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Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


 

Chapter 4. The Empire Under Strain

A late as the 1750s, few Americans saw any reason to object to their membership in the British Empire. The imperial system provided them with many benefits: opportunities for trade and commerce, military protection, political stability. And those benefits were accompanied by few costs; for the most part, the English government left the colonies alone. While Britain did attempt to regulate the colonists' external trade, those regulations were usually so laxly administered that they could be easily circumvented. Some Americans predicted that the colonies would ultimately develop to a point where greater autonomy would become inevitable. But few expected such a change to occur soon.

By the mid-1770s, however, the relationship between the American colonies and their British rulers [ had become so strained, so poisoned, so character-\ ized by suspicion and resentment that the once seem-I ingly unbreakable bonds of empire were on the verge of dissolution. And in the spring of 1775, the first shots were fired in a war that would ultimately win America its independence. How had it happened? And why so quickly?

In one sense, it had not happened quickly at all. Ever since the first days of settlement in North America, the ideas and institutions of the colonies had been diverging from those in England in countless ways. Only because the relationship between America and Britain had been so casual had those differences failed to create serious tensions in the past. In another sense, however, the Revolutionary crisis emerged in response to important and relatively sud-den changes in the administration of the empire. Be-ginning in 1763, the English government embarked on a series of new policies toward its coloniespolicies dictated by changing international realities and new political circumstances within England itself that brought the differences between the two societies into sharp focus. In the beginning, most Americans reacted to the changes with relative restraint. Gradually, however, as crisis followed crisis, a large group of Americans found themselves fundamentally disillusioned with the imperial relationship. By 1775, that relationship was, for all practical purposes, damaged beyond repair.

A Loosening of Ties

After England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the collapse of the Dominion of New England, the English government (or the British government after 1707, when Great Britain was created by the union of England and Scotland) made no serious or sustained effort to tighten its control over the colonies for over seventy years. During those years, it is true, an increasing number of colonies were brought under the direct control of the king. New Jersey in 1702, North and South Carolina in 1729, Georgia in 175^1all became royal colonies, bringing the total to eight; in all of them, the king had the power to appoint the governors and other colonial officials. During those years, Parliament also passed new laws supplementing the original Navigation Acts and strengthening the mercantilist programlaws restricting colonial manufactures, prohibiting paper currency, and regulating trade. On the whole, however, the British government remained uncertain and divided about the extent to which it ought to interfere in colonial affairs. The colonies were left, within broad limits, to go their separate ways.

A Tradition of Neglect

In the fifty years after the Glorious Revolution, the British Parliament established a growing supremacy over the king. During the reigns of George I (1714-1727) and George II (1727-1760), both of whom were German-born and unaccustomed to English ways, the prime minister and his fellow cabinet ministers began to become the nation's real executives. They held their positions not by the king's favor but by their ability to control a majority in Parliament.

These parliamentary leaders were less inclined than the seventeenth-century monarchs had been to engage in experiments in imperial organization. They depended heavily on the support of the great merchants and landholders, most of whom feared that any such experiments would require large expenditures, would increase taxes, and would diminish the profit of the colonial trade. The first of the prime ministers, Robert Walpole, deliberately refrained from strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts, believing that relaxed trading restrictions would stimulate commerce.

Meanwhile, the day-to-day administration of colonial affairs remained decentralized and inefficient. There was no colonial office in London. The nearest equivalent was the Board of Trade and Plantations, established in 1696a mere advisory body that had little role in any actual decisions. Real authority rested in the Privy Council (the central administrative agency for the government as a whole), the admiralty, and the treasury. But those agencies were responsible for administering laws at home as well as overseas; none could concentrate on colonial affairs alone. To complicate matters further, there was considerable overlapping and confusion of authority among the departments.

Few of the London officials, moreover, had ever visited America; few knew very much about conditions there. What information they did gather came in large part from agents sent to England by the colonial assemblies to lobby for American interests; and these agents, naturally, did nothing to encourage interference with colonial affairs. (The best known of them, Benjamin Franklin, represented not only his native Pennsylvania but also Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.)

It was not only the incoherence of administrative authority in London and the ministerial policy of salutary neglect that weakened England's hold on the colonies. It was also the character of the royal officials in Americathe governors and other officers of the royal colonies and (in all the colonies) the collectors of customs and naval officers. Some of these officeholders were able and intelligent men; most were not. Appointments were generally made as the result of bribery or favoritism, not in response to merit. Many appointees remained in England and, with part of their salaries, hired substitutes to take their places in America. Such deputies were generally poorly paid and faced great temptation to augment their incomes with bribes. Few resisted the temptation. Customs collectors, for example, routinely waived duties on goods when merchants paid them to do so. Even honest and well-paid officials usually! found it expedient, if they wanted to get along with their neighbors, to yield to the colonists' resistance to trade restrictions.

Resistance to imperial authority centered in the colonial legislatures. By the 1750s the assemblies had established the right to levy taxes, make appropriations, approve appointments, and pass laws for their respective colonies. Their legislation was subject to veto by the governor or the Privy Council; but they had leverage over the governor through their control of the colonial budget, and they could circumvent thei Privy Council by repassing disallowed laws in slightly altered form. The assemblies came to look upon themselves as little parliaments, each practically as sovereign within its colony as Parliament itself was in England. In 1754, the Board of Trade reported to thf king, regarding the members of the New York as sembly: they "have wrested from Your Majesty' governor the nomination of all offices of govern ment, the custody and direction of the public military stores, the mustering and direction of troops raise< for Your Majesty's service, and in short almost eveq other part of executive government.

Intercolonial Disunity

Despite their frequent resistance to the authority o London, the colonists continued to think of them' selves as loyal English subjects, In many respects, ii fact, they felt stronger ties to England than they did to one another. "Fire and water," an English traveler wrote, "are not more heterogeneous than the different colonies in North America." New Englanders and Virginians viewed each other as something close to foreigners. A Connecticut man denounced the merchants of New York for their "frauds and unfair practices," while a New Yorker condemned Connecticut because of the "low craft and cunning so incident to the people of that country." Only an accident of geography, it seemed, connected these disparate societies to each other.

Yet for all their differences, the colonies could scarcely avoid forging connections with one another. The growth of the colonial population, which produced an almost continuous line of settlement along the seacoast, brought the people of the various colonies into closer and closer contact. So did the gradual construction of roads and the rise of intercolonial trade. The colonial postal service likewise helped increase communication. In 1691, it had operated only from Massachusetts to New York and Pennsylvania. In 1711, it was extended to New Hampshire in the north; in 1732, to Virginia in the south; and ultimately, all the way to Georgia.

Still, the colonists were loath to cooperate even when, in 1754, they faced a common threat from their old rivals, the French, and France's Indian allies.

A conference of colonial leaderswith delegates from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and New Englandwas meeting in Albany in that year to negotiate a treaty with the Iroquois. The delegates stayed on to talk about forming a colonial federation for defense. Benjamin Franklin proposed, and the delegates tentatively approved, a plan by which Parliament would set up in America "one general government" for all the colonies, each of which would "retain its present constitution" except for certain powers to be granted to the general governmentsuch as the authority to govern all relations with the Indians.

War with the French and Indians was already beginning when this Albany Plan was presented to the colonial assemblies. None approved it. Only the Massachusetts assembly even gave it serious attention. "Everyone cries, a union is necessary," Franklin wrote to the Massachusetts governor, "but when they come to the manner and form of the union, their weak noodles are perfectly distracted." Not until twenty years later, in the midst of another war, did the American colonies begin to think of themselves as a single, united nation.

The Struggle for the Continent

In one sense, the war that raged in North America through the late 1750s and early 1760s was but one part of a larger struggle between England and France for dominance in world trade and naval power. The British victory in that struggle, known in Europe as the Seven Years' War, confirmed England's commercial supremacy and cemented its control of the settled regions of North America.

In another sense, however, the conflict was the final stage in a long struggle among the three principal powers in northeastern North America: the English, the French, and the Iroquois. For more than a century prior to the conflictknown in America as the French and Indian Warthese three groups had maintained a precarious balance of power. The events of the 1750s upset that balance, produced a prolonged and open conflict, and established the dominance of the English societies throughout the region.

The French and Indian War had one additional significance to the English colonists in America. By bringing the Americans into closer contact with British authority than ever before, it raised to the surface some of the underlying tensions in the colonial relationshiptensions that would ultimately become crucial to the final break with England.

