The commissioners were recalled; but Charles commanded Bellingham, Hawthorne, and a few others to appear before him in London and answer for the conduct of the colony. The general court met for prayer and debate; Bradstreet thought they ought to comply; but Willoughby and others said, No. A decision was finally handed down declining to obey the king's mandate.
"We have already furnished our views in writing," the court held, "so that the ablest persons among us could not declare our case more fully."
Under other circumstances this fresh defiance might have borne prompt and serious consequences; but Louis XIV. conveniently selected the moment to declare war on England; and Boston commended herself to the home government by arming privateers to prey upon the Canadian commerce, and by a timely gift of a cargo of masts for the English navy. Charles became so much interested in the ladies of his court that he had less leisure for the affairs of empire. Yet he still kept New England in mind; he believed Massachusetts to be rich and powerful, and from time to time revolved schemes for her reduction; and finally, when the colonists were exhausted by the Indian war, the privy council came to the conclusion that, if they were not to lose their hold upon the colony altogether, "this was the conjuncture to do something effectual for the better regulation of that government." They selected, as their agent, the best hated man who ever set foot on Massachusetts soil—Edward Randolph. His mission was to prepare the way for the revocation of its charter, and to undo all the works of liberty and happiness which the labor and heroism of near fifty years had achieved. He was also intrusted by Robert Mason with the management of his New Hampshire claims. The second round in the battle between king and people had begun.
Randolph was a remorseless, subtle, superserviceable villain, who lied to the king, and robbed the colonists, and was active and indefatigable in every form of rascality. During nine years he went to and fro between London and Massachusetts, weaving a web of mischief that grew constantly stronger and more restrictive, until at length the iniquitous object was achieved. His first visit to Boston was in 1676; he stayed but a few weeks, and accomplished nothing, but his stories about the wealth and population of the colonies stimulated the greed of his employers. Envoys were ordered to come to London, and this time they were sent, but with powers so limited as to prevent any further result than the cession of the jurisdiction of Massachusetts over Maine and New Hampshire—which, as we have seen, was bought back the next year. The enforcement of the Navigation Acts was for the moment postponed. The colonists would pay duties to the king within the plantation if he would let them import directly from the other countries of Europe. But Charles wished to strengthen his grasp of colonial power, although, if possible, with the assembly's consent. In 1678, the crown lawyers gave an opinion that the colony's disregard of the Navigation Acts invalidated their charter. Randolph was appointed customs collector in New England, and it was determined to replace the laws of Massachusetts by such as were not "repugnant to the laws of England." And the view was expressed that the settlement should be made a royal colony. Manifestly, the precious liberties of the Puritans were in deadly peril.
A synod of the churches and a meeting of the general court were held to devise defense. To obviate a repeal of their laws, these were in a measure remodeled so as to bring them nearer to what it was supposed the king would require. Almost anything would be preferable to giving up the right to legislate for themselves. It was first affirmed that English laws did not operate in America, and that the Navigation Acts were despotic because there was no colonial representation in the English parliament. And then, to prove once more how far above all else they prized principle, they passed a Navigation Act of their own, which met all the king's stipulations. They would submit to the drain on their resources and the hampering of their enterprise, but only if they themselves might inflict them. Meanwhile, they cultivated to the utmost the policy of delay. Randolph, came over with his patent as collector in 1679, but though the patent was acknowledged, he was able to make no arrangements for conducting the business. Orders were sent for the dispatch of agents to London with unlimited powers; but Massachusetts would not do it. Parliament would not abet the king in his despotic plans beyond a certain point; but he was at length able to dissolve it, and follow what counsels he pleased. His first act was to renew the demand for plenipotentiary envoys, or else he would immediately take steps legally to evict and avoid their charter.
Two agents, Dudley and Richards, were finally appointed to go to the king and make the best terms possible. If he were willing to compound on a pecuniary basis, which should spare the charter, let it be done, provided the colony had the means for it; but, whatever happened, the charter privileges of the commonwealth were not to be surrendered. The agents had not, therefore, unlimited powers; and when Charles discovered this, he directed them to obtain such powers, or a judicial process would be adopted. This alternative was presented to Massachusetts in the winter of 1682, and the question whether or not to yield was made the subject of general prayer, as well as of discussion. There seemed no possible hope in resistance. Might it not then be wiser to yield? They might thus secure more lenient treatment. If they held out to the bitter end, the penalty would surely be heavier. The question ultimately came up before the general court for decision.
It is probable that no other representative body in the world would have adopted the course taken by that of Massachusetts. Certainly since old Roman times, we might seek in vain for a verdict which so disregarded expediency—everything in the shape of what would now be termed "practical politics"—and based itself firmly and unequivocally on the sternest grounds of conscience and right. It was passed after thorough debate, and with clear prevision of what the result must be; but the magistrates had determined that to suffer murder was better than to commit suicide; and this is the manner in which they set forth their belief.
"Ought the government of Massachusetts to submit to the pleasure of the court as to alteration of their charter? Submission would be an offense against the majesty of heaven; the religion of the people of New England and the court's pleasure cannot consist together. By submission Massachusetts will gain nothing. The court design an essential alteration, destructive to the vitals of the charter. The corporations in England that have made an entire resignation have no advantage over those that have stood a suit in law; but, if we maintain a suit, though we should be condemned, we may bring the matter to chancery or to parliament, and in time recover all again. We ought not to act contrary to that way in which God hath owned our worthy predecessors, who in 1638, when there was a quo warranto against the charter, durst not submit. In 1664, they did not submit to the commissioners. We, their successors, should walk in their steps, and so trust in the God of our fathers that we shall see His salvation. Submission would gratify our adversaries and grieve our friends. Our enemies know it will sound ill in the world for them to take away the liberties of a poor people of God in the wilderness. A resignation will bring slavery upon us sooner than otherwise it would be; and it will grieve our friends in other colonies, whose eyes are now upon New England, expecting that the people there will not, through fear, give a pernicious example unto others.
"Blind obedience to the pleasure of the court cannot be without great sin, and incurring the high displeasure of the King of kings. Submission would be contrary unto that which hath been the unanimous advice of the ministers, given after a solemn day of prayer. The ministers of God in New England have more of the spirit of John the Baptist in them, than now, when a storm hath overtaken them, to be reeds shaken with the wind. The priests were to be the first that set their foot in the waters, and there to stand till all danger be past. Of all men, they should be an example to the Lord's people of faith, courage, and constancy. Unquestionably, if the blessed Cotton, Hooker, Davenport, Mather, Shepherd, Mitchell, were now living, they would, as is evident from their printed books, say, Do not sin in giving away the inheritance of your fathers.
"Nor ought we to submit without the consent of the body of the people. But the freemen and church members throughout New England will never consent hereunto. Therefore, the government may not do it.
"The civil liberties of New England are part of the inheritance of their fathers; and shall we give that inheritance away? Is it objected that we shall be exposed to great sufferings? Better suffer than sin. It is better to trust the God of our fathers than to put confidence in princes. If we suffer because we dare not comply with the wills of men against the will of God, we suffer in a good cause, and shall be accounted martyrs in the next generation, and at the Great Day."
The promulgation of this paper was the prelude to much calamity in New England for many years; but how well it has justified itself! Such words are a living power, surviving the lapse of many generations, and flaming up fresh and vigorous above the decay of centuries. The patriotism which they express is of more avail than the victories of armies and of navies, for these may be won in an ill cause; but the dauntless utterances of men who would rather perish than fail to keep faith with God and with their forefathers is a victory for mankind, and is everlasting. How poor and vain in comparison with this stern and sincere eloquence seem the supple time-service and euphemism of vulgar politicians of whose cunning and fruitless spiderwebs the latter years have been so prolific. It is worth while to do right from high motives, and to care for no gain that is not gained worthily. The men of Massachusetts who lived a hundred years before Jefferson were Americans of a type as lofty as any that have lived since; the work that was given them to do was so done that time can take away nothing from it, nor add anything. The soul of liberty is in it. It is easy to "believe in" our country now, when it extends from ocean to ocean, and is the home of seventy-five million human beings who lead the world in intelligence, wealth, and the sources of power. But our country two hundred years ago was a strip of sea-coast with Indians on one side and tyrants on the other, inhabited by a handful of exiles, who owned little but their faith in God and their love for the freedom of man. No lesser men than they could have believed in their country then; and they vindicated their belief by resisting to the last the mighty and despotic power of England.
On November 30, 1683, the decision was made known: "The deputies consent not, but adhere to their former bills." A year afterward the English court, obstinate in the face of all remonstrances, adjudged the royal charter of Massachusetts to be forfeited. It had been in existence all but half a century. It was no more; but it had done its work. It had made Massachusetts. The people were there—the men, the women and the children —who would hand on the tradition of faith and honor through the hundred years of darkness and tribulation till the evil spell was broken by the guns of Bunker Hill. Royal governors might come and go; but the people were growing day by day, and though governors and governments are things of an hour, the people are immortal, and the time of their emancipation will come. By means of the charter, the seed of liberty was sown in favorable soil; it must lie hid awhile; but it would gather in obscurity and seeming death the elements of new and more ample life, and the genius of endless expansion, Great men and nations come to their strength through great trials, so that they may remember, and not lightly surrender what was so hardly won.
