Prior to the Seven Years’ and ensuing Pontiac Wars, the British had practiced in America their unwritten policy of salutary neglect. This policy, maintained throughout much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, was based on the ideas of Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. Walpole believed that the colonies would flourish if left alone; thus, he did not believe in enforcing Parliamentary restrictions like the Acts of Trade and Navigation. The term “salutary neglect” was actually coined by Edmund Burke who, in an address to Parliament in 1775, reminded its members that the colonies had flourished not by being “squeezed” by a “watchful and suspicious government,” but rather through a “wise and salutary neglect.” However, this policy, which had worked so well in the past, ended as the French and Indian War concluded with the Peace of Paris.
7.3.1: The French and Indian War and the End of Salutary Neglect
The French and Indian War was a great success, at least the colonists and the English so believed. Though the two allies shared this opinion, they saw their individual contributions to the war effort in very different ways. The British believed that they had fought an expensive war in order to protect the colonists from enemies on the western frontier and were convinced that they had done more than their share to finance the war costs: fully twofifths of the monies the colonists spent in recruitment, clothing, and paying the troops came from the mother country. The colonists, on the other hand, believed that they had performed splendidly in the war and that their reward would be opening the western territories to settlement. They did not anticipate that the British would tighten their control of the colonies in an attempt to gain additional revenues to offset war costs.
For their part, the British disliked the self-satisfied post-war colonial attitude that gave too little credit or assistance to the mother country. Indeed, the Commander-in-Chief in the Americas complained: “It is the constant study of every province here to throw every expense on the Crown and bear no part of the expense of this war themselves.” Colonial America historian Curtis Nettles points out that there were three sources of colonial opposition to assuming the responsibility for war expenses as the British expected. On the one hand, some colonial leaders argued that their respective colony was simply too poor to contribute to the war effort. Other colonies, like the Quaker colonies of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, were opposed to warfare generally by virtue of their pacifist leanings and had no intention of funding a military action. And then there were those colonies, such as Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Jersey, that did not have frontier borders and were therefore uninterested in contributing to a war that so little concerned their own experiences. Another problem to surface frequently in inter-colonial relations was that each colony waited to see how much the others would contribute before making any sort of commitment of its own. Thus the British and the colonists could only see the issue of military monies from their own particular standpoint; the British thought the colonies should be grateful, while the colonists thought the British were lucky to have had any of their support at all. As they saw it, the French and Indian War was just another extension of a war that began in Europe. Of course, this view was mistaken, a fact that the British underscored in dozens of communications with America.
Adding to the growing disharmony in American-British relations came the question of the western lands. The colonies with frontiers abutting the Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains fully expected that, upon the signing of the Peace of Paris, these lands to be opened to settlement. Their characteristic thirst for land would thereby be quenched. The colonists had fought and won the “European” War and were now headed west. Not surprisingly, the British viewed the question of the western lands very differently. First, the mother country no longer needed colonists to settle along the frontiers as a defense against the French and Indians. Second, their allowing colonists to settle beyond the Appalachians would put an increasing number out of Parliament’s reach; consequently, taxes would be more difficult to collect and imperial laws harder to enforce. Finally, once remote from the control of royal officials in America, the colonists would become increasingly independent-minded.
7.3.2: The Proclamation of 1763
Ignoring the obstructionist messages coming from the colonies, the British government in 1763 threw caution to the winds and issued the Proclamation of 1763. Established in large part “to pacify the Indians,” the British saw what came to be known as the “proclamation line” as a temporary measure that would give them time to define a more permanent policy. They worded the Proclamation so as to make it appear advantageous to the colonies:
WHEREAS, we have taken into Our Royal Consideration the extensive and valuable Acquisitions in America, secured to our Crown by the late Definitive Treaty of Peace concluded at Paris the 10th Day of February last; and being desirous that all Our loving Subjects, as well as our Kingdom as of our Colonies in America, may avail themselves with all convenient Speed, of the great Benefits and Advantages which must accrue therefrom to their Commerce, Manufactures, and Navigation. We have thought fit, with the Advice of our Privy Council to issue this Royal Proclamation.
Members of Parliament believed this settlement to be extremely generous, especially in light of what they saw as the potential benefits to the colonies from the war.
