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Eagleton Institute of Politics - 60th Anniversary
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E-Gov: Archive of American Politics

Colonial Government and the Crown

The Stamp Act

The Stamp Act

Image source: Library of Congress

The Stamp Act approved by the British parliament taxed Americans for stamps imprinted on a number of legal and official documents. Even prior to its taking effect on November 1, 1765, the Act provoke wide opposition in the thirteen colonies, and was considered as a precedent establishing the right of parliament to levy an internal tax upon the colonies. On the motion of James Otis on June 8, the Massachusetts legislature sent a circular inviting all the colonies to send delegates to a congress at New York in October, 1765. Only nine colonies sent representatives and, since three colonies authorized their delegates only to consult and not take action, just six colonies approved the Declaration of Rights petitioning the King and Parliament requesting the Act's repeal. The above cartoon depicts a funeral procession to the tomb of the Stamp Act includes its principal proponent, Treasury Secretary George Grenville, carrying a child's coffin, marked "Miss Ame-Stamp born 1765 died 1766." Source: Library of Congress

Massachusetts Circular Letter 1768
Source: History Central, Multieducator, Inc.

The House of Representatives of this province, have taken into their serious consideration, the great difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents, by the operation of several acts of Parliament, imposing duties and taxes on the American colonies. As it is a subject in which every colony is deeply interested, they have no reason to doubt but your House is deeply impressed with its importance, and that such constitutional measures will be come into, as are proper. It seems to be necessary, that all possible care should be taken, that the representatives of the several assemblies, upon so delicate a point, should harmonize with each other....

Drafted by Samuel Adams and approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Massachusetts Circular Letter was sent to the other colonial assemblies protesting Parliament's taxing the colonies without proper representation, and called for unified opposition by all the colonies. After many colonies issued similar statements, the British governor of Massachusetts dissolved the colonial legislature, and British troops were dispatched to Boston.

he Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party

Image source: Library of Congress

The Tea Act, passed by the House of Commons on April 27, 1773, was regarded in America as a strategy to induce the colonists, by lowering the price of tea, to consume more of it and therefore acknowledge the principle of British taxation. On December 16, 1773, a group of Bostonians disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded the tea ships docked in Boston Harbor and dumped all 342 chests into the water, goading Britain into harsh retaliatory legislation, known as The Intolerable Acts.

First Continental Congress 1774

Declarations and Resolves of the First Continental Congress

Twelve of the thirteen colonies sent a total of fifty-six delegates to the First Continental Congress which met in Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia from September 5 to October 26, 1774. Only Georgia was not represented. One accomplishment of the Congress was the Association of 1774, which urged all colonists to avoid using British goods, and to form committees to enforce this ban.

....Resolved, 4. That the foundation of English liberty, and of all free government, is a right in the people to participate in their legislative council: and as the English colonists are not represented, and from their local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament, they are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, where their right of representation can alone be preserved, in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and accustomed....

Lexington and Concord 1775
Source: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
When the Boston Committee of Safety learned of the British plan to destroy American ammunition stored at Concord, it sent Paul Revere and William Dawes to alert the countryside and gather the Minute Men. On April 19, the Minute Men and British troops met at Lexington, where a shot from a stray British gun lead to more British firing. The Americans only fired a few shots; several Americans were killed. The British marched on to Concord and destroyed some ammunition, but soon found the countryside swarming with militia. In May, Benedict Arnold led colonial militia that captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York.

Virginia Declaration of Rights June 12, 1776

Source: The Founders Constitution, University of Chicago Press

A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the Representatives of the good people of VIRGINIA, assembled in full and free Convention; which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of Government.

1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety....

2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the People; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.....

The themes and much of the language of the Virginia Declaration of Rights were echoed in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence adopted less than a month later by the Continental Congress.


Library of Congress

The Avalon Project at Yale Law School

Archiving Early America

Educational Tools

Colonial Williamsburg-Resources for Teachers & Students, Lesson Plans

American History Sources for Students: Colonial History, Global Access to Educational Sources

Colonial America 1600-1775, K12 Resources >>Internet School Library Media Center, James Madison University

Images of American Political History >>Teaching Politics, Professor William J. Ball, The College of New Jersey

American Revolution >> History Channel