The Age of George III

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Conciliation and Further Confrontation in America 1765-70

In March 1765 George Grenville's government passed the Stamp Act, which led to riots in the American colonies. However, his ministry fell in July and the second Marquis of Rockingham became Prime Minister, inheriting the American problems from his predecessor. Rockingham believed that the Stamp Act was unenforceable and wanted to repeal it. The majority of MPs and peers favoured enforcement, using the army if necessary. Rockingham told his supporters to organise petitions from merchants in their constituencies which complained about economic hardship, social discontent and financial distress. Twenty-six petitions were submitted to parliament, each signed by scores of men asking for repeal of the Act.

The death of the Duke of Cumberland in October 1765 helped Rockingham's policy because Cumberland was in favour of sending troops to America to make the recalcitrant colonists conform to British legislation. In March 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed by Rockingham but the price he had to pay in order to get the legislation through parliament was the Declaratory Act which asserted that

the British parliament had, hath, and of right ought to have all power and authority to legislate for the colonies in all cases whatsoever.

Rockingham was quite happy to agree to this Act because he had no intention of implementing it. He saw no problem with asserting parliament's right to legislate for the colonies because having rights did not necessarily mean that those rights had to be exercised.

In 1764, Grenville had passed the Sugar Act, which taxed molasses at 3d per gallon. The colonists had said that they could afford to pay only 1d per gallon so in 1766 Rockingham passed the Revenue Act. This piece of legislation reduced the 3d duty on molasses to the 1d which the colonists said they could afford to pay. The colonists paid the tax and it brought in more cash than the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act and Townshend's Duties put together. Rockingham's Revenue Act was in force from 1766 to 1776 and raised £300,000 in that time. Rockingham's ministry was in the process of preparing a complete revision of all the commercial laws for the colonies but was prevented from implementing any of them by

After the repeal of the Stamp Act the colonists never denounced the Declaratory Act and peace returned to Anglo-American relationships. Trade resumed its normal channels until 1767 when the American Import Duties Act (Townshend's Duties) were implemented.

Charles Townshend

In May 1766, Parliament voted for a reduction in the land tax to 3/- in the £ which left Chatham's government with a financial shortfall. Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, promised to raise money from America in his "Champagne" speech. Townshend was charming, brilliant, politically insensitive, rebellious and mentally unstable. Townshend differentiated between 'internal' and 'external' taxation, as had the colonists. He intended to raise a revenue through 'external' taxes on lead, paper, paint, glass and tea. The Act passed in June; Townshend died early in August.

Townshend was also responsible for

Townshend's measures led to a second non-importation agreement in the colonies and a further rise in the power of the Sons of Liberty. They also helped to create a 'national' unity because the new Board of Customs was based in Boston and the Massachusetts Assembly asked for support from the other colonies against the new regulations.

In 1768 more British troops were sent to Boston to help support the customs service and the civil government. The Bostonians encouraged British troops to desert and there was a series of minor clashes between the locals and the "Bloodybacks". However, between 1768 and 1770 there was no further change in legislation for America although there was an increase of tension in the colonies. Grafton was more concerned with his domestic problems to take much interest in what was going on across the Atlantic.

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Last modified 12 January, 2016

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