Expecting to assuage American fears and mistrust with the Proclamation, the British used it to outline their new policy, one that left no doubt as to the motivation of Parliament and the Crown. Most importantly, the Proclamation specified that colonists could not settle beyond the Allegheny-Appalachian Mountain chain. The British reserved this territory for the Indian tribes. The only exception was that white traders could apply for licenses to trade with the Indians. The British militia would enforce the Proclamation. The colonists, long used to salutary neglect, ignored this law: “scores of wagons headed westward.”
7.3.3: The Implications of the New British Approach: The Parliamentary Acts of 1764
The British followed the Proclamation of 1763 with two equally contentious acts of Parliament: the Sugar Act and the Currency Act. The Sugar Act, drafted by George Grenville, First Lord of the Treasury, replaced and lowered the taxes on imported sugar created by the Molasses Act of 1733; this act had long been ignored by the colonists for whom smuggling was acceptable. The difference between the Sugar Act and the Molasses Act, however, was that Parliament intended to collect the tax created by the former; in addition, the tax was intended, as the colonists saw it, not to regulate trade but to “raise a revenue.” It would do so by cutting British taxes on molasses in half, a decrease that would reduce the need to smuggle in tax-free molasses from the French West Indies.
According to Grenville, the tax money would be used to defend the colonies. But James Otis, Chair of the Massachusetts Bay House of Representatives, insisted that measures like the Sugar Act “have a tendency to deprive the Colonies of some of their most essential Rights as British Subjects, and… particularly the Right of assessing their own Taxes.” While the Sugar Act lowered the tariff on sugar, it increased the powers of the Admiralty Courts as well as ending the lucrative sugar and slave trade with the West Indies. It is interesting to note that although Otis claimed that citizens of the British Empire had the right to assess taxes on themselves, nowhere in the Empire was this “right” recognized. The House of Commons was elected by the wealthy and landholders, not by the citizens as a whole, and it legislated accordingly.
The Currency Act, passed the same year, gave Parliament control of the colonial currency system. The act specified that from 1765 onward, “no act, order, resolution, or vote of assembly, in any of his Majesty’s colonies or plantations in America, shall be made, for creating or issuing any paper bills, or bills of credit of any kind or denomination whatsoever, declaring such paper bills, or bills of credit, to be legal tender in payment of any bargains, contracts, debts dues or demands.” Thus the Act abolished the use of paper money altogether and put the colonists at a further economic disadvantage in their trade relations with British merchants. This move in turn caused a severe shock to the colonial economy already depressed due to war expenses.
7.3.4: The Stamp Act of 1765
If the Sugar Act was the first act intended to raise a revenue, then the second was the Stamp Act, which levied the first internal tax. The Stamp Act specified that stamps were to be placed on newspapers, pamphlets, almanacs, wills, deeds, licenses, insurance policies, bills of lading, college diplomas, and even playing cards. While the colonists did not necessarily object to the principle of taxation as such, they did draw lines as to how and why taxes should be applied. Indeed, ample precedent already existed for British taxation to regulate colonial trade, even if tax revenues went directly to the British government. However, the colonial legislatures had for some time assumed the role of levying taxes for what they deemed as “internal” applications; these internal applications included paying colonial officials, supporting the militia, internal improvements, and the mail service. Therefore, the colonists drew a fine if definite line between such “internal” taxes and taxes of an external nature, which were for the purpose of regulating trade. In Reasons Why the British Colonies in America Should Not Be Charged with Internal Taxes, Governor Thomas Fitch of Connecticut argued that “If these internal taxations take place and the principles upon which they must be founded are adopted and carried into execution, the colonies will have no more than a shadow of legislation left.”
Moreover, colonial political systems and ideologies had largely developed within the context of direct representation, which assumed that taxes of an internal nature could only be levied by those who directly represented the electorate. Therefore, when Parliament attempted to levy taxes that would be used to pay for defense of the colonial frontier and the housing and supply of British soldiers in the colonies, some colonists began to raise the cry of “no taxation without representation,” claiming that such taxes could be imposed only by the colonial legislatures; if imposed on them by Parliament, then the colonies must be directly represented in that body.
The response from England to the argument regarding “actual” representation was that the colonies were in fact represented in Parliament, only virtually. Members of Parliament had long assumed that they represented the interests of all groups in England and her colonial possessions, rather than only narrow, local interests. Thus, according to the theory of virtual representation, Parliament legislated for the well-being of the Irish, the Scots, and the American colonists, in addition to those who lived in England proper. Moreover, the British government was quick to point out that the French and Indian War had been very costly, that Americans paid fewer taxes than the remainder of those in the British possessions, and that the monies raised by the stamp tax would pay for the defense of the colonies.
