The Beginning of the End or the End of the Beginning?

On Sept 5th, 1774, the First Continental Congress convened in direct response to what was called the “Coercive Acts” but better known in America as the “Intolerable Acts.”

With our modern connotations, the word coercive seems fitting enough, but why did the Americans consider these Acts intolerable? Let’s take a look at some of them:


Boston Tea Party
author: W.D. Cooper
Source: Wikimedia Commons
This image is in the public doman in the US
because its copyright has expired.
Boston Port Act – This act closed the port of Boston until reparations were made to the East India Tea Company for the tea the Sons of Liberty (allegedly) dumped into the port of Boston. It is fitting that this is the first one mentioned as it gives an understanding for the reason behind Britain’s imposing the Coercive/Intolerable Acts. They intended to punish the Americans for the Boston Tea Party. These acts were the 18th century equivalent of “throwing the book at them.”

Massachusetts Government Act – This act removed Massachusetts’ right to govern itself, again in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party.  I’ve long held the American Revolution was a test of wills, with each side determined to have the last word. If Britain truly wanted to avoid war, they must not have understood the American psyche to have come up with this one. The poor choice of wording of the many English statesmen who continued to refer to the Americans’ as Britain’s children didn’t help either.

The Quartering Act – Many of you who went to school in the United States probably remember this one from your history class. This required American colonists give room and board, at their own expense, to the British troops. I think this one makes the history books more than others because the very idea is as heinous to the modern mind as it was to 18th century Americans.

There are other acts as well, most only slightly more tolerable than the three mentioned above, and you can read more about them on HistoryWhiz or any number of other sites.

So why do I consider the Intolerable Acts the “beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?” Any number of events have been called the beginning of the American Revolution – The Boston Massacre, The Boston Tea Party, the Battles of Lexington and Concord and even a few events that happen outside Massachusetts.

However, it was these Intolerable Acts which most immediately led to the forming of the First Continental Congress. It was the Continental Congress (the 2nd one) that drafted the Declaration of Independence, perhaps the world’s most famous complaint letter, listing the Americans’ grievances against the King of England.


P.S.  IMO, it’s no coincidence that many of these events occurred in Massachusetts as Boston was home to Samuel Adams. Love him or hate him, I sometimes wonder if Americans would have mustered the courage to declare independence without his ability to rouse the passions of the common people.

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