The Massachusetts Government Act was passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on May 20, 1774. The Massachusetts Government Act revoked the colony’s 1691 charter effectively ended the constitution of Massachusetts and and restricted the number of town meetings that a community might hold and prohibited the election of town officials.
The Massachusetts Government Act:
- Put an end to the constitution of Massachusetts
- Only one town meeting was permitted a year in Massachusetts, unless approved by the governor
- Town officials would no longer be elected, they were to be be appointed by the royal governor
- The executive council would no longer be elected, but appointed by the King
- The Massachusetts Government Act revoked the colony’s 1691 charter
The Act gave the royal appointed governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage, control of the colony, rather than the people. As part of the British attempt to intimidate the residents of Boston, King George III appointed General Thomas Gage, who commanded the British army in North America, as the new military governor of Massachusetts in May 1774. After the events of the Boston Massacre General Gage had said that “America is a mere bully, from one end to the other, and the Bostonians by far the greatest bullies.” The appointment of General Thomas Gage made it clear to Boston colonists that the crown intended to impose martial law, in which a military government suspends civil law.
The Administration of Justice Act was also passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on May 20, 1774. It suspended the right of self-government in the Massachusetts colony by allowing the newly appointed Military Governor to send rebellious colonists for trial in other colonies or in Great Britain to be heard by a British judge.
These Acts were designed to punish the inhabitants of Boston, Massachusetts for the incident that would become known as the Boston Tea Party. The Massachusetts Government Act and the Administration of Justice Act were two of the five Coercive, or Intolerable Acts, that lead to dissent in the American colonies and to the creation of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances in 1774.
The British measures that were classed as the Intolerable Acts were:
- March 31, 1774: The Boston Port Act
- May 20, 1774: The Massachusetts Government Act
- May 20, 1774: The Administration of Justice Act
- June 2, 1774: The Quartering Act of 1774
- June 22, 1774: The Quebec Act of 1774
The British King George and parliament believed that the people of Massachusetts could be punished without the other colonies objecting. They believed that the harsh punishment of the whole Massachusetts colony would panic the other American colonies into conceding the authority of Parliament over their elected assemblies. The British were completely wrong.
The other colonies sympathized with the people of Massachusetts and many deplored all of the Intolerable Acts. The British had revoked the colony’s 1691 charter, had appointed a Military Governor (General Thomas Gage) and had effectively imposed martial law, in which a military government suspended civil law. They saw the Intolerable Acts as:
- A violation of their constitutional rights, natural rights and and their colonial charters
- Abolishing Colonial Laws
- Fundamentally altering the forms of Governments and suspending Legislatures
- Suspending trade
If the British could do this to Massachusetts then it could do this to the other colonies. In addition the Quebec Act had limited opportunities for the American colonies to expand on their western frontiers. The Committees of Correspondence sprang into action gaining support from the other colonies and this led to the First Continental Congress which was convened in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to coordinate a colonial response to the Intolerable Acts.
Less than a year following the “Intolerable Acts,” including the Massachusetts Government Act and the Administration of Justice Act of 1774, the American Revolution erupted.