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Boycotting the British: Justified or Not?

Grades 6-8 | Historical Analysis | Source-Based

Source Lexile®: 860L-1210L

Learning Standards



Prompt: Today you will read and analyze four sources on British Policy. Write an essay in which you analyze whether the American colonists were justified in their boycotts against Britain. Be sure to cite evidence from multiple sources to support your claim.



Source 1

Do Consumer Boycotts Work in the U.S.?
Just Ask the British (excerpt) (Secondary Source)


It ended with American independence. But it started with ordinary people refusing to buy the King's cider, pickles, and jewelry in the 1760s.

By Stephen Mihm

February 10, 2017



Boycott Trump? The movement to stick it to the billionaire-turned-president has been gaining momentum, with groups targeting business ventures of Trump and his inner circle. Both Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus recently dropped Ivanka Trump's product lines, though both companies denied the boycotts had anything to do with their decision. Not to be outdone, pro-Trump supporters have vowed to boycott companies which ran pro-immigration ads during the Super Bowl, with Lumber 84 and Budweiser among the targets.


All of this can seem like a distraction from the real issues. But consumer boycotts have been incredibly effective in U.S. history, not only at altering the behavior of rulers, but also building a cohesive, powerful political movement from the ground up.


Consumer activism first emerged as a broad-based, popular movement in colonial North America when the revolutionaries first squared off against the British government... The tactics honed then are surprisingly relevant today.


The American Revolution did not begin with the shots exchanged at Lexington and Concord in 1775; rather, it was a long, drawn-out campaign of resistance that dated back to 1765. At that time, the British Parliament... began a concerted campaign to wring more tax revenue out of the American colonies.


By the 1760s, the colonies imported vast quantities of British goods: everything from textiles to tea. This put Americans in a position of commercial dependency, but as a growing number of colonists came to realize, they were not without leverage. If they refused to purchase these goods, British merchants and manufacturers would suffer, putting pressure on Parliament to change its policies.


This idea gained currency during the campaign to repeal the Stamp Act, the first major measure passed by Parliament to tax the colonists. As resistance to the measure spread, American merchants pledged to stop importing British goods.


These tactics helped build a movement, but it was more coercive measures -- namely, violent intimidation of officials charged with imposing the tax -- that pressured Parliament to repeal the hated Stamp Act in 1766. When it was quickly replaced with a host of taxes known as the Townshend Duties, thousands of ordinary men and women joined together for the first mass consumer boycotts in American history.


Goods of all kinds became targets of boycotts, but it was luxury items that the revolutionaries renounced above all. In 1769, the Virginia House of Burgesses vowed not to import dozens of articles: sugar, pickles, pewter, tables, mirrors and silk; "lace of all sorts," as well as "Ribbon and Millinery of all Sorts"; clocks and watches; "trinkets and jewellery"; "India Goods of all Sorts, except Spices"; and wine, cider, beer and ale.


It took several years to build the movement into something formidable. The colonies were a vast area, after all, making it difficult to act in concert. But gradually, committees corresponded with other committees and newspapers in major cities spread word of the boycott, inspiring movements in other places. Thousands of ordinary people ended up signing pledges not to consume British imports.


By the end of the decade, consumer boycotts had become the primary weapon in the battle against Parliament. In time, the boycott quickly came to encompass not only specific goods, but those merchants foolish enough to try and circumvent the boycott too. Merchants who violated the boycott now found themselves named -- and shamed -- in newspapers and by protesters. In a handful of cases, the revolutionaries resorted to tar and feathers to make their point, running some merchants out of town.


Ugly? Yes. But most effective. The boycott of British goods in the late 1760s helped prompt Parliament to repeal most of the Townshend Duties in 1770. However, its more important effect was the creation of extra-legal organizations that turned ordinary men and women into political activists. The same committees set up to enforce consumer boycotts became the basis of the revolutionary committees that gradually took over imperial authority in the wake of the Tea Party of 1773.


Indeed, the kinds of organizations built atop the original non-importation movements had a much broader purpose, rooting out anyone who remained loyal to the crown. What began as a means of enforcing boycotts ultimately became the basis of tests of patriotism. Much the same thing now seems to be happening… But the real legacy of these movements will be far more momentous. Large-scale boycotts are a way of building a grassroots movement that brings once content but now furious ordinary citizens into politics.





Source 2

A timeline of the American Revolution from 1763 - 1787 (Secondary Source)

From the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763 to the Constitutional Convention in 1787




10 February: Signing of the Treaty of Paris

Ending the Seven Year's War, also known as the French and Indian War in North America. France ceded all mainland North American territories, except New Orleans, in order to retain her Caribbean sugar islands. Britain gained all territory east of the Mississippi River; Spain kept territory west of the Mississippi, but exchanged East and West Florida for Cuba.


7 October: Proclamation of 1763

Wary of the cost of defending the colonies, George III prohibited all settlement west of the Appalachian mountains without guarantees of security from local Native American nations. The intervention in colonial affairs offended the thirteen colonies' claim to the exclusive right to govern lands to their west.




5 April: Sugar Act

The first attempt to finance the defense of the colonies by the British Government. In order to deter smuggling and to encourage the production of British rum, taxes on molasses were dropped; a levy was placed on foreign Madeira wine and colonial exports of iron, lumber, and other goods had to pass first through Britain and British customs. The Act established a Vice-Admiralty Court in Halifax, Nova Scotia to hear smuggling cases without jury and with the presumption of guilt. These measures led to widespread protest.




