On this day in 1774, British Parliament passes the Boston Port Act, closing the port of Boston and demanding that the city’s residents pay for the nearly $1 million worth (in today’s money) of tea dumped into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773.
The Boston Port Act was the first and easiest to enforce of four acts that together were known as the Coercive Acts. The other three were a new Quartering Act, the Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act.
As part of the Crown’s attempt to intimidate Boston’s increasingly unruly residents, King George III appointed General Thomas Gage, who commanded the British army in North America, as the new governor of Massachusetts. Gage became governor in May 1774, before the Massachusetts Government Act revoked the colony’s 1691 charter and curtailed the powers of the traditional town meeting and colonial council. These moves made it clear to Bostonians that the crown intended to impose martial law.
In June, Gage easily sealed the ports of Boston and Charlestown using the formidable British navy, leaving merchants terrified of impending economic disaster. Many merchants wanted to simply pay for the tea and disband the Boston Committee of Correspondence, which had served to organize anti-British protests. The merchants’ attempt at convincing their neighbors to assuage the British failed. A town meeting called to discuss the matter voted them down by a substantial margin.
Parliament hoped that the Coercive Acts would isolate Boston from Massachusetts, Massachusetts from New England and New England from the rest of North America, preventing unified colonial resistance to the British. Their effort backfired. Rather than abandon Boston, the colonial population shipped much-needed supplies to Boston and formed extra-legal Provincial Congresses to mobilize resistance to the crown. By the time Gage attempted to enforce the Massachusetts Government Act, his authority had eroded beyond repair.