Sons of Liberty

1765 Broadside

The Sons of Liberty were a political group made up of American patriots that originated in the pre-independence North American British colonies. The group was formed to protect the rights of the colonists from the usurpations by the British government after 1766. They are best known for undertaking the Boston Tea Party in 1773, which led to the Intolerable Acts (an intense crackdown by the British government), and a counter-mobilization by the Patriots that led directly to the American Revolutionary War in 1775.



After 1765 the major American cities saw the formation of secret groups set up to defend their rights. Boston had the "Boston Caucus Club," led by Samuel Adams and comprising artisans, merchants, tradesmen, and professionals, as well as the "Loyal Nine".[1] Groups such as these were absorbed into the greater Sons of Liberty organization. Its name comes from a speech in the British Parliament by Colonel Isaac Barré referring to the colonials as sons of liberty.[2]

In the popular imagination, the Sons of Liberty was a formal underground organization with recognized members and leaders. More likely, the name was an underground term for any men resisting new Crown taxes and laws.[2] The well-known label allowed organizers to issue anonymous summons to a Liberty Tree, "Liberty Pole", or other public meeting-place. Furthermore, a unifying name helped to promote inter-Colonial efforts against Parliament and the Crown's actions. Their motto became, "No taxation without representation."


1846 artist's impression of the Boston Tea Party
The Bostonian Paying the Excise-Man, 1774 British propaganda print referring to the tarring and feathering of Boston Commissioner of Customs John Malcolm four weeks after the Boston Tea Party. The men also poured hot tea down Malcolm's throat, as can be seen. Note the noose hanging on the Liberty Tree, and the Stamp Act posted upside-down

After defeating France in the French and Indian War, the British Empire sought to provide offices for hundreds of military officers and 10,000 men, and intended to have the Americans pay for it.[3] It passed a series of taxes, and when the Americans refused to pay on the argument of "No Taxation without Representation" (there were no American representatives in Parliament), Parliament insisted on its right to rule the colonies.[4] The most incendiary tax was the Stamp Act of 1765, which caused a firestorm of opposition through legislative resolutions (starting in the Province of Virginia), public demonstrations (starting in the Province of Massachusetts), threats, and occasional hurtful losses.[5]

Groups identifying themselves as Sons of Liberty existed in almost every colony.[6] The organization spread month by month, after independent starts in several different colonies. August 1765 celebrated the founding of the group in Boston.[7] By November 6, a committee was set up in New York to correspond with other colonies. In December an alliance was formed between groups in New York and Connecticut. January bore witness to a correspondence link between Boston and New York City, and by March, Providence had initiated connections with New York, New Hampshire, and Newport, Rhode Island. March also marked the emergence of Sons of Liberty organizations in New Jersey, Maryland, and Norfolk, Virginia, and a local group established in North Carolina was attracting interest in South Carolina and Georgia.[8]

The leaders of the Sons of Liberty heralded mostly from the middle class- artisans, traders, lawyers and local politicians. Samuel Adams and his cousin John were not members of the Sons of Liberty in order to not be directly connected with any violence that the organization may have participated. However there were members of the Sons of Liberty that had influential power with the people such as “Benjamin Edes, a printer, and John Gill of the Boston Gazette produced a steady stream of news and opinion.”[9] Samuel Adams was connected to the Boston Gazette and published many articles under a pen name. This implies that Samuel Adams probably was participatory in the organization through writing, shared opinion, and association with prominent members. Though they were speaking out against the actions of the British government, they still claimed to be loyal to the Crown. Their initial goal was to ensure their rights as Englishmen. Throughout the Stamp Act Crisis, the Sons of Liberty professed continued loyalty to the King because they maintained a "fundamental confidence" in the expectation that Parliament would do the right thing and repeal the tax.[10]

