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Sons of Liberty (American Revolution)

SONS OF LIBERTY (AMERICAN REVOLUTION)

SONS OF LIBERTY (AMERICAN REVOLUTION). "Sons of Liberty" has three separate meanings. The first is the organized groups of militant colonials who emerged during the Stamp Act crisis and disbanded when the act was repealed. More loosely the term means popular street leaders during the resistance to Britain. The New Yorker Alexander McDougall signed his 1769 broadside "To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York" with the pseudonym "A Son of Liberty" although he had taken no part in the Stamp Act resistance. Even more loosely the term recalls its generic use for colonials resisting the Stamp Act during debates in the House of Commons by the procolonial Isaac Barre.

The issue the organized Sons of Liberty raised and resolved was a combination of general outrage against the Stamp Act and debate about rendering the act null rather than simply protesting. The earliest group was the Loyal Nine in Boston, who coalesced around Samuel Adams. Unlike Adams, who was a Harvard graduate and a gentleman, the Loyal Nine were for the most part prosperous artisans and small traders. They were literate and politically sophisticated but not members of the town elite.

On 14 August 1765 these men staged a public drama beneath the Liberty Tree on Boston Neck, the strip of land that connected town to mainland. Their goal was to show people crossing the Neck how the act would impact their own day-to-day lives. The drama closed when a crowd assembled under the leadership of Ebenezer Macintosh, a shoemaker who was not one of the Loyal Nine. Reenacting and transforming the rituals of a traditional Pope's Day riot, the crowd attacked property belonging to the stamp distributor Andrew Oliver. Oliver resigned his post. Facing similar pressure, distributors from New Hampshire to South Carolina also resigned. Except in Georgia, the act never took force.

New York City's Sons of Liberty operated differently. The Boston group disavowed the destruction of the house of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson on 26 August 1765. The New Yorkers, however, disavowed nothing during the rioting in the city through October 1765 to May 1766, including the sacking of a newly opened theater. They also negotiated a mutual-assistance pact with Sons of Liberty in Connecticut. The group in Albany, New York, wrote a formal constitution. Philadelphia had no organized group. Artisans played large parts in Baltimore and Charles Town, but Samuel Adams was not the only outright gentleman who became involved.

The great achievement of the organized Sons of Liberty was threefold. First, they turned debate about the Stamp Act into outright resistance. Second, they brought many outsiders into street politics, giving them both direction and discipline. Third, by their own militant insistence on a political voice and by the openness of some of them to domestic questions, they helped broaden the agenda of the emerging Revolution from breaking the link with Britain to questioning what kind of place America ought to be.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hoerder, Dirk. Crowd Action in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1765– 1780. New York: Academic Press, 1977.

Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765– 1776. New York: Knopf, 1972.

———. The Old Revolutionaries: Political Lives in the Age of Samuel Adams. New York: Knopf, 1980.

Nash, Gary B. The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979.

EdwardCountryman

See alsoRevolution, American: Political History ; Stamp Act Congress .

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Sons of Liberty (Civil War)

SONS OF LIBERTY (CIVIL WAR)

SONS OF LIBERTY (CIVIL WAR), a secret organization of Peace Democrats formed by a low-level Indiana Democrat (H. H. Dodd) and implicated in the Indianapolis treason trials (1864). Union investigators depicted the Sons of Liberty as a military outfit with hundreds of thousands of members and accused it of conspiring with Confederate agents to engineer the secession of several northwestern states. Though some of its members worked with Confederates, as a whole the Sons of Liberty was tiny, fractious, and ineffectual. The group appeared more dangerous than it was primarily because Congressman Clement Vallandigham, an Ohio Copperhead imprisoned for disloyalty, served as supreme commander.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Klement, Frank L. Dark Lanterns: Secret Political Societies, Conspiracies, and Treason Trials in the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984.

JeremyDerfner

See alsoCivil War ; Copperheads .

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Sons of Liberty

Sons of Liberty, secret organizations formed in the American colonies in protest against the Stamp Act (1765). They took their name from a phrase used by Isaac Barré in a speech against the Stamp Act in Parliament, and were organized by merchants, businessmen, lawyers, journalists, and others who would be most affected by the Stamp Act. The leaders included John Lamb and Alexander McDougall in New York, and Samuel Adams and James Otis in New England. The societies kept in touch with each other through committees of correspondence, supported the nonimportation agreement, forced the resignation of stamp distributors, and incited destruction of stamped paper and violence against British officials. They participated in calling the Continental Congress of 1774. In the Civil War, the Knights of the Golden Circle adopted (1864) the name Sons of Liberty.

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Sons of Liberty

Sons of Liberty American colonial group. This secret organization began, principally in Connecticut and New York, to protest against the Stamp Act (1765). It was dedicated to working for freedom and liberty in the 13 British colonies.

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