New France and the Iroquois Nation

The French and the English had coexisted relatively peacefully in North America for nearly a century. But by the 1750s, as both English and French settlements expanded, religious and commercial tensions began to produce new frictions and new conflicts.

The origins of the crisis lay in part in the expansion of the French presence in America in the late seventeenth centurypart of Louis XIV's search for national unity and increased world power. The French finance minister, Jean Colbert, persuaded the king that he could best increase the nation's glory by creating a new, four-part empire. France itself would be the center, the source of capital and manufactured goods; its West Indian islands (especially Martinique and Guadeloupe) would be suppliers of sugar and other exotic products; posts along the African coast would support the slave trade; and the settlements in Canada would be a market for exports from France and a granary for provisioning the West Indies. In response to Colbert's proposals, France began to devote new attention to the development of its North American territories.

Colbert had intended Canada to be a compactly settled agricultural province, but ambitious French officials in America (most notably Jean Talon and Count Frontenac) had little patience with the limits Colbert had set. They did nothing to curb, and indeed a great deal to promote, the expansion of French settlement. The lucrative fur trade drew immigrant peasants ever deeper into the wilderness. Missionary zeal drew large numbers of Jesuits into the interior in search of potential converts. The bottomlands of the Mississippi River valley attracted farmers discouraged by the short growing season in Canada.

By the mid-seventeenth century, the French Empire in America comprised a vast territory. Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquettc, French explorers of the 1670s, journeyed together by canoe from Green Bay on Lake Michigan as far south as the junction of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. (They were the first to confirm that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, notas most had believedthe Gulf of California.) A year later, Rene Robert Cavelier, Sicur de La Salle, began the explorations that finally, in 1682, took him to the delta of the Mississippi, where he took possession of the surrounding counti for France and named it Louisiana in the king's hono Subsequent traders and missionaries wandered to tt southwest as far as the Rio Grande, and the explon Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Verendry pushed westward in 1743 from Lake Superior to point within sight of the Rocky Mountains. Th French had by then revealed the outlines of, and lai claim to, the whole continental interior.

To secure their hold on this vast territory, the founded a string of widely separated communities strategically located fortresses, and far-flung mission and trading posts. Fort Louisbourg, on Cape Bretor Island, guarded the approach to the Gulf of St Lawrence. Would-be feudal lords established largi estates ("seigneuries") along the banks of the St Lawrence River; and on a high bluff above the rivei stood the fortified city of Quebec, the center of tht French Empire in America. Montreal to the south and Sault Sainte Marie and Detroit to the west marked the northern boundaries of French settlement. On the lower Mississippi emerged plantations much like those in the Southern colonies of English America, worked by black slaves and owned by "Creoles" (white immigrants of French descent). New Orleans, founded in 1718 to service the French plantation economy, soon was as big as some of the larger cities of the Atlantic seaboard; Biloxi and Mobile to the east completed the string of French settlement.

But the French were not, of course, alone in the continental interior. They encountered there a large and powerful Indian population, and their relations with the natives were crucial to the shaping of their empire. Both the French and the English were aware that the battle for control of North America would be determined in part by which group could best win the allegiance of native tribesas trading partners and, at times, as military allies. The Indians, for their part, were principally concerned with protecting their independence, and what alignments they formed with the European societies growing up around them were generally marriages of convenience, determined by which group offered the most attractive terms. For the most part, the Englishwith their more advanced commercial economycould offer the Indians better and more plentiful goods. But the French offered! something that was often more important: tolerance. Unlike the English settlers, who strove constantly to impose their own social norms on the Indians they encountered, the French settlers in the interior often adjusted their own behavior to Indian patterns. French fur traders frequently married Indian women and adopted tribal ways; Jesuit missionaries interacted comfortably with the natives and converted them to Catholicism by the thousands without challenging most of their social customs. By the mid-eighteenth century, therefore, the French had far better and closer relations with most of the Indians of the interior than did the English.

The most powerful native group, however, had a rather different relationship with the French. The Iroquois Confederacythe five Indian nations (Mohawk, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Oneida) that had formed a defensive alliance in the sixteenth centurydominated the Ohio Valley and a large surrounding region. The Iroquois had formed very early an important commercial relationship with the English and Dutch along the eastern seaboard; and in the 1640s, they had foughtand wona bitter war against the Hurons, their major competitors in that trade. The Hurons had been nearly exterminated, and the few survivors had fled the region.

The Hurons had been the principal trading partners of the French in the early seventeenth century, and their disappearance pushed French traders farther into the interior in search of the furs the natives had once provided. For nearly a century, however, neither the French nor the English raised any serious challenge to Iroquois control of the Ohio Valley. The Iroquois maintained their autonomy in part by avoiding too close a relationship with either group. They traded successfully with both the English and the French and astutely played the two groups off against each other. As a result, they managed to maintain an uneasy balance of power in the Great Lakes region.

Anglo-French Conflicts

As long as England and France remained at peace in Europe, and as long as the precarious balance in the North American interior survived, English and French colonists coexisted without serious difficulty. But after the Glorious Revolution in England, the English throne passed to one of Louis XIV's principal enemies, William III, who had previously been and remained still the stadholder (chief magistrate) of the Netherlands and who had long opposed French expansionism. William's successor. Queen Anne (the daughter of James II), ascended the throne in 1702 and carried on the struggle against France and its new ally, Spain. The result was a series of Anglo-French wars that continued intermittently for nearly eighty years.

The wars had important repercussions in America. King William's War (1689-1697) produced only a few, indecisive clashes between English and French in northern New England. Queen Anne's War, which began in 1701 and continued for nearly twelve years, generated more substantial conflicts: border fighting with the Spaniards in the south as well as with the French and their Indian allies in the north. The Treaty of Utrecht, which brought the conflict to a close in 1713, transferred substantial areas of French territory from the French to the English in North America, including Acadia (Nova Scoria) and Newfoundland.

Two decades later, European rivalries led to still more conflicts in America. Disputes over British trading rights in the Spanish colonies produced a war between England and Spain and led to clashes between the British in. Georgia and the Spaniards in Florida. (It was in the context of this conflict that the last English colony in America, Georgia, was founded in 1733; see pp. 51-53.) The Anglo-Spanish conflict soon merged with a much larger European war, in which England and France lined up on opposite sides of a territorial dispute between Frederick the Great of Prussia and Maria Theresa of Austria. (France supported Prussia, in the hope of seizing the Austrian Netherlands; England supported Austria, to keep Holland from the French.) The English colonists in America were soon drawn into the struggle, which they called King George's War; and between 1744 and 1748 they engaged in a series of conflicts with the French. New Englanders captured the French bastion at Louisbourg on Cape Breton Island; but the peace treaty that finally ended the conflict forced them (in bitter disappointment) to abandon it.

In the aftermath of King George's War, relations among the English, French, and Iroquois in North America quickly deteriorated. In a classic blunder, the Iroquois began for the first time to grant trading concessions in the interior to English merchants. In the context of the already tense Anglo-French relationship in America, that decision set in motion a disastrous chain of events. The French, fearful that the English were using the concessions as a first step toward expansion into French lands (which to some extent they were), began in 1749 to construct new fortresses in the Ohio Valley. The English, interpret-ing the French activity as a threat to their western settlements, protested and began making military preparations and building fortresses of their own. The balance of power that the Iroquois had carefully and successfully maintained for so long rapidly disintegrated; and the five Indian nations had no choice now but to ally themselves with the British and assume an essentially passive role in the conflict that ensued.

For the next five years, skirmishes between the English and the French grew in intensity, until in the summer of 1754, open hostilities broke out between a military force from Virginia (commanded by George Washington) and a French force at Fort Duquesne, on the site of what became Pittsburgh. The Virginians were routed. The clash marked the beginning of the French and Indian War, the climactic event in the long Anglo-French struggle for empire.

