James Otis, The Stamp Act, and the Boston Massacre - American Minute with Bill Federer

What led to the Boston Tea Party? Historical background of revolutionary event!

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After the French and Indian war, King George the Third to decided to keep troops in the American colonies in case of future attacks by the French or their Indian allies.


To fund these troops, the King needed to raise money, and therefore taxes were levied on the colonies. Parliament was also bailing out the British East India Company to recoup their overseas losses.


These taxes stifled the American economy:
*SUGAR ACT of 1764 - taxing sugar, coffee, wine;
*CURRENCY ACT of 1764;
*STAMP ACT of 1765 - taxing newspapers, contracts, letters, playing cards and all printed materials; 
*TOWNSHEND ACTS of 1767, taxing glass, paint and paper.


The British Government imposed BILLS OF ATTAINDER, which were like IRS audits, with the force of executive order and martial law.
Instances escalated of citizens' civil rights being nullified, their property confiscated and punishments imposed without the benefit of a trial.


James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 44:


"BILLS OF ATTAINDER ... are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation ...


The sober people of America are weary of the fluctuating policy ... They have seen with regret and indignation that sudden changes and legislative interferences, in cases affecting personal rights, become ... snares."


The King also imposed WRITS OF ASSISTANCE, beginning in 1761, to stop smuggling, but these gave government agents unlimited power to enter any colonist's home without warning, with no warrant or probable cause, and arrest them. Government could open and read a private citizen's personal correspondence. This is similar to modern-day governments weaponizing intelligence gathering to punish citizens who oppose their agendas.


WRITS OF ASSISTANCE empowered government officials to arrest anybody anytime anywhere on any suspicion and detain them indefinitely. Government could  evict people from their homes, seize their houses and farms, and confiscate their property, all of this without a warrant or due process: seize first--ask questions later.
In the Massachusetts Superior Court, in February 24, 1761, James Otis, Jr., spoke against the Writs of Assistance for nearly five hours. 


He argued:
"I will to my dying day oppose with all the powers and faculties God has given me all such instruments of slavery on the one hand, and villainy on the other, as this WRIT OF ASSISTANCE is.


It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law."


A young attorney in attendance in the courtroom was John Adams, who described James Otis' speech


"... as the spark in which originated the American Revolution."


Thirty years later, John Adams wrote of witnessing James Otis' speech:


"The child independence was then and there born, (for) every man of an immense crowded audience appeared to me to go away as I did, ready to take arms against WRITS OF ASSISTANCE."


James Otis favored extending basic natural law and freedoms of life, liberty and property to African Americans.


He wrote in "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved," 1764:


"If every prince since Nimrod had been a tyrant, it would not prove a right to tyrannize.


There can be no prescription old enough to supersede the law of nature and the grant of GOD Almighty, who has given to all men a natural right to be free ...


The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black ...


Does it follow that tis right to enslave a man because he is black? ... Nothing better can be said in favor of a trade that is the most shocking violation of the law of nature ... and makes every dealer in it a tyrant, from the director of an African company to the petty chapman (merchant) in needles and pins on the unhappy coast.


It is a clear truth that those who everyday barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own ...


That the colonists, black and white, born here are freeborn British subjects, and entitled to all the essential civil rights ...


Now can there be any liberty where property is taken away without consent? ..."


Otis continued:
"Has this whole continent of ... millions of ... good, loyal, and useful subjects, white and black ... the election of one member of the House of Commons? ...


I say men, for in a state of nature no man can take my property from me without my consent: if he does, he deprives me of my liberty and makes me a slave.


... The very act of taxing exercised over those who are not represented appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most essential rights as freemen ...


The sum of my argument is: that civil government is of God ...


that no parts of His Majesty's dominions can be taxed without their consent; that every part has a right to be represented in the supreme or some subordinate legislature."


Otis is noted for stating:
"Those who every day barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own."


"If we are not represented, we are slaves."


"A man's house is his castle."


"Taxation without representation is tyranny."


