The Stamp Act

What Was the Stamp Act?
The Stamp Act of 1765 was a law passed by Parliament taxing all paper used for printed materials in the colonies. The act required that all printed materials be printed on paper embossed with an official revenue stamp. These printed materials included magazines, newsletters, legal documents and newspapers.

What Was the Year and Date of the Stamp Act?
The Stamp Act was passed on March 22 of 1765 but it didn’t take effect until November 1 of 1765.

The Stamp Act of 1765: Facts and Summary:
The purpose of the Stamp Act was to raise money for troops stationed along the Canadian border after the British victory in the French and Indian War. The government decided to keep troops in the area after the war to prevent having an idle standing army at home. Parliament felt that since colonists would benefit the most from the protective presence of the soldiers, they should pay for the cost.

One Penny Stamp circa 1765

Image of a One Penny Stamp used in the Stamp Act of 1765

The colonist’s reaction to the Stamp Act was one of anger and outrage. Many felt it was a blatant attempt to make money off the colony. Since they had no legal representation in Parliament at the time the act was passed, the colonists argued that the act violated their rights as English citizens by taxing them without their consent, according to the book “American Passages: A History of the United States”:

“Colonists of all walks of life found the Stamp Act offensive. Everyone who engaged in public business, whether to buy a newspaper or sell property, would have to pay the tax. Because Parliament, not their own provincial assemblies, passed the act, Americans considered it a violation of their rights as British subjects. As they understood the British constitution, the people must consent to taxes through their representatives. The provinces could not send delegates to Parliament, so that body should not tax them to raise revenue. As one Philadelphia merchant said succinctly, “The point in dispute is a very important one, if the Americans are to be taxed by a Parliament where they are not nor can be represented, they are no longer Englishmen but slaves.’”

Although the price of the stamps was actually very little, the colonists worried that if they allowed this law to happen, there would be plenty more to follow. They understood the significance of the Stamp Act and knew that it had the potential to lead to even more abuse of power by the British government in the future.

The Stamp Act Protests and Riots:
Many of the colonies protested the Stamp Act by forming a Stamp Act Congress, according to the book “Conceived in Liberty”:

“The major effort of official protest was the Stamp Act Congress, called in June by the Massachusetts House at the behest of James Otis and the Boston Town Meeting. The congress, which met in New York City on October 7, consisted of delegates from each of the colonial assemblies – with the exception of those of Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, whose governors prevented the assembles from meeting, and of New Hampshire, which declined to attend. Delaware and New Jersey met the same obstruction from their governors, but their assemblymen defied the governor by meeting informally and selecting delegates anyway. All in all, twenty-seven delegates from nine colonies attended this early example of united intercolonial resistance.”

The names of these Stamp Act Congress delegates are as follows:
Massachusetts:
James Otis Jr
Timothy Ruggles
Oliver Partridge

Rhode Island:
Henry Ward
Metcalf Bowler

Connecticut:
Eliphalet Dyer
William Samuel Johnson
David Rowland

New York:
Robert R. Livingston
Philip Livingston
William Bayard
John Cruger
Leonard Lispenard

New Jersey:
Robert Ogden
Joseph Gordon
Hendrick Fisher

Pennsylvania:
John Dickinson
George Bryan
John Morton

Delaware:
Thomas McKean
Caesar Rodney

Maryland:
Edward Tilghman
Thomas Ringgold
William Murdock

South Carolina:
Christopher Gadsden
Thomas Lynch
John Rutledge

The Stamp Act Congress passed a declaration deeming the Stamp Act a violation of their rights as citizens. Although he didn’t attend the congressional meetings, Virginia lawmaker Patrick Henry spoke out publicly against the law and King George III in the Virginia House of Burgesses, reportedly declaring:

“Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third ….may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!”

Political groups, such as the Sons of Liberty, held public protests that often turned violent and destructive. Riots occurred in New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In August of 1765, a number of particularly destructive riots took place in Boston, during which mobs threatened to tarr and feathered tax collectors, hung an effigy of tax commissioner Andrew Oliver from the Liberty tree on Boston common, looted Oliver’s home and office, burned down his stable along with his coach and chaise, and looted and damaged the mansion of the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, as well as the homes of a number of other customs officials.

As a result of the Sons of Liberty’s activities, all of the tax collectors resigned their positions before the act even became law on November 1st of that year, according to the book “The United States of America: 1765-1865”:

“November 1st arrived, the day on which the act was to come into force. Not a stamp could be bought. There was no one in America authorized either to open the packages of stamped paper or to sell stamps. In the condition of temper then prevailing among the people, no royal official seemed disposed to stretch a point to get the stamps into circulation. Soon the royal officials were themselves obliged to violate the act and to clear vessels without using stamped paper – though such clearances were plainly illegal. A few clearances on stamped paper issued by the collector at Savannah, Georgia, were the only instances in which the act was observed. The judges were obliged, after a brief period of waiting, to open the courts regardless of the law. In one case, a clerk of the court, who refused to use unstamped paper, was threatened by the judge with confinement for contempt of court if he persisted in his refusal. The newspapers appeared with a death’s head or some ingenious device in the corner were the stamp should have been.”

