Opponents of the Stamp Act, however, did not rely solely on debate. Even before the law went into effect, crowds forced those chosen to administer it to resign and destroyed shipments of stamps. In New York City, processions involving hundreds of residents shouting “liberty” paraded through the streets nearly every night in late 1765. They were organized by the newly created Sons of Liberty, a body led by talented and ambitious lesser men chants like Alexander McDougall, Isaac Sears, and John Lamb. Fluent in Dutch, French, and German, Lamb became the Sons’ liaison to the city’s numerous ethnic groups. These self-made men had earned fortunes as privateers plundering French shipping during the Seven Years’ War and, complained New York’s lieutenant governor, opposed “every limitation of trade and duty on it.” While they enjoyed no standing among the colony’s wealthy elite and carried little weight in municipal affairs, they enjoyed a broad following among the city’s craftsmen, laborers, and sailors.

The Sons posted notices reading “Liberty, Property, and No Stamps” and took the lead in enforcing the boycott of British imports. Their actions were viewed with increasing alarm by the aristocratic Livingston and De Lancey families, who dominated New York politics. As the assault on Thomas Hutchinson’s house in Boston demonstrated, crowds could easily get out of hand. In November 1765, a New York crowd reportedly composed of sailors, blacks, laborers, and youths hurled stones at Fort George at the tip of Manhattan Island. They then proceeded to destroy the home of Major Thomas James, a British officer who was said to have boasted that he would force the stamps down New Yorkers’ throats.

A warning by the Sons of Liberty against using the stamps required by the Stamp Act, which are shown on the left.

Stunned by the ferocity of American resistance and pressured by London merchants and manufacturers who did not wish to lose their American markets, the British government retreated. In 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. But this concession was accompanied by the Declaratory Act, which rejected Americans’ claims that only their elected representatives could levy taxes. Parliament, proclaimed this measure, possessed the power to pass laws for “the colonies and people of America... in all cases whatever.” Since the debt-ridden British government continued to need money raised in the colonies, passage of the Declaratory Act promised further conflict.

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