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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is the organized groups of militant colonials who emerged during the Stamp Act crisis and disbanded when the act was repealed.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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Sons of Liberty

SONS OF LIBERTY

Disregarding American protests that the colonists could not be taxed because they were not represented in Parliament, in March 1765 the British government enacted a stamp tax to take effect in the American colonies on November 1, 1765. Speaking against the proposed Stamp Act in the House of Commons, Isaac Barré had described the Americans as "Sons of Liberty" who would stead-fastly resist any assault on their liberties.

protesting the stamp act

Although the term "Sons of Liberty" did not become commonplace until December 1765 and although not all Americans actively opposed Britain's new imperial policies, Barré was right about the general colonial response to the Stamp Act. Open defiance started in Boston when nine men, most of whom were middle-class shopkeepers or manufacturers, devised a plan to force the designated stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver, to resign. If Oliver resigned, the Stamp Act could not be implemented. Having gotten usually antagonistic working-class groups to unite, the Loyal Nine—who formed the nucleus of what became the city's Sons of Liberty—fashioned effigies, including one of Oliver. On August 14, 1765, Bostonians awoke to see those effigies hanging from a large old elm christened the Liberty Tree. Thereafter, it became a staging

area for Sons of Liberty activities. That evening a huge crowd of perhaps 3,000 people paraded the effigies through the streets. Coming upon a small building that Oliver reportedly would use as the stamp distribution office, the crowd demolished it. Later the crowd beheaded the Oliver figure and burned the other effigies. After the Loyal Nine left the scene, members of the crowd, acting on their own, slightly damaged Oliver's home. He resigned his stamp distributorship the next day. Neither the Loyal Nine nor Samuel Adams, who soon began working with them, saw any reason for further crowd action. Nevertheless, on August 26, crowds, not led by the Loyal Nine or other middle-class persons, spent the night tearing apart the mansion of Thomas Hutchinson, the colony's wealthy lieutenant governor. The Loyal Nine, and their new ally Samuel Adams, were horrified by this rioting.

Violent crowd actions attributed to Sons of Liberty also occurred in Newport, Rhode Island at the end of August. By threatening more violence and staging public protests at their own local Liberty Trees, Sons of Liberty groups in other colonies effectively stopped the Stamp Act from being implemented. By late 1765, the term Sons of Liberty—as well as "Liberty Boys"—had come to signify those Americans who secretly banded together and used extralegal means and public demonstrations—ranging from parading with effigies to destructive rioting—to stop the implementation of the Stamp Act.

In December 1765, with New York City Sons initiating the effort, plans were formulated to coordinate the Sons' resistance to Britain's intrusive imperial policies. By February 1766, the New York Sons were developing a committees of correspondence system to link Sons of Liberty organizations in the colonies as far away as Maryland. During this same period, many Sons of Liberty groups regularized their meetings and opened them to anyone who supported the American cause. The repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766 marked the key triumph and, ironically, the start of the decline of the Sons' influence. Individual groups of Sons continued to meet, and Sons of Liberty often held public meetings to celebrate significant anniversaries in the fight against the Stamp Act. Internal fissures, however, soon developed. In New York City, for example, the Sons split into competing groups that backed different local political parties; only the threat of the Townshend duties forced a truce in which a group calling itself "The United Sons of Liberty" pledged in July 1769 steadfastly to support a non-importation agreement against the duties. Moreover, into the 1770s, groups and individuals calling themselves Sons of Liberty issued propaganda statements attacking British taxing policies and other efforts to tighten Britain's control over the colonies. But by the eve of the revolution, few groups used the term Sons of Liberty, and when the term was employed it had come to stand for virtually any American "patriot."

