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Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774

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Imperial Reforms and Colonial

Protests, 1763-1774

Figure 5.1 The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering (1774),

attributed to Philip Dawe,

depicts the most publicized tarring and feathering incident of the American

Revolution. The victim is John Malcolm, a

customs official loyal to the British crown.

Chapter Outline

5.1 Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and Indian War

5.2 The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty

5.3 The Townshend Acts and Colonial Protest

5.4 The Destruction of the Tea and the Coercive Acts

5.5 Disaffection: The First Continental Congress and American Identity


The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man, or Tarring and Feathering (Figure 5.1), shows

five Patriots tarring and

feathering the Commissioner of Customs, John Malcolm, a sea captain, army officer,

and staunch Loyalist.

The print shows the Boston Tea Party, a protest against the Tea Act of 1773, and

the Liberty Tree, an elm

tree near Boston Common that became a rallying point against the Stamp Act of 1765.

When the crowd

threatened to hang Malcolm if he did not renounce his position as a royal customs

officer, he reluctantly

agreed and the protestors allowed him to go home. The scene represents the

animosity toward those who

supported royal authority and illustrates the high tide of unrest in the colonies

after the British government

imposed a series of imperial reform measures during the years 1763–1774.

The government’s formerly lax oversight of the colonies ended as the architects of

the British Empire put

these new reforms in place. The British hoped to gain greater control over colonial

trade and frontier

settlement as well as to reduce the administrative cost of the colonies and the

enormous debt left by the

French and Indian War. Each step the British took, however, generated a backlash.

Over time, imperial

reforms pushed many colonists toward separation from the British Empire.


Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774

5.1 Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and

Indian War

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

• Discuss the status of Great Britain’s North American colonies in the years


following the French and Indian War

• Describe the size and scope of the British debt at the end of the French

and Indian War

• Explain how the British Parliament responded to the debt crisis

• Outline the purpose of the Proclamation Line, the Sugar Act, and the

Currency Act

Great Britain had much to celebrate in 1763. The long and costly war with France

had finally ended, and

Great Britain had emerged victorious. British subjects on both sides of the

Atlantic celebrated the strength

of the British Empire. Colonial pride ran high; to live under the British

Constitution and to have defeated

the hated French Catholic menace brought great joy to British Protestants

everywhere in the Empire. From

Maine to Georgia, British colonists joyously celebrated the victory and sang the

refrain of “Rule, Britannia!

Britannia, rule the waves! Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!”

Despite the celebratory mood, the victory over France also produced major problems

within the British

Empire, problems that would have serious consequences for British colonists in the

Americas. During the

war, many Indian tribes had sided with the French, who supplied them with guns.

After the 1763 Treaty

of Paris that ended the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War), British

colonists had to defend

the frontier, where French colonists and their tribal allies remained a powerful

force. The most organized

resistance, Pontiac’s Rebellion, highlighted tensions the settlers increasingly

interpreted in racial terms.

The massive debt the war generated at home, however, proved to be the most serious

issue facing Great

Britain. The frontier had to be secure in order to prevent another costly war.

Greater enforcement of

imperial trade laws had to be put into place. Parliament had to find ways to raise

revenue to pay off the

crippling debt from the war. Everyone would have to contribute their expected

share, including the British

subjects across the Atlantic.

Figure 5.2 (credit “1765”: modification of work by the United Kingdom Government)

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Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774



With the end of the French and Indian War, Great Britain claimed a vast new expanse

of territory, at least

on paper. Under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, the French territory known as New

France had ceased to

exist. British territorial holdings now extended from Canada to Florida, and

British military focus shifted to

maintaining peace in the king’s newly enlarged lands. However, much of the land in

the American British

Empire remained under the control of powerful native confederacies, which made any

claims of British

mastery beyond the Atlantic coastal settlements hollow. Great Britain maintained

ten thousand troops in

North America after the war ended in 1763 to defend the borders and repel any

attack by their imperial


British colonists, eager for fresh land, poured over the Appalachian Mountains to

stake claims. The

western frontier had long been a “middle ground” where different imperial powers

(British, French,

Spanish) had interacted and compromised with native peoples. That era of

accommodation in the “middle

ground” came to an end after the French and Indian War. Virginians (including

George Washington) and

other land-hungry colonists had already raised tensions in the 1740s with their

quest for land. Virginia

landowners in particular eagerly looked to diversify their holdings beyond tobacco,

which had stagnated

in price and exhausted the fertility of the lands along the Chesapeake Bay. They

invested heavily in the

newly available land. This westward movement brought the settlers into conflict as

never before with

Indian tribes, such as the Shawnee, Seneca-Cayuga, Wyandot, and Delaware, who

increasingly held their

ground against any further intrusion by white settlers.