The king's privy council, now that Massachusetts lay naked and helpless before them, debated whether she should be ruled by English laws, or whether the king should appoint governors and councils over her, who should have license to work their wills upon her irresponsibly, except in so far as the king's private instructions might direct them. A minority, represented by Lord Halifax, who carried a wise head on young shoulders, advised the former plan; but the majority preferred to flatter Charles's manifest predilection, and said—not to seem embarrassingly explicit—that in their opinion the best way to govern a colony on the other side of an ocean three thousand miles broad, was to govern it—as the king thought best!
So now, after so prolonged and annoying a delay, the royal libertine had his Puritan victim gagged and bound, and could proceed to enjoy her at his leisure. But it so fell out that the judgment against the charter was received in Boston on the second of July, 1685, whereas Charles II. died in London on February 6th of the same year; so that he did not get his reward after all: not, at least, the kind of reward he was looking for. But, so far as Massachusetts was concerned, it made little difference; since James II. was as much the foe of liberty as was his predecessor, and had none of his animal amiability. The last act of the Massachusetts assembly under the old order was the appointing of a day of fasting and prayer, to beseech the Lord to have mercy upon his people.
The reign of James II. was a black season for the northern American colonies; we can say no better of it than that it did not equal the bloody horrors which were perpetrated in Scotland between 1680 and 1687. Massacres did not take place in Massachusetts; but otherwise, tyranny did its perfect work. The most conspicuous and infamous figures of the time are Sir Edmund Andros and Edward Randolph.
Andros, born in 1637, was thirty-seven years of age when he came to the colonies as governor of New York on behalf of the Duke of York. He was a lawyer, and a man of energy and ability; and his career was on the whole successful, from the point of view of his employers and himself; his tenure of office in New York was eight years; he was governor of New England from 1686 to 1689, when he was seized and thrown in jail by the people, on the outbreak of the Revolution in England; and he afterward governed Virginia for seven years (1692-1698), which finished his colonial career. But from 1704 to 1706 the island of Jersey, in the English Channel, was intrusted to his rule; and he died in London, where he was born, in 1714, being then seventy-seven years old, not one day of which long life, so far as records inform us, was marked by any act or thought on his part which was reconcilable with generosity, humanity or honor. He was a tyrant and the instrument of tyranny, hating human freedom for its own sake, greedy to handle unrighteous spoils, mocking the sufferings he wrought, triumphing in the injustice he perpetrated; foul in his private life as he was wicked in his public career. A far more intelligent man than Berkeley, of Virginia, he can, therefore, plead less excuse than he for the evil and misery of which he was the immediate cause. But no earthly punishment overtook him; for kings find such men useful, and God gives power to kings in this world, that mankind may learn the evil which is in itself, and gain courage and nobility at last to cast it out, and trample it under foot.
James II. was that most dangerous kind of despot—a stupid, cold man; even his libertinism, as it was without shame, so was it without passion. In his public acts he plodded sluggishly from detail to detail, with eyes turned downward, never comprehending the larger scope and relations of things. He was incapable of perceiving the vileness, cruelty, or folly of what he did; the almost incredible murders in Scotland never for a moment disturbed his clammy self-complacency. Perhaps no baser or more squalid soul ever wore a crown; yet no doubt ever crept into his mind that he was God's chosen and anointed. His pale eyes, staring dully from his pale face, saw in the royal prerogative the only visible witness of God's will in the domain of England; the atmosphere of him was corruption and death. But from 1685 to 1688 this man was absolute master of England and her colonies; and the disease which he bred in English vitals was hardly cured even by the sharp medicine of the Boyne.
By the time Andros came to New England, he had learned his business. The year after his appointment to New York, he attempted to assert his sovereignty up to the Connecticut River; but he was opposed by deputy governor Leet, a chip of the old roundhead block, who disowned the patent of Andros and practically kicked him out of the colony. Connecticut paid for her temerity when the owner of Andros became king. In the meanwhile he returned to New York, where he was not wanted, but was tolerated; the settlers there were a comfortable people, and prosperous in the homely and simple style natural to them: they demanded civil rights in good, clear terms, and cannot be said to have been unduly oppressed at this time. New York for awhile included the Delaware settlements, and Andros claimed both east and west Jersey. The claim was contested by Carteret and by the Quakers. When the Jersey commerce began to be valuable, Andros demanded tribute from the ships, and shook the Duke's patent in the people's faces. They replied, rather feebly, with talk of Magna Charta. In 1682, the western part came by purchase into Quaker ownership, and, three years afterward, the eastern part followed by patent from the Duke. To trace the vicissitudes of this region to their end, it was surrendered to England in 1702, and united to New York; and in 1788, in compliance with the desire of the inhabitants, it became its own master. The settlers were of composite stock: Quakers, Puritans, and others; and at the time of the Scotch persecutions, large numbers of fugitive Covenanters established themselves on the eastern slopes. The principle on which land was distributed, in comparatively small parcels, made the Jerseys a favorite colony for honest and industrious persons of small means; and, upon the whole, life went well and pleasantly with them.
At the time of the return of Andros to England, in 1682, the assembly decreed free trade, and Dongan, the new Roman Catholic governor, permitted them to enact a liberal charter. In the midst of the happiness consequent upon this, the Duke became king and lost no time in breaking every contract that he had, in his unanointed state, entered into. Taxes arbitrarily levied, titles vacated in order to obtain renewal fees, and all the familiar machinery of official robbery were put in operation. But Dongan, a kindly Kildare Irishman—he was afterward Earl of Limerick —would not make oppression bitter; and the New Yorkers were not so punctilious about abstract principles as were the New England men. Favorable treaties were made with the Indians; and the despot's heel was not shod with iron, nor was it stamped down too hard. The Dongan charter, as it was called, remained in the colony's possession for over forty years. The rule of Dongan himself continued till 1688.
Andros, after an absence from the colonies of five years, during which time a native but unworthy New Englander, Joseph Dudley, had acted as president, came back to his prey with freshened appetite in 1686. He was royal governor of all New England. Randolph, an active subordinate under Dudley, had already destroyed the freedom of the press. Andros's power was practically absolute; he was to sustain his authority by force, elect his own creatures to office, make such laws as pleased him, and introduce episcopacy. He forbade any one to leave the colony without leave from himself; he seized a meeting house and made it into an Episcopal church, in spite of the protests of the Puritans, and the bell was rung for high-church service in spite of the recalcitrant Needham. Duties were increased; a tax of a penny in the pound and a poll tax of twenty pence were levied; and those who refused payment were told that they had no privilege, except "not to be sold as slaves." Magna Charta was no protection against the abolition of the right of Habeas Corpus: "Do not think the laws of England follow you to the ends of the earth!" Juries were packed, and Dudley, to avoid all mistakes, told them what verdicts to render. Randolph issued new grants for properties, and extorted grievous fees, declaring all deeds under the charter void, and those from Indians, or "from Adam," worthless. West, the secretary, increased probate duties twenty-fold. When Danforth complained that the condition of the colonists was little short of slavery, and Increase Mather added that no man could call anything his own, they got for answer that "it is not for his majesty's interest that you should thrive." In the history of Massachusetts, there is no darker day than this.
The great New England romancer, writing of this period a hundred and seventy years later, draws a vivid and memorable picture of the people and their oppressors. "The roll of the drum," he says, "had been approaching through Cornhill, louder and deeper, till with reverberations from house to house, and the regular tramp of martial footsteps, it burst into the street. A double rank of soldiers made their appearance, occupying the whole breadth of the passage, with shouldered matchlocks, and matches burning, so as to present a row of fires in the dusk. Their steady march was like the progress of a machine, that would roll irresistibly over everything in its way. Next, moving slowly, with a confused clatter of hoofs on the pavement, rode a party of mounted gentlemen, the central figure being Sir Edmund Andros, elderly, but erect and soldier-like. Those around him were his favorite councilors, and the bitterest foes of New England. At his right rode Edward Randolph, our arch-enemy, that 'blasted wretch,' as Mather calls him, who achieved the downfall of our ancient government, and was followed with a sensible curse, through life and to his grave. On the other side was Bullivant, scattering jests and mockery as he rode along. Dudley came behind, with a downcast look, dreading, as well he might, to meet the indignant gaze of the people, who beheld him, their only countryman by birth, among the oppressors of his native land. The captain of a frigate in the harbor, and two or three civil officers under the Crown, were also there. But the figure that most attracted the public eye, and stirred up the deepest feeling, was the Episcopal clergyman of King's Chapel, riding haughtily among the magistrates in his priestly vestments, the fitting representative of prelacy and persecution, the union of church and state, and all those abominations which had driven the Puritans to the wilderness. Another guard of soldiers, in double rank, brought up the rear. The whole scene was a picture of the condition of New England, and its moral, the deformity of any government that does not grow out of the nature of things and the character of the people. On one side the religious multitude, with their sad visages and dark attire, and, on the other, the group of despotic rulers, with the high churchman in the midst, and here and there a crucifix at their bosoms, all magnificently clad, flushed with wine, proud of unjust authority, and scoffing at the universal groan. And the mercenary soldiers, waiting but the word to deluge the street with blood, showed the only means by which obedience could be secured."
