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In March, 1764, a bill was passed in the British parliament, by which heavy duties were laid on goods imported by the colonists from such West India islands as did not belong to Great Britain; and that these duties were to be paid into the exchequer, in specie; and in the same session another bill was framed, to restrain the currency of paper money in the colonies. Not only the principle of taxation, but the mode of collection was considered as an unconstitutional and oppressive innovation, as the penalties incurred by an infraction of the acts of parliament, were to be recovered in courts of admiralty, before a single judge (whose salary was to be the fruit of the forfeitures he should descry.)
These acts threw the whole continent into a ferment. Vehe. ment remonstrances were made to the ministry, and evrey argument made use of that reason or ingenuity could suggest, but without any good effect; their reasoning, however, convinced a great number of people in Britain; and thus, the American cause came to be considered as the cause of liberty.
The Americans, finding that all their remonstrances were fruitless, at last united in an agreement not to import any more of the British manufactures, but to encourage to the utmost of their power, every useful manufacture among themselves. Thus the British manufacturers became a party against the ministry, and expressed their resentment in strong terms; but the ministry were not to be easily daunted; and therefore proceeded to the last step of their intended plan, which was to lay on stamp duties throughout the continent. Previous to this, several regulations were made in favour of the commerce of the colonies; but they had imbibed such unfavourable inpressions of the British ministry, that they paid very little regard to any thing pretended to be done in their favour; or, if these acts had made
favourable impressions, the stamp act at once obliterated every sentiment of that nature.
The reason given for this act, so exceedingly obnoxious, was, that a sum might be raised sufficient for the defence of the colonies against a foreign enemy; but this pretence was so far from giving satisfaction to the Americans, that it excited their indignation to the utmost. They not only asserted that they were abundantly able to defend themselves, but denied the right of the British parliament to tax them at all.
To enter into the arguments of the contending parties upon this occasion would be superfluous. It was manifest that the matter was not to be decided but by the force of arms; and the British ministry, confident of the authority and power of that country, were disposed to carry on matters with a high hand, to terrify the colonists into submission, or compel them by force.
The Stamp act, after a violent opposition in parliament, was
passed, and its reception in America was such as might have been expected. The news, and the act itself, first arrived at Boston, where the bells were ruffled, and rung a funeral peal. The act was first hawked about the streets, with a death's head affixed to it, and styled “ The folly of England, and the ruin of America.?! It was afterwards publicly burnt by the enraged populace; the stamps were seized and destroyed, unless brought on board of men of war, or kept in fortified places. Those who were to receive the stamp duties, were compelled to resign their offices; and such of the Americans as favoured the government on this oceasion, had their houses plundered and burned.
Though these outrages were committed by the multitude, they were connived at by those of superior rank, who afterwards openly patronised them; and the doctrine became general and openly avowed, that Britain had no right to tax the colonies without their own consent. The ministry now found it absolutely necessary either to yield to the Americans, by repealing the obnoxious laws, or to enforce them by arms.
The ferment had become general through the colonies. Virginia first, and afterwards, all the rest of the provinces, declared against ihe right of Britain to tax America; and, that every attempt to vest others with this power, besides the king, or the governor of the province, and his general assembly, was illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust. Non-importation agreements were every where entered into; and it was resolved, to prevent the sale of any more British goods after the present year. American manufactures, though dearer, as also inferior in quality to the British, were universally preferred. An association was also entered into against eating of lamb, in order to promote the growth of wool; and the ladies agreed to renounce the use every kind of ornament imported from Great Britain.
Such a general and alarming confederacy determined the mic nistry to repeal some of the most obnoxious acts; and to this they were the more inclined by a petition from the first American Con. gress,
held at New York, in 1765.' The Stamp act was therefore repealed, to the universal joy of the Americans, as well as to the general satisfaction of the logo lish, whose manufactures had began to suffer, in consequence of American associations against them. The disputes on the subject, however, were by no means silenced ;. every one continued to argue the case as violent as ever. Dr. Benjamin Franklin was on this occasion examined before the house of Commons; and his opinion was in substance as follows: "That the tax in question was impracticable and ruinous. The very attempt had so far alienated the affection of the colonies, that they behaved in a less friendly manner towards the natives of England than before, con-sidering the whole nation as conspiring against their liberty, and
the parliament was more willing to oppress than to assist and support them. America, in fact, did not stand in any need of British manufactures, having already began to construct such as might be deemed absolutely necessary, and that with such success, as left no doubt of their arriving, in a short time, at perfection. The elegancies of dress had already been renounced for American manufactures, though much interior, and the bulk of the people consisting of farmers, were such as could in no way be affected by the want of British commodities, as having every necessary within themselves, materials of all kinds were to be had in plenty: the wool was fine, flax grew in great abundance, and iron was every where to be met with.” The Doctor also insisted, thats the Ame. ricans had been greatly misrepresented; that they had been traduced as void of gratitude and affection to the parent state; than which nothing could be more contrary to truth. In the war in 1755, they had at their own expense raised an arny of 25,000 men; and that they assisted the British expeditions against South America, with several thousand men: and had made
many brave exertions against the French in North America.
It was sard that the war of 1755 had been undertaken in defence of the colonies; but the truth was, that it originated from a contest about the limits between Canada and Nova Scotia, and in defence of the English rights to trade on the Ohio. The Americans, however, would still continue to act with their usual fidelity; and were any war to break out in which they had no concern, they would be as ready as ever to assist the paren i state to the utmost of their power,
and would not fail to manifest their ready acquiescence in contributing to the emergencies of government, when called to do so in a regular and constitutional manner."
