Sunday, December 31, 2017

Episode 025: Tensions Simmer




In last week’s episode, we left off as the colonies celebrated the repeal of the hated Stamp Act.  Colonists now viewed Parliament with suspicion though.  Today we look at a variety colonial events that continued to push apart Britain from her colonies.

Declaratory Act Debated

The Declaratory Act put colonists on notice that Parliament did not accept colonial arguments over its tax authority.

Declaratory Act
(from Revolutionary War
& Beyond)
Colonists argued over the possible threat it implied.  Parliament had taken the language of the Declaratory Act from a 1719 Act applied to Ireland.  In the intervening years, Parliament had not attempted to levy taxes against Ireland.  Indeed, it would not do so until 1801 when an Act of Union made Ireland part of Britain and gave the Irish representation in Parliament.  Based on the Irish precedent, many colonists decided it meant Parliament would not try to levy another direct tax.

Colonies Still Not Happy

The Declaratory Act would remain a festering sore between the colonies and England, and it was only one of many indications that the colonies were moving farther from the ideological mainstream in England.  A good example of this divide is a letter sent from London merchants to the colonists in February 1765.  This was right about the time when the Stamp Act repeal debates were coming to an end and the repeal was making its way through Parliament.

George Mason
(from Stratford Museum)
The London merchants who authored the letter had been fighting for the Stamp Act repeal so that trade would return to normal. They announced the successful repeal, but warned colonists that any further attempts to challenge Parliamentary authority might force another unpleasant confrontation.  They advised responding to the repeal with “duty, submission, and gratitude.” They sent the public letter to New York merchants.  But as was common, newspapers all across the colonies republished it.

In Virginia, George Mason famously responded to this letter with a public letter of his own. He attacked the tone of the Merchants’ letter. He said it conveyed the typical English attitude that colonists were misbehaving children who needed better manners.  He scoffed at the idea that colonists should be grateful for having to fight for their basic rights as free men.  He went on to point out that Parliament repealed the law, not because they wanted to be nice to the colonies, but because it was in their direct financial interest.  The law killed profitable trade between England and the colonies.  Mason sent the letter to be published in London newspapers.  It made clear that the colonies were in no mood for quiet compromise or conciliation.

The Robinson Scandal

Around this same time, an unexpected event in Virginia only made things worse for the colonial economies.  A scandal resulted in a cash crunch, which only created further divisions.

I already discussed the Wheelwright Affair back in Episode 21.  Elias Wheelwright fled Boston owing hundreds of thousands of pounds to people all over New England.  This one man created a sudden and massive cash crunch in New England in 1765.  A year later, a new crisis caused a similar effect in Virginia.

John Robinson
(from Library of Virginia)
One of the most powerful men in Virginia, John Robinson, who was speaker of the House of Burgesses, Secretary of the Province, and Colonial Treasurer, died in May 1766.  I’ve neglected to mention him so far, but he was a controlling figure in the colony, often more so than the colonial governors who came and went.

Like most powerful men, he had political enemies.  Two members of the House of Burgesses were among his most vocal adversaries.  Richard Henry Lee, had luckily been rejected for Stamp Act Commissioner of Virginia.  This allowed him to become a colonial leader in opposition to the Act.  Patrick Henry, who along with Lee, had successfully opposed Robinson’s 1764 attempt to create a government financed slush fund from which planters could borrow on favorable terms.  Both men distrusted Robinson’s control of colonial finances but did not mount a direct challenge while he lived.

On Robinson’s death, Lee and Henry demanded an audit of his accounts as colonial treasurer.  They suspected that he had commingled government and private funds.  The audit proved them right.  Robinson had embezzled hundreds of thousands of pounds from the government.  Remember all that paper money that Virginia had issued over the previous decade to pay for the French and Indian War?  When that money was repaid in taxes, it was supposed to be taken out of circulation and destroyed.  Apparently, Robinson thought it a shame to burn all that cash and instead decided to take it home.  He used most of it as a private slush fund to provide personal loans to most of the wealthiest, prominent, and politically connected families in the colony.  He had lent money totaling over £130,000.

These loans had helped the wealthy planters get through the difficult years and had offset the harmful effects of the Currency Act of 1764 that I discussed back in Episode 20.  Now, however, Robinson’s estate had to pay that money back to the colony, which meant the planters had to repay their loans to the estate.  Once repaid, all that money could finally be burned. This created a major cash shortage in the colony.  Many wealthy planters had to demand repayment of loans that they made to others in order to repay their loans to Robinson’s estate.  Others had to sell land or other property in a poor market to raise money, leading to financial ruin.  It would take 25 years to settle Robinson’s estate and clean up the financial mess he had created.

More importantly though, the incident tore apart the good old boys’ club that had been the House of Burgesses.  Generally, the rich planter politicians had tried to work together through disputes and keep scandals out of the public eye.  The Robinson Scandal created deep hostile divisions between the members.  Lee’s enemies, for example, released his application to become Stamp Act Commissioner, thus tarnishing his reputation as a Stamp Act opponent.  The affair further destroyed the reputation of the elites among the middle and lower class Virginians, meaning they would be much less deferential in coming years.  The working class who had been suffering through the poor economy were not happy to find out the rich planters were using an illegal slush fund to avoid the same suffering.

Of course, all the suffering from the currency shortage reminded everyone why they were mad at Parliament for passing the Currency Act two years earlier.

The Free Port Act of 1766

Back in London, Parliament was still messing around with trade laws.  A few months after the Stamp Act Repeal, Rockingham’s ministry led Parliamentary passage of the Free Port Act of 1766 and a few related bills, making changes to colonial trade laws. Although Parliament passed several bills with different names related to trade that summer, I’m going to refer to all of them under this one name just to keep things simple.

The Free Port Act set up two free ports in the British West Indies (the Caribbean) where colonial French, Spanish or other islands could trade goods, particularly molasses.  This might have done wonders for ending American sugar smuggling.  Foreign producers could bring their supplies into the two free ports on Domenica.  Then, American merchants could buy what they needed legally.  With the duty now at a reasonable rate, there would be no need to smuggle.  One big problem though - any foreign goods sold at the free ports from foreign colonies, had to go from there to Britain.  Colonists could not buy sugar to take directly back to New England.  This Act was not about improving American trade.  It was about making it more advantageous for French sugar islands to trade with England rather than the American colonies.

Parliament also reduced the duty of threepence per gallon on molasses to one penny.  But since most of this trade had to go through London, the increased shipping costs were far worse than the duties.  Therefore, the tax cut did nothing to reduce smuggling.

Other clauses further restricted trade or attempted to shut down incentives for smuggling.  However, they also made small shipping nearly impossible.  Any ship carrying any cargo had to furnish a bond of at least £1000 (more for larger ships) promising not to land the goods in Europe or Ireland.  This was onerous enough for wealthier merchants in cities with larger ports.  For smaller shippers it was a ridiculous burden.  There were no exceptions for ships staying within a colony or of any minimum size.  In theory, if not practice, the law could apply to traders bringing trade goods down a river in a canoe.  The notion that they were supposed to find a customs agent before starting their trip and post a £1000 bond seems absurd.  Given the difficulties of overland transport, the new rules made legal trade among small local transports virtually impossible.

In short, these laws which were sold to the colonists as an attempt to relieve their trade problems, only made things worse.  These were not violations of fundamental colonial rights, but they did remind colonists that Britain would always keep them at a disadvantage.

Forsey v Cunningham

Turning now to New York, a court case also contributed to colonial grumbling. In 1763, a debt collector named Cunningham tried to collect a £150 debt owed by a man named Forsey.  During the course of discussions, which apparently got rather testy, Cunningham drew his sword and ran through Forsey.  Forsey lived and Cunningham was convicted of assault.  After he recovered, Forsey sued Cunningham for his damages and received a jury award of £1500 (about $350,000 in inflation adjusted dollars) in October 1764.

Forsey v. Cunningham
(from Hist. Soc. NY Courts)
To many, the award seemed far too high, the result of jury bias against debt collectors.  Forsey appealed to New York Lt. Gov. Colden, who was at the time acting Governor.  Colden demanded the judges appear before him and explain why they would did not overrule such an outrageous judgment.  The judges met with Coldon but refused to alter their opinions.  The debate raged throughout 1765 as both sides appealed to officials in London to resolve the issue.  Eventually the English Attorney General and Solicitor General upheld the verdict based on the defendant’s failure to seek a writ of error.  This resolution did not arrive until early 1766.

So for more than a year, colonists saw this ongoing battle as an attempt to subvert jury trials and allow crown appointed governors to have the final say in court cases.  It was another example for the colonists of how hard they had to fight just to keep their basic rights.

