How Should You Respond When Your Stamp Distributor Resigns Under Pressure?

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William Franklin

On September 3, 1765, William Coxe, the Distributor of Stamps for New Jerseyresigned.  Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765 and it was scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 1765.  The New Jersey Sons of Liberty were putting pressure on Coxe to resign and the treatment that stamp collectors received in other colonies was probably also a factor.

Here is Coxe’s resignation letter to New Jersey royal governor William Franklin. It’s  short and sweet:

I think it incumbent upon me to acquaint your Excellency, that on my Return from New-Jersey on Sunday last, I came to a Resolution to Surrender the Office of Distributor of Stamps for the Province to the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. My Resignation, & the Reasons for it, I have sent to their Lordships this Day, and if any Papers come to my Hands relative to that Office, I shall transmit them to your Excellency as the proper Person to receive them, but I think it most probably my Letters may arrive in England before any Commission or Stamps are sent away.

Franklin was not happy about it.  He responded the next day (September 4, 1765).

I received yours of Yesterday, acquainting me with your having resigned the Office of Distributor of Stamps for New Jersey, I must own myself not a little Surpriz’d at the Information, as I have not yet had the least Reason to apprehend but that the Act might be quietly carried into Execution throughout this  Province. It is true, that the Inhabitants here have their Objections to the Stamp Act, as well as those of the other Colonies, but I have not heard of any Design among them to oppose its Execution by Violence or otherwise. All of them with whom I have conversed on the Affair seem to think that they are as much bound to pay Obedience to their Act as they are to the Acts laying Duties on Trade, & those other Acts relative to the Colonies which they have heretofore obeyed, and that, as good Subjects, they ought no to make any Opposition to the Act, now it is pass’d, till they ave first try’d all dutiful Means of obtaining Redress of such Grievances as it may occasion.  These likewise (to do the Americans Justice) seem to be the Sentiments of the most Sober discreet Men of every Province. As to sending me the Papers which may come to Your Hands relative to the Office, it can answer no good Purpose whatever, as I am not impowered to appoint any Person to execute it. But I cannot help thinking, as you made Application for the Office, that you are bound to Honour to endeavour, at least, to carry it into Execution.  The ill Consequences, after the Act takes place, which might result, for Want of  the Stamps, to every Inhabitant who ha any Dealings and other Mischiefs which may be brought on the Province on Account of their being supposed by our Superiors at home to have prevented your exercising the Office, must otherwise lie at your Door.  At any Rate, it is your Duty to keep the Papers until some person shall be appointed to Succeed you. Thus much, Sir, I am induced to mention to you, not only from a Sense of Duty to the Crown, but out of the Regard I have for the Interest & Character of the People of this Province. 

Governor Franklin Was Worried About His Stamps

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William Franklin

Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. This law was designed to raise revenue in the wake of the French and Indian War through the sale of stamps on paper products, including attorney licences, land grants, playing cards, newspapers, and pamphlets.  Prime Minister George Grenville appointed men to distribute the stamps shortly after Parliament passed the act.  The Stamp Act would go into effect on November 1, 1765.

Grenville appointed Philadelphia merchant William Coxe to distribute the stamps in New Jersey, but amid pressure from the New Jersey Sons of Liberty, including threats to Coxe’s life, he resigned his post on September 3, 1765, weeks before the stamps even arrived in the colony.

Last night I read New Jersey Governor William Franklin‘s September 14, 1765 letter to British general Thomas Gage concerning the Coxe’s resignation. Franklin writes from Burlington, New Jersey and Gage, the British commander-in-chief of North America, is in New York.  Here is the letter:

The Person appointed Distributor of Stamps for this Province having resigned his Office on Account, as he Says, of the Intimidations he had received that both his Person & Property would otherwise be endangered, & having likewise refused to take Charge of them on their Arrival here, it becomes my Duty to do all in my Power for the Preservation of what is of so great Importance to His Majesty’s Revenue.  I have summoned the Council to meet here [Burlington] on Tuesday the 24th Instant, to ask their Advice on the Occasion; and as I have Reason to think it will be their Opinion that the Stamps should be placed in the Barracks in this City, under a guard until His Majesty’s Pleasure should be known thereon; and as it may be dangerous to employ the Inhabitants in that Service, considering the risque there is of their being infected with the Madness which prevails among the People of the neighboring Provinces, I should be glad to be informed by you, Sir, Whether if I should find it necessary to call upon you for the Aid of the Military I may be assured of receiving it. I imagine that about 60 men, with officers, will be sufficient, as the Barracks may be easily made defensible….P.S. By What I can learn, the Stamps are not expected here till some Time next Month.”

And here is Gage’s September 16th response:

I have the Honor of your Letter of the 14th Instant, and take the earliest opportunity of informing you that you may depend upon the Aid of the Military that you demand & seem to think necessary for the Preservation of good Order in the Province of New Jersey.  The Troops are at present a good deal dispersed but I shall give Orders for their being immediately assembled, and One Hundred Men with proper Officers, Shall be ready to march at your Requisition. I beg leave to remark that the sooner you come to a final Resolution the more effectual Service the Troops are likely to be of.”

Both of these letters can be found in CO 5/987, The National [British] Archives, Adam Matthew Database.

