Military history

CHAPTER 63

An Ambiguous Response to Imperial Initiatives

1764

MERCHANTS AND OTHER well-informed colonists knew, at least from late 1763, that reforms in the empire’s trade system were at hand. The arrival in America of dozens of previously absentee customs collectors and the accompanying flurry of orders directing the strict enforcement of the existing regulations had been a worrisome harbinger of change. “The publication of orders for the strict execution” of the customs laws, the governor of Massachusetts observed, “caused a greater alarm in this country than the taking of Fort William Henry did in 1757.” The concern was at least as great elsewhere—indeed everywhere that merchants who had built careers within the casual framework of the old system began seeing cargoes subjected to minute scrutiny and ships seized for infractions of rules they barely understood. The mercantile community was already awash with anxiety when reports of Grenville’s Budget Day speech arrived in May 1764 and gave colonists their first systematic sense of the character and scope of the reform program.1

Boston’s merchants reacted first, convening their Society for Encouraging Trade and Commerce to consider what response to make, and then introducing their concerns at the spring town meeting, on May 24. Their voice spoke plainly in the instructions that the meeting issued to Boston’s delegates to the General Court: “As you represent a town which lives by its trade, we expect in a very particular manner that you make it the object of your attention to support our commerce in all its just rights, to vindicate it from all unreasonable impositions and promote its prosperity. Our trade has for a long time laboured under great discouragements, and it is with the deepest concern that we see such further difficulties coming upon it as will reduce it to the lowest ebb, if not totally obstruct and ruin it.” The representatives were to use their “utmost endeavours” to see that the assembly would make all necessary representations to Parliament and elicit all possible cooperation from the other colonial legislatures.

But the meeting’s resolutions also made it clear that the representatives had more to protect than Boston’s economy. Massachusetts’s constitutional privileges, its inhabitants’ very rights, were at stake. “What still heightens our apprehensions,” the instructions continued, Those more impassioned sentences articulated the concerns of the country party, quiescent since it had failed to prevent Chief Justice Thomas Hutchinson from issuing writs of assistance in 1761. But more specifically, the voice that spoke was that of Samuel Adams.2 is that those unexpected proceedings may be preparatory to new taxations upon us; for if our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands and everything we possess or make use of? This we apprehend annihilates our charter right to govern and tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges which, as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our fellow subjects who are natives of Britain. If taxes are laid upon us in any shape without ever having a legal representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary slaves?

At age forty-two Adams had not achieved the status that a Harvard education, a tidy inheritance, and a venerable Bay Colony name ought to have conferred. But this failed brewer, small-time political activist, and minor officeholder (currently in the middle of a term as a notably ineffectual tax collector) lacked ambition to amass either wealth or power. Unlike more practical, secular, and worldly men, he believed that politics ought to promote social cohesion and civic virtue—views that tended to align him with the highly moralistic stance of the country party. From the time of the writs of assistance controversy he, like James Otis and other members of the opposition, had come to see in Thomas Hutchinson all the qualities inimical to virtuous politics. As lieutenant governor, chief justice of the superior court, judge of probate for Suffolk County, and member of the council, Hutchinson was the province’s leading plural officeholder, its ultimate political insider. Thus no one (least of all Hutchinson) would have been surprised when Adams as the town meeting’s chosen penman devoted only half of the instructions to warning against Parliament’s dangerous reforms. The other half denounced the corrupt practice of pluralism and instructed the representatives to seek legislation denying a salary to any judge who held more than one post, and prohibiting any member of the upper or lower house of the legislature from holding executive offices.3

The town meeting’s denunciation of both imperial reform and the pluralist practices of Thomas Hutchinson and his political allies signaled a revival of the country party’s campaign to gain control of the assembly. In the early summer it seemed as if this effort might bear fruit. Hutchinson had to leave Boston before the end of the legislative session to open the eastern circuit of the superior court, giving Boston’s representatives— including his sworn enemy, James Otis Jr.—the opening they needed to act on their instructions. When, late in the session, the legislators named one committee to correspond with other assemblies and a second to rebuke the Massachusetts agent, Israel Mauduit, for failing to protest Parliament’s measures, Otis secured himself places on both. When the committees sent out their appeals against the American Duties Act and the proposed Stamp Act, their reasoning echoed the arguments he had advanced in a recent pamphlet, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. Once again Otis was the country party’s man of the hour. Even though he condemned the imperial reforms in terms obscure enough to daunt even determined readers, his pamphlet enjoyed immediate success and helped arouse public opposition to Grenville’s measures.