The Malcom Affair

Moving up to Boston now, I want to talk about a relatively minor incident, that is interesting because it is an example of similar incidents happening regularly, and why officials got so frustrated in their attempts to enforce customs laws.

In September 1766, custom officials received a tip that Captain Daniel Malcom, a merchant trader, had untaxed wine in his Boston home.  As was common practice, Malcom had a large storage area in his home for storing commercial goods.

Customs Commissioner Benjamin Hallowell along with two customs agents and a deputy arrived to search Malcom’s property early in the morning.  He allowed them to search most of the storage areas, but refused to provide access to a locked cellar, saying he had rented that space to another person and did not have authority, or a key to open the door.  When they threatened to break down the door, Malcom, armed with two pistols and a sword made some threats of his own.

After a tense standoff, the authorities left to gather reinforcements.  They got the Sheriff and also notified the Governor about what was happening.  They also decided to go to court and apply for a regular search warrant.  They already had a general warrant, but as I’ve mentioned before, many considered those to be a violation of their rights.

Officials caught up with Malcom in a public place on King Street, and tried to convince him to allow the search.  Malcom told them that the only way they were getting in was to break in, after which he would sue them for unlawful entry.

That afternoon the Sheriff and four others went back to Malcom’s house, only to find it locked up tight.  As they tried to gain entry, a crowd of onlookers started to gather. The Sheriff saw the beginnings of a mob.  A tense standoff lasted for hours as the Sheriff tried to convince onlookers to join him in a posse.  No one would do so unless he named the informer who claimed there were untaxed goods in the house.  Of course, naming an informer probably would have resulted in him getting a new suit made of tar and feathers.  That was not going to happen.

Finally, after dark, the sheriff and customs officials decided to leave.  Malcom then produced the wine so that the mob could dispose of the evidence in the most enjoyable way.

The reason this particular case of many gets attention is that Gov. Bernard thought that James Otis was behind the event.  It seems that Otis was looking for a test case to challenge the validity of general warrants.  Capt. Malcom was a prominent member of the militia and a friend of Otis.

Bernard took multiple depositions the following day to document the incident for London.  He was trying to make a case for bringing more soldiers to Massachusetts to enforce the law.  Otis then, on behalf of the legislature, demanded Bernard make his documents on the incident available for review.  The legislature sent its own version of events to its agent in London in case the issue arose there.

So although this incident is well documented, it is only one example of a large number of cases where mobs regularly continued to thwart customs officials trying to enforce the law.

Quartering Act Disputes

The Quartering Act also continued to remain a sore spot for the colonies.  Although passed along with the Stamp Act back in 1765, I have not given it much attention up until now because it had not been something the Colonists had complained about nearly as much as the Stamp Act.  Prime Minister Grenville had wisely rejected Gen. Gage’s proposal to allow him to house soldiers in private homes.  The Act merely provided that colonies provide some reasonable housing for soldiers and pay for their needs, such as firewood and candles.

There weren’t that many soldiers stationed in the colonies, so it just wasn’t that much of an issue.  The bulk of British forces remained in Canada after the Seven Years War.  There were small garrisons of no more than a few dozen soldiers at some western forts.  Beyond that, there were a few companies in Georgia and in New York.  None of these seemed to raise much controversy.

Even before the 1765 Act, colonies regularly contributed money for housing soldiers.  Most colonies wanted troops available in case of an Indian attack or slave uprising.  The minimal amount of funds needed to provide housing was generally considered worth it.

During the winter of 1765-1766 though, the mood was much different.  Following the Stamp Act riots, Gen. Gage decided to move several battalions of soldiers from Canada to be stationed in New York City, Philadelphia, and Charleston, all major port cities.  Their purpose clearly was to keep the colonists in line.  Gage would have to move the soldiers through New York.  He demanded the newly arrived NY Gov. Henry Moore supply his troops with housing and supplies as they traveled through NY, pursuant to the Quartering Act.

Gen. Thomas Gage
(from Wikimedia)
Moore, of course, had to go to the Assembly for funds.  They were in no mood to cooperate while still fighting with England over the Stamp Act.  The Assembly refused any funds, arguing that they already paid for the garrisons in Albany and New York City.  They would only reimburse expenses after the fact.  Gage and Moore tried to force the issue, and sent letters back to London regarding New York’s refusal to comply.  The Governor eventually came up with about £400 of money that had been allocated years earlier to fund the troops.

At the same time, New York was in the middle of a land dispute.  Settlers from Connecticut and Massachusetts were crossing into lands long claimed by New York in the Hudson River Valley.  Squatters were setting up farms on land owned by prominent New Yorkers, many of whom sat in the Assembly.  The squatters formed militias to block any attempts to force them off the land or pay rent.  They also threatened to destroy the homes of New York landlords who attempted to enforce their property claims.

Gage seems to have taken some satisfaction in seeing the NY landowners face these squatters.  Many of these wealthy men were Sons of Liberty and who had supported the Stamp Act mobs.  Now those mobs were attacking them and they needed his help.  Even so, when Gov. Moore asked Gage to restore order in the area, he deployed two regiments of regulars to burn the homes of the squatters, and arrest any settlers or militia who resisted.

The New England squatters gave some resistance, with several regulars shot and at least one killed.  However by the end of the summer 1766, New York once again controlled the region.

New Englanders, of course were outraged by the pillaging of the regulars against their farms, but ended up pulling out of the area.  Their account of Gage’s actions reached London first, resulting in Gage receiving a reprimand for involving the army in inter-colonial land disputes.  But at least he had shown New Yorkers the value of an army to keep order and protect property rights.

In the midst of all this, the Assembly obliged Gage by authorizing a barracks bill in June 1766.  It  directed £3000 for the troops.  However, the money came from funds already allocated in earlier years and did not cover all the expenses.  Moore debated vetoing the bill since it really only limited the use of money he already had discretion to spend as he wished.

But in the end Gage urged him to sign it, figuring some funds were better than continued fighting.  Both Gage and Moore wrote back to London about New York’s refusal to obey the requirements of the Quartering Act.  Gage had particular reason to be outraged.  He had just used the army to protect New York property rights in an action that got him in trouble with his superiors, and the ungrateful New Yorkers would not even pay the reasonable housing expenses for the soldiers protecting their property.

In December 1766, the Assembly needed to allocate additional funds.  They simply refused to do so.  The year ended with New York simply refusing to obey the terms of the Quartering Act.

Next Week: Parliament pokes the colonies in the eye once again with passage of the Townshend Acts.

Next Episode 26: The Townshend Acts

Previous Episode 24: Stamp Act Repeal and Declaratory Act

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com).

Further Reading:

Web Sites

Open letter from London merchants about repeal of the Stamp Act (1766): https://drive.google.com/open?id=1NDdoQM80mpdNlMRMbJT9Ld527zLDllqy_jPCSuJUOwE

George Mason’s response to London merchants about the repeal of the Stamp Act (1766): http://www.gunstonhall.org/library/archives/manuscripts/london_merchants.html

Richard Henry Lee, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Lee_Richard_Henry_1732-1794#start_entry

Patrick Henry, https://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Henry_Patrick_1736-1799#start_entry

More on the case of Forsey v. Cunningham: http://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-01/history-new-york-legal-eras-forsey-cunningham.html

Appeals to Privy Council in Forsey v. Cunningham:
http://amesfoundation.law.harvard.edu/ColonialAppeals/TNADocsImageList.php?report_no=08_1765_02

New York land dispute: http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ny/county/columbia/hill/histhills.htm

Free Books
(from archive.org unless noted)

Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of Raising a Revenue, by Act of Parliament, Daniel Dulany (1765)

Colden Letter Books vol. 1, & vol 2, by Cadwallader Colden (1877) (collected correspondence of NY Gov. Cadwallader Colden).

The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774, by Thomas Hutchinson, John Hutchinson (ed) (1828) (This book was edited and published in London using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, by Thomas Hutchinson, Peter Orlando Hutchinson (ed) (1884) (Editor is Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Great Debates in American History, Vol. 1, Marion Mills Miller (ed) (1913).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson (2000).

As If an Enemy's Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution, by Richard Archer (2010).

The Colonial Experience, by David Hawke (1966).

Empire of Fortune, by Francis Jennings (1988).

Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Bernhard Knollenberg (1975).

Origins of the American Revolution, by John Miller (1943).

In a Rebellious Spirit: The Argument of Facts, the Liberty Riot, and the Coming of the American Revolution, by John Phillip Reid (1979).

A New Age Now Begins, Vol. I, by Page Smith (1976).

The Boston Massacre, by Hiller Zobel (1970).

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Episode 024: Stamp Act Repeal and Declaratory Act.




