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Sometimes he shipped onions to Boston; but he had little money, and needed little. And at this time his class of small farmers made perhaps more than half the population in any one of the Cape towns except those, like Truro, where practically every man in the community “went to sea” — simple, industrious creatures, who lived comfortably by another standard than ours, and were not unmindful of larger interests than their own. “He was the most independent of men," is the comment of Otis. “Six days he labored and did all his work, and the seventh was a day of rest.”
The difficulties incident to the French wars had given the colonies useful training to prepare them for concerted action against the stupid enactments of the mother country in the reign of George III. England, fully occupied with the great continental wars of which the American conflicts were only a by-product, had been forced largely to let the colonies fend for themselves. When border hostilities were growing to the final French and Indian War, she had suggested the expediency of their coöperating for defence; and just twenty-two years before the Declaration of Independence came into being, Benjamin Franklin had been ready to present to a Colonial Council, called to parley with the Six Nations, a plan of confederation which, being objected to by some as giving" too much power to the people" and by others as conceding “too much to the king,” came to naught. But the fact was established that all the colonies, and not only those of New England, were learning to act together. And the great drift away from mutual understanding with England, which in the beginning, one would think, might have been so easily checked, increased. The colonies knew that by their valor chiefly had been established in America the supremacy of England, and their youthful pride was quick to take offence. In 1760, when a Royal Governor, in his inaugural, cited “the blessings of subjection to Great Britain,” the Massachusetts House was careful to express their “relation” to the Home Government. His predecessor, who had been more sympathetic to the genius of the colonies, lived to warn Parliament' that never would America submit to injustice. Yet year by year was injustice done. As early as 1761 oppressive trade acts had brought out the flaming eloquence of young James Otis, of Barnstable. “I argue in favor of British liberties,” cried he in the Massachusetts Chamber. "I oppose the kind of power the exercise of which in former periods of English history cost one king of England his head and another his throne.” For four hours, spellbound, the Court listened to his plea; and well might John Adams, who heard him that day, aver:“American independence was then and there born.” And for the next ten years by his pamphlets, “The Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives” and “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved," by his letters, and other writings, it has been truly said that Otis “led the movement for civil liberty in Massachusetts.”
As if urged on to foolishness by a decree of fate that America should be a nation, England continued to blunder: she sought to extinguish the military spirit that had been so useful to her by creating a standing army which, although independent of them, the colonies should support; she obstructed manufactur
ing that the colonies might be dependent upon British markets; by prohibitive foreign duties she restricted trade to British ports, and even taxed trade between colony and colony for the benefit of the imperial treasury. No wonder the colonies were assured that England meant to get an undue portion of the war expense from them. And when Englishmen complained that rich colonists lived like lords while they were impoverished with taxes, the colonists were ready to retort that England had appropriated Canada, the prize won largely through their efforts, and that they had already taxed themselves to the limit to pay their own way. But England, undeterred by warnings at home and plain signs of storm in the colonies, still pleading "the vast debt" incurred “in defence of her American possessions,” in March, 1765, passed the obnoxious Stamp Act which prescribed the use of stamped paper for business and legal documents, newspapers and pamphlets: an annoying enough provision in itself, but the crux of the difficulty was that England, without the consent of the colonies, imposed the tax.
In October a congress of deputies met in New York to “consult on the common interest," and was presided over by Timothy Ruggles, who had married the Widow Bathsheba Newcomb, of Sandwich, and lived there for some years as lawyer and tavernkeeper. He is said to have been a man of charm and wit, a clever politician, and a patriot who later turned Tory. The congress set forth in no uncertain terms “the rights and liberties of the natural-born subjects of Great Britain ... which Parliament by its recent action has invaded.” And pre-dating the Boston Tea Party, it was another man with Cape affiliations, Captain Isaac Sears, who, in other fashion, defeated the excisemen. “Hurrah, boys,” cried he at the head of a New York mob, "we will have the stamps.” And have them they did, and burned them, too. Sears became head of a Committee for Public Safety, and when Gage was trying to buy material in New York, warned the citizens that America best keep her supplies for her own use. His sobriquet of “King Sears" tells us something of his personality.
England, against the advice of her ablest men, proceeded on her ruinous way. Some parliamentary bombast about “these Americans nurtured so arefully by the motherland” was neatly punctured by Captain Barré, a member who had lived in the colonies: “Planted by your care? No, your oppressions planted them in America,” thundered he. “Nourished by your indulgence? They grew by your neglect. Protected by your arms? They themselves have nobly taken up arms in your defence.” “They are too much like yourselves to be driven," was his parting shot. And in the Lords, Camden was announcing: “You have no right to tax America; I have searched the matter. I repeat it. ... Were I an American, I would resist to the last drop of my blood.” Asked in what book he found such law, he proudly answered: "It has been the custom of England; and, my lords, the custom of England is the law of the land.” At Boston, as in antiphon, James Otis declared:"Let Great