THE STAMP ACT
"CHARLEY, my boy," said Grandfather, "do you remember who was the last occupant of the chair?"
"It was Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson," answered Charley. "Sir Francis Bernard, the new governor, had given him the chair, instead of putting it away in the garret of the Province House. And when we took leave of Hutchinson he was sitting by his fireside, and thinking of the past adventures of the chair and of what was to come."
"Very well," said Grandfather; "and you recollect that this was in 1763, or thereabouts, at the close of the old French War. Now, that you may fully comprehend the remaining adventures of the chair, I must make some brief remarks on the situation and character of the New England colonies at this period."
So Grandfather spoke of the earnest loyalty of our fathers during the old French War, and after the conquest of Canada had brought that war to a triumphant close.
The people loved and reverenced the King of England even more than if the ocean had not rolled its waves between him and them; for, at the distance of three thousand miles, they could not discover his bad qualities and imperfections. Their love was increased by the dangers which they had encountered in order to heighten his glory and extend his dominion. Throughout the war the American colonists had fought side by side with the soldiers of Old England; and nearly thirty thousand young men had laid down their lives for the honor of King George. And the survivors loved him the better because they had done and suffered so much for his sake.
But there were some circumstances that caused America to feel more independent of England than at an earlier period. Canada and Acadia had now become British provinces; and our fathers were no longer afraid of the bands of French and Indians who used to assault them in old times. For a century and a half this had been the great terror of New England. Now the old French soldier was driven from the North forever. And even had it been otherwise, the English colonies were growing so populous and powerful that they might have felt fully able to protect themselves without any help from England.
There were thoughtful and sagacious men, who began to doubt whether a great country like America would always be content to remain under the government of an island three thousand miles away. This was the more doubtful, because the English Parliament had long ago made laws which were intended to be very beneficial to England at the expense of America. By these laws the colonists were forbidden to manufacture articles for their own use, or to carry on trade with any nation but the English.
"Now," continued Grandfather, "if King George III. and his counsellors had considered these things wisely, they would have taken another course than they did. But when they saw how rich and populous the colonies had grown, their first thought was how they might make more profit out of them than heretofore. England was enormously in debt at the close of the old French War; and it was pretended that this debt had been contracted for the defence of the American colonies, and that, therefore, a part of it ought to be paid by them."
"Why, this was nonsense!" exclaimed Charley. "Did not our fathers spend their lives, and their money too, to get Canada for King George?"
"True, they did," said Grandfather; "and they told the English rulers so. But the king and his ministers would not listen to good advice. In
1765 the British Parliament passed a Stamp Act."
"What was that?" inquired Charley.
"The Stamp Act," replied Grandfather, "was a law by which all deeds, bonds, and other papers of the same kind were ordered to be marked with the king's stamp; and without this mark they were declared illegal and void. Now, in order to get a blank sheet of paper with the king's stamp upon it, people were obliged to pay threepence more than the actual value of the paper. And this extra sum of threepence was a tax, and was to be paid into the king's treasury."
"I am sure threepence was not worth quarrelling about!" remarked Clara.
"It was not for threepence, nor for any amount of money, that America quarrelled with England," replied Grandfather; "it was for a great principle. The colonists were determined not to be taxed except by their own representatives. They said that neither the king and Parliament, nor any other power on earth, had a right to take their money out of their pockets unless they freely gave it. And, rather than pay threepence when it was unjustly demanded, they resolved to sacrifice all the wealth of the country, and their lives along with it. They therefore made a most stubborn resistance to the Stamp Act."
"That was noble!" exclaimed Laurence. "I understand how it was. If they had quietly paid the tax of threepence, they would have ceased to be freemen, and would have become tributaries of England. And so they contended about a great question of right and wrong, and put everything at stake for it."
"You are right, Laurence," said Grandfather, "and it was really amazing and terrible to see what a change came over the aspect of the people the moment the English Parliament had passed this oppressive act. The former history of our chair, my children, has given you some idea of what a harsh, unyielding, stern set of men the old Puritans were. For a good many years back, however, it had seemed as if these characteristics were disappearing. But no sooner did England offer wrong to the colonies than the descendants of the early settlers proved that they had the same kind of temper as their forefathers. The moment before, New England appeared like a humble and loyal subject of the crown; the next instant, she showed the grim, dark features of an old king-resisting Puritan."
Grandfather spoke briefly of the public measures that were taken in opposition to the Stamp Act. As this law affected all the American colonies alike, it naturally led them to think of consulting together is order to procure its repeal. For this purpose the Legislature of Massachusetts proposed that delegates from every colony should meet in Congress. Accordingly nine colonies, both Northern and Southern, sent delegates to the city of New York.
"And did they consult about going to war with England?" asked Charley.
"No, Charley," answered Grandfather; "a great deal of talking was yet to be done before England and America could come to blows. The Congress stated the rights and grievances of the colonists. They sent a humble petition to the king, and a memorial to the Parliament, beseeching that the Stamp Act might be repealed. This was all that the delegates had it in their power to do."
"They might as well have stayed at home, then," said Charley.
"By no means," replied Grandfather. "It was a most important and memorable event, this first coming together of the American people by their representatives from the North and South. If England had been wise, she would have trembled at the first word that was spoken in such an assembly."
These remonstrances and petitions, as Grandfather observed, were the work of grave, thoughtful, and prudent men. Meantime the young and hot- headed people went to work in their own way. It is probable that the petitions of Congress would have had little or no effect on the British statesmen if the violent deeds of the American people had not shown how much excited the people were. LIBERTY TREE was soon heard of in England.
"What was Liberty Tree?" inquired Clara.
"It was an old elm-tree," answered Grandfather, "which stood near the corner of Essex Street, opposite the Boylston Market. Under the spreading branches of this great tree the people used to assemble whenever they wished to express their feelings and opinions. Thus, after a while, it seemed as if the liberty of the country was connected with Liberty Tree."
"It was glorious fruit for a tree to bear," remarked Laurence.
"It bore strange fruit, sometimes," said Grandfather. "One morning in August, 1765, two figures were found hanging on the sturdy branches of Liberty Tree. They were dressed in square-skirted coats and small- clothes; and, as their wigs hung down over their faces, they looked like real men. One was intended to represent the Earl of Bute, who was supposed to have advised the king to tax America. The other was meant for the effigy of Andrew Oliver, a gentleman belonging to one of the most respectable families in Massachusetts."
"What harm had he done?" inquired Charley.
"The king had appointed him to be distributor of the stamps," answered Grandfather. "Mr. Oliver would have made a great deal of money by this business. But the people frightened him so much by hanging him in effigy, and afterwards by breaking into his house, that he promised to have nothing to do with the stamps. And all the king's friends throughout America were compelled to make the same promise."Next