This Day in History: Parliament retaliates against Boston
On this day in 1774, the British House of Commons approves the Boston Port Act. Word of the Boston Tea Party had reached Britain, and now Parliament was ready to punish the American colonists.
The Act received the assent of the King and became law on March 31.
The Boston Tea Party had occurred months earlier, during December 1773. Nevertheless, word of the destroyed tea didn’t reach London until January 20, 1774. Parliament soon issued its response: Boston’s port was to be closed until the citizens of Boston reimbursed the East India Company for the tea they’d destroyed.
It was just the first in a series of measures that would come to be known as the Intolerable Acts.
British soldiers were soon dispatched across the Atlantic to enforce the order, and Boston’s harbor was filling with warships by early May. General Thomas Gage assumed the governorship of the colony, and regiments of British soldiers camped out in Boston.
Bostonians had to have felt horribly stifled!? They responded almost immediately, but they did so in the form of a circular letter to their sister colonies. They asked others to join with them in a boycott of British goods.
The Boston Committee of Correspondence wrote:
“This attack, though made immediately upon us, is doubtless designed for every other colony who will not surrender their sacred rights and liberties into the hands of an infamous ministry. Now therefore is the time when all should be united in opposition to this violation of the liberties of all. Their grand object is to divide the colonies . . . be assured, you will be called upon to surrender your rights if ever they should succeed in their attempts to suppress the spirit of liberty here.”
By and large, other Americans responded positively. Other colonies soon joined the effort, and a Continental Congress was called to meet in September. Every state (except Georgia) sent delegates so they could agree on the terms for a boycott.
One early American historian, David Ramsay, described the unusual unity among the colonies as they responded to Parliament:
“The other provinces were but remotely affected by the fate of Massachusetts. They were happy, and had no cause, on their own account, to oppose the government of Great-Britain. That a people so circumstanced, should take part with a distressed neighbour, at the risque of incurring the resentment of the Mother Country, did not accord with the selfish maxims by which states, as well as individuals, are usually governed. The ruled are, for the most part, prone to suffer as long as evils are tolerable, and in general they must feel before they are roused to contend with their oppressors; but the Americans acted on a contrary principle.”
Yes! And isn’t that exactly the sort of reaction that has always made America so wonderfully unique?!
Circular Letter of the Boston Committee of Correspondence (May 13, 1774)
David Ramsay, The History of the American Revolution (1789) (modern online version HERE)
Jared Peatman, Coercion Gone Wrong: Colonial Response to the Boston Port Act (Gettysburg Historical Journal; 2002)
Letter from Samuel Adams to Arthur Lee (May 18, 1774)
The Boston Port Act (March 31, 1774)