Education was temporarily paralyzed, and the right of franchise was rendered nugatory by the order that oaths must be taken with the hand on the Bible—a "popish" ceremony which the Puritans would not undergo. The town meetings, which were the essence of New Englandism, were forbidden except for the election of local officers, and ballot voting was stopped: "There is no such thing as a town in the whole country," Andros declared. Verily, it was "a time when New England groaned under the actual pressure of heavier wrongs than those threatened ones which brought on the Revolution." Yet the spirit of the people was not crushed; their leaders did not desert them; in private meetings they kept their faith and hope alive; the ministers told them that "God would yet be exalted among the heathen"; and one at least among them, Willard, significantly bade them take note that they "had not yet resisted unto blood, warring against sin!"
Boston was Andros's headquarters, and in 1688 was made the capital of the whole region along the coast from the French possessions in the north to Maryland in the south. But Andros had not yet received the submission of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Walter Clarke was the governor of the former colony in 1687, when, in the dead of winter, Andros appeared there and ordered the charter to be given up. Roger Williams had died three years before. Clarke tried to temporize, and asked that the surrender be postponed till a fitter season. But Andros dissolved the government summarily, and broke its seal; and it is not on record that the Rhode Islanders offered any visible resistance to the outrage. From Rhode Island Andros, with his retinue and soldiers, proceeded to Hartford, which had lost its Winthrop longer ago than the former its Williams. Governor Dongan of New York had warned Connecticut of what was to come, and had counseled them to submit. Three writs of quo warranto were issued, one upon another, and the colony finally petitioned the king to be permitted to retain its liberties; but in any case to be merged rather in Massachusetts than in New York. It was on the last day of October, 1687; Andros entered the assembly hall, where the assembly was then in session, with Governor Treat presiding. The scene which followed has entered into the domain of legend; but there is nothing miraculous in it; a deed which depended for its success upon the secrecy with which it was accomplished would naturally be lacking in documentary confirmation. Upon Andros's entrance, hungry for the charter, Treat opposed him, and entered upon a defense of the right of the colony to retain the ancient and honorable document, hallowed as it was by associations which endeared it to its possessors, aside from its political value. Andros, of course, would not yield; the only thing that such men ever yield to is superior force; but force being on his side, he entertained no thought of departing from his purpose. The dispute was maintained until so late in the afternoon that candles must be lighted; some were fixed in sconces round the walls, and there were others on the table, where also lay the charter, with its engrossed text, and its broad seal. The assemblymen, as the debate seemed to approach its climax, left their seats and crowded round the table, where stood on one side the royal governor, in his scarlet coat laced with gold, his heavy but sharp-featured countenance flushed with irritation, one hand on the hilt of his sword, the other stretched out toward the coveted document:—on the other, the governor chosen by the people, in plain black, with a plain white collar turned down over his doublet, his eyes dark with emotion, his voice vibrating hoarsely as he pleaded with the licensed highwayman of England. Around, is the ring of strong visages, rustic but brainy, frowning, agitated, eager, angry; and the flame of the candles flickering in their heavily-drawn breath.
Suddenly and simultaneously, by a preconcerted signal, the lights are out, and the black darkness has swallowed up the scene. In the momentary silence of astonishment, Andros feels himself violently shoved aside; the hand with which he would draw his sword is in an iron grasp, as heavy as that which he has laid upon colonial freedom. There is a surging of unseen men about him, the shuffling of feet, vague outcries: he knows not what is to come: death, perhaps. Is Sir Edmund afraid? We have no information as to the physical courage of the man, further than that in 1675 he had been frightened into submission by the farmers and fishermen at Fort Saybrook. But he need not have been a coward to feel the blood rush to his heart during those few blind moments. Men of such lives as his are always ready to suspect assassination.
But assassination is not an American method of righting wrong. Anon the steel had struck the flint, and the spark had caught the tinder, and one after another the candles were alight once more. All stared at one another: what had happened? Andros, his face mottled with pallor, was pulling himself together, and striving to resume the arrogant insolence of his customary bearing. He opens his mouth to speak, but only a husky murmur replaces the harsh stridency of his usual utterance. "What devilish foolery is this—" But ere he can get further, some bucolic statesman brings his massive palm down on the table with a bang that makes the oaken plank crack, and thunders out—"The charter! Where's our charter?"
Where, indeed? That is one of those historic secrets which will probably never be decided one way or the other. "There is no contemporary record of this event." No: but, somehow or other, one hears of Yankee Captain Joe Wadsworth, with the imaginative audacity and promptness of resource of his race, snatching the parchment from the table in the midst of the groping panic, and slipping out through the crowd: he has passed the door and is inhaling with grateful lungs the fresh coolness of the cloudy October night. Has any one seen him go? Did any one know what he did?—None who will reveal it. He is astride his mare, and they are off toward the old farm, where his boyhood was spent, and where stands the great hollow oak which, thirty years ago, Captain Joe used to canvass for woodpeckers' nests and squirrel hordes. He had thought, in those boyish days, what a good hiding-place the old tree would make; and the thought had flashed back into his mind while he listened to that fight for the charter to-day. It did not take him long to lay his plot, and to agree with his few fellow-conspirators. Sir Edmund can snatch the government, and scrawl Finis at the foot of the Connecticut records; but that charter he shall never have, nor shall any man again behold it, until years have passed away, and Andros has vanished forever from New England.
Meanwhile, he returned to Boston, there, for a season, to make "the wicked walk on every side, and the vilest to be exalted." Then came that famous April day of 1689; and, following, event after event, one storming upon another's heels, as the people rose from their long bondage, and hurled their oppressors down. The bearer of the news that William of Orange had landed in England, was imprisoned, but it was too late. Andros ordered his soldiers under arms; but the commander of the frigate had been taken prisoner by the Boston ship-carpenters; the sheriff was arrested; hundreds of determined men surrounded the regimental headquarters; the major resisted in vain; the colors and drums were theirs; a vast throng at the town house greeted the venerable Bradstreet; the insurrection was proclaimed, and Andros and his wretched followers, flying to the frigate, were seized and cast into prison. "Down with Andros and Randolph!" was the cry; and "The old charter once more!" It was a hundred years to a day before that shot fired at Concord and heard round the world.
THE NEW LEAF, AND THE BLOT ON IT
Popular liberty is one thing; political independence is another. The latter cannot be securely and lastingly established until the former has fitted the nation to use it intelligently. When the component individuals have thrown off the bondage of superstition and of formulas, their next step must be, as an organization, to abrogate external subordination to others, and, like a son come of age, to begin life on a basis and with an aim of their own.
But such movements are organic, and chronologically slow; so that we do not comprehend them until historical perspective shows them to us in their mass and tendency. They are thus protected against their enemies, who, if they knew the significance of the helpless seed, would destroy it before it could become the invincible and abounding tree. Great human revolutions make themselves felt, at first, as a trifling and unreasonable annoyance: a crumpling in the roseleaf bed of the orthodox and usual. They are brushed petulantly aside and the sleeper composes himself to rest once more. But inasmuch as there was vital truth as the predisposing cause of the annoyance it cannot thus be disposed of; it spreads and multiplies. Had its opponents understood its meaning, they would have humored it into inoffensiveness; but the means they adopt to extirpate it are the sure way to develop it. Truth can no more be smothered by intolerance, than a sown field can be rendered unproductive by covering it with manure.
When Christ came, the common people had no recognized existence except as a common basis on which aristocratic institutions might rest. That they could have rights was as little conceived as that inanimate sticks and stones could have them; to enfranchise them—to surrender to them the reins of government—such an idea the veriest madness would have started from. Philosophy was blind to it; religion was abhorrent to it; the common people themselves were as far from entertaining it as cattle in the fields are to-day. Christ's sayings—Love one another—Do as ye would be done by —struck at the root of all arbitrary power, and furnished the clew to all possible emancipations; but their infinite meaning has even yet been grasped but partially. A thousand years are but as yesterday in the counsels of the Lord. The early Christians were indeed a democracy; but they were common people to begin with, and the law of love suggested to them no thought of altering their condition in that respect. The only liberty they dreamed of claiming was liberty to die for their faith; and that was accorded to them in full measure. Indeed, an apprenticeship, the years of which were centuries, must be served before they could be qualified to realize even that they could become the trustees of power.
