Causes of the War of Independence

History AS - Unit 2


Stronger Imperial Authority

  • Britain emerged from the war in 1763 with a largely increased empire in North America but also a largely increased national debt; £72 million (1755) to £137 million (1763)

British Politicians felt that imperial control should be tightened:

  • defence; colonial boundaries moved westwards - risk of Indian attacks + France might launch revenge attack on Canada
  • government; to be provided for 80, 000 French Canadians (alien in language + religion and unfamiliar with British law + policy)
  • Western policy; reconcile conflicting needs of land settlement, fur trade + the Indians
  • smuggling; Europe + West Indies (colonists even traded with the enemy during war) - damaged war effort
  • politicians were angry; colonial government had done little to contribute to their own defence during the war
  • February 1963: Earl of Bute (new prime minister) announced that 10, 000 British troops were needed as a permanent army in North America (and Americans should contribute something to the expense)

George Grenville

  • experienced, hard-working politician
  • rise to power; broke with his brother-in-law William Pitt + with the main Whig leadership --> lacking major base to political support (certain to be weak)
  • concerned with national expansion of national debt (interest alone was £4.4 million + government income was only £8 million)
  • needed to increase taxation + reduce expenditure (cost of colonial administration had risen from £70, 000 (1748) to £350, 000 (1763)) - more money would be needed to maintain the 10, 000 troops too
  • Grenville felt Americans should contribute to the cost of their own defence (average American paid only sixpence a year in taxes while the average Briton paid 25 shillings

Proclamation of 1763 (October)

  • issued by Grenville's ministry
  • two new provinces (in East + West Florida)
  • new colony of Quebec established in Canada (carry out recent achievements)
  • boundary of white settlement (Proclamation Line) - a line running along the crest of the Alleghenies (all land claims west of the boundary were to be restricted) - to minimise white-Indian conflict

Plan of 1764

  • fur trade placed directly under royal control; only licensed traders could obtain furs
  • commissaries appointed to supervise the exchange of furs between whites + Indians

Results of British Western Policy

  • checks on Western settlement angered many frontiersmen (people living close to borders of colonies/Indian territory)
  • the Proclamation went against the claims of some colonies (Virginia, to Western lands) + most Americans viewed it as pro-Indian
  • at least 30, 000 American settlers ignored the lined restriction and moved West (in five years after 1763) - by 1768 Britain abandoned the Proclamation Line and accepted its defeat

Grenville's Anti-Smuggling Measures

  • Grenville hoped he could extract more revenue from Americans with trade laws BUT colonial customs service were inefficient - smuggling was common + officers were corrupt
  • Customs Board estimated that only £1, 800 of tax would be obtained (costing £7, 000 to collect) while £700, 000 of goods were being smuggled into colonies annually
  • in 1763 a series of measures were introduced by Britain:
March: bill sponsored for Royal Navy to collect customs revenue + suppress smuggling

October: order-in-council introduced to increase revenue in colonies

Sugar Act (1733)

  • Americans should pay 6d per gallon on molasses or sugar imported from non-British colonies in the West Indies - generated only £21, 652 over 30 years
  • ignored by many Americans and British customs officials
  • created to protect interests of British West Indian planters

Grenville's Sugar Act (April 1764)

  • duty reduced from 6d to 3d - would only generate £78, 000 per year
  • created to raise revenue for maintaining troops
  • limited opposition as it lowered duties
  • Grenville added products (wine, silk, coffee etc.)
  • customs officials convicted of accepting a bribe were fined £500 and disqualified from serving in any government post

Currency Act (1764)

  • ban on colonial paper money - no future paper money could be used for private debts + paper money already in circulation had to be returned
  • aimed largely at Virginia (which had issued a large amount of paper money during the Seven Years' War)
  • pleased British merchants (felt colonial debts should be paid in a more acceptable currency)

American Reaction

  • angered colonists - they believed that the original system was working but this act tightened control
  • it negated 'salutary neglect' - the British were now infringing upon them
  • New England merchants were particularly angry because it reduced incentive to smuggle (so many American merchants had to pay duty and the enforcement of new legislation challenged the colonial legal system)
  • colonists were also outraged because Britain was taxing them without their consultation in parliament which decreased their amount of voluntary allegiance)
  • they were concerned about the attempts to expand executive power by stealth and the army increased tensions as the colonists were not consulted and there was a threat to their liberty
  • 1764: Massachusetts defended the right to make their own taxes and asked other colonial assemblies to unite with them
  • 1765: nine colonies had sent messages to London saying the Sugar Act had been a method for Britain to abuse their power

John Wilkes

  • radical British MP - demanded freedom of press and a more democratic government
  • 1763: he criticised the King and accused the ministers of being "tools of despotism and corruption"
  • arrested on general warrant and imprisoned; eventually released but was convicted of libel and he fled to France
  • it highlighted how the British government was trampling on British and American liberties

  • BUT a general level of compliance gave Grenville the confidence to proceed with the Stamp Act

Stamp Act Controversy

  • March 1764 - Grenville announced to the colonists that he was planning to bring in a stamp duty to America
  • 6 February 1765 - the idea was introduced to Parliament
  • stamps would be added to everything that was printed or written; stamp tax officers were appointed
  • aimed to raise £60, 000 in the first year

  • Parliament had a right to tax colonies
  • colonies should partially pay for their own defense


  • Pitt, Burke and Barre opposed it - contradicted salutary neglect

America's Response

  • protested through assemblies/printing press - 'Stamp Act Congress'
  • pressure through popular actions --> mobs ('Loyal Nine' --> 'Sons of Liberty')
  • economic pressure - sanctions + non-importation (200 signed on 31 October 1765)

Why were Colonists Angered by it?

  • affected everyone (and most influential colonists)
  • first direct tax to be implemented
  • America wasn't presented in the government body - no taxation without representation

Repeal of the Stamp Act

  • July 1765 - Rockingham replaced Grenville as Prime Minister; felt it was better to exercise some rights with discretion

  • needed more military force than colonies possessed
  • British merchants + manufacturers held a national campaign for it


  • repealing would be a sign of British weakness
  • colonists were just as represented as Britain; most British towns were not represented


  • January 1766 - the debate was issued
  • March 1766 - Rockingham repealed due to pressure from merchants and manufacturers

Declaratory Act (American Colonies Act)

  • March 1766 - signed by parliament (same day as Stamp Act repeal)
  • stated that colonies were loyal to the "crown and parliament of Great Britain" - Parliament had full authority: absolute power to make laws and changes to the colonial government
  • most colonists were still happy + proud that they'd managed to get Britain to repeal the Stamp Act
  • BUT wanted colonist representatives; feared more acts + British control over American laws
  • British parliament never again tried to directly impose taxation upon the colonies
  • not repealed until 1964
  • enabled creation of the Townshend Duties