[Sidenote: Address to the people of Great Britain.]
"When," they say in the address to the people to the people of Great Britain, "a nation led to greatness by the hand of liberty, and possessed of all the glory that heroism, munificence, and humanity, can bestow, descends to the ungrateful task of forging chains for her friends and children, and, instead of giving support to freedom turns advocate for slavery and oppression, there is reason to suspect she has either ceased to be virtuous, or been extremely negligent in the appointment of her rulers.
"In almost every age, in repeated conflicts, in long and bloody wars, as well civil as foreign, against many and powerful nations, against the open assaults of enemies, and the more dangerous treachery of friends, have the inhabitants of your island, your great and glorious ancestors, maintained their independence, and transmitted the rights of men and the blessings of liberty to you their posterity.
"Be not surprised therefore that we, who are descended from the same common ancestors, that we, whose forefathers participated in all the rights, the liberties, and the constitution, you so justly boast of, and who have carefully conveyed the same fair inheritance to us, guaranteed by the plighted faith of government, and the most solemn compacts with British sovereigns, should refuse to surrender them to men, who found their claims on no principles of reason, and who prosecute them with a design, that by having our lives and property in their power, they may with the greater facility enslave you."
After stating the serious condition of American affairs, and the oppressions, and misrepresentations of their conduct, which had induced the address; and their claim to be as free as their fellow subjects in Britain; they say, "are not the proprietors of the soil of Great Britain lords of their own property? Can it be taken from them without their consent? Will they yield it to the arbitrary disposal of any men, or number of men whatever? You know they will not.
"Why then are the proprietors of the soil of America less lords of their property than you are of yours, or why should they submit it to the disposal of your parliament, or any other parliament or council in the world, not of their election? Can the intervention of the sea that divides us cause disparity of rights, or can any reason be given why English subjects, who live three thousand miles from the royal palace, should enjoy less liberty than those who are three hundred miles distant from it?
"Reason looks with indignation on such distinctions, and freemen can never perceive their propriety."
After expatiating on the resources which the conquest of America would place in the hands of the crown for the subjugation of Britain, the address proceeds, "we believe there is yet much virtue, much justice, and much public spirit in the English nation. To that justice we now appeal. You have been told that we are seditious, impatient of government, and desirous of independency. Be assured that these are not facts but calumnies. Permit us to be as free as yourselves, and we shall ever esteem a union with you to be our greatest glory, and our greatest happiness;—we shall ever be ready to contribute all in our power to the welfare of the empire;—we shall consider your enemies as our enemies, and your interest as our own.
"But if you are determined that your ministers shall wantonly sport with the rights of mankind:—if neither the voice of justice, the dictates of the law, the principles of the constitution, nor the suggestions of humanity, can restrain your hands from shedding human blood in such an impious cause, we must then tell you that we will never submit to be hewers of wood or drawers of water for any ministry or nation in the world.
"Place us in the same situation that we were at the close of the late war, and our former harmony will be restored."
[Footnote 238: The committee which prepared this eloquent and manly address, were Mr. Lee, Mr. Livingston, and Mr. Jay. The composition has been generally attributed to Mr. Jay.]
[Sidenote: Petition to the King.]
The petition to the King states succinctly the grievances complained of, and then proceeds to say:
"Had our creator been pleased to give us existence in a land of slavery, the sense of our condition might have been mitigated by ignorance and habit. But thanks be to his adorable goodness, we were born the heirs of freedom, and ever enjoyed our right under the auspices of your royal ancestors, whose family was seated on the British throne, to rescue and secure a pious and gallant nation from the popery and despotism of a superstitious and inexorable tyrant. Your majesty, we are confident, justly rejoices that your title to the crown is thus founded on the title of your people to liberty; and, therefore, we doubt not but your royal wisdom must approve the sensibility that teaches your subjects anxiously to guard the blessing they received from divine providence, and thereby to prove the performance of that compact, which elevated the illustrious house of Brunswick to the imperial dignity it now possesses.
"The apprehensions of being degraded into a state of servitude, from the pre-eminent rank of English freemen, while our minds retain the strongest love of liberty, and clearly foresee the miseries preparing for us and for our posterity, excites emotions in our breasts, which, though we cannot describe, we should not wish to conceal. Feeling as men, and thinking as subjects, in the manner we do, silence would be disloyalty. By giving this faithful information, we do all in our power to promote the great objects of your royal cares—the tranquillity of your government, and the welfare of your people.
"Duty to your majesty and regard for the preservation of ourselves and our posterity,—the primary obligations of nature and society, command us to entreat your royal attention; and, as your majesty enjoys the signal distinction of reigning over freemen, we apprehend the language of freemen cannot be displeasing. Your royal indignation, we hope, will rather fall on those designing and dangerous men, who, daringly interposing themselves between your royal person and your faithful subjects, and for several years past incessantly employed to dissolve the bonds of society, by abusing your majesty's authority, misrepresenting your American subjects, and prosecuting the most desperate and irritating projects of oppression, have at length compelled us, by the force of accumulated injuries, too severe to be any longer tolerable, to disturb your majesty's repose by our complaints.
"These sentiments are extorted from hearts that much more willingly would bleed in your majesty's service. Yet so greatly have we been misrepresented, that a necessity has been alleged of taking our property from us without our consent, to defray the charge of the administration of justice, the support of civil government, and the defence, protection, and security of the colonies."
After assuring his majesty of the untruth of these allegations, they say, "yielding to no British subjects in affectionate attachment to your majesty's person, family, and government, we too dearly prize the privilege of expressing that attachment, by those proofs that are honourable to the prince that receives them, and to the people who give them, ever to resign it to any body of men upon earth.
"We ask but for peace, liberty, and safety. We wish not a diminution of the prerogative, nor do we solicit the grant of any new right in our favour. Your royal authority over us, and our connection with Great Britain, we shall always carefully and zealously endeavour to support and maintain."
After re-stating in a very affecting manner the most essential grievances of which they complain, and professing that their future conduct, if their apprehensions should be removed, would prove them worthy of the regard they had been accustomed, in their happier days to enjoy, they add:
"Permit us then most gracious sovereign, in the name of all your faithful people in America, with the utmost humility to implore you, for the honour of Almighty God, whose pure religion our enemies are undermining; for your glory which can be advanced only by rendering your subjects happy, and keeping them united; for the interest of your family, depending on an adherence to the principles that enthroned it; for the safety and welfare of your kingdom and dominions, threatened with almost unavoidable dangers and distresses; that your majesty, as the loving father of your whole people, connected by the same bonds of law, loyalty, faith, and blood, though dwelling in various countries, will not suffer the transcendent relation formed by these ties, to be farther violated, in uncertain expectation of effects that, if attained, never can compensate for the calamities, through which they must be gained."
[Footnote 239: The committee which brought in this admirably well drawn, and truly conciliatory address, were Mr. Lee, Mr. John Adams, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Henry, Mr. Rutledge, and Mr. Dickinson. The original composition has been generally attributed to Mr. Dickinson.]
[Sidenote: Address to the American people.]
The address to their constituents is replete with serious and temperate argument. In this paper, the several causes which had led to the existing state of things, were detailed more at large; and much labour was used to convince their judgments that their liberties must be destroyed, and the security of their property and persons annihilated, by submission to the pretensions of Great Britain. The first object of congress being to unite the people of America, by demonstrating the sincerity with which their leaders had sought for reconciliation on terms compatible with liberty, great earnestness was used in proving that the conduct of the colonists had been uniformly moderate and blameless. After declaring their confidence in the efficacy of the mode of commercial resistance which had been recommended, the address concludes with saying, "your own salvation, and that of your posterity, now depends upon yourselves. You have already shown that you entertain a proper sense of the blessings you are striving to retain. Against the temporary inconveniences you may suffer from a stoppage of trade, you will weigh in the opposite balance, the endless miseries you and your descendants must endure, from an established arbitrary power. You will not forget the honour of your country, that must, from your behaviour, take its title in the estimation of the world to glory or to shame; and you will, with the deepest attention, reflect, that if the peaceable mode of opposition recommended by us, be broken and rendered ineffectual, as your cruel and haughty ministerial enemies, from a contemptuous opinion of your firmness, insolently predict will be the case, you must inevitably be reduced to choose, either a more dangerous contest, or a final, ruinous, and infamous submission.
"Motives thus cogent, arising from the emergency of your unhappy condition, must excite your utmost diligence and zeal, to give all possible strength and energy to the pacific measures calculated for your relief. But we think ourselves bound in duty to observe to you, that the schemes agitated against the colonies have been so conducted, as to render it prudent that you should extend your views to mournful events, and be in all respects prepared for every contingency. Above all things, we earnestly entreat you, with devotion of spirit, penitence of heart, and amendment of life, to humble yourselves, and implore the favour of Almighty God; and we fervently beseech his divine goodness to take you into his gracious protection."
