80. The Stamp Act. The surrender of Quebec and the fall of New France caused great rejoicing among the thirteen colonies. But the long, hard war had left both England and her colonies deeply in debt. King George III, however, thinking only of England's debt, decided that England ought to tax the colonies to pay for an army which he wished to keep in America.
So the Parliament of England passed a law that all licenses to marry, all deeds to property, licenses to trade, newspapers, almanacs, and other pamphlets, had to be printed on stamped paper. This paper ranged in value from a few cents to many dollars.
Leading men in every one of the thirteen colonies spoke and wrote against the Stamp Act. Of all the men who did so, Patrick Henry, of Virginia, was the most eloquent and fiery. He had been elected by the people of his county to go up to Williamsburg, the capital of Virginia, to help make the laws. There were many able men in that old House of Burgesses, but none of them wished to take the lead in opposing the king's plan of a stamp tax.
p142 One day young Henry, although a new member, snatched a blank leaf from a law book and wrote down a set of resolutions declaring that only the Virginia Assembly could tax Virginians, and that any one who asserted the contrary was an enemy of the colony.
He backed up these resolutions with a speech that stirred the Burgesses. He was so fiery and bold that men almost held their breath while they listened to the young orator. He closed by declaring that George III was acting like a tyrant, and that "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third —" "Treason! treason!" shouted the Speaker of the House. Waiting a moment till the noise ceased, the orator, with a calm and steady voice, added, "may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it."
Henry's resolutions were passed, and were printed in almost every newspaper in the colonies. They made the people more determined than ever not to buy stamped paper.
Who was this young lawyer that stirred these dignified Virginia gentlemen in powdered hair, knee breeches, and silver buckles?
81. The Orator of the Revolution. Patrick Henry was born in Virginia (1736). His father was a well-educated Scotchman, who taught school and became a lawyer. His mother was of Welsh blood. Young Patrick went to school, but he liked to hunt and fish far better than to study. He was a puzzle to his parents.
p143 By the time he was eighteen he had failed as a student, as a clerk, and as a storekeeper. He then married. The parents on both sides helped them to start farming with a few slaves. In two years Patrick Henry was forced to sell. Once more he tried keeping a country store. In three years the store closed its doors and Patrick Henry, aged twenty-three, was without an occupation.
He now turned to the study of law. Although not in love with school when a boy, he loved to read the Bible. He also had a strong liking for history, and, in his youth, read the histories of Greece, of Rome, of England, and of the colonies. By a few months of hard study of law he passed the examination. He succeeded from the first, and in less than four years had been engaged in more than one thousand cases.
82. The Parsons' Case. In 1763, Patrick Henry set all Virginia to talking about him as a lawyer. This colony had paid its clergymen from the beginning. Each one received a certain number of pounds of tobacco for his salary. But the price was now high and now low. A dispute arose because of this and was taken into court. But no great lawyer would take the people's side. Patrick Henry did. The courthouse was filled with people, many clergymen among them. In the judge's chair sat Patrick's own father.
Henry began his speech in an awkward way. The clergymen felt encouraged, while his friends and father felt uneasy. Soon he p144 began to warm up. His words came more freely, and his gestures grew more graceful. The people began to listen and then to lean forward spellbound by the charm of his eloquence and the power of his argument. The clergy grew angry and left the room. His father, forgetting that he was judge, cried for joy. When Henry finished, the people seized him and carried him on their shoulders from the court room and around the yard, shouting all the while.
Patrick Henry was now the people's hero. At the next election his friends chose him to go to the House of Burgesses, and there, in 1765, he made his stirring speech against the Stamp Act.
Many great Englishmen, such as William Pitt and Edmund Burke, opposed the Stamp Tax. Finally, King George and his Parliament repealed the unpopular act. The Americans were happy when they heard of its repeal.
83. New Taxes. As if the king and Parliament could learn nothing, they passed a Tea Tax the very next year, placing a tax on all the tea imported into the colonies. Then the Americans p145 everywhere refused to buy the tea and pay the tax. When the tea ships came to America the people of New York and Philadelphia sent them back, and the "Sons of Liberty" at Annapolis burned ship full of tea. The king's governor at Boston refused to permit the ships to carry the tea back to England, but the people, one night, threw the tea into the sea. King George grew angry at such "tea parties," and had laws passed to punish Boston. More British soldiers were sent there to force the people to obey these detested laws.
