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, September 29, 2015

Gov. Bernard’s Instructions to the General Court

As soon as the lower house of the Massachusetts General Court reported that it had a quorum on 25 Sept 1765, Gov. Francis Bernard summoned that body up to the Council Chamber in the Town House (now the Old State House) for a serious talk.

Since Bernard was the governor, he got to do all the talking. He delivered a long address about the legislature’s response to the Stamp Act—what it had done wrong and what it should do right. Early on, Bernard said, “I shall not enter into any Disquisition of the Policy of the Act.” Once Parliament passed the law, he said, the province had to obey it.

Bernard made four principal points to the legislators:

  • The House’s call for a Stamp Act Congress was not in the spirit of loyalty to the Crown that its authors professed.
  • Closing the courts and the ports so as not to have to use stamped paper would cause great damage to the economy and society.
  • All branches of the government had to respond with unity and firmness to the “violences which had been committed in this town.”
  • In particular, the legislature should provide “a Compensation to be made to the Sufferers of the late Disturbances.”

The members of the lower house listened to the governor. They had the speech read to them again the next morning. Then they debated it and named a committee to respond to Bernard. They did not repudiate the idea of the congress or start to work on compensating Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson for the destruction of his house.

The next day, Gov. Bernard notified the legislature that a ship had arrived with stamped paper for Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. With Andrew Oliver no longer acting as the province’s stamp agent, Bernard wanted the legislature to come up with a plan for keeping that paper safe, it “being the King’s Property.”

The assembly’s committee, which included Thomas Cushing, Artemas Ward, and others, soon responded that since the stamped paper had been sent to Massachusetts without the involvement of its legislature, keeping it safe was not the business of the Massachusetts General Court. This was not the cooperation the governor had been hoping for.

TOMORROW: A special election in Boston.


Jan said...

Question: Were stamps ever distributed in any of the 'American' (that is to say, non-Canadian, non-Caribbean) colonies?

J. L. Bell said...

Out of over £100,000 worth of stamped paper sent to the thirteen colonies that became the U.S. of A., the Crown collected £45, all from Georgia.

Jamaica turned out to be the Crown's largest source of stamp revenue, contributing over half of the £4,000 raised from all the British colonies in North America.