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New England Restraining Act

Early 1775 found the British Parliament embroiled in debates over the most effective way to deal with the errant North American colonies. The Boston Tea Party in late 1773 provoked a firm Parliamentary response with the Coercive Acts in the following year. The American counter-response came in the form of protests, boycotts and violence. The Americans, however, still had friends in high places. The Earl of Chatham, member of the House of Lords, hoped in early 1775 to alleviate the crisis by proposing the removal of soldiers from Boston, the hotbed of colonial resistance. This idea was firmly rejected by the House of Lords, but Chatham tried again to calm the waters. He proposed that if the Americans would formally recognize Parliamentary supremacy and enact their own plan for generating revenues, then the British government would back off from its tax programs and extend recognition to the Continental Congress. This plan was also quickly killed by Chatham’s colleagues. Lord North, the Prime Minister, advanced a similar idea in the House of Commons in February 1775. He proposed that if the colonies would tax themselves in amounts sufficient to pay for their own defense and for the salaries of royal judges and other officials, then Parliament would not impose taxes on them. This measure found favor in Commons and was approved, but awaited consideration by the Lords and the king. Probably more indicative of Parliamentary sentiments was a measure passed at this same time and approved by George III on March 30. The New England Restraining Act singled out the northeastern colonies, much as the Coercive Acts had done earlier, as the source of unrest and disciplined them as follows:

  • Effective July 1, 1775, New England trade was to be limited to Britain and the British West Indies; trade with other nations was prohibited
  • Effective July 20, 1775, New England ships were barred from the North Atlantic fisheries — a measure that pleased British Canadians, but threatened great harm to the New England economy.
In April 1775, the colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina were included under the Restraining Act’s provisions, clearly a move made to punish them for their adoption of boycott actions under The Association. On the eve of the initial fighting at Lexington and Concord, sympathies for the American colonists were still being expressed by influential members of Parliament, but their numbers were insufficient to carry the day.
See chronologies of the American Revolution and the War of Independence.