[Footnote 240: Mr. Lee, Mr. Livingston, and Mr. Jay, were also the committee who brought in this address.]
The letter to the people of Canada required no inconsiderable degree of address. The extent of that province was not so alarming to its inhabitants as to their neighbours; and it was not easy to persuade the French settlers, who were far the most numerous, that the establishment of their religion, and the partial toleration of their ancient jurisprudence, were acts of oppression which ought to be resisted. This delicate subject was managed with considerable dexterity, and the prejudices of the Canadians were assailed with some success.
Letters were also addressed to the colonies of St. Johns, Nova Scotia, Georgia, and the Floridas, inviting them to unite with their brethren in a cause common to all British America.
[Footnote 241: These letters, as well as that to the inhabitants of the province of Quebec, were prepared by Mr. Cushing, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Dickinson.]
After completing the business before them, and recommending that another Congress should be held at the same place on the tenth of the succeeding May, the House dissolved itself.
The proceedings of Congress were read throughout America, with enthusiastic admiration. Their recommendations were revered as revelations, and obeyed as laws of the strongest obligation. Absolute unanimity could not be expected to exist; but seldom has a whole people been more united; and never did a more sincere and perfect conviction of the justice of a cause animate the human bosom, than was felt by the great body of the Americans. The people, generally, made great exertions to arm and discipline themselves. Independent companies of gentlemen were formed in all the colonies; and the whole face of the country exhibited the aspect of approaching war. Yet the measures of Congress demonstrate that, although resistance by force was contemplated as a possible event, the hope was fondly cherished that the non-importation of British goods would induce a repeal of the late odious acts. It is impossible to account for the non-importation agreement itself. Had war been considered as inevitable, every principle of sound policy required that imports should be encouraged, and the largest possible stock of supplies for an army be obtained.
[Sidenote: New counsellors and judges.]
With the laws relative to the province, governor Gage received a list of thirty-two new counsellors, a sufficient number of whom, to carry on the business of the government, accepted the office, and entered on its duties.
[Sidenote: Obliged to resign.]
All those who accepted offices under the new system, were denounced as enemies to their country. The new judges were unable to proceed in the administration of justice. When the court houses were opened, the people crowded into them in such numbers that the judges could not obtain admittance; and, on being ordered by the officers to make way for the court, they answered that they knew no court, independent of the ancient laws and usages of their country, and to no other would they submit. The houses of the new counsellors were surrounded by great bodies of people, whose threats announced to them that they must resign their offices, or be exposed to the fury of an enraged populace. The first part of the alternative was generally embraced.
[Footnote 242: Minot.]
[Sidenote: Boston neck fortified.]
In this irritable state of the public mind, and critical situation of public affairs, it was to be expected that every day would furnish new matter of discontent and jealousy. General Gage deemed it a necessary measure of security, to fortify Boston neck; and this circumstance induced the inhabitants to contemplate seriously an evacuation of the town, and removal into the country. Congress was consulted on this proposition; but was deterred from recommending it, by the difficulties attending the measure. It was however referred to the provincial congress, with the declaration that, if the removal should be deemed necessary, the expense attending it ought to be borne by all the colonies.
[Sidenote: Military stores seized by general Gage.]
The fortification of Boston neck was followed by a measure which excited still greater alarm. The time for the general muster of the militia approached. Under real or pretended apprehensions from their violence, the ammunition and stores which were lodged in the provincial arsenal at Cambridge, and the powder in the magazines at Charlestown, and some other places which was partly private and partly provincial property, were seized, by order of the governor, and conveyed to Boston.
Under the ferment excited by this measure, the people assembled in great numbers, and were with difficulty dissuaded from marching to Boston, and demanding a re-delivery of the stores. Not long afterwards, the fort at Portsmouth in New Hampshire was stormed by an armed body of provincials; and the powder it contained was transported to a place of safety. A similar measure was adopted in Rhode Island.
About the same time a report reached Connecticut that the ships and troops had attacked Boston, and were actually firing on the town. Several thousand men immediately assembled in arms, and marched with great expedition a considerable distance, before they were undeceived.
It was in the midst of these ferments, and while these indications of an opinion that hostilities might be expected daily were multiplying on every side, that the people of Suffolk assembled in convention, and passed the resolutions already mentioned, which in boldness surpass any that had been adopted.
[Sidenote: Provincial congress in Massachusetts.]
Before the general agitation had risen to its present alarming height, governor Gage had issued writs for the election of members to a general assembly. These writs were afterwards countermanded by proclamation; but the proclamation was disregarded; the elections were held; and the delegates, who assembled and voted themselves a provincial congress, conducted the affairs of the colony as if they had been regularly invested with all the powers of government; and their recommendations were respected as sacred laws.
[Sidenote: Prepares for defence.]
They drew up a plan for the defence of the province; provided magazines, ammunition and prepares stores for twelve thousand militia; and enrolled a number of minute men, a term designating a select part of the militia, who engaged to appear in arms at a minute's warning.
On the approach of winter, the general had ordered temporary barracks to be erected for the troops, partly for their security, and partly to prevent the disorders which would unavoidably result from quartering them in the town. Such however was the detestation in which they were held, that the select men and committees obliged the workmen to desist from the work, although they were paid for their labour by the crown, and although employment could, at that time, be seldom obtained. He was not much more successful in his endeavours to obtain carpenters in New York; and it was with considerable difficulty that these temporary lodgments could be erected.
The agency for purchasing winter covering for the troops was offered to almost every merchant in New York; but such was the danger of engaging in this odious employment, that not only those who were attached to the party resisting the views of administration, but those also who were in secret friendly to those views, refused undertaking it, and declared "that they never would supply any article for the benefit of men who were sent as enemies to their country."
[Sidenote: King's speech to parliament.]
In Great Britain, a new parliament was assembled; and the King, in his opening speech, informed them, "that a most daring spirit of resistance and disobedience still prevailed in Massachusetts, and had broken forth in fresh violences of a very criminal nature; that the most proper and effectual measures had been taken to prevent these mischiefs; and that they might depend upon a firm resolution to withstand every attempt to weaken or impair the supreme authority of this legislature over all the dominions of the crown."
[Sidenote: Proceedings of that body.]
The addresses re-echoed the sentiments of the speech; all amendments to which were rejected in both houses by considerable majorities. Yet the business respecting America was not promptly introduced. Administration seems to have hesitated on the course to be adopted; and the cabinet is said to have been divided respecting future measures. The few friends of conciliation availed themselves of this delay, to bring forward propositions which might restore harmony to the empire. Lord Chatham was not yet dead. "This splendid orb," to use the bold metaphor of Mr. Burke, "was not yet entirely set. The western horizon was still in a blaze with his descending glory;" and the evening of a life which had exhibited one bright unchequered course of elevated patriotism, was devoted to the service of that country whose aggrandisement seemed to have swallowed up every other passion of his soul. Taking a prophetic view of the future, he demonstrated the impossibility of subjugating America, and urged, with all the powers of his vast mind, the immediate removal of the troops from Boston, as a measure indispensably necessary, to open the way for an adjustment of the existing differences with the colonies. Not discouraged by the great majority against this motion, he brought forward a bill for settling the troubles in America, which was rejected by sixty-one to thirty-two voices.
[Footnote 243: Belsham.]
The day after the rejection of this bill, lord North moved, in the house of commons, an address to his Majesty, declaring that, from a serious consideration of the American papers, "they find a rebellion actually exists in the province of Massachusetts Bay." In the course of the debate on this address, several professional gentlemen spoke with the utmost contempt of the military character of the Americans; and general Grant, who ought to have known better, declared that "at the head of five regiments of infantry, he would undertake to traverse the whole country, and drive the inhabitants from one end of the continent to the other."
The address was carried by 288 to 106; and on a conference, the house of lords agreed to join in it. Lord North, soon after, moved a bill for restraining the trade and commerce of the New England provinces, and prohibiting them from carrying on the fisheries on the banks of Newfoundland.
[Footnote 244: Belsham.]
While this bill was pending, and only vengeance was breathed by the majority, his lordship, to the astonishment of all, suddenly moved, what he termed his conciliatory proposition. Its amount was, that parliament would forbear to tax any colony, which should tax itself in such a sum as would be perfectly satisfactory. Apparent as it must have been that this proposition would not be accepted in America, it was received with indignation by the majority of the house; and ministers found some difficulty in showing that it was in maintenance of the right to tax the colonies. Before it could be adopted lord North condescended to make the dangerous, and not very reputable acknowledgment, that it was a proposition designed to divide America, and to unite Great Britain. It was transmitted to the governors of the several colonies, in a circular letter from lord Dartmouth, with directions to use their utmost influence to prevail on the legislatures to accede to the proposed compromise. These endeavours were not successful. The colonists were universally impressed with too strong a conviction of the importance of union, and understood too well the real principle of the contest, to suffer themselves to be divided or deceived by a proposition, conciliatory only in name.
