Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765 to pay for British military troops stationed in the American colonies after the French and Indian War. Parliament had previously passed legislation to regulate trade, but the Stamp Act introduced a new principle of a direct internal tax. Americans began to question the extent of the British Parliament's power in America, and the colonial legislatures argued that they had exclusive right to impose taxes within their jurisdictions. Colonists condemned the tax because their rights as Englishmen protected them from being taxed by a Parliament in which they had no elected representatives. Parliament argued that the colonies were "represented virtually", an idea that was criticized throughout the Empire. Parliament did repeal the act in 1766, but it also affirmed its right to pass laws that were binding on the colonies. From 1767, Parliament began passing legislation to raise revenue for the salaries of civil officials, ensuring their loyalty while inadvertently increasing resentment among the colonists, and opposition soon became widespread.
This iconic 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier
was entitled "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor"; the phrase "Boston Tea Party
" had not yet become standard. Contrary to Currier's depiction, few of the men dumping the tea were actually disguised as Indians.
Enforcing the acts proved difficult. The seizure of the sloop Liberty in 1768 on suspicions of smuggling triggered a riot. In response, British troops occupied Boston, and Parliament threatened to extradite colonists to face trial in England. Tensions rose after the murder of Christopher Seider by a customs official in 1770 and escalated into outrage after British troops fired on civilians in the Boston Massacre. In 1772, colonists in Rhode Island boarded and burned a customs schooner. Parliament then repealed all taxes except the one on tea, passing the Tea Act in 1773, attempting to force colonists to buy East India Company tea on which the Townshend duties were paid, thus implicitly agreeing to Parliamentary supremacy. The landing of the tea was resisted in all colonies, but the governor of Massachusetts permitted British tea ships to remain in Boston Harbor, so the Sons of Liberty destroyed the tea chests in what became known as the "Boston Tea Party".
Parliament then passed punitive legislation. It closed Boston Harbor until the tea was paid for and revoked the Massachusetts Charter, taking upon themselves the right to directly appoint the Massachusetts Governor's Council. Additionally, the royal governor was granted powers to undermine local democracy. Further measures allowed the extradition of officials for trial elsewhere in the Empire, if the governor felt that a fair trial could not be secured locally. The act's vague reimbursement policy for travel expenses left few with the ability to testify, and colonists argued that it would allow officials to harass them with impunity. Further laws allowed the governor to billet troops in private property without permission. The colonists referred to the measures as the "Intolerable Acts", and they argued that their constitutional rights and their natural rights were being violated, viewing the acts as a threat to all of America. The acts were widely opposed, driving neutral parties into support of the Patriots and curtailing Loyalist sentiment.
The colonists responded by establishing the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, effectively removing Crown control of the colony outside Boston. Meanwhile, representatives from twelve colonies convened the First Continental Congress to respond to the crisis. The Congress narrowly rejected a proposal to create an American parliament to act in concert with the British Parliament; instead, they passed a compact declaring a trade boycott against Britain. The Congress also affirmed that Parliament had no authority over internal American matters, but they were willing to consent to trade regulations for the benefit of the empire, and they authorized committees and conventions to enforce the boycott. The boycott was effective, as imports from Britain dropped by 97% in 1775 compared to 1774.
Parliament refused to yield. In 1775, it declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion and enforced a blockade of the colony. It then passed legislation to limit colonial trade to the British West Indies and the British Isles. Colonial ships were barred from the Newfoundland cod fisheries, a measure which pleased Canadiens but damaged New England's economy. These increasing tensions led to a mutual scramble for ordnance and pushed the colonies toward open war. Thomas Gage was the British Commander-in-Chief and military governor of Massachusetts, and he received orders on April 14, 1775, to disarm the local militias.