Sunday, December 17, 2017

John Adams During the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765

John Adams in 1762
In 1765 John Adams was a young lawyer struggling to make ends meet. When the Stamp Act shut down the courts, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.

Obviously, it caused him personal and financial pain. That showed in his diary. He said the Stamp Act was an “enormous engine, fabricated by the British Parliament, for battering down all the rights and liberties of America…In every colony, from Georgia to New Hampshire inclusively, the stamp distributors and inspectors have been compelled by the unconquerable rage of the people to renounce their offices.”[1]

And, it wasn’t just upper-class citizens who protested the Stamp Act. “The people even to the lowest ranks, have become more attentive to their liberties, more inquisitive about them, than they were ever before known or had occasion to be.”[2] No matter what their profession, Americans were up in arms about the negative effects of the Stamp Act. “Our presses have groaned, our pulpits have thundered, our legislatures have resolved, our towns have voted; the crown officers everywhere have trembled.”[3]

From the tone alone, it sounds as if John Adams is already a rebel, or poised to cross the line.

There was a significant principle at stake. One the colonists would repeatedly invoke over the next decade. Adams said if the colonies accept this tax, “if this authority is once acknowledged and established, the ruin of America will become inevitable.”[4] The real fear. The unspoken concern was that if the colonies were to lie down and accept the tax, more taxes would soon follow. Once the precedent was set, what was there to stop Parliament from taxing the water they drink, or the air that they breathe?

At present, everything was in disarray. The courts were shut down, the probate office was closed-up, and the customs house was shuttered. No one was able or willing to decide what should come next. “The executive courts have not yet dared to adjudge the Stamp Act void, nor to proceed with business as usual, though it should seem that necessity alone would be sufficient to justify business at present.”[5]

The date was December 18, 1765.