After the passage of the bill for restraining the trade of New England, information was received that the inhabitants of the middle and southern colonies, were supporting their northern brethren in every measure of opposition. In consequence of this intelligence, a second bill was passed for imposing similar restrictions on East and West Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, and the counties on the Delaware. The favourite colonies of New York and North Carolina were omitted, as being less disaffected than the others. Fortunately, some time afterwards, the house of commons refused to hear a petition from the legislature of New York, which alone had declined acceding to the resolutions of congress, on the suggestion of the minister that it contained claims incompatible with the supremacy of parliament. This haughty rejection had some tendency to convince the advocates of milder measures than had been adopted in their sister colonies, that there was no medium between resistance and absolute submission.
The King's speech, and the proceedings of parliament, served only to convince the leaders of opposition in America, that they must indeed prepare to meet "mournful events." They had flattered themselves that the union of the colonies, the petition of congress to the King, and the address to the people of Great Britain, would produce happy effects. But these measures removed the delusion. The provincial congress of Massachusetts published a resolution informing the people that there was real cause to fear that the reasonable and just applications of that continent to Great Britain for peace, liberty, and safety, would not meet with a favourable reception; that, on the contrary, the tenor of their intelligence, and general appearances, furnished just cause for the apprehension that the sudden destruction of that colony, at least, was intended. They therefore urged the militia in general, and the minute men in particular, to spare neither time, pains, nor expense, to perfect themselves in military discipline; and also passed resolutions for procuring and making fire arms and bayonets.
[Footnote 245: Prior documents. Minot.]
In the mean time, delegates were elected for the ensuing congress. Even in New York, where the influence of administration in the legislature had been sufficient to prevent an adoption of the recommendations of congress, a convention was chosen for the purpose of electing members to represent that province in the grand council of the colonies.
In New England, although a determination not to commence hostility appears to have been maintained, an expectation of it, and a settled purpose to repel it, universally prevailed.
It was not long before the firmness of this resolution was put to the test.
[Sidenote: Battle of Lexington.]
On the night preceding the 19th of April, general Gage detached lieutenant colonel Smith, and major Pitcairn, with the grenadiers and light infantry of the army, amounting to eight or nine hundred men, with orders to destroy some military stores which had been collected at Concord, about eighteen miles from Boston, notwithstanding the secrecy and dispatch which were used, the country was alarmed by messengers sent out by Doctor Warren; and, on the arrival of the British troops at Lexington, about five in the morning, part of the company of militia belonging to the town, was found on the parade, under arms. Major Pitcairn, who led the van, galloped up, calling out, "disperse, rebels, disperse." He was followed close by his soldiers, who rushed upon the militia with loud huzzas. Some scattering guns were fired, which were immediately followed by a general discharge, and the firing was continued as long as any of the militia appeared. Eight men were killed, and several wounded.
After dispatching six companies of light infantry to guard two bridges which lay at some distance beyond the town, lieutenant colonel Smith proceeded to Concord. While the main body of the detachment was employed in destroying the stores in the town, some minute men and militia, who were collected from that place and its neighbourhood, having orders not to give the first fire, approached one of the bridges, as if to pass it in the character of common travellers. They were fired on, and two of them were killed. The fire was instantly returned, and a skirmish ensued, in which the regulars were worsted, and compelled to retreat with some loss. The alarm now becoming general, the people rushed to the scene of action, and attacked the King's troops on all sides. Skirmish succeeded skirmish, and they were driven, from post to post, into Lexington. Fortunately for the British, general Gage did not entertain precisely the opinion of the military character of the Americans, which had been expressed in the house of commons. Apprehending the expedition to be not entirely without hazard, he had, in the morning, detached lord Percy with sixteen companies of foot, a corps of marines, and two companies of artillery, to support lieutenant colonel Smith. This seasonable reinforcement, happening to reach Lexington about the time of his arrival at that place, kept the provincials at a distance with their field pieces, and gave the grenadiers and light infantry time to breathe. But as soon as they resumed their march, the attack was re-commenced; and an irregular but galling fire was kept up on each flank, as well as in front and rear, until they arrived, on the common of Charlestown. Without delay, they passed over the neck to Bunker's hill, where they remained secure for the night, under the protection of their ships of war; and, early next morning, crossed over to Boston.
In this action, the loss of the British in killed, wounded, and prisoners, was two hundred and seventy-three; while that of the provincials did not exceed ninety. This affair, however trivial in itself, was of great importance in its consequences. It was the commencement of a long and obstinate war, and had no inconsiderable influence on that war, by increasing the confidence which the Americans felt in themselves, and by encouraging opposition, with the hope of being successful. It supported the opinion which the colonists had taken up with some doubt, that courage and patriotism were ample substitutes for the knowledge of tactics; and that their skill in the use of fire arms, gave them a great superiority over their adversaries.
Although the previous state of things was such as to render the commencement of hostilities unavoidable, each party seemed anxious to throw the blame on its opponent. The British officers alleged that they were fired on from a stone wall, before they attacked the militia at Lexington; while the Americans proved, by numerous depositions, that at Lexington, as well as at the bridge near Concord, the first fire was received by them. The statement made by the Americans is supported, not only by the testimony adduced, but by other circumstances. In numbers, the militia at Lexington did not exceed one-ninth of the British; and it is not probable that their friends would have provoked their fate while in that perilous situation, by commencing a fire on an enraged soldiery. It is also worthy of attention, that the Americans uniformly sought to cover their proceedings with the letter of the law; and, even after the affair at Lexington, made a point of receiving the first fire at the bridge beyond Concord.
The provincial congress, desirous of manifesting the necessity under which the militia had acted, sent to their agents, the depositions which had been taken relative to the late action, with a letter to the inhabitants of Great Britain, stating that hostilities had been commenced against them, and detailing the circumstances attending that event.
But they did not confine themselves to addresses. They immediately passed a resolution for raising thirteen thousand six hundred men in Massachusetts, to be commanded by general Ward; and called on New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, for their respective quotas, to complete an army of thirty thousand men for the common defence. They also authorised the receiver general to borrow one hundred thousand pounds on the credit of the colony, and to issue securities for the re-payment thereof, bearing an interest of six per centum per annum.
The neighbouring colonies complied promptly with this requisition; and, in the mean time, such numbers assembled voluntarily, that many were dismissed in consequence of the defect of means to subsist them in the field; and the King's troops were themselves blocked up in the peninsula of Boston.
About the same time, that enterprising spirit, which pervaded New England, manifested itself in an expedition of considerable merit.
The possession of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and the command of lakes George and Champlain, were objects of importance in the approaching conflict. It was known that these posts were weakly defended; and it was believed that the feeble garrisons remaining in them were the less to be dreaded, because they thought themselves perfectly secure. Under these impressions, some gentlemen of Connecticut, at the head of whom were Messrs. Deane, Wooster, and Parsons, formed the design of seizing these fortresses by surprise; and borrowed a small sum of money from the legislature of the colony, to enable them to carry on the expedition. About forty volunteers marched from Connecticut towards Bennington, where they expected to meet with colonel Ethan Allen, and to engage him to conduct the enterprise, and to raise an additional number of men.
[Sidenote: Ticonderoga surprised.]
[Sidenote: Crown Point surrenders.]
Colonel Allen readily entered into their views, and engaged to meet them at Castleton. Two hundred and seventy men assembled at that place, where they were joined by colonel Arnold, who was associated with colonel Allen in the command. They reached lake Champlain in the night of the ninth of May. Both Allen and Arnold embarked with the first division consisting of eighty-three men, who effected a landing without being discovered, and immediately marched against the fort, which, being completely surprised, surrendered without firing a gun. The garrison consisted of only forty-four rank and file, commanded by a captain and one lieutenant. From Ticonderoga, colonel Seth Warren was detached to take possession of Crown Point, which was garrisoned only by a sergeant and twelve men. This service was immediately executed, and the fort was taken without opposition.
At both these places, military stores of considerable value fell into the hands of the Americans. The pass at Skeensborough was seized about the same time by a body of volunteers from Connecticut.
To complete the objects of the expedition, it was necessary to obtain the command of the lakes, which could be accomplished only by seizing a sloop of war lying at St. Johns. This service was effected by Arnold, who, having manned and armed a schooner found in South bay, surprised the sloop, and took possession of her without opposition.
Thus, by the enterprise of a few individuals, and without the loss of a single man, the important posts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point were acquired, with the command of the lakes on which they stand.
[Sidenote: Meeting of congress.]
