Publishing both fiction and non-fiction books of exceptional quality for general readers, The Independent Institute’s LibertyTree Press is inspired by the Liberty Tree, America’s first symbol of freedom, to advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies, grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity.
In 1765 the British Parliament imposed on the American colonies the Stamp Act, requiring all legal documents, permits, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, and playing cards in the American colonies to carry an excise tax stamp. Because the Act applied to papers, newspapers, advertisements, and other publications and legal documents, it was correctly viewed by the colonists as a means of censorship, or a “knowledge tax,” on the right to write and read freely.
On August 14, 1765, Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty (later organizers of the Boston Tea Party, December 16, 1773) gathered under a large elm tree near Boston Common with effigies of Andrew Oliver, the government official chosen by King George III to impose the Stamp Act in Massachusetts, related offenders of the people’s liberties, and a British cavalry jackboot with a devil-like doll grinning from inside and holding a scroll marked “Stamp Act.” (Oliver was the brother-in-law of British loyalist Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts.) Thousands gathered and a sign was placed on the effigy of Oliver declaring, “He that takes this down is an enemy to his country.” That evening, protesters went to Oliver’s home where they stomped on, beheaded and burned his effigy. In fear of his life, Oliver resigned, and on September 10th, a copper plate with the inscription “The Tree of Liberty” was nailed to the trunk of the tree.
From that day forward, the tree became known as “The Liberty Tree.” It stood in silent witness to countless meetings, speeches and celebrations, and became the rallying place for the new resistance that would lead to the American Revolution ten years later. In August of 1775, as a last act of violence prior to their evacuation of Boston, British soldiers cut the tree down and used the tree for firewood. “Armed with axes,” the Essex Gazette reported, “the British soldiers made a furious attack upon it. After a long spell of laughing and grinning, sweating, swearing, and foaming with malice diabolical, they cut down a tree because it bore the name of Liberty.”
This act only further enraged the colonists. As resistance to the British grew, flags bearing a representation of the Liberty Tree were flown to symbolize the unwavering spirit of liberty, and these flags were common during battles of the American Revolution. In addition, the idea of the Liberty Tree spread throughout the colonies as towns designated their own Liberty Trees as gathering places so that during the Revolution not a colony on the coast was without a tree named “Liberty.”
By Thomas Paine
IN a chariot of light from the regions of day,
The Goddess of Liberty came;
Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
And hither conducted the dame.
A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
Where millions with millions agree,
She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
And the plant she named Liberty Tree.
The celestial exotic struck deep in the ground,
Like a native it flourished and bore;
The fame of its fruit drew the nations around,
To seek out this peaceable shore.
Unmindful of names or distinctions they came,
For freemen like brothers agree;
With one spirit endued, they one friendship pursued,
And their temple was Liberty Tree.
Beneath this fair tree, like the patriarchs of old,
Their bread in contentment they ate
Unvexed with the troubles of silver and gold,
The cares of the grand and the great.
With timber and tar they Old England supplied,
And supported her power on the sea;
Her battles they fought, without getting a groat,
For the honor of Liberty Tree.
But hear, O ye swains, 'tis a tale most profane,
How all the tyrannical powers,
Kings, Commons and Lords, are uniting amain,
To cut down this guardian of ours;
From the east to the west blow the trumpet to arms,
Through the land let the sound of it flee,
Let the far and the near, all unite with a cheer,
In defence of our Liberty Tree.
A Selection of Flags from the American Reviolution Featuring the Liberty Tree