Political Resistance to the English Colonial Policy in Massachusetts (1763-1775)
Among the factors which helped the colonists in their revolution was the fact they were a relatively homogenous people with a well-established identity, Americans. The story of their opposition to the British measures is the history of the American Revolution, and the colony of Massachusetts is known as the birthplace of the revolution. Resistance in Massachusetts against the English policy was shaped in a political form through which people in the colony used different political means to manifest their opposition.
This article analyses the political resistance which was the first step undergone by the Massachusetts’ colonists in their revolution when they began to react against the British imperial policy, and the different taxing laws. Thus, political resistance in Massachusetts began in 1763, and was carried on until 1775 during the revolutionary era.
Following the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763), the British government decided to end the colonies’ virtual independence. Since the British statesmen claimed their right to tighten control over the thirteen colonies, they formulated a new approach to govern the thirteen colonies that was designed to meet several criteria: to help pay the British national debt, to find a way to pay for the British troops in North America, and to protect the expanded Empire.
The British imperial policy which started to be put into practise was justified by the great need of the Crown’s ministers to look for different ways to finance the King’s military policy. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the British government had taken financial responsibility for the defence of the colonies and some military aids. Moreover, King George III (1738-1820) and Prime Minister William Pitt (1708-1778) decided to keep an army of eighty-five regiments to protect the colonies, but the problem was how to pay for them. England was financially exhausted after her struggle with France had ended, and that its national debt had soared to £ 140 m. Accordingly, parliamentary taxation was introduced to solve this huge financial problem.
This imperial policy which was introduced in 1763 was felt as a great burden to be supported from the part of the colonists. Since the British successive governments believed that the colonies should be ruled strictly, colonial attitudes towards the British government began to be changed. They believed that they were driven to revolt by the unreasonable and unjust actions of their government.
When the English politicians decided to rule their American colonies, they did not expect that their policy would cause unpredictable resistance. The British imperial policy of 1763 meant for the colonists interference in their affairs. After the English colonists had sat foot in North America, they were in a forceful situation. The Metropolis did not use to tax them; they relied on their legislatures to enact taxes. However, after the Seven Years’ War (1754-1763), the English Government was left with a massive debt, and decided that the colonists should pay a large part of these sums of money.
Accordingly, the colonists started to resist the British imperial policy, and their resistance took a political aspect in the first ground. It is commonly known as a political resistance in which the colonists relied on political arguments to justify it, and was manifested in protests, congresses, and riots. However, the American Revolution, which started in Massachusetts, cannot be seen on the basis of only a struggle for political rights; the economic origins are also regarded as one of the major factors which led to the revolution (Miler, 1943, p. 20).
In the eighteenth century; the colonists recognized that the British Empire was ruled by a board of English merchants and manufacturers who pursued their interests at the expense of the colonies. Accordingly, Parliament enacted certain laws to protect these manufacturers from colonial competition (Jacobson, 1932, p. 94). The colonists discovered that these acts were symbols of tyranny, and believed that England was determined to check their economic progress. This belief became evident by 1763 whenever any colonial commodity became important, or any colonial enterprise competed with English interests, it was struck down by a parliamentary act. Subsequently, Massachusetts’ people started to resist the different economic laws that characterized the English imperial policy and other economic measures of 1763. So, the first task in the revolution was to resist the enforcement of the Navigation Acts and the Writs of Assistance (Miler, 1943, p. 24).
A) Resisting the Navigation Acts:
According to Louis Hacker, American colonial historian, the causes of the American Revolution were predominantly economic. The events that proceeded from 1763 to 1775 emphasized that the English imperial policy intended to protect the English economic interests from colonial competition. So, the revolution was over colonial manufacturing, wild lands, furs, sugar, and tea. It simply meant either the survival or collapse of the English trade within the colonial framework of the mercantilist system. Consequently, the English statesmen yielded on this principle when they started to legislate for their colonies (Hacker, 1985, p. 76).
