The period between the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 and the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775 was one of increasing political unrest in the American colonies. Britain had just fought a seven-year war with France on the American frontier to protect its colonies and...
The period between the end of the French and Indian War in 1763 and the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775 was one of increasing political unrest in the American colonies. Britain had just fought a seven-year war with France on the American frontier to protect its colonies and their inhabitants—a war which left the British government with staggering debts (£122 million in 1763, valued at roughly £17 billion in today's money). Desperate for funds, Parliament decided to tax the American colonists, on whose behalf, after all, the French and Indian War had been fought. They also decided to forbid colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains because the cost of defending any settlements beyond that region was formidably high.
The following decade saw a series of laws imposed on the colonists, all of which were deeply unpopular:
- The Proclamation of 1763 prohibited settlement west of the Appalachians without the express permission of the local Native American tribes. Americans who had already settled in the area were left unprotected, and those who wished to settle or purchase property there were forbidden to do so. The American colonists had been naturally advancing westward as the colonies grew and were not happy to be restricted in this way.
- The Sugar Act of 1764 followed, which taxed molasses. Interestingly, this act was just an enforcement of a law that had been on the books for 30 years (the Molasses Act of 1733), and it actually reduced the total tax on each gallon of molasses produced in the colonies. The stricter enforcement of the tax, however, irked the colonists, who protested against it.
- Undeterred, Parliament introduced the Stamp Act in 1764, which required all legal documents, newspapers, and pamphlets to use watermarked ("stamped") paper. The watermarked paper was taxed. The colonists were again upset and protested strongly; the Virginian assembly even refused to comply with the Act, and in October, representatives from 9 of the 13 colonies declared the Stamp Act effectively illegal because they had not been consulted by Parliament before the tax was levied on them. This is an example of the famous concept of "no taxation without representation," which became a rallying cry for the colonists who wanted to split from Great Britain.
- Also in 1764, Parliament declared in the Quartering Act that the colonial governments were responsible for paying to supply the British troops stationed in America. The colonists were already unhappy with the taxes and resented having to pay for the food and supplies used by British soldiers, feeling that this was surely the Crown's responsibility, not that of the local governments.
- In 1766, Parliament gave in to the protests against the Stamp Act and repealed it. However, they issued the Declaratory Act in response to the protests, stating that the British government retained the right to tax its colonies.
- In 1767, Parliament introduced the Townshend Revenue Act, taxing tea, glass, lead, paper, and paint in another attempt to raise funds to pay for the defence and administration of the colonies. The colonies again decried "taxation without representation," and more protests erupted.
- By 1768, the political situation had gotten so unstable that British troops were sent to Boston to clamp down on the protests and restore a measure of calm to the city. Sending in the army had the exact opposite effect on the citizens of Boston.
- In 1770, British soldiers opened fire on a crowd of Bostonians who were throwing snowballs at them. Five colonists died, and the event was dubbed "the Boston Massacre" by the American press. Those elements who wanted to separate from Britain made major use of the "Massacre" in their propaganda.
- In 1773, in a final attempt to raise tax revenue from the colonies, Parliament introduced the Tea Act. This Act prohibited the sale of any tea in North America except tea sold by the East India Company—tea to which the Townshend Revenue Act applied. (The tea was taxed, and colonists could not buy tea from any other source.) In retaliation, some Boston citizens climbed aboard some British ships and dumped crates of East India Company tea overboard in the famous "Boston Tea Party." Parliament considered this vandalism and destruction of government property and were outraged by the colonists' attitude.
- In 1774, the British had had enough and ordered military rule in Massachusetts, stripping its right to self-governance and stationing troops across the colony to forcibly quell the unrest. The orders were known in Britain as the Coercive Acts, and in America as the "Intolerable Acts." The colonists were appalled at the way Britain had seized control of one of their colonies, and less than a year later, armed conflict finally erupted with the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the "shot heard 'round the world."
The British Library and the Library of Congress both have very good resources about the events leading up to the Revolutionary War if you need more detail about any of the points listed above: