The acts introduced in the American colonies of the British Empire in response to the Boston Tea Party incident are known as the Intolerable Acts of 1774.
They were passed in the British Parliament with the intention to punish the colonial settlers of Massachusetts and suppress further resistance against the British government in the colonies.
After the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the authority of the British Empire was established in all colonies of North America.
Though the colonial settlers were supportive of the British assistance to fight against the French and the Native Americans, they did not appreciate the various taxes that were levied on the colonists for the purpose of reimbursing the British coffers.
The discontent widened and exploded into the Boston Tea Party incident when the British declared tea from the East India Company as duty-free causing losses to the colonists who were unable to match the rates.
In retaliation, a group of colonists called the ‘sons of liberty’ boarded the ships loaded with the chests of tea and threw them into the Boston Harbour as a form of protest against the British.
This made the British parliament very angry with the colonial settlers and they decided to teach them a lesson by introducing laws known in Britain as Coercive Acts and in the colonies as Intolerable Acts.
They were called intolerable because the colonial settlers perceived them as a violation of their rights as Englishmen. They resented the acts and called them unfair as they took away the right of self-governance of the colonial settlers.
There were 4 acts that were described as intolerable, namely, the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act.
Another act called the Quebec Act was passed in the British Parliament in the same session. It was not related to the Intolerable Acts but was considered to be the same as the other four by the settlers.
The Intolerable Acts caused turmoil and indignation within the settlers and effectively set the stage for the American Revolutionary War in April 1775.
The Age of Discovery had led several European colonial settlers to move abroad in the hope of living a better standard of life.
The colonization of the Americas had come with challenges such as unrest with the native population and competition with neighboring European powers.
Many people from England, France, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, and Denmark had moved to the fertile lands of North and South America with the ambition to own large farmlands or find gold.
Many battles were fought among the colonists to establish their control over the newly discovered lands.
Similarly, various battles were fought against the native American people for control of their land and resources.
By 1754, the colonies of New France and those of British America were fighting in the American theater of the Seven Years’ War of Europe.
Both sides had Native American allies and military support from their home countries of France and Britain.
Because the British population greatly outnumbered the French population in America, the French depended heavily on the natives. This is why it was called the French and Indian War.
After seven years of fighting, the British won the war which established British authority over the colonies of the French territories as well.
The colonial settlers were supportive of the British government during the war and celebrated Great Britain’s victory.
However, things began to go south between the colonists and their new rulers when the Proclamation of 1763 was issued by King George III.
In the proclamation, the British government-imposed restrictions on the fur trade with Native Americans. They also restricted the settlers from buying land directly from the Native Americans.
The purpose of the proclamation was to expand territories in the Appalachian mountains of the Ohio country in an orderly way under the supervision of the Crown.
The British government had intended the proclamation to improve relationships between the British and the Native Americans after Pontiac’s Rebellion.
However, it actually soured the relationship between the British government and the colonial settlers.
The colonial settlers perceived the proclamation as unnecessary interference in the colonial matters and continued to expand their colonies westward into the Ohio Country anyway.
British Rule in the 13 Colonies
In the following years, the British attempted to exact the debt incurred by the British government during the French and Indian War by introducing taxes.
In 1766, the Sugar Act was introduced which attempted to end the illegal trade between the 13 Colonies and the French and Dutch merchants who supplied sugar and molasses from the non-British Caribbean sources.
In 1765 the Stamp Act was introduced which made it mandatory for all printed material to be produced only on the stamped paper made in London.
All printed works, whether they be legal papers, magazines, newspapers, or even playing cards were to be produced only on the stamped paper carrying the embossed revenue stamp.
The purpose of this act was to collect money in order to pay for the troops who fought the French and Indian War.
The stamped paper could not be bought with the paper money that the colonists were using at the time. It had to be paid for in British currency.
Another set of acts proposed by Charles Townshend were passed by the British government between 1767 and 1769. They were called the Townshend Acts.
The purpose of these acts was to raise money to pay the judges and governors for their loyalty to the Crown, enforce compliance in the 13 colonies to the trade regulations, declare punitive measures against the Province of New York, and to teach Americans that the Crown had the right to tax the colonial settlers.
These acts were strongly resisted by the 13 Colonies as they did not believe that the British government had the right to tax the colonial settlers for maintaining the British Empire.
Even though the British government had incurred losses, the settlers argued that the human cost faced by the colonial army more than made up for the debts incurred by Britain.
This conflict between the colonists and the British officers led to several protests against the acts and public outrage against the British government.
They successfully forced the British to repeal the acts under the motto of ‘No taxation without Representation’ which meant that the British Parliament had no right to tax the colonists without their representation in the parliament.