The colonies, more excited than ever, decided to hold a great Congress in Philadelphia (1774). Virginia, like the others, sent her best men. There in Carpenter's Hall, a building still standing, Henry made friends of leading men of other colonies. There he met Samuel Adams, who was doing with his pen what Henry was doing with his tongue, and they became life-long friends.
One day, when speaking in favor of united action, Patrick Henry declared: "The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American."
As Patrick Henry talked with men from other colonies and heard how the king's troops were acting at Boston, he was convinced that war must come. He went home and urged the people of Virginia to arm for the coming struggle. The king's governor refused to permit meetings in the old capitol at Williamsburg, so they were held in St. John's Church, Richmond, a church still standing.
p146 Here Patrick Henry offered resolutions declaring that Virginia should arm herself for the coming war. It was a serious time, and these were serious resigns. Should the thirteen colonies go to war with one of the greatest nations in the world? Would it not be wise to send more petitions to the king? Some of the ablest men in Virginia opposed Henry's resolutions.
84. Patrick Henry Defends his resolutions. Patrick Henry listened to their speeches with smothered excitement. When he rose to defend his resolutions, his face was pale and his voice was trembling. But soon his audience forgot what other men had said. They leaned forward and listened as if no other man had spoken. He stirred their deepest feelings when he declared: "We must fight! I repeat it, Sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and the God of Hosts is all that is left to us. They tell us, Sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Sir, we are not weak, if we make a proper use of the means which the God of Nature hath placed in our power. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery. Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable, and let it come! I repeat it, p147 Sir: Let it come! — The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms. Our brothers are already in the field! Why stand we here idle! Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death."
One who heard this speech says that when the orator spoke the words "chains and slavery," he stood like a slave with his body bent, his wrists crossed, as if bound by chains, and that his face looked like that of a hopeless slave. After a solemn pause he raised his eyes and chained hands toward heaven, and said, as if in prayer: "Forbid it, Almighty God!" He then slowly bent his body still nearer the floor, looking like a man oppressed, heart-broken, and helpless, and said: "I know not what course others may take." Then, rising grandly and proudly, with every muscle strained, as if he would break his imaginary chains, he exclaimed: "Give me liberty, or give me death!"
The men who heard this speech never forgot it. The people of Virginia now pushed forward the work of arming her men. And when her own Washington went to take command of the army at Boston he found Virginia soldiers there wearing on their hunting shirts the words "Liberty or death!"
From this time on Patrick Henry was in the forefront of the struggle with England. Virginia sent him to Congress, then she p148 made him an officer in the army, and finally not only made him the first governor after independence was declared, but elected him to that office three times in succession, and offered him the same office three times more.
After independence was won Patrick Henry opposed the adoption of our constitution, although Washington, Madison, and many of his friends were in favor of it. When, however, he saw that the new constitution was a good one, he gave his support to his friend, President Washington.
Patrick Henry finally retired to his plantation and refused all offers of office. Many old friends and many great strangers went to visit him in his old age as one of the great men of the American revolution. In the year of his death (1799), when some danger threatened Virginia, Patrick Henry came forth at Washington's request, old and feeble as he was, and aroused the people once more with his burning words. They elected him to the House of Burgesses by a great majority, but he did not live to take office.
85. Samuel Adams. While Patrick Henry was stirring the feelings of the people by his fiery eloquence, Samuel Adams was stirring them by strong arguments in his writings, to oppose the acts of the King and of Parliament.
p149 Samuel Adams was born in Massachusetts (1722). While he loved school and books he cared very little for spending his time in outdoor amusements. At eighteen Samuel was graduated from Harvard College. His parents hoped that he would be a minister, but he began to study law. His mother was so opposed to his becoming a lawyer that he gave up the study and turned to business. He set up in business for himself, but, like Patrick Henry, soon lost all. He next went into business with his father, but in that, too, he failed. Finally Samuel Adams turned to politics.
While a student in Harvard he had debated the question whether it was right to resist the king to save the country from ruin. He took an active part in debating clubs and very soon began to write for the newspapers, encouraging resistance. He never hesitated to take what he thought the right side of any question.
