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Intolerable Acts

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

The Intolerable Acts were the American Patriots' term for a series of punitive laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 after the Boston Tea party. They were meant to punish the Massachusetts colonists for their defiance in throwing a large tea shipment into Boston harbor. In Great Britain, these laws were referred to as the Coercive Acts.

The acts took away Massachusetts' self-government and historic rights, triggering outrage and resistance in the Thirteen Colonies. They were key developments in the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775.

Four of the acts were issued in direct response to 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 creation of an independent United States of America.

Contents

  • Background 1
  • Passage 2
  • Effects 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Background

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.

Many colonists, however, had developed a different conception of the British Empire. Under the British Constitution, they argued, a British subject's property (in the form of taxes) could not be taken from him without his consent (in the form of representation in government). Therefore, because the colonies were not directly represented in Parliament, some colonists insisted 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.

Passage

On December 16, 1773, a group of Patriot colonists associated with the Sons of Liberty destroyed several tons 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 allowed the British East India Company to sell tea directly to 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 with a series of acts that were intended to punish Boston for this destruction of private property, restore British authority in Massachusetts, and otherwise reform colonial government in America.

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 Boston Port Act, the first of the acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party, closed the port of Boston on June 1, 1774, until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea and until 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.

The Massachusetts Government Act provoked even more outrage than the Port Act because it unilaterally altered the government of Massachusetts to bring 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 the activities of town meetings in Massachusetts to one meeting a 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 [3] 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.[4] Although many colonists found the Quartering Act objectionable, it generated the least protest of the four Coercive Acts.

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."[5]

The citizens of Boston not only viewed this as an act of unnecessary and cruel punishment, but the Coercive Acts drew the revolting hate against Britain even further. As a result of the Coercive Acts, even more colonists wanted to go against Britain.[6]

Great Britain hoped that the Coercive 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.[7] The acts promoted sympathy for Massachusetts and encouraged colonists from the otherwise diverse colonies to form the First Continental Congress. The Continental Congress created the Continental Association, an agreement to boycott British goods and, if that did not get the Coercive Acts reversed after a year, to stop exporting goods 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.[8]

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. ^ Ammerman, In the Common Cause, 9.
  4. ^ Ammerman, In the Common Cause, 10.
  5. ^ Ammerman, In the Common Cause, 15.
  6. ^ Gary B. Nash; Carter Smith (2007). Atlas Of American History. Infobase Publishing. p. 64.  
  7. ^ Peter Knight (2003). Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 184–85.  
  8. ^ Harlow G. Unger (2011). American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution. Da Capo Press. pp. 188–93.  
Bibliography
  • Ammerman, David (1974). In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. New York: Norton. 
  •  
  • Reid, John Phillip (2003). Constitutional History of the American Revolution: The Authority of Law. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.  
  • Unger, Harlow G. (2011). American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution. Da Capo Press. pp. 188–93.  
Further reading
  • Donoughue, Bernard (1964). British Politics and the American Revolution: The Path to War, 1773–1775. New York: St. Martin's Press. 
  • Breen, T.H. (2010). American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. New York: Hill and Wang. 

External links

  • Primary documents (British and American) relating to the Intolerable Acts, originally published in the American Archives and presented online by the Northern Illinois University Libraries, also Camden.
  • Text of the Boston Port Act
  • Text of the Massachusetts Government Act
  • Text of the Administration of Justice Act
  • Text of the Quartering Act
  • Text of the Quebec Act
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