Sunday, August 9, 2009

Resistance to Tyranny - Boston, Dec. 16, 1773

The outrage of American colonists burst into flame in the two decades following the French and Indian War. The principle of choosing representatives in colonial assemblies and towns meetings was firmly established from the earliest days of the colonies. The power to levy taxes by chosen representatives was welcome and not resisted. Colonists believed the British Parliament had no right to levy taxes upon them for they were not represented in Parliament. Members of Parliament had a different perspective believing in class representation. They believed that since tradesmen, farmers, lawyers, doctors, and merchants were members of Parliament; they spoke for all tradesmen, farmers, lawyers, doctors and merchants. When the dreaded Stamp Act of 1765 was imposed on the colonists; war with Great Britain became inevitable.

Reverend Jonas Clark related to John Hancock through marriage, urged townspeople to resist British trade and taxation. Furthermore, he counseled colonial leaders to arm themselves but also seek redress for the wrongs the colonialists suffered. Circular letters were carried on horseback throughout the colonies by the Sons of Liberty.

Richard Frothingham recounts how a committee was formed in Boston in November of 1772.

“A Town meeting was called in Faneuil Hall, to consider the question of the salaries of the judges…In the afternoon, Samuel Adams moved ‘that a committee of correspondence be appointed to consist of 21 persons, to state the rights of the colonies, and of this province in particular, as men, as Christians, and as subjects; to communicate and publish the same to the several towns in this province and to the world…”

“This Report, after long deliberation, was adopted. Six hundred copies were ordered to be printed in a pamphlet, and a copy was directed to be sent to every town in the province. A copy was sent to prominent Whigs in other colonies…”

“It considered the relations of man not only as a citizen, but as a Christian and claimed for him that equality which is the cardinal principle of Christianity. It claimed for him that equali, under law, the position to which he is entitled, - the right to make the laws under which he lives, to select his field of labor and enjoy its fruits, and thus claimed fair play for the industrial energy which has contributed so much to the growth and glory of this country…”

“A few sentences from these responses [to the Report] will show the spirit of the whole…’It becomes us to rely no longer on an arm of flesh, but on the arm of that all-powerful God who is able to unite the numerous inhabitants of this extensive country as a band of brothers in one common cause.”

Richard Frothingham, The Rise of the Republic, 1890.

Three ships were boarded by about 50 young men disguised as Indians and led by John Hancock. On the evening of December 16, 1773, forty-two chests of Bohea tea were dumped into Boston Harbor. Paul Revere was among the messengers sent in all directions with news of the Boston Tea Party. Samuel Adams sent Revere to Philadelphia before Christmas carrying the circular letter. A popular song was composed concerning the incident in Boston Harbor.

“We made a plaguey mess of tea
In one of the biggest dishes,
I mean we steeped it in the sea
And treated all the fishes.
Tol-le-lol-de-riddle, Tol-le-lol-de-ray,
And treated all the fishes.”

The 1 ½ tax rate of the Tea Act of 1773 was ridiculously small to incite rebellion. Furthermore, the Stamp Act and Townshend duties were memories by the time of the Tea Party.

Russell Kirk declared, if the revolution were “fought merely to avoid payment of a threepenny duty on a pound canister of tea…it would have been a bad miscalculation.”

“And actually the Tea Act had reduced the price of tea in the colonies. For although a tax of threepence per pound had been imposed on the importation of tea, at the same time the Act had abolished a previous duty of twelvepence a pound on all tea imported into England. Now tea might be re-exported to America, free of the twelvepence duty: net gain to the colonial tea drinkers, ninepence a pound in diminished taxation. The British government’s only purpose in demanding a threepenny tax at American ports was to assert the right of the King in Parliament to levy such duties if he so chose.”

“For a peculiar reason, nevertheless, this actual reduction in the price of imported tea was unpopular with certain vigorous Americans, particularly in Boston. For merchants had grown rich by smuggleing tea into the colonies, paying no duty at all. Now that the lawful price of tea had fallen, smuggling became unprofitable…

“What Whiggish America stood for was the long-established chartered right of the colonies to govern themselves.”

The Christian Statesman, Edmund Burke, became the powerful advocate of the colonists in the British Parliament. The dreaded Stamp Act was abolished by the House of Commons through the impassioned pleas of Burke and William Pitt. Burke directly attacked the policies of Lord North on April 19, 1774, when he delivered a stunning message against American taxation.

“When you drive him hard, the boar will surely turn upon the hunters. If that sovereignty and their freedom cannot be reconciled, which will they take? They will cast your sovereignty in your face. Nobody will be argued into slavery.”

