BOSTON HABOR ACT of 1774
[14 Geo. III c. 19]
“An act to discontinue, in such manner, and for or such time as are therein mentioned, the landing and discharging, lading or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandise, at the town, and within the harbour, of Boston, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, in North America.”
The Boston Harbor (or Port Act) was Parliament’s response to the Boston Tea Party. The Act retaliated against Massachusetts and the Sons of Liberty by imposing a blockade around Boston harbor until the colonists paid restitution to the East India Company (for the 42 tons of destroyed tea) and the King’s treasury (for lost custom’s duties). The engraving by Paul Revere depicts British warships landing in Boston in 1768.
As described in the preamble to the Act, “dangerous commotions and insurrections” have been “fomented and raised in the town of Boston which were subverting his Majesty’s Government, the public peace, and good order.” The Act specifically referred to “certain valuable cargoes of teas, being the property of the East India Company” which were seized and destroyed from vessels lying within Boston harbour.
The Boston Harbor Act was one of several punitive British laws referred to by the colonists as the “Intolerable Acts.” Pictured on the right is an engraving depicting British Lord North forcing tea down the throat of an only partially clad female figure (representing America). In the background a disgusted Britannia (representing Britain) turns the other way. The other Intolerable Acts adopted in 1774 by the government of Lord North, with the encouragement of King George III, were the Massachusetts Government Act (which severely limited self government in Massachusetts), the Administration of Justice Act (which protects royal officials by moving trials to Canada), the Quartering Act (required the colonies to provide housing for British troops) and the Quebec Act. The Quebec Act, an unrelated bill that was also adopted in 1774, was viewed as equally untolerable by the colonists. While the Quebec Act was not aimed at colonies, it was interpreted as part and parcel of the British efforts to control and coerce the colonies. Click here for a link to the Administration of Justice Act. Click here for a link to the Massachusetts Government Act. Click here for a link to the Quartering Act. Click here for a link to the Quebec Act.
In England the Intolerable Acts were formally known as the “Restraining Acts.” They were also known to as the “Coercive Acts” because they were intended to punish and intimidate Massachusetts for its disobedience. The Intolerable Acts were advanced by Prime Minister North (Lord North) and his administration. With a background in finance, having served as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord North was concerned about the national debt which had exploded during the French and Indian War. In January of 1790, Lord North became Prime Minister with a goal of controlling the American colonies and paying down the growing debt. North would leave office twelve years later, as the man “who lost America.”
As predicted by some members of parliament, including William Pitt and Edmund Burke, the harsh Intolerable Acts generated support and sympathy for Massachusetts.
The other twelve colonies rallied to Boston’s call for assistance, realizing that if Parliament was willing to do this to Massachusetts, liberty was in jeopardy anywhere in the colonies.
Rather than being cowed into submission, the Intolerable Acts unified the colonies which joined together to boycott of British goods. In September of 1774, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia.