American Revolution: The Coming of War (1763-74)


Figure 1.--Here colonial Boston boys are making a formal complaint to General Gage about the British soldiers knocking down the sledding hills that they built and pitching their tents so they can't sled any more. The boys arev polite, bur stringly feel that they have beem agueved. This is a well established, but poorly document legend. It of course is a perfect fit for the American image of the Revolution, agrieved citizens daring to stand up to the British Empire--in this case Gem. Gage. The drawing was the work of Henry Bacon, a master draftsman and architect, best known for designing the Lincoln Memorial. The drawing here has it all, British soldiers, General Gage, slaves, children (mostly boys), a bbeautiful lady, dogs, and a horse. The Smithsonian> "Bacon's American subjects proved to be highly popular and his magnum opus, 'The Boston Boys and General Gage, 1775', was exhibited in Memorial Hall at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia." There is a charming children's book on the episode, 'Sleds on Boston Common: A Story from the American Revolution,' by Louise Borden. Click on the image to see a close up of General Gage and the boys, Notice the soldier using his musket to hold the boys back.

Poliical tensions began to rise in North America as the British after the French and Indian Wars began to give more attention to governing North America rather than leaving it to the the Colonial Legislatures. A primary concern was paying off massive debts incurred in the French and Indian and wider Seven Years War. Parliament wanted the Colonists to assume part of the cost of the War as well as the administratiion and protection of the colonies. Sir Thomas Gage was the British miitary commander of North America. Much of the British force of 10,000 men in the afermath of the French and Indian War was deployed on the Frontier. They were used to quell Potianc's rebllion (1763). The British Prliament passed the Stamp Act as the first major effort to raise revenue (1765). The new tax was imposed on every piece of printed paper. The actual tax was small, but the Colonists saw it as a dangerous presidence. Until this point taxes were levied by the colonial legislatures. Now Parliment in which the Colonies had no representation was imposing taxes. Gen. Gage as a result of the rising tensions began shifting troops from the Frontier to colonial cities like New York City and Boston. As the number of soldiers stationed in cities grew, the need arose for providing food and housing. Parliament passed the Quartering Act, permitting British commanders to quarter men in private residences without the consent of the home owner (1765). This outraged the colonists. And as the Coloniots anticipted, the Townshend Revenue Act followed (1767). Parliament placed taxes on glass, paint, oil, lead, paper, and tea with the goal of raising 40,000 annually to pay for the administration of the colonies. This created an even more vocal opposition than the stamp Act. The reaction turned violent in Boston. Massachsetts and Boston in particulr would prove the crucible of revolution. The Massachusettes Bay colony ws the most radicalized of North American colonies, but similar opinions were prevalent throughout the colonies. British Customs officials in Boston impounded a sloop owned by one John Hancock, a prominant Boston merchant (summer 1768). He was believed to be violating trade regulations whichb he indeed was. A crowds agthered in protest and mobbed the Customs Office. The officials there were forced to flee to a British Warship in the harbor. The British wre forced to bring in some 4,000 troops from England and Nova Scotia to reoccupy Boston (October 1, 1768). Bostonians offered no resistance at this time. Instead they developed new tactics. They stopped buying British goods. Merchants in other colonies followed suit. British imports fell sharply. Using 4,000 troops to occupy Boston with only about 20,000 people seems an overreaction. And it proved to be a major mistake. It was also costly given that the whole idea of the Townsend Act was to raise revenue to pay for colonial administration, not increase spending. But costs inside, it created wide-spread resentmnt in Boston. Bostonians were forced to house the soldiers in their own homes. This turned even many pro-British colonists against the British making the ciy virtually ungovernable. A violent clash was inevitable and it soon came. A protesting crowd including individuals who had been drinking confronted a small group of British regulars. The result was the Boston Masacre, at least that is how Colonial newspapers described the ecounter. What ever the descriotion, five Bostonians were left dead on the streets. The Colonists were outraged.

