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.

Follow by Email


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Why the 1771 Thanksgiving Proclamation Was “Offensive”

So why were Boston’s Whigs so upset about Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s Thanksgiving proclamation for 1771? What was their problem with the phrase about thanking God for having ”continue[d] to them their civil and religious Privileges”?

For years those politicians had complained about new laws from London violating their established liberties. In 1771, though the Stamp Act and most of the Townshend duties had been repealed and the army regiments removed from town, the tariff on tea and the Customs Commissioners remained. And they no doubt could name other causes for concern.

Silently accepting Hutchinson’s statement that “their civil and religious Privileges” remained intact would lead, in the Whig way of thinking, to losing their claim to those rights and eventually to political slavery.

On 14 November, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper (shown above) laid out the thinking behind his party’s response in a letter to former governor Thomas Pownall in London:
It has been said that the Governor’s intention in adopting this obnoxious Clause, w’ch tho formerly a customary clause, has been omitted ever since the Stamp Act was to convey an Idea to your side of the water, an Idea that the People were become Sensible that they were really free and happy. If this was his intention He was unlucky in the meanes, and I believe wishes from His Heart He had never made the experiment. I mention these circumstances so particularly in Confidence and because nothing has of late occur’d among us from which you may so well Judg of the Sentiments of the People.

I had almost forgot to mention another Clause in the Proclamation w’ch respect the Increase of our Trade, which under our present Embarrassments, and the enormous Extention of the Pow’r of Admiralty Courts, was almost as offensive as the other.
Many of those Whigs also resented Hutchinson for, in their eyes, having used a Thanksgiving proclamation—a religious message—for a political purpose. One particularly devout politician, Samuel Adams, contributed a long piece for the 11 November Boston Gazette signed “Candidus” which said:
The sin which the people of Israel were prevail’d upon by Jeroboam the son of Nebat to commit, respected their religious worship on a Thanksgiving day: He had ordained a solemn festival to be kept at Bethel; in which, it seems, he had a particular view to serve a political purpose: And the people knew it, although he had artfully endeavored to colour it with a plausible appearance.
Subtle allegory, no?

COMING UP: The Whigs choose their battleground.

No comments: