The Townshend Act was a set of British laws placed on the American colonies in 1767.
The taxes were levied on products such as glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea, with the proceeds going toward the expense of keeping British troops in the colonies.
The colonists were outraged by the measure, which they considered as a violation of their rights as British subjects. Many people believed they were being unfairly taxed since they had no representation in the British government.
The Townshend Act contributed to the developing tensions between the colonies and Great Britain, which eventually led to the American Revolution.
Townshend Act Facts
1. They are named for the Chancellor of the Exchequer who proposed the idea.
Charles Townshend (28 August 1725 – 4 September 1767) was a British politician who served in the British Parliament under numerous titles.
His passage of the contentious Townshend Acts is regarded as one of the primary reasons of the American Revolution.
2. There are five Acts that are generally accepted as making up the Townshend Acts
- The New York Restraining Act 1767, passed on 5 June 1767, which suspended the New York assembly’s ability to pass laws until it agreed to provide housing for the British troops.
- The Revenue Act 1767, passed on 26 June 1767, which imposed new taxes on various goods imported into the American colonies, including glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea.
- The Indemnity Act 1767, passed on 29 June 1767, which provided compensation to British officials who had been underpaid or had not been paid at all.
- The Commissioners of Customs Act 1767, passed on 29 June 1767, which established a new board of customs commissioners in Boston to more effectively enforce trade regulations in the colonies.
- The Vice Admiralty Court Act 1768, passed on 6 July 1768, which expanded the jurisdiction of the vice-admiralty courts, which were British naval courts that tried cases involving customs violations and other maritime crimes.
All of these acts were met with strong resistance from the colonists and ultimately contributed to the growing tension between the colonies and Great Britain that would eventually lead to the American Revolution.
3. One of the Townshend Acts was to punish the Province of New York
The New York Restraining Act of 1767, one of the Townshend Acts, was expressly meant to penalize the Province of New York for failing to comply with the Quartering Act of 1765.
The Quartering Act compelled the colonies to furnish British troops with accommodation and supplies.
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As a result of New York’s failure to completely comply with the legislation, the New York Restraining Act of 1767 limited the assembly’s power to adopt laws until it agreed to provide accommodation for the British troops.
The measure was received with fierce opposition from New York’s colonists, who saw it as a breach of their rights as British subjects.
4. No Taxation Without Representation
One of the colonists’ primary complaints about the Townshend Acts was that they were taxed without representation in the British government.
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The colonists felt unfairly taxed by a government over which they had no say or representation. The concept of “no taxation without representation” became a prominent feature of the Townshend Acts’ opposition and the developing conflict between the colonies and Great Britain.
The colonists argued that, as British subjects, they had a right to be represented in the government that taxed them, and that the Townshend Acts violated that right.
5. Were duties in name but taxes in nature.
To differentiate the Townshend Acts’ taxes from the “taxes” that had previously been placed on the colonies and met with resistance, they were renamed “duties.”
As opposed to being taxes in the conventional sense, the British government claimed that the tariffs were actually regulatory fees.
The British government wanted the duties to be perceived as a way to raise money to cover the expense of maintaining British troops in the colonies, rather than as an attempt to exert control over them. This distinction, however, was mostly irrelevant to the colonists.
6. Created a new board of customs commissioners.
To better enforce trade laws in the colonies, one of the Townshend Acts, the Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767, created a new board of customs commissioners based in Boston.
As a result, colonial merchants found themselves the targets of stricter customs enforcement and more seizures of their vessels and goods.
John Hancock, a merchant from Boston, was a key figure in the rebellion against the Townshend Acts. In 1768, British customs officials arrested him after seizing his ship, the Liberty, on suspicion of smuggling.
The colonists were already furious about the episode, but they saw it as further evidence of the British government’s abuse of power and overreach.
This event with John Hancock and the Liberty ratcheted up tensions between the colonies and Great Britain and fueled the rising independence movement in the United States.
7. Tensions continued to grow between Britain and the colonies.
Tensions between the colonies and Great Britain grew in response to the Townshend Acts, which were met with fierce opposition from the colonists. As a result of this backlash, in 1770 the British government rescinded most of the Townshend Acts’ taxation provisions.
However, the tea tax remained so that Britain could continue to show its dominance over the colonies. The Tea Act of 1773 authorized the British East India Company to operate as a de facto monopoly tea distributor in the American colonies, so maintaining the levy.
This further angered the colonists, and led to the famous Boston Tea Party, in which a group of colonists boarded British tea ships in Boston Harbor and threw the tea into the water.
Coercive Acts were a set of British regulations passed in response to the Boston Tea Party that ratcheted up tensions between the colonies and Great Britain and ultimately sparked the American Revolution.
8. Charles Townshend died without knowing how badly received the Acts would be.
Unfortunately for the colonies, Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who introduced the Townshend Acts, passed away in September 1767.
He died before learning how much pushback his ideas received or how much conflict they caused between the colonies and Britain.
The Townshend acts, the repeal of most taxes in 1770, and the Tea Act of 1773, which preserved the levy on tea and which, coupled with the British response to the Boston Tea Party, ultimately led to the American Revolution, all occurred after his death but before its full influence was felt.
9. Divided the Colonists into Loyalists and Patriots.
The Townshend Acts and the opposition they sparked, particularly the concept of “no taxation without representation” and resentment of being taxed without representation in the British government, led to the developing schism among American colonists.
The colonists began to pick sides, with some siding with the Patriots and others siding with the British government.
Patriots, sometimes known as Whigs, thought that the colonies should be given more independence from British control and that the British government had no right to levy taxes without their approval. They staged rallies and boycotts of British goods, and founded organizations such as the Sons of Liberty to oppose British rule.
The Loyalists, sometimes known as the Tories,, on the other side, believed in the authority of the British government and saw the Patriots’ actions as rebellion. The schism between Patriots and Loyalists would widen and eventually lead to the American Revolution.
10. The colonists attacked British ships and officials
The Townshend Acts and the opposition they sparked, as well as the ensuing enforcement of customs rules and seizures of ships and cargo belonging to colonial merchants, fueled American colonists’ animosity of the British government and its agents.
Furthermore, the impression that British officials in the colonies were corrupt and brutal in their law enforcement fueled this anger. The colonists responded by attacking British ships and officials, including the burning of the Gaspee, a British revenue cutter, in 1772.
The episode, which took place in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, was a notable act of disobedience against British authority, and it contributed to the building tensions between the colonies and Great Britain, which eventually led to the American Revolution.