April 4, 1864 – Lincoln Explains His Position on Slavery


On April 4, 1864, Lincoln sent a letter to newspaper editor Albert G. Hodges of Kentucky, intended for publication. It demonstrates the depth of his political astuteness, his outstanding writing ability, and the impeccable timing of his policies intended to guide the country in the direction he thought morally correct:

I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling. It was in the oath I took that I would, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. I could not take the office without taking the oath. Nor was it my view that I might take an oath to get power, and break the oath in using the power. I understood, too, that in ordinary civil administration this oath even forbade me to practically indulge my primary abstract judgment on the moral question of slavery. I had publicly declared this many times, and in many ways. And I aver that, to this day, I have done no official act in mere deference to my abstract judgment and feeling on slavery. I did understand however, that my oath to preserve the constitution to the best of my ability, imposed upon me the duty of preserving, by every indispensabale means, that government — that nation — of which that constitution was the organic law. Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it.”

You can read the entire letter here.


April 2, 1865 – Grant Broke Through at Petersburg

Petersburg, a prosperous city of 18,000, was a supply center for the Confederate capital of Richmond, given its strategic location just south of the city, its site on the Appomattox River that provided navigable access to the James River, and its role as a major crossroads and junction for five railroads. The taking of Petersburg by Union forces would make it impossible for Robert E. Lee to continue defending Richmond.

The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, popularly known as the Siege of Petersburg, was a series of battles around Petersburg, Virginia, fought in the American Civil War from June 9, 1864, to March 25, 1865. During these nine months Union forces commanded by Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant assaulted Petersburg repeatedly while simultaneously constructing trench lines that eventually extended over 30 miles around the eastern and southern outskirts of the city.

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant

By April 1st, Grant had almost encircled Petersburg and Lee’s army was down by 25% from casualties. Grant sensed an opportunity and ordered a frontal assault that opened just after midnight. The artillery began shelling, and the infantry followed at 4:45 a.m., attacking all along the Petersburg lines.

At approximately 7:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 2, 1865, Ulysses S. Grant’s army broke through Confederate lines and Lee decided to retreat. Lee sent a telegram to the Secretary of War: “I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.”

Thus, the Petersburg Campaign, the longest of the Civil War, came to an end. The casualties for the entire period of the siege are estimated to be 42,000 for the Union, and 28,000 for the Confederates.

Earthworks created by both the Union and Confederate army at Petersburg via Library of Congress

By mid-afternoon on April 2, Confederate troops began to evacuate the town. Lee’s initial plan was to march to North Carolina, consolidate his army with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston’s, defeat Gen. William T. Sherman’s army, and then turn on Grant. The wings of his army were to rendezvous at Amelia Court House, resupply, and march to Danville along the Richmond and Danville Railroad.

But little went as anticipated. Crossing the Appomattox River was difficult because of high water, and the rendezvous was delayed. The necessary supplies did not make it on schedule to the Amelia Court House. Lee had to wait, and lost his day’s lead over the pursuing Grant, a delay which allowed Federal cavalry and infantry to block his path further down at Jetersville.

U.S. “Colored” Troops at Petersburg

Improvising, Lee turned west and began a series of three consecutive night marches. Grant’s strategy – to press Lee from the rear while preventing his from turning south, get the cavalry in front of him, and then surround and compel him to fight or surrender – was more successful.

Fighting by day and marching by night, the army of Lee’s exhausted and hungry men began to dissolve. A week later, they surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Confederate President Jefferson Davis

Fletcher Pratt, in A Short History of the Civil War: Ordeal by Fire, describes the reaction of Confederate President Jefferson Davis:

April 2 was a Sunday. President Davis went to St. Paul’s [Episcopal] Church as usual. … An air of elation possessed Richmond; the day before a wonderful rumor had come through that Lee had crushed Grant’s whole front in a surprise night attack… Halfway through the service a man entered the church, stood a moment irresolute, oblivious to the stares he attracted, then stepped down the aisle and pressed a note into the President’s hand. Those in the adjoining pews saw Mr. Davis flush; he got to his feet and left the church, followed by his wife.”

