Sample Course

From Week 10:

The Boston Tea Party and the Intolerable Acts

The colonists’ continued opposition to and the boycott of the Townshend Acts forced their withdrawal by the British Parliament in 1770. The duties on all items except for tea were removed, and a semblance of calm came to the colonies. Patriots such as Samuel Adams joined together to form Committees of Correspondence to stay in contact with like-minded persons in towns and cities throughout the colonies. Over the next three years, they contended that payment of the remaining tea tax indicated acceptance of Parliament’s right to rule the colonies. Though the tea tax was of no great burden, they feared that colonial liberties could be threatened or lost in the future.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to pay the Townshend duties on tea and sell directly to the colonists–thus eliminating the colonial merchants as middlemen–at a lower price than they previously had to pay. This “back door” tax was seen for what it was: Parliament’s attempt to levy a direct revenue tax on its American colonies. Colonial response was immediate. In November 1773, three British ships arrived in Boston Harbor with cargoes of tea. Boston citizens refused to allow the tea to be landed, and the Royal Governor of Massachusetts refused to allow the ships to leave unless they landed their cargo. The standoff lasted until December 16, when a small party was held in the Boston Tea Party. To make their point about the tea tax, a group of Boston citizens dressed as Indians and led by Sam Adams, boarded the tea ships and threw 342 chests of tea worth ten thousand pounds into the harbor. King George III and Parliament were furious and passed a series of punitive acts to bring the colonists in line.

Known as the Coercive or Intolerable Acts, they were a series of five acts that included a modification to the Quartering Act of 1765. Now, instead of just funding English armed forces in the colonies, it required colonists to shelter and feed British troops within their own homes. The Boston Port Bill closed the port of Boston until the city paid for the damage caused by the Boston Tea Party. The Massachusetts Government Act forbid public meetings and voided the charter of the colony, taking control out of the hands of the colonialists and placing it solely in the hands of the British royal governor. The Administration of Justice Act denied colonial courts jurisdiction over British officials accused of capital crimes in the colonies. This allowed the British to commit any abuse they wished, knowing that there was little likelihood of their being prosecuted or convicted once back in England. And finally, the Quebec Act extended the Canadian border south to cut off the possibility of westward colonial expansion.

When the British implemented these acts, the Committees of Correspondence pushed the colonies to meet and plan how to face this crisis. Between September and October of 1774, 56 representatives from all the colonies, except Georgia, gathered in Philadelphia to discuss the situation. By the close of the First Continental Congress, all colonies that participated agreed to support Massachusetts and voted to declare the Coercive (Intolerable) Acts null and void. They also established the Continental Association, a group set up to enforce an embargo or ban on trade with Britain, and scheduled a Second Continental Congress for May of 1775. Before that event could occur, British troops and colonial militia would clash in Concord and Lexington, and the famous “shot heard around the world” would mark the beginning of America’s war for independence.