Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Happy Stamp Act Repeal Day! Part 2

Here's a bit more from my manuscript (maybe I'll publish it someday) called The American Revolutions, By a Partial,
Prejudiced, and Ignorant Historian:

The colonial assemblies also lost no time in reflecting the angry reaction of the American people to the Stamp Act. By the end of May, the Virginia House of Burgesses (inflamed by speeches by Patrick Henry, who carefully waited to take the floor until most of the more conservative assemblymen had gone home) passed a series of “Resolves” stating their objections to the Act, even though some members thought this came very close to treason. Other assemblies soon followed suit, including Massachusetts, which took the further step of calling for an intercolonial meeting to denounce the infamous act - the Stamp Act Congress. (Congress means a “coming together”.)

It was not only the newspaper publishers and the legislators who acted upon their dislike of the Stamp Act, however. Mobs of ordinary people vented their anger upon the physical embodiment of the law - the men unfortunate enough to have accepted appointments as royal stamp agents. Instead of gaining a welcome British payment for selling stamps, many a collector had the unnerving experience of seeing a rough doll labeled with his own name being hanged and set afire. Worse yet, the real bodies of some agents were stripped naked, covered with boiling tar, rolled in feathers, and ridden on a rail. This bizarre torture was no laughing matter and before long, virtually all the stamp agents resigned their posts. 

In October of 1765, the Stamp Act Congress called for by Massachusetts convened in New York. It was the first meeting with representatives from most of the colonies. They drew up a petition to the King and Parliament stating that the Stamp Act violated their rights as Englishmen because it constituted taxation without representation, and urged its repeal. Their resentment at being treated like this was echoed in The Boston Evening Post:

We have an old Mother that peevish is grown,
She snubs us like Children that scarce walk alone;
She forgets we're grown up and have Sense of our own.

But it took more than a lack of stamp sellers and a petition or even a poem to defeat the Stamp Act - it took a widespread boycott (although that's not what it was called at the time). Beginning with New York and soon spreading to other cities, people started signing agreements that no British products would be bought until the Stamp Act was revoked. The non-importation agreements did the trick. Soon British merchants were complaining loudly to their government about their lost American profits. This British protest provided George III a way to give in without losing face . In March of 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed. 

The colonists were ecstatic at this apparent victory. The boycott was swiftly ended; toasts were drunk to the King, and city windows were “illuminated” by lit candles as a mark of celebration. Few of the rejoicing colonists noticed there was a worm in the apple. Along with the repeal of the hated Stamp Act, the British government slipped in a “Declaratory Act”. It was straightforward enough: the Act simply declared that Parliament had authority over the colonies in all cases and could impose revenue taxes any time it wanted to. It wasn't long before that's exactly what Parliament did. 

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