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British Politics 1763-1775

During the first eight years of King George III reign the British government had six ministries. British politics was in a state of chaos and political infighting between Whig groups disrupted colonial policy.

In the last years of King George II, Britain was unified under the leadership of William Pitt who had led Britain to war against the French in North America and India. The war had been costly and Britain was highly indebted however Pitt wanted to declare war on Spain before Spain attacked Britain. Not finding support among George III’s other ministers, Pitt resigned in May 1762. Pitt remained the strongest opponent to an American tax until the end of his days.

William Pitt was the strongest opponent in the British government to an American tax

John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, served as Prime Minister until 1763 and resigned when facing opposition over an excise on cider. He was succeeded by George Grenville.

Grenville’s objective was to lighten the burden of debt on British citizens and concentrated his efforts on imposing taxes on Colonial America to pay for Britain’s escalating debt. He enforced previous duties such as the Molasses Act and Sugar Act and in 1765 unsuccessfully introduced the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act brought riots and boycott of British goods in America. The Act never took effect and was nullified the following year. Grenville resigned.

Grenville was succeeded by Charles Watson-Wentworth, Marquis of Rockingham in 1766. Under his leadership Parliament passed the Declaratory Act which asserted that parliament had the right to tax the colonies “in all cases whatsoever”. Unable to gather support and due to internal dissent within the cabinet, he had to resign. He was succeeded by William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, as Prime Minister.

William Pitt formed a new government with Charles Townshend as Chancellor of the Exchequer. In January 1767 Pitt’s health began to deteriorate, he remained prime minister but stayed secluded. Meanwhile Townshend imposed the Townshend Duties on the colonies which triggered riots and were withdrawn under colonial pressure in 1770. With a deteriorating health Pitt resigned in 1768 and August Henry FitzRoy, the Duke of Grafton, became the new Prime Minister.

Grafton’s government lasted until 1770, he was widely attacked for allowing France to annex Corsica and failed to step up to the challenges of Britain’s global dominance. Lord North took over the Prime Minister position in 1770. His government provided the first stable government since 1755 and led Britain through the American Revolutionary War. Tired of short lived administrations, Britons supported the North government and were determined to levy taxes on its American colonies.


Related Information


British view on colonial taxation

American view on colonial taxation


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