Case Study



Boston Tea Party Historical Society

Revenue Act

During the 1750s, the Board of Trade was trying to figure out a way to crack down on smugglers and colonists who otherwise abused the Navigations Acts. Parliament passed the Revenue Act of 1762 in an attempt to halt bribery as routinely practiced by colonists circumventing the Molasses Act.

To do so, the Revenue Act dispensed with absentee customs officials who, rather than collecting duties on site, resided in England and relied on deputies susceptible to corruption.

The measure was part of a larger effort to block colonial trade with the French Sugar Islands, since many colonists were undeterred by the war and continued their lucrative trade with French possessions.

The British government also encouraged the Royal navy to apprehend and detain smugglers. Customs officials became more aggressive in using search warrants, called "writs of assistance" to track down smuggled goods.

A young Boston attorney, James Otis, assailed such writs as contrary to the British constitution and beyond the Power of Parliament to administer.

By the mid-1760s, however, the custom service collected more than £30,000 a year in duties. In comparison, during the era of salutary neglect, the figure amounted to only £2,000 annually.

Of course the British measures did not sit well with colonists. One target of American outrage was customs collectors, whose job was to stop smugglers and collect taxes. They sometimes conducted searches under writs of assistance. These were general warrants that allowed them to search any house for smuggled goods. When customs officials in 1768 seized John Hancock's ship on charges of smuggling wine, Boston mobs attacked them. The British government ordered two regiments of soldiers to occupy the town. About 700 British regulars marched with fixed bayonets into Boston. The people refused to take the troops into their homes, so units of soldiers were quartered in public buildings and warehouses.



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