1765 - THE STAMP ACT

On the assembling of Parliament after the Christmas holidays (January 10, 1765), King George III presented the American questioning of a Stamp Act as one of "obedience to the laws and respect for the legislative assembly of the kingdom." The stamp tax was to be the test. He seemed to be insensible to the danger to his realm of the storm then gathering in America. He recommended the carrying out of Grenville's scheme, and assured the Parliament that he should use every endeavor to enforce obedience in the colonies. So assured, Grenville, on the 7th of February, introduced his famous motion for a stamp act, composed of fifty-five resolutions. It provided that every skin or piece of vellum, or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, used for legal purposes, such as bills, bonds, notes, leases, policies of insurance, marriage licenses, and a great many other documents, in order to be held valid in courts of law,was to be stamped, and sold by public officers appointed for the purpose, at prices which levied a stated tax on every such document. The bill made all offenses against its provisions cognizable in the courts of admiralty. To the odiousness of the tax itself was added the provision for its collection by arbitrary power under the decrees of British judges, without any trial by jury.

The members of the House knew that Great Britain was strong and believed the colonies were weak and without being "merciful," they passed the obnoxious bill on the 27th of February by a vote of two hundred and fifty against fifty. So was produced the principal wedge which cleaved asunder the British empire. The infatuated ministry openly declared that it was intended to establish the power of Great Britain to tax the colonies." Everywhere the act was denounced. The people in villages and cities gathered in excited groups and boldly expressed their indignation. The pulpit thundered condemnation and defiance in the name of a righteous God; at public gatherings the orators denounced it the newspapers teemed with seditious essays, and the colonial assemblies rang with rebellious utterances. Among the foremost of those who boldly denounced the act in almost treasonable language was Patrick Henry, then about twenty-nine years of age. He declared that the General Assembly of this colony have the sole right and power to levy taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such power in any other person or persons whatsoever, other than the General Assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.

An invitation of Massachusetts for the colonies to meet in a representative convention in New York was responded to favorably, and the famous Stamp Act Congress," so called, assembled at New York on the 7th of October. Twenty-seven delegates were present, representing nine colonies, namely, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina. They insisted in that body that resistance to the act was treason, and they, in turn, were denounced as traitors to the rights of man.

On the first of November, 1765, the Stamp Act became a law in America It had been ably discussed by the brightest intellects in the land, and generally denounced, sometimes with calmness, sometimes with turbulence. It was manifest to all that its enforcement was an impossibility yet its existence was a perplexity. No legal instrument of writing was thereafter valid without a stamp, by a law of the British realm. But on that day there remained not one person commissioned to sell a stamp, for they had all resigned. The royal governors had taken an oath that they would see that the law was executed, but they were powerless. The people were their masters, and were simply holding their own power in abeyance.

The first of November was Friday. It was a "black Friday" in America. The morning was ushered by the tolling of bells. A funeral solemnity overspread the land. Minute-guns were fired as if a funeral procession was passing. Flags were hoisted at half-mast as if there had been a national bereavement. There were orations and sermons appropriate to the occasion. The press spoke out boldly. The press is the test of truth the bulwark of public safety; the guardian of freedom, and the people ought; not to sacrifice it," said Benjamin Mecom, of New Haven, in his Connecticut Gazette, printed that morning, and filled with patriotic appeals. This was the spirit of most of the newspapers. Such, also, was the spirit of most of the Congregational pulpits.

As none but stamped paper was legal, and as the people had determined not to use it, all business was suspended. The courts were closed marriages ceased vessels lay idle in the harbors, and the social and commercial operations in America were paralyzed. Few dared to think of positive rebellion. The sword of British power was ready to leap from its scabbard in wrath and a general gloom overspread society. Yet the Americans did not despair nor even despond. They held in their hands a power which might compel the British Parliament to repeal the obnoxious Act. The commerce between Great Britain and the colonies had become very important, and any measure that might interrupt its course would be keenly felt by a large and powerful class in England, whose influence was felt in, Parliament. The expediency of striking a deadly blow at that trade occurred to some New York merchants, and on the 31st of October - the day before the obnoxious Act went into operation - a meeting was held in that city;, and an agreement entered into not to import from England certain enumerated articles after the first of January next ensuing. The merchants of Philadelphia and Boston readily entered into a similar agreement. So also did retail merchants agree not to buy or sell goods shipped from England after the first of January. In this way was begun that system of nonimportation agreements which hurled back upon England, with great force, the commercial miseries she had inflicted upon the colonies.

Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress

October 19, 1765

The members of this Congress, sincerely devoted, with the warmest sentiments of affection and duty to His Majesty's Person and Government, inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the Protestant succession, and with minds deeply impressed by a sense of the present and impending misfortunes of the British colonies on this continent; having considered as maturely as time will permit the circumstances of the said colonies, esteem it our indispensable duty to make the following declarations of our humble opinion, respecting the most essential rights and liberties Of the colonists, and of the grievances under which they labour, by reason of several late Acts of Parliament.

I. That His Majesty's subjects in these colonies, owe the same allegiance to the Crown of Great-Britain, that is owing from his subjects born within the realm, and all due subordination to that august body the Parliament of Great Britain.
II. That His Majesty's liege subjects in these colonies, are entitled to all the inherent rights and liberties of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great-Britain.
III. That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives.
IV. That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot be, represented in the House of Commons in Great-Britain.
V. That the only representatives of the people of these colonies, are persons chosen therein by themselves, and that no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures.
VI. That all supplies to the Crown, being free gifts of the people, it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British Constitution, for the people of Great-Britain to grant to His Majesty the property of the colonists.
VII. That trial by jury is the inherent and invaluable right of every British subject in these colonies.
VIII. That the late Act of Parliament, entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain Stamp Duties, and other Duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, etc., by imposing taxes on the inhabitants of these colonies, and the said Act, and several other Acts, by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of Admiralty beyond its ancient limits, have a manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists.
IX. That the duties imposed by several late Acts of Parliament, from the peculiar circumstances of these colonies, will be extremely burthensome and grievous; and from the scarcity of specie, the payment of them absolutely impracticable.
X. That as the profits of the trade of these colonies ultimately center in Great-Britain, to pay for the manufactures which they are obliged to take from thence, they eventually contribute very largely to all supplies granted there to the Crown.
XI. That the restrictions imposed by several late Acts of Parliament, on the trade of these colonies, will render them unable to purchase the manufactures of Great-Britain.
XII. That the increase, prosperity, and happiness of these colonies, depend on the full and free enjoyment of their rights and liberties, and an intercourse with Great-Britain mutually affectionate and advantageous.
XIII. That it is the right of the British subjects in these colonies, to petition the King, Or either House of Parliament.

Lastly, That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies, to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavour by a loyal and dutiful address to his Majesty, and humble applications to both Houses of Parliament, to procure the repeal of the Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, of all clauses of any other Acts of Parliament, whereby the jurisdiction of the Admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of the other late Acts for the restriction of American commerce.


In Connecticut in 1770, six years before the Declaration of Independence, Lebanon freemen drafted a declaration of rights, and Old Lyme launched its own "Tea Party" by burning the tea sacks of a traveling peddler.


THE Boston resolves and Otis's pamphlet, entitled "Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved" stirred the American people most profoundly, and created a burning zeal for freedom. A committee of correspondence, appointed by the Massachusetts Assembly, had sent a circular letter to the assemblies of other colonies on the subject of resistance to taxation. A like committee in Rhode island sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Assembly, in which it was urged that if all of the colonies would unite in an expression of views, and present them to Parliament through their agents, the end sought for might be obtained. The Pennsylvania Assembly, delighted with the suggestion, took action accordingly. So also did those of several other provinces and petitions and remonstrances against the proposed stamp tax were soon on their way to England, bearing wise thoughts and bold assertions. They were a series of able state papers sent from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina. That from New York was the boldest of all. An exemption from ungranted and involuntary taxation, said that Assembly, must be the grand principle of every free state. Without such a right vested in themselves, exclusive of all others, there can be no liberty, no happiness, no security, nor even the idea of property. Life itself would be intolerable. We proceed with propriety and boldness to inform the Commons of Great Britain, who, to their infinite honor, in all ages asserted the liberties of mankind, that the people of this colony nobly disdain the thought of claiming that exemption as a privilege. They found it on a basis more honorable, solid and stable they challenge it, and glory in it, as a right."

