The Massachusetts Government Act

The second of the Coercive Acts was the Massachusetts Government Act,passed May 20, 1774 (by which time America had already received news of the Boston Port Bill and set intercolonial opposition in motion). The Act's preamble provided was by far the most threatening to colonial constitutional sensibilities of all the Coercive Acts, declaring that the government of Massachusetts Bay, established by charter in 1691, was fundamentally flawed. It stated that amongst the charter's most problematic components was the provision that allowed for the annual election by the provincial assembly of a twenty-eight-member panel that would sit as the upper body of the legislature and act as an advisory council to the governor. "The said method of electing such counselors" impeded "the maintenance of the just subordination to, and conformity with, the laws of Great Britain."

The effective section of the act amounted to a constitutional decapitation of Massachusetts Bay-and the clearest and most innovative legislative interference in a decade. Parliament revoked the 1691 charter and set out that all future counselors would be chosen by the Crown (following the existing practices in other provinces, such as Virginia). t also gave the governor sole authority to appoint all judges, the attorney general, sheriffs, and other court officers in the province and to remove them at will.

Most troubling to the New Englanders were the restrictions that Act placed on the legendary town meetings, because "a great abuse has been made of the power of calling them, and the inhabitants have, contrary to the design of their institution, been misled to treat upon matters of the most general concern, and to pass many dangerous and unwarrantable resolves." Consequently, Parliament ordered that no town meeting other than the single annual session could be called without the governor's permission. Moreover, the only matters eligible for the consideration of town meetings were limited to choosing local officials and representatives to the assembly.

Browse Content By Theme