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The next step was the passage of a new Act of Trade. An act of 1733, commonly known as the Molasses Act, imposing prohibitory duties on the sugar and molasses of the French West Indies in the interest of the English sugar colonies, had been generally disregarded. That act was now revived, though with reduced duties, and a new act passed laying duties on sugar, indigo, coffee, wines, linens, and other articles imported into the colonies, and restricting to Great Britain the colonial export trade in lumber and iron. The receipts from these new duties were to be “disposed of by Parliament, towards defraying the necessary expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the British colonies and plantations in America.” At the same time, however, bounties were granted on American hemp and rice, and the whale fishery was thrown open to colonial participation without restriction.
The third part of Grenville's scheme was a Stamp Act. Stamp duties had long been familiar in England, but Grenville moved slowly, and apparently with reluctance, in extending the system to America. In March, 1764, the proposed introduction of a stamp bill was announced in the House of Commons, but the matter was then laid over until the next session in order that the colonies might, if they chose, suggest some method more agreeable to them of raising the revenue which had been determined upon.
When the news of the proposed legislation for the colonies reached America, it everywhere occasioned pro
found apprehension. Whatever the theoretical right of Parliament to tax the colonies might be, that right had not in fact been exercised thus far. The Acts of Trade had had for their object the regulation of colonial commerce, and although at times vexatiously restrictive, had not been on principle objected to. The proposal to tax the colonies directly by act of Parliament, however, seemed to the colonies, accustomed as they were to be taxed only by their representative assemblies, not only unwarranted but also highly dangerous. The purposes for which the proceeds of the new taxes were to be used, also, were not acceptable. The colonies had the traditional English dread of a standing army, however small or apparently necessary, while the payment of the salaries of governors and judges from the imperial treasury instead of from the treasury of the colony would, it was feared, by increasing the independence of those officials, diminish their sense of responsibility to the people and enable them, if they chose, to override the wishes of the assemblies.
There was no agreement among the colonies, however, as to the way in which the required revenue should be raised, while protests were made against the raising of the revenue at all. Grenville, accordingly, brought in and carried the Stamp Act. There were remonstrances from London merchants and protests from several of the colonial agents, but there was no effective opposition in Parliament. The estimated revenue from the act was £100,000. The dispatch to America of such troops as
might be deemed necessary was further authorized, and a Quartering Act passed to provide for their accommodation.
The attitude of the colonies was at first that of passive resistance, but before long the growing opposition led to numerous outbreaks of violence, directed particularly against the stamp distributers. In October, 1765, a Stamp Act Congress, representing nine colonies, met in New York and adopted resolutions declaring against the right of Parliament to tax the colonies without their consent. When the first of November, the date on which the act was to go into effect, arrived, there were no stamps to be had. Fortunately, events in England prepared the way for a repeal of an act that obviously could not be enforced. In July the Grenville ministry went out of office. Rockingham, who succeeded as prime minister, was friendly to America, and on the eighteenth of March, 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed. Accompanying the act of repeal, however, was a so-called Declaratory Act, asserting the right of Parliament to bind the colonies by legislation in all cases whatsoever.
Events were to show that the Declaratory Act was not, as many affected to believe, a mere empty assertion to save the dignity of Parliament. The repeal of the Stamp Act caused great rejoicing, but the political conditions in England were disquieting. Grenville and his followers refused to be reconciled, while George III, who had notoriously interfered with his ministers during the debates on the repeal, was dissatisfied and chagrined. Rocking
ham was marked for removal, and in July was dismissed, a ministry headed by the Duke of Grafton succeeding, but with Pitt, whom the king had won by assurances and blandishments, as the real head of affairs. Virtuous as Pitt's own motives undoubtedly were, his course at this time has generally been regarded as the great mistake of his political career.
Early in 1767 the landed gentry secured the passage of an act reducing the land tax. It was generally assumed that the deficiency of revenue thus caused would be made good from America. Pitt, now Earl of Chatham, was incapacitated by illness, and the actual control of ministerial policy was assumed by Charles Townshend, who had already usurped it. Townshend brought forward four bills relating to America, all of which became law by the first of July. The first prohibited the New York Assembly from legislating until it had fully complied with the provisions of the Quartering Act. The second aimed to improve the colonial customs service. The third proposed to raise an American revenue by the imposition of import duties, the proceeds to be applied to paying the salaries of judicial and civil officers and defraying the expenses of defending the colonies. The estimated annual revenue from this act was £40,000. The fourth act reduced the duties on tea. Townshend died before the acts went into effect, and the responsibility for their enforcement passed to his successor.
The news of the passage of the Townshend acts revived in America the earnest discussion of the right of Parlia
ment to tax the colonies, which had been first awakened by the Stamp Act. The first attempt to combat the acts was by means of agreements not to import the articles on which duties were laid, and to encourage domestic manufactures. The Massachusetts House of Representatives went further, and in February, 1768, in a circular letter to the other colonies, entered its protest, in dignified but earnest language, against the claim to tax the colonies by parliamentary authority, and the proposed payment of judges and civil officers by the Crown. The replies of the other colonies were favorable. When the circular letter became known in England, however, it was bitterly denounced, and Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in a letter to the colonial governors, called upon them to use their utmost influence to prevent its approval by the assemblies, and in case the assemblies persisted, to prorogue or dissolve them. The Massachusetts House of Representatives was also called upon to rescind the resolution by which the circular letter was authorized. By a vote of 92 to 17 the House refused to rescind, whereupon the General Court was dissolved. Similar dissolutions took place also in other colonies.
In September, 1768, two British regiments from Halifax arrived at Boston and were quartered in the town. On the fifteenth of December an address to the king was moved in the House of Lords, urging that immediate steps be taken to apprehend the persons responsible for the late disorders in Boston, — particularly those connected with the seizure of John Hancock's sloop Liberty