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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 5326

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

[Sidenote: Internal and external taxes.]

Issue was now joined on the question which eventually separated the colonies from the mother-country. Parliament had asserted its right to lay taxes on the colonists for imperial purposes. The colonies had up to this time held governmental relations only with the Crown, from whom came their charters. They had escaped taxation because they were poor, and because hitherto they had not occasioned serious expense; but they had accepted the small import duties. They found it hard to reconcile obedience to one set of laws with resistance to the other; and they therefore insisted that there was a distinction between "external taxation" and "internal taxation," between duties levied at the ports and duties levied within the colonies.

[Sidenote: Remonstrances.]

The moment the news reached America, opposition sprang up in many different forms. The colonial legislatures preferred dignified remonstrance. The Virginia Assembly reached a farther point in a set of bold resolutions, passed May 29, 1765, under the influence of a speech by Patrick Henry. They asserted "that the General Assembly of this colony have the only and sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony;" and that the Stamp Act" has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom." On June 8, 1765, Massachusetts suggested another means of remonstrance, by calling upon her sister colonies to send delegates to New York "to consider of a general and united, dutiful, loyal, and humble representation of their condition to his Majesty and to the Parliament."

[Sidenote: Riots.]

[Sidenote: Non-Importation.]

Meanwhile opposition had broken out in open violence. In August there were riots in Boston; the house of Oliver, appointed as collector of the stamp taxes, was attacked, and he next day resigned his office. Hutchinson was acting governor of the colony: his mansion was sacked; and the manuscript of his History of Massachusetts, still preserved, carries on its edges the mud of the Boston streets into which it was thrown. The town of Boston declared itself "particularly alarmed and astonished at the Act called the Stamp Act, by which we apprehend a very grievous tax is to be laid upon the colonies." In other colonies there were similar, though less violent, scenes. Still another form of resistance was suggested by the organizations called "Sons of Liberty," the members of which agreed to buy no more British goods. When the time came for putting the act into force, every person appointed as collector had resigned.

[Sidenote: Stamp Act Congress.]

These three means of resistance-protest, riots, and non-importation-were powerfully supplemented by the congress which assembled at New York, Oct. 1765. It included some of the ablest men from nine colonies. Such men as James Otis, Livingston of New York, Rutledge of South Carolina, and John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, met, exchanged views, and promised co- operation. It was the first unmistakable evidence that the colonies would make common cause. After a session of two weeks the congress adjourned, having drawn up petitions to the English government, and a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances of the Colonists in America." In this document they declared themselves entitled to the rights of other Englishmen. They asserted, on the one hand, that they could not be represented in the British House of Commons, and on the other that they could not be taxed by a body in which they had no representation. They complained of the Stamp Act, and no less of the amendments to the Acts of Trade, which, they said, would "render them unable to purchase the manufactures of Great Britain." In these memorials there is no threat of resistance, but the general attitude of the colonies showed that it was unsafe to push the matter farther.

[Sidenote: Repeal of the Stamp Act.]

Meanwhile the Grenville ministry had given place to another Whig ministry under Rockingham, who felt no responsibility for the Stamp Act. Pitt took the ground that "the government of Great Britain could not lay taxes on the colonies." Benjamin Franklin was called before a committee, and urged the withdrawal of the act. The king, who had now recovered his health, gave it to be understood that he was for repeal. The repeal bill was passed by a majority of more than two to one, and the crisis was avoided.

[Sidenote: Right of taxation asserted.]

To give up the whole principle seemed to the British government impossible; the repeal was therefore accompanied by the so-called Dependency Act. This set forth that the colonies are "subordinate unto and dependent upon the Imperial Crown and Parliament of Great Britain, and that Parliament hath, and of right ought to have, full power to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America subjects to the Crown of Great Britain in all cases whatsoever." Apparently matters had returned to their former course. The gratitude of the colonies was loudly expressed; but they had learned the effect of a united protest, they had learned how to act together, and they were irritated by the continued assertion of the power of Parliament to tax and otherwise to govern the colonies.

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