The Townshend Acts or Townshend Duties, refers to a series of British acts of Parliament passed during 1767 and 1768 relating to the British colonies in America. They are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who proposed the program. Historians vary slightly as to which acts they include under the heading "Townshend Acts", but five are often listed:
- The New York Restraining Act 1767 passed on 5 June 1767
- The Revenue Act 1767 passed on 26 June 1767
- The Indemnity Act 1767 passed on 29 June 1767
- The Commissioners of Customs Act 1767 passed on 29 June 1767
- The Vice Admiralty Court Act 1768 passed on 6 July 1768
The purposes of the acts were to:
- raise revenue in the colonies to pay the salaries of governors and judges so that they would remain loyal to Great Britain
- create more effective means of enforcing compliance with trade regulations
- punish the Province of New York for failing to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act
- establish the precedent that the British Parliament had the right to tax the colonies
The Townshend Acts were met with resistance in the colonies, which eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre of 1770. They placed an indirect tax on glass, lead, paints, paper, and tea, all of which had to be imported from Britain. This form of revenue generation was Townshend's response to the failure of the Stamp Act 1765, which had provided the first form of direct taxation placed upon the colonies. However, the import duties proved to be similarly controversial.
There was widespread protest, and American port cities refused to import British goods, so Parliament began to partially repeal the Townshend duties.
In March 1770, most of the taxes from the Townshend Acts were repealed by Parliament under Frederick, Lord North. However, the import duty on tea was retained in order to demonstrate to the colonists that Parliament held the sovereign authority to tax its colonies, in accordance with the Declaratory Act 1766. The British government continued to tax the American colonies without providing representation in Parliament.
American resentment, corrupt British officials, and abusive enforcement spurred colonial attacks on British ships, including the burning of the Gaspee in 1772. The Townshend Acts' taxation on imported tea was enforced once again by the Tea Act 1773, and this led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773 in which Bostonians destroyed a shipment of taxed tea. Parliament responded with severe punishments in the Intolerable Acts 1774. The Thirteen Colonies drilled their militia units, and war finally erupted in Lexington and Concord in April 1775, launching the American Revolution.
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