The Intolerable Acts of 1774

1774

The Intolerable Acts, also known as the Coercive Acts, were five laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774, which led the colonies to hold the First Continental Congress in September-October 1774.

Boston Tea Party, Engraving

The Intolerable Acts were passed in response to the Boston Tea Party, which is depicted in this illustration. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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Intolerable Acts Summary

The Intolerable Acts was the name given by Americans to five laws passed by Parliament in the spring of 1774. The purpose of the laws was to punish Boston for the Boston Tea Party, make an example of Massachusetts to the other colonies, and replace the Proclamation of 1763. 

The first four laws punished the city of Boston and the colony of Massachusetts for their ongoing opposition to laws like the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townshend Acts, and for the blatant destruction of property that took place at the Boston Tea Party at the hands of the Sons of Liberty. The last law gave significant legal and religious benefits to French Catholics living in Quebec and extended the borders of the province in a way that restricted the westward expansion of larger colonies like Virginia.

When news of the first law, the Boston Port Act, reached the colonies, there was outrage, especially in Massachusetts. The act closed the Port of Boston so shipments of food, supplies, and products could not be delivered. In response, the Boston Committee of Correspondence asked the other colonies to join Massachusetts in a trade boycott against Britain

Although many of the other colonies supported Boston by sending food and supplies, they were hesitant to implement a full-scale, intercolonial boycott. Leaders in New York and Virginia called for a meeting of the colonies, which resulted in the First Continental Congress. Congress met in Philadelphia and agreed did agree to a trade boycott, known as the Continental Association, and sent a document to King George III that outlined the grievances the colonies had with the laws passed by Parliament. Ultimately, the colonial reaction to the Coercive Acts led to the creation of the independent government of the American Colonies, which would reconvene again in 1775 as the Second Continental Congress.

Thomas Gage, Portrait, Copley
General Thomas Gage was sent to Massachusetts to help enforce the Coercive Acts. Image Source: Wikipedia. 

Date of the Intolerable Acts

The Intolerable Acts were passed by Parliament in 1774. This list shows the dates each went into effect.

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  1. May 20, 1774Administration of Justice Act
  2. June 1, 1774Boston Port Act
  3. June 2, 1774Quartering Act of 1774
  4. July 1, 1774Massachusetts Government Act
  5. May 1, 1775Quebec Act

Effects of the Five Intolerable Acts

Each of the Intolerable Acts had specific effects on the colonies. Only two of the acts affected Massachusetts alone. The other three affected Massachusetts and the other 12 American Colonies.

Administration of Justice Act Effects — If any British officials in the colonies were charged with a crime, the Royal Governors could have the case heard in another colony or Britain.

Boston Port Act Effects — It closed the Port of Boston until the people of Boston paid for the tea that was destroyed during the Boston Tea Party.

Quartering Act of 1774 Effects — It expanded the Quartering Act of 1765 and applied to all colonies. It gave Royal Governors the authority to find places to house British troops.

Massachusetts Government Act Effects — It restructured the government of Massachusetts by expanding the powers of the Royal Governor, restricting the General Assembly, limiting the election of public officials, and placing limits on Town Meetings.

Quebec Act Effects — It superseded the Proclamation of 1763 and changed the borders of the Province of Quebec, expanded the territory, restored French Civil Law, and granted religious freedom to Catholics.

Colonial Reaction to the Intolerable Acts

When Americans first found out the Boston Port Act had been passed, they were concerned, but many also understood Boston was being punished for the destruction of the tea in 1773. Initially, some colonies sent food and money to Boston, and some established non-importation agreements and refused to buy British goods. As the news arrived about the other Intolerable Acts, tempers flared and tension increased. Many Americans started to believe they stood on the brink of war with Great Britain.

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Public Protests — There were various protests in the streets. In one incident, the effigy of General Thomas Gage, the Governor of Massachusetts was hanged and burned. The incident took place in Frederick County, Virginia.

Support for the People of Boston — Many colonies, including North Carolina, send money and provisions to help the inhabitants of the city. One of the more memorable stories is that of Israel Putnam — a legendary hero of the French and Indian War — driving an entire herd of sheep from Connecticut to Boston.

Israel Putnam, General
Israel Putnam. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Economic Protests — Patriot leader Samuel Adams appealed to the towns in Massachusetts to show their support for Boston by joining what he called the “Solemn League and Covenant.” The Covenant asked for its members to stop buying British goods on August 3 and, further, not to buy goods from any merchant that was not a member. Eventually, the request spread to other colonies. While some, like Virginia, established a separate Non-Importation Agreement, there was very little agreement on a unified approach or enforcement of the policy. This is actually what spurred the call for the First Continental Congress.

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Armed Resistance — Militia forces throughout New England prepared for war, and were ready to respond to the call at a moment’s notice. This was evident in the response to the Cambridge Powder Alarm that took place on September 1, 1774. After Governor Gage had gunpowder removed from the powder house in Cambridge, rumors flew that the British had attacked Boston. Within a day, nearly 5,000 militiamen from New England traveled to Boston, prepared to fight the Redcoats. Although there was no violence, the quick response alarmed Gage and he fortified Boston, which was seen by many as a blatant act of war.

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Political Organization — Four days after the Powder Alarm, the First Continental Congress met for the first time in Philadelphia. The initial purpose was to craft a unified policy and response to the Intolerable Acts. However, there were also meetings held throughout the colonies. One of those meetings, the Suffolk County Convention, produced the Suffolk Resolves, which called for a boycott of British goods and urged the colonies to raise, train, and prepare militia forces to defend themselves. Congress endorsed the Suffolk Resolves on September 17. In doing so, the other 11 colonies that participated in the First Continental Congress agreed to support Massachusetts.

