Written by the editors at Bamfacts - Dec. 23, 2017
The Boston Massacre was a protest by Americans against the British, that occurred on March 5th, 1770. It was the event that sparked the American Revolution.
After defeating France in the Seven Years' War aka French and Indian War (1756 - 1763), England was in great financial dept.
To cope with the dept during the war, Great Britain had imposed many taxes on its citizens in its homeland. These taxes were obviously unpopular and undesired by the population. Therefore, the British government and King George III feared that further taxation on the homeland would lead to protests, revolts, and chaos.
The solution was to increase the taxes of the American colonies, who in the eyes of the British government were paying absurdly low taxes.
The first tax increase, the Sugar Act (also called the Plantation Act or the Revenue Act), was issued in April 1764. Its goal was to restrict the import of sugar, molasses, coffee, and others (a) to only British companies, by reducing the tax on British products and raising taxes on foreign products.
Even though the British had reduced the taxes on their products, they were still more expensive than other foreign products before the Sugar Act.
The Sugar Act also set out to prevent corruption of customs officials and illegal smuggling of products affected by the act. It did such by establishing a special court (admiralty court) to prosecute customs officials accused of accepting bribes, so that they wouldn't be tried by the American courts, which often were in favor of smuggling attempts.
(Additional information about the Sugar Act can be found in a link in the bibliography, although it is not necessary to know further for understanding the Boston Massacre (b))
England had also stationed British soldiers in its American colonies during the war, as to prevent France from taking them over (if France had taken over the colonies, it could have potentially used the colonies as leverage against the British).
Since England couldn't afford to pay the pensions of its soldiers were they to return to the homeland, it decided to extend their duty so that they would remain in the colonies. England would later start sending the rest of its army, which had actually fought in the war, to the colonies in 1768 (this will be mentioned in more detail further down in the article).
In 1765 the Quartering Act was issued. The Quartering Act required colonial governments to organize housing, food, and supplies for the troops. Soldiers were sent to sleep in old warehouses and buildings, inns, and factories. Private homes were also used if other housing options weren't available (although that almost never was the case).
In 1765, the British parliament passed the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act was created with the sole purpose of generating revenue. It stated that 55 different types of documents (e.x. newspapers, contracts, playing cards, etc. (d)) must bear a special stamp, which had to be purchased from a British stamp office.
The Stamp Act was very unpopular among the colonies. In fact, it was so unpopular, that it was repealed in 1766 due to frequent protests and riots.
(A few other acts were passed during this time. A comprehensive timeline of all acts can be found in a link in the bibliography, however, these acts are not relevant to the background of the Boston Massacre. (d))
In 1767, the Townshend Acts were passed. The Townshend Acts consisted of five acts (more info (e)), four of which were passed in 1767, and one in 1768. Like the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts were created with the goal of generating revenue.
The Townshend Acts placed a tax on items imported from Great Britain, such as glass, lead, paper, tea, and many others. The difference between the Townshend Acts and Stamp Act was that the Townshend Acts taxed colonists indirectly, whereas the Stamp Act required colonists to go to a stamping office and physically give money to a British official.
Despite a more subtle way of collecting taxes, colonists became very unrest with the Townshend Acts.
In 1768, the rest of the army started arriving at the American colonies. England's excuse to the public was that the colonists required protection from Indians or the recently occupied French colonies (in reality, the British wanted to evade paying their soldiers' pensions during its financial crisis). The soldiers were still used to keep riots under control, and to protect British officials living in the colonies.
Soon, the colonies became flooded with British troops (by 1770 every third person in Boston was a British soldier (f)).
While off duty, soldiers were allowed to assume part-time jobs. Conflicts often occurred between soldiers and unemployed Americans.
At this point, colonists were infuriated on multiple levels. The colonies had to pay taxes to a country that didn't represent their in Parliament, there were many, many soldiers roaming the streets of the cities, and, soldiers were taking jobs that would normally be taken by the colonists.
The Boston Massacre
The Boston Massacre occurred on the 5th of March, 1770, in front of the Custom House in Boston, Massachusetts.
It started when civilians started teasing soldiers. The situation escalated when more civilians gathered and started to through snowballs at the soldiers. The soldiers requested backup, and soon after, a fight ensued.
Two of the soldiers fired into the crowd. Three people died instantly, and two more died later of their injuries. Six other people were injured as a result of the shooting.
We recommend this short documentary by History.com to get a concept of what the Boston Massacre looked like.
The soldiers involved in the incident were put on trial. Only the two who had fired into the crowd were found guilty.
Paul Revere, a famous patriot of the American Revolution, witnessed the Boston Massacre first hand.