Their simple priesthood, beginning by sheltering them from physical violence, ended by subjecting them to a yet more enslaving spiritual tyranny. Philosophers could frame imaginative theories of human liberty; but the people could be helped only from within themselves. Wiclif, giving them the Bible in a living language, and intimating that force was not necessarily right, began their education; and Luther, in his dogma of justification by faith alone, forged a tremendous weapon in their behalf. Beggars could have faith; princes and prelates might lack it; of what avail was it to gain the whole world if the soul must be lost at last? The reasonings and discussions to which his dogma gave rise called into existence two world-covering armies to fight for and against it. Peace has not been declared between them yet; but there has long ceased to be any question as to who shall have the victory.
When the battle began, however, the other side had the stronger battalions, and there would have been little chance for liberty, but for the timely revelation of the western continent. And, inevitably, it was the people who went, and the aristocrats who stayed behind; because the new idea favored the former and menaced the latter. Inevitably, too, it was the man who had the future in him that was the exile, and the man of the past who drove him forth. And whenever we find a man of the aristocratic order emigrating to the colonies, we find in him the same love of liberty which animates his plebeian companion, graced by a motive even higher, because opposed to his inherited interests and advantages. Thus the refuge of the oppressed became by the nature of things the citadel of the purest and soundest civilization.
Luther, Calvin, and Jonathan Edwards were in the line of succession one from the other; each defined the truth more nearly than his predecessor, but left it still in the rough. The whole truth is never revealed at one time, but so much only as may forge a sword for the immediate combat. Faith alone was a good blade for the first downright strokes of the battle; predestination had a finer edge; and Edwards's dialectical subtleties on the freedom of the will sharpen logic to so fine a point that we begin to perceive that not logic but love is the true weapon of the Christian: the mystery of God is not revealed in syllogisms. But each fresh discrimination was useful in its place and time, and had to exist in order to prepare the way for its successor. The Puritans would have been less stubborn without their background of spiritual damnation. That awful conscience of theirs would have faltered without its lake of fire and brimstone to keep out of; and if it had faltered, the American nation would have been strangled in its cradle.
America, then, having no permanent attractions as a residence for any of the upper classes of European society, became the home of the common people, in whom alone the doctrine of liberty could find a safe anchorage, because in them alone did the need for it abide. The philosophy, the religion, the tolerance, the civil forms, which are broad enough to suit the common people, must be nearly as broad as truth itself, and therefore as unconquerable. But the broader they appear, the more must they be offensive to the orthodox and conventional, who by the instinct of self-preservation will be impelled to attack them. There was never a more obvious chain of cause and effect than that which is revealed in the history of the United States; and having shown the conditions which led to the planting in the wilderness of the elements which constitute our present commonwealth, we shall now proceed to trace the manner in which they came to be wrought into a united whole. They were as yet mainly unconscious of one another; the opportunity for mutual knowledge had not yet been presented, nor had the causes conducive to crystallization been introduced. Oppression had awakened the colonists to the value of their religious and civic principles; something more than oppression was requisite to mold them into independent and homogeneous form. This was afforded, during the next eighty years, by their increase in numbers, wealth, familiarity with their country, and in the facilities for intercommunication; and also, coincidently, by the French and Indian wars, which apprised them of their strength, trained them in arms, created the comradeship which arises from common dangers and aims, and developed vast tracts of land which had otherwise been unknown. A country which has been fought for, on whose soil blood has been shed, becomes dear to its inhabitants; and the heroism of the Revolution gathered heart and perseverance from the traditions and the graves of the soldiers of the Intercolonial wars.
The English Revolution benefited the colonies, though to a less extent than might have been expected. William of Orange was the logical consequence, by reaction, of James II. The latter had so corrupted and confused the kingdom, that William, whose connection with England arose from his marriage with Mary, James's daughter, was invited to usurp the throne by Tories, Whigs and Presbyterians—each party from a motive of its own. The people were not appealed to, but they acquiesced. The Roman Catholics were discriminated against, and the nonconformists were not requited for their services; but out of many minor injustices and wrongs, a condition better than anything which had preceded it was soon discernible. The principle was established that royal power was not absolute, nor self-continuing; it could be created only by the representatives of the people, who could take it away again if its trustee were guilty of breach of contract. The dynastic theory was disallowed; kings were to come by election, not succession. The nobility were recognized as the medium between the king and the people, but not before they had conceded to the commons the right to elect a king for life; and presently there came into existence a new power—that of the commercial classes, the moneyed interest, which, in return for loans to government, received political consideration. Ownership of land ceased to be the sole condition on which a candidate could appeal to the electors; and merchants were raised to a position where they could control national policies. Merchants might not be wiser or less selfish than the aristocracy; but at all events they were of the people, and the more widely power is diffused, the less likely is any class to be oppressed. It was no longer possible for freemen to be ruled otherwise than by governments of their own making, and subject to their approval. Freedom of the press, which means liberty to criticise all state and social procedure, was established, and public opinion, instead of being crushed, was consulted. The aristocracy could retain its ascendency only by permitting more weight to the middle class, whose influence was therefore bound gradually to increase. Popular legislatures were the final arbiters; and the advantages which the English had obtained would naturally be imparted to the colonies, which, in addition, were unhampered by the relics of decaying systems which still impeded the old country.
William cared little for England, nor were the English in love with him; but he was the most far-seeing statesman of his day, and his effect was liberalizing and beneficial. He kept Louis XIV. from working the mischief that he desired, and prevented the disturbance of political equilibrium which was threatened by the proposed successor to the extinct Hapsburg dynasty on the Spanish throne. William was outwardly cold and dry, but there was fire within him, if you would apply friction enough. He was under no illusions; he perfectly understood why he was wanted in England; and for his part, he accepted the throne in order to be able to check Louis in his designs upon the liberties of Holland. In defending his countrymen he defended all others in Europe, whose freedom was endangered.
But if William's designs were large, they were also, and partly for that reason, unjust in particulars. He was at war with France; France held possessions in America; and it was necessary to carry on war against her there as well as in Europe. The colonists, then, should be made to assist in the operations; they must furnish men, forts, and, to some extent at least, supplies. It was easy to reach this determination, but difficult to enforce it under the circumstances. The various colonies lacked the homogeneity which was desirable to secure co-operative action from them; some of them were royal provinces, some proprietary, some were in an anomalous state, or practically without any recognizable form of government whatever. Each had its separate interests to regard, and could not be brought to perceive that what was the concern of one must in the end be the concern of all. But the greatest difficulty was to secure obedience of orders after they had been promulgated; the colonial legislatures pleaded all manner of rights and privileges, under Magna Charta and other charters; they claimed the privileges of Englishmen, and they stood upon their "natural" rights as discoverers and inhabitants of a new country. They were spread over a vast extent of territory, so that in many cases a journey of weeks would be required, through pathless forests, across unbridged rivers, over difficult mountains, by swamps and morasses —in order to carry information of the commands of the government to no more than a score or a hundred of persons. And then these persons would look around at the miles of unconquerable nature stretching out on every side; and they would reflect upon the thousands of leagues of salt water that parted them from the king who was the source of these unwelcome orders; and, finally, they would glance at the travel-stained and weary envoy with a pitying smile, and offer him food and drink and a bed—but not obedience. The colonists had imagination, when they cared to exercise it; but not imagination of the kind to bring vividly home to them the waving of a royal scepter across the broad Atlantic.
Another cause of embarrassment to the king was the reluctance of Parliament to pass laws inhibiting the reasonable liberties of the colonies. The influence of the Lords somewhat preponderated, because they controlled many of the elections to the Commons; but neither branch was disposed to increase the power of the king, and they were, besides, split by internal factions. It was not until the mercantile interest got into the saddle that Parliament saw the expediency of restricting the productive and commercial freedom of the colonies, and the necessity, in order to secure these ends, of diminishing their legislative license. Meanwhile, William tried more than one device of his own. First, by dint of the prerogative, he ordered that each colony north of Carolina should appoint a fixed quota of men and money for the defense of New York against the common enemy; this order it was found impossible to carry out. Next, he caused a board of trade to be appointed in 1696 to inquire into the condition of the colonies, and as to what should be done about them; and after a year, this board reported that in their opinion what was wanted was a captain-general to exercise a sort of military dictatorship over all the North American provinces. But the ministry held this plan to be imprudent, and it fell through. At the same time, William Penn worked out a scheme truly statesmanlike, proposing an annual congress of two delegates from each province to devise ways and means, which they could more intelligently do than could any council or board in England. The plan was advocated by Charles Davenant, a writer on political economy, who observed that the stronger the colonies became, the more profitable to England would they be; only despotism could drive them to rebellion; and innovations in their charters would be prejudicial to the king's power. But this also was rejected; and finally the conduct of necessary measures was given to "royal instructions," that is, to the king; but to the king subject to the usual parliamentary restraint. And none of the better class of Englishmen wished to tyrannize over their fellow Englishmen across the sea.
