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British Colonial Policies before the Revolution

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 2 years, 7 months ago

"Bostonians Reading the Stamp Act."

From Stranger's Illustrated Guide to Boston and Its Suburbs by J. H. Stark, 1882




  Link to AP US History Key Concept 3.1:  Colonial Independence and the Revolutionary War



A Briton's warning to Britain

Selection from Thomas Pownall's The Administration of the Colonies predicting great harm to the empire if Britain became more "heavy-handed" with the colonies.


Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One

Satirical essay by Benjamin Franklin explaining the colonists' point of view to Britons, and presenting twenty rules for dismantling an empire. 


A Pretty Story Written in the Year of Our Lord 2774

Allegory to recast the issues of 1774 into a simple domestic fable, offering insight into how the colonists viewed themselves and their political situation one year before officially declaring independence from Britain. 


letter to Hezekiah Niles

A letter by John Adams to Hezekiah Niles exchanging thoughts on the origins of the war. 



 The Sugar Act


The Sugar Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1764.


  • This revision to the 1733 Molasses Tax put a three-cent tax on foreign refined sugar and increased taxes on coffee, indigo, and certain kinds of wine, and further, regulated the export of lumber and iron. It banned importation of rum and French wines.


  • The situation disrupted the colonial economy by reducing the markets to which the colonies could sell, and the amount of currency available to them for the purchase of British manufactured goods.


  • These taxes affected only a certain part of the population, but the affected merchants were very vocal. The taxes were criticized for being enacted (or raised) without the consent of the colonists. "NO Taxation Without Representation!"


  • This was one of the first instances in which colonists responded so vocally to British policies.


Sugar Act Jeopardy game


Colonists Respond to the Sugar Act and Currency Act of 1764t


The Stamp Act


The Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament on March 22, 1765.


  • The Stamp Act, however, was viewed as a direct attempt by England to raise money in the colonies without the approval of the colonial legislatures. 


  • If this new tax were allowed to pass without resistance, the colonists reasoned, the door would be open for far more troublesome taxation in the future.


  • The act was imposed on all American colonists and required them to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used. 


  • Ship's papers, legal documents, licenses, newspapers, other publications, and even playing cards were taxed. 


  • The money collected by the Stamp Act was to be used to help pay the costs of defending and protecting the American frontier near the Appalachian Mountains (10,000 troops were to be stationed on the American frontier).


Primary Sources 

The Sugar Act

The Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Act Congress

external image Red_apple.jpgLesson Plans


The Stamp Act (history.org)

Reluctant Revolutionaries, the American Rev. - PBS


The Stamp Act Congress


The Stamp Act Congress was a meeting on October 19, 1765 in New York City of representatives from among the Thirteen Colonies.

They discussed and acted upon the Stamp Act recently passed by the governing Parliament of Great Britain overseas, which did not include any representatives from the colonies.

Meeting in the building that would become Federal Hall, the Congress consisted of delegates from 9 of the 13 colonies.

The colonies that did not send delegates were Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire.


Sons of Liberty broadside, December 1765
Sons of Liberty broadside, December 1765


Sons of Liberty


The Sons of Liberty was a political group formed to protect the rights of colonists from the infringements by the British government.

  • The first widely known acts of the Sons of Liberty took place on August 14, 1765, when an effigy of Andrew Oliver (who was to be commissioned Distributor of Stamps for Massachusetts) was found hanging in a tree on Newbury street, along with a large boot with a devil climbing out of it.


  • The boot was a play on the name of the Earl of Bute and the whole display was intended to establish an evil connection between Oliver and the Stamp Act. 


  • The sheriffs were told to remove the display but protested in fear of their lives.



Before the evening a mob burned Oliver's property on Kilby street, then moved on to his house. On that evening it became very clear who ruled Boston.

The British Militia, the Sheriffs and Justices, kept a low profile. No one dared respond to such violent force.

By the end of that year the Sons of Liberty existed in every colony. Their most popular objective was to force Stamp Distributors throughout the colonies to resign.

The groups also applied pressure to any Merchants who did not comply with the non-importation associations. Wherever these groups existed they were either directed in secret by leading men in the community or actually lead by them.

Townsend Duties


The Townsend Duties were a series of 1767 laws named for Charles Townshend, British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasurer).


  • These laws placed new taxes on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea.


  • In response to the sometimes violent protests by the American colonists, Great Britain sent more troops to the colonies


The Tea Act


The Tea Act, passed by Parliament on May 10, 1773, would launch the final spark to the revolutionary movement in Boston.

