The Townshend Act (1767) - dummies

By Steve Wiegand

British Prime Minister William Pitt was a capable leader. But when he had a mental breakdown in 1766, he handed over the government to one of his lieutenants, Charles Townshend, also known as Champagne Charley because he was quite eloquent when drunk.

A cocky sort, Townshend vowed to squeeze some money out of the obstinate American colonies, and he got Parliament to impose taxes on a number of goods, including glass, paper, paint, and tea. The revenues were to be used to pay the salaries of royal judges and governors in the colonies.

To be fair, Townshend also dropped import duties on some American products entering England, thus making their export more profitable for the colonies.

It was too small a gesture as far as many colonists were concerned. For one thing, many of them had grown extremely fond of tea and were not keen on paying any tax on it. For another, they didn’t like the idea of the money going to pay judges and governors.

Up until that point, the officials’ salaries had been controlled by colonial legislatures, which gave them a fair amount of influence over their policies.

Eager to show he meant business, Townshend sent two regiments of red-coated British troops — sneeringly dubbed lobsterbacks by the locals — to Boston in 1768. That set up the next confrontation.