By the mid 1700s, the American colonies were separated from their British rulers by more than an ocean. The colonists' experiences settling the New World had given them a separate identity of self-reliance and resourcefulness. Colonists managed businesses and colonial governments and formed trading partnerships with the Dutch, French and Spanish. Great Britain's policy of limited interference in the American colonies aided their prosperity, which in turn benefited Great Britain. But this policy also gave the colonists a taste of liberty, which they ultimately refused to give up.
Great Britain's early governance of the colonies followed a policy of "salutary neglect," or loose administration of laws, particularly those applying to trade. As long as the colonies served their main purpose, which was supplying Great Britain with raw materials and acting as a market for finished English goods, Parliament was satisfied. However, England's failure to enforce its authority in the colonies left the colonists to their own devices, and a sense of independence in the colonies began to prevail.
The Navigation Acts
Great Britain attempted to tighten control on colonial trade with a series of trade laws, beginning with the Navigation Acts of 1651. This act declared colonial exports were required to be transported on English ships. This act and others would have significantly harmed colonial trade, but enforcement was inconsistent. In 1721, England's prime minister recommended relaxing the Navigation Acts since profitable illegal trade by the colonies allowed them to buy more British goods.
The colonists welcomed the end of the French and Indian war in 1763. With the war's end, the colonists expected peace within their western border settlements and increased opportunities for westward expansion. However, Great Britain's Proclamation of 1763 established a firm western boundary, ordered settlers to abandon settlements beyond that boundary, and announced that British-manned posts would be set up to regulate it. The cost of these posts would be paid for by the colonies. The colonists viewed the proclamation as a British regulation of their freedom -- at their expense.
Beginning in 1763, under King George III, Great Britain began to concentrate on administering imperial law in the colonies, chiefly in the form of taxation. The cost of the French and Indian War depleted Great Britain's treasury and taxing the colonists was, in Parliament's view, a justified way of raising revenue. The colonists disagreed, declaring they would not abide by any taxes unless they were represented in Parliament. "No taxation without representation," became the colonists' anthem.
The Final Acts
When the Townshend Acts, which taxed a number of British goods, met with colonists' refusal to accept imports from Great Britain, British soldiers were sent to Boston to enforce the import duties. A clash between soldiers and angry citizens, known as the Boston Massacre, resulted in Great Britain repealing duties on everything but tea. Colonists responded by boarding ships in Boston's harbor, disguised as Indians, and dumping tea shipments overboard. Great Britain closed the port of Boston and put Massachusetts under military rule. In 1775, British troops' efforts to arrest Massachusetts military leaders and seize their supplies led to armed conflicts in Lexington and Concord, igniting the Revolutionary War.
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