"The Repeal, or the Funeral Procession, of Miss America Stamp" cartoon depicting the repeal of the Stamp Act circa 1766. The coffin is carried by George Grenville, who is followed by Bute, the Duke of Bedford, Temple, Halifax, Sandwich, and two bishops.

“The Repeal, or the Funeral Procession, of Miss America Stamp,” cartoon depicting the repeal of the Stamp Act, circa 1766. The coffin is carried by George Grenville, who is followed by Bute, the Duke of Bedford, Temple, Halifax, Sandwich, and two bishops.

American merchants joined in on the cause by organizing nonimportation associations to pressure British exporters to rally against the Stamp Act. Since one-quarter of all British exports were sold in the colonies, they reasoned that a boycott of their goods would hurt British merchants financially and force them to join the cause.

Repeal of the Stamp Act:
The Stamp Act was repealed on March 18, 1766, but the repeal was more the result of a change in management than boycotts and protests, according to the book “A People and a Nation: Volume I”:

“In March 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. The nonimporation agreements had indeed created allies for the colonies among wealthy London merchants. But boycotts, petitions, and crowd actions were less important in winning repeal than was the appointment of a new prime minister, chosen by George III for reasons unrelated to colonial politics. Lord Rockingham, who replaced Grenville in the summer of 1765, had opposed the Stamp Act, not because he believed Parliament lacked authority to tax the colonies, but because he thought the law unwise and divisive. Thus, although Rockingham championed repeal, he linked it to the passage of a Declaratory Act, which asserted Parliament’s authority to tax and legislate for Britain’s American possessions ‘in all cases whatsoever.’”

Widespread celebrations were planned throughout Boston and the colonies to commemorate the repeal, which included fireworks, celebratory cannon fire, bonfires and decorating ships and houses in flags and streamers. The celebrations were shortsighted though since what the colonists didn’t realize at the time was that the Declaratory Act would later pave the way for Parliament to pass even more laws, such as the Townshend Act, that would once again threaten the colonist’s autonomy and way of life.

Sources:

“A People and a Nation, Volume I: to 1877”; Mary Beth Norton, Jane Kamensky, Carol Sheriff, David W. Blight, Howard Chudacoff; 2015
“The United States of America, 1765-1865”; Edward Channing; 1896

“Conceived in Liberty”; Mary Newton Rothbard; 1975

“American Passages: A History of the United States”; Edward L. Ayers, Lewis L. Gould, David M. Oshinsky, Jean R. Soderlund; 2011

Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda; John C. Miller; 1936

PBS: The Stamp Act Riots & Tar and Feathering: http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/popup_stampact.html

History.org: Colonial Williamsburg: http://www.history.org/history/teaching/tchcrsta.cfm

John Adams

John Adams is one of the most notable patriots of the American Revolution. A Harvard-educated lawyer, farmer and U.S. ambassador, he later became the second President of the United States after serving as George Washington’s Vice President.

Born on October 30 in 1735 in Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams was the son of Deacon John Adams and Susanna Boylston of Braintree. The Adams family was an old English family descending from Mayflower pilgrim John Alden. John Adams was also the cousin of Samuel Adams.

John_adams_oil_painting_by_gilbert_stuart_circa_1800_1815

John Adams, oil painting by Gilbert Stuart, circa 1800-1815

Although John Adams intended to join the ministry like his father, after graduating from Harvard he instead started practicing law in Boston in 1758. In 1764, Adams met and married a minister’s daughter from Weymouth named Abigail Smith, who had a reputation for being an independent, well-read and educated woman. Together they had six children.

During the 1760s, John Adams became a visible member of the resistance movement against the British government. He fully opposed Parliament’s plans to tax the colonies with the Stamp Act and the Townshend Act and wrote a dissertation justifying opposition against these acts. Despite his hostility towards the British government, Adams agreed to represent the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre in 1770. With his help, most of the soldiers were found not guilty and the two who were convicted escaped the death penalty. Although representing the soldiers made him temporarily unpopular in Boston, Adams felt it was the right thing to do.

In 1774, Adams was elected to the Massachusetts delegation where he nominated George Washington to command the newly created Continental army and selected Thomas Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. Adams himself was chosen to write the Massachusetts Constitution, which effectively ended slavery in the state. He later served as an ambassador in Europe, alongside Benjamin Franklin, raising funds and supplies for the revolution and eventually negotiating a peace treaty between the United States and Britain.

