Military history

CHAPTER 69

Mobs Respond

SUMMER 1765

THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE did not find the Burgesses’ proceedings news-worthy, so the first newspaper to print the Virginia Resolves was the distant Newport Mercury, on June 24. Other newspapers followed suit, reprinting either the Mercury’s version or the slightly different one that ran in the July 4 issue of the Maryland Gazette. Neither account drew on the official journals of the House, and neither editor probably understood that the Burgesses had retained only the first four innocuous resolutions, repealing the fiery fifth. Certainly no reader of the Mercury or the Gazette, or of any newspaper that reprinted their stories, could have known that the sixth and seventh resolutions printed alongside the rest were utterly spurious and may not even have been debated. To this day no one knows who wrote them, or how they made their way into print alongside the other five. All that is really clear is that the newspaper accounts convinced readers everywhere that Virginia’s legislators had taken a bold stand in defense of colonial rights.

Resolved, That his Majesty’s liege People, the Inhabitants of this Colony, are not bound to yield Obedience to any law or Ordinance whatever, designed to impose any Taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the Laws or Ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.

Resolved, That any Person, who shall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain, that any Person or Persons, other than the General Assembly of this Colony, have any Right or Power to impose or lay any Taxation on the People here, shall be deemed an Enemy to this his Majesty’s Colony.1

Soon after this wildly inaccurate version of the resolves appeared, opposition to the Stamp Act began to overflow the channels of normal politics. Between the middle of August and the end of the year, the protests of ordinary colonists would astonish anyone who had thought (like Grenville or Franklin) that the Americans would knuckle under to parliamentary taxation, and perplex everyone (including Gage and the colonial governors) who had to respond, once it became clear that Americans would not submit.

The stimulus to resistance came from Williamsburg, but Boston was where talk first gave way to deeds. A handful of artisans and lesser merchants there had been meeting for some time past as a social club—long enough, at any rate, to invent a name for themselves, the “Loyal Nine.” They were solid but far from eminent Bostonians. Among the club’s two distillers, two brass-founders, merchant, jeweler, painter, ship captain, and printer, only two men were Harvard graduates. Three held town offices, but none had ever served in the General Court. Their politics aligned them with the country party, but after the Virginia Resolves became known in town, they seem to have soured on politicians generally. We get a hint of their mood from a column that Benjamin Edes, the printer among them, published in his newspaper, the Boston Gazette, on July 8.

The People of Virginia have spoke very sensibly . . .: Their spirited Resolves do indeed serve as a perfect Contrast for a certain tame, pusillanimous, daub’d insipid Thing, delicately touch’d up and call’d an Address; which was lately sent from this Side the Water, to please the Taste of the Tools of Corruption on the other. . . . We have been told with an Insolence the more intolerable, because disguis’d with a Veil of public Care, that it is not prudence for us to assert our Rights in plain and manly Terms: Nay, we have been told that the word RIGHTS must not be once named among us! Curs’d Prudence of interested designing Politicians!2

In this frame of mind, the Loyal Nine embarked on a course that would soon deprive prudent politicians of the ability to dilute Massachusetts’s resistance to the Stamp Act. They decided to raise the biggest mob in the history of Boston and use it to force the designated stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver, to resign.

Boston had not one but two mobs in the 1760s: loose aggregations of laborers, apprentices, lesser artisans, sailors, blacks, and others of “the lower sort,” who lived in the North and South Ends of the town. These groups enjoyed an annual day of exuberance and carnival each November 5, when Boston commemorated the defeat of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Bostonians knew this most English of holidays as Pope Day, not Guy Fawkes Day, because the local celebrations had come to focus on elaborate effigies of the pope and the devil, and the ritual brawl between the North Enders and the South Enders over which mob would have the honor of burning them. The Pope Day contests may have begun as manly scrimmages, but by the mid-1760s they had evolved into skull-cracking, limb-breaking affrays involving as many as four thousand men and boys.