Intelligence of the capture of Ticonderoga was immediately transmitted to congress, then just assembled at Philadelphia. The resolutions passed on the occasion, furnish strong evidence of the solicitude felt by that body, to exonerate the government, in the opinion of the people, from all suspicion of provoking a continuance of the war, by transcending the limits of self defence. Indubitable evidence, it was asserted, had been received of a design for a cruel invasion of the colonies from Canada, for the purpose of destroying their lives and liberties; and it was averred that some steps had actually been taken towards carrying this design into execution. To a justifiable desire of securing themselves from so heavy a calamity, was attributed the seizure of the posts on the lakes by the neighbouring inhabitants; and it was recommended to the committees of New York and Albany to take immediate measures for the removal of the cannon and military stores to some place on the south end of lake George, there to be preserved in safety. An exact inventory of the stores was directed to be taken, "in order that they might be safely returned, when the restoration of the former harmony between Great Britain and the colonies, so ardently wished for by the latter, should render it prudent, and consistent with the overruling law of self preservation."
Measures, however, were adopted to maintain the posts; but, to quiet the apprehensions of their neighbours, congress resolved that, having nothing more in view than self defence, "no expedition or incursion ought to be undertaken or made by any colony, or body of colonists, against, or into, Canada."
This resolution was translated into the French language, and transmitted to the people of that province, in a letter in which all their feelings, and particularly their known attachment to France, were dexterously assailed; and the effort was earnestly made to kindle in their bosoms, that enthusiastic love of liberty which was felt too strongly by the authors of the letter, to permit the belief that it could be inoperative with others.
During these transactions, generals Howe, Burgoyne, and Clinton, arrived at Boston, soon after which general Gage issued a proclamation declaring martial law to be in force, and offering pardon to those who would lay down their arms and submit to the King, with the exception of Samuel Adams, and John Hancock.
On receiving intelligence of the battle of Lexington, New York appeared to hesitate no longer. In that place also, the spirit which animated the colonies generally, obtained the ascendancy. Yet the royal party remained formidable; and it was thought advisable to march a body of Connecticut troops into the neighbourhood, professedly to protect the town against some British regiments expected from Ireland, but really with the design of protecting the patriotic party.
The middle and southern colonies, though not so forward as those of the north, laid aside the established government, and prepared for hostilities.
[Sidenote: Transactions in Virginia.]
In Virginia, the governor, lord Dunmore, had just returned from a successful expedition against the Indians, in which he had acquired considerable popularity. Presuming too much on the favour of the moment, and dissatisfied with some recommendations concerning the militia and independent companies made by the colonial convention which had assembled in Richmond, he employed the captain of an armed vessel then lying in James river, a few miles from Williamsburg, to convey to his ship by night, a part of the powder in the magazine, belonging to the colony.
This measure, though conducted with great secrecy, was discovered; and the people of the town assembled next morning in arms, for the purpose of demanding restitution of the property which had been taken. The magistrates, having prevailed on them to disperse, presented an address to the governor, remonstrating against the removal of the powder, which they alleged to be the more injurious, because it was necessary for their defence in the event of an insurrection among their slaves.
The governor acknowledged that the powder had been removed by his order, but gave assurances that he would restore it, if an insurrection of the slaves should render the measure necessary. Unsatisfactory as this answer was, no farther means were used in Williamsburg for its recovery.
This transaction excited a strong sensation in the interior of the country. Meetings were held in several counties, and the conduct of the governor was greatly condemned. The independent companies of Hanover and King William, at the instance of Mr. Patrick Henry, a member of congress, assembled, and marched for Williamsburg, with the avowed design of compelling restitution of the powder, or of obtaining its value. Their march was stopped by the active interposition of Mr. Braxton, who obtained from the King's receiver general, a bill for the value of the property that had been removed, with which he returned to the companies, and prevailed on them to relinquish a farther prosecution of the enterprise.
[Footnote 246: The independent companies of the upper part of the northern neck, also assembled to the number of about six hundred men, and proceeded on horseback as far as Fredericksburg, when a council was held in which Richard Henry Lee, then on his way to congress, presided, which advised their return to their respective homes.]
The alarm occasioned by this movement induced lady Dunmore, to retire with her family on board the Fowey man of war, lying in James river; whilst his lordship fortified his palace, which he garrisoned with a corps of marines; and published a proclamation in which he charged those who had procured the bill from the receiver general, with rebellious practices.
During this state of irritation, lord North's conciliatory proposition was received; and an assembly was suddenly called, to whose consideration it was submitted. The governor used all his address to procure its acceptance; but, in Virginia, as in the other colonies, it was rejected, because it obviously involved a surrender of the whole subject in contest.
[Sidenote: Governor Dunmore retires to the Fowey ship of war.]
One of the first measures of the assembly was to inquire into the causes of the late disturbances, and particularly to examine the state of the magazine. Although this building belonged to the colony, it was in the custody of the governor; and, before admittance could be obtained; some persons of the neighbourhood broke into it, one of whom was wounded by a spring gun, and it was found that the powder which remained had been buried, and that the guns were deprived of their locks. These circumstances excited so great a ferment that the governor thought proper to withdraw to the Fowey man of war. Several letters passed between him and the legislature containing reciprocal complaints of each other, in the course of which they pressed his return to the seat of government, while he insisted on their coming on board the Fowey. They were content that he should, even there, give his assent to some bills that were prepared, but he refused so to do, and the assembly dissolved itself; the members being generally elected to a convention then about to meet in Richmond.
Thus terminated for ever, the regal government in Virginia.
[Sidenote: Provisional congress of South Carolina.]
In South Carolina, so soon as intelligence of the battle of Lexington was received, a provincial congress was called by the committee of correspondence. An association was formed, the members of which pledged themselves to each other to repel force by force, whenever the continental or provincial congress should determine it to be necessary; and declared that they would hold all those inimical to the colonies, who should refuse to subscribe it. The congress also determined to put the town and province in a posture of defence, and agreed to raise two regiments of infantry, and one of rangers.
[Sidenote: Arrival of lord William Campbell.]
While the congress was in session, lord William Campbell, who had been appointed governor, arrived in the province, and was received with those demonstrations of joy which had been usual on such occasions. The congress waited on him with an address expressing the causes of their proceedings; in which they declared that no love of innovation, no desire of altering the constitution of government, no lust of independence, had the least influence on their councils; but that they had been compelled to associate and take up arms, solely for the preservation, and in defence, of their lives, liberties, and property. They entreated his excellency to make such a representation of the state of the colony, and of their true motives, as to assure his majesty that he had no subjects who more sincerely desired to testify their loyalty and affection, or would be more willing to devote their lives and fortunes to his real service. His lordship returned a mild and prudent answer.
[Footnote 247: Gordon.]
For some time lord William Campbell conducted himself with such apparent moderation, as to remain on good terms with the leaders of the opposition; but he was secretly exerting all the influence of his station to defeat their views; and was, at length, detected in carrying on negotiations with the Indians, and with the disaffected in the interior. These people had been induced to believe that the inhabitants of the sea coast, in order to exempt their tea from a trifling tax, were about to engage them in a contest, which would deprive them of their salt, osnaburgs, and other imported articles of absolute necessity. The detection of these intrigues excited such a ferment that the governor was compelled to fly from Charleston, and take refuge on board a ship of war in the river. The government was then, as elsewhere, taken entirely into the hands of men chosen by the people; and a body of provincial troops was ordered into that part of the country which adhered to the royal cause, where many individuals, contrary to the advice of governor Campbell, had risen in arms. The leaders were seized, and their followers dispersed.
In North Carolina also, governor Martin was charged with fomenting a civil war, and exciting an insurrection among the negroes. Relying on the aid he expected from the disaffected, especially from some Highland emigrants, he made preparations for the defence of his palace; but the people taking the alarm before his troops were raised, he was compelled to seek safety on board a sloop of war in Cape Fear river; soon after which, the committee resolved "that no person or persons whatsoever should have any correspondence with him, on pain of being deemed enemies to the liberties of America, and dealt with accordingly."
As soon as congress was organised, Mr. Hancock laid before that body the depositions showing that, in the battle of Lexington, the King's troops were the aggressors; together with the proceedings of the provincial congress of Massachusetts on that subject.
The affairs of America were now arrived at a crisis to which they had been, for some time, rapidly tending; and it had become necessary for the delegates of the other provinces finally to determine, either to embark with New England in war, or, by separating from her, to surrender the object for which they had jointly contended, and submit to that unlimited supremacy which was claimed by parliament.
