Henry McCulloh: The Unknown Co-Architect of the Stamp Act

The Stamp Act of 1765 is closely associated with Lord George Grenville, First Lord of the Treasury and the Prime Minister of England. However, there were other members of the British Government who played a roll in the direct construction and enactment of the Act.  Some of them were Charles Jenkinson, Senior Secretary of the Treasury; Thomas Whately, Junior Secretary of the Treasury; Thomas Townshend, Lord of the Treasury under Rockingham, and Thomas Cruwys, Solicitor to the Stamp Office. There is one name, however, that should be part of the list, but history has been unclear as to the exact role that he played. His name is Henry McCulloh. His story has two distinct parts. The first spans from his time in the Plantations Office to his return to England from North Carolina in 1747; these years are about him as merchant and land speculator. The second part begins with his return to England and ends in the fall of 1765; these years are about his role in designing the Stamp Act, and are focus of this article.

Henry McCulloh, having viewed the situation and conditions in North Carolina first hand and having been part of Gov. Gabriel Johnston’s inner circle for six years, considered himself knowledgeable about colonial problems. Upon his return to England in 1747 he made himself available to the government as an advisor. McCulloh believed that four issues would continue to dog England’s imperial administration if not remedied. They were the need for a stable colonial currency, royal officials’ refusal to follow their instructions, accurate records of their proceedings being sent back to the Board of Trade, and an effective and efficient manner of collecting revenues. In 1751, he submitted to the Earl of Halifax, then President of the Board of Trade, a proposal for creating and issuing bills of credit under the denomination of Exchequer Bills of Union. He also recommended

all Writings, Deeds, Instruments or other matters relating to the law in the said Provinces should be on Stamp Paper or Parchment and … the Money arising therefrom should be applied only to the Security and Advantage of the Colonies under the Management of the said Council of Trade , it is conceived that a very large Sum would arise … thereby the colonies would not be much Burthensome to this Kingdom in advancing money for their Security and enlargement. [1]

Unfortunately, the proposal was given little attention. Not to be deterred, over the next six years he wrote four pamphlets that focused on the same issues.

His first pamphlet, written in 1754, was entitled General Thoughts on the Construction, Use and Abuse of the Great Offices. He argued that

The Prerogative of the Crown and the Inspection of a Sovereign, is altogether formed for the Benefit of the Subject … But when the order of the great Offices … doth not open to the View of the Crown every Matter and Act of Importance, the wrong Frame of them will become a Snare to the Subject; remove all kind of Emulation in serving the Crown; … and draw Lines of Distinction between the Subjects, so as to make it impossible for any Person, however qualified, to attain the Favor of the Prince, unless he hath some Connections with Men of Power … 2

His second pamphlet, written in 1755, was entitled The Wisdom and Policy of the French in the Construction of their Great Offices. McCulloh began by quickly referencing the previous pamphlet as a segue:

when … private Interest is preferred to the public Good, and Stratagems are employed to deceive the People, it destroys Society … when the Channels of Information are obstructed, the Crown cannot either punish the Guilty, nor reward the Virtuous, nor in any respect exercise those Powers which are lodged in it for the Safety and Benefit of the Subject.

He then went on to contrast the procedures employed by the France’s Imperial Administration with those of England:

in order to keep all the Channels of Information open to the View of the Crown, all the Great Boards in France do report to the King in his Council of State the Course of the Officers belonging to the respective Boards [this did not occur in England on any regular basis].

At the Accession of every King, the Arrets of the former King in Council are renewed [this did not occur in England].

 the Council of Commerce are under absolute Necessity, and even subject to great Penalties … if they do not examine and discuss all the Propositions and Memorials sent to them [this did not occur in England].

the [colonial] records are so regularly formed, kept, and transmitted, that the French Council of Commerce depend principally upon the Records in Matters of Information [this seldom occurred in England].

All the Revenues arising in the Colonies are accounted for in the Chamber of Accompts … by this means, there is a constant Fund of Supply for the Use of the Colonies [ this was not established]. 3

McCulloh ‘s third pamphlet, also written in 1755, A Miscellaneous Essay Concerning the Courses pursued by Great Britain in the Affairs of her Colonies,  argued that

In all well-regulated Governments there ought to be fixed and certain

Measures which are not to be departed from, and that the Order and Subserviency of the Parts of all lesser Systems ought to concur to the Good of the general system, or else every Thing must run into Anarchy and Confusion … the principal Object in View is so to regulate our Offices in America, as to have a mutual Relation or Dependence upon the general System, or Plan of Government established.