Grenville Leaves Office

Before word of colonial resistance to the Stamp Act even made it back to London, King George removed Prime Minister Grenville from office.  The change of leadership had nothing to do with the colonies.  The King never really liked nor trusted Grenville.  He gave Grenville the job because had not been able to find anyone better to take it.  Although Lord Bute had been forced from office, the King still relied on him for advice.  This drove Grenville nuts.  It was a major source of tension between him and the King.

In 1765, shortly after passage of the Stamp and Quartering Acts, Grenville turned his attention to the Minority Heir to the Crown Act. The King had no objection to the law itself.  King George had young children.  If he died before they reached adulthood, the Act permitted the Queen, or someone else of the King’s choosing, to act as regent.  It was a simple way to prevent any questions about who controlled the government in the event the country ended up with let’s say a seven year old King.  Parliament had passed a similar law when George III was still a minor and, after the death of his father, became the immediate heir to George II.

Augusta of Saxe-Gotha,
King George III's mother
(from Wikimedia)
The problem was how the law was passed. Lawmakers fought over whether the King’s mother was eligible to select a regent.  She was German, had never been Queen, and had never been formally naturalized by Parliament.  The House of Lords removed her from the eligibility list.  There is some evidence that Grenville himself supported exclusion of the King’s mother.  She was allegedly the mistress of his political enemy, Lord Bute.  So giving her a say over the new regent would give Bute power.  Bute might even become the Regent.

The whole affair deeply upset the King’s mother.  The King had to use his influence in the House of Commons to get his mother added back into the law.  Following that, the King decided that Grenville’s role, which was at best public bumbling over whether or not the King of England’s mother was English, was as good a reason as any to demand a new government.

Enter Rockingham

The King gave Grenville the boot in July 1765, sending him back to being an ordinary member in the House of Commons.  The King again considered William Pitt for Prime Minister, but Pitt once again made too many demands.  Eventually the King settled on Charles Watson-Wentworth, the 2nd marquess of Rockingham (we’ll just call him “Rockingham”).  At age 35, Rockingham was rather young to be leading a government, though still eight years older than the King.  He was an wealthy and established member of the nobility.  He had served in the House of Lords since age 22 and was a political protege of Lord Newcastle.  When Rockingham became Prime Minister, Newcastle, now 73 years old, would serve as Lord Privy Seal in the new administration.

Although Rockingham took office in July 1765, Parliament would not meet again until the end of the year and would not begin new business until January 1766. This delay gave London time to learn about and absorb the resistance in the colonies to the Stamp Act.

Colonies Defy Stamp Act

Back in the colonies, the mobs had prevented any tax distributors from taking office.  They had also either destroyed all the stamped paper, or forced it to be kept locked away where it could not be distributed.  Either way, when November 1, 1765 came, local officials were unsure how to proceed.

Marquess of Rockingham
(from Wikimedia)
Newspapers, for the most part, continued to publish without stamped paper, though a few publishers took their names and addresses off of the masthead, in hopes of making it more difficult to prosecute them.  In some cases, publishers had to be persuaded to publish under threat of having their homes or offices destroyed by mobs.  The Sons of Liberty demanded they continue to to publish on unstamped paper.  It’s the only occasion I know of where mobs were threatening a newspaper publisher for NOT publishing.

This is not to say that the Sons of Liberty necessarily wanted a FREE press.  One publisher in North Carolina, after succumbing to pressure to publish, permitted readers to submit letters for publication.  Amidst numerous letters in opposition the the Stamp Act, he published a single letter from a reader who supported Parliamentary authority.  For this infraction, he received various threats, and two weeks later saw the colonial government, backed by the Sons of Liberty, close his press for printing a letter that they considered unacceptable.

Merchant vessels found themselves in a more difficult situation.  Ships could not be cleared to leave port without stamped documents, which were not available.  Customs officials refused to clear any ships to leave harbor at all, meaning trade came to a standstill and out of work sailors roamed the city getting into trouble.  Some colonies realized the futility of this within days and began resumption of trade without stamped documents.  They reasoned that because England had failed to make a distributor with stamped paper available, they could not put the law into effect.  Other colonies, particularly Massachusetts, simply failed to do anything and let ships sit in the harbor for weeks.  It was not until mid-December that Boston started clearing ships again.  North Carolina held out until January.  There, the governor offered to pay the stamp tax fees personally for any merchant who would sail.  However, none of them wanted to be from the only colony using stamps, and they refused to go along.

Even after the ports began allowing vessels to leave, the British navy could still seize vessels without stamped paper.  One zealous naval officer in NY harbor continued to block as many ships as he could from leaving.  Although he could have seized them and taken them to Halifax for condemnation, he simply forced the ships back into NY harbor.  The navy did seize some vessels after boarding them at sea or in another English harbor.  As a result, merchants did their best to avoid the navy.  They did not sail to England.  The stamp tax was being enforced in the English colonies in the West Indies (Caribbean).  Initially merchants were reluctant to sail there.  Those ports, desperate for American trade, permitted them to enter and leave with unstamped paper, so some trade resumed with the Caribbean. Mostly ships traded with European countries or non-British colonies who could care less about stamps.  That was also illegal, but chances of getting caught were lower.

Courts were an even more difficult situation.  Judges, appointed by the King, were obligated to enforce laws regarding the use of unstamped documents in court.  Many courts simply remained closed, refusing to do business.  In Massachusetts, mobs demanded that the courts open and do business without the stamped documents.  They used the arguments of the Virginia Resolves: the Stamp Act was beyond Parliament’s authority and therefore should be considered void.  A few courts opened for brief periods to satisfy the mobs.  Some handled older cases that did not require new paper, in order to avoid the Stamp tax issue, then quickly closed again.

Despite token openings, most civil court business came to a halt.  The Act did not affect criminal courts, so only civil courts were closed.  In many cases, this benefited debtors in the colonies.  They could not be sued by creditors, most of whom were English merchants seeking repayment of debts.  In a few colonies, courts opened without requiring stamped documents.  Judges were risking removal by doing so.  Even there though, lawyers were reluctant to proceed for fear of creating legal challenges that could result in them being sued for malpractice.  So even where courts were open, litigation remained limited.

Stamp Act Opposition in England

Parliament almost immediately felt pressure from all sides to repeal the Stamp Act.  The colonial petitions were easy enough to ignore.  But others within England raised the same concerns.  Newspaper articles appeared all over England from working class people and merchants complaining about the Stamp Act and its effects.  Many at the time, and some later historians, thought this was a groundswell of support among the English commoners for the colonies.  In fact, the vast majority of those articles were written and sent by one man, Benjamin Franklin, still working in London as a colonial agent.  He invented false names and sent articles to newspaper editors all over the country.

Franklin’s little fraud aside, there were a great many merchants suffering from the loss of trade and the inability of colonists to repay their debts.  The truth was that trade without taxes had benefited England greatly.  This trade killing dispute was hurting the English economy, the English merchants, and those who worked for them.

Not only were old debts not being paid, colonial merchants were not trading with England at all.  No vessels arrived to buy new English goods for the colonies.

Some colonies or more accurately groups within colonies, began developing non-importation agreements against England, though not nearly as extensive or organized as we will see later.  Beyond the political popularity of such agreements, colonial ships did not want to travel to England with unstamped papers and risk seizure of their vessels.  The colonial economy was tanking and no one had money to buy British imports anyway.  The 1764 trade laws had already started an American initiative to become more self sufficient and make more goods domestically.  The anti-British feeling over the Stamp Act only increased this sentiment.

This crash in trade was killing London merchants.  They were not selling their goods, and were increasingly unable to collect on debts in the colonies.  Parliament received petitions and letters, not only from London merchants but from manufacturers all over England calling for repeal of the Stamp Act.  These petitions did not care about the rights asserted by the colonists. They simply focused on the fact that the law was destroying their trade and their ability to pay their workers.

When the King addressed the opening of the new Parliamentary session on December 17, 1765, he requested that Parliament do something about the mess in the colonies, but left it vague as to what he thought should be done.  Parliament’s response was equally vague, promising to “apply utmost diligence and attention to those important occurrences in America.”

Rockingham and his ministers viewed the Stamp Act as a mistake.  Grenville would have had a much harder time backing down since the Act was his idea in the first place.  In fact, Grenville proposed a much more militant response to the King’s message, stating the Parliament would take necessary measures to preserve the legal dependence of the colonies on England.  Parliament rejected his proposal overwhelmingly.

By the time Parliament got back to work in January 1766, Rockingham had already decided to repeal the act.  He began reaching out to Pitt, who remained leader of the opposition, to make a deal.  Pitt, still annoyed that he was not Prime Minister himself, refused to cooperate.  Pitt and his faction, of course, would support repeal, but did not want to look like they were cooperating with the leadership.

