America was not a peaceful country so the British Government decided that the best way to be sure of peace in the future was to keep an army in America. Someone had to pay for the army and Britain decided to raise the money through a Stamp Tax that those living in America would pay. Newspapers, marriage licenses, wills, playing cards and all sorts of legal papers had to be printed on stamped paper, the price of stamps varying according to the importance of the paper from a few pence to many pounds. King George III and the British parliament had passed this Act without even asking the Americans for their thoughts or consent. This was taxation without representation and they were very angry.
"No," they said to the British Government, "you cannot tax us without our consent. It is one of the foundations of British freedom that those who pay the tax must also consent to it. We are not represented in the British Parliament, our consent has not been asked, and we deny your right to tax us."
The whole country was filled with clamour. In every colony young men banded together, calling themselves Sons of Liberty they were determined to resist the tax. "No taxation without representation" was the cry.
When the first boxes of stamps arrived they were seized and destroyed. Newspapers appeared with a skull and crossbones printed where the stamp should have been. There were riots and mass meetings everywhere.
The Americans did not merely complain but totally resisted the Stamp Tax. This was unusual, for as you know the Americans were not known for getting along and acting together but the thought of losing their freedom made them work together. It was around this time that those living in America started to become known as Americans rather than New Englander or New Yorker, names that indicated where they had originally come from in Britain.
Even in Britain, there were people who thought this Stamp Act was a mistake. The great Pitt had been ill when it was passed into law but when he returned to Parliament he spoke strongly against it.
"I was ill in bed," he said, "but if I could have been carried here in my bed I would have asked some kind friend to bring me so that I might have spoken against this Stamp Tax. It is of greater importance than anything that has engaged the attention of this House; the subject of freedom, which nearly a century ago was the question of most importance to you yourselves, were you to be bond or free." Later he said, "I rejoice that America has resisted,".
Pitt was thinking of the time when Englishmen strove with Charles I to gain freedom. Charles I fought hard for British liberty and he could not bear to think of Britons oppressing Britons. "Who that has an English heart," he once said, "can ever be weary of asserting liberty?"
There were many against Pit but he won the day and the Stamp Act was repealed.
There was great rejoicing in America and the matter tax without representation seemed to be remedied. However, the very next year a new bill for taxing the Americans was brought into Parliament. This time the tax was to be paid on tea, glass, lead and a few other things that had to be imported into America from other countries.
Once again the colonies were ablaze and they refused to pay this duty just as they had refused to pay the Stamp Tax. Everywhere there were indignation meetings with Boston being at the heart of the storm and so to Boston British troops were sent to keep order.
The soldiers had nothing to do but the very sight of their red coats made the colonists angry. They taunted the soldier and worried them every way they knew how and the soldiers were not slow to reply. So at last, after eighteen months of bickering one March evening it came to blows. Two or three exasperated soldiers fired upon the crowd of citizens, five of whom were killed and several others wounded.
This was afterwards known as the Boston Massacre. It made the people terribly angry and the next day a great meeting was held in Old South Church. At this meeting, the people demanded that the troops should be removed from the town. On seeing the temper of the people the Lieutenant Governor withdrew the soldiers that same day to a little island in the harbour.
Finding how useless it was to try to force taxes on unwilling subjects, the British Government removed all the taxes except one. King George wanted to show his power. He wanted to prove to the Americans that he had the right to tax them if he liked. So he insisted that there should still be a tax on tea.
"The King will have it so, he means to make the Americans agree," said Lord North, the easy-going, stupid minister who was now in power.
However, the whole reason the Americans were objecting was to prove that neither King nor the government had the right to tax them without their consent. To them, one tax was as bad as a dozen. It was not a question of money, but a question of right or wrong, of freedom or slavery. So they refused to pay the tax on tea. They refused to buy tea from Britain at all and smuggled it from Holland. Ships from Britain laden with tea came to port and the tea was landed but no one would buy it, so it rotted and mouldered in the cellars. In Boston, however, the people determined that it should not even land. And when three ships laden with tea came into Boston harbour, the people refused to allow them to unload.
"Take your tea back again to England," they said to the captain.
But the captain could not do that, for the customs officers would not allow him to leave until he had landed his cargo. The people were greatly excited. Large meetings were held and every possible manner of getting rid of the tea was discussed but some of the younger men grew tired of talking. Time was passing. If something were not done, the tea would be landed by force.
That, these bold young men determined, should not happen. So about fifty of them dressed as Native Americans, stained their faces brown and painted them hideously. Then, tomahawk in hand, they stole silently down to the ships and uttering wild war cries sprang on board. They seized the tea chests and with their hatchets burst them open and poured the tea into the harbour.
There were nearly three hundred and fifty chests and soon the harbour was black with tea. It was a terrible waste but no one stopped it. From the shore people looked on quietly. When the work was done the "Native Americans" vanished away as silently as they had come. This was afterwards called the Boston Tea Party. Certainly, no greater brewing of tea has ever been known.
When George III heard of the Boston Tea Party he was very angry and he resolved to punish the people of Boston. "They will be lions," he said, "as long as we are lambs but if we show them that we mean to be firm they will soon prove very meek."
So he closed the port and forbade any ships to go there, thus cutting off Boston from the trade of the world. He also said that Boston should no longer be the capital of Massachusetts and made Salem the capital instead.
Boston, of course, was nearly ruined by these acts but instead of looking coldly on her misfortunes, the other colonies rallied to her aid and grain, cattle and all sorts of merchandise poured into Boston from them.
Boston could not be starved, neither could it be frightened into submitting.