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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Friday, August 07, 2015

The Stamp Act on the South Shore

Protests against Parliament’s new Stamp Act spread outside Boston in the late summer of 1765, and commemorations of its 250th anniversary will take place outside Boston, too.

Shortly after Samuel Adams led the Boston town meeting to complain about the law in instructions for its legislators, his younger second cousin John drafted a similar document for rural Braintree. In his post-Presidency memoirs, John Adams described that initiative this way:
I drew up a Petition to the Select Men of Braintree, and procured it to be signed by a Number of the respectable Inhabitants, to call a Meeting of the Town to instruct their Representatives in Relation to the Stamps. The public Attention of the whole Continent was alarmed, and my Principles and political Connections were well known. . . .

I prepared a Draught of Instructions, at home and carried them with me: the cause of the Meeting was explained, at some length and the state and danger of the Country pointed out, a Committee was appointed to prepare Instructions of which I was nominated as one. We retired to Mr. [Samuel] Niles House, my Draught was produced, and unanimously adopted without Amendment, reported to the Town and Accepted without a dissenting Voice. These were published in [Richard] Drapers Paper, as that Printer first applied to me for a Copy. They were decided and spirited enough. They rung thro the State, and were adopted, in so many Words, As I was informed by the Representatives of that Year, by forty Towns, as Instructions to their Representatives.
Actually not, say the editors of Adams’s papers. The draft in Adams’s handwriting was amended a little for the official version, and only a few instructions from other towns resemble Braintree’s.

In fact, Braintree’s arguments should sound quite familiar, though the language was a lot more legalistic:
We further apprehend this Tax to be unconstitutional. By the great Charter of Liberties, no Amerciament is to be imposed, but by the oaths of good and lawful Men of the Vicinage, and no Freeman is to be disseized of his Freehold &c but by the Judgment of his Peers &c or Law of the Land.—And We have always understood it to be a grand and fundamental Principle of the British Constitution that no Freeman should be subjected to any Tax to which he has not given his own Consent in Person or by Proxy. And indeed, the Maxims of the Common Law, as we have hitherto received them, are to the same Effect that a Man and his Property cannot be seperated but by his own Act or fault.
Still, drafting those resolutions helped to launch John Adams’s political career.

On Thursday, 13 August, the Abigail Adams Historical Society will commemorate the 250th anniversary of the anti-Stamp Act movement with Prof. Christopher Hannan’s talk on “The Stamp Act Riots and the Beginning of Revolution.” The society’s press release tries to make the case that the 13th will be the sestercentennial of when the effigies were hung on Liberty Tree, but I’m pretty sure they went up early in the morning of the 14th. But no doubt those effigies were under construction the night before.

This event will take place from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. at the Abigail Adams Birthplace, 180 Norton Street in Weymouth. Admission is $10 for members, $15 for others. /$10 members; the society asks people to reserve space by email.

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