Under this arrangement, the appointment of judges was taken from the people; Habeas Corpus was refused, or permitted as a favor; censorship of the press was revived; license to preach except as granted by a bishop was denied; charters were withheld from dissenters; slavery was encouraged; and the colonies not as yet under royal control were told that the common weal demanded that they should be placed in the same condition of dependency as those who were. But William died in 1702, before this arrangement could be carried out. Queen Anne, however, listened to alarmist reports of the unruly and disaffected condition of the colonies, and allowed a bill for their "better regulation" to be introduced. It was now that the mercantile interest began to show its power.
The old argument, that every nation may claim the services of its own subjects, wherever they are, was revived; and that England ought to be the sole buyer and seller of American trade. All the oppressive and irritating commercial regulations were put in force, and all colonial laws opposing them were abrogated. Complaints under these regulations were taken out of the hands of colonial judges and juries, on the plea that they were often the offenders. Woolen manufactures, as interfering with English industry, were so rigorously forbidden, that a sailor in an American port could not buy himself a flannel shirt, and the Virginians were put to it to clothe themselves at all. Naturally, the people resisted so far as they could, and that was not a little; England could not spare a sufficient force to insure obedience to laws of such a kind. "We have a right to the same liberties as Englishmen," was the burden of all remonstrances, and it was supported by councilors on the bench and ministers in the pulpit. The revenues were so small as hardly to repay the cost of management. It is hard to coerce a nation and get a profit over expenses; and the colonies were a nation—they numbered nearly three hundred thousand in Anne's reign —without the advantage of being coherent; they were a baker's dozen of disputatious and recalcitrant incoherencies. The only arbitrary measure of taxation that was amiably accepted was the post-office tax, which was seen to be productive of a useful service at a reasonable cost; and an act to secure suitable trees for masts for the navy was tolerated because there were so many trees. The coinage system was no system at all, and led to much confusion and loss; and the severe laws against piracy, which had grown to be common, and in the profits of which persons high in the community were often suspected and sometimes proved to have been participants, were less effective than they certainly ought to have been; but they, and the bloody and desperate objects of them, added a picturesque page to the annals of the time.
Concerning the condition of the several colonies during the years following the Revolution of 1688, it may be said, in general, that it was much better in fact than it was in theory. There were narrow and unjust and short-sighted laws and regulations, and there were men of a corresponding stamp to execute them; but the success such persons met with was sporadic, uncertain, and partial. The people were grown too big, and too well aware of their bigness, to be ground down and kept in subjection, even had the will so to afflict them been steady and virulent—which it cannot be said to have been. The people knew that, be the law what it might, it could, on the whole, be evaded or disregarded, unless or until the mother country undertook to enforce it by landing an army and regularly making war; and England had too many troubles of her own, and also contained too many liberal-minded men, to attempt such a thing for the present. The proof that the colonies were not seriously or consistently oppressed is evident from the fact that they all increased rapidly in population and wealth, notwithstanding their "troubles"; and it was not until England had settled down under her Georges, and that Providence had inspired the third of that name with the pig-headedness that cost his adopted subjects so dear, that the Revolution became a possibility. Yet even now there was no lack of talk of such an eventuality; the remark was common that in process of time the colonies would declare their independence. But perhaps it was made rather with intent to spur England to adopt preventative measures in season, than from a real conviction that the event would actually take place.
New York, at the time of William's accession, had been under the control of Andros, who at that epoch commanded a domain two or three times as large as Britain. Nicholson was his lieutenant; and on the news of the Revolution Jacob Leisler, a German, who had come over in 1660 as a soldier of the Dutch West India Company, and had made a fortune, unseated Nicholson and proclaimed William and Mary. Supported by the mass of the Dutch inhabitants, but without other warrant, he assumed the functions of royal lieutenant-governor, pending the arrival of the new king's appointee. In the interests of order, it was the best thing to do. But he made active enemies among the other elements of the cosmopolitan population of New York, and they awaited an opportunity to be avenged on him. This came with the arrival of Henry Sloughter in 1691, with the king's commission. Sloughter can only be described as a drunken profligate. At the earliest moment, Leisler sent to know his commands, and offered to surrender the fort. Sloughter answered by arresting him and Milborne, his son-in-law, on the charge of high treason—an absurdity; but they were arraigned before a partisan court and condemned to be hanged —they refusing to plead and appealing to the king. It is said that Sloughter did not intend to carry the sentence into effect; but the local enemies of Leisler made the governor drunk that night, and secured his signature to the decree. This was on May 14, 1691; on the 15th, the house disapproved the sentence, but on the 16th it was carried out, the victims meeting their fate with dignity and courage. In 1695, the attainder was reversed by act of parliament; but it remains the most disgraceful episode of William's government of the colonies.
Meanwhile, Sloughter was recalled, and Fletcher sent out. He was not a sodden imbecile, but he was ill-chosen for his office. He described the New Yorkers of that day as "divided, contentious and impoverished" and immediately began a conflict with them. His attitude may be judged from a passage in his remarks to the assembly soon afterward: "There never was an amendment desired by the council board but what was rejected. It is a sign of a stubborn ill-temper.... While I stay in this government I will take care that neither heresy, schism, nor rebellion be preached among you, nor vice and profanity be encouraged. You seem to take the power into your own hands and set up for everything." This last observation was probably not devoid of truth; nor was a subsequent one, "There are none of you but what are big with the privileges of Englishmen and Magna Charta." That well describes the colonist of the period, whether in New York or elsewhere. It had been said of New Yorkers, however, that they were a conquered people, who had no rights that a king was bound to respect; and the grain of truth in the saying may have made the New Yorkers more than commonly anxious to keep out the small end of the wedge. Bellomont's incumbency was mild, and chiefly memorable by reason of his having commissioned a certain William Kidd to suppress piracy; but Kidd—if tradition is to be believed: —certainly his most unfair and prejudiced trial in London afforded no evidence of it—found more pleasure in the observance than in the breach, and became the most famous pirate of them all. There is gold enough of his getting buried along the coasts to buy a modern ironclad fleet, according to the belief of the credulous. A little later, Steed Bonnet, Richard Worley, and Edward Teach, nicknamed Blackbeard, had similar fame and fate. Their business, like others of great profit, incurred great risks.
Of Lord Cornbury, the next governor, Bancroft remarks, with unwonted energy, that "He joined the worst form of arrogance to intellectual imbecility," and that "happily for New York, he had every vice of character necessary to discipline a colony into self-reliance and resistance." He began by stealing $1,500 appropriated to fortify the Narrows; it was the last money he got from the various assemblies that he called and dissolved, and the assemblies became steadily more independent and embarrassing. In 1707, the Quaker speaker read out in meeting a paper accusing him of bribe taking. Cornbury disappears from American history the next year; and completed his career, in England, as the third Earl of Clarendon.
Under Lovelace, the assembly refused supplies and assumed executive powers; when Hunter came, he found a fertile and wealthy country, but nothing in it for him: "Sancho Panza was but a type of me." He was a man of humor and sagacity, and perceived that "the colonists are infants at their mother's breasts, but will wean themselves when they come of age." Before he got through with the New Yorkers, he had reason to suspect that the weaning time had all but arrived.
New Jersey passed through many trivial vicissitudes, changes of ownership, vexed land-titles, and royal encroachments. For several years the people had no visible government at all. They did not hold themselves so well in hand as did New York, and were less audacious and aggressive in resistance; but in one way or another, they fairly held their own, prospered and multiplied. Pennsylvania enjoyed from the first more undisturbed independence and self-direction than the others; at one time it seemed to be their ambition to discover something which Penn would not grant them, and then to ask for it. But the great Quaker was equal to the occasion; no selfishness, crankiness, or whimsicality on their part could wear out his patience and benevolence. In the intervals of his imprisonments in England he labored for their welfare. The queen contemplated making Pennsylvania a royal province, but Penn, though poor, would not let it go except on condition it might retain its democratic liberties. The people, in short, kept everything in their own hands, and their difficulties arose chiefly from their disputes as to what to do with so much freedom. It was a colony where everybody was equal, without an established church, where any one was welcome to enter and dwell, which was destitute of arms or defense or even police, which yet grew in all good things more rapidly than any of its sister colonies. The people waxed fat and kicked, but they did no evil in the sight of the Lord, whatever England may have thought of them; and after the contentious little appendage of Delaware had finally been cut off from its big foster sister (though they shared the same governors until the Revolution) there is little more to be said of either of them.
The Roman Catholic owners of Maryland fared ill after William came into power; he made the colony a royal province in 1691, and for thirty years or more there were no more Baltimores in the government. Under Copley, the first royal governor, the Church of England was declared to be established; but dissenters were afterward protected; only the Catholics were treated with intolerance in the garden themselves had made. The people soon settled down and became contented, and slowly their numbers augmented. But the Baltimores were persistent, and the fourth lord, in 1715, took advantage of his infancy to compass a blameless reconciliation with the Church of England, thereby securing his installation in the proprietary rights of his forefathers, from which the family was not evicted until the Revolution of the colonies in 1775 opened a new chapter in the history of the world.
