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The Early Years of American Law - Britain's Push For Greater Control

colonists british act taxes

British leaders decided something needed to be done to tighten their control over the colonists and discourage emigration. One way to accomplish these goals was to raise taxes in the colonies. This would make the colonies less attractive to possible emigrants and the existing colonists would be more obedient to the king.

Raising taxes would also help relieve Britain's war debt after successfully defeating the French in America in the costly French and Indian War (1756–63). The victory finally gave Britain more complete control over North America ending a struggle with France that had begun in the late 1600s. As soon as the war was over, Britain began imposing various taxes. These included the highly unpopular Stamp Act in March 1765. The act required Americans to purchase stamps to place on official documents such as deeds, mortgages, licenses of various sorts, and even publications such as newspapers. Colonial leaders rebelled and declared the act unjust. Colonial resistance forced Britain to repeal (cancel or undo) the act the following year, but the bitterness remained.

Riots broke out after the passage of the Stamp Act in March 1765. The act required Americans to purchase stamps to place on official documents such as deeds, mortgages, licenses of various sorts, and even publications such as newspapers. (The Library of Congress)

The colonists were just as determined to hang on to their unique independence including their evolving court systems. Most colonists did not, however, want a violent confrontation such as a war. They wanted to enjoy their independence while taking advantage of the trade benefits available as members of the British Empire—such as trade with other British colonies around the world.

While many colonists took pride in being part of the great British Empire, the Stamp Act had become a symbol of the British threat to their independence. Colonists feared the royal colonial governors and their top officials would become an elite social class as the common taxpayers became poor laborers and farmers just like in England. The elite would use the criminal justice system to maintain control over the commoners, who would be at the king's mercy in criminal court proceedings. It was possible the newfound personal liberties and property ownership of the colonists could be lost forever.

The colonists believed that if they resisted the new taxes, Britain would simply back off and leave them alone. British officials, however, firmly believed the colonists were no match for the highly trained British troops if any open rebellion should occur. After all, the British had just defeated France, another European power. Therefore they were determined to press for tightened control over the American colonies.



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