Navigation Acts (1650-96)

The Navigation Acts were a series of laws passed by the English Parliament during the 16th cenntury. They begam as laws seeking to exclude the Dutch from the profits made by trading with the Colonies. The English which had a compicated relationship with the Netherlands, at time protectging tge Dutch and at other times waging war on the Dutch. --the Dutch Naval Wars (1652-74). The idea of free trade and the benefits to be gained were not understood at the time. The prevailing mercantilist theory behind the Navigation Acts was that the value of world trade was fixed and the new North American colonies existed for the benefit of England. This was the prevailing attitude among all the European colonial powers. The Navigation Acts restricted American trade in three dofferent ways: 1) Only British ships could transport imported and exported goods from the colonies, 2) The only people prmitted to trade with the colonies were British citizens, 3) Commodities such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton wool produced in the colonies could only be shipped to British ports. The Navigation Acts would not be revoked until decades after the Revolution and the British formaly adopted the policy of free trade (1849)..

Colonial Development

The English colonies were mostly founded during the 1th century. This was a time of great turmoil in Englnd which ncluded clashed between the Stuart monarchy advocating French-style absolute monarchy and the Parliament, the English Civil War, an unprecdented and Commonwealth, Stuart Restoration, and finally the Glorious Revolution. The English and thn the British in the 18th century not only had to deal with domestic turmoil, but also a series of related foreign wars. As a result, the Navigation Acts were not structly enfircd. The Goverment neither fivcused on the colonies or had the milirary capacity to both fight domestic and foreign wars and control thefar away colonies. Colonist thus began to ignore the laws and trade with foreigners. Smuggling and bribery became common throughout the colonies. The Colonists began trading with colonies in the Caribbean, including foreign colomies. Colonial merchants and farmers benefitted from this trade.

French and Indian War (1754-63)

The English colonists felt hemmed in along the Eastern seaboard. France was the great fear of the colonists. Here we have the historical conflict with France (the Colonists saw themselves as English), the Catholicism of France, and the absolute rule of the French monarchy. By the mid-17th century, that had begun to moved west across the Appalachens into Kentucky. Here the English came in conflict with the French mocing south from Canada. The question became who would control the Ohio Valley. French and British fighting in the Seven Years War began in North America. In fact George Washington was involved in the first engagement. The American portion of the Seven Years War (1756-63) is known as the French and Indian War. The War has a major impact on events leading to the Revolution. One might think that the British role in removing the French and Native American threat to the Colonies would have permanently sealed bonds between Britain and the grateful colonies. This did not prove to be the case. The removal of the French from North America meant that the British and Colonists no longer had a common enemy. The War was also very costly. The Colonists had made a major contribution to the war effort. The War was also costly to the British who began to look to the Colonies to pay a grerater share of the costs of empire, especially the costs of maintaing military force.

Aftermath of the War

Political tensions began to rise in North America as the British after the French and Indian Wars began to give more attention to governing North America rather than leaving it to the the Colonial Legislatures. A primary concern was paying off massive debts incurred in the French and Indian and wider Seven Years War. Parliament wanted the Colonists to assume part of the cost of the War as well as the administratiion and protection of the colonies. Sir Thomas Gage was the British miitary commander of North America. Much of the British force of 10,000 men in the afermath of the French and Indian War was deployed on the Frontier. They were used to quell Potianc's rebllion (1763).

Proclamation Act (1763)

The Proclamation Act of 1763 restricted the movement of Clonists across the Appalachian Mountains. TheRoyal Government sougt to keep the Colonists pnned up along the Atlantic Seabord. The interior of North america was to be left to North Americans. This would prevent conflict between the Colonists and Native Americans.

New Taxes (1764)

Britain had relied on the Navigation Acts to fund administration of the colonies As the Government had given so little attention to the Colonies for so long, smuggling had become a major problem and adversely affected custo,ms duties. And enforcement created problens as well. Smuggling had gone on for so long and to such an extent that the practice had become widely seen as right of the colonists. Thus British enforcemnt of the Navigation Laws was seen as violating the 'rights' of colonists and a form of tyrammy. Britain officials to avoid conflect began to consider other sources of revenue . The first such attempts were the Currency Act of 1764 and the Sugar Act of 1764. These Acts led to the Colonits organising a boycott of British goods. Not only was little reveue raised, but British merchnts suffered.