The word quickly spread to other churches. Stacks of government documents were piled up on the sidewalks by government offices and set on fire. Wagons filled the streets. The evacuation of Richmond had begun.

On April 5, President Lincoln himself went to Richmond, and sat in Jefferson Davis’s chair. Two weeks later, Lincoln would be dead.

March 30, 1870 – Ulysses S. Grant on the Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment

President Grant was a champion of black rights; indeed, Frederick Douglass himself, who knew both Lincoln and Grant, thought more of Grant in some ways, saying of Grant after his presidential term:

To him more than any other man the Negro owes his enfranchisement and the Indian a humane policy. In the matter of the protection of the freedman from violence his moral courage surpassed that of his party; hence his place as its head was given to timid men, and the country was allowed to drift, instead of stemming the current with stalwart arms.”

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution granted blacks, now free from slavery, the right to vote, declaring that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was passed by the House of Representatives on February 25, 1869, and the Senate on February 26, 1869. It was ratified on February 3, 1870.

President Ulysses S. Grant

Grant was so pleased with its passage that he issued a special message to Congress, beginning by observing that “It is unusual to notify the two Houses of Congress by message of the promulgation, by proclamation of the Secretary of State, of the ratification of a constitutional amendment.” But he felt the momentous occasion merited special notice:

In view, however, of the vast importance of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution, this day declared a part of that revered instrument, I deem a departure from the usual custom justifiable. A measure which makes at once 4,000,000 people voters who were heretofore declared by the highest tribunal in the land not citizens of the United States, nor eligible to become so (with the assertion that ‘at the time of the Declaration of Independence the opinion was fixed and universal in the civilized portion of the white race, regarded as an axiom in morals as well as in politics, that black men had no rights which the white man was bound to respect’), is indeed a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free Government to the present day.”

He concluded with a plea that continues to have urgency today:

I would therefore call upon Congress to take all the means within their constitutional powers to promote and encourage popular education throughout the country, and upon the people everywhere to see to it that all who possess and exercise political rights shall have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge which will make their share in the Government a blessing and not a danger. By such means only can the benefits contemplated by this amendment to the Constitution be secured.”

You can read the entire text of his message here.

March 27, 1875 – U.S. Supreme Court Decides United States v. Cruikshank

On January 19, 1874, President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Morrison Waite, an attorney and politician from Ohio, to serve as the seventh Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Waite went on to author what is generally characterized as one of the Supreme Court’s worst rulings, one that handicapped the federal government’s ability to protect newly freed slaves for nearly a century.

Chief Justice Morrison Waite

Chief Justice Morrison Waite

In United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875), the Court held that protections afforded by the newly enacted Fourteenth Amendment, including due process and equal protection, only governed state actions, not those committed by individuals.

This decision overturned the convictions of three white men accused of the murder of at least 105 blacks (and perhaps up to 300) in the Colfax massacre at the Grant Parish, Louisiana, courthouse on Easter 1873. In the wake of a disputed gubernatorial election between a white Democrat and a black Republican, a riot broke out between the White League (a group akin to the Klu Klux Klan) and Louisiana’s largely African American state militia. Several hundred whites, armed with rifles and even a small cannon, surrounded the courthouse where the blacks were ensconced, and opened fire. The black defenders ran up a white flag of surrender, but the mob wasn’t interested in mercy, butchering any they could reach. It became known as the worse slaughter perpetrated against blacks during Reconstruction, and that’s saying a lot, given the violent nature of the times.

In any event, the men were not charged with murder, but rather with violating the Enforcement Act of 1870. The statute prohibited two or more people from conspiring to deprive anyone of their constitutional rights. After being convicted, the men appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on just such a basis, the rights in question in this case being the First Amendment’s freedom of assembly and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. [This was the first case to come before the Supreme Court which involved a possible violation of the Second Amendment.]

Chief Justice Waite held that the First Amendment right of assembly and the Second Amendment right to bear arms only protected against violations by the federal government, not the states.

He intoned:

. . . .for their protection in its enjoyment … the people must look to the States. The power for that purpose was originally placed there, and it has never been surrendered to the United States.”