The minisiry were conscious that in repealing this obnoxious act, they yielded to the Americans; and therefore to support, as they thought, the dignity of Great Britain, it was judged proper to publish a declaratory bill, setting forth the authority of the mother country over her colonies, and her power to bind them by laws and statutes in all cases whatsoever. This much diminish. ed the joy with which the repeal of the stamp act was received in America. It was considered a proper reason to enforce any claims equally prejudicial with the stamp act, which might here. after be set up; a spirit of jealousy pervaded the whole continent, and a strong party was formed, determined to guard against the supposed encroachments of British power.
It was not long before an occasion offered, in which the Ame. ricans manifested a spirit of absolute independency; and that, instead of being bound by the British legislature in all cases whatsoever, they would not be controlled by it in the most trivial affairs. The Rockingham ministry had passed an act, provid. ing the troops stationed in different parts of the colonies with such accommodations as were necessary for them. The assembly of New York, however, took upon them to alter the mode of execution prescribed by the act of parliament, and to substitute one of their own.
This gave very great offence to the new ministry, and rendered them, though composed of those who had been active against the stamp bill, less favourable to the colonies, in all probability, than they would otherwise have been. An unlucky circumstance at the same time occurred, which threw every thing once more into confusion. One of the new ministry, Charles Townshend, having declared that he could find a way of taxing America, with out giving offence; was called upon to propose his plan. This was by imposing a duty upon tea, paper, painters' colours, and glass imported into America. The conduct of the New York assembly, respecting the troops, and that of Boston, which had proceeded in a similar manner, caused this bill to meet with less opposition than otherwise it might have done. As a punishment to the refractory assemblies, the legislative power was taken from New York, until it should fully comply with the terms of the act. That of Boston at last submitted with reluctance. The bill for the new taxes quickly passed, and was sent to America in 1768. A ferment, much greater than that occasioned by the stamp act, now took place throughout the continent. The populace renewed their outrages, and those of superior stations, entered into regular combinations against it.
Circular letters were sent from Massachusetts colony to all the others, setting forth the injustice and impropriety of the behaviour of the British legislature. Meetings were held in all the principal towns. It was proposed to lessen the consumption of all foreign manufactures, by giving proper encourage nert to their own. Continual disputes ensued betwixt the governors and general assemblies, which were aggravated by a letter from lord Shelburne, to governor Barnard, of Massachusetts Bay, containing complaints of the people he governed. The assembly, exasperated to the highest degree, charged their governor with having misrepresented them at the court of Britain; required him to produce copies of the letters he had sent; and on his refusal, wrote letters to the English winistry, accusing him of misrepresentation and partiality, complainiog at the same time most grievously of the proceed. ings of parliament, as utterly subversive of the liberties of America, and the rights of British subjects. The governor, at a loss how to defend himself, prorogued the assembly, and in his speech on the occasion, gave a loose to his resentment, accusing the members of ambitious designs, incompatible with those of dutiful and loyal subjects. To counteract the circular letter of the province of Massachusetts Bay, lord Hillsborough, secretary for the Americán department, sent another to the governors of the different
colonies, reprobating that sent by the Assembly of Massachusetts Bay, as full of misrepresentation, and tending to excite a rebel. lion against the parent state.
Matters were now drawing to a crisis. The governor had been ordered to proeeed with vigour, and by no means shew any disposition to yield to the people as formerly. In particular, they were required to recind that resolution by wbich they had writ. ten the circular letter above mentioned; and in case of a refusal, it was told them that they would be dissolved. As this letter had been framed by the resolutions of a former house, they desired, after a week's consultation, thșt a recess might be granted to con: sult with their constituents; but this being refused, they came to a determination, 92 against 17, to adhere to the resolution which produced the circular letter.
At the same time a letter was sent to lord Hillsborough, and a message to the governor, in justification of their proceedings. In both, they expressed themselves with such freedom, as was by no means calculated to accord with the views of those in power. They insisted they had a right to communicate their sentiments to their fellow subjects upon matters of importance; complained of the requisition to recind the circular letter, as unconstitutional and unjust: and particularly insisted, that they were represent. ed as harbouring seditious designs, when they were doing nothing but what was lawful and right. At the same time they condemned the late acts of Parliament as highly oppressive, and subversive of liberty. The whole was concluded by a list of accusations against their governor, representiug him as unfit to continue in his station, and petitioning the king for his removal from it.
These proceedings were followed by a violent tumult at Boston. A vessel belonging to a capital trader, had been seized in consequence of his having neglected some of the new regulations, and being taken under the protection of a man of war, at that time lying in the harbour; the populace attacked the houses of the Excise officers, broke their windows, destroyed the collector's boats, and obliged the custom house officers to take refuge in Castle William, on an island situated at the entrance of the narbour. The governor now took the last step in his power to put a stop to the violent proceedings of the assembly, by dissolving it entirely; but this was of little moment. Their behaviour had been highly approved of by the other colonies, who had written letters to them, expressive of their approbation.
After the dissolution of the assembly, frequent meetings were held by the people in Boston, which ended in a remonstrance to the governor, to the same purpose as some of the former; but concluding with a request, that he would take upon him to order the king's ships out of the harbour. While the disposition of the Bostonians was thus going on from bad to worse, news arrived