The English Colonies In America History Essay
The breaking of the English colonies in America from the British Crown was a crucial event of human history. The closure of political connection between the colonies and the Empire of Great Britain not only signaled the rise of a new nation of the world, but it also marked the deconstruction of the British Empire. It was this event which Lord Brougham called "the most important in the history of the human species” 
The starting point for the study of the American Revolution is 1763. This is a pivot point in the history of America, and in the history of the world. 1763 is the year in which we can have a point of view for looking back over the last one-hundred years of conflict for an empire in America and to look forward to the development of an independent republic of States. One epoch closes another begins.
As to the immediate effect of the end of the Seven Years War on the colonies, France had vacated from their northern side and Spain had vacated from their southern side. As a result of these vacancies "America was English”  states William Lecky. The Seven Years War actually allowed the colonist the opportunity to prepare for the coming revolution. The War handed America over to the English political system; the English system actually lays the groundwork for an independent sovereign America. The results of the War had prepared the colonists for the Revolution and for independence by giving them the training which revealed to them the necessity of having a strong union, freeing them from the French and breaking their desires of dependence.
The colonists who came of age between the Peace of Paris and the celebration of George Washington as the first American President were hampered with more political problems than any other previous generation. It was during this period of time in which the great banners of American principles were sewn, such as the Declaration of Independence, Virginia Bill of Rights, and the U. S. Constitution. It was revolutionary and destructive for the British Empire, but developmental for the United States.
1763 to 1789 has but a single unity, from which the events and the clash of arms could easily distract our attention. We cannot let the arguments, and debates that came before the American Revolution, nor the legendary events of the War for Independence, shade from us the true meaning of these moments. Behind the deafening clash of words and battle cries of the Revolution, comes a political problem; the balancing of liberty with authority. This political problem of liberty and authority splits itself into halves: the federal problem of power between a central and several regional governments; and a democratic one of how much is too much control for the people. These two problems are the meat and potatoes of American History through the Civil War, and the political climate of today has simply repeated this old problem in issues of freedom versus security and tolerance versus discipline.
By excluding the French from continental North America, the British took over more responsibility than they could handle. At one stroke British possessions in North America more than doubled, and a race alien in language and religion was brought into the empire. Baffling questions of Indian relations, fur trade, land policy, and military and political administration were created. For the next twenty five years, Greta Britain attempted unsuccessfully to solve the great riddle of imperial organization. And the new American government found itself confronted with the same difficulties.
From 1763 to 1775 Americans asserted their rights, while Englishmen reminded them of their duties, yet thinking men on both sides of the Atlantic were grappling with the same tasks: how to organize this vast empire so that the interests of the whole would be furthered, the various parts nicely adjusted to each other, and a certain degree of local autonomy preserved. Americans argued, and until July 4th 1776 fought, not for independence but for a guaranteed free status within the empire. Englishmen until 1775 agreed, and until 1782 fought, not to reduce Americans to political ‘slavery’ but to their ‘proper place’ in the empire.
For two centuries the English empire had been commercial, dominated largely by merchants in profitable alliances with he landed gentry, committed to the mercantilist philosophy. These people regarded the empire as valuable only in so far as all parts contributed to the wealth of Great Britain. But the immense acquisitions of the Seven Years War produced a subtle transition from commercial to territorial imperialism, from the idea of governing colonies with the view to their trade, to governing colonies with a view to their revenue and manpower. This meant, as Governor Hutchinson of Massachusetts wrote in a sentence that lost him his job, that “there must be an abridgement of so-called English Liberties in America.” The new dea did not replace the old, but reinforced it; so that the Acts of Trade were tightened up and strengthened to an extent that began to impose real hardships on important colonial interests. In the years after 1763 British statesmen felt their bigger empire required more ships and soldiers. These would cost money; and unless the British taxpayer supplied it all, the colonies must contribute. Revenue could be extracted from the colonists only through a stronger central government, at the expense of colonial-self-government. The Thirteen Colonies tried to escape this vicious circle by squaring it, and finally broke through with independence. Then they found much the same problem of adjustment between parts and whole confronting their new nation. Federalism – a form of government which seemed as inadmissible to eighteenth-century Englishmen as squaring the circle does to twentieth-century mathematicians – provided America with a solution.
