A major point of contention between American colonists and British administrators was that the American colonists, being the descendants of Englishmen, allegedly should have been entitled to representation and other unique rights.

However, in reality what were the differences between the rights and circumstance of the colonists, and those living within the British Isles?

Did most American colonists have it better or worse than most British (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland) before the revolution in the 1750s?

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    In addition to all other problems with this question - only in very very specific circumstances is it ever sensible to talk about an average person. For distributions anchored from zero to an unlimited upper bound, arithmetic mean is a non-robust measure of central tendency. The median should always be used instead - as that is and remains a robust measure of central tendency. Oct 8, 2019 at 13:24
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    It's a serious mistake to assume that there was a uniform system of rights across colonies and time periods. The British don't operate that way. Also, the American colonies were among the first British colonisation projects, and they were founded by different people with different motives. The independence of the colonies that became the USA made a definite difference to the subsequent operation of the British Empire. So it would be sensible to ask how the rights of American colonists in 1750 compared to those of Australian colonists in, say, 1850, but answering that will require research. Oct 8, 2019 at 14:10
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    Reduced scope from comparing the colonies with the empire within undefined time period, to the british isles in the 1750s. If anyone feels this is still too broad please specify why.
    – user17846
    Oct 9, 2019 at 9:25
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    @inappropriateCode I suspect that the question might receive a more positive response if it included some evidence for prior research. Oct 9, 2019 at 13:54

4 Answers 4


How did American colonial rights and conditions compare to those within the British Isles?

Did most American colonists have it better or worse than most British (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland) before the revolution in the 1750s?

Short Answer

Better in some ways. The colonials in the 1750's were able to skirt British Taxes easier than native British. Tea is an example, British Tea was a monopoly in the colonies and was taxed at twice the rate of tea in Britain; but the colonists didn't pay it, they drank smuggled tea. In general taxes were lower in the colonies in the 1750's. There were other issues, there was discrimination against colonials in official dealings with the crown. Like during the French and Indian War (7 years war) colonial officers could not command native British regular officers, an early point of contention.

The roots of colonial objections to British Rule, however; occurred in the 1760's and 70's not the 1750s. In the 1760's when the British tried unsuccessfully to raise colonial taxes, and in the 1770's when they tried to punish the colonies collectively for civil disobedience of a few.

Detailed Answer

Of coarse most colonials didn't have an issue with the British in the 1750's as Britain was spending money defending and expanding the colonies in competition with the French.

Yes there were annoying policies like colonial officers were subservient to native British officers regardless of rank. Also Britain made it harder for colonial officers to obtain commissions in the regular army. This is why Lieutenant Colonel George Washington resigned his colonial commission in Dec 1758. At this time however it wasn't that Colonials were in near revolt with the British, it was more offended by some British practices.

Violent opposition occurred a decade later as the crown was seeking to have the Colonists help pay for their own defense. At first it was the stamp Act (March 1765) which inflamed colonial opposition. This lead to colonials taring and feathering British government officials and all manor of protests. This is what yielded the expression "No taxation without representation" which many folks mis-apply to the American Revolution. Mis-apply because the stamp act was so unpopular that it was repealed by the British, one year after it was enacted(March 1766) about a decade before the Declaration of Independence.

The colonial revolution to the "unfair" conditions under British rule stem from what happened next.

1- The Tea Act, which did not raise the price of tea in the colonies but lowered the cost of legal British tea to the horror of some founding fathers who made their living selling smuggled tea. The tea act so lowered the cost of British tea that it undercut the smugglers, which was the British intent. The leader of the offended was John Hancock a young wealthy merchant who had made a fortune smuggling tea. Also Samuel Adams the man John Hancock paid to demonstrate and really intimidate merchants to stop them from selling the now cheap British tea. The Tea Act culminated in Samuel Adams Boston Tea Party where the now inexpensive British Tea was destroyed before it could make it onto the colonial market.

2- The British reaction to the Boston Tea Party was the Intolerable Acts of 1774, a series of acts meant to punish the Colony's for general bad behavior. Bad behavior like the Boston Tea party and other acts of disobedience largely financed by John Hancock in New England. These acts are what enraged and united the colonies against British Rule and transformed underlying seething to revolution. Not in 1750's though but in 1774 culminating in the Declaration of Independence of 1776. The President of the First Continental Congress which drafted and ratified the Declaration of Independence was the tea smuggler John Hancock. He was also the first person to sign the declaration and the person who had financed most of the acts of civil disobedience in New England leading up to the Revolution.


About US: everybody heard "no taxation with no representation", and this is a simpler summary of the original colonial pact (Edmund Burke wrote a lot about this):

  1. US colonies would not pay tax to England (only small local taxes to limited local governments)

  2. US colonies would import/export only from/to England (monopoly)

  3. US colonies could not build various kinds of manufactures for more sophisticated goods.

  4. US colonies would not have MPs, and their militias would fight in American Wars, but on the other hand, there would be no large scale involuntary conscription to serve overseas (remember that many RN sailors were conscripted or just judicially sentenced to serve).

