These Coercive and Intolerable Acts

The news of the "Boston Tea Party" reached Parliament in early 1774. The members of Parliament, as well as King George III, were outraged. There was absolutely no way that this display of disobedience by the colonists was going to go unpunished. They had wasted more than 400 cases of tea, and someone was going to have to pay for that destruction of property. In response to the constant insubordination of the colonists, King George III himself approved of measures that were going to force the colonists into submission. As a result of the king's approval, Parliament enacted four new laws and updated an old one. These laws, the Boston Port Bill, the Administration of Justice Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Quebec Act, and the updating of the Quartering Act, [37] were called "coercive" by Parliament, but they would come to be known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts. The new set of acts, while important in itself, was not as important as the new question that came ringing across the ocean to echo in the halls of Parliament. The colonists were questioning Parliament's very right to tax and rule over them.The Coercive Acts were designed to be just what they came to be called by the colonists - intolerable. It was the intention of Parliament at the time of these acts to force the colonists to obey the laws and pay the taxes that they were avoiding.
The first of these laws enacted in 1774 was meant as a direct punishment for the "Boston Tea Party." The Boston Port Bill "was a personal policy of the king who [had] regretted that he had been so easy with the colonies"[38]. Lord North, the Prime Minister at the time, presented this bill to Parliament and they, with the approval of the king, closed all of the ports in Boston and ordered that they remain closed until the repayment for the tea that was at the bottom of the harbor could be made. This act alone would be detrimental to Boston's economy, and therefore Parliament expected compliance with their laws from that day forth. Their expectations however, were not met. In order to regain control in the colonies, Parliament decided that the royal officials in the American colonies needed some form of protection from the unfair legal prosecution that they were guaranteed to experience in the colonies. Therefore, they created another new law, the Administration of Justice Act, which demanded that any British officials being tried for a crime would be extradited to England so he would receive a fair trial. This, however, was not enough, and two other laws were enacted that day as well. One of the other acts, the Massachusetts Government Act, removed the power of the assemblies and the town councils in the colonies and gave the governor complete control over them. The second act, called the Quebec Act, took away portions of land that were meant for the north western colonies and extended the border of Canada. In effect, this land was given to Quebec. But this was still not enough to punish the colonists. Four days later, there would be another motion made by Parliament to punish the colonies.
The Quartering Act of 1765 was revised as a final punishment for the colonists. Previously, the colonists were demanded only to supply the soldiers stationed in America with unoccupied buildings for shelter and some food provisions. The revision demanded that the hospitality offered to the soldiers be extended to the point of colonists taking the soldiers into their own homes. The colonists did not get along well with the troops to begin with, so this revision was especially despised.
These acts were important in England not only because they were meant to force obedience from the rebelling colonists, but also because they displayed the attitude that the men in Parliament held toward them. However, these acts became even more important when the colonists raised a new objection not to the new laws, but the very right of Parliament to enforce any laws and taxes upon them in the first place since they were not represented in Parliament. "No Taxation Without Representation" became the colonists' next attempt at avoiding the laws of England, and it sparked debates and reactions in all of Parliament.
"The right of the legislature of Great Britain to impose taxes upon her colonies . . . [was] so indisputably clear that" most men felt as though they "should never have thought it necessary to have undertaken their defense . . . "[39]. William Pitt, who had been sympathetic with the colonists and had said many times that they should not be taxed, never said that England could not tax the colonies. That power was evident. When he asked that Parliament not tax the colonists, he reminded them that while he was opposing the taxes, he "at the same time, [asserted] the authority of this kingdom over the colonies to be sovereign and supreme in every circumstance"[40]. What he and the rest of the British government began to face was the question of the supremacy of Great Britain. They either ruled the colonies completely and totally, or they did not rule the colonies at all. The trouble was, every member of Parliament and even the king could see where the cards were falling on this particular issue. Great Britain was not ruling the colonies at all. They had challenged the authority of Parliament at every turn, and this latest question of authority based on representation was just another excuse to avoid the laws. It was pointed out by Soame Jenyns, another member of Parliament at this time, that the colonists themselves even admitted that even if they were directly represented in Parliament, that they believed it would still have no right to impose taxes upon them and then use that money because"it would be an unjust tax. [The tax would] not be equal on all, and if it [was] not equal, it [could] not be just, and if it [was] not just, no power whatever [could] impose it." Jenyns thought this type of logic was absolutely absurd, because "no tax can be imposed exactly equal on all"[41]. A new face in Parliament, Charles James Fox, supported this argument in his speech by saying "there is not an American but who must reject and resist the principle and right of our taxing them. The question then, is shortly this: Whether we ought to govern America on these principles? Can this country gain strength by keeping up such a dispute as this? Tell me when America is to be taxed, so as to relieve the burthens of this country"[42].
