Causes of the War of Independence

History AS - Unit 2

Impact of the Boston Tea Party

Tea Act (1773)

  • 1773: Tea Act introduced to save the near bankrupt East India Company
  • aimed to relieve the financial stresses of the company; was permitted to export tea to the colonies direct + trade it there (using its own agents)
  • obliged Americans to continue paying duty imposed under Townshend's legislation BUT it would be very cheap - would be less expensive than tea traded by merchants + foreign tea that was smuggled in
  • IT SEEMED ALL WOULD BENEFIT:
  • Colonists: gain as tea would drop in price
  • East India Company: would sell its vast stocks of tea in America at a healthy profit
  • Britain: profit from increased duties

  • HOWEVER
  • it threatened colonial merchants + smuggling rings with extinction - uniting two powerful interests in opposition
  • radicals opposed the import tax on tea constitutional grounds - taxation without representation
  • therefore: colonists would not buy the tea until the duty was lifted - the tea imported into America had netted only £400 in 1772 (North was risking the export of £2 million of tea and irritating the Americans into the bargain

American Reaction

  • most Americans saw the Tea Act as another attempt to impose parliamentary taxation, feeling it threatened the independence of their assemblies
  • the measure was attacked in pamphlets and newspapers
  • Artisans threatened violence against those merchants importing East India Company tea
  • the tea sent to Philadelphia + New York was rejected + sent back to England (and tea sent to Charleston was landed but popular pressure prevented it from being offered for sale)
  • tea agents in all major ports faced severe intimidation and were forced to resign

The Boston Tea Party

  • 28 November 1773: the ship Dartmouth (bearing 114 chests of East India Company tea) entered Boston harbour
  • the tea was assigned to two sons of Governor Hutchinson - he was determined that the tea be dismounted
  • according to the law it had twenty days to make its customs entry, pay the duty + unload
  • thousands of Bostonians gathered daily to prevent the tea from being unloaded, demanding that the ship depart
  • 2 December: Eleanor joined Dartmouth
  • 15 December: The Beaver arrived too
  • two weeks of discussion between Hutchinson + the patriots resulted in deadlock BUT the ships could not sail without customs clearance + that would not be granted until the tea was removed
  • 16 December: 60 Sons of Liberty men (disguised as Mohawk Indians + directed by Sam Adams) boarded the three tea ships and threw their cargoes - 342 chests worth about £10, 000) - into the harbour
  • a huge crowd watched in silence + neither Admiral Montagu nor troops nearby Castle William did anything

British Reaction

  • January 1774: news of the Boston Tea Party reached London and the reaction was anger and outrage
  • North decided England had been through too much protest from America and needed to 'control or submit them'
  • Parliament needed to secure their supreme authority + improve their national prosperity + security
  • even British supporters of the colonists refused to defend the Tea Party

The Coercive Acts (1774)

  • North decided that as Boston was at the centre of colonial troubles, it should be isolated and punished

  • early 1774: Parliament passed four Coercive Acts:
  1. Boston port would be closed to all ocean-going trade from 1 June until the destroyed tea had been paid for
  2. Town meetings could not be held without the governor's permission
  3. The Impartial Administration of Justice Act provided for the transfer to England of murder trails in law-enforcement cases
  4. A new Quartering Act gave broader authority to military commanders seeking to house their troops


  • Chatham + Edmund Burke spoke against the measures, warning of the consequences
  • General Gage (commander-in-chief in America) was made the new governor of Massachusetts

The Québec Act (June 1774)

  • effort to solve the problem of governing the French citizens in Canada
  • seen to older colonies as confirmation of evil British designs
  • the Act placed authority in the hands of a governor without an elected assembly (left French civil law in force and limited trial by jury)
  • this suggested to Americans that Britain intended to put the whole of North America under authoritarian forms of government
  • extension of the Québec boundary south and west to the Ohio and the Mississippi nullified all land claims in that region (looked like a deliberate attempt to check westward expansion by the thirteen original colonies)

American Reaction

  • most Americans believed the Coercive Acts were a threat to all colonies; no colony was secure
  • colonies in other countries supported Boston, sending food and money to help the poorer citizens
  • March 1774: New Yorkers found East India Company tea on board the Nancy - they set out to follow the Bostonians' example; while a party of 'Mohawks' prepared themselves, the main crowd leaped onto the ship and disposed of the tea

Economic Response

  • 13 May: Boston town meeting asked all colonies to boycott British goods until the Boston Port Act was repealed
  • 5 June: Boston Committee of Correspondence drafted a Solemn League + Covenant calling for non-consumption of British goods
  • In Boston, over 100 merchants signed + published a protest against the Solemn League + Covenant - believed it would harm the colonists more than Britain

