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1767 – Townshend Acts

In 1766 Charles Townshend assumed the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer; he was an ally of Grenville and a strong supporter of colonial taxation, and decided to reattempt the collection of funds from British colonies.

In 1767 Townshend proposed a new set of measures known as the Townshend Acts. The Acts were passed in early June with an overwhelming support of parliament, and were to be effective on November 20th.  After the failure of the Stamp Act the British had to show the colonies that Britain had the right to tax the colonies, raise revenue and punish New York for opposing to comply with the Mutiny or Quartering Act of 1765.

The Townshend Acts consisted on a series of measures that included a revenue tax on seventy two consumer goods; the New York Restraining Act; the appointment of 5 member American Board of Commissioners of Customs with headquarters in Boston; and the expansion of the Admiralty Courts to Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston in addition to the existing one in Halifax.

Revenue measures

Designed as a smarter way to raise revenue as opposite to the heavy-handed Stamp Act nullified a year earlier. The Townshend Acts imposed a new tax on wine, fruits, white and green glass (chinaware), red and white lead, painter’s colors, paper and pasteboard. These products were unimportant in the total amount of American trade and Britain maintained the monopoly, meaning that they could not buy from other countries other than Britain.

By the same act,a drawback for five years applied to tea re-exported from Britain to Ireland and the colonies as well as on coffee and cocoa nuts;  however the drawback on china no longer applied. Charles Townshend thought it unwise to burden important British manufactured products with duties and for this reason he chose products of little consequence on British industry. The plan was to gradually increase the taxable base and get the population used to paying the tax until income was sufficient to relieve Britain of colonial expenses. The calculation on total taxes to be raised, exclusive of the duty on tea, was £43,420. Charles Townshend expected to raise £8,000 in china earth; £5,000 in glass ; £9,000 in paper and pasteboard products; £3,000 in lead and painters’ colors and about £15,000 in minor imports .  These figures represented a small amount in the scale of what was needed.

Initially the new tax seemed to be an extension of the existing Navigation Acts falling within the mercantilist policy of Britain. However the new measure differed from the previous ones in two ways. First, the tax applied to products imported from Britain and not from foreign countries, therefore violating the principle of the mercantilist theory. Second, the manner in which revenue was to be spent; the revenue raised was to provide independent salaries for governors and magistrates. Colonial assemblies would no longer have the power to withhold salaries to persuade officials. This strategy arouse suspicions of conspiracy leading to the Townshend Acts Crisis and boycott of British goods and in 1770 all the duties were repealed except for the tax on tea.

The table below shows revenue collected from the 1764 Sugar Act1765 Stamp Act and the 1767 Townshend Acts. Townshend duties collected in 1768 amounted to £13,200, a significant 35% of taxes collected in that year (not considering revenue from the Navigation Act) but the following year it fell sharply to £5,561 due to the boycott of British goods. The lowest collection was in 1770 when only £2,727 was  generated. Revenue collected after its partial repeal is duty collected on tea imports.

YearSugar Act 1764Stamp Act 1765Townshend Act 1767Total Three ActsTownshend Act as %
Source: Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to the Present, vol. 5, "Imperial Taxes Collected under Several British Revenue Laws: 1765-1774"


The New York Restraining Act

A measure to punish the New York assembly for its opposition to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act. This act required colonial assemblies to provide housing, food and drink to British troops stationed in their towns. In 1766 New York refused to raise the money as it was the main port of arrival and departure of soldiers and the burden to finance housing was heavier on them than on any other assembly. Parliament suspended the assembly and forbade the New York governor to sing any bill until they complied with the new law. The New York assembly decided to provide limited funding for housing and food.

Customs commissioners and Admiralty Courts

The Townshend Acts established the American Board of Customs Commissioners with headquarters in Boston where the resistance to the Stamp Act had been the fiercest. Five officials were appointed to exercise control of American customs, reinforce trade acts and duty collection. The act allowed the supreme court of the colonies to issue writs of assistance which were search warrants to enforce customs regulations. In order to reinforce the power of the new custom commissioners, new admiralty courts were created in Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston in addition to the existing one in Halifax.

Charles Townshend died suddenly in September 1767. Lord North replaced him as Chancellor of the Exchequer and  Duke Graffton became prime minister.

Despite the new tactics the Townshend Acts were also extremely unpopular causing widespread protests and the subsequent response by the Britain parliament to dissolve the Massachusetts legislature. One of the most famous protest was the Boston Massacre of 1770.

Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1766 to 1767.


Related Information


Timeline of the Townshend Acts

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

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.

Partial repeal of the Townshend Acts and the Boston Massacre

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.

The first hero of the American Revolution, Crispus Attucks

Interesting facts and information from the Crispus Attucks On-line Museum.


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