Levels of Pope Day violence had escalated over time because members of mobs began using clubs and brickbats as well as their fists, and also because they created formalized command structures, with “captains” and subordinate leaders to direct each mob’s actions. Thus when the Loyal Nine decided to take the Stamp Act protests into the streets, they were able to approach two men—Ebenezer Mackintosh, the twenty-eight-year-old shoemaker who captained the South End mob, and Henry Smith, the shipwright who headed the North Enders—with great experience in organizing crowd actions. The greatest challenge lay not in getting Mackintosh and Smith to bring their men out, but convincing them to forget their rivalry long enough to make Oliver resign. This was not easy to do, but the Loyal Nine finally persuaded the two leaders to take joint action on August 14.3

On that Wednesday morning nobody passing Deacon Elliot’s Corner on High Street could have missed the pair of effigies dangling from a big elm tree’s limb.4 One was the figure of a man, with signs affixed identifying it as “A.O,” the “Stamp-Man.” The other inspired more curiosity, but members of the gathering crowd explained to one another that an old boot, bottomed with a new “green-vile” sole and topped with a figure of the devil, made a pointed comment on the earl of Bute, George Grenville’s soul, and the motive force behind the Stamp Act. Before the day was out these images attracted as many as five thousand men, women, and children, a crowd that for the most part remained in a festive mood. In the afternoon, however, when the sheriff screwed up enough courage to try cutting the effigies down, he found himself so roundly threatened that he hustled off to warn the governor of an impending riot.

At evening three thousand men, taking directions from Ebenezer Mackintosh, made good on the sheriff’s prediction. Cutting down the images, they paraded three-quarters of a mile to a small brick structure Andrew Oliver had recently built at his wharf. Calling it the Stamp Office, they tore it down in a matter of minutes; then, carrying its timbers as fuel for a bonfire, they marched on to Oliver’s house. They paused long enough to behead his effigy and throw stones through his windows before ascending the nearby Fort Hill, where they “stamped” the figures to bits and burned them. Then they went looking for the Stamp-Man himself.

They did not find Oliver that night—he had taken refuge with friends—and so they demolished the interior of his house instead, drinking up the contents of his wine cellar while they turned his carriage, furniture, wainscoting, and privy to matchwood. The enthusiasm with which they destroyed Oliver’s property suggests that as the evening wore on the members of the crowd acted less in response to direction from above than according to their own lights. Men who might work all year and earn less than fifty pounds—supposing they were fully employed, as in the midst of a depression few could have been—reacted furiously when they saw how luxuriously a wealthy merchant lived; and no one needed to explain that he would grow even richer on shillings to be extracted from their own thin purses, once the Stamp Act went into effect. Since by midnight whatever restrained the mob’s behavior came entirely from within, the Loyal Nine may have felt as much relief as Oliver when the rioters dispersed.

The next day, several gentlemen visited Oliver and urged him to resign, pointing out that at least his house still stood—but would not long do so if he tried to execute his commission as tax collector. Oliver, who had not yet received the documents appointing him and could not resign what he did not have, agreed to refrain from collecting any duties once the stamps arrived and promised to write to London asking to be excused from the distributorship. That evening, when a second crowd gathered on Fort Hill and lit another bonfire, Oliver sent word renouncing his appointment. The crowd gave him three cheers before dispersing.

Andrew Oliver’s surrender solved his own immediate problem but deepened Governor Bernard’s perplexities. Bernard had been unable to maintain order on the fourteenth. When he ordered the colonel of Boston’s militia regiment to raise his men and disperse the mob, the colonel only “answered, that it would signify nothing, for as soon as the drum was heard, the drummer would be knocked down, and the drum broke; [and] added, that probably all the drummers of the Regiment were in the Mob.”5 At that Bernard, never devoted to heroic gestures, ordered his servants to hide the silverware and row him out to Castle William. He spent that night and the next watching bonfires flare on Fort Hill, knowing that unless the city calmed down on its own, he dared not leave the safety of the fort.

To become a kind of prisoner in this way was humiliating enough, but Bernard worried even more about the fragility of civil order in the province. He was the king’s direct representative, yet the riots had shown that he governed Massachusetts at the sufferance of Boston’s mob. His lieutenant governor, Thomas Hutchinson, had actually been chased through the streets on the night of the fourteenth after he dragged the sheriff out to read the riot act to the mob. It was true that he and the sheriff had run fast enough to save everything but their dignity from harm; but as Bernard well understood, Hutchinson’s boldness had served only to single him out for future harassment. Just how much danger the lieutenant governor was in, and just how tenuous the control of His Majesty’s government had grown, would only become clear as the next week passed and the Loyal Nine—or perhaps, by now, Mackintosh and the mob independently—decided what steps to take next.