Otis began with the conventional premise that the British constitution had no superior in human history, and that its beneficial, benign character flowed from the allocation of sovereign power to the king in Parliament. Great Britain’s legislature, therefore, had the indisputable right to give law to the colonies. Yet absolute though its sovereignty was, Parliament’s power could not extend to the destruction of the colonists’ rights—either those that belonged to them as Englishmen or the natural rights that were theirs as creatures of God—because no power on earth could contravene the laws of nature. “The Parliament cannot,” Otis wrote, “make 2 and 2, 5: omnipotency cannot do it.” For the House of Commons to pass a law altering the principles of arithmetic would be plainly absurd; for it to abridge the British subject’s right to consent to taxation would be tyrannical. Thus a body that could, if it chose, legitimately put a stop to the entire trade of the colonies, could not justly derive a penny’s worth of revenue from taxes on colonial commerce (as in the American Duties Act) or extract a farthing from the pockets of the colonists directly (as in the proposed stamp tax): not until American M.P.s sat in the House of Commons offering their constituents’ consent. The Rights of the Colonies elaborated the natural-rights arguments Otis had first made in the writs of assistance controversy. As such they strongly appealed to people who revered the British constitution but wanted rational grounds to object to laws passed by a Parliament in which that constitution vested the ultimate state power to take property and life.4

Popular as they were in Boston and provocative as they were when read in the other legislatures to which the committee of correspondence sent them, however, Otis’s arguments did not create a groundswell of opposition in the General Court. In the first place, they were ideologically inadequate to justify outright resistance. Otis himself admitted that Parliament’s sovereignty could not legally be challenged, for only Parliament had the power to right any wrongs it might do. The colonists could only protest and wait for the constitutional system to correct itself. Second—and in the short term, most significant—the Bay Colony’s country party still lacked the strength to break the grip on power of the governor and the court party.

When the representatives reconvened for the fall session and considered what formal petitions they might make against the American Duties Act and the proposed stamp tax, Thomas Hutchinson and his supporters were there to take control of the situation. The House of Representatives approved an ambitious country-party address to the king and Parliament that denounced the American Duties Act, the prospective stamp tax, and the erection of a new vice-admiralty court at Halifax as violations of colonial rights; but the Council, under Hutchinson’s guidance, refused to concur. The upper house instead proposed a petition, written in Hutchinson’s own neat hand, directed to the House of Commons: a chaste document that never once mentioned rights but rather argued against the new measures because they would inhibit Massachusetts’s faltering trade.

The lieutenant governor, who kept his personal views to himself, disliked the idea of parliamentary taxation as much as Otis and Adams did, privately objecting on grounds quite similar to theirs. Yet he was, unlike either of them, a merchant, and he crafted the public petition to appeal to the province’s traders. By avoiding arguments based on rights he hoped both to avoid offending Parliament and to co-opt the influential business interests that, he knew, valued political principles less highly than positive cash flows. The stratagem worked perfectly. As Bernard explained to Lord Halifax when he sent copies of the General Court’s proceedings, all efforts “to inflame the people” by the country party “had no influence on the generality of the representatives; The proposers of Violent remonstrances were soon silenced; & the Business by degrees got into the hands of moderate men & friends to Govt.; & . . . was concluded with the utmost unanimity & good humour. The Council with the Lieut. Gov. at their head acted a most prudent & steady part thro’ the whole.”5

In Massachusetts, then, the merchants’ howls of alarm at the American Duties Act were absorbed into the pattern of provincial politics as soon as the country party took up the cause of protest. The fusion of protest with conventional politics in turn allowed an adept lieutenant governor to minimize the stridency of the assembly’s petition and preserve harmonious relations with London. In most other colonies, too, the prevailing political alignments and issues helped to create ambiguous responses and limit protests. Only the New York Assembly sent a petition to Parliament denouncing the act as a tax levied without the consent of the colonists and thus a violation of their rights.6 This sole exception to the rule of reticence and moderation also arose from local political conditions, and when examined reveals the character and limits of colonial protest.

