THE ROAD TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION: 1763-1775
I. The American colonies prior to the American Revolution.
A. In 18th century, large percentage of colonists (British) were proud to belong to British
1. Newer studies suggest that by 1763 the American colonies had achieved tremendous
integration within the British empire; did not forget their "Britishness"
2. On average, Americans had the highest standard of living in the world.
a. Drop in price of British goods meant American consumers had many
b. Possiblility of landownership in many areas was far better than in Europe.
B. "Salutary neglect" (beginning about 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht)
1. Between 1713 and 1763 American colonials saw reduced gov't intervention in
a. Whig prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, took the enlightened view that that
if the colonies were left alone to run their own affairs with minimal
interference, they would produce more wealth and commerce, prosper, and
cause less trouble.
b. Britain would simply provide peace, protection, commerce, ensure law and
order, and send more immigrants to America to increase numbers of customers.
c. Britain focused on major wars in Europe.
d. Colonies left to raise, equip, train, own militia for whatever protection it believed
was needed against the Indians.
e. In effect, colonies left alone; had to develop self-reliance; effective
3. Development of self-government
a. 13 separate colonial governments emerged; often undercut authority of
b. Local gov't much more responsive to local needs
c. Americans became used to regulating their own affairs without significant
d. American manufacturing increased despite British policies to protect Br.
-- Cost of American goods increased making merchants wealthy.
4. Smuggling became rampant as British policy less vigilant than in 17th century.
C. Whig ideology
1. Idea that concentrated power leads to corruption and tyranny
2. Emphasis on balanced government where legislatures check the power of the
3. The Whigs had championed gov’t reform in England in the late 17th century and
prevailed when Parliament emerged as most powerful element in British
politics after the Glorious Revolution.
D. Violent protests among westerns
toward eastern power structure continued.
1. Regulator Movement (1771)
a. Eastern farmers in N. Carolina frustrated with British tax policies, inadequate
representation of western farmers in the colonial assembly, and legislation favoring
wealthy planters in the east.
b. Fighting lasted for three years.
-- Battle of Alamance (May 16, 1771): colonial militia defeated the Regulators at
Alamance Creek where nearly 4,000 men took part in the conflict.
2. Paxton Boys (1764): Philadelphia Scots Irish dissenters revolted against Quaker
leniency regarding gov’t Indian policy:
-- Scalped 20 neutral Indians, followed by a 200-man march on Philadelphia
demanding more representation, protection in the PA backcountry against Indians,
and funds for internal improvements.
3. Compare the above two rebellions with Bacon & Leisler rebellions in 17th c.
II. The Mercantilist System
A. Mercantilism :Colonies existed for the benefit of the mother country
1. Colonies should add to empire's wealth, prosperity, and self-sufficiency.
2. Colonists seen as tenants
-- Expected to grow tobacco and other necessary products w/o troubling the
colonial administration (e.g. self-gov't, agricultural experimentation)
3. Colonies' benefit to Great Britain
a. Ensure British naval supremacy by furnishing ships, ships' stores, sailors and
b. Provide a large consumer market for British goods.
c. Keep gold & silver in the empire by growing cash crops like sugar that would
otherwise have to be purchased from foreigners.
B. Navigation Laws (1651 Act was temporary)
1. Purpose: enforce the mercantilist system
2. Motive: First enacted in 1651 aimed at rival Dutch shippers who were becoming
active in the American trade.
3. Basic provisions of Nagivation Laws passed in 17th and 18th centuries:
a. Restricted commerce to and from the colonies to English or American
-- Kept money in the Empire & bolstered the British and colonial merchant
b. Certain "enumerated" articles like tobacco couldn’t be shipped to any other
foreign market except England despite prices maybe being higher in other
c. All European goods going to America had to go through England first.
d. Certain restrictions on colonial manufactures for export: British did not want
competition with the Colonies.
-- Forbade exportation of woolen cloth produced in America.