Late in October (1764) the Pennsylvania Assembly chose Dr. Franklin (then fifty-eight years of age) agent of that province in England. He was then involved, as a leader of the popular party against the Proprietary government of Pennsylvania, in a bitter political dispute, and his appointment was vehemently opposed by his antagonists. It was made in spite of their remonstrances and protests, and he sailed on a mission the result of which powerfully affected the destinies of nations. The agents of some of the other colonies appearing lukewarm on the subject of a stamp tax, their powers were transferred to Franklin, and he became a sort of national representative of the British colonial empire in America. All bad confidence in his integrity, ability, statesmanship and knowledge of the character, temper and views of the American people, and much was expected from the influence of his well-known name in England. "His appointment," afterward wrote Dr. Smith, provost of the College of Philadelphia, "appears to have been a measure provided by the councils of Heaven."

Soon after Franklin's arrival in England, he was waited upon by Grenville and other politicians, and consulted about the stamp tax. Pitt, in retirement at Hayes, sent for the philosopher, and also consulted him on the subject. Franklin told everybody that it was an unwise measure that the Americans would never submit to be taxed without their consent and that such an act, if attempted to be enforced, would endanger the unity of the empire. But the wise counsels of Franklin, and the voices from the colonists in America protesting against being sheared by The Gentle Shepherd, were of no avail. Grenville was determined to have a revenue from America. Unwilling to incur the whole odium of the measure, he adroitly placed it upon the general grounds of whig policy, and so committed the party to the scheme.

On the assembling of Parliament after the Christmas holidays (January 10, 1765), the king, in his speech, presented the American question as one of "obedience to the laws and respect for the legislative assembly of the kingdom." The stamp tax was to be the test. He seemed to be insensible to the danger to his realm of the storm then gathering in America. He recommended the carrying out of Grenville's scheme, and assured the Parliament that he should use every endeavor to enforce obedience in the colonies. So assured, Grenville, on the 7th of February, introduced his famous motion for a stamp act, composed of fifty-five resolutions. It provided that every skin or piece of vellum, or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, used for legal purposes,such as bills, bonds, notes, leases, policies of insurance, marriage licenses, and a great many other documents, in order to be held valid in courts of law, was to be stamped, and sold by public officers appointed for the purpose, at prices which levied a stated tax on every such document. The bill made all offenses against its provisions cognizable in the courts of admiralty. To the odiousness of the tax itself was added the provision for its collection by arbitrary power under the decrees of British judges, without any trial by jury.

When the Stamp Act, framed in proper order by a commissioner, came up for debate, Charles Townshend, the most eloquent man in the House in the absence of Pitt, made a speech in deface of it, which was concluded in the following words: "And now, these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence until they have grown to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by our armies, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy weight of that burden which we lie under?"

Colonel Barre, who had shared with Wolfe the dangers and fatigues of the campaign against Quebec, and who, having lived in America, knew the people well, instantly sprang to his feet, and with eyes flashing with indignation, and with outstretched arms, delivered an unpremeditated phillippic of extraordinary power, in which most wholesome truths were uttered. He exclaimed with scorn: They planted by your care No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated and inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable, and among others to the cruelties of a savage foe the most subtle, and I will take upon me to say the most formidable, of any people on the face of God's earth yet, actuated by principles of true English liberty, they met all hardships with pleasure compared with those they suffered in their own country from the hands of those who should have been their friends. They nourished up by your indulgence! They grew by your neglect of them. As soon as you began to care about them, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule over them in one department and another, who were, perhaps, the deputies of deputies of some member of this House, sent to spy out their liberties, to misrepresent their actions, and to prey upon them - men whose behavior on many occasions has caused the blood of those Sons of liberty to recoil within them - men promoted to the highest seats of justice some who, to my knowledge, were glad, by going to a foreign country, to escape being brought to the bar of justice in their own. They protected by your arms They have nobly taken up arms in you defence; have exerted a valor amid their constant and laborious industry, for the defence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood, while its interior parts yielded all its little savings to your emoluments. And believe me - remember I this day told you so - that the same spirit of freedom, which actuated that people at first, Will accompany them still; but prudence forbids me to explain myself further. God knows that I do not at this time speak from motives of party heat what I deliver are the genuine sentiments of my heart. However superior to me in general knowledge and experience the respectable body of this House may be, I claim to know more of America than most of you, having seen and been conversant in that country. The people, I believe, are as truly loyal as any subjects the king has; but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them if ever they should be violated. But the subject is too delicate. I will say no more."

