The English statute book furnishes many instances in which the legislative power of parliament over the colonies was extended to regulations completely internal; and it is not recollected that their authority was in any case openly controverted.
In the middle and southern provinces, no question respecting the supremacy of parliament, in matters of general legislation, ever existed. The authority of such acts of internal regulation as were made for America, as well as of those for the regulation of commerce, even by the imposition of duties, provided those duties were imposed for the purpose of regulation, had been at all times admitted. But these colonies, however they might acknowledge the supremacy of parliament in other respects, denied the right of that body to tax them internally.
Their submission to the act for establishing a general post office, which raised a revenue on the carriage of letters, was not thought a dereliction of this principle; because that regulation was not considered as a tax, but as a compensation for a service rendered, which every person might accept or decline. And all the duties on trade were understood to be imposed, rather with a view to prevent foreign commerce, than to raise a revenue. Perhaps the legality of such acts was the less questioned, because they were not rigorously executed, and their violation was sometimes designedly overlooked. A scheme for taxing the colonies by authority of parliament had been formed so early as the year 1739, and recommended to government by a club of American merchants, at whose head was sir William Keith, governor of Pennsylvania. In this scheme, it was proposed to raise a body of regulars, to be stationed along the western frontier of the British settlements, for the protection of the Indian traders; the expense of which establishment was to be paid with monies arising from a duty on stamped paper and parchment in all the colonies. This plan, however, was not countenanced by those in power; and seems never to have been seriously taken up by the government until the year 1754. The attention of the minister was then turned to a plan of taxation by authority of parliament; and it will be recollected that a system was devised and recommended by him, as a substitute for the articles of union proposed by the convention at Albany. The temper and opinion of the colonists, and the impolicy of irritating them at a crisis which required all the exertions they were capable of making, suspended this delicate and dangerous measure; but it seems not to have been totally abandoned. Of the right of parliament, as the supreme legislature, of the nation, to tax as well as govern the colonies, those who guided the councils of Britain seem not to have entertained a doubt; and the language of men in power, on more than one occasion through the war, indicated a disposition to put this right in practice when the termination of hostilities should render the experiment less dangerous. The failure of some of the colonies, especially those in which a proprietary government was established, to furnish, in time, the aids required of them, contributed to foster this disposition. This opposition of opinion on a subject the most interesting to the human heart, was about to produce a system of measures which tore asunder all the bonds of relationship and affection that had subsisted for ages, and planted almost inextinguishable hatred in bosoms where the warmest friendship had long been cultivated.
The unexampled expenses of the war required a great addition to the regular taxes of the nation. Considerable difficulty was found in searching out new sources of revenue, and great opposition was made to every tax proposed. Thus embarrassed, administration directed its attention to the continent of North America. The system which had been laid aside was renewed; and, on the motion of Mr. Grenville, first commissioner of the treasury, a resolution passed without much debate, declaring that it would be proper to impose certain stamp duties in the colonies and plantations, for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, payable into the British exchequer. This resolution was not carried into immediate effect, and was only declaratory of an intention to be executed the ensuing year.
[Footnote 179: Belsham.]
Other resolutions were passed at the same time, laying new duties on the trade of the colonies, which being in the form of commercial regulations, were not generally contested on the ground of right, though imposed expressly for the purpose of raising revenue. Great disgust, however, was produced by the increase of the duties, by the new regulations which were made, and by the manner in which those regulations were to be executed. The gainful commerce long carried on clandestinely with the French and Spanish colonies, in the progress of which an evasion of the duties imposed by law had been overlooked by the government, was to be rigorously suppressed by taxes amounting to a prohibition of fair trade; and their exact collection was to be enforced by measures not much less offensive in themselves, than on account of the object to be effected.
[Footnote 180: Belsham. Minot.]
Completely to prevent smuggling, all the officers in the sea service, who were on the American station, were converted into revenue officers; and directed to take the custom house oaths. Many vexatious seizures were made, for which no redress could be obtained but in England. The penalties and forfeitures, too, accruing under the act, as if the usual tribunals could not be trusted, were made recoverable in any court of vice-admiralty in the colonies. It will be readily conceived how odious a law, made to effect an odious object, must have been rendered by such provisions as these.
The resolution concerning the duties on stamps excited a great and general ferment in America. The right of parliament to impose taxes on the colonies for the purpose of raising a revenue, became the subject of universal conversation, and was almost universally denied. Petitions to the King, and memorials to both houses of parliament against the measure, were transmitted by several of the provincial assemblies to the board of trade in England, to be presented to his majesty immediately; and to parliament, when that body should be convened. The house of representatives of Massachusetts instructed their agent to use his utmost endeavours to prevent the passage of the stamp act, or any other act levying taxes or impositions of any kind on the American provinces. A committee was appointed to act in the recess of the general court, with instructions to correspond with the legislatures of the several colonies, to communicate to them the instructions given to the agent of Massachusetts, and to solicit their concurrence in similar measures. These legislative proceedings were, in many places, seconded by associations entered into by individuals, for diminishing the use of British manufactures.
[Footnote 181: Minot.]
The administration, perceiving the opposition to be encountered by adhering to the vote of the preceding session, informed the agents of the colonies in London that, if they would propose any other mode of raising the sum required, their proposition would be accepted, and the stamp duty laid aside. The agents replied that they were not authorised to propose any substitute, but were ordered to oppose the bill when it should be brought into the house, by petitions questioning the right of parliament to tax the colonies. This reply placed the controversy on ground which admitted of no compromise. Determined to persevere in the system he had adopted, and believing successful resistance to be impossible, Mr. Grenville brought into parliament his celebrated act for imposing stamp duties in America; and it passed both houses by great majorities, but not without animated debate. So little weight does the human mind allow to the most conclusive arguments, when directed against the existence of power in ourselves, that general Conway is said to have stood alone in denying the right claimed by parliament.
[Footnote 182: 100,000l. sterling.]
[Footnote 183: Mr. Pitt was not in the house; and Mr. Ingersoll, in his letter, states that Alderman Beckford joined General Conway. Mr. Belsham, therefore, who makes this statement, was probably mistaken.]
This act excited serious alarm throughout the colonies. It was sincerely believed to wound vitally the constitution of the country, and to destroy the most sacred principles of liberty. Combinations against its execution were formed; and the utmost exertions were used to diffuse among the people a knowledge of the pernicious consequences which must flow from admitting that the colonists could be taxed by a legislature in which they were not represented.
The assembly of Virginia was in session when the intelligence was received; and, by a small majority, passed several resolutions introduced by Mr. Henry, and seconded by Mr. Johnson, one of which asserts the exclusive right of that assembly to lay taxes and impositions on the inhabitants of that colony.
[Footnote 184: See note No. III, at the end of the volume.]
[Footnote 185: Prior documents. Virginia Gazette.]
On the passage of these resolutions, the governor dissolved the assembly; and writs for new elections were issued. In almost every instance, the members who had voted in favour of the resolutions were re-elected, while those who had voted against them were generally excluded.
The legislatures of several other colonies passed resolutions similar to those of Virginia. The house of representatives of Massachusetts, contemplating a still more solemn and effectual expression of the general sentiment, recommended a congress of deputies from all the colonial assemblies, to meet at New York the first Monday in October. Circular letters communicating this recommendation, were addressed to the respective assemblies wherever they were in session. New Hampshire alone, although concurring in the general opposition, declined sending members to the congress; and the legislatures of Virginia and North Carolina were not in session.
[Footnote 186: Minot.]
In the meantime, the press teemed with the most animating exhortations to the people, to unite in defence of their liberty and property; and the stamp officers were, almost universally, compelled to resign.
[Sidenote: Congress at New York.]
At the time appointed, the commissioners from the assemblies of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the three lower counties on the Delaware, Maryland, and South Carolina assembled at New York; and, having chosen Timothy Ruggles, of Massachusetts, their chairman, proceeded on the important objects for which they had convened. The first measure of congress was a declaration of the rights and grievances of the colonists. This paper asserts their title to all the rights and liberties of natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain; among the most essential of which are, the exclusive power to tax themselves, and the trial by jury.
[Footnote 187: See note No. IV, at the end of the volume.]
The act granting certain stamp and other duties in the British colonies was placed first on the list of grievances. Its direct tendency they said, was, by taxing the colonists without their consent, and by extending the jurisdiction of courts of admiralty, to subvert their rights and liberties. They also addressed a petition to the King, and a memorial to each house of parliament.
