Massachusetts: Discontent and Revolution

Discontent and Revolution

In 1761 James Otis opposed a Massachusetts superior court's issuance of writs of assistance (general search warrants to aid customs officers in enforcing collection of duties on imported sugar), arguing that this action violated the natural rights of Englishmen and was therefore void. He thus helped set the stage for the political controversy which, coupled with economic grievances, culminated in the American Revolution. In Massachusetts a bitter struggle developed between the governor, Thomas Hutchinson, and the anti-British party in the legislature led by Samuel Adams, John Adams, James Otis, and John Hancock. The Stamp Act (1765) and the Townshend Acts (1767) preceded the Boston Massacre (1770), and the Tea Act (1773) brought on the Boston Tea Party. The rebellious colonials were punished for this with the Intolerable Acts (1774), which troops under Gen. Thomas Gage were sent to enforce.

Through committees of correspondence Massachusetts and the other colonies had been sharing their grievances, and in 1774 they called the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia for united action. The mounting tension in Massachusetts exploded in Apr., 1775, when General Gage decided to make a show of force. Warned by Paul Revere and William Dawes, the Massachusetts militia engaged the British force at Lexington and Concord (see Lexington and Concord, battles of). Patriot militia from other colonies hurried to Massachusetts, where, after the battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775), George Washington took command of the patriot forces.

The British remained in Boston until Mar. 17, 1776, when Gen. William Howe evacuated the town, taking with him a considerable number of Tories. British troops never returned, but Massachusetts soldiers were kept busy elsewhere fighting for the independence of the colonies. In 1780 a new constitution, drafted by a constitutional convention under the leadership of John Adams, was ratified by direct vote of the citizenry.

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