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Chapter 19:

America Annuls the Stamp Act—Rockingham's Adminis-Tration continued.

October—December, 1765.

on the day on which the Congress consummated the
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Union, the Legislature which first proposed it, having been reassembled at Boston, and now cheered and invigorated by the presence of Samuel Adams, embodied in their reply to Bernard, the opinion on the power of parliament, from which the colony was never to recede.

‘Your Excellency tells us,’ they said,

that the province seems to be upon the brink of a precipice! To despair of the commonwealth is a certain presage of its fall. The representatives of the people are awake to the sense of its danger, and their utmost prudence will not be wanting to prevent its ruin.

Of the power of parliament, there undoubtedly are boundaries. The church, in the name of the Sacred Trinity, in the presence of king Henry the Third and the estates of the realm, solemnly denounced that most grievous sentence of excommunication against all those who should make statutes, or observe them, being made contrary to the liberties of Magna Charta. [348] Such acts as infringed upon the rights of that charter

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were always repealed. We have the same confidence in the rectitude of the present parliament. To require submission to an act as a preliminary to granting relief from the unconstitutional burdens of it, supposes such a wanton exercise of mere arbitrary power as ought never to be surmised of the patrons of liberty and justice.

The charter of the province invests the General Assembly with the power of making laws for its internal government and taxation; and this charter has never yet been forfeited.

There are certain original inherent rights belonging to the people, which the parliament itself cannot divest them of: among these is the right of representation in the body which exercises the power of taxation. There is a necessity that the subjects of America should exercise this power within themselves, for they are not represented in parliament, and indeed we think it impracticable.

To suppose an indisputable right in parliament to tax the subject without their consent, includes the idea of a despotic power.

The people of this province have a just value for their inestimable rights, which are derived to all men from nature, and are happily interwoven in the British constitution. They esteem it sacrilege ever to give them up; and rather than lose them, they would willingly part with every thing else.

The Stamp Act wholly cancels the very conditions upon which our ancestors, with much toil and blood, and at their sole expense, settled this country, and enlarged his majesty's dominions. It tends to destroy that mutual confidence and affection, as well [349] as that equality, which ought ever to subsist among

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all his majesty's subjects in this wide and extended empire; and, what is the worst of all evils, if his majesty's American subjects are not to be governed according to the known and stated rules of the constitution, their minds may, in time, become disaffected.

In addition to this state paper, which was the imprint; of the mind of Samuel Adams,1 and had the vigor and polished elegance of his style, the house adopted ‘the best, and the best digested series of resolves,’ prepared by him, ‘to ascertain the just rights of the province,’ which the preamble said ‘had been lately drawn into question’ by the British parliament.

The answer of the house was regarded in England as the ravings of ‘a parcel of wild enthusiasts:’ in America, nothing was so much admired through the whole course of the controversy; and John Adams, who recorded at the time the applause which it won, said also, that of all the politicians of Boston, including Otis and Cushing, Samuel Adams had the most thorough understanding of liberty and her resources in the temper and character of the people, though not in the law and the constitution; as well as the most habitual radical love of it, and the “most correct, genteel, and artful pen.” ‘He is a man,’ he continued, ‘of refined policy, steadfast integrity, exquisite humanity, genteel erudition, obliging, engaging manners, real as well as professed piety, and a universal good [350] character, unless it should be admitted that he is too

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attentive to the public, and not enough so to himself or his family. He is always for softness and prudence, where they will do; but is staunch, and stiff, and strict, and rigid, and inflexible in the cause.’

The firmness of the new legislator was sustained by the unwavering confidence of the people of Boston beyond what was given to any of his colleagues; and the vacillation of Otis, increasing with his infirmities, ceased to be of public importance. Massachusetts never again discussed with the British ministry the amount of a practical tax, or the inexpediency of taxation by parliament, of the propriety of an American representation in that body.

‘I am resolved to have the stamps distributed,’ wrote Colden to the British secretary, the day after the Congress adjourned. Officers of the navy and army, with great alacrity, gave him every assistance he required; and they ridiculed the thought that the government would repeal the Stamp Act, as the most singular delusion of party spirit. His son, whom he appointed temporary distributor, wrote on the same day to the commissioners of stamps, soliciting to hold the place permanently; for, he assured them, ‘in a few months, the act would be quietly submitted to.’2 But the people of New-York, one and all, cried out, ‘Let us see who will dare put the Act into execution, upon the governor's appointment; we will take care of that.’