He further observed:

The fourteenth amendment prohibits a State from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; but this adds nothing to the rights of one citizen as against another.”

The fact that the perpetrators of the violence in Colfax were never convicted of a crime served to embolden terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and other groups seeking to restore racial hierarchy to the South.  

At that time, of course, and for almost the next one hundred years, the southern states, with the imprimatur of “sovereignty” for the protection of the rights of life and personal liberty of its citizens, acted mainly on behalf of white citizens only, ignoring the violence against and intimidation of blacks. Indeed, southern government officials were often complicit in it.

As a history of the Colfax Massacre in The Atlantic Magazine noted:

The decision in Cruikshank set a pattern that would hold for decades. Despite being dominated by appointees from the party of abolition, the Court gave its constitutional blessing to the destruction of America’s short-lived attempt at racial equality piece by piece. By the end, racial segregation would be the law of the land, black Americans would be almost entirely disenfranchised, and black workers would be relegated to a twisted simulacrum of the slave system that existed before the Civil War.”

President Grant was at least personally committed to ensuring that black citizens enjoyed their constitutional rights, including the vote. In October of 1876, he told members of a Pennsylvania “colored men’s marching club” that:

…it was his purpose to see that every man of every race and condition should have the privilege of voting his sentiments without violation or intimidation. When this was secured we would then, and only then, deserve to be called a free Republic.” (Ron Chernow, Grant, p. 838)

But in 1876, Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president, in part because the Democrats, in “the Compromise of 1877,” agreed to award him contested electoral votes in exchange for his promise to bring an end to Reconstruction, withdraw all federal troops from the South, and restore “home rule.”

President Rutherford B. Hayes

The significance of Cruikshank is often overlooked. But as Rutgers Professor of Law and Sidney Reitman Scholar James Gray Pope wrote persuasively in “Snubbed Landmark: Why United States v. Cruikshank (1876) Belongs at the Heart of the American Constitutional Canon” (Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol 49, 2014):

United States v. Cruikshank (1876) is an unacknowledged landmark of American constitutional jurisprudence. Cruikshank, not the far more famous Civil Rights Cases, limited the Fourteenth Amendment to protect only against state action; Cruikshank, not the notorious Slaughter-House Cases, narrowed the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to exclude rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights; Cruikshank, not the canonical Washington v. Davis, announced that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause protected only against provably intentional race discrimination; and Cruikshank, not the Civil Rights Cases or City of Boerne v. Flores, first excepted the Fourteenth Amendment from the general principle that Congress enjoys discretion to select the means of implementing its constitutional powers. Historically, if the argument of this Article holds true, Cruikshank played a crucial role in terminating Reconstruction and launching the one-party, segregationist regime of “Jim Crow” that prevailed in the South until the 1960s.”

As for the legacy of Cruikshank, as The Atlantic history points out:

The conservative majority on the Supreme Court today is similarly blinded by a commitment to liberty in theory that ignores the reality of how Americans’ lives are actually lived. Like the Supreme Court of that era, the conservatives on the Court today are opposed to discrimination in principle, and indifferent to it in practice.”

One only need read the opinion of Justice Roberts in Shelby County v. Holder on June 25, 2013, which invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Chief Justice Roberts, delivering the opinion for the court, wrote:

Not only do States retain sovereignty under the Constitution, there is also a ‘fundamental principle of equal sovereignty’ among the States. Over a hundred years ago, this Court explained that our Nation ‘was and is a union of States, equal in power, dignity and authority.’ Indeed, ‘the constitutional equality of the States is essential to the harmonious operation of the scheme upon which the Republic was organized.’ [citations omitted]”

Once again, Southern states took heart from the Court. Within two hours of the ruling, Texas announced a voter identification law would go into effect, along with redistricting. Other states soon followed.