To add weight to their cause, the Sons of Liberty knew they needed to appeal to the masses that made up the lower classes.[11] Several members of the Sons of Liberty were printers/publishers and distributed articles about the meetings and demonstrations the Sons of Liberty held, as well as about the fundamental political beliefs of the group and what they wanted to accomplish. They related in print the major events of the struggle against the new acts to promote their cause and vilify the local officers of the British government. Office holders identified by the Sons of Liberty as being part of the Stamp Act injustice quickly fell out of favor and lost their positions once local elections were held again. The Sons of Liberty would hold meetings to decide which candidates to support—those that would bring about the desired political change. In return, the British authorities attempted to denigrate the Sons of Liberty by referring to them as the "Sons of Violence" or the "Sons of Iniquity."[12]

Furthermore, the inter-communication afforded the Colonies by the widespread nature of the Sons of Liberty allowed for decisive action against the Townshend Act in 1768. One by one the groups penned agreements limiting trade with Britain and imposing a highly effective boycott against importation and sale of British goods.[13]

The burning of the HMS Gaspée.

In many cases their public meetings turned violent.[14] Though the lower classes often agree with the ideas presented by the Sons of Liberty, they wanted more action than words and simple shows of numbers. As such, the property of the gentry, custom officers and other British authorities often fell victim to the volatile nature of mobs.[15]

In New York City the Sons of Liberty would put up liberty poles to stand as a testament to their resolve. The British soldiers would tear them down almost as soon as they were put up. This back and forth action resulted in several skirmishes between the two sides. Most notable among these engagements was the Battle of Golden Hill on January 19, 1770, in which many people were injured and at least one killed. Violent outbreaks over the pole raged intermittently from 1766 until the Patriots gained control of New York City government in April 1775.

In Boston, another example of the violence they committed could be found in their treatment of a local stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver. They burned his effigy in the streets. When he did not resign, they escalated to burning down his office building. Even after he resigned, they almost destroyed the whole house of his close associate, Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. It is believed that the Sons of Liberty did this to excite the lower classes and get them actively involved in rebelling against the authorities. Their violent actions made many of the stamp distributors resign in fear.

The Sons of Liberty were also responsible for the burning of HMS Gaspée in 1772.

In December 1773, the Sons of Liberty issued and distributed a declaration in New York City called the Association of the Sons of Liberty in New York, which formally stated their opposition to the Tea Act and that anyone who assisted in the execution of the act was "an enemy to the liberties of America" and that "whoever shall transgress any of these resolutions, we will not deal with, or employ, or have any connection with him". The Sons of Liberty took direct action to enforce their opposition to the Tea Act at the Boston Tea Party. Members of the group, wearing disguises meant to evoke the appearance of Native American Indians, poured several tons of tea into the Boston Harbor in protest of the Tea Act. The Sons of Liberty sat in the long room above member Benjamin Edes's print shop and planned the famous tea party. During the planning, the Sons of Liberty drank from a punch bowl later donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.

Early in the American Revolution, the Sons of Liberty generally evolved into or were superseded by more formal groups such as the Committee of Safety.

After the end of the American Revolutionary War, Isaac Sears along with Marinus Willet and John Lamb, in New York City, revived the Sons of Liberty. In March 1784, they rallied an enormous crowd that called for the expulsion of any remaining Loyalists from the state starting May 1. The Sons of Liberty were able to gain enough seats in the New York assembly elections of December 1784 to have passed a set of punitive laws against Loyalists. In violation of the Treaty of Paris (1783) they called for the confiscation of the property of Loyalists.[16]


Nine stripe Sons of Liberty flag

In 1767, the Sons of Liberty adopted a flag called the rebellious stripes flag with nine uneven vertical stripes (five red and four white). It is supposed that nine represented the number of colonies that were to attend the Stamp Act Congress. A flag having 13 horizontal red and white stripes, used by American merchant ships during the war, was also associated with the Sons of Liberty. While red and white were common colors of the flags, other color combinations, such as green and white, in addition to yellow and white, were used.[17][18]

Notable members

Later societies

The name was also used during the American Civil War.[19] Early in 1865, the Copperhead organization, the Knights of the Golden Circle, was reorganized as the Order of the Sons of Liberty. Like their namesakes, these Sons of Liberty spoke out and acted against what they saw as an injustice of thwarted rights. In this case, the injustice was being committed by the United States government by denying the rights of the Southern States to leave the Union. The Order of the Sons of Liberty, found mostly in the Northwestern states of the time — Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Missouri and Kentucky — agreed with the idea that the Union was a voluntary establishment and any state wishing to leave and create their own form of government should be allowed to do so.

