The British Are Coming… With Taxes: 10 Acts That Incited Colonial Fury

The British flag with an angry Uncle Sam overlay main

The British winning the French and Indian War led to many problems with its American colonies. Western lands were closed to settlement. Colonists were upset about being taxed without representation. The increased presence of troops led to problems. And, a tea protectionist measure caused even more.  Independence was the ultimate result. 

Americans Start To Get Mad 

We celebrate the Fourth of July each year with fireworks, barbecues, and sales (a holiday is not a holiday without sales).  This “date that will live in infamy” (in the eyes of Great Britain) celebrates the day in 1776 when we signed the Declaration of Independence.  

The fighting began a year before.  But the problems built up over time.  

The true difficulty began after the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.  Great Britain found out that winning a war and expanding its territory brought a lot of problems.  

[1]  Writs of Assistance 

Great Britain saw the colonies as a profit-making enterprise.  They practiced mercantilism, an economic system whereby an imperial country profits from its colonies by maintaining a monopoly of trade.  The colonists resisted, including by practicing smuggling.  

Great Britain used open-ended search warrants, known as “general warrants,” to try to stop smuggling.  American colonies opposed these “writs of assistance,” arguing they were a grave threat to privacy.  John Adams later said this battle was when “child independence was born.”

[2]  Proclamation of 1763

The colonists expected that once the British defeated the French that it would mean they would have more chances to migrate westward.  The colonies began as a small strip of land on the Atlantic Coast.  Now, Great Britain controlled land to the Mississippi River.  

What happened? King George III declared all lands west of the Appalachians off-limits to colonial settlers.  This “proclamation of 1763” was intended to keep the peace between colonists and Native Americans.  But, colonists saw it as an unjust limit on their potential to thrive.  

[3] Stamp Act 

War is expensive.  Great Britain had a large war debt. And, did not the war benefit the colonies, including expanding the territory for them to live?  Plus, more territory meant more upkeep.

Great Britain passed a stamp tax in 1765.  A range of printed materials, including playing cards, now required paying a tax.  The colonists found this unjust. 

They had no role in passing such a tax unlike taxes applied by colonial legislatures.  No taxation without representation!  

[4]  Quartering Acts 

A larger presence in the colonies, including more territory and efforts to maintain a stronger hold on the colonies, also meant an increased number of British troops.  Where to put them?

The Quartering Act (1765) provided that soldiers would be placed in barracks and public houses.  If necessary, they then would be quartered (housed) in inns, alehouses, barns, and other buildings.   The Brits did not expect them to stay in private homes.  

The colonists were still very upset.  A standing army was seen as a threat to liberty.  We later ratified the Third Amendment to draw a clear line between civil and military powers.  

[5]  Declaratory Act

There was a tremendous amount of opposition to the Stamp Act.  People who tried to enforce it might be threatened with tar and feathers.  Great Britain finally decided it was a bad idea.

Great Britain repealed the Stamp Act.  But, they didn’t want to let those upstart colonists get too big for their britches. 

The British Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, asserting power over the colonies in “all cases whatsoever.”  This didn’t go over well at all.  

[6]  Townshend Acts

Charles Townshend, in charge of revenues, decided in 1767 it was time for another colonial tax.  

These “Townshend duties” on paint, paper, lead, glass, and tea would be applied when the products arrived in the colonies.  He thought this would be okay since it was not an “internal” tax like the hated Stamp Act.  The colonists were not satisfied.

Colonists began to boycott British goods.  The Brits repealed all the taxes except on tea.   

[7]  Boston Massacre

The increased number of British troops in colonial America led to conflict.  Boston was a particularly rowdy place, including having a large population with many people often out of work.  

Opposition groups such as the Sons of Liberty also egged people on.  The “Boston Massacre” arose in 1770 during a protest of the Townshend duties.  A large crowd started to throw snowballs and other things at soldiers. Shots were fired.  Five colonists were killed.  

Just where the blame should be placed was in dispute. John Adams defended the soldiers in court.  Others thought the British committed a serious wrong.  Or at least were big trouble.  

[8]  Tea Act

Tea was important to Great Britain for a variety of reasons, including as a popular colonial beverage.  The tax on tea still rankled.  And, then, Great Britain gave the British East India Company a special monopoly on tea distribution in the colonies.  The company needed the money.

This 1773 “Tea Act” supposedly helped everyone since it provided colonists with cheap tea.  Nonetheless, American smugglers were upset (hurt their profit margins) and others saw it as one more British overreach.  The Boston Tea Party dumped a bunch of tea overboard.  

[9]  Coercive/Intolerable Acts 

Great Britain passed a bunch of “coercive” acts to punish Boston, which the colonists labeled “intolerable” acts.   Boston’s harbor was closed until that tea was paid for.  

The economic penalty was made worse by limiting the power of Massachusetts to self-govern.  It also allowed British officials charged with wrongdoing to be tried away from local juries.  

And, a new quartering act was passed. These were “abuses” cited in the Declaration of Independence.   Armed rebellion began a year later. 

[10] Last Straw 

The beginning of the fighting did not end hopes for a final peaceful resolution.  

The colonists sent an “olive branch petition” to the king that symbolized their loyalty.  The king refused to accept it.  The colonies were no longer subject to his protection.

It would be the last straw.  Independence was soon declared.  And, won in 1783.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.