These arguments fell on deaf ears, as virtual representation had no meaning for the Americans. Colonial leaders responded to the new tax laws by counter-arguing that, because they had not voted for them, these taxes could not be imposed on their colonies. Later writers also pointed out that the Vice-Admiralty courts that enforced the revenue laws excluded juries and put the burden of proof on the defendants. All of these practices infringed on their rights as British citizens. James Otis for one insisted:
…the colonists, black and white, born here are freeborn British subjects, and entitled to all the essential civil rights of such is a truth not only manifest from the provincial charters, from the principles of the common law, and acts of Parliament, but from the British constitution, which was re-established at the [English] Revolution with a professed design to secure the liberties of all the subjects to all generations.
The colonial response to the notion of “virtual” representation was much like their reaction to internal taxation. Governor of Rhode Island, one of the only two colonies that elected its governor, Stephen Hopkins, insisted that England and her empire was “an imperial state, which consists of many separate governments each of which hath peculiar privileges…all laws and taxations which bind the whole must be made by the whole.” The impasse over these different views of representation and taxation would ultimately lead to armed conflict.
The Stamp Act Riots and Congress
In 1765, the Stamp Act was soon followed by the Quartering Act which delineated where and how British soldiers found room and board in the colonies. Immediately after these acts’ enactment, the colonists sprang into action. Patrick Henry stirred the Virginia House of Burgesses with a speech opposing the Stamp Act. He proclaimed that if his condemnation of this Act “be treason…make the most of it! The Sons of Liberty in Boston burned a mock figure of Andrew Oliver, the Stamp Master in Boston, destroyed one of his buildings at the docks, and smashed the windows, furniture, and paneling in his home. A week or so after these events, another mob stormed the home of Lt. Governor Thomas Hutchinson, destroying a collection of books and old documents that Hutchinson was planning to use to write a history of Massachusetts. Hutchinson described the action thus:
Not contented with tearing off all the wainscot and hangings and splitting the doors to pieces they beat down the Partition walls and although that alone cost them near two hours they cut down the cupola and they began to take the plate and boards from the roof…The garden fence was laid flat and all my trees &c broke down to the ground. Such ruins were never seen in America.
Intimidated, most of the tax collectors resigned from their posts.
These “Sons of Liberty,” as the rebels became known, led similar riots in Newport, Rhode Island, New York City, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina. In each case, mobs took to the streets and Stamp Masters were burned in effigy, or worse. As the recently-arrived Governor of New York commented in November, 1765:
The Tumults which have been raised in different parts of the Continent and which have been artfully fomented by ill designing people, have spread so much terror, that the Officers appointed for the execution of the Act, have resigned their posts and I am sorry to observe that the Power of Govern[men]t was too weak to protect them from the insults they were threatened with.
Meanwhile, in August, 1765, the Massachusetts House of Representatives had issued a circular letter calling on all of the colonies to send representatives to a Congress that would consider the nature and implications of the Stamp Act. Nine colonies sent 27 representatives to the meeting, which convened in New York on October 7, 1765. The Congress issued the following: a Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonies, a petition to the king for economic relief, and a petition to Parliament for repeal of the Stamp Act. It was, the drafters insisted,
…the indispensable duty of these colonies, to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavour by a loyal and dutiful address to his Majesty, and humble applications to both Houses of Parliament, to procure the repeal of the Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, of all clauses of any other Acts of Parliament, whereby the jurisdiction of the Admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of the other late Acts for the restriction of American commerce.
Although only nine colonies sent representatives to the Congress, with the important colony of Virginia being absent, the legislatures of all of the colonies except one voted to accept the Resolves. The Congress was an important first step toward united colonial action.
The Colonies Apply Economic Pressure
Perhaps more important than the actions of the Stamp Act Congress, and even the “Stamp Act Riots” that rocked almost every colony, were the boycotts the colonists imposed on British goods. New York merchants first boycotted British goods; those in other colonial cities soon followed. Colonial women agreed not to buy or drink tea or buy British cloth for their dresses. “Sage and sassafras” took the place of tea, and homespun garments became the fashion. British merchants reacted by pressing Parliament to realize the extent to which the welfare of the mother country was tied to the economic well-being of the American colonies. When the Marquis of Rockingham followed George Grenville as Prime Minister, the temperament of Parliament changed. This new attitude was reflected by the aging William Pitt who insisted that, while he was “no courtier of America[,]…the Stamp Act [must] be repealed absolutely, totally, and immediately.” At the same time, he also recommended that “the sovereign authority of this country over the colonies, [should] be asserted in as strong terms as can be devised.”
