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America: 1763-1776

Study Questions

To the Brink: The Boston Massacre and the Committees of Correspondence

Review Test

Describe the increasing level of political organization in the American colonies between 1763 and 1773. What conditions provoked each successive step?

During the period from 1763 to 1773, opposition to British actions developed from the disorganized clamor of scattered mobs to a highly organized, highly connected network of political leaders. The first signs of growing political organization arose during the Stamp Act crisis. The Loyal Nine, a group of Boston merchants, took the first step by uniting antagonistic factions in Boston and channeling their collective energy against the city's stamp distributor. Though successful, the Loyal Nine's followers worked without discipline and were unnecessarily violent. The Sons of Liberty addressed the problems of recklessness and disorganization by taking charge of the anti- British protests, adding an element of order and purpose to the actions of the masses. Finally, convinced that the masses would not ruin the colonial rights movement through unnecessary violence and disorder, the political and economic elites took control of the opposition, giving a more sophisticated and powerful voice to the masses through governmental resolutions and a policy of non- importation. The final step in increasing political organization took place in 1772, with the creation of the committees of correspondence. The committees linked political leaders throughout the colonies, enabling widespread unity of political thought and action.

The period 1763 to 1773 has been called the prelude to the American Revolution. How did events early on in this period mold the colonial perspective in regard to Anglo-American relations?

As soon as the French and Indian War came to a close, it became clear that the colonists had a distinctly different idea of the role of the British government than did the government itself. The Proclamation of 1763, which named Britain as the sole arbiter of land transactions to the west of the Appalachian Mountains, was the earliest manifestations of this conflict. The colonists saw the proclamation as a direct threat to the independence they had traditionally enjoyed on the continent, and many opposed the measure, asserting the belief that Parliament should stay out of North American affairs. The advent of the writs of assistance convinced many colonists that not only did Parliament intend to wield a strong hand in colonial life, but that that hand was prone to tyranny. Although he lost the case against the writs of assistance, James Otis hit upon precisely the ideological cornerstone that would lead the colonies up to and into revolution. The British Constitution was not a written document; it was an unwritten collection of customs and traditions guaranteeing certain rights, and therefore an abstract and fungible thing. Most British subjects assumed that all laws made by Parliament were incorporated into the Constitution, and thus that Parliament could alter the Constitution as it wished, without question. However, Otis' primary argument in front of the supreme court centered on the growing sentiment in the colonies that even Parliament could not infringe on certain basic rights. Otis contended that in the principles of government there existed certain limits "beyond which if Parliaments go, their Acts bind not." This claim echoed and helped crystallize the growing conception of the great majority of colonists as to the proper role of Parliament under the British Constitution. In the years to come, the colonists continued to complain that the British government had infringed upon this set of "inalienable" rights. This infringement was commonly claimed as the motive for revolution.

Prime Minister George Grenville advanced the argument that the colonies were "virtually represented" in Parliament. What was the basis of this theory and how did the American colonists respond to it?

The theory of virtual representation held that the members of Parliament did not only represent their specific geographical constituencies, but rather that they took into consideration the well-being of all British subjects when deliberating on legislation. During the Stamp Act crisis, Americans refuted as invalid the theory of virtual representation. In the common colonial view, unless a legislator shared, to some extent, the interests of his constituents, he could not be expected to consider their welfare. Since the needs of the American colonists differed substantially from the needs of inhabitants of England, the colonists feared that if Parliament were permitted to legislate for the colonies, its members would be easily persuaded to vote against the Americans' best interest, especially if England stood to gain. Many colonists believed that such a scenario played out in the case of the Stamp Act.

Revisionist historians often claim that the actions of the American colonists in defense of colonial rights were more a result of greed than of high-minded political ideas. What evidence is there to support this claim?

It has been claimed that many of the acts passed by the British were unnecessary and misguided, either working contrary to their intent or producing such strong backlashes that the government would have been better off not passing them. Apply this argument to the Sugar Act and the Townshend duties, detailing the intent and results of each.

Historians argue over when the colonists became emotionally committed to rebellion, but most agree that they were not prepared for revolution as of 1773. What was the common colonial view of the Anglo-American relationship in 1773 and how did the events of the years from 1763-1773 inform that view?

What were the conditions in Boston that led to its role as the center of colonial opposition British meddling?

What were Lord Hillsborough's options in responding to the Massachusetts and Virginia circular letters? What was the result of his chosen course of action and how might that result have differed had he chosen differently?

Explain the difference in interpretation of the Declaratory Act between the colonists and the British Parliament. How did this difference of opinion factor into later interaction?

What role did the British army play in the development of colonial opposition to British authority?

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