Stamp Act Repeal & Declaratory Act

With near universal agreement in Parliament that something had to be done, there were essentially three schools of thought on exactly what course to take.  One, led by Grenville, argued that there might need to be some amendment or tweaking needed but that Parliament should not back down in the face of resistance.  The Pitt faction that believed these taxes as a matter of principle were wrong and demanded immediate repeal along with a promise never to try anything like this again.  In the middle were men who seemed to recognize repeal was necessary, but only as a matter of policy.  This group wanted to retain the authority to tax the colonies, even if they chose not to exercise it at this time.

Rockingham’s position was the middle ground.  If a bill could get the Pitt faction to support repeal but not push away the overwhelming majority of members who believed that Parliament had the authority to tax the colonies. It might find a reasonable compromise.

Parliament had refused even to consider any petitions that suggested it had no right to tax the colonies.  For most members Parliamentary authority was an issue beyond dispute. Most also accepted the reality that the Stamp Act was a complete failure and was damaging both the English and colonial economies.  But they did not want to establish a precedent that mobs in the colonies could dictate to Parliament what its power and authority was.  Any suggestion in any repeal that gave the indication that Parliament could not tax the colonies would have gone down to overwhelming defeat.

William Pitt
(from Wikimedia)
Grenville led the opposition to any repeal.  He argued before Parliament that the colonies should not be rewarded for opposition to its authority. Backing down would only encourage more resistance and mob violence in the future.  In response, Pitt finally rose to give his famous speech of January 14, 1766 in opposition to the Stamp Act.  It praised the colonists for standing up for their liberties and condemned the Stamp Act as an attempt to enslave the colonists.

Pitt’s support of repeal actually made things harder for the Administration.  He essentially praised the colonies for refusing to accede to Parliament and called for the immediate and complete repeal.  The administration knew that arguing Parliament had no right to levy taxes on the colonies would only cause them to dig in their heels.  Rockingham wanted to stick to the much more practical argument that the law was hurting the English economy.

As a result, the Administration took no action in Parliament for another month, giving Pitt’s opponents time to cool down and hear more from constituents suffering under the current law.  On February 3, Rockingham attempted to increase support for repeal by introducing the Declaratory Act, which was formally called the American Colonies Act of 1766.  The Act simply stated clearly the Parliament had the authority to pass laws to bind the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”  There was some debate whether to add an explicit line on the authority to tax.  That was rejected as needlessly provocative.  Clearly “all cases whatsoever” included the right to tax.  At the same time, the Pitt faction tried to get the phrase “in all cases whatsoever” removed from the bill.  That amendment also failed.

Finally, on February 21, Henry Conway introduced the Repeal of the Stamp Act into the House.  Conway was the only member of Commons in the Rockingham Administration.  He was a member of the Pitt faction and was serving as Secretary of State for the Southern Department, which was responsible for North American affairs.  Conway had voted against the Stamp Act the year before, and seemed to agree with Pitt’s sentiments.  However, he held his tongue on colonial rights and simply focused on the economic need to repeal the Act.

Henry Conway
(From Wikimedia)
The Administration spent the next few weeks providing Parliament with correspondence from Colonial governors talking about the economic woes in America.  They tried to cover over as much as possible any discussion about Colonial views on the authority of Parliament.  At Rockingham’s prompting, several colonial agents in London submitted petitions again focusing on the economic problems and not mentioning the dispute over the authority to tax.  One agent, Benjamin Franklin appeared before Parliament to answer questions.  Franklin testified that the colonies already paid considerable taxes locally and could not be taxed more.  He discussed the economic woes in America and argued that this unpopular tax could never be enforced even if Parliament elected to send a standing army to enforce it.  He further argued that Parliament could raise money through external duties, but that the colonists would not accept internal taxes from Parliament.

Franklin, of course, knew that colonists were quite hostile even to external tariffs.  His private correspondence paints an understanding of the much more radical positions in the colonies.  It seems his rehearsed testimony was designed to appeal to those in Parliament inclined to repeal the Stamp Act, but who would not give up on the right of Parliament to levy such taxes in the future.  Like any good lobbyist, Franklin was concerned about the law’s repeal, not furthering some broader philosophical debate.

Despite the ministry’s efforts, most of parliament seemed to oppose the bill since it looked like they were backing down before lawless mobs.  The King directly let it be known that he supported the bill.  That was enough to take the air out of the opposition.  After the King's intervention, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act and the Repeal of the Stamp Act, with final passage of both on the same day: March 18, 1766.  Both acts passed overwhelmingly with large majorities.  The laws also passed the House of Lords and received the King’s approval, taking effect on May 1, 1766.

Shortly after passage, Rockingham passed another bill voiding any penalties owed under the Stamp Act during the six months it was technically in force.  If Parliament wanted to put all that unpleasantness behind them, the last thing they needed was to make martyr out of some merchant or lawyer over a penalty of a few pounds.  Similarly, in 1767, when Massachusetts passed a bill to reimburse victims of mob riots for the destruction of their homes and property, it included a provisioning pardoning all of those involved in the riots.   Some in London raised concerns about pardoning these criminals, but in the end the Privy Council let the bill become law without objection. Best to act like the Stamp Act never happened.

Colonies Rejoice 

Repeal of the Stamp Act met with near universal celebration throughout the colonies.  Leaving aside concerns over the Declaratory Act, which we’ll talk more about next week, everyone seemed overjoyed at the news from London.  Cities held parades and festivities, not only that year, but celebrated it as an annual event for the next decade.

Celebration of Stamp Act Repeal, 1766
(from Princeton)
Government officials were also relieved to be free of the tension between instructions from London and angry mobs threatening their homes.  The Sons of Liberty, feeling empowered, became a permanent fixture throughout the colonies.  They would continue to organize and coordinate against future threats to their freedom.

Grenville may have lost his fight over repeal, but he was absolutely right that the colonists took the repeal as evidence of weakness.  Colonists were much more willing to push back against unpopular legislation from Parliament, including continued opposition to trade restrictions and duties.

Next week, we shall see that, while things get better for a while, the tensions between Britain and her colonies remain.

Next Episode 25: Tensions Simmer

Previous Episode 23: The Stamp Act Congress

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com).

Further Reading:

Web Sites

Full text of the Stamp Act of 1765: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/stamp_act_1765.asp

Good easy to read summary of Stamp Act details: https://www.landofthebrave.info/stamp-act.htm

The Stamp Act, a Brief History, by Mary Nesnay (JAR) (2014):
https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/the-stamp-act-a-brief-history

Declaration of Rights and Grievances (full text): http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/resolu65.asp

Stamp Act Congress Petitions (full text): https://books.google.com/books?id=jQ1FAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA481 (I have not found a good web site for these petitions, other than the appendix of Hutchinson’s book, which is thankfully available online.  If anyone has a better source to link, please let me know).

William Pitt’s Opposition to the Stamp Act, January 14, 1766: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1751-1775/william-pitts-speech-on-the-stamp-act-january-14-1766.php

Notes on Benjamin Franklin’s testimoney before parliament on Repeal of the Stamp Act, Feb. 13, 1766: http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=13&page=159a

Repeal of the Stamp Act (full text): http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/repeal_stamp_act_1766.asp

Declaratory Act (full text): http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/declaratory_act_1766.asp

Free eBooks
(from archive.org unless noted)

The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774, by Thomas Hutchinson, John Hutchinson (ed) (1828) (This book was edited and published in London using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, by Thomas Hutchinson, Peter Hutchinson (ed) (1884) (Editor was Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Great Debates in American History, Vol. 1, Marion Mills Miller (ed) (1913).

Debates on the Repeal of the Stamp Act, from The American Historical Review, Vol 17 by H. Temperley (1912).

Cambridge Modern History, Vol. 6, (18th Century Britain), S. Ward, G. Prothero, & S. Leathes (eds) (1902).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson (2000).

The Colonial Experience, by David Hawke (1966).

Empire of Fortune, by Francis Jennings (1988).

Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Bernhard Knollenberg (1975).

Origins of the American Revolution, by John Miller (1943).

A New Age Now Begins, Vol. I, by Page Smith (1976).

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Episode 023: The Stamp Act Congress




No one was surprised that the colonies were not fans of the Stamp Act.  The Act drew near universal condemnation.  The only thing that divided colonists were between the camp that believed, yeah, it sucks but the law is the law and those in the camp of this will not stand!  A surprisingly large number of people at all levels of colonial society seemed to be in the latter camp.

The objections went far beyond, taxes are annoying because they cost me money.  Rather, people in all classes seemed to accept the opinion held only by radical Whigs in London that this was a fundamental freedom issue.

