British colonial rule in the American colonies was famously protested by the Boston Tea Party and the Declaration of Independence prior to the Revolutionary War. Events leading up to the decision to revolt were largely economic and included taxes, trade restrictions and currency restrictions. The British restrictions occurred as a result of their war debt, which they attempted to transfer to the colonists.
Precursors to Economic Problems
The Seven Years War, or the French and Indian War, marked a major battle between France and England over territory in North America. During the first year of war, 1756, British troops were defeated repeatedly by the French, who allied with Native Americans. These initial defeats spurred the British government to borrow money to finance their war effort. Eventually, the British successfully gained Florida, which had been under control of the Spanish, and France lost Canada and Louisiana.
Increase in Taxation
Following the completion of the Seven Years War, the British Parliament began to look for ways to increase revenue to pay off the debt it had incurred financing the war. The Sugar Act passed in 1764 and required the colonists to pay taxes on molasses, sugar, coffee, calico and some wines. A year later, the British Parliament utilized the Stamp Act to create more control over the American colonies and to provide increased revenues. The Stamp Act contained 55 resolutions listing taxes on various types of paper that would be levied over the colonists.
Trade and Currency Restrictions
In addition to the increased taxes placed on colonists, the British government also stifled the colonial economy by restricting trade both between the colonies and with other nations. American colonies were required to depend upon British exports and purchase items that they could not trade for with silver and gold. The colonies were also restricted in the items that they could export. Some items, including sugar, tobacco and cotton, could only be sent back to Britain. In addition to the restrictions placed on trade, Britain passed the Currency Act in 1764 as a means to control the use of currency in the colonies. Colonies were required to use British currency and all colonial currency was abolished.
Prior to drafting the Declaration of Independence and the beginning of the Revolutionary War, colonists attempted to protest British economic policy. In 1768, merchants in Boston voted to stop trading with the British and colonists agreed to boycott British goods. Colonial boycotts extended to the purchase of tea and shopping at stores that sold imported goods. Colonists were encouraged to purchase only American products and make their own clothing and products. The non-use of British goods was famously illustrated in the Boston Tea Party as residents dumped British tea into the harbor.
- History.com: The Seven Years War Begins
- University of Groningen: Background, History, and the Beginning of the Revolution
- USHistory.org: The Sugar Act
- USHistory.org: The Stamp Act
- Digital History; Chapter 4 British Mercantilism and the Cost of the Empire; S. Mintz & S. McNeil
- USHistory.org: The Currency Act
- Massachusetts Historical Society: Non-Consumption and Non-Importation
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images