-- Beaver hats prohibited from exportation
--Encouraged colonists to produce pig and bar iron, but not build any new steel
furnaces, slitting mills, or plating forges.
e. Molasses Act (1733) -- Imposed heavy duties(6-pence duty) on all molasses,
rum and sugar imported form French Caribbean.
i. Colonists traded heavily with the French West Indies
ii. Some of the rum consequently produced in America was traded for slaves
-- New England merchants heavily involved in the slave trade
C. Positive results of British Mercantilism
1. Until 1763, Navigation Laws not an intolerable economic burden on the colonies.
2. Colonials had rights of Englishmen and unusual opportunities or self-government
3. Colonies enjoyed British military protection free of charge
4. Colonies greatly profited from manufacturing and trading.
D. Negative impact of mercantilism
1. Colonial economy did not develop as quickly as it wanted to (esp.
2. Southern colonies hit hard as prices for exports dropped by being "enumerated"
-- Virginia especially affected; poor economic conditions resulted in unrest (e.g.
3. Southern colonies favored by British in their policy making (tobacco, sugar and rice);
New Englanders grew resentful.
4. Writs of Assistance
a. Search warrants used by British customs officers to harass colonial shipping.
b. Aimed to reduce colonial smuggling e.g. illegal triangular trade.
c. 1761, James Otis, a young Boston lawyer, demanded Parliament repeal the
i. Parliament refused but Otis’ efforts gained press throughout the colonies.
ii. Later, Otis wrote famous words "no taxation without representation."
E. End of "salutary neglect"
1. The Year 1763 marked a new era in relations between England and the colonies.
a. George Grenville new Prime Minister, sought to enforce Navigation Acts.
-- Americans particularly angry about enlarged authority of Admiralty Courts that
could now try smugglers, customs evaders, ship owners, and others accused of
violating commercial restrictions; no trial by jury; located in Nova Scotia.
b. British debt from the Seven Years' War was enormous
i. Half the debt due to protection of colonies
ii. British fairly believed colonists should pay 1/3 of maintaining a garrison
of 10,000 British soldiers to protect against Indian uprisings.
2. King George III
a. Extremely stubborn and surrounded himself with successive governments of
inexperienced, inward-looking, narrow-minded men.
-- Five different prime ministers during the 1st 10 years of his reign.
b. Sought to exercise increased control over the colonies.
c. 50 years of Whig power was about to give way to a conservative government
dominated by the king beginning in 1762.
3. Proclamation of 1763
a. Prohibited colonials to move west of the Appalachians
b. British aim: Settle land disputes with Indians fairly to prevent more bloody episodes like
c. Colonials infuriated
i. Many veterans had fought in the war and felt betrayed
ii. Land speculators argued that the land was a birthright of British citizens.
d. Colonists generally ignored the Proclamation
4. Currency Act (1764)
a. British restricted colonial printing of paper money
-- Sought to make colonists pay back their debts and taxes with hard currency.
b. Trade deficit between England & America hurt the colonies
i. Most gold & silver flowed to England from colonies since colonies bought more than
ii. Lack of gold meant lack of hard cash; bartering increased
5. Sugar Acts passed in 1764 (updated version of Molasses Act of 1733)
a. First act ever passed specifically that raised revenue for the crown.
b. Aimed to regulate illegal triangular trade to collect duties that the colonists had been
averting for decades.
c. Reduced taxes on molasses but taxed all molasses, not just molasses from French
d. Not enforced effectively; duties eventually lowered after Stamp Act uproar.
6. Quartering Act, 1765: Certain colonies required to provide food & quarters for British
III. Three great crises in the colonies led to
the American Revolution: Stamp Act,
Townshend Acts, & Tea Act
A. The Stamp Act of 1765 -- Perhaps the single most important event leading to the American
1. Purpose: Raise revenues to support the new military force in the colonies
a. Required use of stamped paper or affixed stamps certifying payment of tax.
b. Tax applied to published materials and legal documents e.g., pamphlets, newspapers,
diplomas, bills of lading, marriage certificates, death certificates, deeds, leases,
mortages, insurance policies, bonds, ship charters, liquor licenses, playing cards.
c. Both Sugar Act and Stamp Act provided for trying offenders in admiralty courts
where juries were not allowed
-- Burden of proof on defendants; were assumed guilty unless proved innocent.
3. Grenville’s' view
a. Stamp Act was reasonable and just
b. Only required colonials to pay their fair share for colonial defense
c. Stamp Act in Britain had been much heavier and in effect for 2 generations.
