Massachusetts Government Act

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MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNMENT ACT of 20 May 1767 was one of the Coercive Acts (see also Intolerable Acts) passed by Parliament in response to the Boston Tea Party. The act was draconian in nature, and its justification lay in the sweeping claim to sovereignty codified by the Declaratory Act of 1767. The Massachusetts Government Act effectively ended nearly a century and a half of virtual democracy in the Bay Colony. The Massachusetts charter was suspended, and the upper house of the legislature was henceforth to be appointed by the governor, loyalist Thomas Hutchinson. Judges and sheriffs were also to be appointed, and all officials were to be paid by the crown, not by the democratically elected and decidedly Whig lower house of the Assembly. Town meetings were severely circumscribed as to when they could meet and what they could do.

When taken in context with the other two measures of the Coercive Acts, the Massachusetts Government Act was part of a punitive effort to teach rebellious Massachusetts Bay a lesson meant for all of the American colonies with revolution on their minds. The acts did not merely strip the colony of its sovereignty, it destroyed its economy by closing the port of Boston; the Government Act was complicit in this by denying colonials in the Bay Colony any evident means of redress. But as punitive as the Government Act was, it failed in one important instance: it allowed the freely elected lower house of the Assembly to survive intact, and it, along with the Sons of Liberty in the streets, became the focal point of resistance to the British crown. Massachusetts revolutionaries were able to utilize this apparatus for elections to the lower house to call for a Continental Congress made up of representatives from twelve colonies and to elect Massachusetts delegates to that First Continental Congress, convened on 5 September 1774.


Namier, Louis B. England in the Age of the American Revolution. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1962. The original edition was published in 1930.

Rakove, J.N. The Beginnings of National Politics: An InterpretiveHistory of the Continental Congress. New York: Knopf, 1979; Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982.

Carl E.Prince

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Massachusetts Government Act

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Massachusetts Government Act