This Parliamentary act was punishment for the Boston Tea Party that happened December 16, 1773. With this act, Parliament restricted the Massachusetts assembly and town meetings to one per year. It is true today and certainly then that written laws are never comprehensive enough to eliminate gray areas. Some background is needed to explain the loop-holes in The Massachusetts Government Act, and the two legal systems in conflict: British and Colonial.
The Colonists were most intelligent. From 1635 on, Puritan law required parents to educate their children. The first public exam school, Boston Latin, founded by the Puritan “Godly”[i] is still educating students today. While, the “Godly” intended to ensure everyone read the Bible, the second most circulated book in the colonies, through the 18th century, was William Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England”. More copies of the Commentaries were purchased in the colonies than all of England. To bring this into context, England’s population was 6.4 million and the Thirteen Colonies combined population was 1.4 million people. The Following are our thoughts on this dis-proportionate ratio. The Colonies and other British protectorates, were treated as subordinate Englishmen by Parliament and the King(s). They had no rights or representation to Parliament or the laws created. The Colonies were not represented in Parliament, yet Wales, Ireland and Scotland had seats in the Commons.
Large or small, rich or poor merchants were also considered lower class particularly if they did not own land. If one didn’t own land one didn’t vote. Over time the parliamentarians soon replaced the king as the tyrant ensuring their class had the votes. Consequently, people had to know their rights to survive a legal system that was often cruel and rigged for the rich landholders.
Blackstone’s Commentaries were written to help the layman understand and defend his rights. The four volumes cover the rights of persons, the rights of things, of private wrongs and of public wrongs. In every country, dominated by England, citizens of the subordinated classes studied the law through Blackstone’s Commentaries. As an example read our blog on the frigate The Rose and Michael Corbett’s assessment of his predicament.
Blackstone’s Commentaries were published initially in 1756, and revised often with the last update published after his death in 1783. Editions continued to be printed even after the Second World War.
This might explain why the Colonist so easily circumvented The Massachusetts Government Act with just a little bit of legal improvisation. So the Law restricted all self-rule meetings, such as state assemblies and town meetings, to once a year. This was an attempt by Parliament to subjugate the colonies and their legal assemblies. It was specifically aimed at Boston as a result of the Tea Party. The Massachusetts and Boston assembly’s simply adjourned and then reconvened their one and only meeting multiple times, over three-hundred and sixty five days.
As for the Commentaries? Its lasting impact on the world was its contribution to the legal practice known as “Common Law.” The law of all democracies adjusts and survives into the future through common law. In subsequent blogs we will discuss, slavery, impressment, apprenticeship and Indenture.
[i] They were referred as “the Godly” amongst themselves and “Puritans” to outsiders.
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