decline of sons of liberty

There were many reasons why the Sons' influence declined. Communities—especially urban communities—that had readily joined in opposition to the Stamp Act were not so united when it came to using economic boycotts as a weapon after 1766. The systematic opposition to the 1767 Townshend duties took over a year to materialize. Worse yet, the response to the 1770 repeal of all the Townshend duties except the one on tea revealed how fractured the resistance movement was. In city after city, an unbridgeable gulf appeared between manufacturers and merchants. In no small part to further their own economic position, manufacturers advocated maintaining the boycott until all the Townshend duties were repelled; most merchants, though, opposed continuing the boycott or undertaking any new economic warfare because it undermined their immediate economic interests. The rise of government sanctioned committees of correspondence to unify resistance against British policies also undercut the need for the kinds of activities that Sons of Liberty had undertaken in 1765 to 1766. And the crucial protests against the Tea Act of 1773 were usually based on mass gatherings such as those held in Philadelphia and Boston. These meetings created their own committees to force everyone in the community to comply with the publicly expressed will. Finally, once the Continental Congress created the Continental Association in October 1774, elected committees of inspection and observation provided the political muscle and engaged in the kind of pressure tactics associated with the Sons of Liberty.

Although the role of the Sons of Liberty declined sharply after 1766, their actions were essential in thwarting the Stamp Act. And the defeat of the Stamp Act stiffened the resolve of both Americans and the British Parliament to hold fast to their very different views of Parliament's powers. Had the Sons of Liberty not conducted vigorous extra legal actions, especially in 1765, the revolutionary movement surely would have unfolded in a very different way—if it unfolded at all.

bibliography

Alexander, John K. Samuel Adams: America's Revolutionary Politician. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

Becker, Carl L. The History of Political Parties in the Province of New York, 1760–1776. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960 (originally published 1909).

Bridenbaugh, Carl. Silas Downer: Forgotten Patriot—His Life and Writings. Providence: Rhode Island Bicentennial Foundation, 1974.

Copeland, David A. Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Davidson, Philip. Propaganda and the American Revolution, 1763–1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

Morgan, Edmund S., ed. Prologue to Revolution: Sources and Documents on the Stamp Act Crisis, 1764–1766. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1959.

Morgan, Edmund S., and Morgan, Helen M. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution, 3d edition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Walsh, Richard. Charleston's Sons of Liberty: A Study of the Artisans 1763–1789. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1959.

John K. Alexander

See also:Boston Massacre: Pamphlets and Propaganda ; Common Sense;Paine, Thomas.

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Sons of Liberty

SONS OF LIBERTY

The Sons of Liberty were the first broad-based, intercolonial organization to encourage American resistance to Britain. Emerging suddenly during the latter half of 1765, chapters of the Sons of Liberty formed throughout the American colonies for the singular purpose of forcing Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. Although future events would mythologize them as the original revolutionaries, their goals were far from radical, seeking only to convince the British to restore the imperial Constitution. The Sons' methods of mobilizing protest, including the participation of many diverse socioeconomic groups, the development of effective propaganda and communication networks, and a concern for restraining violence and wanton destruction, would become the formula for the movement leading up to the Revolution.

Beginning in the summer of 1765, groups that identified themselves as the Sons of Liberty appeared in several American cities, including Boston, New York, Providence, Newport, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Norfolk, and Charlestown. In many cities the Sons of Liberty grew out of established urban clubs and societies, most famously the Loyal Nine in Boston. As these organizations became known as the Sons, they also broadened their social bases to include politicized artisans, shopkeepers, and tradesmen. During the Stamp Act riots, the Sons made alliances with mob leaders like Ebenezer McIntosh, leader of Boston's South End gang, for the dual purpose of mobilizing mass resistance and keeping their own participation hidden. Perhaps the most important constituency in the Sons, however, was newspaper printers. Printers Benjamin Edes (Boston Gazette), William Goddard (Providence Gazette), Samuel Hall (Newport Mercury), and William Bradford (Pennsylvania Journal) were all members of their local Sons of Liberty; the printers' participation ensured that the Sons' message would reach a wide audience.

Although attention has generally focused on the role of the Sons in Boston's Stamp Act riots, the attempts of Isaac Sears, John Lamb, and the New York Sons of Liberty to organize intercolonial communication networks were also significant. Beginning in November 1765, the New York Sons sent representatives to chapters in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts proposing alliances and establishing avenues to share information. Although short-lived, the importance of this initial effort by the New York Sons to make connections with colleagues in other colonies would later become clear: it was a first step toward continental unity and the creation of a common cause.

