, should certainly shoulder their share
of the financial burden.
The British government began increasing revenues by raising taxes at home, even as various interest
groups lobbied to keep their taxes low. Powerful members of the aristocracy, well represented in
Parliament, successfully convinced Prime Minister John Stuart, third earl of Bute, to refrain from raising
taxes on land. The greater tax burden, therefore, fell on the lower classes in the form of increased import
duties, which raised the prices of imported goods such as sugar and tobacco. George Grenville succeeded
Bute as prime minister in 1763. Grenville determined to curtail government spending and make sure that,
as subjects of the British Empire, the American colonists did their part to pay down the massive debt.
IMPERIAL REFORMS
The new era of greater British interest in the American colonies through imperial reforms picked up in
pace in the mid-1760s. In 1764, Prime Minister Grenville introduced the Currency Act of 1764, prohibiting
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
the colonies from printing additional paper money and requiring colonists to pay British merchants in
gold and silver instead of the colonial paper money already in circulation. The Currency Act aimed to
standardize the currency used in Atlantic trade, a logical reform designed to help stabilize the Empire’s
economy. This rule brought American economic activity under greater British control. Colonists relied on
their own paper currency to conduct trade and, with gold and silver in short supply, they found their
finances tight. Not surprisingly, they grumbled about the new imperial currency regulations.
Grenville also pushed Parliament to pass the Sugar Act of 1764, which actually lowered duties on British
molasses by half, from six pence per gallon to three. Grenville designed this measure to address the
problem of rampant colonial smuggling with the French sugar islands in the West Indies. The act
attempted to make it easier for colonial traders, especially New England mariners who routinely engaged
in illegal trade, to comply with the imperial law.
To give teeth to the 1764 Sugar Act, the law intensified enforcement provisions. Prior to the 1764 act,
colonial violations of the Navigation Acts had been tried in local courts, where sympathetic colonial juries
refused to convict merchants on trial. However, the Sugar Act required violators to be tried in viceadmiralty courts. These crown-sanctioned tribunals, which settled disputes that occurred at sea, operated
without juries. Some colonists saw this feature of the 1764 act as dangerous. They argued that trial by
jury had long been honored as a basic right of Englishmen under the British Constitution. To deprive
defendants of a jury, they contended, meant reducing liberty-loving British subjects to political slavery. In
the British Atlantic world, some colonists perceived this loss of liberty as parallel to the enslavement of
Africans.
As loyal British subjects, colonists in America cherished their Constitution, an unwritten system of
government that they celebrated as the best political system in the world. The British Constitution
prescribed the roles of the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. Each entity provided a
check and balance against the worst tendencies of the others. If the King had too much power, the result
would be tyranny. If the Lords had too much power, the result would be oligarchy. If the Commons
had the balance of power, democracy or mob rule would prevail. The British Constitution promised
representation of the will of British subjects, and without such representation, even the indirect tax of the
Sugar Act was considered a threat to the settlers’ rights as British subjects. Furthermore, some American
colonists felt the colonies were on equal political footing with Great Britain. The Sugar Act meant they
were secondary, mere adjuncts to the Empire. All subjects of the British crown knew they had liberties
under the constitution. The Sugar Act suggested that some in Parliament labored to deprive them of what
made them uniquely British.
5.2 The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
• Explain the purpose of the 1765 Stamp Act
• Describe the colonial responses to the Stamp Act
In 1765, the British Parliament moved beyond the efforts during the previous two years to better regulate
westward expansion and trade by putting in place the Stamp Act. As a direct tax on the colonists, the
Stamp Act imposed an internal tax on almost every type of printed paper colonists used, including
newspapers, legal documents, and playing cards. While the architects of the Stamp Act saw the measure
as a way to defray the costs of the British Empire, it nonetheless gave rise to the first major colonial protest
against British imperial control as expressed in the famous slogan “no taxation without representation.”
The Stamp Act reinforced the sense among some colonists that Parliament was not treating them as equals
of their peers across the Atlantic.
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
137
THE STAMP ACT AND THE QUARTERING ACT
Prime Minister Grenville, author of the Sugar Act of 1764, introduced the Stamp Act in the early spring
of 1765. Under this act, anyone who used or purchased anything printed on paper had to buy a revenue
stamp (Figure 5.5) for it. In the same year, 1765, Parliament also passed the Quartering Act, a law that
attempted to solve the problems of stationing troops in North America. The Parliament understood the
Stamp Act and the Quartering Act as an assertion of their power to control colonial policy.
Figure 5.5 Under the Stamp Act, anyone who used or purchased anything printed on paper had to buy a revenue
stamp for it. Image (a) shows a partial proof sheet of one-penny stamps. Image (b) provides a close-up of a onepenny stamp. (credit a: modification of work by the United Kingdom Government; credit b: modification of work by the
United Kingdom Government)
The Stamp Act signaled a shift in British policy after the French and Indian War. Before the Stamp Act,
the colonists had paid taxes to their colonial governments or indirectly through higher prices, not directly
to the Crown’s appointed governors. This was a time-honored liberty of representative legislatures of the
colonial governments. The passage of the Stamp Act meant that starting on November 1, 1765, the colonists
would contribute £60,000 per year—17 percent of the total cost—to the upkeep of the ten thousand British
soldiers in North America (Figure 5.6). Because the Stamp Act raised constitutional issues, it triggered the
first serious protest against British imperial policy.
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
Figure 5.6 The announcement of the Stamp Act, seen in this newspaper publication (a), raised numerous concerns
among colonists in America. Protests against British imperial policy took many forms, such as this mock stamp (b)
whose text reads “An Emblem of the Effects of the STAMP. O! the Fatal STAMP.”
Parliament also asserted its prerogative in 1765 with the Quartering Act. The Quartering Act of 1765
addressed the problem of housing British soldiers stationed in the American colonies. It required that they
be provided with barracks or places to stay in public houses, and that if extra housing were necessary,
then troops could be stationed in barns and other uninhabited private buildings. In addition, the costs
of the troops’ food and lodging fell to the colonists. Since the time of James II, who ruled from 1685 to
1688, many British subjects had mistrusted the presence of a standing army during peacetime, and having
to pay for the soldiers’ lodging and food was especially burdensome. Widespread evasion and disregard
for the law occurred in almost all the colonies, but the issue was especially contentious in New York, the
headquarters of British forces. When fifteen hundred troops arrived in New York in 1766, the New York
Assembly refused to follow the Quartering Act.
