The Treaty of Paris officially ends the conflict. Though the British emerged victorious, defending their North American colonies from French expansion had proved costly to England. The British had amassed substantial debt in fighting the war and would find it necessary to implement a number of taxation measures upon the colonies to alleviate the Empire’s financial burden.
The Stamp Act, the first direct tax on the American colonists, requires that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper from London. This includes items such as legal documents, newspapers, and even playing cards. After American protests, the Act is appealed the following year.
Named after British chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend, this series of measures, passed from 1767 to 1768, imposes duties on British china, glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea imported to the colonies. Following widespread protests, including a refusal by some American port cities to import British goods, Parliament begins to partially repeal the Townshend duties. However, the import duty on tea remains, a reminder to the colonists that Parliament holds the authority to tax its colonies.
- George Washington to George Mason Read the Full Letter
At a time when our lordly Masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly necessary that something shou’d be done to avert the stroke and maintain the liberty which we have derived from our Ancestors; but the manner of doing it to answer the purpose effectually is the point in question. That no man shou’d scruple, or hesitate a moment to use a—ms in defence of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil of life depends; is clearly my opinion; Yet A—ms I wou’d beg leave to add, should be the last resource.”
In response to the Tea Act, a tax passed by Parliament in 1773, a group of Boston citizens, some dressed as Mohawk warriors, board three vessels of the East India Company and dump 342 chests of tea into the harbor. Many in the British government view the protest as an act of treason.
In response to the Boston Tea Party, the British Parliament passes the following acts.
The first of the Coercive Acts, the Boston Port Act authorizes the Royal Navy to blockade Boston Harbor because “the commerce of his Majesty’s subjects cannot be safely carried on there." The blockade effectively closes Boston’s port to commercial traffic. Additionally, it forbids any exports to foreign ports or provinces. The only imports allowed are provisions for the British Army and necessary goods, such as fuel and wheat. The Act mandates that the port remain shuttered until Bostonians make restitution to the East India Company (the owners of the destroyed tea), and until the king determines that the colony is able to obey British laws and that British goods once again can be traded in the harbor safely. However, if the Bostonians refuse to pay the East India Company or the king remains unsatisfied, the harbor will be blockaded indefinitely.
Assuming that Massachusetts is under mob rule, and to "[preserve] . . . the peace and good order of the said province," Parliament passes this act turning the Massachusetts Council (an elected body with the governor’s approval) into a body of crown appointees.
Additionally, the Act gives the new royal governor the ability to choose judges and county sheriffs without the Council’s approval. County sheriffs can now also appoint jurors, harming the impartiality of the colony’s judicial system. The Government Act also restricts town meetings to once a year, with any additional meetings requiring the governor’s approval.
To many colonists, the Massachusetts Government Act imperils representative government in the colony.
The Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice gains the king’s approval on the same day as the Massachusetts Government Act. This law seeks to further increase the power of the governor by giving him the ability to move a trial to another colony or Great Britain if it is determined “that an indifferent trial cannot be had within the said province." The Act eliminates the right to a fair trial by one’s peers, removing an established judicial principle dating to Magna Carta.
The Quartering Act is the fourth and final of the main Coercive Acts. The only act of the four to apply to all of the colonies, it allows high-ranking military officials to demand better accommodations for troops and to refuse inconvenient locations for quarters. The inability to effectively house troops in North America had been a long-standing issue. Troops were often billeted far from the areas in which they operated, making it difficult for the army to exercise effective control over the colonists. However, the Act does not require colonists to house soldiers within their private homes, as is commonly believed. Rather, it specifically indicates that soldiers are to be housed in “uninhabited houses, out-houses, barns, or other buildings,” yet they are to be quartered at the colonists’ expense.
The Quebec Act of 1774 is sometimes included as one of the Coercive Acts although it was under consideration by Parliament before the Boston Tea Party. Also known as the Canada Act, the law extends the borders of the province of Quebec southward to the Ohio River. The Act also grants “the free Exercise of the Religion of the Church of Rome,” as the territory was home to a large French Catholic majority. While also instituting English criminal law, the act allows French civil law to remain in place, which excludes trial by jury. The governor and legislative body established by the Quebec Act are crown-appointed positions with complete authority over the colony. At a time of widespread religious intolerance, many Protestant colonists shudder at the prospect of tolerating Catholicism in North America.
- George Washington to Bryan Fairfax Read the Letter
As to your political sentiments, I would heartily join you in them, so far as relates to a humble and dutiful petition to the throne, provided there was the most distant hope of success. But have we not tried this already? Have we not addressed the Lords, and remonstrated to the Commons? And to what end? Did they deign to look at our petitions? Does it not appear, as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness, that there is a regular, systematic plan formed to fix the right and practice of taxation upon us?”
Eager to reject the British Parliament’s claim of supreme authority over the colonies, a committee in Fairfax County, Virginia, adopts this set of resolutions defining the colonists’ constitutional rights. Written at the behest of George Washington and authored by George Mason, the Fairfax Resolves represents a movement towards inter-colonial cooperation—a recognition that a threat against one colony (in this case Massachusetts) represents a threat against all.
Prompted by the Intolerable Acts, delegates from 12 of Britain’s 13 American colonies meet in Philadelphia to discuss America’s future under growing British aggression. Over the course of several weeks, delegates determine it is necessary to call for a boycott of British goods unless Parliament repeals the Intolerable Acts. The First Continental Congress’s most fateful decision is to call for a Second Continental Congress to meet the following spring, if necessary.
Colonial representatives convene in Philadelphia just a month after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. They establish a Continental army and elect George Washington as its Commander-in-Chief. The delegates also draft the Olive Branch Petition and send it to King George III, hoping to reach a peaceful resolution. Refusing to hear the petition, the King declares the American colonies in revolt.
The American Revolution is fully underway.
- George Washington to George William Fairfax Read the Letter
Unhappy it is though to reflect, that a Brother’s Sword has been sheathed in a Brother’s breast, and that, the once happy and peaceful plains of America are either to be drenched with Blood, or Inhabited by Slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous Man hesitate in his choice?”
Despite having little practical experience in managing large, conventional armies, Washington proved to be a capable and resilient leader of the American military forces during the Revolutionary War.Learn More