A LL these wars which had been fought on American soil had cost a great deal of money and many lives. Now it seemed to the British Government that the best way to be sure of peace in the future was to keep an army in America. They decided to do this. They also decided that America should pay for the army. And in order to raise the money a stamp tax was to be introduced. Newspapers, marriage licenses, wills, and all sorts of legal papers were henceforth to be printed on stamped paper, the price of stamps varying according to the importance of the paper from a few pence to as many pounds.
But when the Americans heard that this Act had been passed without their consent they were angry.
"No," they said to the British Government, "you cannot tax us without our consent. It is one of the foundations of British freedom that those who pay the tax must also consent to it. We are not represented in the British Parliament, our consent has not been asked, and we deny your right to tax us."
The whole country was filled with clamour. In every colony young men banded themselves together, calling themselves Sons of Liberty, and determined to resist the tax. "No taxation without representation" was the cry.
When the first boxes of stamps arrived they were seized and destroyed. Newspapers appeared with a skull and crossbones printed where the stamp should have been. There were riots and mass meetings everywhere.
The Americans did not merely resist, they resisted in a body. Nothing but the idea that their liberty was in danger made them act together. Over everything else they had been divided. Over that they were united. "There ought to be no New England men, no New Yorkers, known on the continent," said one man; "but all of us Americans."
Even in Britain there were people who thought this Stamp Act was a mistake. The great Pitt had been ill when it was passed into law, but when he returned to Parliament he spoke strongly against it.
"I was ill in bed," he said, "but if I could have been carried here in my bed I would have asked some kind friend to lay me on this floor, so that I might have spoken against it. It is a subject of greater importance than ever engaged the attention of this House; that subject always excepted, when nearly a century ago it was the question whether you yourselves were to be bond or free."
Pitt was thinking of the time when Englishmen strove with Charles I. He gloried in British liberty, and he could not bear to think of Britons oppressing Britons. "Who that has an English heart," he once said, "can ever be weary of asserting liberty?"
"I rejoice that America has resisted," he said later.
There were many against Pitt, but he won the day, and the Stamp Act was repealed.
There was great rejoicing in America, and the matter seemed at an end. But the very next year a new bill for taxing the Americans was brought into Parliament. This time the tax was to be paid on tea, glass, lead and a few other things brought into the country.
Once again the colonies were ablaze, and they refused to pay this duty just as they had refused to pay the Stamp Tax. Everywhere there were indignation meetings. But Boston seemed to be the heart of the storm, and to Boston British troops were sent to keep order.
The soldiers had nothing to do, but the very sight of their red coats made the colonists angry. They taunted the soldiers, and worried them every way they knew, and the soldiers were not slow to reply. So at last after eighteen months of bickering one March evening it came to blows. Two or three exasperated soldiers fired upon the crowd of citizens, five of whom were killed and several others wounded.
This was afterwards known as the Boston Massacre. It made the people terribly angry, and next day a great meeting was held in Old South Church. At this meeting the people demanded that the troops should be at once removed from the town. And seeing the temper of the people the Lieutenant Governor withdrew them that same day to a little island in the harbour.
And now finding how useless it was to try to force taxes on unwilling subjects, the Government removed all the taxes except one. King George wanted to show his power. He wanted to prove to the Americans that he had the right to tax them if he liked. So he insisted that there should still be a tax on tea.
"The King will have it so, he means to try the question with America," said Lord North, the easy-going, stupid minister who was now in power.
But to prove that neither the King nor any one else had the right to tax them, without their consent, was exactly for what the Americans were fighting. To them, one tax was as bad as a dozen. It was not a question of money, but a question of right or wrong, of freedom or slavery. So they refused to pay the tax on tea. They refused to buy tea from Britain at all, and smuggled it from Holland. Ships laden with tea came to port, and it was landed. But no one would buy it, and it rotted and mouldered in the cellars. In Boston, however, the people determined that it should not even land. And when three ships laden with tea came into Boston harbour, the people refused to allow them to unload.
"Take your tea back again to England," they said to the captain.
But the captain could not do that, for the customs officers would not allow him to leave until he had landed his cargo. The people were greatly excited. Large meetings were held, and every possible manner of getting rid of the tea was discussed. But at length some of the younger men grew tired of talk. Time was passing. If something were not done, the tea would be landed by force.
That, these bold young men determined, should not be. So about fifty of them dressed themselves as Red Indians, staining their faces brown and painting them hideously. Then, tomahawk in hand, they stole silently down to the ships, and uttering wild war cries sprang on board. They seized the tea chests and with their hatchets burst them open, and poured the tea into the harbour.
There were nearly three hundred and fifty chests, and soon the harbour was black with tea. It was terrible waste, but no one stopped it. From the shore people looked on quietly. And when the work was done the "Red Indians" vanished away as silently as they had come. This was afterwards called the Boston Tea Party. Certainly no greater brewing of tea has ever been known.
When George III heard of the Boston Tea Party he was very angry, and he resolved to punish the people of Boston. "They will be lions," he said, "as long as we are lambs, but if we show them that we mean to be firm they will soon prove very meek."
So he closed the port and forbade any ships to go there, thus cutting off Boston from the trade of the world. He also said that Boston should no longer be the capital of Massachusetts, and made Salem the capital instead.
Boston, of course, was well-nigh ruined by these acts. But instead of looking coldly on her misfortunes, the other colonies rallied to her aid. And grain, cattle and all sorts of merchandise poured into Boston from them.
Boston could not be starved, neither could it be frightened into submitting.