The Great War for the Empire

The French and Indian War lasted nearly nine years, and it moved forward in three distinct phases. During the first of these phases, from the Fort Duquesne debacle in 1754 until the expansion of the war to Europe in 1756, it was primarily a local. North American conflict. The colonists managed the war largely on their own. The British provided modest assistance during this period, but they provided it so ineptly that it had little impact on the struggle. The British fleet failed to prevent the landing of large French reinforcements in Canada; and the newly appointed commander in chief of the British army in America, General Edward Braddock, failed miserably in a major effort in the summer of 1755 to retake the crucial site at the forks of the Ohio River where Washington had lost the battle for Fort Duquesne; a French and Indian ambush a few miles from the fort left Braddock dead and what remained of his forces in disarray. The local colonial forces, meanwhile, were preoccupied with defending themselves against raids on their western settlements by the Indians of the Ohio Valley. Virtually all of them (except the Iroquois) were now allied with the French, having interpreted the defeat of the Virginians at Fort Duquesne as evidence of British weakness. By late 1755, many English settlers along the frontier had withdrawn to the east of the Allegheny Mountains to escape the hostilities.

The second phase of the struggle began in 1756, when the governments of France and England formally opened hostilities and a truly international conflict (the Seven Years' War) began. In Europe, the war was marked by a realignment within the complex system of European alliances. France allied itself with its former enemy, Austria; and England joined France's former ally, Prussia. The fighting now spread to the West Indies, India, and Europe itself. But the principal struggle remained the one in North America, where so far England had suffered nothing but frustration and defeat.

Beginning in 1757, William Pitt, the new English prime minister, began to transform the war effort in America by bringing it for the first time fully under British control. Pitt himself began planning military strategy for the North American conflict, appointing military commanders, and issuing orders to the colonists. Military recruitment had slowed dramatically in America after the defeat of Braddock, and to replenish the army British commanders began forcibly enlisting colonists (a practice known as "impressment"). Officers also began to seize supplies and equipment from local farmers and tradesmen and to compel colonists to offer shelter to British troops all generally without compensation. The Americans, who had long ago become accustomed to running their own affairs and who had been fighting for over two years without much assistance or direction from the British, resented these new impositions and firmly resisted themat times, as in a 1757 riot in New York City, violently. By early 1758, the friction between the British authorities and the colonists was threatening to bring the war effort to a halt.

Beginning in 1758, therefore, Pitt initiated the third and final phase of the war by relaxing many of the policies that Americans had found obnoxious. He agreed to reimburse the colonists for all supplies requisitioned by the army. He returned control over recruitment to the colonial assemblies (which resulted in an immediate and dramatic increase in enlistments). And he dispatched large numbers of additional troops to America.

Finally, the tide of battle began to turn in England's favor. The French, who had always been outnumbered by the British colonists and who, after 1756, suffered from a series of poor harvests, were unable to sustain their early military successes. By mid-1758, the British regulars in America (who did the bulk of the actual fighting) and the colonial militias were seizing one French stronghold after another. Two brilliant English generals, Jeffrey Amherst and James Wolfe, captured the fortress at Louisbourg in July 1758; a few months later Fort Duquesne fell without a fight. The next year, after a siege of Quebec, supposedly impregnable atop its towering cliff, the army of General James Wolfe struggled up a hidden ravine under cover of darkness, surprised the larger forces of the Marquis de Montcalm, and defeated them in a battle in which both commanders were slain. The dramatic fall of Quebec on September 13, 1759, marked the beginning of the end of the American phase of the war. A year later, in September 1760, the French army formally surrendered to Amherst in Montreal.

Not all aspects of the struggle were as romantic as Wolfe's assault on Quebec. The British resorted at times to such brutal military expedients as population dispersal. In Nova Scotia, for example, they uprooted several thousand French inhabitants, whom they suspected of disloyalty, and scattered them throughout the English colonies. (Some of these Acadians eventually made their way to Louisiana, where they became the ancestors of the present-day Cajuns.) Elsewhere, English and colonial troops were inflicting worse atrocities on the Indian allies of the French for example, offering "scalp bounties" to those who could bring back evidence of having killed a native. The French and their Indian allies committed similar atrocities in return, and hundreds of families along the English frontier perished in savage raids on their settlements.

Peace finally came after the accession of George III to the British throne and the resignation of Pitt, who, unlike the new king, wanted to continue hostilities. Pitt's aims were largely realized nevertheless in the Peace of Paris, signed in 1763. Under its terms, the French ceded to Great Britain some of their West Indian islands and most of their colonies in India. The French also transferred Canada and all other French territory east of the Mississippi, except the island of New Orleans, to Great Britain. They ceded New Orleans and their claims west of the Mississippi to Spain, thus surrendering all title to the mainland of North America.

The French and Indian War had profound effects on the British Empire and the American colonies. It greatly expanded England's territorial claims in the New World. At the same time, it greatly enlarged Britain's debt; financing the vast war had been a major drain on the treasury. And it generated substantial resentment toward the Americans among English leaders. They were contemptuous of the colonists for what they considered American military ineptitude during the war; they were angry that the colonists had made so few financial contributions to a struggle waged largely for American benefit; they were particularly bitter that some colonial merchants had been selling food and other goods to the French in the West Indies throughout the conflict. All these factors combined to persuade many English leaders that a major reorganization of the empire, giving London increased authority over the colonies, would be necessary in the aftermath of the war.

The war had an equally profound but very different effect on the American colonists. It was an experience that forced them, for the first time, to act in concert against a common foe. The colonies were still far from united, but they had learned certain lessons in cooperation. The friction of 1756-1757 over British requisition and impressment policies, and the 1758 return of authority to the colonial assemblies, established an important precedent in the minds of the colonists; it seemed to confirm the illegitimacy of English interference in local affairs. And for thousands of Americans, those who served in the colonial armed forces, the war served as an important socializing experience. The colonial militias, unlike the British regiments, had generally viewed themselves as a "people's army." The relationship of soldiers to their units was, the soldiers believed, in some measure voluntary; their army was a communal, not a coercive or hierarchical organization. The contrast with the British regulars, whom the colonists widely resented for their arrogance and arbitrary use of power, was striking; and in later years, the memory of that contrast helped to shape the American response to British imperial policies.

In important respects, therefore, the French and Indian War established attitudes and assumptions among both the British and the Americans that would shape their behavior during the crises that led to the American Revolution.

The New Imperialism

With the treaty of 1763, England found itself truly at peace for the first time in more than fifty years. Undistracted by war, the British government could now turn its attention to the organization of its empire. And after the difficult experiences of the previous decade, many English leaders were convinced that the question of imperial organization could no longer be ignored.

In fact, they had virtually no choice; even if policymakers had wished to revert to the old colonial system with its half-hearted enforcement of the mercantilist program, they would have found it virtually impossible to do so. Saddled with enormous debts from the many years of fighting, England was desperately in need of new revenues from its empire. And responsible for vast new lands in the New World, the imperial government could not long avoid expanding its involvement in its colonies.

Burdens of Empire

The experience of the French and Indian War, however, suggested that such increased involvement would not be easy to establish. Not only had the colonists proved so resistant to British control that Pitt had been forced to relax his policies in 1758, but the colonial assemblies had continued after that to respond to British needs slowly and grudgingly. Unwilling to be taxed by Parliament to support the war effort, the colonists were generally reluctant to tax themselves as well. Defiance of imperial trade regulations and other British demands continued, and even increased, through the last years of the war.

The problems of managing the empire were compounded after 1763 by a basic shift in Britain's imperial design. In the past, the English had viewed their colonial empire primarily in terms of trade; they had opposed acquisition of territory for its own sake. But by the mid-eighteenth century, a growing number of English and American leaders (including both William Pitt and Benjamin Franklin) were beginning to argue that land itself was of value to the empire because of the population it could support, the taxes it could produce, and the sense of imperial splendor it would confer. The debate between the old commercial imperialists and the new territorial ones came to a head at the conclusion of the French and Indian War. The mercantilists wanted England to return Canada to France in exchange for Guadeloupe, the most commercially valuable of the French "sugar islands" in the West Indies. The territorialists, however, prevailed. The acquisition of the French territories in North America was a victory for, among others, Benjamin Franklin, who had long argued that the American people would need these vast spaces to accommodate their rapid and, he believed, limitless growth. But Franklin and his supporters in the colonies were soon to discover that the new acquisitions brought with them unexpected problems.

