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Townshend Act

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Townshend Act

Often the course of history is changed by a small event. In the decades building up to the American Revolutionary War, there seem to be many small events that compound each other, snowballing into one cause and effect after another. The Townshend Act of 1767 and the subsequent acts pushed in British Parliament by Charles Townshend is one of these critical events in the American Revolution. What was the Townshend Act of 1767? How did the American colonists react to the Townshend Acts? Why were the Townshend Acts repealed?

The Townshend Act of 1767 Summary

The creation of the Townshend Act is convoluted and connected to the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. In the wake of the boycotts and protests that forced Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act, British Prime Minister Lord Rockingham pacified imperial hardliners with the passing of the Declaratory Act of 1766, reaffirming Parliaments' full authority to govern the colonies in any manner they saw fit. However, King George III removed Rockingham from his position. He appointed William Pitt to head the government, which allowed Charles Townshend to use his authority and influence to pass unsympathetic acts on the colonies under the auspices of the Declaratory Act.

Townshend Act Timeline

  • March 18, 1766: Stamp Act Repealed and Declaratory Act Passed

  • August 2, 1766: Charles Townshend appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer

  • June 5, 1767: Restraining Act Passed

  • June 26, 1767: Revenue Act Passed

  • June 29, 1767: Townshend Act and the Revenue Act Passed

  • April 12, 1770: Townshend Act Repealed

Charles Townshend

A Portrait of Charles Townshend. Source: Wikimedia Commons. (public domain)

In early 1767, Lord Rockingham’s government fell apart over domestic issues. King George III named William Pitt to head a new government. However, Pitt had a chronic illness and would often miss parliamentary debates, leaving Charles Townshend in charge as the chancellor of the exchequer- the chief minister of the treasury for King George III. Charles Townshend was not sympathetic to the American colonists. As a member of the board of trade and after the failure of the Stamp Act, Townshend set out to find new sources of revenue in America.

The Townshend Act 1767

The new revenue tax, the Townshend Act of 1767, had fiscal and political goals.

  • Fiscally: The Act imposed taxes on colonial imports of paper, paint, glass, lead, oil, and tea. Townshend earmarked a portion of the revenue to pay for the military expenses of keeping British soldiers stationed in the Americas.
  • Politically: Most of the income from the Townshend Act would fund a colonial civil ministry, paying the salaries of royal governors, judges, and officials.

    The idea behind this was to remove these ministers from the financial influence of the American colonial assemblies. If the ministers were paid directly by Parliament, they would be more inclined to enforce parliamentary law and the King’s instructions.

Though the Townshend Act of 1767 was the flagship taxation act under Charles Townshend’s leadership, Parliament also passed other acts to reinforce British control in the colonies.

The Revenue Act of 1767

To strengthen imperial power in the American colonies, this act created a board of customs officials in Boston and established Vice-Admiralty Courts in significant cities in the colonies. These courts had jurisdiction to oversee conflicts between merchants—this act intended to undermine the power of the American colonial legislatures.

The Restraining Act of 1767

The Restraining Act suspended the New York colonial assembly. The legislature had refused to comply with the Quartering Act of 1765 as many delegates felt it would place a heavy burden on the colonial budget. Fearing the loss of self-government, the New York assembly appropriated funds to quarter troops before the Act could take effect.

The Indemnity Act of 1767

Passed three days after the Townshend Act, the Indemnity Act lowered the duty on tea imports. The British East India Company struggled to produce profits as they had to compete with the lower cost of smuggled tea in the colonies. The goal of the Indemnity Act was to lower the price of tea in the colonies to make it a more viable purchase than the smuggled competitor.

The Colonial Response to the Townshend Acts

A non-importation agreement signed by 650 Boston merchants in boycott of the Townshend Acts. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)The first page of a non-importation agreement was signed by 650 Boston merchants in a boycott of the Townshend Acts. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

The Townshend Acts revived the colonial debate over taxation quelled by the repeal of the Stamp Act of 1765. Many Americans distinguished between external and internal taxes during the Stamp Act protests. Many accepted external duties on trade, such as taxes that had to be paid on their goods when exported to England. However, direct taxation on imports into the colonies, or goods bought and sold in the colonies, was not acceptable.

Most colonial leaders rejected the Townshend Acts. By February 1768, the Massachusetts assembly openly condemned the Acts. In Boston and New York, merchants revived the boycotts of British goods that had effectively diminished the effect of the Stamp Act. Throughout most of the colonies, public officials discouraged the purchase of foreign commodities. They promoted the domestic manufacturing of cloth and other products, and by March 1769, the boycott spread south to Philadelphia and Virginia.

Townshend Acts Repealed

The American trade boycott had a significant impact on the British economy. In 1768, the colonies had drastically decreased their imports. By 1769, the boycott of British goods and increased exported colonial goods to other nations put pressure on British merchants.