The Stamp Act (1765)

The Royal Government got nowhere with the Currency and Sugar Acts (1764). Parliament then settle on the irst direct tax--the Stamp Act (1765). Parliament passed the Stamp Act as the first major effort to raise revenue (1765). The new tax was imposed on every piece of printed paper. The actual tax was small, but the Colonists saw it as a dangerous presidence. Until this point taxes were levied by the colonial legislatures. Now Parliment in which the Colonies had no representation was imposing taxes.

Quartering Acts (1765)

Gen. Gage as a result of the rising tensions began shifting troops from the Frontier to colonial cities like New York City and Boston. As the number of soldiers stationed in cities grew, the need arose for providing food and housing. Parliament passed the Quartering Act, permitting British commanders to quarter men in private residences without the consent of the home owner (1765). This outraged the colonists.

Townshend Revenue Act (1767)

And as the Coloniots anticipted, the Townshend Revenue Act followed (1767). Parliament placed taxes on glass, paint, oil, lead, paper, and tea with the goal of raising 40,000 annually to pay for the administration of the colonies. This created an even more vocal opposition than the stamp Act. The reaction turned violent in Boston. Massachsetts and Boston in particulr would prove the crucible of revolution. The Massachusettes Bay colony ws the most radicalized of North American colonies, but similar opinions were prevalent throughout the colonies. British Customs officials in Boston impounded a sloop owned by one John Hancock, a prominant Boston merchant (summer 1768). He was believed to be violating trade regulations whichb he indeed was. A crowds agthered in protest and mobbed the Customs Office. The officials there were forced to flee to a British Warship in the harbor.

Reoccupation of Boston (1768)

The British wre forced to bring in some 4,000 troops from England and Nova Scotia to reoccupy Boston (October 1, 1768). Bostonians offered no resistance at this time. Instead they developed new tactics. They stopped buying British goods. Merchants in other colonies followed suit. British imports fell sharply. Using 4,000 troops to occupy Boston with only about 20,000 people seems an overreaction. And it proved to be a major mistake. It was also costly given that the whole idea of the Townsend Act was to raise revenue to pay for colonial administration, not increase spending. But costs inside, it created wide-spread resentmnt in Boston. Bostonians were forced to house the soldiers in their own homes. This turned even many pro-British colonists against the British making the ciy virtually ungovernable. A violent clash was inevitable and it soon came.

Boston Masacre (1770)

A protesting crowd including individuals who had been drinking confronted a small group of British regulars. British regulars killed five Bostonians (March 5, 1770). The excellent colonial postal service that Benjamin Franklin helped found quickly spread the news. The Colonists were outraged. Although most historians today actually blame the rock-throwing mob for picking the fight, Americans throughout the colonies quickly dubbed the event the Boston Massacre. What ever the description, five Bostonians were left dead on the streets.

British Moderation

The British Government to defuse the escalating tension and to asage complaints from British merchants unable to sell their goods in America convinced Parliament to repeal the unpopular Townshend Acts. Parliament decided, however, to leave the tax on tea in force, however, as a matter of principle. Tensions simmered for several years.

The Boston Tea Party (1773)

The Boston Tea Party emerged as a totally unexpected thunderclap. The agitation over the Towsend Acts and the Boston Massacre had died down. There was no reason to think that political sollutions cold not be found to the colonial isues. It would, however, be in Boton that the sitution got out of hand. It was here that misunderstanding over the various colonial issue came to a head and over a popular beverage--tea. The colonists defied Prliament nd the Tea Act. The Royal Governor in Boston stood up to the Colonists. He ordered the ships to remin port until unloaded. The Colonists adamently, however, refused to unload the cargo. Ships carry tea soon filled the harbor. The British crews were stuck in Boston and wanted work and to get back home. Ideled in Boston they had time on their hands and began causing problems. The whole situtionn led to the Boston Tea Party (1773). Some 80 outraged Bostonians, the Sons of Liberty, dressed up unconvingly as Red Indians and uncerimoniously dumped about 10,000 worth of British-owned tea in Boston Harbor (December 16, 1773). This at the time when indiuviduals in Londom were being hanged for stealing a few coins. Both sides acted without fully understanding the intentions and motivations of the other. the fundamental disagreement which followed was that the Colonists saw the Tea Party as legitimate protest (because they dud not steal the tea), but the British saw treason and traitors at work. And treason required an armed response in force.

