Behavior of the Colonists
The colonists all over the country were furious when this stamped paper was sent to them.
The Boston people declared they wouldn't buy one sheet of it; they would buy nothing, sell nothing; the young men and maidens would not get married; they would do nothing, indeed, which should compel them to use this stamped paper. To show their contempt for the whole matter, they made a straw figure of the English officer who had the paper to sell, dressed it in some old clothes of his, and hung it on a big tree on Boston Common.
In New Hampshire, the people paraded the streets with a coffin on which was written, "Liberty is dead." They carried it to the grave, had a "make-believe" funeral and then, just as they were about to bury it, some one shouted, "Liberty is not dead!"
Then they drew up the coffin and carried it through the streets again; crying, "Liberty's alive again! Liberty's alive again!"
In Charleston, South Carolina, stood an old tree, known as "Liberty Tree." It was a great live oak, growing in the centre of the square between Charlotte and Boundary Streets.
During the excitement over the Stamp Act, about twenty men, belonging to the "best families" in the state, assembled beneath this tree to hear an address by General Gadsen.
With vigor he condemned the measure, and urged his hearers to resist to the utmost such abominable tyranny.
This is said to have been the first public address of the kind that had been delivered in the colonies.
The men, after hearty cheers, joined hands around the tree, and pledged themselves to "resist English oppression to the death."
The names of these men are still on record. Most of them were indeed true to their pledge and distinguished themselves in the war that followed, by their courage and patriotism.
This "Liberty Tree" was regarded with such reverence by the patriotic Carolina people, that Sir Henry Clinton, who held Carolina after its surrender to the British, ordered it to be destroyed. It was cut down, and afterwards its branches were heaped about the trunk and the whole burned. A mean act, one would say, to burn an unoffending tree; but perhaps Sir Henry had in mind the old anecdote which, if I remember rightly, runs something like this:
"Why do you kill me, an innocent trumpeter? I have not fought against you."
"Very true," replied the captor; "you may not fight yourself, but you incite others to fight. Hence I kill you."
In Pennsylvania, William Bradford, the editor of the Pennsylvania Journal, came out with a "final issue," at the head of which were "skulls and crossbones," pickaxes and spades, all suggestive of the death-blow that had been struck at the press. This number of the journal was deeply embellished with heavy black margins, and was in truth a most dolorous looking affair, as you may see from the picture on the next page.
In Virginia, a young man, named Patrick Henry, so stirred up the people that the old men, angry as they were with England, were frightened, and begged him to be careful what he said.
Benjamin Franklin was sent to England by the colonists to see what could be done. When he reached there, he found that many of England's greatest men were on the side of the colonists.
One of the men in the English government rose and made a speech against the colonists, in which he said, "What! will these Americans, these children of ours, who have been planted by our care, nourished by us, protected by us, will they now grudge us their money to help throw off our heavy debt!"
Up jumped Colonel Barre. "Planted by your care, indeed! It was your persecution that drove them to America in the first place!" he cried.
"Nourished by you! When have you nourished them? They have grown up by your very neglect of them! Protected by you! Have they not just now been fighting with your soldiers to protect you, rather, from the French and the Indians?"
And good William Pitt of England! He arose and made a speech which, by and by, every boy and girl should learn. He said, "We are told that the Americans are obstinate; that they are in almost open rebellion against us. I rejoice that America has resisted. I rejoice that they are not so dead to all feelings of liberty as to be willing to submit like slaves!"
Hurrah for William Pitt and Colonel Barre! Don't forget, all you little American men and women, that we had good friends in England then as we have now. There were lovers of liberty in that country, who were as eager as we were to resist all unjust laws.