On the thirty-first of October, Colden and all he

royal governors took the oath to carry the Stamp [351] Act punctually into effect. In Connecticut, which, in
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its assembly, had already voted American taxation by a British parliament to be ‘unprecedented and unconstitutional,’ Dyer, of the council, entreated Fitch not to take an oath which was contrary to that of the governor, to maintain the rights of the colony. But Fitch had urged the assembly to prosecute for riot the five hundred that coerced Ingersoll at Wethersfield; had talked of the public spirit in the language of an enemy; had said that the Act must go down; that forty regulars could guard the stamp papers; and that the American conduct would bring from home violent measures and the loss of charters; and he resolved to comply;3 on which Pitkin, Trumbull, and Dyer, truly representing the sentiments of Connecticut, rose with indignation and left the room. The governor of Rhode Island stood alone in his patriotic refusal.

But every where, either quietly of themselves, or at the instance of the people, amidst shouts and the ringing of bells and the firing of cannon, or as in Virginia, with rage changing into courtesy on the prompt submission of the Stamp master, or as at Charleston, with the upraising of the flag of liberty, surmounted by a branch of laurel—everywhere the officers resigned. There remained not one person duly commissioned to distribute stamps.

Something more was needed to incline England to relent; and the merchants of New-York, on the last day of October, coming together, unanimously bound themselves to send no new orders for goods or [352] merchandise; to countermand all former orders; and

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not even to receive goods on commission, unless the Stamp Act be repealed. Thus a city, built on the ocean side, the chosen home of navigation, renounced all commerce; a people, who, as yet, had no manufactures, gave up every comfort from abroad, rather than continue trade at the peril of freedom. A committee of intercolonial correspondence was raised, and while James Delancy and others hesitated, the unflinching Isaac Sears, with Lamb, Mott, Wiley, and Robinson, assumed the post of greatest danger, and sent expresses4 to invite the people of the neighboring governments to join in the league, justly confident they would follow the example of New-York.

Friday, the first morning of November, broke

upon a people unanimously resolved on nullifying the Stamp Act. From New Hampshire to the far South, the day was introduced by the tolling of muffled bells; minute-guns were fired, and pennants hoisted at half-staff; or a eulogy was pronounced on liberty, and its knell sounded; and then again the note changed, as if she were restored to life; and, while pleasure shone on every countenance, men shouted confusion to her enemies. Even the children at their games, though hardly able to speak, caught up the general chorus, and went along the streets, merrily carolling: ‘Liberty, Property, and no Stamps.’

The publishers of newspapers which appeared on Friday, were the persons called upon to stand the brunt in braving the penalties of the Act. Honor, then, to the ingenious Benjamin Mecom, the boldhearted [353] editor at New Haven, who on that morning,

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without apology or concealment, issued the Connecticut Gazette, filled with patriotic appeals; for, said he, “the press is the test of truth, the bulwark of public safety, the guardian of freedom, and the people ought not to sacrifice it.” Com. Gaz. No. 488, Friday, 1 Nov. 1765.

Nor let the true lovers of their country pass unheeded the grave of Timothy Green, one of an illustrious family of printers, himself publisher of the New London Gazette, which had always modestly and fearlessly defended his country's rights; for on Friday, the first day of November, his journal came forth without stamps, and gave to the world a paper from the incomparable Stephen Johnson, of Lyme.5

‘The liberty of free inquiry,’ said he,

is one of the first and most fundamental of a free people. They have an undoubted right to be heard and relieved. They may publish their grievances; the press is open and free. We may go on to enjoy our rights and liberties as usual. The American governments or inhabitants may associate for the mutual defence of their birthright liberties. A person or people collectively may enjoy and defend their own. The hearts of Americans are cut to the quick by the Act; we have reason to fear very interesting and terrible consequences, though by no means equal to tyranny or slavery. But what an enraged, despairing people will do, when they come to see and feel their ruin, time only can reveal.

