Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760- 1776

By David S. Lovejoy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
RIOTS, RESOLVES, AND REPEAL

I

SO FAR in Rhode Island personal resentment against Parliamentary taxation had been focused on Martin Howard, Jr., Dr. Thomas Moffat, and other members of the Tory Junto who had vigorously defended Parliament's right to tax Americans. It was not until a Stamp Master appeared on the scene that resentment developed into resistance and resistance into violence. Accompanying the news of the Stamp Act was an announcement that the ministry intended to appoint American stamp distributors, called Stamp Masters, for each colony.1 Probably the home government assumed that the colonists would accept native Stamp Masters to execute the tax more willingly than English officers. The Lords of the Treasury appointed Attorney General Augustus Johnston, Stamp Master of Rhode Island, and the Newport Mercury announced the appointment on June 3, 1765. Curiously neither the Governor nor the Assembly ever received official notification of Johnston's appointment. But there in Newport as big as life was the man who claimed the position. Johnston's new office must have come as a shock to Rhode Islanders. Had the Lords selected Martin Howard, Jr., Thomas Moffat, or any of the Newport Junto who earnestly supported Parliament, the appointment would have been more understandable. But Augustus Johnston was one of their own kind; he was a Hopkins party stalwart who enjoyed considerable popularity throughout the colony. The freemen had elected him Attorney General since 1758, and for several years he had been unopposed in the spring elections, his name appearing on both Hopkins' and Ward's proxes. It was well known that he had not solicited the Stamp Master's job; that was in his favor. What greatly incensed the inhabitants was that he intended to accept it and made no secret of the fact that he would execute it.2 This was hardly the conduct expected

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