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Reports & Essays: History - American History

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The Townshend Act
The Townshend Acts` repeal of the Stamp Act left Britain's financial problems unresolved. Parliament had not given up the right to tax the colonies and in 1767, at the urging of chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend, it passed the Townshend Acts, which imposed taxes on lead, glass, tea, paint, and paper that Americans imported from Britain. In an effort to strengthen its own authority and the power of royal colonial officials, Parliament, at Townshend's request, also created the American Board of Customs Commissioners whose members would strictly enforce the Navigation Acts. Revenue raised by the new tariffs would be used to free royal officials from financial dependence on colonial assemblies, thus further encroaching on colonial autonomy. Once again the colonists protested vigorously. In December 1767,John Dickinson, a Philadelphia lawyer, published 12 popular essays that reiterated the colonists' denial of Parliament's right to tax them and warned of a conspiracy by a corrupt British ministry to enslave Americans. The Sons of Liberty organized protests against customs officials, merchants entered into nonimportation agreements, and the Daughters of Liberty advocated the nonconsumption of products, such as tea, taxed by the Townshend Acts. The Massachusetts legislature sent the other colonies a circular letter condemning the Townshend Acts and calling for a united American resistance. British officials then ordered the dissolution of the Massachusetts General Court if it failed to withdraw its circular letter; the court refused, by a vote of 92 to 17, and was dismissed. The other colonial assemblies, initially reluctant to protest the acts, now defiantly signed the circular letter, outraged at British interference with a colonial legislature.In other ways, British actions again united American protest. The Board of Customs Commissioners extorted money from colonial merchants and usedflimsy excuses to justify seizing American vessels. These actions heightened tensions, which exploded on June 21, 1768, when customs officials seized Boston merchant John Hancock's sloop Liberty. Thousands of Bostonians rioted, threatening the customs commissioners' lives and forcing them to flee the city. When news of the Liberty riot reached London, four regiments of British army troops-some 4,000 soldiers-were ordered to Boston to protect the commissioners. The contempt of British troops for the colonists, combined with the soldiers' moonlighting activities that deprived Boston laborers of jobs, inevitably led to violence. In March 1770 a riot occurred between British troops and Boston citizens, who jeered and taunted the soldiers. The troops fired, killing five people. The so-called Boston Massacre aroused great colonial resentment. This anger was soon increased by further parliamentary legislation. Bowing to colonial economic boycotts, Parliament, guided by the new prime minister, Lord Frederick North, repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770 but retained the tax on tea to assert its right to tax the colonies. In order to rescue the British East India Company from bankruptcy, Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773, reducing the tax on tea shipped to the colonies so that the company could sell it in America at a price lower than that of smuggled tea. The colonists, however, refused to buy the English tea. They viewed the Tea Act as another violation of their constitutional right not to be taxed without representation. Colonial merchants also feared that the act would allow the East India Company to monopolize the tea trade and put them out of business. In Philadelphia and New York City the colonists would not permit British ships to unload tea. In Boston, in the so-called Boston Tea Party, a group of citizens, many disguised as Native Americans, swarmed over British ships in the harbor and dumped the cargoes of tea into the water.

 



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