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The road to revolution
The Road to Revolution

  • Victory in the Seven Years War made Britain the master of a vastly enlarged imperial domain in North America, but the victory was painfully costly. The London government struggled after 1763 to compel the American colonists to shoulder some of the financial costs of empire.

  • The Revolutionary War was by no means inevitable. Americans were reluctant revolutionaries. What began as a squabble over economic policies soon exposed irreconcilable differences between Americans and Britons over cherished political principles. This clash gave birth to a new nation.

Roots of revolution
Roots of Revolution

  • Two ideas had taken root in the minds of the American colonists. 1. Republicanism: a just society is one in which all citizens willingly subordinated their private interests to the common good. The second idea came from a group of British political commentators known as “radical Whigs.” These Whigs feared the threat to liberty posed by the arbitrary power of the monarch and his ministers relative to elected representatives in Parliament.

  • The Whigs attacked the use of patronage and bribes by the king’s ministers (corruption). Whigs warned citizens to be on guard against corruption and to be eternally vigilant against possible conspiracies to take away their hard-won liberties.

  • Aristocratic nobles were unknown in America while property ownership and political participation were relatively widespread. Americans had grown accustomed to running their own affairs, largely unmolested by remote officials in London.

Mercantilism and colonial grievances
Mercantilism and Colonial Grievances

  • The British justified their control over the colonies with a theory called mercantilism. Mercantilism said that the sole purpose of colonies was to supply the mother country with raw materials and provide a guaranteed market for exports.

  • The London government looked on the American colonists more or less as tenants. They were to produce raw materials and buy goods exclusively from Britain and not to worry about being self-sufficient or self-governing. To enforce and regulate the mercantilist system, Parliament passed the Navigation Law of 1650.

Mercantilism and colonial grievances1
Mercantilism and Colonial Grievances

  • This law stated that all commerce flowing to and from the colonies was to be transported on British ships. Later laws said that all goods bound for the colonies had to be landed in Britain first to be taxed. Others said that certain products (tobacco) could only be shipped to Britain even though prices might be better elsewhere.

  • Even though the Navigation laws seemed strict, they were only loosely enforced until the end of the French and Indian war in 1763. Colonial merchants learned early to disregard or evade the law. Some of the earliest American fortunes were made by smuggling (John Hancock).

Mercantilism and colonial grievances2
Mercantilism and Colonial Grievances

  • Americans also reaped direct benefits from the mercantile system. London paid bounties to colonial producers of ship parts over British competitors. Virginia tobacco producers enjoyed a monopoly in the British market. Colonists also benefited from the protection of the best navy in the world without having to pay a penny.

  • The colonists saw mainly the liabilities in the system. It stifled economic initiative and imposed a dependency on British agents and creditors. In short, they felt used.


  • Britain emerged from the Seven Years War with one of the biggest empires and a huge debt (140 million pounds). Half of this debt had come from defending the American colonies. To begin lowering that debt, the London government began to reexamine their relationship to their North American colonies.

  • Prime Minister George Grenville ordered the British navy to begin in 1763 to strictly enforce the Navigation Laws. He also encouraged Parliament to pass the so-called Sugar Act of 1764 –Poke One-. This act was the first law ever passed by Parliament for raising tax revenue in the colonies for the crown. It was aimed at making foreign sugar, mainly from Dutch and French West Indies colonies, more expensive than that from British colonies. After colonial protest, the taxes were substantially reduced.


  • The following year, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765-Poke Two- which required certain colonies to provide food and quarters for British troops. Later that same year, Parliament passed the most troubling of all of these taxes, the Stamp Act (1765)-Poke Three-. The revenue from this tax was to support British troops. The act mandated the use of stamped paper or the affixing of stamps certifying payment of the tax.

  • Stamps were required on bills of sale for about fifty trade items as well as on certain types of commercial and legal documents, including playing cards, pamphlets, newspapers, diplomas, bills of lading, and marriage licenses.


  • Grenville regarded all of these measures as reasonable and just. He thought that he was just asking the colonies to pay their fair share of the war debt.

  • Americans were angry with these new laws. The new laws, apart from pinching the pocketbook, seemed to be striking at local liberties they had come to assume as a matter of right.

  • Grenville’s legislation seemed to jeopardize the basic rights of the colonists as Englishmen. The Sugar and Stamp Acts said that offenders would be tried in the hated admiralty courts where juries were not allowed and where they were assumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Trial by jury and “innocent until proven guilty” were ancient privileges that British people everywhere held most dear.