Rumors circulated in Boston and the surrounding towns as early as Saturday the twenty-fourth that the mob would come out again on the following Monday night, and that its targets would include leading customs officials, Hutchinson, and perhaps even Bernard. Since Oliver had already promised to resign, the Stamp Act alone could not account for this. Hutchinson, of course, had set himself squarely in the mob’s sights on the night of the fourteenth, and the political gossip had it that he had actually advised Grenville on how best to tax America. But other animosities at work were personal and tinged more by economic than political factors. These can best be grasped when one understands that 1765 may well have been the worst year in Boston’s commercial history, the grimmest time in the interminably grim postwar depression.

The city’s economy had been no better than sluggish since 1761, but nothing prepared Bostonians for the financial disaster that had struck at the beginning of 1765. In mid-January, Nathaniel Wheelwright, a merchant who had grown rich during the war by simultaneously acting as a British military contractor and trading with the French, abruptly stopped payment on his debts and ran for Guadeloupe. There were as yet no banks in North America, but Wheelwright had been acting as a kind of banker for many of Boston’s smaller merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans, taking their money on deposit and issuing interest-bearing personal notes in return. These notes had actually circulated as a kind of supplemental currency in Boston and the surrounding towns. Now he left £170,000 in unpaid obligations, a mountain of worthless paper, and a panic that flattened the town’s economy as effectively as the earthquake of 1755 had devastated Lisbon.

In a panic of “pulling and hauling, attaching and summoning to secure themselves,” those who had lent Wheelwright money as commercial creditors and depositors soon began following him into default and flight. The General Court passed an emergency Bankruptcy Act in March to regularize the processes of financial settlement and, the legislators hoped, to stabilize the economy. This stopped the wholesale flight, but desperate debtors continued to run from their creditors, and the lengthening list of warrants sworn out for the arrest of fugitive debtors bore witness to Boston’s agonies: three warrants in March, four in April, four in May, nine in June, seven in July, eight in August. Ninety percent of them were authorized by Thomas Hutchinson, chief justice of the Superior Court—who (not coincidentally) collected generous fees on the administration of bankruptcies and seized estates. As Boston wallowed in the pit of depression, expressions of esteem for Hutchinson came as rarely to the lips of most merchants as they did to those of the artisans and laborers who made up its mobs.6

The few Bostonians who did not actively despise Thomas Hutchinson were mostly related to him by birth, marriage, or business partnership, and that was another part of his problem. Never content to be the Bay Colony’s leading plural officeholder—he received salaries or fees as lieutenant governor, chief justice, probate judge for Suffolk County, and commander of Castle William—he had assiduously promoted members of the Hutchinson clan as candidates for government offices, along with the numerous Sanfords, Fosters, and Olivers to whom he was also related. In this critical respect the customs officers whose houses were said to be the mob’s targets closely resembled the lieutenant governor. All of them were placemen who made their livings from fees. All were reputed to be greedy and corrupt. And all of them were quite visibly wealthy. Their mansion houses stood in imposing contrast to the homes of artisans, shopkeepers, and laborers that surrounded them. 7

Thus did the personal and the political converge in the small world of Boston, where face-to-face relationships did little to dissipate resentment, and where memories ran long. In this respect too Boston’s animosities pressed relentlessly against Thomas Hutchinson. Everyone in the cash-starved, debt-ridden colony knew that he had been responsible for creating its hard-money currency regime in 1749. If merchants thanked him for protecting their investments from inflation, Massachusetts’s chronically indebted farmers, as well as Boston’s tradesmen and laborers, had come to understand him as their foe. It was no accident that he held no significant elective office after 1749. The higher Governors Shirley, Pownall, and Bernard raised him in appointive offices, the lower he had sunk in public esteem.

All these anxious enmities blossomed with the bonfire’s flames in King Street at dusk on August 26. Since morning people had been coming into Boston from the nearby towns, swelling the crowd of North and South End men who waited to hear Ebenezer Mackintosh’s directions. Bernard, fearing the worst, had packed his plate off to Castle William and arranged to take shelter there himself when the trouble started. The town’s customs officers similarly made themselves scarce. But beyond deciding to stay at home that evening rather than dining out, Hutchinson had made no effort to avoid the mob. He refused to believe they could hate him as thoroughly as, in fact, they did. 8

