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Townshend Acts

The Revolutionary War in America was the result of a series of acts levied against the colonists by the English Parliament. One of these measures, the Townshend Acts, not only contributed to the American Revolution but precipitated the BOSTON MASSACRE as well.

In 1767 Parliament decided to reduce the property tax in England. To compensate for the deficit, Charles Townshend, chancellor of the exchequer, proposed legislation that would raise revenue from various taxes directed at the colonists. These laws, called the Townshend Acts, imposed duties on the importation of such articles as lead, glass, paint, tea, and paper into the colonies. The money collected from the colonists was to be applied to the payment of wages of English officials assigned to the colonies.

In addition to the taxes, the acts also provided for the maintenance of the American Board of Customs Commissioners in Boston. A third aspect of the legislation involved the disbanding of the New York legislature. This assembly had staunchly opposed and refused to accept the Quartering Act of 1765, and all its meetings were suspended until it complied with the unpopular act.

Antagonism between the colonists and English officials over the Townshend Acts increased, and English troops were sent to quell disturbances. Agitation continued, and on March 5, 1770, the Boston Massacre occurred when English soldiers fired into a crowd of hostile colonists, killing five men.

The colonists drafted nonimportation agreements and boycotted English goods. English merchants felt the loss of revenue, and in 1770 the Townshend Acts were repealed with the exception of a tax on tea. This tax, retained to reaffirm the right of Parliament to levy taxes on the colonists, led to the Boston Tea Party.


Knight, Carol Lynn H. 1990. The American Colonial Press and the Townshend Crisis, 1766–1770: A Study in Political Imagery. Lewiston, Mass.: E. Mellen Press.

Thomas, Peter David Garner. 1987. The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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