Since Massachusetts is the object of study of this research paper, it is the first colony which started to resist the English imperial policy; for it was mostly affected by these Parliamentary acts. Massachusetts was prosperous following the years of its establishment, in both the economic and industrial fields. Accordingly, Massachusetts’ colonists stood to resist because they realized that their business would fell down if they submitted to this British policy (Hart, 1927, p. 35).
The New England merchants and Massachusetts’ tradesmen in particular had been hit hard by the Navigation Acts and other economic laws which were imposed by the Greenville Administration. They believed that the new rules would restrict their trade with Europe and the West Indies. However, they became more skilled in smuggling. They used to pass money to certain customs’ inspectors to ignore half of the cargo on a ship (Dickinson, 195, p. 52).
In fact, the English customs officers were authorized to enforce laws against smuggling in New England using the Writs of Assistance. The execution of the writs aroused public attention in Massachusetts, and consequently one man prepared a legal battle against the English authority to issue these writs. James Otis (1725-1783); a Massachusetts’ lawyer set in motion the question of the English sovereignty to rule over the colonies (Countryman, 1985, p. 69).
Together with his fellow attorney Oxenbridge Tachter, James Otis appealed to the Massachusetts’ Court in February, 1761 to contest the worth of the Writs of Assistance. What occurred in Massachusetts’ Court in that day would represent the ideological struggle which inspired the revolution in Massachusetts. During the debate, Jeremiah Gridley, who represented the King’s authority in Massachusetts, stressed on the fact that the Writs of Assistance were lawful measures applied in the colonies to stop smuggling; for the English customs officials in North America needed the necessary power to enforce the King’s laws. He further argued that these measures were not only used to collect taxes, but also to protect the colonies and the state from foreign subversives (Bailyn, 1992, p. 155).
James Otis, on the other hand, stated that the use of the writs was a violation of the traditional rights of Englishmen. If these writs were used, the colonists would be subject to arbitrary enslavement. This would jeopardize the sacred privilege of the subjects’ lives, and made every family vulnerable to arbitrary invasion of their privacy (C. Andrews, 1938, p. 6). If the English Government insisted to use the writs, the consequences might be unpredictable in the colonies. He pointed out this belief in his speech as follows:
One of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s house. A man’s house is his castle. This writ … would annihilate this privilege. Custom-house officers may enter our houses when they please; we are commanded to permit their entry. Their menial servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way … .What does this open? Every man will ask for self-defense, one arbitrary exertion will provoke another, until society be involved in tumult and in blood (C. Adams, 1851, p. 521).
Although Otis and Oxenbridge lost the case and the writs were issued, their speeches raised an important question of how much the English Parliament could exert in the colonies. Furthermore, James Otis published his pamphlet “The Rights of the British Colonists Asserted and Proved” in which he stated the famous slogan of “No Taxation Without Representation”. The pamphlet was widely circulated in the colonies, and provided people with necessary arguments to react against the so-called English oppressive measures (Countryman, 1985, p. 71).
The colonists faced now the task of resisting the next step of the English imperial policy which was mainly based on collecting revenue taxes from the colonies. Before the colonists started reacting against English taxes, they had already laid down arguments for their resistance. The Stamp Act was the first phase which was undergone by the colonial resistance during the revolutionary period.
B) Resisting the Stamp Act:
When the colonists started to react against English taxes, Samuel Adams (1722- 1803) was among the revolutionary leaders who organized this opposition to the English taxation policy, and played an important role in defending colonial rights in New England (Cushing, 1904, p. 27). According to him; colonial charters had given local assemblies exclusive right to levy internal taxes to help better the management of colonial affairs. He stated this argument in his famous speech:
Ours- Government- was manifestly founded in Compact … . By this charter, we have an exclusive Right to make laws for our own internal Government and Taxation: And indeed if the inhabitants here are British subjects … it seems necessary that they should exercise this Power themselves; for they are not represented in the British Parliament … (Bailyn, 1992, p. 157)
Samuel Adams believed that Parliament decided to tax the colonies because the English Prime Ministers relied on “Virtual Representation” which held that M. Ps. represented all English subjects living in the Empire. According to him, those taxes were against the English Common- Law, which asserted that the English could not be taxed without their own consent, however; this right had been violated when the colonists were asked to pay taxes against their will (Morgan and Morgan, 1959, p. 17).
