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Chapter 17:

America reasons against the Stamp Act—ministry of Rockingham continued.

September, 1765.

during these acts of compulsory submission, and
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while Boston, in a full town-meeting unanimously asked the pictures of Conway and Barre for Faneuil Hall, the Lords of the Treasury in England, Rockingham, Dowdeswell, and Lord John Cavendish being present, held meetings almost daily, to carry the Stamp Act into effect; and without any apparent reluctance, completed the lists of stamp officers; provided for the instant filling of vacancies that might result from death or neglect; signed warrants for the expense of preparing the American stamps; and enjoined the Governor to superintend and assist their distribution.1 These minutes might have had their excuse in the principle, that there existed no power to dispense with the law of the land; but Dartmouth, from the Board of Trade, adopting the worst measure of corruption, which Grenville had firmly resisted, proposed to make the government of a province independent of the provincial legislature for its support.2 Every thing implied confidence in the obe-
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dience of the colonies.

And yet the tide of opinion in America was swelling and becoming irresistible. ‘To the north and to the southward,’ said Hutchinson, ‘the people are absolutely without the use of reason.’ A majority in every colony was resolved to run all hazards rather than submit. When they were asked, ‘What will you do after the first of November?’ ‘Do?’ they replied, ‘do as we did before.’ ‘Will you violate the law of parliament?’ ‘The Stamp Act,’ repeated every one over and over, ‘is against Magna Charta, and Lord Coke says, an act of parliament against Magna Charta is for that reason void.’

In a more solemn tone, the convictions and purposes of America found utterance through the press. John Adams, of Massachusetts, a fiery Protestant, claiming intellectual freedom as the birthright of man, at once didactic and impetuous, obeying the impulses of ‘a heart that burned for his country's welfare,’ summoned the whole experience of the human race and human nature herself, to bear witness, that through the increase and diffusion of intelligence, the world was advancing towards the establishment of popular power. Full of hope, he set liberty and knowledge over against authority and ignorance; America over against Europe; the modern principle of popular freedom over against the Middle Age and its tyrannies; the New World over against the Old. ‘The people,’ thus he continued, ‘the populace, as they are contemptuously called, have rights antecedent to all earthly government—rights that cannot [324] be repealed or restrained by human laws—rights de-

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rived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.’ Tracing the gradual improvement of human society from the absolute monarchy of the earliest ages, and from the more recent tyrannies of the canon and the feudal law, he saw in the Reformation the uprising of the people, under the benign providence of God, against the confederacy of priestcraft and feudalism—of spiritual and temporal despotism.

‘This great struggle’—these are his words—

peopled America. Not religion alone, a love of universal liberty projected, conducted, and accomplished its settlement. After their arrival here, the Puritans formed their plan, both of ecclesiastical and civil government, in direct opposition to the canon and feudal systems. They demolished the whole system of diocesan episcopacy. To render the popular power in their new government as great and wise as their principles of theory, they endeavored to remove from it feudal inequalities, and establish a government of the state, more agreeable to the dignity of human nature than any they had seen in Europe.

Convinced that nothing could preserve their posterity from the encroachments of the two systems of tyranny but knowledge diffused through the whole people, they laid very early the foundations of colleges, and made provision by law, that every town should be furnished with a grammar-school. The education of all ranks of people was made the care and expense of the public, in a manner unknown to any other people, ancient or modern, so that a native American, who cannot read and write, is as rare an appearance as a comet or an earthquake.

There seems to be a direct and formal design on [325] foot in Great Britain, to enslave all America. Be it

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remembered, Liberty must at all hazards be defended. Rulers are no more than attorneys, agents, and trustees Sept. for the people; and if the trust is insidiously betrayed, or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents. We have an indisputable right to demand our privileges against all the power and authority on earth,

The true source of our sufferings has been our timidity. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let us study the law of nature, the spirit of the British constitution, the great examples of Greece and Rome, the conduct of our British ancestors, who have defended for us the inherent rights of mankind against kings and priests. Let us impress upon our souls the ends of our own more immediate forefathers in exchanging their native country for a wilderness. Let the pulpit delineate the noble rank man holds among the works of God. Let us hear that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust. Let the bar proclaim the rights delivered down from remote antiquity; not the grants of princes or parliaments, but original rights, coequal with prerogative and coeval with government, inherent and essential, established as preliminaries before a parliament existed, having their foundations in the constitution of the intellectual and moral world, in truth, liberty, justice and benevolence. Let the colleges impress on the tender mind the beauty of liberty and virtue, and the deformity and turpitude of slavery and vice, and spread far and wide the ideas of right and the sensation of freedom. No one of any feeling, born and [326] educated in this happy country, can consider the

chap. XVII.} 1765. Sept.
usurpations that are meditating for all our countrymen, and all their posterity, without the utmost agonies of heart, and many tears.