The Sons of Liberty movement declined after Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766. Having achieved their goal, many groups, including the pivotal New York Sons, saw no need to continue resistance. Devoted to maintaining order and restoring "balance" to the British Constitution, the Sons were not yet revolutionaries. Still, they did not completely disappear. The Boston Sons remained intact; in fact, by the late 1760s its membership had evolved from its artisan roots to include many elite leaders, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, Joseph Warren, and John Adams. In 1768 the Boston Sons began corresponding with John Wilkes, a popular English radical whose political persecution made him a celebrity in America.

By the 1770s, however, the term Sons of Liberty had lost its specific meaning. Instead, it became a general label like patriot or Whig that referred to a supporter of American rights. Symbolic for its reference to one of the clearest successes of American resistance, the label did resurface at certain points during the imperial crisis, most importantly as the name of the group responsible for the Boston Tea Party in 1773.

The Sons of Liberty movement of 1765–1766 would become a model for future American protests against the British. Later organizations would follow the Sons' strategies of focusing political energy, loudly broadcasting grievances, restraining violence, establishing communication networks between the colonies, and mobilizing broad groups of people to support the common cause.

See alsoBoston Tea Party; Stamp Act and Stamp Act Congress .

bibliography

Davidson, Philip. Propaganda and the American Revolution, 1763–1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1941.

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

Morgan, Edmund S., and Helen M. Morgan. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.

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

Robert G. Parkinson

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Sons of Liberty

Sons of Liberty

LEADER: Samuel Adams

YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1765

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Great Britain's American colonies, especially the cities of Boston, New York, and Providence

OVERVIEW

The Sons of Liberty refers to a terrorist organization as well as to scattered groups and individuals who employed terror during the American Revolution. Some of the groups were known as the Sons of Liberty, while others used such names as Liberty Boys, but all of these loosely organized groups had the same philosophy and used the same tactics to achieve the same end. A Son of Liberty was also a generic term for anyone violently opposed to British rule.

The best-known Sons of Liberty organization began in Boston in 1765 as the Loyal Nine. They used intimidation and violence to protest the Stamp Act that had been imposed on American colonists by the British government. Enormously effective at stopping tax collection by the British, the Sons of Liberty were instrumental in starting the Revolutionary War. When the war officially began in 1776, the various Sons of Liberty disbanded.

HISTORY

The Sons of Liberty were secret colonial societies that emerged in 1765 in response to the widely hated Stamp Act. Great Britain's national debt had doubled in the decade after 1754, partly because of the expenses of supporting troops in the colonies in the wake of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War). Believing that the colonists should pay more for their protection instead of further burdening the British taxpayer, Britain's Parliament placed a tax on legal documents, customs papers, newspapers, almanacs, college diplomas, and playing cards. The American colonists viewed the Stamp Act as a serious danger to liberty. To them, property was the source of strength for every individual because it provided the freedom to think and act independently. The Stamp Act threatened to destroy liberty because it deprived a person of property. It also insulted the colonists by implying that they were second-class citizens who were not entitled to consent to their own taxation.

The Sons of Liberty, centered in the colonial seaports, protested against the Stamp Act legislation and sought to nullify the tax through terrorism. They took their name from Isaac Barré's speech opposing the act in the British House of Commons. Barré had closed with a reference to the American colonists as "these sons of liberty." The resisters consisted mostly of traders, lawyers, and prosperous artisans. These men violated the Stamp Act by refusing to purchase stamps. They organized the lower classes such as sailors, dockworkers, poor artisans, apprentices, and servants. In every colonial city, mobs instigated by the Sons of Liberty burned stamp collectors in effigy, insulted them on the streets, demolished their offices, and attacked their homes. All stamp agents in the American colonies, with the exception of ones in sparsely settled Georgia, had resigned before the Stamp Act officially became law on November 1, 1765. It was repealed in 1766.

The Sons of Liberty died down after the Stamp Act's repeal, although some leaders such as Silas Downer of Rhode Island tried to keep the organization alive. Downer wanted the Sons of Liberty to stay mobilized for immediate action against any future threats to colonial liberties by the British government. He began a Committee of Correspondence to alert other Sons of Liberty chapters about British misgovernment.

