CHAPTER IPATRICK HENRY
The Last French War had cost England so much that at its close she was heavily in debt.
“As England must now send to America a standing army of at least ten thousand men to protect the colonies against the Indians and other enemies,” the King, George III, reasoned, “it is only fair that the colonists should pay a part of the cost of supporting it.”
The English Parliament, being largely made up of the King’s friends, was quite ready to carry out his wishes, and passed a law taxing the colonists. This law was called the Stamp Act. It provided that stamps—very much like our postage-stamps, but costing all the way from one cent to fifty dollars each—should be put upon all the newspapers and almanacs used by the colonies, and upon all such legal papers as wills, deeds, and the notes which men give promising to pay back borrowed money.
When news of this act reached the colonists they were angry. “It is unjust,” they said. “Parliament is trying to make slaves of us by forcing us to pay money without our consent. The charters which the English King granted to our forefathers when they came to America make us free men just as much as if we were living in England.
“In England it is the law that no free man shall pay taxes unless they are levied by his representatives in Parliament. We have no one to speak for us in Parliament, and so we will not pay any taxes which Parliament votes. The only taxes we will pay are those voted by our representatives in our own colonial assemblies.”
They were all the more ready to take this stand because for many years they had bitterly disliked other English laws which were unfair to them. One of these forbade selling their products to any country but England. And, of course, if they could sell to no one else, they would have to sell for what the English merchants chose to pay.
Another law said that the colonists should buy the goods they needed from no other country than England, and that these goods should be brought over in English vessels. So in buying as well as in selling they were at the mercy of the English merchants and the English ship owners, who could set their own prices.
But even more unjust seemed the law forbidding the manufacture in America of anything which was manufactured in England. For instance, iron from American mines had to be sent to England to be made into useful articles, and then brought back over the sea in English vessels and sold to the colonists by English merchants at their own price.
Do you wonder that the colonists felt that England was taking an unfair advantage? You need not be told that these laws were strongly opposed. In fact, the colonists, thinking them unjust, did not hesitate to break them. Some, in spite of the laws, shipped their products to other countries and smuggled the goods they received in exchange; and some dared make articles of iron, wool, or other raw material, both for their own use and to sell to others....