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The spirit of resistance to government Thomas Jefferson
The spirit of resistance to government Thomas Jefferson

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May of 1766 was a month of celebration in the name of liberty. King George III and his Parliament had backed down – for the moment – and repealed the hated Stamp Act. The colonists were jubilant, throwing spontaneous festivals up and down the coast, toasting their praise to the young king. But for all their happy smiles, the Americans kept a shadow of caution in their hearts. With the Stamp Act dissolution, the Parliament had issued a new law: the American Declatory Act, a reaffirmation that Parliament was fully within its rights to legislate the affairs of the colony whenever it chose. The American Whigs had won their battle, but been promised they would lose their war.

This widespread mixture of joy and wary pride manifested itself in some interesting ways. The people of New York gathered for their parties, and some of the more radical men in the crowd decided a monument to liberty was in order. For many years the patriots of Massachusetts had been decorating their massive elms and calling them ‘Liberty Trees’, but the New Yorkers were not interested in imitating Yankees. The city’s urban and international mix of people instead settled on a manmade post, taller than any of the rooftops and rigged with halyards. At its peak they mounted a board that read “George III, Pitt, and Liberty!”

Not coincidentally, they erected it on an open green directly in front of the local British barracks. All at once it was a celebration, a reminder, and – as it would eventually become clear – a warning of things to come.