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The Events Leading to Independence

9g. The Intolerable Acts

House of Lords
Rudolf Ackermann 1808
Britain's House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament, helped issue a series of acts in response to the Boston Tea Party and the American colonies' continual rebellion.

Someone was going to pay.

Parliament was utterly fed up with colonial antics. The British could tolerate strongly worded letters or trade boycotts. They could put up with defiant legislatures and harassed customs officials to an extent.

But they saw the destruction of 342 chests of tea belonging to the British East India Company as wanton destruction of property by Boston thugs who did not even have the courage to admit responsibility.

Someone was going to pay.

Calami-tea

The British called their responsive measures to the Boston Tea Party the Coercive Acts. Boston Harbor was closed to trade until the owners of the tea were compensated. Only food and firewood were permitted into the port. Town meetings were banned, and the authority of the royal governor was increased.

To add insult to injury, General Gage, the British commander of North American forces, was appointed governor of Massachusetts. British troops and officials would now be tried outside Massachusetts for crimes of murder. Greater freedom was granted to British officers who wished to house their soldiers in private dwellings.


This Town has received the Copy of an Act of the British Parliament, wherein it appears that we have been tried and condemned, and are to be punished, by the shutting up of the harbor and other marks of revenge, until we shall disgrace ourselves by servilely yielding up, in effect, the just and righteous claims of America....The people receive this cruel edict with abhorrence and indignation. They consider themselves as suffering the stroke ministerial...I hope they will sustain the blow with a becoming fortitude, and that the cursed design of intimidating and subduing the spirits of all America, will, by the joint efforts of all, be frustrated.

– Samuel Adams, letter to James Warren (May 14, 1774)


Treatment of a tax collector
Colonists sometimes took out their anger over unfair taxes on the tax collector, as depicted in this drawing from 1774.

The Quebec Act

Parliament seemed to have a penchant for bad timing in these years. Right after passing the Coercive Acts, it passed the Quebec Act, a law that recognized the Roman Catholic Church as the established church in Quebec. 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.

In the wake of the passage of the Quebec Act, rage spread through the 13 colonies. With this one act, the British Crown granted land to the French in Quebec that was clearly desired by the American colonists. The extension of tolerance to Catholics was viewed as a hostile act by predominantly Protestant America.

Democracy took another blow with the establishment of direct rule in Quebec. Although the British made no connection between the Coercive Acts and the Quebec Act, they were seen on the American mainland as malicious deed and collectively called the Intolerable Acts.

INTOLERABLE ACTS

Boston Port ActAn act to discontinue, in such manner, and for or such time as are therein mentioned, the landing and discharging, lading or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandise, at the town, and within the harbour, of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in North America.
Massachusetts Government ActAn Act for the better regulating the government of the province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.
Administration of Justice ActAn act for the impartial administration of justice in the case of persons questioned for any acts done by them in the execution of the law, or for the suppression of riots and tumults, in the province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England.
Quebec ActAn Act for making effectual Provision for the Government of the Province of Quebec in North America.

Throughout the colonies, the message was clear: what could happen in Massachusetts could happen anywhere. The British had gone too far. Supplies were sent to the beleaguered colony from the other twelve. For the first time since the Stamp Act Crisis, an intercolonial conference was called.

It was under these tense circumstances that the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774.

On the Web
Fairfax Resolves
In response to the closing of the Port of Boston and the passage of the other Intolerable Acts by Parliament, colonists voiced their opposition on a local level. In July 1774, Fairfax County, Virginia, passed the Fairfax County Resolves in protest. This website offers the text of this document, which was drafted by George Mason and George Washington.
The Intolerable Acts
The series of acts British Parliament passed in 1774 in reaction to the Boston Tea Party came to be known in the American colonies as the Intolerable Acts. This U.S. History website offers a brief description of the Intolerable Acts with a link to each specific act.
Lord North
Get the scoop on Britain's Prime Minister Lord North and what was going on over the pond during this turbulent era.
1756-1776: Events of the American Revolution
The final stop on the road to the Continental Congress was Parliament's announcement of the Coercive Acts. But there were certainly other bumps in the road. This website from the folks at tax.org delves into these events and offers descriptions of the Tea Act, the Boston Tea Party, and the Intolerable Acts.
The Declaration of Rights and Grievances
What was the colonies' reaction to the "impolitic, unjust, and cruel" Intolerable Acts? They called a Continental Congress in September of the same year and listed their grievences against the British. This U.S. Constitution website looks at the First Continental Congress.
Class Conflicts among Americans in the Revolutionary Period
Not every colonist supported the rebellious actions of the Sons of Liberty and the call to action of the Committees of Correspondence. Loyalists, men and women loyal to Britain and the king, could be found throughout the colonies. Tensions between loyalists and patriots were fueled by class conflicts. One loyalist, Gouverneur Morris, penned letters voicing his concern about the American Revolution, excerpts of which are presented and explained at this Montclair State College website.
About one-third of all American colonists remained loyal to the British during the Revolution. Take this quiz to uncover other fun facts about the road to revolution.
Learn More...
What pamphlet argued that the American cause was "the cause of all mankind"? Take this American Revolution quiz to find out.
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