March 26, 2015 Great Britain’s Repeal of Royal Marriages Act of 1772 Came Into Effect

The Royal Marriages Act 1772 (772 CHAPTER 11 12 Geo 3, repealed by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, was an act of the Parliament of Great Britain enumerating the conditions under which members of the British Royal Family could contract a valid marriage. The purpose of the law was to guard against marriages that could diminish the status of the royal house. More specifically, the act was proposed by George III after the marriages of his brothers. In 1771, Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearnhad married the commoner Anne Horton. Then in 1773 the King learned that another brother, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, had in 1766 secretly married Maria, the illegitimate daughter of Sir Edward Walpole and the widow of the 2nd Earl Waldegrave. Both alliances were considered highly unsuitable by the King.

King George III

The 1772 Act said that no descendant of King George II, male or female, other than the issue of princesses who had married or might thereafter marry “into foreign families,” could marry without the consent of the reigning monarch, “signified under the great seal and declared in council.” That consent was to be set out in the register of the marriage, and entered in the books of the Privy Council. Any marriage contracted without the consent of the monarch was to be null and void.

However, any member of the Royal Family over the age of 25 who had been refused the sovereign’s consent could marry one year after giving notice to the Privy Council of their intention so to marry, unless both houses of Parliament expressly declared their disapproval. There is, however, no instance in which the sovereign’s formal consent in Council was refused. (There were other informal ways to discourage marriages considered to be unsuitable.)

The Act further made it a crime to perform or participate in an illegal marriage of any member of the Royal Family. (This particular provision was repealed by the Criminal Law Act 1967.)

Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, twice divorced

A big change came about when the Church of England revised its policy on divorce and remarriage as a part of the General Synod in 2002, declaring:

The Church of England teaches that marriage is for life. It also recognizes that some marriages sadly do fail and, if this should happen, it seeks to be available for all involved. The Church accepts that, in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church during the lifetime of a former spouse.”

This change helped facilitate the repeal of the entire Marriages Act by Parliament in 2013. The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 repealed the Royal Marriages Act 1772. But all the countries in which the Queen is head of state had to pass necessary legislation before it took effect. This had already taken place pursuant to “The Perth Agreement,” an agreement made by the prime ministers of the 16 Commonwealth realms during the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October, 2011 in Perth, Australia.

The agreement replaced male-preference primogeniture – under which male descendants take precedence over females in the line of succession – with absolute primogeniture; ended the disqualification of those married to Roman Catholics (a provision of the Act of Settlement of 1701) ; and limited the number of individuals in line to the throne requiring permission from the sovereign to marry to six. The ban on Catholics and other non-Protestants becoming sovereign and the requirement for the sovereign to be in communion with the Church of England remained in place.

Princess Margaret was “discouraged” from marrying the divorced Peter Townsend

By December 2012, all the realm governments had agreed to implement the proposals.

According to the BBC, the changes to the rules of succession were rushed through Parliament ahead of the birth of Prince George in 2013. The more limited provisions of 2013 Act included the following:

(1) A person who (when the person marries) is one of the 6 persons next in the line of succession to the Crown must obtain the consent of Her Majesty before marrying.

(2) Where any such consent has been obtained, it must be—
(a) signified under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom,
(b) declared in Council, and
(c) recorded in the books of the Privy Council.

(3) The effect of a person’s failure to comply with subsection (1) is that the person and the person’s descendants from the marriage are disqualified from succeeding to the Crown.

(4) The Royal Marriages Act 1772 (which provides that, subject to certain exceptions, a descendant of King George II may marry only with the consent of the Sovereign) is repealed.

(5) A void marriage under that Act is to be treated as never having been void if—
(a) neither party to the marriage was one of the 6 persons next in the line of succession to the Crown at the time of the marriage,
(b) no consent was sought under section 1 of that Act, or notice given under section 2 of that Act, in respect of the marriage,
(c) in all the circumstances it was reasonable for the person concerned not to have been aware at the time of the marriage that the Act applied to it, and
(d) no person acted, before the coming into force of this section, on the basis that the marriage was void.

(6) Subsection (5) applies for all purposes except those relating to the succession to the Crown.

Six realms in addition to the UK legislated for the changes: Australia, Barbados, Canada, the Grenadines, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent.