Tea Act (1773)

Tea was a very popular drink in the 18th century and rather expnsive. The British East India Company (EIC) had a problem. Thy had warehouses bulging with 18 million pounds of unsold tea. One reson they had the problem is that British colonial trade policy only allowed Americans to buy from the EIC. This meant that prices were high. So the Colonists smuggled in much of their tea from foreign sources. There was plenty of tea available from other sources, including the French, Dutch, and others all too willing to sell to the colonists. There were many smuggling routes. The Channel Islands were especially important in this trade. As important Britons were investors in the EIC, .Thus there was pressure on Parliament to do something to save the EIC. Parliament passed the Tea Act to assist the stuggling EIC(1773). They thought that they were solving a problem. The EIC was authorized to sell directly in the colonies which meant that it could be sold at a bargain price even with the tax. The Townshend Duties were still nominally in force and thus radical leaders throughout th colonies concluded that this was a thinly veiled effort to gain popular acceptance of the taxes. And as the British were going to sell the tea directly rather than though local merchants, there was further suspicion of Governent motives. And not to be ignored is the fact that the Government was undercutting smugglers which included some of the most inflential men kintgnhe colonies. Men like John Hanncock were the biggest smugglers in American history. Parlimentary leaders badly misjudged the American reaction. Actually they had no idea what the American reaction would be. They did not exppect any real resistance, essentiall becaue there would be no real cost to tghe Americans. It was not intended as as a revnue measure. And the Tea Act was not a revenue measure and there was no new tax. What they did of course was to set in motion the Revolutionary War--one of the most momentous events in world history. The Colonists saw it, however, as a revenue measure, [erhaps covert, but in essence a revenue measure.

The Party (December 1773)

It was in Boton that the sitution got out of hand. It was here that misunderstanding over the Tea Act came to a head. he Royal Governor in Boston stood up to the Colonists. He ordered the ships to remin port until unloaded. The Colonists adamently, however, refused to unload the cargo. Ships carry tea soon filled the harbor. The British crews were stuck in Boston and wanted work and to get back home. Ideled in Boston they had time on their hands and began causing problems. The whole situtionn led to the Boston Tea Party (1773). Some 80 outraged Bostonians, the Sons of Liberty, dressed up unconvingly as Red Indians and uncerimoniously dumped about 10,000 worth of British-owned tea in Boston Harbor (December 16, 1773). This at the time when indiuviduals in Londom were being hanged for stealing a few coins. There was a unified colonial response. The Colonists in Philadelphia and New York refused to unload the tea and the ships returned to Britain with their cargoes of tea. The Colonists in Charlesston left the tea to rot on the docks of the harbor. Two important points. The Colonists did not steal the tea. There wa lawlesness involved, but theft was not one of them.

London Reaction

The reaction in London was delzyed beczuse of the news lag, but it was just as sensationsl as Bitain was settling down for a pleasant and uneventfull holiday season. The biggest news at the time was the happy news of Queen Charlotte's pregnancy. The firestorm from the Boston Tea Party still rverberates in history to this day. The King, Lord North, and Prliament were stunned when the read in the newspapers what had happened. There had been no lead up in the press at about serious discent in the colonies. While the Colonists saw this as legitgimate protest, the British immediately saw it as treason pure and simple. This was in part because of changes in Britian law flowing from the Jcobin Revolutions. [Bunker] These changes had not affected the legal comcepts of the Colonists. The British would suceed in supressing the Jacobites in Scotland with liberal lose of the hangman's noose and property seizures, but supresing the Americans, where many Scotts and Scotts-Irish sought refuge, would prove to be a much more challenging proposition. The British took the next wrong step. They decided to take harsh reprisals with no idea of the resistance they would meet or the impact of uniting the colonists.

