Why did the British government pass the Stamp Act, the Townshend Duties, the Tea Act and the Intolerable Acts? Why did they pass a series of measures seemingly calculated to offend and provoke North American colonists? These measures cannot be fully understood without taking into account a profound political economic debate taking place across the empire about the proper way of dealing with the national debt. This debate began not in the wake of the Seven Years War, but in the midst of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713).
While citizens agreed that the British national debt was a potentially catastrophic problem, they disagreed on a solution—whether the problem should be addressed by austerity measures or a program to stimulate imperial economic growth. The particular measures adopted in the American Colonies were deeply informed by the simultaneous emergence of a powerful British imperial presence in India after the seizure of the Diwani in 1765. George Grenville, Charles Townshend, Lord North and Alexander Wedderburn were just as much involved in debates over how to organize the British Empire in India as they were in the more well-known debates about North America. Gordon Wood and Steven Pincus discuss how it is impossible to understand their fiscal and administrative policies in one place without considering their views about the other.
About the Speakers
Gordon Wood is a professor emeritus of history at Brown University. Dr. Wood received the Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992) and was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2010.
Steven Pincus is a professor of history at the University of Chicago. Dr. Pincus is the author of Protestantism and Patriotism: Ideologies and the Making of English Foreign Policy, 1650–1668 (1996), 1688:The First Modern Revolution (2011) and The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for Activist Government (2016).