The British Position

Britain had been engaged in the Seven Years' War in Europe, of which the American conflict had been only a part. The British treasury had to be replenished, as the war efforts had nearly doubled the national debt. King George III, now sitting high as the monarch of all North American lands east of the Mississippi, tried to exert a little muscle and tighten his rein on the colonies. This vast kingdom would require not only further sources of revenue but additional administration, or so the king thought.

One of King George's edicts was the Proclamation of 1763, whereby the king established a boundary beyond which colonists could not settle. However, this did little to dampen the pioneer spirit. In fact, it spurred many adventurous souls to further exploration and trespassing.

No Taxation Without Representation

When Parliament tried to raise revenues at home, the British subjects rioted in protest of additional levies, and they succeeded in making their point. Still in need of money, the British government looked across the ocean.

Parliament levied high duties on various commodities needed in the colonies — everyday items such as molasses and sugar. Thus, the Sugar Act, passed in 1764, became the first significant tax demanded of colonists. Furthermore, Parliament passed the Currency Act, whereby the colonies could not issue their own money. All transactions had to be made with gold. This angered the independent-minded colonists, who did not want to be financially dependent on England.

In addition, Parliament decided to enforce a previous law that had been passed in the 1650s but largely ignored. The Acts of Trade and Navigation, commonly known as Navigation Acts, were designed to protect commerce. The Navigation Act of 1651 stipulated that goods imported or exported by British colonies (including those in Africa, Asia, or America) had to be shipped on vessels constructed by British shipbuilders. The crews sailing these vessels also had to have 75 percent British crewmen. Goods from the colonies also had to arrive on British ships. The Act of 1660 stated that the colonists could ship particular items such as tobacco, rice, and indigo only to another British colony or to the mother country. That meant the colonists were not permitted to trade with other countries. Further acts prevented the manufacture of products such as hats and iron in the colonies, for it was thought industry in America would threaten its stability in England. The Navigation Acts weren't repealed until 1849.

New England town meetings were still common in the 1760s, and it was at one of these that the colonists bonded around the famous slogan “No taxation without representation.” When the New Englanders protested peacefully with a boycott of English goods, Parliament took little notice. Shortly thereafter, the Quartering Act of 1765 declared that colonial citizens would have to provide food and housing for royal troops, a decree that understandably cast a financial hardship on the colonials as well as a blatant invasion of their personal privacy.

The Stamp Act

If the mother country hadn't already seemed tax happy, the worst was yet to come as the British Parliament began to tax even more products. This time the Stamp Act required colonists to pay extra for newspapers, land deeds, dice, and card games — even graduation diplomas, since every paper document would require a revenue stamp from a British agent. This further infuriated the colonists, who earnestly held to the belief that these taxes were the result of their lack of representation in the British Parliament. Interestingly enough, Prime Minister Grenville had given the colonies an opportunity

Prior to the enactment of the Grenville Program in 1765, the Crown's taxes on the colonists had been external — in other words, taxes on commerce that America engaged in with the rest of the world, i.e. tariffs. The Stamp Act, passed on March 22, 1765, was the first internal tax, a tax on activities of the colonists within their own localities.

The dissenters succeeded in getting the measure repealed, but the victory was bittersweet. The next edict — the Declaratory Act — stated that the British Parliament could create laws for the colonies however it saw fit. The Townshend Acts levied tariffs on imports such as glass, lead, paint, and tea. The colonial protest was alive and well, and in April 1770, Parliament repealed the Townshend taxes, except for the levy on tea.

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