Thus pressured by British merchants and its own members, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in February, 1766, with the following comment read into Parliamentary record:
Whereas an Act was passed in the last session of Parliament entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties…and whereas the continuance of the said Act would be attended with many inconveniencies, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms; may it therefore please your most excellent Majesty that it may be enacted…in this present Parliament assembled…that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six, the above-mentioned Act…shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever
When news of the repeal of the Stamp Act reached America, general rejoicing ensued, so much so that the colonists paid little attention to the accompanying Declaratory Act. This act echoed William Pitt’s sentiments by delineating clearly the relationship between the colonies and the mother country. In all future endeavors, the colonies were
…to be subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; and that parliament…assembled, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.
7.3.5: The Townshend Duties: External Taxes to Regulate Trade
The following year, the colonists learned the implications of the Declaratory Act when Parliament created the Townshend Duties. Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed a new set of taxes for the colonies, one based on the colonists’ distinctions between internal and external taxation. The Americans did not like internal taxes, so he planned to give them external ones. There were three primary Townshend Acts. The first, the Restraining Act, was aimed at New York for its refusal to provide for British troops. It nullified all legislation of the New York colonial assembly. The second act tightened British control of colonial trade. The most onerous was the third act, which placed duties on colonial imports of glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. It also set up a Board of Customs Commissioners in Boston to oversee collection of these duties. The Townshend Acts also established four Vice-Admiralty courts in the colonies that would try those who attempted to evade the taxes by smuggling.
The colonialists had reacted to earlier acts by intimidating stamp tax collectors. They were not constrained by the British Navy that would be anchored off the harbors of major ports in order to collect the duties. An added aggravation was the fact that the new taxes were intended to pay British government officials residing in the colonies. Up to this time, the colonial assemblies had paid the salaries of royal government officials and therefore were able to influence officials by using what has been called “the power of the purse.” Threats of withholding payment of salaries or other benefits often influenced a stubborn governor or tax collector in the colonies’ favor. Once imposed, these new taxes clearly would release British officials from financial dependence on the colonial assemblies.
Again, as with their reactions to the Sugar and Stamp Acts, the colonials were galvanized into action. They put boycotts into effect, and colonists like John Dickinson argued that Parliament did not have the power to levy either internal or external taxes on the colonies. Dickinson declared in his Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer: “We are taxed without our own consent, expressed by ourselves or our representatives. We are therefore ---------- SLAVES!” These essays were printed in nearly every colonial newspaper and became as popular and influential as Common Sense, published in 1776.
Similarly, Sam Adams and James Otis wrote a circular letter in which they agreed that all parliamentary taxation was illegal, warned that the new duties would be used to pay colonial officers, and invited the other colonies to join in the boycott taking place in Massachusetts. Colonial women also formed groups called the Daughters of Liberty, which agreed not to drink tea or buy any English products, just as they had done in an earlier boycott.
The women got down spinning wheels from their attics and began to make their clothes rather than buy the English products. When Townshend died in 1768, all duties except that on tea were repealed.
7.3.6: Trouble Continues to Brew: The Boston Massacre
Because the Sons of Liberty continued to intimidate merchants and enforce the boycott, Thomas Hutchinson, now acting governor of Massachusetts, requested that British soldiers be relocated to Boston. Not surprisingly, the arrival of the troops created great consternation among the Bostonians. Benjamin Franklin mused on the presence of troops in Boston from his perspective in England:
I am glad to hear that Matters were yet quiet at Boston, but fear that they will not continue long so. Some Indiscretion on the part of their warmer People, or of the Soldiery, I am extreamly [sic] apprehensive may occasion a tumult; and if Blood is once drawn, there is no foreseeing how far the Mischief may spread.”
