The Townshend Acts were a series of acts passed beginning in 1767 by the Parliament of Great Britain relating to the British colonies in North America. They centered primarily on the raising of revenue for the crown and asserting central authority over governors and judges in the colonies. They were widely hated and met with resistance in the colonies, prompting the occupation of Boston by British troops in 1768, which eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre of 1770.
The last of the acts, the New York Restraining Act, was punishment for the Assembly of New York, suspending its legislative powers for failing to fully comply with orders from the crown.
Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania was a series of essays written by John Dickinson. The twelve letters were widely read and reprinted throughout the thirteen colonies, and were important in uniting the colonists against the Townshend Acts. The success of his letters earned Dickinson considerable fame.
Dickinson went on to be a militia officer during the American Revolution, a Continental Congressman from Pennsylvania and Delaware, a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, President of Delaware and President of Pennsylvania. He’s often remembered as the “penman of the Revolution.”
This week, in remembrance of the anniversary of his death, February 14, 1808, we present to you the first of his famous Letters from a Farmer. In reading them, one can see how the issues faced at the time are similar to those of today – the right of the people to local self-government vs a far-off government asserting supremacy in all matters.
In many ways, today’s federal government has suspended the legislative power of state assemblies by assuming control over powers not delegated to it by the Constitution. Of course, one is also reminded that the American tradition is a tradition of resistance to tyranny.