Nine others concluded that the legislation was not necessary: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, St Lucia, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

You can find a history and recapitulation of Royal Succession Bills and Acts here.

Prince Harry was still required by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 to seek permission from the Queen in order to marry. Harry and Meghan’s consent to marry was officially approved by his grandmother the Queen on March 14, 2018.

Review of “Midnight Rising” by Tony Horwitz

Fans of Tony Horwitz will be surprised by this book, which departs from his usual lighter treatments to present a straight history of the momentous events surrounding John Brown’s raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in October of 1859. Brown’s goal was to do whatever it took to get slaves released from bondage; he felt anything less would make a mockery of God’s words as Brown understood them. After his arrest he told interrogators:

“I want you to understand, gentlemen, that I respect the rights of the poorest and weakest of colored people, oppressed by the slave system, just as much as I do those of the most wealthy and powerful.”

And as Horwitz points out,

“Whether or not his military plan succeeded, Brown believed his strike [at Harpers Ferry] would shock the nation and shake down the pillars of slavery. And he was fully prepared to perish amid the rubble of a sinful society he had so long sought to destroy.”

John Brown

Because there were so many complicated factors leading up to the attack on Harpers Ferry, Horwitz cannot tell John Brown’s story without also explaining the events that influenced Brown, such as the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which requires an explanation of the Compromise of 1850, which in turn necessitates an explanation of the 1820 Missouri Compromise, and so on. This part of the book is rather dry, as it is delivered without any analytical fanfare.

The pacing picks up when the actual raid on Harpers Ferry begins, and in particular, when Horwitz recounts the astounding impact of the raid on the American public. While today, Brown’s raid is looked at as a small point on the causation vector leading to the Civil War, Horwitz makes a convincing argument that in fact, as Frederick Douglass contended, it was Harpers Ferry rather than Fort Sumter, that was “the true start of the nation’s great conflict.”

Horwitz argues that the whole event might just have simmered and died, had it not been for the “beatification” of Brown in the North, which horrified Southerners and convinced them that “The North, at heart, was abolitionist, and its leaders could not be trusted to uphold the constitutional protections afforded slavery.”

Horwitz offers many striking examples of strong reaction in the country to Brown’s hanging, from Northerners who were outraged and saw Brown as a martyr, to Southern “fire-eaters” who were ecstatic that this could be the catalyst to stir the South to arms. The abolitionist Wendell Phillips observed:

“History will date Virginia Emancipation from Harpers Ferry . . . John Brown has loosened the roots of the slave system; it only breathes – it does not live – hereafter.”

General Robert E. Lee, who, before the United States split in two, led the group of Marines who captured John Brown at Harpers Ferry

Perhaps most important is the effect Brown had on Lincoln, who at first was dismissive of Brown’s actions. Later, however, Lincoln came to hold views so close to Brown’s that his second inaugural speech sounds much like the climax of the extemporaneous speech given by Brown to the court that condemned him to death. On November 2, 1859, Brown declared:

“Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country, whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments, I submit. So let it be done!”

Compare that to Lincoln’s language in his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865:

“Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”

Lincoln at the time of his second inauguration

And of course, Lincoln and Brown shared more than their feelings about slavery: Horwitz does not miss the fact that John Wilkes Booth traveled to see Brown hang; he writes that “Harpers Ferry and Lincoln’s assassination became bookends to the great national bloodletting over slavery.” As William Lloyd Garrison said of Brown’s raid:

“In firing his gun, he has merely told us what time of day it is. It is high noon, thank God!”

Evaluation: This book is not as “fun” as others by Horwitz, but deals with a critical time in America’s history. Further, it does so from the perspective of ordinary citizens in the country instead of elected officials who usually form the basis of what we know about the events leading up to the Civil War. These ordinary citizens made a huge difference, and the lessons we can take from them are manifold.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Henry Holt and Company, 2011

March 22, 1765 – British Parliament Passes the Stamp Act, Imposing a New Tax on American Colonies

In the late 1700’s, Britain made the ultimately fatal mistake of not only trying to police the American colonists against their worser angels, but also assessing them taxes for the effort. The fact was that Britain had a lot of expenses and irritations associated with her American colonies.

