Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and Indian War

A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1763, the Proclamation Line establishes a boundary restricting westward settlement. In 1764, the Sugar Act reduces the tax on molasses and strengthens royal oversight of trade. In 1765, the Stamp Act is introduced and the Stamp Act Congress takes place; an image of a revenue stamp is shown. In 1767, the Townshend Revenue Act is represented by a portrait of Charles Townshend. In 1770, the Boston Massacre takes place; Paul Revere’s depiction of the Boston Massacre is shown. In 1773, the Tea Act is introduced, and Patriots dump tea into Boston Harbor in the Boston Tea Party. In 1774, the Coercive Acts are introduced, and the First Continental Congress takes place; a sympathetic British cartoon decrying the Coercive Acts is shown.
(credit “1765”: modification of work by the United Kingdom Government)

Great Britain had much to celebrate in 1763. The long and costly war with France had finally ended, and Great Britain had emerged victorious. British subjects on both sides of the Atlantic celebrated the strength of the British Empire. Colonial pride ran high; to live under the British Constitution and to have defeated the hated French Catholic menace brought great joy to British Protestants everywhere in the Empire. From Maine to Georgia, British colonists joyously celebrated the victory and sang the refrain of “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves! Britons never, never, never shall be slaves!”

Despite the celebratory mood, the victory over France also produced major problems within the British Empire, problems that would have serious consequences for British colonists in the Americas. During the war, many Indian tribes had sided with the French, who supplied them with guns. After the 1763 Treaty of Paris that ended the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years’ War), British colonists had to defend the frontier, where French colonists and their tribal allies remained a powerful force. The most organized resistance, Pontiac’s Rebellion, highlighted tensions the settlers increasingly interpreted in racial terms.

The massive debt the war generated at home, however, proved to be the most serious issue facing Great Britain. The frontier had to be secure in order to prevent another costly war. Greater enforcement of imperial trade laws had to be put into place. Parliament had to find ways to raise revenue to pay off the crippling debt from the war. Everyone would have to contribute their expected share, including the British subjects across the Atlantic.

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