The treaty that ended the war between France and Great Britain proved to be a

significant blow to native

peoples, who had viewed the conflict as an opportunity to gain additional trade

goods from both sides.

With the French defeat, many Indians who had sided with France lost a valued

trading partner as well

as bargaining power over the British. Settlers’ encroachment on their land, as well

as the increased British

military presence, changed the situation on the frontier dramatically. After the

war, British troops took

over the former French forts but failed to court favor with the local tribes by

distributing ample gifts, as the

French had done. They also significantly reduced the amount of gunpowder and

ammunition they sold to

the Indians, worsening relationships further.

Indians’ resistance to colonists drew upon the teachings of Delaware (Lenni Lenape)

prophet Neolin and

the leadership of Ottawa war chief Pontiac. Neolin was a spiritual leader who

preached a doctrine of

shunning European culture and expelling Europeans from native lands. Neolin’s

beliefs united Indians

from many villages. In a broad-based alliance that came to be known as Pontiac’s

Rebellion, Pontiac led a

loose coalition of these native tribes against the colonists and the British army.

Pontiac started bringing his coalition together as early as 1761, urging Indians to

“drive [the Europeans]

out and make war upon them.” The conflict began in earnest in 1763, when Pontiac

and several hundred

Ojibwas, Potawatomis, and Hurons laid siege to Fort Detroit. At the same time,

Senecas, Shawnees, and

Delawares laid siege to Fort Pitt. Over the next year, the war spread along the

backcountry from Virginia to

Pennsylvania. Pontiac’s Rebellion (also known as Pontiac’s War) triggered horrific

violence on both sides.

Firsthand reports of Indian attacks tell of murder, scalping, dismemberment, and

burning at the stake.

These stories incited a deep racial hatred among colonists against all Indians.

The actions of a group of Scots-Irish settlers from Paxton (or Paxtang),

Pennsylvania, in December 1763,

illustrates the deadly situation on the frontier. Forming a mob known as the Paxton

Boys, these

frontiersmen attacked a nearby group of Conestoga of the Susquehannock tribe. The

Conestoga had

lived peacefully with local settlers, but the Paxton Boys viewed all Indians as

savages and they brutally

murdered the six Conestoga they found at home and burned their houses. When

Governor John Penn put

the remaining fourteen Conestoga in protective custody in Lancaster, Pennsylvania,

the Paxton Boys broke

into the building and killed and scalped the Conestoga they found there (Figure

5.3). Although Governor

Penn offered a reward for the capture of any Paxton Boys involved in the murders,

no one ever identified

the attackers. Some colonists reacted to the incident with outrage. Benjamin

Franklin described the Paxton

Boys as “the barbarous Men who committed the atrocious act, in Defiance of

Government, of all Laws


Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774

human and divine, and to the eternal Disgrace of their Country and Colour,” stating

that “the Wickedness

cannot be covered, the Guilt will lie on the whole Land, till Justice is done on

the Murderers. The blood

of the innocent will cry to heaven for vengeance.” Yet, as the inability to bring

the perpetrators to justice

clearly indicates, the Paxton Boys had many more supporters than critics.

Figure 5.3 This nineteenth-century lithograph depicts the massacre of Conestoga in

1763 at Lancaster,

Pennsylvania, where they had been placed in protective custody. None of the

attackers, members of the Paxton

Boys, were ever identified.

Click and Explore

Visit Explore

( to read the full

text of Benjamin Franklin’s “Benjamin Franklin,

An Account of the Paxton Boys’ Murder

of the Conestoga Indians, 1764.”

Pontiac’s Rebellion and the Paxton Boys’ actions were examples of early American

race wars, in which

both sides saw themselves as inherently different from the other and believed the

other needed to be

eradicated. The prophet Neolin’s message, which he said he received in a vision

from the Master of Life,

was: “Wherefore do you suffer the whites to dwell upon your lands? Drive them away;

wage war against

them.” Pontiac echoed this idea in a meeting, exhorting tribes to join together

against the British: “It is

important for us, my brothers, that we exterminate from our lands this nation which

seeks only to destroy

us.” In his letter suggesting “gifts” to the natives of smallpox-infected blankets,

Field Marshal Jeffrey

Amherst said, “You will do well to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as

well as every other

method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.” Pontiac’s Rebellion came

to an end in 1766, when it

became clear that the French, whom Pontiac had hoped would side with his forces,

would not be returning.

