Of British Colonial Policies, 1763-1776

As time passed, the new colonies in present-day America began with little help from the parent country, Great Britain. However, through hard work, the colonists created a prosperous economy based on agriculture and trade, and they eventually started to govern themselves. With the French and Indian War came the loss of colonial need for British protection, but with it also came a new set of policies that eventually drove the colonies towards their separation. These policies emerged soon after the war, and carried on until 1776 with the Declaration of Independence. Starting from 1763 the British started a set of sensible policies aimed at alleviating the debt incurred during the French and Indian War, and later added necessary imperialistic policies of control designed to exert their sovereignty over the rebellious American colonies.

The British victory in the French and Indian War brought forth a new territory: American land west of the Appalachian Mountains. The colonists, upon seeing the vast lands, greedily jumped at the chance of Britain’s vulnerability and started heading west to settle in the area. To avoid any potential conflicts between the colonists and the Native Americans, Britain issued the Proclamation Act of 1763 to end all settlements past the mountains, enforcing it by stationing troops along the frontier to ensure that the two rival groups were separated. This showed Britain’s concern and sacrifice for the sake of peace—valuable soldiers were sent to tend to a border instead of preparing for armed battle.

Britain was considerably fair in terms of responsibility and judgment. This is evident by the war debt of -130 000 000, for Britain was in extreme deficit but managed to stay together and still govern the colonies. However, that was not enough—Britain needed some sort of income, some money coming into the country. And so Britain turned to its resources—the colonies. After all, the taxpayers in Britain were already grumbling, so it was only fair that the colonists pay a part of the cost of defending and administering the empire. Instead of directly taking money from them Britain imposed a tax, which would relieve the burdens on both sides by a considerable measure. Thus came the Sugar Act of 1764, which simply taxed foreign imports of sugar and molasses.

However, there was one fault of the Sugar Act—enforcement. Smuggling was still widespread in the colonies, and the act proved not at all beneficial. Parliament had to come up with some policy that could definitely be enforced, and yet, gentle enough not to cause uproar. The solution was the Stamp Act of 1765, which was, for once, a direct tax on documents and articles such as newspapers and diplomas. This time, the act affected not only merchants and shippers but all colonists, which proved its effectiveness. Nevertheless, the resulting boycott was so harsh on Britain that the act was repealed in 1766.

Apparently Britain did not state the reason why it kept the colonies. So, Britain proclaimed its true purpose of colonization in the subtle Declaratory Act of 1766, which stated that colonial America was subordinate and existed to serve the mercantilist policies of the parent country.

Now that Britain declared its true purpose of colonization, it started to take bolder decisions and changes to the colonies. The colonists had little excuse to oppose Parliament’s decisions, and their claims of injustice and exploitation lost any existing strength. One of the bold decisions Britain made was the Quartering Act of 1765, which declared that British soldiers had the right to shelter and supplies anywhere in the colonies. Although the colonies saw this as exploitation, concealed taxation, and interruption of privacy, this was merely a way of economizing the costs of maintaining the sovereignty over the colonies.

Even at this point, Britain was still running short of funds. As a final solution, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts of 1767. This placed an import duty on items such as tea, paper, glass, and paint. With the duties, smuggled goods would hopefully decreases and bring in more money. However, poor collection of taxes drove Britain to repeal the Townshend Acts in 1770, keeping the tea tax.

The Tea Act of 1773 was an excellent decision, since it gave the British East India Company a trade monopoly for tea and, at the same time, offered tea for a price lower than those of Dutch and French tea. The act seemed to benefit both parties. The colonists were not faced with a dreadful increases in price, and Britain improved its income via the monopoly. And yet, the colonies suspected that the act was a concealed bribe to acknowledge Parliament’s right to taxation, and they held the Boston Tea Party as a revolt and a boycott.

The Boston Tea Party was senseless. There was no harm done by the Tea Act, and yet the colonists created a costly uproar and were apparently getting out of hand. Parliament saw the revolt as nothing short of an act of lawlessness that deserved punishment.

The punishment was in the form of the Coercive Acts of 1774, which became known among the colonists as the Intolerable Acts. The port of Boston was closed, and the regular town meetings in Massachusetts were banned. British troops could be quartered anywhere in Massachusetts, including private homes. Moreover, the Coercive Acts stipulated that British officials in the colonies were to be tried in British courts with British laws instead of those of the colonies. The acts also greatly reduced the colonies’ rights to self-government. Apparently the British government now intended once and for all to show the colonists who had the authority.

And so Britain started to grow a little harsh on the colonies, for without proper authority and control the colonists would soon go out of control. Britain continued to get what they could out of the colonies, and it did so by the Quebec Act of 1774. This act extended rights to loyalist Canada by firstly fixing Quebec’s boundaries to the Ohio River. It also recognized the religious freedom of Canada’s Catholic population and allowed them use of their own legal system. Of course, the colonies opposed, claiming that the British were attempting to disregard the colonies’ western land claims and to surround them with their Catholic allies. However, Britain was merely trying to maintain its strong alliances and its empire. The land west of the Appalachian Mountains and Canada was rightfully property of Britain, and they could do as they pleased.

It can be concluded that, while Britain was trying to maintain its territorial acquisitions, alliances, and war debts, it has treated the colonists as kindly as they possibly could. The war debt of -130 000 000 was indeed a heavy burden on the British taxpayers, so it was only fair that the colonies did their share. One important thing to note is that, in order to maintain an orderly society, there must be rules, laws, and limits. Britain supplied these for the American colonies, and yet the colonists have always tried to go beyond the thin blue line that separates civilization and pure anarchy. The time period of 1763 and 1776 was a difficult time for Britain, and the policies previously mentioned were issued to maintain order in the colonies.

. . .

Copyright (c) 1998 by Gemma Truman
| back to essays |

I think this was one of the very first essays I ever wrote for my AP US History class. I wrote a long and detailed outline beforehand, which proved to help immensely. Then my computer broke down, so I had to turn it in one day late, which also bought me time to polish the essay. Conclusion: write outlines, they help. This essay even blew *my* socks off.