Coercive Acts (1774)

The Coercive Acts, or Intolerable Acts, were a series of bills passed by Parliament in 1774 as a punitive action against colonial resistance to the Tea Act, particularly the Boston Tea Party. Scholars believe that the Coercive Acts were a critical spur to colonial resistance, which resulted in the organization of the Continental Congress and culminated in the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The first act, called the Boston Port Bill, took effect on June 1, 1774, under the direction of the new governor, General Thomas Gage. Utilizing a port blockade, the governor prohibited the loading and unloading of ships at Boston until the inhabitants of Massachusetts paid for the damages incurred by the destruction of tea in Boston Harbor (commonly referred to as the Boston Tea Party). The only exceptions were military stores, foodstuffs, and fuel. Before these items were unloaded, they had to clear customs officials in nearby Salem the location of the new customs house for the colony when Boston was closed. The port closure rallied the other colonies to the cause of Massachusetts; fearing the loss of their own liberties, they called for a Continental Congress in order to develop united measures of resistance to future British persecution. Next was passed the Massachusetts Government Act, which took effect on August 1, 1774. The act dissolved the colony’s charter and changed the structure of the government. The new government consisted of a governor and a council appointed by the king. The governor had the authority to select most office holders in the colony, including judges and sheriffs. The governor also gained control of town meetings. Although this was not the first time Massachusetts had lost its charter, the action, combined with the closure of the port of Boston, became the most threatening aspect of the coercive program for many colonials. They believed that if the Crown could systematically destroy the economic and political viability of Massachusetts, then the future of every colony was jeopardized. Then came the Administration of Justice Act, which took effect June 1, 1774. It provided protection for royal officials in the colonies by allowing the governor to move court trials outside of the colony. According to the act, any government official accused of a capital crime committed in the execution of government duties could be tried by a court in another colony or in England if the governor believed local opinion made a fair trial impossible. Since the act freed government officials from local bullying, the ministry hoped a more determined supervision of imperial measures within the colonies could occur. The Administration of Justice Act raised suspicions among the colonials, who believed the British government would use it to extend the authority of Parliament over the colonies by limiting their influence over the administration of the colonial government. Although the Quartering and Quebec Acts were not actually a part of Parliament’s program for coercion, the colonists certainly viewed them as such. The Quartering Act went into effect on June 2, 1774. Essentially, the act was an insignificant supplement to a much larger series of bills providing for the supply and quartering of British soldiers throughout the empire, and specifically emerged from the Mutiny Act of 1765. Composed of numerous provisions for military support, the aspect of the act most offensive to the Americans was the stipulation that army officers could house soldiers in private homes when accommodation in government buildings was not feasible. Not directly related to the thirteen colonies, the Quebec Act took effect with the Quartering Act. It extended the boundaries of Quebec to the Ohio country, permitted the predominantly Roman Catholic citizens of the former French colony of Quebec to practice religious freedom, allowed for the continuation of French law, and set up a government run entirely by individuals appointed by the king without consent of an elected legislature. The expansion of Quebec’s borders angered land speculators throughout the colonies, and many Americans feared that Parliament would force them to accept the same type of government. Those fears were never realized, as the American Revolution rendered these acts moot. Solomon K. Smith See also: Boston Port Bill; Gage, Thomas; Quebec Act (1774); Document: The Boston Port Act (1774). Bibliography Ammerman, David. In Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. New York: W. W. Norton, 1974. Champagne, Roger. “New York and the Intolerable Acts.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly 45 (1961): 195 207. Sosin, Jack M. “The Massachusetts Acts of 1774: Coercive or Preventive.” Huntington Library Quarterly 26 (1963): 235 52. History blog Acts – the freedom trail

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