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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Sunday, May 15, 2016

“When we shall receive certain advice of the Repeal of the Stamp Act”

Like the Stamp Act itself, Parliament’s repeal of the Stamp Act was no surprise. The measure was debated in London for months, and colonists in North America eagerly awaited the results.

On 1 Apr 1766, Boston’s official records say, “A considerable Number of the Inhabitants of this Town Assembled at Faneuil Hall.” That was not to formula that town clerk William Cooper used to designate formal town meetings, which the selectmen usually called days in advance with a public warrant listing an agenda.

Nonetheless, those people proceeded as if they did constitute an official town meeting, electing James Otis, Jr., to preside as moderator. He announced:
that the probability of very soon receiving authentic Accounts of the absolute Repeal of the Stamp Act had occasioned the present Meeting; and as this would be an Event in which the Inhabitants of this Metropolis, as well as all North America, would have the greatest Occasion of Joy, it was thought expedient by many, that this Meeting should come into Measures for fixing the Time when those Rejoicings should be made, and the manner in which they should be conducted—whereupon it was——

Voted, That the Selectmen be desired when they shall hear the certain News of the Repeal of the Stamp Act to fix upon a Time for general Rejoicings; and that they give the Inhabitants seasonable Notice in such Manner as they shall think best——
On 21 April Bostonians “legally qualified and warned in Publick Town Meeting Assembled at Faneuil Hall” again to make that vote official. Otis moderated once more.
After the Warrant for calling the Meeting had been read—Some Resolves of the House of Commons relative to American Affairs, as also sundry Extracts from late Letters received from England were also read

After which the Town took into consideration the Article in the Warrant for calling the Meeting. (Vizt.) To agree on such Measures of Conduct as may be proper when we shall receive certain advice of the Repeal of the Stamp Act—whereup

Voted, That the Selectmen be desired when they shall have a certain account of the Repeal of the Stamp Act to Notify the Inhabitants of the Time they shall fix upon for the general Rejoicings & to publish the following Vote—Vizt.

Under the deepest Sense of Duty and Loyalty to our most gracious Sovereign King George, and in respect and Gratitude to the present Patriotick Ministry, Mr. [William] Pitt, and the Glorious Majority of both Houses of Parliament, by whose Influence under Divine Providence against a most strenuous Opposition, a happy Repeal of the Stamp Act so unconstitutional as well as grievous to his Majestys good Subjects of America is attained, whereby our incontestable Right of Internal Taxation still remains to us inviolate—

Voted, that at the Time the Selectmen shall appoint, every Inhabitant be desired to Illuminate his Dwelling House, and that it is the Sense of the Town, that the Houses of of the Poor, as well as those where there are sick Persons and all such parts of Houses as are used for Stores together with the Houses of those (if there are any) who from certain Religeous Scruples cannot conform to this Vote, ought to be protected from all Injury; and that all Abuses and Disorders on the Evening for Rejoycings by breaking Windows, or otherwise, if any should happen, be prosecuted by the Town—

Upon a Motion made and seconded Voted unanimously, That the Majestrates of the Town; The Selectmen; Fire-Wards; Constables and Engine Men, be desired to use their utmost Endeavours to prevent any Bone-Fires being made in any part of this Town, also the throwing of Rockets, Squibs, and other Fire Works in any of the Streets of said Town except the Time that shall be appointed for general Rejoicings, and that the Inhabitants be desired for the present to restrain their Children and Servants from going abroad on Evenings

Upon a Motion made and seconded, Voted, That for the Security of the Powder House on the Night of general Rejoicings the Selectmen be desired to Order two of the Fire Engines into the Common to be placed near said Magazine: and that the Roof thereof be well wet; and that the Air Holes be stop’t with Mortar and Brick or otherwise as they may Judge proper
Some of those measures were intended to preserve the town’s safety. Others were designed to preserve the town’s image, damaged by the riots against Andrew Oliver, Thomas Hutchinson, and other royal appointees in August 1765.

The meeting also appointed a committee to think about other ways for Boston “to testify their Gratitude to those Patriots on the other side of the Water to whose Endeavors it is owing that the Liberties of America are secured.” That committee was headed by John Erving and included several of the town’s most prominent merchants and politicians: John Rowe, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, the senior Royall Tyler, Thomas Cushing, and Joshua Henshaw. Boston was all set to hear good news.


Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

We Americans at that time were clearly not yet fully developed. I'm talking about a missing ignoble celebratory behavior that was not acknowledged as part of our skillset. I see nothing in the language that specifically prohibits overturning carriages.

J. L. Bell said...

Whoa Talk about infringing on the traditional rights of the people!

Richard said...

Interesting info, thanks for posting. The citizens of Boston anticipated repeal of the Stamp Act, so were ecstatic because of the repeal, and planned elaborate celebrations. What they did NOT anticipate was the Declaratory Act that would be issued along with the repeal, an act which stated in effect that the colonists should not get the wrong idea, that Parliament and king were not giving up any of their authority, that their authority over the colonies was ABSOLUTE, for Parliament had the right to legislate for the colonies in all cases whatsoever, and that the repeal simply reflected exceptional indulgence on the part of the king.
Before they saw the Declaratory Act, the Bostonians stated the exact opposite in this document-- that the repeal showed that their right to legislate taxes for themselves was being accepted by London and was inviolate.

J. L. Bell said...

The Marquess of Rockingham had been talking about pairing repeal of the Stamp Act with something like the Declaratory Act since the beginning of the year. I can't tell how much Americans heard about that law, or how much they discussed it. Without a concrete tax or other measure enacted under it, the Declaratory Act was easy to ignore. But whether it was really a "surprise" is another question.