22 March: Stamp Act

Seeking to defray some of the costs of garrisoning the colonies, Parliament required all legal documents, newspapers, and pamphlets required to use watermarked, or 'stamped' paper on which a levy was placed.


15 May: Quartering Act

Colonial assemblies required to pay for supplies to British garrisons. The New York assembly argued that it could not be forced to comply.


30 May: Virginian Resolution

The Virginian assembly refused to comply with the Stamp Act.


7-25 October: Stamp Act Congress

Representatives from nine of the thirteen colonies declare the Stamp Act unconstitutional as it was a tax levied without their consent.




18 March: Declaratory Act

Parliament finalises the repeal of the Stamp Act, but declares that it has the right to tax colonies.




29 June: Townshend Revenue Act (Townshend Duties)

Duties on tea, glass, lead, paper, and paint to help pay for the administration of the colonies, named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. John Dickinson publishes Letter from a Philadelphian Farmer in protest. Colonial assemblies condemn taxation without representation.




1 October: British troops arrive in Boston in response to political unrest




5 March: Boston Massacre

Angered by the presence of troops and Britain's colonial policy, a crowd began harassing a group of soldiers guarding the customs house; a soldier was knocked down by a snowball and discharged his musket, sparking a volley into the crowd which kills five civilians.


12 April: Repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act




10 June: Burning of the Gaspee

The revenue schooner Gaspee ran aground near Providence, Rhode Island and was burnt by locals angered by the enforcement of trade legislation.




July: Publication of Thomas Hutchinson letters

In these letters, Hutchinson, the Massachusetts governor, advocated a 'great restraint of natural liberty', convincing many colonists of a planned British clamp-down on their freedoms.


10 May: Tea Act

In an effort to support the ailing East India Company, Parliament exempted its tea from import duties and allowed the Company to sell its tea directly to the colonies. Americans resented what they saw as an indirect tax subsidising a British company.

16 December: Boston Tea Party

Angered by the Tea Acts, American patriots disguised as Mohawk Indians dump £9,000 of East India Company tea into the Boston harbour.




May to June: Intolerable Acts

Four measures which stripped Massachusetts of self-government and judicial independence following the Boston Tea Party. The colonies responded with a general boycott of British goods.


September: Continental Congress

Colonial delegates meet to organize opposition to the Intolerable Acts.



19 April: Battles of Lexington and Concord

First engagements of the Revolutionary War between British troops and the Minutemen, who had been warned of the attack by Paul Revere.


16 June: Continental Congress appoints George Washington commander-in-chief of Continental Army

Issued $2 million bills of credit to fund the army.


17 June: Battle of Bunker Hill

The first major battle of the War of Independence. Sir William Howe dislodged William Prescott's forces overlooking Boston at a cost of 1054 British casualties to the Americans' 367.


5 July: Olive-Branch Petition

Congress endorses a proposal asking for recognition of American rights, the ending of the Intolerable Acts in exchange for a cease fire. George III rejected the proposal and on 23 August 1775 declared the colonies to be in open rebellion.



Winter: Invasion of Canada by Benedict Arnold.




9 January: Thomas Paine's Common Sense published anonymously in Philadelphia


2 May: France provides covert aid to the Americans


4 July: Continental Congress issues the Declaration of Independence


August - December: Battles of Long Island and White Plains

British forces occupy New York after American defeats.


26 December: Battle of Trenton, New Jersey, providing a boost to American morale




2-3 January: Battle of Princeton, New Jersey

General Washington broke camp at Trenton to avoid a British advance, attacking the British rearguard and train near Princeton and then withdrawing to Morristown.

13 October: British surrender of 5,700 troops at Saratoga

Lacking supplies, 5,700 British, German, and loyalist forces under Major General John Burgoyne surrender to Major General Horatio Gates in a turning point in the Revolutionary War.


6 February: France recognizes US Independence


16 August: US Defeat at battle of Camden


1 March: Ratification of the Articles of Confederation

5 September: Battle of the Capes, denying British reinforcements or evacuation

18 October: Surrender of British forces under Cornwallis at Yorktown


5 March: British Government authorizes peace negotiations


3 September: Treaty of Paris, formally ending the Revolutionary War


Shays' Rebellion

Massachusetts rebellion led by the Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays against high taxes.


25 May: Constitutional Convention

Adoption of the American Constitution.



“A timeline of the American Revolution from 1763 - 1787” by is licensed under CC 4.0 International.





Source 3

B.W.'s Public Letter (Primary Source)


This public letter appeared on the front page of The Boston-Gazette and Country Journal, a colonial newspaper, on October 7, 1765. The author's name was printed as "B.W."



To the Inhabitants of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay

My Dear Countrymen,


It is a standing maxim of English Liberty "That no man shall be taxed but with his own consent," and you very well know we were not, in any sober sense, represented in parliament, when this tax was imposed.


AWAKE! Awake, my Countrymen and defeat those who want to enslave us. Do not be cowards. You were born in Britain, the Land of Light, and you were raised in America, the Land of Liberty. It is your duty to fight this tax. Future generations will bless your efforts and honor the memory of the saviors of their country.


I urge you to tell your representatives that you do not support this terrible and burdensome law. Let them know what you think. They should act as guardians of the liberty of their country.


I look forward to congratulating you on delivering us from the enemies of truth and liberty.





  • Maxim: a statement expressing a general truth
  • Sober: serious








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