Such were the genuine sentiments of New England, uttered by John Adams, in words which, in part, were promptly laid before the king in council In Maryland, Daniel Dulany, an able lawyer, not surpassed in ability by any of the crown lawyers in the House of Commons, ‘a patriot councillor, inclined to serve the people,’ discussed the propriety of the Stamp Act, not before America only, but seeking audience of England. He admitted that the colonies were subordinate to the supreme national council; that the British parliament had the unquestionable right to legislate on the trade of the colonies; that trade may frequently be most properly regulated by duties on imports and exports; that parliament is itself to determine what regulations are most proper; and that if they should produce an incidental revenue, they are not, therefore, unwarrantable.

But in reply to the arguments of the crown lawyers, and the ministerial defenders of the Stamp Act, he argued, with minute and elaborate learning, that the late regulations for the colonies were not just, because the Commons of England, in which the Americans were neither actually nor virtually represented, had no right, by the common law or the British constitution, to give and grant the property of the Commons in America; that they were rightfully void, as their validity rested only on the power of those who framed them to carry them into effect; that they were not lenient, the taxes imposed being excessive and unequal; that they were not politic, as Great [327] Britain, by the acts of trade, had all from the colonies

chap XVII.} 1765. Sept.
before, and could but drive them to observe the strictest maxims of frugality, and to establish manufactures of leather, cotton, wool, and flax; that they were not consistent with charters, which were the original compacts between the first emigrants to America and the crown; that they were against all precedents of the previous legislation of the British parliament; that they were equally against the precedents of legislation for Ireland, which was as subject to Great Britain as were the colonies; that they were against the judgment of former British ministers, whose requisitions for revenue were uniformly transmitted to the colonies to tax themselves.

‘There may be a time,’ he added, ‘when redress may be obtained. Till then, I shall recommend a legal, orderly, and prudent resentment to be expressed in a zealous and vigorous industry. A garment of linsey-woolsey, when made the distinction of patriotism, is more honorable than the plumes and the diadem of an emperor without it. Let the manufacture of America be the symbol of dignity and the badge of virtue, and it will soon break the fetters of distress.’ Thus wrote Dulany, the champion of the day, pleading, not for truths pregnant with independence, but for exemption from taxes imposed without consent; promoting repeal, but beating back revolution. His opinions were thought to have moulded those of William Pitt, by whom they were publicly3 noticed with great honor; and they widely prevailed in America.

‘This unconstitutional method of taxation,’ observed Washington, at Mount Vernon, of the Stamp Act, [328] ‘is a direful attack upon the liberties of the colonies,

chap. XVII.} 1765. Sept.
will be a necessary incitement to industry, and for many cogent reasons will prove ineffectual. Our courts of judicature,’ he added, ‘must inevitably be shut up; and if so, the merchants of Great Britain will not be among the last to wish for its repeal.’

Enlightened by discussions, towns, and legislatures, as opportunity offered, made their declaration of rights, following one another like a chime of bells, and preparing the public mind for the union of the continent.

In the infant colony of Georgia, all feeble as it was, the great majority of the representatives, at the instance of their speaker, against the will of the governor, came together on Monday, the second of September, and though they doubted their power, at such a voluntary meeting, to elect delegates to the Congress, they sent an express messenger to New-York to promise their adhesion to its results; ‘for,’ said they, ‘no people, as individuals, can more warmly espouse the common cause than do the people of this province.’

Further north, on the ninth of September, the assembly of Pennsylvania, disregarding the opinions of Galloway, its speaker, who wished to see the Stamp Act executed, accepted the plan of Congress by a majority of one. At the same time it recognised the indispensable duty to grant requisite aids cheerfully and liberally, but only in a constitutional way, through its own assembly.

Next in time, but first in the explicit declaration of rights, the Assembly of Rhode Island not only joined the union, but unanimously directed all the officers of the colony to proceed in all their duties as [329] usual, without regard to the Stamp Act, and engaged

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to indemnify them and save them harmless.

In the same month, Delaware, by the spontaneous act of the representatives of each of its counties; Connecticut, with the calm approval of its assembly; Maryland, trusting in the express language of its charter, and by the earnest patriotism of its inhabitants, obtaining the consent of every branch of its legislature,—successively elected delegates to the general American Congress.

In Massachusetts, Boston, under the guidance of Samuel Adams, set the example to other towns, and in his words denounced to its representatives the Stamp Act, and its Courts of Admiralty, as contrary to the British constitution, to the charter of the province, and to the common rights of mankind; and built ‘the warmest expectations’ on the union of the colonies in Congress. A week later, the town of Braintree, led by John Adams, declared ‘the most grievous innovation of all’ to be, ‘the extension of the power of Courts of Admiralty; in which one judge presided alone, and, without juries, decided the law and the fact; holding his office during the pleasure of the king, and establishing that most mischievous of all customs, the taking of commissions on all condemnations.’

