The Intolerable Acts of 1774: Road to Independence

by Elizabeth J.


The colonies originally had charters or letters from the King giving them the right to run their own affairs. Eventually these charters were revoked. Some of the colonies became Crown colonies and their government was modeled after that of England. Instead of a King, they had a Royal Governor; instead of a House of Lords, they had a Council; instead of a House of Commons, they had an Assembly. The real power lay with the Colonial Assembly which controlled the money. The Assembly even decided how big a salary the Governor would get, if any, and how all money was spent.

King George III was determined to control the colonies by imposing a new tea tax. In 1775, he demanded that three shiploads of surplus tea be unloaded in Boston. The Bostonians did not want the tea and decided not to pay a tax that their Assembly did not vote on. They dumped the tea in Boston Harbor, believing England would then leave them alone. King George III was furious! He, and many in Parliament, believed the colonies should be punished for insulting Parliament and interfering with trade. To punish them, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, called by the colonists, Intolerable Acts.

These acts overturned the principles on which the Massachusetts colony was founded in the charter of 1691. Without consultation and without legal proceedings, the charter was changed. The colonists were outraged!

The Boston Port Bill was intended to close down completely the Port of Boston until the East India Company was paid for their tea and Parliament was paid the tax due on the tea.

The Massachusetts Government Act declared that members of the Massachusetts Council would be appointed by the Governor, not elected by the Assembly. Also, town meetings could take place only with the Governor's permission. This act gave the governor full power to appoint local officials and the judiciary, and decreed that in the future, juries would be appointed by the sheriffs, not elected.

The Administration of Justice Act provided that any British official serving in the colonies, who was accused of a capital offense could be removed from the colony and sent to another colony or to England for a fair trial.Through a new Quartering Act for the British Army, colonial citizens would be required to house and feed, in their private homes, British officers and troops.

Finally, the Quebec Act was tacked on to the Intolerable Acts. It gave Canada's Catholics civil equality and guaranteed religious tolerance. It also gave the French vast territories west of the Appalachians. The colonists saw this as an attempt to renew their battles with both the French and the Indians.

The Boston Port Bill strangled Boston economically. She was totally dependent on the port as an outlet to the ocean for fishing and commerce. The other colonies supported Massachusetts in protest. Shops closed and bells tolled. Demonstrators marched through the streets. Donations began to pour into Boston: rice, wheat, sugar, flour, and even hundreds of sheep, herded form Connecticut and New York to Massachusetts. Boston called for a Covenant pledging a boycott of all British goods. The colonists agreed to meet in Philadelphia at a Continental Congress to debate a course of action. Sixty-four delegates met in September 1774, and decided on economic measures only: non-importation and non-exportation. As the British position stiffened, so did the colonists' resolve to break with England. They worked together and in 1776 declared their independence.

Independence form Britain was inevitable. For 100 years the Crown and her Colonies fought over power. The tough stand of George III, broadcast through the Intolerable Acts, brought the issue to a head. Eventually, the colonies fought for and won their independence.

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1. A Struggle for Power: the American Revolution, by Theodore Draper. Times

Books, Random House, 1996.


2. The Long Fuse: How England Lost the American Colonies, 1760-1785., by

Don Cook. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.