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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Monday, June 08, 2015

Massachusetts Issues Invitations for a Stamp Act Congress—in New York

Two hundred fifty years ago on this date, the Massachusetts General Court took its first step to counter the new Stamp Act.

The process started two days earlier when James Otis, Jr., of Boston, proposed that the assembly respond to “the many difficulties to which the colonies are and must be reduced by the operation of some late acts of Parliament.”

To do that, the legislature chose a committee of:
Other colonies were also preparing responses to the Stamp Act. Virginia’s House of Burgesses had issued some bold resolutions, as I recently discussed, but that news hadn’t reached Boston yet. And early in the year, even before Parliament passed the new law, the New York Assembly had raised the idea of a convention of delegates from different colonies—like the Albany Congress of 1754.

In her history of the Revolution, Mercy Warren gave credit for the same idea to someone closer:
All remonstrances against this innovating system had hitherto been without effect; and in this period of suspense, apprehension and anxiety, a general congress of delegates from the several provinces was proposed by the honorable James Otis, of Barnstable, in the Massachusetts. He was a gentleman of great probity, experience, and parliamentary abilities, whose religious adherence to the rights of his country had distinguished him through a long course of years, in which he had sustained some of the first offices in government.
“The honorable James Otis, of Barnstable,” was also Mercy Warren’s father. (According to Benson J. Lossing, he made this proposal while visiting the Warrens in Plymouth with her brother James; however, I’ve found no confirmation for that.)

The younger Otis was most likely the driving force behind the Massachusetts committee’s report:
The committee appointed to consider what dutiful, loyal, and humble address may be proper to make to our gracious Sovereign and his Parliament, in relation to the several acts passed, for levying duties and taxes on the colonies, have attended that service, and are humbly of opinion:

That it is highly expedient there should be a meeting, as soon as may be, of committees from the Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, in the several colonies on this continent, to consult together on the present circumstances of the colonies, and the difficulties to which they are and must be reduced by the operation of the late acts of Parliament for levying duties and taxes on the colonies, and to consider of a general and humble address to his Majesty and the Parliament, to implore relief.

And the committee are further of opinion, that a meeting of such committees should be held at New-York, on the first Tuesday of October next, and that a committee of three persons be chosen by this House on the part of this Province, to attend the same.

And that letters be forthwith prepared and transmitted to the respective Speakers of the several Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses in the colonies aforesaid, advising them of the resolution of this House thereon, and inviting such Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, to join this with their committees, in the meeting, and for the purposes aforesaid.
The legislature unanimously adopted the committee’s proposal. It then chose White, Otis, and [I believe] Joseph Lee of Cambridge to “prepare a draft of letters to be sent to the respective Speakers of the several Houses of Representatives in the colonies.” Again, Otis is usually considered the principal author of the circular letter that resulted:
Province of Massachusetts Bay. Boston, June 8, 1765.

Sir—

The House of Representatives of this Province in the present session of the General Court, have unanimously agreed to propose a meeting, as soon as may be, of committees from the Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, of the several British colonies on this continent, to consult together on the present circumstances of the colonies, and the difficulties to which they are and must be reduced by the operation of the acts of Parliament for levying duties and taxes on the colonies; and to consider of a general and united, dutiful and humble representation of their condition to his Majesty and the Parliament, to implore relief.

The House of Representatives of this Province have also voted to propose that such meeting be at the city of New-York, on the first Tuesday of October next, and have appointed a committee of three of their members to attend that service, with such as the other Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, in the several colonies may think fit to appoint to meet him: And the committee of the House of Representatives of this Province are directed to repair to said New-York, on said first Tuesday of October next, accordingly.

If, therefore, your honorable House should agree to this proposal, it would be acceptable, that as early notice of it as possible might be transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives of this Province.

SAMUEL WHITE, Speaker.
The Massachusetts legislature also chose Ruggles, Partridge (a veteran of the Albany Congress), and Otis as delegates to this Stamp Act Congress, if it were actually to take place.

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