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Partial repeal of the Townshend Acts and the Boston Massacre

Trade with Great Britain had decreased from £2,378,000 to £1,634,000 by 1769. The Townshend Acts proved to be a complete failure; it did not increase revenue and confronted the population bringing them close to rebellion. Customs collections did not improve as expected because of the non importation agreement, in addition the cost of the increasing number of colonial military troops was becoming more expensive.  Residents in the colonies, especially in Boston, Pennsylvania and New York were almost brought to the point of rebellion while British manufactures and merchants were having a hard time coping with the decrease in trade.

During the Townshend Act Crisis the Sons of Liberty assumed leadership, Boston was occupied by British soldiers, and ships were not allowed in ports due to the non importation agreement.

On January 31st, 1770 Lord North became Prime Minister. He suggested parliament that duties on British products had to be dropped, it did not make economic sense as it was affecting manufacturers and merchants however the tax on tea should be kept. The price on tea had actually fallen because the East India Company was shipping directly to the colony. Keeping the tax on tea was a matter of principle and it should remain clear to the colonies that Britain had the right to tax them, furthermore it made economic sense as the revenue from tea duties were substantial. By April 1770 the Townshend Acts were partially repealed except for the tax on tea while the non revenue Townshend Acts remained in force.

Lord North became Prime Minister on January 1770, he suggested the Townshend Acts did not make economic sense.

By the spring of 1768 the Townshend Acts crisis was building up tension in Boston. Residents were outraged that the acts had brought in new measures to keep tight control on trade through the newly appointed customs commissioners whose headquarters were in Boston, the fact that they had the freedom to issue writs of assistance violated their rights. In addition, the act had created a new admiralty court in Boston. These measures created civilian resistance and attacks on customs officials became a common occurrence. Military troops were needed in Boston to keep the public order and in the spring of 1768, 1000 soldiers were sent form Nova Scotia by General Gage.  They were joined by troops from Ireland adding to a total of 4000 by the fall of the same year, a large number considering the population of Boston was 20,000 at the time.

According to the 1765 Quartering Act, Massachusetts had to provide accommodation for the troops; they were quartered at Castle Williams, an island in Boston Harbor, too far from where they were needed. Soldiers were transferred and had to camp in Boston Common where they were unwelcome, unsanitary conditions and public show of force infuriated the population. By the first week close to 7% of soldiers deserted. Eventually they occupied the more suitable Boston poorhouse.

The Massachusetts Assembly quartered British soldiers in Castle Williams, an island in Boston Harbor.

The Sons of Liberty led by Samuel Adams and John Hancock warned the public against a standing army in times of peace and stressed that soldiers were undermining public order. Stories of abuse were published in major publications in Boston and New York. Residents viewed them not as order keepers but as oppressors, brawls became common between soldiers and citizens, but attacks on customs officials decreased. By January of 1770 riots and attacks on British soldiers had become more common and the Sons of Liberty intimidated merchants who violated the non importation agreement.

On March 5th 1770 there was a serious collision known as the Boston Massacre. A sentinel stationed at the customs house was pelted with snow balls and chunks of ice, as he called for assistance several guards loaded their guns and shot at the crowd killing five men and injuring six. The victims of the massacre were citizens Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, Patrick Carr, James Coldwell and Crispus Attucks. Troops were withdrawn and returned to Castle Williams. A young lawyer; John Adams, who later became the second president of the United States, accepted to defend the British soldiers as he thought they deserved a fair trial. His friends admired his devotion for the legal profession even though he sought independence from Britain.

That same day, March 5th 1770, Lord North, the new Prime Minister, asked parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts but it was not until April that parliament decided to partially repeal the tax.

Boston Massacre engraving by Paul Revere


Related Information


Description of the Townshend Acts

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.

Townshend Acts in facts and numbers

Known and unknown facts about the Townshend Acts.

Townshend Acts crisis and resistance

Political and economical resistance that unified colonial residents and defined leaders who fought towards American independence.

Timeline of the Townshend Acts

Chronological events that led to the Townshend Acts and its partial repeal.

Prelude to the Boston Massacre

A description from the Crispus Attucks On-line Museum of the events that led to the confrontation of March 5, 1770.


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