  • Many colonists wondered why the British army was still stationed in the colonies now that the war was over if not to control the colonies. Many Americans began to lash back violently against the Stamp Act and those who collected the taxes.

  • No taxation without representation!

  • Americans conceded the right of Parliament to legislate about matters that affected the entire empire, including the regulation of trade. But they steadfastly denied the right of Parliament, where no Americans were seated, to impose taxes on Americans. Only their own elected colonial legislatures could legally tax them. Americans wanted to share legislative power and sovereignty with Parliament.


  • Grenville dismissed the American protests. He asserted that the power of Parliament was supreme and undivided. He further stated that the Americans were represented in Parliament. Grenville stated that every member of Parliament represented all British subjects and worked in their best interests.

  • This is called “virtual representation.” Americans scoffed at this theory. When the British refused to share legislative power and sovereignty with the colonies, Americans began to deny the power of Parliament altogether and to begin to consider their own political independence.


  • In 1765, 27 angry delegates from nine colonies gathered in New York City as the Stamp Act Congress. After some debate, the members drew up a statement of their rights and grievances and pleaded with the king to repeal the hated act. This congress was an important step toward inter-colonial unity.

  • Non-importation agreements against British goodswithin the colonies were far more effective than the Stamp Act Congress. These agreements spontaneously united the American people for the first time in common action.

  • Sometimes violence accompanied colonial protests. Groups like the Sons of Liberty often took the law into their own hands. They enforced the non-importation agreements against violators with tarring and feathering. Mobs ransacked the houses of unpopular officials, taking their money. Many of the tax collectors resigned because they were afraid for their lives.

  • England was hard hit economically. Many English merchants began to loudly call for Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. In 1766, Parliament grudgingly repealed the Stamp Act.

The townshend acts
The Townshend Acts

  • Charles Townshend was one of the most gifted speakers in Parliament at that time. He persuaded Parliament in 1767 to pass new import duty on glass, lead, paper, paint, and tea. Revenues from these duties would pay the salaries of colonial governors.

  • Nonimportation agreements were quickly revived against the Townshend Acts but they proved less effective than those against the Stamp Act. The colonists quickly found that they could get smuggled tea at a cheaper price and began to smuggle again, especially in Massachusetts.

  • British officials, who feared a breakdown of law and order, landed two regiments of troops in Boston in 1768. Many of these soldiers were drunken and profane. Liberty loving colonists resented their presence and taunted them unmercifully.

The townshend acts1
The Townshend Acts

  • On March 5, 1770, a crowd of about 60 Bostonians gathered around a group of 10 redcoats near the customs house in Boston Harbor. The crowd got a little excited and began throwing snowballs and rocks at the redcoats. The “snowball fight” escalated when the redcoats opened fire into the crowd and killed 5. One of the five was a runaway slave, Crispus Attucks. Newspapers throughout the colonies began to call this incident the “Boston Massacre.”

Committees of correspondence
Committees of Correspondence

  • Resistance to the British was further kindled by a master propagandist and tavern owner, Samuel Adams. Zealous, tenacious, and courageous, he was ultra-sensitive to infractions on colonial rights. Adams’s largest contribution to the rebellion was to organize in Massachusetts the local committees of correspondence. The chief function was to spread the spirit of resistance by exchanging letters and thus keep alive opposition to British policy.

  • Inter-colonial committees were the next logical step. Shortly after 1773, every colony had established a central committee that would exchange ideas and information with other colonies. These committees evolved directly into the first American congresses. One of the critics referred to committees as the foulest, subtlest, and most venomous serpent ever issued from the egg of sedition.

Boston tea party
Boston Tea Party

  • By 1773, nothing had happened to make rebellion inevitable. Nonimportation was weakening. Increasing numbers of colonists were reluctantly paying the tea tax, because the legal tea was now cheaper than smuggled tea.

  • Later in 1773, Parliament decided to aid the struggling British East India Company by giving it a complete monopoly of the American tea business. The company had 17 million pounds of unsold tea and was on the verge of bankruptcy and Parliament was afraid of losing the tax revenue if the company failed. Americans were upset at this new policy.

Boston tea party1
Boston Tea Party

  • Many colonies had “tea parties.” Mass demonstrations in New York and Philadelphia forced tea-bearing ships to return to England. At Annapolis, Maryland a tea ship and cargo were burned.

  • In Boston, Governor Thomas Hutchinson was determined not to be intimidated or have lawlessness break out. Hutchinson ordered tea ships not to leave the port until they had unloaded their cargos. On December 16, 1773, Bostonians disguised as Indians boarded the tea ships and smashed open 342 chests and dumped the contents into the harbor. British authorities were determined now to whip the colonies into line.

