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America: 1763-1776

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General Summary

Important Terms, People, and Events

Throughout most of the history of the American colonies up until the mid- eighteenth century, the colonists had been allowed to live in relative isolation under a policy called salutary neglect. Britain's hand was only felt lightly in the government of the individual colonies, each of which had a legislature that passed laws and taxed the colonial citizens as it saw fit. Despite this political isolation, the overwhelming majority of colonists remained loyal to the king, and recognized British Parliament as the ultimate source of governmental authority. Relations with Britain were amiable, and the colonies relied on British trade for economic success and on British protection from other nations with interests in North America.

In 1756, the French and Indian War broke out between the two dominant powers in North America: Britain and France. Basically an imperial struggle for land, by the end of the war in 1760 the British had effectively driven the French out of America, gaining control of the territory from the east coast to the Mississippi River. The 1763 Treaty of Paris ceded all French lands to Britain, and decided the colonial fate of the continent. Shortly after the end of the war, the British government dropped its policy of salutary neglect and attempted to gain tighter control over its holdings in North America. Further, the British wished to force the colonies to share in the responsibility for the monumental debt built up during the French and Indian War.

Heightened interaction between the colonies and mother country led to a steady decline in the relationship between the two parties. During the period from 1763 to 1773, Parliament and the colonies grew increasingly antagonistic. The issues that would continue at the fore throughout the revolution were first brought to light during this period, and the lines of political battle were drawn. The ideology of revolution was built upon the principles that inspired the colonists to act during the decade leading up to the revolution. Most notable was the cry of "no taxation without representation," and later "no legislation without representation," which, raised by the colonists, defined their primary quarrel with the British government.

Also during this period of antagonism, opposition to parliamentary meddling in colonial affairs developed into organized political action. The colonies, which up until now had lived not only in isolation from Britain, but also in isolation from each other, began to communicate and unify. Groups such as the Sons of Liberty, who coordinated massive demonstrations throughout the colonies, transformed the initial anti-parliament opposition from disorganized rabble into well-directed, militaristic forces. The committees of correspondence kept the colonies informed and coordinated a united front of political action. The 1773 Stamp Act Congress was the first pan-colonial meeting of political leaders. All of these organizations were key in the development of the political unity and efficient communication among colonies that was necessary for the undertaking and winning of the Revolutionary War.

The period from 1763 to 1773 mobilized political actors in the colonies and gave them the issues on which to base a rebellion. This period set the stage for the rapid descent into the revolution that ended with the colonies breaking free from the grasp of the British king and parliament. Once the war was finished the newly formed United States undertook a long period of state building, during which the offenses of the British government in the period leading up to the revolution were very much on the minds of political leaders. 1763 to 1773 was both prelude and forge to the birth of a nation.

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