Virginia recovered rapidly from Berkeley, and suffered little from Andros, who was governor in 1692, but with his fangs drawn, and an experience to remember. The people still eschewed towns, and lived each family in its own solitude, hospitable to all, but content with their own company. The love of independence grew alike in the descendants of the cavaliers and in the common people, and the wide application of the suffrage equalized power, and even enabled the lower sort to keep the gentry, when the fancy took them, out of the places of authority and trust. Democracy was in the woods and streams and the blue sky, and all breathed it in and absorbed it into their blood and bone. They early petitioned William for home rule in all its purity; he permitted land grants to be confirmed, but would not let their assembly supplant the English parliament as a governing power. He sought, unsuccessfully, to increase the authority of the church; for though the bishop might license and the governor recommend, the parish would not present. It was a leisurely, good-natured, careless, but spirited people, indifferent to commerce, content to harvest their fields and rule their slaves, and let the world go by. A more enviable existence than theirs it would be hard to imagine. All their financial transactions were done in tobacco, even to the clergyman's stipend and the judge's fee. No enemy menaced them; politics were rather an amusement than a serious duty; yet in these fertile regions were made the brains and characters which afterward, for so many years, ruled the councils of the United States, or led her armies in war. They lay fallow for seventy-five years, and then gave the best of accounts of themselves. England did not quite know what to make of the Virginians; to judge by the reports of the governors, they were changeable as a pretty woman. But they were simply capricious humorists, full of life and intelligence, who did what they pleased and did not take themselves too seriously. They indulged themselves with the novel toy, the post-office; and founded William and Mary College in 1693. This venerable institution passed its second centennial with one hundred and sixty students on its roll; but, soon after, it "ceased upon the midnight, without pain." Anybody may have a college in these days.
The Carolinas, no longer pestered by Grand Models, became another rustic paradise. Their suns were warm, their forests vast, their people delighting in a sort of wild civilization. When James II. went down, the Carolinians needed no care-taker, and declined to avail themselves of the martial law suggested by the anxious proprietors. But in 1690 they allowed Seth Sothel to occupy the gubernatorial seat, and sent up a legislature. The southern section was subjected to some superficial annoyance by the proprietors, who wished to make an income from the country, but were unwilling to put their hands in their pockets in the first place; they insisted upon their authority, and the colonists did not say them nay, but maintained freedom of action in all their concerns nevertheless. A series of proprietary governors were sent out to them—Ludwell first, then Smith; both failed, and retired. Then came Archdale, the Quaker, who struck a popular note in his remark that dissenters could cut wood and hoe crops as well as the highest churchmen; his policy was to concede, to conciliate and to harmonize, and he was welcome and useful. The Indians, and even the Spaniards, were brought into friendly relations. Liberty of conscience was accorded to all but "papists," who were certainly hardly used in these times. An attempt to base political power on possession of land was defeated in 1702. The Church of England was accepted in 1704, and though dissenters were tolerated, it remained the official dispenser of religion until the Revolution. All these things were on the surface; the colony, inside, was free, happy and prosperous; it had adopted rice culture, with a great supply of negro slaves, and it brought furs from far in the interior. The Huguenots had been enfranchised as soon as it was known that England had turned her back on Catholicism and James. None of the colonies had before them a future more peaceful and profitable than South Carolina. The slaves were her only burden; but at that period they seemed not a burden, but the assurance of her prosperity.
North Carolina was as happy and as peaceful as her southern sister, but the conditions of life there were different. The proprietors attempted to control the people, but were worsted in almost every encounter. Laws were passed only to be disregarded. Here, as elsewhere, the Quakers became conspicuous in inculcating liberal notions, and were paid the compliment of being hated and feared by the emissaries of England. What was to be done with a population made up of fugitives of all kinds, not from Europe only, but from the other colonies, who held all creeds, or none at all; who lived by hunting and tree-cutting; who were as averse from towns as Virginia, and many of whom could not be said to have any fixed abode at all? If restraints were proposed, they ignored them; if they were pressed, they resisted them, sometimes boisterously, but never with bloodshed. Robert Daniel, deputy governor in 1704, tried to establish the Church of England; a building was erected, but in all the province there was but one clergyman, with an absentee congregation scattered over hundreds of miles of mountain and forest. In the following year there were two governors elected by opposite factions, each with his own legislature; and in 1711 Edward Hyde, going out to restore order, confounded the confusion. He called in Spotswood from Virginia to help him; but there were too many Quakers; and the old soldier, after landing a party of marines to indicate his disapproval of anarchy, retired. Meantime, fresh emigrants kept arriving, including many Palatinates from Germany. It was not a profitable country to its reputed owners, who, in 1714, received a hundred dollars apiece from it. But it supported its inhabitants all the better; and it was eight years more before they supplied themselves with a court house, and forty, before they felt the need of a printing press.
In New England, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which had suffered comparatively little from the despotism of James, readily recovered such minor rights as they had been deprived of. There was a dispute between Fitz-John Winthrop and Fletcher as to the command of the local militia, the former, with his fellow colonists, demanding that the control be kept by the colony; Winthrop went to England and got confirmation of his plea; and from the people, on his return, the governorship. There were a score and a half of flourishing towns in Connecticut, each with its meeting house and school. Little Rhode Island recovered its charter, whether the original or a duplicate. An act was pending in England to abrogate all colonial charters, and was backed by the strong mercantile influence; but the French war caused it to go over. Lord Cornbury, and Joseph Dudley, the Massachusetts-born traitor, did their best to get a royal governor for these colonies, but they failed; though Dudley, at the instance of Cotton Mather, was afterward made governor of Massachusetts.
But no son of Massachusetts has so well deserved the condemnation of history as Cotton Mather himself. Such political sins as his advocacy of Dudley, and his opposition to the revival of the old charter, are trifling; they might have been the result of ordinary blindness or selfishness merely; but his part in the witchcraft delusion cannot be so accounted for. In his persecution of the accused persons he was actuated by a spirit of inflamed vanity and malignity truly diabolic; and if there can be a crime which Heaven cannot forgive, assuredly Cotton Mather steeped himself in it. He was a singular being; yet he represented the evil tendencies of Puritanism; they drained into him, so to say, until he became their sensible incarnation. In his person, at last, the Puritans of Massachusetts beheld united every devilish trait to which the tenets of their belief could incline them; and the hideousness of the spectacle so impressed them that, from that time forward, any further Cotton Mathers became impossible. There is no feature in Mather's case that can be held to palliate his conduct. He had the best education of the time, coming, as he did, from a line of scholars, and out-Heroding them in the variety and curiousness of his accomplishments, and in the number of his published "works"—three hundred and eighty-three. Nothing that he produced has any original value; but his erudition was enormous. Of "Magnalia," his chief and representative work, it has been said that "it is a heterogeneous and polyglot compilation of information useful and useless, of unbridled pedantry, of religious adjuration, biographical anecdotes, political maxims, and theories of education.... Indeed, it contains everything except order, accuracy, sobriety, proportion, development, and upshot." This man, born in 1663, was not yet thirty years of age when his campaign against the witches began; indeed, he had given a hint of his direction some years earlier. In his multifarious reading he had become acquainted with all existing traditions and speculations concerning witchcraft, and his profession as minister in the Calvinist communion predisposed him to investigate all accessible details concerning the devil. He was passionately hungry for notoriety and conspicuousness: Tydides melior patre was the ambition he proposed to himself.
A huge memory, stored with the promiscuous rubbish of libraries, and with facts which were transformed into rubbish by his treatment of them, was combined in him with a diseased imagination, and a personal vanity almost surpassing belief. His mental shallowness and consequent restlessness rendered anything like original thought impossible to him; and the faculty of intellectual digestion was not less beyond him. It is probable that curiosity was the motive which originally drew him to the study of witchcraft; a vague credence of such things was common at the time; and in France and England many executions for the supposed crime had taken place. Mather had no convictions on the subject; he was incapable of convictions of any kind; and the revelation of his private diary shows that at the very time he was wallowing in murders, and shrieking out for ever more victims, he was in secret doubting the truth of all religion, and coquetting with atheism. But men of no religious faith are prone to superstitions; the man who denies God is the first to seek for guidance from the stars. Suppose there should be a devil?—was Mather's thought. It is not to be wondered at that such a man should be fascinated by the notion; and we may perhaps concede to Mather that, if at any time in his career he approached belief in anything, the devil was the subject of his belief. Had his character been genuine and vigorous, such a belief would have led him to plunge into witchcraft, not as a persecutor, but as a performer; he would have aimed to be chief at the witches' Sabbath, and to have rioted in the terrible powers with which Satan's children were credited. But he was far from owning this bold and trenchant fiber: though he could not believe in God, he dared not defy Him; and still he could not refrain from dabbling in the forbidden mysteries. Moreover, there was an obscure and questionable faculty inherent in certain persons, unaccountable on any recognized natural grounds, which gave support to the witchcraft theory. We call this faculty hypnotism now; and physiology seeks to connect it with the nervous affections of hysteria and epilepsy. At all times, and in all quarters of the earth, manifestations of it have not been wanting; and in Africa it has for centuries existed as a so-called religious cult, to which in this country the name of Hoodooism or Voodooism has been applied. It is a savage form of devil worship, including snake-charming, and the lore of fetiches and charms; and its professors are able to produce abnormal effects, within certain limits, upon the nerves and imaginations of their clients or victims. Among the negro slaves in Massachusetts in 1692, and the negro-Indian mongrels, there were persons able to exercise this power. They attracted the attention of Cotton Mather.