With the territorial annexations of 1763, the area of the British Empire was suddenly twice as great as it had been, and the problems of governing it were thus made many times more complex. Almost immediately, England faced a series of sharply conflicting pressures as it attempted to devise a policy for governing the new lands. Some argued that the empire should restrain rapid settlement and development of the Western territories. To do otherwise would be to risk further costly conflicts with the Indians and might help encourage France to launch a new attack somewhere in America in an effort to recover some of its lost territories and prestige. And restricting settlement would keep the land available for hunting and trapping. Others wanted to see the new territories opened for immediate development; but they disagreed among themselves about who should control the Western lands. Colonial governments made fervent, and often conflicting, claims of jurisdiction. Others argued that control should remain in England, that the territories should be considered entirely new colonies, unlinked to the existing settlements. There were, in short, a host of problems and pressures that the British could not ignore.

At the same time, the government in London was running out of options in its effort to find a way to deal with its staggering war debt. Landlords and merchants in England itself were obiectins, strenuously to increases in what they already considered excessively high taxes. The colonies, on the other hand, had contributed virtually nothing, the British believed, to the support of a war fought in large part for their benefit. The necessity of stationing significant numbers of British troops on the Western frontier even after 1763 was adding even more to the cost of defending the American settlements. And the halfhearted response of the colonial assemblies to the war effort had suggested that in its search for revenue, England could not rely on any cooperation from the colonial governments. Only a system of taxation administered by London, the leaders of the empire believed, could effectively meet England's needs.

The Role of George III

At this crucial moment in Anglo-American relations, with the imperial system in desperate need of redefinition, the government of England was thrown into turmoil by the accession to the throne of a new king. George III assumed power in 1760 on the death of his grandfather. And he brought two particularly unfortunate qualities to the office. First, he was determined, unlike his two predecessors, to reassert the authority of the monarchy. Pushed by his ambitious mother, he removed from power the longstanding and relatively stable coalition of Whigs, who had (under Pitt and others) governed the empire for much of the century. In their place, he created a new coalition of his own through patronage and bribes and gained an uneasy control of Parliament. Yet the new ministries that emerged as a result of these changes were inherently unstable, each lasting in office an average of only about two years.

In addition to these dangerous political ambitions, the king had serious intellectual and psychological limitations. He suffered, apparently, from a rare mental disease that produced intermittent bouts of insanity. (Indeed, in the last years of his long reign he was, according to most accounts, a virtual lunatic, confined to the palace and unable to perform any official functions.) Yet even when George III was lucid and rational, which was most of the time in the 1760s and 1770s, he was painfully immature (he had been only twenty-two when he ascended the throne) and insecurestriving constantly to prove his fitness for his position but time and again finding himself ill equipped to handle the challenges he seized for himself. The king's personality, therefore, contributed both to the instability and to the intransigence of the British government during these critical years.

More immediately responsible for the problems that soon emerged with the colonies, however, was George Grenville, whom the king made prime minister in 1763. Grenville, a brother-in-law of William Pitt, did not share Pitt's sympathy with the American point of view. He agreed instead with the prevailing opinion within Britain that the colonists had been too long indulged and that they should be compelled to obey the laws and to pay a part of the cost of defending and administering the empire. He fancied himself something of an efficiency expert, and he was indeed an able administrator. Furthermore, as chancellor of the exchequer and first lord of the treasury, he was well acquainted with matters of public finance. He promptly undertook to impose a system upon what had been a rather unsystematic aggregation of colo-nial possessions in America.

The Western problem was the most urgent. With the repulse of the French, frontiersmen from the Eng lish colonies had begun immediately to move over the mountains and into the upper Ohio Valley. Objecting to this intrusion, an alliance of Indian tribes, under the Ottawa chieftain Pontiac, prepared to fight back. As an emergency measure, the British government issued a proclamation forbidding settlers to advance beyond a line drawn along the mountain divide between the Atlantic and the interior.

Although the original emergency soon subsided, the new principle of the Proclamation Line of 1763 remained in forcethe principle of controlling the westward movement of population. Earlier, the British government had encouraged the rapid peopling of the frontier for reasons of both defense and trade. But the official attitude had gradually changedand not only in response to the Indian threat. Officials in London also feared that the interior might draw so many people away from the coast that markets and investments in the original settlements would suffer. And they wanted as well to reserve opportunities for land speculation and fur trading for English rather than colonial entrepreneurs.

Having announced the new policy tentatively in 1763, the English government soon extended and elaborated it. A definite Indian boundary was to be located, and from time to time relocated, in agreement with the various tribes. Western lands were to be opened for occupation only gradually, and settle-ment was to be carefully supervised to see that it proceeded in a compact and orderly way.

The Grenville ministry soon made a number of other efforts to increase its control of the colonies. Regular British troops, London announced, would now be stationed permanently in the provinces; and under the Mutiny Act of 1765 the colonists were required to assist in provisioning and maintaining the army. Ships of the British navy were assigned to patrol American waters and search for smugglers. The customs service was reorganized and enlarged. Royal officials were ordered to take up their colonial posts in person instead of sending substitutes. Colonial manufacturing was to be restricted, so that it would not compete with the rapidly expanding industry in Great Britain.

The Sugar Act of 1764, designed in part to eliminate the illegal sugar trade between the continental colonies and the French and Spanish West Indies, lowered the duty on molasses and raised the duty on sugar; and it established new vice-admiralty courts in America to try accused smugglersthus depriving them of the benefit of sympathetic local juries. The Currency Act of 1764 required the colonial assemblies to stop issuing paper money (a widespread practice during the war) and to retire on schedule all the paper money already in circulation. Most momentous of all, the Stamp Act of 1765 imposed a tax on every printed document in the colonies: newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, deeds, wills, licenses.

The new imperial program was an effort to reapply to the colonies the old principles of mercantilism. And in some ways, it proved highly effective. British officials were soon collecting more than ten times as much annual revenue in America as before 1763. But the new policies created many more problems than they solved.

The Colonial Response

The colonists may have resented the new imperial regulations, but they faced many obstacles to an ef-fective effort to resist them. For one thing, Americans continued to harbor as many grievances against one another as against the authorities in London. In 1763, for example, a band of Pennsylvania frontiers men known as the Paxton Boys descended on Phil-adelphia to demand relief from taxation and money to support their own defense needs; bloodshed was averted only by concessions from the colonial gov ernment.

In 1771, a small-scale civil war broke out as a result of the so-called Regulator movement in North Carolina. The Regulators were farmers of the Carolina upcountry who organized to oppose the high taxes that local sheriffs (appointed by the colonial governor) collected. The western counties were badly underrepresented in the colonial assembly, and the Regulators failed to win redress of their grievances there. Finally they armed themselves and began resisting tax collections by force. To suppress the revolt, Governor William Tryon raised an army of militiamen, mostly from the eastern counties, who defeated a band of 2,000 Regulators in the Battle of Alamance. Nine on each side were killed and many others wounded. Afterward, six Regulators were hanged for treason.

The bloodshed was exceptional, but the bitter conflicts within the colonies were not. After 1763, however, the new policies of the British government began to create common grievances among virtually all colonists that to some degree counterbalanced these internal divisions. For under the Grenville program, as the Americans saw it, all peoplein all classes, in all colonieswould suffer.

Northern merchants would suffer from restraints on their commerce, from the closing of the West to land speculation and fur trading, from the closing of opportunities for manufacturing, and from the increased burden of taxation. Southern planters, in debt to English merchants, would now have to pay additional taxes and would be unable to ease their debts by speculating in Western land. Professional men ministers, lawyers, professors, and othersdepended on merchants and planters for their livelihood and thus shared their concerns about the effects of English law. Small farmers, the largest group in the colonies, would suffer from increased taxes and from the abolition of paper money, which had been the source of most of their loans. Workers in towns faced the prospect of narrowing opportunities, particularly because of the restraints on manufacturing and paper money.

The new restrictions came, moreover, at the beginning of a postwar economic depression. The British government, by pouring money into the colonies to finance the fighting, had stimulated a wartime boom; that flow stopped after 1763. Now the authorities in London proposed to aggravate the problem by taking money out of the colonies. The imperial policies would, many colonists feared, doom them to permanent economic stagnation and a declining standard of living.

In reality, most Americans soon found ways to live with (or circumvent) the new British policies.

The American economy was not, in fact, being destroyed. But economic anxieties were rising in the colonies nevertheless, and they created a growing sense of unease, particularly in the citiesthe places most directly affected by British policies and the places where resistance first arose. The periodic economic slumps that were occurring with greater and greater frequency, the frightening depression of the early 1760s, the growth of a large group within the population who were unemployed or semiemployed, and who were in either case a destabilizing element in the community: all combined to produce a feeling in some colonial citiesand particularly in Boston, the city suffering the worst economic problemsthat something was deeply amiss.

