Colonial Agitation

Stamp Act Repealed

Agitation in the colonies by private citizens, with Samuel Adams and John Hancock of Massachusetts among the leaders, was soon followed by official protests. The Virginia House of Burgesses adopted fiery resolutions drafted by Patrick Henry. The Massachusetts General Court (assembly) invited the other colonial assemblies to send delegates to a meeting in New York City. This Stamp Act Congress, representing nine colonies, adopted a declaration of rights and liberties" and made separate appeals to Parliament and the king.

British tax stampsBritish tax stamps used under the Stamp Act.

In the meantime, stamp agents who arrived from England were terrorized by mobs probably directed by a secret group called the Sons of Liberty. Stamps were destroyed. So intense was the opposition that Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766. But Parliament also adopted a Declaratory Act, which asserted its right to pass the Stamp Act and any other laws it chose to impose upon the colonies. The repeal was thus only a truce.

The Townshend Acts

In 1767 Parliament caused another crisis by passing the Townshend Acts. One of these acts suspended the New York assembly because it did not fully comply with the Quartering Act. Another placed heavy duties on glass, lead, painters' colors, paper, and tea imported by the colonies, and provided that the proceeds were to be used to pay the salaries of royal officials in the colonies, including governors and judges. This provision was especially objectionable because it made royal officials independent of the colonial legislatures that had until that time provided their salaries.

A Boston town meeting voted that goods covered by the Townshend Acts should not be imported. Other communities followed Boston's lead. The Massachusetts legislature denounced the acts and asked the legislatures of the other colonies to do likewise.

The Boston Massacre

In March, 1770, a rowdy crowd in Boston threw snowballs and sticks at a British sentry. Five civilians died from shots fired into the crowd by soldiers. Although the shooting was contrary to orders, the incident helped to increase anti-British sentiment.

Parliament, pressured by British merchants who were losing colonial trade, attempted to conciliate the colonists by repealing the Townshend Acts. The duty on tea was retained, however, to show the colonists that Parliament had not given up its right to impose such taxes. A boycott on tea from England was kept up, along with agitation against the Quartering Act.

Beginning in 1772, committees (called Committees of Correspondence) were formed in various Massachusetts towns to organize the agitation. Soon central Committees of Correspondence existed in nearly all the colonies.

The Boston Tea Party

In 1773 Parliament passed an act permitting the British East India Company to sell tea in the colonies at prices so low that the cry was raised that the colonists were being bribed to accept the duty on tea. Colonists in New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston prevented the unloading of ships carrying tea. In December, Boston colonists disguised as Indians dumped three shiploads of the tea into the harbor. This was the Boston Tea Party.

The Intolerable Acts

Parliament, angered by the Boston incident, ordered the port of Boston closed until the tea was paid for and passed several other measures intended to punish the people of Massachusetts by depriving them of existing rights. The colonists referred to this legislationand to the Quebec Act of 1774as the Intolerable Acts.

The Quebec Act gave the western land taken from France to the Province of Quebec, and also recognized the Roman Catholic Church there. This policy was pictured as a step toward setting up an established church in all the colonies.