1767 – Townshend Acts Crisis and Resistance
The 1767 Townshend Acts imposed new taxes on certain consumer products to raise revenue to pay salaries of colonial officials. It also created the American Board of Customs Commissioners and new admiralty courts to reinforce trade acts and collection of duties. In addition, the act allowed the supreme court of colonies to issue writs of assistance or search warrants on shipments to and from America.
The colonists were divided over strategies of resistance and no organized opposition developed before the act went into effect on November 20th, 1767. As the commodities taxed were mostly imported from Britain the radical Boston Gazette called for a non-importation of all British goods. Resistance was stronger in Massachusetts as it was the main port of entry for British transatlantic trade. In the Boston Town Meeting of October 28, the Sons of Liberty under the leadership of James Ottis and Samuel Adams, suggested residents to voluntarily boycott certain British goods and encouraged greater consumption of locally manufactured goods. By January 1768, 24 towns in Massachusetts followed Boston except for Salem. Newport and other Rhode Island towns followed immediately joined by Connecticut. In March merchants in New England agreed not to import British goods for one year except for necessities such as fish hooks, lead and wire. By April, New York joined New England in their non-importation agreement which was even more restrictive.
Map of transatlantic trade in the 1770s after the non importation agreement was rescinded.
(Click on picture for higher resolution)
The non-importation agreement began to fail by 1770. The economy was strongly affected by the diminished trade, unemployment was growing and there was a shortage of currency. Trade was resumed and back to normal by the beginning of 1771. Not only were the colonies affected, British merchants had presented an appeal to the house to rescind the Townshend Acts as the non-importation from the colonies was detrimental to their businesses.
In December 1767, a Philadelphia lawyer named John Dickinson, issued 12 Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania. The 12 letters were published in 19 of the 23 colonial English language newspapers and numerous pamphlets. The letters offered nothing new but a radical view that many in the colony shared. They discussed the threats to American liberties and freedom coming from unconstitutional taxation, denied the distinction between internal and external taxes, and speculated about the real motives of the Townshend Acts. Furthermore, it stated the dangers and increasing power of the British Army that had just moved from the far west to the east coast. It urged colonist to be aware of the taxes to come if nothing was done to stop the Townshend Revenue Act. Dickison wanted a peaceful resolution and suggested petitions to the Kind and boycotting British goods.
Dickinson’s Letter from a Farmer in Pennsylvania.
The Massachusetts assembly followed Dickinson’s advice and set up a meeting on December 30, 1767. A circular letter, crafted by Samuel Adams, was issued to all the colonies in America urging the population to resist the acts and, like Dickinson’s letter, it stated that Britain had no right to tax the colonies for the purpose of raising revenue to pay for official’s salaries and that without representation in parliament it was illegal to tax them. Tension built up as the new Secretary of State, the Earl of Hillsborough, ordered Massachusetts Governor Bernard to rescind the letter and resolutions and alerted General Thomas Gage in New York to prepare his troops in case they were needed in Boston.
By the spring of 1768 troops arrived in Boston and were commanded to take action as needed. In the meantime the town was in turmoil as accommodation was needed to house the troops. The assembly showed strong hostility against Governor Bernard and the British crown as they would not rescind the letter and kept showing resistance to the British legislation. In the summer of 1769 Bernard was replaced by Thomas Hutchinson as Governor of Massachusetts.
Named after Charles Townshend, the Townshend Acts taxed certain consumer goods with the purpose of raising revenue. It enforced the Navigation Acts, set the American Customs Commissioners with headquarters in Boston and new admiralty courts in Boston, Pennsylvania, Charleston in addition to the existing one in Halifax.
Known and unknown facts about the Townshend Acts.
Residents were outraged that the acts had brought in new measures to keep tight control of the population. The occupation of Boston by British soldiers led to violence and to the Boston Massacre. Violence and economic pressure led to the partial repeal of the Townshend acts.
Chronological events that led to the Townshend Acts and its repeal.