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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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Stamp Act Congress’s Three Messages to London

On the same day that the Stamp Act Congress approved its Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which was mostly for public consumption, it also appointed three committees to draft formal messages to different branches of the British government:
The next day was Sunday. On Monday, 21 October, all three committees presented their drafts. Probably for some reason of protocol, the “address” to the king became a “petition.” The congress read, debated, and amended the documents, approving the first two on the 22nd and the third on the 23rd.

All three documents made the same argument, with varying degrees of obsequiousness, detail, and appeals to economic benefits. Here, for example, is how each appeal began. To the king:
That the inhabitants of these colonies, unanimously devoted with the warmest sentiments of duty and affection to your sacred person and government, and inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the protestant succession in your illustrious house, and deeply sensible of your royal attention to their prosperity and happiness, humbly beg leave to approach the throne, by representing to your majesty, that these colonies were originally planted by subjects of the British crown, who, animated with the spirit of liberty, encouraged by your majesty’s royal predecessors, and confiding in the public faith for the enjoyment of all the rights and liberties essential to freedom, emigrated from their native country to this continent, and, by their successful perseverance, in the midst of innumerable dangers and difficulties, together with a profusion of their blood and treasure, have happily added these vast and extensive dominions to the Empire of Great Britain.
To the Lords:
That his majesty’s liege subjects in his America colonies, though they acknowledge a due subordination to that august body the British parliament, are entitled, in the opinion of your memorialists, to all the inherent rights and liberties of the natives of Great Britain, and have ever since the settlement of the said colonies, exercised those rights and liberties, as far as their local circumstances would permit.
To the Commons:
That the several late acts of parliament, imposing divers duties and taxes on the colonies, and laying the trade and commerce under very burthensome restrictions; but above all, the act for granting and applying certain stamp duties in America, have filled them with the deepest concern and surprise, and they humbly conceive the execution of them will be attended with consequences very injurious to the commercial interests of Great Britain and her colonies, and must terminate in the eventual ruin of the latter.
Even as the delegates approved those documents, their united front was cracking. Although men from Connecticut and South Carolina had helped to draft the messages to Britain, those delegations insisted on not being listed among the colonies endorsing those documents. The instructions from their legislatures, they said, didn’t authorize them to approve such petitions to London. That meant only half of the colonies originally invited to the Congress were visibly getting behind its results.

And when the delegates discussed how to sign those documents, their unity would break down further.

COMING UP: A challenge to a duel?

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