Intolerable Acts

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The Intolerable Acts were punitive laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 after the Boston Tea Party. The laws were meant to punish the Massachusetts colonists for their defiance in the Tea Party protest in reaction to changes in taxation by the British to the detriment of colonial goods. In Great Britain, these laws were referred to as the Coercive Acts.

Parliament of Great Britain parliament from 1714 to 1800

The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. The Acts created a new unified Kingdom of Great Britain and dissolved the separate English and Scottish parliaments in favour of a single parliament, located in the former home of the English parliament in the Palace of Westminster, near the City of London. This lasted nearly a century, until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate British and Irish Parliaments into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom with effect from 1 January 1801.

Boston Tea Party political protest in Boston in the British colony of Massachusetts

The Boston Tea Party was a political and mercantile protest by the Sons of Liberty in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 16, 1773. The target was the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, which allowed the British East India company to sell tea from China in American colonies without paying taxes apart from those imposed by the Townshend Acts. American Patriots strongly opposed the taxes in the Townshend Act as a violation of their rights. Demonstrators, some disguised as Native Americans, destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company.

Province of Massachusetts Bay English/British possession in America (1691–1776)

The Province of Massachusetts Bay was a crown colony in British America and one of the thirteen original states of the United States from 1776 onward. It was chartered on October 7, 1691 by William III and Mary II, the joint monarchs of the kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The charter took effect on May 14, 1692 and included the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the Province of Maine, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is the direct successor. Maine has been a separate state since 1820, and Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are now Canadian provinces, having been part of the colony only until 1697.

Contents

The acts took away self-governance and historic rights of Massachusetts, triggering outrage and resistance in the Thirteen Colonies. They were key developments in the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in April 1775.

Thirteen Colonies British American colonies which became the United States

The Thirteen Colonies, also known as the Thirteen British Colonies or the Thirteen American Colonies, were a group of British colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America founded in the 17th and 18th centuries. They declared independence in 1776 and formed the United States of America. The Thirteen Colonies had very similar political, constitutional, and legal systems and were dominated by Protestant English-speakers. They were part of Britain's possessions in the New World, which also included colonies in Canada, the Caribbean, and the Floridas.

American Revolutionary War War between Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies, which won independence as the United States of America

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was an 18th-century war between Great Britain and its Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America.

Four of the acts were issued in direct response to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. The British Parliament hoped these punitive measures would, by making an example of Massachusetts, reverse the trend of colonial resistance to parliamentary authority that had begun with the 1764 Sugar Act. A fifth act, the Quebec Act, enlarged the boundaries of what was then the Province of Quebec notably SW into the Ohio Country and other future mid-western states, and instituted reforms generally favorable to the French Catholic inhabitants of the region. Although unrelated to the other four Acts, it was passed in the same legislative session and seen by the colonists as one of the Intolerable Acts. The Patriots viewed the acts as an arbitrary violation of the rights of Massachusetts, and in September 1774 they organized the First Continental Congress to coordinate a protest. As tensions escalated, the American Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, leading in July 1776 to the declaration of an independent United States of America.

Sugar Act

The Sugar Act, also known as the American Revenue Act or the American Duties Act, was a revenue-raising act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on 5 April 1764. The preamble to the act stated: "it is expedient that new provisions and regulations should be established for improving the revenue of this Kingdom ... and ... it is just and necessary that a revenue should be raised ... for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same." The earlier Molasses Act 1733, which had imposed a tax of six pence per gallon of molasses, had never been effectively collected due to colonial evasion. By reducing the rate by half and increasing measures to enforce the tax, the British hoped that the tax would actually be collected. These incidents increased the colonists' concerns about the intent of the British Parliament and helped the growing movement that became the American Revolution.