During the half-century since 1713 the lower houses of the colonial assemble had manages to seize control of the purse and patronage and had taken advantage of the Seven Years War to transform themselves into miniature parliaments. The system worked well enough, for the British government by veto or disallowance was able to prevent things, such as abuse of paper money that it did not like; but it was unable to get positive things done, such as full co-operation in time of war, or a financial contribution to imperial defense. The royal governors, who for the most part were able and honest gentlemen, were endowed with legal authority in America of a sort that had gone out in England with the Glorious Revolution; governors in royal and proprietary colonies had absolute veto over legislation, the authority to dissolve the lower houses in most colonies, and the power to dismiss judges and create courts. Yet in fact, despite this panoply of executive powers, the governors were weak, because they had short tenure, received uncertain support from England, were hampered by rigid instructions from Whitehall, and most important, were dependent on the assemblies for their salaries.
The whole system was chancy. A few royal governors, such as Shirley of Massachusetts and Dinwiddie of Virginia, through wisdom and personality, became so polular that it looked as if the empire would go forever. Given patience in the colonies and also in London, there might conceivably have been a gradual broadening of colonial autonomy until the Thirteen Colonies acquired dominion home rule; and after that they might have seceded peaceably. By 1763 there had been worked out a compromise between imperial control and colonial self – government; between the principle of authority and the principle of liberty. King and Parliament had undisputed control of foreign affairs, war and peace, and overseas trade. Parliament directed colonial trade into channels that it deemed profitable to the empire, colonies included. In almost every other aspect the Americans had acquired home rule. They had acquired far more autonomy than Ireland then enjoyed, and infinitely more than the colonies of France, Spain, or any other country had before the next century.
So, apart from minor discontents, the Americans were fairly well satisfied with the compromise in 1763. But the government of George III was not. It had devised no method of exacting a uniform contribution from the colonies for defense. There were still leaks in the enforcement of the Acts of Trade and Navigation, largely owing to the fact that royal customs officials in the colonies were few in number, and so underpaid that they could only make both ends meet by accepting presents from smugglers.
Thus the situation between England and her American colonies, while it had points of friction, was not explosive. But the Americans were a high spirited people who claimed all the rights for which Englishmen had fought since the Magna Carta, and would settle for nothing less. They were not security minded but liberty minded. That is why they met attempts of the government of George III to impair these liberties first with loyal expostulation, then with indignant agitation, finally with armed resistance.
Make no mistake; the American Revolution was not fought to obtain freedom, but to preserve the freedom that the colonies already had. Independence was no conscious goal, but a last resort, reluctantly adopted, to preserve ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’
British politics were important in the American Revolution because Parliament initiated the new colonial policy and passed laws which precipitated the War of Independence. The English political situation in 1760-70 was not unlike that that of the United States in the ‘Era of Good Feelings.’ Whigs had successfully eliminated Tories by fastening on them the stigma of rebellion in 1745, just as the Jeffersonian Republicans eliminated the Federalists by the stigma of disloyalty in the War of 1812. The dominant party was breaking up into factions. Even King George called himself a Whig, and all the ministries with which the colonists had to deal were Whig ministries.
These ministries were formed when the king asked someone to be premier, and the premier assembled a group of ministers who controlled enough votes in the House of Commons to pass bills which the ministry wanted and rejected those it did not like. Ministries fell because some important person did not get the job he wanted for a relative or supporter, and so voted his gang against the government; or because the premier did not please the king.
Of the different Whig factions, the one which showed most sympathy for the Americans was the ‘Old Whigs,’ so called because its members claimed to inherit the traditions of 1688. These were the most liberal groups in British politics, and also the most conservative; they opposed taxation of the colonies as much because it was new as because it was unfair.
George III, only 22 years old at his accession in 1760, had been brought up under the tutelage of his mother, a strong minded German princess. His private life was impeccable and his simple taste ran to farming and country sports. A strong sense of duty made him precise and methodical, and a glutton for work. The young man knew what he wanted, and got it, even though it cost him an empire. He wished to beat the Whigs at their own game, and restore the power of the Crown by creating and eventually governing through a political party of his own. By this means he hoped to rescue England from the baneful aspects of party politics, and govern the realm. His first ministry, under his personal friend Lord Bute, was a failure. He then induced George Grenville to construct a ministry, but inserted enough friends into it so that nothing could be done against his will. Grenville fell, not because the colonists made a stink about the Stamp Act, but because he endeavored to fire Stuart Mackenzie, one of the king’s numerous Scottish friends; and the next ministry. Finally, after the Pitt-Grafton ministry had crumbled, George III obtained exactly the government he wanted under his subservient friend, Lord North; and it was this ministry that drove the colonists into revolt, and lost the war.