This happened because it would be very difficult for the King to tax a distant colony. Even an honest tax collector would be too far from the King and too close to the tax payers. And any dispute would take months to be solved if it depended on transatlantic travels. It was easier to impose the monopoly and tax any commerce in the UK side (and the monopoly means that everything was taxed).

It may be that the taxes imposed by the UK before US independence were not so high, but the amount was not the point: any tax was too much if the monopoly and industrial restrictions were still in place.

Burke (as an English MP) was against the various Acts during the build up to the war, he wanted to keep negotiating, and he was keen to expose the American view point above: the deal was zero taxation on the US side! We must have a colonial pact that does make sense!

And the whole system breaks down if there is large scale smuggling (such as tea). Lots of people loose money on the UK, and taxes are not paid. It also makes sense that when England tried to suppress such smuggling, many american feathers got ruffled, as the smugglers would get rich easily.

If it was decided to have fair representation for all the colonies, to give equal rights to US and UK citizens, then how would all this change? Rights come with responsibilities. Would the Virginia Militia happily be conscripted to fight in Europe or India, just to earn the right to nominate a MP in London - and how would they communicate with their MP in due time?

Another point: colonial pop could be significant, and Parliament districts were setup based on population. Would an Englishman accept that 10, 20, or 30% of his legislators were colonials? And can a parliament really work with factional interests so divergent?

It is unfair to say 'it is unfair', if you do not have an alternative workable arrangement.

Colonial history is full of strange arrangements due to the difficult of managing and taxing these transcontinental Empires. For example the various Companies: the Dutch VOC, the English EIC, and even in the XIX c, the Russian-American Company - the state is just passing the buck to private or semi-private enterprises. And Portugal completely gave up collecting custom taxes on Rio de Janeiro: The Sá family got the hereditary right to collect custom taxes for themselves in return of securing and developing the colony. But when the Dutch invaded Angola, they raised a private army to expel the Dutch from Luanda, as they depended on Angola to buy slaves and sell cassava flour.

Another Brazilian-Portuguese example: when Brazil was elevated from colony to kingdom in the XIX c., Brazil got MPs in Lisbon. But, although the free population of Brazil and Portugal were almost the same (3 million), Brazil only had a handful of MPs, and the Brazilians obviously resented it. But how would the Portuguese accept a fair equal-rights distribution? Even if so, how would the parliament work if 50% of MPs were Brazilians?


One thing to keep in mind about the status of the American colonies is that travel distance, the variety in colonial charters, and Britain's considerable distractions elsewhere meant that for quite some time whatever their nominal legal status in practice the colonies were very nearly not governed by Britain at all.

A notorious example was Pennsylvania during the 1690's. William Penn had supported the crown and the status of his charter to rule Pennsylvania was thrown into doubt by the English Revolution of 1688; Pennsylvanians effectively governed themselves for many years.1

Although the nominal changes to the rights of the Crown following the French and Indian War were minor, the colonists were comparing those changes to a previous state of near-anarchy - and not an anarchy of bedlam, but an anarchy where the class that later made the Revolution had been able to order the affairs of the colonies pretty much to their own liking. Anything the Crown tried to do would seem like a gross imposition in that context.

  • The imposition of order on anarchy in the colonies started much earlier, with the suppression of Bacon's Rebellion.. See Stephen Saunders Webb's 1676: The End of American Independence.
    – C Monsour
    Feb 25, 2020 at 0:18

According to William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book ["Generations"], during the American Revolution, "the average American was two inches taller than the average Redcoat he was fighting." This was due to the superior American childhood nutrition. In "Wealth of Nations," Adam Smith noted, "It is not in the richest countries [England], but the fastest growing [America], that wages are highest."

Basically, "Americans" were already more prosperous than Englishmen, never mind people from the poorer sections of the "United Kingdom" such as Scotland or Wales. The one advantage that Englishmen had over Americans was political rights.

Americans were probably no worse off in terms of political rights than most Scots, Welch, or Irishmen in the United Kingdom. "Political rights" were mainly restricted to Englishmen and wealthy ones at that; non-wealthy Englishmen did not have the vote at the end of the 18th century. Because of America's greater prosperity, probably a larger proportion of Americans would have met the property qualifications for voting than Englishmen, which the English would have resented.

England tried to impose taxes of various sorts on Americans after the French and Indian War, and adopt "mercantile" policies that would have prevented the Americans from participating fully in the upcoming Industrial Revolution. Americans resisted such attempts to "put them in their place" and lobbied for political rights equivalent to those of Englishmen in order to defend their economic privileges.

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