Timothy P. Donovan

December 7, 2006

“No Stamped Paper to be had.”  By Benjamin Franklin

Taken from the Library of Congress American Memories Collection:

An American Time Capsule: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

On the World Wide Web: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=rbpe&fileName=rbpe34/rbpe346/34604500/rbpe34604500.db&recNum=0&itemLink=r?ammem/rbpebib:@field(NUMBER+@band(rbpe+34604500))&linkText=0

 

                  Finding a document to use for this assignment was a simple task.  I knew from the outset that I was looking for a document by Benjamin Franklin, a fascinating individual from American history who was not only a patriot and statesman, but was an accomplished writer, scientist, and inventor.  One of the earliest and most prominent of the American journalists, Franklin has become a personal hero to me, as I’d like to pursue a career in journalism, and with any luck develop the same roundness of character that made Ben Franklin the American icon he is today.  Looking on the Library of Congress web page, I desired a journalistic piece that painted a picture of the defiance that colonial Americans showed to their British oppressors.  The easy-to-find search bar returned plenty of relevant results to a query of “Benjamin Franklin,” and provided me with a veritable gold mine of wonderful Franklin pieces.  After skimming a few different documents, I stumbled up one that I thought fit my ideal.  Upon closer reading, I knew definitively that Franklin’s printed ephemera, “No Stamped Paper to be Had,” would be my subject.  I found the Library of Congress page to be an excellent resource for primary source documents, as it is simple to use and intuitive.  It provides not only written documents, but printed materials and artwork of the time, and I have bookmarked it on my web browser for future use. 

                  The document itself appears to be a simple printed page, containing different news articles dated from October 28, 1765 to November 7 of the same year.  The type for different articles is in different sizes, and in some cases entire articles are written in italics.  The unifying theme in each article is the criticism of and refusal to comply with the Stamp Act of 1765.  The articles take place in major cities across the colonies, namely Boston, Massachusetts; Fort George, New York; Essex, New Jersey; New York, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Included are descriptions of defiant acts taken against the governor of Massachusetts and the lieutenant governor of New York, and declarations regarding the Stamp Act set down in meetings of freemen across the fledgling country.  Also included is an account of a ship carrying stamped paper being lost on the rocks around Bermuda.  Physically the document is in great shape given its 250 year life span, with a very few dark smudges behind the writing. 

                  This document has great historical importance, because it is a very accurate description of the attitude of rebelliousness that surged through the American colonists when the Stamp Act was put into effect.  Indeed, one of the things that impressed me most about this document was that not only did it contain information about fighting the Stamp Act, it was written in defiance of that act.  Benjamin Franklin and his partner were forced to “discontinue” their newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.  This document, the November 7, 1765 issue of the gazette, had to be printed in single sheets without the characteristic appearance of a newspaper.  The pair were forced to do this due to the Stamp Act’s requirement that all newspapers were be printed on stamped paper.  This requirement was a feeble attempt by the king of England to slow down the flow of anti-English propaganda into the hands of the colonists.  As history has shown, his attempt failed, and America’s success in the revolution was due in part to the efforts of gutsy journalists who were willing to risk English retaliation in order to tell the tale of the injustices suffered by early Americans. 

The document showed with accuracy the behavior of defiant Americans, and the richly detailed accounts are of great use to historians studying the period.  “…a vast number of them assembled last Friday evening in the commons, from whence they marched down the Fly… and having stopped a few minutes at the Coffee-house, proceeded to the Fort walls, where they broke open the stable of the L--------t G-------r, took out his coach, and after carrying the same through the principal streets of the city, in triumph marched to the commons, where a gallows was erected; on one end of which was suspended the effigy of the person whose property the coach was; in his right hand he held a stamped bill of lading… at the other end of the gallows hung the figure of the devil, a proper companion for the other” (Franklin).  The colonists far outnumbered the figures of authority in the colonies, and when they acted together, did not fear the retaliation of their oppressors.  Their bold acts, such as the one outlined above, became increasingly frequent as the colonists grew more outraged at the English authority.  I was struck that Franklin had somewhat censored the words “Lieutenant Governor,” but perhaps laws at the time required this to be done.  The idea of burning in effigy the lieutenant governor of a state is almost laughably bold, and would certainly be treated with a great deal of gravity today.  Franklin’s clear descriptions bring allow his readers, me included, to put themselves in the place of the colonists, and to burn up both with rage at the injustices placed upon them by the English and with pride at their American heritage. 

Men of the colonies banded together and met to declare opposition to the Stamp Act.  Franklin’s account of these meetings repeats their declarations as they were said, and so can be used by today’s historians to document these declarations.  “Fifthly.  That they will detest, abhor, and hold in the utmost contempt, all and every… stamp pimp, informer, favourer, and encourager of the execution of the said act; and that they will have no communication with any such person, nor speak to them on any occasion, unless it be to inform them of their vileness” (Franklin).  This section of the Essex, New Jersey freemen’ s declaration reads like something out of the Little Rascals’ He-Man Woman Haters club, and indeed supporters of the Stamp Act were clearly treated much worse Darla and Alfalfa were, as they would be detested by entire towns of men.  The historical significance and accuracy of “No Stamped Paper to be Had” lends it great importance to historians, and even greater importance to the colonists of the time.  The unity of ideas from all across the young country came primarily through the distribution of newspapers such as the Pennsylvania Gazette, and it is the publishers and printers of the day who risked career and life to keep our nation from the clutches of injustice. 

This document connects strongly to some of the readings we’ve done in the same time period, not only those by Benjamin Franklin, but those written by other authors in defiance of the English presence in America.  One reading that I was particularly fond of was the sequence of letters sent between John Adams and his wife, Abigail.  Written just ten years after “No Stamped Paper to be Had,” the letters show a distinctly different time in which the dreams of Benjamin Franklin and the early revolutionaries dreamed of.  This dream culminated with the passing of the Declaration of Independence, as documented in one of Adams’ letters to his wife.  “Yesterday the greatest Question was decided, which ever was debated in America, and a greater perhaps, never was or will be decided among men.  … ‘these united Colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent States, and as such, they have, and of Right ought to have full Power to make Ware, conclude peace, establish Commerce…’”  (Adams 692).  The Declaration of Independence, from which Adams takes these words, is the result of ten years of men meeting in pubs and taverns across the colonies.  It is this unity of the people of America that allows them to stand together against what is arguably the most powerful country of the time, England.  The propagation of revolutionary ideas, stemming from newspapers such as Franklin’s led the people of America to declare independence from and eventually vanquish their English oppressors, affecting the globe for hundreds of years to come. 

My hopes of becoming a journalist and my curiosity with the revolutionary war era led me to select “No Stamped Paper to be Had” as a subject for this paper, and I certainly was not disappointed.  The paper and the ideals that it represented live on in today’s America, ideals founded on freedoms of the individual and the responsibility of the government to secure those freedoms for its people.  The current state of affairs in America notwithstanding, I believe that the beliefs set down by powerful, free-spirited men such as Ben Franklin and John Adams still burn in the hearts of Americans, especially in the face of our heritage steeped in the ideals of independence and strength.  “No Stamped Paper to be Had” is just one of many surviving documents that shows how America was able to come together in the face of injustice to oust their oppressors from the land, and should be an inspiration to all. 


References

 


Franklin, Benjamin. "No Stamped Paper to Be Had." The Pennsylvania Gazette 7 Nov. 1765.

Taken on December 7, 2006 from the World Wide Web: <http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?rbpebib:1:./temp/~am>…

 

Adams, John. "These Colonies are Free and Independent States."

The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead.

New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2003. 1848-1849.