LEADERSHIP

SAMUEL ADAMS

Samuel Adams, one of the most important radicals of the American Revolutionary era, helped start the Sons of Liberty in 1765. Born in Boston on September 27, 1722, he attended Harvard. After the family brewery business failed, Adams became the tax collector of Boston from 1756–1764. When he founded the Sons of Liberty, he became a leading patriot. In the decentralized politics of colonial America, Adams typically collaborated closely with others and deliberately sought to obscure his own political role. It is known that after the Townshend Acts were passed in 1767 in an attempt to generate the revenue never raised by the failed Stamp Act, Adams formed the Non-Importation Association to boycott British goods. He also drafted the Circular Letter that Massachusetts sent to the legislatures of other colonies to drum up opposition to the new taxes.

When the Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770, Adams continued to agitate against the British and in favor of the rights of colonists. After the British East India Company was granted a monopoly on the sale of tea in the colonies, Adams supported the patriots who dumped the tea in Boston Harbor in 1773. When the British responded to this action by closing Boston Harbor, Adams organized a confederation of the colonies. He joined the Continental Congress in 1774, persuaded it to support the Bostonians, and served in that body until 1782. He signed the Declaration of Independence and participated in the convention called to ratify the new Constitution of the United States. Although he approved the Constitution, he believed that it needed a bill of rights to protect the citizens against tyranny. Adams concluded his public life as governor of Massachusetts. He died on October 2, 1803.

Most of the Sons of Liberty opposed the various revenue acts that the British Parliament passed in the wake of the failure of the Stamp Act, though subsequent resistance was not as violent. Besides opposing the Townshend Acts and the tea tax, the group may have played a role in the Boston Massacre. The Sons of Liberty were strongest in Boston, and British soldiers in the city were constantly cursed by citizens and frequently pelted with stones, dirt, and excrement. On March 5, 1770, a crowd surrounded ten British soldiers, who then panicked and fired into the mob, killing five men. Samuel Adams, the Boston Sons of Liberty leader, termed the incident a "massacre," and publicized the incident throughout the colonies. Whether or not the Sons of Liberty triggered the incident, Adams certainly took advantage of it.

The term Sons of Liberty also applied to popular leaders. The first street radical identified as a Son of Liberty was Scottish immigrant Alexander McDougall. He did not take a stand on the Stamp Act and did not join the original organized Sons of Liberty. In 1769, McDougall published a broadside, To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York, under the pseudonym, "A Son of Liberty." He charged the provincial assembly with sacrificing New Yorkers' rights for partisan advantage. When he was revealed as the author, the assembly imprisoned McDougall for a total of 162 days, although he was never convicted of an actual crime. Thereafter, McDougall was very active in the politics of resistance and revolution. He helped form a New York City Sons of Liberty branch for direct resistance to the Tea Act at the end of 1773. The city's initial tea ship turned around at Sandy Hook after a committee, including McDougall, warned its captain of the consequences should he enter the harbor. When a second vessel did try to bring in taxed tea in April 1774, the Sons of Liberty dumped the cargo into the sea.

When the American Revolution officially began in 1776, the Sons of Liberty still in existence disbanded. They had achieved their aim of promoting resistance to British rule.

PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS

The Sons of Liberty were responsible for many acts of mob violence. They typically tarred and feathered tax collectors. Contrary to popular conceptions and British propaganda, being tarred and feathered did not kill anyone. A tax collector would be roused out of his home, painted with warm tar, and then covered with chicken feathers. The stamp agent was not stripped of his clothing and the tar was never hot enough to burn his skin. However, he was covered with chicken feathers, which, unlike duck or goose down, are scratchy and uncomfortable. The tax collector was then placed on a wooden rail and carried out of town. As he was carried, the Sons of Liberty and other townspeople would shout abuse at him. The process was frightening and humiliating. The taxman would be left with bruises, scratches, ruined clothes, as well as emotional trauma.

KEY EVENTS

1765:
The Sons of Liberty formed to protest against the Stamp Act.
1765:
On August 14, the Boston chapter of the Sons of Liberty attacked property belonging to stamp collector Andrew Oliver and prompted his resignation.
1765:
On August 26, a Boston mob that included Sons of Liberty members destroyed the homes of Stamp Act supporters and Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson.
1765–1766:
The New York chapter of the Sons of Liberty joined in periodic rioting in New York City and sacked a newly opened theater.
1766:
Great Britain repealed the Stamp Act.
1776:
Sons of Liberty disbanded.