These papers were drawn with temperate firmness. They express, unequivocally, the attachment of the colonists to the mother country; and assert the rights they claim in the earnest language of conviction.
Having, in addition to these measures, recommended to the several colonies to appoint special agents, with instructions to unite their utmost endeavours in soliciting a redress of grievances; and directed their clerk to make out a copy of their proceedings for each colony, congress adjourned.
[Footnote 188: Minot. Prior documents.]
To interest the people of England against the measures of administration, associations were formed for the encouragement of domestic manufactures, and against the use of those imported from Great Britain. To increase their quantity of wool, the colonists determined to kill no lambs, and to use all the means in their power to multiply their flocks of sheep. To avoid the use of stamps, proceedings in the courts of justice were suspended; and a settlement of all controversies by arbitration was strongly recommended.
[Sidenote: Violence in the large towns.]
While this determined and systematic opposition was made by the thinking part of the community, some riotous and disorderly meetings took place, especially in the large towns, which threatened serious consequences. Many houses were destroyed, much property injured, and several persons, highly respectable in character and station, were grossly abused.
While these transactions were passing in America, causes entirely unconnected with the affairs of the colonies, produced a total revolution in the British cabinet. The Grenville party was succeeded by an administration unfriendly to the plan for taxing the colonies without their consent. General Conway, one of the principal secretaries of state, addressed a circular letter to the several governors, in which he censured, in mild terms, the violent measures that had been adopted, and recommended to them, while they maintained the dignity of the crown and of parliament, to observe a temperate and conciliatory conduct towards the colonists, and to endeavour, by persuasive means, to restore the public peace.
Parliament was opened by a speech from the throne, in which his majesty declared his firm confidence in their wisdom and zeal, which would, he doubted not, guide them to such sound and prudent resolutions, as might tend at once to preserve the constitutional rights of the British legislature over the colonies, and to restore to them that harmony and tranquillity which had lately been interrupted by disorders of the most dangerous nature.
In the course of the debate in the house of commons, on the motion for the address, Mr. Pitt, in explicit terms, condemned the act for collecting stamp duties in America; and avowed the opinion that parliament had no right to tax the colonies. He asserted, at the same time, "the authority of that kingdom to be sovereign and supreme in every circumstance of government and legislation whatever." He maintained the difficult proposition "that taxation is no part of the governing, or legislative power; but that taxes are a voluntary gift and grant of the commons alone;" and concluded an eloquent speech, by recommending to the house, "that the stamp act be repealed, absolutely, totally, and immediately."
The opinions expressed by Mr. Pitt were warmly opposed by the late ministers. Mr. Grenville said, "that the disturbances in America were grown to tumults and riots; he doubted, they bordered on open rebellion; and, if the doctrine he had heard that day should be confirmed, he feared they would lose that name to take that of revolution. The government ever them being dissolved, a revolution would take place in America." He contended that taxation was a part of the sovereign power;—one branch of legislation; and had been exercised over those who were not represented. He could not comprehend the distinction between external and internal taxation; and insisted that the colonies ought to bear a part of the burdens occasioned by a war for their defence.
[Sidenote: Stamp act repealed.]
The existing administration, however, concurred in sentiment with Mr. Pitt, and the act was repealed; but its repeal was accompanied with a declaratory act, asserting the right of Great Britain to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever.
The intelligence of this event was received in America with general manifestations of joy. The assertion of the abstract principle of right gave many but little concern, because they considered it merely as a salve for the wounded pride of the nation, and believed confidently that no future attempt would be made to reduce it to practice. The highest honours were conferred on those parliamentary leaders who had exerted themselves to obtain a repeal of the act; and, in Virginia, the house of Burgesses voted a statue to his majesty, as an acknowledgment of their high sense of his attention to the rights and petitions of his people.
Though all the colonies rejoiced at the repeal of the stamp act, the same temper did not prevail in all of them. In the commercial cities of the north, the regulations of trade were nearly as odious as the stamp act itself. Political parties too had been formed, and had assumed a bitterness in some of the colonies, entirely unknown in others. These dispositions were not long concealed. The first measures of Massachusetts and of New York demonstrated that, in them, the reconciliation with the mother country was not cordial.
The letter of secretary Conway, transmitting the repeal of the act imposing a duty on stamps, enclosed also a resolution of parliament declaring that those persons who had suffered injuries in consequence of their assisting to execute that act, ought to be compensated by the colony in which such injuries were sustained. This was chiefly in Massachusetts. The resolution of parliament was laid before the general court of that province, by governor Bernard, in a speech rather in the spirit of the late, than the present administration;—rather calculated to irritate than assuage the angry passions that had been excited. The house of representatives resented his manner of addressing them; and appeared more disposed to inquire into the riots, and to compel those concerned in them to make indemnities, than to compensate the sufferers out of the public purse. But, after a second session, and some intimation that parliament would enforce its requisition, an act of pardon to the offenders, and of indemnity to the sufferers, was passed; but was rejected by the King, because the colonial assembly had no power, by their charter, to pass an act of general pardon, but at the instance of the crown.
[Footnote 189: Minot.]
In New York, where general Gage was expected with a considerable body of troops, a message was transmitted by the governor to the legislature, desiring their compliance with an act of parliament called "the mutiny act," which required that the colony in which any of his majesty's forces might be stationed, should provide barracks for them, and necessaries in their quarters. The legislature postponed the consideration of this message until the troops were actually arrived; and then, after a second message from the governor, reluctantly and partially complied with the requisitions of the act.
At a subsequent session, the governor brought the subject again before the assembly, who determined that the act of parliament could be construed only to require that provision should be made for troops on a march, and not while permanently stationed in the country. The reason assigned for not furnishing the accommodations required by the governor, implies the opinion that the act of parliament was rightfully obligatory; and yet the requisitions of the mutiny act were unquestionably a tax; and no essential distinction is perceived between the power of parliament to levy a tax by its own authority, and to levy it through the medium of the colonial legislatures; they having no right to refuse obedience to the act. It is remarkable that such inaccurate ideas should still have prevailed, concerning the controlling power of parliament over the colonies.
[Footnote 190: Minot. Prior documents. Belsham.]
In England it was thought to manifest a very forbearing spirit, that this instance of disobedience was punished with no positive penalties; and that the ministers contented themselves with a law prohibiting the legislature of the province from passing any act, until it should comply, in every respect, with the requisitions of parliament. The persevering temper of Massachusetts not having found its way to New York, this measure produced the desired effect.
Two companies of artillery, driven into the port of Boston by stress of weather, applied to the governor for supplies. He laid the application before his council, who advised that, "in pursuance of the act of parliament" the supplies required should be furnished. They were furnished, and the money to procure them was drawn from the treasury by the authority of the executive.
On the meeting of the legislature, the house of representatives expressed in pointed terms their disapprobation of the conduct of the governor. Particular umbrage was given by the expression "in pursuance of an act of parliament." "After the repeal of the stamp act, they were surprised to find that this act, equally odious and unconstitutional, should remain in force. They lamented the entry of this reason for the advice of council the more, as it was an unwarrantable and unconstitutional step which totally disabled them from testifying the same cheerfulness they had always shown in granting to his majesty, of their free accord, such aids as his service has from time to time required." Copies of these messages were transmitted by governor Bernard to the minister, accompanied by letters not calculated to diminish the unpleasantness of the communication.
[Footnote 191: Minot.]
The idea of raising revenue in America, was so highly favoured in England, especially by the landed interest, that not even the influence of administration could have obtained a repeal of the stamp act, on the naked principle of right. Few were hardy enough to question the supremacy of parliament; and the act receding from the practical assertion of the power to tax the colonists, deeply wounded the pride of the King, and of the nation.
The temper discovered in some of the colonies was ill calculated to assuage the wound, which this measure had inflicted, on the haughty spirit of the country; and is supposed to have contributed to the revival of a system, which had been reluctantly abandoned.
Charles Townshend, chancellor of the exchequer, said boastingly in the house of commons, "that he knew how to draw a revenue from the colonies without giving them offence." Mr. Grenville eagerly caught at the declaration, and urged this minister to pledge himself to bring forward the measure, at which he had hinted. During the sickness and absence of lord Chatham, the cabinet had decided on introducing a bill for imposing certain duties on tea, glass, paper, and painter's colours, imported into the colonies from Great Britain; and appropriating the money in the first instance, to the salaries of the officers of government. This bill was brought into parliament, and passed almost without opposition.
