Modern history

Conclusion: Liberty within Empire

From the Sugar Act in 1764 to the Continental Congress in 1774, colonists reacted strongly to parliamentary efforts to impose greater control over the colonies. Their protests grew increasingly effective as colonists developed organizations, systems of communication, and arguments to buttress their position. Residents of seacoast cities like Boston and New York City developed especially visible and effective challenges, in large part because they generally had the most to lose if Britain implemented new economic, military, and legislative policies.

In frontier areas, such as the southern backcountry, the Hudson valley, and northern New England, complaints against British tyranny vied with those against colonial land speculators and officials throughout the 1760s and 1770s. Still, few of these agitators questioned the right of white colonists to claim Indian lands or enslave African labor. In this sense, at least, most frontier settlers made common cause with more elite colonists who challenged British authority, including the many planters and large landowners who attended the Continental Congress.

One other tie bound the colonists together in 1774. No matter how radical the rhetoric, the aim continued to be resistance to particular policies, not independence from the British empire. Colonists sought greater liberty within the empire, focusing

on parliamentary policies concerning taxation, troops, and local political control. Only on rare occasions did a colonist question the fundamental framework of imperial governance, and even then, the questions did not lead to a radical reformulation of economic or political relations. And despite some colonists’ opposition to certain parliamentary acts, many others supported British policies. While royal officials and many of their well-to-do neighbors were horrified by the new spirit of lawlessness that had erupted in the colonies, the majority of colonists did not participate in the Sons or Daughters of Liberty, the colonial congresses, or the petition campaigns. Small farmers and back- country settlers were often far removed from centers of protest activity, while poor families in seaport cities who purchased few items to begin with had little interest in boycotts of British goods. Finally, some colonists still hesitated to consider open revolt against British rule for fear of a revolution from below. The activities of land rioters, Regulators, evangelical preachers, female petitioners, and African American converts to Christianity reminded more well-established settlers that the colonies harbored their own tensions and conflicts.

The fates of George Washington and Herman Husband suggest the uncertainties that still plagued the colonies and individual colonists in 1774. As Washington returned to his Virginia estate from the Continental Congress, he began to devote more time to military affairs. He took command of the volunteer militia companies in the colonies and chaired the committee on safety in his home county. Although still opposed to rebellion, he was nonetheless preparing for it. Herman Husband, on the other hand, had already watched his rebellion against oppressive government fail at the Battle of Alamance Creek. When the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, he was living on the Pennsylvania frontier, trying to reestablish his farm and family there. Whether ruled by Great Britain or eastern colonial elites, he was most concerned with the rights of poor and working people. Yet he and Washington would have agreed with the great British parliamentarian Edmund Burke, who, on hearing of events in the American colonies in 1774, lamented, “Clouds, indeed, and darkness, rest upon the future.”

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

Albany Congress (p. 112)

Peace of Paris (p. 115)

Proclamation Line of 1763 (p. 117)

Regulators (p. 118)

benign neglect (p. 122)

Navigation Acts (p. 122)

Sugar Act (p. 122)

import duty (p. 122)

committee of correspondence (p. 123)

Stamp Act (p. 123)

Sons of Liberty (p. 124)

Townshend Act (p. 127)

Boston Massacre (p. 128)

Coercive Acts (Intolerable Acts) (p. 130)

Continental Congress (p. 130)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. How did the French and indian War and the subsequent peace treaty affect relations between Britain and its North American subjects?

2. How did the French and indian War and the increasing power of large landowners contribute to conflict between average colonists and colonial elites?

3. How did Britain's postwar policies lead to the emergence of unified colonial protests?

4. Why did British policymakers believe they were justified in seeking to gain greater control over Britain's North American colonies?

5. How and why did colonial resistance to British policies escalate in the decade following the conclusion of the French and indian War?

6. How did internal social and economic divisions shape the colonial response to British policies?



• French and Indian War


• George Washington launches surprise attack on Fort Duquesne

• Albany Congress convenes


• William Pitt takes charge of British war effort

May 1763

• Pontiac launches pan-Indian revolt to drive out British

June 1763

• Peace of Paris



• British establish Proclamation Line of 1763



• Paxton Boys attack Conestoga Indians


• Green Mountain Boys resist New York authorities

• Sugar Act passed


• Stamp Act passed

• Stamp Act Congress convenes


• Sandy Creek Association formed

• Stamp Act repealed and Declaratory Act passed


• Townshend Act passed


• Boston Massacre


• Battle of Alamance Creek, North Carolina


• Boston Tea Party


• Coercive Acts passed

• Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia

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