Reverberations of 1774’s Intolerable Acts

The Administration of Justice Act and the Massachusetts Government Act, two of the four Intolerable Acts, became law on May 20, 1774.

The Administration of Justice Act allowed a royal governor to remove from one colony to another, or to England, the trial of a royal official for actions up to and including murder, committed in the course of his duties “for the suppression of riots, or for the carrying into effect the laws of revenue, or in aiding and assisting in any of the cases aforesaid.” The primary target was Massachusetts, but every colony was affected. Patriots said the royal officials now could get away with murder, since the crown would find a jurisdiction guaranteed to acquit a royal official of any misdeed. The British government saw it as an essential defense against frivolous-to-treasonous lawsuits designed to hamstring the royal government in America.

We have plenty of malicious lawsuits in modern America.

Of course, there are the prosecutions of Donald Trump by prosecutors intent on preserving their party in power by legal harassment of the opposition candidate for president. There is the lawfare against John Eastman and anyone else who dares support the opposition. Then, as Christopher Caldwell noted in The Age of Entitlement, much of American civil rights law, where lawyers purportedly acting in the public interest seek test cases to establish yet new “rights” at the expense of our constitutional freedoms, used to be known as barratry, “vexatious litigation or incitement to it.” The British government may have been specious in its defense of its royal officials in America, but the American people now, if not British officialdom then, surely could use a shield from the corrupt regime’s legal harassment.

Heck, we could use more changes of venue—of Trump from New York City, of Derek Chauvin from the Twin Cities, of any trial where the regime thinks it is sure of a hanging jury.

And it would be nice if we could resurrect that jewel of British common law, the ability to sue officials for misdeeds conducted in office. We have relinquished that right since the Revolution, alas. There’s some case to be made that police officers need that immunity, but how about government officials? How about members of public university administrations? They hardly make life-and-death decisions—let’s restore the right to sue them when they break the law.

Since woke ideology is entirely about breaking the law in the name of “social justice,” all them radical activists ensconced in bureaucratic fiefdoms could use a passel o’ suin’.

Qualified immunity is the Administration of Justice Act extended to protect every miscreant in government service. It is intolerable, and we should repeal it forthwith.


The Massachusetts Government Act terminated representative self-government in Massachusetts. The King would nominate the executive council, the royal governor would nominate, appoint, and remove judges, town meetings could only proceed with the consent of the governor, and with officials appointed by the governor, and sheriffs would appoint jurymen.

We’re not yet at the point where the woke regime has simply suspended representative self-government in Florida or Texas. But then, they don’t need to—little by little, we’ve already lost a good deal of representative self-government.

If you read the Massachusetts Government Act, after all, a large majority of the text concerns how juries now would be run. Juries were the palladium of liberty in Massachusetts, and they made freedom an everyday affair.

But our juries already have lost much of their power. Judges tightly constrain juries and force them to make judgments of facts and laws as the judges determine them to be. The remit of jury power, in any case, has been whittled away by the expansion of administrative law. Unaccountable bureaucrats empowered by the Administrative Procedure Act (1946) make law after law, where the American people have no recourse to a jury to vindicate their liberties. If King George had the Administrative Procedure Act in hand, he would scarcely need to have bothered with the Massachusetts Government Act.

Of course, we should also repeal the Administrative Procedure Act. Policymakers should make statutes, not delegate their power to bureaucrats, and every regulation should be subject to the yea or nay of a jury.


The Administration of Justice Act

We’ve let too many tyrants forge
Immunity since royal George;
We must restore their needed awe
Of us by suits at common law.
Conviction of just two or three
Thousand rogues will set us free!

The Massachusetts Government Act

‘Gainst clerks who claim a vast seigneury
We interpose the free men’s jury;
Their verdict must release the nation
From bureaucratic strangulation.

Art by Beck & Stone


2 thoughts on “Reverberations of 1774’s Intolerable Acts

  1. It needs to be remembered that this was not the first time they’d done this — the Charter of 1691, which was being violated here, was itself imposed to eliminate self-governance rights that Massachusetts had held, including the ability to elect the Governor.

    This was one of several attempts to essentially punish Puritan Massachusetts for having been overly supportive of Oliver Cromwell and 1691 is when you see an elimination of (Puritan) church membership for voting.

    1. I should add that that there was a lot more that the King wasn’t happy about — they were hanging Quakers on Boston Common (for merely being *in* Massachusetts), they were coining money, and they had built the Saugus Iron Works (

      The Iron Works was a real issue because England wanted the colonies supplying raw materials and *purchasing* manufactured goods, not producing them over here. So England went to combining all the colonies into a Dominion of New England under the quite unpopular NY Governor.

      This led to the 1689 Boston Revolt, the end of the Dominion, and then Sir William Phips showing up in 1692 with the 1691 Royal charter. Pipps was from Maine and he may have been able to work out compromises that made the 1691 Charter palatable.

      My point, however, is that the 1774 Act repealed the 1691 Charter which itself was a major loss of local power to the Crown.

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