Chapter 4 The Empire in Transition chapter summary

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The Empire in Transition


Despite their differences and disagreements, English–American ties seemed strong in the middle of the eighteenth century. Mercantile regulations aside, the colonies had prospered under British rule and often felt greater ties to England than between each other. They had also developed democratic institutions through which each colony largely governed itself, at least on local matters. Finally, with the British defeat of the French in the French and Indian War (1756–1763), the American colonies were poised to expand west into fertile lands in the heart of the North American continent. However, no sooner had the war ended than the British began to alter the imperial system with the goal of making management of the colonies more efficient and financially accountable to London. The means for accomplishing this goal included a renewed enforcement through the Navigation Acts to end illegal trade and new taxation of the colonists to help pay for both the recent war and the new lands in the west. Both parliamentary actions were seen by the colonists as threats to an independent way of life they had come to accept as a given.

Rising in protest soon after 1763, the most assertive colonies now faced a British government suddenly determined to assert its own authority. For the next twelve years, a cycle of British action and colonial reaction continued on and off. During this period several crucial events occurred that ultimately broke the bonds between many colonists and England. Perhaps equally important was the emergence of many key personalities on both sides of the Atlantic who shaped the course of events. By September 1774, twelve of the thirteen American colonies met to form a Continental Congress. The initial hope of most delegates was that a united colonial front would cause London to reconsider its post-1763 course of action, most especially the Intolerable Acts. But those on both sides who wanted to avoid conflict were soon disappointed. In spring 1775, fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord when, in a preemptory strike, British forces tried to capture colonial military supplies. Although formal American independence would not be declared for another fifteen months, the American Revolution had begun.


A thorough study of Chapter 4 should enable the student to understand:
1. The primary reasons for the differences between colonial Americans and the British government immediately following the French and Indian War

2. The collective colonial attitude toward England and inter-colonial relations before 1756

3. The causes of the French and Indian War and the reasons for the British victory

4. The effects of the war on American colonists and on the status of the colonies within the British Empire

5. British policy options toward the colonies after 1763, and the reasons the British followed the course(s) they did

6. The nature of the crises between the Sugar Act and the Coercive (Intolerable) Acts, and how each crisis changed—and worsened—colonial relations with Great Britain

7. The key political colonial and British figures and the roles they played during the critical period of 1763–1775

8. The change in American attitudes toward Parliament, the English constitution, and the king, and the differences between virtual and actual representation

9. The significance of the convening of the First Continental Congress and what it accomplished—and did not accomplish; why compromise was not possible

10. The background to the battle at Lexington and Concord, and an analysis of who fired the first shot and why


1. How colonists who had enjoyed considerable freedom within the British Empire came to regard themselves as slaves of that empire

2. Why, after a considerable period of laxness, England made sharp policy changes designed to significantly increase its control over the colonial economy

3. How colonists who had generally prospered within the British Empire rose up in rebellion against that empire


1. Why were most Americans content with their role(s) within the British Empire as of the 1750s? What evidence of discord did exist?

2. What were the goals of the British and the Americans in the French and Indian War? How did the war affect postwar British decision making? How did the war affect American colonial attitudes toward the larger empire?

3. What groups of Americans protested British policies after 1763? Why did colonial assemblies take a leading role in these protests? What effect did the British attitude toward these legislatures have on the ultimate American decision to revolt?

4. Was the American Revolution really a constitutional conflict over the relationship between the mother country and her colonies? Does the post-1763 colonial response to British policies help answer the previous question in the affirmative or the negative?

5. Why did the British think that a reorganization of the empire was necessary after 1763? Why did authorities in London think they had the authority to do this?

6. How do you think an eighteenth-century American might have defined tyranny? Were American colonists revolting against real or imagined tyranny after 1763?

7. Why was Massachusetts a leader in the anti-British protests after 1763? Was Puritanism a factor in this situation? What role did the tavern play in the growing rebellion? Why did Virginians seem to take a leadership role as well? In fact, why did the most English of colonies seem to take the lead in protesting English policies?

8. Which American leaders and organizations played the most significant roles in converting popular discontent into effective political action between 1765 and 1775? Why might many colonial leaders be thought of as reluctant revolutionaries? How did they distinguish between resistance and revolution? Why did they eventually decide for revolution?

9. How did Americans go about justifying their revolution? Discuss the sources of their philosophy of revolt.


1. Identify the expansion of non-Indian settlement from 1700 to 1763 and indicate the frontier line as of 1763. Mark the Proclamation Line of 1763.

2. Identify the major rivers, lakes, bays, and mountain ranges on the North American continent.


1. Compare the non-Indian settlement after 1700 to that which occurred before 1700. Where did most of this expansion take place? Which immigrant groups were most involved in this expansion? (See the map in Chapter 3 of the text to help determine these immigrant groups.)

2. Note the frontier line in 1763 and consider how much territory east of this line had been settled. How would this settlement pattern support Britain’s post-1763 policy concerning western expansion?

3. How does the Proclamation Line of 1763 correspond to the frontier line? Which area would have been immediately affected by the line?

4. If settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains was restricted, where would the expanding population go? Which colonies might have actually benefited from the Proclamation Line? Explain.

5. Which colonies would be most negatively affected by the Proclamation Line of 1763? Explain.

6. Examine the map “The Battles of Lexington and Concord, 1775” in Chapter 4 of the text. What was the British goal when British troops moved on Lexington and Concord? How practical was the achievement of that goal? Why were the British less than fully successful?

7. Consider the territorial claims in North America after 1763. Why would this arrangement provide the British colonies with more time to deal with local, internal matters?

8. Note the extent of England’s American empire after 1763, both mainland and island colonies. How would these diverse holdings result in policies that might help one region and hurt another?

