Sons of Liberty
Who were the Sons of Liberty?
The Sons of Liberty were a group of colonists who organized protests against what they perceived as unfair taxation and boycotts against taxed goods. Their purpose was to show the British government their discontent with taxes imposed on them without representation in Parliament, their logo was “No Taxation without Representation”. Leaders of the Sons of Liberty who took part in the struggle for independence include Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere and Joseph Warren.
Origin of the Sons of Liberty
The Sons of Liberty originated in the mid 1760’s with just a few members who called themselves The Loyal Nine. This group included: John Avery and Henry Bass, both merchants; Benjamin Edes, printer; Thomas Chase, Distiller; John Smith and Stephen Cleverly, both braziers and Joseph Field, a ship captain. Little is known of this initial group because they met informally.
Ironically the name “Sons of Liberty” was adopted from a debate in Parliament in 1765 about the Stamp Act. During this debate Charles Townshend who supported the act referred to the colonists as “children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence and protected by our arms.” Isaac Barre, a member of Parliament who was against the Stamp Act declared that the Americans were not children but “Sons of Liberty”.
The Sons of Liberty and the Stamp Act
As news of the approval of the Stamp Act became known The Loyal Nine began preparing for demonstrations and recruited a known mob leader, shoemaker Ebenezer Mackintosh. The group was loosely organized and virtually anyone opposed to the Stamp Act was part of it, soon groups calling themselves Sons of Liberty operated in major cities in the colonies.
Meanwhile Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock and other intellectuals were emerging in the political circles and voicing their discontent with the Stamp Act. John Adams published a number of essays in local newspapers, his first one was in the Boston Gazette on August 1765 entitled “A Dissertation on Cannon and Feudal Law”. The essay discussed British Law and how certain liberties and freedom Americans enjoyed was god given and earned by many generations of Americans. However his was a moderate position as a loyal British subject. His cousin, Samuel Adams, was more radical and it is believed that he guided the group secretly through violent demonstrations.
The first known act of the Sons of Liberty, that created the Stamp Act crisis, was on a summer evening on August 14, 1765 when they hung an effigy of the Massachusetts stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver, on the Liberty Tree. The mob became angry when they were told to remove the effigy, the crowd moved on to Oliver’s house smashing windows, destroying furniture and looting his house. Then they proceeded to behead and burn the effigy. The following day a group representing the Sons went to Thomas Hutchinson’s house, Hutchinson was the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts and was not very popular as he was seen as a loyalist. They demanded for the Stamp Act to be nullified and that he denounce it on an official letter to Parliament but Hutchinson refused. On the night of August 26, 1765 the mob attacked Hutchinson’s house, it was totally destroyed and looted.
The objective of the Sons of Liberty was to make the government repeal the Stamp Act which happened on March 18, 1766 . Their actions, violent or not, were aimed at intimidating officials and stamp distributors forcing them to resign. The group also put pressure on merchants who did not act in accordance with the non-importation agreement. The best work at undermining the Stamp Act was done by newspapers. Many members were printers and publishers who were directly affected by the new Stamp tax, it is remarkable that almost every newspaper in the colonies had daily reports of the activities of the Sons of Liberty and essays regarding the unconstitutionality of the Act.
Different groups of Sons in various colonies began corresponding and exchanging news which united the colonies against the Stamp Act, eventually it developed into an organized association known as the Committees of Correspondence. The group broke up with the repeal of the Stamp Act on March 1766 but it regained strength in response to the Townshend Acts in 1767. Its members remained actively involved in the resistance against British taxation.