COLONIAL PROTEST: GENTRY, MERCHANTS, AND THE STAMP ACT CONGRESS
For many British colonists living in America, the Stamp Act raised many concerns. As a direct tax, it
appeared to be an unconstitutional measure, one that deprived freeborn British subjects of their liberty,
a concept they defined broadly to include various rights and privileges they enjoyed as British subjects,
including the right to representation. According to the unwritten British Constitution, only representatives
for whom British subjects voted could tax them. Parliament was in charge of taxation, and although it was
a representative body, the colonies did not have “actual” (or direct) representation in it. Parliamentary
members who supported the Stamp Act argued that the colonists had virtual representation, because
the architects of the British Empire knew best how to maximize returns from its possessions overseas.
However, this argument did not satisfy the protesters, who viewed themselves as having the same right
as all British subjects to avoid taxation without their consent. With no representation in the House of
Commons, where bills of taxation originated, they felt themselves deprived of this inherent right.
The British government knew the colonists might object to the Stamp Act’s expansion of parliamentary
power, but Parliament believed the relationship of the colonies to the Empire was one of dependence,
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
139
not equality. However, the Stamp Act had the unintended and ironic consequence of drawing colonists
from very different areas and viewpoints together in protest. In Massachusetts, for instance, James Otis,
a lawyer and defender of British liberty, became the leading voice for the idea that “Taxation without
representation is tyranny.” In the Virginia House of Burgesses, firebrand and slaveholder Patrick Henry
introduced the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions, which denounced the Stamp Act and the British crown in
language so strong that some conservative Virginians accused him of treason (Figure 5.7). Henry replied
that Virginians were subject only to taxes that they themselves—or their representatives—imposed. In
short, there could be no taxation without representation.
Figure 5.7 Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses (1851), painted by Peter F. Rothermel, offers a
romanticized depiction of Henry’s speech denouncing the Stamp Act of 1765. Supporters and opponents alike
debated the stark language of the speech, which quickly became legendary.
The colonists had never before formed a unified political front, so Grenville and Parliament did not
fear true revolt. However, this was to change in 1765. In response to the Stamp Act, the Massachusetts
Assembly sent letters to the other colonies, asking them to attend a meeting, or congress, to discuss how
to respond to the act. Many American colonists from very different colonies found common cause in their
opposition to the Stamp Act. Representatives from nine colonial legislatures met in New York in the fall
of 1765 to reach a consensus. Could Parliament impose taxation without representation? The members of
this first congress, known as the Stamp Act Congress, said no. These nine representatives had a vested
interest in repealing the tax. Not only did it weaken their businesses and the colonial economy, but it also
threatened their liberty under the British Constitution. They drafted a rebuttal to the Stamp Act, making
clear that they desired only to protect their liberty as loyal subjects of the Crown. The document, called the
Declaration of Rights and Grievances, outlined the unconstitutionality of taxation without representation
and trials without juries. Meanwhile, popular protest was also gaining force.
Click and Explore
Browse the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society
(http://openstaxcollege.org/l/masshist1) to examine digitized primary sources of the
documents that paved the way to the fight for liberty.
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
MOBILIZATION: POPULAR PROTEST AGAINST THE STAMP ACT
The Stamp Act Congress was a gathering of landowning, educated white men who represented the
political elite of the colonies and was the colonial equivalent of the British landed aristocracy. While
these gentry were drafting their grievances during the Stamp Act Congress, other colonists showed their
distaste for the new act by boycotting British goods and protesting in the streets. Two groups, the Sons of
Liberty and the Daughters of Liberty, led the popular resistance to the Stamp Act. Both groups considered
themselves British patriots defending their liberty, just as their forebears had done in the time of James II.
Forming in Boston in the summer of 1765, the Sons of Liberty were artisans, shopkeepers, and smalltime merchants willing to adopt extralegal means of protest. Before the act had even gone into effect, the
Sons of Liberty began protesting. On August 14, they took aim at Andrew Oliver, who had been named
the Massachusetts Distributor of Stamps. After hanging Oliver in effigy—that is, using a crudely made
figure as a representation of Oliver—the unruly crowd stoned and ransacked his house, finally beheading
the effigy and burning the remains. Such a brutal response shocked the royal governmental officials,
who hid until the violence had spent itself. Andrew Oliver resigned the next day. By that time, the mob
had moved on to the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson who, because of his support
of Parliament’s actions, was considered an enemy of English liberty. The Sons of Liberty barricaded
Hutchinson in his home and demanded that he renounce the Stamp Act; he refused, and the protesters
looted and burned his house. Furthermore, the Sons (also called “True Sons” or “True-born Sons” to make
clear their commitment to liberty and distinguish them from the likes of Hutchinson) continued to lead
violent protests with the goal of securing the resignation of all appointed stamp collectors (Figure 5.8).
Figure 5.8 With this broadside of December 17, 1765, the Sons of Liberty call for the resignation of Andrew Oliver,
the Massachusetts Distributor of Stamps.
Starting in early 1766, the Daughters of Liberty protested the Stamp Act by refusing to buy British goods
and encouraging others to do the same. They avoided British tea, opting to make their own teas with local
herbs and berries. They built a community—and a movement—around creating homespun cloth instead
of buying British linen. Well-born women held “spinning bees,” at which they competed to see who could
spin the most and the finest linen. An entry in The Boston Chronicle of April 7, 1766, states that on March
12, in Providence, Rhode Island, “18 Daughters of Liberty, young ladies of good reputation, assembled at
the house of Doctor Ephraim Bowen, in this town. . . . There they exhibited a fine example of industry, by
spinning from sunrise until dark, and displayed a spirit for saving their sinking country rarely to be found
among persons of more age and experience.” At dinner, they “cheerfully agreed to omit tea, to render
their conduct consistent. Besides this instance of their patriotism, before they separated, they unanimously
resolved that the Stamp Act was unconstitutional, that they would purchase no more British manufactures
unless it be repealed, and that they would not even admit the addresses of any gentlemen should they
have the opportunity, without they determined to oppose its execution to the last extremity, if the occasion
required.”
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
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The Daughters’ non-importation movement broadened the protest against the Stamp Act, giving women
a new and active role in the political dissent of the time. Women were responsible for purchasing goods for
the home, so by exercising the power of the purse, they could wield more power than they had in the past.
Although they could not vote, they could mobilize others and make a difference in the political landscape.
From a local movement, the protests of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty soon spread until there was a
chapter in every colony. The Daughters of Liberty promoted the boycott on British goods while the Sons
enforced it, threatening retaliation against anyone who bought imported goods or used stamped paper. In
the protest against the Stamp Act, wealthy, lettered political figures like John Adams supported the goals
of the Sons and Daughters of Liberty, even if they did not engage in the Sons’ violent actions. These men,
who were lawyers, printers, and merchants, ran a propaganda campaign parallel to the Sons’ campaign
of violence. In newspapers and pamphlets throughout the colonies, they published article after article
outlining the reasons the Stamp Act was unconstitutional and urging peaceful protest. They officially
condemned violent actions but did not have the protesters arrested; a degree of cooperation prevailed,
despite the groups’ different economic backgrounds. Certainly, all the protesters saw themselves as acting
in the best British tradition, standing up against the corruption (especially the extinguishing of their right
to representation) that threatened their liberty (Figure 5.9).