Joseph Warren, Portrait, Copley
Joseph Warren wrote the Suffolk Resolves. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Significance of the Intolerable Acts

The Intolerable Acts are significant in the history of the United States because they were the last laws passed by Britain that caused the American Revolutionary War and led to the establishment of the first American government.

History of the Intolerable Acts

After the French and Indian War, France ceded most of its territory in North America to Great Britain. Although it significantly expanded British land holdings in Colonial America, it created problems in terms of defending and governing the new western frontier. Almost right away, an uprising of Native American Indians took place — Pontiac’s Rebellion — and British forts and settlements were attacked.

1763 — King George III issues the Proclamation of 1763. It was put in place to help bring an end to Pontiac’s Rebellion. The Proclamation of 1763 created several new colonies, including the Province of Quebec, prohibited Americans from settling in the Ohio Country, and reserved the land as hunting grounds for the Indian tribes.

1764 — The Sugar Act is passed. In order to protect the frontier and enforce the Proclamation of 1763, Britain decided to maintain a standing army in North America. In order to help pay for the army, Parliament ended Salutary Neglect, enforced the Navigation Acts, and passed the Sugar Act in order to raise money. The Sugar Act was the first law passed by Britain specifically to raise money.

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1763 — The Currency Act is passed. The Currency Act required Americans to buy goods from Britain with “specie” — hard money — which was in short supply in the colonies. It also banned the printing and usage of paper money in the colonies.

1765 — The First Quartering Act is passed. The first Quartering Act required colonial legislatures to provide and pay for housing, food, and transportation for British troops. It primarily affected the Province of New York, which refused to provide the money to comply with the act.

1765 — The Stamp Act creates the Stamp Act Crisis. On the heels of the Sugar Act, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. It required people to use a special paper with embossed stamps for many printed materials, including newspapers and most legal documents. The paper had to be purchased from a Stamp Agent with hard currency. It affected nearly everyone who was involved in any type of business — lawyers, farmers, merchants — regardless of the size of their operations. Americans reacted strongly to the Stamp Act in an event known as the Stamp Act Crisis. There were violent protests — Stamp Act Riots — and organized political resistance — the Stamp Act Congress. The Stamp Act was never effectively enforced and was repealed in 1766. However, the damage it did to the relationship between the colonies and Britain was significant. It also led to the formation of the Sons of Liberty in Boston, New York, Charleston, and many other towns and cities.

Stamp Act in Boston, Illustration
Bostonians Reading the Stamp Act. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

1765 — Declaratory Act affirms the authority of Parliament. On the same day Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, it passed the Declaratory Act. The new law made it clear that Parliament had the authority to make laws governing the colonies in “all cases whatsoever” — which included taxation. 

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1767–1768 — The Townshend Acts are passed. Over the course of a year, 5 more laws were passed that established new taxes and regulations in the colonies. Resistance to the Townshend Acts led to various acts of resistance. In Boston, John Hancock refused to allow customs officials to inspect one of his ships. The incident, known as the “Liberty Affair,” led to a riot and personal attacks on customs officials. Britain responded by sending troops to occupy Boston. Tension grew between Americans and Redcoats for two years and then exploded in 1770. Within the span of six weeks, the Battle of Golden Hill took place in New York City, which was followed by the Boston Massacre.

1773 — Parliament passes the Tea Act. In an effort to maintain control over the colonies — and help the struggling East India Company — the Tea Act gave the company a monopoly on the sale of tea in the colonies. Americans were furious. In Boston, the people responded by staging the Boston Tea Party and dumping more than 340 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. When King George III learned about the “Destruction of the Tea,” as it was called in 1773, he said, “I am much hurt that the instigation of bad men hath again drawn people of Boston to take such unjustifiable steps; but I trust by degrees tea will find its way to America.” However, the tea ships that sailed to other ports were rejected and sent back to England — in solidarity with Boston and in complete defiance of 

Intolerable Acts for AP US History (APUSH)

The following resources are for students studying the Intolerable Acts for the AP US History Exam.

Intolerable Acts Definition for APUSH

The Intolerable Acts were a series of laws passed by Parliament after the Boston Tea Party. They were meant to reign in disobedience, resistance, and violence in America, but they had the opposite effect. Instead of submitting to Britain’s authority, the colonies came together and held the First Continental Congress.

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Interesting Facts About the Intolerable Acts

  1. They were called the Coercive Acts in Great Britain and are sometimes called the Punitive Acts.
  2. There were five acts in total. Four of them targeted Boston and Massachusetts. The fifth was directed at the Province of Quebec and indirectly threatened the American Colonies.
  3. The Intolerable Acts were passed in response to the Boston Tea Party and ongoing opposition to British laws governing the colonies.
  4. British leaders thought they would help maintain control in America, but they had the opposite effect and led to organized political and military resistance.
  5. The Intolerable Acts were a complete failure and were essentially the final cause of the American Revolutionary War.

The Intolerable Acts Review for APUSH

This video from Tom Richey provides an overview of the Intolerable Acts of 1774.

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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title The Intolerable Acts of 1774
  • Coverage 1774
  • Author
  • Keywords Intolerable Acts
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date December 2, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update October 13, 2022

The Intolerable Acts of 1774 is Part of the Following on AHC

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