Even among the well informed, the opinion, that the contest would ultimately be determined by the sword, had not become general. The hope had been indulged by many of the popular leaders, that the union of the colonies, the extent and serious aspect of the opposition, and the distress which their non-importation agreements would produce among the merchants and manufacturers of the parent state, would induce administration to recede from its high pretensions, and restore harmony and free intercourse. This opinion had derived strength from the communications made them by their zealous friends in England. The divisions and discontents of that country had been represented as much greater than the fact would justify; and the exhortations transmitted to them to persevere in the honourable course which had been commenced with so much glory, had generally been accompanied with assurances that success would yet crown their patriotic labours. Many had engaged with zeal in the resistance made by America, and had acted on a full conviction of the correctness of the principles for which they contended, who would have felt some reluctance in supporting the measures which had been adopted, had they believed that those measures would produce war. But each party counted too much on the divisions of the other; and each seems to have taken step after step, in the hope that its adversary would yield the point in contest, without resorting to open force. Thus, on both sides, the public feeling had been gradually conducted to a point, which would, in the first instance, have been viewed with horror, and had been prepared for events, which, in the beginning of the controversy, would have alarmed the most intrepid. The prevailing sentiment in the middle and southern colonies still was, that a reconciliation, on the terms proposed by America, was not even yet impracticable, and was devoutly to be wished; but that war was to be preferred to a surrender of those rights, for which they had contended, and to which they believed every British subject, wherever placed, to be unquestionably entitled. They did not hesitate therefore which part of the alternative to embrace; and their delegates united cordially with those of the north, in such measures as the exigency required. The resolution was unanimous that, as hostilities had actually commenced, and as large reinforcements to the British army were expected, these colonies should be immediately put in a state of defence, and the militia of New York be armed and trained, and kept in readiness to act at a moment's warning. Congress also determined to embody a number of men, without delay, for the protection of the inhabitants of that place, but did not authorise opposition to the landing of any troops which might be ordered to that station by the crown. The convention of New York had already consulted congress on this subject, and had been advised to permit the soldiers to take possession of the barracks, and to remain there so long as they conducted themselves peaceably; but, if they should commit hostilities, or invade private property, to repel force by force. Thus anxious was congress even after a battle had been fought, not to widen the breach between the two countries. In addition to the real wish for reconciliation, sound policy directed that the people of America should engage in the arduous conflict which was approaching, with a perfect conviction that it was forced upon them, and not invited by the intemperate conduct of their leaders. The divisions existing in several of the States suggested the propriety of this conduct, even to those who despaired of deriving any other benefit from it, than a greater degree of union among their own countrymen. In this spirit, congress mingled with the resolutions for putting the country in a state of defence, others expressing the most earnest wish for reconciliation with the mother country, to effect which, that body determined to address, once more, an humble and dutiful petition to the King, and to adopt measures for opening a negotiation in order "to accommodate the unhappy disputes subsisting between Great Britain and the colonies."
As no great confidence could be placed in the success of pacific propositions, the resolution for putting the country in a state of defence was accompanied with others rendered necessary by that undetermined state between war and peace, in which America was placed. All exports to those colonies, which had not deputed members to congress, were stopped; and all supplies of provisions, and other necessaries, to the British fisheries, or to the army or navy in Massachusetts Bay, or to any vessels employed in transporting British troops to America, or from one colony to another, were prohibited. Though this resolution was only an extension of the system of commercial resistance which had been adopted before the commencement of hostilities, and was evidently provoked by the late act of parliament, it seems to have been entirely unexpected, and certainly produced great distress.
Massachusetts having stated the embarrassments resulting from being without a regular government, "at a time when an army was to be raised to defend themselves against the butcheries and devastations of their implacable enemies," and having declared a readiness to conform to such general plan as congress might recommend to the colonies, it was resolved "that no obedience is due to the act of parliament for altering the charter of that colony, nor to officers who, instead of observing that charter, seek its subversion." The governor and lieutenant governor, therefore, were to be considered as absent, and their offices vacant. To avoid the intolerable inconveniences arising from a total suspension of government, "especially at a time when general Gage had actually levied war, and was carrying on hostilities against his majesty's peaceable and loyal subjects in that colony," it was "recommended to the convention to write letters to the inhabitants of the several places which are entitled to representation in the assembly, requesting them to choose such representatives; and that such assembly or council exercise the powers of government until a governor of his majesty's appointment will consent to govern the colony, according to its charter."
[Footnote 248: Journals of congress.]
These resolutions were quickly followed by others of greater vigour, denoting more decidedly, a determination to prepare for the last resort of nations.
It was earnestly recommended to the conventions of all the colonies to provide the means of making gun powder, and to obtain the largest possible supplies of ammunition. Even the non-importation agreement was relaxed in favour of vessels importing these precious materials. The conventions were also urged to arm and discipline the militia; and so to class them, that one-fourth should be minute men. They were also requested to raise several regular corps for the service of the continent; and a general resolution was entered into, authorising any province thinking itself in danger, to raise a body of regulars not exceeding one thousand men, to be, paid by the united colonies.
Congress also proceeded to organise the higher departments of the army, of which, colonel George Washington of Virginia was appointed commander in chief.
[Footnote 249: Artemus Ward of Massachusetts, then commanding the troops before Boston; Colonel Charles Lee, lately an officer in the British service; and Israel Putnam of Connecticut, were appointed major generals; Horatio Gates, who had held the rank of major in the British service, was appointed adjutant general.]
[Sidenote: Manifesto of congress.]
Bills of credit to the amount of three millions of dollars were emitted for the purpose of defraying the expenses of the war, and the faith of the twelve confederated colonies was pledged for their redemption. Articles of war for the government of the continental army were formed; though the troops were raised under the authority of the respective colonies, without even a requisition from congress, except in a few instances. A solemn dignified declaration, in form of a manifesto, was prepared, to be published to the army in orders, and to the people from the pulpit. After detailing the causes of their opposition to the mother country, with all the energy of men feeling the injuries of which they complain, the manifesto exclaims, "but why should we enumerate our injuries in detail? By one statute, it is declared that parliament can, of right, make laws to bind us in all cases whatsoever! What is to defend us against so enormous, so unlimited a power? Not a single man of those who assume it, is chosen by us, or is subject to our control or influence: but, on the contrary, they are, all of them, exempt from the operation of such laws; and an American revenue, if not diverted from the ostensible purposes for which it is raised, would actually lighten their own burdens in proportion as they increase ours. We saw the misery to which such despotism would reduce us. We, for ten years, incessantly and ineffectually, besieged the throne as supplicants; we reasoned, we remonstrated with parliament in the most mild and decent language."
The manifesto next enumerates the measures adopted by administration to enforce the claims of Great Britain, and then adds,—"we are reduced to the alternative of choosing an unconstitutional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force.—The latter is our choice. We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery. Honour, justice, and humanity, forbid us tamely to surrender that freedom which we received from our gallant ancestors, and which our innocent posterity have a right to receive from us. We cannot endure the infamy and guilt of resigning succeeding generations to that wretchedness which inevitably awaits them, if we basely entail hereditary bondage upon them.
"Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are great; and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable. We gratefully acknowledge, as signal instances of the divine favour towards us, that his providence would not permit us to be called into this severe controversy, until we were grown up to our present strength, had been previously exercised in warlike operation, and possessed of the means of defending ourselves. With hearts fortified with these animating reflections, we most solemnly, before God and the world, DECLARE that, exerting the utmost energy of those powers which our beneficent creator hath graciously bestowed upon us, the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will, in defiance of every hazard, with unabating firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; being with one mind resolved to die freemen, rather than to live slaves.
"Lest this declaration should disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow subjects in any part of the empire, we assure them that we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored. Necessity has not yet driven us to that desperate measure, or induced us to excite any other nation to war against them. We have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states. We fight not for glory, or for conquest. We exhibit to mankind the remarkable spectacle of a people attacked by unprovoked enemies, without any imputation or even suspicion of offence. They boast of their privileges and civilization, and yet proffer no milder conditions than servitude or death.
"In our own native land in defence of the freedom that is our birth right, and which we ever enjoyed until the late violation of it, for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our forefathers, and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before."
Some intelligence respecting the movements of the British army having excited a suspicion that general Gage intended to penetrate into the country, the provincial congress recommended it to the council of war to take measures for the defence of Dorchester neck, and to occupy Bunker's hill, a commanding piece of ground just within the peninsula on which Charlestown stands. In observance of these instructions, a detachment of one thousand men, commanded by colonel Prescott, was ordered to take possession of this ground; but, by some mistake, Breed's hill, situate nearer to Boston, was marked out, instead of Bunker's hill, for the proposed intrenchments.
The party sent on this service worked with so much diligence and secrecy that, by the dawn of day, they had thrown up a small square redoubt, without alarming some ships of war which lay in the river at no great distance. As soon as the returning light discovered this work to the ships, a heavy cannonade was commenced upon it, which the provincials sustained with firmness. They continued to labour until they had thrown up a small breast work stretching from the east side of the redoubt to the bottom of the hill, so as to extend considerably their line of defence.
As this eminence overlooked Boston, general Gage determined to drive the provincials from it; and for this purpose, detached major general Howe, and brigadier general Pigot, at the head of ten companies of grenadiers, and the same number of light infantry with a proper proportion of field artillery. These troops landed at Moreton's point; but, perceiving that the Americans waited for them with firmness, they remained on their ground until the arrival of a reinforcement from Boston, for which general Howe had applied. During this interval, the Americans also were reinforced by a detachment under the command of generals Warren and Pommeroy; and they availed themselves of this delay to strengthen their defences with some adjoining posts and rails which they pulled up and arranged in two parallel lines at a small distance from each other; rilling the space between with hay, so as to form a complete cover from the musketry of the assailants.