[Footnote 192: Belsham.]
The friends of America, in England, had distinguished between internal and external taxation; and the same distinction had been made in the colonies. But the discussions originating in the stamp act, while they diffused among the colonists a knowledge of their political rights, had inspired also more accurate ideas respecting them.
These duties were plainly intended, not to regulate commerce, but to raise revenue, which would be as certainly collected from the colonists, as the duties on stamps could have been. The principle of the two measures was the same. Many of the Americans were too intelligent to be misguided by the distinction between internal and external taxation, or by the precedents quoted in support of the right, for which parliament contended. This measure was considered as establishing a precedent of taxation for the mere purpose of revenue, which might afterwards be extended at the discretion of parliament; and was spoken of as the entering wedge, designed to make way for impositions too heavy to be borne. The appropriation of the money did not lessen the odium of the tax. The colonists considered the dependence of the officers of government, on the colonial legislature, for their salaries, as the best security for their attending to the interests, and cultivating the affections of the provinces. Yet the opinion that this act was unconstitutional, was not adopted so immediately, or so generally, as in the case of the stamp act. Many able political essays appeared in the papers, demonstrating that it violated the principles of the English constitution and of English liberty, before the conviction became general, that the same principle which had before been successfully opposed, was again approaching in a different form.
[Footnote 193: Prior documents.]
The general court of Massachusetts, perceiving plainly that the claim to tax America was revived, and being determined to oppose it, addressed an elaborate letter to Dennis de Berdt, agent for the house of representatives, detailing at great length, and with much weight of argument, all the objections to the late acts of parliament. Letters were also addressed to the earl of Shelburne and general Conway, secretaries of state, to the marquis of Rockingham, lord Camden, the earl of Chatham, and the lords commissioners of the treasury. These letters, while they breathe a spirit of ardent attachment to the British constitution, and to the British nation, manifest a perfect conviction that their complaints were just.
Conclusive as the arguments they contained might have appeared to Englishmen, if urged by themselves in support of their own rights, they had not much weight, when used to disprove the existence of their authority over others. The deep and solemn tone of conviction, however, conveyed in all these letters, ought to have produced a certainty that the principles assumed in them had made a strong impression, and would not be lightly abandoned. It ought to have been foreseen that with such a people, so determined, the conflict must be stern and hazardous; and, it was well worth the estimate, whether the object would compensate the means used to obtain it.
[Sidenote: Petition to the King.]
The assembly also voted a petition to the King, replete with professions of loyalty and attachment; but stating, in explicit terms, their sense of the acts against which they petitioned.
A proposition was next made for an address to the other colonies on the power claimed by parliament, which, after considerable debate, was carried in the affirmative; and a circular letter to the assemblies of the several provinces, setting forth the proceedings of the house of representatives, was prepared and adopted.
[Footnote 194: See note V, at the end of the volume.]
To rescue their measures from the imputation of systematic opposition to the British government, the house, without acknowledging the obligation of the mutiny act, complied with a requisition of the governor to make a farther provision for one of the King's garrisons within the province. The governor, soon afterwards, prorogued the general court with an angry speech, not calculated to diminish the resentments of the house directed against himself; resentments occasioned as much by the haughtiness of his manners, and a persuasion that he had misrepresented their conduct and opinions to ministers, as by the unpopular course his station required him to pursue.
[Footnote 195: Minot.]
The circular letter of the house of representatives of Massachusetts was well received in the other colonies. They approved the measures which had been taken, and readily united in them. They, too, petitioned the King against the obnoxious acts of parliament, and instructed their several agents to use all proper means to obtain their repeal. Virginia transmitted a statement of her proceedings to her sister colonies; and her house of Burgesses, in a letter to Massachusetts, communicating the representation made to parliament, say, "that they do not affect an independency of their parent kingdom, the prosperity of which they are bound, to the utmost of their abilities, to promote; but cheerfully acquiesce in the authority of parliament to make laws for the preserving a necessary dependence, and for regulating the trade of the colonies; yet they cannot conceive, and humbly insist, it is not essential to support a proper relation between the mother country, and colonies transplanted from her, that she should have a right to raise money from them without their consent, and presume they do not aspire to more than the right of British subjects, when they assert that no power on earth has a right to impose taxes on the people, or take the smallest portion of their property without their consent given by their representatives in parliament."
[Footnote 196: Prior documents.]
[Footnote 197: In this letter the house of Burgesses express their opinion of the mutiny act in the following terms: "The act suspending the legislative power of New York, they consider as still more alarming to the colonies, though it has that single province in view. If parliament can compel them to furnish a single article to the troops sent over, they may, by the same rule, oblige them to furnish clothes, arms, and every other necessary, even the pay of the officers and soldiers; a doctrine replete with every mischief, and utterly subversive of all that's dear and valuable; for what advantage can the people of the colonies derive from choosing their own representatives, if those representatives, when chosen, be not permitted to exercise their own judgments, be under a necessity (on pain of being deprived of their legislative authority) of enforcing the mandates of a British parliament."]
On the first intimation of the measures taken by Massachusetts, the earl of Hillsborough, who had been appointed to the newly created office of secretary of state for the department of the colonies, addressed a circular to the several governors, to be laid before the respective assemblies, in which he treated the circular letter of Massachusetts, as being of the most dangerous tendency, calculated to inflame the minds of his majesty's good subjects in the colonies, to promote an unwarrantable combination, to excite an open opposition to the authority of parliament, and to subvert the true principles of the constitution.
[Footnote 198: Prior documents.]
His first object was to prevail on the several assemblies openly to censure the conduct of Massachusetts; his next, to prevent their approving the proceedings of that colony. The letter, far from producing the desired effect, rather served to strengthen the determination of the colonies to unite in their endeavours to obtain a repeal of laws universally detested. On manifesting this disposition, the assemblies were generally dissolved;—probably in pursuance of instructions from the crown.
When the general court of Massachusetts was again convened, governor Bernard laid before the house of representatives, an extract of a letter from the earl of Hillsborough, in which, after animadverting in harsh terms on the circular letter to the colonies, he declared it to be "the King's pleasure" that the governor "should require the house of representatives, in his majesty's name, to rescind the resolution on which the circular letter was founded, and to declare their disapprobation of, and dissent from, that rash and hasty proceeding."
This message excited considerable agitation; but the house, without coming to any resolution on it, requested the governor to lay before them the whole letter of the earl of Hillsborough, and also copies of such letters as had been written by his excellency to that nobleman, on the subject to which the message referred.
The copies were haughtily refused; but the residue of the letter from the earl of Hillsborough was laid before them. That minister said, "if, notwithstanding the apprehensions which may justly be entertained of the ill consequence of a continuance of this factious spirit, which seems to have influenced the resolutions of the assembly at the conclusion of the last session, the new assembly should refuse to comply with his majesty's reasonable expectation, it is the King's pleasure that you immediately dissolve them."
This subject being taken into consideration, a letter to the earl was reported, and agreed to by a majority of ninety-three to thirteen, in which they defended their circular letter in strong and manly, but respectful terms; and concluded with saying, "the house humbly rely on the royal clemency, that to petition his majesty will not be deemed by him to be inconsistent with a respect to the British constitution as settled at the revolution by William III., and that to acquaint their fellow subjects involved in the same distress, of their having so done, in full hopes of success, even if they had invited the union of all America in one joint supplication, would not be discountenanced by their gracious sovereign, as a measure of an inflammatory nature. That when your lordship shall in justice lay a true state of these matters before his majesty, he will no longer consider them as tending to create unwarrantable combinations, or excite an unjustifiable opposition to the constitutional authority of parliament; that he will then truly discern who are of that desperate faction which is continually disturbing the public tranquillity; and that, while his arm is extended for the protection of his distressed and injured subjects, he will frown upon all those who, to gratify their own passions, have dared to attempt to deceive him."
[Footnote 199: Prior documents.]
[Sidenote: Legislature of Massachusetts dissolved.]
A motion to rescind the resolution on which their circular letter was founded, passed in the negative, by a majority of ninety-two to seventeen; and a letter to the governor was prepared, stating their motives for refusing to comply with the requisition of the earl of Hillsborough. Immediately after receiving it, he prorogued the assembly, with an angry speech; and, the next day, dissolved it by proclamation.
[Footnote 200: Minot.]
While the opposition was thus conducted by the legislature with temperate firmness, and legitimate means, the general irritation occasionally displayed itself at Boston, in acts of violence denoting evidently that the people of that place, were prepared for much stronger measures than their representatives had adopted.