His sister was Mercy Otis Warren, who wrote in 1788:


"The origin of all power is in the people, and they have an incontestable right to check the creatures of their own creation."


Adding to the growing sentiment, Patrick Henry argued in support of farmers against the burdensome taxes supporting the King's Anglican Church, in a case known as the Parsons Cause, December 1763.


Being his first major public appearance, Henry sent shock waves, declaring:


"that a King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a Tyrant and forfeits all right to his subjects' obedience."


In 1765, in opposition to the Stamp Act, Patrick Henry alarmed the world by proposing Resolutions in the Virginia House of Burgesses by directly opposing Parliament.


The Resolves, which were reprinted across America and in Britain, included:


"Resolved, therefore, That the General Assembly of this Colony ... have ... the only exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes ... upon the inhabitants of this Colony:


And that every attempt to vest such power in any other person ... than the General Assembly aforesaid, is illegal, unconstitutional and unjust, and have a manifest tendency to destroy ... American Liberty."


As the Colonies had no representative in Parliament, the cry arose, "No taxation without representation."


There were no barracks for British troops in America so Parliament passed the Quartering Act. Beginning in 1768, British soldiers began forcibly enter American homes and farmhouses to lodge or "quarter" there, leaving families to fend for themselves in their barns, basements or attics.


As colonists became resistant, General Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in America, was ordered to bring them into submission.


British Statesman Edmund Burke commented on Gage's orders:
"An Englishman is the unfittest person on Earth to argue another Englishman into slavery."
Gage attempted to bribe some to forsake the American cause, and some were enticed, such as the infamous Dr. Benjamin Church.


John Hancock referred to this on the 4th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, 1774:
"I cannot here forbear noticing the signal manner in which the designs of those who wish not well to us have been discovered. The dark deeds of a treacherous cabal have been brought to public view. You now know the serpents who, whilst cherished in your bosoms, were darting the envenomed stings into the vitals of the constitution."


Hancock continued:
"But the representatives of the people have fixed a mark on these ungrateful monsters, which, though it may not make them so secure as Cain of old, yet renders them, at least, as infamous ... Surely you never will tamely suffer this country to be a den of thieves. Remember, my friends, from whom you sprang ... Not only that ye pray, but that ye act; that, if necessary, ye fight, and even die, for the prosperity of our Jerusalem.
Break in sunder, with noble disdain, the bonds with which the Philistines have bound you ... Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed, by the soft arts of luxury and effeminacy, into the pit digged for your destruction ... I thank God that America abounds in men who are superior to all temptation, whom nothing can divert from a steady pursuit of the interest of their country ... Let us catch the divine enthusiasm ... of delivering the oppressed from the iron grasp of tyranny; of changing the hoarse complaints and bitter moans of wretched slaves into those cheerful songs, which freedom and contentment must inspire.
There is a heartfelt satisfaction in reflecting on our exertions for the public weal (good), which all the sufferings an enraged tyrant can inflict will never take away ... The virtuous asserter of the rights of mankind merits a reward ... I have the most animating confidence that the present noble struggle for liberty will terminate gloriously for America."
British General Gage blamed ring leader Samuel Adams, who he first attempted to buy off, but was rebuffed. He then blamed the numerous town hall meetings and worked to abolish them, writing "democracy is too prevalent in America."
General Gage identified Boston as the source of political tension and relocated more British troops there.
On March 5, 1770, citizens gathered in protest. In the confusion, British troops fired into crowd, killing five, one of which was the African American patriot Crispus Attucks.
This became known as the Boston Massacre. Paul Revere's popular engraving of it provided the optics to fan flames of anti-British sentiment.


On the second anniversary of the Boston Massacre, 1772, the President of Massachusetts' Colonial Congress was Dr. Joseph Warren, who would later send Paul Revere on his midnight ride. Warren would later be killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
Dr. Joseph Warren stated:
"If you perform your part, you must have the strongest confidence that the same Almighty Being who protected your pious and venerable forefathers ... will still be mindful of you ... May our land be a land of liberty ... until the last shock of time shall bury the empires of the world in one common undistinguishable ruin!"
Just three years later, in 1773, the British imposed yet another tax with the "Tea Act."