He then cited the problems that result when this does not occur:

Governors … do many Acts of Government without the … Advice of their Council, and consequently no Entry thereof is made; At other Times, when Matters have been determined in Council, by the Governor’s great Influence at the Board … Matters have been imperfectly entered; They keep back Records and do not transmit them to the proper Boards at Home; Governors have frequently formed Connections with particular Parties or Factions in the Assemblies … [and so pass laws] suited to their private Views and Interest. 4

His final pamphlet, written in 1757, was entitled Proposals for Uniting the

English Colonies on the Continent of America. It was in this work that he tied all of his ideas together.

we entered into a War [the Seven Years’ War], without regulating our Affairs, and establishing a Plan or System of Action; we have been thereby liable to an infinite Number of Mistakes and Inadvertencies … this ought to induce us, before we proceed further, to establish some invariable and fixed Plan of Action; for without it, private Interest will, for the most part, be preferred to the public Good.

He outlined what needed to be done:

the Charter Governments are entitled to make Bye Laws for the better ordering their own Domestic Affairs, yet they are not entitled  … in obstructing the Trade of this Kingdom; Bills of Credit … should be lent out on Land Security, at Legal Interest and as such persons possessed of the said Bills, should be entitled to pay their… Provincial Taxes, in the Payment of the Quit-rents to the Crown, and of the Customs, and also in the Payment of such provincial troops, as are raised for the mutual Defense of the Colonies; … [and finally in order to create a Fund of Supply for the Use of the Colonies there should be] introduce[d] “a Stamped Duty on Vellum and paper in America, and to lower the Duty upon foreign Rum, Sugar, and Molasses, imported into our Colonies to one Penny Sterling per Gallon; which Duties, if Justly collected, would amount together to upwards of £60,000 Sterling per Annum. 5

In 1761, after returning to the Plantation Office in England, McCulloh sent a discourse to the Earl of Bute, Secretary of State for the Northern Department, entitled Miscellaneous Representations Relative to Our Concerns in America. He continued to maintain that the whole colonial system of administration needed to be reorganized. He stressed the need for a fund in the colonies. It would be created “by a Stamp Duty on Vellum and Paper … and also by regulating and lowering the Duties upon French Rum and Molasses.” To protect the value of the fund, he believed “colonial currency must be regulated and made uniform.” 6

It is important to mention that Henry McCulloh was not the first government official to recommend a colonial stamp duty to the Board of Trade, but he was the most persistent. The notion of levying a duty upon the colonies was first proposed in 1722 by Archibald Cummungs, a surveyor and customs official in Boston, and again in 1742 by Sir William Keith, the deputy governor of Pennsylvania. 7 Keith outlined his plan in Two Papers on the Subject of Taxing the British Colonies in America. 8 The duties, Keith believed,  were the means of putting “an entire stop to all those Complaints and disputes, daily arising between the people of the Colonies, and their Respective Governours [and of reducing] the immediate Quantity of Paper Bills Struck in many of the colonies to the discouragement of Fair Trade.” 9

On July 5, 1763, Henry McCulloh sent a general proposal to Charles Jenkinson, Senior Secretary of the Treasury and former private secretary to Lord Bute, who was investigating ways to raise revenue in the colonies. In his proposal he outlined a plan for curbing the smuggling of rum and molasses as well as a plan for a

stamp duty on vellum and paper in America, at sixpence, twelvepence and eighteenpence per sheet, would at moderate computation, amount to sixty thousand sterling per annum; or, if extended to the West Indies, would produce double that sum. 10

On July 29, the Lords of the Treasury wrote to the Commissioners of Customs requesting what “further checks and restraints to be imposed by Parliament … will most contribute” to the collection of revenues in the colonies. 11

On September 8, Jenkinson instructed Thomas Cruwys, the solicitor to the Stamp Office, to work with McCulloh on the plan for addressing the concerns of the Lords of the Treasury; McCulloh was to provide the knowledge of the colonial conditions and the ways to raise revenue – Cruwys was to provide the legal and technical style to the plan.

Three days later, the Commissioners wrote back to the Lords and stated that the Molasses Act of 1733 had been  “for the most part either wholly evaded or fraudulently compounded.” 12 They proceeded to recommend the same duty reduction that McCulloh had recommended in 1757.

