J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, February 08, 2015

Finally, the Debate Over the Stamp Act

So did Isaac Barré speak against the Stamp Act in the House of Commons on 6 Feb 1765? Edmund Burke recalled that debate as unexciting, but on 12 February Horace Walpole wrote that Barré had delivered “a pretty heavy thump” to bill advocate Charles Townshend.

On 4 May the Providence Gazette cited “several Letters from London” to Newport that characterized Barré’s remarks this way:
Col. B—, confirmed the Equity of the Taxation, but doubted whether the Colonies were in a Capacity to pay it, and seemed inclinable to favor them.
Not very stirring.

But Jared Ingersoll (1722-1781), outgoing agent (lobbyist) for Connecticut, sent a much more dramatic account to Gov. Thomas Fitch. That manuscript, dated 11 Feb 1765, was transcribed and published in 1918.

Part of that letter was also published in America in 1765, including the 27 May Boston Post-Boy:
Mr Charles Townshend spoke in favour of the Bill, (Stamp Duty), and concluded his Speech by saying to the following Effect:

“These Children of our own Planting, (speaking of Americans), nourished by our Indulgence, until they are grown to a good Degree of Strength and Opulence, and protected by our Arms, will they grudge to contribute their Mite to relieve us from the heavy load of national Expence which we lie under?[”…]

Which having said and sat down, Mr. Barre arose, and, with Eyes darting Fire [he was in fact blind in one eye] and an outstretched Arm, spoke as follows, with a voice somewhat elevated, and with a Sternness in his Countenance, which express’d in a most lively Manner, the feelings of his Heart:

“Children planted by your Care? No! Your Oppression planted them in America; they fled from your Tyranny, into a then uncultivated Land, where they were exposed to almost a1l the Hardships, to which humane Nature is liable; and among others, to the Savage Cruelty of the Enemy of the Country; a People the most subtile, and, I take upon me to say, the most truly terrible of any People that ever inhabited any Part of GOD’s EARTH, and yet actuated by Principles of true English Liberty; they met all these Hardships with Pleasure, compared with those they suffered in their own Country, from the Hands of those that 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 some Deputy, of Members of this House, sent to spy out their Liberty, to misrepresent their Actions, and to prey upon them; Men, whose Behaviour, 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 to my Knowledge, were glad by going to foreign Countries, to Escape being bro’t to a Bar of Justice, in their own.

“They protected by your Arms? They have nobly taken up Arms in your Defence, have exerted their Valour, amidst their constant and laborious Industry, for the Defence of a Country whose Frontier, while drench’d in Blood, its interior Parts have yielded all its little Savings to your Enlargement: and BELIEVE ME, REMEMBER I THIS DAY TOLD YOU SO, That the same Spirit which actuated that People at first, will continue with them still: But Prudence forbids me to explain my self any further. GOD KNOWS, 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, yet I claim to know more of America than most of you, having seen and been conversant in that Country. The People there are as truly Loyal, I believe, as any Subjects the King has; But a People jealous of their Liberties, and who will vindicate them, if they should be violated; but the Subject is too delicate, I will say no more.”
That speech inspired American opponents to the Stamp Act to call themselves “Sons of Liberty,” a phrase with deeper roots in British culture that lasted into other political battles as well.

Barré remained one of Parliament’s most vocal opponents of new taxes on the American colonies. Not that his oratory convinced many of his colleagues. His motion to adjourn without approving the bill, which was a form of up-or-down vote, failed by 245 votes to 49.

As for Jared Ingersoll, he decided the fight against the Stamp Act was lost, applied successfully for the position of stamp agent in Connecticut, and became a target of the Sons of Liberty—the very political movement his reporting had helped to inspire.

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