The British troops, on being joined by their second detachment, advanced slowly, in two lines, under cover of a heavy discharge of cannon and howitzers, frequently halting in order to allow their artillery time to demolish the works. While they were advancing, orders were given to set fire to Charlestown, a handsome village, which flanked their line of march, and which was soon consumed.
It is not easy to conceive a spectacle more grand and more awful than was now exhibited, nor a moment of more anxious expectation. The scene of action was in full view of the heights of Boston and of its neighbourhood, which were covered with spectators taking deep and opposite interests in the events passing before them. The soldiers of the hostile armies not on duty, the citizens of Boston, and the inhabitants of the adjacent country; all feeling emotions which set description at defiance, were witnesses of the majestic and tremendous scene.
[Sidenote: Battle of Breed's hill.]
The provincials permitted the English to approach unmolested, within less than one hundred yards of the works, and then poured in upon them so deadly a fire that their line was broken, and they fell back with precipitation towards the landing place. By the great exertions of their officers, they were rallied and brought up to the charge; but were again driven back in confusion by the heavy and incessant fire from the works. General Howe is said to have been left, at one time, almost alone; and it is certain that few officers about his person escaped unhurt.
The impression to be made by victory or defeat in this early stage of the war, was deemed so important that extraordinary exertions were used once more to rally the English. With difficulty, they were led a third time to the works. The redoubt was attacked on three sides, while some pieces of artillery raked the breast work from end to end. At the same time, a cross fire from the ships, and floating batteries lying on both sides of the isthmus by which the peninsula is connected with the continent, not only annoyed the works on Breed's hill, but deterred any considerable reinforcements from entering the peninsula. The ammunition of the Americans being nearly exhausted, they were no longer able to keep up the same incessant stream of fire which had twice repulsed the assailants; and the redoubt, which the English mounted with ease, was carried at the point of the bayonet. Yet the Americans, many of whom were without bayonets, are said to have maintained the contest with clubbed muskets, until the redoubt was half filled with the King's troops.
The redoubt being lost, the breast work was abandoned; and the hazardous movement was accomplished, of retreating in the face of a victorious enemy over Charlestown neck; exposed to the same cross fire, which had deterred the reinforcements from coming to their assistance.
The detachment employed on this enterprise consisted of about three thousand men, composing the flower of the British army; and high encomiums were bestowed on the resolution they displayed. According to the returns, their killed and wounded amounted to one thousand and fifty four,—an immense proportion of the number engaged in the action. Notwithstanding the danger of the retreat over Charlestown neck, the loss of the Americans was stated at only four hundred and fifty men. Among the killed was Doctor Warren, a gentleman greatly beloved and regretted, who fell just after the provincials began their retreat from the breast work.
At the time, the colonial force on the peninsula was generally stated at fifteen hundred men. It has been since estimated at four thousand.
Although the Americans lost the ground, they claimed the victory. Many of the advantages of victory were certainly gained. Their confidence in themselves was greatly increased; and it was asked, universally, how many more such triumphs the invaders of their country could afford?
The British army had been treated too roughly, to attempt farther offensive operations. They contented themselves with seizing and fortifying Bunker's hill, which secured the peninsula of Charlestown; in which, however, they remained as closely blockaded as in that of Boston.
The Americans were much elated by the intrepidity the raw troops had displayed, and the execution they had done, in this engagement. They fondly cherished the belief that courage, and dexterity in the use of fire arms, would bestow advantages amply compensating the want of discipline. Unfortunately for the colonies, this course of thinking was not confined to the mass of the people. It seems to have extended to those who guided the public councils, and to have contributed to the adoption of a system, which, more than once, brought their cause to the brink of ruin. They did not distinguish sufficiently between the momentary efforts of a few brave men, brought together by a high sense of the injuries which threatened their country, and carried into action under the influence of keen resentments; and those steady persevering exertions under continued suffering, which must be necessary to bring an important war to a happy termination. Nor did they examine with sufficient accuracy, several striking circumstances attending the battle which had been fought. It is not easy to read the accounts given of the action without being persuaded, that, had the Americans on Breed's hill been supplied with ammunition, and been properly supported; had the reinforcements ordered to their assistance entered the peninsula, as soldiers in habits of obedience would have done, and there displayed the heroic courage which was exhibited by their countrymen engaged in defence of the works; the assailants must have been defeated, and the flower of the British army cut to pieces. It ought also to have been remarked that, while the few who were endowed with more than a common portion of bravery, encountered the danger of executing the orders they had received, the many were deterred by the magnitude of that danger. But it is not by the few that great victories are to be gained, or a country to be saved.
Amidst these hostile operations, the voice of peace was yet heard. Allegiance to the King was still acknowledged; and a lingering hope remained that an accommodation was not impossible. Congress voted a petition to his majesty, replete with professions of duty and attachment; and addressed a letter to the people of England, conjuring them by the endearing appellations of "friends, countrymen, and brethren," to prevent the dissolution of "that connexion which the remembrance of former friendships, pride in the glorious achievements of common ancestors, and affection for the heirs of their virtues, had heretofore maintained." They uniformly disclaimed any idea of independence, and professed themselves to consider union with England on constitutional principles, as the greatest blessing which could be bestowed on them.
But Britain had determined to maintain, by force, the legislative supremacy of parliament; and America was equally determined, by force, to repel the claim.
NOTE—No. I.—See Page 195.
The annals of Massachusetts, for this period, exhibit one of those wonderful cases of popular delusion, which infecting every class of society, and gaining strength from its very extravagance; triumphing over human reason, and cruelly sporting with human life; reveal to man his deplorable imbecility, and would teach him, if the experience of others could teach, never to countenance a departure from that moderation, and those safe and sure principles of moral rectitude which have stood the test of time, and have received the approbation of the wise and good in all ages. A very detailed and interesting account of the humiliating and affecting events here alluded to has been given by Mr. Hutchinson, but is too long to be inserted entire in this work; they were, however, of too much magnitude while passing, to be entirely unnoticed even at this day.
In Great Britain, as well as in America, the opinion had long prevailed that, by the aid of malignant spirits, certain persons possessed supernatural powers, which were usually exercised in the mischievous employment of tormenting others; and the criminal code of both countries was disgraced with laws for the punishment of witchcraft. With considerable intervals between them, some few instances had occurred in New England of putting this sanguinary law in force; but in the year 1692, this weakness was converted into frenzy; and after exercising successfully its destructive rage on those miserable objects whose wayward dispositions had excited the ill opinion, or whose age and wretchedness ought to have secured them the pity of their neighbours, its baneful activity was extended to persons in every situation of life, and many of the most reputable members of society became its victims.
The first scene of this distressing tragedy was laid in Salem. The public mind had been prepared for its exhibition by some publications, stating the evidence adduced in former trials for witchcraft both in Old and New England, in which full proof was supposed to have been given of the guilt of the accused. Soon after this, some young girls in Boston had accustomed themselves to fall into fits, and had affected to be struck dead on the production of certain popular books, such as the assembly's catechism, and Cotton's milk for babes, while they could read Oxford's jests, or popish and quaker books, with many others, which were deemed profane, without being in any manner affected by them. These pretences, instead of exposing the fraud to instant detection, seem to have promoted the cheat; and they were supposed to be possessed by demons who were utterly confounded at the production of those holy books. "Sometimes," says Mr. Hutchinson, "they were deaf, then dumb, then blind; and sometimes, all these disorders together would come upon them. Their tongues would be drawn down their throats, then pulled out upon their chins. Their jaws, necks, shoulders, elbows, and all their joints would appear to be dislocated, and they would make most piteous outcries of burnings, of being cut with knives, beat, &c. and the marks of wounds were afterwards to be seen." At length an old Irish woman, not of good character, who had given one of those girls some harsh language, and to whom all this diabolical mischief was attributed, was apprehended by the magistracy; and neither confessing nor denying the fact, was, on the certificate of physicians that she was compos mentis, condemned and executed.
Sir William Phipps, the governor, on his arrival from England, brought with him opinions which could not fail to strengthen the popular prejudice, and the lieutenant governor supported one which was well calculated to render it sanguinary. He maintained that though the devil might appear in the shape of a guilty person, he could never be permitted to assume that of an innocent one. Consequently, when those who affected to perceive the form which tormented them designated any particular person as guilty, the guilt of that person was established, because he could not, if innocent, be personated by an evil spirit.
