Extracts from the Coercive Acts (1774)

In mid-1774 the British parliament passed the Coercive Acts, a package of four statutes intended to enforce order in the dissident American colony of Massachusetts:

The Boston Port Act, passed March 31st 1774. This act closed Boston Harbour to private and commercial shipping, until the city compensated the British East India Company and the British customs authority for the costs of the Boston Tea Party:

“Whereas dangerous commotions and insurrections have been fomented and raised in the town of Boston in the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England, by diverse ill-affected persons, to the subversion of his Majesty’s Government, and to the utter destruction of the public peace, and good order of the said town… in which commotions and insurrections certain valuable cargoes of teas, being the property of the East India Company, and on board certain vessels lying within the bay or harbour of Boston, were seized and destroyed… and whereas in the present condition of the said town and harbour, the commerce of his Majesty’s subjects cannot be safely carried on there…

From and after the first day of June 1774, it shall not be lawful for any person or persons whatsoever, to load or put, or cause or procure to be loaded or put off or from any quay, wharf, or other place, within the said town of Boston, or in or upon any part of the shore of the bay, commonly called the Harbour of Boston… or in or upon any island, creek, landing place, bank, or other place, within the said bay, or headlands, into any ship, vessel, lighter, boat, or bottom, any goods, wares, or merchandise, whatsoever, to be transported or carried into any other country, province, or place whatsoever, or into any other part of the said Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in New England…”

The Massachusetts Government Act, passed May 20th 1774. This act revoked the Massachusetts charter of government and dissolved its colonial legislature. The Massachusetts governor, Thomas Hutchinson, was replaced with a British military governor:

“Letters patent… for uniting, erecting, and incorporating… the Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England… hath, by repeated experience, been found to be extremely ill adapted to the plan of government… and has been so far from contributing to the attainment of the good ends and purposes thereby intended, and to the promoting of the internal welfare, peace, and good government of the said province, or to the maintenance of the just subordination to, and conformity with, the laws of Great Britain…

And it hath accordingly happened that an open resistance to the execution of the laws has actually taken place in the town of Boston, and the neighbourhood thereof, within the said province… From and after the first day of August 1774, so much of the charter… is hereby revoked and made void and of none effect; and that the offices of all counsellors and assistants… shall from thenceforth cease…”

The Administration of Justice Act, passed May 20th 1774. This legislation allowed royal officials charged with crimes to be tried outside the 13 colonies. It marked the British government’s concern with the fairness of legal proceedings and jury trials within the American colonies:

“…In his Majesty’s province of Massachusetts Bay in New England, an attempt has lately been made to throw off the authority of the parliament of Great Britain over the said province, and an actual and avowed resistance, by open force, to the execution of certain acts of parliament, has been suffered to take place, uncontrolled and unpunished…

Neither the magistrates acting in support of the laws, nor any of his Majesty’s subjects aiding and assisting them therein, or in the suppression of riots and tumults… should be discouraged from the proper discharge of their duty by an apprehension that in case of their being questioned for any acts done therein, they may be liable to be brought to trial for the same before persons who do not acknowledge the validity of the laws… If it shall appear to the satisfaction of the governor… that an indifferent trial cannot be had within the province, it shall be lawful for the governor… to direct, with the advice and consent of the council, that the inquisition, indictment, or appeal shall be tried in some other of his Majesty’s colonies or in Great Britain…”

The Quartering Act, passed June 2nd 1774. This act was a reiteration of earlier quartering legislation, including the Quartering Act of 1765. It required colonial legislatures to furnish British regular soldiers with accommodation. Where this was not provided, the soldiers were entitled to accommodation in unoccupied homes and private outbuildings:

“…It shall and may be lawful for the persons who now are, or may be hereafter, authorised by law, in any of the provinces within His Majesty’s dominions in North America… on the requisition of the officer who, for the time being, has the command of His Majesty’s forces in North America, to cause any officers or soldiers in His Majesty’s service to be quartered and billeted in such manner as is now directed by law where no barracks are provided by the colonies…

If it shall happen at any time that any officers or soldiers in His Majesty’s service shall remain within any of the said colonies without quarters for the space of 24 hours after such quarters shall have been demanded, it shall and may be lawful for the governor of the province to order and direct… uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns, or other buildings… to be taken (making a reasonable allowance for the same) and make fit for the reception of such officers and soldiers, and to put and quarter such officers and soldiers therein for such time as he shall think proper.”