To the Legislature which convened on the twenty-fifth, Bernard attempted to draw a frightful picture of the general outlawry and rising of the poor against the rich, which were to ensue, if stamps were not used, and so to draw the Assembly into adopting the distinction between the power of parliament and the expediency of the Stamp Act. ‘I shall not,’ so he [330] said,

enter into any disquisition of the policy of this

chap. XVII.} 1765. Sept.
act; I have only to say, it is an act of the parliament of Great Britain; and I trust that the supremacy Sept of that parliament over all the members of their wide and diffused empire, never was, and never will be, denied within these walls.

The right of the parliament of Great Britain to make laws for her American colonies, however it has been controverted in America, remains indisputable at Westminster. If it is yet to be made a question, who shall determine it but the parliament? If the parliament declares, that their right is inherent in them, are they likely to acquiesce in an open and forcible opposition to the exercise of it? Will they not more probably maintain such right, and support their own authority?

The gentlemen who opposed this act in the House of Commons, did not dispute the authority of parliament to make such a law, but argued upon the inexpediency of it at this time.

The power of taxing the colonies may be admitted, and yet the expediency of exercising that power at such a time may be denied; but, if the questions are blended together, so as to admit of but one answer, the affirmative of the right of parliament will conclude for the expediency of this act.

I would not willingly aggravate the dangers which are before you. I do not think it very easy to do it; this province seems to me to be on the brink of a precipice; it depends upon you to prevent its falling. From this time, this arduous business

of executing the Stamp Act, ‘will be put into your hands, and it will become a provincial concern.’

‘There is a snake in the grass,’ said the wary [331] people of Boston; ‘touch not the unclean thing;’ and

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to make sure of a vigilance which could not be lulled, they elected Samuel Adams to be their representative, in the place made vacant by the death of Thacher. On the day on which Samuel Adams took his seat, he found the legislature adopting resolves, that all courts should do business without stamps; on which Bernard, in a fright, prorogued it till nine days before the first of November.

The eye of the whole continent watched with the intensest anxiety the conduct of New-York, the capital of the central province, and Headquarters of the standing forces in America; having a septennial assembly, a royal council, ships of war anchored near its wharfs, and within the town itself a fort, mounting many heavy cannon.4 There the authority of the British government was concentrated in the hands of Gage, the general, whose military powers, as ample as those of a Viceroy, extended over all the colonies, and who was ‘extremely exasperated’5 at the course of events, as well in New-York as Massachusetts. But he was at a loss what to do. Besides, the officers of government had no confidence in one another. In Boston, Gage was not esteemed a man of ‘capacity;’ and he, in his turn, thought Bernard pusillanimous. At New-York, he called upon the civil power to exert itself more efficiently. ‘All civil authority is at an end,’6 answered Colden; ‘the presence of a battalion is the only way to prevent mischief.’ ‘It will be more safe for the government,’ interposed the Council7 of the province of New-York, [332] ‘to show a confidence in the people.’ But Colden,

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emboldened by the arrival of two artillery companies from England, put the fort in such a state of offence and defence, as to be able to boast alike to Conway8 and Amherst,9 that he had ‘effectually discouraged’ sedition. ‘The people here will soon come to better temper, after taxes become more familiar to them,’ wrote an officer10 who had been sent to America, on a tour of observation. ‘I will cram the stamps down their throats with the end of my sword,’11 cried the braggart James, major of artillery, as he busied himself with bringing into the fort more field-pieces, as well as powder, shot, and shells.12 ‘If they attempt to rise, I,’ he gave out, ‘will drive them all out of the town for a pack of rascals, with four-and-twenty men.’13 But the press of New-York continued its daring. From denying the right of parliament to tax the colonies, it proceeded to doubt its legislative authority over America altogether. On the twentyfirst day of September, a paper called ‘The Constitutional Courant’ made its appearance, and ‘join or die’ was its motto. ‘Join or Die’ was echoed from one end of the continent to the other.

1 Treasury Minute Book, XXXVII. 120, 123, 133. Treasury Letter, Book, XXIII. 205, 214.

2 Representation [323] of Lords of Trade to the king, 27 Sept. 1765.

3 Shelburne to Chatham, 6 Feb. 1765: ‘The American pamphlet, to which your lordship did so much honor last session.’

4 Journal of an Officer. King's Lib. Ms. 213.

5 N. Rogers to Hutchinson, N. Y. 16 Sept. 1765.

6 Colden to Gage, 2 Sept. 1765.

7 Advice of Counsel to Colden, 7 Sept.

8 Colden to Conway, 23 Sept.

9 Colden to Amherst, 10 Oct.

10 King's Lib. Ms. 213. The author seems to have been Lord Adam Gordon.

11 James to Colden, giving an account of his examination before Parliament. Letter from N. Y. in S. C. Gazette.

12 A. Golden to C. Golden, Sept. 1765.

13 James's Account of his Examination.

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