Yesterday’s Research Finds

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New Jersey, 1776 (Wikipedia Commons)

Yesterday I read the minutes of the New Jersey Provincial Congress that met in Burlington, Trenton, and New Brunswick between June 10 and August 21, 1776.  Here are some of my favorite passages:

June 14, 1776:

“That in the opinion of this congress, the said William Franklin, Esquire, by such proclamation, has acted in direct contempt and violation of the resolve to the Continental Congress of the 15th day of May last. “That in the opinion of this congress, the said William Franklin, Esquire, by such proclamation, has acted in direct contempt and violation of the resolve to the Continental Congress of the 15th day of May last. 

“Resolved, That, In the opinion of this congress, the said William Franklin, Esquire, has discovered himself to be an enemy to the liberties of this country; and that measures ought to be immediately taken for securing the person of the said William Franklin.” 

June 18, 1776:

Nathan Heard to Samuel Tucker (President of Provincial Congress):

I this morning, with major Deane, went to governor Franklin, and desired him to comply with the order of Congress, and sign the parole sent me, which he absolutely refused to do, and forbid me, at my peril, to carry the order into execution.  We then left the governor’s house, and ordered a company of militia, which were in readiness, to attend, and have placed a guard of about sixty men at and around his house.  I expect he will persist in refusing to comply, and therefore send this per express, and beg the further directions of the Congress respecting this matter as soon as possible…

July 1, 1776

“Whereas by a regulation of the late Congress, the several committees in this colony, were authorized and directed to disarm all the non-associators and persons notoriously disaffected within their bounds.  And whereas it appears that the said regulations hath not been carried into effect in some parts of the colony; and it being absolutely necessary, in the present dangerous state of public affairs when arms are much wanted for the publick defense, that it should be instantly executed.  That the several colonels in this colony do, without delay, proceed to disarm all such persons within their districts, whose religious principles will not permit them to bear arms; and likewise all such as have hitherto refused and still refuse to bear arms; that the arms so taken be appraised by some indifferent person or persons; that the said colonels give vouchers for the same and that the appraisement and receipt be left in the hands of the person disarmed. (Italics mine)

July 18, 1776:

In this interesting situation—viewing on the one hand—an active, inveterate and implacable enemy, increasing fast in strength, daily receiving large reinforcements, and industriously preparing to strike some decisive blow: on the other—a considerable part of the inhabitants supinely slumbering on the brink of ruin—and moved with affections, apprehensions, the convention think it incumbent upon them to warn their constituents of the impending danger.  On you, our friends and brethren, it depends, this day, to determine—whether you, your wives, your children, and millions of your descendants yet unborn, shall wear the galling, the ignominious yoke of slavery; or nobly inherit the generous, the inestimable blessings of freedom.  The alternative is before you—can you hesitate in your choice?  Can you doubt which to prefer?  Say!  Will you be slaves?  Will you toil and labour and glean together a little property, merely that it may be at the disposal of a relentless and rapacious conqueror?  Will you, of choice, become hewers of wood and drawers of water?  Impossible!  You cannot be so amazingly degenerate as to lick the hand that is raised to shed your blood!  Nature and nature’s God have made you free!  Liberty is the birthright of Americans! the gift of heaven! and the intent it is forced!…Your happiness and misery, virtuous independence or indignant servitude, hang trembling in the balance!—Happily we know!  We can anticipate your virtuous choice—With confident satisfaction we are assured, that not a moment will delay your important decision—that you cannot feel hesitation, whether you will tamely and degeneratively bend your necks to the irretrievable wretchedness of slavery—or by your instant and animated exertions enjoy the fair inheritance of heaven—born freedom, and transmit it unimpaired to your posterity.”

Boston 1775 on the End of the Stamp Act Congress

This month marks the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act Congress, a New York meeting of representatives from the British-American colonies to discuss the best way to resist the Stamp Act of 1765.

Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell has been guiding us through the events of this nearly three-week Congress, which began on October 7, 1765.  

For those of you interested in New Jersey history, here is Bell on one thing that happened on October 24, 1765:

By 24 Oct 1765, the Stamp Act Congress had revised and approved its three petitions to different parts of the British government, as described a couple of days back.

But delegate Robert Ogden(1716-1787) of New Jersey argued that the congress shouldn’t send those documents to London. Rather, he said, each delegation should bring them back to their colonial legislature for their colleagues to amend, approve, and then send across the Atlantic. Which wouldn’t really present a united front against the Stamp Act.

As speaker of the New Jersey house, Ogden had at first been reluctant to authorize any participation in the congress at all. Apparently under pressure from colleagues, he had presided over a special meeting to choose delegates without the authorization of Gov. William Franklin. When he put himself on the list, he probably hoped to steer the process.

Ogden’s late suggestion that the congress lacked legitimacy on its own made people accuse him of foot-dragging. By 2 November, Robert R. Livingston of New York wrote, the New Jersey speaker was “burnt in Effigy in almost all the Towns of East Jersey.” Ogden would resign his legislative seat by the end of that month.

The other delegates stuck with their original plan to send the petitions to London directly. They also voted to recommend “to the several colonies to appoint special agents for soliciting relief from their present grievances, and to unite their utmost interest and endeavors for that purpose”—in other words, a joint lobbying effort. Both those actions were tentative steps toward continental unity.