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.
"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
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.
"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
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.
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