4. Virginia Resolves (led by Patrick Henry)
a. Virginia’s leaders saw Stamp Act as an attack on colonial's rights as Englishmen
b. 5 of Henry’s 7 resolutions adopted by the House of Burgesses including
c. Claimed that Virginia could only be taxed by Virginians.
-- "No taxation w/o representation"
d. Assemblies of 8 other colonies passed resolutions silmilar to Virginias’s.
5. Colonist views distiguished between "legislation" and "taxation"
a. Legislation, "external taxes", the right of Parliament regarding the
empire; e.g. trade
b. Taxation, "internal taxes", exclusive right local popularly elected gov't
-- British taxation was robbery; attacking sacred rights of property
c. Grenville’s response: colonies had "virtual representation" in Parliament
-- All British subjects represented, even those who did not vote for
members in Parliament.
d. Colonists believed "virtual representation" was neither adequate nor justified
i. "No taxation w/o representation"
ii. Did not really want "direct representation" (actual representation)
-- Would mean increased taxes (as in Britain)
-- Increased responsibilities to the crown
-- Colonial reps. would be heavily outnumbered in Parliament
6. Stamp Act Congress (1765) -- brought together 27 delegates from 9
a. Massachusetts made initiative for colonies who adopted Virginia Resolves to meet.
b. Drew up a statement of their rights and grievances and demanded that the
king and Parliament rescind the Stamp Act.
c. Largely ignored in England; of little consequence in the colonies
d. Significance: Brought together reps from different & rival colonies and set a precedent
for future resistance to British rule.
-- Helped break down sectional suspicions within the colonies.
e. Non-importation agreements against British goods.
-- England economy suffered from non-importation but non-importation was
not decisive in reversing Parliament’s decision
7. Sons of Liberty led by Samuel Adams enforced nonimportation agreements against
violators; tar & feathers
a. Houses of unpopular officials ransacked, possessions stolen, while officials were often
hanged in effigy; warehouse where stamps stored was destroyed.
b. All stamp act agents were forced to resign; no one selling stamps.
8. Stamp Act repealed in 1766
a. Lord Rockingham sees the Stamp Act as a possible cause of civil crisis and
encourages British merchants to write Parliament to rescind the tax.
b. Parliament passed the Declaratory Act at the same time
i. Purpose was partly to save face
ii. Claimed that Parliament had the right to tax colonies I the future.
c. Sugar Act tax lowered from 3-pence per gallon to 1-pence
B. Townshend Acts (1767)
1. Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, took control of the British ministry and
sought to punish the colonies for the Stamp Act uproar
a. Small import duty on glass, white lead, paper, paint, silk and tea.
-- Tax was an indirect customs duty payable at American ports ("external tax")
b. Revenues from taxes to pay the salaries of royal governors and judges
c. Established American Board of customs Commissioners & vice-admiralty courts
to enforce trade laws.
-- Royal judges would be allowed to grant "writs of assistance" in private homes or
shops or warehouses.
3. Colonial reaction
a. Colonies interpreted this as a tax to raise revenue; any form inappropriate.
b. John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania
i. Challenged distinction between "internal" and "external" taxes.
ii. Denied right to levy taxes for purpose of revenue.
iii. Prompted the Massachusetts Circular Letter
4. Massachusetts Circular Letter (Feb. 1768)
a. Mass. legislature, urged by Sam Adams and James Otis, reiterated Dickinson’s
arguments and called for other colonies to pass petitions calling on Parliament to repeal
b. In response, Lord Hillsborough, sent troops to Boston and threatened to dissolve Mass.
legislature and hold new elections if the letter not retracted.
-- Other colonies that voted for the circular would be dissolved.
c. Some colonies reenacted previous nonimportation agreements (MA, NY, PA,
-- British exports to America fell 40% over the next few months.
d. Several colonial legislatures dissolved as they supported Massacusetts circular:
MA, MD, VA, DE, SC (NC governor fearful of dissolving legislature)
5. Boston "Massacre"
a. (Peaceful) Arrival of troops in Boston aroused American resistance
-- Colonials fearful of standing armies; believed Britain sought to suppress colonial
b. March 5, 1770 British soldiers (having been provoked) fired on a crowd of Bostonians
i. Eleven "innocent" civilians killed or wounded
ii. Crispus Attucks, a mulatto merchant seaman, the "first to die in the revolution," &
alleged leader of the unruly mob.
iii. Word of the "massacre" spread throughout the colonies (esp. by Sons of
iv. Colonial propaganda exaggerated the event and made British appear sinister.
