The Declaration of Independence
The Intolerable Acts
- What were the five acts that Parliament passed as a consequence of the Boston Tea Party that we call the Intolerable Acts and that the British called the Coercive Acts?
- What did each of these Acts do and what was the message the Britain was trying to convey by the sum total of them?
- What was the effect of acts on the colonists and their leaders?
Parliament was fed up with the colonists' rebellion. They had tolerated the protest letters and trade boycotts. They put up with harassment of their customs officials — at least at first. But Parliament's tolerance was tested by the Boston Tea Party incident. When they heard that 342 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company were destroyed, they took action.
The Coercive Acts
British Prime Minister, Lord North, declared to Parliament:
"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."
So, the British responded with a series of acts intended to punish Boston for its actions — acts that they termed the Coercive Acts. These acts included:
- "The Boston Port Act" — which closed the port of Boston until the tea was paid for from the Boston Tea Party
- "The Administration of Justice Act" — which allowed British officals accused of murder while enforcing British laws to be tried in England.
- "The Massachusetts Government Act" — which brought the control of the government of Massacusetts directly under the control of the British government by requiring that almost all positions in the colonial government be appointed by either the Royal Governor or the King. Also, no town meetings were permitted without permission of the Governor and only business approved by the Governor could be discussed.
- "The Quartering Act" — which allowed the Governor to house soldiers in any unoccupied buiding.
To put teeth behind the new laws, General Gage, who had been a military leader in the French and Indian War, was named the new British commander of North American forces and simultaneously, the new governor of Massacusetts.
What does the name, "Coercive Acts" tell you about how the British felt about the colonists?
The Quebec Act
Colonists sometimes took out their anger over unfair taxes on the tax collector, as depicted in this drawing from 1774.
For some reason, Parliament seemed to pass law after law intended to provoke the colonists in these years. Right after passing the Coercive Acts, it passed the Quebec Act, a law that defined the terms of the government of the colony. The law declared the Roman Catholic Church was the official church in Quebec. It also said that an appointed council, rather than an elected body, would make the major decisions for the colony. The boundary of Quebec was extended into the Ohio Valley. This land had previously been promised to the American colonies.
After the Quebec Act was passed, rage spread through the 13 American colonies. By writing this one law, the British Crown gave the land to the French still living in North America. This was land that was clearly desired by the American colonists. By giving control to Catholics, Parliament was also showing the limits of Protestant America.
The Quebec Act also established something called "direct rule." Under direct rule, the British government had tight control over the colony. The American colonists believed that both the Coercive Acts and the Quebec Act were formed to anger them. Among the colonists, the laws were collectively called the Intolerable Acts.
Throughout the colonies, the message was clear: what happened in Massachusetts could happen anywhere. But the British had gone too far. The other twelve colonies began to provide support to Massachusetts by sending them supplies. Finally, for the first time since the Stamp Act crisis, a conference was called. Representatives of twelve colonies planned a journey to Philadelphia.