The Sons of Liberty never deliberately killed anyone. They sought to scare tax collectors into quitting their job. In this, they succeeded. One of the best known tax collectors in the colonies was Andrew Oliver of Boston. On August 14, 1765, the Loyal Nine, the Boston Sons of Liberty, staged a public drama beneath the Liberty Tree on Boston Neck, a strip of land that connected the city to the mainland. The play illustrated the impact of the Stamp Act on the daily lives of Bostonians. The show ended, and the men gathered under the leadership of Ebenezer Macintosh, a shoemaker who was not a member of the Loyal Nine. The crowd then attacked property belonging to Oliver, who resigned his post as a direct result.

The various Sons of Liberty organizations disagreed about the use of violence, as seen in events of 1765. Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts, brother-in-law of Oliver, privately opposed the Stamp Act, but publicly supported it because he felt an obligation to do so as a British Crown official. A mob that likely included Sons of Liberty members attacked Hutchinson's home on August 26, 1765. Hutchinson and his family barely escaped the mob's wrath, but saw their home and possessions completely destroyed. The Boston Sons of Liberty subsequently disavowed the destruction of Hutchinson's home. The lack of respect for private property evident in the attack shocked the many men of property and standing who belonged to the Sons of Liberty. Afterwards, they took care to keep crowds under tighter control. However, the New York Sons of Liberty approved of such rioting and participated in the riots that swept New York City from October 1765 to May 1766.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Relatively few colonists chastised the Sons of Liberty for fighting against the Stamp Act in 1765. An anonymous New York writer summed up the view of many colonists when he or she placed a short advertisement of thanks in Rivington's New-York Gazetteer of November 11, 1774. This notice complimented the New Yorkers for persevering in the cause of liberty and acting quickly to oppose the "dark, and futile, scheme" of Great Britain.

However, those who were loyal to the British Crown did speak up in defense of the governors of the colonies who were appointed by the English. When Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson came under attack from an anonymous Son of Liberty with a poisonous pen, a friend defended him in Boston's The Censor on November 23, 1771. The friend declared that the Sons acted to increase their own importance and took pleasure in "producing disorder in the machine of government." They suffered from "unbridled ambition" and colonists had "something to lose, but nothing to gain, by uniting in the cry of the seditious … How despicable is the swagger of a presumptuous demagogue!"

SUMMARY

The historical Sons of Liberty group was an extremist group that was essential to the success of the American Revolution. They turned a debate about Great Britain's right to tax the American colonists into outright resistance to British control over its colonies. They brought a range of people into street politics, giving them both direction and discipline. When the various Sons of Liberty disbanded with the start of the American Revolution, it is possible that some of the members continued to harass British loyalists. The better known Sons of Liberty, such as Samuel Adams, joined the new government of the United States. The Sons of Liberty provide an example of how some extremist groups are often hailed as revolutionary heroes as members help transform the social-political order through what are considered extremist measures.

SOURCES

Books

Alexander, John K. Samuel Adams: America's Revolutionary Politician. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

Copeland, David A. Debating the Issues in Colonial Newspapers: Primary Documents on Events of the Period. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Dawson, Henry B. The Sons of Liberty in New York. New York: Arno Press and the New York Times, 1969.

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.

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Sons of Liberty

Sons of Liberty

SONS OF LIBERTY. When colonists came together in 1765 to protest and nullify the Stamp Act, they called their organization the Sons of Liberty. They took their name from Isaac Barré's speech of 6 February 1765 in the House of Commons opposing that act. Barré had closed his remarks with a reference to the colonists as "the sons of liberty."

In the name of liberty, the Sons were responsible for many acts of mob violence aimed at intimidating those who wished to remain loyal to the king, including the application of hot tar and feathers to the bodies of those whose conception of liberty did not suit their own. A mob inspired by, although not operating under the direction of, the Boston Sons of Liberty on 26 August 1765 burned the records of the local vice admiralty court, ransacked the homes of the comptroller of the currency, and looted the home and library of Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The effectiveness of this sort of intimidation, even when threats were not accompanied by violence, is shown by the fact that all stamp agents in the colonies had resigned before the Stamp Act was supposed to become law (1 November 1765).

SEE ALSO Tar and Feathers.

                       revised by Harold E. Selesky

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