The Coercive Acts

The Coercive Acts were also known as the Intolerable Acts of 1774.  These acts were a direct result of the Boston Tea Party.  King George III was angry with the way the colonists acted, and most importantly, he hated the way the British were being treated in the colonies. In order to restore order to the colonies, or to retain his grasp of his colonies, King George, with the help of his Prime Minister, Lord North, pushed the Coercive Acts through both houses of Parliament.  Basically, Britain declared martial law throughout the colonies, even though they were mainly trying to punish Boston for what happened during the Boston Tea Party.

There were 5 acts that were considered the Coercive Acts.  The colonists called them Intolerable Acts because they felt they were intolerable.

The Boston Port Act – March 31, 1774 -
“. . . it shall not be lawful for any person or persons whatsoever to lade, put, or cause to 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 Tharbour of Boston, between a certain headland or point called Nahant Point, on the eastern side of the entrance into the said bay, and a certain other headland or point called Alderton Point, on the western side of the entrance into the said bay, or in or upon any island, creek, landing place, bank, or other place, within the said bay or headlands, into any ship, vessel, lighter, boat, or bottom, any goods, wares, or merchandise whatsoever, to be transported or carried into any other country, province, or place whatsoever, or into any other part of the said province of the Massachusetts’s Bay . . .”

The Boston Port Act was enacted on June 1 and basically closed the port of Boston to all commerce.  The king wanted it closed until certain things occurred:
1.      The city reimbursed the East India Company for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party.
2.      The city paid for damage to the customs house during the uprising.
3.      The people of Boston had to prove they were peaceful people and would not start fights.
4.      The Crown wanted Massachusetts to state the tax was acceptable.
5.      The Crown wanted all judges to be fired or replaced.  Jurors could be personally chosen by the governor.
6.      General Gage became the governor of Massachusetts – making the colony a martial state and he was backed by 4 regiments of soldiers.
While the port may have been closed, the people in the other colonies made sure the people of Boston did not suffer.  They sent provisions, supplies, and food.

The Administration of Justice Act – May 20, 1774 -
“ . . . shall deem reasonable, for the personal appearance of such person, if the trial shall be appointed to be had in any other colony, before the governor . . .of such colony; and if the trial shall be appointed to be had in Great Britain, then before his Majesty’s court of King’s Bench, at a time to be mentioned in such recognizances; and the governor,  . . . or court of King’s Bench, where the trial is appointed to be had in Great Britain, upon the appearance of such person, according to such recognizance, or in custody, shall either commit such person, or admit hi to bail until such trial . . .”

According to the Administration of Justice Act, British officials who might be accused of capital crimes while doing their duty to the Crown, they could not be tried for these crimes in the colonies.  Instead, these men could be tried at a British court in England.  If the soldiers or other British officials killed a colonist while collecting taxes or stopping a riot, they would not be found guilty of that crime.  They did not want them to face hostile juries.  The colonists called it the Murder Act.

Massachusetts Government Act – May 20, 1774
“. . . that, from and after that said August 1, 1774, the council, or court of assistants of the said province for the time being, shall be composed of such of the inhabitants or proprietors of lands within the same as shall be thereunto nominated and appointed by his Majesty . ., provided, that the number of the said assistants or counselors shall not, at any one time, . . . “

This act took the power of Massachusetts to govern itself away.  NO longer was Massachusetts able to make laws or pass judgment on others. All positions were to be appointed by the governor or the King himself.  All the town’s activities must be monitored closely.  Many activities could not even be held any longer since they were against the Crown.

Quartering Act – June 2, 1774
“ . . .if it shall happen at any time that any officers or soldiers in His Majesty’s service shall remain within any of the said colonies without quarters for the space of twenty four hours after such quarters shall have been demanded, it shall and may be lawful for the governor of the province to order and direct such and so many uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns, or other buildings as he shall think necessary to be taken (making a reasonable allowance for the same) and make fit for the reception of such officers and soldiers, and to put and quarter such officers and soldiers therein for such time as he shall think proper . . .”

The Quartering Act was done out of necessity.  The soldiers had traveled across the ocean and had no barracks to reside in.  There was no place for them to live.  This act stated that the soldiers must be placed in taverns and inns.  If there were no taverns or inns available, then private homes could be used to take soldiers in. This act was to be enacted in every colony, not just Massachusetts.

Quebec Act – June 22, 1774
“ . . . that it may be enacted: [Boundaries defined, Boundaries of Proclamation of 1763 extended to include territory west to the Mississippi, north to the frontiers of the Hudson’s Bay territory, and the islands in the  mouth of the St. Lawrence.] . . .”

This act, while part of the Intolerable Acts, was actually something the King wanted in place for many years.  He merely used the insurrection in Boston as an excuse to punish the colonies further by passing it.  The boundaries of Quebec were extended.  Land was taken away from the northern colonies and given to Quebec.  This act also extended the freedom of worship to Catholics in Canada.

Response to the Coercive Acts
Most of the colonists agreed the Intolerable Acts were objectionable.  As a matter of fact, they received the name Intolerable because the colonists detested the way the King just passed these laws without any consideration of his colonies.  While many were quite vocal about the Intolerable Acts, some of the colonies’ leaders spoke out.
Benjamin Franklin felt the Boston Tea Party was wrong and “an act of violent injustice on our part”.  While he agreed we should fight for independence, he was opposed to destroying property that did not belong to us.

George Washington condemned the acts of those who participated in the Boston Tea Party, but was also furious about the Coercive Acts.  He felt Britain used the Tea Party as an excuse to push their authority and take away colonists’ rights.

Thomas Jefferson stated, “scarcely have our minds been able to emerge from an astonishment into which one stroke of Parliamentary thunder has involved us, before another heavy and more alarming is fallen on us.  Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of the day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systemically plan of reducing us to slavery.

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