The Coercive Acts
The British were outraged by the Boston Tea Party. George III captured the mood of the British ruling class, asserting, “Concessions have made matters worse. The time has come for compulsion.” With what Benjamin Franklin described as “Great Wrath,” Parliament met and passed four acts designed to bring Massachusetts to heel.
The Boston Port Bill closed Boston Harbor until the colonists paid for the tea that had been destroyed. The customs service also had to be compensated for its losses. The Administration of Justice Act protected British officials from American lawsuits. On the recommendation of the governor and his council, the venue of a suit against an official could be transferred from Massachusetts to Britain. The Massachusetts Government Act effectively overturned the Massachusetts charter. Members of the governor's council, previously elected by the House of Representatives, were now to be appointed by the King. The governor was given the power to appoint the attorney general, judges, and justices of the peace. Juries would no longer be elected; instead they would be selected by sheriffs. Town meetings, the very heart of the colony's representative government, could only be called with the permission of the governor, and even then they had to adhere to an approved agenda. The last of the acts, known collectively in Britain as the Coercive Acts, reached beyond Massachusetts. In a new Quartering Act, colonial governors were given the authority to appropriate buildings to house British troops.
Following the Boston Tea Party, Governor Thomas Hutchinson resigned his office. Disheartened by the growing rupture between the colonies and the mother country, he moved to England. He never returned to America.
The Coercive Acts were termed the Intolerable Acts in America. From an American perspective, they seemed designed to confirm the darkest suspicions about British intentions. To a people schooled in the history of England's struggle against royal absolutism in the seventeenth century, contemporary events seemed to have uncanny parallels to those a hundred years earlier. Reinforcing American fears, even paranoia, was Parliament's passage of a bill that had nothing to do with the Coercive Acts.
The Quebec Act was an attempt to normalize the governance of Canada, which had been unsettled since its conquest. In many ways the Quebec Act was a measure of enlightened statesmanship. Aspects of the French administrative tradition were retained. The French inhabitants of Quebec were granted civil rights, and they were guaranteed toleration of the Roman Catholic Church. The Act also extended the boundaries of Quebec to include British territory around the Great Lakes and south to the Ohio River. Quebec would have little of the self-government cherished by the Americans. Parliament was careful to legislate its rights to tax Quebec. The extension of Quebec's territory surrounded the colonies with an authoritarian province, peopled by their longtime enemies. The colonists also resented the Quebec Act's disregard for colonial claims on western lands. It reinforced all the worst aspects of the Proclamation of 1763 in American eyes. The American colonists were also dismayed by the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in Canada. The staunchly Protestant Americans regarded Catholicism as inherently royalist. Any toleration of “popery” was seen as threat to their religious and political liberties — and a revealing indicator of Parliament's plans for them.Colonial Protest
General Thomas Gage, the commander of British forces in America, arrived in Boston in May 1774 to take over as governor of Massachusetts.
The symbolism of an active officer serving as the colony's chief executive was evident to all. Gage had brought 4,000 troops with him. His orders were to use them if necessary. “The die is cast,” George III told Lord North. “The colonies must either triumph or submit.”
Why did the British government focus its anger on Boston and Massachusetts?
The people of Massachusetts had long seemed the most refractory of the colonists. The open and defiant vandalism in Boston Harbor appeared to be a challenge that had to be answered. The British government believed that its credibility was on the line in Boston.
Gage soon learned that his effective authority did not run far. The Massachusetts legislature remained defiant. Massachusetts received moral and practical support from the whole of colonial America. Once the port of Boston was shut, shipments of food arrived by land to help support the citizens. Virginia's House of Burgesses reacted to the closure of the port with a day of fasting and prayer. Thomas Jefferson earned a reputation with a pamphlet that condemned George III's “wanton exercise of power.” There were calls for a renewed boycott of British goods and for measures to ensure greater unity in resisting British tyranny. The Massachusetts Assembly proposed a gathering of representatives from all the colonies to discuss the situation.