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The Case for the American Revolution: The Intolerable Acts

The Intolerable Acts were a series of laws passed by the British Parliament in the mid-1770s. The British instated the acts to make an example of the colonies after the Boston Tea Party, and the outrage they caused became the major push that led to the outbreak American Revolution in 1775.

Boston Tea Party
"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor," by Nathaniel Currier. lithograph, 1846

Yet, this wasn't the beginning of the difficulties. Relations between the Thirteen Colonies and the Great Britain had begun to strain in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years' War. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and the British Parliament sought to exploit the colonies for quick funds. They enacted a series of coercive measures to pull revenue from the colonies. Along with these acts, Parliament closed Boston harbor, and sent 4,000 British troops to Boston, to patrol the "rebellious areas." Parliament believed that these acts were perfectly legitimate, that the colonies needed to pay for the maintenance of the British Empire. The colonies thought differently.

The Stamp Act 1765

The Stamp Act of 1765 was one of the first initial measures forced upon the American colonists, instated to help pay for troops stationed in North America after the British victory in the Seven Years' War. It required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper, created in London, and carry an embossed revenue stamp costing one penny. These printed materials included legal documents, magazines, newspapers and many other types of paper used throughout the colonies. The British also demanded that the colonies pay the stamp tax in valid British currency, not in colonial paper money.

The Townshend Acts 1767

Parliament passed a series of acts called the Townshend Acts in 1767, named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and known to his friends as "Champagne Charlie," who proposed the program. These acts included the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, the Vice Admiralty Court Act, and the New York Restraining Act.

These measures met immediate resistance in the colonies, and the unrest would lead to the event known as the King Street Incident in Great Britain, or as it is better known, The Boston Massacre.

The Boston Massacre

The unrest prompted Britain to send troops to occupy Boston in 1768, to help enforce the widely unpopular Townshend Acts. On the night of March 5, 1770, a Boston mob formed around a British sentry, and proceeded to verbally abuse him. Eight additional soldiers came to the sentry's aid. The crowd responded by continuing to harass the British soldiers and throw things at them.

Boston Massacre
"The Boston Massacre," lithograph, Author unknown.

In response, they fired into the crowd instantly killing three people and wounding others. Two more people died later of wounds sustained in the incident. In addition to the five men who died, six more were wounded in the struggle.

Despite it being a relatively localized and small incident, the Sons of Liberty, especially Paul Revere, effectively propagandized the event, spreading reports about British abuses on the American colonies. Already strained tensions grew even more taut as war became increasingly imminent.

The Tea Act 1773

The Tea Act was one of the final coercive measures passed by Parliament in the years before the Revolutionary War. It was, essentially, the straw that broke the camel's back, and was the final unifying factors that brought the colonies together with thoughts of revolution. Parliament's insistence on the right to tax the colonies in the end became too much, and incited Revolution.

The Tea Act, in particular, wasn't a new tax, but merely a method of financially bolstering the struggling British East India Company. During this time, to avoid the Townshend taxes, the colonists had been smuggling tea into America. The Tea Act was an attempt to to convince the colonists to buy British tea and recognize Britain's right of taxation. The colonies refused to accept this policy, and instead, the Sons of Liberty organized the Boston Tea Party.

The Boston Tea Party

When the loyalist governor of Boston, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to let a number of British ship leave without forcing the colonists to pay the duty, things quickly got out of hand. The Sons of Liberty, along with many other protestors, disguised themselves as Mohawk warriors and boarded the three British vessels which remained in the harbor. They worked for three hours, dumping 342 chests of British tea into the water surrounding Griffin's Wharf.

The British responded by instating the Intolerable Acts, which the colonies refused to submit to. In place of their acquiescence, the colonists reacted with revolutionary action, and by 1775 the American War for Independence was in full swing.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Share-Alike License 3.0

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