New York’s war governor, James De Lancey, had built up the court party that bore his family name, and through it exercised reasonably consistent control in the assembly until his death in 1760. With the appointment of the nonresident General Robert Monckton as governor, the effective power of the governorship passed to the lieutenant governor, Cadwallader Colden. Meanwhile an assembly election gave new strength to the country party, the so-called Livingston faction. Colden, a crusty septuagenarian Scot, may have had a friend somewhere in the province, but if so that person did not belong to the assembly. Colden had sustained a four-decade-long career in New York politics by virtue of a Crown appointment as surveyor general and a reputation as a tireless defender of the prerogative. As acting governor he was determined to destroy both the De Lancey and the Livingston Parties as a first step toward rebuilding the depleted power of the prerogative in the province. He started by trying to make judicial appointments “at pleasure” rather than for life, as had been the practice: an effort that alienated the entire New York bar. The lawyers’ enmity grew as Colden, who had been educated as a physician, began intervening in legal procedures. Late in 1764 he was engaged in a particularly intemperate effort to establish himself as supreme judiciary authority in the colony by agreeing to hear an appeal on a lawsuit that the supreme court had decided—and doing it in such a way as to suggest that he intended to destroy the right to jury trial in civil cases. Colden’s position was one that even staunch royalists could not support without seeming to endorse the efforts of an “evil Genius” (or at best a “Petty T[yran]t”) to make himself “superior to the whole Body of the Law.” 7

Without doing anything to subdue the most factious political system in North America, Cadwallader Colden had found a way to align both Livingston and De Lancey partisans against him and his defense of prerogative power. He had so abraded the nerves and sensibilities of the New York elite that by October 18, 1764, when the assembly petitioned the House of Commons against the American Duties Act and the prospective stamp tax, delegates who agreed on almost nothing else concurred in the most radical statement issued in America. “The People of this Colony,” they wrote, “inspired by the Genius of their Mother Country, nobly disdain the thought of claiming the Exemption [from taxation] as a Privilege.—They found it on a Basis more honourable, solid and stable; they challenge it, and glory in it as their Right.”

Like Otis in The Rights of the Colonies, the legislators granted that Parliament had “an incontestable Power, to give Laws for the Advancement of her own Commerce,” but denied the legitimacy of involuntary taxation, including the raising of revenue by customs duties. Yet such Otis-like reasonings did not emerge solely from the legislators’ “Regret, that the Laws of Trade in general, change the Current of Justice from the common Law”—where jury trials and procedural protections secured the rights of the accused—to vice-admiralty courts, which “proceed not according the old wholesom Laws of the Land, nor are always filled with Judges of approved Knowledge and Integrity.” Those sentiments were equally the product of Colden’s attacks on common-law procedure, and on the autonomy of the common-law courts. The sudden conjunction of threats that were general and imperial on one hand, with threats that were local and Coldenesque on the other, fueled the representatives’ anxieties to a hyperbolic climax:

The General Assembly of this Colony have no desire to derogate from the power of the Parliament of Great-Britain; but they cannot avoid deprecating the Loss of such Rights as they have hitherto enjoyed, rights established in the first Dawn of our Constitution, founded upon the most substantial Reasons, confirmed by invariable Usage, conducive to the best Ends; never abused to bad Purposes, and with the Loss of which Liberty, Property, and all the Benefits of Life, tumble into Insecurity and Ruin: Rights, the Deprivation of which, will dispirit the People, abate their Industry, discourage Trade, introduce Discord, Poverty and Slavery; or, by depopulating the Colonies, turn a vast, fertile, prosperous Region, into a dreary Wilderness; impoverish Great-Britain, and shake the Power and Independancy of the most opulent and flourishing Empire in the World.8

Thus the internal politics of New York made the legislature’s petition as distorted a mirror of that province’s reactions as the deceptively mild petition of Massachusetts was for those in the Bay Colony. Far from being stocked with radicals, New York’s legislature was in fact as conservative as it was factious. Cadwallader Colden, however, did not hesitate to depict his personal enemies as the enemies of the Crown, Parliament, patriotism, and common sense itself. The old man’s remarkable cussedness enabled him both to evoke opposition and to miscast it as the product of a republican spirit. Thomas Hutchinson’s innate caution and deft parliamentary management, on the other hand, led him to smooth the surface of politics in a province where genuine radicalism was boiling up, making it seem as if those who opposed the American Duties Act cared less for principles than full pocketbooks. Ironically, by keeping his own deep reservations about the wisdom and justice of the imperial reforms a secret—something he did almost instinctively—Hutchinson was fast becoming as much a symbol of oppression as Colden, who entertained no personal qualms about the Grenville program.

