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Bostonians Protest the Townshend Acts
Digital History ID 137

Author:   John Hancock


Based in part on Benjamin Franklin's arguments before Parliament, Charles Townshend (1725-1767), the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, believed that the colonists would find a duty on imported goods more acceptable than the Stamp Act, which taxed them more directly. In 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which placed duties on such imported items as glass, tea, lead, paint, and paper. Colonists not only objected to the new duties, but also to the way they were to be spent--and to the new bureaucracy that was to collect them. The new revenues were to be used to pay the expenses of governors and judges. Because colonial assemblies were traditionally responsible for paying colonial officials, the Townshend Acts appeared to be an attack on their legislative authority.

The Townshend Acts also set up a board of customs commissioners, which was supposed to be a more efficient way of organizing the customs system. But many merchants saw it as an attempt to introduce a new bureaucracy and official corruption into the colonies.

Merchants from Boston adopted a non-importation agreement in 1768, vowing not to import certain articles rather than pay the duties. By 1769, after merchants in other cities had joined the boycott, imports of British goods had fallen by 40 percent. Women played an active role in the protests against the Townshend Acts. Daughters of Liberty led campaigns against consumption of British tea and clothing.

Meanwhile, to cut costs, the ministry closed many western forts and redeployed British forces in coastal cities. Under the Quartering Act of 1765, the colonists would be responsible for housing and providing for the troops. When New York refused to provide supplies for the soldiers Townshend responded by threatening to nullify all laws passed by the New York assembly until the Quartering Act was obeyed. The other colonies rallied to New York's support by threatening to resist all taxes imposed by the Crown.

In the face of this united opposition, Townshend modified the Quartering Act. Instead of requiring colonists to open their homes to soldiers, he allowed them to house them in barracks, unoccupied buildings, and barns. But even this weakened act stirred resistance.

Many colonists also objected to the unscrupulous actions of British customs officials, some of whom began to enrich themselves by accusing shipowners and merchants of smuggling and then confiscating ships and cargoes. In June 1768, a crowd attacked local customs collectors who had seized a sloop owned by John Hancock (1737-1793), one of the colonies' richest merchants. The commissioners fled to an island in Boston for safety, and pleaded for military protection. The British government sent two regiments of troops to Boston in September 1768.

In this letter, John Hancock and four other Boston Selectmen protest the Townshend Acts and the impending arrival of British troops.


You are already too well acquainted with the melancholy and very alarming Circumstances to which this Province, as well as America in general, is now reduced. Taxes equally detrimental to the commercial interests of the Parent country and the colonies are imposed upon the People, without their consent; Taxes designed for the Support of the Civil Government in the Colonies, in a Manner clearly unconstitutional, and contrary to that, in which 'till of late, Government has been supported, by the free Gift of the People in the American Assemblies or Parliaments; as also for the Maintenance of a large Standing Army; not for the Defence of the newly acquired Territories, but for the old Colonies, and in a Time of Peace. The decent, humble and truly loyal Applications and Petitions from the Representatives of this Province for the Redress of these heavy and very threatening Grievances, have hitherto been ineffectual, being assured from authentick Intelligence that they have not yet reach'd the Royal Ear: The only Effect of transmitting these Applications...has been a Mandate from one of his Majesty's Secretaries of State to the Governor of this Province, to Dissolve the General Assembly, merely because the late House of Representatives refused to Rescind a Resolution of a former House, which imply'd nothing more than a Right in the American Subjects to unite in humble and dutiful Petitions to their gracious Sovereign, when they found themselves aggrieved: This is a Right naturally inherent in every Man, and expressly recognized by the glorious Revolution as the Birthright of an Englishman....

The Concern and Perplexity in which these Things have thrown the People, have been greatly aggravated by a late Declaration of his Excellency Governor [Francis] Bernard, that one or more Regiments may soon be expected in this Province.

The Design of these Troops is in every one's Apprehension nothing short of Enforcing by military Power the Execution of Acts of Parliament in the forming of which the Colonies have not, and cannot have any constitutional Influence. This is one of the greatest Distresses to which a free People can be reduced...

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: John Hancock and four other Boston Selectmen to the Selectmen of Medway, Massachusetts

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