Intolerable ActsRevolutionary War

The Intolerable Acts of 1774

The above cartoon was published in London, showing Lord North with the “Boston Port Bill” extending from a pocket, forcing tea (the Intolerable Acts) down the throat of a Native female figure representing “America” while Britannia shields her face .

On April 22, 1774, Prime Minister Lord North addressed the House of Commons: “The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.”

Despite the failure of previous efforts to raise taxes, including the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts, Parliament responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing several “Coercive Acts to punish the American extremists. In America they were called the “Intolerable Acts.” The preamble to the act blamed the American actions on “divers ill-affected persons, to the subversion of his Majesty’s government and the utter destruction of the publick peace”

  1. The Boston Port Act closed the port of Boston until the colonists paid for the destroyed tea and order had been restored in the Colony, that “it shall not be lawful for any person or persons whatsoever to lade put or cause or procure to be laden or put, off or from any quay, wharf, or other place, within the said town of Boston, or in or upon any part of the shore of the bay, commonly called The Harbour of Boston…any goods, wares, or merchandise whatsoever.”
  2. The Massachusetts Government Act abrogated the Massachusetts’ charter since 1691, bringing the colony under complete control of the British government and severely restricting local authority. It granted the governor complete and sole authority to appoint judges, officers of the law, and any positions in the colonial government. Town meetings in Massachusetts were restricted to only one annually.
  3. The Administration of Justice Act allowed the trials of royal officials who had been accused by the Colonists to take place in Great Britain. George Washington referred to this as the “Murder Act” because it allowed British officials who harassed colonists to escape justice.
  4. The Quartering Act applied not only to Massachusetts, and allowed a governor to house soldiers in privately-owned buildings without the owner’s consent.

As with the previous bone-headed Acts, the vengeful British unwittingly encouraged and handed more power to the Patriots. Governor Thomas Gage relocated the Provincial Assembly from Boston to Salem when he relocated for his own safety, but closed and dissolved the General Assembly after finding he had no control over their actions. When the Provincial Secretary Thomas Fluker arrived to enforce the order, the Assembly determined to “keep the door fast” prohibiting him from entering and posting the notice. On June 17, 1774, the Massachusetts Assembly, still defying the Governor, endorsed “a meeting of Committees, from the several Colonies on this Continent…to consult upon the present state of the Colonies, and the miseries, to which they are, and must be reduced by the operation of certain Acts of Parliament respecting America, and to deliberate and determine upon wise and proper measures to be by them recommended to all the Colonies for the recovery and establishment of their just rights and liberties.”

Although the Acts prohibited town meetings from occurring more often than once a year, Ipswich, Marblehead, Rowley and other towns easily circumvented this by adjourning each session repeatedly to a future date or time.

The Essex Convention

A convention of 67 Essex County towns was held on held in Ipswich in September 1774 to gain county-wide opposition to the Coercive Acts. Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead served as Chairman and John Pickering Jr. as Clerk. The delegates included the Colony’s revolutionary leadership, and passed a resolution that the Parliament of Great Britain had committed unconstitutional acts detrimental to all the colonies in North America, threatening the peace of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and began deliberations regarding a Constitution for Massachusetts. The Convention resolved that on October 5, the representatives would adjourn and meet in Concord as a Provincial Congress on October 7, 1774, where Ipswich was represented by Major General Michael Farley.

One of the first actions of the newly-formed Congress was to restore the courts throughout Massachusetts, making them an arm of the insurrection. Wharves, warehouses and stores opened in Marblehead and Salem to Boston merchants, who had lost their businesses in the city because of the Port Act. Ipswich voted to raise £100 by popular subscription to help the needy in Boston. Churches were engaged in additional charity.

On Oct. 26, the Provincial Congress established a Committee of Safety to keep track of British troops and Loyalists. Committees were appointed in every community with the charge to discover and expose Tories. The Congress furthermore authorized purchasing and storing armaments, encouraged creation of a militia in each town. In January 1775, Ipswich began to establish minutemen companies and made preparations for war.

Sources and suggested reading:

Related posts:

Ipswich MA joins the Revolution Ipswich and the breach with Britain - On June 10th, 1776, the men of Ipswich, in Town-meeting assembled, instructed their Representatives, that if the Continental Congress should for the safety of the said Colonies declare them Independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain, they will solemnly engage with their lives and Fortunes to support them in the Measure.

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