Figure 5.9 This 1766 illustration shows a funeral procession for the Stamp Act. Reverend William Scott leads the
procession of politicians who had supported the act, while a dog urinates on his leg. George Grenville, pictured fourth
in line, carries a small coffin. What point do you think this cartoon is trying to make?
THE DECLARATORY ACT
Back in Great Britain, news of the colonists’ reactions worsened an already volatile political situation.
Grenville’s imperial reforms had brought about increased domestic taxes and his unpopularity led to his
dismissal by King George III. While many in Parliament still wanted such reforms, British merchants
argued strongly for their repeal. These merchants had no interest in the philosophy behind the colonists’
desire for liberty; rather, their motive was that the non-importation of British goods by North American
colonists was hurting their business. Many of the British at home were also appalled by the colonists’
violent reaction to the Stamp Act. Other Britons cheered what they saw as the manly defense of liberty by
their counterparts in the colonies.
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
In March 1766, the new prime minister, Lord Rockingham, compelled Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act.
Colonists celebrated what they saw as a victory for their British liberty; in Boston, merchant John Hancock
treated the entire town to drinks. However, to appease opponents of the repeal, who feared that it would
weaken parliamentary power over the American colonists, Rockingham also proposed the Declaratory
Act. This stated in no uncertain terms that Parliament’s power was supreme and that any laws the colonies
may have passed to govern and tax themselves were null and void if they ran counter to parliamentary
law.
Click and Explore
Visit USHistory.org (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/decact) to read the full text of the
Declaratory Act, in which Parliament asserted the supremacy of parliamentary power.
5.3 The Townshend Acts and Colonial Protest
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
• Describe the purpose of the 1767 Townshend Acts
• Explain why many colonists protested the 1767 Townshend Acts and the consequences
of their actions
Colonists’ joy over the repeal of the Stamp Act and what they saw as their defense of liberty did not last
long. The Declaratory Act of 1766 had articulated Great Britain’s supreme authority over the colonies, and
Parliament soon began exercising that authority. In 1767, with the passage of the Townshend Acts, a tax
on consumer goods in British North America, colonists believed their liberty as loyal British subjects had
come under assault for a second time.
THE TOWNSHEND ACTS
Lord Rockingham’s tenure as prime minister was not long (1765–1766). Rich landowners feared that if he
were not taxing the colonies, Parliament would raise their taxes instead, sacrificing them to the interests
of merchants and colonists. George III duly dismissed Rockingham. William Pitt, also sympathetic to the
colonists, succeeded him. However, Pitt was old and ill with gout. His chancellor of the exchequer, Charles
Townshend (Figure 5.10), whose job was to manage the Empire’s finances, took on many of his duties.
Primary among these was raising the needed revenue from the colonies.
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Figure 5.10 Charles Townshend, chancellor of the exchequer, shown here in a 1765 painting by Joshua Reynolds,
instituted the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767 in order to raise money to support the British military presence in the
colonies.
Townshend’s first act was to deal with the unruly New York Assembly, which had voted not to pay for
supplies for the garrison of British soldiers that the Quartering Act required. In response, Townshend
proposed the Restraining Act of 1767, which disbanded the New York Assembly until it agreed to pay for
the garrison’s supplies, which it eventually agreed to do.
The Townshend Revenue Act of 1767 placed duties on various consumer items like paper, paint, lead,
tea, and glass. These British goods had to be imported, since the colonies did not have the manufacturing
base to produce them. Townshend hoped the new duties would not anger the colonists because they were
external taxes, not internal ones like the Stamp Act. In 1766, in arguing before Parliament for the repeal of
the Stamp Act, Benjamin Franklin had stated, “I never heard any objection to the right of laying duties to
regulate commerce; but a right to lay internal taxes was never supposed to be in parliament, as we are not
represented there.”
The Indemnity Act of 1767 exempted tea produced by the British East India Company from taxation
when it was imported into Great Britain. When the tea was re-exported to the colonies, however, the
colonists had to pay taxes on it because of the Revenue Act. Some critics of Parliament on both sides of
the Atlantic saw this tax policy as an example of corrupt politicians giving preferable treatment to specific
corporate interests, creating a monopoly. The sense that corruption had become entrenched in Parliament
only increased colonists’ alarm.
In fact, the revenue collected from these duties was only nominally intended to support the British army
in America. It actually paid the salaries of some royally appointed judges, governors, and other officials
whom the colonial assemblies had traditionally paid. Thanks to the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767,
however, these officials no longer relied on colonial leadership for payment. This change gave them a
measure of independence from the assemblies, so they could implement parliamentary acts without fear
that their pay would be withheld in retaliation. The Revenue Act thus appeared to sever the relationship
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between governors and assemblies, drawing royal officials closer to the British government and further
away from the colonial legislatures.
The Revenue Act also gave the customs board greater powers to counteract smuggling. It granted “writs
of assistance”—basically, search warrants—to customs commissioners who suspected the presence of
contraband goods, which also opened the door to a new level of bribery and trickery on the waterfronts
of colonial America. Furthermore, to ensure compliance, Townshend introduced the Commissioners of
Customs Act of 1767, which created an American Board of Customs to enforce trade laws. Customs
enforcement had been based in Great Britain, but rules were difficult to implement at such a distance,
and smuggling was rampant. The new customs board was based in Boston and would severely curtail
smuggling in this large colonial seaport.
Townshend also orchestrated the Vice-Admiralty Court Act, which established three more vice-admiralty
courts, in Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston, to try violators of customs regulations without a jury.
Before this, the only colonial vice-admiralty court had been in far-off Halifax, Nova Scotia, but with
three local courts, smugglers could be tried more efficiently. Since the judges of these courts were paid
a percentage of the worth of the goods they recovered, leniency was rare. All told, the Townshend Acts
resulted in higher taxes and stronger British power to enforce them. Four years after the end of the French
and Indian War, the Empire continued to search for solutions to its debt problem and the growing sense
that the colonies needed to be brought under control.
REACTIONS: THE NON-IMPORTATION MOVEMENT
Like the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts produced controversy and protest in the American colonies. For
a second time, many colonists resented what they perceived as an effort to tax them without representation
and thus to deprive them of their liberty. The fact that the revenue the Townshend Acts raised would pay
royal governors only made the situation worse, because it took control away from colonial legislatures that
otherwise had the power to set and withhold a royal governor’s salary. The Restraining Act, which had
been intended to isolate New York without angering the other colonies, had the opposite effect, showing
the rest of the colonies how far beyond the British Constitution some members of Parliament were willing
to go.
