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few. The cod fishery gave employment to 300 vessels; 100 in the mackerel fishery; and about 180 in the whale business, most of which then visited the northern latitudes. In these several pursuits, 6000 men found employment. A large number were also engaged in foreign voyages, for transporting fish and lumber, and bringing, in return, the products of the Western Islands, and wine and spirit from Spain and Portugal, and the manufactures of England.
British propose to raise a revenue in the Colonies-Sugar act-Opposed
Resolves as to right of Taxing-Otis' Pamphlet-Its doctrines—Views of British Ministry-Petition to Parliament-Difference on its tenorLetter to Agent-Answer to Governor's speech-Opinions of TradeRepresentatives in Parliament from Colonies proposed-Stamp ActConvention at New York-Riots and Mobs at Stamp Office, and elsewhere-Opinions on public rights and duties of Governor and Representatives—Stamps sent into Province-Distributor of them resigns-House declines to interfere.
In the winter of 1764, the British ministry brought forward in parliament a plan for raising a revenue in the American colonies. A high duty was laid on molasses, a principal article of trade with the West Indies, and which was manufactured in large quantities into sugar and rum, in Massachusetts. A bill laying duties on writs, deeds, and other public papers, was introduced, but postponed. The act for a duty on molasses was passed, and the duty fixed at threepence on a gallon. There had long been a similar act of parliament; but the duty was so high (being sixpence) that it would have operated as a prohibition, had it been rigidly exacted. But this disproportionate and extravagant duty served only the purpose of evasion and smuggling. The article was imported, but the law was not enforced; so that when a duty of threepence was imposed by the act of 1764, and a provision made for a rigid enforcement, the people complained of the measure as very oppressive. It was also matter of complaint, that the province had no notice of the bill till it had passed into a law, and therefore no opportunity to state their objections to it. The bill for stamp duties was postponed merely on condition, that the colonies might have the privilege of taring themselves for the benefit of the parent state ; the alternative being to lay such tax in their own way, or submit to such tax as parliament might direct.
These measures of the British administration produced a great sensation in Massachusetts; and awakened the zeal of the patriots to prevent the operation of the proposed system. Fresh instructions were given to the agent in England, to
remonstrate against the law which had been passed, and to prevail on ministers to withdraw the one which had been offered and postponed. They prayed the governor to intercede for them with the king; they addressed protests and petitions to the ministry; made statements of their past services and expenses in defence of the British territories, and of the great debt of the province ;* and passed resolutions, expressive of their views of the political powers of the province, and of the exclusive right of the general assembly to lay taxes of every kind on the people, as well as to direct to what purposes they should be applied.
In these patriotic measures to resist the encroachments of arbitrary power, the citizens of Boston seem to have been the first. They instructed their representativest in May, 1764, "to use their utmost influence to maintain the rights and privileges of the province, as well those which we derive from the charter as those which, being prior to and independent of it, we hold as free born subjects of Great Britain; to preserve the independence of the house of representatives, which is necessary for a free people; to use their influence for a law to render the judges and all officers of the crown ineligible to seats in the house or council; to prevent, if possible, new and heavy duties on trade ; for if one trade may be taxed (say they) why not our land, without consent of the representatives; as all taxes ought to be laid by them; especially to insist on this, as otherwise we shall be no better than slaves.” At the same time, however, they expressly acknowledged a subordination to the government of Great Britain.
These doctrines and principles were approved by the house of assembly in June, 1764; and its approbation was also given, at the same time, to a pamphlet, then just published, written by James Otis; in which those doctrines were asserted and advocated with equal zeal and ability. These opinions and principles, the house adopted as their own, by ordering copies to be sent to their agent in England, and instructing him to consider them as bis guide. This was the act of the house of representatives, without consulting the council, which had generally joined with them in similar measures. In the letter to the agent they said, “ we consider this act, not merely to regulate trade, but to raise a revenue, and learn that other mea
* The public tax for 1764, chiefly for paying off the debt incurred from 1755 to 1762, (which was nearly £1,000,000,) was £138,000.