The repercussions, however, would last much longer. Race relations between Indians

and whites remained

poisoned on the frontier.

Well aware of the problems on the frontier, the British government took steps to

try to prevent bloodshed

and another costly war. At the beginning of Pontiac’s uprising, the British issued

the Proclamation of 1763,

which forbade white settlement west of the Proclamation Line, a borderline running

along the spine of

the Appalachian Mountains (Figure 5.4). The Proclamation Line aimed to forestall

further conflict on the

frontier, the clear flashpoint of tension in British North America. British

colonists who had hoped to move

west after the war chafed at this restriction, believing the war had been fought

and won to ensure the right

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Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774


to settle west. The Proclamation Line therefore came as a setback to their vision

of westward expansion.

Figure 5.4 This map shows the status of the American colonies in 1763, after the

end of the French and Indian War.

Although Great Britain won control of the territory east of the Mississippi, the

Proclamation Line of 1763 prohibited

British colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains. (credit:

modification of work by the National Atlas of

the United States)


Great Britain’s newly enlarged empire meant a greater financial burden, and the

mushrooming debt from

the war was a major cause of concern. The war nearly doubled the British national

debt, from £75 million

in 1756 to £133 million in 1763. Interest payments alone consumed over half the

national budget, and the

continuing military presence in North America was a constant drain. The Empire

needed more revenue to

replenish its dwindling coffers. Those in Great Britain believed that British

subjects in North America, as

the major beneficiaries of Great Britain’s war for global supremacy, should

certainly shoulder their share

of the financial burden.

The British government began increasing revenues by raising taxes at home, even as

various interest

groups lobbied to keep their taxes low. Powerful members of the aristocracy, well

represented in

Parliament, successfully convinced Prime Minister John Stuart, third earl of Bute,

to refrain from raising

taxes on land. The greater tax burden, therefore, fell on the lower classes in the

form of increased import

duties, which raised the prices of imported goods such as sugar and tobacco. George

Grenville succeeded

Bute as prime minister in 1763. Grenville determined to curtail government spending

and make sure that,

as subjects of the British Empire, the American colonists did their part to pay

down the massive debt.


The new era of greater British interest in the American colonies through imperial

reforms picked up in

pace in the mid-1760s. In 1764, Prime Minister Grenville introduced the Currency

Act of 1764, prohibiting

the colonies from printing additional paper money and requiring colonists to pay

British merchants in


Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774

gold and silver instead of the colonial paper money already in circulation. The

Currency Act aimed to

standardize the currency used in Atlantic trade, a logical reform designed to help

stabilize the Empire’s

economy. This rule brought American economic activity under greater British

control. Colonists relied on

their own paper currency to conduct trade and, with gold and silver in short

supply, they found their

finances tight. Not surprisingly, they grumbled about the new imperial currency


Grenville also pushed Parliament to pass the Sugar Act of 1764, which actually

lowered duties on British

molasses by half, from six pence per gallon to three. Grenville designed this

measure to address the

problem of rampant colonial smuggling with the French sugar islands in the West

Indies. The act

attempted to make it easier for colonial traders, especially New England mariners

who routinely engaged

in illegal trade, to comply with the imperial law.

To give teeth to the 1764 Sugar Act, the law intensified enforcement provisions.

Prior to the 1764 act,

colonial violations of the Navigation Acts had been tried in local courts, where

sympathetic colonial juries

refused to convict merchants on trial. However, the Sugar Act required violators to

be tried in vice-

admiralty courts. These crown-sanctioned tribunals, which settled disputes that

occurred at sea, operated

without juries. Some colonists saw this feature of the 1764 act as dangerous. They

argued that trial by

jury had long been honored as a basic right of Englishmen under the British

Constitution. To deprive

defendants of a jury, they contended, meant reducing liberty-loving British

subjects to political slavery. In

the British Atlantic world, some colonists perceived this loss of liberty as

parallel to the enslavement of


As loyal British subjects, colonists in America cherished their Constitution, an

unwritten system of

government that they celebrated as the best political system in the world. The

British Constitution

prescribed the roles of the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.

Each entity provided a

check and balance against the worst tendencies of the others. If the King had too

much power, the result

would be tyranny. If the Lords had too much power, the result would be oligarchy.

If the Commons

had the balance of power, democracy or mob rule would prevail. The British

Constitution promised

representation of the will of British subjects, and without such representation,

even the indirect tax of the

Sugar Act was considered a threat to the settlers’ rights as British subjects.