Speaking before a meeting of Boston people, Samuel Adams boldly declared that if England could tax the business of the colonies, then, "why not tax our lands and everything we possess or make use of?" Such taxes, he said, would make the colonists slaves.
In a short time the people of Boston were reading in the papers the fiery resolutions, and the still more fiery speech, of Patrick Henry. Samuel Adams seized his pen and also began to pour hot shot into the Stamp Act.
The Boston people elected him to be their representative in Massachusetts Assembly. More and more he took the lead in the p150 movement against the Stamp Act. He went about the shops, into the stores, wherever he found people to listen to him.
He helped form a society, called the Sons of Liberty, which destroyed the hated stamps as soon as they arrived. He talked with the merchants, and they signed a pledge not to buy any more goods from England until the Stamp Act was repealed. At this the British merchants felt the loss of trade and joined in the cry against the Stamp Act.
86. The Tea Tax. We have seen that Parliament, after the Stamp Act was repealed, passed the famous Tea Act. The Americans were angry again, and the Sons of Liberty declared that no tea should be landed. The merchants took the pledge again to buy no more English goods, and patriotic women began to make tea out of leaves of other plants.
Samuel Adams again sharpened his pen, and wrote the famous old "Circular Letter," which urged all the colonies to unite and stand firm in opposing the tax on tea. This letter made King George angry, but Samuel Adams only wrote the more.
Night after night as the people passed his window they saw by his lamp that he was busy with his pen, and said to one another: "Samuel Adams is hard at work writing against the Tories." People in England and America who took the king's side in these disputes were called Tories.
The king now sent two regiments of soldiers to Boston to force p151 the people to pay the Tea Tax. There were frequent quarrels between the soldiers and the people. One evening in a street quarrel the soldiers killed three men and wounded eight others (1770). Immediately the fire bells rang and great crowds of angry people filled the streets. The next day they filled to overflowing Faneuil Hall, the "Cradle of Liberty." A still larger meeting in the Old South Church cried out that both regiments of soldiers must leave town.
Adams and other leaders were sent to the king's officers to tell them what the people had said. Before the governor and the general, backed by the king's authority and by two regiments, stood plain Samuel Adams, with only the voice of the people to help him.
The governor, unwilling to obey the demand of the people, said he would send one regiment away. But Samuel Adams stood firm, and said: "Both regiments or none!" The governor finally gave up, and Samuel Adams, the man of the people, was a greater leader than ever before.
The king now tried to trick the Americans into paying the tax by making tea cheaper in America than in England, but leaving on the tax. But the people everywhere declared that they did not object to the price, but to the tax.
Town meeting followed town meeting. On December 16, 1773, the greatest one of all was held. Early that morning hundreds of country people started for Boston. They found the shops and stores closed and people standing on the street corners talking earnestly.
At ten o'clock the people met in the Old South Church, and voted that the tea should never be landed. They also sent the owner of the ships to the governor for permission to take the tea ships out past the guns of the fort guarding the harbor.
In the afternoon still greater crowds pushed and jammed into the seats, aisles, and galleries of that famous church. Samuel Adams was chairman. He made a speech. Other leaders spoke. One stirred the audience by asking "how tea would mix with salt water." Evening came, and candles were lighted. The owner of the tea vessels returned and said the governor would not give him the permission.
Immediately Samuel Adams arose and said: "This meeting can do nothing to save the country!" In a moment the war whoop of the "Mohawks" sounded outside. The crowd rushed out and found the people following p153 a band of men disguised as Indians down where the tea ships lay at anchor. The "Mohawks" went on board, brought up the boxes of tea, broke them open, and threw the tea into the sea.
That very night Samuel Adams sent fast riders to carry the news to the country towns. The next day, with letters to the leaders in other colonies in his saddlebags, Paul Revere, the great courier of the Revolution, started on his long ride to New York and Philadelphia. As he went from town to town and told the story of the Tea Party the people cheered him, spread dinners for him, built bonfires, and fired cannon. He saw thousands of people gather in New York and Philadelphia, and heard them declare that they would stand by Boston.
Boston soon needed help, for the king and Parliament passed a law that no ship could enter or leave Boston Harbor, and another with forbade town meetings. Other hard laws were also passed and an army was sent to Boston to force the people to obey them.