The first ten years of his reign, George III was conciliatory toward the colonists. He ordered his friends in Parliament to vote to repeal the Stamp Act. The king refused, when Lord Hillsborough, in 1769 wanted to punish Massachusetts by changing their charter. But, the Boston Tea-Party, the first challenge to his personal rule did cause him some resentment. In great measure he may be held responsible, through his choice of ministers, for the Coercive Acts of 1774, and for the inefficient conduct of the war. George III, with all of his virtues and well intentioned patriotism, is a deplorable figure in history, largely for the opportunities that he missed. He could have been a patriot king indeed, by looking over party lines to his colonial subjects, who were loyal to the empire and attracted to his personality and youthfulness.
George III’s ministers were not a gang of evil doers, mindlessly serving the king. Lord Dartmouth, for instance, who sponsored the Coercive Acts, was a pious and friendly man. But almost all of the ministers were incompetent. The situation in the colonies called for diplomacy at its highest; and the system in which George III had manipulated to his advantage put diplomacy on the back burner, instead put political following at a premium. All said and done it was ignorance, indifference, and confusion to the needs of the colonists, rather than corruption, which showed the Americans that their liberties were not safe under the flag of the British Empire.
The conclusion of the Seven Years War the British Empire had mounted a debt, double what they had seen in 1754, and had possessions in two hemispheres which added to the administration costs of the Crown. In response to this situation, George Grenville, Chancellor of the Exchequer, seemed it was just and necessary to gain some of the revenue from the colonies.
The actual amount the colonies paid for the upkeep of the empire is not easy to determine. The landowners in England, who were already paying an income tax, felt as though the colonies could afford to share in the expenses of running the empire. But many Americans already felt as though they were already paying their fair share, and contributing directly and indirectly, to the operation of the royal government. It must be remembered that the colonies were under the mercantilist system, which was to control trade, not to tax. Direct contributions would have been minimal from the royal lands and American customs collected. Indirectly, money gained from English port duties was considerable, considering that the English had a monopoly on colonial trade. Whatever the reasons given for the new revenue measures might have been, events soon proved their lack of practicality.
The Revenue Act of 1764, known as the Sugar Act, was the first of these acceptable measures. The preamble clearly states its purposes: “RAMSEY REVENUE ACT .......” It secondary purpose was to strengthen the Acts of Trade and Navigation. The new law would reduce the tax on molasses, but levied taxes on luxuries such as linens, wine, and silk, when those items were imported to the colonies. It also withdrew some earlier exemptions of taxes, such as Madeira wine, a favorite of wealthy colonists, now was subject to a tax double the port wine imported from England. This was an obvious attempt to get the wealthy colonists to change what they were drinking in order to fill the accounts in England.
Colonial leaders quickly jumped on the stated revenue-raising purpose of this act as a constitutional point. As the New York Assembly clearly stated in their petition to Parliament on October 18, 1764, “But an Exemption from the Burthen of ungranted, involuntary Taxes, must be the grand Principle of every free State.–Without such a Right vested in themselves, exclusive of all others, there can be no Liberty, no Happiness, no Security; it is inseparable from the very Idea of Property.” If Parliament was to be allowed to tax their trade, it might move forward and begin to tax their land, or anything they see just. This petition almost seems as though it is seeing into the future when Parliament passed the famous Stamp Act on March 22, 1765.
The Stamp Act of 1765 was the first direct, internal tax to be applied to the colonies, in fact the first tax of any kind, other than customs duties. It provided for revenue stamps to be applied to all newspapers, billboards, pamphlets, licenses, notes and bonds, advertisements, almanacs, leases, all legal documents, and all similar papers. The monies raised were to be used in the colonies, by the direction of Parliament, for the purpose of defense and protection of the colonies. Offenses to the law were to be tried in admiralty courts with no jury. Parliament tried to make the law seem a bit better by appointing only Americans as agents, and a number of colonials did apply for these positions. It was hoped that the burden of the tax was so evenly spread out that it would arouse little if any opposition.
