Lecture #15: From Resistance to Rebellion

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Mark Peterson

Lecture #15: From Resistance to Rebellion, 1765-1775 Starting from 1768, British troops were stationed in Boston, trying to force them to obey Parliamentary laws. I. Imperial Reforms Knew that there were riots breaking out within England because of the high cider taxes, and they also knew that the colonies were under-taxed. A. The Revenue Act of 1764 (Sugar Act) » Lowering the tax – a merchant’s game – Before, England got almost nothing from molasses because the merchants were able to smuggle and evade taxation – In order to raise more money, they lowered tax as opposed to raising it ◊ The tax before was high enough so that it was a prohibitive tax – stopped people buying sugar from other places and would only buy English sugar. ◊ However, they didn’t take into account smuggling. ◊ By lowering the tax and revising the customs service, the incentive to smuggle was much lower (smuggling comes with its own price) » Revising the customs service – Before, the custom was that if the crown had wanted money from the colonies, it would ask the governments inside the colonies to tax itself – Now they wanted to have a customs service to try and regulate tax over all the colonies – Customs service was revised so that there would be more people monitoring it, and was stricter on fines if caught. » This didn’t work very well because the smugglers were much better at doing what they did than the parliament was. B. The Stamp Act of 1765 » An ‘internal’ tax – small fee, broad base » Directly taxed individuals in colonies (daily transactions at home), not the external customs – Took a practice that had existed in England for decades: if you needed to conduct business on paper that required government approval/involvement, you had to buy the stamp as due ◊ Ranged from newspapers to contracts/deeds to diplomas to marriages – Careful to make it a graduated tax – made sure that tax was low for smaller, cheaper things and things like deals would be higher – Even on high-taxed things the tax still wouldn’t be so big; the idea was to keep the tax relatively low and have a broad base – Tax in West Indies was higher than in the other colonies because West Indies was richer » Revenue – not regulation of trade – Clearly revenue raising and not just regulating trade – Different to what the colonies were used to – This is where the resistance came in II. The Colonial Resistance Movement The American Revolution was not about an opposition to high taxes. A. Origins A great deal of this resistance was centered in the cities (towns compared to cities nowadays) » Urban turbulence in colonial port cities – Urban areas are where the ships arrive – Ships bring large numbers of immigrants (enslaved Africans, Europeans, etc.). More people would arrive than people already living there. ◊ Population very turbulent, it took a while for the migrants to go where they wanted to go ◊ Not enough work for everyone ◊ Small but densely populated areas – Presence of transient population, unemployment, underdevelopment etc. meant that there were lots of street violence ◊ The war kind of took care of this, but after the Treaty of 1763 came post-war downturn » Post-war economic downturn – People felt poorer and less hopeful than a few years earlier – Harder for people who were lower in socio-economic status – Even small changes in the structure of the empire’s revenue system created somewhat outlandish responses » The credit crisis – During the war people use credits to pay for things – After the war everyone wants their payment – Result of post-war economic downturn » Enforcement – crude tools for a subtle task – Although the crown said they were going to change the structure, they were unable to enforce these new regulations. – Lack of police force meant it was difficult to actually regulate tax – New customs officers come in, they don’t know anyone or anything ◊ Enforcing unpopular laws; trying to punish people in colonies who have all these connections › Difficult to enforce; crowd turns on customs officer instead – Armies were not trained to be police – they were killers! They didn’t want to have to wipe out an entire town just over taxes B. The Course of Early Resistance (1764) » Merchant opposition to the sugar act – Began with merchants themselves; other town people didn’t know about it – Merchants writing letters to their lobbyists who knew people in Parliament – Taxation only relevant to merchants! » General opposition to the Stamp Act Led to a very different reaction. It was supposed to start in November 1, 1765, and people were warned around 6-8 months before it started. – Elite opposition – the Virginia resolves ◊ Strange because Virginia not the most commercially vital colony! ◊ Virginia didn’t even have towns ◊ Not as if Virginia would be very impacted › It’s actually that one lawyer in Virginia (Patrick Henry) was a very dynamic speaker who was good at getting people to listen to him › In his first session of the assembly; suddenly Henry declares seven resolutions that he wants the assembly to vote on, and they were all about the Stamp Act ≈ Constitutional in nature, not about wanting it to go away ≈ Points to the idea that by Parliament imposing this tax on colonists, it is overstepping the lines because the colonists are still English and should have English rights ≈ Right of Englishmen: consent to taxation  Says the Stamp Act is a problem because Parliament is m
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