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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Saturday, October 24, 2015

The End of the Stamp Act Congress

By 24 Oct 1765, the Stamp Act Congress had revised and approved its three petitions to different parts of the British government, as described a couple of days back.

But delegate Robert Ogden (1716-1787) of New Jersey argued that the congress shouldn’t send those documents to London. Rather, he said, each delegation should bring them back to their colonial legislature for their colleagues to amend, approve, and then send across the Atlantic. Which wouldn’t really present a united front against the Stamp Act.

As speaker of the New Jersey house, Ogden had at first been reluctant to authorize any participation in the congress at all. Apparently under pressure from colleagues, he had presided over a special meeting to choose delegates without the authorization of Gov. William Franklin. When he put himself on the list, he probably hoped to steer the process.

Ogden’s late suggestion that the congress lacked legitimacy on its own made people accuse him of foot-dragging. By 2 November, Robert R. Livingston of New York wrote, the New Jersey speaker was “burnt in Effigy in almost all the Towns of East Jersey.” Ogden would resign his legislative seat by the end of that month.

The other delegates stuck with their original plan to send the petitions to London directly. They also voted to recommend “to the several colonies to appoint special agents for soliciting relief from their present grievances, and to unite their utmost interest and endeavors for that purpose”—in other words, a joint lobbying effort. Both those actions were tentative steps toward continental unity.

The only other recorded business on 24 October was an order for clerk John Cotton to sign his sparse record of the congress and arrange for it to be printed and distributed to the colonial legislatures. At least, that was the only business that actually got printed. (As a result, some accounts say the congress ended on that date.) Handwritten transcripts of the proceedings sent to the Maryland legislature and other contemporaneous documents indicated that the congress also met on the following day, 25 Oct 1765, to sign the petitions.

But even that wasn’t simple. For one thing, the New York delegation said that they shouldn’t sign the petitions (which some of them had helped to draft, and which listed “New-York” among the participating colonies) since their legislature hadn’t chosen them in an official session. As I said before, the men from Connecticut and South Carolina had already dropped out for similar reasons. The congress settled for having the documents “signed by such of the members as thought proper.”

That group didn’t include Robert Ogden. And then the congress’s chairman said he wouldn’t sign, either.

TOMORROW: Timothy Ruggles’s challenge.

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