Causes of the War of Independence

History AS - Unit 2

Townshend Crisis - June 29, 1767

  • Townshend (Chancellor of the Exchequer + ex-president of Board of Trade)
  • taxes on lead, glass, tea, paint etc.
  • determined that taxes should be paid directly to Britain; colonists should shoulder the burden of this expense
  • reassert parliament authority + raise revenue from colonies
  • created partially to make money for defence BUT primarily to support royal government in the colonies by paying judges + officials salaries - more freedom/less dependent on assemblies due to their pay
  • parliament could not impose internal tax (due to Stamp Act)

Colonies could not object:

  • unquestionably external
  • relatively light (raised a mere £40, 000 per year

New York Restraining Act - March 1767

  • created Mutiny Act (1765) to fix shortage of military accommodation; colonies had to provide for British troops - most agreed apart from New York (headquarters of British Army) - burden fell disproportionately on them
  • June 1767 - NY agreed

Response to Duties


  • John Dickinson (Pennsylvania) - 'Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer' (1768) - opposed the liberty-threatening changes being made - he felt Britain had no right to tax them without their consent


  • February 1768: Massachusetts Assembly sent out a circular letter - denounced duties for violating principle of 'no taxation without representation' --> seven colonies approved it

Economic Resistance

  • 1768-69: boycott of British goods (all but New Hampshire) - non-importation
  • individuals decided not to purchase British products; spurred home manufacturing
  • those who broke the boycott were threatened; warehouses broken into, goods damaged, faced violence (tarred + feathered)
  • strengthened moral resolve of colonists

Wilkesite Movement

  • 1768: John Wilkes returned to England from France; fined £1, 000 and sentenced to 22 months in prison
  • 10 May 1768: 30, 000 people gathered near the prison in London, demanding his release
  • troops fired killing six + wounding twenty
  • he was elected for parliament three times but expelled for libel; British government was suppressing liberty in both Britain + America
  • South Carolina donated £1, 500 to his cause

Situation in Boston

  • November 1767: American Board of Customs Commissioners had been placed in Boston; attempt to tighten up customs service
  • far too few customs men to stop smuggling - sought help from Royal Navy
  • June 1768: 50-gun warship Romney sailed into Boston harbour - commissioners attempted to seize the Liberty but a mob of Bostonians marched to the wharf and fight broke out between the commissioners and the Bostonians
  • Summer 1768: Sons of Liberty were in control of Boston

Unrest in Boston

  • revolutionary trouble in Boston continued - Royal officials were threatened and the houses of customs commissioners' damaged
  • troops had to be brought in to restore; increased tension
  • September 1768: Boston called a convention of towns to consider the crisis
  • late September: 600 British troops arrived in Boston
  • Battle of Golden Hill (January 1770) - fights between soldiers and civilians

Boston Massacre

  • 22 February 1770: eleven year old boy killed by a suspected customs informer during a riot - funeral turned into a political demonstration (5000 Bostonians)
  • 2 March: workers at a rope factory attacked some redcoats seeking jobs and a pitched battle began
  • 5 March: British soldiers guarding the customs house were attacked by a mob hurling hard-packed snowballs - troops opened fire, killing 5 Bostonians - became a patriotic holiday in Boston
  • relations between British authorities and leaders of colonial legislatures had broken down
  • colonial unity was not total either; the boycott of British goods had started to collapse

Repeal of the Townshend Duties

  • January 1770 - Grafton resigned and the new prime minister, Frederick, Lord North supported repealing the duties
  • the duties were repealed on the same day as the Boston Massacre (apart from tea)
  • New York quickly abandoned non-importation, others followed
  • the crisis ended

The Years of Calm: 1770-73

  • three years of comparative calm followed:
  • Anglo-American trade resumed at a high level - between 1771 and 1774 the colonies' imports from Britain reached £9 million
  • vigorous economic recovery in both Britain and the colonies
  • conservative reaction against the radicals
  • 1772: Hillsborough resigned as secretary for the colonies and was replaced by the Earl of Dartmouth - believed in accommodation rather than confrontation

Lord North

  • efficient, popular + skillful
  • very capable of governing and led a durable administration; George III trusted him
  • led the ministry from the Commons well
  • worked well under the control of an autocratic monarch

Anglo-American Problems

  • congregationalists - worried that Church of England intended to appoint an American bishopric + radicals feared that a strong Anglican Church may provide support for royal authority in the colonies
  • Bostonians were angry that the Massachusetts assembly had been moved to Cambridge (kept there until 1772 by Tom Hutchinson - new governor)
  • 1772: Hutchinson revealed that he and the senior Massachusetts' judges were to receive their salaries direct from the Crown (from tea duties) - possible evidence of British intentions to impose arbitrary rule

Committees of Correspondence

  • September 1771: Boston town meeting - decided to create a committee of correspondence to communicate colonial grievances to all the towns of Massachusetts (+ other 13 colonies)
  • mid-1773: 50 Massachusetts towns had their own committees
  • February 1774: every colony except Pennsylvania + North Carolina had its own committee
  • the committees kept in touch with each other and were able to respond in unity + were a focus for radical activity in each colony

The Gaspee Incident

  • illegal trade persisted - colonists smuggled in foreign tea (rather than pay duty on British tea)
  • customs officers were finding it difficult to enforce the law
  • June 1772: the Gaspee was patrolling the waters off Rhode Island (with a suspected American smuggler
  • eight longboats boarded the Gaspee and the captain and crew were violently put ashore before the boat was burned
  • accused persons had to be sent to England for trial however there was insufficient evidence for prosecution

American Disunity

  • good news for Britain was that the colonists were far from united
  • there were still disputes over boundaries and land claims (New York + New Hampshire -> Vermont)
  • social tensions between rich and poor
  • divisions between the Tidewater and backcountry (in the South); 1768: Regulator movement began in North Carolina and spread to South Carolina (most were backcountry farmers protesting against the oppressions and corruption of Tidewater officials)
  • 1771: the Regulators were crushed (after virtual civil war) at the Battle of Alamance by eastern militia forces (around 300 Regulators killed)