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The Struggle for Independence I
French and Indian War
During the 1700s, England and France were at war with each other almost all the time. In the 1750s, one of their wars was fought mostly in America. It was called the French and Indian War.
At that time, France owned what today is Canada. To protect Canada, the French started building forts on land that English colonists claimed. In 1754, some colonists from Virginia, led by George Washington, went out to stop the French. The French defeated Washington’s troops and sent them back to Virginia.
The next year, English troops came to America to fight the French. The French, with help from some Native Americans, beat the English troops badly. A full-scale war had begun. The English sent more troops, but the French won most of the early battles. It was not until the English won a major battle at the Canadian city of Quebec that the war turned in their favor. More victories for the English followed.
In 1763, the French and the English signed a peace treaty ending the French and Indian War. By this treaty, England took control of Canada from the French. England now had a huge empire in America. But it had huge problems, too.
The war had cost so much money that England was deeply in debt. The English thought that the colonists should send some money to help with the debt problem. After all, England had spent this money trying to protect the colonies from the French. There was just one way to get money from the colonists: taxes.
The Stamp Act
The French and Indian War ended in 1763. The very next year, 1764, England started to tax the colonies. The taxes were not large. Some colonists spoke out against the taxes, but most Americans did not get upset.
The problem with these taxes was that they were too small to help England much. And so, in 1765, England passed the Stamp Act. Many items that colonists used—newspapers, decks of cards, and so forth—would have stamps on them. The people who put out newspapers or sold decks of cards would have to buy the special stamps. The money they paid would go to England. England had never taxed colonists like this before.
The Americans became very upset. Mobs took to the streets. People who had agreed to become stamp sellers for England quit their jobs because they feared what the mobs might do to them. All over the colonies came a new cry: “No taxation without representation.” What the colonists meant was that England had no right to tax them. Only the people they elected to serve in each colony’s government had that right.
England quickly realized that it had made a mistake. It did not want to fight a war with the colonies over taxes. In 1766, it took away the Stamp Act. The colonists cheered their victory. They thought they had taught England a lesson. But England still needed money, and it still believed it had the right to tax the colonies. More trouble over taxes was just a year away.
The Boston Massacre
In 1767, England tried again to tax the colonies. England had learned a lesson about taxes. The lesson was to tax so that few people would notice. The Stamp Tax had run into trouble because too many colonists saw the way it worked.
The news taxes were on goods brought from other countries. Taxes on such things as paint, glass, and tea would be paid when ships came into colonial parts. Only merchants—people in the business of bringing in goods and then selling them to colonists—actually would pay the taxes. Colonists would pay, too, in the form of higher price for paint, glass, and tea. But they would not see the taxes the way they had seen the hated stamps.
There were tax collectors in colonial parts to make sure the merchants paid the taxes. These tax collectors were afraid for their safety after what had happened to the stamp sellers. The English sent troops to act as bodyguards for the tax collectors.
In Boston, the biggest port, people disliked having soldiers around all the time. The people of Boston said insulting things to the troops and treated them badly. On March 5, 1770, a crowd gathered where the troops were on guard duty. The crowd shouted at the soldiers. Then the Bostonians started throwing snowballs and oyster shells at the troops. Suddenly, the troops began firing their muskets at the crowd. Three people died right away and two more died later. The Boston Massacre marked the first bloodshed of the struggle between England and the colonies.
The Boston Tea Party
To protect English taxes, Americans stopped buying English goods. The protest worked. England took away all of the taxes except for the tax on tea. England left that tax because Americans drank a lot of tea. The tax would bring a lot of money. England also left the tea tax to show it had the right to tax the colonies.
Patriot leaders like Sam Adams said not to buy tea until the English took away the tax. Most Americans, however, did not listen to Adams and went on buying tea. Then, in the fall of 1773, three ships filled with tea sailed for Boston. Adams warned that there would be trouble when the ships arrived.
On December 16, with the ships docked in Boston Harbor, Sam Adams and other patriots dressed up as Mohawk Indians. Around midnight they boarded the ships. As a large crowd watched, the patriots dumped 342 chest of tea into the water.
When England heard about the tea party, it passed four laws to punish Massachusetts and the colony’s capital, Boston. The most important law said that no ships could go in or out of Boston until the colonists paid for the tea. England thought these laws would teach the people of Massachusetts a lesson, but the laws only made the people angry.
To make sure the colonists learned their lesson, English soldiers, called Redcoats, began marching around Boston. It was only a matter of time before a fight would break out between these troops and the angry people of Massachusetts.