The Townshend Acts generated a number of protest writings, including “Letters from a Pennsylvania
Farmer” by John Dickinson. In this influential pamphlet, which circulated widely in the colonies,
Dickinson conceded that the Empire could regulate trade but argued that Parliament could not impose
either internal taxes, like stamps, on goods or external taxes, like customs duties, on imports.
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AMERICANA
“Address to the Ladies” Verse from The Boston Post-Boy and
Advertiser
This verse, which ran in a Boston newspaper in November 1767, highlights how women were
encouraged to take political action by boycotting British goods. Notice that the writer especially
encourages women to avoid British tea (Bohea and Green Hyson) and linen, and to manufacture their
own homespun cloth. Building on the protest of the 1765 Stamp Act by the Daughters of Liberty, the nonimportation movement of 1767–1768 mobilized women as political actors.
Young ladies in town, and those that live round,
Let a friend at this season advise you:
Since money’s so scarce, and times growing worse
Strange things may soon hap and surprize you:
First then, throw aside your high top knots of pride
Wear none but your own country linnen;
of economy boast, let your pride be the most
What, if homespun they say is not quite so gay
As brocades, yet be not in a passion,
For when once it is known this is much wore in town,
One and all will cry out, ’tis the fashion!
And as one, all agree that you’ll not married be
To such as will wear London Fact’ry:
But at first sight refuse, tell’em such you do chuse
As encourage our own Manufact’ry.
No more Ribbons wear, nor in rich dress appear,
Love your country much better than fine things,
Begin without passion, ’twill soon be the fashion
To grace your smooth locks with a twine string.
Throw aside your Bohea, and your Green Hyson Tea,
And all things with a new fashion duty;
Procure a good store of the choice Labradore,
For there’ll soon be enough here to suit ye;
These do without fear and to all you’ll appear
Fair, charming, true, lovely, and cleaver;
Tho’ the times remain darkish, young men may be sparkish.
And love you much stronger than ever. !O!
In Massachusetts in 1768, Samuel Adams wrote a letter that became known as the Massachusetts Circular.
Sent by the Massachusetts House of Representatives to the other colonial legislatures, the letter laid out
the unconstitutionality of taxation without representation and encouraged the other colonies to again
protest the taxes by boycotting British goods. Adams wrote, “It is, moreover, [the Massachusetts House
of Representatives] humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the
Parliament, that the acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and
express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements of their natural and constitutional rights; because,
as they are not represented in the Parliament, his Majesty’s Commons in Britain, by those acts, grant their
property without their consent.” Note that even in this letter of protest, the humble and submissive tone
shows the Massachusetts Assembly’s continued deference to parliamentary authority. Even in that hotbed
of political protest, it is a clear expression of allegiance and the hope for a restoration of “natural and
constitutional rights.”
Great Britain’s response to this threat of disobedience served only to unite the colonies further. The
colonies’ initial response to the Massachusetts Circular was lukewarm at best. However, back in Great
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Britain, the secretary of state for the colonies—Lord Hillsborough—demanded that Massachusetts retract
the letter, promising that any colonial assemblies that endorsed it would be dissolved. This threat had
the effect of pushing the other colonies to Massachusetts’s side. Even the city of Philadelphia, which had
originally opposed the Circular, came around.
The Daughters of Liberty once again supported and promoted the boycott of British goods. Women
resumed spinning bees and again found substitutes for British tea and other goods. Many colonial
merchants signed non-importation agreements, and the Daughters of Liberty urged colonial women to
shop only with those merchants. The Sons of Liberty used newspapers and circulars to call out by name
those merchants who refused to sign such agreements; sometimes they were threatened by violence. For
instance, a broadside from 1769–1770 reads:
WILLIAM JACKSON,
an IMPORTER;
at the BRAZEN HEAD,
North Side of the TOWN-HOUSE,
and Opposite the Town-Pump, [in]
Corn-hill, BOSTON
It is desired that the SONS
and DAUGHTERS of LIBERTY,
would not buy any one thing of
him, for in so doing they will bring
disgrace upon themselves, and their
Posterity, for ever and ever, AMEN.
The boycott in 1768–1769 turned the purchase of consumer goods into a political gesture. It mattered what
you consumed. Indeed, the very clothes you wore indicated whether you were a defender of liberty in
homespun or a protector of parliamentary rights in superfine British attire.
Click and Explore
For examples of the types of luxury items that many American colonists favored, visit
the National Humanities Center (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/britlux) to see
pictures and documents relating to home interiors of the wealthy.
TROUBLE IN BOSTON
The Massachusetts Circular got Parliament’s attention, and in 1768, Lord Hillsborough sent four thousand
British troops to Boston to deal with the unrest and put down any potential rebellion there. The troops
were a constant reminder of the assertion of British power over the colonies, an illustration of an unequal
relationship between members of the same empire. As an added aggravation, British soldiers moonlighted
as dockworkers, creating competition for employment. Boston’s labor system had traditionally been
closed, privileging native-born laborers over outsiders, and jobs were scarce. Many Bostonians, led by the
Sons of Liberty, mounted a campaign of harassment against British troops. The Sons of Liberty also helped
protect the smuggling actions of the merchants; smuggling was crucial for the colonists’ ability to maintain
their boycott of British goods.
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John Hancock was one of Boston’s most successful merchants and prominent citizens. While he
maintained too high a profile to work actively with the Sons of Liberty, he was known to support their
aims, if not their means of achieving them. He was also one of the many prominent merchants who had
made their fortunes by smuggling, which was rampant in the colonial seaports. In 1768, customs officials
seized the Liberty, one of his ships, and violence erupted. Led by the Sons of Liberty, Bostonians rioted
against customs officials, attacking the customs house and chasing out the officers, who ran to safety at
Castle William, a British fort on a Boston harbor island. British soldiers crushed the riots, but over the next
few years, clashes between British officials and Bostonians became common.
Conflict turned deadly on March 5, 1770, in a confrontation that came to be known as the Boston Massacre.
On that night, a crowd of Bostonians from many walks of life started throwing snowballs, rocks, and
sticks at the British soldiers guarding the customs house. In the resulting scuffle, some soldiers, goaded by
the mob who hectored the soldiers as “lobster backs” (the reference to lobster equated the soldiers with
bottom feeders, i.e., aquatic animals that feed on the lowest organisms in the food chain), fired into the
crowd, killing five people. Crispus Attucks, the first man killed—and, though no one could have known it
then, the first official casualty in the war for independence—was of Wampanoag and African descent. The
bloodshed illustrated the level of hostility that had developed as a result of Boston’s occupation by British
troops, the competition for scarce jobs between Bostonians and the British soldiers stationed in the city,
and the larger question of Parliament’s efforts to tax the colonies.
