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Toward Independence, Townshend Acts

Townshend Duties, colonial assemblies, British authority, Townshend Acts, Boston Massacre

In 1767 a new ministry led by chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend addressed the North American situation. Townshend drew up new taxes on imports (tea, lead, paper, glass, paint) that Americans could receive only from Britain. More ominously, he earmarked the revenue from these duties for the salaries of colonial governors and judges, thus making them independent of the colonial assemblies. He also strengthened the organization responsible for enforcing customs duties and located its headquarters in Boston, the center of opposition to the Stamp Act. Finally, he moved many units of the British army away from the frontier and nearer the centers of white population.

Clearly, the Townshend Acts were meant not only to tax the colonies but also to exert British authority. When colonial assemblies protested the duties, Townshend dissolved the assemblies. Americans rioted. They also agreed to boycott all imported British goods—particularly tea. The British responded by landing troops at Boston (the center of resistance) in October 1768. Tensions between townspeople and soldiers were constant for the next year and a half. On March 5, 1770, tensions exploded into the Boston Massacre, when British soldiers fired into a mob of Americans, killing five men.

In Britain on the day of the Boston Massacre, Parliament repealed all of the Townshend Duties except the one on tea—a powerful reminder that it would never relinquish its right to tax and govern Americans. The Americans, in turn, resumed imports of other goods, but continued to boycott tea.

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