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The Townshend Act

If the colonists wouldn't pay direct taxes, why not skim a little more off the top before the products got to the New World? The Townshend Act (1767) put a light import tax on glass, lead, paper, paint — and, most importantly, on tea. The Townshend Act had everybody so upset and produced almost no revenue, and the cost to the British of occupying the colonies continued to rise.

The Boston Massacre

In 1768, the British landed about 1,200 troops in Boston — 1 soldier for every 4 residents. The Boston Massacre (1770) occurred when citizens started throwing rocks at 10 British troops and the troops fired back, killing or wounding 11 citizens.

The Boston Tea Party

The Townshend Act (see the earlier section) tax eventually led to the Boston Tea Party (1773). When the injury of the tax was combined with the insult of granting a monopoly on tea to the British East India Company, citizens responded by dumping shiploads of tea into Boston Harbor.

The Intolerable Acts

A year later, the British passed what the colonists called the Intolerable Acts (1774), designed to punish Massachusetts in general and Boston in particular. The acts closed Boston Harbor until Boston paid Britain back for all the tea lost in the Tea Party. The acts also took away the rights of the legislature and of town meetings, and allowed any English officials who killed Americans to be tried back in friendly Britain.

Showing little political sensitivity to the feelings of America, the British also passed the Quebec Act. This act expanded Canada down into Ohio on land the colonies thought they owned. Something had to give.

The first Continental Congress

Samuel Adams was a Boston hothead with shaky hands but a firm resolve. While talking revolution in the bars at night, he organized the first Committee of Correspondence (1772). Soon, Committees of Correspondence were exchanging revolutionary ideas in and among all the colonies. They had lots to talk about.

The Committees of Correspondence set the groundwork for the first Continental Congress (1774). After seven weeks of drinking and deliberation, the first congress passed a Declaration of Rights and sent appeals to the British king and people. The congress also established something called The Association to oversee a boycott of everything British. Americans weren't going to buy, sell, or even use British goods.

Lexington and Concord

Determined to slap down growing resentment with a surge of strength, in April 1775, British troops marched out of Boston to seize some arms and to arrest protest leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock. They met colonial militia in the towns of Lexington and Concord. After taking some casualties, the militia fought back, and with American minutemen (1775) running in from the hills in all directions, the militia pushed the outnumbered British back to Boston. With 300 total casualties for both sides, the British had a war on their hands.

War wasn't going to be easy for the Americans. They had one-third of the population of the British and not one-tenth of the money, and they were facing the most successful fighters in the world. The British had an experienced standing army of 50,000 men, which they made even stronger by hiring 30,000 German mercenaries. In addition, the colonies were far from united: The British had as many as 50,000 American loyalists ready to fight their fellow colonists to stay linked to Great Britain.

Contrary to some modern National Rifle Association beliefs, America in 1775 wasn't a nation of dead-eye marksmen. Only a small minority of households owned firearms. The colonies had no gun factory, and an imported rifle cost the modern equivalent of $5,000. Only 1 out of 12 colonists reported for duty with their own rifles.

The colonists had the advantage of fighting on their own ground. Eventually, they would get help from the French and other nations. But mostly, the American advantage was that a dedicated minority of the citizens of the New World colonies believed in freedom so much they were willing to die for it.

 
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