To end the boycott, British merchants and manufacturers petitioned Parliament to repeal the taxes of the Townshend Acts. In early 1770, Lord North became Prime Minister and looked to compromise with the colonies. Nullified by the partial repeal, colonial merchants ended the boycott of British goods.

Lord North repealed most of the Townshend duties but retained the tax on tea as a symbol of Parliament's authority.

The Significance of the Townshend Acts

Although most Americans remained loyal to the British empire, five years of conflict over taxes and parliamentary power had taken their toll. In 1765, American leaders had accepted Parliament's authority, having opposed only some of the legislation from the fallout of the Stamp Act. By 1770, more colonial leaders became outspoken that the British ruling elite was self-interested and indifferent to colonial responsibilities. They rejected parliamentary authority and claimed that the American assemblies should be seen on equal terms.

The repeal of the Townshend Act of 1767 in 1770 did restore some harmony in the American colonies. However, strong passions and mutual distrust between colonial leaders and the British government lay below the surface. In 1773, those emotions erupted, ending any hope for long-term compromise.

The American and the British will clash in violent conflict within two years- American legislatures will create provisional governments and prepare military forces, two critical ingredients for an independence movement.

Townshend Act - Key takeaways

  • The new revenue tax, the Townshend Act of 1767, had fiscal and political goals. The Act imposed taxes on colonial imports of paper, paint, glass, lead, oil, and tea. Townshend earmarked a portion of the revenue to pay for the military expenses of keeping British soldiers stationed in the Americas. Politically, most of the income from the Townshend Act would fund a colonial civil ministry, paying the salaries of royal governors, judges, and officials.
  • Though the Townshend Act of 1767 was the flagship taxation act under Charles Townshend’s leadership, Parliament also passed other acts to reinforce British control in the colonies: The Revenue Act of 1767, The Restraining Act of 1767, The Indemnity Act of 1767.
  • The Townshend Acts revived the colonial debate over taxation quelled by the repeal of the Stamp Act of 1765.
  • Most colonial leaders rejected the Townshend Acts. merchants revived the boycotts of British goods that had effectively diminished the effect of the Stamp Act. Throughout most of the colonies, public officials discouraged the purchase of foreign commodities.
  • The American trade boycott had a significant impact on the British economy. In 1768, the colonies had drastically decreased their imports. In early 1770, Lord North became Prime Minister and looked to compromise with the colonies. He repealed most of the Townshend duties but retained the tax on tea as a symbol of Parliament's authority. Nullified by the partial repeal, colonial merchants ended the boycott of British goods.

Frequently Asked Questions about Townshend Act

The new revenue tax, the Townshend Act of 1767, had fiscal and political goals. The Act imposed taxes on colonial imports of paper, paint, glass, lead, oil, and tea. 

The new revenue tax, the Townshend Act of 1767, had fiscal and political goals. The Act imposed taxes on colonial imports of paper, paint, glass, lead, oil, and tea. Townshend earmarked a portion of the revenue to pay for the military expenses of keeping British soldiers stationed in the Americas. Politically, most of the income from the Townshend Act would fund a colonial civil ministry, paying the salaries of royal governors, judges, and officials.  

Most colonial leaders rejected the Townshend Acts.  merchants revived the boycotts of British goods that had effectively diminished the effect of the Stamp Act. Throughout most of the colonies, public officials discouraged the purchase of foreign commodities. They promoted the domestic manufacturing of cloth and other products, and by March 1769, the boycott spread south to Philadelphia and Virginia.  

The Townshend Act was passed in 1767

Although most Americans remained loyal to the British empire, five years of conflict over taxes and parliamentary power had taken their toll. In 1765, American leaders had accepted Parliament's authority, having opposed only some of the legislation from the fallout of the Stamp Act. By 1770, more colonial leaders became outspoken that the British ruling elite was self-interested and indifferent to colonial responsibilities. They rejected parliamentary authority and claimed that the American assemblies should be seen on equal terms.  

Final Townshend Act Quiz

Question

What year was the Townshend Act passed? 

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Answer

1767

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Question

Which of the following was not an additional act passed by Parliament under the leadership of Charles Townshend? 

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Answer

The Sugar Act 

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Question

True or False: Charles Townshend was the Prime Minister of England in 1767. 

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of the following commodities did the Townshend Act place an import tax? 

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Answer

Molasses

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Question

Who was the Prime Minister of England in 1767? 

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Answer

William Pitt

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Question

Which Act created a Vice-Admiralty Court? 

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Answer

Revenue Act 

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Question

Which Act suspended the New York Colonial Assembly? 

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Answer

The Restraining Act 

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Question

Which Act lowered the levy on Tea to combat the falling prices due to smuggling? 

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Answer

The Indemnity Act 

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Question

Which of the following was not a response by the colonists to the passing of the Townshend Act?

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Answer

Continental Assemblies of Delegates 

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Question

What year was the Townshend Act repealed? 

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Answer

1770

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Question

Parliament repealed all levies on commodities from the Townshend Act except on: 

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Answer

Tea

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