The public mind being thus predisposed, four girls in Salem complained of being afflicted in the same manner with those in Boston. The physicians, unable to account for the disorder, attributed it to witchcraft, and an old Indian woman in the neighbourhood was selected as the witch. The attention bestowed on these girls gave them great importance; and not only confirmed them in the imposture, but produced other competitors who were ambitious of the same distinction. Several other persons were now bewitched; and not only the old Indian, but two other old women, the one bedridden, and the other subject to melancholy and distraction, were accused as witches. It was necessary to keep up the agitation already excited, by furnishing fresh subjects for astonishment; and in a short time, the accusations extended to persons who were in respectable situations. The manner in which these accusations were received, evidenced such a degree of public credulity, that the impostors seem to have been convinced of their power to assail with impunity, all whom caprice or malignity might select for their victims. Such was the prevailing infatuation, that in one instance, a child of five years old was charged as an accomplice in these pretended crimes; and if the nearest relatives of the accused manifested either tenderness for their situation, or resentment at the injury done their friends, they drew upon themselves the vengeance of these profligate impostors, and were involved in the dangers from which they were desirous of rescuing those with whom they were most intimately connected. For going out of church when allusions were made from the pulpit to a person of fair fame, a sister was charged as a witch; and for accompanying on her examination a wife who had been apprehended, the husband was involved in the same prosecution, and was condemned and executed. In the presence of the magistrates these flagitious accusers affected extreme agony, and attributed to those whom they accused, the power of torturing them by a look. The examinations were all taken in writing, and several of them are detailed at full length in Mr. Hutchinson's history of Massachusetts. They exhibit a deplorable degree of blind infatuation on one side, and of atrocious profligacy on the other, which if not well attested, could scarcely be supposed to have existed.
Many persons of sober lives, and unblemished characters, were committed to prison; and the public prejudices had already pronounced their doom. Against charges of this nature, thus conducted, no defence could possibly be made. To be accused was to be found guilty. The very grossness of the imposition seemed to secure its success, and the absurdity of the accusation to establish the verity of the charge.
The consternation became almost universal. It was soon perceived that all attempts to establish innocence must be ineffectual; and the person accused could only hope to obtain safety, by confessing the truth of the charge, and criminating others. The extent of crime introduced by such a state of things almost surpasses belief. Every feeling of humanity is shocked when we learn that to save themselves, children accused their parents; in some instances, parents their children; and in one case, sentence of death was pronounced against a husband on the testimony of his wife.
There were examples of persons who under the terrors of examination confessed themselves guilty, and accused others; but unable afterwards to support the reproaches of conscience, retracted their confessions under the persuasion that death would be the consequence of doing so.
During this reign of popular frenzy, the bounds of probability were so far transcended, that we scarcely know how to give credit to the well attested fact, that among those who were permitted to save themselves by confessing that they were witches, and joining in the accusation of their parents, were to be found children from seven to ten years of age! Among the numbers who were accused, only one person was acquitted. For this he was indebted to one of the girls who would not join the others in criminating him.
The examination had commenced in February, and the list of commitments had swelled to a lamentable bulk by June, when the new charter having arrived, commissioners of oyer and terminer were appointed for the trial of persons charged with witchcraft. By this court, a considerable number were condemned, of whom nineteen, protesting their innocence, were executed. It is observed by Mr. Hutchinson, that those who were condemned and not executed had most probably saved themselves by a confession of their guilt.
Fortunately for those who were still to be tried, the legislature, convened under the new charter, created a regular tribunal for the trial of criminal as well as civil cases, and the court of commissioners rose to sit no more. The first session of the regular court for the trial of criminal cases was to be held in January, and this delay was favourable to reflection and to the recovery of the public reason. Other causes contributed to this event. There remained yet in the various prisons of the colony, a vast number of women, many of whom were of the most reputable families in the towns in which they had resided. Allusion had been made to many others of the first rank, and some had been expressly named by the bewitched and confessing witches. A Mr. Bradstreet, who had been appointed one of the council, and was son to the old governor of that name; but who as a justice of the peace was suspected of not prosecuting with sufficient rigour, was named by the witnesses as a confederate, and found it necessary to abscond. The governor's lady it is said, and the wife of one of the ministers who had favoured this persecution, were among the accused; and a charge was also brought against the secretary of the colony of Connecticut.
Although the violence of the torrent of prejudice was beginning to abate, yet the grand jury in January, found a true bill against fifty persons, but of those brought to trial, only three were condemned, and they were not executed. All those who were not tried in January, were discharged by order of the governor, "and never," says Mr. Hutchinson, "has such a jail delivery been known in New England. And never was there given a more melancholy proof of the degree of depravity of which man is capable when the public passions countenance crime."
* * * * *
NOTE—No. II.—See Page 291.
The PLAN of the Union was as follows, viz.
"It is proposed that humble application be made for an act of parliament of Great Britain, by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America, including all the said colonies: [Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina] within and under which government, each colony may retain its present constitution, except in the particulars wherein a change may be directed by the said act, as hereafter follows:
PRESIDENT GENERAL AND GRAND COUNCIL.
That the said general government be administered by a president general, to be appointed and supported by the crown, and a grand council, to be chosen by the representatives of the people of the several colonies, met in their assemblies.
ELECTION OF MEMBERS.
That within — months after passing such act, the houses of representatives that happen to be sitting within that time, or that shall be especially for that purpose convened, may and shall choose members for the grand council in the following proportion, that is to say:
Massachusetts Bay 7 New Hampshire 2 Connecticut 5 Rhode Island 2 New York 4 New Jersey 3 Pennsylvania 6 Maryland 4 Virginia 7 North Carolina 4 South Carolina 4 — 48
PLACE OF FIRST MEETING.
Who shall meet for the first time at the city of Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania, being called by the president general as soon as conveniently may be after his appointment.
That there shall be a new election of the members of the grand council every three years; and on the death or resignation of any member, his place shall be supplied by a new choice, at the next sitting of the assembly of the colony he represented.
PROPORTION OF THE MEMBERS AFTER THE FIRST THREE YEARS.
That after the first three years, when the proportion of money arising out of each colony to the general treasury can be known, the number of members to be chosen for each colony shall, from time to time, in all ensuing elections, be regulated by that proportion (yet so as that the number to be chosen by any one province be not more than seven, nor less than two).
MEETINGS OF THE GRAND COUNCIL AND CALL.
That the grand council shall meet once in every year, and oftener, if occasion require, at such time and place as they shall adjourn to at the last preceding meeting, or as they shall be called to meet at by the president general, on any emergency; he having first obtained in writing the consent of seven of the members to such call, and sent due and timely notice to the whole.
That the grand council have power to choose their speaker: and shall neither be dissolved, prorogued, nor continued sitting longer than six weeks at one time; without their own consent, or the special command of the crown.
That the members of the grand council shall be allowed for their services, ten shillings sterling per diem, during their session and journey to and from the place of meeting; twenty miles to be reckoned a day's journey.
ASSENT OF PRESIDENT GENERAL AND HIS DUTY.
That the assent of the president general be requisite to all acts of the grand council; and that it be his office and duty to cause them to be carried into execution.
POWER OF PRESIDENT GENERAL AND GRAND COUNCIL, TREATIES OF PEACE AND WAR.
That the president general, with the advice of the grand council, hold or direct all Indian treaties in which the general interest of the colonies may be concerned; and make peace or declare war with Indian nations.
That they make such laws as they judge necessary for regulating all Indian trade.
That they make all purchases from the Indians for the crown, of lands not now within the bounds of particular colonies, or that shall not be within their bounds, when some of them are reduced to more convenient dimensions.
That they make new settlements on such purchases by granting lands in the king's name, reserving a quit rent to the crown, for the use of the general treasury.
LAWS TO GOVERN THEM.
That they make laws for regulating and governing such new settlements, until the crown shall think fit to form them into particular governments.
RAISE SOLDIERS AND EQUIP VESSELS, &C.
That they raise and pay soldiers, build forts for the defence of any of the colonies, and equip vessels of force to guard the coasts and protect the trade on the ocean, lakes, or great rivers; but they shall not impress men in any colony, without the consent of the legislature.
POWER TO MAKE LAWS, LAY DUTIES, &C.
That for these purposes they have power to make laws, and lay and levy such general duties, imposts, or taxes, as to them shall appear most equal and just, (considering the ability and other circumstances of the inhabitants in the several colonies) and such may be collected with the least inconvenience to the people; rather discouraging luxury, than loading industry with unnecessary burdens.
GENERAL TREASURER AND PARTICULAR TREASURER.
That they may appoint a general treasurer and particular treasurer in each government, when necessary; and from time to time may order the sums in the treasuries of each government into the general treasury, or draw on them for special payments, as they find most convenient.
MONEY, HOW TO ISSUE.
Yet no money to issue but by joint orders of the president general and grand council, except where sums have been appropriated to particular purposes, and the president general has been previously empowered by an act to draw for such sums.
That the general accounts shall be yearly settled, and reported to the several assemblies.
That a quorum of the grand council, empowered to act with the president general, do consist of twenty-five members; among whom there shall be one or more from the majority of the colonies.
LAWS TO BE TRANSMITTED.