Like modern-day secret trade deals rushed through Congress without public debate, giving multi-national corporations monopolies on trade, the King of England had his own version of "crony-capitalism."



The British East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Its exploitive policies in Bengal, together with failed monsoons and loss of rice crops, resulted in the Great Bengal Famine of 1770 with an estimated 10 million deaths.


The King allowed the financially troubled British East India Company to sell a half million pounds of tea from China's Qing Dynasty in the Colonies with no taxes, giving them a monopoly as they could undersell American merchants, many of whom sold tea smuggled in by the Dutch.
Tea was the most popular drink in the Colonies, and this act would allow the British to bypass any middlemen, thus putting many American merchants out of business.
Colonists, though, still had to pay the Townsend taxes on the tea, which, by doing so, would make them legally acquiescing to pay all future taxes that Parliament would chose to levy on the colonists.
The citizens of Boston had enough.
On December 16, 1773, Samuel Adams and a band of patriots, called the "Sons of Liberty," left Boston's Old South Meeting House dressed as Mohawk Indians, and marched down to Griffin's Wharf.
They boarded the ships Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver, and threw 342 chests of British tea into Boston's harbor.
This became known as the Boston Tea Party.
This infuriated the King, who responded by punishing the colonies with the Intolerable, or Coercive, Acts:
  • Boston Port Act, June 1, 1774;
  • a new Quartering Act, June 2, 1774;
  • Administration of Justice Act, May 20, 1774;
  • Massachusetts Government Act, May 20, 1774; followed by the
  • The Quebec Act, June 22, 1774, which confiscated western lands owned by Americans, causing other colonies, especially Virginia, to side with Massachusetts.
The men of Marlborough, Massachusetts, declared:
"Death is more eligible than slavery. A free-born people are not required by the religion of Jesus Christ to submit to tyranny, but may make use of such power as God has given them to recover and support their liberties ...


We implore the Ruler above the skies that He would bare His arm ... and let Israel go."


In the British Parliament, April 19, 1774, Edmund Burke warned that these Acts to punish the colonies will backfire on the British:
"Could anything be a subject of more just alarm to America ...
No commodity will bear three-pence (tax) ... The general feelings of men are irritated, and two millions of people are resolved not to pay. The feelings of the Colonies were formerly the feelings of Great Britain ...
The Americans are unable and unwilling to bear ... To join together the restraints of a universal ... monopoly, with a universal ... taxation, is an unnatural union; perfect uncompensated slavery.
Again, and again, revert to your own principles—Seek Peace, and ensue it — leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself."


Almost 200 years later, in Boston, July 25, 1951, General Douglas MacArthur addressed Massachusetts State Legislature:
"It was the adventurous spirit of Americans which despite risks and hazards carved a great nation from an almost impenetrable wilderness ...
This adventurous spirit is now threatened as it was in the days of the Boston Tea Party by an unconscionable burden of taxation ...
No nation may survive in freedom once its people become servants of the State ..."


MacArthur concluded his Boston address:
"It is not of any external threat that I concern myself but rather of insidious forces working from within which have already so drastically altered the character of our free institutions ...
We must unite in the high purpose that the liberties etched upon the design of our life by our forefathers be unimpaired
and that we maintain the moral courage and spiritual leadership to preserve inviolate that mighty bulwark of all freedom, our Christian faith."
American Minute is a registered trademark of William J. Federer. Permission granted to forward, reprint, or duplicate.
Image Credits: Public Domain; Description: Boston Tea Party; Source: W.D. Cooper, "Boston Tea Party," The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789, Engraving Plate opposite p. 58. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress; 2007-02-18 21:38 Cornischong 696×393× (312674 bytes); Author: Original uploader was Cornischong at lb.wikipedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boston_Tea_Party_w.jpg

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