Intolerable Acts

Parliament in the 1700's

The Intolerable Acts were passed in Parliament

This article on the Intolerable Acts in Colonial America provides fast facts and information about the effects of these punishing laws

  • What were the Intolerable Acts?
  • The Meaning and Definition of the Intolerable Acts and reaction to the Intolerable Acts
  • The purpose of the Intolerable Acts
  • The effect of the Intolerable Acts
  • Fast and easy explanation of the Intolerable Acts,  suitable as an educational Social Studies resource for schools and kids
Boston MassacreBoston Tea Party
American Colonies IndexTaxation in the Colonies

History of the 13 Colonies and the laws & taxes that sparked rebellion against the British

The definition and purpose of the 1774 Coercive (Intolerable) Acts and the cry of "No taxation without representation!"

Definition of the Intolerable Acts
The Meaning and Definition of the Intolerable Acts: The Intolerable Acts, also called the the Restraining Acts and the Coercive Acts, were a series of British Laws, passed by the Parliament of Great Britain 1774. Four of the Intolerable Acts were specifically aimed at punishing the Massachusetts colonists for the actions taken in the incident known as the Boston Tea Party. The fifth of the Intolerable Acts series was related to Quebec was seen as an additional threat to the liberty and expansion of the colonies. 

Intolerable Acts - The Boston Tea Party
Tensions had been high in Boston and led to two famous incidents which in turn led to the Intolerable Acts:

  • The Boston Massacre, that occurred on March 5, 1770, in which British soldiers, who were quartered in the city, fired into a rioting mob killing 5 American civilians
  • The Boston Tea Party that occurred on December 16, 1773 was a direct protest by colonists in Boston against the Tea Tax. Boston patriots, led by the Sons of Liberty dressed as Mohawk Indians, raided three British ships,  in Boston harbor and dumped 342 containers of tea into the water.

King George III, the British government led by Lord North, and the majority of the British people were furious when they found that the Boston colonists had made "tea with salt water." The British Parliament immediately went to work passing the Intolerable Acts to punish the colonists and stamp their authority on the American colonies.


The Dartmouth, Beaver and Eleanor ships involved in the Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party which led to the punishing Intolerable Acts

Summary of the Intolerable Acts - British Punishment

The laws, that became known as the Intolerable Acts, were all passed in 1774 as British reprisals to the Boston Tea Party. The summary of the Intolerable acts is as follows:

  • The first of the Intolerable Acts closed the port of Boston so tightly that the colonists could not bring hay from Charlestown to give to their starving horses
  • The second of the Intolerable Acts put an end to the constitution of Massachusetts - only one town meeting was permitted a year in Massachusetts, unless approved by the governor. Town officials would no longer be elected, they were to be be appointed by the royal governor. The executive council would no longer be elected, but appointed by the King. The Massachusetts Government Act revoked the colony's 1691 charter
  • The third of the Intolerable Acts gave the power for all trials in the colony to be sent to Great Britain and heard under a British judge
  • The fourth of the punishing Intolerable Acts compelled the colonists to feed and shelter the soldiers employed to punish them
  • A fifth act is also included in the Intolerable Acts of 1774 and relates to Quebec and Ohio. This 'Intolerable Act' was also passed in 1774 and, although it was not directed at punishing the colony of Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, it was seen as a new model for an authoritarian British colonial administration and another threat to the independence of the colonies

Dates and Names of the Intolerable Acts
The names of the Intolerable Acts and the dates they were passed were as follows:

Follow the above links for full details of each of the Intolerable Acts.

Purpose of the Intolerable Acts
The Purpose of the Intolerable Acts of 1774 were as follows:

  • The purpose of the Boston Port Act of the Intolerable Acts was to close the port of Boston until the tea that had been destroyed at the Boston Tea Party had been paid for. Only food and firewood were permitted into the port of Boston
  • The purpose of the Massachusetts Government Act was to effectively suspend the right of self-government in the Massachusetts colony and revoke the colony's 1691 charter
  • The purpose of the Administration of Justice Act of the Intolerable Acts allowed the Governor to send rebellious colonists for trial in other colonies or in Great Britain
  • The purpose of the Quartering Act of 1774 of the Intolerable Acts was to extend the provisions of the previous 1765 Quartering Act giving the governor, rather than the assembly, the authority to enforce arrangements to ensure that the colonists supplied billeting for the troops
    • The 1765 Quartering Act had required colonial governments to absorb the costs associated with quartering British troops which included food, shelter, bedding, cooking utensils, firewood, salt, vinegar, beer or cider and candles.
    • The purpose of the Quartering Act of 1774 was to avoid a repetition of the defiant actions taken by the New York Provincial Assembly who had at one point refused to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act
  • The purpose of the Quebec Act of the Intolerable Acts was to:
    • Extend the Province of Quebec to include territory west to the Mississippi, north to Hudson's Bay territory, and the islands in the mouth of the St. Lawrence
    • Passed religious reforms that were highly favorable to the Catholic majority in Quebec and allowed Catholics to hold public offices
    • Denied the right to an elected legislative assembly

