The Road to War

As a result of Great Britain winning the Seven Year’s War (also known as the French and Indian War in America), France ceded its territory east of the Mississippi river to Great Britain. However that victory came with enormous war costs: over $21B in today’s dollars. At that time in history, the American colonists enjoyed the highest standard of living in the world. Who better to pay for a war that was partially for the colonists’ benefit? That thinking led several mis-steps by Parliament.

In 1763, to ease relations with American Indians, Britain imposed a no-settlement line west of the Appalachians. From the colonists viewpoint this action took control of the western continent from the settlers and put it in the hands of far-off administrators.

In 1764, George Grenville, then Prime Minister of Britain, imposed the Sugar Act. This placed a high duty on refined sugar and prohibited foreign rum from entering the Colonies, with a monopoly given to the British West Indies planters. Boston citizens objected to the tax on grounds that they had no representation in Parliament to look out for their rights as British citizens.

Parliament then passed the Currency Act, which withdrew large amounts of paper currency from circulation.

Prime Minister Grenville next added a stamp duty on a wide variety of transactions. This hit the Colonies hard, as its express purpose was to raise revenue for Britain. Since paper currency was in short supply, this internal tax created an uproar throughout the colonies. Legal business ground to a halt and smuggling thrived. A colonial delegation meeting in 1765 at New York denounced the Stamp Tax as another violation of an Englishman’s rights to be taxed only through elected representatives. Grenville repealed the Stamp Tax, but only after Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which declared that Parliament had authority to bind legislate in the colonies “in all cases whatsoever”. The “Sons of Liberty”, early pre-Revolutionary forces, formed in opposition to the Stamp Tax. The Sons of Liberty called for boycotts on imported goods.

In 1767 Parliament imposed further taxes on everyday goods, including lead, glass, paper, and tea. Colonials again complained that they had been taxed by Parliament without their consent. Due to the unrest this caused, Britain moved two Army Regiments to Boston for police duty in 1768, and forcibly housed them in civilian quarters throughout the town. Colonials discussed whether Parliament had legal authority at all over the colonies. In 1770, before withdrawing the latest tax, five Bostonians were killed by the British in what is now called the Boston Massacre.

On December 16, 1773 American patriots destroyed a shipment of tea in Boston Harbor as a protest against British forced purchase of British goods – the ‘Boston Tea Party ’. The British retaliated by closing the port of Boston and prohibiting Boston’s traditional town meetings. Along with other acts, these became known as the Intolerable Acts by the Americans. The Intolerable Acts had several main points:

  1. The Boston Port Bill closed the port of Boston until restitution was made for the destroyed tea.
  2. The Massachusetts Government Act put in military government under General Thomas Gage over the Province.
  3. The Administration of Justice Act protected British officials from capital offenses.
  4. The fourth act revived the Quartering Act which housed British troops in occupied colonial dwellings.

Additionally, the Quebec Act removed all territory and fur trade between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and awarded it to Quebec.

Responding to these Acts led Massachusetts to establish a government outside of Boston, and subsequently with twelve colonies (all but Georgia) forming the First Continental Congress to coordinate resistance against the British occupying forces.

Most Colonists owned firearms. Smoothbore muskets were prevalent – to hunt for food, to fend off Indian attacks, to support the British militia forces. America could produce ball, but gunpowder was precious, and imported from overseas. Small amounts of gunpowder were stored at home, for obvious reasons. Most gunpowder was kept in town powder houses, and colonials withdrew only as much as needed.

The British government in the Colonies had previously attempted to seize Colonial ball and powder; in effect, a British version of firearms confiscation. Without firearms, ball and powder the Colonials could not resist British authority. The Continental Congress understood that, and directed the existing ’Safety Committees’ to boycott imported British goods, along with giving instructions to form a system of callout for action. Paul Revere was a key member of that callout system.

In June of 1774, Parliament shut off Boston from all business. Without food shipments from other colonies, Boston would have starved.

In 1775 King George declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion against the Crown. On April 14, 1775 British General Thomas Gage (military governor of Massachusetts) received instructions from the British Secretary of State to disarm the ‘rebels’ and imprison the rebellion’s leaders.

Next installment – Paul Revere’s ride!

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