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Boycott British goods! (Protest pledges from 1767)

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  July 15, 2013 08:58 AM

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Grassroots boycotts of consumer products are an established form of protest these days. They were a powerful way to make a political point in colonial America, too.

The Houghton Library at Harvard- which houses the university's collection of rare books and manuscripts- recently rediscovered eight "subscription sheets" that circulated in Boston in 1767. The sheets were drawn up at a meeting in Faneuil Hall on October 28, 1767, in response to the Townshend Acts, which had passed in the British Parliament earlier that year, levying taxes on a range of British goods imported to the colonies. The subscription sheets urged colonialists to boycott the taxed goods in favor of products made in the colonies. It was an early form of the "Made in America" movement, and reading the subscription sheets today, one is struck all over again by the clear moral purpose of the revolutionary years (especially in contrast with our more convoluted time).

The chief delight of the rediscovered subscription sheets is the list of boycotted products itself. They range from small consumer products like "Snuff," "Mustard," "Loaf Sugar," "Muffs Furrs and Tippets," and "Anchors," to bigger ticket items like "Fire Engines," and more sweeping prohibitions against purchasing British-made "Broad Cloths that cost above 10s. per Yard." The leaders of the boycott also recognized that these types of protests can founder when people get desperate, especially in times of great emotional need. For that reason, perhaps, the list of boycotted products closed with a pledge to hold fast to principles, even when burying loved ones: "we further agree strictly to adhere to the late Regulation respecting Funerals, and will not use any Gloves but what are Manufactured here, nor procure any new Garments upon such an Occasion, but what is absolutely necessary."

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You can read more about the subscription sheets- and view copies of them- on the Houghton Library's blog.

Image courtesy of the Houghton Library.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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