“The die is now cast. The Colonies must either submit or triumph.” King George III
How could they not anticipate what would happen? That is the question that has rumbled through my mind over the past few days.
I took a brief break to reflect on what I have learned over the past few months, and to consider some of the events and issues I would like to discuss in the months to come. So many events and issues I would like to learn about , and so much information I would like to pass on to you as well!
Today is the anniversary of a key group of merchants joining the list of those who refused to import goods from Britain. Yesterday marked the anniversary of passage of the Boston Port Act.
By the end of the 1760’s, acts of Parliament that imposed regulations and taxes levied upon the America Colonies abounded. Those included the Navigation Acts, the Wool Act, the Hat Act, the Molasses Act, the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the Sugar Act, the Currency Act, the Quartering Act, the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, The Revenue Act, and the Townshend Acts. As you can see, the imposition of taxes and regulations has been a time honored tradition of legislative bodies. I will be discussing each of these acts in future posts.
Each act added fuel to the fire. Each act was met with increasing conflict at the grassroots level. Each act increased the level of organized opposition amongst Colonial assemblies and those who would ultimately come to be known as our Founding Fathers. The Stamp Act Congress, which represented a new level of representative organization between the Colonies, proposed a commercial boycott to place pressure on Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. Importers and merchants throughout the Colonies began to meet and band together to boycott British goods because the Stamp Act was viewed as so unjust and omnipresent in the daily lives of Colonists. While merchants reacted strongly to the imposition of the Stamp Act, the Townshend Act met with less commercial opposition. Both importers and merchants viewed them as having less impact on their livelihood. However, by that point, activists were better organized and could greater impact the actions of their fellow Colonists. It was the impassioned pleas of Charles Thompson and John Dickinson that motivated more than 250 merchants in Philadelphia to join the boycott against Britain as of April 1, 1769.
The Boston Port Act, which was effected as of March 31, 1774, was in direct response to the Boston Tea Party. The Act prevented “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” because “dangerous commotions and insurrections have been fomented and raised in the town of Boston”. I have asked myself the same question over and over….How could the King and the Parliament not anticipate the Colonial response to that particular pieces of legislation? Did they believe it would crush the spirit of the Colonists? Did they anticipate that those living in Boston would suffer? Contrary to what might have been believed by those in Britain, angered Colonists from distant locations such as South Carolina sent supplies to the good citizens of Boston. Outrage spread throughout the Colonies and inspired images such as Philip Dawe’s “The Bostonians Paying the Excise-man” in 1774. The response to the Intolerable Acts led to the formation of the First Continental Congress.
The Boston Port Act was one of four pieces of legislation that the British described as the “Coercive Acts.” The Colonists named those same acts: the “Intolerable Acts.” Semantics illustrate the difference between the two views of the situation. Those loyal to the Crown viewed the Colonies as a part of the British Empire. The Colonists, by definition, were subservient subjects who would be brought into line by whatever means necessary – even coercion. Resistance was futile and intolerable. In the Colonies, there were an increasing number of British citizens who believed that they were both entitled to the guarantees given to them in the British Bill of Rights and British Common Law. Although there were representatives of the British Government present in the Colonies, such as the royal governor, assemblies were populated by voters, citizens could speak directly at town meetings, and discontent could be expressed in pamphlets and other publications. Resistance came to be expected by whatever means necessary to send a clear message to the powers that be in Britain.
It seems to me that King George and the British Parliament failed to understand one of the things that makes us inherently “American.” During our family vacation to Canada last summer, I watched my daughter debate issues related to the war of 1812 with a very learned Canadian. He eventually turned to me and said, “You Americans are too damned independent!” That, in a phrase, sums up the problem faced by the British. People who traveled to America were interested in independence, individual liberty, and the freedom to accomplish their dreams without governmental intervention. Those desires fueled the reaction to the British attempts at coercion and ultimately led to the American Revolution.
Even today, as many of our individual liberties are called into question, there continues to be a line which cannot be crossed. When attempts are made to restrict certain fundamental principles guaranteed to us in our Founding Documents, the ire of the American Spirit will be raised. The only question, in my mind, is how will that American Spirit coalesce and react to the threats predicted by our Founding Fathers? Examples from our past may well hold the key to the actions in our future.