The Boston representatives, for 1764, were James Otis, Oxenbridge Thacher, Thomas Cushing, and Thomas Gray. Richard Dana and Samuel Adams were two of the committee which prepared the instructions.
sures for the same purpose are proposed; and we cannot but express our concern on the occasion. We are empowered by our charter to raise
support our government. If duties and taxes are laid on us by parliament, in one instance, what assurance have we, that they will not be so multiplied as to render this privilege of no importance? We have the right, by charter, to tax ourselves; but so far as parliament shall lay taxes, so far they will deprive us of this right.” They did not, indeed, instruct him expressly to deny the right of parliament to tax them ; for, at that time, they were not prepared for such a declaration, from want of resolution, or of a settled opinion on the subject. But such was the tendency and tenor of their remarks ; for they asserted, that it was a fundamental principle of the British constitution, “ that the subject could not be taxed without the consent of his representative ; and the province was not represented in parliament, which had, or was about to, lay taxes on its inhabitants ;” and they added, "that they should be reduced to slavery, if the British government, in which they had no voice, might lax them at its pleasure." They also stated the oppressions and evils growing out of the restrictions on trade; but admitted that these might possibly be borne, as it was a regulation of their pursuits abroad, and only served to impede their prosperity or wealth; and though, indeed, they complained of this, it was a small evil compared to that of being denied the privilege and right of raising such taxes and in such way, as they might prefer. This they considered the only barrier for British liberty, and against endless oppressions.
These opinions were more fully stated and urged in the pamphlet written by Mr. Otis, and were in some measure an abstract of his views on the subject. He rather admitted than denied the supreine authority of parliament over the whole empire, of which the colonies were a part—and yet asserted, that parliament was bound by a regard to great constitutional principles, recognised in the revolution in England, of 1688—but that it could not be allowed to be arbitrary, and should be guided by fixed and settled doctrines—that it could not take the property of the people without the consent of their representatives, or allowing an equivalent, and could not transfer its powers to others—whence it followed, that the parliament of England could not legislate for the people in the colonies, which were not represented in that body; and especially ought not to lay taxes on them ; that its acts for raising a revenue from the colonies, whether by direct taxation, or in the way of imposts, were oppressive and unjust-oppressive, as the province needed all its resources for the discharge of its separate debt, and the support of its government; and unjust for the reason before given, that it was a tax, in laying which their representatives had no voice. Much was urged in the pamphlet, by way of illustration of the injustice of the proposed system of taxation ; and the opinions of Locke were quoted to fortify the arguments of the writer. The supremacy of parliament seems to be admitted ; but a distinction was set up, in favor of the power of the subordinate legislature in the province, to tax the people in all cases, and for the purposes of internal police; consenting, however, that great national concerns should be under the exclusive direction of the parent state.
The plan of the British ministry, at this time, which was distinctly avowed to be, to raise a revenue from the colonies, for the payment of the national debt of England, was indeed opposed from principle, as it was deemed contrary to the rights of Englishmen, and to the great principles of the British constitution, as recoynised in 1988; but the opposition probably was the more decided and explicit, as the money to be raised in America by the laws of parliament, where no representatives of the interests and feelings of the colonists could be heard, was to be applied solely to reduce the debt of England, or to support officers of the crown; and such laws were also to be enforced by regular British troops. To such a system, no wonder that the people of Massachusetts, long accustomed to liberty and self-government, were most resolutely opposed. They saw a foreign legislature claiming the right to tax them, and an armed force to execute the odious law which seized on their property, without their consent—and this tax was to be applied to support the agents of tyranny; mercenary soldiers, and petty officers, appointed to collect the taxes!
There was an attempt, also, by Mr. Otis, in his pamphlet, and the committee who prepared the letter to the agent of the province in England, to convince the ministry and parliament of the inexpediency and impolicy of the proposed system. The sufferings and hardships, the dangers and expenses of the first settlers of the province, their exertions for their own defence for more than a hundred years, without aid from England, the efforts made for ten years then last past, for the honor and welfare of the British empire, and the check to the wealth and prosperity of the colonies, by the plan intended-were all stated, in the hope that the ministry would abandon their purpose, for the sake of the growth of the province, and froni feelings of justice, even if they had the right to enforce it.
At this session, in June, 1764, the house of representatives chose a committee to write to the other colonies, informing them