Port of Boston in 1774

Intolerable Acts - Port of Boston in 1774

The Intolerable Acts of 1774 - The Appointment of General Thomas Gage
The Quartering Act and the Massachusetts Government Act of the Intolerable Acts gave the governor of Massachusetts control of the colony, rather than the people. As part of the British attempt to intimidate the residents of Boston, King George III appointed General Thomas Gage, who commanded the British army in North America, as the new military governor of Massachusetts in May 1774. Following the Boston Massacre General Thomas Gage had said that "America is a mere bully, from one end to the other, and the Bostonians by far the greatest bullies." The appointment of General Thomas Gage made it clear to Bostonians that the crown intended to impose martial law, in which a military government suspends civil law.

General Thomas Gage

Intolerable Acts - General Thomas Gage

The Intolerable Acts of 1774 - Miscalculation by the British
The combination of the Intolerable Acts were a bad miscalculation by the British government. Whilst the first four of the Intolerable Acts related to Massachusetts in the New England colonies, the Middle Colonies and the Southern colonies were effected by the Quebec Act. Great Britain had hoped that the harsh actions taken in the Intolerable Acts would isolate the New England radicals in Massachusetts and panic the other colonies into conceding the authority of Parliament over their elected assemblies. They were completely incorrect in their assumptions, their Intolerable Acts had woken the sleeping lion.

The Intolerable Acts of 1774 - Committees of Correspondence
The communication network in the colonies operated by the Committees of Correspondence had been established to warn each other about British actions and future plans, such as the Intolerable Acts, that were detrimental to colonial America. This system enabled the colonies to plan a course of action and colonial resistance. The colonies were able to take a united stand against the British government and the provisions of the Intolerable Acts.

The Colonists Reaction to the Intolerable Acts of 1774
So what was the reaction to the Intolerable Acts?

  • Letters and handbills were sent the length and breadth of the 13 colonies via the Committees of Correspondence detailing the Intolerable Acts
  • Newspapers publicised articles about the tyranny of the British rule and the Intolerable Acts
  • The colonists saw the laws of the Intolerable Acts as a a violation of their constitutional rights and that their colonial charters could be rescinded. They were united in their protests of the Intolerable Acts
  • The other colonies were in sympathy with Massachusetts. Especially the harsh treatment of Boston in which everyone suffered, not just the handful who participated in the Boston Tea Party
  • Other colonies began sending relief to the blockaded city of Boston - this was the first step in the unification of the 13 colonies following the Intolerable Acts
  • The 13 colonies were predominantly Protestant and intolerance towards Catholics was virtually universal in the thirteen colonies - the Quebec Act was decried a papist law and a hostile act towards America
  • American colonists had been barred from the Ohio territory by the Proclamation of 1763, but they hoped eventually to be allowed to move there. The colonists strongly protested that Quebec Act limited opportunities for the American colonies to expand on their western frontiers
  • The First Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to coordinate a colonial response to the Intolerable Acts.

Intolerable Acts of 1774
The Intolerable Acts of 1774 led to the First Continental Congress on October 14, 1774. The Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Rights in response to the Intolerable Acts passed by the British Parliament. The Declaration of Rights outlined colonial objections to the Intolerable Acts, listed a colonial bill of rights details of grievances. It was similar to the 1765 Declaration of Rights and Grievances, passed by the Stamp Act Congress ten years earlier. The First Continental Congress imposed a boycott of British trade (Continental Association) until their grievances were resolved and the Intolerable Acts were repealed.

The Original Text of the Intolerable Acts
Read the text of the Intolerable Acts to appreciate the tone of the British laws:

Intolerable Acts

  • 1774 Intolerable Acts - Meaning and Definition of the Intolerable Acts
  • History of the Intolerable Acts of 1774
  • Fast Facts and info about Intolerable Acts timeline
  • The Intolerable Acts article is a great history resource for kids
  • Social Studies Homework help for kids on the Intolerable Acts of 1774
  • 1774 Intolerable Acts

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