The Townshend duties called the justice of British rule into even further question. During the Stamp Act crisis, the colonists had made it clear that they objected to internal taxation, but had said very little about taxing imports. Townshend interpreted this to mean that the colonists would not object to any measure of external taxation. A now wiser former Prime Minister George Grenville warned, "they will laugh at you for your distinctions about regulations of trade," but Townshend did not heed this warning, and proceeded with the Revenue Act.

In the past, the colonists had submitted to external taxation as a legitimate regulatory measure. Even the Sugar Act had received only limited opposition due to its tax measures, compared to more serious complaints about impractical restrictions and the denial of a fair trial for offenders. However, the Townshend duties differed from past legitimate taxation in that past duties had been clearly protectionist in nature, excluding foreign goods from the colonial market by raising their cost to consumers. However, the Townshend duties set moderate duties that did not exclude foreign goods, but simply raised their prices within the range of the colonial market. The colonists deduced that the British government wanted the colonists to continue purchasing these goods, thus raising revenue for the British treasury at colonial expense. In this way, the Townshend duties could be construed as taxes similar to those under the Stamp Act.

Townshend claimed that the Revenue Act was intended to help solve the government's budgetary problems, but there were additional ulterior motives for his support of the act. Townshend planned to establish a fund through which to pay the salaries of the colonial royal governors. Traditionally, royal governors had been paid by the colonial assemblies, which thus exerted some measure of control over the actions of the governor. By taking away this power, Townshend hoped to give the royal governors the power to dominate colonial governments, yet another affront to colonial self-government.

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