Furthermore, some American

colonists felt the colonies were on equal political footing with Great Britain. The

Sugar Act meant they

were secondary, mere adjuncts to the Empire. All subjects of the British crown knew

they had liberties

under the constitution. The Sugar Act suggested that some in Parliament labored to

deprive them of what

made them uniquely British.

5.2 The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

• Explain the purpose of the 1765 Stamp Act

• Describe the colonial responses to the Stamp Act

In 1765, the British Parliament moved beyond the efforts during the previous two

years to better regulate

westward expansion and trade by putting in place the Stamp Act. As a direct tax on

the colonists, the

Stamp Act imposed an internal tax on almost every type of printed paper colonists

used, including

newspapers, legal documents, and playing cards. While the architects of the Stamp

Act saw the measure

as a way to defray the costs of the British Empire, it nonetheless gave rise to the

first major colonial protest

against British imperial control as expressed in the famous slogan “no taxation

without representation.”

The Stamp Act reinforced the sense among some colonists that Parliament was not

treating them as equals

of their peers across the Atlantic.

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Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774



Prime Minister Grenville, author of the Sugar Act of 1764, introduced the Stamp Act

in the early spring

of 1765. Under this act, anyone who used or purchased anything printed on paper had

to buy a revenue

stamp (Figure 5.5) for it. In the same year, 1765, Parliament also passed the

Quartering Act, a law that

attempted to solve the problems of stationing troops in North America. The

Parliament understood the

Stamp Act and the Quartering Act as an assertion of their power to control colonial


Figure 5.5 Under the Stamp Act, anyone who used or purchased anything printed on

paper had to buy a revenue

stamp for it. Image (a) shows a partial proof sheet of one-penny stamps. Image (b)

provides a close-up of a one-

penny stamp. (credit a: modification of work by the United Kingdom Government;

credit b: modification of work by the

United Kingdom Government)

The Stamp Act signaled a shift in British policy after the French and Indian War.

Before the Stamp Act,

the colonists had paid taxes to their colonial governments or indirectly through

higher prices, not directly

to the Crown’s appointed governors. This was a time-honored liberty of

representative legislatures of the

colonial governments. The passage of the Stamp Act meant that starting on November

1, 1765, the colonists

would contribute £60,000 per year—17 percent of the total cost—to the upkeep of the

ten thousand British

soldiers in North America (Figure 5.6). Because the Stamp Act raised constitutional

issues, it triggered the

first serious protest against British imperial policy.


Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774

Figure 5.6 The announcement of the Stamp Act, seen in this newspaper publication

(a), raised numerous concerns

among colonists in America. Protests against British imperial policy took many

forms, such as this mock stamp (b)

whose text reads “An Emblem of the Effects of the STAMP. O! the Fatal STAMP.”

Parliament also asserted its prerogative in 1765 with the Quartering Act. The

Quartering Act of 1765

addressed the problem of housing British soldiers stationed in the American

colonies. It required that they

be provided with barracks or places to stay in public houses, and that if extra

housing were necessary,

then troops could be stationed in barns and other uninhabited private buildings. In

addition, the costs

of the troops’ food and lodging fell to the colonists. Since the time of James II,

who ruled from 1685 to

1688, many British subjects had mistrusted the presence of a standing army during

peacetime, and having

to pay for the soldiers’ lodging and food was especially burdensome. Widespread

evasion and disregard

for the law occurred in almost all the colonies, but the issue was especially

contentious in New York, the

headquarters of British forces. When fifteen hundred troops arrived in New York in

1766, the New York

Assembly refused to follow the Quartering Act.


For many British colonists living in America, the Stamp Act raised many concerns.

As a direct tax, it

appeared to be an unconstitutional measure, one that deprived freeborn British

subjects of their liberty,

a concept they defined broadly to include various rights and privileges they

enjoyed as British subjects,

including the right to representation. According to the unwritten British

Constitution, only representatives

for whom British subjects voted could tax them. Parliament was in charge of

taxation, and although it was

a representative body, the colonies did not have “actual” (or direct)

representation in it. Parliamentary

members who supported the Stamp Act argued that the colonists had virtual

representation, because

the architects of the British Empire knew best how to maximize returns from its

possessions overseas.

However, this argument did not satisfy the protesters, who viewed themselves as

having the same right

as all British subjects to avoid taxation without their consent. With no

representation in the House of

Commons, where bills of taxation originated, they felt themselves deprived of this

inherent right.

The British government knew the colonists might object to the Stamp Act’s expansion

of parliamentary

power, but Parliament believed the relationship of the colonies to the Empire was

one of dependence,

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Chapter 5 | Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774



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