Even if the new taxes did not hit you personally, or at least not very hard, everyone seemed to grasp that this could be the beginning of much larger problems.  Once colonists accepted the idea that Parliament could lay direct taxes on them, there was no line they could draw when those taxes became higher, broader, and more intrusive.  Without representation in Parliament, the colonies had no effective way to prevent the government from continually reaching into the colonial piggy bank any time they needed a little extra cash.  And let’s face it, all governments think they can use a little extra cash.

Protest image of Stamp,
originally published in the
Pennsylvania Journal
(from Wikimedia)
Some in London thought this might be resolved by giving the colonists a few representatives in Parliament.  This idea never went anywhere because the colonists themselves rejected the idea.  If you had separate tax policies for England and the colonies, a small minority of members would not be able to do anything as the English majority passed legislation against their interests.  Colonists saw the way England was able to suck money out of Wales and Scotland.  Even with some representation in Parliament, those regions remained much poorer and dependent on England and its majority in Parliament.

Any principled stand, therefore, had to be based on the idea that colonial taxes could only come from colonial legislatures.  Parliament never had authorization to tax colonists and that this power grab was an act of tyranny.  It’s also worth noting that the wrath of the colonists was squarely focused on Parliament and the Grenville ministry, not the King himself.

Colonists were emphatically not seeking independence.  They wanted to be partners in the royal empire governed by King George.  The English Parliament would regulate England while colonial legislatures would regulate the colonies.  They could still cooperate in protecting all British interests from outside attack.  Under current law, when colonial legislatures passed any law, it had to be approved by the King through the Privy Council.  Therefore, the King still retained control over colonial actions. No one was seeking to change that.  They simply wanted the English Parliament to deal with matters in England, while colonial legislature dealt with matters for the colonies.

Legislative Protest

Like the previous year with the Sugar Act, colonial legislatures sent protests to Parliament and petitions to the King objecting to the Stamp Act.  Before the Act even passed, six colonies had written protests saying that such an act was unacceptable.

In Massachusetts, James Otis had become head of the legislature’s Committee of Correspondence.  Rather than simply shoot off another petition to Parliament, Otis recommended Massachusetts encourage other colonies to get together in a regional Congress.  That way, the colonies could put forth a united effort to repeal the Stamp Act.  This initiative led to the Stamp Act Congress a few months later, and which I will get to in a few minutes.  This proposal had the effect of delaying an immediate response in most colonies.  Most seemed content to wait for a coordinated event in the fall.

The Virginia Resolves

Virginia, like the other colonies, seemed content to wait for concerted action later in the year.  They probably would have done so, but for the actions of one freshman member of the House of Burgesses who wanted to make a statement before the session ended.  Patrick Henry was still in his late 20’s and already had a reputation for being a troublemaker.  His had built on the reputation established by the Parson’s case I discussed back in Episode 17.  As a member of the House of Burgesses, he had already attacked a bill that year that would have helped credit-starved plantation owners to borrow government funds.  It was supported by the leadership and as you might guess, by many of the wealthiest plantation owners in the colony.  Henry spoke out against the bill and saw it defeated, winning him no friends in the House.

Patrick Henry arguing for the Virginia Resolves
(artist's conception Peter Rothermel 1841)
(from Wikimedia)
In late May 1765, as the members were rushing to get out of town before the summer heat, Henry decided to introduce five resolves in response to the Stamp Act. These came to be known as the Virginia Resolves.  The first four were relatively uncontroversial, which in summary said, Colonists have the same rights as subjects in Britain, that Britain only taxes its people through the authority of its representative body, and that Virginia has traditionally only been taxed by its own elected legislature.  The fifth, resolve, however raised some eyebrows:

Resolved, therefor that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony and that every Attempt to vest such Power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom.

Virginians could only be taxed by the colonial legislature, and not Parliament, was the crux of the whole dispute and the most hotly contested point.  The Burgesses debated the resolves and passed them in a closely divided vote.  Because several more conservative members were not present for the vote, they held a second vote the next day that repealed the controversial fifth resolve.

Despite the repeal, newspapers all over the continent and in Britain reported all five resolves, making Virginia look like a hotbed of protest.  To enflame issues even more, most papers reported two additional resolves that were never considered.  One said that colonists were not bound to pay any taxes other than those of the General Assembly, and another that said anyone who supported other taxes in speech or writing, should be deemed an enemy of the colony.  Passed or not, these were the fighting words everyone read in the papers.

Street Mobs in Boston

Some colonial leaders realized that tough words were not enough.  They would only defeat the Stamp Act by refusing to allow it to take effect.  Nine Boston working class men formed a group in the summer of 1765 known as the Loyal Nine.  Their purpose was to prevent Stamp Act enforcement in Massachusetts.  The group expanded quickly and changed its name, in honor of Isaac Barré’s speech, to the Sons of Liberty.  This group was not interested in recruiting lawyers and politicians.  Rather, they were looking for working class folks who did not mind brawling in the streets.

Andrew Oliver
(from Wikimedia)
On the morning of August 14, Bostonians found two hanging effigies on High Street.  One was labeled “A.O. The Tax Man”, a clear reference to Andrew Oliver, who had been appointed the Stamp Tax agent for Massachusetts.  The other effigy was the devil, but some thought it was meant to represent Prime Minister Grenville himself.  When the Sheriff tried to take down the effigies, an angry mob chased him away.

Later that day, about 3000 men led by Ebenezer Mackintosh, the gang leader we discussed in Episode 21, descended on the wharf to destroy a small recently built shack that was to become the Stamp Tax office.  After disassembling it and throwing the pieces into a bonfire, the mob marched to Andrew Oliver’s house.  Oliver had wisely fled and remained in hiding as the mob destroyed everything in his house.

It is important to remember that Boston, like virtually every city and town in North America, had no professional police force.  They had a sheriff, who in times of trouble that required more hands, had authority to call up the militia to restore order.  As the mob was rampaging through the streets on the 14th, Gov. Bernard asked the Sheriff to call up the militia.  The Sheriff had to inform him that most of the militia in the mob already.  With that, Bernard instructed his servants to hide his valuables and fled to the safety of Castle William in Boston Harbor.

Lt. Gov. Hutchinson showed a little more backbone by confronting the mob in the streets with the Sheriff and reading them the Riot Act.  That was a real thing.  The Riot Act required authorities to inform an unlawful assembly that they needed to disburse before using force, often lethal force, to break up the rioters.  Before he could finish, the mob chased Hutchinson and the Sheriff down the street.  Fortunately for them, they both escaped the mob and went into hiding.

The next day, a group of men met with Oliver to recommend he resign as stamp tax collector before something worse happened.  Oliver pointed out that he had not yet even received his formal appointment, but did announce he would not collect any taxes and would send instructions to London that he would not accept the position.

Stamp Act Protest (from Wordpress)
That small victory led to further rioting on Aug. 26.  Rumors swirled for days in advance.  People from the countryside swarmed into Boston to participate.  Again led by Ebenezer Mackintosh, the group targeted the homes of Charles Paxton - Surveyor of Customs, Benjamin Hallowell -  Comptroller of Customs, and William Story, Register of the Vice-Admiralty Court.  Paxton’s landlord, eager to save his property, bought off the mob by bringing out a barrel of rum punch and convincing the rioters that he was on their side and could they please not destroy his property.  Hallowell and Story were not as lucky as now drunken rioters ransacked and destroyed their homes, also raiding their large wine cellars and getting even more drunk.  Next, they turned to Lt. Gov. Hutchinson’s mansion.  Unlike the others, Hutchinson had remained in his home.  But threatening mobs forced him to flee for his life along with his family as rioters stole or destroyed nearly every piece of furniture and other items in his lavish home.  They even began ripping off the roof shingles and cutting down a cupola on the top of the house.

You may ask why they did not simply burn the homes.  Doing so would likely cause an out of control fire that would destroy neighbors’ homes as well.  The mob remained disciplined enough to restrict the damage to the actual targets of their wrath.  Let’s keep our riots neat and tidy guys.

One might be tempted to attribute the rioting to the organizing skills of Samuel Adams and the new Sons of Liberty organization.  But, in fact, Boston was not the only town where such rioting occurred.

Newport Mobs

On August 27, a group in Newport Rhode Island hung effigies in town bearing the likenesses of Augustus Johnston, the designated Stamp distributor for the colony, as well as Thomas Moffet and Martin Howard, outspoken advocates for British taxation.  It is not clear if the date was coordinated with the Boston Riots, but there is evidence that the Rhode Island protesters had been planning for at least a week.