It is the joy of thousands, that there is union and concurrence in a general Congress. We trust they will also lay a foundation for another Congress. The [354] American colonies cannot be enslaved but by their

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own folly, consent, or inactivity. Truly Britons have nothing at all to hope for from this most unnatural war. My countrymen, your concern is great, universal, and most just. I am an American born, and my all in this world is embarked with yours, and am deeply touched at heart for your distress. O, my country! my dear, distressed country! For you I have wrote; for you I daily pray and mourn; and, to save your invaluable rights and freedom, I would willingly die!

Forgive my lamenting tears. The dear Saviour himself wept over his native country, doomed to destruction. We appeal to our Supreme Judge against the hand whence these evils are coming. If we perish, we perish, being innocent, and our blood will be required at their hands. Shut not your eyes to your danger, O! my countrymen. Do nothing to destroy or betray the rights of your posterity; do nothing to sully or shade the memory of your noble ancestors. Let all the governments and all the inhabitants in them unitedly resolve to a man, with an immovable stability, to sacrifice their lives and fortunes, before they will part with their invaluable freedom. It will give you a happy peace in your own breasts, and secure you the most endeared affection, thanks, and blessing of your posterity; it will gain you the esteem of all true patriots and friends of liberty through the whole realm; yea, and as far as your case is known, it will gain you the esteem and the admiration of the whole world.

Such was the spirit of the clergy of Connecticut; and such the conduct and such the language of the New London Gazette; patriots grew up within its [355] sphere, and he who would single out in the country

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the region, where at that time the fire of patriotism burned with the purest flame, can find none surpassing the county of New London. The royalists of New-York, like Bernard, at Boston, railed at all Connecticut as a land of republicans, and maligned Yale College, as ‘a seminary of democracy,’ the prolific mother of patriots6

In New-York, ‘the whole city rose up as one man in opposition to the Stamp Act.’ The sailors came from their shipping; ‘the people flocked in,’ as Gage thought, ‘by thousands; the number seemed to be still increasing;’ and the leader of the popular tumult was Isaac Sears, the self-constituted, and for ten years, the recognised head of the people of New-York. At the corners of streets, at the doors of the public offices, placards threatened all who should receive or deliver a stamp, or delay business for the want of one.

Colden himself retired within the fort, and got from the Coventry ship of war a detachment of marines. He would have fired on the people, but was menaced with being hanged like Porteus of Edinburgh,7 upon a sign-post, if he did so. In the evening a vast torchlight procession, carrying a scaffold and two images, one of the Governor, the other of the devil, came from the Fields, now the Park, down Broadway, to within ten or eight feet of the fort, knocked at its gate, broke open the Governor's coach-house, took out his chariot, carried the images upon it round town, and returned [356] to burn them with his own carriages and sleighs, be-

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fore his eyes, on the Bowling Green, under the gaze of the garrison on the ramparts, and of all New-York gathered round about.

‘He has bound himself,’ they cried, ‘by oath, to be the chief murderer of our rights.’ ‘He was a rebel in Scotland, a Jacobite.’ ‘He is an enemy to his king, to his country, and mankind.’ At the same time, a party of volunteers sacked the house occupied by James, and bore off the colors of the royal regiments.

On Saturday, the second of November, Colden gave way. The council questioned his authority to distribute the stamps, and unanimously advised him to declare that he would do nothing in relation to them, but await the arrival of the new governor; and his declaration to that effect, duly authenticated, was immediately published. But the confidence of the people was shaken. ‘We will have the stamp papers,’ cried Sears to the multitude, ‘within fourand-twenty hours;’ and as he appealed to the crowd, they expressed their adherence by shouts. ‘Your best way,’ added Sears to the friends of order, ‘will be to advise Lieutenant-Governor Colden to send the stamp papers from the fort to the inhabitants.’ To appease their wrath, Colden invited Kennedy to receive them on board the Coventry. ‘They are already lodged in the fort,’ answered Kennedy, unwilling to offend the people. The Common Council of New-York next interposed.8 They asked that the stamped paper should be delivered into the care of the corporation, to be [357] deposited in the City Hall, offering in that case to

