THE STAMP ACT AND CONNECTICUT

Great Britain emerged victorious from the Seven Years’ War with the world’s largest empire but an enormous public debt, causing Parliament to enact a stamp act so the American colonies could pay part of the costs of maintaining British troops in American frontier areas. Learning of the proposed taxation the previous year, the General Assembly in October 1764 approved an official protest entitled “Reasons why the British colonies, in America, should not be charged with internal taxes. . . .” Two arguments were paramount: British subjects could legitimately be taxed only by laws which they had approved; and the proposed stamp act, as well as any internal tax, violated the rights granted the colony in the Charter of 1662.

Despite protests from all the colonies, Parliament in 1765 passed the Stamp Act, which levied a tax on items such as pamphlets, newspapers, almanacs, calendars, tavern licenses, advertisements, playing cards, dice, bills of lading, and most legal documents. A group called the Sons of Liberty arose in vigorous opposition to the act. Composed of some of the most prominent figures in the colony, the organization pledged to work for the act’s repeal. Eastern Connecticut leaders spearheading the opposition included John Durkee (1728-1782) of Norwich, Hugh Ledlie (c. 17241798) of Windham, and Israel Putnam (1717/18-1790) of Pomfret.

Jared Ingersoll (1722-1781), feeling Parliament was supreme and English laws must be obeyed, accepted the appointment as stamp distributor for Connecticut. On September 19, 1765, when traveling to Hartford to a special session of the General Assembly, he was confronted near Wethersfield by a large and angry mob demanding his resignation and threatening severe bodily harm if he refused. Fearing for his life, he resigned.

Later when Governor Thomas Fitch (c.1700-1774) reluctantly signed the oath to support the act, required of each governor, all but four of the twelve upper house members walked out in protest. British merchants, severely hurt by the resultant decline in trade, led a fight which brought about the act’s repeal in February 1766.

At a meeting in Hartford in March 1766, the Sons of Liberty took the unprecedented step of nominating a slate of candidates to defeat Fitch and the four assistants who had supported him. In the spring elections their slate, led by William Pitkin, Sr.,(16941769) for governor and Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785) for deputy governor, won and the four assistants were defeated. The election meant that the radical group in Connecticut would be in a position to dominate Connecticut politics and pave the way for the colony to revolt against British rule in 1776.

For Further Reading:
Zeichner, Oscar. Connecticut’s Years of Controversy, 1750-1776. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1949.
Morgan, Edmund S. and Helen M. The Stamp Act Crisis, Prologue to Revolution. Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1953.