When the Stamp Act was enacted, it arose public attention and discontent in the American colonies. However, reaction against it began first with colonial agents in London, before its enactment. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), colonial representative in the English Parliament, and some representatives pushed George Grenville to reconsider his plan before the law was passed, but, he was determined and expressed his willingness to entertain no alternative solution, but only a tax upon colonial assemblies to help cover England’s debt, as well as the costs for keeping an English presence in North America.
Although Virginia issued the “Virginia Resolves”, which supported the colonists’ right to refuse “Taxation without Representation”, Boston underwent violent protests against the Stamp Act. The Sons of Liberty was an organization of protests which was set up in Boston in early 1765 during the Stamp Act Crisis. It was composed of Boston merchants and artisans who called themselves the “Loyal Nine”, and began preparing for fierce resistance against the Stamp Act. Within a very short time, about two thousands of the group had been organized under the leadership of Ebenezer McIntosh, a South Boston shoemaker. It was the first step towards political organization in the colony (Maier, 1972, p. 129).
The Sons of Liberty did not include the leading men of Boston such as Samuel Adams and John Adams in its ranks, but rather workers and tradesmen who grew tense because of the Stamp Act, for this association might have been the result of a mutually beneficial argument. On the other hand, John and Samuel Adams, and other radical members of the legislature were observed daily in public affairs. They could not afford to be associated with violence (C. Andrews, 1938, p. 7).
Since the most important objective of the Sons of Liberty was to force stamp distributors to resign, they seized stamps and destroyed stamp offices. By the end of that year, the Sons of Liberty existed in every colony. On August 14, 1765, the new Stamp Commissioner, Andrew Oliver, was hung in effigy of an old elm tree, later became the Liberty Tree. His home was broken; his office and the stamps were burnt. He resigned accordingly. The mobs also attacked other homes of the customs inspectors, and on August 26, 1765, these people moved to the house of Lt- Gov. Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) where they destroyed records and books, and he was forced with his family to leave Boston and to seek refuge at Fort William (Bullion, 1982, p. 88).
The success of these movements in undermining the Stamp Act cannot be attributed only to violence. Their most effective work was performed in newsprint. Many members of the Sons of Liberty were printers and publishers, among them were; Benjamin Edes, a printer, and John Gill of the “Boston Gazette”. These two members succeeded to generate much of public opinion against the act; for they were sympathetic to the cause. It was they who would pay most of the duties. Nearly every newspaper in Massachusetts, and the rest of the colonies, carried daily reports of the Sons’ activities. Accounts of the most dramatic escapades spread throughout the colonies, and people realized that a political resistance to English taxes had emerged, and was carried out by the Sons (Morgan & Morgan, 1959, p. 26).
After these violent riots had taken place, the Massachusetts Assembly sent circular letters to the rest of the colonies which asked for an intercolonial meeting to plan and organize resistance if new taxes were issued. Thus, in response to Massachusetts’ appeal, nine colonies sent twenty- seven delegates to attend the Stamp Act Congress which was held on October 7, 1765 in New York to discuss the Stamp Act crisis. They stated in the resolution their refusal to be taxed without their consent, and accused Parliament and King George III of “subverting the rights and liberties of the colonies”. They too declared their loyalty to the Crown and hoped to see colonial relations with the mother country improved (C. Andrews, 1938, p. 8).
Consequently, Parliament summoned to debate the future of the Stamp Act in 1766. William Pitt, the King’s second Prime Minister, believed that the act would ruin English trade, and worsen its colonial relations if it were kept in practice. He said: “three millions of people so dead to all feelings of liberty as to voluntarily submit to make slaves of us” (C. Andrews, 1938, p. 427).
