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The Origins of the American Revolution. 1763 - 1776. England Vs. France.

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england vs france
England Vs. France

England and France were competing for power and influence in the New World. Between 1689 and 1748, the two nations fought three major wars against one another. Then, in 1754, conflicting interests in North American would provoke an even larger conflict – the French and Indian War of 1756 – 1763.

the chain of forts from lake ontario to the ohio
The Chain of Forts from Lake Ontario to the Ohio

ThE French plan to unify their holdings

george washington
George Washington

Washington played a central role in starting the French and Indian War. At the time, he was an English soldier. Twenty years later, he would lead Americans against England (with aid from the French!)

the albany conference
The Albany conference
  • Albany was the capital of New York, located along the Hudson River.
  • Delegates from the various English colonies met with the Iroquois Confederation during the Albany Conference, hoping to establish a mutually beneficial military alliance.
a supreme commander for the colonies
A Supreme Commander for the colonies

Major General Edward Braddock

ben franklin join or die
Ben Franklin: “Join, or Die.”

In 1754, the colonists opted for death!

the french and indian war the participants and combatants
The French and Indian War: The Participants and Combatants

The European View

An American Perspective

From the perspective of Native Americans – and one might argue that American Colonists had a more complicated understanding of this than the British – the war was a conflict between the French and the English and the Iroquois Confederation. And the Indians were the ones who held the balance of power at stake.

From the European perspective, the conflict was simple. French colonists and their allies – the Iroquois Confederation – were fighting against the British and their colonial partners – the American colonists. The side with the more cohesive bond was likely to win the conflict. But this is a little bit of an oversimplification as well.

the french and indian war
The French and Indian War

At the end of the French and Indian War, England is the most powerful nation on Earth, has full possession of France’s North American colonies, and controls markets in North America and Europe. Although thrilled to have been victorious, the British were also overextended, and their treasury was exhausted. Good tax policy and revenue plans would be required in order to maintain the empire they had created and gain greater prosperity.

french possessions in north america after the treaty of paris of 1763
French possessions in North america after the treaty of Paris of 1763:

A few little offshore fishing islands.

retiring the english debt
Retiring the English Debt

England had, in fact, poured enormous resources into winning the battle with the French. They were fearful of any more immediate conflicts, and it was their intention to collect taxes from the colonists themselves – to some extent. At the very least, they sought to enforce existing laws – and to prevent American smugglers from avoiding import duties from trade with the French. From the perspective of the English, it was perfectly reasonable to demand that the American colonists pay some share of the burden for protecting the empire – after all, they were the direct beneficiaries of the military and commerce England provided.

the proclamation of 1763
The Proclamation of 1763

The Proclamation of 1763 was in part a response to Pontiac’s War. Realizing that the British Empire was overextended, the British policies discouraged further encroachment upon Native American lands, which might risk war.

From the American colonists perspective, though, there were two major objections.

  • They had helped to fight the French and Indian War, and were entitled to its spoils.
  • The English policy also happened to restrict American colonists to areas which were more readily accessible for the purposes of taxation.
vice admiralty courts
Vice admiralty courts
  • George Grenville, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury of England (Lordly title!) created a law which stipulated that those accused of smuggling or similar transgressions would be put on trial before vice-admiralty courts instead of before juries. The appointed judges – naval officers, not colonists – would presumably be far less sympathetic to the smugglers.
  • The Parliament frequently attempted to raise greater revenues by simply encouraging compliance with the taxes, rather than attempting to raise the taxes.
the sugar act 1764
The Sugar Act - 1764
  • Like many of the acts proposed during the Colonial Period in order to raise revenues, the Sugar Act actually lowered the tax on imported sugar. But it also gave customs officials greater power to enforce the rules – authorizing them to gain warrants, or writs of assistance – to search ships and warehouses throughout the colonies in order to seize and tax the goods.
  • The law also stipulated that those accused of transgressions would be put on trial before vice-admiralty courts instead of before juries. The appointed judges would presumably be far less sympathetic to the smugglers.
  • The Parliament frequently attempted to raise greater revenues by simply encouraging compliance with the taxes, rather than attempting to raise the taxes.
taxation without representation
“Taxation without representation!”