In order to secure the northern border of America, Britain, joined by colonials, had fought the French and Indian War (1756-63) and procured Canada from the French, but it was a costly campaign. Moreover, after the war, the British permitted the French “Papists” to retain their property, thus “cheating” the Americans of the rich plunder anticipated at war’s end.

Map showing British territorial gains following the Treaty of Paris in pink, and Spanish territorial gains after the Treaty of Fontainebleau in yellow

Afterwards, Britain attempted to enforce compliance with treaties made with Native Americans by stationing troops in North America, and they forbade colonists from moving west of the Appalachians. This latter policy in particular was anathema to the Americans, who, long before their policy was articulated by the phrase “manifest destiny,” decided that they, not the Indians, were the superior race and therefore deserved the riches that lay to the west.

To help pay for the troops, the Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament on this day in history, March 22, 1765. The Stamp Act was the first internal tax levied directly on American colonists by the British government. The British Empire was deep in debt from the French and Indian War. Since the war benefited the American colonists as much as anyone else in the British Empire, the British government decided it was only fair for those colonists to shoulder part of the war’s cost.

Proof sheet of one-penny stamps submitted for approval to Commissioners of Stamps by engraver. 10 May 1765.

The British not only needed money to support the large force stationed in North America. In addition, as some historians have pointed out, demobilizing the army would have put 1,500 officers out of work, many of whom were well-connected in Parliament. This made it politically prudent to retain a large peacetime establishment, and preferably not at home. Or as John Adams complained later in a letter of June 17, 1768, Britain demands revenue from America, “appropriated to the maintenance of swarms of Officers and Pensioners in idleness and luxury, whose example has a tendency to corrupt our morals, and whose arbitrary dispositions will trample on our rights.”

The new tax was imposed on all American colonists and required them to pay a fee for every piece of printed paper they used. Ship’s papers, legal documents, licenses, newspapers, other publications, and even playing cards were taxed.

As the website of Colonial Williamsburg reports:

The actual cost of the Stamp Act was relatively small. What made the law so offensive to the colonists was not so much its immediate cost but the standard it seemed to set. In the past, taxes and duties on colonial trade had always been viewed as measures to regulate commerce, not to raise money. The Stamp Act, however, was viewed as a direct attempt by England to raise money in the colonies without the approval of the colonial legislatures. If this new tax were allowed to pass without resistance, the colonists reasoned, the door would be open for far more troublesome taxation in the future.”

In sum, the American colonists, who paid less taxes overall than did citizens in the British homeland, objected mightily to the uses to which the taxes were put and to the precedent it set. Furthermore they thought they had found adequate philosophical support for their position from Enlightenment ideas then roiling the West.

Tensions increased on both sides. After months of protest, and an appeal by Benjamin Franklin before the British House of Commons, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March, 1766. However, on the same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Acts, asserting that the British government had free and total legislative power over the colonies. A year later, in a series of measures introduced into the English Parliament by Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend, the Townshend Acts imposed duties on glass, lead, paints, paper and tea imported into the colonies.

Charles Townshend- Chancellor of the Exchequer in the period following the repeal of the Stamp Act

Provocations and skirmishes marked the next three years, and once again Parliament repealed most of the taxes except the tea tax (for reasons having more to do with the needs of the colonies in India than in America). Again, the tax was low, and in fact, it made tea cheaper than before in America. But American smugglers resented the action, which would undercut their own profits. John Hancock organized a boycott of tea from the British East India Company, and its sales fell precipitously, while Hancock got wealthy smuggling in tea from elsewhere.

A rebel group, the Sons of Liberty, also interpreted the Tea Act (i.e., selling them cheaper goods!) as a hostile act by Britain. Thus the American rebels decided they must take action. On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty, dressed as Native Americans, boarded three ships carrying East India Company tea and dumped 342 chests of it into Boston Harbor.

W.D. Cooper. “Boston Tea Party.”, The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789 engraving

Britain’s retaliatory punitive measures galvanized other colonies to come to the aid of Massachusetts, and the American Revolution was on its way.