British Legislation Between 1764 and 1774 as a Parliamentary Conspiracy Essay

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British Legislation between 1764 and 1774 as part of a Parliamentary Conspiracy

The American colonists enthusiastically supported the British militarily and financially in their Seven-Year War (1756-1763) against the French and the Native Americans. By most accounts, they even "joyously celebrated the British victory" at the end of the War, "reveling in their identity as Britons" (Cogliano, 1). Yet, within a short span of a decade, the Americans were up in arms against the British and ready to proclaim independence. How did this astonishing transformation come about? It was undoubtedly owed to the British government's mercantilist policies promulgated largely by the country's parliament between 1764 and 1774 that was seen as part of a 'parliamentary conspiracy' by the Americans to extinguish liberty in America. This essay outlines the legislation enacted by the British Parliament during this period for its American colonies and discusses the reasons why the policies were resented and eventually led to open rebellion and declaration of independence by the Americans.

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The human and financial cost of the Seven-Year War had been extremely high, leaving the British Empire on the brink of bankruptcy. The British felt that they had defended the American colonies at great expense and that the colonies should now share the economic burden. In fact, to the British mercantilist mind, the economic activities in its colonies ought to serve the economic interests of Britain and North America, in particular, looked like an attractive source of revenue. The British government also decided to tighten its control over the American colonies, which had been kept deliberately loose thus far. As a result, a series of laws were passed by the British Parliament to boost its finances through taxation and to assert its sovereignty over the American colonies.

Essay on British Legislation Between 1764 and 1774 as a Parliamentary Conspiracy Assignment

The 10,000 strong British troops deployed in North America at the time entailed heavy expenditure and their continued presence was considered necessary to protect the Colonists from Indian attacks. The British, therefore, proceeded to issue the "Proclamation of 1763," which tried to protect the Indians from further encroachments by the settlers by establishing a western boundary for colonial settlement along the Appalachian Mountains and reserving the land to the west of the mountains for the Indians ("British Actions..."). The Act also outlawed the purchase of land from the Indian, unless the land was licensed by the British. The intention behind the proclamation was to decrease the violence between the Colonists and the Indians, thus decreasing the need for troops. The colonists, however, responded to the Proclamation with anger. They considered the new law as an encroachment on their liberty and economic well-being since they believed in their 'manifest destiny' to move westward and start new settlements.

The Proclamation of 1763 was followed by the passing of the "Sugar Act" in 1764. This act increased the duties on imported sugar and other items such as textiles, coffee, wines and indigo; it doubled the duties on foreign goods reshipped from England to the colonies and also forbade the import of foreign rum and French wines. This is believed to be the first British law aimed at raising revenue from its American colony -- a power that the colonists considered to be outside the domain of the British Parliament. Moreover, unlike the previous tax laws such as the tax on molasses that were seldom enforced, the British tried to enforce the Sugar Act more strictly and provided that violators of the Act would be prosecuted in courts headed by British judges with no local juries.

The Currency Act (also proclaimed in 1764) prohibited the colonies from issuing paper money as legal tender. A number of American colonies saw the Act as an unconstitutional intervention in their internal affairs.

The Sugar and Currency Acts of 1764 prompted the start of the united movement in the colonies against 'taxation without representation' and in August 1764, Boston merchants began a boycott of British luxury goods ("Prelude to Revolution") the movement gathered momentum and by the end of the year several colonies had joined the boycott.

The passing of the Stamp Act by the British Parliament in March 1795 is another watershed event in the relations between the 'mother' country and the colonialists. It was the first direct tax imposed on the American colonies by the Parliament, and the first time that the Americans were obliged to pay tax not to their own local legislatures in America, but directly to England (Ibid.) Almost all printed materials were taxed under the Stamp Act, including newspapers, pamphlets, bills, legal documents, licenses, almanacs, dice and playing cards. The resentment against the Act was unusually severe as it had affected the most influential segments of colonial society, i.e., lawyers, publishers, land owners, ship builders and merchants (Ibid.). It prompted the creation of a network of secret organizations in the colonies, known as the Sons of Liberty. The organization effectively intimidated the stamp agents who had registered to collect the tax on behalf of the Parliament and even before the Stamp Act could take effect, most of the appointed stamp agents in the colonies had resigned.

In March of the same year (1765), the Parliament also passed the "Quartering Act" that required to house British troops and provide them with food. The new law was purportedly intended to help the British defray the cost of maintaining troops in America but created great resentment among the Americans. In January 1766, the New York assembly refused to fully enforce the Quartering Act, defying a call from the commander of the British forces in America to do so. A few months later, violence broke out in New York between British soldiers and armed colonists as a result of the continuing refusal of New York colonists to comply with the Quartering Act and in December, 1766 the New York legislature was eventually suspended by the King on its continued refusal to comply with the Act.

Concerted opposition to the enforcement of the Stamp Act led to its repeal by the British Parliament in March 1766. However, the effect of its withdrawal was severely compromised by the Parliament's passing of the "Declaratory Act" on the same day which reaffirmed Parliament's right to legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever." ("Towards Independence," para on the 'Stamp Act Crisis').

To make matters worse, the Parliament passed the "Townshend Acts" in June of 1767 imposing new taxes on import of tea, lead, paper, glass, and paints. The Acts also insured that colonial officials, including governors and judges, would receive their salaries directly from the Crown, making them independent of the colonial assemblies. Charles Townshend, who had by then taken over the effective reins of the government, also shifted the headquarters of the organization responsible for enforcing customs duties to Boston, the center of opposition to the Stamp Act, besides moving several units of the British army away from the frontier and nearer the population centers (Ibid. para on 'Townshend Acts'). When the colonial assemblies protested at the imposition of the new taxes, Townshend dissolved them. Rioting in Massachusetts and a renewed boycott of English goods led to further reinforcement of British troops at Boston. Tensions continued to rise between the Bostonians and the British troops in the city until they exploded into a direct confrontation and the 'Boston Massacre' on March 5, 1770 when British soldiers fired into a mob of Americans, killing five people. A more violent uprising was avoided only with the withdrawal of the troops to islands in the harbor. The soldiers involved were tried for murder, but convicted only of lesser crimes ("America during...").

Because of declining profits resulting from the colonial boycott of imported British goods, Parliament withdrew all of the Townshend Act except the tax on tea in 1767. The Americans responded to the gesture by relaxing their boycott of British goods, but continued to boycott tea.

The slight easing of tensions did not last long. On the successful lobbying by the nearly bankrupt East India Company, the Parliament introduced the "Tea Act" in 1773; it gave the Company a virtual monopoly on tea trade in America by allowing it to sell directly to colonial agents, bypassing any middlemen, thus underselling American merchants ("Prelude to Revolution"). When three ships carrying tea arrived in the Boston harbor, the Colonists decide to send the ships back to England without paying the import duties. When the Royal Governor of Massachusetts opposed the move, colonial activists -- disguised as Indians -- boarded the ships and dumped the tea into the harbor in an act of defiance, which became famous in history as the Boston Tea Party. The British Parliament again retaliated with a series of Coercive measures, also known as the Intolerable Acts. These included the "Boston Port Act" that closed the port of Boston to all trade until the destroyed tea was paid for; the "Massachusetts Government Act" which revoked the colony's charter and forbade town meetings, except by written consent of the British governor; the Quartering Act was broadened by ordering that British soldiers could… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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