Throughout the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, trade in the colonies was regulated by England in an economic system known as mercantilism. In the mercantilist system, the colonies were forced to buy many of their goods from England and to sell many of their goods only to England. The Navigation Acts passed beginning in the 1650s limited the types of goods that could be bought from or sold to countries other than England. These laws ensured that England benefited economically more than the colonies. However, the colonies were able to establish trade relationships with other nations through legal and illegal means. For example, New England merchants often disobeyed the Navigation Acts when engaging in a triangular trade with the West Indies and West Africa in which goods and slaves were exchanged.
After the French and Indian War, which raged in British North America from 1754-1763, England needed a way to pay off the debts resulting from the war. They passed a series of acts that affected the economy of the colonies. The Quartering Act of 1765 required colonial governments to pay to house and feed British troops stationed in the colonies. The Stamp Act of 1765 required colonists to purchase stamped paper from England for a variety of necessary documents. The Townshend, or Revenue, Act of 1767 taxed certain goods imported to the colonies, including tea. The colonists resented being taxed for goods by England because the taxes hindered their economic prosperity and because they had no representatives in the British Parliament to speak for them. As a result, many colonists boycotted tea, causing England to pass the Tea Act, which lowered the price of British tea to undercut colonial merchants who smuggled tea from other suppliers. The Tea Act created a virtual British monopoly, which was harmful to merchants in the major port cities in the Northeast, including New York and Boston. Some colonists in New York protested these economic restrictions through peaceful means. For example, some people published essays against the economic acts. Other colonists protested through mob action. For example, a group in New York known as the Sons of Liberty, inspired by the Boston Tea Party, threw tea overboard in New York Harbor in April of 1774. Eventually, many colonists protested Britain’s restrictive economic acts by rebelling against England and proclaiming independence.
What, if anything, was radical about the American Revolution?