Colonial Response

As British reaction mounted, the Colonists for their part failed to grasp Britain's determination to meet resistance with force. [Bunker]

Result

This shocking act unleashed a social, political, and economic firestorm throughout the colonies. [Unger] With the East India Company (EIC) close to bankruptsy which could have set off a financianl crisis (read 18th centurry Lemon Brothers), the British Parliament passed a financial rescue package which included the Tea Act. [Bunker] What followed involved miscalulations on both sides. This led to the process of mutual antagnoism that would lead to a War that neither side really wanted. The most immediate impact was the Intolerable Acts and the merican First Continental Congress.

Quebec Act (1774)

The Qubect Act of 1774 extended Quebec's boundaries down to the Ohio River. This was partly an effort to limit escalating defence costs and to protect Indian land. This precluded territorial claims from the 13 colonies. This caused resentment on the part of the Colonists who saw momey to be made in the Western lands. And the Colonists, deeply involved in smuggling, were not not noted for reverence to English laws. Znd the timing following the Boston Tea Party was xseen as aimed at punishing the Colonists.

Intolerable Acts (1774)

Parliament's answer to the Boston Tea Party was the Intolerable Acts (1774). This led directly to the military phase of the Revolution. The British wee outraged over the lawlessness and the destruction of poverty. Parliament which disagreed over how to deal with the americans were united on their determination that someone was going to have to pay. Parliament was expacerated with Colonial objdction a resistance. Prliment ws willing to tolerate strongly worded letters or trade boycotts. They were even willing to tolerate defiant legislatures and harassed customs officials--to some extent. The willfull destruction of property was a different matter. This was a time when pivk pockets in London were hung. Parliament saw the tossing of 342 chests of tea belonging to the EIC into Boston Harboras wanton destruction of property by lawless, costumed Bostonian ruffians who did not even have the good grace to admit responsibility. And someone was going to have pay for the tea. The Parliament called the measures they crafted to deal with the Boston Tea Party the Coercive Acts. In the Colonies they became knon as the Intolerble Acts. The measures closed Boston Harbor to trade until the Colonists agreed to compensate the owners of the tea. The British only permitted food and firewood into the port. The British prohibbited potentially incendeary town meetings and they increased the authority of the royal governor. Other matters further infuriated the Cilonists. General Gage, the British commander of North American forces, was appointed the new royal governor of Massachusetts. And British troops and officials would now be tried safely outside Massachusetts for crimes of murder in the event of future confrontations. And greater authority was given to British officers who wished to quarter their troops in private dwellings.

First Continental Congress (1774)

The English North American colonies were all separate entities. Their ties were with Britain, not with neighboring colonies. The major common ties were the English language, aradution of English law, and Benjamin Franklin's postal service. There werevmajor differences in economies, ethnicity, and religion. The idea of an trans-colonial meeting was first suggested by Benjamin Franklin even before the Boston Tea Party (December 1773). There was intially no real support for the idea among colonial leaders. This changd with British officials closed the Port of Boston as part of the response to the Boston Tea Party. The Boston Committee of Correspondence circulated a letter through Franklin's postal service urging the colonies boycott British goods (May 1774). There was some, but not unanimous support. New York's Committee of 51, which included merchants with a great deal to lose, objected to a boycott. Rather they suggested instead a continental congress which would become the First Continental Congress. This time there was extensive support. Delegtions from 12 of the 13 colonies met at Carpenters' Hall in Philadelphia (September 5 to October 26, 1774). British policies had suceeded in achieving an important development necesary for the success of the Revolution--uniting the Colonits.

Sources

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America (2014), 464p.

Unger, Harlow Giles. American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution.







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Created: 11:28 AM 7/4/2005
Last updated: 5:05 AM 12/15/2014