1760: End of salutary neglect when George III demands enforcement of Navigation Acts. In particular, the authorization for customs officials to use writs of assistance to force local officials to cooperate in identifying contraband and arresting violators of the Navigation Acts. Writs of assistance also gave royal officials the rights to search homes or warehouses without a warrant.
1763: The end of the French and Indian War, and England has crushing debt. Colonies need to pay at least for their own defense, in the eyes of George III. He decided to make the Navigation Acts into taxation laws, which changes them in the eyes of the colonists—they did not dispute the right of the crown to regulate trade, only to tax without representation. Not all in George III’s cabinet agreed with the new taxes; in fact, William Pitt was forced out of the cabinet by George III due to his opposition to these taxes.
Also this year, Pontiac’s Rebellion breaks out along the western border. Detroit and other western outposts newly surrendered to the British are attacked by Ottawa War Chief Pontiac and other tribes, including the Seneca, Delaware, and other Iroquois tribes. British commander Gen. Jeffrey Amherst orders no prisoners to be taken. Violent and brutal warfare ensues. When news of the rebellion reaches England, Amherst’s policy is overturned, and the Proclamation of 1763 is issued forbidding white settlement beyond the Appalachians as a temporary measure to allow the Indians to cool off. The British initiate a policy of negotiating treaties with tribes to define white settlement—the beginning of the treaty policy which would endure in America until the 1870s. Sir William Johnson of New York, married to an Indian woman, is sent to negotiate with the members of Pontiac’s Rebellion, and brings peace in 1766. He also begins to negotiate for opening of portions of the Trans-Appalachian area to white settlement. Most wealthy people supported this method of opening up new lands, but the poor continued to squat on Indian lands illegally, provoking Indian counter-attacks. Pacifying the Indians with trade goods cost England money—money that George felt the colonists should pay. Pontiac’s Rebellion further encouraged George’s efforts to force the colonists to pay their share.
1764: The Sugar Act replaces the Molasses Act of 1733, which forbade imports of molasses from the French or Dutch West Indies. The Sugar Act allows the purchase of foreign molasses, but taxes these purchases. The Sugar Act also requires that cases in which the act was violated were to be tried in Vice-Admiralty courts, which did not use juries. Thus the Sugar Act embodied threats to two cherished rights guaranteed in the Magna Carta. In response, a Boston town meeting proposes in May that the colonies unite behind a Non-Importation Agreement, or boycott, of several British goods. Several colonies join this boycott.
1765: The Stamp Act is passed to help pay for British soldiers stationed in the colonies. Once again, colonists feel they are taxed without representation, and Vice-Admiralty courts are to judge violations, jeopardizing the right to trial by jury.
Samuel Adams organizes the Sons of Liberty in response. Originally called the Loyal Nine, their organization spreads from Boston to other cities. Their mission was to intimidate all Stamp agents to resign, making it impossible to collect the tax. All the agents they contact do resign. Tar and feathers awaits those who do not cooperate. Patrick Henry of Virginia passes seven resolutions called the Virginia Resolves, one of which proclaims that only the Virginia legislature has the right to tax Virginians. Henry says of his resolutions, “If this be treason, make the most of it.”
Parliament also passes the Mutiny Act, which has a provision allowing for the lodging of troops in private homes. When the colonists try to evade the act by pointing out it did not specifically apply to the colonies, Parliament passes the Quartering Act, which backs down on the provision placing troops in private residences but instead requires colonial authorities to furnish housing and supplies to British troops. Several colonial legislatures refuse to appropriate funds for this Act. In response to these challenges, James Otis calls for the convention of the Stamp Act Congress, which passes a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. These resolutions attack to concept of taxation without representation and denial of the right to trial by jury. When the resolutions arrive in Parliament, William Pitt and others are sympathetic, and move to repeal the Stamp Act before it takes effect. It didn’t hurt that the Non-Importation Agreement had slashed trade from the colonies by 25%. Prime Minister George Grenville responded to this talk by suggesting that British troops enforce the Stamp Act, prompting Benjamin Franklin (who was in London as an agent representing Pennsylvania’s business interests) to step in and argue the colonies’ case to Parliament. In March, 1766, the Stamp Act is repealed, but Parliament passes the Declaratory Act to save face and retain Parliament’s right to make any laws it wishes in regard to the colonies. Although the Sons of Liberty officially disbands after the repeal, their network remains active, sharing information and remaining politically active throughout the revolutionary period.
1766: Charles Townshend becomes the chancellor of the exchequer (like treasury secretary). When Prime Minister William Pitt has a breakdown, Townshend takes charge and forces through the Townshend Acts. These include:
•The Townshend Revenue Act, which imposed duties on lead, glass, paint, tea, and paper imported into the colonies, with the money to be used to pay for the salaries of royal officials and for military expenses (making royal officials independent of colonial legislatures for their pay);
•An act creating a new system of customs commissioners, who were notoriously corrupt and received 1/3 of the money collected;
•An act suspending the New York Assembly in punishment for its refusal to allocate money required by the Quartering Act.
The colonists are angered, and respond by reviving the nonimportation agreement. Having been effective once, they work again, and all the Townshend duties except those on tea are repealed in April of 1770. The tea tax is retained because George III believes “there must always be one tax” to establish the precedent for the right of Parliament to tax the colonies.
