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America: 1763-1776

The Colonies and Mother Country at the Close of the French and Indian War

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The British on the Frontier

Summary

When the French and Indian War, and its European counterpart, the Seven Years War, officially came to a close with the Treaty of Paris in 1763, North America was divided territorially between the British and Spanish. Britain had driven the French from the continent, and extended its land claims west to the Mississippi River. It seemed that British holdings in North America and all over the world were more secure than ever, but there were signs of trouble brewing in the American colonies. The French had been driven from the continent by a coalition of Britons, colonists, and Native Americans. However, once peace was restored, this three-pronged alliance showed signs of crumbling.

One source of conflict arose between the colonial and British soldiers. In Britain, it was widely assumed that the professional troops sent to the colonies deserved full credit for British victory in the war. In reality, about 40 percent of the regular soldiers who served in the war enlisted in America. American soldiers complained constantly during and after the war that British public opinion drastically underestimated America's part.

British soldiers, for their part, bemoaned the ineptitude of the colonial troops. They claimed the colonials were useless in battle and had no real sense of duty, tending to return home, even in the midst of a campaign, when their terms were up or they were not paid on time. Colonial troops denied these charges, and complained of British arrogance and contemptuousness in dealings with the colonials.

British troops also quarreled with colonial civilians, who were often reluctant to provide food and shelter to the British, and consistently complained of the troops' poor behavior. Pennsylvania Quakers, as pacifists, voted against appropriating funds for the war effort, and Massachusetts and New York also took a stand against the quartering of British troops in their colonies. British Parliament, and King George III, viewed these actions as antagonistic to the British effort to defend imperial territories.

Another major area of contention was taxation. The colonies had profited greatly form the war. Military contracts and expenditures by British troops had meant a large inflow of British currency. Trade flourished, and many American's traded with the French West Indies. This trade was illegal in peace time, and seen as morally reprehensible during a war against the French, but it proved very profitable. Meanwhile, the British national debt had climbed from 72 million pounds before the war to 132 million at its end. To pay down this debt, Britain instituted a land tax at home, and imposed excise tax on many commonly traded goods.

However, the colonists felt burdened as well. During the war, prosperous colonists had developed a taste for imported goods. In fact, the annual value of British imports to the colonies had doubled. Once the wartime economic boom ended, many Americans went into debt trying to maintain their middle-class lifestyle. Colonial debts to Britain grew rapidly, and many began to suspect that the British were intentionally plotting to enslave the colonists economically.

Commentary

The conflict between British and colonial soldiers was indicative of the evolving attitudes of the two regions toward one another. The colonies began to associate all things British with arrogance and condescension, and the British viewed Americans as inept, irresponsible, and primitive. The colonial units in the war were involved primarily in support roles, providing reserve forces in battles and holding British forts. This way, the more highly trained British professionals could lead the offensive against the French. Despite their separation of duties, the troops interacted often enough to decide that they disliked each other, and each side registered frequent complaints about the other.

The conflict of soldiers and civilians highlighted a major complaint of the colonists throughout the period of time leading up to the revolution. The colonists were perpetually wary of British meddling in colonial affairs, and saw the military as the primary on-site actors in this effort. Fearing the installation of standing armies, the colonies, throughout their histories, had been reluctant to supply and house British troops. During the French and Indian War this reluctance caused King George and the Parliament to question the loyalty of some colonies and led the British government to commit even more strongly to keeping a strong British hand in colonial business.

The issue of taxation was one that would drive a wedge between the colonies and their mother country from this time until the end of the revolution. In Britain, citizens were forced to pay exorbitant taxes on land and traded goods in order to support Britain's skyrocketing debt. These citizens looked across the ocean to see the colonists not pulling anywhere close to equal weight, even though the colonists had been the primary beneficiaries of the war. Colonists continued to assert their freedom from taxation and reminded British rulers that they had not called for the war. Still, even though many Americans went through hard times because of the collapse of the wartime boom, the colonists could not deny the facts. The colonial debt totaled 2 million pounds to Britain's 132 million. In fact, just the interest charges on Britain's debt cost the empire 4 million pounds per year. Still, the colonists railed against taxation.

Emerging after the war was a new dynamic in Anglo-American relations. The British sought to control their colonial possessions more tightly, and sent greater numbers of officials to America, imposed regulations on trade, and restricted territorial expansion to this effect. The colonies, on the other hand, wished to be free to govern themselves, to trade as they desired, and to expand into the West. The French and Indian war was hailed as a victory for Britain in its attempt to control its colonies, but the conditions immediately after the war's close set the stage for a widening rift rather than the maintenance of affable relations.

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