Colonial Opposition to the Townshend Duties

The first British American protests to the Townshend duties came mostly in the form of influential pamphlets and petitions to the King and Parliament from colonial assemblies. In December 1767, the Massachusetts General Court adopted a circular letter in written by Samuel Adams that called on other colonies to join them in vigorous opposition to the new duties (it was not sent until February 1768). In the first months of January 1768, John Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies appeared in colonial newspapers such as the Virginia Gazette. They built on the declaration he wrote for Stamp Act Congress in laying out the constitutional argument against taxation and became the definitive statement of it. As a Bostonian correspondent wrote to John Wilkes in June of 1768, "We humbly present you the Farmer, his sentiments are ours." Virginia's House of Burgesses followed Massachusetts' calls and Dickinson's arguments in adopting memorials in April 1768 that forcefully stated the position that Parliament could legislate for the empire and regulate trade but could not tax the colonies without their consent. The House also went a step further by ordering its speaker, Peyton Randolph, to call for unified colonial action against "every measure which may affect the Rights and Liberties of the British Colonies in America." The petitions and other actions of the legislatures failed. Lord North baldly stated in the House of Commons on January, 26, 1769, in a debate over the circular letter from Massachusetts Bay and the Virginia resolutions that "I hope we shall abide by the declaratory law, and neither to-day nor at any future period, repeal an act of parliament, in consequence of any resistance the Americans may give to it."

British Americans, in the midst of a commercial depression exacerbated by the Currency Act of 1764, thereafter moved forward with agreements to halt the importation of British goods. Non-importation agreements-which became the hallmark of resistance to the Townshend duties-were already in place in New England and New York by 1769. Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia adopted similar measures throughout the summer and fall of that year. The movement quickly disintegrated, however, especially once news of Parliament's repeal of almost all of the Townshend duties (except that on tea) reached American shores in the late spring of 1770. By July 1771, all of the colonial non-importation associations were abandoned. Even the boycott on tea gradually dissolved.

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