The Age of George III

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.

The New Policy for America

During the Seven Years' War, the British government was concerned about the lack of support given by the American colonists and decided that it was time to end the colonies' virtual independence. Bute's government formulated a new approach to the government of the thirteen colonies that was designed to meet several criteria:

The "decision" to keep a standing army in America was not made consciously but more by default. No-one decided to bring the army back to Britain, so it remained in America. The colonists

Their opposition is explicable because

The 1763 Proclamation was an act of Royal Prerogative not a piece of legislation. An imaginary line was drawn from north to south down behind the Allegheny mountains, across which all colonial expansion was prohibited. The Proclamation was intended to:

There was also conflict over the concept of how lasting British gains would be, and how best to defend the gains. The colonists believed that France would not attempt to regain her lost territories; Britain believed that she would. France did begin to reconstruct her fleet in 1763, which was perceived as a threat to Britain. Rumours were rife that France was planning to attack Newfoundland and by the terms of the Peace of Paris, the French kept the fishing rights off Newfoundland and was given the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon as safe harbours. These could have been used by the French as a base from which to launch an attack on Canada.

British regular soldiers were to be used to defend the empire, since the colonial militias had proved to be unreliable in the Seven Years' War. The Americans disliked British troops because of their bad behaviour. There had been problems also over the billeting and supply requisitions for the British soldiers. All of these conflicts led to the army being left in America and to the Proclamation Line. The British army was then used to enforce the Proclamation line, driving settlers back east of the line.

In 1763, Quebec was put under military rule. As part of Britain's efforts to secure the loyalty of the new colony, Roman Catholics were allowed freedom of worship; priests were allowed to collect tithes from their congregations; French civil law was maintained; British criminal law was enforced but with some modifications. For example, there was no Habeas Corpus in Canada. All of this was ratified formally and carried into law in the 1774 Quebec Act. The Americans were suspicious of Britain's motives in Canada:

However, the main conflict between Britain and America between 1763 and 1776 was money. In an attempt to pay off the National Debt, the British government passed a series of laws aimed at raising taxes from the colonies.

In 1764 the customs regulations were tightened. Appointments to posts in colonial administration traditionally were used as sinecures. Men who held these jobs remained in Britain, collected the salary and paid a colonist a small retainer to do the job for them. This changed in 1764. All absentee officials resident in Britain were told to go to America and do the jobs for which they were paid or resign. The result was an over-zealous implementation of the Navigation Acts and a great many colonists losing their employment. Since the customsmen were paid out of their takings, the colonies were bled of cash because the new men collected every last penny to which they were due.

In the same year, the Vice-Admiralty Courts were strengthened to help the customsmen to do their job. The Vice-Admiralty courts had no juries, which the colonists deemed to be against the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, the onus of proof was on the defendant to show that he innocent. This was in contradiction of British law which states that the accused is "innocent until proved guilty". However, the same rules applied in the British Vice-Admiralty Courts so there was no discrimination against the colonists. Ironically, after independence, the Americans established Vice-Admiralty Courts on the same principles.

Because the customsmen were intent on collecting as much money as they could, there were many seizures of ships and consequent delays to trade, which was America's life-line.

Also in 1764, the Currency Act was passed. This prohibited the use of paper money in America in an attempt to circumvent the difficulties over the exchange rate. The colonists were quite happy to use foreign specie but had to use it to pay the customs dues to Britain. There was an outflow of hard currency, leaving the colonists with no medium of exchange. Had this law been obeyed, New England and Virginia would have been bankrupt within six months.

As if all this was not enough, another piece of legislation was passed in 1764. This was the Sugar Act, which revised the 1733 Molasses Act. It halved the 6d per gallon duty on molasses imported into America from the West Indies but the new customs regulations ensured payment. The colonists had not actually paid the 6d duty and disliked the 3d duty. They said that they could afford to pay only 1d per gallon. This measure was overtly a revenue-raising measure.

The Sugar Act marked the start of resistance to British trade regulation for raising revenues. The Sugar Act brought in insufficient revenue to pay for the army or to pay the customsmen so Grenville's government followed this Act with the Stamp Act in 1765. This was another overtly revenue-raising measure which taxed all licenses, playing cards, legal documents, dice and papers. It passed through parliament with little opposition from MPs in March 1765 to become effective on 1 November. The idea of a Stamp Act had the advantage of being self-imposing and had been tried before 1760 in New York and Massachusetts. It was so unpopular then that it had been withdrawn. There had been a Stamp Act in England since 1694 so arguably the colonists were being treated in the same way as Englishmen in England.

Colonial representatives in London strongly objected to the Act but were ignored. In America, colonial assemblies passed 'resolves' denouncing the Stamp Act and the first cries of, "No taxation without representation" were heard. Britain had passed all this legislation for the colonies on the grounds that the Americans were "virtually" (or, to all intents and purposes) represented at Westminster by British MPs. Since most people in Britain could not vote but were deemed to be "virtually" represented by MPs, it was not beyond the bounds of argument that the same applied to the colonists. The colonists denounced the idea of virtual representation and said that although they would pay external (indirect) taxes they would not pay internal (direct) taxes unless they had representatives at Westminster. This proposal was ignored by the government.

In August 1765 the Stamp Act riots broke out in Boston. The home of the Lieutenant Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, was dismantled by a Boston mob who thought that he favoured the legislation. It was Hutchinson's misfortune that although he advocated in public that the law should be obeyed, in private he was working very hard to persuade the British government to repeal the legislation. Even sadder (for Hutchinson and historians), the mob burned his library: Hutchinson's life's work had been collecting documents from the founding of the colonies and all were destroyed.

In October 1765 the Stamp Act Congress took place in New York. This was the first time that the colonists had managed to work together. In 1754, the British government called the Albany Congress in an attempt to get the colonies to co-operate with each other against the French threat but the colonies wrecked it because they could not agree. The delegates agreed that until the Stamp Act was repeated, the colonies would impose a non-importation ban on British goods.

On 1 November 1765 all the ports in America were closed because no stamps were available. The Stamp Collectors had been persuaded, by various means, to resign from their posts - beatings, being tarred and feathered and so on. Benjamin Franklin had accepted a post as Stamp Collector but soon saw the error of his ways.

On 2 November colonial officials opened the ports illegally and the non-importation of British goods began. The 'Sons of Liberty' began to victimise Loyalists and violence erupted in the colonies. Although all the legislation had been passed by Grenville's ministry, he had resigned from office in July 1765 and so the next Prime Minister, the Marquis of Rockingham, was left to solve the problems that he inherited.

Conciliation and Further Confrontation with the American Colonies: 1765-1770

Meet the web creator

These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 12 January, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
index sitemap advanced
search engine by freefind