[Sidenote: Seizure of the sloop Liberty.]
The seizure of the sloop Liberty belonging to Mr. Hancock, by the collector of the customs, occasioned the assemblage of a tumultuous mob, who beat the officers and their assistants, took possession of a boat belonging to the collector, burnt it in triumph, and patrolled the streets for a considerable time. The revenue officers fled for refuge, first to the Romney man of war, and afterwards to Castle William. After the lapse of some time, the governor moved the council to take into consideration some measure for restoring vigour and firmness to government. The council replied "that the disorders which happened were occasioned by the violent and unprecedented manner in which the sloop Liberty had been seized by the officers of the customs." And the inhabitants of Boston, in a justificatory memorial, supported by affidavits, insisted that the late tumults were occasioned, principally, by the haughty conduct of the commissioners and their subordinate officers, and by the illegal and offensive conduct of the Romney man of war.
[Footnote 201: Minot. Prior documents.]
The legislature however did not think proper to countenance this act of violence. A committee of both houses, appointed to inquire into the state of the province, made a report which, after reprobating the circumstances attending the seizure, to which the mob was ascribed, declared their abhorrence of a procedure which they pronounced criminal; desired the governor to direct a prosecution against all persons concerned in the riot; and to issue a proclamation offering a reward to any person who should make discoveries by which the rioters or their abettors should be brought to condign punishment.
This report, however, seems to have been intended, rather to save appearances, than to produce any real effect. It was perfectly understood that no person would dare to inform; or even to appear, as a witness, in any prosecution which might be instituted. Suits were afterwards brought against Mr. Hancock and others, owners of the vessel and cargo; but they were never prosecuted to a final decision.
[Footnote 202: Minot.]
This riot accelerated a measure, which tended, in no inconsiderable degree, to irritate still farther the angry dispositions already prevalent in Boston.
The governor had pressed on administration the necessity of stationing a military force in the province, for the protection of the officers employed in collecting the revenue, and of the magistrates, in preserving the public peace. In consequence of these representations, orders had already been given to general Gage to detach, at least, one regiment on this service, and to select for the command of it, an officer on whose prudence, resolution, and integrity, he could rely. The transactions respecting the sloop Liberty rendered any attempt to produce a countermand of these orders entirely abortive; and, probably occasioned two regiments, instead of one, to be detached by general Gage.
[Footnote 203: Minot.]
It seems to have been supposed that a dissolution of the assembly of Massachusetts would dissolve also the opposition to the measures of administration; and that the people, having no longer constitutional leaders, being no longer excited and conducted by their representatives, would gradually become quiet, and return to, what was termed, their duty to government. But the opinions expressed by the house of representatives were the opinions of the great body of the people, and had been adopted with too much ardour to be readily suppressed. The most active and energetic part of society had embraced them with enthusiasm; and the dissolution of the assembly, by creating a necessity for devising other expedients, hastened the mode of conducting opposition at least as efficacious, and afterwards universally adopted.
At a town meeting of the inhabitants of Boston, a committee was deputed for the purpose of praying the governor to convene another general assembly. He replied that no other could be convened until his majesty's commands to that effect should be received. This answer being reported, the meeting resolved "that to levy money within that province by any other authority than that of the general court, was a violation of the royal charter, and of the undoubted natural rights of British subjects.
"That the freeholders, and other inhabitants of the town of Boston would, at the peril of their lives and fortunes, take all legal and constitutional measures to defend all and singular the rights, liberties, privileges, and immunities, granted in their royal charter.
"That as there was an apprehension in the minds of many of an approaching war with France, those inhabitants who were not provided with arms should be requested duly to observe the laws of the province, which required that every freeholder should furnish himself with a complete stand."
But the important resolution was "that, as the governor did not think proper to call a general court for the redress of their grievances, the town would then make choice of a suitable number of persons to act for them as a committee in a convention, to be held at Faneuil Hall in Boston, with such as might be sent to join them from the several towns in the province."
These votes were communicated by the select men, in a circular letter to the other towns in the province, which were requested to concur, and to elect committee men, to meet those of Boston in convention.
[Sidenote: Convention assembles in Boston.]
The measure was generally adopted; and a convention met, which was regarded with all the respect that could have been paid to a legitimate assembly.
[Footnote 204: Minot.]
[Sidenote: Its moderation.]
The country in general, though united on the great constitutional question of taxation, was probably not so highly exasperated as the people of Boston; and the convention acted with unexpected moderation. They disclaimed all pretensions to any other character than that of mere individuals, assembled by deputation from the towns, to consult and advise on such measures as might tend to promote the peace of his majesty's subjects in the province, but without power to pass any acts possessing a coercive quality.
They petitioned the governor to assemble a general court, and addressed a letter to the agent of the province in England, stating the character in which they met, and the motives which brought them together. After expressing their opinions with temper and firmness on the subjects of general complaint, and recommending patience and order to the people, they dissolved themselves, and returned to their respective homes.
[Footnote 205: Minot.]
[Sidenote: Two regiments arrive.]
The day before the convention rose, the two regiments which had been detached by general Gage arrived, under convoy, in Nantasket road. The council had rejected an application of the governor to provide quarters for them, because the barracks in the castle were sufficient for their accommodation; and, by act of parliament, the British troops were not to be quartered elsewhere until those barracks were full. General Gage had directed one regiment to be stationed in Boston; but, on hearing a report that the people were in a state of open revolt, he gave additional orders, which left the whole subject to the discretion of the commanding officer; who was induced, by some rash threats of opposing the disembarkation of the troops to land both regiments in that place. The ships took a station which commanded the whole town, and lay with their broad sides towards it, ready to fire, should any resistance be attempted. The troops landed under cover of their cannon, and marched into the common with loaded muskets and fixed bayonets; a display of military pomp, which was believed by the inhabitants to have been intended for the purpose either of intimidation, or of irritation.
[Footnote 206: Gazette.]
The select men, as well as the council, having refused to provide quarters for the troops, the governor ordered the state house to be opened for their reception; and they took possession of all the apartments in it, except that which was reserved for the council. The people were filled with indignation at seeing the chamber of their representatives crowded with regular soldiers, their counsellors surrounded with foreign troops, and their whole city exhibiting the appearance of a garrisoned town. With the difference of manners between the soldiers and the inhabitants, and the strong prejudices reciprocally felt against each other, it is not wonderful that personal broils should frequently occur, and that mutual antipathies should be still farther increased.
[Footnote 207: Minot.]
While these measures were pursuing in America, every session of parliament was opened with a speech from the King, stating that a disposition to refuse obedience to the laws, and to resist the authority of the supreme legislature of the nation, still prevailed among his misguided subjects in some of the colonies. In the addresses to the throne, both houses uniformly expressed their abhorrence of the rebellious spirit manifested in the colonies, and their approbation of the measures taken by his majesty for the restoration of order and good government.
To give a more solemn expression to the sense of parliament on this subject, the two houses entered into joint resolutions, condemning the measures pursued by the Americans; and agreed to an address, approving the conduct of the crown, giving assurances of effectual support to such farther measures as might be found necessary to maintain the civil magistrates in a due execution of the laws within the province of Massachusetts Bay, and beseeching his majesty to direct the governor of that colony to obtain and transmit information of all treasons committed in Massachusetts since the year 1767, with the names of the persons who had been most active in promoting such offences, that prosecutions might be instituted against them within the realm, in pursuance of the statute of the 35th of Henry VIII.
[Footnote 208: Belsham. Prior documents.]
The impression made by these threatening declarations, which seem to have been directed particularly against Massachusetts, in the hope of deterring the other provinces from involving themselves in her dangers, was far from being favourable to the views of the mother country. The determination to resist the exercise of the authority claimed by Great Britain not only remained unshaken, but was manifested in a still more decided form.
[Sidenote: Resolutions of the house of Burgesses of Virginia.]
Not long after these votes of parliament, the assembly of Virginia was convened by lord Botetourt, a nobleman of conciliating manners, who had lately been appointed governor of that province. The house took the state of the colony into their immediate consideration, and passed unanimously several resolutions asserting the exclusive right of that assembly to impose taxes on the inhabitants within his majesty's dominion of Virginia, and their undoubted right to petition for a redress of grievances, and to obtain a concurrence of the other colonies in such petitions. "That all persons charged with the commission of any offence within that colony, were entitled to a trial before the tribunals of the country, according to the fixed and known course of proceeding therein, and that to seize such persons, and transport them beyond sea for trial, derogated in a high degree from the rights of British subjects, as thereby the inestimable privilege of being tried by a jury from the vicinage, as well as the liberty of summoning and producing witnesses on such trial, will be taken from the party accused."
