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, October 19, 2015

“It is the indispensable duty of these colonies”

By 19 Oct 1765, the Stamp Act Congress had been meeting and debating for over a week and a half. What sort of debate did they have? We have no idea. Clerk John Cotton’s record reads like this:
Wednesday, Oct. 9th. 1765, A.M. — Then the congress met according to adjournment. The congress resumed the consideration of the rights and privileges of the British American colonists, &c, the same was referred after sundry debates, for further consideration.

Then the congress adjourned until to-morrow morning, 11 o’clock.

Thursday, Oct. 10th, 1765, A.M. — Then the congress met according to adjournment, and resumed, &c, as yesterday — and then adjourned to 10 o’clock, to-morrow morning.
Repeat the entry for 10 October verbatim for the 11th, 12th, 13th, and so on through the 18th. (The delegates took Sunday the 15th off.)

Then a breakthrough on the 19th!
The congress met according to adjournment, and resumed, &c. as yesterday; and upon mature deliberation, agreed to the following declaration of the rights and grievances of the colonists in America, which were ordered to be inserted.
That Declaration of Rights and Grievances was drafted by John Cruger (1710-1791, shown above), mayor of New York and speaker of the New York assembly. The document had thirteen points, but the argument was basically threefold:
  • British colonists had the same rights as people in Britain itself.
  • Those rights included not being taxed without the consent of their own legislature, rendering the Stamp Act unconstitutional.  
  • And besides, the Stamp Act hurt the American economy and thus the whole empire.
The declaration concluded:
Lastly, That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavor, by a loyal and dutiful address to his majesty, and humble application to both houses of parliament, to procure the repeal of the act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, of all clauses of any other acts of parliament, whereby the jurisdiction of the admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of the other late acts for the restriction of the American commerce.
In other words, by opposing the Stamp Act in every way, the men at that congress and elsewhere in America weren’t really defying the king, Parliament, and the British constitution. They were standing up for that system, “protestant succession” and all. It was even their duty to get the Stamp Act repealed! This remained the basis of American Whig thinking right up through the beginning of the war.

Some pre-war Whigs, such as John Cruger himself, never made the jump to believing that the only way to preserve the principles underlying that British constitution was to break with Britain entirely. He voted against the proceedings of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and soon retired from politics, sitting out the war in Kinderhook.

COMING UP: Three messages to Great Britain.

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