Unlike the pre-independence era Sons of Liberty, the Civil War era Order of the Sons of Liberty was a highly doctrinal, hierarchical organization. The original Sons of Liberty were united simply in their desires to change the political attitude of the British government, but often differed on the methods to be used and the specifics of the end result. The Order of the Sons of Liberty required members to swear an oath to their cause, and had a strict list of purposes to be followed on pain of punishment. Whereas, the eighteenth century Sons of Liberty tried to avoid large scale military conflicts, the nineteenth century organization planned for it, collecting and distributing guns and ammunitions to their members. The Order of the Sons of Liberty opposed the Union draft and planned to fight with the Southern troops.

Furthermore, after the Revolutionary War, the Sons of Liberty were looked upon as patriots and great leaders of the new country. After the Civil War, the Order of the Sons of Liberty faced charges of treason.

The Improved Order of Red Men, a patriotic fraternal secret society, claims to actually be the Sons of Liberty, having adopted the Native American motif after the Boston Tea Party.

One of the secret societies at the University of Virginia calls itself the Sons of Liberty and daughters of liberty.

Modern references

The patriotic spirit of the Sons of Liberty has been immortalized in modern times by Walt Disney Pictures through their film adaptation of Esther Forbes's novel Johnny Tremain. Within the movie the Sons of Liberty sing a rousing song titled "The Liberty Tree". This song raises the Liberty Tree to a national icon in a manner similar to the way George M. Cohan's "You're a Grand Old Flag" revitalized adoration for the American flag in the early twentieth century.

Iced Earth front man Jon Schaffer uses the name for his side project band The Sons of Liberty.

The main antagonists of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty call themselves the Sons of Liberty and use a flag very similar to the nine red stripes.

A political secessionist group in the 2011 video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution calls themselves the New Sons of Liberty, or NSF. They are presumably a precursor to the Northwest Secession Forces and the National Secession Forces in Deus Ex.

Boston University's student-run longform improv comedy group is called Sons of Liberty and was originated in 2007. They continue to perform today.

See also


  1. ^ Middlekauff pg. 69, 89
  2. ^ a b Gregory Fremont-Barnes, Encyclopedia of the Age of Political Revolutions and New Ideologies (2007) 1:688
  3. ^ John C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution (Boston, 1943) p. 74.
  4. ^ Miller, Origins of the American Revolution p. 109
  5. ^ Miller, Origins of the American Revolution pp. 121, 129-130
  6. ^ Miller, Origins of the American Revolution p. 130
  7. ^ Anger, p. 135
  8. ^ Mainers pg. 78-81
  9. ^ "The Sons of Liberty". 
  10. ^ Maier p. 101-106; Miller p. 139. Miller wrote, "Had Great Britain attempted to enforce the Stamp Act, there can be little doubt that British troops and embattled Americans would have shed each others' blood ten years before Lexington. As Benjamin Franklin remarked, '[Britain] would not have found a rebellion in the American colonies in 1765 but it would have made one.' In addition to believing the patriotic movements "they fell down and died".
  11. ^ Miller, Origins of the American Revolution p. 131
  12. ^ Christopher Hibbert, Redcoats and rebels: the American Revolution through British eyes (2002) p 9
  13. ^ Gary Minda, Boycott in America: how imagination and ideology shape the legal mind (1999) p. 33
  14. ^ Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, This violent empire: the birth of an American national identity (2010) p 91
  15. ^ Smith-Rosenberg, This violent empire: the birth of an American national identity (2010) p 125
  16. ^ Schecter, pg. 382
  17. ^ Colonial and Revolutionary War Flags (U.S.)
  18. ^ Liberty Flags (U.S.)
  19. ^ Baker, pg. 341