6. Townshend Acts repealed
a. Lord North, bowing to pressure, got Parliament to repeal the act in 1770.
i. Nonimportation agreements were pinching British manufacturers
ii. Three-pence tax on tea remained to demonstrate Parliament's right to tax.
-- Taxed tea still cost less than smuggled tea.
b. Half the troops in Boston removed.
c. General feeling of goodwill after Townshend Acts were repealed until 1773.
7. Gaspee Incident (1771) one of only a few incidents between 1770-1773 to cause
a. British warship "Gaspee" ran aground near Providence, RI, pursuing smugglers.
-- Ship was notorious for extorting smaller vessels and allowing men to steal cattle
and cut fruit trees on local farms for firewood.
b. Sons of Liberty members, dressed as Indians, took crew off the ship and set it on fire;
c. "Gaspee" Commission was created by Lord Hillsborough to seek retribution but could
not find the guilty parties; would have sent them to England for trial.
8. Committees of Correspondence
a. Some colonial discontent continued as British redoubled efforts to enforce the
b. Samuel Adams used propaganda to whip up colonial resentment
c. Adams organized the local committees of correspondence in Mass., Nov.1772.
d. Chief function was to spread propaganda and info. by interchanging letters in order
to keep opposition to British policy alive.
e. In particular, letters from the British gov't incl. those of Gov. Hutchinson
showed that Britain was acting on Hutchinson's advice and wishes.
f. Intercolonial committees of correspondence emerged
g. Intercolonial groups evolved directly into the first American congresses.
C. The Tea Act Crisis and the First Continental
1. Tea Act (1773)
a. British gov't granted British East India Company a monopoly of American tea
i. BEIC on the verge of bankruptcy which would have cost the gov't $ in tax
ii. Price of tea would be even lower than existing prices, even with the 3-pence tax.
b. Americans reacted angrily: saw Tea Act as a sneaky attempt to trick colonies to accept
the tax through cheaper tea.
2. Boston Tea Party, Dec. 16, 1773
-- Sons of Liberty dressed as Indians boarded three ships, smashed 342 chests open, and
dumped the tea into the harbor.
3. "Intolerable Acts" (Coercive Acts)
a. 1774, Parliament passed the "Repressive Acts" designed to punish Boston
b. Boston Port Act -- harbor remained closed until damages were paid and order
c. Massachusetts charter revoked (Massachusetts Government Act)
i. King now had the power to appoint the Governor's Council, not the assembly
ii. Forbade town meetings except for election of town officials.
d. Administration of Justice Act: Enforcing officials who killed colonists could now be
tried in England instead of the colonies.
e. Quartering Act: Provided for the quartering of troops once again in Boston.
4. Quebec Act -- coincidentally accompanied "Intolerable Acts"; not intended to punish the
a. French in Canada guaranteed right to practice Catholicism.
b. Quebec territory was extended down to the Ohio river, next to NY & PA
c. French allowed to keep old customs and institutions which did not include
a representative assembly or trial by jury in civil cases.
d. Seen by both British and Canadians as a conciliatory measure.
e. Colonial reaction:
-- Viewed act as insidious attempt to create a new French Canadian and Indian threat
on in the Ohio Vally region.
-- Anti-Catholic sentiment arose; seen as an attack on Protestantism
5. The First Continental
a. In response to "Intolerable Acts," the committees of correspondence urged the colonies
to act quickly.
b. Bostonians adopted a solemn league and covenant against all trade with Great
Britain and invited the other colonies to join in it.
c. First Continental Congress deliberated from Sept. 5 to Oct. 26, 1774
i. 12 of 13 colonies present (except Georgia)
ii. Delegates included S.Adams, J. Adams, G. Washington, & Patrick Henry.
d. 1st Step: endorse several resolutions known as the Suffolk Resolves.
i. Denounced "Intolerable" Acts
ii. Urged colonies to organize militia for defensive purposes
iii. Called on colonies to suspend all trade with rest of British empire
iv. Urged citizens not to pay taxes.
e. Rejection of Galloway Plan
i. Joseph Galloway called for a colonial union required to approve all
parliamentary laws affecting the colonies (like Franklin’s Albany Plan).
