Monday, April 16, 2012

April 18, 1776

In a letter of April 18, 1776, John Adams of Massachusetts wrote to John Penn of North Carolina, “You tell me that all Fondness for the King and Nation is gone.  This is the Effect of the late Act of Parliament every where.” 

Passed by the British Parliament on December 22, 1775, the Prohibitory Act, in the words of John Hancock, made American property 
legal Plunder.”  Crafted in response to demands by King George III, the Prohibitory Act made English trade with the 13 colonies illegal and declared American ships and cargo the property of the British government. Adams remarked to Penn, In a Letter from my own Colony I am told, that ‘the Jurors refuse to Serve, because the Writs are in the Kings Name,’ and in another, from the Speaker of the House in these Words ‘We are at present engaged in forming a Bill for disusing the Kings Name in all Acts, Commissions, and Law Proscesses.’” 

Terry M. Mays wrote that although the Prohibitory Act included amnesty for colonies or areas declaring their loyalty to the Crown, “The act had the opposite effect and tended to drive the colonies closer to independence….”  Terry M. Mays, Historical Dictionary of Revolutionary America (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2005), page 13.

Like the King's cold response to an anti-war petition from the Lord Mayor and several Aldermen of London, the Prohibitory Act was a measure meant to gain compliance but only encouraged resistance.  As Rev. John Witherspoon remarked in a May 1776 sermon
they have uniformly called those acts Lenity, which filled this whole continent with resentment and horror.” 
On April 3, 1776, the Continental CongressResolved, That Blank commissions for private ships of war and letters of marquee and reprisal, signed by the president [of Congress], be sent to the general assemblies, conventions, and councils or committies of safety of the United Colonies, to be by them filled up and delivered to the persons intending to fit out such private ships of war, for making captures of British vessels and cargoes, who shall…execute the bonds which shall be sent with the said commissions, which bonds shall be returned to the Congress.”  In an April 12 letter to the Convention of Virginia and the assemblies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut, President of Congress John Hancock explained that Congress acted on “Principles of Self Preservation, and Retaliation” in making British shipping the object of American privateers.

For the biography of Patriot and Privateer captian David McCullough,
please watch an interview with Jazz musician Harry Connick, Jr. conducted by Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for the PBS miniseries,
Finding Your Roots

Watch The Rattlesnake on PBS. See more from Finding Your Roots.
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