Massachusetts Government Act

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Massachusetts Government Act
Coat of Arms of Great Britain (1714-1801).svg
Long title An Act for the Better Regulating the Government of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England.
Citation 14 Geo. 3 c. 45
Introduced by The Rt. Hon. Lord North, KG, MP
Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer & Leader of the House of Commons
Territorial extent Province of Massachusetts Bay
Dates
Royal assent 20 May 1774
Commencement 1 July 1774
Other legislation
Repealed by Province of Massachusetts Bay Act 1778 (18 Geo. 3 c. 11)
Relates to Intolerable Acts
Status: Repealed

The Massachusetts Government Act (14 Geo. 3 c. 45) 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.

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.

Royal assent Formal approval of a proposed law in monarchies

Royal assent is the method by which a monarch formally approves an act of the legislature. In some jurisdictions, royal assent is equivalent to promulgation, while in others that is a separate step. Under a modern constitutional monarchy royal assent is considered to be little more than a formality; even in those nations which still, in theory, permit the monarch to withhold assent to laws, the monarch almost never does so, save in a dire political emergency or upon the advice of their government. While the power to veto a law by withholding royal assent was once exercised often by European monarchs, such an occurrence has been very rare since the eighteenth century.

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

Context

The Act is one of the Intolerable Acts (also known as Repressive Acts and Coercive Acts), designed to suppress dissent and restore order in Massachusetts. In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, Parliament launched a legislative offensive against Massachusetts to control its errant behavior. British officials believed that their inability to control Massachusetts was rooted in part in the highly independent nature of its local government. On May 2, 1774, Lord North, speaking as head of the ministry, called on Parliament to adopt the Act on the ground that the whole colony was "in a distempered state of disturbance and opposition to the laws of the mother country." [1]

Intolerable Acts series of punitive laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774

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.

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.

Frederick North, Lord North Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782

Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford,, better known by his courtesy title Lord North, which he used from 1752 to 1790, was Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1770 to 1782. He led Great Britain through most of the American War of Independence. He also held a number of other cabinet posts, including Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Contents

The Massachusetts Government Act abrogated the colony's charter and provided for a greater amount of royal control. Massachusetts had been unique among the colonies in its ability to elect members of its executive council. This Act took away that right and instead gave the king sole power to appoint and dismiss the council. Additionally, many civil offices that had previously been chosen by election were now to be appointed by the royal governor. [2] Town meetings were forbidden without consent of the governor. As Lord North explained to Parliament, the purpose of the act was "to take the executive power from the hands of the democratic part of government". [3]

Massachusetts Governors Council governmental body in Massachusetts, United States, also historically the commonwealths acting governor (serving collectively)

The Massachusetts Governor's Council is a governmental body that provides advice and consent in certain matters – such as judicial nominations, pardons, and commutations – to the Governor of Massachusetts. Councillors are elected by the general public and their duties are set forth in the Massachusetts Constitution.

Town meeting

A town meeting is a form of direct democratic rule, used primarily in portions of the United States – principally in New England – since the 17th century, in which most or all the members of a community come together to legislate policy and budgets for local government. This is a town- or city-level meeting where decisions are made, in contrast with town hall meetings held by state and national politicians to answer questions from their constituents, which have no decision-making power.

The governor

Power was centralized in the hands of the royal governor, and historic rights to self-government were abrogated. The Act provided that local officials were no longer to be elected:

[The] governor, to nominate and appoint...and also to remove, without the consent of the council, all judges of the inferior courts of common pleas, commissioners of Oyer and Terminer, the attorney general, provosts, marshals, justices of the peace, and other officers....and nominate and appoint the sheriffs without the consent of the council.

Most important, regarding town meetings, the key instrument of local rule:

whereas a great abuse has been made of the power of calling such meetings, and the inhabitants have, contrary to the design of their institution, been misled to treat upon matters of the most general concern, and to pass many dangerous and unwarrantable resolves: for remedy whereof, be it enacted...no meeting shall be called...without the leave of the governor, [apart from one annual election meeting]. [4]

Implementation

When Governor Thomas Gage invoked the act in October 1774 to dissolve the provincial assembly, its Patriot leaders responded by setting up an alternative government that actually controlled everything outside Boston. They argued the new Act had nullified the contract between the king and the people. They ignored Gage's order for new elections and set up the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. It acted as the province's (and from 1776 the state's) government until the 1780 adoption of the Massachusetts State Constitution. The governor only had control in Boston, where his soldiers were based. [5]

Thomas Gage British general

General Thomas Gage was a British Army general officer and colonial official best known for his many years of service in North America, including his role as British commander-in-chief in the early days of the American Revolution.

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.

The Massachusetts Provincial Congress (1774–1780) was a provisional government created in the Province of Massachusetts Bay early in the American Revolution. Based on the terms of the colonial charter, it exercised de facto control over the rebellious portions of the province, and after the British withdrawal from Boston in March 1776, the entire province. When Massachusetts declared its independence in 1776, the Congress continued to govern under this arrangement for several years. Increasing calls for constitutional change led to a failed proposal for a constitution produced by the Congress in 1778, and then a successful constitutional convention that produced a constitution for the state in 1780. The Provincial Congress came to an end with elections in October 1780.

Parliament repealed the Act in 1778 as part of attempts to reach a diplomatic end to the ongoing American Revolutionary War.

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.

See also

Notes

  1. Ira D. Gruber, "The American Revolution as a Conspiracy: The British View." William and Mary Quarterly (1969): 360-372. in JSTOR
  2. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/mass_gov_act.asp
  3. Ian R. Christie and Benjamin W. Labaree, Empire or Independence, 1760–1776 (New York: Norton, 1976) p. 188.
  4. text from Avalon project
  5. Sosin, 1963

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