<i>Quebec Act</i> 1774 law setting up Quebec as part of the British Empire

The Quebec Act of 1774, formally known as the British North America (Quebec) Act 1774, was an act of the Parliament of Great Britain setting procedures of governance in the Province of Quebec. The Act's principal components were:

Province of Quebec (1763–1791) UK possession in North America existing between 1763–1791

The Province of Quebec was a colony in North America created by Great Britain after the Seven Years' War. During the war, Great Britain's forces conquered French Canada. As part of terms of the Treaty of Paris peace settlement, France gave up its claim to Canada and negotiated to keep the small but rich sugar island of Guadeloupe instead. By Britain's Royal Proclamation of 1763, Canada was renamed the Province of Quebec. The new British province extended from the coast of Labrador on the Atlantic Ocean, southwest through the Saint Lawrence River Valley to the Great Lakes and beyond to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Portions of its southwest were later ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris (1783) at the conclusion of the American Revolution although the British maintained a military presence there until 1796. In 1791, the territory north of the Great Lakes was divided into Lower Canada and Upper Canada.

Background

This Patriot cartoon depicting the Coercive Acts as the forcing of tea on a Native American woman (a symbol of the American colonies) was copied and distributed in the Thirteen Colonies. RapeBoston.jpg
This Patriot cartoon depicting the Coercive Acts as the forcing of tea on a Native American woman (a symbol of the American colonies) was copied and distributed in the Thirteen Colonies.

Relations between the Thirteen Colonies and the British Parliament slowly but steadily worsened after the end of the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War) in 1763. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and so the British Parliament enacted a series of measures to increase tax revenue from the colonies. Parliament believed that these acts, such as the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767, were legitimate means of having the colonies pay their fair share of the costs of maintaining the British Empire. Although protests led to the repeal of the Stamp and Townshend Acts, Parliament adhered to the position that it had the right to legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever" in the Declaratory Act of 1766

Seven Years War Global conflict between 1756 and 1763

The Seven Years' War was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, led by the Kingdom of Great Britain on one side and the Kingdom of France, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Swedish Empire on the other. Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal. The war's extent has led some historians to describe it as World War Zero, similar in scale to other world wars.

Stamp Act 1765 UK parliament act of 1765

The Stamp Act of 1765 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain that imposed a direct tax on the British colonies and plantations in America and required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. Printed materials included legal documents, magazines, playing cards, newspapers, and many other types of paper used throughout the colonies. Like previous taxes, the stamp tax had to be paid in valid British currency, not in colonial paper money.

Townshend Acts townshend

The Townshend Acts were a series of British Acts of Parliament passed during 1767 and 1768 and relating to the British in North America. The acts are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed the program. Historians vary slightly as to which acts they include under the heading "Townshend Acts", but five acts are often mentioned:

Many colonists argued that under the unwritten British Constitution, a British subject's property could not be taken from him (in the form of taxes) without his consent (in the form of representation in government). Therefore, because the colonies were not directly represented in Parliament, it followed that Parliament had no right to levy taxes upon them, a view expressed by the slogan "No taxation without representation". After the Townshend Acts, some colonial essayists took this line of thinking even further, and began to question whether Parliament had any legitimate jurisdiction in the colonies at all. [1] This question of the extent of Parliament's sovereignty in the colonies was the issue underlying what became the American Revolution.

No taxation without representation slogan

"No taxation without representation" is a slogan originating during the 1700s that summarized one of 27 colonial grievances of the American colonists in the Thirteen Colonies, which was one of the major causes of the American Revolution. In short, many in those colonies believed that, as they were not directly represented in the distant British Parliament, any laws it passed affecting the colonists were illegal under the Bill of Rights 1689, and were a denial of their rights as Englishmen.

Parliamentary sovereignty is a concept in the constitutional law of some parliamentary democracies. It holds that the legislative body has absolute sovereignty and is supreme over all other government institutions, including executive or judicial bodies. It also holds that the legislative body may change or repeal any previous legislation and so it is not bound by written law or by precedent.