The Sons of Liberty immediately seized on the event, characterizing the British soldiers as murderers
and their victims as martyrs. Paul Revere, a silversmith and member of the Sons of Liberty, circulated
an engraving that showed a line of grim redcoats firing ruthlessly into a crowd of unarmed, fleeing
civilians. Among colonists who resisted British power, this view of the “massacre” confirmed their fears
of a tyrannous government using its armies to curb the freedom of British subjects. But to others, the
attacking mob was equally to blame for pelting the British with rocks and insulting them.
It was not only British Loyalists who condemned the unruly mob. John Adams, one of the city’s strongest
supporters of peaceful protest against Parliament, represented the British soldiers at their murder trial.
Adams argued that the mob’s lawlessness required the soldiers’ response, and that without law and order,
a society was nothing. He argued further that the soldiers were the tools of a much broader program,
which transformed a street brawl into the injustice of imperial policy. Of the eight soldiers on trial, the jury
acquitted six, convicting the other two of the reduced charge of manslaughter.
Adams argued: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the
dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence: nor is the law less stable than
the fact; if an assault was made to endanger their lives, the law is clear, they had a right to kill in their
own defense; if it was not so severe as to endanger their lives, yet if they were assaulted at all, struck and
abused by blows of any sort, by snow-balls, oyster-shells, cinders, clubs, or sticks of any kind; this was
a provocation, for which the law reduces the offence of killing, down to manslaughter, in consideration
of those passions in our nature, which cannot be eradicated. To your candour and justice I submit the
prisoners and their cause.”
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AMERICANA
Propaganda and the Sons of Liberty
Long after the British soldiers had been tried and punished, the Sons of Liberty maintained a relentless
propaganda campaign against British oppression. Many of them were printers or engravers, and they
were able to use public media to sway others to their cause. Shortly after the incident outside the
customs house, Paul Revere created “The bloody massacre perpetrated in King Street Boston on March
5th 1770 by a party of the 29th Regt.” (Figure 5.11), based on an image by engraver Henry Pelham.
The picture—which represents only the protesters’ point of view—shows the ruthlessness of the British
soldiers and the helplessness of the crowd of civilians. Notice the subtle details Revere uses to help
convince the viewer of the civilians’ innocence and the soldiers’ cruelty. Although eyewitnesses said the
crowd started the fight by throwing snowballs and rocks, in the engraving they are innocently standing
by. Revere also depicts the crowd as well dressed and well-to-do, when in fact they were laborers and
probably looked quite a bit rougher.
Figure 5.11 The Sons of Liberty circulated this sensationalized version of the events of March 5, 1770,
in order to promote the rightness of their cause. The verses below the image begin as follows:
“Unhappy Boston! see thy Sons deplore, Thy hallowed Walks besmeared with guiltless Gore.”
Newspaper articles and pamphlets that the Sons of Liberty circulated implied that the “massacre” was a
planned murder. In the Boston Gazette on March 12, 1770, an article describes the soldiers as striking
first. It goes on to discuss this version of the events: “On hearing the noise, one Samuel Atwood came up
to see what was the matter; and entering the alley from dock square, heard the latter part of the combat;
and when the boys had dispersed he met the ten or twelve soldiers aforesaid rushing down the alley
towards the square and asked them if they intended to murder people? They answered Yes, by God, root
and branch! With that one of them struck Mr. Atwood with a club which was repeated by another; and
being unarmed, he turned to go off and received a wound on the left shoulder which reached the bone
and gave him much pain.”
What do you think most people in the United States think of when they consider the Boston Massacre?
How does the propaganda of the Sons of Liberty still affect the way we think of this event?
PARTIAL REPEAL
As it turned out, the Boston Massacre occurred after Parliament had partially repealed the Townshend
Acts. By the late 1760s, the American boycott of British goods had drastically reduced British trade. Once
again, merchants who lost money because of the boycott strongly pressured Parliament to loosen its
restrictions on the colonies and break the non-importation movement. Charles Townshend died suddenly
in 1767 and was replaced by Lord North, who was inclined to look for a more workable solution with
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the colonists. North convinced Parliament to drop all the Townshend duties except the tax on tea. The
administrative and enforcement provisions under the Townshend Acts—the American Board of Customs
Commissioners and the vice-admiralty courts—remained in place.
To those who had protested the Townshend Acts for several years, the partial repeal appeared to be a
major victory. For a second time, colonists had rescued liberty from an unconstitutional parliamentary
measure. The hated British troops in Boston departed. The consumption of British goods skyrocketed after
the partial repeal, an indication of the American colonists’ desire for the items linking them to the Empire.
5.4 The Destruction of the Tea and the Coercive Acts
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
• Describe the socio-political environment in the colonies in the early 1770s
• Explain the purpose of the Tea Act of 1773 and discuss colonial reactions to it
• Identify and describe the Coercive Acts
The Tea Act of 1773 triggered a reaction with far more significant consequences than either the 1765 Stamp
Act or the 1767 Townshend Acts. Colonists who had joined in protest against those earlier acts renewed
their efforts in 1773. They understood that Parliament had again asserted its right to impose taxes without
representation, and they feared the Tea Act was designed to seduce them into conceding this important
principle by lowering the price of tea to the point that colonists might abandon their scruples. They also
deeply resented the East India Company’s monopoly on the sale of tea in the American colonies; this
resentment sprang from the knowledge that some members of Parliament had invested heavily in the
company.
SMOLDERING RESENTMENT
Even after the partial repeal of the Townshend duties, however, suspicion of Parliament’s intentions
remained high. This was especially true in port cities like Boston and New York, where British customs
agents were a daily irritant and reminder of British power. In public houses and squares, people met
and discussed politics. Philosopher John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government, published almost a century
earlier, influenced political thought about the role of government to protect life, liberty, and property. The
Sons of Liberty issued propaganda ensuring that colonists remained aware when Parliament overreached
itself.
Violence continued to break out on occasion, as in 1772, when Rhode Island colonists boarded and burned
the British revenue ship Gaspée in Narragansett Bay (Figure 5.12). Colonists had attacked or burned
British customs ships in the past, but after the Gaspée Affair, the British government convened a Royal
Commission of Inquiry. This Commission had the authority to remove the colonists, who were charged
with treason, to Great Britain for trial. Some colonial protestors saw this new ability as another example of
the overreach of British power.