Gradually, we may suppose, the idea took form in his mind that if he could not be a witch himself, he might gain the notoriety he craved by becoming the denouncer of witchcraft in others. Ministers in that day still had great influence in New England, and had grasped at temporal as well as spiritual sway, maintaining that the former should rightly involve the latter. What a minister said, had weight; what so well-known a minister as Cotton Mather said, would carry conviction to many. If Mather could procure the execution of a witch or two, it could not fail to add greatly to his spiritual glory and ascendency. It is, of course, not to be imagined that he had any conception, beforehand, of the extent to which the agitation he was about to begin would be carried. But when evil is once let loose, it multiplies itself and gains impetus, and rages like a fire. The only thing for Mather to do was to keep abreast of the mischief which he had created. If he faltered or relented, he would be himself destroyed. He was whirled along with the foul storm by a mingling of terror, malice, vanity, triumph and fascination: as repulsive and dastardly a figure as has ever stained the records of our country. He was ready to sacrifice the population of Massachusetts rather than confess that the deeds for which he was responsible were based on what, in his secret soul, he unquestionably felt was a delusion. For though he may have half-believed in witchcraft while it presented itself to him as a theory, yet as soon as he had reached the stage of actual examinations and court testimony, he could not fail to perceive that the theory was utterly devoid of reasonable foundation; that convictions could not be had except by aid of open perjury, suppression and intimidation. Yet Cotton Mather scrupled not to put in operation these and other devices; to hound on the magistrates, to browbeat and sophisticate the juries, and to scream threats, warnings and self-glorifications from the pulpit. Needs must, when the devil drives. Had he paused, had he even held his peace, that noose, slimy with the death-sweat of a score of innocent victims, would have settled greedily round his own guilty neck, and strangled his life. But Cotton Mather was too nimble, too voluble, too false and too cowardly for the gallows; he lived to a good age, and died in the odor of sanctity.
Immediately after the news of William's accession was known in New England, Mather opposed the restoration of the ancient charter, because it would have interfered with the plans of his personal political ambition. He caused the presentation of an address to the king, purporting to represent the desire of the majority of reputable citizens of Boston, placing themselves at the royal disposal, without suggesting that the charter rights be revived. Cotton Mather's father, Increase, was the actual agent to England; but it was the views of Cotton Mather rather than his own that he submitted to his majesty. The blatant hypocrite had dominated his father. The king gave Massachusetts a new charter which was entirely satisfactory to the petitioners, for it took away the right of the people to elect their own officers and manage their own affairs, and made the king the fountain of power and honor. It was identical with all charters of royal colonies, except that the council was elected jointly by the people and by its own members. Sir William Phips, at Increase Mather's suggestion, was made governor, and William Stoughton lieutenant-governor. The members of the council were "every man of them a friend to the interests of the churches," and of Cotton Mather. He did not conceal his delight. "The time for favor is come, yea, the set time is come! Instead of my being made a sacrifice to wicked rulers, my father-in-law, with several related to me, and several brethren of my own church, are among the council. The governor is not my enemy, but one whom I baptized, and one of my own flock, and one of my dearest friends.—I obtained of the Lord that He would use me to be a herald of His kingdom now approaching." Such was the attitude of Cotton Mather regarding the political outlook. Obviously the field was prepared for him to achieve his crowning distinction as champion of God against the devil in Massachusetts. In February of the next year he found his first opportunity.
There was in Salem a certain Reverend Samuel Parris who had a daughter, a niece, and a negro-Indian servant called Tituba. The children were about twelve years of age, and much in Tituba's society. Parris was an Englishman born, and was at this time forty-one years old; he had left Harvard College without a degree, had been in trade in Boston, and had entered the ministry and obtained the pastorship of the Congregational church at Danvers, then a part of Salem, three or four years before. He had not lived at peace with his people; he had quarreled bitterly with some of them, and the scandal had been noised abroad. He was a man of brutal temper, and without moral integrity. These were the dramatis personae employed by Cotton Mather in the first scene of his hideous farce.
The children, at the critical age between childhood and puberty, were in a condition to be readily worked upon; it is the age when the nervous system is disorganized, the moral sense unformed, and the imagination ignorant and unbridled. Many children are liars and deceivers, and self-deceivers, then, who afterward develop into sanity and goodness. But these unhappy little creatures were under the fascination of the illiterate and abnormal mongrel, and she secretly ravished and fascinated them with her inexplicable powers and obscure devices. Their antics aroused suspicions in the coarse and perhaps superstitious mind of Parris; he catechised them; the woman's husband told what he knew; and Parris beat her till she consented to say she was a witch. Such phenomena could only be due to witchcraft. The cunning and seeming malignity of the children would tax belief, were it not so familiar a fact in children; and notable also was their histrionic ability. They were excited by the sensation they aroused, and vain of it; they were willing to do what they could to prolong it. But they hardly needed to invent anything; more than was necessary was suggested to them by questions and comments. They were quick to take hints, and improve upon them. Sarah Good, Martha Cory, Rebecca Nourse, and all the rest, must be their victims; but God will forgive the children, for they know not what they do. Presently, the contagion spread; though, upon strict examination of the evidence, not nearly so far as was supposed. Hundreds were bewildered and terrified, as well they might be; the magistrates—Stoughton, Sewall, John Hathorne, poor Octogenarian Bradstreet, Sir William Phips—these and others to whom it fell to investigate and pronounce sentence—let us hope that some, if not all of them, truly believed that their sentences were just. "God will give you blood to drink!" was what Sarah Good said to Noyes, as she stood on the scaffold. But why may they not have believed they were in the right? There was Cotton Mather, the holy man, the champion against the Evil One, the saint who walked with God, and daily lifted up his voice in prayer and defiance and thanksgiving—he was ever at hand, to cross-question, to insinuate, to surmise, to bluster, to interpret, to terrify, to perplex, to vociferate: surely, this paragon of learning and virtue must know more about the devil than any mere layman could pretend to know; and they must accept his assurance and guidance. "I stake my reputation," he shouted, "upon the truth of these accusations." And he pointedly prayed that the trial might "have a good issue." When Deliverance Hobbs was under examination, she did but cast a glance toward the meeting house, "and," cries the Reverend gentleman, in an ecstasy of indignation, "immediately a demon, invisibly entering the house, tore down a part of it!" No wonder a man so gifted as he, was conscious of a certain gratification amid all the horrors of the diabolic visitation, for how could he regard it otherwise than as—in his own words—"a particular defiance unto myself!" Such was the pose which he adopted before his countrymen: that of a semi-divine, or quite Divine man, standing between his fellow creatures and the assaults of hell. And then Cotton Mather would go home to his secret chamber, and write in his diary that God and religion were perhaps, after all, but an old wives' tale.