Passage

On December 16, 1773, a group of Patriot colonists associated with the Sons of Liberty destroyed 342 chests of tea in Boston, Massachusetts, an act that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. The colonists partook in this action because Parliament had passed the Tea Act, which granted the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in the colonies, thereby saving the company from bankruptcy. This made British tea less expensive, which Parliament thought would be a welcome change in the colonies. In addition, there was added a small tax on which the colonists were not allowed to give their consent, but the tea still remained less expensive even with the tax. Again, Parliament taxed the colonists without their representation. This angered the colonists. News of the Boston Tea Party reached England in January 1774. Parliament responded by passing four laws. Three of the laws were intended to directly punish Massachusetts. This was for the destruction of private property, to restore British authority in Massachusetts, and to otherwise reform colonial government in America.

Patriot (American Revolution) American colonist who rejected British rule in the American Revolution

Patriots were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Sons of Liberty dissident organization during the American Revolution from Boston

The Sons of Liberty was a secret organization that was created in the Thirteen American Colonies to advance the rights of the European colonists and to fight taxation by the British government. It played a major role in most colonies in battling the Stamp Act in 1765. The group officially disbanded after the Stamp Act was repealed. However, the name was applied to other local separatist groups during the years preceding the American Revolution.

Tea Act 1773 act

Tea Act 1773 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. The principal objective was to reduce the massive amount of tea held by the financially troubled British East India Company in its London warehouses and to help the financially struggling company survive. A related objective was to undercut the price of illegal tea, smuggled into Britain's North American colonies. This was supposed to convince the colonists to purchase Company tea on which the Townshend duties were paid, thus implicitly agreeing to accept Parliament's right of taxation. Smuggled tea was a large issue for Britain and the East India company, since approximately 86% of all the tea in America at the time was smuggled Dutch tea.

On April 22, 1774, Prime Minister Lord North defended the programme in the House of Commons, saying:

The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over. [2]

The Acts

The Boston Port Act was the first of the laws passed in 1774 in response to the Boston Tea Party. It closed the port of Boston until the colonists paid for the destroyed tea and the king was satisfied that order had been restored. Colonists objected that the Port Act punished all of Boston rather than just the individuals who had destroyed the tea, and that they were being punished without having been given an opportunity to testify in their own defense. [3]

The Massachusetts Government Act provoked even more outrage than the Port Act because it unilaterally took away Massachusetts' charter and brought it under control of the British government. Under the terms of the Government Act, almost all positions in the colonial government were to be appointed by the governor, Parliament, or king. The act also severely limited town meetings in Massachusetts to one per year, unless the Governor called for one. Colonists outside Massachusetts feared that their governments could now also be changed by the legislative fiat of Parliament.

The Administration of Justice Act allowed the Royal governor to order trials of accused royal officials to take place in Great Britain or elsewhere within the Empire if he decided that the defendant could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. Although the act stipulated for witnesses to be reimbursed after having traveled at their own expense across the Atlantic, it was not stipulated that this would include reimbursement for lost earnings during the period for which they would be unable to work, leaving few with the ability to testify. George Washington called this the "Murder Act" because he believed that it allowed British officials to harass Americans and then escape justice. [4] Many colonists believed the act was unnecessary because British soldiers had been given a fair trial following the Boston Massacre in 1770.

The Quartering Act applied to all of the colonies, and sought to create a more effective method of housing British troops in America. In a previous act, the colonies had been required to provide housing for soldiers, but colonial legislatures had been uncooperative in doing so. The new Quartering Act allowed a governor to house soldiers in other buildings if suitable quarters were not provided. While many sources claim that the Quartering Act allowed troops to be billeted in occupied private homes, historian David Ammerman's 1974 study claimed that this is a myth, and that the act only permitted troops to be quartered in unoccupied buildings. [5]

Effects

Many colonists saw the Coercive Acts (Intolerable Acts) as a violation of their constitutional rights, their natural rights, and their colonial charters. They, therefore, viewed the acts as a threat to the liberties of all of British America, not just Massachusetts. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, for example, described the acts as "a most wicked System for destroying the liberty of America." [6]

