I assume that the time period to focus predominantly on in answering this question is the circa fifteen years from when Britain in 1760 emerged victorious from the French and Indian War, and up to the events of the early 1770s that in the end led to the decisions at the Continental Congress in 1774; skirmishes between colonial minutemen and British troops in early 1775; and the declaration of independence in 1776. However, I would contend that throughout the gradual colonial expansion of the English and later (from 1707) British Empire – at least up until the era discussed here – there was a fluctuation between more or less centralized control, and more or less efforts to centralize control, on behalf of either Crown or Parliament. Therefore, I will start with a brief sketch of how power relations between England and the colonies evolved from the first landings in North America of settlers and puritans in the early seventeenth century; then I will outline what measures Britain took to consolidate the Empire after the treaty of Paris in 1763; and finally, I will discuss how these efforts affected colonial life, and colonial politics. 2. Beginnings
The first English settlements in North America were either commercial endeavors, or else religiously motivated. The Virginian proto-planters were financed and thus controlled by English joint-stock companies; the religiously motivated were initially largely autonomous; and later, the groups of colonists that came to bear the brunt of gradual expansion westward, the pioneers and frontiersmen, were largely independent of anyone, and were often left to fend for themselves. Thus, throughout the first decades of English colonization of North America, central control was overall weak. After the restoration of the Stuarts in the latter part of the seventeenth century, the Crown wanted to exert more control over their overseas possessions. This was a time when states competed against each other economically (between the wars), believing in and thus creating the economic system now known as mercantilism: By controlling trade, specifically the supply of raw materials from the colonies, and keeping finished product from other states from entering one’s economy, states (believed that they) would accrue a larger portion of wealth than the next state, thereby becoming more influential on the international arena, and hopefully winning the next war.
Thus, to exert more political control over the expanding empire, the Stuart kings started appointing Governors in the several colonies, which in turn appointed the equivalent of an upper chamber for the colonial assemblies. This was in general disapproved of and to some extent resisted. However, the Governor was dependent upon the elected colonial assemblies (i.e. the equivalent of a lower chamber) for financing, so there was still in effect an amount of balance between powers. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89, the colonies saw more political freedom. They were returned the right to elect their own leaders, but gradually Parliamentary policies more deeply entrenched the economy – specifically the exports and imports – into that of the English and later British. This was done through a series of Navigation Acts, securing raw materials from the colonies for the homeland, and keeping the colonies an outlet for British manufactures. Initially, this was beneficial to colonial exporters, because it was largely a system of preferential trading, and mainly directed against other European nations, rather than for or against the colonies. However, this initial positive attitude changed in the years after the French and Indian War – a change marked by the 1763 Parliamentary decision of tightening political and economic control over the Empire. What made the British Parliament reach this decision? 3. The consolidation of the British Empire
The French and Indian War (1754–60) is the name of the North American theater of the Seven...
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