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Presentation U.S. History Primary Source Timeline

The Colonies Move Toward Open Rebellion, 1773-1774

After the Boston Massacre and the repeal of most of the Townshend Duties (the duty on tea remained in force), a period of relative quiet descended on the British North American colonies. Even so, the crises of the past decade had created incompatible mindsets on opposite sides of the Atlantic. King George III and Parliament still faced money problems and were determined to assert their powers to tax the colonies and regulate trade for the benefit of the entire British empire. On the other hand, the colonists' ideas about taxation without representation, about actual versus virtual representation, about tyranny and corruption in the British government, and indeed about the nature of government, sovereignty, and constitutions had crystalized during this period. In addition, the colonists now had potentially powerful tools--local newspapers and committees of correspondence (established in 1772)--for airing colonial grievances. Because they were writing about colonial grievances with the British government (or reacting to others' grievances), many writers used pseudonyms in an attempt to mask their real identities.

Sam Adams / engd. by W. G. Jackman.
Prints & Photographs Division

Underneath the apparent calm of the early 1770s, many Americans continued to resent Britain's heavy-handed enforcement of the Navigation Acts and the continued presence of a standing army. Colonists continued to talk among themselves, through newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides, in colonial assemblies, and in such public places as coffee houses and taverns. In 1773, a new act of Parliament, the Tea Act, ended any semblance of calm.

Parliament enacted the Tea Act to shore up the financially troubled East India Company. The Act actually placed no new tax on tea (this was still on the books from the Townshend Duties). Instead, it gave the East India Company a virtual monopoly on selling tea in the colonies. The British assumed that colonists would welcome the lower price of tea achieved by eliminating the merchant middleman. The Tea Act, however, angered influential merchants who feared the monopoly would affect them directly. For many more colonists, the Tea Act revived passions about taxation without representation. Soon the colonists again responded with a boycott of tea. Earlier protests had involved relatively few colonists, but the tea boycott mobilized a large segment of colonial society.

In late 1773, leaders in many colonies planned to prevent the East India Company from landing tea shipments. In Boston, however, the tea ships arrived in port but would not leave. On December 16, groups of 50 men each boarded three ships, broke open the tea chests, and threw them into the harbor. As news of the "tea party" spread, similar acts of resistance occurred in other ports.

Parliament soon responded to this outrage with four acts designed to punish Boston and to isolate it from the other colonies. It closed Boston port, reduced Massachusetts' powers of self-government, provided for quartering troops in the colonies, and permitted royal officers accused of crimes to be tried in England. The British called these acts the coercive acts; the colonists called them the Intolerable Acts. Far from isolating Boston, the new laws cast the city in the role of martyr and sparked new resistance throughout the colonies.

For additional documents related to these topics, search using such key words as East India Company, Tea Act, taxes, and the terms found above and in the documents. Another strategy is to browse relevant collections by date.