Topic 7
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Crisis II
The Townshend Duties




bulletCook, chaps. 8-10
bulletSkemp, chaps. 5-6
bulletDickenson's Letters (2&4) from a Farmer, 1767-68 [Skemp, 160-163]



Background: After the repeal of the Stamp Act and the passage of the Declaratory Act (March 4, 1766) there was a general sigh of relief in the colonies despite the ominous implication of the Declaratory Act.

In London there was a shift in the government:

bulletNew Ministry: In July, 1766, the King dismissed Rockingham and invited William Pitt  to form a government. George III detested Pitt for his long career of criticizing royal policies. But he considered Pitt the only person who could handle America effectively.  Pitt's coveting of a peerage led him to make the mistake of accepting the King's offer of a title, Earl of Chatham, removing him from Commons. In addition, Pitt for the next two years suffered from gout and depression, causing him to be away from London for long periods. Pitt turned to a friend, the  Duke of Grafton, young and inept,  to serve as both prime minister and first lord of the Treasury.

bulletThe Chatham (William Pitt)/Grafton Ministry, Aug.,1766- Jan. , 1770
bulletChatham, Lord Privy Seal
bulletGrafton, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury
bulletCharles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer (until death in 1767), effectively became the leader of the government. He has been described as "able but truculent."

New Tax Policy & Colonial Administration Department

bullet The 1766 depression led landed gentry to call for tax relief, a request Grenville supported while demanding another American  tax to replace the repealed Stamp Act.  In Feb.,1767 Parliament reduced land tax, forcing the ministry to look for new revenue.
bulletA symbol of the empire's dilemma: In spring, 1767 NY Assembly refused to vote provisions for British troops, even after the army had obligingly subdued Hudson Valley tenant farmers who were rioting against the high rents charged by the very landlords who controlled the Assembly.
bulletTownshend, without consulting Chatham, proposed new revenue legislation based on a distinction between internal and external taxes, a distinction Pitt and Americans had made  earlier in speaking on the Stamp Act. Townshend wanted to levy customs duties on good imported into America.
bulletThe Townshend Act: June, 1767 a levy on British goods imported into the colonies - glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. This was clearly not a regulation of trade in the mercantilist tradition of the Navigation Acts. Again, a constitutional issue was raised.
bulletRevenue raised would be put in a special fund to pay royal officials in the colonies. Royal governors would no longer rely on the colonial assemblies for their income. reducing the effective powers of the assemblies.
bulletEstablishment of Board of Customs Commissioners in Boston
bulletNew Vice Admiralty Courts in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston
bulletChange in Administration of the Empire: January, 1768 Parliament created a new office for colonial affairs, Secretary of State for the Colonies.  Lord Hillsborough, President of the Board of Trade, became colonial secretary.

American Reaction: Crisis II

bulletConstitutional Issue Revived
bulletJohn Dickenson’s “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” moved to new constitutional ground.  Newspaper series started in Philadelphia in December, 1767, widely circulated in pamphlet form by March, 1768
bulletBoycott and Protests Revived
bulletBoston popular leaders and the Boston Gazette call for non-importation. They are in control of lower house but the Mass radicals face steep opposition. Merchants fear for their pocketbooks and a revival of mob action. For a year in Boston Town Meeting and the Assembly they delayed any radical action.
bulletFebruary, 1768 the Popular Party in an Assembly session with many absentees passed a Circular Letter drafted by Samuel Adams, stating objections to the Townshend duties and asking other colonies to organize a protest.
bulletApril, 1768, Hillsborough receiving the Mass. Circular Letter, write Gov. Bernard in Boston to demand the Assembly retract it. Horders colonial governors to stop their own assemblies from endorsing Adams' circular letter. Hillsborough also orders the governor of Massachusetts to dissolve the general court if the Massachusetts assembly does not revoke the letter. By month's end, the assemblies of New Hampshire, Connecticut and New Jersey have endorsed the letter.
bulletCommissioners of Customs  radicalize merchants who  approach Otis-Adams faction again and they develop the device of BOYCOTT.
bulletJuly, 1768 John Hancock heads a “standing committee” to draft a new agreement prohibiting import of all British goods for a year beginning January 1, 1769. Huge meeting in Faneuil Hall approves it. Most signers were artisans who benefited from lack of British goods. 
bulletBernard dissolved Assembly and towns, upon request or Boston selectmen, move for a convention in Faneuil Hall – pointing way to extra-legal organization
bulletAlthough Boston merchants were the first merchants in America to call for economic moves against Britain,  even in Boston the boycott came mostly from patriot leaders. Merchants were more reluctant
bulletObstructionist tactics towards Commissioners led them in late winter,  1768  to  request military support.
bulletJune, 1768 – Riot over seizure or the Liberty
bulletOct 1, 1768 Hillsborough orders regiment to Boston because of treatment of Customs Officials.  Town refuses quartering help and officers have to rent  quarters for men with own money.

Summer, 1769, Bernard ordered home for briefing and Hutchinson becomes governor.


September, 1769, James Otis gets into brawl with soldiers and is badly injured.  S Adams becomes more central to radical movement.


During winter, 1769 Adams newspaper propaganda and legal harassment mounted. Sons of Liberty ambush patrols with sticks an stones.


“Boston Massacre”  March 5, 1770

bulletIn NY and Phil merchants were more reluctant.  Not until a year after the law took effect did the Nonimportation Agreement became a reality.  Hillsborough Letter played a part in moving to radicalize the merchants.
bulletFinally NY merchants adopt more radical agreement – open-ended until Townshend Acts were repealed.
bulletSigners were mostly artisans and small shopkeepers and agreed to boycott non-cooperative merchants as an enforcement mechanism.
bulletPhiladelphia: merchants resisted until March, 1769 and then agreed to exclude abut 20 items.
bulletMerchants in South were also both frightened and encouraged to cooperate.
bulletVirginia: non-importation got linked to planters’ debt issue. May, 1769 Burgesses resolved that Parliament did not have power over Americans and asked the King to intervene.  The Governor. then dissolved Burgesses who reassembled in the Apollo Room of Raleigh Tavern.
bulletNew radicals joined Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, i.e. Washington and Jefferson (then 26). They went beyond non-importation agreement and added a list of luxury items.

bulletCrisis Ends
bulletMinisterial Change and Repeal of Townshend Acts
bulletGrafton resigned January, 1770; Lord North forms new ministry based mostly on King’s Friends
bulletMarch 5, moved to repeal all Townshend acts except tea. Repeal to take effect Dec. 1, 1770
bulletNon Importation then collapsed immediately the news of repeal was heard. In cities where Sons of Liberty were the enforcers the system was fairly effective:
bulletPhil – by 1770 imports were a fourth of 1768
bulletNY only a fifth
bulletBoston imports dropped only by half despite publishing names of  violators in the Boston Gazette.
bullet“Suffering in their pocketbooks and mistrustful of one another, merchants became increasingly annoyed at the menacing manners of the Sons of Liberty and alarmed by the assaults on British troops in Boston and NY. Popular leaders like Samuel Adams wanted to continue the restrictive system as a protest against the remaining tea duty, but the merchants flatly refused.”  (Risjord, 76)
bulletBy 1770 the radical movement was in trouble throughout the colonies.
bulletThis along with the North ministry’s desire to reduce tensions meant a return to normalcy.
bulletPeaceful trial of Boston Massacre soldiers. Preston not guilty; two soldiers convicted and both got light sentences of burning on the hand.
bulletTwo members of the radical club defended them – John Adams and John Quincy. Motivation not clear – sense of justice or wish to avoid embarrassing cross-examination.