Townshend Revenue Act

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Townshend Revenue Act

TOWNSHEND REVENUE ACT. 26 June 1767. Charles Townshend, who became chancellor of the exchequer on 2 August 1766, renewed the imperial government's efforts to raise revenue in America with the Revenue Act of 1767, passed by the House of Commons on 26 June 1767. Customs duties levied on glass, lead, painters' colors, paper, and, especially, tea imported into the colonies were expected to raise £40,000 annually. In raising revenue via customs duties, a supposedly "external" tax, Townshend sought to cloak taxation with the mantle of trade regulation, thus avoiding colonial opposition to an "internal" tax like the stamp tax of 1765.

The duties were to be paid in specie (metal currency), a requirement that put a drag on colonial economies that lacked adequate circulating currencies, but the manner in which the monies were raised proved to be less controversial than the uses to which Townshend proposed to put them. The funds would be used first to pay for "defraying the charges of the administration of justice, and the support of the government" in the colonies (Section 5 of the Act), including the payment of fixed salaries to royal officials. Any remaining funds would be devoted to paying British military expenses in the colonies. Since the colonial assemblies had fought long and successfully to maintain the power of the purse and to frustrate royal attempts to establish a fixed civil list in the colonies, it was the loss of control over the salaries of royal officials that particularly alarmed them. Many Americans believed that colonial governors would be bolder in violating colonial rights and trampling on American liberty, now that they were freed from the need to conciliate the local assemblies who had formerly paid their salaries.

To provide for efficient collection of the new duties, the Townshend Revenue Act and a companion measure generally legalized writs of assistance, extended the system of vice-admiralty courts, and set up a new American Board of Customs Commissioners. Receiving royal assent on 29 June, the act was to take effect on 20 November 1767. Townshend died on 4 September, leaving his successors the task of enforcing his act. Americans countered the act by reviving nonimportation. Their resistance proved so successful that on 12 April 1770 the House of Commons voted to repeal all the Townshend duties, effective 1 December 1770, except the one on tea.

SEE ALSO Customs Commissioners; Massachusetts Circular Letter; Nonimportation; Royal Government in America; Townshend, Charles; Vice-Admiralty Courts; Writs of Assistance.


Jensen, Merrill, ed. English Historical Documents. Volume IX: American Colonial Documents to 1776. David C. Douglas, general editor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Knollenberg, Bernard. Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775. Indianapolis, Ind.: Liberty Fund, 2002.

Thomas, Peter D. G. The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1771. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1987.

                            revised by Harold E. Selesky