Colonial resistance in Massachusetts took another measure, and the most successful one. It was the Non- Importation Agreements which were other forms of protests held chiefly by the colonial merchants against the different commercial and financial restrictions. However, these measures fell into the hands of radical members who were much concerned with human rights and liberties. They intervened and attempted to seize the opportunity not to give economic prominence to the resistance, but a constitutional grievance which considered the English acts as “No Taxation without Representation”, and asked Parliament to reconsider its plans about the colonies. As those agreements appeared in the beginning of 1766, they affected English merchants who used to trade with the colonies (Bullion, 1989, p. 32).
These English tradesmen took the next step. They appealed to Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act; for they would lose money if they shipped goods to a land that would not receive them. Furthermore, the colonial customs officers could not collect taxes on goods that were either not allowed ashore at all, or were never sold. Accordingly, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, and the colonists were euphoric. The Sons of Liberty led celebrations in the colonies. However, this excitement was interrupted by the Declaratory Act which was issued at the same time the Stamp Act was repealed. It stated that Parliament had the sovereign right “to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever” i. e. It stated that the English Government had the right to enact laws for the colonies, and to levy taxes whenever there was need for money and revenues (Bliven, 1958, pp. 13-4).
Colonial resistance to English taxes was carried on when the Townshend Acts were passed. Consequently, Samuel Adams, leader of the Sons of Liberty, sent the Circular Letter to the other colonies in which he called for the boycott of the British goods until the acts were repealed.
The Boston Town Meeting acted likewise when it authorized colonial merchants to boycott the British goods. Again, the Non-Importation Agreements were the only means of resistance used by the Boston Town Meeting in 1768. Thus, colonial merchants and citizens acted positively, and boycotted English goods. As a result, England’s trade fell down from 25 % to 50 % (Colin, 1984, p. 119).
Resistance to the British policies in Massachusetts developed and led to violence where English soldiers faced colonial people in Boston, and bloodshed occurred because of the growing tensions between the people of Boston and British troops.
C) The Boston Massacre:
In Boston, where the anti- English feeling was higher, the Sons of Liberty decided to attack the customs men who seized John Hancock’s ship, “Liberty”. Accordingly, Gov. Francis Bernard called for military help to keep peace in the city, and maintain an effective administration against riots and assaults on customs officials. Thus, in response to his appeal, the English Government sent four regiments of the British army to Boston (Howard, 1905, p. 203).
However, the arrival of the troops in Boston increased Bernard’s troubles. People in Boston believed in the fact that the presence of these troops in a peaceful town would stiffen resistance. What affected the attitudes of Bostonians was not the troops’ physical threat; but it was rather the bearing of their arrival. The mere possible arrival of the troops had evoked the old apprehensions; “The raising or keeping of a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against the law”, the Boston Town Meeting had resolved (Barrow, 1967, p. 96).
After the troops had arrived, Bostonians resented the military occupation of their city. They doubted that these troops constituted a standing army, and that its purpose was to terrify the populace. The troops’ presence in Boston angered the colonists, and led to the Boston Massacre. This event had its roots in the Quartering Act of 1765 which imposed a law in the colonies to provide living quarters for British troops in places where no regular barracks were found. This Act was met with much resistance in Boston. The colonists wandered about the troops’ presence in the cities far from the remote region to protect the North American frontier (Smith, 1969, p. 78).
The British troops were harassed by angry citizens who often cursed them, and pelted them with rocks. Resentment of their presence was strong in Boston, and people grew bolder and tense. In 1769, when the townspeople refused to provide the troops with lodging, the soldiers simply pitched tents on the Boston Common. In retaliation for their treatment, they often played drums and bugles loudly late into the night. Such action on the part of the troops only added to the growing tension that marked Boston at the time (Bliven, 1958, p. 21).
Moreover, the soldiers were insulted when they used to walk through the city. Though the soldiers were thrown with rocks and snowballs, but they did not respond; for they had been ordered to avoid all sorts of trouble with the population. However, a violent event took place and helped to inspire the American Revolution. On March 5, 1770, Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts because of the colonial boycott; meanwhile, a riot occurred in Boston, it was the Boston Massacre (J. Andrews, 2002, p. 9).