The House remained in silent amazement for a few moments after this impassioned utterance of truths. The members were generally too ignorant of America and its people to comprehend Barry's speech. The intelligent Horace Walpole confessed that he knew almost nothing about the colonists. The members of the House knew that Great Britain was strong and believed the colonies were weak and without being "merciful," as Beckford had suggested, they passed the obnoxious bill on the 27th of February by a vote of two hundred and fifty against fifty. In the Lords it received very little opposition, and on the 22nd of March, the king made it a law by signing it. A few days afterward the monarch was crazy. It was the first of four attacks of the dreadful malady of insanity which afflicted him during his long life, and finally deprived him of the power to rule.

So was produced the principal wedge which cleaved asunder the British empire. The infatuated ministry openly declared that it was intended to establish the power of Great Britain to tax the colonies." On the night of the passage of the act, Dr. Franklin wrote to Charles Thompson, afterward the Secretary of the Continental Congress: "The sun of liberty is set the Americans must light the lamps of industry and economy."

News of the passage of the Stamp Act, and a report of Barry's speech by Ingersoll, the half tory agent of Connecticut, reached the colonists at the same time. The former excited the hot indignation of the people the latter was applauded, printed, and sent broadcast over the land. Barry's title of Sons of Liberty, given to the patriots, was eagerly adopted, and the name soon became familiar on the lips of Americans. Everywhere the act was denounced. The people in villages and cities gathered in excited groups and boldly expressed their indignation. The pulpit thundered condemnation and defiance in the name of a righteous God; at public gatherings the orators denounced it the newspapers teemed with seditious essays, and the colonial assemblies rang with rebellious utterances. Among the foremost of those who boldly denounced the act in almost treasonable language was Patrick Henry, then about twenty-nine years of age. He had lately been elected a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, who were in session at that time in the old Capitol at Williamsburg. When the news was published to that body by the Speaker, a scene of wild excitement ensued. Henry calmly tore a blank leaf from an old copy of Coke upon Littleton, on which he wrote five resolutions and submitted them to the House. The first declared that the original settlers brought with them and transmitted to their posterity all the rights enjoyed by the people of Great Britain. The second affirmed that these rights had been secured by two royal charters granted by King James. The third asserted that taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves, was the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, and without which the ancient constitution could not exist. The fourth maintained that the people of Virginia had always enjoyed the right of being governed by their own Assembly in the article of taxes, and that this right had been constantly recognized by the king and people of Great Britain. The fifth resolution, in which was summed up the essentials of the preceding four, declared That the General Assembly of this colony have the sole right and power to levy taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such power in any other person or persons whatsoever, other than the General Assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom."

These resolutions, so spontaneous and so bold, filled the members with astonishment. Had a thunderbolt fallen among them, they would not have been more amazed. The boldest were astounded timid ones were alarmed, and the few royalists in the House were startled and indignant. Some, whose hearts and judgments Mere with Henry, and who afterward appeared in the forefront of revolution, hesitated, and even opposed the fifth resolution as being too radical and incendiary. The resolutions were seconded by George Johnson of Fairfax, and a violent debate ensued. Threats were uttered and the royalists abused Mr. Henry without stint. He defended the resolutions, the fifth one particularly, with vigorous logic delivered in eloquent words. With pathos and denunciatory invective, he excited the sympathy, the fears and the anger of that Assembly, in a most remarkable degree. He played upon their passions as a skillful musician would touch the keys of his instrument. They were borne upon the tide of his eloquence, which was now calm, now turbulent, passive and yielding, until, in his clear bell-tones, he exclaimed, Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third when Mr. Robinson, the Speaker, springing to his feet and striking his desk violently with his gavel, interrupted him by crying out - "Treason Treason!" This word was shouted back from all parts of the House by the royalists, and the Assembly was in the greatest confusion. Henry never faltered, but rising to a loftier altitude and fixing his flashing eyes on the Speaker, whom he knew to be a defaulter at that moment, he finished his sentence saying - "may profit by their example; if that be treason, make the most of it!"

