Customs Commissioners Act

AMERICAN REVOLUTION   |   PARLIAMENT

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Item#: 109811 price:$3,200.00

"IF YOU ARE MEN, BEHAVE LIKE MEN. LET US TAKE UP ARMS IMMEDIATELY": RARE FIRST PRINTING OF ONE OF THE THREE TOWNSHEND ACTS THAT SPARKED THE REVOLUTION, ONE OF 1100 COPIES PRINTED

(CUSTOMS COMMISSIONERS ACT). Act to enable His Majesty to put the Customs, and other Duties, in the British Dominions in America, and the Execution of the Laws relating to Trade there, under the Management of Commissioners. London: Mark Baskett, 1767. Folio, 20th-century marbled stiff paper boards. $3200.

Rare first printing of the 1767 Customs Commissioners Act, one of the controversial Townshend Acts that united patriot opposition to British rule and provoked the Boston Massacre.

Following the Stamp Act, which had united colonial opinion against British authority "as no issue before… a new period of agitation began in 1767, with the passage of the Townshend Acts" (Morison, Sources, xv). Engineered by Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, these were intended to raise revenue from the American colonies by imposing duties on goods Americans were already forced to import only from England, punish New York's opposition to the Quartering Act, and establish a board of customs commissioners in America. This is the first printing of that Customs Commissioners Act. "To guarantee that [colonial] duties raised as much money as he had promised to Parliament, Townshend was tightening control over America's slack customs procedures" by appointing commissioners in England and sending them to Boston "with broad powers. Since colonial jurors rarely convicted a local merchant of smuggling, Townshend's acts set up new admiralty courts that could try smugglers without a jury. And the acts made it easier for customs officials to obtain writs of assistance" (Langguth, 93). In addition, "the moneys thus raised in the colonies… were to be used… to render the royal governors and judges independent of [colonial] assemblies" (Morison, xv).

To Samuel Adams, "these new commissioners of customs were 'the greatest political curses that could be sent amongst us… From the time the acts took effect, November 20, 1767, many Bostonians had been boycotting luxury goods from Britain by signing a 'nonimportation agreement… Stricter enforcement at the customs offices was drawing off hard currency from America, and bad times were spreading across the colonies" (Langguth, 94, 102-103). With increased colonial opposition to the Customs Commissioners Act and other Townshend laws, "the customs administration to enforce them became, especially in ports like Boston… increasingly militarized," provoking merchants such as John Hancock into "calling one of his sloops Liberty and flaunting his intention of 'running Madeira ashore" (Schama, History of Britain II:463). The day after the Liberty was seized by customs officials, Sam Adams was overheard challenging the crowd, "If you are men, behave like men. Let us take up arms immediately and be free and seize all the king's officers" (Langguth, 98). With the Board of Commissioners of the Customs headquartered in Boston, the city became the "rowdiest of all the centers of protest" and those who broke the boycott were often tarred and feathered. As tempers grew shorter and customs officers were accused of bribery and extortion, matters often "got completely out of control. On 23 February 1770 an eleven-year-old boy, Christopher Seider, joined by a noisy protest of schoolboys and apprentices outside the shop of an importer… was shot dead by a customs officer" and his funeral turned into a mass protest led by Sam Adams. Only one month later, on March 5th, amidst these already heightened tensions, "a wigmaker's apprentice ragged a soldier all the way to the Custom House for an allegedly unpaid bill. When a guard struck the pursuing youth, a tocsin normally used as a fire alarm was sounded and mobilized a large and angry crowd" (Schama, History of Britain II, 463). In the melee that followed, the redcoats opened fire, killing five—among them Crispus Attucks—and the day would be memorialized in history as the Boston Massacre. Printed in gothic type (indicative of the first edition). This first printing, excised from the Sessional Volumes of Parliament (pages 563-66), precedes all American printings.

Minor rubbing spine. Very nearly fine condition.

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