The citizens of Boston not only viewed this as an act of unnecessary and cruel punishment, but the Coercive Acts drew hatred toward Britain even further. As a result of the Intolerable Acts, even more colonists turned against British rule. [7]

Great Britain hoped that the Intolerable Acts would isolate radicals in Massachusetts and cause American colonists to concede the authority of Parliament over their elected assemblies. It was a calculated risk that backfired, however, because the harshness of some of the acts made it difficult for moderates in the colonies to speak in favor of Parliament. [8] The acts promoted sympathy for Massachusetts and encouraged colonists from the otherwise diverse colonies to form committees of correspondence which sent delegates to the First Continental Congress. The Continental Congress created the Continental Association, an agreement to boycott British goods. Additionally, it was decided that if the Coercive Acts were not reversed after a year, goods were to stop being exported to Great Britain as well. The Congress also pledged to support Massachusetts in case of attack, which meant that all of the colonies would become involved when the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord. [9]

Related Research Articles

Quartering Acts acts of British Parliament requiring American colonists to house British soldiers

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Boston Port Act UK parliament act of 1774

The Boston Port Act was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which became law on March 31, 1774, and took effect on June 1, 1774. It was one of five measures that were enacted during the spring of 1774 to punish Boston for the Boston Tea Party.

Massachusetts Government Act act of the Parliament of Great Britain, effectively abrogating the Massachusetts Charter of 1691, one of the causes of the American Revolution

The Massachusetts Government Act was passed by the Parliament of Great Britain, receiving royal assent on 20 May 1774. The act effectively abrogated the Massachusetts Charter of 1691 of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and gave its royally-appointed governor wide-ranging powers. The colonists said it altered by parliamentary fiat the basic structure of colonial government. They vehemently opposed it and would not let it operate. It was a major step on the way to the start of the American Revolution in 1775.

Administration of Justice Act 1774

The Administration of Justice Act, or Act for the Impartial Administration of Justice, also popularly called the Murdering Act or Murder Act, was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. It became law on 20 May 1774. It is one of the measures that were designed to secure Britain's jurisdiction over the American dominions. As such it is a part of the Grievances of the United States Declaration of Independence.

Continental Association

The Continental Association, often known simply as the "Association", was a system created by the First Continental Congress in 1774 for implementing a trade boycott with Great Britain. Congress hoped that by imposing economic sanctions, they would pressure Great Britain into redressing the grievances of the colonies, in particular repealing the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Association aimed to alter Britain's policies towards the colonies without severing allegiance.

Suffolk Resolves Massachusetts revolutionary declaration

The Suffolk Resolves was a declaration made on September 9, 1774 by the leaders of Suffolk County, Massachusetts. The declaration rejected the Massachusetts Government Act and resolved on a boycott of imported goods from Britain unless the Intolerable Acts were repealed. The Resolves were recognized by statesman Edmund Burke as a major development in colonial animosity leading to adoption of the United States Declaration of Independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1776, and he urged British conciliation with the American colonies, to little effect. The First Continental Congress endorsed the Resolves on September 17, 1774.

First Continental Congress 1774 meeting of delegates from twelve British colonies of what would become the United States

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Massachusetts Circular Letter

The Massachusetts Circular Letter was a statement written by Samuel Adams and James Otis Jr., and passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives in February 1768 in response to the Townshend Acts. Reactions to the letter brought heightened tensions between the British Parliament and Massachusetts, and resulted in the military occupation of Boston by the British Army, which contributed to the coming of the American Revolution.

