The year 1767 brought another se- ries of measures that stirred anew all the elements of discord . Charles

Townshend, British chancellor of the exchequer, attempted a new fis- cal program in the face of continued discontent over high taxes at home . Intent upon reducing British taxes by making more efficient the col- lection of duties levied on American trade, he tightened customs admin- istration and enacted duties on colo- nial imports of paper, glass, lead, and tea from Britain . The “Townshend Acts” were based on the premise that taxes imposed on goods imported by the colonies were legal while internal taxes (like the Stamp Act) were not .

The Townshend Acts were de- signed to raise revenue that would be used in part to support colonial officials and maintain the Brit- ish army in America . In response, Philadelphia lawyer John Dickinson, in Letters of a Pennsylvania Farm- er, argued that Parliament had the right to control imperial commerce but did not have the right to tax the colonies, whether the duties were external or internal .

The agitation following enact- ment of the Townshend duties was less violent than that stirred by the Stamp Act, but it was nevertheless strong, particularly in the cities of the Eastern seaboard . Merchants once again resorted to non-impor- tation agreements, and people made do with local products . Colonists, for example, dressed in homespun clothing and found substitutes for tea . They used homemade paper and their houses went unpaint- ed . In Boston, enforcement of the new regulations provoked violence .


When customs officials sought to collect duties, they were set upon by the populace and roughly handled . For this infraction, two British regi- ments were dispatched to protect the customs commissioners .

The presence of British troops in Boston was a standing invitation to disorder . On March 5, 1770, antag- onism between citizens and British soldiers again flared into violence . What began as a harmless snowball- ing of British soldiers degenerated into a mob attack . Someone gave the order to fire . When the smoke had cleared, three Bostonians lay dead in the snow . Dubbed the “Boston Mas- sacre,” the incident was dramatically pictured as proof of British heart- lessness and tyranny .

Faced with such opposition, Par- liament in 1770 opted for a strategic retreat and repealed all the Townsh- end duties except that on tea, which was a luxury item in the colonies, imbibed only by a very small minori- ty . To most, the action of Parliament signified that the colonists had won a major concession, and the cam- paign against England was largely dropped . A colonial embargo on “English tea” continued but was not too scrupulously observed . Prosper- ity was increasing and most colonial leaders were willing to let the future take care of itself .


During a three-year interval of calm, a relatively small number of radicals strove energetically to keep

the controversy alive . They contend- ed that payment of the tax consti- tuted an acceptance of the principle that Parliament had the right to rule over the colonies . They feared that at any time in the future, the principle of parliamentary rule might be ap- plied with devastating effect on all colonial liberties .

The radicals’ most effective leader was Samuel Adams of Mas- sachusetts, who toiled tirelessly for a single end: independence . From the time he graduated from Harvard College in 1743, Adams was a public servant in some capacity — inspec- tor of chimneys, tax-collector, and moderator of town meetings . A consistent failure in business, he was shrewd and able in politics, with the New England town meeting his theater of action .

Adams wanted to free people from their awe of social and politi- cal superiors, make them aware of their own power and importance, and thus arouse them to action . To- ward these objectives, he published articles in newspapers and made speeches in town meetings, instigat- ing resolutions that appealed to the colonists’ democratic impulses .

In 1772 he induced the Boston town meeting to select a “Commit- tee of Correspondence” to state the rights and grievances of the colo- nists . The committee opposed a British decision to pay the salaries of judges from customs revenues; it feared that the judges would no lon- ger be dependent on the legislature for their incomes and thus no longer




accountable to it, thereby leading to the emergence of “a despotic form of government .” The committee communicated with other towns on this matter and requested them to draft replies . Committees were set up in virtually all the colonies, and out of them grew a base of effective revolutionary organizations . Still, Adams did not have enough fuel to set a fire .

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