It started when a group of local men and boys exchanged words with the soldiers patrolling in the streets. The event took place shortly after nine o’clock when this group of Bostonians- about on hundred- altogether converged on the English sentry of the Customs House. A soldier was hit by a young man, and called out for additional help from the soldiers in the guard; for he feared that the mob was going to kill him when they shouted: “Kill the soldier! Kill the coward!”. Now a large mob of about four hundred gathered and pelted the soldiers with snowballs. Capt. Preston, commander of the guard, and eight of the soldiers came to join his men (Bliven, 1958, p. 22).
When Capt. Preston arrived, he asked the mob to disperse. However; the mob refused and continued to outrage the soldiers. As they carried on their action, Capt. Preston ordered to prime and load. The mob now started shouting: “You cowards! Let’s see you fire! You dare not fire! … Bloody backs!”.
Some of the soldiers fired, and consequently five of the mob fell down; one dead and six other men were wounded. The situation was to lead to bloodshed when the Sons of Liberty outnumbered the Redcoats. However; Lt- Gov. Thomas Hutchinson succeeded to calm the mob, and promised them to arrest the errant soldiers and charge them for murder. John Adams (1735-1826), a Massachusetts lawyer, decided to take the case, and was able to sit for the soldiers’ defence. He argued that the soldiers acted in their own self- defense to protect themselves from the riotous mob that should be blamed for the tragedy. Of the six soldiers, four were innocent and two were found guilty (Maier, 1972, p. 142).
The Boston Massacre cannot be seen as a tragedy, or only from the opinion of shooting fire deliberately which occurred from the part of the British, what was more important was its aftermath. The Boston Massacre assuredly was used by political propagandists in Boston to promote the American revolt. Paul Revere (1735-1818), a Boston silversmith and patriot, engraved the event in a newspaper with the following title: “Fruits of Arbitrary Power: The Bloody Massacre Perpetuated at King Street” (Young, 1996, p.114). Paul Revere’s purpose was to awaken the anti- English feeling among the colonists in Boston and the twelve colonies. The engraving also aimed at creating an image about the British tyranny.
Other illustrators also rushed to put a visual on the event. Samuel Adams described it as a murder, and distributed hundreds of woodcut prints showing aggressive soldiers shooting innocent people. Some newspapers reported the event framing the story with a black border so as to represent the mourning. Their drawings intended to inform the colonial public as well as to propagandize the movement toward the war. The Boston Massacre was another opportunity for the propagandists to rely on their political arguments so as to react against the British Authority (J. Adams, 1931, p. 82).
Following the event, Samuel Adams conducted a town meeting in 1772 which formed the Committee of Correspondence to communicate the “rights of colonists… with the infringements and violations thereof”. James Otis was its chairman, and Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren became active members. They devoted their efforts to promote communication among other groups of patriots in Massachusetts and throughout the twelve colonies. Moreover, the Boston Massacre paved the way for these patriots to organize their resistance (Axelrod, 1998, p. 73).
After the Boston Massacre, the British troops withdrew from Boston. Parliament acted likewise and repealed the Townshend Duties because they could not be collected by the customs officers, in addition to colonial boycott which hurt the British trade. The boycott ended in the spring of 1770, except for the English Tea. Accordingly, Bostonians carried on their resistance against the British Tea Act, and another violent event took place in Boston which had serious consequences on both the colonists and English Authority, and led to the American Revolution (Chidsey, 1965, p. 145).
D) The Boston Tea Party:
Although English colonial relations improved following the Boston Massacre, the turning point was the enactment of the Tea Act. The new Act meant for the colonists that the English Parliament did not give up taxation− a determination of Parliament’s right to tax the colonies. The colonists refused to buy English Tea, and this affected the company which was losing business. This colonial boycott decreased the company’s sales in the colonies to £ 520.000 (J. Adams, 1923, p. 84).
Although the company had large debts, and huge stocks of warehouses, it could not sell its tea because some particular smugglers, such as John Hancock, were importing tea cheaply from Holland without paying duties. The Tea Act which was passed by Parliament permitted the company to sell its tea directly in the colonies at a low price to undercut the prices of colonial merchants and smugglers. Thus, the colonists would get tea at a cheaper price (Fischer, 1971, p. 162).
