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Explain the reasons for the French and Indian War, how it led to an overhaul of British imperial policy, and the colonial response to these policies

North American imperial wars from 1690s - 1760s
North American imperial wars from 1690s - 1760s

Topics on the page

The French and Indian War
British Imperial Policies
A. Sugar Act (1764)
B. Stamp Act (1765)
C. Townsend Duties (1767)
D. Tea Act (1773) and the Intolerable Acts (1774)
E. the slogan, “no taxation without representation”
F. the roles of the Stamp Act Congress, the Sons of Liberty, and the Boston Tea Party (1773)
  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine vs. Plain Truth by James Chalmers
    • Paul Revere's Ride Reconsidered
      • Sybil Ludington's Ride

rotating gif.gifSee USI.1 for more on the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, the Tea Act and other developments that contributed to the coming of the American Revolution.

See also, British Mercantilism and the Cost of Empire, from Digital History


Map icon.pngUse this animated and interactive map of the French and Indian War

timeline2_rus.svg.pngTimeline of the Revolution - PBS

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 11.31.08 AM.pngThe Road to Revolution - A Stack of Helpful Links

Focus Question: What were the causes and consequences of the French and Indian War?

George Washington Fighting in the French and Indian War

As the English and the French battled for colonial domination in North America, the Caribbean, and in India, The French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War) was the beginning of open hostilities in the colonies between France (and their Native American allies) and Great Britain that lasted from 1754 to 1763
  • In North America, the war was fought in three primary areas: Nova Scotia, the boundary between New York and New France (Canada), and the upper Ohio River Valley.
    • The end result of the war in the New World was France's loss of many of its colonies in North America to the English.
  • England now owned most of modern-day Canada and most of the land between the Atlantic seaboard and the Mississippi River, but at a cost so staggering that the resulting debt nearly destroyed the English government.
    • It was that debt that caused the escalation of tensions leading to the Revolutionary War.
    • Parliament was desperate to obtain two objectives;
      • first, to tax the colonies to recover monies expended on the battle over North America, and
      • second to restore the profitability of the East India Company in an effort to recover monies spent on the battle over India.

multicultural.pngThe name "French and Indian War" is a bit of a misnomer.
  • Not only was the war primarily fought between France and Britain, but the Native American communities who participated in the conflict were not all on the same side. Allegiances of these nations were often complex and in flux.
    • Read more about Native American participation in the war here and here.

The so-called "French and Indian War" was also one part of a larger conflict, fought by France, Britain, and other European powers.
  • The "Seven Years' War" was fought in several regions, and the "French and Indian War," as we know it, was only the North American theater. Read more here.
  • The conflict also extended into present-day Canada – North America was not divided into a few large nations at this point, but was instead composed of many French and English colonies existing alongside Native American nations.
    • Read about the war in Canada here.

French and Indian War: Map of the scene of operations
French and Indian War: Map of the scene of operations

primary_sources.PNGPonitac's Surrender Letter (translation in English) from the Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Interactive timelineand other resources on the French and Indian War from the PBS presentation, The War That Made America.

Get "live" reports on the French and Indian War from a fictional embedded journalist at this site developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

Trailer for The Last of the Mohicans. This film is set during the French and Indian War, although its depictions of Native American communities is not completely accurate.
  • Read a critique of the film here.

external image OrteliusWorldMap.jpeg Maps:
Maps of the War from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

multicultural.pngLearn more about the Iroquois confederation, including the nations who were a part of it, and their complex involvement with the "French and Indian" War.

Female_Rose.pngRead about the involvement of "British Army Women" and other women in the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War).

Focus Question: How did British imperial policies after the French and Indian War contribute to the coming of the American Revolution?

Join or Die, Sons of Liberty

"No Taxation Without Representation!":
The British Parliament had controlled colonial trade and taxed imports and exports since 1660. By the 1760s, Americans were being deprived of a historic right. The English Bill of Rights 1689 had forbidden the imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament. Since the colonists had no representation in Parliament the taxes violated the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. Parliament contended that the colonists had virtual representation. Colonists on the other hand felt increasingly violated by the British crown with each passing of a new colonial tax.
Dramatic interpretation of England taking advantage of America through the Tea Acts

The British Perspective: Though the root of the American Revolution was about the unjustified taxation of the colonies, the fact of the matter was that defending the colonies during the French and Indian War stripped the United Kingdom of her wealth. The pamphlets/letters below display the growing tensions between the colonies and Parliament as the colonies insisted that they could not afford the dreaded taxes and that they deserved to be properly represented in court, while Parliament insisted that representation was unnecessary, as the colonies were considered a part of the British Empire and therefore subject to the orders of the King.

