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Stamp Act and the beginning of political activism

In May 1765 colonial residents learned that England had passed a new law called the Stamp Act. This Act marks the beginning of the struggle for freedom and American independence. It was also the beginning of a new chapter in John Adams’ life and his involvement in political activism.


Opposition to the Stamp Act created the Stamp Act crisis. This is an invitation by the Sons of Liberty to a meeting under the Liberty Tree to demand the resignation of  Andrew Oliver, the stamp distributor.


John Adams’  involvement in political activism started in August 1765 when he published an essay in the Boston Gazette entitled “A Dissertation on Cannon and Feudal Law”. It was not meant to be a political essay and the Stamp Act was not the focus, however an inspiration, it discussed British Law and how certain liberties and freedom Americans enjoyed was god given and earned by many generations of Americans.

Because JA’s pamphlets for the Sons of Liberty and newspapers articles were so effective,  he was asked to draft a set of instructions, known as The Braintree Instructions, for the Braintree representative, Ebenezer Thayer. Thayer brought the instructions to the General Court of Massachusetts supporting the “fundamental principle of the constitution that no free man should be subjected to any tax to which he had not given his consent, in person or by proxy”. Basically “No taxation without representation” a slogan adopted by the Stamp Act protestors. Subsequently these instructions were extensively circulated and adopted by as many as 40 towns in Massachusetts. In his writings Adams argued from legal history that the Act was unconstitutional. His point of view was received with such strong feelings by the government calling his writing inflammatory even revolutionary. Adams became a man of prominence.

The beginning of John Adams’ political activism can be marked by the encouragement he received from his cousin Samuel Adams. James Otis and Samuel Adams were the leaders of a new generation of political activist, a group called the Sons of Liberty. The Sons of Liberty united otherwise adversary groups from the North and South Ends of Boston taking their opposition to the Stamp Act to the streets, organizing riots and intimidating tax collectors. JA deplored the violence and near anarchy in the streets of Boston; he was more of an intellectual instigator to peaceful policy change. As a result of the riots Hutchinson prevented the opening of the courts and any transaction without stamps and all of a sudden Adams was unemployed. The following day JA along with Otis and Gridley were chosen as councils to the town to support the opening of courts, his selection was an honor to John since he was not a citizen of Boston. Their petition was denied as the governor was unwilling to defy the crown.

Adams remained cautious with his involvement in political activities involving the Sons of Liberty and the Stamp Act. He was concerned that active political involvement in this issue might damage his reputation and practice as an emerging lawyer and be seen as an agitator.

Finally on March 18th, 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed by parliament headed by Marquis of Rockingham. Adams celebrated its repeal but as congress passed the Declaration Act, he had doubts about the political future of the colonies.


After the Stamp Act