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Section 7: The Tide Turns

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The Boston Massacre helped spur Bostonians and the surrounding countryside to action. Adams successfully argued that the New Englanders should be prepared to resist the next incursion of British troops right from the start. Local militias began drilling in open fields and preparing to do battle with the Redcoats, should they arrive again. In Boston, the militia drilled nightly on Boston Common. Adams proclaimed, "Innocence is no longer safe, we are now obliged to appeal to God and to our Arms for defense."

Across the colonies, the Townshend Acts and the Boston Massacre had similar effects. During the Stamp Act crisis, New York merchants had learned perhaps one of the most effective ways to pressure the British government: they canceled outstanding orders with British merchants and refused to purchase additional goods until the act was repealed. When Adams remembered the New York ploy after the passage of the Townshend Acts, he began to advocate for a similar boycott. At the town meeting, he got Boston to agree to refuse importation of a long list of British goods, and, even though the Townshend Acts did not directly menace the town's merchants, he eventually was able to circulate a petition successfully (He achieved this partly through vague threats about his trained mob and how they didn't like people who disagreed with them). In March 1768, they passed a nonimportation agreement against Britain. Other colonies proved more difficult: A similar effort in Philadelphia the following month failed. However, over the summer, New York joined the agreement, thereby blocking many British goods from the East Coast's two largest seaports.

The nonimportation agreements marked a change in American economics, because it forced the development of local industries not previously viable in the colonies. Adams and other leaders set about starting up clothing manufacturers and other similar industries. The following spring, seniors at Princeton and Harvard proudly wore American-made robes to Commencement. Britain laughed off the manufacturing efforts, since as one of the great nations of the world, it figured that rabble in Massachusetts could never hope to match the homeland. And while America did struggle to fill the void left by the nonimportation agreements, the manufacturing efforts went a long way toward encouraging inter- colony unity and a sense of independence. Economic independence was now on the horizon, why not political independence as well?

Any anti-Britain, pro-independence emotions that were felt in other colonies were magnified ten-fold in Boston. On the eve of 1769, one Tory remarked that Boston stood ready to do war with Britain all by itself. Thomas Hutchinson blatantly refused to yield his trade to the nonimportation agreements, and Tory merchants in the area proceeded to stand with him. For its part, Britain remained infuriatingly magnanimous in its treatment of the colonies: the government began work to address the complaints of those who opposed the Townshend Acts. The Crown still refused to recognize that the colonies were headed to war, and Britain needed to make appropriate arraignments. Adams and his fellow patriots, though, wanted independence and war, and they continued to hound away at violators of the nonimportation agreements even as Britain offered to repeal all of the Townshend Acts except the tax on tea. After a drawn-out battle, even Hutchinson ordered his merchants to give up their imported goods early in 1770.

Adams stood fast on the patriots' claim of "no taxation without representation." As Britain attempted to repeal the Townshend Acts, Adams expanded the claims to air all of the colonies' complaints. The larger issue remained: the colony's did not want to have anything taken–taxes, duties, or otherwise–without their consent or, at the very least, a voice in the shaping of the policy. To further push Britain, Adams arranged for all of the British goods already in Boston to be shipped back to England aboard ships of wealthy merchant and patriot John Hancock.

His moves, though, began to alienate many members of his party, especially conservatives and non-militant members, as his threats began to wear thin around Boston. The nonimportation agreements were failing to arrest trade with Britain in other colonies, and, coupled with the acquittal of the soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre in late 1770, Adams's continued hold on the patriots' party seemed tenuous.

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