When Johnston did not take the hint to resign the next day, rioters moved that evening to ransack the homes of the three men who had been hung in effigy.  The men themselves sought refuge on a British naval vessel in the harbor.  On the 28th, Johnston resigned his office.  Rioters actually returned most of his household items afterwards.

More Mobs Elsewhere

In Maryland, Zachariah Hood was hanged in effigy on Aug. 29.  Failing to take the hint, he saw his warehouses burned on Sept. 2.  Undeterred, Hood fled to New York where he remained under military protection.  When he finally tried to leave his protective custody in November, a group or 100 men kidnapped him and forced him to resign.  Returning home to Maryland, he found that no one in the colony would do business with him.  Broken, he eventually moved to England.

In Connecticut, Stamp distributor Jared Ingersoll was also kidnapped and forced to resign in front of an angry mob.  In Pennsylvania, John Hughes who was the Stamp distributor for the colony, was hanged in effigy and had to put his house under guard.  He was also Speaker of the House and refused to send delegates to the Stamp Act Congress, leading to a tense night in front of his home between angry mobs and armed guards.  Although he avoided outright violence, his career in politics was over and he found that even doing business was nearly impossible.  He eventually left Pennsylvania for good.

Stamp tax officials in other colonies quickly resigned their commissions either upon hearing of possible threats against them or their property, or simply based on what they had heard about in places like Boston and Newport.  Unlucky George Mercer of Virginia arrived on a ship from England in October, with stamped paper aboard the same ship, met at the dock by an angry crowd of 2000, he was obliged to resign his commission before he could disembark.

Gov. Colden, NY
(from Wikimedia)
In New York, the Stamp Act agent had been forced to resign early on.  However, when the stamped paper arrived on Oct. 23rd, Gov. Colden, supported by 180 British regulars, decided to unload the stock at Fort George secretly at night.  The public quickly discovered what had happened and a mob of 2000 men besieged the fort.  They destroyed the British commander’s home, threw rocks at the soldiers in the fort, and taunted at them to fire.

The soldiers wisely decided not to fire on the crowd.  Maj. James could have fired the “shot heard around the world” that day in 1765.  Doing so likely would have resulted in the mob arming itself and overrunning the fort.  Gen. Gage was in the city, but not in the fort, trying to give the impression that everything was fine.  He wanted the Governor to turn over the paper and prevent bloodshed.  After a couple of weeks, on Nov. 5, Gov. Colden did just that. Like Boston, the mobs in New York were large, angry and motivated.  Unlike Boston, they were not terribly organized.  This indicates that the lower classes were just as motivated as anyone else to block the Stamp Act.  They did not need upper class leaders to challenge officials.

By Nov. 1, the day the Stamp Act was supposed to go into effect, only Georgia, which still had several companies of British regulars on hand, and a relatively small Sons of Liberty group, was able to make any attempt at enforcing the new law.  The tax distributor in that colony arrived in December, sold a few stamped documents before he too wisely decided to pack up and go.

The Stamp Act Congress

Massachusetts had proposed a meeting for a coordinated political response to the Stamp Act.  In light of the summer riots, such a meeting seemed more important than ever.  Despite that, four Governors successfully prevented state legislatures from meeting to select delegates.  Therefore, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia did not send delegates.  Nova Scotia, also invited, declined to send a delegation.

Twenty-seven delegates from nine colonies met in New York’s City Hall (later called Federal Hall) on October 7, 1765.  Over the next 18 days, the group negotiated a response.  Sadly for historians, the meetings were not open to the public and no good notes of the negotiations have survived, although there is a bare bones Journal of events..  The Congress first produced a Declaration of Rights and Grievances which made clear they remained loyal to the king and owed “all due subordination” to Parliament.  They stated that they had the same rights as subjects in Britain, including the right not to be taxed except through their representatives.  They were not represented in Parliament and could not be properly represented there.  Therefore, only their local legislatures could impose taxes.

Stamp Act Congress (from history1700s)
Next, they focused on the age old British right totrial by jury.  They argued that trying cases in admiralty courts subverted that right.

The Congress also pointed out the real world problems with the law, extracting hard currency for taxes, when there was not enough in the colonies to pay it.  It would certainly prevent them from having money to make private purchases from British merchants.

Therefore, the Congress humbly requested the repeal of the Stamp Act and use of admiralty courts to try the colonists.

The Congress used the Declaration to produce petitions for the King, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.  The full texts of these documents are interesting.  The Petition to the King comes with the humility and flattery you reserve for the guy who can have you hanged if he decides you are being too impertinent.  We love being British subjects and all, but would you mind reinstating our basic rights to tax ourselves and have jury trials?  The House of Lords petition focuses more on the need to restore ancient rights.  The Commons petition focuses more on the economic harm and points out the harm to both British and colonial economies that the loss of trade will cause if the law continues.

Interestingly, none of the documents advocated resistance to the law, addressed the rioting taking place, or threatened any sort of action should the King or Parliament fail to act.  The threats of loss of trade were not explicit threats of boycott.  Rather, they were simple economics - take away all our cash and we won’t have any to buy from your merchants in London.

The Congress sent the petitions to London but did not release them to the public.  It would not be until the following spring when a Boston newspaper received copies and published them.  Most Americans found them too timid and weak.

The obsequious language and the failure to reference any colonial reactions to the law was quite intentional.  The Congress did not want to give any indication that it was fomenting treason.  Some thought the the Congress, which was extra-legal, might itself be treason.  Directly attacking royal or parliamentary authority in a more aggressive way might be seen as advocating treason.  Similarly, discussing riots or boycotts in any way other than complete condemnation, which they were not ready to do, could also be construed as treason.  Therefore, best to ignore those issues.

Despite the keeping the petitions mild and respectful, Parliament rejected them as coming from an unlawful assembly.  London was not going to encourage colonies getting together and coordinating a united strategy against the government.

Conclusion

November 1, 1765, the day the Stamp Act took effect, came and no one was using the required stamps.  Essentially now all trade, court activity, and publications were illegal as they did not have the required stamped paper to perform any of those activities. Newspapers continued to publish without the stamps.  No one seemed sure what to do at this point.  Colonial authorities mostly awaited instructions from London.

Next week, Parliament and the administration meets colonial resistance by quietly backing down.

Next Episode 24: Stamp Act Repeal and Declaratory Act

Previous Episode 22: Stamp Act and Quartering Act of 1765

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com).

Further Reading:

Web Sites

Full text of the Stamp Act of 1765: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/stamp_act_1765.asp

Good easy to read summary of Stamp Act details: https://www.landofthebrave.info/stamp-act.htm

The Stamp Act, a Brief History, Journal of the American Revolution:
https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/the-stamp-act-a-brief-history

Declaration of Rights and Grievances (full text): http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/resolu65.asp

Stamp Act Congress Petitions (full text): https://books.google.com/books?id=jQ1FAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA481#v=onepage&q&f=false
I have not found a good web site for these petitions, other than the appendix of Hutchinson’s book which is thankfully available online.  If anyone has a better source to link, please let me know.

Free Books
(from archive.org unless noted)

Journal of the first Congress of the American Colonies, in opposition to the tyrannical acts of the British Parliament, by Stamp Act Congress, Lewis Cruger (ed) (1845) (This is the journal of the Stamp Act Congress proceedings).

The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol. 1, by Harry Cushing (ed) (1904).

Samuel Adams, by James Hosmer (1913).

The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774, by Thomas Hutchinson, John Hutchinson (ed) (1828) (This book was edited and published in London using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, by Thomas Hutchinson, Peter Hutchinson (ed) (1884) (Editor was Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Great Debates in American History, Vol. 1, Marion Mills Miller (ed) (1913).

James Otis, the Pre-revolutionist, by John Clark Ridpath (1898)

The Life of James Otis, of Massachusetts, by William Tudor (1823).


Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson (2000).

The Colonial Experience, by David Hawke (1966).

Empire of Fortune, by Francis Jennings (1988).

Growth of the American Revolution 1766-1775, Bernhard Knollenberg (1975).

Origins of the American Revolution, by John Miller (1943).

The Stamp Act Crisis, by Edmund & Helen Morgan (1953).

A New Age Now Begins, Vol. I, by Page Smith (1976).

The Stamp Act Congress, by C.A. Weslager (1976) (Includes a complete copy of Stamp Act Congress Journal).

The Vice - Admiralty Courts and the American Revolution, by Carl Ubbelohde (1960).

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Episode 022: The Stamp Act and Quartering Act of 1765




As 1764 closed, the colonies were still fighting over the Sugar Act and Currency Act.  But while there was considerable grumbling and some evasion, neither of the acts had led to rioting in the streets.  As 1765 began, Prime Minister Grenville moved forward with more plans to increase revenue from the colonies.