The reaction to the Stamp Act everywhere in the Thirteen Colonies was violent, for it was the misfortune of the Act’s to offend the most powerful and articulate groups int he colonies: merchants, businessmen, journalists, lawyers, and clergymen. Soon the merchants of New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, whose every bill of lading would be taxed, organized for resistance and formed non-importation associations. Bankers, lawyers, land dealers, and newspaper men were aroused; even the clergy joined the disturbance. Business came to a temporary standstill; trade with the mother country fell in the summer of 1765. Respectable men organized as ‘Sons of Liberty,’ coerced stamp distributors into resigning, burned stamped paper, and incited people to attack unpopular local characters.
On the same day the the Stamp Act was to take effect, a mob in New York, led by a shipmaster, forced the Lieutenant-Governor to take protection on a warship. The mob then broke into the governor’s house, destroyed his carriages, and burned the stamp paper. The mob then proceeded to the house of an officer of the garrison, and commenced on tearing down his house, destroying the furniture, books, and china, uprooted the garden, and departed later in the night with the regimental flag as a trophy. There was also mob violence in Charleston and Boston. These mobs were involved in the threat of violence against individuals, destruction of homes, businesses, private property, and stamp paper.
The law was completely ignored by violence. Courts continued, ships were cleared and entered ports; businesses resumed transactions all without the use of stamps. It was an amazing display of what a revolutionary organization could do.
All of this on the belief that the Stamp Act was unconstitutional and void. Virginia led the way in expressing that view. May 30, 1765, Patrick Henry made his famous “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell” speech, after which the Virginia Assembly passed a set of resolves declaring it had “the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes... upon the inhabitants of this Colony,” who were “not bound to yield obedience to any law” of Parliament attempting to tax them. These resolutions were a signal flare to the other colonies, and pointed the way to a collective colonial action.
Shortly after Henry’s speech in Virginia, Massachusetts invited all continental colonies to appoint delegates to a congress to consider the Stamp Act chaos. This congress, which met at New York in October 1765, was the first meeting of its kind, to bring together colonial delegates, summoned by an American initiative. Delegates from nine colonies were in attendance, including Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. After the debate the congress adopted a set of resolutions more moderate than those of Virginia, but asserting once more that “no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures,” and that the Stamp Act had a “manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists.”
The constitutional issue, thus far, has centered on the question of “no taxation without representation.” The American colonies there had developed the custom that the assemblyman must reside in the district which he represented. From the colonial point of view, Americans were not represented in Parliament, since they had no right to vote for members of the House of Commons. They also understood that it would do them no good to elect members to the House of Commons, because they would be in a hopeless minority. The traditional English principle was that of a more broad scope of representation- representation of classes and interest rather than that of localities. William Pitt denounced this theory as “the most contemptible idea that ever entered the head of man.”
In August 1765, even before the Stamp Act Congress met, the Grenville mimistry fell. A whig party ministry led by the Marquess of Rockingham now came into power. Parliament, after a hot debate, but encouraged by the King, repealed the Stamp Act in mid march 1766. The law was repealed simply because it could not be enforced against a united opposition, and because English merchants and manufactuerers suffered from a boycott of British goods promoted by the Sons of Liberty. Parliament did not thereby renounce the right to tax the colonies, as proved by the fact that on almost the same day as the repeal, it passed the Declaratory Act affirming Parliament’s right, as the sovereign legislature of the British empire “to bind the colonies... in all cases whatsoever.”
The Americans had won a political victory. Their united opposition forced the repeal. Their fundamental loyalty is proved by their taking no notice of the fact that the Revenue Act 1764 was not repealed, and no notice of the Declaratory Act. In reality the British government had taken three steps forward- Proclamation Act 1763, Revenue Act 1764, Declaratory Act 1766; and only one step backwards, repeal of the Stamp Act 1765.
During the general celebration that followed the repeal of the Stamp Act, no serious effort was made by the British government to find out what, if anything could be done to raise funds for defense through colonial assemblies. No royal commission was sent out to America to make a study and report. Instead, a fresh attempt was made by Parliament to tax the colonists, and a plan of imperial reorganization was placed in effect without any consultation from the colonies.
