Events Leading Up To The
American Revolution

The year is 1763. The Seven Years War is over. Britain dominates the North American continent east of the Mississippi. With the French no longer a threat to her interests, Britain could now turn her attention to the Colonies. Desiring revenue from the Colonies to offset the massive expenditures for defense, the British administration began stricter enforcement of the Navigation Acts restricting colonial trade with other nations. And, fearing that New England was becoming too powerful, the King wanted to control the Colonial legislatures.

In the Colonies, the best land near the coast was taken and the settlers wanted to push to the interior. However, the Indians were still in possession of this land and were rightly distrustful of the settlers’ motives.

In a Royal Proclamation issued on October 7, 1763 the new territories were organized into four areas: Quebec, East Florida, West Florida and the island of Grenada. The lands west of the Appalachians were reserved for the Indians. These lands weren’t part of any of the Colonies, settlement was forbidden and land negotiations with the Indians were prohibited. The right to arrange surrender of Indian title was reserved for the Crown. The Indians, according to their own laws, administered this territory though non-Indian fugitives could be followed and apprehended. The Proclamation, however, failed to suffocate the appetite of the Colonies for expansion.

In 1764, the British passed the Sugar Act, the first law aimed strictly at raising American money for the Crown, increasing the duties on merchandise imported into the Colonies that was not of British origin. This was followed by the Currency Act. This law barred the Colonies from printing their own currency, arousing the ire of many Americans.

The Colonists, naturally, objected to these acts. At a town meeting in Massachusetts, taxation without representation was cried out against and co-operative protest throughout the Colonies was suggested. Non-importation, or declining to accept merchandise imported from Britain, became the protest of choice in the Colonies.

But on March 24, 1765, the British subsequently renewed the Colonists’ fury by passing the Quartering and Stamp Acts. The Quartering Act obligated the Colonies to provide lodging and supplies for British soldiers.

New York became the focus of American resistance to the Quartering Act since, as headquarters for the British military in the Colonies, it was greatly affected by the Act. The New York Assembly refused to support the quartering of troops and a scuffle took place in which one colonist was injured. Parliament responded by suspending the Assembly’s powers, but never executed the suspension because the Assembly quickly agreed to give money for the quartering of troops.

Also established was the Stamp Act, the first direct levy on the Colonies and passed to generate funds for the British. Newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, broadsides, legal documents, dice, and playing cards were taxed by this act. Stamps, issued by the British, were attached to the taxed items to indicate that the tax had been paid.

The Colonists responded to Stamp Act with organized protest. The non-importation efforts were increased and the Sons of Liberty, a secret group whose purpose was to frighten the agents who were to collect the Stamp tax, was formed. Their efforts were effective – all the designated agents had quit before the Stamp Act had gone into effect.

Also, nine of the thirteen Colonies, on the advice of the Massachusetts Assembly, formed the Stamp Act Congress to labor for the revocation of the Stamp Act. The Congress approved a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances”. This Declaration proclaimed that the Colonists were the equal of all British citizens, objected to taxation without representation and set forth that the British Parliament could not tax the Colonies unless the Colonies had representation in Parliament.

Parliament was divided on the issue of American protest to the Stamp Act. Some believed that the Stamp Act should be enforced through the use of the military, while others praised the Colonists for opposing a tax levied by a Parliament in which they had no representation. Eventually, in 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed.

The Colonies cast aside their policy of non-importation, but the repeal of the Stamp Act didn’t mean that Britain was relinquishing any authority over the Colonies. On the same day that the Stamp act was repealed, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, proclaiming that it could pass legislation binding the Colonies.

In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts to help pay the expenses involved in governing the American Colonies. This law instituted levies on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. In response to these new taxes, the Colonies again decided to follow the policy of non-importation.

Also in 1767, the pamphlet Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies, initially published in a newspaper, was reproduced expansively by John Dickinson. This pamphlet stated that Parliament could not tax the Colonies, called the Townshend Acts unconstitutional and denounced the suspension of the New York Assembly as a menace to colonial freedoms.

In 1768 the Massachusetts Circular Letter, written by Samuel Adams and endorsed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, assaulted Parliament's continued taxation of the Colonies without proper representation and called for united resistance by all the Colonies. Many of the remaining Colonies issued similar statements. In response, the British governor of Massachusetts abolished the state's legislature. British troops were brought to Boston; the Sons of Liberty threatened armed opposition, but none was extended when the soldiers positioned themselves in Boston.

In 1769, the Virginia House of Burgesses approved resolutions denouncing the British actions against Massachusetts and proclaiming that the citizens of Virginia could be taxed only by the governor and legislature of the Colony. Its members also composed a formal letter to the King, which was concluded just prior to Virginia’s Royal governor abolishing its legislature.