Primary Resources regarding Taxation without Representation in Court
The following documents are pamphlets and letters written by members of Parliament and the colonies regarding the justification of taxation.

Political Allegory about chaos after the French and Indian War

The Sugar Act:

The Sugar Act was passed by the British Parliament in 1764.
  • This revision to the 1733 Molasses Tax put a three-cent tax on foreign refined sugar and increased taxes on coffee, indigo, and certain kinds of wine, and further, regulated the export of lumber and iron. It banned importation of rum and French wines.
  • The situation disrupted the colonial economy by reducing the markets to which the colonies could sell, and the amount of currency available to them for the purchase of British manufactured goods.
  • These taxes affected only a certain part of the population, but the affected merchants were very vocal. The taxes were criticized for being enacted (or raised) without the consent of the colonists.
  • This was one of the first instances in which colonists responded so vocally to British policies.

Stamp on Document

The Stamp Act:

The Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament on March 22, 1765.
  • The Stamp Act, however, was viewed as a direct attempt by England to raise money in the colonies without the approval of the colonial legislatures.
  • If this new tax were allowed to pass without resistance, the colonists reasoned, the door would be open for far more troublesome taxation in the future.
  • The act was imposed on all American colonists and required them to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used.
  • Ship's papers, legal documents, licenses, newspapers, other publications, and even playing cards were taxed.
  • The money collected by the Stamp Act was to be used to help pay the costs of defending and protecting the American frontier near the Appalachian Mountains (10,000 troops were to be stationed on the American frontier).
primary_sources.PNGPrimary Sources:
The Sugar Act
The Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Act Congress

external image Red_apple.jpgLesson Plans:

The Stamp Act (history.org)
Reluctant Revolutionaries, the American Rev. - PBS

The Stamp Act Congress

The Stamp Act Congress:

The Stamp Act Congress was a meeting on October 19, 1765 in New York City of representatives from among the Thirteen Colonies.

They discussed and acted upon the Stamp Act recently passed by the governing Parliament of Great Britain overseas, which did not include any representatives from the colonies.

Meeting in the building that would become Federal Hall, the Congress consisted of delegates from 9 of the 13 colonies.

The colonies that did not send delegates were Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire.
Sons of Liberty broadside, December 1765
Sons of Liberty broadside, December 1765

Sons of Liberty:

The Sons of Liberty was a political group formed to protect the rights of colonists from the infringements by the British government.
  • The first widely known acts of the Sons of Liberty took place on August 14, 1765, when an effigy of Andrew Oliver (who was to be commissioned Distributor of Stamps for Massachusetts) was found hanging in a tree on Newbury street, along with a large boot with a devil climbing out of it.
  • The boot was a play on the name of the Earl of Bute and the whole display was intended to establish an evil connection between Oliver and the Stamp Act.
  • The sheriffs were told to remove the display but protested in fear of their lives.
Class+2+-+Political+Allegory+of+America (1).jpg
Political Allegory of the colonies overcoming England's dominance

Before the evening a mob burned Oliver's property on Kilby street, then moved on to his house. On that evening it became very clear who ruled Boston.

The British Militia, the Sheriffs and Justices, kept a low profile. No one dared respond to such violent force.

By the end of that year the Sons of Liberty existed in every colony. Their most popular objective was to force Stamp Distributors throughout the colonies to resign.

The groups also applied pressure to any Merchants who did not comply with the non-importation associations. Wherever these groups existed they were either directed in secret by leading men in the community or actually lead by them.

Townsend Duties:

The Townsend Duties were a series of 1767 laws named for Charles Townshend, British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasurer).
  • These laws placed new taxes on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea.
  • In response to the sometimes violent protests by the American colonists, Great Britain sent more troops to the colonies

The Boston Tea Party

The Tea Act:

The Tea Act, passed by Parliament on May 10, 1773, would launch the final spark to the revolutionary movement in Boston.

The act was not intended to raise revenue in the American colonies, and in fact imposed no new taxes. It was designed to prop up the East India Company which was floundering financially and burdened with eighteen million pounds of unsold tea. This tea was to be shipped directly to the colonies, and sold at a bargain price.

The Townshend Duties were still in place, however, and the radical leaders in America found reason to believe that this act was a maneuver to buy popular support for the taxes already in force. The direct sale of tea, via British agents, would also have undercut the business of local merchants. Colonists in Philadelphia and New York turned the tea ships back to Britain. In Charleston the cargo was left to rot on the docks.