However, if the colonists paid the tax on tea, they would acknowledge Parliament’s right to tax them. Boston merchants believed that the act was passed only to give the company the right to export its merchandise directly to the colonies without paying regular taxes. Thus, the company would monopolize colonial tea trade in colonial America (Maier, 1972, p. 153).
They were angered furiously and stood to resist because of the following reasons: firstly, these influential colonial merchants feared being bankrupted and replaced by a powerful monopoly of the British East India Company, since they were excluded from this lucrative trade. Secondly, and more importantly, the act revived colonial passions about “No Taxation without Representation”. The act gave the colonists another opportunity to protest (Labaree, 1964, p. 4).
Subsequently, colonial merchants boycotted the tea trade. Unlike earlier protests, this boycott mobilized large segments of people. Colonial women now became the leaders of the boycott. They decided to drink coffee instead of English tea. Though these women were not interested in politics, their participation in the boycott shows that they were too affected by the British measures that they decided to take part in the boycott. The tea boycott also helped to link the colonies together in a common experience of mass popular protest. It aimed at making Parliament repeal the Tea Act, as it worked well with the Stamp Act.
The next move came from the Boston Committee of Correspondence which drove the revolt against the act through the following strategy: “Good Americans in every port should go down to the wharves and prevent the East India Company’s tea from being landed” (J. Adams, 1923, p. 86). Since the colonists were angered by the Tea Act, it seems that they were waiting for such a spark like to respond positively. Now, the flame had come from Boston, the centre of the crisis, and consequently, the colonists were too mobilized to react. Political propagandists seized the opportunity of this economic problem, and intervened to promote their political slogans among the common people. They believed that they were forced by those circumstances to rely on propaganda so as to achieve a united front in their opposition to the English policy (Knollenberg, 1960, p. 493).
Though the colonists started to prevent the company’s ships from landing tea in colonial ports, in Boston, however; the company had the assistance of Lt- Gov. Thomas Hutchinson. He was determined to unloaded tea under the protection of armed vessels. On December 16, 1773, a large crowd of Bostonians appealed to Hutchinson to send the ships back to England without loading tea, but he refused (Nevis and Commager, 1945, p. 75).
After these fruitless negotiations, Samuel Adams and his group decided to react more vigorously when he said: “I do not see what more Bostonians could do to save their country”. The mobs agreed on the following movement: “Boston Harbour a teapot tonight! Hurrah for Griffin’s Wharf!”189 Accordingly, they wrapped themselves in blankets and daubed red paint and soot their faces to disguise as Mohawk Indians. After they had marched down to Griffin’s Wharf, they bordered the three ships of the “Dartmouth”, “Eleanor”, and the “Beaver”. As they got into the ships, they threw off about 342 chests of “Ceylon” and “Darjeeling tea” overboard, nearly worth £ 10.000 (Bliven, 1958, p. 29).
Admiral Montagne, British Commander of the East India ships in Boston, saw all that happened; for he was spending the night in a house at the head of Griffin’s Wharf. He watched the party and the mobs were marching back toward the centre of the town. He opened his window and called: “Well, boys. You had a fine pleasant evening, haven’t you? But mind, you’ll have to pay the fiddler yet.” One of the young men answered him when he shouted: “We’ll settle the bill, squire. Come down here and we’ll settle it in two minutes.”
The next day, Boston was singing the following song: “Rally Mohawks! Bring out your axes, and tell King George we’ll pay no more taxes on his foreign tea…” (Bliven).
