The Administration of Justice Act 1774 – Background of Intolerable Act
The early 1770’s in America was a time of escalating tension between colonists and the British government. The British had begun creating a series of laws that were designed to crush any anti-British sentiment in the colonies, and remind colonists that they were under the rule of England. On December 18, 1773, America colonists in Boston, Massachusetts, boarded British ships in Boston harbor, dumping overboard the British cargo of tea. In response, the British created a series of laws that were designed to punish the Bostonian colonists, and set an example for the other colonies that would demonstrate the price of rebellion.
These acts, given the name the Coercive Acts, were created in order to give England a much greater level of control in the colonies than had previously been possible. These acts were so repulsive to the colonists that Americans nicknamed them the “Intolerable Acts”. To the American colonist, who had previously had a great deal of freedom under British rule, these acts appeared to be nothing short of tyranny on the part of the British government. Of the five acts created (the Boston Port Act, the Quartering Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, and the Administration of Justice Act), perhaps the least well-known, and, perhaps, the most important, was the Administration of Justice Act.
The Administration of Justice Act 1774 – May 20, 1774
Under the Administration of Justice Act, which was signed into law on May 20, 1774, British officials in colonial America were to be exempt from colonial law. If a British official committed a crime during the course of their official duties or in an attempt to punish rioters, that official would not stand trial in America. Instead, the official would be transported to either Great Britain or another British colony, where American law had no standing. Further, witnesses to the crime were also to be transported in order to be present for the trial.
The Administration of Justice Act was an attempt to protect British officials from American law and justice, and allow them to freely exercise undue authority in the colony without fear of reprisal from the colonial legal system. This act virtually guaranteed that British officials could commit criminal acts in their capacity of governing, and never worry about facing real justice. The colonists viewed this act as a thinly veiled attempt to allow the British the freedom to persecute colonists without fear of retribution. As such, this act attempted to undermine the basis of law in America that had been established as early as the 1600’s.
This act, along with the other Coercive Acts, lead to the creation of Committees of Correspondence between colonies, which eventually led to the creation of the Continental Congress, and the Declaration of Independence.
By: John Will