How England lost the american colonies

Essay, 2007

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0



How England lost the American Colonies

The Seven Years' War

The Stamp Act

The Townshend Crisis

The Tea Act

The Coercive Acts

The dawn of conflict

The American War of Independence

The consequences of the loss of the North American colonies

The loss of the American colonies was sealed with the end of the American War of Independence. When the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, England acknowledged the existence of the United States of America and their separation from Britain. The colonies were lost. Not only the then recently acquired new territories in the south but also the rich eastern colonies, the cradle of English colonization in North America.

Only twenty years earlier, the situation in the American colonies was in no way rebellious or revolutionary. On the contrary, the white population of the American colonies was the most lightly taxed and least oppressed people in the eighteenth-century Western world. Great Britain and its Empire were known throughout the world for being an example of stability, prosperity and liberty[1]. So why did the situation change so severely and how did revolution emerge in North America? In other words: how did England lose its colonies? Many explanations can be found in literature dealing with the British Empire or the American War of Independence, but this essay, rather than looking for psychological or sociological explanations, will focus on the major political events which lit the fuse for revolution.

The turning point in the relationship between Britain and the North American colonies was the year 1763. On 10 February 1763, Britain signed the Treaty of Paris after having won the Seven Years' War and by this took hold of even more territory on the North American continent. Britain then ruled the largest empire since the Roman[2]. After 1763 though, a period of instability began for the first British Empire. So the first political event worth looking at for the purpose of this essay is the Seven Years War.

The Seven Years' War

The Seven Years' War can be described as the first world war since it was fought all around the world and involved Europe's major political powers such as Prussia, Austria, the Russian Empire, Sweden, Saxony, France, Britain and later on also Spain and Portugal. The war originated in Europe in 1756 when Frederick II of Prussia took a strike into Saxony and later into Bohemia. France and Austria, supported by Russia, Sweden, and Saxony, aligned themselves against Frederick who, surrounded by enemies, called the British for aid. The war in Europe lasted until 1763 when in February the peace of Paris was signed. Fighting was not confined to the European continent but also took place in the colonies in India, the Caribbean, the Philippines and Africa[3] and this made the Seven Years' War really a "War for Empire". When it was over, the European colonial dominion in the Americas, especially in North America had changed remarkably.

The British prime minister at that time, William Pitt (the elder), wanted to destroy France as a colonial power and succeeded. In North America, Britain obtained all of Canada and all areas east of the Mississippi River from France, and gained Florida in exchange for Havana and Manila from Spain. It also acquired the Grenadines, Tobago, St. Vincent and Dominica in the Caribbean. This was a devastating blow to the French Empire, which was left with only a couple of tiny islands off the coast of Newfoundland[4].

Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War changed the balance of colonial power and seemed to open new opportunities for the Empire's extension. Unfortunately, such colonial conquests are never without costs. After the success of the Seven Years' War, Britain faced the consequences of the massive financial burden the war had imposed on it. The national debt was tremendous. Furthermore, the newly acquired territories had to be governed, which proved to be difficult since in Canada, Britain was faced with a fundamentally French society. The French's Indian allies who used the dispute between France and Britain to protect their own territory previously blocked the area west of the Appalachian mountains. Now, Britain was faced with those Indians who feared the British settlers coming into their territory. In 1763, an Indian uprising called "Pontiac's Conspiracy" terrified the frontier regions for several months. Setting the so-called "Proclamation Line" which was supposed to be a boundary between Indian and Settlers' territory solved this problem. Since this boundary was artificial, it was more or less disregarded by both sides and thus created more problems than it solved.

All this added up to rising costs to defend and govern North America. At the same time, the British treasury was exhausted by the war and tax rates in Britain were uncommonly high, leaving the British people the most heavily taxed in all of Europe[5].

The Stamp Act

The Stamp Act was one of the first measures introduced by the British government to raise money in the colonies for the support of the army in America. The decision to base an army in North America and make the colonists pay for it had already been taken in 1763 by the Prime Minister, the Earl of Bute. The Stamp Act was passed in 1765 under Prime Minister George Grenville, and required that all legal and commercial documents, newspapers, etc. bear stamps which had to be bought from the British government. The colonists reacted with strong opposition to this measure, as they did not acknowledge Parliament's right to impose taxes on the colonists. Their argument was that they were not represented in Parliament, thus British sovereignty could not extend to taxation. Government did not share this view but rather claimed that the colonists were 'virtually represented' in Parliament just as the majority of the English population which had no right to vote.

The colonies' reaction to the Act was rioting crowds that burned down custom houses, intimidated stamp agents and forced them to resign. The Act proved to be unenforceable and was repealed. However, many MPs thought that the repeal would threaten Parliament authority and therefore the Declaratory Act was passed along with the repeal of the Stamp Act. The Declaratory Act stressed Parliament's right to legislate in the colonies in all cases, whatsoever[6].

The Townshend Crisis

Since internal taxation was to be avoided in future measures to raise additional revenue in America, British government turned to external taxation by imposing new duties on external trade. In 1767, Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced the so-called "Townshend duties" on glass, lead, paper, paint and tea imported from Britain. These duties were not intended to meet the costs for the defence of America but rather to pay British officials in the colonies who were until then paid by the colonies' assemblies. Townshend thought that the Stamp Act crisis had shown that Britain's authority in the American colonies had to be strengthened. Therefore, he also demanded the observation of the Quartering Act of 1764, which required the colonies to provide housing and supplies for the British troops in North America.


[1] Shy, John. "The American Colonies, 1748-1783."The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume //. The Eighteenth Century. Ed. P.J. Marshall. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 307-309.

[2] Strong, Roy, The Story of Britain ­– a People's History- London: Pimlico, 1996. 360.

[3] "Seven Years' War."Oxford Dictionary of British History. Ed. John Cannon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 584.

[4] Mc Farlane, Anthony, The British in the Americas, 1480-1815. London: Longman Group Ltd, 1994. 223-225.

[5] McFarlane, 252-254.

[6] Conway, Stephen. "Britain and the revolutionary crisis."The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume //. The Eighteenth Century. Ed. P.J. Marshall. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. 328-329.

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How England lost the american colonies
University of Heidelberg
British Institutions I
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Eva-Maria Griese (Author), 2007, How England lost the american colonies, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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