Franklin was correct in his fear that blood might be shed. On one wintry day in March, 1770, a crowd of boys threw rocks and snowballs at the British soldiers standing guard outside the Boston Customs House. There were some men in the crowd who worked in the local shipyards, one of them being Crispus Attucks, a black man of Wampanoag and African descent. According to bystanders, one soldier was knocked down by the rock-laced snowballs, and someone, perhaps even an onlooker wishing to stir up trouble, yelled “fire.” Regardless of who cried out, the soldiers fired on the crowd, and, when the smoke cleared, five people lay dead or dying, and eight more were wounded. Crispus Attucks was among the first to die.
Boston went into an uproar. A mass meeting was held at Faneuil Hall where those in attendance issued a statement calling for the removal of troops from the city. Thomas Hutchinson moved the troops to an island in the harbor and promised to put to trial the soldiers involved in the massacre. But no lawyer wanted to take the case; even those who were loyal to the crown refused. Finally John Adams, a well-known patriot and cousin of Sam Adams, agreed to defend the soldiers. He made this unpopular move because Adams believed that the men had a right to be represented in court. He may also have wanted to avoid any embarrassing questions about who first yelled “fire.” When the trials ended, all but two of the soldiers were acquitted. The two who were found guilty of manslaughter were sentenced only to branding on their thumbs
The two years following the Boston Massacre were ones in which colonial tempers simmered without coming to a full boil. The Townshend duties were repealed, except for that on tea (which the colonies continued to smuggle in from Holland). Although, the Stamp Act was gone, the Sugar, Currency, and Quartering Acts remained as reminders of America’s colonial status. And though British soldiers had been withdrawn from Boston, they remained in the colony while the British navy still patrolled the Massachusetts coastline.
7.3.7: The Evolution of a Formal Theory of Revolt
During this period, a philosophy of revolt crystallized in American thinking. The elements, logically laid out, were these:
• the American colonists were citizens of the British Empire;
• their aim was not independence from Britain but only to be given the “natural rights” to which they were entitled;
• one of these rights was the right to be taxed only by elected bodies in which they were actually represented;
• the colonies were not represented in Parliament, did not recognize virtual representation, and therefore could not be taxed by Parliament
Throughout this theory ran the issues on which the colonies and the mother country could not agree as well as reflections of the impact of the colonial experience on their thinking. Colonists insisted that they had a right to be represented in Parliament by representatives they elected and that they could not be taxed by councils in which they were not represented. As an inevitable conclusion of Locke’s natural rights theory also came just the suggestion of an idea that the colonists were only beginning to consider: if the natural rights of British colonists were not protected, then the only option was to separate from the mother country.
7.3.8: Before You Move On...
In the nine years following the end of the French and Indian War, the colonies and the mother country clashed on issues involving taxation, regulation of trade, and the rights of English under the British constitution. These rights, defined most recently in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, were cited repeatedly as the colonists argued that, because they were not represented in Parliament, they were not subject to the laws, and especially to the taxes, created by that body. While the British adhered to the idea of “virtual” representation, the colonists decried the notion as inappropriate to their peculiar circumstances.
During these years, the British government made several attempts to tighten its control on the colonies. The Proclamation Line was designed to keep the colonists on the eastern seaboard, while the Sugar Act and the Townshend duties attempted to regulate trade and the Sugar and Stamp Acts to raise revenues to defray the costs of maintaining the colonies. For the colonists, the “internal” taxes of the latter were anathema and beyond the accepted authority of a mother country. Although a twoyear lull followed the violence of the Boston Massacre, problems were far from being resolved, and the first shots of the Revolutionary War were only a few short years away.
The purpose of the Proclamation Line of 1763 was to
a. keep the colonists on the eastern seaboard.
b. raise a revenue to defray the costs of war.
c. encourage colonial movement past the Appalachian Mountains.
d. reward the colonists for their participation in the French and Indian War.
Which of the following Parliamentary acts were designed to “raise a revenue”?
a. Proclamation Line of 1763
b. Currency Act
c. Sugar Act
d. Declaratory Act
The act that claimed Parliament’s right to legislate for the colonies in “all cases whatsoever” was the
a. Declaratory Act.
b. Currency Act.
c. Proclamation Line of 1763.
d. Townshend Act.
The most effective tools used by the colonists in getting the Stamp Act repealed was
a. the Boston Massacre.
b. rioting against the Stamp Masters.
c. the boycott of English goods.
d. the arguments of the colonists against internal taxation.
The colonies made a very clear distinction between
a. internal and external taxation by Parliament.
b. taxes to regulate trade v. those designed to raise a revenue.
c. actual v. virtual representation in Parliament.
d. All of the above
e. None of the above