Political Response

  • tensions between colonial governments and royally-appointed governors emerge, since radical propaganda stirs up assemblies to take action against Britain but the governors attempt to stop this
  • when their resolution condemning the acts is rejected, Virginian House of Burgesses from an extra-legal body which makes agreements to defend themselves from Britain's imposing arbitrary rule
  • by summer 1774: seven other colonies had done the same + anti-British conventions which assumed the role of government




Newspapers and Pamphlets

  • 1774: Thomas Jefferson published "A Summary of the Rights of British America" - he believed the British parliament had no right of authority
  • John Adams published 12 essays supporting independence in The Boston Gazette between January 1774 --> April 1775
  • 1775: 42 colonial newspapers, mainly radical ones - some newspapers and pamphlets openly discussed (and even supported) colonial Independence

Continental Congress

  • September 1774: all colonies except Georgia sent at least one delegate to Philadelphia to fist Continental Congress to consult on state of discontent
  • total number = 56 (mostly lawyers, merchants + planters - those who supported Britain were not presented)
  • mixture of Radicals (allied with George III but though Parliament didn't have legitimate authority over colonies) and Moderates (people who insisted Congress should acknowledge Parliament's control and right to regulate trade)
  • Moderates favoured imperial federation (put forward by Galloway) which tied all colonies by creating an all-colony Grand Council with appointed President by Crown + share power with GB government
  • Congress supported Radicals praising Suffolk resolves:

- declared Coercive Acts null and void

- called Massachusetts to arm for defence


  • Congress called for non-importation of all British goods starting 1 December 1771 unless government repealed Coercive Acts (total ban of British exports in September 1775 so planters could sell crops grown in 1774)
  • 14 October: October Congress agreed on Declaration of Rights and Grievances:
  • acknowledge allegiance to Crown but denied Parliament's authority
  • Parliament couldn't raise revenue without colonist consent
  • proclaimed right of each colonial assembly to determine need for troops within province

Trade Boycott

  • boycott on British imports had serious economic effects
  • the boycott helped the radicals by boosting local production as well as a sense of moderation and moral regeneration among colonists
  • they were able to display their allegiance by rejecting luxury goods and returning to a simple rustic lifestyle
  • even members of the wealthy elite modified their lifestyles in order to unite with ordinary Americans against the British






Committees of Safety

  • 1774: these groups were established by the Continental Association
  • designed to enforce the British goods boycott, but gained power rapidly and took over many expired local governments
  • members included the old elite and ordinary Americans - the committees were often a threatening force towards people who opposed them

Situation in Massachusetts

  • late 1774: British authority had broken down completely in Massachusetts - officials who were still loyal to Britain were terrorised by mob action + forced out of office
  • effective authority resided in the Provincial Congress (and a host of committees) - across Massachusetts, militia units began to prepare for war (+ stopped trade with Britain)
  • General Gage realised that his power only extended as far as British troops could march - asked for 20, 000 extra troops (wanted to teach the rebels a lesson but had insufficient force to do so)

Situation in other Colonies

  • by early 1775: all traditional authority had been expelled in most colonies
  • throughout the colonies arms and ammunition were stockpiled and militias drilled:
  • December 1774: Rhode Islanders seized cannons in Fort George AND New Hampshire men stormed Fort William + Mary
  • However not all colonists wanted rebellion; some remained loyal to Britain and believed that the solution to their troubles was to maintain the Anglo-American connection

British Determination

  • 1774: North sent 4, 000 extra British troops to help Gage (which wasn't sufficient for the state of Massachusetts)
  • January 1775: Early of Chatham + Edmund Burke asked Parliament to remove the troops from America --> their requests were rejected
  • North introduced Conciliation Plan:
  • Parliament forebode taxation on any colonies paying the costs of its own civil administration + making satisfactory contribution to imperial defence
  • many MPs thought North had accepted too much (America thought the plan was to tempt them to come to terms with Britain
  • 9 February 1775: Parliament declared Massachusetts in a state of rebellion (legislation prohibiting trade with Boston was consequently extended to Massachusetts)
  • March 1775: New England Restraining Act limited the commerce of New England with Britain
  • April restriction was extended to all colonies except New York, Georgia + North Carolina
  • Also in March: Dartmouth sent a letter telling Gage to arrest principle attackers:
  • government sent 3 Generals to Boston as they were worried that Gage lacked firmness
  • due to Gage wanting to suspend the Coercive Act in November 1774