Then, in 1770, due to the reduced profits from colonial non-importation, Parliament revoked all of the Townshend Act levies except for the tea tax. In reply to Parliament's easing of its taxation laws, the Colonies reduced their boycott of British imported goods.

However, this apparent lessening of tension wasn’t to last. A leading New York Son of Liberty issued an announcement attacking the New York Assembly for conforming to the Quartering Act. A riot erupted between citizens and soldiers, ending in serious injuries, but no deaths.

In Boston, the presence of British troops acted as a nettle to the radial politicians in that city. Then, on Monday, March 5, 1770, after a weekend of minor encounters, the hostility between the British soldiers and the Colonists came to a head.

A crowd of men and boys taunted a guard at the Boston customhouse. Slurs were exchanged between the guard and a local shopkeeper and the sentry responded by striking the merchant with his rifle, resulting in a small riot. A small unit of troops, commanded by Captain Thomas Preston, responded. The mob jeered and threatened the soldiers, but nothing happened until a club was thrown, striking Private Hugh Montgomery. Montgomery fired into the crown and, without a command from the Captain, the other soldiers joined him. Three Colonists were killed and eight injured, two fatally. The troops were removed to islands in Boston harbor, barely avoiding a major revolt. The soldiers were tried for murder, but defended by John Adams, were convicted of only minor charges.

This event, known as the Boston Massacre, was the first forceful influence in forming a blunt anti-British sentiment in the Colonies. Most importantly, it gave the radical Colonists propaganda to use against the British. In fact, it has been intimated that Samuel Adams incited the entire affair, entirely to this end.

In 1772, the British customs schooner Gaspee grounded near Providence, Rhode Island and was attacked by several boatloads of Colonists. The Royal governor of Rhode Island extended a reward for the capture of the Colonists, scheming to ship them to Britain for trial. This only fueled the Colonists’ outrage.

Also in 1772, a “Committee of Correspondence” was created during a Boston town meeting called by Samuel Adams. Similar committees were soon initiated all through the Colonies.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, decreasing the tax on imported British tea and in effect, giving British merchants an inequitable edge in selling their tea in the Colonies. On May 10, Parliament sanctioned the East India Tea Co to ship half a million pounds of tea to the Colonies. Parliament was planning to rescue the bungling company from bankruptcy by not imposing the normal duties and tariffs on the tea. Therefore, the firm could undersell any other tea obtainable in the Colonies, including smuggled tea.

On November 27, when British tea ships arrived in Boston harbor, many citizens wanted the tea sent back to England. On December 16, a group of Colonists, sparsely disguised as Indians, sneaked onto the ships and tossed 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Britain responded to this act, known as the Boston Tea Party, by passing the Intolerable or Coercive Acts in 1774.

These acts included the Boston Port Bill (June 1), Administration of Justice Act (May 20), Massachusetts Government Act (May 20) and Quebec Act (May 20). The Quartering Act was also broadened to include occupied buildings.

The Boston Port Bill put the port of Boston off limits to all Colonists until the damages from the Boston Tea Party were paid. The Administration of Justice Act established that British officials could not be tried in the Colonies, but rather would be sent to Britain and tried there. This basically gave British administrators free reign as no justice would be served while they were still in the Colonies. The Massachusetts Government Act gave the British governor of Massachusetts control of town meetings and placed the election of most governmental offices under control Royal control, basically doing away with the Massachusetts charter of government.

The Quebec Act was used as a mechanism to reaffirm the Crown’s control within the Proclamation lands. It expanded the boundaries of Quebec south to the Ohio River near present day Pittsburgh, down the Ohio to the Mississippi and north to Rupert’s Land, effectively cutting the Colonies of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Virginia off from the west. This blocking of Colonial expansion was one of the complaints set forth by the Colonists in the Declaration of Independence two years later.

Massachusetts proposed a return to non-importation as protest of the Intolerable Acts. But certain Colonies favored a congress of all the Colonies to consider unified protest. With the exception of Georgia, the Colonies selected delegates to attend the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia on September 5.

Boston was fortified and ammunition belonging to Massachusetts was seized by British troops. No fighting occurred, though American militiamen were ready to resist. Groups of Minute Men, militia who were to be prepared on a minutes notice were organized and a Provincial Congress and Committee of Safety were formed by Massachusetts to decide when they would be called into action.

In 1775, Parliament passed the New England Restraining Act. This prohibited the New England Colonies from trading with any country other than Britain. It was also decided to use force to impose compliance with recent Acts.

On April 18th, the Boston Committee of Safety discovered a British plan to send troops to Concord to seize ammunition. Paul Revere and William Dawes were sent to relay the warning and alert the Minute Men. On the 19th, the British troops came upon the Minute Men at Lexinton. During the encounter, a shot – “the shot heard ‘round the world” – was fired and the American Revolution had begun.

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