Whatever the economic consequences of George Ill's and Grenville's programs, the political consequences werein the eyes of the colonists, at least far worse. Nowhere else in the world did so large a proportion of the people take an active interest in public affairs; and Americans were accustomed (and deeply attached) to a wide latitude in self-government. The keys to self-government, they believed, were the provincial assemblies; and the key to the power of the provincial assemblies was their long-established right to give or withhold appropriations for the costs of government within the colonies. By attempting to circumvent the colonial assemblies, raise extensive revenues directly from the public, and provide salaries directly and unconditionally to royal officials in America, the British government was challenging the basis of colonial political power: control over public finance.

Home rule, therefore, was not something new and different that the colonists were striving to attain. It was something old and familiar that they desired to keep. The movement to resist the new imperial policies, a movement for which many would ultimately fight and die, was thus at the same time democratic and conservative. It was a movement to conserve liberties Americans believed they already possessed.

Stirrings of Revolt

By the mid-1760s, therefore, a hardening of positions had begun in both England and America that would bring the colonies into increasing conflict with the mother country. The victorious war for empire had given the colonists a heightened sense of their own importance and a renewed commitment to protecting their political autonomy. It had given the British a strengthened belief in the need to tighten administration of the empire and a strong desire to use the colonies as a source of revenue. The result was a progression of events that, more rapidly than anyone could have imagined, destroyed the English empire in America.

The Stamp Act Crisis

Prime Minister Grenville could not have devised a better method for antagonizing and unifying the colonies than the Stamp Act if he had tried. The new tax fell on all Americans, of whatever section, colony, or class. And it evoked particular opposition from some of the most powerful and strategically placed members of the populationpeople with substantial economic and political power, and people with particular influence over public opinion. Merchants and lawyers were obliged to buy stamps for ships' papers and legal documents. Tavern owners, often the political oracles of their neighborhoods, were required to buy stamps for their licenses. Printersthe most influential group in distributing information and ideas in colonial societyhad to buy stamps for their newspapers and other publications.

The actual economic burdens of the Stamp Act were, in the end, relatively light. What made the law obnoxious to the colonists was not so much its immediate cost as the precedent it seemed to set. In the past, taxes and duties on colonial trade had always been interpreted as measures to regulate commerce, not raise money. Some Americans had even managed to persuade themselves that the Sugar Act of 1764, which was in fact designed primarily to raise money, was not fundamentally different from the traditional nature of imperial duties. The Stamp Act, however, could be interpreted in only one way. It was a direct attempt by England to raise revenue in the colonies without the consent of the colonial assemblies. If this new tax were allowed to pass without resistance, the door would be open for far more burdensome taxation in the future.

Few colonists believed that they could do anything more than grumble and buy the stampsuntil the Virginia House of Burgesses sounded a "trumpet of sedition" that aroused Americans to action almost everywhere. The "trumpet" was sounded by a group of young Virginia aristocrats. They hoped, among other things, to challenge the power of tidewater planters who (in alliance with the royal governor) dominated Virginia politics. Foremost among the malcontents was Patrick Henry, who had already achieved fame through his fiery oratory and his defiance of British authority. Henry made a dramatic speech to the House in May 1765, concluding with a vague prediction that if present policies were not revised, George III, like earlier tyrants, might lose his head. There were shocked cries of "Treason!" and, according to one witness, an immediate apology from Henry (although many years later he was quoted as having made the defiant reply: "If this be treason, make the most of it"). Henry introduced a set of resolutions declaring that Americans possessed the same rights as the English, especially the right to be taxed only by their own representatives; that Virgin-ians should pay no taxes except those voted by the Virginia assembly; and that anyone advocating the right of Parliament to tax Virginians should be deemed an enemy of the colony. The House of Burgesses defeated the most extreme of Henry's resolutions, but all of them were printed and circulated as the "Virginia Resolves" (creating an impression in other colonies that the people of Virginia were more militant than they actually were).

In Massachusetts at about the same time, James Otis persuaded his fellow members of the colonial assembly to call an intercolonial congress for concerted action against the new tax. In October 1765, the Stamp Act Congress, as it was called, met in New York with delegates from nine colonies and decided to petition the king and the two houses of Parliament. Their petition conceded that Americans owed to Parliament "all due subordination," but it denied that the colonies could rightfully be taxed except through their own provincial assemblies.

Meanwhile, in several colonial cities mobs began taking the law into their own hands. During the summer of 1765 serious riots broke out up and down the coast, the largest of them in Boston. Men belonging to the newly organized Sons of Liberty terrorized stamp agents and burned the stamps. The agents, themselves Americans, hastily resigned, and the sale of stamps in the continental colonies virtually ceased. In Boston, the mob attacked as well such pro-British "aristocrats" as the lieutenant governor, Thomas Hutchinson (who had privately opposed passage of the Stamp Act but who, as an officer of the crown, felt obliged to support it once it became law). Hutchinson's elegant house was pillaged and virtually destroyed.

The Stamp Act crisis brought the colonies to the brink of war with the British government. But the crisis subsided, largely because England backed down. The authorities in London were not deterred by the legislative resolutions, the petitions, or the riots; what changed their attitude was economic pressure. Even before the Stamp Act, many New En-glanders had stopped buying English goods to protest the Sugar Act of 1764. Now the colonial boycott spread, and the Sons of Liberty intimidated those colonists who were reluctant to participate in it. The merchants of England, feeling the loss of much of their colonial market, begged Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act, while stories of unemployment, poverty, and discontent arose from English seaports and manufacturing towns.

The Marquis of Rockingham, who succeeded Grenville as prime minister in July 1765, tried to appease both the English merchants and the American colonists; and he finally convinced the king that the Stamp Act should not survive. On March 18, 1766, it was repealed. Rockingham's opponents were strong and vociferous, and they insisted that unless the colonists were compelled to obey the Stamp Act, they would soon cease to obey any laws of Parliament. To satisfy them, Parliament passed on the same day the Declaratory Act, declaring parliamentary authority over the colonies "in all cases whatsoever." In their rejoicing over the repeal, most Americans paid little attention to this sweeping declaration of Parliament's power.

The Townshend Program

The Rockingham government's policy of appeasement was not as well received in England as it was in America. English landlords, a powerful political force, angrily protested that the government had "sacrificed the landed gentlemen to the interests of traders and colonists." They were fearful, in other words, that the retreat of the government from its policy of taxing the colonies would result in renewed taxes on them. The king finally bowed to their pressure and dismissed the Rockingham ministry. To replace it, he called upon the aging but still powerful William Pitt to form a government. Pitt had been a strong critic of the Stamp Act and had a reputation in America as a friend of the colonists (although some Americans had looked askance at his acceptance of a peerage in 1766). Once in office, however, Pitt (now Lord Chatham) was so hobbled by gout and at times so incapacitated by mental illness that the actual leadership of his administration fell to the chancellor of the exchequer, Charles Townshenda brilliant, flamboyant, and at times reckless politician known to his contemporaries variously as "the Weathercock" and "Champagne Charlie."

Townshend had to deal almost immediately with the litany of imperial problems and colonial grievances left over from the Grenville ministry. With the Stamp Act repealed, the greatest American grievance involved the Mutiny (or Quartering) Act of 1765, which required the colonists to provide quarters and supplies for the British troops in America. The British considered this a reasonable requirement. The troops were stationed in North America to protect the colonists from Indian or French attack and to defend the frontiers; lodging the troops in coastal cities was simply a way to reduce the costs of supplying them. To the colonists, however, the law was another assault on their liberties. They did not so much object to quartering the troops or providing them with supplies; they had been doing that voluntarily ever since the last years of the French and Indian War. They resented that these contributions were now made mandatory, and they considered it another form of taxation without their consent. They responded with defiance. The Massachusetts Assembly refused to vote the mandated supplies to the troops. The New York Assembly soon did likewise, posing an even greater challenge to imperial authority, since the army headquarters were in New York City.

