Before the stamps reached America, symptoms of a violent ferment appeared. A great elm in Boston, at the corner of the present Washington and Essex Streets, under which the opponents of the Stamp Act were accustomed to assemble, soon became famous as "liberty tree." Those persons supposed to favor the ministry were hung in effigy on the branches of this elm. A mob attacked the house of Oliver, secretary of the colony, who had been appointed stamp-distributor for Massachusetts, broke his windows, destroyed his furniture, pulled down a small building supposed to be intended for a stamp office, and frightened Oliver into a resignation. Jonathan Mayhew, the able minister of the West Church in Boston, . . . preached a warm sermon against the Stamp Act, taking for his text, "I would they were even cut off which trouble you!" The Monday evening after this sermon the riots were renewed. The mob attacked the house of Story, registrar of the Admiralty, and destroyed not only the public files and records, but his private papers also. Next they entered and plundered the house of the controller of the customs; and, maddened with liquor and excitement, proceeded to the mansion of Hutchinson, in North Square. The lieutenant-governor and his family fled for their lives. The house was completely gutted, and the contents burned in bonfires kindled in the square. Along with Hutchinson's furniture and private papers perished many invaluable manuscripts relating to the history of the province, which Hutchinson had been thirty years in collecting, and which it was impossible to replace.
These acts were disclaimed by the more respectable citizens. Yet the rioters, though well known, went unpunished, and had undoubtedly the secret sympathy of the community.
Throughout the Northern colonies, associations on the basis of forcible resistance to the Stamp Act, under the name of "Sons of Liberty," sprang suddenly into existence. Persons of influence and consideration, though they might favor the object, kept aloof, however, from so dangerous a combination, which consisted of the young, the ardent, those who loved excitement and had nothing to lose. The history of these "Sons of Liberty" is very obscure; but they seem to have spread rapidly from Connecticut and New York into Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and to have taken up as their special business the intimidation of the stamp officers. In all the colonies these officers were persuaded or compelled to resign; and such stamps as arrived either remained unpacked, or else were seized and burned. The Assembly of Pennsylvania unanimously adopted a series of resolutions denouncing the Stamp Act as "unconstitutional, and subversive of their dearest rights." Public meetings to protest against it were held throughout the colonies. The holding of such meetings was quite a new incident, and formed a new era in colonial history.
On the day appointed by Massachusetts for the meeting of the First Colonial Congress, committees from nine colonies met in New York. Various reasons prevented the others from joining.
In the course of a three weeks' session, a Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonies was agreed to. All the privileges of Englishmen were claimed by this declaration as the birthright of the colonists,--among the rest, the right of being taxed only by their own consent. Since distance and local circumstances made a representation in the British Parliament impossible, these representatives, it was maintained, could be no other than the several colonial Legislatures. Thus was given a flat negative to a scheme lately broached in England by Pownall and others for allowing to the colonies a representation in Parliament, a project to which both Otis and Franklin seem at first to have leaned.
A petition to the king and memorials to each House of Parliament were also prepared, in which the cause of the colonies was eloquently pleaded. . . . The several colonial Assemblies, at their earliest sessions, gave to the proceedings a cordial approval.
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