Beginning of the Revolution

As the first century of English rule in New York drew to a close, the people were beginning to think of themselves as Americans. The English, too, began to treat the colony as part of one great province. Heretofore they had adopted but one important measure bearing upon all their American possessions, that is the navigation laws. But these acts, which were intended to compel the colonists to bring and sell their goods in English ships, had long been a dead letter; at the end of the French war, however, they were revived and enforced, greatly to the hurt of New York's growing commerce. England was determined to have a fixed revenue from colonies, partly to pay the war debt, but especially in order to pay the salaries of the judges and the governors and thus render these officers independent of the assembly.

A Stamp Act

Parliament, no longer under the influence of Pitt, went further: They decided to levy an internal tax upon the colonies and selected, as the easiest tax to collect, a stamp duty. Accordingly early in 1765, they passed an act requiring the colonies to buy stamps, varying in value from 3 cents to $30 and put them on newspapers, almanacs and pamphlets, on marriage licenses, mortgages and other legal papers. The people of New York had already sent in their protest. "The spirit of resistance," says Bancroft, "was nowhere so strong as in New York." They declared upon the authority of the constitution that to vote away by taxation the property of one who has no voice in the vote is to deny him the very right of property. Not only did they assert the tax was illegal, they declared that they would not pay the duty. But the English had little doubt of easily compelling payment; and in order to meet any possible resistance, they had left, on pretense of further trouble with France, a standing army in the colonies with headquarters at New York city. Moreover at the time of the passing of the stamp act, they had enacted a quartering act requiring the colonies to furnish the soldiers with quarters, candles, wood, soap and drink.

The News

The news of the double insult came up New York bay with the first days of summer. Men talked excitedly in streets and in public places; they gathered in secret societies and planned desperate deeds, they paraded the principal streets with a copy of the stamp act fastened to a death's head with the worlds, "The Folly of England and the Ruin of America." The press of the city, free since the days of Zenger, had much to do in the moulding sentiment. "From denying the right of parliament to tax the colony," the papers fell to doubting "its legislative authority altogether." The Constitutional Courant appeared with the motto, "Join or Die." These watch words were echoed from Massachusetts to Georgia.