1768: The Massachusetts General Court issues the Massachusetts Circular Letter to urge other colonies to resist the Townshend Acts. The Circular letter decries the Acts as taxation without representation, insists that colonial governors and judges must not be independent of colonial legislatures, and insists that Americans can never be represented in Parliament. Due to the Letter’s demand for further resistance to British policy, Massachusetts’ royal governor closes down the General Court on grounds of sedition. But New Jersey, New Hampshire, Virginia and Connecticut announce support of the principles in the letter.
Another set of letters which were widely published throughout the colonies and Britain which protested taxation without representation were the Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to Inhabitants of the British Colonies by John Dickinson.
Violence also was a response to British oppression. On the North Carolina frontier, a loosely organized group called the Regulators arose to protest their lack of representation in the colonial assembly and to protest corruption of royal officials. The Regulators, armed and dangerous, engage in a few skirmishes with colonial officials and British troops, but usually back down in the face of organized resistance, especially since they lack strong leadership. The North Carolina assembly passes the Bloody Act in 1771 in response to the horsewhipping of a man they claimed to be an agent of the eastern Carolina aristocrats. The Bloody Act declares the Regulators to be traitors subject to execution. Finally, Governor William Tryon leads a force of 1000 troops against an encampment of 2000 Regulators, but the Regulators withdraw after an hour’s fighting with thirteen of their leaders captured. One is executed the next day, six more are executed a month later, and the last six are forced to swear loyalty to the royal government, along with 6500 other settlers in the region of the battle. New Yorkers also rioted in 1769 over the dissolution of their assembly. In Boston in May of 1768, the seizure of John Hancock’s ship Liberty provoked a riot which resulted in the beating of the customs official who ordered the seizure, his son, and another customs agent.
1770: The Boston “Massacre” results in five colonists killed. 7 British soldiers were indicted on charges of murder. John Adams and Josiah Quincy defend the soldiers, arguing self-defense. Four were acquitted (by a jury of Bostonians!) and two were convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter. They both were discharged and branded on the thumb.
1772: The Royal Navy sends a ship named the Gaspee to hunt down smugglers hiding in Narragansett Bay, near Rhode Island. In response, the governor of Rhode Island threatens to arrest the commanding officer of the Gaspee, Lt. William Dudingston. When the Gaspee runs aground on a sandbar, the local sheriff and a posse row out to the ship, order Dudington to surrender, and board the ship when he refuses. When Dudington points his sword at one of the invaders he is shot in the midsection, although not fatally. He and his men are forced from the ship and it is set aflame. Other colonists are excited about this blow to Britain attempt to enforce its taxes. When British officials attempt to arrest the boarding party and send them to London to be tried as pirates, though, Sam Adams revives the Sons of Liberty as a Committee of Correspondence to coordinate action. The Crown backs down, claiming lack of evidence, but the damage is done.
1773: The Tea Act aims to help the British East India Company by lowering the cost of its tea—up until this point, the colonists had avoided paying the taxes on British tea by buying smuggled Dutch tea. The Act forgave part of the taxes the East India Company paid, enabling it to lower costs. It also allowed the Company to sell the tea directly to American businessmen and cut out the British middlemen. The colonists, however, view the act as an attempt to get Americans to accept the tax on tea. Therefore, the Sons of Liberty (aka Committees of Correspondence) launch a program to intimidate the American merchants from buying the tea. East India Company ships are turned back at the harbor entrance, or are prevented from unloading. Three of these ships are the victims of the Boston Tea Party, which destroyed $90,000 of tea.
In response, Parliament passes the Coercive Acts (aka Intolerable Acts or Repressive Acts) which included the closure of the Port of Boston, limitations on Massachusetts’ colonial government, colonial courts, and the right to have town meetings, and an extension of the Quartering Act designed to place troops in Boston permanently.
General Thomas Gage is appointed royal governor of Massachusetts as well as remaining commander in chief of British troops in North America. He immediately implements the Port Act. He also attempts to disperse the General Assembly, which then calls for a Continental Congress to be called. The Port Act results in the unification of the other colonies in sending food to Boston—even Quebec sent grain.
1774: In the midst of this turmoil, the Quebec Act is passed, which restores the old borders of the province into the Ohio valley. It requires that French be the official language, French law be retained, and the Catholic Church be officially recognized.
The First Continental Congress is convened with 56 delegates from all the colonies but Georgia. It denounces the intolerable Acts, declares 13 different acts of Parliament unconstitutional, sends protests to the king and addresses to the people of Great Britain, and forms the Association to organize a new boycott on British goods.
The royal governor of Virginia dissolves the House of Burgesses. The lawmakers meet in a tavern (some say a church) instead. It is there that Henry gives his famous speech on liberty on March 23, 1775.
1775: King George III and Parliament propose the Plan of Reconciliation, which proposed to not tax the colonies in return for the colonial assemblies voluntarily paying for part of colonial defense. They also pass the Fishery Act, banning New England from the waters off Newfoundland. When Massachusetts calls on the Provincial Congress to begin arming the colony, Gage imposes martial law and orders the arrest of Sam Adams and John Hancock. Paul Revere rides to tell them to escape. He also alerts the colonists that the British are moving toward Lexington and Concord to capture the stash of weapons there. The British marched to Concord (“One if by land,…”) and rowed whaleboats to Lexington (“…Two if by sea.”). In Lexington, the British drove the colonists off, but at Concord, the colonists carried the day. The first shots had been fired.