The Rockingham ministry repealed the Stamp Act; for reasons of internal politics and royal displeasures, that ministry fell in 1766. King George then turned to William Pitt as one who commanded the confidence of Parliament, yet was not against the king’s idea of one big party. William Pitt, now Earl of Chatham, formed a ministry of varied talents, including three known friends of the colonies, Shelburne, Conway, and Camden, and others such as Charles Townshend, who were not so friendly towards the colonies.
At a critical point in 1767, the Duke of Grafton became Prime Minister, and the government drifted. It was during these distressing times that a young, brilliant, ambitious, and unprincipled Charles Townshend gained momentum within Parliament. Taunted by George Grenville in the Commons that he had dare not raise the taxes on the Americans, Townshend replied, “I will, I will!” and did. He proposed reducing the British land tax, and meet the resulting deficit, in part, by obtaining revenue from the colonies. This was to obtained by collecting import duties in the colonies on English paint, lead, and paper; and on tea. Since the colonies had always paid some customs duties, how could they object to these? He also proposed a more efficient collection of the taxes, by reorganizing the customs service, and a Board of Commissioners of the Customs was established in Boston. Most important of all, the moneys raised so far in the colonies, instead of going for support of the garrisons, it was to be used to create a colonial civil court system and thus render the royal governors and judges independent of the colonial assemblies.
The Townshend Acts took Americans by complete surprise. Their trade was in the usual depression that is normal to set in after four or five years after the end of a great war. It was difficult for them to find the silver to pay these new taxes, and the regulations imposed by the Commissioners of the Customs required so many documents that for a time it was rather difficult to do any business at all. Colonial leaders were hard at work trying to find a legal argument to the Townshend Acts. They wished to deny the power of Parliament to tax them, while keeping Parliament’s power to regulate trade and commerce. They were not prepared to break away from the protection of the Acts of Trade and Navigation, nor could they deny that many of the new rules and regulations were designed to stop lawbreaking.
The colonial leader who came closest to resolving this dilemma was John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, who styled himself ‘the farmer.’ Actually, he was a conservative lawyer, born in Maryland, and educated in England. Although a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress, and a member who drafted its resolutions, Dickinson was neither agitator nor a politician.
The twelve ‘Farmer’s Letters,’ which began to come out in colonial newspapers at the end of 1767, were exactly what Americans wanted; and the loyal, respectful tone appealed to many in England as well. Here are a few of the key passages:
The Parliament unquestionably possesses a legal authority to regulate the trade of Great Britain, and all her colonies. Such an authority is essential to the relation between a mother country and her colonies; and necessary for the common good of all. He, who considers these provinces as states distinct from the British Empire, has very slender notions of justice, or of their interests. We are but parts of a whole; and therefore there must exist a power somewhere, to preside, and preserve the connection in due order. This power is lodged in the parliament; and we are as much dependent on Great Britain, as a perfectly free people can be on another.
Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds - that we cannot be HAPPY, without being FREE - that we cannot be free, without being secure in our property – that we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away – that duties laid for the sole purpose of raising money, are taxes – that attempts to lay such duties should be instantly and firmly opposed – that this opposition can never be effectual, unless it is the united effort of these provinces – that therefore BENEVOLENCE of temper towards each other, and UNAMITY of counsels, are essential to the welfare of the whole – and lastly, that for this reason, every man among us, who in any manner would encourage either dissention, dissidence, or indifference, between these colonies, is an enemy to himself, and to his country...
The most interesting of these passages, for the future, was the first; it shows that Dickinson was moving, somewhat in the direction of federalism. Unfortunately, no upstanding Englishman of the day seemed able to grapple the idea of federalism. Franklin himself, who spent several years in England as the agent for Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, could not comprehend it. After reading Dickinson he wrote, “I know not what the Boston people mean by the ‘Subordination’ they acknowledge in their Assembly to Parliament, while they deny its power to make laws for them, nor what bounds the Farmer sets to the power he acknowledges in parliament to ‘regulate the trade of the colonies,’ it being difficult to draw lines between duties for regulation and those for revenue.”
