From David Hall
Letterbook copy: American Philosophical Society
Philadelphia Septemr. 6th 1765
Tho’ I have not had the Pleasure of hearing from you for a long Time,6 yet I cannot let any Opportunity to Europe slip without Troubling you with a few Lines, just to let you know, that your Family and mine are all well, and that Business goes on as usual, only that our Numbers of News Papers decreases prodigiously; some Market Days, ten or twelve leaving off together, all on Account of the Stamp Duty; so that I am afraid your Calculation in that Respect, will be found to be vastly deficient.7
We are all in a Ferment here, as well, as in the other Governments, about the Stamp Law taking, or not taking place.8 You, very probably before this can reach, may have heard of Mr. Oliver, the Stamp officier being hanged in Effigy in Boston;9 a House pulled down, which was supposed to have been erected for the Business of the Stamp Office, and other Damage done him; upon which he resigned and, it is said, wrote home to the Commissioners of the Stamp-Office, letting them know that he could not put the Law in Execution; and that he believed it impracticable for any One else to do it. Soon after this Mr. Johnston, appointed for Rhode Island;1 Mr. McEvers for New York,2 and Mr. Coxe for New Jersey,3 all gave up their Commissions. At New-London the Stamp Officer has likewise been hanged in Effigy.4 And at New-Haven the House of the Officer there, has been beset by a Number of People, who desired to know whether he intended to act in that office, or resign? His Answer, it is said, was, that having accepted the Office in Person he did not think he had Power to resign. They then demanded whether he would deliver the Stamp Materials, as soon as they arrived, to them, in Order to make a Bonfire, or to have his House pulled down? Upon which he promised, that when they Arrived, he would either reship them to be sent back, or that when they were in his House, his Doors should be open, and they might then act as they thought proper, on which they despersed. Mr. Ingersoll has likewise been hanged in Effigy, as has Mr. Hood, the officer for Maryland.5 Mr. Mercer, the Officer for Virginia,6 is not yet Arrived, but the People of that Colony, are much enraged. Mr. Hughes has not yet resigned;7 whether he will, or not, I cannot say, but I understand his Friends are all endeavouring to get him to resign.
In short, there seems to be a general Discontent all over the Continent, with that Law, and many thinking their Liberties and Privileges, as English Men lost, or at least in great Danger, seem Desperate. What the Consequences may be, God only knows; but, from the Temper of the People, at Present, there is the greatest Reason to fear, that the Passing of that Law will be the Occasion of a great Deal of Mischief.
A Committee, from the different Assemblies, it is said, is to meet at New York, the First Day of next Month; in order to think of, and draw up, a Remonstrance, to be sent to the King, imploring Relief from Grievances; and, among other Things, to beg that he would be pleased to suspend the Execution of the Stamp Act, till the Petitions from the Colonies, with their Reasons against it, can be heard.8
In my last, you may remember, I told you, that all the Papers on the Continent, ours excepted, were full of Spirited Papers against the Stamp Law, and that because, I did not publish those Papers likewise, I was much blamed, got a great Deal of Ill-will, and that some of our Customers had dropt on that Account.9 My Reasons for not publishing I need not repeat, as I then gave you them fully. However I was in Hopes that, that Storm would have blown over, and that the People would have been Satisfied with the Arguments I used for not inserting these Pieces; but I find I am much mistaken; for as the Time of the Law taking place draws nearer, the more the Clamours of the People increase against me, for my Silence in the Paper; alledging, that as our Gazette, spreads more generally than all the other Papers put together on the Continent, our not Publishing, as the Printers of the other Papers do, will be an infinite Hurt to the Liberties of the People. And I have been told by many, that our Interests will certainly suffer by it; nay, Hints have been given, that in Case of the Peoples being exasperated I must stand to the Consequences. So that how to Behave, I am really at a loss, but believe it will be best to humour them in some Publications, as they seem to insist so much upon it.
I could wish you was on the Spot, on many Accounts; and yet I should be afraid of your Safety, as the Spirit of the People is so violent against every One, they think has the least concern with the Stamp Law, and they have imbibed the Notion, that you had a Hand, in the framing of it, which has occassioned you many Enemies; but I make not the least Doubt, you would be able to clear your Self, if there was a Necessity for it, of all the ill natured Things that have been laid to your Charge, I am. Dear Sir Yours
Sent by the Brig Betty Capt. MCoy to Bristol1
To Benjamin Franklin Esq.