Only Massachusetts and New York lodged official remonstrances against the American Duties Act with the British government. That none of the other colonial assemblies were sufficiently agitated to protest might be ascribed to confusion, since the act’s purpose was not only to generate revenue but to regulate commerce within the empire, and the colonies had submitted to commercial regulation for a century. But something more significant than muddled thinking lay behind the colonies’ quiescence. Because the provisions of the American Duties Act mainly affected rum distillers, merchants engaged in the coastwise trade, and consumers of expensive imports like Madeira, Grenville’s reforms were simply of less than universal concern. It was not, in other words, that the colonists had trouble understanding the new duties as taxes: it was only that most Americans did not distill rum, trade in coasting vessels, or buy Madeira by the tun—and remained untroubled by taxes that they themselves would not have to pay.

Reasons arising from local self-interest and local politics led legislators in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to protest against the prospect of a stamp tax while remaining silent on the reality of the American Duties Act. All four assemblies sent petitions or instructed their agents to oppose the stamp bill when Grenville introduced it, as he had promised he would, in 1765. Their petitions and instructions, like those of Massachusetts and New York, were strongly inflected by local circumstances and thereby clouded in argument. But all agreed that the House of Commons could not justly vote taxes out of the pockets of unrepresented Americans. The jumble in colonial thinking about the imperial reforms, therefore, did not originate in any lack of clarity about the acceptability of taxation by a sovereign Parliament. Rather, as the colonists’ divided reactions showed, it came from the extreme difficulty Americans had in seeing themselves as a political community—a group with enough in common that a threat to any of them could actually be a threat to them all.

In Rhode Island the legislators mildly requested that the king confirm colonial rights, and they came no closer to asserting a universal principle than to state their belief that “colonists may not be taxed but by the consent of their own representatives, as your Majesty’s other free subjects are.” Connecticut’s assemblymen contented themselves with commissioning a pamphlet that articulated their opposition to a stamp tax, entitled Reasons Why the British Colonies, in America, should not be charged with Internal Taxes by Authority of Parliament, and sending its author, Jared Ingersoll, to London as their agent. Elected officials in both colonies cared most about preserving their charters—perhaps the only issue that could unite all factions in either legislature—and out of their fear of offending Parliament, which possessed the power to annul the charters, chose to mute their protests. Anxiety over maintaining corporate privileges also produced Connecticut’s unique effort to argue against “internal” taxation while accepting Parliament’s authority to raise revenue by the “external” means of customs exactions. A stamp tax would operate directly on the population, effectively flattening the institutional barriers that had until now preserved the colonies’ autonomy within the empire. Customs duties might be unpleasant but would not diminish local control. So long as the new duties were not so high as to put the local merchants out of business, Rhode Island and Connecticut could live with them.9

In Pennsylvania, circumstances tempered reactions to the impending Stamp Act in a different way. Pennsylvania’s assemblymen learned of the imperial reforms in the midst of a battle between the antiproprietary party and the resurgent proprietary faction: a political dispute blown white-hot by a series of appalling incidents spawned by the Indian insurrection of the previous winter. On December 14, 1763, about fifty disguised frontiersmen had marched on the Indian town at Conestoga Creek and murdered twenty Christian Indians. The vigilantes, calling themselves Paxton Boys after the Scotch-Irish settlement on Paxtang (Paxton) Creek, justified the massacre on grounds of self-defense. The Conestogas, they maintained, covertly aided Delaware war parties, while the assembly, dominated by the antiproprietary party, left frontier farmers exposed to attack. Two weeks later they renewed their protest by breaking open the Lancaster jail and butchering fourteen Conestogas whom the sheriff had placed in protective custody. As word spread that the vigilantes intended to kill all the Indians in Pennsylvania, their popularity and their numbers mounted fast. Soon they believed they could intimidate the province government directly. Thus early in February, some 500 Paxton Boys marched on Philadelphia, announcing that they would kill both the 140 or so Indian converts who had taken shelter there, and Israel Pemberton, whom they regarded as the province’s leading Indian-lover. Benjamin Franklin and other government leaders intercepted them at Germantown, listened to their complaints, promised not to prosecute them for the previous murders if they went home, and thus defused the threat to Philadelphia.10

There was no further violence, but the incident alarmed everyone in eastern Pennsylvania, further polarized politics, and raised the stakes in the campaign for control of the legislature. In the fall elections both Franklin and his lieutenant, Joseph Galloway, lost their assembly seats: a stunning reversal for the antiproprietary faction, despite the fact that it retained a legislative majority. Under these circumstances, Grenville’s reforms went unmentioned, if not unnoticed, until the fall. When the legislature finally acted, it directed Richard Jackson, its agent in London, to make a formal protest to the ministry and to lobby against the stamp tax in the House of Commons.