In the Declaratory Act of 1766, the British parliament had asserted that it had the right to legislate the colonies in all cases whatsoever.
This mindset of the Empire was challenged by the colonial settlers as they did not believe that the British had any jurisdiction in the newly found lands of the Americas.
In 1773, a new act was passed by the British Parliament called the Tea Act. The main goal of this act was to help the sinking British East India Company by reducing a large amount of tea they held in their London warehouses.
Another very important reason behind the passing of the Tea Act was to make the British tea much cheaper than the smuggled tea brought to the American colonies by the Dutch traders.
It would also force the colonists to pay the Townshend duties on the purchase of the British tea which would imply that the colonists recognized the right of the parliament to tax them.
The colonists identified the motives of the British and organized several protests to prevent the delivery and the distribution of the British Tea.
In Boston, the full intensity of the colonial outrage was witnessed on December 16, 1773, when a group of colonists called ‘the sons of liberty’ dressed up in native American costumes and boarded the ship that was loaded with the British tea.
They threw 342 chests filled with tea into the Boston harbor destroying hundreds of pounds worth of tea. This incident was called the Boston Tea Party and it inspired a similar protest in New York.
The British parliament was enraged by this incident and all the parties united against the American radicals. King George III accused the colonial settlers of trying to hurt British commerce and disregarding the constitution.
In 1774, the British Parliament decided to punish the colonial settlers and suppress their growing resistance by passing laws that came to be known as the Intolerable Acts.
The Intolerable Acts
The first of the Intolerable Acts was the Boston Port Act passed on March 31, 1774. It forced the colonial settlers to pay for the losses incurred by the British East India Company due to the destruction of the tea.
It also forced the settlers to pay for the duties lost by the King’s treasury. Until all losses were reimbursed the Boston Port was to be closed for all ships no matter what business they served.
The act also made provisions to move the seat of the Massachusetts government to Salem and the Port of Marblehead to be made the new port of entry.
This along with the barricades blocking the Boston Harbor was aimed to punish the settlers of Boston for the Boston Tea Party.
The colonists in Boston were enraged as they felt that they were being punished for the crime of a few without the chance to testify for themselves.
The Port act was followed by the Massachusetts Government Act passed on 20 May 1774, wherein the British parliament had unilaterally abolished the Massachusetts Charter signed in 1691 making it a British government-controlled territory.
Under this act, all positions in the government of the Massachusetts Colony were to be appointed by the governor, the British parliament, or the King.
It severely limited the town meetings to only one per year as a way to prevent any organized rebellion against the Government Act.
This act sent shockwaves across all the colonies in North America and many feared that the British would do the same to their assemblies.
The next Intolerable Act was the Administration of Justice Act, also passed on 20 May 1774.
According to this act, the trials of the accused royal officers would be held in Great Britain or other places in the British Empire if they felt that they could not get a fair trial in the Massachusetts Colony.
The act provided reimbursement to the witnesses for the travel costs to England, however, made no provisions for the amount of income lost during their time away.
This meant that many witnesses would not testify due to the costs they would have to bear for the process and the accused would escape justice.
It was called the Murder Act by George Washington because it allowed the British Officers to get away with murder.
About a year later the Quartering Act was passed at the request of General Thomas Gage. This law was applicable to all colonies and was primarily passed to organize accommodation facilities for the British Troops in America.
The act gave the right to the governor to use any unoccupied buildings to house the soldiers in case the colonies failed to provide them proactively.
Though the Quebec Act was not a part of the Intolerable Acts it was viewed as the same by the colonists.
Under this act, the Province of Quebec was expanded to include the Indian Reserve which threatened the land claims held in the region by the Ohio company.
This act also guaranteed the practice of Catholicism and allowed the Church to impose tithes which was a kind of tax paid to the church or to the government.
The establishment of Catholicism in Canada challenged the American colonies as they were largely Protestants.
The acts were designed to isolate the radicals in America, however, ended up uniting the American opinion against the British.
The severity of the acts created hatred against the British Empire and sympathy towards the colonists of Massachusetts.
Many colonists including the moderates saw the acts as harmful to their constitutional rights and their natural rights.
The unilateral abrogation of the Massachusetts Charter caused fear among other colonies and they saw it as an attack on the liberties of all the 13 colonies.
The British had passed the laws as a calculated risk that would coax the Americans to accept British authority, however, it drew hate from all quarters and propelled all colonies to form committees of correspondence led by the Patriots.
The First Continental Congress was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1774. The meetings led to the creation of the Continental Association which was an agreement to boycott British goods if the Intolerable Acts were not reversed.
They further agreed that if the acts were not reversed after the year, they would ban exports to Great Britain as well.
The Intolerable Acts had brought the anger against the British to a boil and it served as one of the key reasons behind the American Revolutionary War.