Today (March 22) in London History – Unintended, Meet Consequences

On March 22, 1765 Parliament passed the Stamp Act. Probably the single most eventful Act of Parliament in the last 500 years. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


UNINTENDED, MEET CONSEQUENCES…it’s always an edifying introduction, that one. And that’s what’s on the menu today. But first, a couple of prefatory remarks.

We’ve got another short one today. Because of what we’re up against here – what we’ve got on our plate.

The voting’s over. We’re waiting for the announcement, the result.

There’s a certain ambiguity to my use of the word “today” today.

On the one hand, “today” refers to March 22nd, the day this podcast goes out.

But “today” also means, in this instance, March 16th, the day I’m scripting and voicing this podcast. 

And today in that sense – March 16th – the voting’s not over. We’re in the thick of it, desperately trying to get some more votes. Desperately trying to get some more votes because it was announced yesterday – March 15th – that we’re now in second place. If we’re not able to overtake the new leader we will have lost. More’s the pity. But anyway, the knock on effect of that development is I’m going to have to bash this podcast out very quickly. Each of these podcasts normally takes three to four hours to research, write, voice. I can’t afford three to four hours for this one today – so it’s going to be a quickie. A quickie but a goodie. 

In World History terms, what happened in London on March 22nd 1765 was probably the single most important event ever in the London calendar.

More on that in a minute.

The routine we’ve now established for this podcast is a warm-up act in which I make a daily recommendation: a gallery or museum or walk or pub or restaurant or whatever that should go onto your Things to do/Places to Visit list.

Step forward the Benjamin Franklin House on Craven Street (very near Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross and Embankment Stations). It’s the only surviving home of the great American founding father. 

And on that note, Today in London History.

Unintended… meet Consequences.

A favourite phrase of mine. A very handy phrase indeed. Every debacle brought about by a leader – a king, a Prime Minister, a president, a dictator, whatever – summons up that great phrase. 

What Putin’s come up against in Ukraine – and the world response to what he’s set in motion there – is a classic instance of “unintended meet consequences.”

Germany’s rulers in the early 1930s thinking they could control Hitler, use him as a cat’s paw – and how that worked out – would be another instance of unintended meet consequences.

And, yes, we’ve got a great one here in London on this day, March 22nd, 1765.

That’s the date Unintended sets forth. Unintended doesn’t meet Consequences until July 4th, 1776.

Ok, that second date is the giveaway, isn’t it. It’s American Independence Day. It’s the day of the signing, in Philadelphia, of the Declaration of Independence. That little event in Philadelphia on that July day in 1776 – and what followed from it – well, those were the unintended consequences of what was set in train in London on March 22nd, 1765.

On that day – March 22nd – Parliament passed the Stamp Act.

The Act was designed to raise money to pay for the large army Britain had stationed in North America. It was a tax on all legal and official papers and publications circulating in the colonies.

Shaking down those American colonists to pay for those Redcoats, those were the intended consequences. Well, the best-laid plans of mice and men and parliaments – things sure didn’t go according to plan. There were unintended consequences stored up in that act like a volcano biding its time, waiting to erupt.

Normally I’d gen up on it, put it into Davidese and walk you through it here. That’s normally – when I’ve got three to four hours to produce this podcast. Don’t have that sort of time today – for reasons I’ve already set out. But maybe that’s not so important with the all-important Stamp Act because there’s no end of high quality, readily available histories and explanations of the Stamp Act on the Internet. 

What I have done – a little bit of preliminary spadework – is take a quick look at 18th-century newspapers. Three things jumped out at me from a quick perusal of a few of those 250-year-old newspapers. First of all, a reminder of how slow, how leisurely communications were in the 18th century. 

For example, the St James’ Chronicle – which also went by the name The British Evening Post – ran, on August 28th, this bit of news that had made it into an Annapolis, Maryland newspaper on June 20th. So it took a good few weeks for the June 20th American newspaper, from which this snippet was taken, to get over here and into our British newspaper.

Here’s that not exactly hot off the press American news item: “On Monday last arrived here, in eight weeks from England, the Ship Echo, Captain John Curling, junior, who brought with him a printed copy of the Stamp Act, very necessary to be known by everyone who would keep out of Limbo.” And sure enough, Limbo, in 1765, meant, amongst other things, prison. 

The second thing that jumps out at you from those 18th-century newspapers is the immediacy and the strength of the reaction against the Stamp Act. There was no long fuse on this one. The colonists hated it from the get-go. And they made their feelings known.

In which connection – and believe me I was delighted with this find – it turns out the 1773 Boston tea party started brewing as soon as the Americans got wind, so to speak, of the air biscuit the British Parliament directed their way on March 22nd, 1765.

The London Chronicle in December 1765 ran an item it described as an extract from a private letter from New York. The letter was dated November 11, 1765. 

It reads as follows – and yes, the Stamp Act – tea party connection jumps right out at you.

“I have wrote to you by this opportunity: Since which the abolishing the practice of drinking tea in America is much talked of, unless the Stamp Act is repealed. This is practicable as ground Indian corn will be substituted for breakfast in lieu of tea and is the wholesomest food that is made use of in America.”

You heard it first here on London Walks. Not a bad find, even on a day when I’ve got my back to the wall. 

Wish us luck. By this time tomorrow we should know whether we hit a three-pointer at the buzzer and managed to win the damn thing. 

And before I sign off, here’s a huge thank you from all of us here at London Walks to all of you who voted for us and did your best to get us over the line. Many many thanks.

That’s it for the Today in London History podcast on March 22, 2022. See ya tomorrow. 

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