In 1767 colonial America, 20 years before the signing of the Constitution of the United States, and eight years before the first shots of the Revolution rang out in Lexington and Concord, the prelude to the revolt against British rule was already in full swing. The Massachusetts Circular Letter served as a second notice that the colonists were not going to stand silently by as the British government overstepped its constitutional authority.
A roughly 11-year period of slowly escalating unrest and displeasure with the actions of the British Parliament toward its colonial territories led up to the military altercations of the Revolution. The British Parliament’s passage of the Stamp Act in 1765, which taxed colonists on paper necessary for legal documents, newspapers and even playing cards, is widely viewed as the catalyst of this period. While the Stamp Act is exhaustively covered in history books, its implementation only lasted a year and the Act was ultimately repealed in 1766, roughly a decade before the start of the Revolution.
The repeal of the Stamp Act did not occur because the British Parliament saw the error of its ways. Parliamentarians didn’t suddenly embrace the idea of “no taxation without representation.” The repeal occurred because the Stamp Act was seen as an “internal” tax on the products of America and the colonists refused to pay it. In fact, they actively opposed the collection of the tax and effectively nullified it through their efforts.
But when one head of the Hydra is cut off, two grow in its place.
Alongside the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, the British government passed the Declaratory Act, which extended the same authority that Parliament had over the British Isles to colonial America asserting it could legislate “in all cases whatsoever.” The Declaratory Act provided legal legitimacy in the eyes of the British to tax Americans as they pleased.
The Declaratory Act, also called the American Colonies Act, created the framework for the British government to levy heavy taxes on the colonies and paved the way for the passage of a collection of bills known as the Townshend Acts. These laws were designed to place duties on a variety of imported goods from Britain to the colonies. The bill that most angered the American colonists was the Revenue Act of 1767, which placed taxes on glass, lead, and most significantly, tea. The revenue generated from these duties was then was used to buy the loyalty of colonial judges, governors, and tax collectors to the Crown.
This tactic increased the levels of discontent toward the British already existent in the colonies. Ships were searched for smuggled goods without cause and tax collectors were given extraordinary power by way of the creation of the American Board of Customs Commissioners. The Board acted as the enforcement arm of the Townshend Acts and was headquartered in