Nearly, no one in the colonies asserted that Bostonians would react severely to destroy the company’s property, but this belief was emphasized by Samuel Adams who stated the importance of this activity as follows:
This is the most significant Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty… in this last effort of the Patriots that I greatly admire. This destruction of Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, …, and it must have so important consequences…” (Countryman, 1985, p. 105)
This famous event became to be known as the Boston Tea Party, which led to the American Revolution. It was reported to the rest of the colonies by the Boston Committee of Correspondence.194
When the Boston Tea Party’s news reached London a month later, King George III, Parliament, and English Government were too angered, and decided to take serious measures. Accordingly, Parliament passed the “Coercive Acts” which were designed to punish Boston for the Tea Party. The purpose of these acts was explained by Lord North, King’s Prime Minister, who stated: “I propose this bill to take the executive power from the democratic part of the Government”. He also expressed his attitude to impose English sovereignty over the colonies when he said: “We must control them or submit to them.” (Fischer, 1971, p. 182)
The “Coercive Acts” consisted of five punitive laws which were designed to punish Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, and these were: “The Boston Port Act” which was passed on March 31, 1774 closed the Boston Harbour and forbidden its use for “landing and discharging, landing or shipping of goods, wares, and merchandise” until such time as restitution was made to the King’s treasury (for customs duty lost) and to the East India Company for damages suffered” (Fischer, 1971, p. 183).
The second law was called “The Massachusetts’ Government Act”. Being enacted on May 20, 1774, it annulled Massachusetts’ Charter and transformed the colony’s form of government, and thus became a Royal Colony in which the Judges and local officials were appointed by the King. The act also put Massachusetts under military administration.
The “Coercive Acts” included also the “Quartering Act” which was designed to help the British troops in North America. It was established on March 24, 1774, and stated that the British soldiers should be quartered in houses, food, and everything owned by the colonists (King, Marvin, Weitzman, and Dwiggins, 1986, pp. 88- 9).
“The Administration Act of Justice” became effective on May 20, 1774. It stated that the new Governor would have the authority to transfer to England the trials of the British officials if they were accused of committing any offence in the colonies. The Quebec Act was passed on May 20, 1774. It made the Ohio Valley part of the Province of Quebec, and religious tolerance was granted to the Catholics living there (Dickinson, 1975, pp. 71- 3).
When the “Coercive Acts” were put into practice, they could not be supported by the colonists who called them the “Intolerable Acts”. Accordingly, Massachusetts became cut off from the rest of the colonies. People in Boston never expected that severe punishment. As Boston port was closed, the city faced starvation. Since Samuel Adams intended to persuade the citizens to defy the British measures, he sent letters to the other colonies requesting helps against the so- called British tyranny. Immediately, food and supplies arrived to the blockaded city (Galvin, 1996, p. 36).
During this critical situation, the Committees of Correspondence worked hard to raise the anti- British feeling in the colonies. The Boston Town Meeting drew up a resolution which called both towns and provinces of Massachusetts for “the Solemn League” to boycott the British goods and to stop commerce with England; they responded positively. This unity which emerged from the Massachusetts’ towns and provinces facilitated the creation of the Provincial Congress later. This institution would be in charge of some important responsibilities (Dickinson, 1975, p. 75).
E) The Massachusetts Provincial Congress:
Massachusetts took the first step towards the creation of the Provincial Congress when the Boston Town Meeting called upon several towns and provinces to send representatives to Suffolk county- near Boston, to meet in September, 1774. They reacted against the Intolerable Acts which they regarded as follows: “… the Coercive Acts should be rejected as the attempts of a wicked administration to enslave America” (Hallahan, 2001, p. 135). They believed that these acts were issued to make the colonists, Bostonians in particular, to serve British interests. So, they had the right to refuse these laws (Morris, 1963, p. 155).
The Suffolk Resolves, written by Dr. Joseph Warren under Samuel Adams’ direction, claimed that King George III had lost his subjects’ loyalty in the colonies, and called for an embargo on British goods. They also set up an independent Massachusetts Assembly, and the taxes would be paid to the treasury of the new assembly. They also called the colonists to organize their own militias for their defense and “to learn the arts of war”. The Suffolk Resolves were approved by the First Continental Congress (J. Andrews, 2002, p. 14).
Under Massachusetts’ Government Act, Massachusetts became a Royal Colony, and General Thomas Gage (1721-1787) was appointed its Colonial Governor. He was also Commander- in- chief of the British troops in North America.