When Henry sat down, Peyton Randolph, the king's attorney, and others arose and denounced the fifth resolution as disloyal and dangerous to the public welfare. Again Henry took the floor, and his eloquence and logic, like a rushing avalanche, swept away the sophistries of his opponents. The resolutions were carried the fifth by a majority of only one. That evening Mr. Henry left Williamsburg for his home. Some of those who voted for the fifth resolution under excitement became alarmed after reflection and the next morning, in the absence of Henry, the House reconsidered and rejected it. So the vitality of the resolutions as a revolutionary agent was destroyed. Manuscript copies of them had been sent to Philadelphia and the east. News of the rejection of the fifth immediately followed. Ardent patriots somewhere, anxious to have the political voice of Virginia sounding throughout the land the sentiments of Patrick Henry, caused the four resolutions which were actually adopted to be rewritten in slightly changed form, and two more to be added, which gave out trumpet-tones of revolution in the following manner:

"35. Resolved, That his Majesty's liege people, the inhabitants of this colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatsoever, designed to impose any taxation whatsoever upon them other than the laws and ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.

"36. Resolved, That any person who shall, by speaking or writing, maintain that any person or persons other than the General Assembly of this colony have any right or power to lay any taxation whatsoever on the people here, shall be deemed an enemy to this his Majesty's colony."

These resolutions, so full of bold, revolutionary force, were first published in Boston as the actual resolves of the Virginia legislature on the 29th of May, 1765. They flew upon the wings of the press and the letters of committees of correspondence all over the provinces, and gave the first decisive impulse toward united resistance. Within a fortnight after they were published, Massachusetts, on the recommendation of Otis, sent out an invitation to all the colonies to meet her by delegates in a general Congress in New York the following autumn. In the beautiful month of June, the Virginia resolves and the Massachusetts circular reached all the colonies, and everywhere they met a hearty response. The Sons of Liberty were very active: and yet there were many wise and patriotic men, knowing that Great Britain had made provision for enforcing the Stamp Act by quartering troops on the colonists, if necessary, prepared not only to submit, but to profit by the measures. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, whose patriotism no man ever doubted, perceiving that the office would be very lucrative, applied for the appointment of stamp-distributor; and even Dr. Franklin, considering the colonies too weak in numbers then to resist the arms of Great Britain, advised Ingersoll, the agent for Connecticut then in England, to accept the same office, and added: "Go home and tell your countrymen to get children as fast as they can," so intimating that by increase in population the Americans might secure their liberties. It was a cunning scheme of Grenville to appoint Americans to the office of stamp-distributors. He thought they would be more acceptable to their countrymen than foreigners. He was mistaken. They were regarded as accomplices in the plot against liberty. If the ruin of your country is decreed, are you free from blame for taking part in the plunder?" indignantly exclaimed Daggett, of New Haven and he spurned Jared Ingersoll as a public enemy.

The Stamp Act was to go into effect in the colonies on the first day of November, 1765. Ingersoll arrived at Boston at the beginning of August, bearing commissions for stamp-distributors, and on the 8th of that month their names were published. They immediately became objects of public resentment and scorn. There was a general determination not to allow them to exercise the functions of their office. Manifestations of hostility to them instantly appeared. Andrew Oliver, secretary of the province of Massachusetts, who had been appointed stamp-master for Boston, was the first to feel resentment. A large elm tree, standing at the edge of the town, had been a shelter for the Sons of Liberty at their out-of-town meetings during the summer. It was called "Liberty Tree," and the ground under it, "Liberty Hall." At dawn morning of the 14th of August, an effigy of Oliver, with emblems of Bute and Grenville, was seen hanging upon that tree. Crowds went to view it. Hutchinson, chief justice of the province, ordered the sheriff to take it down. "We will remove it ourselves at evening," quickly said the populace, and the sheriff kept his hands off the effigy.