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Figure 5.12 This 1883 engraving, which appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, depicts the burning of the
Gaspée. This attack provoked the British government to convene a Royal Commission of Inquiry; some regarded the
Commission as an example of excessive British power and control over the colonies.
Samuel Adams, along with Joseph Warren and James Otis, re-formed the Boston Committee of
Correspondence, which functioned as a form of shadow government, to address the fear of British
overreach. Soon towns all over Massachusetts had formed their own committees, and many other colonies
followed suit. These committees, which had between seven and eight thousand members in all, identified
enemies of the movement and communicated the news of the day. Sometimes they provided a version
of events that differed from royal interpretations, and slowly, the committees began to supplant royal
governments as sources of information. They later formed the backbone of communication among the
colonies in the rebellion against the Tea Act, and eventually in the revolt against the British crown.
THE TEA ACT OF 1773
Parliament did not enact the Tea Act of 1773 in order to punish the colonists, assert parliamentary power,
or even raise revenues. Rather, the act was a straightforward order of economic protectionism for a British
tea firm, the East India Company, that was on the verge of bankruptcy. In the colonies, tea was the one
remaining consumer good subject to the hated Townshend duties. Protest leaders and their followers still
avoided British tea, drinking smuggled Dutch tea as a sign of patriotism.
The Tea Act of 1773 gave the British East India Company the ability to export its tea directly to the
colonies without paying import or export duties and without using middlemen in either Great Britain or
the colonies. Even with the Townshend tax, the act would allow the East India Company to sell its tea at
lower prices than the smuggled Dutch tea, thus undercutting the smuggling trade.
This act was unwelcome to those in British North America who had grown displeased with the pattern of
imperial measures. By granting a monopoly to the East India Company, the act not only cut out colonial
merchants who would otherwise sell the tea themselves; it also reduced their profits from smuggled
foreign tea. These merchants were among the most powerful and influential people in the colonies, so
their dissatisfaction carried some weight. Moreover, because the tea tax that the Townshend Acts imposed
remained in place, tea had intense power to symbolize the idea of “no taxation without representation.”
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COLONIAL PROTEST: THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEA
The 1773 act reignited the worst fears among the colonists. To the Sons and Daughters of Liberty and those
who followed them, the act appeared to be proof positive that a handful of corrupt members of Parliament
were violating the British Constitution. Veterans of the protest movement had grown accustomed to
interpreting British actions in the worst possible light, so the 1773 act appeared to be part of a large
conspiracy against liberty.
As they had done to protest earlier acts and taxes, colonists responded to the Tea Act with a boycott. The
Committees of Correspondence helped to coordinate resistance in all of the colonial port cities, so up and
down the East Coast, British tea-carrying ships were unable to come to shore and unload their wares. In
Charlestown, Boston, Philadelphia, and New York, the equivalent of millions of dollars’ worth of tea was
held hostage, either locked in storage warehouses or rotting in the holds of ships as they were forced to
sail back to Great Britain.
In Boston, Thomas Hutchinson, now the royal governor of Massachusetts, vowed that radicals like Samuel
Adams would not keep the ships from unloading their cargo. He urged the merchants who would have
accepted the tea from the ships to stand their ground and receive the tea once it had been unloaded. When
the Dartmouth sailed into Boston Harbor in November 1773, it had twenty days to unload its cargo of tea
and pay the duty before it had to return to Great Britain. Two more ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver,
followed soon after. Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty tried to keep the captains of the ships from
paying the duties and posted groups around the ships to make sure the tea would not be unloaded.
On December 16, just as the Dartmouth’s deadline approached, townspeople gathered at the Old South
Meeting House determined to take action. From this gathering, a group of Sons of Liberty and their
followers approached the three ships. Some were disguised as Mohawks. Protected by a crowd of
spectators, they systematically dumped all the tea into the harbor, destroying goods worth almost $1
million in today’s dollars, a very significant loss. This act soon inspired further acts of resistance up and
down the East Coast. However, not all colonists, and not even all Patriots, supported the dumping of the
tea. The wholesale destruction of property shocked people on both sides of the Atlantic.
Click and Explore
To learn more about the Boston Tea Party, explore the extensive resources in the
Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum collection (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/
teapartyship) of articles, photos, and video. At the museum itself, you can board
replicas of the Eleanor and the Beaver and experience a recreation of the dumping of
the tea.
PARLIAMENT RESPONDS: THE COERCIVE ACTS
In London, response to the destruction of the tea was swift and strong. The violent destruction of property
infuriated King George III and the prime minister, Lord North (Figure 5.13), who insisted the loss be
repaid. Though some American merchants put forward a proposal for restitution, the Massachusetts
Assembly refused to make payments. Massachusetts’s resistance to British authority united different
factions in Great Britain against the colonies. North had lost patience with the unruly British subjects in
Boston. He declared: “The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants,
burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing
has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the
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consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.” Both Parliament and the king agreed that
Massachusetts should be forced to both pay for the tea and yield to British authority.
Figure 5.13 Lord North, seen here in Portrait of Frederick North, Lord North (1773–1774), painted by Nathaniel
Dance, was prime minister at the time of the destruction of the tea and insisted that Massachusetts make good on the
loss.
In early 1774, leaders in Parliament responded with a set of four measures designed to punish
Massachusetts, commonly known at the Coercive Acts. The Boston Port Bill shut down Boston Harbor
until the East India Company was repaid. The Massachusetts Government Act placed the colonial
government under the direct control of crown officials and made traditional town meetings subject to the
governor’s approval. The Administration of Justice Act allowed the royal governor to unilaterally move
any trial of a crown officer out of Massachusetts, a change designed to prevent hostile Massachusetts juries
from deciding these cases. This act was especially infuriating to John Adams and others who emphasized
the time-honored rule of law. They saw this part of the Coercive Acts as striking at the heart of fair and
equitable justice. Finally, the Quartering Act encompassed all the colonies and allowed British troops to be
housed in occupied buildings.
At the same time, Parliament also passed the Quebec Act, which expanded the boundaries of Quebec
westward and extended religious tolerance to Roman Catholics in the province. For many Protestant
colonists, especially Congregationalists in New England, this forced tolerance of Catholicism was the most
objectionable provision of the act. Additionally, expanding the boundaries of Quebec raised troubling
questions for many colonists who eyed the West, hoping to expand the boundaries of their provinces. The
Quebec Act appeared gratuitous, a slap in the face to colonists already angered by the Coercive Acts.
American Patriots renamed the Coercive and Quebec measures the Intolerable Acts. Some in London
also thought the acts went too far; see the cartoon “The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter
Draught” (Figure 5.14) for one British view of what Parliament was doing to the colonies. Meanwhile,
punishments designed to hurt only one colony (Massachusetts, in this case) had the effect of mobilizing
all the colonies to its side. The Committees of Correspondence had already been active in coordinating an
approach to the Tea Act. Now the talk would turn to these new, intolerable assaults on the colonists’ rights
as British subjects.