To enforce the law and to try again to raise revenues in the colonies, Townshend steered two measures through Parliament in 1767. First, the New York Assembly was disbanded until the colonists agreed to obey the Mutiny Act. (By singling out New York, Townshend thought he would avoid Grenville's mistake of arousing all the colonies at once.) Second, new taxes (known as the Townshend Duties) were levied on various goods imported to the colonies from Englandlead, paint, paper, and tea. The colonists could not logically object to taxation of this kind, Townshend reasoned, because it met standards they themselves had accepted. Benjamin Franklin, as a colonial agent in London trying to prevent the passage of the Stamp Act, had long ago argued for the distinction between "internal" and "external" taxes and had denounced the stamp duties as internal taxation. Townshend himself had considered the distinction laughable; but he was now imposing duties on clearly external transactions.

Townshend's efforts to satisfy colonial grievances were, however, to no avail. The new duties were no more acceptable to Americans than the stamp tax. Although they were ostensibly external taxes, they would be paid by colonial merchants and, indirectly, by colonial consumers. Their purpose was the same as that of the Stamp Act: to raise revenue from the colonists without their consent. And the suspension of the New York Assembly, far from isolating New York, aroused the resentment of all the colonies. They considered this assault on the rights of one provincial government a precedent for the annihilation of the rights of all of them.

The Massachusetts Assembly took the lead in opposing the new measures by circulating a letter to all the colonial governments urging them to stand up against every tax, external or internal, imposed by Parliament. At first, the circular evoked little response in some of the legislatures (and ran into strong opposition in Pennsylvania's). Then Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, issued a circular letter of his own in which he warned that assemblies endorsing the Massachusetts letter would be dissolved. Massachusetts defiantly reaffirmed its support for the circular. (The vote in the Assembly was 92 to 17, and "ninety-two" became a patriotic rallying cry throughout British America.) The other colonies, including Pennsylvania, promptly rallied to the support of Massachusetts.

Besides persuading Parliament to levy import duties and suspend the New York Assembly, Townshend took steps to enforce commercial regulations in the colonies more effectively than ever. The most fateful of these steps was the establishment of a board of customs commissioners in America. Townshend hoped the new board would stop the rampant corruption in the colonial customs houses; and to some extent his hopes were fulfilled. The new commissioners virtually ended the smuggling in Boston, where they established their headquarters, although smugglers continued to carry on a busy trade in other colonial seaports.

The Boston merchantsaccustomed, like all colonial merchants, to loose enforcement of the Navigation Acts and doubly aggrieved now that the new commission was diverting the lucrative smuggling trade elsewherewere indignant; and they took the lead in organizing another boycott. In 1768, the merchants of Philadelphia and New York joined them in a nonimportation agreement, and later some Southern merchants and planters also agreed to cooperate. The colonists boycotted British goods subject to the Townshend Duties; and throughout the colonies, American homespun and other domestic products became suddenly fashionable, while English luxuries fell from favor.

Late in 1767, Charles Townshend diedbefore the consequences of his ill-conceived program had become fully apparent. The question of dealing with colonial resistance to the Townshend Duties fell, therefore, to the new prime minister, Lord North. Hoping to break the nonimportation agreement and divide the colonists, Lord North secured the repeal in March 1770 of all the Townshend Duties except the tea tax.

The Boston Massacre

Whatever pacifying effects the repeal of the Townshend Duties might have had was negated by an event in Massachusetts that occurred before news of the repeal reached America. The harassment of the new customs commissioners in Boston had grown so intense that the British government had placed four regiments of regular troops within the city. The presence of the "redcoats" was a constant affront to the colonists' sense of independence and a constant reminder of British oppression. Everywhere they went, Bostonians encountered British soldiersarrogant, intrusive, sometimes coarse and provocative. There was particular tension between the redcoats and Boston laborers. Many British soldiers, poorly paid and poorly treated by the army, wanted jobs in their off-duty hours; and they thus competed with local workers in an already tight market. Clashes between them were frequent.

On the night of March 5, 1770, a few days after a particularly intense skirmish between workers at a ship-rigging factory and British soldiers who were trying to find work there, a mob of dockworkers, "liberty boys," and others began pelting the sentries at the customs house with rocks and snowballs. Hastily, Captain Thomas Preston of the British regiment lined up several of his men in front of the building to protect it. There was some scuffling; one of the soldiers was knocked down; and in the midst of it all, apparently, several British soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five people (among them a mulatto sailor, Crispus Attucks).

This murky incident, almost certainly the result of panic and confusion, was quickly transformed by local resistance leaders into the "Boston Massacre" a graphic symbol of British oppression and brutality. The victims became popular martyrs; the event became the subject of such lurid (and inaccurate) accounts as the widely circulated pamphlet Innocent Blood Crying to God from the Streets of Boston. A famous engraving by John Hancock portrayed the massacre as a carefully organized, calculated assault on a peaceful crowd. The British soldiers, tried before a jury of Bostonians, were found guilty of no more than manslaughter and were given only a token punishment. Colonial pamphlets and newspapers, however, convinced many Americans that the soldiers were guilty of official murder. Year after year, resistance leaders marked the anniversary of the massacre with demonstrations and speeches.

The leading figure in fomenting public outrage over the Boston Massacre was Samuel Adams, the most effective dissenter in the colonies. Adams (a distant cousin of John Adams, second president of the United States) was born in 1722 and was thus somewhat older than other leaders of colonial protest. As a member of an earlier generation with strong ties to New England's Puritan past, he was particularly inclined to view public events in stern moral terms. A failure in business, he had occupied several political and governmental positions; but his real importance was as a publicist, a voice unflagging in expressing outrage at British oppression. England, he argued, had become a morass of sin and corruption; only in America did public virtue survive. He spoke frequently at Boston town meetings; and as one unpopular English policy followed anotherthe Townshend Duties, the placement of customs commissioners in Boston, the stationing of British troops in the city (with its violent results)his message attracted increasing support. In 1772, he proposed the creation of a "committee of correspondence" in Boston to publicize the grievances against England throughout the colony, and he became its first head. Other colonies followed Massachusetts's lead, and a loose network of political organizations was soon established that kept the spirit of dissent alive through the 1770s,

The Philosophy of Revolt

A superficial calm settled on the colonies for approximately three years after the Boston Massacre. In reality, however, American political life remained restless and troubled. The crises of the 1760s had helped to arouse an ideological excitement in the colonies; the events of the early 1770s had produced instruments for publicizing colonial grievances; and gradually a political outlook took hold in America that would ultimately serve to justify revolt.

"The Revolution was effected before the war commenced," one of the greatest of the Revolutionary leaders, John Adams, afterward remarked. "The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people." Adams exaggerated. Few Americans were willing to consider complete independence from England until after the war had begun; and even those few (among them Samuel Adams) generally refrained from admitting that independence was their goal. But John Adams was certainly correct in arguing that well before the fighting began in 1775, a profound ideological shift had occurred in the way many Americans viewed the British government and their own.

The ideas that would support the Revolution emerged from many sources. Some were indigenous to America, drawn from religious (particularly Puritan) sources or from the political experiences of the colonies. But these native ideas were enriched and enlarged by the importation of powerful arguments from abroad. Of most importance, perhaps, were the "radical" ideas of those in Great Britain who stood in opposition to their government. Some were Scots, who viewed the English government as tyrannical. Others were embittered "country Whigs," who considered the existing system corrupt and oppressive. Drawing from some of the great philosophical minds of earlier generationsmost notably John Locke these English dissidents framed a powerful argument against their government; and while that argument had only limited appeal in England, it found a ready audience in the troubled colonies.

Central to this emerging ideology was a new concept of what government should be. Because humans were inherently corrupt and selfish, government was necessary to protect individuals from the evil in one another. But because any government was run by corruptible people, it needed safeguards against abuses of power.

In the eyes of most Englishmen and most Americans, the English constitution was the best system ever devised to meet these necessities. By distributing power among the three elements of societythe monarch, the aristocracy, and the common people the English political system ensured that no individual or group could exercise authority unchecked by another. Yet by the mid-seventeenth century, dissenters in both England and America were becoming deeply concerned that this noble constitution was being eroded. The king and his ministers were exercising such corrupt and autocratic authority, they believed, that the elements of power were no longer in balance. The independence of the various elements of government was being undermined; a single center of power was emerging; and the system was thus threatening to become a dangerous tyranny.