At twilight a great multitude gathered around Liberty Tree. The effigy was taken down, laid on a bier, and was borne by the populace through the old State House directly under the Council Chamber, shouting Liberty, Property, and no Stamps That multitude, at first orderly, now became a riotous mob. They tore down a building which Oliver was erecting for a stamp office, and made a bonfire of it. They shouted, "Death to the man who offers a piece of stamped paper to sell and rushing toward Oliver's house, they there beheaded the effigy, and would doubtless have killed him if they could have caught him. He had escaped by a back way. They broke into his house, and in brutal wantonness destroyed his furniture, trees, fences and garden and after saluting the governor with three cheers, they dispersed. Believing his life to be in danger, Oliver resigned his office the following morning, and the town was quieted. The cowardly Bernard, after ordering a proclamation for the discovery and arrest of the rioters, fled to the castle on an island in Boston harbor. "The prisons would not hold them long," said the Rev. Jonathan Mahew of the West Church, whose voice had been heard in favor of the people more than a dozen years before. "We have sixty thousand fighting men in this colony alone," he said. Twelve days afterward, at night, another mob burned all the records of the admiralty court, ravaged the house of the comptroller of the customs, and splitting open the doors of Chief-Justice Hutchinson, whom they regarded as a secret public enemy, they broke his furniture, scattered his plate and the contents of his valuable library, and left his house a wreck. He and his family had barely time to escape. The better class of citizens frowned upon these proceedings, and the officers of the crown, terror-stricken, were very quiet. The mob spirit was manifested in several colonies, for the people were much exasperated against those who had accepted the office of stamp-distributors. In Providence, Rhode Island, after destroying the house and furniture of an obnoxious citizen, a mob compelled the stamp-officer to resign. At New Haven, in Connecticut, Ingersoll was denounced as a traitor; and the fact that the initials of his name were those of Judas Iscariot was publicly pointed out, and he was compelled to promise that he would not sell stamps or stamped paper. He was finally forced to resign by a multitude who threatened him with personal violence. Cadwallader Colden, a venerable Scotchman, then eighty years of age, was acting-governor of New York. He was a liberal-minded man, but duty to his sovereign and his own political convictions compelled him to oppose the popular movements.

James McEvers was appointed stamp-distributor for New York. The Sons of Liberty demanded his resignation. The governor protected him. When, late in October, stamps arrived, McEvers, alarmed, refused to receive them, and they were taken to the fort at the foot of Broadway for safety. The garrison was strong, and the governor had strengthened the works. This covert menace exasperated the people. Although armed British ships were riding in the harbor, and the guns of the fort were pointed toward the town, the Sons of Liberty were not afraid. They appeared in large numbers before the fort, and demanded the stamps. A refusal was answered by defiant shouts. An orderly procession soon became a roaring mob. Half an hour after the refusal, the governor was hung in effigy on the spot where Leisler, the democrat, was executed seventy-five years before. Then the mob went back to the fort, dragged Colden's fine coach to the open space in front of it, and tearing down the wooden railing that surrounded the Bowling Green, piled it upon the vehicle, and made a bonfire of the whole. Then they rushed out of town to the beautiful dwelling-place of Major James, of the artillery (at the present intersection of Worth street and West Broadway), where they destroyed his fine library, works of art and furniture, and desolated his beautiful garden, leaving his seat, called Ranelagh, a ruin. After parading the streets with the Stamp Act printed on large sheets and raised upon poles, with the words, "England's Folly and America's Ruin," the populace dispersed to their homes.

In New Jersey, Coxe, the stamp-officer, fearing violence, resigned. At Annapolis, in Maryland, the excited populace pulled down a house that Zachariah Hood, a stamp-officer, was repairing for the purpose, they thought, of selling stamps in it, and the governor dared not interfere. General alarm prevailed among the officers of the crown. They saw that the Americans were thoroughly aroused and very strong. In other colonies not here named, there was equal firmness, but less violence, in preventing the sale of stamps and when the first of November arrived, the law, so far as its enforcement was concerned, was a nullity.

The invitation of Massachusetts for the colonies to meet in a representative convention in New York was promptly responded to favorably, and the famous Stamp Act Congress," so called, assembled at New York on the 7th of October. Twenty-seven delegates were present, representing nine colonies, namely, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina. Timothy Ruggles of Massachusetts, a rank Tory at heart, was chosen to preside, and John Cotton was appointed secretary. Communications were received from the assemblies of New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia, saying they would agree to whatever might be done by the Congress. That body continued in session fourteen days, and the whole subject of the rights and grievances of the colonies was fully discussed. John Cruger of New York, was deputed to write a Declaration of Rights Robert R. Livingston of New York, prepared a Petition to the King, and James Otis of Massachusetts, wrote a Memorial to both Houses of Parliament. These were adopted, and have ever been regarded as able state papers. They embodied the principles that governed the men of the revolution that broke out ten years afterward. The proceedings were signed by all but the President and Robert Ogden of New Jersey, both of whom thus early manifested their defection from a cause which they afterward openly opposed. Ruggles was censured for his conduct by a vote of the Massachusetts Assembly, and was reprimanded, in his place, by the Speaker. He afterward became a bitter Tory, and took up arms for the king. In Mrs. Mercy Warren's drama called The Group, Ruggles figures as Brigadier Hate-all. Ogden was also publicly censured for his conduct was burned in effigy, and at the next meeting of the New Jersey Assembly was dismissed from the Speaker's chair, which honorable post he held at the time of the Congress. These men had insisted in that body that resistance to the act was treason, and they, in turn, were denounced as traitors to the rights of man.