The men who gathered in King Street chanted “Liberty and Property!”—which, as Bernard sourly observed, gave “the Usual Notice of their Intention to plunder and pull down a house”—and divided themselves into two groups.9 The first set off for the house of Charles Paxton, surveyor of customs and marshal of the Boston Vice-Admiralty Court. Paxton rented; but the mob found his landlord at home and eager to exercise the better part of valor by offering them a barrel of punch. Thus refreshed, they moved on to the mansion of Benjamin Hallowell, comptroller of customs, where they drank a good deal more while they sacked the place, wrecking the interior and its contents. Meanwhile, at the house of the register of the vice-admiralty court, William Story, the other half of the mob was draining the wine cellar as they broke furniture, windows, and china, and committed the files of pending customs cases to a bonfire. Thus when the two halves of the mob reunited for the remaining business of the evening they had already consumed a good deal of alcohol; and that almost certainly contributed to their remarkably violent behavior when they reached the handsome Georgian house of Thomas Hutchinson.

The lieutenant governor had been at supper with his family when breathless messengers came to warn him that the mob was on its way. As Hutchinson later told the story to the province’s agent, Richard Jackson, they fled to a neighboring house where I had been but a few minutes before the hellish crew fell upon my house with the Rage of devils and in a moment with axes split down the doors and entred[. M]y son being in the great entry heard them cry damn him he is upstairs we’ll have him. Some ran immediately as high as the top of the house others filled the rooms below and cellars and others Remained without the house to be employed there. Messages soon came one after another to the house where I was to inform me the mob were coming in Pursuit of me and I was obliged to retire thro yards and gardens to a house more remote where I remained until 4 o’clock by which time one of the best finished houses in the Province had nothing remaining but the bare walls and floors. Not contented with tearing off all the wainscot and hangings and splitting the doors to pieces they beat down the Partition walls and altho that alone cost them near two hours they cut down the cupola or lanthern and they began to take the slate and boards from the roof and were prevented only by the approaching daylight from a total demolition of the building. The garden fence was laid flat and all my trees &c broke down to the ground. Such ruins were never seen in America. Besides my Plate and family Pictures houshold furniture of every kind my own children and servants apparel they carried off about £900 sterling in money and emptied the house of every thing whatsoever except a part of the kitchen furniture not leaving a single book or paper in it and have scattered or destroyed all the manuscripts and other papers I had been collecting for 30 years together besides a great number of Publick Papers in my custody.

The next morning proved a cool one, and Hutchinson—twelve hours earlier one of the wealthiest men in Massachusetts—found that he had no coat to ward off the chill but the one his host lent him. He had lost virtually all of his personal possessions. He told Jackson he guessed the damages could not amount to less than three thousand pounds sterling, concluding—because money alone could not measure what his family had lost—“You cannot conceive the wretched state we are in.”10

Yet Hutchinson remained convinced that the Loyal Nine—“the encouragers of the first mob”—never intended the destruction to go so far. On the day after the riot the political leaders of the province and town did their belated best to restore order. Hutchinson said he hoped that their “detestation of this unparalleled outrage” would bring some good out of the evil he and his family had suffered, but he remained bewildered by the ferocious “resentment of the people against the stamp duty.” He trembled to think of its consequences. The General Court, he thought, would not dare “enforce or rather advise the payment of it.” But what could be done? The tax was so constructed that no business or legal proceedings could be conducted without stamped paper. If the province did not submit, then “all trade must cease all courts fall and all authority be at an end.” If Parliament repealed the tax it would “endanger the loss of their authority over the colonies,” yet if it chose to compel submission by “external force” it risked “a total lasting alienation of affection.” Contemplating the ruin of his personal life, this master of the politic middle way found himself unable to imagine any alternative between anarchy on the one hand and brutal repression on the other. In the end he could only pray that the “infinitely wise God” might show Parliament a way out of the maze of violence in which he, and his colony, and the empire he loved, seemed hopelessly lost. 11

Hutchinson did not yet know, when he wrote his plaintive letter to Richard Jackson, that riots were convulsing other towns beside Boston. The comparatively controlled crowd action of August 14, which so quickly produced Andrew Oliver’s resignation as stamp distributor, seemed to demonstrate a practical means of preventing the act from taking effect. When word of it arrived in other colonies, counterparts to the Loyal Nine—groups that often called themselves Sons of Liberty after Colonel Barré’s speech, which was now achieving a notoriety comparable to the Virginia Resolves—set about stuffing effigies, erecting mock gallows, and raising mobs to put the stamp-masters in a cooperative frame of mind. And they found, not infrequently, what the Loyal Nine had discovered on August 26: that mobs, once raised, could set their own agendas. Rhode Islanders first illustrated this principle on the day after the Boston mob destroyed Hutchinson’s house.12