On September 14, McCulloh and Cruwys met for three hours. The next day Cruwys presented to Sir James Calder, one of the Commissioners of Stamp Duties, a comprehensive set of notes from the previous day’s meeting. After receiving Calder’s approval, Cruwys took the notes to Grenville. 13

On September 23, the Lords of the Treasury sent instructions to the Commissioners of Customs to prepare a bill that outlined a plan for dealing with colonial smuggling. 14

That same day Grenville directed Jenkinson to “write to the Commissioners of Stamp Duties to prepare a draft of a bill to be presented to Parliament for extending the stamp duties to the colonies.”

On October 10, McCulloh was interviewed by an official from the Treasury. The Minutes and Observations of the conference, included:

a state of the several articles proposed by Mr. McCulloh to be stamped, and the duties thereon; likewise a state of all the different articles which are now stamped in Great Britain, in order to fix upon the articles which are to be inserted in the law intended for imposing Stamp duties in America and the West Indies.

On the back of the last sheet of the Minutes is the following endorsement, “10th October 1763, was presented to Mr. Greenvill, who approved it.” 15

On November 19, two drafts were submitted to the Treasury. One was by McCulloh and the other by Cruwys and Thomas Whately, Junior Secretary of the Treasury. It is not exactly clear why but Cruwys’s draft was the one accepted.

On March 9, Grenville, in his budget speech in Parliament, proposed a new tax bill that had had been submitted to him by the Lords of the Treasury and the Commissioners of the Customs; it was a revision of the Molasses Act and came to be known as Sugar bill. Molasses was being smuggled into the colonies from the French West Indies because it was cheaper than that sold in the British West Indies. The colonies were importing as much as 8,000,000 gallons of molasses annually. 16 By lowering the duties on British molasses from six-pence to three-pence per gallon, Grenville was undercutting French sales and increasing British sales. The Act also gave wider authority to Vice-Admiralty Courts in order to reduce smuggling. This temporarily put a halt to the work of Cruwys and Jenkinson. The Sugar bill was officially approved on April 5.

At this point McCulloh disappears from any further account of the Stamp bill’s preparation.

On July 2, Jenkinson wrote to Grenville,

In the last Session of Parliament you assigned as a reason for not going on with the Stamp Act, that you waited only for further information on that subject. This having been said, should not Government appear to take some step for that purpose? I mentioned this to you soon after the Parliament was up. I remember your objections to it; but I think the information mat be procured in a manner to obviate those objections. 17

On August 11, the Earl of Halifax, now the Secretary of State for the Southern Department and the person to whom McCulloh had sent his 1751 proposal, issued a circular letter to all of the colonial governors asking for “a list of all instruments made use of in public transactions, law proceedings, grants, conveyances, [and] securities of land or money” 18 that could be required to bear a stamp.

Grenville and Jenkinson quickly realized that the Sugar Act was costing more to operate than it brought in. A new source of revenue was needed to cover the shortfall between the cost of maintaining British troops in the colonies and the revenue generated by the Sugar Act. Work was ordered to resume on the Stamp bill. Jenkinson wrote

The people of the Colonies have done themselves much hurt by their

resistance to the legislature of this kingdom in general … The economical spirit which has been introduced in consequence of the late law [the Sugar Act], if it should continue, will do no hurt to the public in general, though it might in a small degree diminish the revenue … 19

Shortly after the governors’ lists that had been requested by Halifax arrived in England, Thomas Whately, Junior Secretary of the Treasury and the person who had taken over the role of Thomas Cruwys, drew up a detailed list of duties and presented it to the Lords of the Treasury in mid-December. In January of 1765, he presented the final draft of the bill to the Lords of Trade. Whately was concerned about generating revenue, but he was more concerned that the evasion of the Laws of Trade struck at the heart of Great Britain’s interests.

The contraband trade that is carried on there is a subject of the most serious consideration; and is become a much more alarming circumstance, than that increase in wealth, people, and territory, which raises apprehensions in many persons that the colonies may break off their connection with Great Britain.

He believed the Laws of Trade, properly applied and executed, would regulate and secure the colonies to the mother-country. He believed that an increase in customs duties would not only prove burdensome to trade, but also difficult to collect. The colonies, however, could afford a nominal tax that could prove equitable in its distribution. 20

On February 13, the Stamp Bill was given a first reading and on February 15, its second reading. Five weeks later, on March 22, the bill became law; it passed by a vote of 205 to 49 in the House of Commons.