On the first of November, 1765, the Stamp Act became a law in America It had been ably discussed by the brightest intellects in the land, and generally denounced, sometimes with calmness, sometimes with turbulence. It was manifest to all that its enforcement was an impossibility yet its existence was a perplexity. No legal instrument of writing was thereafter valid without a stamp, by a law of the British realm. But on that day there remained not one person commissioned to sell a stamp, for they had all resigned. The royal governors had taken an oath that they would see that the law was executed, but they were powerless. The people were their masters, and were simply holding their own power in abeyance.

The first of November was Friday. It was a "black Friday" in America. The morning was ushered by the tolling of bells. A funeral solemnity overspread the land. Minute-guns were fired as if a funeral procession was passing. Flags were hoisted at half-mast as if there had been a national bereavement. There were orations and sermons appropriate to the occasion. The press spoke out boldly. The press is the test of truth the bulwark of public safety; the guardian of freedom, and the people ought; not to sacrifice it," said Benjamin Mecom, of New Haven, in his Connecticut Gazette, printed that morning, and filled with patriotic appeals. This was the spirit of most of the newspapers. Such, also, was the spirit of most of the Congregational pulpits. Patriots everywhere encouraged each other and a yearning for union was universally felt. Nothing will now save us but acting together," wrote the sturdy Gadsden of South Carolina. The province that endeavors to act separately must fall with the rest, and be branded besides with everlasting infamy."

As none but stamped paper was legal, and as the people had determined not to use it, all business was suspended. The courts were closed marriages ceased vessels lay idle in the harbors, and the social and commercial operations in America were paralyzed. Few dared to think of positive rebellion. The sword of British power was ready to leap from its scabbard in wrath and a general gloom overspread society. Yet the Americans did not despair nor even despond. They held in their hands a power which might compel the British Parliament to repeal the obnoxious Act. The commerce between Great Britain and the colonies had become very important, and any measure that might interrupt its course would be keenly felt by a large and powerful class in England, whose influence was felt in, Parliament. The expediency of striking a deadly blow at that trade occurred to some New York merchants, and on the 31st of October - the day before the obnoxious Act went into operation - a meeting was held in that city;, and an agreement entered into not to import from England certain enumerated articles after the first of January next ensuing. The merchants of Philadelphia and Boston readily entered into a similar agreement. So also did retail merchants agree not to buy or sell goods shipped from England after the first of January. In this way was begun that system of nonimportation agreements which hurled back upon England, with great force, the commercial miseries she had inflicted upon the colonies.

The patriotic people co-operated with the merchants. Domestic, manufactures were commenced in almost every family. Forty or fifty young ladies, calling themselves "Daughters of Liberty," met at the house of Rev. Dr. Morehead, in Boston, with their spinning-wheels, and spun two-hundred and thirty-two skeins of yarn during a day and presented them to the pastor.

There were upwards of one hundred spinners in Mr. Morehead's society. "Within a month," wrote a gentleman from Newport, Rhode Island, some time afterward, four hundred and eighty-seven yards of cloth and thirty-six pairs of stockings have been spun and knit in the family of James Nixon, of this town." Other families were mentioned in which several hundred yards of cloth were made. Another from Newport said: "A lady of this town, though in the bloom of youth, and possessed of virtues and accomplishments, engaging, and sufficient to excite the most pleasing expectations of happiness in the married state, has declared that she should rather be an old maid than that the operations of the Stamp, Act should commence in these colonies." The wealthiest vied with the middling classes in economy, and wore clothing of their own manufacture. That wool might not be scarce, the use of sheep flesh for food was discouraged One source of British prosperity was thus dried up. When firm but respectful appeals went to the ears of the British ministry from America, the merchants and manufacturers of England seconded them, and their potential voices were heeded.

- - - - - Benson J. Lossing LL.D.

1765 Bibliography