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Pennsylvania at the end of the 19th century


Independence hall of Pennsylvania
Independence hall of Pennsylvania

To repay heavy debts from the wars with the French and to cover the costs of guarding the frontier, Britain passed laws restricting trade and imposing higher taxes in the colonies and began to enforce laws passed earlier. These actions prompted growing protests in the colonies, but in Pennsylvania the issue was complicated by the continuing conflict between the proprietary government and its opponents in the Quaker-dominated assembly, who were now led by Franklin. For a time the assembly hoped to eliminate the proprietors by making the colony a royal colony, so protests against British taxes were not as strong as in other colonies. However, the farmers and frontiersmen of western Pennsylvania became increasingly radical and dissatisfied with the British and colonial governments, in which they had little voice.

Protests flared again after Parliament passed the Townshend Acts in 1767, imposing taxes on glass, tea, paper, and other imported products and strengthening royal authority over the colonies. Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson published 12 popular essays that restated the colonists’ position that Parliament had no right to tax them, and colonists boycotted imported British goods.

The Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770, but Parliament retained the tax on tea to assert its right to tax the colonies. In 1773 Parliament passed the Tea Act, reducing the tax on tea shipped to the colonies so that the English East India Company could sell it in America and avoid bankruptcy. The colonists, however, refused to buy the English tea, both on principle and because colonial merchants feared the East India Company would put them out of business.

Boston residents dumped tea into their harbor in the Boston Tea Party, and Philadelphians threatened to tar and feather the captain of the British tea ship Polly, forcing him to return to Britain with his cargo. In the fall of 1774 Philadelphia, then the largest city in North America, was the site of the First Continental Congress, which assembled to protest British retaliatory laws against Massachusetts for the destruction of tea in Boston. The congress chose Dickinson to draft a formal colonial protest against British policy, although he and other moderates in Pennsylvania opposed a violent break with Britain. The radical forces that supported independence gradually took over Pennsylvania’s government in 1775 and 1776, and they organized action committees, established their own provincial conference, and mobilized the colony for war. The Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775. Franklin, after 11 years as Pennsylvania’s agent in Britain, returned to the colony and served as a delegate to the congress. In June 1776 the radical provincial conference ordered Pennsylvania’s delegates to the Continental Congress to vote for independence. The Declaration of Independence, which Franklin helped to draft, was adopted on July 4 in the State House, now called Independence Hall.

At the same time, Pennsylvania’s provincial conference called a constitutional convention, which on July 11 assumed the responsibility for Pennsylvania’s government. A new constitution was adopted, which was seen as the most democratic yet in America. It gave the vote to all free white men who paid taxes, eliminating the requirement that voters be property owners. Representation in the one-house Assembly would be based on each county’s population, and an executive council replaced an appointed governor. The constitution also made Pennsylvania a commonwealth. "Pennsylvania" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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