The Townshend Acts were a string of laws that passed at the onset of 1767 by the Parliament of Great Britain that relates to the British colonies of North America. The act was named after the Chancellor of Exchequer Charles Townshend who drafted the proposal. The Townshend Acts involved five laws namely the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act, the New York Restraining Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, and the Vice Admiralty Court Act.
The purpose of the Townshend Acts was to raise revenues among the colonies and use them to pay the salaries of judges and governors to enable them to have colonial rule independence. It was also to promote compliance of the 1765 Quartering Act and establish the right of the British Parliament to tax colonies. Resistance met the Townshend Act which led British troops to reside in Boston in 1768. This ended with the Boston Massacre in 1770.
The consequence of the Boston Massacre pushed the British Parliament to think about repealing the Townshend Act. Many of the taxes were indeed repealed save for the tax on tea. The British government continued on its unsavory act of taxing the colonists without their consent. This consequently led to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution. .
The Seven Years’ War from 1756 to 1763 had the British Empire plunged into debt. To help augment the costs of the constantly expanding empire, the British Parliament to impose taxes on the new colonies of British America through the Trade and Navigation Acts. With the Sugar Act of 1764 the British Parliament was outright in their purpose for raising revenues. There were primary objections of the Act because of economic reasons but they soon realized the constitutional ramifications as well.
As stated in the British constituted that British subjects could not be taxed without the consent of the Parliament’s representatives. With no elected members to the British Parliament, many colonists were threatened of this new development and deemed as not only a violation of their rights but it also crosses the line of the constitutional doctrine of taxation. British politicians countered with the theory of virtual representation which stated that colonists were in fact represented in the Parliament by virtue of their paid taxes. The debate on this issue was only brief with the passing of the 1765 Stamp Act which was not so popular in the colonies.
The Townshend Act had a few influential colonial responses, which includes a string of 12 essays written by John Dickinson. The essays were entitled Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvannia was first read in December 1767. They were eloquent in expressing the ideas in the hearts and minds of the colonies. He said in his essays the difference between internal and external taxes was none. He also delved on the unconstitutional raising of revenues. He further said that the act is setting a dangerous precedent.
James Otis of Massachusetts was one of the recipients of the letters. Dickinson informed Otis that he looked in the direction of Massachusetts Bay whenever the Cause of American Freedom was fought. This motivated the Massachusetts House of Representatives to campaign against the Townshend Acts by sending King George a petition for its repeal. The House also asked other colonies to join the appeal to the kings. Virginia and Pennsylvania joined in the fight and sent letters to the British Parliament. The others declined. In the end petitions of Virginia and Pennsylvania were declined.