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Figure 5.14 The artist of “The Able Doctor, or America Swallowing the Bitter Draught” (London Magazine, May 1,
1774) targets select members of Parliament as the perpetrators of a devilish scheme to overturn the constitution; this
is why Mother Britannia weeps. Note that this cartoon came from a British publication; Great Britain was not united in
support of Parliament’s policies toward the American colonies.
5.5 Disaffection: The First Continental Congress and American
Identity
By the end of this section, you will be able to:
• Describe the state of affairs between the colonies and the home government in 1774
• Explain the purpose and results of the First Continental Congress
Disaffection—the loss of affection toward the home government—had reached new levels by 1774. Many
colonists viewed the Intolerable Acts as a turning point; they now felt they had to take action. The result
was the First Continental Congress, a direct challenge to Lord North and British authority in the colonies.
Still, it would be a mistake to assume there was a groundswell of support for separating from the British
Empire and creating a new, independent nation. Strong ties still bound the Empire together, and colonists
did not agree about the proper response. Loyalists tended to be property holders, established residents
who feared the loss of their property. To them the protests seemed to promise nothing but mob rule, and
the violence and disorder they provoked were shocking. On both sides of the Atlantic, opinions varied.
After the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774, the Committees of Correspondence and the Sons of
Liberty went straight to work, spreading warnings about how the acts would affect the liberty of all
colonists, not just urban merchants and laborers. The Massachusetts Government Act had shut down the
colonial government there, but resistance-minded colonists began meeting in extralegal assemblies. One of
these assemblies, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, passed the Suffolk Resolves in September 1774,
which laid out a plan of resistance to the Intolerable Acts. Meanwhile, the First Continental Congress was
convening to discuss how to respond to the acts themselves.
The First Continental Congress was made up of elected representatives of twelve of the thirteen American
colonies. (Georgia’s royal governor blocked the move to send representatives from that colony, an
indication of the continued strength of the royal government despite the crisis.) The representatives met
in Philadelphia from September 5 through October 26, 1774, and at first they did not agree at all about the
appropriate response to the Intolerable Acts. Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania argued for a conciliatory
approach; he proposed that an elected Grand Council in America, like the Parliament in Great Britain,
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should be paired with a royally appointed President General, who would represent the authority of the
Crown. More radical factions argued for a move toward separation from the Crown.
In the end, Paul Revere rode from Massachusetts to Philadelphia with the Suffolk Resolves, which became
the basis of the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress. In the Declaration and
Resolves, adopted on October 14, the colonists demanded the repeal of all repressive acts passed since 1773
and agreed to a non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption pact against all British goods
until the acts were repealed. In the “Petition of Congress to the King” on October 24, the delegates adopted
a further recommendation of the Suffolk Resolves and proposed that the colonies raise and regulate their
own militias.
The representatives at the First Continental Congress created a Continental Association to ensure that the
full boycott was enforced across all the colonies. The Continental Association served as an umbrella group
for colonial and local committees of observation and inspection. By taking these steps, the First Continental
Congress established a governing network in opposition to royal authority.
Click and Explore
Visit the Massachusetts Historical Society (http://openstaxcollege.org/l/
firstcongress) to see a digitized copy and read the transcript of the First Continental
Congress’s petition to King George.
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
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DEFINING "AMERICAN"
The First List of Un-American Activities
In her book Toward A More Perfect Union: Virtue and the Formation of American Republics, historian
Ann Fairfax Withington explores actions the delegates to the First Continental Congress took during the
weeks they were together. Along with their efforts to bring about the repeal of the Intolerable Acts, the
delegates also banned certain activities they believed would undermine their fight against what they saw
as British corruption.
In particular, the delegates prohibited horse races, cockfights, the theater, and elaborate funerals. The
reasons for these prohibitions provide insight into the state of affairs in 1774. Both horse races and
cockfights encouraged gambling and, for the delegates, gambling threatened to prevent the unity of
action and purpose they desired. In addition, cockfighting appeared immoral and corrupt because the
roosters were fitted with razors and fought to the death (Figure 5.15).
Figure 5.15 Cockfights, as depicted in The Cockpit (1759) by British artist and engraver William
Hogarth, were among the entertainments the First Continental Congress sought to outlaw, considering
them un-American.
The ban on the theater aimed to do away with another corrupt British practice. Critics had long believed
that theatrical performances drained money from working people. Moreover, they argued, theatergoers
learned to lie and deceive from what they saw on stage. The delegates felt banning the theater would
demonstrate their resolve to act honestly and without pretence in their fight against corruption.
Finally, eighteenth-century mourning practices often required lavish spending on luxury items and even
the employment of professional mourners who, for a price, would shed tears at the grave. Prohibiting
these practices reflected the idea that luxury bred corruption, and the First Continental Congress wanted
to demonstrate that the colonists would do without British vices. Congress emphasized the need to be
frugal and self-sufficient when confronted with corruption.
The First Continental Congress banned all four activities—horse races, cockfights, the theater, and
elaborate funerals—and entrusted the Continental Association with enforcement. Rejecting what they
saw as corruption coming from Great Britain, the delegates were also identifying themselves as standing
apart from their British relatives. They cast themselves as virtuous defenders of liberty against a corrupt
Parliament.
In the Declaration and Resolves and the Petition of Congress to the King, the delegates to the First
Continental Congress refer to George III as “Most Gracious Sovereign” and to themselves as “inhabitants
of the English colonies in North America” or “inhabitants of British America,” indicating that they still
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considered themselves British subjects of the king, not American citizens. At the same time, however, they
were slowly moving away from British authority, creating their own de facto government in the First
Continental Congress. One of the provisions of the Congress was that it meet again in one year to mark its
progress; the Congress was becoming an elected government.