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prevent further confusion. The Common Council were a body elected by the people; they were the representatives of the people over against the king's Governor and Council, and the military Viceroy. Colden pleaded his oath, to do his utmost, that every clause of the Act should be observed; he pleaded further the still greater contempt9 into which the government would fall by concession. But the Council, in which William Smith, the historian of New-York, acted a prudent part,10 as the negotiator between the Lieutenant-Governor, the General, and the people, answered that his power was unequal to the protection of the inhabitants;11 Gage, being appealed to,12 avowed the belief, that a fire from the fort would be the signal for ‘an insurrection,’ and ‘the commencement of a civil war.’ So the head of the province of New-York, and the military chief of all America, confessing their inability to stop the anarchy, capitulated to the municipal body which represented the people. The stamps were taken to the City Hall; the city government restored order; the press continued its activity, and in all the streets was heard the shout of ‘Liberty, Property, and no Stamps.’

The thirst for revenge rankled in Colden's breast. ‘The lawyers,’ he wrote to Conway, at a time when the government in England was still bent on enforcing the Stamp Act,13 ‘the lawyers of this place are the authors and conductors of the present sedition. [358] If judges be sent from England, with an able Attorney-

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General and Solicitor-General, to make examples of some very few, this colony will remain quiet.’ Others of his letters pointed plainly to John Morin Scott, Robert R. Livingston, and William Livingston, as suitable victims. At the same time, some of the churchmen avowed to one another their longing to see the Archbishop of Canterbury display a little more of the resolution of a Laud or a Sextus Quintus; ‘for what,’ said they, ‘has the church ever gained by that which the courtesy of England calls prudence?’14

Yet when Moore, the new governor, arrived, he could do nothing but give way to the popular impulse. He dismantled the fort, and suspended his power to execute the Stamp Act.15 When the assembly came together, it confirmed the doings of its committee at the Congress, and prepared papers analogous to them.

In New Jersey, Ogden found himself disavowed by his constituents. The assembly, by a unanimous vote, accepted his resignation as speaker, and thanked the two faithful delegates who had signed the proceedings of the Congress. Of those proceedings, New Hampshire, by its assembly, signified its entire approbation. The voluntary16 action of the representatives of Georgia was esteemed a valid adhesion to the design of the Congress on the part of the colony. Its governor was met by ‘the same rebellious spirit17 as prevailed at the North.’

The delegates of South Carolina were received by [359] their assembly on the twenty-sixth of November. On

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that morning all the papers of the Congress, the declaration of rights, and the addresses were read; in an evening session, they were all adopted without change, by a vote which wanted but one of being unanimous; they were signed by the speaker, and put on board the Charming Charlotte, a fine ship riding in the harbor with its sails bent; and the next morning, while the assembly were signifying, in the most ample and obliging manner, their satisfaction at the conduct of their agents, it stood away, with swelling canvas, for England, bearing the evidence that South Carolina gave its heart unreservedly to the cause of freedom and union.

‘Nothing will save us,’ wrote Gadsden, ‘but acting together; the province that endeavors to act separately must fall with the rest, and be branded besides with everlasting infamy.’

The people of North Carolina18 would neither receive a stamp man, nor tolerate the use of a stamp, nor suffer its ports to be closed. The meeting of its legislature was so long prorogued, that it could not join in the application of the Congress; but had there been need of resorting to arms, ‘the whole force of North Carolina was ready to join in protecting the rights of the continent.’19 It was the same throughout the country. Wherever a jealousy was roused, that a stamp officer might exercise his functions, the people were sure to gather about him, and compel him to renew his resignation under oath, or solemnly before witnesses. 20 [360]

The colonies began also to think of permanent

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union. ‘join or die’ became more and more their motto. At Windham, in Connecticut, the freemen, in a multitudinous assembly, agreed with one another, ‘to keep up, establish, and maintain the spirit of union and liberty;’ and for that end they recommended monthly county conventions, and also a general meeting of the colony.

At New London, the inhabitants of the county of

that name, holding a mass meeting in December, unanimously decided in carefully prepared resolves, that every form of rightful government originates from the consent of the people; that lawful authority cannot pass the boundaries set by them; that if the limits are passed, they may reassume the authority which they had delegated; and that if there is no other mode of relief against the Stamp Act and similar acts, they must reassume their natural rights and the authority with which they were invested by the laws of nature and of God. The same principles were adopted at various village gatherings, and became the political platform of Connecticut.