There was only a nod to the question of colonial rights in the assembly’s instructions to Jackson because the antiproprietary politicians, now that the elections were over, were concentrating on a campaign to turn Pennsylvania into a royal province. It was with this goal in mind, not protesting the reforms in imperial relations, that the assembly voted to send a second agent to London to “assist” Jackson as Pennsylvania’s representative. Over the objections of the proprietary minority, they named Benjamin Franklin, who had ambitions to become the province’s first royal governor. He left quickly to take up his new job, unaware that imperial, not provincial, issues would consume his attention once he arrived in London. In this respect he was less than prescient but thoroughly representative. No politician in Pennsylvania thought that there could be any question more compelling than who would control the province. Thus in Pennsylvania even more than in the New England colonies, domestic issues absorbed the attention of political leaders and moderated their response to imperial reforms.11

Virginia’s local concerns surfaced in the House of Burgesses’s three official protests—a petition to the king, an address to the House of Lords, and a remonstrance to the House of Commons. Through all three memorials ran mixed currents of principled and practical objection from planters who regarded themselves as put-upon and disadvantaged in relations with the metropolis. Provincial taxes, at the highest levels ever and committed to the retirement of the war debt, had lately been driven up further by the mobilization of militia units for frontier defense, but Lieutenant Governor Fauquier, and then the Currency Act, had prevented the Burgesses from easing the strain with paper money. Meanwhile tobacco prices continued to fall while exchange rates stayed stuck at the highest levels in their history. Planters’ debts had climbed to frightening levels, but the prohibition against selling tobacco outside the empire doomed the planters to trade with British merchants who, many believed, were trying to turn them into permanent dependents.

Thus the Burgesses humbly prayed the king’s protection, to preserve them “in their ancient and inestimable Right of being governed by such Laws respecting their internal Polity and Taxation as are derived from their own Consent . . .: A Right which as Men, and Descendents of Britons, they have ever quietly possessed. . . .” With almost equal humility and a hint of desperation they argued to those “fixed and hereditary Guardians of British Liberty,” the House of Lords, that they were the descendants of men who “brought with them every Right and Privilege they could with Justice claim in their Mother Kingdom”; that to tax them without their consent would make them “the Slaves of Britons, from whom they are descended”; and that insofar as they had always taxed themselves, “they cannot now be deprived of a Right they have so long enjoyed, and which they have never forfeited.” 12

The remonstrance to the House of Commons concentrated on practical concerns more than rights, and perhaps for that reason sounded surlier. The Burgesses could not, they said, “discern by what Distinction they can be deprived of that sacred Birthright and most valuable Inheritance [of Englishmen’s rights] by their Fellow Subjects, nor with what Propriety they can be taxed or affected in their Estates by the Parliament, wherein they are not, and indeed cannot, constitutionally be represented.” Even “if it were proper for Parliament to impose Taxes on the Colonies,” to do so “at this Time would be ruinous to Virginia, who exerted herself in the late War it is feared beyond her Strength,” and whose people “are very greatly distressed already from the Scarcity of circulating Cash amongst them, and from the little Value of their Staple at the British Markets.” Should Virginians be further burdened, the Burgesses observed, they would undoubtedly be forced to suspend importation and begin manufacturing substitutes for British consumer goods, to the great detriment of Bristol and London merchants. Thus no less because the stamp tax would “certainly be detrimental to [Britain’s] commerce” than because “British Patriots will never consent to the Exercise of anticonstitutional Power,” the House of Commons ought to be wise enough not to enact “a Measure . . . fitter for Exiles driven from their native Country . . . than for the Prosperity of Britons who have at all Times been forward to demonstrate all due Reverence to the Mother Kingdom, and are so instrumental in promoting her Glory and Felicity.” 13

What George Grenville and his ministerial colleagues inferred from this variety of American responses to the imperial reform program is easy enough to guess. All but two of the colonies had acquiesced uncomplainingly in the American Duties Act, and only one assembly objected that customs exactions were in fact taxes and therefore ought not to be levied on unrepresented subjects. The prospect of a stamp tax had elicited more widespread objections, but less than half of the colonial legislatures made even the minimal gestures of petitioning or instructing their agents to object. Compared to the resistance that the cider excise had evoked in England, the Americans’ befuddled, erratic, and (in more than half the colonies) apathetic responses to taxation and a new regime of imperial administration were most encouraging. There was nothing in them to deter Grenville from proceeding to the next stage of reform and imposing a stamp tax.

