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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

British Reforms and Colonial Resistance, 1767-1772

Even after the repeal of the Stamp Act, many colonists still had grievances with British colonial policies. For example, the Mutiny (or Quartering) Act of 1765 required colonial assemblies to house and supply British soldiers. Many colonists objected to the presence of a "standing army" in the colonies. Many also objected to being required to provide housing and supplies, which looked like another attempt to tax them without their consent, even though disguised. Several colonial assemblies refused to vote the mandated supplies. The British then disbanded the New York assembly in 1767 to make an example of it. Many non-New Yorkers resented this action, seeing rightly that their own assembly could also be shut down.

His most sacred majesty George III, King of Great Britain, etc. / / Frye ad vivium delineavit, William Pether, fecit.

The Stamp Act had led Americans to ask fundamental questions about the relationship between their local, colonial, legislatures, which were elected bodies, and the British Parliament, in which Americans had no elected representation. Many colonists began to assert that only an elected legislative body held legitimate powers of taxation. The British countered that, even in England, many people could not vote for delegates to Parliament but all English subjects enjoyed "virtual representation" in a Parliament that considered the interests of everyone when formulating policy. Americans found "virtual representation" distasteful, in part because they had elected their domestic legislators for more than a century.

In 1767, Parliament also enacted the Townshend Duties, taxes on paper, paints, glass, and tea, goods imported into the colonies from Britain. Since these taxes were levied on imports, the British thought of them as "external" taxes rather than internal taxes such as the Stamp tax. The colonists failed to understand the difference between external and internal taxes. In principle, most Americans admitted a British right to impose duties intended to regulate colonial trade; after 1765, however,they denied Parliament's power to tax for the purpose of raising funds or raising a revenue. Again, they saw the purpose of the Townshend Duties as raising revenue in America without the taxpayers' consent.

The British also established a board of customs commissioners, whose purpose was to stop colonial smuggling and the rampant corruption of local officials who were often complicit in such illegal trade. The board was quite effective, particularly in Boston, its seat. Little wonder then that Boston merchants were angry about the new controls and helped organize a boycott of goods subject to the Townshend Duties. In 1768, Philadelphia and New York joined the boycott. As the boycott spread, harrassment of customs commissioners grew apace, especially in Boston.

As a result, the British posted four regiments of troops in Boston. The presence of British regular troops was a constant reminder of the colonists' subservience to the crown. Since they were poorly paid, the troops took jobs in their off-duty hours, thus competing with the city's working class for jobs. The two groups often clashed in the streets. In March 1770, just when Parliament decided to repeal the Townshend Duties (on everything except tea) but before word of the repeal reached the colonies, the troops and Boston workers again clashed. This time, however, five Bostonians were killed and another dozen or so were wounded. Almost certainly the "Boston Massacre," as colonists called the episode, was the result of confusion and panic by all involved. Even so, local leaders quickly publicized the incident as a symbol of British oppression and brutality.

Overall, American revolutionaries viewed English actions from 1767-1772 with suspicion. They read in British policy a systematic conspiracy against their liberties. As the colonists saw it, tax revenues fed corrupt British officials who used monies they coerced from the colonies to line their pockets, hire additional tax collectors, and pay mercenaries to come to America and complete the process of "enslaving" colonists.

For additional documents related to these topics, search using such key words as trade, merchant, navigation, boycott, Townshend, Lord Frederick North,and Boston, and the terms found in the documents. Another strategy is to browse relevant collections by date.