British Reforms and Colonial Resistance, 1763-1766
When the French and Indian War finally ended in 1763, no British subject on either side of the Atlantic could have foreseen the coming conflicts between the parent country and its North American colonies. Even so, the seeds of these conflicts were planted during, and as a result of, this war. Keep in mind that the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years' War) was a global conflict. Even though Great Britian defeated France and its allies, the victory came at great cost. In January 1763, Great Britain's national debt was more than 122 million pounds [the British monetary unit], an enormous sum for the time. Interest on the debt was more than 4.4 million pounds a year. Figuring out how to pay the interest alone absorbed the attention of the King and his ministers.
Nor was the problem of the imperial debt the only one facing British leaders in the wake of the Seven Years' War. Maintaining order in America was a significant challenge. Even with Britain's acquisition of Canada from France, the prospects of peaceful relations with the Native America tribes were not good. As a result, the British decided to keep a standing army in America. This decision would lead to a variety of problems with the colonists. In addition, an uprising on the Ohio frontier - Pontiac's Rebellion - led to the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade colonial settlement west of the Allegany Mountains. This, too, would lead to conflicts with land-hungry settlers and land speculators like George Washington (see map above).
British leaders also felt the need to tighten control over their empire. To be sure, laws regulating imperial trade and navigation had been on the books for generations, but American colonists were notorious for evading these regulations. They were even known to have traded with the French during the recently ended war. From the British point of view, it was only right that American colonists should pay their fair share of the costs for their own defense. If additional revenue could also be realized through stricter control of navigation and trade, so much the better. Thus the British began their attempts to reform the imperial system.
In 1764, Parliament enacted the Sugar Act, an attempt to raise revenue in the colonies through a tax on molasses. Although this tax had been on the books since the 1730s, smuggling and laxity of enforcement had blunted its sting. Now, however, the tax was to be enforced. An outcry arose from those affected, and colonists implemented several effective protest measures that centered around boycotting British goods. Then in 1765, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act, which placed taxes on paper, playing cards, and every legal document created in the colonies. Since this tax affected virtually everyone and extended British taxes to domestically produced and consumed goods, the reaction in the colonies was pervasive. The Stamp Act crisis was the first of many that would occur over the next decade and a half.
For additional documents related to these topics, search Loc.gov using such key words as Stamp Act, Indians, western lands, colonial trade, navigation, and the terms found in the documents. Another strategy is to browse relevant collections by date.
- George Washington to Robert Stewart, August 13, 1763
- George Washington to William Crawford, September 21, 1767
- George Washington to Francis Dandridge, September 20, 1765
- George Washington to Robert Cary & Company, September 20, 1765
- No Stamped Paper to Be Had, 1765
- A Letter to His Most Excellent Majesty, 1765
- Glorious News, May 19, 1766
- Virginia House of Burgesses, November 14, 1766