AP®︎/College US History
- The Townshend Acts and the committees of correspondence
- Uproar over the Stamp Act
- The Boston Massacre
- The Boston Tea Party
- The Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress
- Taxation without representation: lesson overview
- Taxation without representation
The Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress
In response to the Boston Tea Party, Parliament attempted to punish Boston and isolate the colonies. But response to the Intolerable Acts began to unify the colonies instead.
- In the spring of 1774, the British Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, which quickly became known in the North American colonies as the Intolerable Acts.
- The Intolerable Acts were aimed at isolating Boston, the seat of the most radical anti-British sentiment, from the other colonies.
- Colonists responded to the Intolerable Acts with a show of unity, convening the First Continental Congress to discuss and negotiate a unified approach to the British.
Radical Boston and the Intolerable Acts
By 1774, there had been almost a decade of revolutionary fervor in Boston. British taxation policies, such as the Stamp Act of 1765, had sparked a debate in the North American colonies over the constitutional meaning of representation. Leading radicals like Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, and John Hancock argued that because the colonists weren’t represented in Parliament, that legislative body had no right to tax them. The stationing of British troops in Boston had infuriated townspeople, setting the stage for the Boston Massacre in 1770. In 1773 Boston radicals led by the Sons of Liberty boarded British ships filled with thousands of pounds of East India Company tea. They dumped nearly 350 crates into the harbor.
After the Boston Tea Party, the British adopted a divide-and-conquer strategy that sought to isolate troublemaking Boston from the other colonies, which leaders in Parliament believed were merely tagging along with Boston’s radicals. In the spring of 1774, Parliament passed the Coercive Acts, which were aimed solely at Boston and envisioned as punishment for its radical opposition to British policies. The Coercive Acts, which quickly became known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts, consisted of four separate legislative measures:
- The Boston Port Bill fined Boston for the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party and closed the harbor until the fines were paid.
- The Government Bill rewrote the Massachusetts colony’s charter granting broadly expanded powers to the royal governor.
- The Administration of Justice Act authorized the governor to send indicted government officials to other colonies or to London for trial.
- The Quartering Act, which applied to all of the North American colonies, was designed to provide shelter for the British troops, allowing them to be housed in private buildings.
Political cartoon depicting the American colonies as a woman being held down by the men of Parliament, who pour tea down her throat and peer up her skirt.
Forging unity: the First Continental Congress
Instead of isolating Boston from the other North American colonies, the Intolerable Acts had the opposite result. Delegates from all of the colonies except Georgia gathered in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress in the autumn of 1774. The purpose of the Congress was to show support for Boston and to work out a unified approach to the British.
Nevertheless, divisions plagued the colonies. Though the congress agreed to implement a boycott of British imported goods, the northern and southern colonies argued fiercely over a measure to ban all exports to Britain. The southern colonies were economically dependent on revenues from their exports of raw materials such as cotton and rice to the motherland. The delegates ultimately reached a compromise, agreeing that all exports to Britain, Ireland, and the British West Indies would be banned after a year, starting in September 1775. This would give the southern colonies some time to prepare for the economic impact of the export ban.
On October 14, 1774, the First Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Colonial Rights and Grievances. The declaration denied Parliament’s right to tax the colonies and lambasted the British for stationing troops in Boston. It characterized the Intolerable Acts as an assault on colonial liberties, rejected British attempts to circumscribe representative government, and requested that the colonies prepare their militias. Despite its harsh tone, the declaration did affirm Parliament’s right to regulate trade, and did not challenge colonial loyalty to the British monarch, King George III.
Although some of the more radical delegates, particularly Samuel Adams, already believed that war was inevitable, the congress did not seek or declare independence from Britain at this time. The delegates agreed to meet again the following May if Anglo-American relations did not improve.
What do you think?
Was Britain’s divide-and-conquer strategy effective? Why was Boston singled out for punishment?
Why did Boston’s radicals refer to the Coercive Acts as the Intolerable Acts? Why couldn’t the legislation be tolerated?
What do you think was most significant about the First Continental Congress?
Want to join the conversation?
- is it 342 crates as it is said in the last article or is it 350? do we even have a definite answer?(4 votes)
- In the first paragraph, it states that "They dumped nearly 350 crates into the harbor." 342 is "nearly 350". :)(35 votes)
- Why couldn't the parliament just allow the colonists to be represented in the parliament? Wouldn't that solve the problem?(5 votes)
- The British Parliament probably didn't want colonists to be apart of the Parliament because the colonists were upset about all the taxes that were being put upon them.(4 votes)
- If Britain didn't want to start a war why did they pass all the acts and put all the taxes? They must have known it would start another war. THey also must have known it would make colonists angry.(4 votes)
- The British had just spent a large amount of money protecting the colonists from invasion and in their opinion it was right for the Americans to pay the British back for all there hard work.(7 votes)
- What was Britain's first move against the Declaration of Colonial Rights and Grievance?(6 votes)
- I'm really glad that it clarified about the "quartering", because when I first read about it, I imagined something much more gruesome than soldiers staying in buildings.(4 votes)
- Yes, "quarters" has many meanings. Otherwise "headquarters" would be really gruesome.(5 votes)
- Why was Boston singled out for punishment(3 votes)
- Boston was the main target of the Intolerable acts because of their involvement in the Boston Tea Party. Read more about the Boston Tea Party here: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/us-history/road-to-revolution/the-american-revolution/a/the-boston-tea-party(6 votes)
- For a second, when they said the "Quartering Acts", I got scared and thought they meant the Spanish hanging drawing and quartering torture... Wow... Also, why was Boston singled out?(3 votes)
- "Quarters" refers to housing for employees or soldiers. I lived in "quarters" for 30 months when I was a young man.
As for why Boston was singled out, it was a hotbed of resistance to the King. Places like New York and Philiadelphia had more loyal subjects.(4 votes)
- why did they do that to people.(3 votes)
- Was Britain’s divide-and-conquer strategy effective?(2 votes)
- Apparently not, because all 13 of the colonies became the "United" states.(3 votes)
- What is an export ban?(3 votes)