With the benefit of two centuries’ hindsight, of course, we can make inferences different from the ones Grenville and his colleagues could possibly have drawn. We can see that the political configurations of various American legislatures and the tendency of colonial leaders to be preoccupied with local concerns had inhibited the provinces from cooperating, even though the issues at stake were clear from the start and never, in fact, the subject of significant disagreement among colonists. Thomas Hutchinson himself detested the prospect of taxation without representation, and if not even James Otis could conclusively deny Parliament’s sovereignty over the colonies, no one (except perhaps Cadwallader Colden) applauded its untrammeled exercise of power. The absence of coordinated resistance to imperial reform did not reflect internal division on the issues so much as the rudimentary state of intercolonial relations and the undeveloped sense of common interest within America. During the previous half century, and particularly during the Seven Years’ War, the most important bonds in colonial America had been those that extended across the Atlantic. The most significant trends in political and economic integration had not drawn colony closer to colony, but the colonies as a group closer to the metropolis. The American provinces had thus been able to demonstrate unprecedented coordination during the war, but only as a result of direction from above, not as a consequence of consultations among themselves.

The Seven Years’ War had provided two unifying elements: a common enemy to animate agreement among colonies that were otherwise intensely localist; and a commander in chief to orchestrate colonial activities by issuing directives and transmitting requisitions through the governors to the legislatures. That only Maryland had sat out the war testified to the rude effectiveness of this system no less than to its limits, for only in Maryland did a governor and an opposition-dominated assembly fail to find enough common ground for the governor to become a conduit for the commander in chief’s instructions and requests.

The end of the war left the other colonies free, once more, to behave like Maryland. There was no longer a common enemy to fear or a common cause to serve; the commander in chief no longer issued instructions to the governors; governors lacked the resources to control or even persuade assemblies; and the intercolonial cooperation of the war years faded into memory. Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that opposition factions within various assemblies, responding to local concerns as much as to Grenville’s reform initiatives, failed to coordinate their protests. Yet the memory of intercolonial cooperation clearly lingered on in the resolutions of assemblies like Massachusetts and Rhode Island to establish committees of correspondence, to communicate with other legislatures. Such committees reassured other assemblies that they were not alone in believing that Parliament had no right to tax unrepresented colonists. Given the fragmentation of postwar America, that was no insignificant accomplishment, but it could hardly have deterred George Grenville from proceeding with the Stamp Act.

Grenville and his fellow ministers also remembered the extent, and perceived the limits, of intercolonial coordination. They wanted to construct a system that would allow the colonies to respond to Whitehall’s directives even more efficiently (and much more economically) than in the last years of the war. Until well into 1765 they did not understand that their efforts had begun to precipitate opposition out of Americans’ inchoate, provincial disinclination to be governed from a distance and their widely held belief that taxes should not be levied without consent. The various colonists who opposed Grenville’s program, however, could not make common cause solely on the basis of localist biases and shared prejudices. In the first place, they could not agree that there was a common enemy: there was only the British state, which was much more the focus of patriotic devotion than a source of threat. Moreover, there was no agency with the backing of legitimate authority—no analog to a wartime commander in chief—capable of soliciting their cooperation. Thus local concerns, local interests, and local politics blocked the road to common action, even though most colonists feared and disliked the Grenville program.

There was, finally, one more factor that inhibited expressions of discontentment with an imperial program expressly designed to promote colonial defense: the Indian insurrection that was still in progress on frontiers from New York to North Carolina. It would have been hard enough for American politicians to question Parliament’s authority if issues of sovereignty and representation could be debated at the level of abstraction. For them to question Parliament’s authority when the issues at stake already had been stained by blood, and particularly when the blood was that of British soldiers spilled in defense of American colonists: that was another matter, entirely.

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