The Six Coercive Acts of 1774
The Coercive Acts of 1774, sometimes called the Intolerable Acts, are names given to describe a set of laws that were passed by Great Britain’s Parliament in 1774 which related to colonies in North America that were under British control. These acts caused resistance and outrage in the North American Thirteen Colonies which later gained their independence to become the United States, and were extremely crucial developments in the development of the American Revolution.
Four of the Coercive Acts of 1774 were created in by the Parliament as a direct response to the Boston Tea Party which occurred in December of 1773. Great Britain’s Parliament created these acts in hopes that the punitive measures could make an example out of Massachusetts and reverse the ongoing trend of resistance from the colonies against parliamentary authority that was exerted by Great Britain starting from the Stamp Act of 1765. The Quebec Act, the fifth of the Coercive Acts of 1774, enlarged the boundaries of the Province of Quebec and set up reforms that were generally more favorable to the inhabitants of the region who were French Catholic.
Many North American colonists looked at the Coercive Acts of 1774 as a completely arbitrary violation of their rights by Great Britain, and in 1774 the colonists set up the First Continental Congress in order to coordinate a protest against them. As tensions intensified, the Revolutionary War broke out the year after, ultimately leading to the formation of an independent country, the United States of America.
Background Environment of the Coercive Acts of 1774
Relations between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Thirteen Colonies steadily worsened after Seven Years’ War ended in 1763. The war had pushed the British government into debt, resulting in the British Parliament enacting a series of acts in order to increase tax revenue received from the North American colonies. Great Britain’s Parliament felt that these imposed acts, for example the 1765 Stamp Act and the 1767 Townshend Acts, were a legitimate way of having the American colonies pay their share of the expenses of upholding the British Empire. Although objections led to the repeal of both the Townshend and Stamp Acts, the British Parliament maintained the position that the empire had the right over the colonies to legislate in all cases according to the Declaratory Act of 1766.
However, many colonists had established an altered idea of the British Empire. The colonists argued that under the British Constitution, the property of a British subject (taxes in this case) could not legally be taken without his consent (which in this case was form of proper representation in the government). Consequently, because the North American colonies were not represented directly in Parliament, many colonists claimed that Parliament did not have the right to levy taxes upon the colonies. The colonists expressed this view through the slogan “No taxation without representation”.
Once Parliament enacted the Townshend Acts, many essayists in the colonies took this slogan further and started to question whether the British Parliament had any genuine jurisdiction over the colonies in the first place. This doubt of how far Parliament’s sovereignty went in the American colonies was the primary issue underlying what developed into the American Revolution.
The Acts of the Coercive Acts of 1774
In December of 1773, a crowd of colonists ruined tons of tea from the East India Company in Boston, Massachusetts as an act later called the Boston Tea Party. This response by the colonists were in response to Parliament taking away the taxes previously in place for tea distributed to the North American colonies by the British East India Company as a way to save the company going bankrupt.
This act by Parliament resulted in tea that was less expensive in comparison to colonial tea, nearly creating a monopoly, and endangering the financial welfare of many of the traders and business men of the colony. News regarding the Boston Tea Party reached Great Britain by January of 1774. The British Parliament responded to the event with the Coercive acts that were meant to be punishment for destroying private property, reestablish British authority, and reform government in colonial America.
The Boston Port Act
The Boston Port Act was the first Coercive Act passed by Parliament after the Boston Tea Party, which closed the port of Boston until after the East India Company was repaid the value of the destroyed tea and once the king was content that order in the colonies was been restored. Colonists protested that the Port Act penalized all of Boston instead of just the persons who had ruined the tea, and that everyone was being disciplined without a chance to defend their side.
The Massachusetts Government Act
The Massachusetts Government Act triggered even more anger than the first Coercive act because the act one-sidedly changed the government of Massachusetts in order to place it under the British government. According to the Act, nearly all positions in the North American colonial government were designated by the king or the governor. The second Coercive act also harshly limited the town meetings in Massachusetts to just one meeting a year, unless specifically called for by the Governor. North American colonists outside Massachusetts became worried that their colonial governments could soon be changed through Parliament’s legislation.
The Administration of Justice Act
The Administration of Justice Act was the third Coercive act of 1774, where the governor moved trials of royal officials who were accused to other colonies or even back to Great Britain if he felt the official would not receive a fair trial in Massachusetts. Even though the act specified that witnesses would have to pay for their own travel expenses, very few colonists could actually afford do because it would require them to take a leave from work and travel, sometimes across an ocean in order to testify. This Coercive act effectively allowed British officials to harass colonial Americans and escape justice afterwards.
The Quartering Act
The Quartering Act was a Coercive act placed on all of the colonies in North America, and worked to make a more efficient way of housing British troops who were stationed in America. A previous act forced colonies to provide housing, but many colonial legislatures had been very uncooperative. The new Quartering Act gave the governor authority to house the soldiers in other buildings in the colony if quarters were not provided. Although many colonists felt that the Quartering Act were objectionable, this Coercive act produced the least objection out of all the Coercive Acts of 1774.
The Quebec Act
The Quebec Act was legislation that was completely unrelated to the Boston Tea Party, and is sometimes not considered a part of the Coercive Acts of 1774. The act was passed in a time that led colonists to think that the act was in place to punish the colonies. The Quebec act extended the boundaries of the Province of Quebec and introduced reforms generally advantageous to the French Catholic residents of the region, although they were denied an elected legislative assembly. The Quebec act eliminated mentions to the Protestant faith from the allegiance’s oath, and guaranteed that there could be free practice for Roman Catholics. The Quebec Act insulted a variety of different interest groups in the colonies. Land settlers and speculators protested to the allocation of western lands formerly claimed by the American colonies to the non-representative government. Many colonists feared the formation of Catholicism in Quebec, and that British Americans would be oppressed by the French Canadians.