88. The First Continental Congress. We have seen a call go forth for a Congress at Philadelphia (1774). The Massachusetts legislature chose Samuel Adams and his cousin, John Adams, with two others to go to the Congress.
But Samuel Adams was very poor and could not afford to dress in a style suited to meet the rich merchants of New York and Philadelphia and the great planters of the southern colonies. One evening while the family was at tea, in came the most p154 fashionable tailor to take his measure. Next came a hatter, and then a shoemaker. In a few days a new trunk at his door told the story, for in it were a suit of clothes, two pairs of shoes, silver shoe buckles, gold knee buckles, a cocked hat, a gold-headed cane, and a fashionable red cloak. What proof of the people's love for their neighbor!
Although Samuel Adams was a poor man, George III did not have offices enough to bribe him, nor gold enough to buy him. The king's officers tried to do both.
In a carriage drawn by four horses, the delegates to Congress were escorted by their friends right by the king's soldiers. The people of the large towns met them, escorted them, rang bells, fired cannon, feasted them at banquets, and talked of the Congress.
At New York Samuel Adams and his friends were kept nearly a week. Many persons in carriages and on horseback came out to welcome them to Philadelphia, the city of William Penn. People were anxious to see the man who had written the "Circular Letter," who had driven the king's regiments out of Boston, who had planned the Tea Party, and whom the king could not bribe. Here, in Carpenter's Hall, for the first time, he met George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, Christopher Gadsden, who was called the "Samuel Adams of South Carolina," and many other noble men who became his life-long friends.
Soon Paul Revere came riding into Philadelphia with the news that the patriots of Boston were in danger of being attacked by the British. The Congress immediately declared that if the British made war on Boston, it was the duty of every colony to help her p155 people fight. It looked as if war might come at any moment.
When Congress was over, Samuel Adams hastened home to help form, in all the Massachusetts towns, companies of minutemen ready to fight at a moment's warning. The next spring the news got out that British soldiers were going to Concord to destroy the powder and provisions collected there by the minutemen, and also to capture Samuel Adams and John Hancock and send them to England to be tried for treason. Paul Revere agreed to alarm the minutemen the moment the soldiers left Boston.
89. Paul Revere's Midnight Ride. Standing by his horse across the river from Boston, one April evening, waiting for signals, Paul Revere saw two lanterns flash their light from the two of Old North Church. He mounted and rode in hot haste toward Lexington, arousing the sleeping villages as he cried out: "Up and arm, the regulars are coming!" Soon he heard the alarm gun of the minutemen and the excited ringing of the church bells. He knew the country was rising.
At Lexington minutemen who guarded the house where Samuel Adams and John Hancock were sleeping ordered Revere not to make so much noise. "You will soon have noise enough," he shouted. "The regulars are coming!" And he rode on toward Concord.
p156 90. The Battle at Lexington and at Concord Bridge. As the British soldiers reached Lexington at sunrise, April 19, 1775, the captain of the minutemen gave the command: "Stand your ground. Don't fire unless fired upon. But if they mean to have war, let it begin here!" A bold speech for a captain of about only sixty men when facing as brave soldiers as Europe had ever seen! The minutemen stood their ground till seven were killed and nine wounded — nearly one-third of their number. Then they retreated.
The British pushed on to Concord. But the minutemen, now coming from every direction, made a stand at Concord Bridge. Their musket fire was so deadly that the British started back, running at times to escape with their lives. At Lexington they fell upon the ground, tired out with the chase the minutemen gave them, and were met by fresh troops from Boston.
Soon the British soldiers were forced to run again, for minutemen by hundreds were gathering, and they seldom missed their aim. From behind rocks, trees, fences, and houses they cut down the tired redcoats. Nearly three hundred British soldiers were killed or wounded before Boston was reached that night.
91. The Battle of Bunker Hill. Day and night for weeks minutemen from other New England colonies, and even from as far south as Virginia, marched in hot haste to Boston. The British general soon found his army in Boston entirely cut off from the mainland. He resolved to fortify Bunker Hill, but what was his surprise to wake one morning (June 17) and find the Americans under Colonel Prescott already building breastworks on the hill.