That the laws made by them for the purposes aforesaid, shall not be repugnant, but, as near as may be, agreeable to the laws of England, and shall be transmitted to the king in council, for approbation, as soon as may be after their passing; and if not disapproved within three years after presentation, to remain in force.
DEATH OF THE PRESIDENT GENERAL.
That in case of the death of the president general, the speaker of the grand council for the time being shall succeed, and be vested with the same powers and authorities, to continue until the king's pleasure be known.
OFFICERS, HOW APPOINTED.
That all military commission officers, whether for land or sea service, to act under this general constitution, shall be nominated by the president general; but the approbation of the grand council is to be obtained, before they receive their commissions. And all civil officers are to be nominated by the grand council, and to receive the president general's approbation before they officiate.
VACANCIES, HOW SUPPLIED.
But in case of vacancy, by death, or removal of any officer, civil or military, under this constitution, the governor of the province in which such vacancy happens, may appoint until the pleasure of the president general and grand council can be known.
EACH COLONY MAY DEFEND ITSELF ON EMERGENCY, &C.
That the particular military as well as civil establishments in each colony remain in their present state, the general constitution notwithstanding; and that on sudden emergencies any colony may defend itself, and lay the accounts of expense thence arising before the president general and grand council, who may allow and order payment of the same as far as they judge such accounts reasonable."
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NOTE—No. III.—See Page 370.
These being the first resolutions of any assembly after the passage of the stamp act, they are inserted.
Whereas, The honourable house of commons in England have of late drawn into question how far the general assembly of this colony hath power to enact laws for laying taxes and imposing duties payable by the people of this his majesty's most ancient colony, for settling and ascertaining the same to all future times, the house of Burgesses of the present general assembly have come to the several following resolutions.
Resolved, That the first adventurers and settlers of this his majesty's colony and dominion of Virginia, brought with them, and transmitted to their posterity, and all others his majesty's subjects since inhabiting in this his majesty's colony, all the privileges and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.
Resolved, That by two royal charters granted by King James I. the colonies aforesaid are declared entitled to all the privileges of denizens, and natural born subjects, to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born within the realm of England.
Resolved, That the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves, to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, and the easiest mode of raising them, and are equally affected by such taxes themselves, is the distinguished characteristic of British freedom, and without which the ancient constitution cannot subsist.
Resolved, That his majesty's liege people of this most ancient colony have uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being thus governed by their own assembly in the article of their taxes and internal police, and that the same hath never been forfeited nor any other way yielded up, but hath been constantly recognised by the King and people of Great Britain.
Resolved, Therefore, that the general assembly of this colony have the sole power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such a power in any person or persons whatsoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.
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NOTE—No. IV.—See Page 371.
"The members of this congress, sincerely devoted with the warmest sentiments of affection and duty, to his majesty's person and government, inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the protestant succession, and with minds deeply impressed by a sense of the present and impending misfortunes of the British colonies on this continent; having considered, as maturely as time will permit, the circumstances of the said colonies, esteem it our indispensable duty to make the following declarations of our humble opinion, respecting the most essential rights and liberties of the colonists, and of the grievances under which they labour, by reason of several late acts of parliament.
I. That his majesty's subjects in these colonies, owe the same allegiance to the crown of Great Britain that is owing from his subjects born within the realm, and all due subordination to that august body the parliament of Great Britain.
II. That his majesty's liege subjects in these colonies, are entitled to all the inherent rights and liberties of his natural born subjects, within the kingdom of Great Britain.
III. That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives.
IV. That the people of these colonies are not, and, from their local circumstances, cannot be represented in the house of commons of Great Britain.
V. That the only representatives of these colonies are persons chosen therein by themselves, and that no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed upon them, but by their respective legislatures.
VI. That all supplies to the crown being free gifts from the people, it is unreasonable, and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British constitution, for the people of Great Britain to grant to his majesty the property of the colonists.
VII. That trial by jury is the inherent and invaluable right of every British subject in these colonies.
VIII. That the late act of parliament entitled, 'an act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America,' &c. by imposing taxes on the inhabitants of these colonies; and the said act, and several other acts, by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty beyond its ancient limits, have a manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists.
IX. That the duties imposed by several late acts of parliament, from the peculiar circumstances of these colonies, will be extremely burdensome and grievous; and from the scarcity of specie, the payment of them absolutely impracticable.
X. That as the profits of the trade of these colonies ultimately centre in Great Britain, to pay for the manufactures which they are obliged to take from thence, they eventually contribute very largely to all supplies granted to the crown.
XI. That the restrictions imposed by several late acts of parliament on the trade of these colonies, will render them unable to purchase the manufactures of Great Britain.
XII. That the increase, prosperity, and happiness of these colonies depend on the full and free enjoyment of their rights and liberties, and an intercourse with Great Britain mutually affectionate and advantageous.
XIII. That it is the right of the British subjects in these colonies to petition the king, or either house of parliament.
XIV. That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies, to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavour, by a loyal and dutiful address to his majesty, and humble applications to both houses of parliament, to procure the repeal of the act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, of all clauses of any other acts of parliament, whereby the jurisdiction of the admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of the other late acts for the restriction of American commerce."
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NOTE—No. V.—See Page 383.
Province of Massachusetts Bay, Feb. 11, 1768.
The house of representatives of this province have taken into their consideration the great difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents, by the operation of the several acts of parliament imposing duties and taxes on the American colonies.
As it is a subject in which every colony is deeply interested, they have no reason to doubt but your house is duly impressed with its importance: and that such constitutional measures will be come into as are proper. It seems to be necessary, that all possible care should be taken that the representations of the several assemblies, upon so delicate a point, should harmonise with each other: the house, therefore, hope that this letter will be candidly considered in no other light, than as expressing a disposition freely to communicate their mind to a sister colony, upon a common concern, in the same manner as they would be glad to receive the sentiments of your or any other house of assembly on the continent.
The house have humbly represented to the ministry their own sentiments; that his majesty's high court of parliament is the supreme legislative power over the whole empire: that in all free states the constitution is fixed: and, as the supreme legislative derives its power and authority from the constitution, it cannot overleap the bounds of it, without destroying its foundation; that the constitution ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance; and therefore, his majesty's American subjects who acknowledge themselves bound by the ties of allegiance, have an equitable claim to the full enjoyment of the fundamental rules of the British constitution; that it is an essential unalterable right in nature, ingrafted into the British constitution as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what a man hath honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent; that the American subjects may therefore, exclusive of any consideration of charter rights, with a decent firmness adapted to the character of freemen and subjects, assert this natural and constitutional right.
It is moreover their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the parliament, that the acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province, with the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements of their natural and constitutional rights; because as they are not represented in the British parliament, his majesty's commons in Britain by those acts grant their property without their consent.
This house further are of opinion, that their constituents, considering their local circumstances, cannot by any possibility be represented in the parliament; and that it will forever be impracticable that they should be equally represented there, and consequently not at all, being separated by an ocean of a thousand leagues: that his majesty's royal predecessors, for this reason, were graciously pleased to form a subordinate legislative here, that their subjects might enjoy the unalienable right of a representation. Also, that, considering the utter impracticability of their ever being fully and equally represented in parliament, and the great expense that must unavoidably attend even a partial representation there, this house think, that a taxation of their constituents, even without their consent, grievous as it is, would be preferable to any representation that could be admitted for them there.
Upon these principles, and also considering that were the right in the parliament ever so clear, yet for obvious reasons it would be beyond the rule of equity, that their constituents should be taxed on the manufactures of Great Britain here, in addition to the duties they pay for them in England, and other advantages arising to Great Britain from the acts of trade; this house have preferred a humble, dutiful, and loyal petition to our most gracious sovereign, and made such representation to his majesty's ministers, as they apprehend would tend to obtain redress.
They have also submitted to consideration, whether any people can be said to enjoy any degree of freedom, if the crown, in addition to its undoubted authority of constituting a governor, should appoint him such a stipend as it shall judge proper without the consent of the people, and at their expense; and whether, while the judges of the land, and other civil officers, hold not their commissions during good behaviour, their having salaries appointed for them by the crown, independent of the people, hath not a tendency to subvert the principles of equity, and endanger the happiness and security of the subject.
In addition to these measures, the house have written a letter to their agent Mr. de Berdt, the sentiments of which he is directed to lay before the ministry; wherein they take notice of the hardship of the act for preventing mutiny and desertion, which requires the governor and council to provide enumerated articles for the king's marching troops and the people to pay the expense: and also the commission of the gentlemen appointed commissioners of the customs to reside in America, which authorises them to make as many appointments as they think fit, and to pay the appointees what sums they please, for whose malconduct they are not accountable: from whence it may happen, that officers of the crown may be multiplied to such a degree, as to become dangerous to the liberties of the people, by virtue of a commission which doth not appear to this house to derive any such advantages to trade as many have been led to expect.