Parris, as soon as he comprehended Mather's drift, ably seconded him. He had his own grudges against his neighbors to work off, and nothing could be easier. All that was needed was for one of the children, or any one else, to affirm that they were afflicted, and perhaps to foam at the mouth, or be contorted as in a fit, and to accuse whatever person they chose as being the cause of their trouble. Accusation was equivalent to condemnation; for to deny it, was to be subjected to torture until confession was extorted; if the accused did not confess, he or she was, according to Cotton Mather, supported by the evil one, and being a witch, must die. If they did confess, they were spared or executed according to circumstances. If any one expressed any doubt as to the justice of the sentence, or as to the existence of witchcraft, it was proof that that person was a witch. The only security was to join the ranks of the afflicted. In the course of a few months a reign of terror was established, and hundreds of people, some of them citizens of distinction, were in jail or under suspicion. Twenty were hanged on Witches' Hill, west of the town of Salem, while Cotton Mather sate comfortably by on his horse, and assured the people that all was well, and that the devil could sometimes assume the appearance of an angel of light—as, indeed, he might have good cause to believe. But the mass of the people were averse from bloodshed, and none too sure that these executions were other than murders; and when the wife of Governor Phips was accused, the frenzy had passed its height. It was perceived that the community, or a part of it, had been stampeded by a panic or infatuation. They had done and countenanced things which now seemed impossible even to themselves. How could they have condemned the Reverend George Burroughs on the ground that he had exhibited remarkable physical strength, and that the witnesses against him had pretended dumbness? "Why is the devil so loth to have testimony borne against you?" Judge Stoughton had asked; and Cotton Mather had said "Enough!" But was it enough, indeed? If a witness simply by holding his peace can hang a minister of blameless life, who may escape hanging by a witness who will talk? It was remembered that Parris had been Burroughs's rival, and instrumental in his conviction; and now that the frenzy was past it was easy to point out the relation between the two facts. There, too, was the venerable Giles Cory, who had been pressed to death, not for pleading guilty, nor yet for pleading not guilty, but for declining to plead at all. There, once more, was John Willard, to whom the duty of arresting accused witches had been assigned; he, as a person of common sense and honesty, had intimated his disbelief in the reality of witchcraft by refusing to arrest; and for this, and no other crime, had he been hanged. Had it really come to this, then—that one must die for having it inferred, from some act of his, that he held an opinion on the subject of witchcraft different from that announced by Mather and the magistrates?—It had come to precisely that, in a community who were exiles in order to secure liberty to have what opinions they liked. Then, it was time that the witchcraft persecutions came to an end; and they did, as abruptly as they had begun. Mather, indeed, and a few more, frightened lest the people, in their recovered sanity, should turn upon them for an accounting, strove their best to keep up the horror; but it was not to be. No more convictions could be obtained. In February of 1693, Parris was banished from Salem; others, except Stoughton, who remained obdurate, made public confession of error. But Cotton Mather, the soul of the whole iniquity, shrouded himself in a cuttle-fish cloud of turgid rhetoric, and escaped scot-free. So great was the power of theological prestige in New England two hundred years ago.
There is little doubt that the sincere believers in the witchcraft delusion were very scanty. The vast majority of the people were simply victims of moral and physical cowardice. They feared to exchange views with one another frankly, lest their interlocutor turn out an informer. They repeated, parrot-like, the conventional utterances—the shibboleths —of the hour, and thus hid from one another the real thoughts which would have scotched the mania at the outset. Once plant mutual suspicion and dread among a people, and, for a time, you may drive them whither you will. It was by that means that the Council of Ten ruled in Venice, the Inquisition in Spain, and the Vehmgericht in Germany; and it was by that means that Cotton Mather enslaved Salem. The episode is a stain on the fair page of our history; but Cotton Mather was the origin and agent of it; Parris may have voluntarily assisted him, and some or all of the magistrates and others concerned may have been his dupes; but beyond this handful, the support was never more than perfunctory. The instant the weight of dread was lightened everybody discovered that everybody else had believed all along that the whole thing was either a delusion or a fraud. Until then, they had none of them had the courage to say so—that was all. And let us not be scornful: the kind of courage that would say so is the very rarest and highest courage in the world.
But though Cotton Mather is almost or entirely chargeable with the guilt of the twenty murders on Witches' Hill, not to mention the incalculable agony of soul and domestic misery incidentally occasioned, yet it must not be forgotten that he was of Puritan stock and training, and that false and detestable though his individual nature doubtless was, his crimes, but for Puritanism, could not have taken the form they did. Puritanism was prone to brood over predestination, over the flames of hell, and him who kept them burning; it was severe in repressing natural expressions of gayety; it was intolerant of unlicensed opinions, and it crushed spontaneity and innocent frivolity. It aimed, in a word, to deform human nature, and make of it somewhat rigid and artificial. These were some of the faults of Puritanism, and it was these which made possible such a monstrosity as Cotton Mather. He was, in a measure, a creature of his time and place, and in this degree we must consider Puritanism as amenable, with him, at the bar of history. It is for this reason solely that the witchcraft episode assumes historical importance, instead of being a side-scene of ghastly picturesqueness. For the Puritans took it to heart; they never forgot it; it modified their character, and gave a favorable turn to their future. Gradually the evil of their system was purged out of it, while the good remained; they became less harsh, but not less strong; they were high-minded, still, but they abjured narrowness. They would not go so far as to deny that the devil might afflict mankind, but they declared themselves unqualified to prove it. There began in them, in short, the dawn of human sympathies, and the growth of spiritual humility. Cotton Mather, with all that he represented, sinks into the mire; but the true Puritan arises, and goes forward with lightened heart to the mighty destiny that awaits him.
As for bluff Sir William Phips, he is better remembered for his youthful exploits of hoisting treasure from the fifty-year-old wreck of a Spanish galleon, in the reign of King James, and of building with some of the proceeds his "fair brick house, in the Green Lane of Boston," than for his administration of government during his term of office. He was an uneducated, rough-handed, rough-natured man, a ship-carpenter by trade, and a mariner of experience; statesmanship and diplomacy were not his proper business. A wise head as well as a strong hand was needed at the helm of Massachusetts just at that juncture. But he did not prevent the legislature from passing some good laws, and from renewing the life of New England towns, which had been suppressed by Andros. The new charter had greatly enlarged the Massachusetts domain, which now extended over the northern and eastern regions that included Maine; but, as we shall presently see, the obligation to defend this territory against the French and Indians cost the colony much more than could be recompensed by any benefit they got from it. Phips captured Port Royal, but failed to take Quebec. The legislature, advised by the public-spirited Elisha Cooke, kept the royal officials in hand by refusing to vote them permanent salaries or regular revenues. Bellomont succeeded Phips, and Dudley, in 1702, followed Bellomont, upon the solicitation of Cotton Mather; who long ere this, in his "Book of Memorable Providences," had shifted all blame for the late tragic occurrences from his own shoulders to those of the Almighty. Dudley retained the governorship till 1715. The weight of what authority he had was on the side of restricting charter privileges; but he could produce no measurable effect in retarding the mighty growth of liberty. We shall not meet him again.
New Hampshire fully maintained her reputation for intractability; and the general drift of colonial affairs toward freedom was so marked as to become a common subject of remark in Europe. Some of the best heads there began to suggest that such a consummation might not be inexpedient. But before England and her Colonies were to try their strength against one another, there were to occur the four colonial wars, by which the colonists were unwittingly trained to meet their most formidable and their final adversary.
FIFTY YEARS OF FOOLS AND HEROES
When thieves fall out, honest men come by their own. The first clause of this sentence may serve to describe the Colonial Wars in America; the second, to point the moral of the American Revolution.
Columbus, and the other great mariners of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, might claim for their motives an admixture, at least, of thoughts higher than mere material gain: the desire to enlarge knowledge, to win glory, to solve problems. But the patrons and proprietors of the adventurers had an eye single to profit. To make money was their aim. In overland trading there was small profit and scanty business; but the opening of the sea as a path to foreign countries, and a revelation of their existence—and of the fortuitous fact that they were inhabited by savages who could not defend themselves—completely transformed the situation.
Ships could bring in months more, a hundred-fold more, merchandise than caravans could transport in years; and the expenses of carriage were minimized. Goods thus placed in the market could be sold at a vast profit. This was the first obvious fact. Secondly, this profit could be made to inure exclusively to that country whose ships made the discovery, by the simple device of claiming, as integral parts of the kingdom, whatever new lands they discovered; the ships of all other nations could then be forbidden to trade there. Thirdly, colonists could be sent out, who would serve a double use:—they would develop and export the products of the new country; and they would constitute an ever-increasing market for the exports of the home country.
Such was the ideal. To realize it, three things were necessary: first, that the natives—the "heathen"—should be dominated, and either converted or exterminated; next, that the fiat of exclusion against other nations should be made good; and finally (most vital of all, though the last to be considered), that the colonists themselves should forfeit all but a fraction of their personal interests in favor of the monopolists at home.
Now, as to the heathen, some of them, like the Caribbeans, could be—and by Spanish methods, they were—exterminated. Others, such as the Mexican and Central and South American tribes, could be in part killed off, in part "converted" as it was called. Others again, like the Indians of North America, could neither be converted nor exterminated; but they could be in a measure conciliated, and they could always be fought. The general result was that the natives co-operated to a certain extent in providing articles for export (chiefly furs), and on the other hand, delayed colonization by occasionally massacring the first small groups of colonists. In the long run however most of them disappeared, so far as power either for use or for offense was concerned.
The attempt of the several colonizing powers to make their rivals keep out of their preserves was not successful. Piracy, smuggling, privateering, and open war were the answers of the nations to one another's inhibitions, though, all the while, none of them questioned the correctness of the excluding principle. Each of them practiced it themselves, though trying to defeat its practice by others. Portugal, the first of the foreign-trading and monopolizing nations, was early forced out of the business by more powerful rivals; Holland was the first to call the principle itself in question, and to fight in the cause of free commerce; though even she had her little private treasure-box in Java. Spain's commerce was, during the next centuries, seriously impaired by the growing might of England. France was the next to suffer; and finally England, after meeting with much opposition from her own colonies, was called upon to confront a European coalition; and while she was putting forth her strength to overcome that, her colonies revolted, and achieved their independence. Such was the history and fate of the colonial system; though Spain still retained much of her American possessions (owing to peculiar conditions) for years afterward.