In New-York, the validity of the British Navigation Acts was more and more openly impugned, so that the merchants claimed a right to every freedom of trade enjoyed in England. When the General applied for the supplies, which the province was enjoined by the British Mutiny Act to contribute for the use of the troops quartered among them, the assembly would pay no heed whatever to an act of parliament to which they themselves had given no assent; and in the general tumult, their refusal passed almost unnoticed.

Everywhere the fixed purpose prevailed, that [361] ‘the unconstitutional’ Stamp Act should not go into

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effect. Nothing less than its absolute repeal would give contentment, much as England was loved. The greatest unanimity happily existed; and all were bent on cherishing it for ever. Here was something new in the affairs of men. In the time of the crusades, and at the era of the reformation, the world was as widely convulsed; but never had the people of provinces extending over so vast a continent, and so widely sundered from one another, been thus cordially bound together in one spirit and one resolve. In all their tumults, they deprecated the necessity of declaring independence; but they yet more earnestly abhorred and rejected unconditional submission. Still satisfied with the revolution of 1688 and its theory of security to liberty and property, they repelled the name of ‘republican’ as a slander on their loyalty, but they spurned against ‘passive obedience.’ Nothing on earth, they insisted, would deprive Great Britain of her transatlantic dominions but her harboring ungenerous suspicions, and thereupon entering into arbitrary and oppressive measures. ‘All eyes were turned on her with hope and unbounded affection,’ with apprehension and firmness of resolve. ‘Pray for the peace of our Jerusalem,’ said Otis, from his heart, fearing ‘the parliament would charge the colonies with presenting petitions in one hand and a dagger in the other.’ Others thought ‘England would look with favor on what was but an old English spirit of resentment at injurious treatment;’ and all were strong in the consciousness of union. They trusted that ‘the united voice of this very extensive continent,’ uttering ‘the sober opinions of all its inhabitants,’ would be listened to, so that [362] Great Britain and America might once more enjoy
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‘peace, harmony, and the greatest prosperity.’ Delay made anxiety too intense to be endured. ‘Every moment is tedious,’ wrote South Carolina to its agent in London: ‘should you have to communicate the good news we wish for, send it to us, if possible, by a messenger swifter than the wind.’21

1 Not of Otis. The paper has not the style of Otis, and does not express his opinions. Besides; he was absent from Boston from the delivery of Bernard's speech till after the reply was made, performing his duty at New-York, as a member of Congress. The paper has the style of S. Adams, and expresses his sentiments exactly. Moreover, Hutchinson names him. Bernard's letters point to him, without naming him. The lead of the committee was Samuel Dexter, who had the greatest regard for Samuel Adams. J. Adams: Works, II. 163, 181.

2 David Colden to Commissioners of Stamp Office. Fort George, New-York, 26 Oct. 1765.

3 E. Stiles' Diary.

4 R. R. Livingston to R. Livingston, 2 Nov.

5 New London Gaz. No. 108, Friday, 1 Nov. 1765.

6 ‘The pretended patriots, educated in a seminary of Democracy.’ Gage to Sir W. Johnson, 20 Sept. 1765.

7 Paper delivered at the fort gate by an unknown land, 1 Nov. 1765.

8 Minutes of the Common Council of N. Y. 5 Nov. Colden to Gage, 5 Nov.

9 Colden to Maj. James, 6 Nov.

10 Diary of John Adams.

11 Minutes of Council.

12 Colden to Gage, 5 Nov. Gage to Colden, 5 Nov. Gage to Conway, 8 Nov. Colden to Conway, 9 Nov.

13 R. Jackson to Bernard, 8 Nov. 1765.

14 Thomas B. Chandler, 12 Nov. 1765.

15 Sir H. Moore to Conway, 21 Nov.

16 Letter from Gadsden, 16 Dec.

17 Sir J. Wright to Lords of Trade, 9 Nov. 1765.

18 Letter from South Carolina, 2 Dec. 1765.

19 Gadsden to Garth, Dec. 1765.

20 Tryon to Conway, 26 Dec.

21 Gadsden to Garth, Dec. 1765.

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