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The Background to the American War of Independence

If the favourable treatment given to Canada was one of the causes of American anger towards Britain, the other was an argument over money, or, more precisely, over taxation.

King George III 

Although it would be the king, George III, that would become the focus of Americans' anger, in fact, in 1760, most power lay with the Parliament. This was made up of an oligarchy of conflicting interests. On one hand there were the merchants and businessmen, with the landowners on the other. The landowners had a particular grievance. They were paying taxes, equal to about twenty percent of their annual income, to pay for the last twenty years of wars - wars which had benefited merchants but not farmers.

Running an empire was an expensive business and it was not surprising that the king's ministers, particularly anxious to keep their landowner supporters happy, should look around for additional income. Why not from the American colonies themselves?

America was a virtually untaxed and rich section of the empire. One fifth of the British people were American. Philadelphia was the biggest British city, after London. Poverty, which was a common sight in Britain, was practically unknown amongst free people in the American colonies.

Much of the affluence of the American colonies had been created during the Seven Years' War. However, although Britain had fought France to protect its colonies, the colonies had given their mother-country very little financial support, and then only when they were promised reimbursement. Some colonists had even sold weapons to the enemy.

Only at the signing of the Peace Treaty in 1763 did British taxpayers, as their taxes rose higher and higher, realise how much victory had cost. It was only the British, and not the American taxpayer, who had to pay for making the colonies secure against further French attacks. The average Briton had a tax bill fifty times greater than the average American.

It was an obvious solution, therefore, to ask the American colonists to contribute more to the costs of their own defence. Should they object, it was unlikely that they would be united in their opposition. Each colony was jealous of its territory and authority. Arguments, and sometimes almost fighting, between neighbouring colonies was quite common. Southerners, with their slave plantations, had little love for austere, Puritanical New Englanders, and vice versa. Western frontiersmen did not like the rich, politically powerful seaboard cities. British leaders did not seriously consider the idea that these colonies might unite in opposition against them.

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Shirley Burchill, Nigel Hughes, Richard Gale, Peter Price and Keith Woodall 2014

Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.