Samuel Adams of Boston, boss of the town meeting and leader in the assembly, had already reached the point in his thinking that Parliament had no right to legislate for the colonies on any subject. But he was too clever a politician to let that out quite yet. A master of propaganda, a typical revolutionary, he realized that the run of the mill person prefers drama and ritual over a well thought out letter or pamphlet. The New England people enjoyed no ritual in their religion, and permitted no public drama, but Adams provided both in an agreeable format. There was dancing around the Liberty Tree, a large elm near Boston Common selected for that purpose; unpopular characters were hung in effigy from its branches, those whom the radicals wished to become popular were celebrated, and the British ministers were ridiculed over bowls of rum punch. These devises were copied by Sons of Liberty throughout the continent as far as Charleston, where Christopher Gadsden selected a large oak as a liberty tree.
In February 1768, after the full impact of the Townshend Acts began to be felt, Samuel Adams and James Otis drafted a circular letter that was adopted by the Massachusetts assembly, to the lower houses of all continental colonies, to call their attention to the new laws. The language of the letter was as moderate and loyal as Dickinson, but the Grafton ministry decided to make it the occasion for a showdown. Lord Hillsborough, the new secretary for the colonies, ordered the Massachusetts assembly to rescind the letter, and the Governor to dismiss them if they refused. The assembly did refuse, by a vote of 92 to 17. And it was supported at Williamsburg by a set of Virginia resolves introduced by the burgess from Fairfax County, Colonel George Washington, and signed, among others, by the new burgess from Albemarle County, Thomas Jefferson. Adams and Sons of Liberty everywhere seized on the incident as a golden opening for propaganda and made heroes of the patriotic ’92,’ who refused to rescind.
Although the Grafton ministry failed to intimidate Boston, it dealt successfullt with New York, where two regiments of the British army had been stationed since 1766. Parliament’s Quartering Act required local authorities, wherever the King’s troops were stationed, to provide quarters or barracks, and to furnish the men free, various housekeeping items, along with a standard amount of beer daily. Lord Hillsborough suspended the New York assembly when he announced that they had not provided enough supplies for the troops. The new assembly elected in the fall of 1769 voted everything the British wanted. The Sons of Liberty announced this as a betrayal, and Governor Colden threw the leaders in prison for sedition.
In January 1770, New York City became the scene of a serious riot. British troops cut down a liberty pole erected by the radicals and piled the pieces in front of the Sons of Liberty headquarters. A fight followed on Gordon Hill, the mob using clubs and staves against the soldiers’ cutlasses and bayonets, and one citizen was killed. This event is New York’s claim to the “first bloodshed” of the Revolution.
In general, however, the agitation that followed the Townshend Acts was less violent than that against the Stamp Act. Merchants again resorted to non-importation agreements. Importations fell dramatically in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Princeton students gave up imported cloth for homespun, ladies found substitutes for tea, newspapers used colonial paper, and houses went unpainted, all to protest the new import duties. New colonial industries developed, and agreements among planters to purchases no more slaves cost the English slave traders dearly. However, the opening up of new markets in Europe and far East, these non-importation agreements of 1768-69 were not very effective in the British trading circles.
The presence of British red-coats in Boston was a standing invitation to disorder. Antagonism between citizens and troops flared up in the so-called “Boston Massacre” of March 5, 1770. A snowballing of the red-coats degenerated into a mob attack, someone gave the order to fire, and four Bostonians, including a Negro named Crispus Attucks, lay dead in the snow. Although the provocation came from the citizens, radicals such as Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren seized upon the moment for purposes of propaganda. The soldiers were defended by young John Adams and Josiah Quincy, and acquitted of the charge of murder, but the royal governor was forced to remove the garrison from the town to the castle, and the strategic advantage know lay with the radicals.
On the very day of the “Boston Massacre,” the new British ministry headed by Lord North, concluded that the colonial duties on English manufacturers were preposterous, and repealed all the Townshend Acts except for one, tea. A tax was kept on this item primarily as an assertion of parliamentary authority.
Except for that teasing little duty on tea, all outward grievances of the colonists had been removed by the summer of 1770. The radicals found themselves without an issue. Sam Adams did his best to keep up the agitation, with annual exhibits of the “Boston massacre,” but the people showed what they thought of him when he was defeated in his own county for registrar of deeds. After that blow, his cousin John Adams wrote in his diary, “I shall certainly become more retired and cautious; I shall certainly mind my own farm and my own office.” Imports in New England increased, due to short harvests in Europe of corn and wheat. It looked as if colonial agitation were at an end.
But Sam Adams was simply waiting for some unwise move by the North ministry to revive it.