ii. Most members far too conservative to endorse such a radical view
f. Main purpose: Petition for redress of grievances -- Declaration and Resolves
i. Gave colonists the legal right to assemble in order to seek redress.
ii. "Bill of Rights": established structure for the Declaration of Independence (Preamble,
list of grievances and mutual pledge)
g. The Association: most significant action of the Congress
-- Called for a complete boycott of British goods: nonimportation, nonexportation,
h. Yet, Congress restated allegiance to the King
-- No real desire to independent; merely wanted grievances redressed.
i. A convention met in Richmond, VA, in March, 1775 to approve the proceedings
of the First Continental Congress
-- Patrick Henry: "Give me liberty, or give me death."
j. King and Parliament did not respond to Declaration and Resolves.
-- Would have recognized Congresses right as a legislative body.
6. The Shot Heard Around
the World -- Lexington and Concord
a. Parliament ordered General Gage, new Gov. of Massachusetts, to arrest leaders of
the rebellion and prepare for military action.
-- Gage sought to prevent bloodshed by disarming the local militia.
b. April 1775, a detachment of 700 British redcoats sent secretly to nearby Lexington &
Concord to seize stores of gunpowder and arrest Sam Adams & John Hancock.
-- Paul Revere and William Dawes warned the Minutemen.
c. Battle of Lexington and Concord began when Minutemen refused to disperse on the
Lexington Green and shots were fired.
i. 8 Americans killed, 10 wounded. Who fired the first shot?
ii. Redcoats continued on to Concord. 6 miles away.
d. Concord -- British forced to retreat by American reinforcements
i. Militia picked-off British soldiers as they retreated to Boston
ii. By day’s end, 273 British casualties; 95 Americans casualties
e. Minutemen encamped outside the city and lay siege to Boston.
IV. British Strengths and Weaknesses during the American Revolution
1. Population favored Britain: 7.5 million to 2.5 for the colonies.
2. Superior monetary advantage and best navy in the world
3. About 20,000 slaves in the Carolinas and Georgia joined the British (only 5K for rebels)
a. British promised slaves freedom if they fought on their side
b. Many fled with the British after the war and left the country
4. Many Indians also sided with the British and wreaked havoc along the frontier
-- British represented last hope for keeping land-hungry colonists out.
5. Britain possessed a 50,000 man professional army
-- King George hired an additional 30,000 German "Hessians" as mercenaries. 6. British
also enlisted about 50,000 loyalists
1. Enormous distance from England to the Colonies
-- Communication was inefficient to meet the need for immediate action.
2. America too large a region for Britain’s army to effectively occupy; population too
3. British generals in America were poor leaders
a. Many British soldiers did not want to kill their American cousins
b. Provisions for the army were poor
4. Americans had only to tie in order to win; British had to win outright.
5. France was waiting for an opportunity to exact revenge
6. London gov't was confused and inept; King George & Lord North inadequate
-- Whig factions in Parliament cheered American victories at the outset
V. American Strengths and Weaknesses
1. Outstanding leadership e.g., George Washington and Benjamin Franklin (diplomat)
2. Economic aid from France at the outset; later military aid was decisive.
3. Defensive military tactics worked to their advantage
4. Agriculturally self-sustaining
5. Colonials were competent marksmen; better than the redcoats
6. Moral advantage from belief in a just cause
1. Badly organized for the war and lacked unity from the beginning.
a. Continental Congress was weak and ineffective
b. Fought almost the entire war without a constitution
2. Jealousy among colonies
a. Regarded themselves as sovereign
-- Resisted Congress' to exercise its weak power
b. Quarrels over the appointment of military leaders
3. Economic difficulties
a. Little metal money
i. Paper money printed to the point that it was worthless
ii. Individual colonies had to later print paper money
b. Soldiers deserted due to economic difficulties of their families
c. Debtors paid their debts which were tremendously devalued
4. Military challenges
a. Military supplies were inadequate esp. firearms and gunpowder
b. Militiamen highly unreliable
5. Morale in the Revolutionary army was undermined by opportunistic American profiteers
a. Sold goods to British for payment in gold
b. Speculators forced prices sky-high
c. Boston merchants made profits of 50-200% while soldiers were dying..
6. Only a select minority of American colonials truly committed themselves to the cause.
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