MORE TAXES AND MORE POLITICS, 1767-1771
T HE HISTORY of Rhode Island in the late 1760's and early 1770's has meaning only when it is considered in light of a constant effort to defend the virtual independence which the colony had enjoyed for so long a time. New taxes, determined customs officials, ubiquitous naval officers, even an American nonimportation agreement, challenged self-determination and provoked in Rhode Islanders further expressions of that independent attitude which they had maintained for a century. Resistance to the encroachment of Great Britain and its Parliament was based primarily on a stubborn defense of the charter and the right to govern themselves according to their lights. Although politics continued to absorb much of their time, interest, and money, Rhode Islanders were forced again and again to turn their attention to what Parliament was doing or was about to do to them.
Despite the repeal of the Stamp Act an uneasy feeling crept over the people in the spring and summer of 1767. The year before Parliament had reduced the impost on molasses to a penny a gallon, but this very act contributed to the people's apprehension, since the duty was payable on all imported molasses whether it came from the foreign or British islands.1 The duty had lost even the scent of a trade regulation and now appeared to be what it always had been--a tax on the molasses trade. The colonists' experience with Parliament over the Stamp Tax had left scars which would never be completely erased. There were probably very few who believed as did Ezra Stiles's friend, Benjamin Gale of Killingly, Connecticut, that the Stamp Act had "laid the foundation for Americans being an Independent State."2 On the other hand, as one observer commented, the Stamp Tax had served a "noble Purpose" and gave Americans "Sight enough to see Men as Trees walking."3 The arguments which the colonists had forged and polished were poised for further use if the occasion re-