home | 18-19th centuries index


previous | next

Conflict with the Mother Country

Britain's king and parliament expected their colonists to obey the mother country's laws and to maintain an interest in Great Britain's place in the world. The colonists were expected to provide Britain with raw materials and to buy finished goods from Britain, or goods that passed through Britain and to the colonists on British ships.

Also, for advantage to merchants in the mother country a Woolens Act had been passed in 1699 by Britain's parliament. It banned colonists from selling woolen goods or hats, goods to be sold by British merchants. Another act forbade the cutting down of white pines on public lands, such pines to be reserved for use as masts by the royal navy. And a law forbade the colonists building new iron forges and mills.

A tariff was collected by the mother country on molasses imported into the colonies from the French West Indies - to the dislike of New Englanders who needed it to produce rum. But the colonists continued to do whatever business they could get away with – not unlike Chinese merchants in the 1500s who violated prohibitions by their government on trade.

A spirit of self-government had arisen in the colonies. Between the years 1721 to 1742, Prime Minister Robert Walpole had encouraged this with a policy called "salutary neglect." Wishing to concentrate on European matters, Walpole relaxed colonial regulations and allowed the colonists to govern themselves. Each colony had an assembly of representatives elected by respected men – men who owned at least a little property. These assemblies enforced laws, collected taxes, budgeted expenditures and pursued a few small public works programs.

Colonists saw their government as based on British law, which they viewed as the most advanced in the world and based on a constitution known for balancing the interests of the monarchy, the nobility and the common people. Many colonists saw themselves as free, but many also saw the monarch as a father to his people, to whom they owed obedience. The Scots, Irish, Dutch and French in England's colonies were less attached to the British monarchy. The Germans were also less attached, although George II, who reigned from 1727 to 1760, was a German monarch (from Hanover) who spoke little English.

Taxes and other Conflicts

Colonists in America disliked the disdain of government officials sent to them from Britain. Class prestige was bigger in Britain than was common in the colonies, and many in the mother country looked upon those in the colonies as crude and beneath them. Benjamin Franklin was a provincial agent in England beginning in 1757 and he was subjected to this, and some of his biographers were to suggest that it contributed to Franklin taking a commanding role in the coming revolt for independence.

Other conflicts between colonists and Britain had connections with the Seven Years' War in Europe (1755-63) – a war called the "French and Indian War" in the colonies. The colonists were expected to do their part in helping the mother country fight those endangering them on the frontier. It was a war fought largely with British troops, with a small number of colonists participating – among them a major in his twenties named George Washington. In place of the colonists providing troops, they were expected to help the mother country's "regulars" with food and shelter. The colonists were also expected to obey the law against selling goods to the enemy: the French and Spanish. But colonists did, with Frenchmen and Spaniards in the Caribbean area willing to pay good prices for food for their slave populations.

The Seven Years' War impoverished England's treasury, encouraging the English to negotiate an end to the war. This was accomplished in 1763, to England's advantage. France lost its possessions in the Americas to England, except for a few small islands in the Caribbean and on the St. Lawrence River. Britain emerged from the war with its military still in the Americas and would be looking forward to withdrawing its troops from the frontier. To reduce the burden on its troops, the British government in 1763 decided to keep white settlers and Indians apart by banning new settlements beyond the frontier mountains, and this annoyed settlers.

Seeking relief from its large national debt, Britain expected the colonists to help with taxes. Tax rates in the colonies had been low compared to rates in the mother country. And in the colonies in place of taxes user fees were prevalent. New taxes embodied in parliament's Revenue and Stamp Acts were followed by riots in the colonies and boycotts of British goods. The rioting and the strong-arm tactics of colonists called the Sons of Liberty disturbed some well-to-do colonists. They preferred British taxation to mob rule. Britain's parliament responded to resistance to their taxation with appeasement: they repealed the Stamp Act. Some taxes remained, but parliament defended their authority in the colonies by passing the Declaratory Act. It stated that the colonies and plantations were "subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and Parliament of Great Britain." The Declaratory Act stated that parliament had the "full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever." Colonists remained disturbed by their lack of political power and what some called taxation without representation.

In the early 1770s the mother country tried to help its economically distressed East India Company. It gave the company the right to sell tea directly to the colonists, and at a cheaper price, rather than to colonial importers. Importers were upset and began a boycott of the East India Company's tea along the Atlantic coast. In late 1773 in Boston some angry businessmen disguised themselves as Indians and threw 342 chests of tea into the harbor waters – to be known as the Boston Tea Party. The mother country chose to retaliate against the lawbreakers. George III, king since 1760, viewed the matter in absolute terms. Either the lawbreakers were going to triumph, he proclaimed, or his authority would triumph. His agents closed Boston Harbor, and the powers of the mother country's governor in Massachusetts were expanded. Local elections in Massachusetts were curtailed. Town meetings were forbidden, and colonists were obliged to pay for the tea dumped into the bay.

Closing the harbor meant economic ruin for Boston. People in the twelve other colonies also felt threatened, believing that if the mother country was inclined to punish the Massachusetts colony in this manner they might also decide at sometime to do the same to them. And they sent food and money as relief to Boston.

Among leading men in the colonies much letter writing took place, which led to an agreement for a "Grand Congress" in Philadelphia. In the early summer of 1774, every colony except Georgia selected delegates to the congress. Delegates from Canada were also invited, but they did not attend.

The Congress met in September – to be known as the First Continental Congress. Among the delegates were George Washington, John Adams, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry. The Congress supported a boycott of trade with the mother country -- a boycott to have member committees in communities in each of the colonies.

In a concluding document signed in October 1774, titled a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, they complained of parliament having claimed "the right of power to bind the people of America" with statues of all kinds and of having created "commissioners with unconstitutional powers." They wrote of "grievous acts and measures" to which "Americans cannot submit," and they announced their intention to address "the people of Great Britain" and "his Majesty," in hope of resolutions.


Copyright © 2002-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.