Fatal StampRevolutionary War

Colonial boycotts

American economic sanctions in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine have parallels with American Colonial non-importation agreements in the years leading up to the war with Britain.

The British Parliament passed the Molasses Act in 1733, an extremely high tax on the colonies for purchases of molasses imported from the British West Indies. New England Colonists easily avoided paying the tax through smuggling, bribery and intimidation of customs officials. In April, 1764, Parliament rescinded the Molasses Act and enacted the Plantation Act, better known as the Sugar Act, which strengthened customs enforcement of duties on sugar and molasses but reduced the tax by half. American colonists nonetheless complained that the tax was excessive. In August 1764, Boston merchants initiated the Colony’s first boycott, agreeing to stop purchasing British luxury imports, and to increase colonial manufacturing. The American nonimportation measures devastated the British economy, and unemployed workers in England began rioting. The Sugar Act was replaced with the Revenue Act 1766, which reduced the tax to one penny per gallon on molasses imports, British or foreign.

Even more offensive to the Colony than the Sugar Acts was the passage of the “Stamp Act” in March, 1765, which required that legal documents and official papers should be written on stamped paper and that stamps should be affixed to printed books and newspapers. Colonists argued that it was a violation of their rights as British citizens, a direct taxation on internal affairs and commerce without local representation. Stamp act officials throughout the colonies were forced by hostile mobs to resign, and ships from England carrying the stamped papers sat unloaded in the harbors. Finally in 1766, a group of London merchants convinced Parliament that their businesses had succumbed to “utter ruin,” and the Stamp Act was repealed.

In 1767, Parliament created new duties on glass, lead, paint, tea, and paper known as the Townshend Acts, and American colonists resumed coordinated non-importation. Colonial artisans and laborers eagerly signed petitions “binding on each and all.” Responding again to resulting internal financial pressures, Parliament repealed all duties, leaving only revenue from the Tea Act of 1773.

The second non-importation pact among Boston merchants gradually fell apart, despite intense pressure by radical activists, and from 1771-1773, tensions somewhat subsided. The issue of tea remained an easy focus of protest for the lower and upper classes alike, and culminated in an organized group of radicals disguised as Native Americans dumping tea in Boston Harbor in 1773. For the British, vandalism on East India Tea Company ships crossed the line. An outraged Parliament responded aggressively by passing the “Coercive Acts” which closed the Boston Harbor and eliminated local jurisdiction in the American colonies. These latest Acts were too extreme for even the most cautious of Colonists, and brought moderates in line with radical separatists, culminating in the Revolutionary War.

In June 1774, faced with the unwillingness of Boston merchants to adopt another yet another boycott, the Boston committee of correspondence circumvented the merchants and circulated a nonconsumption leaflet known as the Solemn League and Covenant, in which signers committed to not to purchase any British goods after August 31 and  to not deal with those who did not sign. The Covenant was copied and reproduced throughout the Colony,

On Oct. 30, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, adopted its own resolution known as the Articles of Association, calling for a trade boycott against Great Britain by the American colonies and establishing local Associations to implement and enforce the Articles.

Sources & further reading:

Ipswich MA joins the Revolution Ipswich and the breach with Britain - On June 10th, 1776, the men of Ipswich, in Town-meeting assembled, instructed their Representatives, that if the Continental Congress should for the safety of the said Colonies declare them Independent of the Kingdom of Great Britain, they will solemnly engage with their lives and Fortunes to support them in the Measure.

Categories: Revolutionary War

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