Resolution of Non-Importation Made by the Citizens of Philadelphia, October 25, 1765
Radical politics in Philadelphia were born on November 7, 1765. News had reached the American colonies of the Stamp Act earlier that year. The colonial assemblies in Boston and New York had already signed agreements to boycott British imports until the tax was lifted, and the Pennsylvania Assembly was under pressure to do the same. The most prominent political leaders of Philadelphia were not enthusiastic about resisting acts of Parliament, however; the political factions, generally split between Quakers and Anglicans, were preoccupied with squabbling with each other.
In the absence of organized political support, the merchants of Philadelphia joined together to repeal the Stamp Act and obtained signatures from hundreds of citizens who pledged to boycott imported goods. The people who signed this non-importation agreement on November 7 were incredibly diverse: men and women, Quakers, Anglicans, Jews, Presbyterians, Lutherans, lawyers, clergy, artisans, doctors, shopkeepers, and members of all economic classes. The signers of this petition put aside their differences and united to oppose a tax that affected them all.
Signers of the non-importation resolution were agreeing to a contract that would prohibit them from accessing nearly all regularly imported products, from luxuries like tea to goods used in daily life. In order to avoid a complete collapse of certain industries, the agreement allowed some importation of items necessary for manufacturing and fishing. In the few instances that British ships managed to dock with prohibited items, the cargo was quickly seized and locked up, or the ship was sent back to Britain with threats of violence. That there were very few violations of the boycott illustrates the dedication American merchants had to their cause.
A month later, the effects of the ban were being felt from Philadelphia to Ireland. Thousands of colonial sailors could not work, because American ships were not allowed to leave port without stamped papers. Foodstuffs ordered by Spain, the West Indies, and Ireland were rotting on the docks. British officials predicted that rioting would soon begin in Philadelphia because so many people were idle. But what worried Parliament the most was the sudden drop in revenue the boycott had created. Income from American buyers had fallen by £600,000 in 1765, the lowest it had been in 30 years. Realizing that the tax was losing more money than it was earning, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766.
Americans rejoiced when they learned the tax was repealed, and most colonists did not notice the passage of the Declaratory Act, which essentially stated that despite having lifted the Stamp Act, Parliament had the power to regulate and place any internal tax on the colonies in the future. In 1767 Parliament did exactly that when it passed the Townshend Duties.
As Philadelphians joined the wider effort to repeal the Stamp Act, the first network of radical, locally organized resistance was forming in America. Using language drawn from the Non-Importation Resolution, John Dickinson would work furiously to persuade Philadelphians to oppose the Townshend Duties in 1768 using similar measures. The networks of merchants and traders who supported non-importation turned into networks of orators, politicians, and writers who were vital to the success of future radical movements and American independence.
Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763-1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968).
Jane T. Merritt, "Tea Trade, Consumption, and the Republican Paradox in Prerevolutionary Philadelphia," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 128 (2004): 117-148.
Robert F. Oaks, "Philadelphia Merchants and the Origins of American Independence," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 121 (1977): 407-436.
Richard Alan Ryerson, The Revolution is Now Begun: The Radical Committees of Philadelphia, 1765-1776 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978).
Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1918).