On July 13, Henry McCulloh reappears with an assessment of the recently approved Act entitled, General Thoughts … He predicted that the Act would encounter opposition in the colonies because it did not address “several … matters” that “ought to have been taken into Consideration” and contained several “very Exceptionable” clauses that were unnecessary. 21 His work, an appeal for revision of the Act, was addressed to the Honourable Thomas Townshend who had been appointed Lord of the Treasury just the day before.

McCulloh did not believe the Act, as constructed, was going to succeed because it neglected to take into consideration the most basic problem: the medium of exchange. All stamped documents required payment in specie of which there was very little in the colonies. To require this “without Substituting any thing as a Medium in the Course of Payment” made it “impossible for many of the Colonists  to pay Obedience to the said Law.”

There also were some clauses that were inappropriate to the colonial conditions were considered “very Obnoxious”:

One,     the Act required a stamp on all “Monitions, Libels, Answers, Allegations, Inventories, or Renunciations in Courts Exercising Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction.” McCulloh stated, “There is not in America any Ecclesiastical Courts, but the people Settled there, who are mostly Dissenters or Sectuarys of various other Denominations, look upon the above Clause as a prelude to the Establishment of such Courts; and many of them would sooner Forfeit their Lives than pay Obedience to such Establishment.”

Two,    violations of the Stamp Duty would be addressed in Vice-Admiralty courts instead of common law courts where guilt or innocence was determined by a judge and not by a jury of one’s peers. “The Colonies [will] insist that, by the above Clause, they are denied their privileges they are entitled to as Free born Subjects of England … [that is] to the benefits of the Common Law of England, and to the Privileges Granted by Magna Charta.”

Three,             duties would be placed upon “donation, presentation, collation, or institution of or to any benefice or any writ or instrument for the like purpose, or any register, entry, testimonial, or certificate of any degree taken in any university, academy, college, or seminary of learning.” McCulloh believed “Their Seminaries of Learning are most of them of a very late date, and have been Encouraged by his Majesty’s Bounty, and from the Contributions of well Disposed persons here. Therefore any Discouragements given to them, will be looked upon as a great hardship …” 22

It was clear to McCulloh that the final architects of the Act had no understanding of conditions in the American colonies. He ended his appeal with “I was desired to assist … in drawing the Stamp Duty Bill, but I left out the above, and several other Clauses that are now incerted therein, however that Affair was taken out of my Hands, and the Bill was afterwards drawn upon the plan of Business in use here which is very different from what ought to have been observed in America.” He believed the Act would “ be another great means of introducing much disturbance and confusion in the … Colonies.” He knew that to attempt to enforce the Act was useless. He believed that “There could not be a more effectual Method taken to render the said Colonies in Process of time, independent of their Mother Country.” 23

 

[1] British Museum and Library, Additional Manuscripts: 32874, f. 310.

2 Henry McCulloh, General Thoughts on the Construction, Use and Abuse of the Great Offices … (London: R. Baldwin, 1754), 1-4.

3 Henry McCulloh, The Wisdom and Policy of the French in the Construction of their Great Offices … (London: R. Baldwin, 1755), 4, 14, 19, 35, 55, 66, 72, 124.

4 Henry McCulloh, A Miscellaneous Essay Concerning the Courses pursued by Great Britain in the Affairs of her Colonies … (London: R. Baldwin, 1955), 10, 15, 19-20, 61-63, 67-68.

5 Henry McCulloh, Proposals for Uniting the English Colonies on the Continent of America … (London: J. Wilkie, 1757), 11-12, 15-16, 18-19, 23-24, 31-32.

6 Henry McCulloh, Miscellaneous Representations Relative to Our Concerns in America (London: George Harding, 1761), 6-8, 11-12.

7 Lawrence H. Gipson, Jared Ingersoll: A Study of American Loyalism in Relation to British Colonial Government (New Haven CT: Yale University Press, 1920), 116-117.

8 Sir William Keith, Two Papers on the Subject of Taxing the British Colonies in America (London: J. Almon, 1767).

9 William Keith, “Reasons Humbly Offered in Support of a Proposal Lately Made to Extend the Duties of Stampt paper and Parchment all Over the British Plantations, December 17, 1742,” British Museum and Library, Newcastle Papers in Additional Manuscripts: 33028, 376-77.