The Stamp Act

He started with the Stamp Act.  A Stamp Tax was not a new idea.  England had imposed a stamp tax on its own subjects since 1694, when Parliament borrowed the idea from the Dutch.  Essentially the law required all legal documents, such as contracts, court filings, etc. to have a stamp on them indicating that a tax had been paid.
One Penny Stamp
(from Wikimedia)

In 1712, Parliament increased the scope of the tax to cover newspapers and other periodicals.  The tax not only raised a fair amount of revenue, it helped the government keep control of publications since all publishers would be required to print not only the proof of payment of the stamp tax, but the name and address of the publisher making payments.  Authorities could much more easily arrest publishers who printed seditious, obscene, or other criminal publications.

The tax in Britain had detractors, who considered it a tax on a free press and on the dissemination of ideas.  But the law had been in place for decades, worked well, and raised a fair amount of revenue.

Part of the incentive for extending the stamp tax to the colonies may have been an attempt to control problem publications.  However, the main appeal for Grenville seemed to be its ease of enforcement.  Many of the most expensive stamp taxes were on legal documents.  If a document did not have the stamp, it was not legally enforceable in court.  Untaxed newspapers could also be tracked back relatively easily to the publisher to exact a fine.

Stamp Act Plans

Grenville developed a thorough and well thought out plan for drafting, implementing, and enforcing a stamp tax on the colonies.  He relied heavily on two men with considerable colonial experience: London merchant Henry McCulloh, who had lived for many years in North Carolina, and John Tabor Kempe, New York’s Attorney General (although Kempe’s role was a secret until many years later).

Consideration of a Stamp Act was no surprise either.  Grenville had submitted a circular letter to colonial governors about it the year before, directing them to send a list of the different types of papers used in colonial legal proceedings to help him develop the taxes that would apply to them.  Grenville also discussed the idea in detail with colonial agents.   The agents, of course reported these discussions to their colonial legislatures and to others through private correspondence.

George Grenville
(from Wikimedia)
Several of the 1764 petitions against the Sugar Act specifically reference the possibility of a proposed Stamp Act as a further dangerous step.  At the end of 1764, Grenville met with colonial agents to discuss the need for such taxes.  He pointed out that the war had left Britain more than £140 million in debt and that government and military costs in the colonies was costing about £350,000 per year.  Colonies had to pay at least some of that cost.

The agents made clear to Grenville that the colonies would not accept an internal tax.  Everyone seemed to appreciate the need for revenue to cover British expenses in America, but could not agree on a way to do it.  Grenville asked the agents if there was a way Parliament could come up with an amount each colony had to contribute and leave it to the local legislature to raise the money.  He also floated the idea of having the legislatures approve the Stamp Act ahead of time, thus creating a precedent that tax plans must receive prior approval from the local legislatures.

I think that Grenville knew that both ideas were not going to work.  First, England had never come up with a way to divide the costs among the colonies.  Population might not be fair since population did not always correlate with colonial wealth.  Besides, that raised the question about counting slaves or Indians in the population.  Just coming up with an amount due for each colony would be an endless battle, with legislatures inevitably balking at the bills.

The notion of pre-approval also would never fly.  The power of approval, necessarily contains the power not to approve.  If the local legislatures could reject the bills, they most certainly would in most cases.  Then what?  Was Parliament going to beg and plead with the colonies to pay their bills?  That was not going to happen.

Grenville became more convinced that a single unified system of taxation, applied evenly to all colonies, was the best way to proceed.  Only a single body, Parliament, could create such a law.  Colonial governments would have to be subordinate to Parliament and accept its laws.  There was no other way to make this work.

The final version of the Act placed a tax on 54 different types of documents, including newspapers, playing cards, legal documents, calendars, almanacs, certificates, diplomas, contracts, wills, Bills of Sale and Licenses.  Some taxes were as low as a half-penny per document.  The most expensive, a license to practice law required a £10 tax payment.  The levels of taxation were not out of line with the taxes charged in England.  Many were actually considerably lower.

Colonial Newspapers

Before we get into the Parliamentary debate, I thought it worth giving a little background on colonial era newspapers.

The Act assessed a duty of ½ penny on a half sheet of paper (or smaller), and 1 penny for a full sheet.  That is a little misleading though since a single sheet was very large and normally be folded into several pages of a newspaper.  Larger documents paid more, with a duty of 1s (12 pence) per sheet.  Almanacs, also regularly printed by newspaper publishers, paid 4p for a two sided sheet.

Pennsylvania Gazette
(from beforehistory.com)
In addition the new law levied a fee of 2s per advertisement.  The duty on ads was for the entire run, not for each copy of the newspaper, like the per sheet charges.  But for smaller ads in smaller papers, that might be more than the printer charged for the ad itself. Other periodicals incurred the taxes as well, but books were exempt.

Newspapers in the colonial era were already more expensive than the 19th Century “penny press” that resulted from automated printing presses and cheap acid paper.  Colonial papers required printing by hand, meaning that at most, a publisher might print only a few hundred copies.  They were often printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper, folded in half, making a total of four pages. I have not found a good source for the cost of a paper in the colonies.  The London Gazette from this era cost 2 1/2 pence per issue. There were no newsstands.  Virtually all newspapers were sold by subscription.  Costs generally limited sales to wealthier merchants or other upper income professions.  Public taverns sometimes subscribed, so patrons could read the paper there, or listen to it read aloud.  I have seen some notices encouraging customers to buy Almanacs early that year because the Stamp Act would double the cost.

Newspapers were also rare.  The Colonies probably had a total of two dozen newspaper publishers at the time, with some colonies not having one at all.  Newspapers tended to be printed only in the larger cities.  Reporting often consisted of reprinting articles from other newspapers sent from London, with a few articles on major local events.

Much like today, newspapers were often critical of government officials and their policies.  So many leaders did not much like them.  In 1671, Governor William Berkeley of Virginia wrote
I thank God, there are no free schools nor printing and I hope we shall not have, these hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both.
This was probably a view shared by many in London who felt it best to keep laborers ignorant and uninformed.  Taxes and regulations on newspapers helped to keep them limited in number and under government control.

That said, colonists seemed to have a powerful appreciation for a free press.  The trial of Peter Zenger a few decades earlier is celebrated because a jury refused to convict a newspaper editor of publishing true information about the government, even though doing so met the legal definition of libel at the time.  A newspaper tax would be seen not only as an illegal tax, but as an assault on a free press as well.  Let’s not forget the fact that two professions you really don’t want to rile up are lawyers and newspaper editors.  Most political leaders tend to be lawyers and newspaper editors, who tend to set the opinions for the population.  A tax that goes after these groups particularly hard is going to lead to trouble.

The only other leading profession was that of Minister.  The stamp Act did not go after ministers directly, but it did allude to ecclesiastical courts.  There were no ecclesiastical courts in the colonies at the time.  In England, they judged moral issues and were run by the Bishops.  This was another hint that London planned to foist Anglican Bishops on the colonies.  Ministers from the other religions had strong incentive to fight that as well.

Additional Costs 

The Stamp Act included taxes not limited to paper.  There was a tax on dice as well as a tax on hiring apprentices, essentially a crude form of income tax.  The law also increased costs in other ways.  Tax stamps were pre-printed on paper in London.  This meant if you ran a paper mill in the colonies, your product was of limited use.  The cost of shipping paper from London would be another increased cost on colonists.

Shipping costs also began to run higher.  Remember all that paperwork that the Sugar Act added for merchant vessels last year?  Well now all that paperwork has to be done on paper with a stamp tax paid on it.

Parliament Debates the Stamp Act

Unlike the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act actually got some pushback in Parliament.  During the February 1765 debate on the bill, radical Whigs like William Pitt and Isaac Barré (who we last met in Episode 13 when he was shot in the face at the Battle of Quebec) objected to the attempt to impose internal taxes on the colonies.  Unlike the Sugar Act, which was sold as an external tax, the Stamp Act was clearly internal.

If you already understand this internal/external dispute, I feel compelled to suggest that you probably spend way too much time in a dark room reading really old documents.  I would advise you to try to get out more and go on a date.  And if you get such a date, do NOT try to engage your companion in a lively conversation about 250 year old tax policies.  Trust me - it will not go well.

For the rest of you, here is the issue:  Taxation authority was at the heart of the dispute between Parliament and the colonies.  Even colonists and radical Whigs believed that Parliament had the right to make general laws that applied throughout the Empire.