Except among such disenchanted groups as the Scots and the "country Whigs," such arguments found little sympathy in Englandlargely because of the way in which most English people viewed their constitution. They revered it, but they considered it a flexible, constantly changing entityan assortment of laws and customs that had evolved through many centuries and that remained elastic and vague. The English constitution was not a written document; nor was it a fixed set of unchangeable rules. It was a general sense of the "way things are done." Americans, by contrast, drew from their experience with colonial charters, in which the shape and powers of government were permanently inscribed on paper; and they had difficulty accepting the idea of a flexible, changing set of basic principles. Many argued that the English constitution should itself be written down, to prevent fallible politicians from tampering with its essence.

Part of that essence, Americans believed, was their right to be taxed only with their own consent. When Townshend levied his "external" duties, the Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson published a widely circulated pamphlet, Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer, which argued that even external taxation was legal only when designed to regulate trade and not to raise a revenue. Gradually, most Americans ceased to accept even that distinction, and they finally took an unqualified stand: "No taxation without representation." Whatever the nature of a taxwhether internal or external, whether designed to raise revenue or to control tradeit could not be levied without the consent of the colonists themselves.

This clamor about "representation" made little sense to the English. Only about 4 percent of the population of Great Britain was entitled to vote for members of Parliament, and some populous boroughs in England had no representatives at all. According to the prevailing English theory, such apparent inequities were of no importance. Members of Parliament did not represent individuals or particular geographical areas. Instead, each member represented the interests of the whole nation and indeed the whole empire, no matter where the member happened to come from. The unenfranchised boroughs of England, the whole of Ireland, and the colonies thousands of miles awayall were thus represented in the Parliament at London, even though they elected no representatives of their own.

This was the theory of "virtual" representation. But Americans, drawing from their experiences with their town meetings and their colonial assemblies, believed in "actual" representation. Every community was entitled to its own representative, elected by the people of that community and directly responsible to them. Since they had none of their own representatives in Parliament, it followed that they were not represented there. But even having representatives in Parliament, many believed, would not resolve the problem. For participation in the decisions of Parliament would in effect bind them to those decisions, even though they would be outnumbered and outvoted. More important, American members of Parliament would be so isolated from the people who had elected them that they would not be able to perform as true representatives. Thus most colonists reverted to the argument that they could be fairly represented only in their own colonial assemblies.

According to the emerging American view of the empire, these assemblies played the same role within the colonieshad the same powers, enjoyed the same rightsthat Parliament did within England. The empire, the Americans argued, was a sort of federation of commonwealths, each with its own legislative body, all tied together by common loyalty to the king (a view that augured the structure of the British Commonwealth in the twentieth century). This concept allowed them to vent their anger not at the empire itself, but at the English Parliament, which was presumptuously exerting authority to which it was not entitled over the colonies. Not until very late did they begin to criticize the king himself. And not until the colonies were ready to declare their independence in 1776 were they ready to repudiate the English constitution.

What may have made the conflict between England and America ultimately insoluble was a fundamental difference of opinion over the nature of sovereignty. By arguing that Parliament had the right to legislate for England and for the empire as a whole, but that only the provincial assemblies could legislate for the individual colonies, Americans were in effect arguing for a division of sovereignty. Parliament would be sovereign in some matters; the assemblies would be sovereign in others. To the British, such an argument was untenable and absurd. Sovereignty, they believed, was by definition unitary. In any system of government there must be a single, ultimate authority. And since the empire was, in their view, a single, undivided unit, there could be only one authority within it: the English government of king and Parliament. Thus it was that the Anglo-American crisis ultimately presented the colonists with a stark choice. In the eyes of the English, there was, in effect, no middle ground between complete subordination and complete independence. Slowly, cautiously, Americans found themselves moving toward independence.

That movement began with resistance, rather than with sentiment for open revolt. Opposition to British policies in the 1760s had not taken the form of repudiation of England but of refusal to obey certain unjust laws. During this stage of the crisis, the colonists justified their actions by citing the teachings of the Bible and the ideas of John Locke. To show that resistance against tyranny was lawful in God's sight, they pointed to such biblical events as the overthrow of a king of Israel who had burdened his people with unjust taxes. To show that resistance had justification in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, they pointed to Locke's Two Treatises on Civil Government (1690), in which he had attempted to justify the English revolution of 1688-1689 by which Parliament had won supremacy over the king. Locke argued that humans had originally lived in a state of nature and had enjoyed complete liberty; later, they had agreed to a "compact" and established a government to protect their "natural rights/' especially their right to the ownership and enjoyment of private property. But the government was limited by the terms of the compact and by "natural law." It could not, for example, take property without the consent of the owners. Americans took particular note of Locke's statement:

"If any one shall claim a power to lay and levy taxes on the people by his own authority, and without such consent of the people, he thereby invades the fundamental law of property, and subverts the end of government."

The biblical and Lockean justifications for resistance included, however, a possible justification for actual rebellion as well. The Bible suggested that people had a right not only to resist but to overthrow unjust rulers. And Lockc had argued that if a government should persist in exceeding its rightful powers, the people would be released not only from their obligation to obey particular laws but from their obligation to obey the government at all. They would have the right to dissolve the "compact" and make a new one, to establish another government. The right to resist was, in other words, only the first step. If resistance proved ineffective, if a government proved to be so thoroughly corrupt and tyrannical that it could not be reformed, then citizens were entitled to revolt against it. They had a "right of revolution."

By the early 1770s, the relationship between America and England had become poisoned by resentment and mutual suspicion. Americans had become convinced that a "conspiracy against liberty" existed within the British government. And they had articulated a philosophy that seemed to them to justify whatever measures might be necessary to protect themselves from that conspiracy. Only a small distance remained to be traversed before the colonies would move from resistance to revolution, before they would be ready to break their ties with the empire. That distance was crossed quickly, beginning in 1773, when a new set of British policies shattered forever the imperial relationship.

The Tea Excitement

The apparent calm in America in the first years of the 1770s masked a growing sense of frustration and resentment in response to the continued and increasingly heavy-handed enforcement of the Navigation Acts. The customs commissioners, who remained in America despite the repeal of the Townshend Acts, proved to be clumsy, intrusive, and arrogant officials, who harassed colonial merchants and seamen constantly with petty restrictions (and who also enriched themselves through graft and through illegal seizures of merchandise). The popular anger lying just beneath the surface was visible in occasional acts of rebellion. At one point, colonists seized a British revenue ship on the lower Delaware River. And in 1772, angry residents of Rhode Island boarded the British schooner Gaspee, set it afire, and sank it in Narragansett Bay. The British response to the Gaspee affair further inflamed American opinion. Instead of putting the accused attackers on trial in colonial courts, the British sent a special commission to America with power to send the defendants back to England for trial. Once again, the British were challenging America's right to exercise independent authority.

What finally revived the revolutionary fervor of the 1760s to its old strength, however, was a new act of Parliamentone that the English government had expected to be relatively uncontroversial. It involved the business of selling tea. In 1773, Britain's East India Company (which possessed an official monopoly on trade with the Far East) was sitting on large stocks of tea that it could not sell in England. It was on the verge of bankruptcy. In an effort to save it, the government passed the Tea Act of 1773, which gave the company the right to export its merchandise directly to the colonies without paying any of the regular taxes that were imposed on the colonial merchants, who had traditionally served as the middlemen in such transactions. With these privileges, the company could undersell American merchants and monopolize the colonial tea trade.

The act proved inflammatory for several reasons. First, it angered influential colonial merchants, who feared being replaced and bankrupted by a powerful monopoly. The East India Company's decision to grant franchises to certain American merchants for the sale of their tea created further resentments among those excluded from this lucrative trade. More important, however, the Tea Act revived American passions about the issue of taxation without representation. The law provided no new tax on tea. But the original Townshend duty on the commodity the only one of the original duties that had not been repealedsurvived. It was the East India Company's exemption from that duty that put the colonial merchants at such a grave disadvantage in competition with them. Lord North assumed that most colonists would welcome the new law because it would reduce the price of tea to consumers by removing the middlemen. But resistance leaders in America argued that it was another insidious example of the results of an unconstitutional tax. The colonists responded by boycotting tea, of which many of themespecially womenwere extremely fond. They drank instead such substitutes as coffee and chocolate.

