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Among the Burgesses sat Patrick Henry, a young lawyer who had recently distinguished himself by pleading against the exercise of the royal prerogative in church matters, and who was now for the first time a member of the House. Rising in his place, he introduced his celebrated resolutions, declaring that the General Assembly of Virginia had the exclusive right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants, and that whoever maintained the contrary should be deemed an enemy to the colony.
The Speaker, Mr. Robinson, objected to the resolutions, as inflammatory. Henry vindicated them, as justified by the nature of the case; went into an able and constitutional discussion of colonial rights, and an eloquent exposition of the manner in which they had been assailed; wound up by one of those daring flights of declamation for which he was remarkable, and startled the House by a warning flash from history: "Cæsar had his Brutus; Charles his Cromwell, and George the Third -(Treason! treason!' resounded from the neighborhood of the Chair) may profit by their examples," added Henry. "Sir, if this be treason (bowing to the speaker), make the most of it!"
The resolutions were modified, to accommodate them to the scruples of the speaker and some of the members, but their spirit was retained. The Lieutenant-Governor (Fauquier), startled by this patriotic outbreak, dissolved the Assembly, and issued writs for a new election; but the clarion had sounded. The resolves of the Assembly of Virginia," says a correspondent of the ministry, "gave the signal for a general outcry over the continent. The movers and supporters of them were applauded as the protectors and asserters of American liberty.'
1 Letter to Secretary Conway, New York, September 23. -Parliamentary Register.
WASHINGTON'S IDEAS CONCERNING THE STAMP ACT -OPPOSITION TO IT IN THE COLONIES - PORTENTOUS CEREMONIES AT BOSTON AND NEW YORK — · NON-IMPORTATION AGREEMENT AMONG THE MERCHANTS WASHINGTON AND GEORGE MASON DISMISSAL OF GRENVILLE FROM THE BRITISH CABINIT-FRANKLIN BEFORE THE HOUSE OF COMMONS REPEAL OF THE STAMP ACT- JOY OF WASHINGTON FRESH CAUSES OF COLONIAL DISSENSIONS — CIROCULAR OF THE GENERAL COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS EMBARKATION OF TROOPS FOR BOSTON MEASURES OF THE BOSTONIANS.
WASHINGTON returned to Mount Vernon full of anxious thoughts inspired by the political events of the day, and the legislative scene which he witnessed. His recent letters had spoken of the state of peaceful tranquillity in which he was living; those now written from his rural home show that he fully participated in the popular feeling, and that while he had a presentiment of an arduous struggle, his patriotic mind was revolving means of coping with it. Such is the tenor of a letter written to his wife's uncle, Francis Dandridge, then in London. "The stamp act," said he, " engrosses the conversation of the speculative part of the colonists, who look upon this unconstitutional method of taxation as a direful attack upon their liberties, and loudly exclaim against the violation. What may be the result of this, and of some other (I think I may add illjudged) measures, I will not undertake to determine; but this I may venture to affirm, that the advantage accruing to the mother country will fall greatly short of the expectation of the ministry; for certain it is, that our whole substance already in a manner flows to Great Britain, and that whatsoever contributes to lessen our importations must be hurtful to her manufactures. The eyes of our people already begin to be opened; and they will perceive, that many luxuries, for which we lavish our substance in Great Britain, can well be dispensed with. This, consequently, will introduce frugality, and be a necessary incitement to industry. . . . As to the stamp act, regarded in a single view, one of the first bad consequences attending it is, that our courts of judicature must inevitably be shut up; for it is impossible, or next to impossible, under our present circumstances, that the act of Parliament can be complied with, were we ever so willing to enforce its execution. And not to say
(which alone would be sufficient) that we have not money enough to pay for the stamps, there are many other cogent reasons which prove that it would be ineffectual.'
A letter of the same date to his agents in London, of ample length and minute in all its details, shows that, while deeply interested in the course of public affairs, his practical mind was enabled thoroughly and ably to manage the financial concerns of his estate and of the estate of Mrs. Washington's son, John Parke Custis, toward whom he acted the part of a faithful and affectionate guardian. In those days, Virginia planters were still in direct and frequent correspondence with their London factors; and Washington's letters respecting his shipments of tobacco, and the returns required in various articles for household and personal use, are perfect models for a man of business. And this may be remarked throughout his whole career, that no pressure of events nor multiplicity of cares prevented a clear, steadfast undercurrent of attention to domestic affairs, and the interest and well-being of all dependent upon him.
In the mean time, from his quiet abode at Mount Vernon, he seemed to hear the patriotic voice of Patrick Henry, which had startled the House of Burgesses, echoing throughout the land, and rousing one legislative body after another to follow the example of that of Virginia. At the instigation of the General Court or Assembly of Massachusetts, a Congress was held in New York in October, composed of delegates from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina. In this they denounced the acts of Parliament imposing taxes on them without their consent, and extending the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty, as violations of their rights and liberties as natural born subjects of Great Britain, and prepared an address to the king, and a petition to both Houses of Parliament, praying for redress. Similar petitions were forwarded to England by the colonies not represented in the Congress.
The very preparations for enforcing the stamp act called forth popular tumults in various places. In Boston the stamp distributer was hanged in effigy; his windows were broken; a house intended for a stamp office was pulled down, and the effigy burned in a bonfire made of the fragments. The lieutenantgovernor, chief justice, and sheriff, attempting to allay the tumult, were pelted. The stamp officer thought himself happy to be hanged merely in effigy, and next day publicly renounced the perilous office.
Various were the proceedings in other places, all manifesting public scorn and defiance of the act. In Virginia, Mr. George Mercer had been appointed distributer of stamps, but on his arrival at Williamsburg publicly declined officiating. It was a fresh triumph to the popular cause. The bells were rung for joy; the town was illuminated, and Mercer was hailed with acclamations of the people.1
The 1st of November, the day when the act was to go into operation, was ushered in with portentous solemnities. There was great tolling of bells and burning of effigies in the New England colonies. At Boston the ships displayed their colors but half-mast high. Many shops were shut; funeral knells resounded from the steeples, and there was a grand auto-da-fé, in which the promoters of the act were paraded, and suffered martyrdom in effigy.
At New York the printed act was carried about the streets on a pole, surmounted by a death's head, with a scroll bearing the inscription, "The folly of England and ruin of America." Colden, the lieutenant-governor, who acquired considerable odium by recommending to government the taxation of the colonies, the institution of hereditary Assemblies, and other Tory measures, seeing that a popular storm was rising, retired into the fort, taking with him the stamp papers, and garrisoned it with marines from a ship-of-war. The mob broke into his stable; drew out his chariot; put his effigy into it; paraded it through the streets to the common (now the Park), where they hung it on a gallows. In the evening it was taken down, put again into the chariot, with the devil for a companion, and escorted back by torchlight to the Bowling Green; where the whole pageant, chariot and all, was burned under the very guns of the fort.
These are specimens of the marks of popular reprobation with which the stamp act was universally nullified. No one would venture to carry it into execution. In fact no stamped paper was to be seen; all had been either destroyed or concealed. All transactions which required stamps to give them validity were suspended, or were executed by private compact. The courts of justice were closed, until at length some conducted their business without stamps. Union was becoming the watch-word. The merchants of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and such other colonies as had ventured publicly to oppose the stamp act, agreed to import no more British manu
1 Holmes's Annals, vol. ii., p. 138.