Intolerable (or Coercive) Acts

views updated

Intolerable (or Coercive) Acts

INTOLERABLE (OR COERCIVE) ACTS. Opposition to the Tea Act, centered at Boston, Massachusetts, and culminating in the Boston Tea Party, led an angry and exasperated Parliament to pass several measures to crush the center of colonial resistance and ensure the effectiveness of increased imperial control.

The Boston Port Act, to take effect on 1 June 1774, prohibited any ship from entering or leaving the port of Boston until restitution had been made for the cost of the tea destroyed in the "tea party." The customs office in Massachusetts was moved to Salem, allowing commerce to continue but bypassing Boston. To intimidate the Boston activists and ensure that duties would be paid if Boston port was opened in the future, Governor Thomas Hutchinson was replaced as governor of Massachusetts by Major General Thomas Gage, commander in chief of British forces in America, who was backed up with four regiments of regular troops.

The Massachusetts Regulating Act, to take effect in stages through 1 October 1774, annulled important parts of the Massachusetts charter of 1691. The first provision gave the king the right to choose the Council (the upper house of the assembly), the second allowed the governor (then General Gage) to appoint judges and sheriffs without local assent, the third prohibited town meetings more than once a year without the governor's permission, and the fourth placed the selection of juries in the hands of the royally appointed sheriffs. By annulling important parts of the Massachusetts charter without due process, these provisions threatened the foundation of government throughout the colonies because they changed "the long-established rule that once a provincial act had been approved by the Crown, the Crown had no authority to repeal or amend it" (Knollenberg, p. 138).

The Administration of Justice Act, to take effect on 1 June 1774, allowed the governor to move the trial of anyone who had been indicted for a capital crime, including murder, while "acting under the direction or order of any magistrate, for the suppression of riots or for the carrying into effect the laws of revenue" to another colony or to Britain (ibid., p. 139).

Although not part of Parliament's direct response to the Boston Tea Party, two other measures aimed at tightening imperial control—an expansion of the Quartering Acts and the Quebec Act—contributed to inflaming colonial opinion against Parliament.

The Intolerable Acts allowed Massachusetts activists to portray themselves as victims of British tyranny, helped opponents of increased imperial control in other colonies to claim that Parliament was threatening the rights and liberties of all colonists, and made the calling of the first Continental Congress seem like the necessary next step.

SEE ALSO Boston Tea Party; Continental Congress; Gage, Thomas; Hutchinson, Thomas; Quartering Acts; Quebec Act; Tea Act.


Knollenberg, Bernhard. Growth of the American Revolution: 1766–1775. New York: Free Press, 1975.

                         revised by Harold E. Selesky