The Townshend Acts were a series of acts passed by the British Parliament in 1767 and 1768. Colonial resistance to the Acts led to Parliament sending troops to Boston in 1768. Less than two years later, Redcoats fired into an angry mob and killed colonists in the event known as the Boston Massacre.
Summary of the Townshend Acts
The acts bear the name of Charles Townshend, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed them. The Townshend Acts were based on the premise that Parliament had the authority to govern the colonies as it saw fit, including laws that controlled taxes, courts, and government. Although colonists held to the slogan “No Taxation Without Representation,” Parliament gave itself the authority to govern the colonies by passing the Declaratory Act in 1766.
The general purpose of the acts was to establish a revenue flow from the colonies to Great Britain (Revenue Act) and to tighten Britain’s control over colonial governments (Commissioners of Customs Act and Vice-Admiralty Court Act). Neither tactic was very effective. Colonists responded to the acts by boycotting British goods and the Massachusetts legislature drafted a Circular Letter asking other colonial legislatures to join a resistance movement.
Enforcement of the Revenue Act in Boston required the deployment of British troops which led to the Boston Massacre in 1770. Ironically, Parliament rescinded most of the Revenue Act on March 5, 1770, the same day as the Boston Massacre. However, Britain did retain the importation duty imposed on tea as a symbol of Parliament’s right to tax Americans.
Townshend Acts — Quick Facts
Passage of the Acts
- The Townshend Acts were a series of acts passed by the British Parliament in 1767 and 1768.
- The Townshend Acts bear the name of Charles Townshend, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed them.
Purpose of the Acts
The general purpose of the Townshend Acts was to establish a revenue flow from the colonies to Great Britain and to tighten Britain’s control over colonial governments.
Details About the Revenue Act of 1767
- The Revenue Act of 1767 (aka the Townshend Revenue Act) imposed duties on items such as paint, paper, glass, lead, and tea imported into the colonies.
- Besides raising money to help the struggling British economy and defraying the expenses of administering the colonies, the revenue derived from the duties was to be used to pay the salaries of royal officials, including governors, in the colonies, thus making those officials more answerable to the crown.
Details About the Commissioners of Customs Act
- The Commissioners of Customs Act created a new Board of Customs Commissioners to enforce compliance with the new tax policy and to curtail smuggling in the colonies.
- Newly created customs officials were awarded bonuses for the conviction of American smugglers.
- The new customs board was headquartered in Boston and became an immediate target for local radicals who were leading the movement for unified colonial resistance.
Details About the Vice-Admiralty Court Act
- The Vice-Admiralty Court Act of 1768 created Admiralty Courts authorized to try and convict accused smugglers without a jury.
Details About the New York Restraining Act
- The New York Restraining Act, enacted at Townshend’s urging, suspended the New York legislature to punish the colony for its failure to comply with the unpopular Quartering Act imposed in 1765.
Details About the Indemnity Act
- The Indemnity Act repealed the inland duties on tea in England and permitted it to be exported to the colonies free of all British taxes.
Colonial Reaction to the Townshend Acts
- Parliament dissolved the Massachusetts legislature in 1768 for public resistance to the Townshend Acts.
- Enforcement of the Revenue Act in Boston required the deployment of British troops which led to the Boston Massacre in 1770.
- The Townshend Acts prompted Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson to publish his famous Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, which argued that Parliament had the right to control imperial commerce but did not have the right to tax the colonies.
Repeal of the Townshend Acts
Parliament rescinded most of the Revenue Act on March 5, 1770, the same day the Boston Massacre took place.