10 William J. Smith, ed., The Grenville Papers: Being the Correspondence of Richard Grenville Earl Temple, K.G. and the Right Hon. George Grenville (London: John Murray, 1852), 2:373-74.

11 Treasury Minute, July 29, 1763, Treasury Papers, XXIX, 35, f. 135.

12 Commissioners of the Customs to the Lords of the Treasury, September 11, 1763, Treasury Papers, I 430, ff. 339-342.

13 List of Articles proposed by McCulloh to be Taxes, October 10, 1763, in the British Museum and Library, Hardwicke Manuscripts, Additional Manuscripts, 35910, ff. 136-159.

14 Thomas Whately to the Commissioners of the Customs, September 23, 1763, Treasury Papers, XI, 22, ff. 319-320.

15 Minutes and Observations taken in Conference with Mr. McCulloh. British

Museum and Library, Additional Manuscripts: 36226, 357.

16 Public Records Office, Treasury, 1/434:119.

17 Smith, ed., The Grenville Papers, 2:373.

18 John Russell Bartlett, ed., Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and providence Plantations, in New England (Providence: Knowles, Anthony & Co., 1861), 6: 404.

19 “Letter from Charles Jenkinson, Senior Sec’y of Treasury, to Richard Wolters, Jan. 18, 1765,” in the British Museum and Library, Liverpool Papers, Additional Manuscript, 38,304, folder 114.

20 Thomas Whately, The Regulations Lately made Concerning the Colonies and the Taxes Imposed upon them, Considered (London: J. Wilkie, 1765), 91-92, 87, 53, 76.

21 Henry McCulloh, General Thoughts, endeavouring to demonstrate that the Legislature here, in all Cases of a public and General Concern, have a Right to Tax the British Colonies; But that, with respect to the late American Stamp Duty Bill, there are several Clauses inserted therein which are very Exceptionable, and have, as humbly Conceived, passed upon wrong Information, Huntington Manuscripts,

Townshend Collection (San Marino, CA: Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery), 1480

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

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3 Comments

  • This is another first rate article on a little known subject, Mr. Ruppert. Where did you find the McCulloh pamphlets – are they online or perhaps at some library like the American Antiquarian Society?

  • Fantastic piece! This strikes at an area of historical study that needs continued exploration, the administrative challenges of the British Empire in relation to the coming revolution. It’s an area that has been investigated, but merits continued exploration.

    McCulloh’s experience in the colonies revealed that trade revenues and taxes weren’t the sole problem or even the cause of the unreconcilable relationship that would emerge between American colonists and Great Britain. Taxes and revenues became a visible problem because of the administrative challenges presented by a growing empire with distant and valuable possessions. This is why loyalist Joseph Galloway seemed so focus rethinking the governmental structure of the colonies.

    McCulloh’s call for the establishment of a colonial currency is perhaps the most interesting component of his reform plan. Clearly he wanted a more meticulous bureaucratic structure, but the lack of coin in the colonies as a challenge that wasn’t going away, and he was right. In the same breathe they are passing the Revenue Act, Parliament dismissed the need for a colonial currency by outlawing paper currency in the colonies. Not only did they find these taxes onerous, but they physically couldn’t pay them even if they desired. It’s fascinating to see someone looking at this holistically in in background while Parliament tackled the easy problems with easy solutions.

    I’ve bookmarked this article for further study. Great work.

  • I wish I had heard of McCulloh before. I have followed his lead in forming my views of the economic issues of Colonial North Carolina without knowing there was a man of the times who had done it all before me. Corruption of Crown officials were the cause of the Regulator “Rebellion” and the lack of “small change” was a problem faced by all of the colonies/provinces. And many “solved” them the same way: allowing commodities with stable market values – think Virginia tobacco and North Carolina rice, tar, pitch and spirits of gum turpentine to used as “money” to pay taxes, etc. and by printing “Proclamation Money” – essentially promissory notes – to create a medium of exchange to get the economy flowing. I do disagree with his taxation proposals. I must agree with Justice Maurice Moore who argued in a pamphlet published first in Wilmington, NC, then within a week reprinted in Boston, MA that the Stamp Act was null and void in “Carolana” because the Charter of 1667 (?? I may have the year wrong) specifically gave authority of levying direct taxes to the General Assembly of the Province, not the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This is great stuff!

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