Resistance, Rebellion, and Revolution (1750–1775) for AP US History (page 3)

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Updated on Mar 4, 2011

More Protest: The Townshend Acts

In 1766, George III appointed the aging and infirm William Pitt as prime minister. III health made him unable to concentrate on his duties concerning the colonies. As a result, Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had a large hand in creating policy concerning the American colonies. Townshend decided to follow the policies of Grenville and try to extract more income for the government from colonial trade. In 1767, he proposed new duties on glass, paper, and tea. These Townshend Acts were different from previous duties on colonial trade; these were for goods produced in Britain. In addition, income from these acts would be used to pay the salaries of certain ranks of British officials in the colonies; colonial assemblies had always authorized these salaries. Townshend also created new courts in the colonies, the Admiralty courts, to try smuggling cases and ordered British soldiers to be stationed in major port cities (to hopefully prevent the protests that had followed the Stamp Act).

The opposition to the Townshend Acts in the colonies was immediate and sustained. Newspaper editorials and pamphlets renounced the acts with vehemence. John Dickinson from Pennsylvania best expressed the colonial position in his Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767). Dickinson said that Parliament had the right to regulate colonial trade, but not to use that power to raise revenue. By this argument, only duties used to control trade or regulate the affairs of the empire were legal. Benjamin Franklin expressed a different view of the situation. Franklin stated that "Either Parliament has the power to make all laws for us, or Parliament has the power to make no laws for us; and I think the arguments for the latter more numerous and weighty than those of the former."

In early 1768, Samuel Adams in Massachusetts composed a document opposing the Townshend Acts, proclaiming that "taxation without representation is tyranny." The Massachusetts Assembly voted to approve this document and send it along to other colonial assemblies for approval. The royal governor stated that this Circular Letter was a form of sedition, and Parliament suggested abolishing the assemblies that had approved it. Yet, similar resolutions were passed in five other colonies. Boycotting of British goods took place again to protest the Townshend Acts. In 1770, a new prime minister came to power in Britain, Lord North. North repealed all the Townshend Acts except the tax on tea; the tea tax remained to remind the colonists that the British had the right to collect such taxes if they desired to.

Continued Tension in Massachusetts

British customs officials and merchants in Massachusetts continued to clash over the smuggling of goods into Boston harbor. In 1768, officials seized a vessel belonging to a wellknown smuggler, John Hancock; several days later, several customs officials were roughed up. As a result, two regiments of regular British soldiers were assigned to the city. Tension increased notably in Boston; many local workers became incensed when, in their off-duty hours, British soldiers took up jobs that had previously been held by Bostonians. Soldiers were taunted on a regular basis. On March 5, 1770, the event that became known as the Boston Massacre took place. A confrontation occurred, with laborers throwing snowballs filled with rocks at the soldiers. The soldiers, acting against orders, finally shot into the crowd, killing five men and wounding eight. Sam Adams and others made much of the "massacre," yet members of the Sons of Liberty opposed uncontrolled violence. Seven soldiers were later put on trial for the "massacre"; five were acquitted, and two were branded on their thumbs and then freed.

The Calm Before the Storm: 1770–1773

There was an apparent calm in relations between the British and the colonies between 1770 and 1773. Import duties were collected on a regular basis. The tea tax was still in effect; some colonists boycotted British tea, but some drank it openly. Resistance again occurred first in Massachusetts. Samuel Adams established a Committee of Correspondence in Boston. Similar groups were created throughout Massachusetts, Virginia, and other colonies as well. These groups were designed to share information on British activities in the Americas, as well as to share details of demonstrations, protests, and so on. Some historians argue that these committees were the first permanent machinery of protest in the colonies.

The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party occurred because of an effort by the British government to save the near-bankrupt East India Tea Company. American boycotts and smuggled Dutch tea had hurt this company; they asked the government for permission to sell their tea directly to the American colonies without going through English merchants as middlemen. The old tax on tea would remain, but tea would now be cheaper to purchase for the colonists. Lord North and Parliament approved the passage of the Tea Act that would legalize these changes.

Colonial leaders were furious. Some pointed out that this measure reaffirmed that Parliament could tax the colonies; others feared a monopoly of the East India Company on all colonial trade. In the fall of 1773, crowds prevented tea from being unloaded in several port cities. Predictably, Boston was the city where resistance was the strongest. On December 16, 1773, in an event called the Boston Tea Party, 65 men dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded the tea ships and dumped nearly 350 chests of tea in the harbor.

The Intolerable Acts

The British were extremely quick to act in punishing the colonists. The Intolerable Actsall took effect by May of 1774. The port of Boston was closed except for military ships and ships specifically permitted by British customs officials. The upper house of the Massachusetts Assembly would now be appointed by the king instead of being elected by the lower house. Town meetings could not be held without the governor's consent, and the Quartering Act was again put into effect. Many concerned citizens in other colonies feared that similar actions could easily occur elsewhere. As a result, several colonial legislatures suggested a meeting of representatives from all the colonies to discuss the situation in Massachusetts. The passage of the Quebec Act by the British further alarmed many colonial leaders. Among other things, this act increased the religious freedom of French Catholics. To many Protestants in the colonies, Catholicism was easily equated with the absolutist French monarchy of the eighteenth century.

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