J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

A New Approach to “American Affairs” in 1767

On 6 July 1767, 250 years ago today, the Boston Post-Boy printed important news from London. A letter dated 11 May described the new policy of Britain’s finance minister, Charles Townshend:
A few Days before the House of Commons adjourned for the Easter Holidays, the Ch[ancello]r of the Ex[cheque]r opened his budget, with very great Applause, even Mr. G——lle [George Grenville, former prime minister] complimented him on the Occasion: among other things he made it appear, that besides paying the Navy and Army and all other Charges for Government for the Last Year, he had sunk [i.e., reduced] Three Millions, nine hundred Thousand Pounds of the National Debt, and assured them that the next Year he would discharge a much greater Sum, notwithstanding they had reduced the Land-Tax one Shilling in the Pound.

He took an Occasion Yesterday to say, that it was reported out of Doors that he was for taxing America. I declare, says he, I am not, nor never was; I thought the Stamp-Act a very improper Measure, and us’d my Endeavours for the Repeal; and (holding out his Hand) he said he would cut off that Hand before he would vote for taxing America; and if any of the Duties laid on Trade shall appear burthensome, nothing shall be wanting in me to remove them.
“Duties laid on Trade”? What did that refer to? The newspaper then printed under the dateline of 14 May:
Yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer mov’d the House for Leave to bring in the following Bills, which was agreed to.

An Act to permit Wine, Fruit and Oil to be carried from Spain and Portugal directly to North-America

An Act laying a Duty on China, Paper, Glass, and Painters Colours, shipped from Great-Britain to the Colonies.

An Act for settling a Salary on the Governor, and Judges, &c in North America.

An Act for Establishing a Board of Revenue in North America.
And there was yet more information in letters sent by “some Gentlemen at the New-England Coffee House”—merchants doing business with the region, some of whom had family there as well. Those came with some passengers on a ship that left London on 14 May.
The Parliament met the 13th of May upon American Affairs, and resolved that a Bill be brought in after the following Manner,

That a Tax be laid on Painters Colours, Paper, Glass and China. That the Americans may have Liberty of importing Lemmons, Wine, Fruit & Oil directly from Spain and Portugal, subject to a Duty, the Duty on Wine to be 7£ per Ton

That the Duty on Tea remaining in England be taken off, and a Duty of 3d. per lb. be laid on the Importation in America.

That there be a Board of Customs, as also a Court of Exchequer in New England.

That the Legislative Power of New-York cease until they comply with the Billeting Bill.

That the Governors and Judges be made independent by encreasing their Salary, which is to be paid out of the Revenues of the Customs.

George Grenville made a Motion to oblige the Americans to take an Oath of Allegiance and Obedience to the Parliament of Great Britain, which was put to Vote—for the Question 90[;] against it 180 odd.
The chancellor of the exchequer’s new bills became known as the Townshend Acts—a program that installed new tariffs on selected goods shipped from Britain to America, strengthened the Customs service to collect that revenue, and directed it to officials appointed by the London government.

Another new law put pressure on the New York assembly to supply barracks and firewood for royal troops in that province. Though the House of Commons voted down Grenville’s proposal that Americans have to swear an oath of allegiance, the rest of the package had a lot to concern North American Whigs, regardless of Townshend’s assurance that he opposed “taxing America.”

And by the time the Post-Boy and other newspapers printed that intelligence, the laws had already sailed through the entire Parliament. On 29 June, King George III gave his assent, and the Townshend Acts became law.

TOMORROW: Who assured Townshend that Americans wouldn’t object to tariffs?

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