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 08, 2015

Jared Ingersoll’s Non-Resignation as Stamp Master

Jared Ingersoll had an unusual relationship with the anti-Stamp Act movement in 1765 America. As the year began, he was an agent for the colony of Connecticut in London, and he lobbied officials there not to proceed with the plan.

Ingersoll’s 11 February letter describing the debate over the law in Parliament is our sole source for Isaac Barré’s speech celebrating American colonists as “Sons of Liberty.” That phrase (already established in British political rhetoric) inspired activists all along the North American coast.

But once the imperial government enacted the Stamp Act, Ingersoll lobbied to be named the collector for Connecticut, which would grant him an income and authority. He’d done his level best to stop the law, he reasoned; now he might as well make the most of the new situation.

But then came the events of late August. Ingersoll was reportedly hooted out of Boston. While he traveled home to New Haven, he might have heard similar grumblings in his own colony. On 22 August towns began burning Ingersoll in effigy, just as Bostonians had done to signal their disapproval of Massachusetts stamp master Andrew Oliver (before proceeding to ruin his house).

Ingersoll therefore penned a public letter on 24 August, printed in the colony’s newspapers over the following week:
To the Good People of Connecticut.

When I undertook the Office of Distributor of Stamps for this Colony, I meant a Service to you, and really thought you would have viewed it in that Light when you come to understand the Nature of the Stamp Act and that of the Office; but since it gives you so much Uneasiness, you may be assured, if I find (after the Act takes Place, which is the first of November) that you shall not incline to purchase or make use of any stampt Paper, I shall not force it upon you, nor think it worth my While to trouble you or my Self with any Exercise of my Office; but if, by that Time I shall find you generally in much Need of the stampt Paper and very anxious to obtain it, I shall hope you will be willing to receive it of me, (if I shall happen to have any) at least until another Person more agreeable to you can be appointed in my room.

I cannot but wish you would think more how to get rid of the Stamp Act than of the Officers who are to supply you with the Paper, and that you had learnt more of the Nature of my Office before you had undertaken to be so very angry at it.
There’s been a lot written in recent years about “non-apology apologies.” Ingersoll’s letter seems to be one, as well as a non-resignation resignation. He promised not to do the job of stamp master if people still didn’t want him to while chiding those same people for not already learning “more of the Nature of my Office before you had undertaken to be so very angry at it.”

Two days later, Oliver wrote to Ingersoll from Boston with the text of his own resignation, which was much more definite—and still wouldn’t prove to be enough to satisfy his neighbors. Nor did Ingersoll’s public letter win over many critics.

TOMORROW: Other Connecticut men who wanted to distribute the stamps.

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