Meanwhile, with strong popular support, leaders in various colonies made plans to prevent the East India Company from landing its cargoes in colonial ports. In Philadelphia and New York, determined men kept the tea from leaving the company's ships; and in Charleston, they stored it away in a public warehouse. In Boston, after failing to turn back the three ships in the harbor, local patriots staged a spectacular drama. On the evening of December 16, 1773, three companies of fifty men each, masquerading as Mohawks, passed through a tremendous crowd of spectators (which served to protect them from official interference), went aboard the three ships, broke open the tea chests, and heaved them into the harbor. As the electrifying news of the Boston "tea party" spread, other seaports followed the example and staged similar acts of resistance of their own.

When the Bostonians refused to pay for the property they had destroyed, George III and Lord North decided on a policy of coercion, to be applied only against Massachusettsthe chief center of resistance. In four acts of 1774, Parliament closed the port of Boston, drastically reduced the powers of self-government in the colony, permitted royal officers to be tried in other colonies or in England when accused of crimes, and provided for the quartering of troops in the colonists' barns and empty houses.

These Coercive Actsor, as they were more widely known in America, Intolerable Actswere followed by the Quebec Act, which was separate from them in origin and quite different in purpose. Its object was to provide a civil government for the French-speaking Roman Catholic inhabitants of Canada and the Illinois country. The law extended the boundaries of Quebec to include the French communities between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. It also granted political rights to Roman Catholics and recognized the legality of the Roman Catholic church within the enlarged province. In many ways it was a liberal and much-needed piece of legislation. But to many in the thirteen colonies, the Quebec Act was a threat. They were already alarmed by rumors that the Church of England was scheming to appoint a bishop for America who would impose Anglican authority on all the various sects. And since the line between the Church of England and the Church of Rome had always seemed to Americans dangerously thin, the passage of the Quebec Act convinced many of them that a plot was afoot in London to subject Americans to the tyranny of the pope. Those interested in Western lands, moreover, believed that the act would hinder westward expansion.

Lord North might have gotten away with the Coercive Acts or the Quebec Act alone. But the combination of the two was too much for most colonists to bear. By late 1774, from New Hampshire to Georgia, the peoples of the American colonies were ready to take a united stand.

Cooperation and War

Revolutions do not simply happen. They must be organized and led. Beginning in 1765, colonial leaders developed a variety of organizations for converting popular discontent into actionorganizations that in time formed the basis for an independent government,

New Sources of Authority

The passage of authority from the royal government to the colonists themselves began on the local level, where the tradition of autonomy was already strong. In colony after colony, local institutions responded to the resistance movement by simply seizing authority on their own. At times, entirely new, extralegal bodies emerged semispontaneously and began to perform some of the functions of government. In Massachusetts in 1768, for example, Samual Adams called a convention of delegates from the towns of the colony to sit in place of the General Court, which the governor had dissolved. The Sons of Liberty, which Adams had helped to organize in Massachusetts and which sprang up elsewhere as well, became another source of power. Its members at times formed disciplined bands of vigilantes, who made certain that all colonists respected the boycotts and other forms of popular resistance. And in most colonies, committees of prominent citizens began meeting to perform additional political functions.

The most famous and most effective of these new groups were the committees of correspondence, which Adams had inaugurated in Massachusetts in 1772. Virginia later established the first intercolonial committees of correspondence, which made possible continuous coopertion among the colonies. And Virginia took the greatest step of all toward united action in 1774 when, after the royal governor dissolved the assembly, a rump session met in the Raleigh Tavern at Williamsburg, declared that the Intolerable Acts menaced the liberties of every colony, and issued a call for a Continental Congress.

Variously elected by the assemblies and by extra-legal meetings, delegates from all the thirteen colonies except Georgia were present when, in September 1774, the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia's Carpenters' Hall. They made five major decisions. First, in a very close vote, they rejected a plan (proposed by Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania) for a colonial union under British authority (much like the earlier Albany Plan), with a legislative council made up of representatives from the colonial assemblies and a president-general to be appointed by the king. Second, they endorsed a statement of grievances, whose tortured language reflected the conflicts among the delegates between moderates and extremists. The statement reflected the influence of the moderates by seeming to concede Parliament's right to regulate colonial trade by addressing the king as

"Most Gracious Sovereign"; but it included a more extreme demand for the repeal of all oppressive legislation passed since 1763. Third, they approved a series of resolutions from a Suffolk County (Massachusetts) convention recommending, among other things, that military preparations be made for defense against possible attack by the British troops in Boston. Fourth, they agreed to nonimportation, nonexportation, and nonconsumption as means of stopping all trade with Great Britain, and they formed a "Continental Association" to see that these agreements were enforced. And fifth, the delegates agreed, on adjournment, to meet again the next spring, thus indicating that they conceived of the Continental Congress as a continuing organization.

Through their representatives in Philadelphia the colonies had, in effect, reaffirmed their autonomous status within the empire and declared economic war to maintain that position. The more optimistic of the Americans supposed that economic warfare alone would win a quick and bloodless victory, but the more pessimistic had their doubts. "I expect no redress, but, on the contrary, increased resentment and double vengeance," John Adams wrote to Patrick Henry; "we must fight." And Henry replied, "By God, I am of your opinion."

During the winter, the Parliament in London debated proposals for conciliating the colonists. Lord Chatham (William Pitt) urged the withdrawal of troops from America, and Edmund Burke called for

the repeal of the Coercive Acts; but their efforts were in vain. Lord North finally won approval early in 1775 for a series of measures known as the Conciliatory Propositions, but that were in fact far less conciliatory than the approaches Burke or Chatham had urged. Parliament now proposed that the colonies, instead of being taxed directly by Parliament, would tax themselves at Parliament's demand. With this offer, Lord North hoped to divide the American moderates, whom he believed represented the views of the majority, from the extremist minority. But his offer was too little and too late. It did not reach America until after the first shots of war had been fired.

Lexington and Concord

For months, the farmers and townspeople of Massachusetts had been gathering arms and ammunition and training as "minutcmen," preparing to fight on a minute's notice. The Continental Congress had approved preparations for a defensive war, and the citizen-soldiers only waited for an aggressive move by the British regulars in Boston.

In Boston, General Thomas Gage, commanding the British garrison, knew of the warlike bustle throughout the countryside but considered his army too small to do anything until reinforcements should arrive. He resisted the advice of less cautious officers, who assured him that the Americans would never dare actually to fight, that they would back down quickly before any show of British force. Major John Pitcairn, for example, insisted that a single "small action" with the burning of a few towns would "set everything to rights."

When General Gage received orders to arrest the rebel leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock, known to be in the vicinity of Lexington, he still hesitated. But when he heard that the minutemen had stored a large supply of gunpowder in Concord (eighteen miles from Boston) he at last decided to act. On the night of April 18, 1775, he sent a detachment of about 1,000 men out from Boston on the road to Lexington and Concord. He intended to surprise the colonials and seize the illegal supplies without bloodshed.

But patriots in Boston were watching the British movements closely; and during the night two horsemen, William Dawes and Paul Revere, were dispatched to warn the villages and farms. When the redcoats arrived in Lexington the next day, several dozen minutemen awaited them on the town common. Shots were fired and minutemen fell; eight of them were killed and ten more wounded. Advancing to Concord, the British discovered that the Americans had hastily removed most of the powder supply, but they burned what was left of it. All along the road from Concord back to Boston, the British were harassed by the continual gunfire of farmers hiding behind trees, rocks, and stone fences. By the end of the day, the British had lost almost three times as many men as the Americans.

The first shotsthe "shots heard round the world," as Americans later called themhad been fired. But who had fired them first? According to one of the minutemen at Lexington, Major Pitcairn had

shouted to the colonists on his arrival, "Disperse, ye rebels!" When this command was ignored, he had given the order to fire. British officers and soldiers told a different story. They claimed that the minute-men had fired first, that only after seeing the flash of American guns had they begun to shoot. Whatever the truth, the rebels succeeded in circulating their account well ahead of the British version, adorning it with horrible tales of British atrocities. The effect was to rally to the rebel cause thousands of colonists, North and South, who previously had had little enthusiasm for it. Now that the English had, as they believed, opened fire on American citizens, the issue was clearly drawn.

It was not immediately clear to the British, and even to many Americans, that the skirmishes at Lexington and Concord were the first battles of a war. Many saw them as simply another example of the tensions that had been afflicting Anglo-American relations for years. But whether they recognized it at the time or not, the British and the Americans had taken a decisive step. The War for Independence had begun.

 

 


 

 



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