From 1756 through 1763, Great Britain was at war with France over control of North American territories. The war ended with Britain triumphant but heavily in debt. Since the war benefited the many American colonists from England, the British government reasoned colonists should help pay for it. Laws passed between 1763 and 1775 regulated trade in the colonies and imposed new taxes to refill British coffers. Parliament refused to respond to colonial concerns, sparking the Revolutionary War.
Sugar and Spice
With Great Britain in debt and the country in recession, British merchants pressed for money owed to them by colonists – and they wanted British pounds, not colonial currency of questionable exchange value. In 1764, Parliament passed the Currency Act, which prohibited the colonies from making their own currency. As a result, colonists were left with worthless money. Following this law, Prime Minister George Grenville had a new measure passed with stricter enforcement of taxes on sugar and other non-British goods shipped to the colonies. While the Sugar Act made many basic items more expensive, the Currency Act made it more difficult for colonists to pay for them.
The Stamp Act went a step further, imposing direct taxes on the colonists for the first time. For legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets and even playing cards, colonists had to purchase a stamp reflecting the appropriate tax had been paid. Colonists rioted, destroying the home of the stamp distributor in Boston. Some parliament members were sympathetic and argued taxation without representation was morally wrong. When colonists organized a boycott of British goods, British merchants began to protest as well. This combined with recession compelled the government to repeal the Stamp Act, but at the same time the Declaratory Act was passed stating Great Britain could generate laws to rule the colonies.
Still More Taxes
Since the direct tax had been a failure, Britain attempted again to raise money from the colonies with the Townshend Acts in 1767 using indirect duties on imports. These laws imposed additional taxes on goods such as lead, glass, paint, paper and tea. Great Britain faced renewed colonial resistance to the taxes, and by 1770 all but the tax on tea had been repealed. In 1773 a law was passed giving the British East India Company tax-free status in the colonies. All other tea continued to be taxed, and American tea companies couldn't compete. American patriots staged a protest on Dec. 16, 1773, boarding ships in Boston Harbor and throwing crates of tea overboard into the sea – an act that would become known as the Boston Tea Party.
Coercive and Intolerable
Great Britain reacted to the Boston Tea Party by passing the Coercive Acts, designed to discipline the colonies – Massachusetts in particular. Known among patriots as the "Intolerable Acts," these laws closed the port of Boston and put Massachusetts under direct British control. Additionally, Great Britain outlawed all colonial town meetings and elected government positions. General Thomas Gage was appointed military governor of Massachusetts and more British troops were moved into the colonies. The Acts included a quartering law stating British soldiers stationed in the colonies could live in private homes without permission of their owners. Far from subduing the colonies, the Intolerable Acts strengthened patriotic fervor and set the stage for the Revolutionary War.
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