Prelude to the Revolution
Today begins my monthly American history articles in The Sentinel. As much as I’d like to do a chronology of our country’s history, it is virtually impossible because of the volume. I will start with the origin of our country at a time just after the French and Indian War; the beginning was the precursor to all that happened, the start of the American Revolutionary War and the issues that created the war.
Many times we think of the American Revolutionary War in short order — the Stamp Act, The Declaration of Independence, Paul Revere’s famous ride, and the war itself, all culminating in that last grand battle at Yorktown, Virginia, where the British surrender and the war is over, all seemingly within a few short years.
This article will show that events in 1756 were instrumental in contributing to The Revolution, in essence helping to cause it, over a span of 27 years.
The breach between the British and the Colonials began with the French and Indian War, which spanned the years 1756 to 1763. The French and Indian War, which gave the British and Colonials ownership of land, cost the British government 70,000,000 pounds, in essence, doubling their total debt (in today’s dollars that is $13.5 billion).1 They needed to raise money from the colonies to pay the war debt as the citizenry at home was already being taxed heavily.
The Colonials, being British citizens, felt they had done their share by fighting alongside the British to defeat the French and Indians.
Another divisive issue was the 1763 Royal Proclamation Line, where the British agreed to draw an imaginary line in what was the western frontier of the colonies. West of the line was Indian Territory and east was for settlers, land companies and immigrants. This line was intended to pacify the Indians so as not to fight them, consuming additional financial resources. Those who were already living on the “Indian” side were told they needed to move back to the Eastern side. Many colonists became furious with England because they had to give up land they had worked to claim and clear.2
While there were many acts passed prior to these listed here, the following were the particular ones that can be attributed to the start of the Revolutionary War. https://founders.archives.gov:
≤1764 — Sugar Act was passed to raise revenue from the West Indies imported refined sugar and gave them a monopoly on the trade. Originally passed in 1733, it was weakly enforced, but now the English Navy was to start enforcing the payment of taxes due.
≤ 1764 — Currency Act would not allow the Colonies to use any other cash than British money, and as the colonists saw it, controlling the Colonies’ money policies.
≤ 1765 — Stamp Act required virtually every piece of paper and document printed to be taxed and stamped. Newspapers, letters, legal documents, licenses, even dice and playing cards. Fifty-four items in all were to be taxed and stamped. These stamps weren’t like the ones we get at the post office, but more like a rubber stamp for newspapers, while other documents such as legal documents required the use of bonded paper which would have the stamped embossed within it. It was in 1765 that James Otis said, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.”
≤ 1765 — 1st Quartering Act required the provinces to barrack British troops to help defray the costs of soldiers from England in the Colonies.
≤1766 — Declaratory Act occurred when King George repealed the Stamp Act after the reaction in the Colonies; but on the heels of that — the same day actually — Parliament passed the Declaratory Act. This act “DECLARED” that the British government had total power to legislate any laws governing the American Colonies in all cases whatsoever.
≤ 1767 — Townshend Acts, named after Charles Townshend, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, stated there will be an import tax on lead, tea, glass, paint and paper, among other products. The revenue from that paid for the governor’s wages and the judges. In addition, those caught for smuggling would be tried without a jury and could be taken to England for their trial. It also allowed for British officers to search businesses and homes of the Colonists. This act led to the Boston Massacre.
≤ 1768 — Nonimportation Agreement — Boston merchants and traders agreed not to export or import British goods.
≤ March 5, 1770 — Boston Massacre — The Stamp Act and Townshend Acts had stirred the public and frequently there were arguments or fights with British soldiers who were working in Boston and with those on patrol. This went from a small argument to throwing stones and snowballs at the British, aggravating them to the point that they fired into the crowd resulting in the deaths of five colonists.
≤ 1773 — Tea Act — The East India Tea Company was to have an exclusive license to send and distribute tea to the Colonies. The colonies were obtaining tea from others, but this was considered smuggling and while the English tea, with the passage of this Tea Act, was a little cheaper, the Colonies didn’t want to deal with just one country that had exclusive ties to members in Parliament who owned the companies. This led to the Boston Tea Party.
≤ 1773 December — Boston Tea Party — Men from the Sons of Liberty, dressed as Mohawk Indians, broke open casks of tea and dumped them into Boston Harbor to protest the taxation, and, in particular, the tax on tea. Soon to be known as the Boston Tea Party, there were 10 other tea parties in other colonies and ports though they were not as destructive as the Boston Tea Party.
≤ 1774 — Coercive Acts –These became known in the Colonies as both the Intolerable Acts and the Punitive Acts. The English wanted to “coerce” the colonists into abiding by their rules, but the colonists found them to be “intolerable” and felt they could not abide by them; consequently, two names for one act. There were five Acts, but we’ll focus on two:
The Boston Port Act closed the Boston Port to all shipping in or out. It was basically a way of stopping all use of that port and its facilities until the tea thrown overboard was paid for, and it was also a punishment for Massachusetts for dumping the tea. The king and Parliament felt if they could punish Boston and separate them from the rest of the Colonies they could nip this “rebellion” in the bud.
2nd Quartering Act in 1774 required the colonists not only to provide barracks for British troops, but to quarter them in their own homes and feed them — the same troops that controlled them as colonists, and who looked at the colonists with disdain and inferiority. Since most of soldier’s pay went to paying the British government for his uniforms and gear, anything the soldier wanted to purchase for himself, such as drink or something to send back home, required his taking any kind of job he could find, and one that could have gone to a colonist. This, in itself, invoked a strong dislike to even hatred of the British soldier.
≤ September 1774 — The First Continental Congress convened. The other Colonies realized that what was going on in Massachusetts could easily happen to them. Congress voted to stop British trade until the Coercive acts and all taxes were repealed. After Congress convened, King George III told his ministers that now “blows must decide” if the colonies were to be independent or not.
≤ April 18, 1775 — Paul Revere’s ride, along with two others, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, occurred, warning the colonials that the British were on their way to Concord.
≤ April 19, 1775– Shot Heard Round the World. The war begins. Even though the first casualty was at the Boston Massacre, this is the official start of the Revolutionary War. The British were sent to confiscate colonial weapons and powder. The colonials, having been alerted to the secret mission of the British, turned out in numbers that the British never expected, nor did they expect that this ragtag army would defeat the 700 British soldiers sent to collect the weapons and powder. In the colonial mind there was no turning back before this event and certainly not now.
≤ 1783 — Treaty of Paris, officially ended the Revolutionary War — 27 years later.
2 Greene, Jack P., Pole, J.R., A Companion to The American Revolution, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 26.
3 Andrlik, Todd, Reporting the Revolutionary War, Before it was History, it was News, Copyright 2012 Todd Andrlik (Naperville, IL, Sourcebooks, Inc, 2012), 26.
Mark DeVecchis is an independent historian of early American history. He is a member of the Company of Military Historians, Brigade of the American Revolution, 5th Battalion Cumberland County Militia, Virginia Historical Society and the Mifflin County Historical Society. He and his wife, Valarie, live near Lewistown.