9. How did the new territorial arrangement work to the advantage of the Indians? How did it work against them?

10. How did the post-1763 territorial settlement affect the Spanish competition with the English? Where did this competition continue, and where was it restricted?

11. Refer to the map titled “The First Battles of the Revolution.” Given the nature of New England town organization, why was this region more capable of the sort of organization it took to oppose the British than other areas might have been?


The following exercises will require students to consult a historical atlas and other sources found in most college libraries. Using these library resources and the text, they should be able to answer the following:
1. Many colonies claimed lands beyond the Appalachian Mountains, and many leading colonists saw their future in land speculation in that area. Research these claims and identify those involved in land speculation; then determine which colonies and colonists would have been most upset by British restrictions on westward expansion.

2. Note the western trading centers between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. Consult a detailed physical map and determine what geographic features influenced where these centers were settled. What made these centers strategic points for commerce and for the military?

3. Consult a copy of a map of British North America drawn just after the Peace of Paris of 1763 was signed. Compare it to the map in Chapter 4 of the text and to a modern map of the same area. How accurate was European knowledge of the area under British control? What impact would this have on future settlement?


These questions are based on the preceding map exercises. They are designed to test students’ knowledge of the geography of the area discussed in this chapter and of its historical development. Careful reading of the text will help students answer these questions.
1. How did the land settlement of the Peace of Paris of 1763 both please and disappoint the American colonists? Which groups would have been pleased and which disappointed? Explain.

2. What tensions in the colonial political system were produced by the westward movement? Which immigrant groups were most involved in this movement, and what in their historical experience would have made this tension greater?

3. What was the British argument for restricting the westward movement? Consider the frontier line in relation to the Proclamation Line, and then assess the strengths and weaknesses of the British position.

4. Which groups were most threatened by restrictions on westward expansion? Explain.

5. Compare the English and Spanish colonial systems and the geography of the regions they settled. After 1763, which system had the advantage? Explain.
6. If the British had tried to put down a rebellion in New England, what geographic factors would have hindered them? What geographic factors would have hindered the revolutionaries? (Later we shall return to this same question for other colonial regions.)


Fred Anderson, The Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America (2000)

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967)

Catherine Drinker Bowen, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Scenes from the Life of Benjamin Franklin (1974)

Jon Butler, Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776 (2000)

Robert Calhoon, Dominion and Liberty: Ideology in the Anglo-American World (1994)

Edward Countryman, The American Revolution (1985)

Marc Egnal, A Mighty Empire: The Origins of the American Revolution (1988)

Nathan Hatch, The Sacred Cause for Liberty (1977)

Francis Jennings, Empire of Fortune (1988)

Karen Ordahl Kupperman, Indians and English: Facing Off in Early America (2000)

Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (1982)

Edmund S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic (1956)

Alison Gilbert Olson, Making the Empire Work: London and American Interest Groups, 1690-1790 (1992)

John W. Tyler, Smugglers and Partiots: Boston Merchants and the Advent of the American Revolution (1986)

For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see this book’s Online Learning Center at


These questions are designed to help students bring together ideas from several chapters and see how the chapters relate to one another. Some questions will also help students explore how changes in the landscape and in geopolitical conditions are significant to understanding American history.
1. Compare and contrast the English, Spanish, and French colonial systems, paying special attention to the reasons that colonies were settled and the sort of societies that the mother country encouraged to develop there. How did the nature of the land on which these colonies were founded influence the colonial system that emerged?

2. Explain how the colonization of America was as much a biological invasion as a cultural one, and discuss how this was critical to the relationship between Europeans and Indians.

3. Describe each response by the Native Americans to the English, Spanish, and French. Which group had better or worse relations with the natives and for what reasons? Which native tribes had better or worse relations with the Europeans and for what reasons?

4. Why was labor such a problem for colonists in the seventeenth century? How was this problem addressed in the middle and the New England colonies? What effect did these efforts to solve the labor shortage have on the social and economic systems of the region?

5. Assess the state of medical knowledge/care and technology during the American colonial period. What advances were made, and what were the limiting factors to further advance in each field?

6. During the colonial period, the “transplanted English” developed characteristics that made them different from their counterparts in England. What was this “American character”? Look at the social, cultural, economic, religious, and political institutions that grew up in colonial America. Use the illustrations in the text to identify elements that exemplified Americans. Then, write an essay explaining the features that made the “American character.”

7. Colonists who first came to America came in search of rather specific things. Some found what they wanted; others did not. But most stayed to create a new life for themselves. What happened to their initial dreams? Examine the goals set by those who first came to Massachusetts Bay and those who first came to Virginia, and compare those goals with what their descendants were seeking in the 1770s. What had happened? How had the dreams of the early 1600s become the issues of the 1770s, and what do these changes tell you about the impact America had on European ideas and institutions?

8. Examine the unrest in the American colonies during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and compare the causes of that turbulence with those that led to the colonial protests of the 1760s and 1770s. What parallels do you find? What are the differences? Considering what you have discovered, do you think the American Revolution was the result of the events that immediately preceded it, or did it result from attitudes long held by colonists? Explain your conclusions.

9. What conditions were necessary for successful colonization? Look at the British North American colonies and analyze the physical features that made these colonies successful.

10. Looking at these same colonies, determine what physical factors the colonists had to overcome. How were they able to do this and be successful?

11. Identify the major cities, towns, and settlements in North America around 1763. What geographic features helped determine where they were founded? What part did conditions in Europe play in this?

12. Compare the economy of the southern colonies to that of the middle colonies and to that of New England. What geographic factors influenced this economic development?

13. Discuss the evolution and expansion of the population of the British North American colonies. Which immigrant groups settled where? What helped determine this settlement pattern? What factors influenced the westward expansion of these people?

For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see this book’s Online Learning Center at

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