That afternoon three thousand picked troops, in solid columns and with bayonets gleaming, marched up the hill to storm that breastwork. "Don't fire till you can see the whites of their eyes!" said the commander of the minutemen. On came the lines of red, p157 with banners flying and drums beating. From the breastworks there ran a flame of fire which mowed the redcoats down like grass. They reeled, broke, and ran. They rested. Again they charged; again they broke and ran. They were brave men, and, although hundreds of their companions had fallen, a third time the British charged and won, for the Americans had used up their powder, and they had no bayonets. More than one thousand British soldiers fell that day. The Americans did not lose half that number. But among the killed was brave General Joseph Warren.
92. The Second Continental Congress. Just as the British were marching into Lexington on that famous April morning, Samuel Adams, with John Hancock, was leaving for Philadelphia, where Congress was to meet again. As he heard the guns of the minutemen answer the guns of the regulars, Adams said to Hancock: "What a glorious morning is this!"
The members from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York were escorted across the Hudson to Newark, New Jersey, and entertained at a great dinner, with speeches. Near Philadelphia, a large procession of armed men and carriages met and escorted them into the city, where bells told of their coming.
When this Congress met, Samuel Adams seconded the motion of his cousin, John Adams, that George Washington, of Virginia, be p158 made the general of all the American troops. He saw his own neighbor, John Hancock, made president of the Congress.
93. The Declaration of Independence. For more than a year Samuel Adams worked hard to get the Congress to make a Declaration of Independence. Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, introduced a motion into the Congress for Independence. The Declaration was made, July 4, 1776, and Samuel Adams, as a great leader of the Revolution, had done his work.
But, with other noble men, he still labored with all his powers, in Congress and at home, to help America win her independence.
After independence had been won, Samuel Adams still served his state, and was elected governor of Massachusetts only a few years before his death, which occurred in 1803, at the age of eighty-one.
The Leading Facts. 1. The French and Indian War put both England and her colonies in debt, but the king thought only of England's debt. 2. Great opposition to the Stamp Act in all the colonies. 3. Patrick Henry made a great speech against the Virginia parsons, and a second on the Stamp Act. 4. He went to the first Continental Congress and made many friends; came home and made a great speech saying that war would come. 5. Made Governor of Virginia many times. 6. Samuel Adams studied hard, failed in several occupations, and went into politics. 7. Led the patriots against the soldiers, the Stamp Act, and planned the Tea Party. 8. Samuel Adams sent to Continental Congress where he made many friends. 9. Urged a Declaration of Independence in 1776. 10. Made Governor of Massachusetts.
Study Questions. 1. Why were the colonists happy because England defeated France? 2. What was the Stamp Act and why did men in America oppose this act? 3. What did Patrick Henry say in his resolution and in his speech? 4. Picture the scene while Patrick Henry spoke and afterwards. 5. Why did not the Americans like the Tea Tax? p159 6. Why did not the king like the American "Tea Parties"? 7. What is a Congress; and why should Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams become good friends? 8. Commit to memory a part of Patrick Henry's famous "liberty or death" speech. 9. How did the people trust Patrick Henry?
10. What did Samuel Adams do against the Stamp Act? 11. What was the Circular Letter and why should the king be angry about it? 12. Tell how Samuel Adams drove two regiments out of Boston. 13. What caused a Congress? 14. Tell what Samuel and John Adams saw and did on their way to Philadelphia. 15. Why were people glad to see Samuel Adams? 16. What made war seem likely to happen at any time? 17. Read Longfellow's poem, "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere." 18. Give an account of the Battle of Lexington. 19. Picture the retreat from Concord to Boston. 20. Picture the charge of the British soldiers at Bunker Hill. 21. What did Samuel Adams see on his way to the second Continental Congress? 22. Who introduced the motion for Independence into Congress?
Suggested Readings. Patrick Henry: Cooke, Stories of the Old Dominion, 158‑180; Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 93‑101; Magill, Stories from Virginia History, 116‑128.
Samuel Adams: Dawes, Colonial Massachusetts, 42‑72; Brooks, Century Book of Famous Americans, 10‑30; Hart, Camps and Firesides of the Revolution, 162‑166; Hawthorne, Grandfather's Chair, 153‑189, 205, 206.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 18 Sep 14