Declaring Independence Virginia House of Burgesses Petition

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April 16 1768
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Virginia House of Burgesses Petition

After the 1765 Stamp Act debacle, the British Ministries sought different American revenue sources. That the Stamp Act had evoked riots and boycotts had been a surprise, as similar revenue measures were accepted in England. The 1766 Declaratory Act was passed shortly after the the Stamp Act was repealed, asserting Parliament's right to make laws binding in the Colonies "in all cases whatsoever". However, citizens of the British colonies in America argued that they should be taxed only by their own legislatures especially since the British Parliament had long before declined to include delegates from America.

Parliament's next attempt to tax the American colonies was the Townshend Acts, which in 1767 imposed duties on American imports of glass, lead, paper, paint, and tea, expecting that an external tax would be acceptable even if internal taxes were not. They were mistaken. Colonial politicians felt that if the Colonists accepted small assessments and British-appointed magistrates to enforce collections, they would open the door to property confiscation and mistreatment in the courts. The Massachusetts Bay House of Representatives reacted rapidly to the impending Townshend duties, with a strongly worded protest to the British Government. This they announced to the 12 other Colonies in a formal letter signed by their Speaker, Thomas Cushing. This, the famous Massachusetts Circular Letter, asked every other Colony to support Massachusetts' position by taking similar actions.

Virginia acted promptly. On April 2nd 1768, the Massachusetts letter was read in the House of Burgesses, which immediately adjourned into a Committee of the Whole House (which means they kept no record of their discussion). By April 14th, the Burgesses had agreed on a Petition to the King, Memorial to the House of Lords, and Remonstrance to the House of Commons. The Virginia Council, 11 Virginians appointed by the Crown, supported the the ideas expressed in the documents, as did John Blair (senior), acting Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. The Burgesses instructed their London agents, James Abercromby and Edward Montague, to present the documents and "[endeavour] to obtain the ends thereof." Had an official sent from England been the Lieutenant Governor, as was normally the case, forwarding the petition to London might have been blocked. However, because the Governor, General Jeffrey Amherst, never visited Virginia and the appointed Lieutenant Governor, Francis Fauquier, had died in March, the Virginian John Blair was unexpectedly in office, and forwarded the Petition, Memorial and Remonstrance promptly.

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