The act was not intended to raise revenue in the American colonies, and in fact imposed no new taxes. It was designed to prop up the East India Company which was floundering financially and burdened with eighteen million pounds of unsold tea. This tea was to be shipped directly to the colonies, and sold at a bargain price.

The Townshend Duties were still in place, however, and the radical leaders in America found reason to believe that this act was a maneuver to buy popular support for the taxes already in force. The direct sale of tea, via British agents, would also have undercut the business of local merchants. Colonists in Philadelphia and New York turned the tea ships back to Britain. In Charleston the cargo was left to rot on the docks.

In Boston the Royal Governor was stubborn & held the ships in port, where the colonists would not allow them to unload. Cargoes of tea filled the harbor, and the British ship's crews were stalled in Boston looking for work and often finding trouble. This situation led to the Boston Tea Party.



The Boston Tea Party


When British tea ships arrived in Boston harbor, many citizens wanted the tea sent back to England without the payment of any taxes. The royal governor insisted on payment of all taxes. On December 16, a group of men disguised as Native Americans boarded the ships and dumped all the tea in the harbor.

Debunking Myths behind the Boston tea party - article that aims to debunk the mythology behind the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

See a video on the Boston Tea Party with questions for students to answer.

The Intolerable Acts


The Intolerable Acts were a series of laws sponsored by British Prime Minister Lord North and enacted in 1774 in response to the Boston Tea Party. The laws were these:


  • Boston Port Act: (March 30, 1774) closed the port of Boston until the price of the dumped tea was recovered, moved the capital of Massachusetts to Salem, and made Marblehead the official port of entry for the Massachusetts colony


  • Impartial Administration of Justice Act: (May 20, 1774) allowed the royal governor of a colony to move trials to other colonies or even to England if he feared that juries in those colonies wouldn't judge a case fairly


  • Massachusetts Bay Regulating Act: (May 20, 1774) made all law officers subject to appointment by the royal governor and banned all town meetings that didn't have approval of the royal governor


  • Quartering Act: (June 2, 1774) allowed royal troops to stay in houses or empty buildings if barracks were not available


  • Quebec Act:(June 22, 1774) granted civil government and religious freedom to Catholics living in Quebec.


These Acts were the harshest so far of all the Acts passed by Parliament.


The closing of Boston's port alone would cost the colony (and the American colonies as a whole) a ton of money. The Regulating Act was aimed at curtailing revolutionary activities. The Quartering Act angered colonists who didn't want soldiers (especially Redcoats) in their houses. And the Quebec Act was a direct insult to Americans, who had been denied the same sorts of rights that the Quebec residents now got.

  • Rather than keep the colonists down, the Intolerable Acts stirred the revolutionary spirit to a fever pitch.

Read "Tyranny is Tyranny," an excerpt from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, discussing this era of North American history.

"No Taxation Without Representation!"

The British Parliament had controlled colonial trade and taxed imports and exports since 1660. By the 1760s, Americans were being deprived of a historic right. The English Bill of Rights 1689 had forbidden the imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament. Since the colonists had no representation in Parliament the taxes violated the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. Parliament contended that the colonists had virtual representation. Colonists on the other hand felt increasingly violated by the British crown with each passing of a new colonial tax.


No Taxation Without Representation - The Song

The British Perspective

Though the root of the American Revolution was about the unjustified taxation of the colonies, the fact of the matter was that defending the colonies during the French and Indian War stripped the United Kingdom of her wealth. The pamphlets/letters below display the growing tensions between the colonies and Parliament as the colonies insisted that they could not afford the dreaded taxes and that they deserved to be properly represented in court, while Parliament insisted that representation was unnecessary, as the colonies were considered a part of the British Empire and therefore subject to the orders of the King.

Primary Resources regarding Taxation without Representation in Court

The following documents are pamphlets and letters written by members of Parliament and the colonies regarding the justification of taxation.
Class+3+-+James+Otis,+Consideration+on+Behalf+of+the+Colonists,+1765 (1).pdfClass+3+-+James+Otis,+Consideration+on+Behalf+of+the+Colonists,+1765 (1).pdf

Class+3+-+Soame+Jenyns,+The+Objections+to+the+taxation+of+our+American+colonies,+1765 (1).pdfClass+3+-+Soame+Jenyns,+The+Objections+to+the+taxation+of+our+American+colonies,+1765 (1).pdf


Class+2+-Considerations+on+the+Present+State+of+our+Northern+Colonies,+1763 (1).pdfClass+2+-Considerations+on+the+Present+State+of+our+Northern+Colonies,+1763 (1).pdf




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