Samuel Adams’s genius, unlike that of his younger cousin John, was for agitation and destruction. Yet he was no rabble-rouser, greedy for power. He believed that “every day” in the calm period of 1770-73 “strengthens our opponents and weakens us.” And Adams was right. Prosperity dulled watchfulness for freedom, and the efficiency of the Commissioners of the Customs brought in such ample customs revenue even after the Townshend duties were repealed, that the British government put one royal governor and judge after another on the crown payroll. The radicals fumed against this in vain, while the average colonist thought it was fine to be relieved of paying his governors and judges. Adams felt that if this system were allowed to continue, colonial liberties would be completely suppressed; Americans would wake up some day and find that they were helpless under royal officials. But he needed a spectacular, emotional issue to bring home this danger before it was too late.
In the tea affair, he found it.
The powerful East India Company, being in financial straits, appealed to the British government for aid and was granted a monopoly on all tea exported to the colonies. The company decided to sell tea through its own agents, thus eliminating the independent merchants, and disposing of the tea at less than the usual price either in America or in England. It was this monopoly aspect that aroused the colonial merchants and threw them again into alliance with the radicals.
Colonial reaction to the tea monopoly took various forms. In Charleston the tea was landed, but not offered for sale; at Philadelphia and Newe York the consignments were rejected and returned to England. But in Boston the ingenious brain of Samuel Adams about a dramatic showdown. Here, on the night of December 16, 1773, Sons of Liberty disgused as Mohawks boarded the three shipps and dumped the leaves into the water. The radicals had called the ministerial bluff.
The Boston Tea-Party accomplished just what Sam Adams wanted; it goaded the North ministry into a crack-down on the talks over home rule. The destruction of property – and tea at that – aroused the British more than mobbing officials and beating up red-coats. “The dye is now cast,” wrote George III to Lord North. “The colonies must either submit or triumph.”
The House of Commons, now obedient to the king and Lord North, retaliated by passing in May and June 1774 a series of Coercive Acts. These closed the port of Boston to commerce until the tea was paid for, radically changed the provincial government in Massachusetts, and provided for the transportation of certain offenders to England for trial. These laws threatened the very life of Boston.
These ‘Intolerable Acts,’ as the colonists called them, were quickly followed by the enactment of the Quebec Act 1774. This law, established by Parliament was a plan to establish a permanent government in Quebec, was viewed by the colonists as yet another measure of control. The colonists viewed the provisions of the act, which extended the boundaries of Quebec to include the country west of the Appalachians and north of the Ohio River, as a direct attempt to stop the spreading of the colonists and ignore their land claims. Probably the most important, the colonists were bothered by the reinstatement of the privileges of the Catholic Church, including the legalization of tithing. A young Alexander Hamilton, who warned the colonies that “priestly tyranny” could “find as propitious a soil in Canada as it ever has in Spain and Portugal,” asked: “Does not your blood run cold to think that an English Parliament should pass as act for the establishment of arbitrary power and Popery in such a country?” Hamilton continues with the warning;” If they had any regard to the freedom and happiness of mankind, they would never have done it. If they had been friends to the Protestant cause, they would never have provided such a nursery for its great enemy; they would not have given such encouragement to Popery. The thought of their conduct, in this particular, shocks me. It must shock you, too, my friends. Beware of trusting yourselves to men who are capable of such an action!” Congregationalists and Presbyterians also feared that the law would serve as a precedent for the establishment of an Anglican episcopate in the Colonies. The Quebec Act had the unintended consequences of pushing American ministers closer to a break with the crown.
Instead of isolating the Massachusetts colony, as they had been planned to do, the Coercive Acts brought the other colonies to Massachusetts. On May 27, 1774 members of the Virginia Assembly, meeting at Williamsburg, called for a congress of all continental American colonies. On September 5 the delegates of twelve colonies assembled in Carpenter’s Hall, Philadelphia, “to consult upon the present unhappy state of the Colonies.” This was the famous First Continental Congress.
The First Continental Congress which assembled in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, had been requested by popular demand; not for independence, but for liberty. They expected Congress to take steps to ward off parliamentary vengeance, work vigorously to assert colonial rights, and return imperial relations to their former agreeable state. This Continental Congress was an extra-legal body which was chosen by the provincial congresses, or popular conventions, and instructed by them.
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