Copy Sent Sept. 7. 1765 per Nancy Capt. Carr
6. Hall could not yet have received BF’s letters of August 9 and 20.
7. In his letter of June 8 (above, p. 171) BF had told Hall he expected the circulation of the Gazette to drop off about a tenth at first, but that it would “gradually recover again.” Writing to Hall on July 8, Strahan had expressed similar optimism. APS.
8. Accounts of the events mentioned in this paragraph are in Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, pp. 119–58, and Gipson, British Empire, X, 292–315. They were reported in varying detail in Pa. Gaz., Sept. 5, 1765.
9. Andrew Oliver (1706–1774), provincial secretary of Mass., member of the Council, and later (1771–74) lieutenant governor. The hanging in effigy and destruction of the building said to be intended as a stamp office took place on Aug. 14, 1765, and Oliver’s resignation followed the next day. DAB.
1. Augustus Johnston (c.1730–c.1790), attorney general of R.I., 1757–66. He was hanged in effigy, August 27, forced to flee to the armed ship Cygnet on the 28th, and resigned as stamp distributor on the 29th. DAB.
2. James McEvers (c.1729–1768), a merchant, publicly announced his resignation before it was demanded of him by any mob. Morgan, Stamp Act Crisis, p. 152; N.-Y. Hist. Soc. Coll., 1898, pp. 200–1; John A. Stevens, Colonial Records of the New York Chamber of Commerce, 1768–1784 (N.Y., 1867), [part II, Biographical Sketches], p. 149.
3. William Coxe (1723–1801), a large landowner (above, X, 213 n), resigned as stamp distributor, September 3. 1 N.J. Arch., IX, 497.
4. Jared Ingersoll (above, X, 112 n), had been in England when the act was passed and has been credited with procuring some modifications in its terms. Nevertheless, he accepted appointment as distributor for Conn., it has been said on the advice of BF. After his return to the colony he was hanged or burned in effigy at Norwich, August 21, at New London, the 22d, at Windham and Lebanon, the 26th, and at Lyme, the 29th. The confrontation in New Haven and Ingersoll’s reply appear in Pa. Gaz., Sept. 5, 1765, in a report from N.Y. dated September 2. Hall quoted here almost verbatim from his newspaper account. While Ingersoll was on his way to Hartford on September 19 a large number of Sons of Liberty forced him to resign. Lawrence H. Gipson, Jared Ingersoll A Study of American Loyalism in Relation to British Colonial Government (New Haven, 1920), pp. 168–88, contains the fullest account of Ingersoll’s troubles.
5. Zachariah Hood was not only hanged in effigy but had his house pulled down on September 2; he fled for his life to N.Y.
6. Col. George Mercer (above, p. 99 n), agent of the Ohio Co. of Va., did not reach Williamsburg until October 30, two days before the Stamp Act was to go into effect. He resigned under pressure the next day.
7. Several later letters in this volume deal with the difficulties of John Hughes, BF’s friend and the stamp distributor for Pa.
8. On Sept. 11, 1765, the Pa. Assembly appointed a committee of Speaker Joseph Fox, John Dickinson, George Bryan, and John Morton to represent the colony at the Stamp Act Congress. On the same day the Assembly adopted instructions to guide the committee. 8 Pa. Arch., VII, 1769. Fox did not attend the Congress.
9. Pa. Gaz. had printed virtually no Philadelphia news about the Stamp Act or letters on the subject, but it did give news from other colonies about resolutions and riots. In the issue of July 11 Hall had advertised the publication (unusually early) of the Poor Richard almanac for 1766, pointing out that it contained the “Substance” of the Stamp Act, with which it was “absolutely necessary” for everyone to acquaint himself. He reported the Assembly’s appointment of delegates to the Stamp Act Congress and in the issue of September 26 printed the full text of the Assembly’s ten unanimous resolutions that, among other statements, declared taxation of Pennsylvanians by any persons other than their own representatives to be “unconstitutional.” With these exceptions Pa. Gaz. gave little or no inkling of the rising feeling in Philadelphia during these weeks.
1. Pa. Gaz., Sept. 12, 1765, reported the clearance of the brig Betty, J. M’Coy, and snow Nancy, W Kerr (also mentioned here), both bound for Bristol.