The Day Liberty Rose From a Long Slumber


Americans once defended their liberties with acts of violence directed at the offending source, the British government. The Crown got a strong dose of it on the fourteenth of August, 1765. A Boston mob took to the streets that day to protest the coming Stamp Act, which would force colonists to pay taxes on most legal and commercial transactions. Britain claimed it needed help funding its eight thousand troops stationed in the colonies, as well as to reduce its debt from its most recent war. The colonists, however, saw the scheme as part of a Grand Design to subjugate them to British rule. Boston had a history of success dealing with threats to its liberties. In 1747, for instance, a British commodore named Knowles anchored his fleet off Nantasket and sent press gangs ashore to get more men for his crews. With the governor and his council neither inclined nor legally permitted to stop him, a Boston mob seized control of the city, taking several British officers as hostages, until Knowles released the men. [1] Violence became a ritual of Boston culture. On November 5 each year, mobs from the South End and North End would hold a quasi-friendly street fight in celebration of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Catholics attempted to blow up both houses of Parliament and James I. The South End gang, a force of two thousand men led by shoemaker Ebenezer Mackintosh, took the victory in 1764. Even a child's death in the fighting failed to stop the m'l'e. [2] Unlike other radicals who were upset over the Stamp Tax, Samuel Adams was elated. In a letter to a friend he called it a 'blessing' because it gave him an opportunity to rally the colonists against England. [3] Adams put together a tight group of associates called the Loyal Nine, later to become known as the Sons of Liberty. The Nine were artisans and shopkeepers who rarely spoke out against the Act. One of them, Benjamin Edes, printed the Gazette, which ran articles condemning the tax and heating up opposition to it. The Nine enlisted the services of Ebenezer McIntosh, who was soon to lead his two thousand followers 'with the precision of a general.' [4] On the morning of August 14, an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the future Massachusetts stamp distributor, hung from a tree on Newbury Street. Hanging next to it was a large boot, a pun on the hated Earl of Bute, with the devil crawling out of it. As the day progressed and the crowd grew thicker, local officials got nervous. Lieutenant-Governor Thomas Hutchinson, acting as Chief Justice, ordered Sheriff Greenleaf to cut the images down. But the sheriff's men were too scared to try it. Over at the Town House, where the governor's council was wringing their hands, they heard voices rising outside. Led by McIntosh, the mob was marching their way, carrying Oliver's effigy in a mock funeral procession. They paused and gave three loud huzzas before moving on. McIntosh was letting the council know who was in charge. He took the men down to the dock on Kilby Street, where Oliver had erected an office for distributing stamps. After five minutes it was rubble. Carrying wood from the building with them, they moved on to Oliver's house. While some beheaded the effigy, others showered the house with stones. Then they took the effigy to nearby Fort Hill and burned it in a bonfire, fueled with wood from Oliver's office. McIntosh took the mob back to Oliver's House and began demolishing it. Oliver and his family had fled to a neighbor's home, then shortly after escaped to Castle William in the Boston harbor. Governor Bernard tried to get the militia to beat an alarm, but the colonel of the militia informed him that all his drummers were busy destroying Oliver's house. At this news, Bernard made his exit to Castle William, too. The next day Oliver was threatened to resign his post. Since he wouldn't receive it until November 1, he could only promise not to accept it. A certain gentleman condemned Oliver for cowardice and let it be known he would not have backed down. He soon received notice as to when his house would be leveled. The man's retraction quickly followed. August 14th marked the first revolutionary blow struck at the British Grand Design. 'For many years,' Murry Rothbard writes, 'August 14 was celebrated throughout America as 'the happy day, on which Liberty arose from a long slumber.'' [5] May it rise again. References 1 The Life and Times of Sir William Johnson, William L. Stone, Chapter VIII, 1747,,vol1ch8.htm 2 Morgan, Edmund S. & Morgan, Helen M., The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1995, p. 127. 3 Fradin, Dennis, Samuel Adams: The Father of American Independence, Clarion Books, New York, 1998, p. 26. 4 Morgan, p. 128. 5 Rothbard, Murray N., Conceived in Liberty, Vol III, Advance to Revolution, 1760-1775, Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, 1999, p. 106.

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George F. Smith is the author of The Flight of The Barbarous Relic, a novel about a renegade Fed chairman.  Visit his website.