What was Britain's imperial policy towards the American colonies before 1760, and how did it change after that time?

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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British imperial policy towards the American colonies before 1760 had economic and political ramifications.

The economic development of the colonies was based upon the British mercantile policy, where by the colonies would provide new sources of raw materials for the mother country. In return, the colonies bought the finished products produced by Britain. As far back as 1650 British enforcement of the policy was weak, and as a result the colonies had a fair amount of economic independence. By the 18th century Parliament passed a series of acts (Navigation acts, Molasses act 1733, and the Iron act 1750) in an effort to regulate the colonies more carefully. It would be these political actions that altered the relationship between the colonies and Britain forever. They led Britain to engage in war with other nations to determine who would economically and politically control North America and ultimately result in the American Revolution.

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mkoren | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The British had colonies in North America since the 1600s. There were several reasons for establishing these colonies. The main goals of the British government were to benefit from the colonies economically and politically. There were a series of laws passed that were designed to control trade so that British industries could profit from the colonies. Certain products could only be bought from British companies, and trade had to be done on British ships. However, the British were very lax regarding the enforcement of these regulations. Smuggling was common, and the British did little about it.

Around 1760, things began to change. Partially because of the French and Indian War, the colonies were becoming more expensive to run. Great Britain realized they could increase their revenue if they started to enforce the laws that already existed and if they passed new laws. Thus, after the French and Indian War ended, the British passed a series of laws that impacted the colonies and that dealt with the new lands Great Britain received from France as a result of the French and Indian War.

New tax laws were passed. Both the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts were tax laws designed to raise revenue. The colonists strongly objected to these laws because the colonists didn’t have representatives in Parliament that could speak about and vote on these proposed tax laws. The colonists argued that their rights as British citizens were being violated.

The British also asked the colonists to share in some of the costs of running the colonies. The Quartering Act made the colonists provide housing for the British soldiers enforcing the unpopular Proclamation of 1763. There also was a crackdown on smuggling. Writs of assistance or search warrants were legalized. The goal was to reduce smuggling and to encourage colonists to follow the existing British trade laws that served to benefit Great Britain. If people would buy British products, this would help Great Britain economically and financially.

The development of these laws led to many additional events that culminated in the American Revolution. This shift in policy around 1760 helped to raise tensions between the colonists and the British, eventually leading to the Revolutionary War.

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