Colonists Resist

Clear as was the British need for a new imperial design, the situation in America was anything but favorable to a change. Long accustomed to a large measure of independence, the colonies were demanding more, not less, freedom, particularly now that the French menace had been eliminated. To put a new system into effect, to tighten control, the statesmen of England had to contend with colonists trained to self-government and impatient of interference.

One of the first things attempted by the British was to organize the interior. The conquest of Canada and of the Ohio Valley necessitated policies that would not alienate the French and Indian inhabitants. But here the Crown came into conflict with the interests of the colonies, which, fast increasing in population, were bent upon exploiting the newly won territories themselves. Needing new land, various colonies claimed the right to extend their boundaries as far west as the Mississippi River.

The British government, fearing that farmers migrating into the new lands would provoke a series of Indian wars, believed that the restive Indians should be given time to settle down and that lands should be opened to colonists on a more gradual basis. In 1763, a royal proclamation reserved all the western territory between the Alleghenies, the Floridas, the Mississippi, and Quebec for the use of the Indians. Thus the Crown attempted to sweep away every western land claim of the thirteen colonies and to stop westward expansion. Though never effectively enforced, this measure, in the eyes of the colonists, constituted a highhanded disregard of their most elementary right to occupy and utilize western lands as needed.

More serious in its repercussions was the new financial policy of the British government, which needed more money to support the growing empire. Unless the taxpayer in England was to supply it all, the colonies would have to contribute. But revenue could be extracted from the colonies only through a stronger central administration, at the expense of colonial self-government.

The first step in inaugurating the new system was the passage of the Sugar Act of 1764. This was designed to raise revenue without regulating trade. In fact, it replaced the Molasses Act of 1733, which had placed a prohibitive duty on the import of rum and molasses from non-English areas. The amended Sugar Act forbade the importation of foreign rum; put a modest duty on molasses from all sources; and levied duties on wines, silks, coffee, and a number of other luxury items. To enforce it, customs officials were ordered to show more energy and strictness. British warships in American waters were instructed to seize smugglers, and "writs of assistance" (blanket warrants) authorized the King's officers to search suspected premises.