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Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
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Key Terms
Boston Massacre a confrontation between a crowd of Bostonians and British soldiers on March 5, 1770,
which resulted in the deaths of five people, including Crispus Attucks, the first official casualty in the war
for independence
Coercive Acts four acts (Administration of Justice Act, Massachusetts Government Act, Port Bill,
Quartering Act) that Lord North passed to punish Massachusetts for destroying the tea and refusing to
pay for the damage
Committees of Correspondence colonial extralegal shadow governments that convened to coordinate
plans of resistance against the British
Daughters of Liberty well-born British colonial women who led a non-importation movement against
British goods
direct tax a tax that consumers pay directly, rather than through merchants’ higher prices
Intolerable Acts the name American Patriots gave to the Coercive Acts and the Quebec Act
indirect tax a tax imposed on businesses, rather than directly on consumers
Loyalists colonists in America who were loyal to Great Britain
Massachusetts Circular a letter penned by Son of Liberty Samuel Adams that laid out the
unconstitutionality of taxation without representation and encouraged the other colonies to boycott
British goods
no taxation without representation the principle, first articulated in the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions,
that the colonists needed to be represented in Parliament if they were to be taxed
non-importation movement a widespread colonial boycott of British goods
Proclamation Line a line along the Appalachian Mountains, imposed by the Proclamation of 1763, west
of which British colonists could not settle
Sons of Liberty artisans, shopkeepers, and small-time merchants who opposed the Stamp Act and
considered themselves British patriots
Suffolk Resolves a Massachusetts plan of resistance to the Intolerable Acts that formed the basis of the
eventual plan adopted by the First Continental Congress for resisting the British, including the arming of
militias and the adoption of a widespread non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption
agreement
vice-admiralty courts British royal courts without juries that settled disputes occurring at sea
Summary
5.1 Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and Indian War
The British Empire had gained supremacy in North America with its victory over the French in 1763.
Almost all of the North American territory east of the Mississippi fell under Great Britain’s control, and
British leaders took this opportunity to try to create a more coherent and unified empire after decades of
lax oversight. Victory over the French had proved very costly, and the British government attempted to
better regulate their expanded empire in North America. The initial steps the British took in 1763 and 1764
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raised suspicions among some colonists about the intent of the home government. These suspicions would
grow and swell over the coming years.
5.2 The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty
Though Parliament designed the 1765 Stamp Act to deal with the financial crisis in the Empire, it had
unintended consequences. Outrage over the act created a degree of unity among otherwise unconnected
American colonists, giving them a chance to act together both politically and socially. The crisis of the
Stamp Act allowed colonists to loudly proclaim their identity as defenders of British liberty. With the
repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, liberty-loving subjects of the king celebrated what they viewed as a
victory.
5.3 The Townshend Acts and Colonial Protest
Like the Stamp Act in 1765, the Townshend Acts led many colonists to work together against what
they perceived to be an unconstitutional measure, generating the second major crisis in British Colonial
America. The experience of resisting the Townshend Acts provided another shared experience among
colonists from diverse regions and backgrounds, while the partial repeal convinced many that liberty had
once again been defended. Nonetheless, Great Britain’s debt crisis still had not been solved.
5.4 The Destruction of the Tea and the Coercive Acts
The colonial rejection of the Tea Act, especially the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor, recast the
decade-long argument between British colonists and the home government as an intolerable conspiracy
against liberty and an excessive overreach of parliamentary power. The Coercive Acts were punitive in
nature, awakening the worst fears of otherwise loyal members of the British Empire in America.
5.5 Disaffection: The First Continental Congress and American Identity
The First Continental Congress, which comprised elected representatives from twelve of the thirteen
American colonies, represented a direct challenge to British authority. In its Declaration and Resolves,
colonists demanded the repeal of all repressive acts passed since 1773. The delegates also recommended
that the colonies raise militias, lest the British respond to the Congress’s proposed boycott of British goods
with force. While the colonists still considered themselves British subjects, they were slowly retreating
from British authority, creating their own de facto government via the First Continental Congress.
Review Questions
1. Which of the following was a cause of the
British National Debt in 1763?
A. drought in Great Britain
B. the French and Indian War
C. the continued British military presence in
the American colonies
D. both B and C
2. What was the main purpose of the Sugar Act of
1764?
A. It raised taxes on sugar.
B. It raised taxes on molasses.
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C. It strengthened enforcement of molasses
smuggling laws.
D. It required colonists to purchase only sugar
distilled in Great Britain.
3. What did British colonists find so onerous about
the acts that Prime Minister Grenville passed?
4. Which of the following was not a goal of the
Stamp Act?
A. to gain control over the colonists
Chapter 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
B. to raise revenue for British troops stationed
in the colonies
C. to raise revenue to pay off British debt from
the French and Indian War
D. to declare null and void any laws the
colonies had passed to govern and tax
themselves
5. For which of the following activities were the
Sons of Liberty responsible?
A. the Stamp Act Congress
B. the hanging and beheading of a stamp
commissioner in effigy
C. the massacre of Conestoga in Pennsylvania
D. the introduction of the Virginia Stamp Act
Resolutions
6. Which of the following was not one of the goals
of the Townshend Acts?
A. higher taxes
B. greater colonial unity
C. greater British control over the colonies
D. reduced power of the colonial governments
7. Which event was most responsible for the
colonies’ endorsement of Samuel Adams’s
Massachusetts Circular?
A. the Townshend Duties
B. the Indemnity Act
C. the Boston Massacre
D. Lord Hillsborough’s threat to dissolve the
colonial assemblies that endorsed the letter
8. What factors contributed to the Boston
Massacre?
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A. Colonists believed that the British response
represented an overreach of power.
B. It was the first time colonists attacked a
revenue ship.
C. It was the occasion of the first official death
in the war for independence.
D. The ship’s owner, John Hancock, was a
respectable Boston merchant.
10. What was the purpose of the Tea Act of 1773?
A. to punish the colonists for their boycotting
of British tea
B. to raise revenue to offset the British national
debt
C. to help revive the struggling East India
Company
D. to pay the salaries of royal appointees
11. What was the significance of the Committees
of Correspondence?
12. Which of the following was decided at the
First Continental Congress?
A. to declare war on Great Britain
B. to boycott all British goods and prepare for
possible military action
C. to offer a conciliatory treaty to Great Britain
D. to pay for the tea that was dumped in
Boston Harbor
13. Which colony provided the basis for the
Declarations and Resolves?
A. Massachusetts
B. Philadelphia
C. Rhode Island
D. New York
9. Which of the following is true of the Gaspée
affair?
Critical Thinking Questions
14. Was reconciliation between the American colonies and Great Britain possible in 1774? Why or why
not?
15. Look again at the painting that opened this chapter: The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring
and Feathering (Figure 5.1). How does this painting represent the relationship between Great Britain and
the American colonies in the years from 1763 to 1774?
16. Why did the colonists react so much more strongly to the Stamp Act than to the Sugar Act? How did
the principles that the Stamp Act raised continue to provide points of contention between colonists and
the British government?
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17. History is filled with unintended consequences. How do the British government’s attempts to control
and regulate the colonies during this tumultuous era provide a case in point? How did the aims of the
British measure up against the results of their actions?
18. What evidence indicates that colonists continued to think of themselves as British subjects throughout
this era? What evidence suggests that colonists were beginning to forge a separate, collective “American”
identity? How would you explain this shift?
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