Parliament and the war in the American colonies 1767-83

Following the repeal of the Stamp Act, Parliament tried to tax the colonies in 1767 by raising import duties, which became known as the Townshend duties, on certain goods. The colonists continued to insist that they could not be taxed by the British Parliament without proper representation, even indirectly by customs duties.

Boston Tea Party

The measures also met with opposition from merchants at home, and the government repealed them in 1770 – except for the one on tea, which the Prime Minister Lord North insisted remain as an assertion of Parliament's right to tax the colonists.

On 16 December 1773 a group of protesters in Boston boarded a ship and dumped £10,000 worth of tea in the harbour, an event immortalised in the United States as the Boston Tea Party.

Intolerable Acts

In angry response, Parliament passed in 1774 a series of punitive measures, known in America as the Intolerable Acts, which closed Boston harbour and strengthened the power of the royal governor over the rebellious Massachusetts legislative assembly.

The Quebec Act greatly extended the territory of the former French colony of Quebec, and recognised the Catholic Church there while giving the royal governor increased powers.

These were all controversial measures, and the Quebec Act in particular was criticised in both Britain and the American colonies as an indication of the growing despotic character of the British government.

War of Independence

The crisis of 1774 soon tipped over into armed confrontation between British troops and American colonists at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts on19 April 1775. Eventually it led to war, after representatives of the colonies meeting in the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia formally declared their independence from Britain on 4 July 1776.

Following a protracted war, Britain formally recognised the independence of the thirteen colonies as the United States of America in the treaty of 1783. The only parts of its former North American possessions which remained were the colonies of Nova Scotia, Quebec and Newfoundland – none of which had joined the rebellion and which had received many loyalists fleeing the war-torn colonies.

Related information

Did you know?

On 5 March 1770 British troops in Boston fired into a crowd protesting against the Townshend Duties, killing five people – ironically on the very same day on which Lord North recommended to Parliament the repeal of the Duties.