Marxist historians, or economic determinists, would suggest that the American objected to paying this tax because it robbed them of property –and the opportunity to gain property.


A more convincing school of thought is that American objected to the principle of taxation – that in this case, a tax being collected domestically was not approved by any representative body. “Taxation Without Representation” was akin to slavery, in the minds of English Colonial Americans.

the stamp act of 1765
The Stamp Act of 1765
  • If the Sugar Act went by without provoking any major emergencies, the Stamp Act of 1765 did not. It taxed newspapers, pamphlets, posters, wills, mortgages, deeds, licenses, diplomas, and even playing cards!
  • The major difference, in the mind of the colonists, was that this was an “internal” tax – one which applied to domestic activities in the colonies themselves – as a opposed to an “external” tax governing trade between nations.
  • Taxing merchants or import/export specialists was not considered as invasive – first, that class of individual had more income to tax; secondly, they could pass taxes on to consumers without suffering egregious losses.
  • The ₤160,000 Parliament believed would be raised by the tax would not cover even 20% of the taxes needed to support the army abroad; hence, to Parliament, this tax seemed more than reasonable.
reaction to the stamp act
Reaction to the Stamp Act

The response to the Stamp Act was enormous. Patrick Henry delivered the famous “Give me Liberty, or Give me Death!” speech in Virginia. The Sons of Liberty were founded in Boston, and they hung in effigy tax collectors who would dare collect funds from the Parliament issued stamps. The use of physical intimidation – literally roughing up the tax collectors, vandalizing homes, or threatening anyone who considered accepting the position as a tax collector – was largely successful. Indeed, no American born colonist would take the position in Massachusetts – for fear of what might happen to them if they attempted to take up the tax.

the death of the stamp act
The Death of the Stamp Act

Many colonists – especially in merchant centers like New York – decided to agree to non-importation rules. No English goods would be imported or sold in the Colonies. Those who violated the rule would be roughed up. Groups like the Sons of Liberty enforced the rules, like it or not. In the case of the Stamp Act, the non-importation agreements worked!

boycotts and non importation
Boycotts and Non-importation

In protest, the American colonists refused to buy English products. Non-importation treaties and boycotts against English goods were enforced strictly by vigilante groups like the Sons of Liberty – who protected smugglers from customs agents, and punished those who violated the boycotts! Merchants were not permitted to import goods from England and sell them. Consumers were banned from purchasing English goods – and held to their commitments by force when necessary.

declaratory act
Declaratory Act
  • The British were forced to repeal the Stamp Act due to the popular revolt which took place in the Colonies. Although repealing the Act, the Parliament also insisted that they had the right to tax the colonists at any time.
  • While Americans celebrated a great victory over the Parliament, England was shocked by the suggestion that they could not tax their subjects, and viewed it as essential to clarify their right!
the townshend acts
The Townshend Acts

In an effort to reassert themselves, the Townshend Acts were passed. After the Declaratory Act was passed by the Parliament, they quickly attempted to demonstrate the Empires mastery over the islands by focusing on new revenue collection techniques:

  • Glass, paper, paint, lead, and tea were all targeted.
  • Vice-Admiralty Courts were re-established.
  • British troops were deployed.

Editorials were written, and circular letters against the taxes were distributed; the Virginia Resolves were passed by the House of Burgesses claiming only their taxes were legitimate; non-importation treaties were resumed, and ladies began producing homespun clothing.

the boston massacre
The Boston Massacre

March 5, 1770,the Boston Massacre takes place. Crispus Attucks, a free black man, was killed in the shooting. John Adams would defend the soldiers.

the boston massacre1
The Boston Massacre
  • Ben Franklin had predicted that the landing of so many troops in Boston would inevitably lead to some similar mayhem as unfolded on March 5, 1770.
  • The occupation of Boston was, of course, an exceedingly tense time. But even after the Boston Massacre, there was more effort at reconciliation than at escalation. American colonists wanted their rights – as Englishmen – restored.
  • John Adams, who had defended the soldiers who were charged, probably recognized that there was plenty of blame to go around as the trial wound down. He remained loyal to the English, though, throughout this period.