An address to his majesty was also agreed on, which states in the style of loyalty and real attachment to the crown, the deep conviction of the house of Burgesses of Virginia, that the complaints of the colonists were well founded.
[Footnote 209: Gazette. Prior documents.]
[Sidenote: Assembly dissolved.]
Intelligence of these proceedings having reached the governor, he suddenly dissolved the assembly. This measure did not produce the desired effect. The members convened at a private house, and, having chosen their speaker, moderator, proceeded to form a non-importing association, which was signed by every person present, and afterwards, almost universally throughout the province.
[Footnote 210: Gazette. Prior documents.]
From the commencement of the controversy, the opinion seems to have prevailed in all the colonies, that the most effectual means of succeeding in the struggle in which they were engaged, were those which would interest the merchants and manufacturers of Great Britain in their favour. Under the influence of this opinion, associations had been proposed in Massachusetts, as early as May 1765, for the non-importation of goods from that country. The merchants of some of the trading towns in the other colonies, especially those of Philadelphia, refused, at that time, to concur in a measure which they thought too strong for the existing state of things; and it was laid aside. But, in the beginning of August, it was resumed in Boston; and the merchants of that place entered into an agreement not to import from Great Britain any articles whatever, except a few of the first necessity, between the first of January 1769, and the first of January 1770; and not to import tea, glass, paper, or painter's colours, until the duties imposed on those articles should be taken off. This agreement was soon afterwards adopted in the town of Salem, the city of New York, and the province of Connecticut; but was not generally entered into through the colonies, until the resolutions and address of the two houses of parliament which have already been mentioned, seemed to cut off the hope that petitions and memorials alone, would effect the object for which they contended.
[Footnote 211: Minot.]
[Sidenote: Measures against the importation of British goods.]
The proceedings of the house of Burgesses of Virginia had been transmitted to the speakers of the several assemblies throughout the continent. In the opinion of the neighbouring colonies, the occasion required efficacious measures; and an association, similar to that which had been formed by their elder sister, was entered into by Maryland, and the Carolinas. The inhabitants of Charleston went so far as to break off all connexion with Rhode Island and Georgia, which had refused to adopt the non-importation agreement. This vigorous measure was not without its influence; and those provinces, soon afterwards, entered into the association.
[Footnote 212: Gazette. Prior documents.]
In Portsmouth in New Hampshire, where governor Wentworth possessed great influence, some repugnance to this measure was also discovered; but, being threatened with a suspension of their intercourse with the other colonies, the merchants of that place concurred in the general system.
All united in giving effect to this agreement. The utmost exertions were used to improve the manufactures of the country; and the fair sex, laying aside the late fashionable ornaments of England, exulted, with patriotic pride, in appearing dressed in the produce of their own looms. Committees chosen by the people superintended importations; and the force of public opinion went far to secure the agreement from violation.
[Sidenote: General court in Massachusetts.]
The necessities of government requiring a supply of money, the general court of Massachusetts was again convened. The members of the former house of representatives were generally re-elected, and brought with them the temper which had occasioned their dissolution. Instead of entering on the business for which they were called together, they engaged in a controversy with the governor concerning the removal of the ships of war from the harbour, and of the troops from the town of Boston, to which they contended, his power, as the representative of the crown was adequate.
The governor, ascribing this temper to the influence of the metropolis, adjourned the general court to Cambridge; but this measure served to increase the existing irritation. The business recommended to them remained unnoticed; their altercations with the governor continued; and they entered into several warm resolutions enlarging the catalogue of their grievances, in terms of greater exasperation than had appeared in the official acts of any legislature on the continent.
[Footnote 213: Prior documents. Minot.]
[Sidenote: It is prorogued.]
Not long after the passage of these resolutions, the house explicitly refused to make the provision required by the mutiny act for the troops stationed in Massachusetts; upon which, the legislature was prorogued until the first of January.
[Footnote 214: Minot.]
The committees, appointed to examine the cargoes of vessels arriving from Great Britain, continued to execute the trust reposed in them. Votes of censure were passed on such as refused to concur in the association, or violated its principles; and the names of the offenders were published, as enemies to their country. In some cases, the goods imported in contravention of it, were locked up in warehouses; and, in some few instances, they were re-shipped to Great Britain.
[Sidenote: Administration resolved on a partial repeal of duties.]
Not long after the strong resolutions already noticed had been agreed to by parliament, while their effect was unfolding itself in every part of the American continent, an important revolution took place in the British cabinet. The duke of Grafton was placed at the head of a new administration. He supported, with great earnestness, a proposition to repeal the duties imposed for the purpose of raising revenue in the colonies; but his whole influence was insufficient to carry this measure completely. It was deemed indispensable to the maintenance of the legislative supremacy of Great Britain, to retain the duty on some one article; and that on tea was reserved while the others were relinquished.
Seldom has a wise nation adopted a more ill judged measure than this. The contest with America was plainly a contest of principle, and had been conducted entirely on principle by both parties. The amount of taxes proposed to be raised was too inconsiderable to interest the people of either country. But the principle was, in the opinion of both, of the utmost magnitude. The measure now proposed, while it encouraged the colonists to hope that their cause was gaining strength in Britain, had no tendency to conciliate them.
[Sidenote: Circular letter of the earl of Hillsborough.]
In pursuance of this resolution of the cabinet, a circular letter was written by the earl of Hillsborough to the several governors, informing them "that it was the intention of his majesty's ministers to propose, in the next session of parliament, taking off the duties on glass, paper, and painter's colours, in consideration of such duties having been laid contrary to the true spirit of commerce; and assuring them that, at no time, had they entertained the design to propose to parliament to lay any further taxes on America for the purpose of raising a revenue."
[Footnote 215: Prior documents.]
This measure was soon communicated in letters from private individuals in England to their correspondents in Massachusetts. The merchants of Boston, apprehensive that an improper opinion concerning its operation might be formed, resolved that the partial repeal of the duties did not remove the difficulties under which their trade laboured, and was only calculated to relieve the manufacturers of Great Britain; and that they would still adhere to their non-importation agreement.
[Footnote 216: Minot.]
The communication of the earl of Hillsborough to the several governors, was laid before the respective assemblies as they convened, in terms implying an intention to renounce the imposition, in future, of any taxes in America. But this communication seems not to have restored perfect content in any of the colonies.
The Virginia legislature was in session on its arrival, and governor Botetourt laid it before them. Their dissatisfaction with it was manifested by a petition to the King re-asserting the rights previously maintained; and by an association, signed by the members as individuals, renewing their non-importation agreement, until the duty on tea should be repealed.
[Footnote 217: Gazette.]
Yet several causes combined to prevent a rigid observance of these associations. The sacrifice of interest made by the merchants could be continued only under the influence of powerful motives. Suspicions were entertained of each other in the same towns; and committees to superintend the conduct of importers were charged with gross partiality. The different towns too watched each other with considerable jealousy; and accusations were reciprocally made of infractions of the association to a great extent. Letters were published purporting to be from England, stating that large orders for goods had been received; and the inconvenience resulting from even a partial interruption of commerce, and from the want of those manufactures which the inhabitants had been accustomed to use, began to be severely and extensively felt. In Rhode Island and Albany, it was determined to import as usual, with the exception of such articles as should be dutiable. On the remonstrances of other commercial places, especially of Boston, these resolutions were changed; and the hope was entertained that the general system on which the colonies relied, would still be maintained.
[Sidenote: New York recedes in part from the non-importation agreement.]
These hopes were blasted by New York. That city soon manifested a disposition to import as usual, with the exception of those articles only which were subject to a duty. At first, the resolution thus to limit the operation of the non-importation agreement, was made to depend on its being acceded to by Boston and Philadelphia. These towns refused to depart from the association as originally formed, and strenuously urged their brethren of New York to persevere with them in the glorious struggle. This answer was communicated to the people, and their opinion on the question of rescinding, or adhering to, was taken in from their respective wards. This determination excited the most lively chagrin in New England and Philadelphia. Their remonstrances against it were, however, ineffectual; and the example was soon followed throughout the colonies.
[Footnote 218: Minot. Prior documents. Gazette.]