Abigail_Smith_Adams_Oil_Painting_by_Gilbert_Stuart_Circa_ 1800_1815

Abigail Smith Adams, oil painting by Gilbert Stuart, circa 1800-1815

After returning home from Europe, Adams served two terms as George Washington’s Vice President and was elected president himself in 1796. During his presidency, Adams was heavily criticized by his enemies such as Alexander Hamilton. He signed the controversial Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which imposed strict rules and regulations against immigrants and made it a crime to publish false or scandalous material against the president. Adams also built up the army and navy between 1798 and 1800 to prepare for a possible naval war with France, known as the Quasi-war, but ended the conflict peacefully.

In 1800, John Adams lost reelection to his old friend Thomas Jefferson and retired to his farm in Massachusetts. Adams suffered some personal tragedies when his son Charles died from complications of alcoholism in 1800, his daughter Abigail died of breast cancer in 1813 and his wife Abigail died of typhoid in October of 1818.

About 12 years after leaving office, Adams finally revived his old friendship with Thomas Jefferson and the two remained friends until their deaths. Years later, his son John Quincy Adams became president in 1825.

John Adams died of heart failure at the age of 91 on July 4, 1826. His last words were “Jefferson lives”, not knowing that Jefferson had died just a few hours before him. John Adams was buried in Hancock cemetery but later moved to the Church of Presidents in Quincy, Mass.

Sources:

John Adams: David G. McCullough; 2001

White House: John Adams: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/johnadams

Biography.com: John Adams: http://www.biography.com/people/john-adams-37967

When Christmas Was Banned in Boston

When the puritans came over on the Mayflower in 1620, they brought with them their strict ways, their religious views and their distaste for Christmas. Although Christmas was widely celebrated in Europe as a Christian holiday marking the birth of Jesus Christ, puritans saw it as a false holiday with stronger ties to paganism than Christianity. As pious and reserved Christians, puritans also took a dislike to the drinking and dancing associated with the holiday.

After the puritans left the Old World, they decided to leave these holiday traditions behind. Instead of feasting and giving gifts, puritans commemorated Christmas by praying, reflecting on sin and working instead of resting.

Pilgrims Going to Church painting by George Henry Boughton 1867

“Pilgrims Going to Church,” painting by George Henry Boughton, circa 1867

The puritans even forced non-puritan colonists, such as the Presbyterians, to work on Christmas day. In his journal, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” William Bradford recorded a disagreement that ensued between him and some newly arrived non-puritan colonists on Christmas day in 1621:

“One the day called Christmasday, the Gov r caled them out to worke, (as was used,) but the most of this new-company excused them selves and said it wente against their consciences to work on that day. So the Gov r tould them that if they made it mater of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. … [Later] he found them in the streete at play, openly; some pitching the barr and some at stoole-ball, and shuch like sports. So he went to them, and tooke away their implements, and tould them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others worke. If they made the keeping of it mater of devotion, let them kepe their houses, but ther should be no gameing or revelling in the streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly.”

william_bradford_illustration

William Bradford

On May 11, 1659, the Massachusetts Bay Colony legislature even went so far as to officially ban Christmas and gave anyone found celebrating it a fine of five shillings. The legislature stated the ban was needed “For preventing disorders arising in severall places within this jurisdiceon, by reason of some still observing such ffestivalls as were superstitiously kept in other countrys, to the great dishonnor of God & offence of others, it is therefore ordered … that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by for-bearing of labour, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the county.”

The ban remained in place for 22 years until it was repealed in 1681 after a new surge of European immigrants brought a demand for the holiday. Even though the ban was lifted, Christmas was not warmly embraced by the puritans and it remained a dull and muted holiday over two centuries later.

In the early 1800s, a religious revival spurred a renewed interest in Christmas. The holiday became popular again in the South, but it was slow to catch on in New England. In 1830, Louisiana was the first state to make Christmas a holiday. Other states followed suit and Christmas soon became popular again, especially during the Civil War. In 1856, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” Later that year, the Massachusetts legislature finally made Christmas an official holiday in the state. Finally, in 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday.

Sources:

The Day; Christmas Was Once Banned in Boston; December 1971: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1915&dat=19711215&id=h_AgAAAAIBAJ&sjid=1XMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2146,3635821

American Heritage; When Christmas Was Banned in Boston; Dana Marriott: http://www.americanheritage.com/content/when-christmas-was-banned-boston

Massachusetts Travel Journal: When Christmas Was Banned in Boston: http://masstraveljournal.com/features/boston-cambridge/when-christmas-was-banned-boston