Raising Taxes The French and Indian War had caused the British to be in a great deal of debt. They decided to keep a standing army in N. America to protect the colonists from Indian attacks. To pay for this (and help pay back the debt from the war), Prime Minister George Grenville asked Parliament to tax the colonists.
Sugar Act In 1764, Parliament passed the Sugar Act which set taxes on molasses and sugar imported into the colonies. Parliament’s actions angered many of the colonists. Merchants in the colonies complained that the taxes hurt business.
James Otis, a lawyer from Boston, was the first to openly complain about the British. He argued that Parliament could not, “Take from any man any part of his property, without his consent in person or by representation.” Basically, his argument was that no one in Britain had asked if the colonists wanted to be taxed, and since the colonists had no direct representation in Parliament the tax was unfair.
At a Boston town meeting in May 1764, leader Samuel Adams agreed with Otis. The argument of Adams and Otis spread the slogan of, “No Taxation without Representation” through the colonies. Adams also helped found Committees of Correspondence. These were groups that contacted other towns and colonies to share ideas and information about the new British laws and how to challenge them. A popular method of challenging the British came through boycotts.
Stamp Act By early 1765, Grenville had gotten the hint and asked the colonists how they felt they should help in paying military costs. Some colonists proposed taxing themselves, but Grenville rejected that idea and instead proposed the Stamp Act which passed through Parliament in March 1765.
This act affected most colonists. It required them to pay for an official stamp, or seal, whenever they bought paper items. The tax had to be paid on legal documents, licenses, newspapers, pamphlets, and even playing cards. Colonists who refused to pay were fined or sent to jail.
Greenville thought this tax was fair since people in Britain were already paying their share of taxes. Unfortunately for him, the colonists disagreed and the protests began immediately. In some places, colonists began forming secret societies called the Sons of Liberty. These groups sometimes used violence to scare tax collectors.
In May 1765, Patrick Henry presented a series of resolutions to the House of Burgesses in Virginia. These resolutions stated that the Stamp Act violated the rights of the colonists as British citizens. Henry’s speech convinced the assembly that they needed to support some of his ideas.
The Repeal of the Stamp Act The Massachusetts Legislature got word of Patrick Henry’s speech in Virginia, and decided to form the Stamp Act Congress. Nine colonies sent representatives to this Congress. They issued a declaration to Parliament that the Stamp Act had violated their rights and liberties and they wanted it repealed.
Pressure to repeal the Stamp Act grew. Benjamin Franklin told Parliament that colonists would buy British goods again if Parliament would repeal the Stamp Act. William Pitt, an important member of Parliament, agreed with the colonists. He led the repeal of the Stamp Act.
Although Parliament did repeal the Act, they were bitter that the colonists had challenged their authority. In order to show their power, Parliament issued the Declaratory Act. This stated that Parliament had the power to make laws for the colonies, “in all cases whatsoever.” In other words, they were the boss of the colonies.
In June 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts which placed taxes on imported glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. The money collected from these taxes would help pay for military costs and the salaries of colonial governors. In order to enforce this Act, British officials used writs of assistance. These forms allowed tax collectors to search for smuggled goods. Colonists hated these laws b/c they felt they violated their constitutional rights.
The colonists decided to boycott British goods again. They thought this would get Parliament’s attention. Samuel Adams wrote a letter stating that the acts violated the legal rights of the colonists. The Massachusetts Legislature sent his letter to other colonial legislatures to get them on board. Within months, several colonies joined the protest against the Townshend Acts. While this was going on, British tax collectors seized the ship Liberty.
The ship’s owner, John Hancock, was angry and accused the tax collectors of punishing him b/c he protested the Townshend Acts. The Sons of Liberty supported Hancock and began attacking the houses of the tax collectors. As a result, the Governor broke up the Massachusetts legislature and asked that troops be sent to Boston. They arrived in October 1768.
Once the British troops arrived, both sides viewed the other as the enemy. Name calling and fights starting breaking out. The tension erupted on March 5, 1770 when a British soldier standing guard got into a fight with a colonist. A crowd gathered around the soldier and started throwing snowballs, rocks, and glass at the soldier. A small group of soldiers arrived, but the mob grew louder and angrier until the soldiers fired into the crowd, killing several colonists.
Samuel Adams used this event as propaganda against the British. Colonists began calling the shootings The Boston Massacre. The soldiers were charged with murder, but were found not guilty. Two of the soldiers were found guilty of killing people in the crowd, so they were branded on the hand and released.
To reduce tensions in the colonies following The Boston Massacre, Parliament repealed almost all of the Townshend Acts. They had kept a tax on tea, which was in high demand in the colonies so they had been smuggling it in. In order to stop the smuggling, Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773 which would give the British East India Company a monopoly on tea. Colonists united against the Tea Act.
Three ships carrying British tea arrived in Boston Harbor in November 1773. The Sons of Liberty demanded that the ships leave immediately, but they refused. In December, colonists disguised as Indians snuck onto the three ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Word spread of the Boston Tea Party with shouts in the street of, “Boston Harbor is a teapot tonight!”
Lord North, the new Prime Minister, was furious when he heard about the Boston Tea Party, and asked Parliament to punish Massachusetts. They did this by passing the Coercive Acts, or what colonists called the Intolerable Acts in 1774. The Acts had several different effects:
A. Boston Harbor was closed until Boston paid for the lost tea. B. The Massachusetts charter was canceled. The governor would decide when the Leg. could meet. C. Royal officials accused of crimes would be sent to England for trial. D. The Quartering Act forced colonists to house and supply British soldiers. E. General Thomas Gage became the new governor of Massachusetts.
These acts really made the colonists bitter. Many began writing poems and essays criticizing the British government’s actions. Mercy Otis Warren wrote plays to show the lack of rights given to colonists. Colonial leaders proposed a boycott (of course!) on all British goods, and then they tried to bring together leaders from each colony to decide the best way to respond to Britain’s abuse of colonial rights.