The intolerable acts
The Intolerable Acts

  • King George III and Parliament responded to the party in Boston swiftly. In early 1774 the Coercive Acts were passed. These acts were aimed at Boston and all of Massachusetts. Some of the provisions of the acts were to close the port of Boston and restricting local government in Massachusetts. The colonists began to call these acts the “intolerable acts.”

The continental congress
The Continental Congress

  • In response to the Intolerable Acts, the first Continental Congress was summoned to meet in Philadelphia in 1774. The purpose of the congress was to consider ways of redressing colonial grievances. 12 of the 13 colonies sent delegates; Georgia did not. There were 55 delegates in total with Samuel and John Adams, George Washington, and Patrick Henry among them. They met for seven weeks.

  • John Adams played a huge role in the meetings swaying the congress to a revolutionary course. After prolonged argument, the congress drew up several papers that were sent to Parliament and the King.

The continental congress1
The Continental Congress

  • The most significant action of the congress was the creation of The Association. The Association called for a complete boycott of British goods: non-importation, non-exportation, non-consumption. The delegates were not yet calling for independence; they were merely seeking the repeal of offensive laws. They hoped that if colonial grievances were addressed, well and good; if not, the congress was to meet again in May of 1775. Resistance was not rebellion yet.

  • Parliament rejected the colonial petitions outright. Colonists began to gather muskets and ammunition and drill openly for an inevitable clash.

The continental congress2
The Continental Congress

  • In April 1775, the British commander at Boston sent a detachment of troops to nearby Lexington and Concord to seize colonial stores of gunpowder and to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock. At Lexington, the colonial minute men refused to disperse when ordered to do so by the redcoats. Shots were fired that killed 8 Americans. The British pushed on to Concord where they were forced to retreat by the colonists. By the time the British got back to Boston, they counted 300 casualties, 70 killed.

Imperial strength and weakness
Imperial Strength and Weakness

  • Population

  • Great Britain had 7.5 million while the colonies had 2.5 million.

  • Monetary wealth and naval power were overwhelmingly in Britain’s favor. Britain had a professional army of some 50,000 men compared with the poorly trained and equipped American militia. Britain also had hired some 30,000 Hessian (German) mercenaries. The British also had near 50,000 American Loyalists (Tories) as well as many Indian allies.

Imperial strengths and weaknesses
Imperial Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Britain’s army in America had to operate under endless difficulties. The Generals were second rate; the soldiers were brutally treated; provisions were scarce, rancid and wormy. On one occasion, a supply of biscuits captured from the French 15 years earlier were softened by dropping cannon balls on them. They were also 3000 miles from home. The fact that the colonies had no capital (national) it made the war hard to win for the British. They took every city of any size yet barely made a dent in the entire country.

American pluses and minuses
American Pluses and Minuses

  • Americans had the advantage in the fact that they were fighting on their own ground. They had friendly colonists to supply them and aid them in the struggle. They were also able to blend in to the population when needed, making capturing them very difficult. Americans also were deeply committed to the cause for which they were fighting.

  • Economic difficulties were immense. The Continental Congress was forced to print “Continental” paper money in great amounts. This greatly depreciated its value and inflation was rampant.

  • Basic military supplies in the colonies were dangerously scarce, especially firearms. Not a single gun factory in the colonies and an imported musket cost the equivalent of two month’s salary.

American pluses and minuses1
American Pluses and Minuses

  • Manufactured goods were also scarce in the colonies (mercantilism). Clothing and shoes were extremely scarce. One Rhode Island regiment was known simply as the “Ragged, Lousy, Naked Regiment.”

  • American militiamen were numerous but highly unreliable. Many recruits served only short terms of enlistment. A few thousand regulars by wars end were whipped into shape by the stern drill master and organizational genius German Baron Von Steuben.

  • He spoke no English when he arrived in America, but he soon got the troops to obey orders and march in formation and hold their own against the British Army. American forces were also aided by a 19 year old French nobleman, the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette was extremely valuable in securing French aid for the Americans during the war.

American pluses and minuses2
American Pluses and Minuses

  • Blacks also fought and died for the American cause. By wars end, more than 5000 blacks had enlisted in the American armed forces. African Americans also fought on the British side of the war. In November 1775, Virginia’s royal governor proclaimed that any slave who joined the British would be freed. At the end of the war, the British did free nearly 14,000 “Black Loyalists.”

  • Washington never had more than 20,000 effective troops in one place at one time. Only a select minority of the American colonists attached themselves to the cause of independence. These were the freedom loving Patriots.