Smith in the City: the debate over the Stamp Act (part 1 of 2)

Let’s pick up where we left off, with Horace Walpole’s journal entry for Thursday, March 20, which reads: “Mr Young, Mr Lyttelton, Duke of Buccleuch and Mr Smith came. To shops.”[1] What shops would they have visited? And where were these shops located? Also, who were “Mr Young” and “Mr Lyttelton”?

We have already mentioned Duke Henry, but who were Young and Lyttelton? Alas, there is just one reference to a “Mr. Young” in Walpole’s letters. In a letter from Walpole to “James Crawford, Esq.” dated March 6, 1766,[1] Walpole writes: “I think there is nothing else very new: Mr. Young puns and Dr Gem does not: Lorenzi blunders faster than one can repeat[;] Voltaire writes volumes faster than they can print, and I buy china faster than I can pay for it.”[2] The name “Mr Young,” however, appears nowhere else in Walpole’s journal or letters and is too common a name for me to further investigate.[3]

“Mr Lyttelton,” however, most likely refers to George Lyttelton (1709–1773), the 1st Baron Lyttelton, whose portrait is pictured below (left). Like Walpole, Lyttelton was a man of many talents and interests: a poet and prolific author,[4] a Fellow of the Royal Society (elected 1744), a Member of Parliament (MP) for Okehampton from 1735 to 1756,[5] and the chancellor of the Exchequer (1755–56).[6] (Lyttelton was also a patron of the arts and was a friend of Alexander Pope in the 1730s and of Henry Fielding in the 1750s. Fielding even dedicated his novel Tom Jones to Lyttelton.) Moreover, like Duke Henry, he was educated at Eton and had afterwards gone on a grand tour of Europe, visiting the continent with his tutor. It was during this time that he started publishing his early works in both poetry and prose.[7]

But what was Lyttelton doing in Paris? Perhaps he was there for the same reason Walpole was, to avoid politics. Although Lyttelton never again held office after 1757,[8] he had been invited to lead the treasury the previous year (1765), but he declined to join the new government.[9] Or perhaps Lyttelton’s presence in Paris was part of a secret campaign in defense of the Stamp Act–which had just been repealed in March of 1766–for there is evidence that he may have published a pamphlet in 1766 in support of the Stamp Act, “Protest against the bill to repeal the American stamp act, of last session,” the cover page of which is pictured below (right) and which was supposedly published at “Chez J.W. imprimeur, rue du Colombier, Fauxbourg St. Germain, à l’hotel de Saxe.”[10]

Regardless of what Lyttelton was up to in Paris at this time, it is intriguing to imagine Smith and Lyttelton meeting somewhere in the City of Lights, discussing the repeal of the Stamp Act, the most controversial piece of legislation of its time. As it happens, Smith refers to the Stamp Act and devotes considerable space to the topic of stamp taxes in The Wealth of Nations, going as far as to acknowledge that stamp duties are one of the major sources of public revenue. I shall review Adam Smith’s analysis of the original Stamp Act of 1765, the most controversial piece of legislation of its time, in my next post.


[1] See Letter #1046, whichis published in Cunningham 1861, pp. 483-487.

[2] Ibid., p. 487.

[3] As an aside, Walpole does refer to a “Mrs. Young” in a letter addressed to “George Montagu, Esq.” dated Aug. 15, 1763. See Letter #870, which is published in Cunningham 1861, pp. 105-107. Walpole also refers to a “Dr. Young” in a letter addressed to the Earl of Hertford dated April 7, 1765. See Letter #975, in ibid., pp. 339-342.

[4] Lyttelton is included in Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets. In addition, a complete list of Lyttelton’s writings is available on “The Online Books Page” for “Lyttelton, George Lyttelton, Baron, 1709-1773,” available at [insert PermaCC here] https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/lookupname?key=Lyttelton%2C%20George%20Lyttelton%2C%20Baron%2C%201709%2D1773.

[5] See Sedgwick 1970, Vol. *.

[6] Ibid. Lyttelton was also a patron of the arts and was a friend of Alexander Pope in the 1730s and of Henry Fielding in the 1750s. Fielding even dedicated his novel Tom Jones to Lyttelton.

[7] Lyttelton’s earliest publication, Letters from a Persian in England to his Friend at Ispahan, appeared anonymously in 1735. His most famous work, however, was his Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St Paul, also anonymous, published in 1747. It takes the form of a letter to Gilbert West, and is designed to show that St Paul’s conversion is of itself a sufficient demonstration of the divine character of Christianity. Dr Johnson regarded the work as one “to which infidelity has never been able to fabricate a specious answer.”

[8] See Sedgwick 1970, Vol. *.

[9] See Kuiper n.d.

[10] See Lyttelton 1766.

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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