The people of New York alleged, in justification of themselves, that the towns of New England had not observed their engagements fairly; and that the merchants of Albany had been in the practice of receiving goods from Quebec. But no sufficient evidence in support of these assertions was ever produced.
[Sidenote: Riot in Boston.]
About this time a circumstance occurred, which produced the most serious agitation. The two regiments stationed in Boston, to support, as was said, the civil authority, and preserve the peace of the town, were viewed by the inhabitants with very prejudiced eyes. Frequent quarrels arose between them; and at length, an affray took place in the night, near the gates of the barracks, which brought out captain Preston, the officer of the day, with a part of the main guard, between whom and the townsmen blows ensued; on which some of the soldiers fired, and four of the people were killed.
The alarm bells were immediately rung, the drums beat to arms, and an immense multitude assembled. Inflamed to madness by the view of the dead bodies, they were with difficulty restrained from rushing on the 29th regiment, which was then drawn up under arms in King street. The exertions of the lieutenant governor, who promised that the laws should be enforced on the perpetrators of the act, and the efforts of several respectable and popular individuals, prevented their proceeding to extremities, and prevailed on them, after the regiment had been marched to the barracks, to disperse without farther mischief. Captain Preston, and the soldiers who had fired, were committed to prison for trial. On the next day, upwards of four thousand citizens of Boston assembled at Faneuil Hall; and, in a message to the lieutenant governor, stated it to be "the unanimous opinion of the meeting, that the inhabitants and soldiers can no longer live together in safety; that nothing can rationally be expected to restore the peace of the town, and prevent farther blood and carnage, but the immediate removal of the troops; and they therefore most fervently prayed his honour that his power and influence might be exerted for their instant removal."
The lieutenant governor expressed his extreme sorrow at the melancholy event which had occurred; and declared that he had taken measures to have the affair inquired into, and justice done. That the military were not under his command, but received their orders from the general at New York, which orders it was not in his power to countermand. That, on the application of the council for the removal of the troops, colonel Dalrymple, their commanding officer, had engaged that the twenty-ninth regiment, which had been concerned in the affair, should be marched to the castle, and there placed in barracks until farther orders should be received from the general; and that the main guard should be removed, and the fourteenth regiment laid under such restraints, that all occasions of future disturbance should be prevented. This answer was voted to be unsatisfactory; and a committee was deputed to wait on the lieutenant governor, and inform him that nothing could content them but an immediate and total removal of the troops.
This vote was laid before the council by Mr. Hutchinson, who had succeeded Mr. Bernard in the government of the province. The council declared themselves unanimously of opinion "that it was absolutely necessary for his Majesty's service, the good order of the town, and the peace of the province, that the troops should be immediately removed out of the town of Boston."
This opinion and advice being communicated to colonel Dalrymple, he gave his honour that measures should be immediately taken for the removal of both regiments. Satisfied with this assurance, the meeting secured the tranquillity of the town by appointing a strong military watch, and immediately dissolved itself.
[Sidenote: Trial of captain Preston and the soldiers.]
This transaction was very differently related by the different parties. Mr. Gordon, whose history was written when the resentments of the moment had subsided, and who has collected the facts of the case carefully, states it in such a manner as nearly, if not entirely, to exculpate the soldiers. It appears that an attack upon them had been pre-concerted; and that, after being long insulted with the grossest language, they were repeatedly assaulted by the mob with balls of ice and snow, and with sticks, before they were induced to fire. This representation is strongly supported by the circumstances, that captain Preston, after a long and public trial, was acquitted by a Boston jury; and that six of the eight soldiers who were prosecuted, were acquitted, and the remaining two found guilty of manslaughter only. Mr. Quincy, and Mr. John Adams, two eminent lawyers, and distinguished leaders of the patriotic party, defended the accused, without sustaining any diminution of popularity. Yet this event was very differently understood through the colonies. It was generally believed to be a massacre, equally barbarous and unprovoked; and it increased the detestation in which the soldiers were universally held.
Insurrection in North Carolina.... Dissatisfaction of Massachusetts.... Corresponding committees.... Governor Hutchinson's correspondence communicated by Dr. Franklin.... The assembly petition for his removal.... He is succeeded by general Gage.... Measures to enforce the act concerning duties.... Ferment in America.... The tea thrown into the sea at Boston.... Measures of Parliament.... General enthusiasm in America.... A general congress proposed.... General Gage arrives.... Troops stationed on Boston neck.... New counsellors and judges.... Obliged to resign.... Boston neck fortified.... Military stores seized by general Gage.... Preparations for defence.... King's speech.... Proceedings of Parliament.... Battle of Lexington.... Massachusetts raises men.... Meeting of Congress.... Proceedings of that body.... Transactions in Virginia.... Provincial congress of South Carolina.... Battle of Breed's hill.
[Sidenote: Insurrection in North Carolina.]
In the middle and southern colonies, the irritation against the mother country appears to have gradually subsided and no disposition was manifested to extend opposition farther than to the importation of tea. Their attention was a good deal directed to an insurrection in North Carolina, where a number of ignorant people, supposing themselves to be aggrieved by the fee bill, rose in arms for the purpose of shutting up the courts of justice, destroying all officers of government, and all lawyers, and of prostrating government itself. Governor Tryon marched against them, defeated them in a decisive battle, quelled the insurrection, and restored order.
[Sidenote: Dissatisfaction of Massachusetts.]
In Massachusetts, where the doctrine that parliament could not rightfully legislate for the colonies was maintained as a corollary from the proposition that parliament could not tax them, a gloomy discontent was manifested. That the spirit of opposition seemed to be expiring, without securing the rights they claimed, excited apprehensions of a much more serious nature in the bosoms of that inflexible people, than the prospect of any conflict, however terrible. This temper displayed itself in all their proceedings.
The legislature, which the governor continued to convene at Cambridge, remonstrated against this removal as an intolerable grievance; and, for two sessions, refused to proceed on business. In one of their remonstrances, they asserted the right of the people to appeal to heaven in disputes between them and persons in power, when power shall be abused.
[Sidenote: Corresponding committees.]
From the commencement of the contest, Massachusetts had been peculiarly solicitous to unite all the colonies in one system of measures. In pursuance of this favourite idea, a committee of correspondence was elected by the general court, to communicate with such committees as might be appointed by other legislatures. Similar committees were soon afterwards chosen by the towns throughout the province, for the purpose of corresponding with each other; and the example was soon followed by other colonies.
[Footnote 219: Almost at the same time, and without concert, the same measure was adopted in Virginia.]
[Footnote 220: See note No. VI, at the end of the volume.]
[Sidenote: Governor Hutchinson's correspondence.]
While this system of vigilance was in progress, a discovery was made which greatly increased the ill temper of New England. Doctor Franklin, the agent of Massachusetts, by some unknown means, obtained possession of the letters which had been addressed by governor Hutchinson, and by lieutenant governor Oliver, to the department of state. He transmitted these letters to the general court. They were obviously designed to induce government to persevere in the system which was alienating the affections of the colonists. The opposition was represented as being confined to a few factious men, whose conduct was not generally approved, and who had been emboldened by the weakness of the means used to restrain them. More vigorous measures were recommended; and several specific propositions were made, which were peculiarly offensive. Among these was a plan for altering the charters of the colonies, and rendering the high officers dependent solely on the crown for their salaries.
[Footnote 221: Minot.]
[Sidenote: Petition for the removal of the governor and lieutenant governor.]
The assembly, inflamed by these letters, unanimously resolved, "that their tendency and design were to overthrow the constitution of the government, and to introduce arbitrary power into the province." At the same time, a petition to the King was voted, praying him to remove governor Hutchinson and lieutenant governor Oliver, for ever, from the government of the colony. This petition was transmitted to Doctor Franklin, and laid before the King in council. After hearing it, the lords of the council reported "that the petition in question was founded upon false and erroneous allegations, and that the same is groundless, vexatious, and scandalous, and calculated only for the seditious purposes of keeping up a spirit of clamour and discontent in the provinces." This report, his majesty was pleased to approve.
[Sidenote: Hutchinson succeeded by Gage.]
Governor Hutchinson however was soon afterwards removed, and general Gage appointed to succeed him.
[Sidenote: Measures to enforce the duties.]