The Restraining Acts of early 1775 were two Acts passed by the Parliament of Great Britain, which limited colonial trade in response to both increasing and spreading civil disobedience in Massachusetts and New England, and similar trade restrictions instituted by elected colonial representatives. With time the foment would spread to most of its American Colonies. The first restraining act, known variously as the New England Trade And Fisheries Act, the New England Restraining Act, or the Trade Act 1775 (c.10), limited the export and import of any goods to and from only Great Britain, Ireland, and the British West Indies; it also prohibited the New England colonies from fishing in the waters off Newfoundland and most of America's Atlantic coast, without special permissions and documentation, and imposed stiff penalties on both perpetrators and administrators if violations occurred. Previously legal or finessed trade between the colonies themselves or with other nations was prohibited, and enforced by naval blockade, effective July 1, 1775. The second restraining act, known as the Trade Act 1775 (c.18), similarly limited the export or import of any goods by way of only Great Britain, Ireland, and the British West Indies for most colonies south of New England; it was passed shortly after the first, upon receiving news in April that the colonial's trade boycott had spread widely among other colonies. Only New York, Delaware, North Carolina and Georgia would escape these restraints on trade, but only for a few months.

The Non-consumption agreements were a part of a family of agreements, including the non-importation and non-exportation agreements addressed by American colonists in the 1774 Declarations and Resolves of the First Continental Congress. These agreements later servec as the basis for the Non-Importation Act, and subsequent Embargo of 1807 that was passed by the Continental Congress in 1806 in an attempt to establish American nautical neutrality during the Napoleonic Wars between France and Britain.

Chestertown Tea Party

The Chestertown Tea Party was a protest against British excise duties which, according to local legend, took place in May 1774 in Chestertown, Maryland as a response to the British Tea Act. Chestertown tradition holds that, following the example of the more famous Boston Tea Party, colonial patriots boarded the brigantine Geddes in broad daylight and threw its cargo of tea into the Chester River. The event is celebrated each Memorial Day weekend with a festival and historic reenactment called the Chestertown Tea Party Festival.

The Fairfax Resolves was a set of resolutions adopted by a committee in Fairfax County in the colony of Virginia on July 18, 1774, in the early stages of the American Revolution. Written primarily by George Mason, the resolutions rejected the British Parliament's claim of supreme authority over the American colonies. More than thirty counties in Virginia passed similar resolutions in 1774, "but the Fairfax Resolves were the most detailed, the most influential, and the most radical."

Hutchinson Letters Affair

The Hutchinson Letters Affair was an incident that increased tensions between the colonists of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and the British government prior to the American Revolution. In June 1773 letters written several years earlier by Thomas Hutchinson and Andrew Oliver, governor and lieutenant governor of the province at the time of their publication, were published in a Boston newspaper. The content of the letters was propagandistically claimed by Massachusetts radical politicians to call for the abridgement of colonial rights, and a duel was fought in England over the matter.

The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress, was a statement adopted by the First Continental Congress on October 14, 1774, in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Declaration outlined colonial objections to the Intolerable Acts, listed a colonial bill of rights, and provided a detailed list of grievances. It was similar to the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, passed by the Stamp Act Congress a decade earlier.

Petition to the King

The Petition to the King was a petition sent to King George III by the First Continental Congress in 1774, calling for repeal of the Intolerable Acts.

The constitutional history of opposition to taxation is sufficiently interesting to be abstracted from broader contexts. Key action occurred in the Colony of Virginia in the decade before 1776. A particular protest document, arguably the most eloquent and most effective among many colonial protests, merits special attention.

References

Notes

  1. Middlekauff, Glorious Cause, 241.
  2. Reid, Constitutional History, 13. For the complete quote in context, see William Cobbett et al., eds., The Parliamentary History of England: From the Earliest Period to the Year 1803 (London, 1813) 17:1280–1281.
  3. "1774: Parliament passes the Boston Port Act". History Channel . A&E Television Networks. 13 November 2009. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  4. Ammerman 1974, p. 9.
  5. Ammerman 1974, p. 10.
  6. Ammerman 1974, p. 15.
  7. Gary B. Nash; Carter Smith (2007). Atlas Of American History. Infobase Publishing. p. 64. ISBN   9781438130132.
  8. Peter Knight (2003). Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 184–85. ISBN   9781576078129.
  9. Harlow G. Unger (2011). American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution. Da Capo Press. pp. 188–93. ISBN   0306819767.

Bibliography

Further reading