Repeal of the Stamp Act



The repeal of the stamp act produced great joy in England and America. In London the event was celebrated by bonfires and illuminations. The merchants had sweet dreams of reviving trade with the Americans. To Pitt was ascribed all the honor of the measure, and he was idolized. When he left the lobby of the House of Commons, the populace gathered around him with the most extravagant demonstrations of joy. The aristocracy, on the other hand, were offended and alarmed. "The king is made to bow to subjects," they said. "British power is set at naught; the foundation of the British empire is sapped." Pitt was lampooned and caricatured as a demagogue seeking popularity. One of the pictures entitled "The Colossus," represents Pitt raised on very lofty stilts, his gouty leg resting on the Royal Exchange in London, which is surrounded by bubbles inscribed "War," "Peace," etc. This stilt is called "Popularity." The other, called "Sedition," he stretches over the sea toward New York, seen in the distance, and fishing for popularity in the Atlantic Ocean. He rests on a long staff entitled "Pension." Above Pitt's head hangs the broad hat of the commonwealth; and in the air, on one side, is seen Lord Temple occupied in blowing bubbles which support the "great Commoner's" fame. The lines below show the spirit of that day:

"Tell to me if you are witty, Whose wooden leg is in de city, Eh bien drole, 'tis de great pity. Doodle doo.

"De broad-brim hat he thrust his nob in, De while St. Stephen's throng are throbbing. One crutch in America is bobbling. Doodle doo.

"But who be yonder odd man there, sir! Building de castle in de air, sir? Oh! 'tis de Temple one may swear, sir! Doodle doo.

"Stamp act, le diable! dat's de jot, sir, Dat stampt it in de stilt-man's nob, sir, To be America's nabob, sir. Doodle doo.

"De English dream vid leetle vit, sir; For de French dey make de Pit, sir, 'Tis a pit for dem who now are hit, sir. Doodle, noodle, doo."

Equal joy was manifested in America, when news of the repeal came over the Atlantic. Pitt, the King, and the Parliament shared in the honors of congratulatory cannon-peals, oratory, bonfires, illuminations, and great meetings of citizens. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty gathered under the Liberty-Tree and adopted the most laudatory resolutions concerning the immediate participants in the measures that brought about the repeal. A day was set apart for celebrating the event. The dawn was ushered in by the roar of artillery and the ringing of bells. John Hancock, a leading patriot and wealthy merchant of Boston, opened a pipe of wine in front of his fine mansion on Beacon street; and at the suggestion of "a fair Boston nymph," the liberal citizen raised funds and ransomed and set at liberty every prisoner for debt in the jail of the New England metropolis, that they might participate in the general joy. All the great houses were illuminated, and many feasts were given. The local government dined at the Province House, where many loyal toasts were drank. Past animosities were forgotten, and the 16th of May, 1766, was a happy day in Boston.

In New York there were equal demonstrations of joy. Pitt, the King, and Parliament were praised and honored. The news of the repeal reached that city on the 6th of May. Bells rang out a merry peal. Cannons shook the city, and placards were scattered over the town calling the people to assemble the next day to celebrate the joyous event. It was a beautiful May day, and everybody was in the open air. A long procession of citizens was formed at the Bowling Green and marched to "The Fields" (the site of the City Hall and Post-office), where a royal salute of twenty-one guns was fired. The Sons of Liberty had a great feast, whereat twenty-eight "loyal and constitutional toasts were drank." The city was illuminated at evening, and bonfires blazed on every corner. Again, on the king's birthday (June4), there was a celebration under the auspices of Governor Moore. That magistrate, the council, military officers and the clergy dined at the "King's Arms," on the west side of Broadway, opposite the Bowling Green, where General Gage had his headquarters. There were great rejoicings among the people in The Fields, where an ox was roasted whole; twenty-five barrels of beer and a hogshead of rum were opened for the populace; twenty-five pieces of cannon were ranged in a row and gave a royal salute, and in the evening twenty-five tar barrels hoisted upon poles, were burned, and gorgeous fire-works were exhibited at Bowling Green.

The Sons of Liberty also feasted together, and under the sanction of the governor they erected a tall mast in The Fields in front of Warren street, which they called a Liberty-Pole. Upon it they placed the inscription: To His Most Gracious Majesty George the Third, Mr. Pitt, and Liberty. At a meeting of citizens a fortnight later, a petition was numerously signed, praying the Assembly to erect a statue of Mr. Pitt. The Assembly complied; and on the same day that body resolved to set up an equestrian statue of the king. The former, made of marble, was placed at the intersection of Wall and Smith (now William) streets, in New York, and the latter, made of lead and gilded, was erected on a pedestal in the middle of the Bowling Green. These were set up in the year 1770. Within six years afterward, the statue of the king was pulled down and destroyed by republicans, and that of Pitt was mutilated by royalists soon afterward. In Philadelphia, Charleston, and other places, also, there were great demonstrations of joy and loyalty. That loyalty, so manifestly sincere, was developed by a single act of justice, and even that was qualified. If the British ministry had been wise, they might have easily conciliated the Americans and ushered in an era of peace and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic. But they were not wise.

In the midst of the rejoicings, there were wise, thoughtful and patriotic men who shook their heads ominously, and whose voices seemed to many like the croakings of the raven. While the bells were ringing, cannons thundering and bonfires were blazing in Charleston, South Carolina, and the legislature were voting to erect the fine statue of Pitt yet standing in that southern city, Christopher Gadsden collected some of his political friends under a great live-oak tree, and warned them not to be deceived by the show of justice, for the fangs of the dragon of oppression, by Pitt's declaratory act, had been left untouched. Similar warning was given in other colonies; and very soon there was a reaction in the public mind. The liberal press of England denounced the act, and Pitt's plea of expediency could not save him from very severe censure by the Americans when they gravely considered the matter. It was perceived, by sagacious observers, that the repeal bill was only a truce in the war upon the liberty of the Americans. They watched every movement of the government party with suspicion. Within a few months, there came from the serpent's egg-the declaratory act-a brood of obnoxious measures which kindled the fiery indignation of the colonists.





Return to Our Country, Vol II