The French and Indian War (The Seven Years' War)

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In what ways did the French and Indian War (1754–63) alter the political relations between Britain and its American colonies?

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The French and Indian War essentially bankrupted the British Government. Parliament belived that the American colonies bore a share of the burden of the war costs that resulted from military operations in North America. They proposed to levy taxes on many items supplied by the colonial governments without charge.

The colonists felt that it was unfair that a political body in which they were not represented should tax them. This was not a new conflict. Royal Governors and colonial assemblies fought over taxes to operate the government without consent of the people's representatives. In New York Colony the Governor, Colonel Thomas Dongan passed the Charter of Liberties and Priveleges that gave the vote to all freeholders and stated that the colony be governed by the king, governor, and the "people in assembly gathered".

England's efforts to restrict the right of free trade by colonial merchants through the Navigation and Sugar Acts, led to discontent and encouraged a thriving smuggling operation along the Atlantic seaboard. In 1764 New York merchants petitioned Parliament not to renew the Navigation Act. This appeal failed. In October 1765 representatives from nine colonies met in New York and proposed that the colonies coordinate their effort to have representation in Parliament or give taxing authority to the colonial assemblies. Supporters in England pointed out the duties levied on colonial goods could be paid in England and the cause of ill-will removed.

The final straw for many American colonists was the Quebec Act that granted a degree of autonmy to Canada, restricted settlement west of the Appalaichan Mountains and granted free exercise of religion to Canada's French Catholics. This last clause created a furor in Massachusetts and other colonies as the first step of uniting Protestant Americans with the Pope in Rome.

By 1774 when the First Continental Congress agreed to meet again, Lexington and Concord brought open rupture between the colonies and Parliament and made rebels of the most prominent men in the colonies and founded a new nation.

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The French and Indian War had a profound effect on the political and economic relationship between the Colonists and the British.  On one hand, the Colonists felt that they were owed a bit more than they received for their support of the British during the conflict.  When the British recognized the need for money in the wake of the war's conclusion, they leaned on the Colonists for financial support.  This caused resentment within the Colonists, who might have felt that a bit more autonomy was the more appropriate response.  The subsequent acts and duties placed on the Colonists angered the Colonists on both political and economic rights.  On one hand, acts such as the Quartering Act and the Stamp Act seemed to be direct affronts to the Colonists' desire to live free from external interference.  Additionally, the financial burden that was caused by the Sugar Act as well as the Intolerable Acts caused great economic hardship, impacting the way in which colonists made and kept money.  The good will that might have existed in the hue of victory disappeared very quickly with the need for money and the belief in British Mercantilism that the Colonists had to be the sole source for the generation and facilitation of such funds and the repayment of British debt.

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Basically, the French and Indian War and its aftermath ruined the political relations between the mother country and the colonies.  This happened for two main reasons:

  • First, the British tried to tax the colonies much more and in different ways than they had before.  They felt it was necessary in order to help pay for the war.
  • Second, the British started to put much more effort into controlling the colonies.  They stopped their policy of "benign neglect" that had pretty much let the colonies alone and put in its place a system that actually tried to enforce laws like those against smuggling.

Because of these two changes, the colonists became very upset with Britain and created a movement that ended up demanding independence.

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