  • Baker, Jean (1983), Affairs of Party: The Political Culture of Northern Democrats in the Mid-Nineteenth Century, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, ISBN 0801415136 
  • Becker, Carl (1901), "Growth of Revolutionary Parties and Methods in New York Province 1765-1774", American Historical Review 7 (1): 56–76, doi:10.2307/1832532, ISSN 0002-8762, JSTOR 1832532 
  • Champagne, Roger J. (1967), "Liberty Boys and Mechanics of New York City, 1764-1774", Labor History 8 (2): 115–135, ISSN 0023-656x 
  • Champagne, Roger J. (1964), "New York's Radicals and the Coming of Independence", Journal of American History 51 (1): 21–40, doi:10.2307/1917932, ISSN 0021-8723, JSTOR 1917932 
  • Dawson, Henry Barton. The Sons of Liberty in New York (1859) 118 pages; online edition
  • Hoffer, Peter Charles (2006), Seven Fires: The Urban Infernos The Reshaped America, New York: Public Affairs, ISBN 1586483552 
  • Irvin, Benjamin H. (2003), "Tar, Feathers, and the Enemies of American Liberties, 1768-1776", New England Quarterly 76 (2): 197–238, doi:10.2307/1559903, ISSN 0028-4866, JSTOR 1559903 
  • Labaree, Benjamin Woods. The Boston Tea Party (1964).
  • Maier, Pauline (1991) [1972], From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776, New York: W.W. Norton, ISBN 0393308251 
  • Maier, Pauline. "Reason and Revolution: The Radicalism of Dr. Thomas Young," American Quarterly Vol. 28, No. 2, (Summer, 1976), pp. 229–249 in JSTOR
  • Miller, John C. (1943), Origins of the American Revolution, Boston: Little-Brown, 
  • Middlekauff, Robert (2005), The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, Oxford University Press, ISBN )19531588X 
  • Morais, Herbert M. (1939), "The Sons of Liberty in New York", in Morris, Richard B., The Era of the American Revolution, pp. 269–289, , a Marxist interpretation
  • Nash, Gary B. (2005), The Unknown Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, London: Viking, ISBN 0670034207 
  • Schecter, Barnet (2002), The Battle of New York, New York: Walker, ISBN 0802713742 
  • Smith, Page (1976), A New Age Now Begins, New York: McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0070590974 
  • Unger, Harlow (2000), John Hancock: Merchant King and American Patroit, Edison, NJ: Castle Books, ISBN 0785820264 
  • Walsh, Richard. Charleston's Sons of Liberty: A Study of the Artisans, 1763–1789 (1968)

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Sons of Liberty — von Paul Revere …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sons of Liberty — Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty Éditeur Konami Développeur Konami CE Japan …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Sons of Liberty — Sons of Lib|er|ty, the secret groups formed in the US before the American Revolution which wanted the American colonies to be independent of Britain …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Sons of Liberty — Amer. Hist. 1. any of several patriotic societies, originally secret, that opposed the Stamp Act and thereafter supported moves for American independence. 2. (during the Civil War) a secret society of Copperheads. * * * …   Universalium

  • Sons of Liberty — Amer. Hist. 1. any of several patriotic societies, originally secret, that opposed the Stamp Act and thereafter supported moves for American independence. 2. (during the Civil War) a secret society of Copperheads …   Useful english dictionary

  • Sons of Liberty (Band) — Sons of Liberty Allgemeine Informationen Genre(s) Heavy Metal Gründung 2009 Website http://www.sons of libe …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Sons of Liberty (film) — Infobox Film name = Sons of Liberty image size = caption = director = Michael Curtiz producer = Gordon Hollingshead writer = Crane Wilbur narrator = starring = Claude Rains Gale Sondergaard music = cinematography = Sol Polito Ray Rennahan editing …   Wikipedia

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty — Разработчик KCEJ Success (Windows порт) Bluepoint Games (HD порт) …   Википедия

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty — Developer(s) KCEJ Success (PC) Bluepoint Games (HD port) Publishe …   Wikipedia

  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty — Metal Gear Solid 2 Sons of Liberty Éditeur Konami Développeur Konami CE Japan Concepteur …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.