Revenue bills, however, had to be the authority of legislatures in which the taxpayers were represented.  The power of taxation is an extreme one.  People are essentially authorizing government to take as much of their property as it wants.  The one restraining feature on such power (short of rebellion) is that the people being taxed are represented in the body doing the taxing.  This was the argument that Parliament had made for centuries to prevent the king from trying to raise revenue without Parliament.  It was also the reason that all revenue bills had to come from the House of Commons, not the House of Lords.  Since the colonies had no representation in Parliament, it could not impose taxes on them for the same reason.  Any funds needed would have to be authorized by colonial legislatures.

Tariffs, like those in the Sugar Act, were different. They could be permitted as trade regulations. which was clearly within Parliament’s authority when trade was commencing between different  colonies.  Only a few extremists like James Otis objected to trade tariffs enacted by Parliament.  Tariff funds were not primarily purposed for raising revenue.  They were implemented to control trade, with the revenue being a bonus.  Direct taxes had no such excuse.  William Pitt summed it up as follows:
If the gentleman does not understand the difference between external and internal taxes, I cannot help it; but there is a plain distinction between taxes levied for the purpose of raising a revenue, and duties imposed for the regulation of trade, for the accommodation of the subject; although, in the consequences, some revenue might incidentally arise from the latter.
Grenville and the majority of Parliament thought this was nonsense.  First, Parliament raised money from the colonists either way.  Did most people really care is the tax got paid at the customs house or the stamp office?

Second, the representation argument made no sense.  Representation in Parliament was hardly proportional even within England.  Even if it were, only about 200,000 people qualified to vote out of population of over 11 million in Britain.  Those millions of unqualified voters were not exempt from taxation.  Members had the interests of everyone in the Empire under consideration when they passed any law.  Therefore, colonists benefited from what they called “virtual representation” in Parliament.  All members of Parliament were always looking out for the interests of everyone.  Think they’ll buy that?

Revenues from the Stamp tax were explicitly set aside for use in the defense of the colonies.  It seemed perfectly reasonable that colonists should contribute to the costs of their own defense.  It was also clear that the local legislatures were incapable of raising revenues for this purpose.  Even if they had the incentive to raise the revenue, colonies often had more disputes between one another than they did with Indians or outside forces.  Locally controlled military might eventually lead to inter-colonial fighting.  Maintaining a single unified, centrally financed military made far more sense for stability and keeping the peace.

Many members of Parliament thought the colonies had unfairly taken on too little burden of the cost of government for too long.  During debate, Charles Townsend asked “And now, will these American Children, planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence, until they are grown to a degree of strength and opulence and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy burdens we lie under.

Isaac Barré
(from Wikimedia)
This provoked Barré’s famous response, which famously used the term “sons of liberty.” The response is rather lengthy, though you can read it in full in this article.  He essentially argues that the colonists fled England because of oppression at home, that England essentially neglected them as they grew, that they had been invaluable in the defense of British interests, and that the colonists love of freedom meant that this law was not going to sit well.

Despite the debate, the Stamp Act passed overwhelmingly with the support of over 80% of the House of Commons and by a unanimous voice vote in the House of Lords.  Colonial agents in London, including Benjamin Franklin, had opposed the bill throughout, warning of the opposition in the colonies to such a bill.  However, once the bill passed many of them rushed to get lucrative positions as tax agents for themselves, or for friends and family.  Agents would be paid 7.5% of all gross sales, making it a quite valuable position.  The King approved the Stamp Act in March 1765, allowing it to go into effect on November 1.

The Quartering Act

Within days of Parliament’s Stamp Act passage, it also approved the Quartering Act.  In part, this was based on the experience of the recent war, when colonies were unwilling to provide quarters for the soldiers defending them.  Enforcement of the Stamp Act was likely going to require an increased military presence to enforce the unpopular law.  Therefore, we need to get settled the issue of where the soldiers were going to live.

Gen. Gage, still military commander in North America, continued to battle with colonial legislatures who were supposed to provide housing for his soldiers.  If legislatures were loathe to help with housing during time of war, they certainly did not want to pay for unwanted standing armies mostly there to enforce unpopular laws.

The Quartering Act of 1765 was actually part of a larger law known as the Mutiny Act.  Parliament passed this Act annually to reauthorize the existence of the British Army, and typically used the opportunity to make changes to pay, disciplinary rules, or other military matters.  The 1765 Act addressed the issue of quartering in America.  Gage had requested the law authorize the Army to house soldiers in private homes. The Army had no such right in England since a 1628 law forbade housing soldiers in private homes.  Grenville saw Gage’s request as a political landmine.

After consulting with Benjamin Franklin and other colonial agents, as well as former Massachusetts Gov. Thomas Pownall, now back in England, he crafted a bill that required colonies to pay for adequate quarters.  If such quarters were insufficient, then "persons may be appointed and authorized, in pursuance of this act, to take up and hire, if it shall be necessary, uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns, or other buildings, for the reception of such soldiers as the barracks and publick houses shall not be sufficient to contain or receive.”  The Act did NOT authorize the military to quarter soldiers in otherwise occupied private residences, much to Gage’s disappointment.

The Act obligated colonies to provide the necessary quarters, without charge, regardless of whether or not colonial legislatures approved.  Colonies would be stuck with the costs, the same as if they were being taxed.  Colonial legislatures had approved authorizations like this before, which is why colonial agents thought this bill would be acceptable.  Perhaps it would have been acceptable in isolation.  But combined with the Stamp Act, colonists saw the Quartering Act as an attempt to dump costs on them without their consent.

Next Week, we will look at how the colonies react to these two new laws.  Spoiler alert: they do not like them.

Next Episode 23: The Stamp Act Congress

Previous Episode 21: Colonies React to Taxes

Visit the American Revolution Podcast (https://amrev.podbean.com).

Further Reading:

Web Sites

Full text of the Stamp Act of 1765: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/stamp_act_1765.asp

Good easy to read summary of Stamp Act details: https://www.landofthebrave.info/stamp-act.htm

The Stamp Act, A Brief History, by Mary Nesnay (2014) (JAR):
https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/07/the-stamp-act-a-brief-history

Parliament Debates the Stamp Act, February 1765:
http://americainclass.org/sources/makingrevolution/crisis/text3/parliamentarydebate1765.pdf

Isaac Barré: Advocate for Americans in the House of Commons, Bob Ruppert (2015) (JAR):
https://allthingsliberty.com/2015/08/isaac-barre-advocate-for-americans-in-the-house-of-commons

William Pitt’s speech against the Stamp Act:
http://www.history.org/almanack/life/politics/pitt.cfm

Short biography of Henry McCulloh, one of the main authors of the Stamp Tax of 1765:
http://ncpedia.org/biography/mcculloh-henry

Short biography of John Tabor Kempe, another Stamp Act author:
http://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/legal-history-eras-01/history-era-01-kempe-john.html

History of American Newspapers: http://www.wikiwand.com/en/History_of_American_newspapers

Quartering Act of 1765 (aka Mutiny Act) Full text:
http://ahp.gatech.edu/quartering_act_1765.html

Member of Parliament Soame Jenyns The Objections to the taxation consider'd (1765) justifying “virtual representation” of the colonies in Parliament: http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1751-1775/soame-jenyns-the-objections-to-the-taxation-considerd-1765.php

Free Books
(from archive.org unless noted)

The History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, from 1749 to 1774, by Thomas Hutchinson, John Hutchinson (ed) (1828) (This book was edited and published in London using Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s personal papers.  The editor was his grandson).

The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson, by Thomas Hutchinson, Peter Hutchinson (ed) (1884) (Editor was Thomas Hutchinson’s great-grandson).

Great Debates in American History, Vol. 1, Marion Mills Miller (ed) (1913).

The Grenville Papers, Vol. 2 & Vol 3, by William Smith (ed) (1852).

William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, by Albert von Ruville (1907).

Books Worth Buying
(links to Amazon.com unless otherwise noted)*

Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, by Fred Anderson (2000).

Reporting the American Revolution, by Todd Andrlik (2012).

Dickerson, Oliver M. The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution, New York A.S. Barnes & Company, 1951.

The Colonial Experience, by David Hawke (1966).

Empire of Fortune, by Francis Jennings (1988).

Origin of the American Revolution: 1759-1766, by Bernhard Knollenberg (1960).

Origins of the American Revolution, by John Miller (1943).

The Stamp Act Crisis, by Edmund & Helen Morgan (1953).

A New Age Now Begins, Vol. I, by Page Smith (1976).

The Stamp Act Congress, by C.A. Weslager (1976) (Includes a complete copy of Stamp Act Congress Journal).

The Vice - Admiralty Courts and the American Revolution, by Carl Ubbelohde (1960).

* (Book links to Amazon.com are for convenience.  They are not an endorsement of Amazon, nor does this site receive any compensation for any links).