In Newport on August 20, the leaders of opposition to the Stamp Act began preparing to exhibit an effigy of the colony’s designated distributor, Augustus Johnston. On August 26, the day before the hanging and demonstrations were to take place, Martin Howard, who had taken on James Otis earlier in the year, denounced the idea in the press. Unwisely so: on the twenty-seventh, his effigy and those of his political friends in the Newport Junto dangled alongside that of the stamp-master. That evening an orderly crowd burned the effigies. Johnston did not resign, however, and the next night, encouraged by fresh news from Boston, the Newporters raised the stakes. First they sacked Martin Howard’s house as thoroughly as the Bostonians had demolished Hutchinson’s; then they destroyed the house and goods of another member of the Junto and hunted through the town for the collector and the comptroller of customs (both of whom had taken refuge aboard H.M.S. Cygnet, a British man-of-war in the harbor); finally, lest he think they had forgotten him, they carried off as many of Augustus Johnston’s household possessions as they could lay hands on.

The next morning Johnston publicly resigned his office, an act that saved his house, got much of his property returned, and allowed him to resume his place in the community. But the collector of customs, an English placeman named John Robinson who had dedicated himself to rooting out smugglers, remained so unpopular that he did not dare leave the Cygnet until September 2, when Governor Samuel Ward finally gave him a bodyguard. Like Bernard, Ward had been unable to intervene and stop the riots. Unlike Bernard, he had not wanted to do so—at least not so long as the victims were Howard and his Junto, the avowed enemies of Rhode Island’s charter government. But Ward soon realized that the customhouse could not operate without its collector, ships could not enter and clear without an operating customhouse, and Newport could not live without its shipping.

The Newport riots thus showed that even an institutionally autonomous colony could ill afford to dispense with the empire. The significance of this paradox—that colonists unwilling to abide the direct application of parliamentary sovereignty could not long survive outside the legal and mercantile system that Parliament had created—would become fully clear only after virtually every other colony had followed the path of Newport and Boston, and riots had in effect nullified the Stamp Act before it could take effect. Meanwhile, colonial mobs savored power’s sweet wine while stamp distributors choked down the dregs of humiliation.

The prudent resigned at the first sign of threat, if not before. In New York, James McEvers renounced his appointment on August 22 to save his warehouse; in New Jersey, William Coxe surrendered his commission before a single effigy had swung, merely because he had heard the news from New England. George Meserve of New Hampshire announced his resignation at Boston on September 10, even before he stepped off the ship that had brought him from England. He had not yet seen the effigies that the Sons of Liberty had prepared to greet him in Portsmouth. When he did, he resigned again. Colonel George Mercer returned to Virginia on October 31, aboard the ship that carried the stamps for Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Finding a similar reception, he made a similar obeisance. “Surrounded by more than 2000 People,” he wrote, “without a single Person, in the whole Colony, who dared openly to assist me, . . . I was obliged to submit . . . as the only possible Step, to secure his Majesty’s Property and my Person and Effects.” South Carolina’s inspector of stamps arrived on October 26, discovered that a mob of two thousand men had been only narrowly dissuaded from leveling his house a week earlier, and resigned on the twenty-eighth. The North Carolina distributor, a physician who had not sought the office, renounced his commission as soon as it arrived, before a mob of several hundred men. None of these stamp-masters would have chosen to resign as they did, for such acts of submission robbed them of the personal dignity they cherished. But all of them at least managed to save the property that in the end they valued more.13

Others, less willing to defer to the mobs, found displays of personal courage repaid with economic or political ruin. For Maryland’s designated distributor, the merchant Zachariah Hood, steadfastness meant bankruptcy. He withstood a hanging in effigy on August 29, then saw a mob demolish his warehouse on September 2. Fleeing to New York, he placed himself under General Gage’s protection and vowed to execute his office, if necessary, from the deck of a man-of-war. But New York’s Sons of Liberty made his life so miserable that he dared not leave Fort George. When he finally ventured out, on November 28, a hundred mounted men seized him, carried him five miles into the country, and forced him to resign. Thereafter he returned to Annapolis and tried to rebuild his fortune, only to find that no one would do business with him. A broken man, in 1771 he went to England to seek compensation from the Crown, and he never returned.14