In May more repressive laws were enacted by Parliament. The Port Bill to close Boston Harbor unless the colonists paid for the tea that was destroyed. Riders were sent throughout the colonies carrying a circular letter composed by Samuel Adams.

The Virginia House of Burgesses responded on May 24, 1774 by proclaiming June 1st as:

“a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, devoutly to implore the divine interposition for averting the heavy calamity which threatens destruction to our civil rights, and the evils of civil war; to give us one heart and one mind firmly to oppose, by all just and proper means, every injury to American rights…”

Boston was kept alive throughout the six months the harbor was closed through the response and assistance of her sister colonies. The southern colony of Georgia sent rice, supplies and financial assistance. Church bells tolled throughout the colonies while flags flew at half mast.

“When Lord Dartmouth took charge of the American department, the king sent to Lord North a sketch of such alterations in the administration of its affairs as he thought essential to give efficacy to the government. The first-fruit of this advice was probably the Rhode Island commission. The king’s next measure related to the duty on tea. This was inoperative. The Americans would not buy teas shipped from England; they would not live without tea; and hence illicit importations came in freely from Holland. The affairs of the East-India Company were in great confusion, and a portion of its financial troubles was alleged to be owing to the loss of the American trade in tea. The king now suggested a plan to relieve the corporation, and at the same time try the question with America.”

“Lord North in the House of Commons proposed (April 27, 1773) ‘to allow the company to export such portion of the tea then in their warehouses, to British America, as they should think proper, duty free.’ He moved two resolutions, providing on all teas imported to any British Plantations in America after the 10th of May, 1773, ‘a drawback be allowed of all the duties of customs paid upon the importation of such teas,’ which left the company to pay the threepence tax on the teas imported into America; and the resolutions provided that this importation should be made under licenses from the commissioners of the Treasury.”

“The measure roused no opposition, occasioned little, if any, debate, and was adopted. It was carried to the House of Lords on the 6th of May, adopted there also, and on the 10th received the royal assent. The ministry thought it a wise scheme to take off so much duty on tea as was paid in England, as this would allow the company to sell tea cheaper in America than foreigners could supply it; and to confine the duty here, to keep up the exercise of the right of taxation. ‘They,’ Franklin wrote, ‘have no idea that any people can act from any other principle but that of interest; and they believe that three pence on a pound of tea, of which one does not perhaps drink ten pounds in a year, is sufficient to overcome all the patriotism of an American.’”

“The opposition to arbitraty power was never so founded so much on knowledge and principle, was never so firm and systematic, as it was at the time of the passage of this Act…The directors, however, in August obtained the licenses from the Lords of the Treasury, and soon dispatched ships loaded with teas to the four ports of Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia…”

“The sceme was pronounced an attempt to establish the right of parliament to tax the colonies and to give the East-India Company the monopoly of the colonial market. As it bore on all the colonies, it diverted attention from the local issues, raised the past three years by Royal Instructions, to the original, general, and profound question of taxation. This had been argued in the court ofpunlic opinion: the verdict on it had been made up, and judgment had been rendered. The determination of the Americans not to pay a tax levied by a body in which they were not represented was as fixed as the purpose of the king to collect the duty on tea…The Americans of today will say that their ancestors showed great intelligence in being alive to these weighty considerations founded on right and justice, when the dominant party in England was dead to them, and a heroic spirit in acting up to their convictions. The scheme suddenly roused more indignation than had been created by the Stamp Act. ‘All America was in a flame.’ The mighty surge of passion plainly meant resistance.”

“The resistance contemplated was in general such action as might be necessary to thwart by lawful methods this ministerial measure. The idea had been grasped in America that there was a Constitution which limited the power of kings, lords, and commons…The conviction was deep and general that the claim of parliament to tax was against natural equity and against the Constitution. But political science had not devised the peaceable manner suggested by Otis, - an idea embodied subsequently in the powers vested in the Supreme Court of the United States, and familiar to the American mind. This tribunal declares such legislation void. The only was then to defeat an odious scheme was to collect an illegal tax was to follow the methods, as circumstances might dictate, of popular demonstration, which had long been customary in England, and thus render the law inapplicable...”

“The efficiency that could not come from general organization was supplied by the ripeness and fixedness of public opinion on the assumption involved in the claim of taxation and the Declaratory Act and the stern determination of the people not to submit to it. They did not rise up against the paltry duty because they were poor and could not pay, but because they were free and would not submit to wrong…”

The Excerpts above are from Richard Frothingham’s The Rise of the Republic, 1890

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