History 3.3
Oct. 9-11, 2001

Dividing Sovereignty and an Empire:
The Coming of the American Revolution

I. Background of the Imperial Reforms

A. The Legacy of the Seven Years or French and Indian War (Europe, 1756-1763; America, 1754-1760) for Great Britain, British America, and Their Relationship

1. New prime minister William Pitts total war beat the French but ballooned the British national debt.

2. After heavy taxation during the war, British people & elite were in no mood to pay even more taxes to pay off the debt.

3. In British eyes, the colonists had avoided bearing their fair share of the war=s financial burden. (Colonists did not agree, having suffered from French/Indian raids.)

4. Blackmail and Backstabbing: American misbehavior during the war made it "no longer a question of whether imperial administration would be reformed, but how."

5. Alone Together: The French defeat changed the equation and ended need for "salutary neglect."

B. Aftershocks: Pontiac’s Rebellion & the Proclamation of 1763, leading to restricted western settlement and a long-term British military presence.

C. 1st act of rebellion: Paxton Boys attack on Indians, 1763-64.

II. Imperial Reform and the Outbreak of Colonial Resistance

A. Prime Minister George Grenville=s reforms of the empire, designed to make colonies pay their share of imperial expenses and turn them into better-integrated, more smoothly working parts of the empire.

1. Reform of the customs service

a) Cleared out corrupt customs officers, hired new British-born ones, prohibited absentee officials.

b) New vice-admiralty court in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

2. The Molasses Act , or Sugar Act (1764)

3. The Quartering Act (1765)

4. The Stamp Act (1765)

B. Colonial resistance to the Stamp Act and other reforms.

1. American fears of "slavery" and a conspiracy to take away their rights.

2. Intimidation, disobedience, and sometimes violent protests against Stamp Act, worst in Boston, partly orchestrated by smuggler-merchants and the "Sons of Liberty." Role of lawyers and printers. Rendered the law unenforceable.

3. Nonimportation movement: boycotting British imports to put economic pressure on Britain.

4. Stamp Act repealed, as demanded by British merchants, but Parliament asserts its rights with the Declaratory Act (1766).

5. Controversies and riots in NY over the Quartering Act (if time). NY Assembly suspended for refusing $ for troops.

III. The Imperial Debate: Winning the argument, losing the empire

A. American arguments on where sovereignty could be divided.

1. "External" taxation by Parliament OK, but not "internal."

2. Parliamentary taxation intended to regulate trade OK, but not taxation intended to bring in revenue.

3. Parliamentary legislation OK, not parliamentary taxation.

4. Related issue of representation in Parliament: virtual (British view) vs. actual (American view).

B. The Townshend Acts (1767-70), "external taxes" on glass, lead, paint, paper, tea: British effort to play along with American ideas, resisted with non-importation once again, women involved this time, trying to change fashions and social values.

  • Crisis ended when Lord North lifted all taxes but one on tea.

C. Quiet period interrupted by Boston "Massacre" (1770) and Sam Adams efforts (such as committees of correspondence) to renew the crisis and make bolder statements about American rights.

D. Last round of the Imperial Debate: Gov. Thomas Hutchinson vs. Sam Adams & Mass. Assembly, 1773

1. Issue: Hutchinsons crown salary

2. Mass. House & Benjamin Franklin position: "distinct and separate states" with "one head and common sovereign."

3. Hutchinsons position: total submission to British sovereignty or total independence, no meaningful line could be drawn between the two.

4. Ultimate conclusion: If Hutchinson was right, Americans were slaves and had to sever the connection with Britain.

E. Symbolic Crisis: Tea Act and Boston Tea Party (1773)

F. Non-Symbolic Response, bringing real tyranny: The Coercive Acts, 1774 (Boston Port Bill, Admin. Of Justice Act, Mass. Government Act)