In Boston the Royal Governor was stubborn & held the ships in port, where the colonists would not allow them to unload. Cargoes of tea filled the harbor, and the British ship's crews were stalled in Boston looking for work and often finding trouble. This situation led to the Boston Tea Party.

The Boston Tea Party:

When British tea ships arrived in Boston harbor, many citizens wanted the tea sent back to England without the payment of any taxes. The royal governor insisted on payment of all taxes. On December 16, a group of men disguised as Native Americans boarded the ships and dumped all the tea in the harbor.

Debunking Myths behind the Boston tea party - article that aims to debunk the mythology behind the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

See a video on the Boston Tea Party with questions for students to answer.

The Intolerable Acts:

The Intolerable Acts were a series of laws sponsored by British Prime Minister Lord North and enacted in 1774 in response to the Boston Tea Party. The laws were these:
  • Boston Port Act: (March 30, 1774) closed the port of Boston until the price of the dum
    Cartoon of the Intolerable Acts
    ped tea was recovered, moved the capital of Massachusetts to Salem, and made Marblehead the official port of entry for the Massachusetts colony
  • Impartial Administration of Justice Act: (May 20, 1774) allowed the royal governor of a colony to move trials to other colonies or even to England if he feared that juries in those colonies wouldn't judge a case fairly
  • Massachusetts Bay Regulating Act: (May 20, 1774) made all law officers subject to appointment by the royal governor and banned all town meetings that didn't have approval of the royal governor
  • Quartering Act: (June 2, 1774) allowed royal troops to stay in houses or empty buildings if barracks were not available
  • Quebec Act:(June 22, 1774) granted civil government and religious freedom to Catholics living in Quebec.
  • These Acts were the harshest so far of all the Acts passed by Parliament. The closing of Boston's port alone would cost the colony (and the American colonies as a whole) a ton of money. The Regulating Act was aimed at curtailing revolutionary activities. The Quartering Act angered colonists who didn't want soldiers (especially Redcoats) in their houses. And the Quebec Act was a direct insult to Americans, who had been denied the same sorts of rights that the Quebec residents now got.
  • Rather than keep the colonists down, the Intolerable Acts stirred the revolutionary spirit to a fever pitch.

Read "Tyranny is Tyranny," an excerpt from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, discussing this era of North American history.

Screen Shot 2015-12-13 at 4.03.33 PM.png"Common Sense" by Thomas Paine vs. "Plain Truth" by James Chalmers: 1776

Thomas Paine Statute, Norfolk England
Thomas Paine Statute, Norfolk England

One of the most influential pamphlets that was circulating right before the American War of Independence began was Thomas Paine's "Common Sense."

The pamphlet explained why revolution was necessary and inevitable. It was published anonymously and distributed rapidly throughout the thirteen colonies.

Paine wrote his theories in clear, concise language, which contributed to the rapid circulation of Paine's ideas and theories about government, the Divine Right of Kings, and America's current state of affairs. Paine's main points:
  • The notion of an island ruling a continent is absurd.
  • America was not entirely British, but a nation comprised of many traditions and cultures from Europe.
  • Even if Britain was America's "mother country," she was an unfit mother, as no mother would harm her children so brutally.
  • Being a part of Britain would drag America into European affairs, and would hinder America's participation in the global economy.
  • The distance between the two nations made governing the colonies from England unwieldy. If some wrong were to be petitioned to Parliament, it would take a year before the colonies received a response.
  • Britain did not consider the colonies' well-being before her own.

external image Paul_Revere%27s_ride.jpg

Paul Revere's Ride Reconsidered:

Paul Revere's Ride (April 18, 1775) is a legendary event in American history, but as historian David Hackett Fisher wrote, "Revere's primary mission was not to alarm the countryside.

primary_sources.PNG The myth of Revere and his cry, "The British are Coming," was generated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's famous poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, written in 1860 and published in 1861.

external image Red_apple.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Paul Revere's Rid from EDSITEment

external image Sybil_Ludington.jpg

Female_Rose.pngSybil Ludington's Ride

Sybil Ludington, known as the female Paul Revere who at 16 years-old rode through the Connecticut countryside the warn settlers of the arrival of British troops.

The Teen Patriot Who Outrode Paul Revere

Sybil Ludington's Ride: A Poem

Read more about society in British North American colonies at this time. See here for some cultural context and images of portraits and decorative arts from this era.