The fears of Massachusetts, that the spirit which had been roused in the colonies might gradually subside, were not of long continuance. The determination not to import tea from England, had so lessened the demand for that article, that a considerable quantity had accumulated in the magazines of the East India company. They urged the minister to take off the import American duty of three pence per pound, and offered, in lieu of it, to pay double that sum on exportation. Instead of acceding to this proposition, drawbacks were allowed on tea exported to the colonies; and the export duty on that article was taken off. These encouragements induced the company to make shipments on their own account; and large quantities were consigned to agents in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, and other principal places on the continent.
[Footnote 222: Minot. Belsham.]
[Sidenote: Ferment in America.]
The crisis was arrived; and the conduct of the colonies was now to determine whether they would submit to be taxed by parliament, or meet the consequences of a practical assertion of the opinions they had maintained. The tea, if landed, would be sold; the duties would, consequently, be paid; and the precedent for taxing them established. The same sentiment on this subject appears to have pervaded the whole continent at the same time. This ministerial plan of importation was considered by all, as a direct attack on the liberties of the people of America, which it was the duty of all to oppose. A violent ferment was excited in all the colonies; the corresponding committees were extremely active; and it was almost universally declared that whoever should, directly or indirectly, countenance this dangerous invasion of their rights, was an enemy to his country. The consignees were, generally, compelled to relinquish their consignments; and, in most instances, the ships bringing the tea were obliged to return with it.
At Boston, a town meeting appointed a committee to wait on the consignees to request their resignation. This request not being complied with, another large meeting assembled at Faneuil Hall, who voted, with acclamation, "that the tea shall not be landed, that no duty shall be paid, and that it shall be sent back in the same bottoms." With a foreboding of the probable consequences of the measure about to be adopted, and a wish that those consequences should be seriously contemplated, a leading member thus addressed the meeting:
"It is not, Mr. Moderator, the spirit that vapours within these walls that must stand us in stead. The exertions of this day will call forth events which will make a very different spirit necessary for our salvation. Whoever supposes that shouts and hosannahs will terminate the trials of the day, entertains a childish fancy. We must be grossly ignorant of the importance and value of the prize for which we contend; we must be equally ignorant of the power of those who have combined against us; we must be blind to that malice, inveteracy, and insatiable revenge, which actuate our enemies, public and private, abroad and in our bosoms, to hope that we shall end this controversy without the sharpest, sharpest conflicts;—to flatter ourselves that popular resolves, popular harangues, popular acclamations, and popular vapour, will vanquish our foes. Let us consider the issue. Let us look to the end. Let us weigh and consider, before we advance to those measures, which must bring on the most trying and terrible struggle this country ever saw."
[Footnote 223: The language said by Mr. Gordon to have been used at this meeting proves that many of the people of Boston were already ripe for the revolution. To the more cautious among "the sons of liberty" who had expressed some apprehensions lest they should push the matter too far, and involve the colony in a quarrel with Great Britain, others answered "It must come to a quarrel between Great Britain and the colony sooner or later; and if so what can be a better time than the present? Hundreds of years may pass away before parliament will make such a number of acts in violation as it has done of late years, and by which it has excited so formidable an opposition to the measures of administration. Besides, the longer the contest is delayed, the more administration will be strengthened. Do not you observe how the government at home are increasing their party here by sending over young fellows to enjoy appointments, who marry into our best families, and so weaken the opposition? By such means, and by multiplying posts and places, and giving them to their own friends, or applying them to the corruption of their antagonists, they will increase their own force faster in proportion, than the force of the country party will increase by population. If then we must quarrel ere we can have our rights secured, now is the most eligible period. Our credit also is at stake; we must venture, and unless we do, we shall be discarded by the sons of liberty in the other colonies, whose assistance we may expect upon emergencies, in case they find us steady, resolute, and faithful."]
[Footnote 224: Mr. Quincy.]
[Footnote 225: Minot.]
[Sidenote: Tea thrown into the sea.]
The question was again put, and passed unanimously in the affirmative. The captain of the vessel, aware of the approaching danger, was desirous of returning, and applied to the governor for a clearance. Affecting a rigid regard to the letter of his duty, he declined giving one, unless the vessel should be properly qualified at the custom house. This answer being reported, the meeting was declared to be dissolved; and an immense crowd repaired to the quay, where a number of the most resolute, disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the vessel, broke open three hundred and forty-two chests of tea, and discharged their contents into the ocean.
[Footnote 226: Minot.]
[Sidenote: Measures of parliament.]
These proceedings were laid before parliament in a message from the crown, and excited a high and general indignation against the colonies. Both houses expressed, almost unanimously, their approbation of the measures adopted by his Majesty; and gave explicit assurances that they would exert every means in their power, to provide effectually for the due execution of the laws, and to secure the dependence of the colonies upon the crown and parliament of Great Britain. The temper both of the parliament and of the nation was entirely favourable to the high-handed system of coercion proposed by ministers; and that temper was not permitted to pass away unemployed. A bill was brought in "for discontinuing the lading and shipping of goods, wares, and merchandises, at Boston or the harbour thereof, and for the removal of the custom-house with its dependencies to the town of Salem." This bill was to continue in force, not only until compensation should be made to the East India company for the damage sustained, but until the King in council should declare himself satisfied as to the restoration of peace and good order in Boston. It passed both houses without a division, and almost without opposition.
[Footnote 227: Belsham.]
Soon afterwards, a bill was brought in "for better regulating the government of the province of Massachusetts Bay." This act entirely subverted the charter, and vested in the crown the appointment of the counsellors, magistrates, and other officers of the colony, who were to hold their offices during the royal pleasure. This bill also was carried through both houses by great majorities; but not without a vigorous opposition, and an animated debate.
[Footnote 228: Belsham.]
The next measure proposed was a bill "for the impartial administration of justice in the province of Massachusetts Bay. It provided that in case any person should be indicted, in that province, for murder or any other capital offence, and it should appear by information given on oath to the governor, that the fact was committed in the exercise or aid of magistracy in suppressing riots, and that a fair trial could not be had in the province, he should send the person so indicted to any other colony, or to Great Britain to be tried." This act was to continue in force for four years.
[Footnote 229: Idem.]
A bill was also passed for quartering soldiers on the inhabitants; and the system was completed, by "an act making more effectual provision for the government of the province of Quebec." This bill extended the boundaries of that province so as to comprehend the territory between the lakes, the Ohio, and the Mississippi; and established a legislative council to be appointed by the crown, for its government.
[Footnote 230: Belsham.]
Amidst these hostile measures, one single conciliatory proposition was made. Mr. Rose Fuller moved that the house resolve itself into a committee to take into consideration the duty on the importation of tea into America, with a view to its repeal. This motion was seconded by Mr. Burke, and supported with all the power of reasoning, and all the splendour of eloquence which distinguished that consummate statesman; but reason and eloquence were of no avail. It was lost by a great majority. The earl of Chatham, who had long been too ill to attend parliament, again made his appearance in the house of lords. He could have been drawn out, only by a strong sense of the fatal importance of those measures into which the nation was hurrying. But his efforts were unavailing. Neither his weight of character, his sound judgment, nor his manly eloquence, could arrest the hand of fate which seemed to propel this lofty nation, with irresistible force, to measures which terminated in its dismemberment.
[Footnote 231: Idem.]
[Sidenote: General enthusiasm.]
It was expected, and this expectation was encouraged by Mr. Hutchinson, that, by directing these measures particularly against Boston, not only the union of the colonies would be broken, but Massachusetts herself would be divided. Never was expectation more completely disappointed. All perceived that Boston was to be punished for having resisted, only with more violence, the principle which they had all resisted; and that the object of the punishment was to coerce obedience to a principle they were still determined to resist. They felt therefore that the cause of Boston was the cause of all, that their destinies were indissolubly connected with those of that devoted town, and that they must submit to be taxed by a parliament, in which they were not and could not be represented, or support their brethren who were selected to sustain the first shock of a power which, if successful there, would overwhelm them all. The neighbouring towns, disdaining to avail themselves of the calamities inflicted on a sister for her exertions in the common cause, clung to her with increased affection; and that spirit of enthusiastic patriotism, which, for a time, elevates the mind above all considerations of individual acquisition, became the ruling passion in the American bosom.
On receiving intelligence of the Boston port bill, a meeting of the people of that town was called. They perceived that "the sharpest, sharpest conflict" was indeed approaching, but were not dismayed by its terrors. Far from seeking to shelter themselves from the threatening storm by submission, they grew more determined as it increased.
