Thomas Jefferson: A Biography

By Nathan Schachner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7 The Study of Man--and of Woman

WHEN the abhorred Stamp Act was repealed in 1766 the colonies had responded with loud rejoicings and new affirmations of their loyalty to England and the King. Very strangely they paid little attention to the accompanying Declaratory Act which completely nullified the effect of the repealer and notified the recalcitrant colonists in plain language that Parliament had full power to legislate for the British possessions in America "in all cases whatsoever," including taxation.

The purport of this proclamation of powers did not strike home until Charles Townshed, Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought new revenues for England in the following year. He had already publicly declared that he knew no "distinction between internal and external taxes; it is a distinction without a difference, it is perfect nonsense."1 Whether it was or not--and the point is arguable--the colonists were decidedly and vehemently to the contrary. They had fought the Stamp Act with seeming success because it was an internal tax, and they were in no mood to take on another.

Therefore, when Townshend pushed through Parliament a series of duties on such essential articles as paper, painters' colors, glass and tea, payable at the ports of entry in the colonies, and reorganized the customs service in the chief port, Boston, with full powers to seek out smuggled goods and untaxed commodities, once more Massachusetts rose figuratively, and to some degree literally, in arms. So threatening was their mien that the frightened Customs Commissioners called for troops and ships of war. In turn, the Massachusetts legislature circularized the sister colonies for concerted measures to oppose both the duties and the alleged illegalities of the Commissioners. When it refused to rescind the call on the demand of the British authorities, the House was dissolved. But the storm was thereby increased rather than allayed. Confronted with riots and disorders both in Boston and elsewhere, Parliament threatened to adopt repressive measures of the sternest kind. The most alarming of these was the decision to hale political offenders to England for trial.

Virginia observed the struggles of her sister colonies to the north with indignant sympathy. The one man who might have placated or modified her sentiments--Francis Fauquier--had died on March 3, 1768. All Virginia mourned his passing. "He was," declared the Virgina Gazette, "a Gentleman of a most amiable disposition,--generous, just, and mild; and possessed, in an eminent degree, of all the social virtues." For once an obituary was

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