The Townshend Act




The Townshend Acts’ repeal of the Stamp Act left Britain\'s
financial problems unresolved. Parliament had not given up the
right to tax the colonies and in 1767, at the urging of
chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend, it passed
the Townshend Acts, which imposed taxes on lead, glass, tea,
paint, and paper that Americans imported from Britain. In an
effort to strengthen its own authority and the power of royal
colonial officials, Parliament, at Townshend\'s request, also
created the American Board of Customs Commissioners whose members
would strictly enforce the Navigation Acts. Revenue raised by the
new tariffs would be used to free royal officials from financial
dependence on colonial assemblies, thus further encroaching on
colonial autonomy. Once again the colonists protested vigorously.

In December 1767, John Dickinson, a Philadelphia lawyer,
published 12 popular essays that reiterated the colonists\' denial
of Parliament\'s right to tax them and warned of a conspiracy by a
corrupt British ministry to enslave Americans. The Sons of
Liberty organized protests against customs officials, merchants
entered into nonimportation agreements, and the Daughters of
Liberty advocated the nonconsumption of products, such as tea,
taxed by the Townshend Acts. The Massachusetts legislature sent
the other colonies a circular letter condemning the Townshend
Acts and calling for a united American resistance. British
officials then ordered the dissolution of the Massachusetts
General Court if it failed to withdraw its circular letter;
the court refused, by a vote of 92 to 17, and was dismissed. The
other colonial assemblies, initially reluctant to protest the
acts, now defiantly signed the circular letter, outraged at
British interference with a colonial legislature.In other ways,
British actions again united American protest. The Board of
Customs Commissioners extorted money from colonial merchants and
usedflimsy excuses to justify seizing American vessels. These
actions heightened tensions, which exploded on June 21, 1768,
when customs officials seized Boston merchant John Hancock\'s
sloop Liberty. Thousands of Bostonians rioted, threatening the
customs commissioners\' lives and forcing them to flee the city.
When news of the Liberty riot reached London, four regiments of
British army troops-some 4,000 soldiers-were ordered to Boston to
protect the commissioners. The contempt of British troops for the
colonists, combined with the soldiers\' moonlighting activities
that deprived Boston laborers of jobs, inevitably led to
violence.

In March 1770 a riot occurred between British troops and Boston
citizens, who jeered and taunted the soldiers. The troops fired,
killing five people. The so-called Boston Massacre aroused great
colonial resentment. This anger was soon increased by further
parliamentary legislation. Bowing to colonial economic boycotts,
Parliament, guided by the new prime minister, Lord Frederick
North, repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770 but retained the tax
on tea to assert its right to tax the colonies. In order to
rescue the British East India Company from bankruptcy, Parliament
passed the Tea Act in 1773, reducing the tax on tea shipped to
the colonies so that the company could sell it in America at a
price lower than that of smuggled tea. The colonists, however,
refused to buy the English tea. They viewed the Tea Act as
another violation of their constitutional right not to be taxed
without representation. Colonial merchants also feared that the
act would allow the East India Company to monopolize the tea
trade and put them out of business. In Philadelphia and New York
City the colonists would not permit British ships to unload tea.
In Boston, in the so-called Boston Tea Party, a group of
citizens, many disguised as Native Americans, swarmed over
British ships in the harbor and dumped the cargoes of tea into
the water.