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 07, 2015

When the Stamp Act Congress Convened

On 7 Oct 1765, the Stamp Act Congress convened at City Hall in New York (shown here). It was a week behind schedule.

As proposed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives back in June, this was a convention of delegates from the colonial legislatures of North America to come up with a common response to the Stamp Act.

Royal governors had done their best to stymie legislatures’ plans to participate in the congress, mostly by declining to convene those legislatures in time to choose delegates.

As a result, in Delaware, New York, and New Jersey legislative leaders chose delegates through committees or in meetings held without the governors’ approval. Other colonies, including the oldest and most populous, Virginia, couldn’t finagle a way to send anyone. Out of fourteen colonial legislatures invited (including Nova Scotia), only nine had representatives at the congress.

Massachusetts was one of those nine, but royal governor Francis Bernard was confident that he had things under control, as he reported to the Board of Trade in London on 8 July 1765:
It was impossible to oppose this Measure [for the congress] to any good purpose: and therefore the friends of Government took the lead in it, & have kept it in their hands; in pursuance of which, of the Committee appointed by this house to meet the other Committees at New York on the first of Octr. next, Two of the three are fast friends to Government & prudent & discreet men, such as I am assured will never consent to any undutiful or improper applications to the Government of great Britain. It is the general Opinion that nothing will be done in consequence of this intended Congress: but I hope I may promise myself that this province will act no indecent part therein.
The three Massachusetts delegates were all members of the committee that had recommended proposing the congress:
Probably because Massachusetts had instigated the meeting, there seems to have been consensus among the delegates that their chairman should be from that colony. But which man?

TOMORROW: America’s first national election?

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