Protests against the Townshend acts and intimidation tactics against tax collectors, government officials and merchants violating the boycott of British goods prompted Governor Francis Bernard to request troops in order to keep civil order in Boston. On October 1768 additional British troops started to arrive in Boston joining another regiment and adding up to a total of 4,000 soldiers, a large number considering the population of Boston was 20,000 at the time. The 14th and 29th regiments were to protect government officials, restore order, reinforce the collection of taxes and take action as needed.
As member of the Massachusetts Legislature, John Hancock warned the government against a standing army in times of peace. Abuse and tension led to many violent incidents which culminated in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. During this incident five civilians were killed by British troops including a mulatto named Crispus Attucks who is considered to be the first martyr of the American Revolution. Samuel Adams paid for their funeral which was followed by thousands of residents. Samuel’s cousin, John Adams, who would later become the second president of the United States, defended the soldiers arguing that they too deserved a fair trial even though he sought independence from Britain.
After the Massacre, John Hancock met with Governor Thomas Hutchinson and demanded the troops removed from Boston as retaliation was imminent, he also demanded the repeal of the Townshend Acts. Troops were immediately removed to Castle Williams which gave Hancock a boost in his popularity reflected in his nearly unanimous reelection to the House of Representatives. The Townshend Acts were partially repealed on April of the following year.
Four years later on March 5, 1774 for the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, John Hancock gave a speech known as the Boston Massacre Oration. It reveals a more radical view against British occupation which was spread by propaganda by the Sons of Liberty.
Tea Act and Boston Tea Party
Even though Hancock did not directly participate in the Boston Tea Party, he was present at the December 16, 1773 meeting at the Old South Meeting House preceding the dumping of the tea. Being a very close friend of Samuel Adams and a member of the Sons of Liberty, he most likely helped to plan or at the least inspired the famous protest.
The approval of the Tea Act in 1773 brought a renewal of the sense of independence. Although the Tea Act made tea cheaper to the end consumer it affected local shopkeepers, merchants and smugglers. It is a well known fact that John Hancock was one of the largest Dutch tea smugglers, which was cheaper than the East India tea. He had the most to lose from the Tea Act.
Boston’s radical leadership and powerful business interests were ready to revive the protest movement by calling town meetings and organizing protests against the Tea Act and selected tea merchants. Joseph Warren, Benjamin Church, Thomas Young were joined by Paul Revere, Ebenezer Mackintosh and William Molineaux among others, all of them had ties with the working class. They convinced the population to view the act as other means of “taxation without representation” as they should be free to buy tea from any merchant and not selected ones.
As the Dartmouth arrived in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773, a town meeting was called at the Old South Church, John Hancock was the moderator. It is believed that over five thousand attended. During the meeting they decided to send an envoy to Governor Hutchinson but they were unsuccessful in their attempt to persuade him to send the Dartmouth and other two ships back to London. Now the decision lay with the radicals. As the moderator of the meeting John Hancock told the crowd “let every man do what is right in his own eyes”. That evening the crowd who attended the Boston Town meeting congregated in Boston Harbor and disguised as American Indians boarded ships containing tea cargo, proceeding to dump 342 chests of tea that belonged to the East India Company into the sea. Hancock did not take part in the Boston Tea Party but approved the action. Furthermore, he was aware that as a public figure he could not publicly commend violent actions of his fellow citizens.