Both Connecticut’s distributor, Jared Ingersoll, and Governor Thomas Fitch paid heavy financial and political penalties for trying to enforce the Stamp Act. Fitch feared that Parliament would counter any resistance in Connecticut by revoking the colony’s charter. During the war he had built a party of supporters among Old Light representatives from the colony’s western half, and the charter was an object as sacred to the predominantly New Light eastern representatives as to the westerners, so Fitch thought it safe to call a special session of the assembly and ask it for what amounted to an endorsement of the stamp tax. He therefore urged Ingersoll to stand fast, and the stamp-master in turn defied newspaper denunciations and repeated hangings in effigy. But as Ingersoll was making his way to Hartford for the assembly session, five hundred Sons of Liberty from eastern Connecticut—primarily veterans, led by former provincial officers—marched out to intercept him at Wethersfield on September 18. There they held him hostage until he agreed not only to resign, but to toss his hat into the air and lead three cheers for “liberty and property.” Forming an escort, they conveyed him to Hartford, installed him in a tavern, summoned his fellow representatives, and forced him to reenact his resignation.

Neither Ingersoll nor Fitch recovered his political standing thereafter, and the Old Light party to which they belonged soon lost its dominance in the assembly. Ingersoll’s law practice declined so badly that he had to call on London friends to secure him a vice-admiralty judgeship; but the court sat in Philadelphia, and the price of retaining his livelihood was exile from his home colony. Fitch, who had been elected twelve successive times to the governorship and who was surely one of the ablest politicians in Connecticut’s history, found that he had become unelectable. In the coming year he would publish a pamphlet explaining that he had been bound by his oath of office to uphold an act that he personally disapproved of, but no amount of explaining could restore his career. In the end he, too, solicited a position in the vice-admiralty court system— and, like Ingersoll, had to abandon his native colony to take it up.15

Pennsylvania’s designated distributor, John Hughes, proved even braver than Ingersoll, while his partner Joseph Galloway remained as determined as Fitch to bring about a political solution. In the end, Hughes paid as dearly as any other stubborn stamp-master; and while by the quirks of Pennsylvania politics Galloway and the antiproprietary party maintained control in the assembly, they survived only to pay another day.16 Accounts of the riots in New England reached Philadelphia at the beginning of September, and Hughes soon came under pressure to resign. When he refused, the proprietary faction began to dabble in mob organizing: an ironic move for a court party, perhaps, but a strategically canny one, given the prospects of tarring the assembly’s dominant faction with the massive unpopularity of the Stamp Act. As rumors began to make it clear that Philadelphia houses could be demolished as easily as those in Boston, Galloway turned from writing newspaper pieces encouraging submission to organizing countermobs. On September 16 (a week after Hughes, as speaker of the House, failed to prevent the assembly from appointing delegates to the Stamp Act Congress), all that kept a mob from destroying Hughes’s house—and Benjamin Franklin’s—were the patrols of armed men whom Galloway sent into the streets. He and his property thus remained safe, but the strain of staying up all night under arms after weeks of enduring anonymous threats sent Hughes into physical collapse. When the stamped paper and his commission arrived from Britain on October 5, the fifty-three-year-old distributor seemed to be teetering on the edge of the grave. Nonetheless an antistamp crowd formed, thousands strong; and seven prominent Philadelphians called on him to urge his resignation. He tried to resist, and indeed managed to hold out for two more days before finally promising not to execute the act unless the neighboring colonies did so.

Hughes’s quasi-resignation kept the mob from pulling the house down around his ears. Gradually, as tensions lessened, his health returned, but his career in politics was finished. During his absence the assembly passed a set of ten resolutions declaring the Stamp Act unconstitutional and subversive of the rights of Englishmen.17 This shift in the temper of the House, among members of both parties, could not be reversed; nor could Hughes conform himself to it. The antiproprietary party soon capitalized on the fears of disorder that the riots had raised and—arguing that the proprietary faction was at fault—actually increased its majority in the assembly at the next election and strengthened its case for abolishing the proprietorship. Galloway engineered the party’s revival and even regained his own seat, but only by making sure that Hughes’s name stayed off the slate of antiproprietary candidates. Isolated and bitter, Hughes retired to a farm outside Philadelphia. In 1769 he accepted a Crown appointment as collector of customs for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and left Pennsylvania for good. The Stamp Act, which transformed so many things in America and the empire, had changed him—like Ingersoll, like Fitch—from a powerful and popular politician into a placeman, and an exile.

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