On September 28, 1774, he cancelled both of the General Court and the Legislature; for they met in Salem without his permission. This step was regarded as necessary so as to slow down rebellion and silence insurrection in the colony, but the people found other channels of expression. Representatives to provincial conventions were elected and served as legislative bodies, but it was difficult to perform executive duties because of their sizes (Galvin, 1996, p. 54).
Thus, Massachusetts towns’ delegates met in October, 1774, at Concord’s First Parish Church for their Provincial Congress, defying Gen. Thomas Gage. John Hancock (1737-1793) presided over the Congress which adjourned from October 21 to 26. After the debate, the representatives drew up three important resolves which were as follows:
The first one created the Committee of Safety to consider what was necessary for the safety of the province. It consisted of three delegates from Boston and six from the rest of the province (Ketchum, 1999, p. 37). The Committee was appointed to continue in office until further order, and its duty was to keep careful watch of any person attempting the destruction, invasion, or detriment of the province. Furthermore, it was authorized to call out militiamen and to keep them in service as long as it would be necessary (Tourtellot, 2000, p. 59). The Committee was usually given an indefinite authority; to carry on government in the recess of the legislature, to act as a colonial executive, and to take necessary steps for the security of the province. This permission to do what it pleased and whatever it determined was lawful if not contrary to a resolution of the Provincial Congress; for the fact that no constitution set bounds to their activity (Ketchum, 1999, p. 45).
The second resolution set up the Committee of Supplies to make provisions to receive and support the militia troops, and to purchase cannon, small arms and ammunition without delay. The third resolution appointed general officers to take command of the forces. These officers were recommended to choose and to enlist the Minutemen ready to march at the first call of the Committee of Safety. Moreover, the inhabitants were urged to perfect themselves in military discipline and to provide arms and powder.
Through these military proposals, the Provincial Congress foresaw that war was possible, and was determined to meet it well prepared. It was left with the Committee of Safety to take the decisive step of calling the troops into the field, and of transforming the struggle from political resistance to armed resistance. The Provincial Congress’ resolves were printed, and copies were sent to every town as an appeal to act on the decisions, and were welcomed by the towns and provinces. After the Committee of Safety had taken command of the military organization, the Provincial Congress urged the Committee to start training activities, and encourage military preparations of the militia. These notes were emphasized in the following letter sent by the Congress to all the towns in December, 1774
We now think that particular care should be taken by the towns and districts in this colony, that each of the minutemen, not already therewith, should be immediately equipped with an effective fire arm, bayonet, pouch, knapsack, thirty rounds of cartridges and balls, and that they be disciplines three times a week. To encourage these, our worthy countrymen, to obtain the skill of complete soldiers, we recommend it to the towns and districts forthwith to pay their own minutemen a reasonable consideration for their services: and in case of a general muster, their further services must be recompensed by the province. An attention to discipline in the militia in general, is, however, by no means to be neglected. (Galvin, 1996, pp. 57-8).
The creation of the Minutemen was one of the greatest achievements and encouragement of the Provincial Congress. On the other hand, Gen. Thomas Gage intended to take control of Massachusetts. He asked for additional reinforcements to join him; therefore, Parliament decided to send four regiments; the 10th and 52nd regiments of Quebec, along with the 18th and 47th of New York. Now, with those British reinforcements, and colonial military preparations of the militia, it seemed that an immediate clash between the British troops and the Colonial Militias would take place in Massachusetts.
After the Massachusetts’ colonists had undergone political resistance when they opposed the British policy, the English ministers succeeded to react against this opposition. They decided to suppress rebellion and resistance in Massachusetts so as to maintain law and order in there and the rest of the colonies. However, the Massachusetts’ colonists reacted against all different British measures during their political struggle, and their resistance would develop towards armed confrontation with the British troops in the colony.
Thus, Massachusetts’ colonists began to prepare for war. They had already formed their militia and collected arms and ammunition to fight the British Redcoats. What would take place in Massachusetts’ areas of Lexington and Concord was the revolutionary outbreak, or the beginning of the American Revolution in which the British Army engaged with Massachusetts’ militia. The battles of Lexington Common Green and Concord North Bridge Fight which were fought during this revolutionary outbreak would have great impacts on the colonists.
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