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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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Debates in Faneuil Hall over the Stamp Act

Yet another sestercentennial event in Boston this August are town-meeting-style debates over the Stamp Act in Faneuil Hall on Sunday afternoons. Boston National Historical Park explains:
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hear the discussions and debates made by colonists in 1765 during their Town Meeting inside Faneuil Hall? . . .

Visitors…can join Park Rangers wearing the latest in eighteenth-century fashion in recreating a Town Meeting set in 1765. Join in to hear about—and possibly speak out!—the passionate arguments made by those who supported Parliament’s Stamp Act and those that perceived Parliament’s authority as a violation of their English liberties.
We have few clues about how the debate in town meetings went because nobody kept transcripts. The town clerk, William Cooper, recorded resolutions and the outcome of votes, but, like most public officials of the time, he emphasized unity over conflict.

We do have the outcome of that discussion, the special instructions to Boston’s representatives in the Massachusetts General Court, adopted on 23 Sept 1765. That document was created and published to reinforce public opinion, like a modern political party’s platform. It stated:
At a Time when the British American Subjects are cvery where loudly complaining of arbitrary unconstitutional Innovations the Town of Boston can not any longer remain silent without Just Imputation and Inexcusable Neglect. We therefore the Freeholders and other Inhabitants being legally Assembled in Faneuil Hall, to consider What steps are necessary for us to take at this alarming Crisis, think it proper to communicate to you our united Sentiments, and to give you our Instructions thereupon—

It fills us with very great Concern to find, that Measures have been Adopted by the British Ministry, and Acts of Parliament made, which press hard upon our invaluable Rights and Privileges and ten greatly to distress the Trade of the Province, by which we have heretofore been able to contribute so large a share towards the Inriching Of the Mother Country—But we are more particularly alarmed and astonished at the Act called the Stamp Act, by which a very grievous and we apprehend unconstitutional Tax is to be laid upon the Colonies—

By the Royal Charter granted to our Ancestors the power of making Laws for our internal Government and of levying Taxes, is vested in the General Assembly: And by the same Charter the Inhabitants of this Province are entitled to all the Rights & Privileges of natural free born Subjects of Great Britain; the most essential Rights of British Subjects are those of being represented in the same Body which exercises the power of levying Taxes upon them, and of having their Property tryed by Juries; These are the very Pillars of the British Constitution, founded in the common Rights of Mankind.

It is certain we were in no sense represented in the Parliament of Great Britain, when this Act of Taxation was made: And it is also certain that this Law admits of our propertys being tryed in Controversies arising from internal concerns by Courts of Admiralty without a Jury: It follows that at once it annihilates the most valuable Privileges of our Charter, deprives us of the most essential Rights of Britain and greatly weakens the best securities of our Lives, Liberties and Estates; which may hereafter be at the disposal of Judges who may be Strangers to us, and perhaps malicious, mercinary, corrupt and oppressive.
Thus, even before the phrase “no taxation without representation” was coined, that idea was the basis for Boston’s complaint. But the colonists were making their argument as “Britons,” not as Americans. (The document continues here.)

These instructions came out of a committee, but the man who gets credit for drafting them is Samuel Adams. Cooper recorded in the meeting minutes, “The aforegoing Report having been read several Times, and put Paragraph by Paragraph: It was Voted unanimously that the same be accepted.”

The programs at Faneuil Hall are free to the public, with no tickets required, but are subject to change if the space or personnel are needed for something else. The debate sessions are scheduled for 9 and 16 August at 2:30 and again at 4:00 P.M.

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