Resolutions were passed, expressing their opinion of the impolicy, injustice, inhumanity, and cruelty of the act, from which they appealed to God, and to the world; and also inviting the other colonies to join with them in an agreement to stop all imports and exports to and from Great Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies, until the act should be repealed.
[Footnote 232: Minot.]
It was not in Boston only that this spirit was roused. Addresses were received from every part of the continent, expressing sentiments of sympathy in their afflictions, exhorting them to resolution and perseverance, and assuring them that they were considered as suffering in the common cause.
The legislature of Virginia was in session when intelligence of the Boston port bill reached that province. The house of Burgesses set apart the first of June, the day on which the bill was to go into operation, for fasting, prayer, and humiliation, to implore the divine interposition to avert the heavy calamity which threatened the destruction of their civil rights, the evils of a civil war; and to give one heart and one mind to the people, firmly to oppose every invasion of their liberties. Similar resolutions were adopted in almost every province; and the first of June became, throughout the colonies, a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, in the course of which sermons were preached to the people, well calculated to inspire them with horror, against the authors of the unjust sufferings of their fellow subjects in Boston.
[Sidenote: A general congress proposed.]
This measure occasioned the dissolution of the assembly. The members, before separation, entered into an association, in which they declared that an attack on one colony to compel submission to arbitrary taxes, is an attack on all British America, and threatens ruin to the rights of all, unless the united wisdom of the whole be applied in prevention. They, therefore, recommended to the committee of correspondence, to communicate with the several committees of the other provinces, on the expediency of appointing deputies from the different colonies, to meet annually in congress, and to deliberate on the common interests of America. This measure had already been proposed in town meetings, both in New York and Boston.
[Sidenote: General Gage arrives in Boston.]
While the people of Boston were engaged in the first consultations respecting the bill directed particularly against themselves, general Gage arrived in town. He was received, notwithstanding the deep gloom of the moment, with those external marks of respect which had been usual, and which were supposed to belong to his station.
The general court convened by the governor at Salem, passed resolutions, declaring the expediency of a meeting of committees from the several colonies; and appointed five gentlemen as a committee on the part of Massachusetts. The colonies from New Hampshire to South Carolina inclusive, adopted this measure; and, where the legislatures were not in session, elections were made by the people. The legislature of Massachusetts also passed declaratory resolutions expressing their opinion on the state of public affairs, and recommending to the inhabitants of that province to renounce, totally, the consumption of East India teas, and to discontinue the use of all goods imported from the East Indies and Great Britain, until the grievances of America should be completely redressed.
The governor, having obtained intelligence of the manner in which the house was employed, sent his secretary with directions to dissolve the assembly. Finding the doors shut, and being refused admittance, he read the order of dissolution aloud on the staircase. The next day, the governor received an address from the principal inhabitants of Salem, at that time the metropolis of the province, which marks the deep impression made by a sense of common danger. No longer considering themselves as the inhabitants of Salem, but as Americans, and spurning advantages to be derived to themselves from the distress inflicted on a sister town, for its zeal in a cause common to all, they expressed their deep affliction for the calamities of Boston.
About this time rough drafts of the two remaining bills relative to the province of Massachusetts, as well as of that for quartering troops in America, were received in Boston, and circulated through the continent. They served to confirm the wavering, to render the moderate indignant, and to inflame the violent.
An agreement was framed by the committee of correspondence in Boston, entitled "a solemn league and covenant," whereby the subscribers bound themselves, "in the presence of God," to suspend all commercial intercourse with Great Britain, from the last day of the ensuing month of August, until the Boston port bill, and the other late obnoxious laws should be repealed. They also bound themselves, in the same manner, not to consume, or purchase from any other, any goods whatever which should arrive after the specified time; and to break off all dealings with the purchasers as well as with the importers of such goods. They renounced, also, all intercourse and connexion with those who should refuse to subscribe to that covenant, or to bind themselves by some similar agreement; and annexed to the renunciation of intercourse, the dangerous penalty of publishing to the world, the names of all who refused to give this evidence of attachment to the rights of their country.
General Gage issued a proclamation in which he termed this covenant "an unlawful, hostile, and traitorous combination, contrary to the allegiance due to the King, destructive of the legal authority of parliament, and of the peace, good order, and safety of the community." All persons were warned against incurring the pains and penalties due to such dangerous offences; and all magistrates were charged to apprehend and secure for trial such as should be guilty of them. But the time when the proclamation of governors could command attention had passed away; and the penalties in the power of the committee of correspondence were much more dreaded than those which could be inflicted by the civil magistrate.
[Footnote 233: Belsham. Minot.]
Resolutions were passed in every colony in which legislatures were convened, or delegates assembled in convention, manifesting different degrees of resentment, but concurring in the same great principles. All declared that the cause of Boston was the cause of British America; that the late acts respecting that devoted town were tyrannical and unconstitutional; that the opposition to this ministerial system of oppression ought to be universally and perseveringly maintained; that all intercourse with the parent state ought to be suspended, and domestic manufactures encouraged; and that a general congress should be formed for the purpose of uniting and guiding the councils, and directing the efforts, of North America.
The committees of correspondence selected Philadelphia for the place, and the beginning of September as the time, for the meeting of this important council.
[Sidenote: Congress assembles.]
On the fourth of September, the delegates from eleven provinces appeared at the place appointed; and, the next day, they assembled at Carpenter's Hall, when Peyton Randolph, late speaker of the house of Burgesses of Virginia, was unanimously chosen president. The respective credentials of the members were then read and approved; and this august assembly, having determined that each colony should have only one vote; that their deliberations should be conducted with closed doors; and that their proceedings, except such as they might determine to publish, should be kept inviolably secret; entered on the solemn and important duties assigned to them.
[Footnote 234: Those of North Carolina arrived on the fourteenth.]
[Footnote 235: See note No. VII, at the end of the volume.]
Committees were appointed to state the rights claimed by the colonies, which had been infringed by acts of parliament passed since the year 1763; to prepare a petition to the King, and addresses to the people of Great Britain, to the inhabitants of the province of Quebec, and to the twelve colonies represented in congress.
Certain resolutions of the county of Suffolk in Massachusetts, having been taken into consideration, it was unanimously resolved "that this assembly deeply feels the suffering of their countrymen in Massachusetts Bay, under the operation of the late unjust, cruel, and oppressive acts of the British parliament; that they most thoroughly approve the wisdom and fortitude with which opposition to these wicked ministerial measures has hitherto been conducted; and they earnestly recommend to their brethren, a perseverance in the same firm and temperate conduct, as expressed in the resolutions determined upon, at a meeting of the delegates for the county of Suffolk, on Tuesday the sixth instant; trusting that the effect of the united efforts of North America in their behalf, will carry such conviction to the British nation of the unwise, unjust, and ruinous policy of the present administration, as quickly to introduce better men, and wiser measures."
[Footnote 236: See note No. VIII, at the end of the volume.]
It was resolved, unanimously, "that contributions from all the colonies, for supplying the necessities, and alleviating the distresses of our brethren in Boston, ought to be continued, in such manner, and so long, as their occasions may require."
The merchants of the several colonies were requested not to send to Great Britain any orders for goods, and to direct the execution of those already sent to be suspended, until the sense of congress on the means to be taken for preserving the liberties of America, be made public. In a few days, resolutions were passed, suspending the importation of goods from Great Britain, or Ireland, or any of their dependencies, and of their manufactures from any place whatever, after the first day of the succeeding December; and against the purchase or use of such goods. It was also determined that all exports to Great Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies, should cease on the 10th of September, 1775 less American grievances should be redressed before that time. An association, corresponding with these resolutions, was then framed, and signed by every member present. Never were laws more faithfully observed, than were these resolutions of congress; and their association was, of consequence, universally adopted.
Early in the session, a declaration of rights was made in the shape of resolutions. This paper merits particular attention, because it states precisely the ground then taken by America. It is observable that it asserted rights which were not generally maintained, at the commencement of the contest; but the exclusive right of legislation in the colonial assemblies, with the exception of acts of the British parliament bona fide made to regulate external commerce, was not averred unanimously.
[Footnote 237: See note No. IX, at the end of the volume.]
The addresses prepared, the various papers drawn up, and the measures recommended by this congress, form the best eulogy of the members who composed it. Affection to the mother country, an exalted admiration of her national character, unwillingness to separate from her, a knowledge of the hazards and difficulties of the approaching contest, mingled with enthusiastic patriotism, and a conviction that all which can make life valuable was at stake, characterise their proceedings.