Coercion Acts

views updated

Coercion Acts

The Coercion Acts, or Restraining Acts, were a series of four acts passed by the English Parliament between March and June 1774. Parliament passed the laws to punish colonial acts of rebellion, especially the Boston Tea Party . The colonists called the laws the Intolerable Acts.

Three of the four acts were aimed at the colony of Massachusetts . Parliament passed the Boston Port Act in March 1774 in direct response to the Boston Tea Party. During that incident in December 1773, colonists had boarded three ships owned by the East India Company to dump its tea into the harbor. The Boston Tea Party had been a protest against English laws that favored the company at the expense of the colonists. In reaction, Parliament passed the Boston Port Act of 1774 to close Boston Harbor to all shipping, in and out, until the town repaid the East India Company for the destruction of its tea, including the tax due on it.

The second measure was the Massachusetts Government Act. It altered the colony's charter of 1691 by reducing Massachusetts's powers of self-government. Severe restrictions were placed on town meetings, elected posts were replaced by royal appointees, and the English governor of the colony received much greater power over the colony's affairs.

The other two acts increased royal powers to protect the English who served in Massachusetts and elsewhere. The Administration of Justice Act moved trials out of Massachusetts for British officials or soldiers accused of capital offenses there. The act allowed the trials to be moved to other colonies or back to England if necessary. This act was meant to ensure a fair trial for the English by avoiding hostile local juries. It angered the colonists, however, who felt it enabled the British to escape colonial justice for horrendous crimes.

The last of the four Coercion Acts was the Quartering Acts . Parliament passed them to ensure that British soldiers would be hosted in colonial areas where British control was most needed. Unlike an earlier Quartering Act, these acts included a clause that enabled colonial governors to require that soldiers be housed in private homes if needed. The Quartering Acts were the only part of the Coercion Acts that extended beyond Massachusetts to all of the colonies.

Another act passed in June 1774, the Quebec Act, was sometimes counted as an Intolerable Act. It was not meant to be part of the punitive Coercion Acts passed by Parliament, but colonists did not recognize the distinction. Among the most disagreeable aspects of the Quebec Act were limitations it placed on the westward expansion of the colonies. The limitations sometimes affected expansion rights that colonial governments had in their original charters. Though the Quebec Act was intended to give more liberties to the former province of French Canada (another British colony at the time), American colonists counted it in their list of English offenses against their own liberties.

The four Coercion Acts represented the strict and punitive measures the English government was willing to take to maintain order within the colonies. By isolating Massachusetts for acts of resistance to English policies, Parliament hoped to send a message to the rest of the colonies that would discourage acts of rebellion elsewhere. The Coercion Acts instead enraged most of the colonists and became a justification for their calling the First Continental Congress (see Continental Congress, First ) in September 1774 to begin discussions about forming a new, independent government.