William Pitt once again took the stand that Englishmen were only supposed to be taxed by their own consent, and a new question was brought before him by men in his opposition, including Lord North, the new Prime Minister of Parliament. What was consent? Was this supposed to mean the consent of the people themselves or the men that had been chosen to represent them, or the majority of their representatives? [43]. This became a question that was examined not only for the colonists, but the people in England as well. After all, "Every man in England [was] taxed, and not one in twenty [was] represented"[44], but they continued to pay their taxes. It came to be argued that if common men in England were "virtually" represented and they paid their taxes, then the colonists were also "virtually" represented, then they could not be liberated from their taxes. William Pitt again took a stand and to this argument he responded by saying that "the idea of a virtual representation of America in this House [was] the most contemptable that [had] ever entered into the head of man. It [did] not deserve a serious refutation"[45]. The debates went on and on, but one detail seemed to be lost in all of the arguments that were presented. If the colonies did not respect the power of Parliament, then who was actually governing America?
With all of the debating that went on in Parliament over the challenge of their power in America, the question always came back to one single problem. It did not matter what laws were enacted if the colonists did not adhere to them. Edmund Burke reminded everyone in Parliament that "a great black book and a great many red coats [would] never be able to govern [America]"[46]. Truer words may never have been spoken in Parliament. The laws may have been enacted by the men in that room, but the military was what England depended upon to defend and uphold her policies in America. Burke and Pitt and their supporters could see that England was not going to be able to force America back into obedience, while others maintained that they "either [had] the right to tax the colonies or [they] did not . . ."[47].
The number of men in Parliament who sympathized with the situation faced by people in America was greatly diminished by 1774. It was certainly the right of Parliament to tax the colonies for their debt incurred by the Seven Years War, but none of the policies were doing any good. Parliament had attempted to retrieve the money that the colonists owed for the protection they had received during the war and the stationing of the troops there ever since. Their method for regaining the funds that had been spent on America's behalf was always a tax of some sort or another. When Lord Grenville's internal taxes were not welcome in the colonies, they were repealed. In their place, Charles Townshend attempted to collect payments for that same debt though an external tax, which Benjamin Franklin had pointed out to Parliament as an alternative to the troublesome taxes that were collected at the store. This set of taxes failed as well, and Parliament began to realize that the colonists simply had no intention or desire whatsoever to pay any sort of tax to cover the cost of their protection. While William Pitt and Edmund Burke supported the position of the colonists' refusal to pay these taxes, they maintained that Parliament did have the right to impose any taxes as well as other laws upon the colonists. The right to impose a law or a tax, however, came with no guarantee that it would be followed. That is what happened with all of the taxes that were imposed by Parliament upon the colonies. The colonists defied every act of Parliament and even questioned their right to be in authority over them. This forced the British government to enact even harsher laws where the colonists were concerned. Finally, when these laws were implemented, the colonists sparked a new debate as a last effort to avoid paying their taxes by saying that they were not represented in Parliament. They may not have been directly represented in Parliament, but, as it had been pointed out, no Englishman was directly represented. Men in England may have been able to claim representation, but, in reality, the population of Great Britain was so large and there were so few Parliamentary members that "not one in twenty" people living in England was represented in Parliament [48].
Parliament never asked the colonists to pay a tax that they could not afford. In reality, they were asked to pay less for the items that they had already been purchasing. Had they not been smuggling their good into the colonies and avoiding the tax at every oppertunity, they would have realized this. Everyone in the British Empire had to pay a higher tax than what was asked of the colonies -- even after the various acts. This is not to mention that these taxes were going to be funding the continued protection the the British colonists in America. The Seven Years War, which benefitted the colonists, was very expensive. It was also a burden on the British Crown to pay the bill for ten thousand soldiers that had to be stationed in the colonies. The colonists, in reality, were only asked to pay for their fair share of the protection that benefitted them. Parliament not only had every right as the sovereign power of the British Empire to ask the tax of the colonists, but it was also their duty to keep the Crown from going bankrupt. How surprising would it be for the members of Parliament who were thwarted at every turn, to come to America today and see that the very taxes they had attempted to collect were charged of the American public not only after the Revolutionary War, but even today, in a time of peace? What a final insult that would be to the men who were members of Parliament during the time preceding the war .