Stirrings of Revolution: 1730–1774

Aftermath of the French and Indian War

Pontiac's Rebellion and the Proclamation of 1763

The Proclamation of 1763 officially recognized Native American land titles and forbade settlers' incursion on tribal lands. Despite the proclamation British American settlers intruded on Native American territory, leading to conflicts known as Pontiac's Rebellion.

The 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War, also transferred most of France's holdings in the New World to Britain. Per European custom, those who lived in the newly acquired British lands would owe their allegiance to the King of England, not the King of France. That didn't make sense to the Native American tribes living in former French territory. They took no part in the treaty, so they didn't think they had to abide by its mandates.

That became a problem when British American settlers began moving into new territories, some of which were already home to native peoples. The Native Americans were also upset by Britain's decision to stop the annual giveaway of British goods in exchange for safe passage into Native American territories. The British reasoned they now owned the land, so they no longer needed to provide goods to the tribes. That didn't make sense to the Native Americans, who felt like they weren't being fairly compensated for the use of their land.

From 1763 to 1764 a collective of Native American tribes from the Ohio River Valley and Western Pennsylvania north to the Great Lakes staged raids on British outposts and settlements. This period of British and Native American unrest is known as Pontiac's Rebellion or Pontiac's War because it was led by Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa.

King George III and his ministers tried to stop the tribal uprising by issuing the Proclamation of 1763. This proclamation established four new British colonies. In addition it established the Proclamation Line, a boundary running along the Appalachian Mountains. Colonists were to be allowed to live only on the eastern side of the boundary. All land west of the line was off limits to avoid altercations with Native Americans. The tribal lands lay between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River from south of Hudson Bay to just north of Florida. British Americans were not allowed to settle in that earmarked territory, and those who were already there had to move to the other side of the mountains. Trading between the colonists and Native Americans was forbidden.

The colonists bristled at what they took to be the British government's interference in colonial affairs. They also felt tricked. They had defended British colonial territory during the French and Indian War because they thought they were going to be allowed to expand into any newly acquired territories. Instead, they had to remain on the same parcel of land as before. In what was quickly becoming a pattern, they ignored the Crown's orders and began settling the land earmarked for Native American tribes.

Acts of Parliament to Increase Revenue

During the period of 1764–73, British Parliament passed a series of laws—such as the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act—meant to bolster the British economy by forcing American colonists to purchase British goods.
The British government was deeply in debt after the French and Indian War. To strengthen its economy, the government began imposing taxes on goods—both British and foreign—imported into the colonies. A large number of colonists—who later identified as part of the Patriot cause—resented Parliament's ability to levy taxes in the colonies. They relied heavily on British-made goods (such as cloth) and imported foods (such as tea). The new taxes would impose a hardship and colonists believed they shouldn't have to pay taxes to the British if they didn't have representatives in British Parliament.

British Revenue Acts

Act, Date What It Did Goal Colonial Response Outcome
Sugar Act, 1764 Reduced tax on sugar and molasses from British West Indies; enforced taxes on sugar, wine, coffee, and fabrics from French and Dutch West Indies. Also regulated American export of iron and lumber. Increase revenue by forcing colonists to purchase goods from British sources instead of from the Dutch and French. Unwilling to pay taxes, colonists stopped buying molasses. They were furious that Britain controlled which goods they could export and to whom. The American rum industry, which relied on molasses, suffered greatly. So did exports of lumber, flour, cheese, and other products to the Caribbean. In practice, the act reduced the cost of British goods for Americans.
Stamp Act, 1765 Imposed taxes on all printed papers, including legal documents, newspapers, and playing cards. Raise money to repay debts incurred during the French and Indian War. Colonists were angry that taxes were being used to raise money without approval of colonial legislatures. Individual citizens organized boycotts of British goods. In October 1765, representatives of nine colonies condemned Parliamentary tax laws at the Stamp Act Congress. The Stamp Act was repealed on March 18, 1766.
Townshend Revenue Act, 1767 Imposed taxes on lead, glass, paper, paint, and tea. Raise money to pay salaries of colonial governors to ensure their financial independence from the colonial assemblies that had traditionally controlled their salaries. Colonists boycotted British goods. All taxes except the one on tea were repealed on March 5, 1770.
Tea Act, 1773 Allowed the East India Tea Company to sell and ship tea directly to the colonies instead of going through British merchants. To make British tea less expensive than Dutch tea, which colonists had been smuggling in for years. Parliament was trying to boost profits of the failing British-owned East India Tea Company. Colonial merchants were furious. Those who sold Dutch tea felt threatened by the low price of British tea, which could only be sold by Crown-appointed agents. The merchants' anger spread to other colonists. Some colonies forced ships carrying tea to return to England with the cargo intact. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty destroyed 342 chests of tea.

Taxing the American colonies spurred resentment and protest. A Pennsylvania Journal political cartoon from 1765 hints the Stamp Act will be the "death" of the colonies' free press.
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-242

Acts of Parliament to End Salutary Neglect

Following the French and Indian War, British Parliament sought to reestablish authority over the colonies by passing acts establishing the right to levy taxes and regulate currency.

Until 1764 Britain's policy toward governance in the American colonies was one of salutary neglect. Under this policy Britain laxly supervised trade regulations and the colonies' internal affairs. Britain's chief minister (akin to today's prime minister) felt it unnecessary to strictly enforce British law in the colonies as long as the colonies remained profitable. If trading with the French and Dutch improved the colonial economy and allowed more goods to be purchased from Britain, then it was worth it. Furthermore, enforcing the regulations with soldiers and British representatives in the colonies would have been very expensive.

Salutary neglect became a problem when the British government wanted to recoup expenses after the French and Indian War. Collection of newly levied taxes had to be enforced, which meant Parliament had to show it held the power to dictate legislation in the colonies. That demonstration of authority was the real purpose of a new set of acts.

British Acts Ending Salutary Neglect

Act, Date What It Did Goal Colonial Response Outcome
Currency Act, 1764 Prohibited the creation of new paper money and the reissue of old notes. Colonists would have to use hard currency—the pound sterling—that was used in Britain. To establish British control over the American currency system used in the colonies and ensure the soundness of the colonial economy. The colonists were angry. The colonies didn't have as much hard currency as Britain did, and colonists' ability to buy goods was dramatically decreased. Colonial leaders and merchants unsuccessfully tried to have the act repealed.
Quartering Act, 1765 Required colonial authorities to provide transportation, fuel, and room and board to British soldiers stationed in the colonies. To decrease the cost of defending the American colonies, particularly the western frontier. Colonists protested this act on the basis that it violated the Bill of Rights of 1689, which forbade the keeping of a standing army without Parliamentary consent. New York refused to follow the act and forced British soldiers to remain on their ships. The colony's governor and legislature were subsequently suspended in 1767. Parliament allowed the act to expire in 1770.
Declaratory Act, 1766 Asserted Britain's right to tax anything within the limits of the British Empire. To make American colonists understand they had to follow British law, even if they didn't like it. Colonists were alarmed by Parliament's assertion of power. The Declaratory Act was part of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The repeal pleased colonists so much, many didn't think about the ramifications of the other part of the announcement. They became much more alarmed about Parliament's control of taxes in the colonies with the passage of the Townshend Acts.