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This eBook has been formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. This book is a thorough history of the American Revolution from the beginning of the crisis between American colonies and the British government until the final victories in the War which brought independence to America. Contents: The Beginnings The Crisis The Continental Congress Independence First Blow at the Centre Second Blow at the Centre Saratoga The French Alliance Valley Forge Monmouth and Newport War on the Frontier War on the Ocean A Year of Disasters Benedict Arnold Yorktown
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During the seventy years which elapsed between the overthrow of the Stuart dynasty and the victory of Wolfe on the Heights of Abraham, the relations between the American colonies and the British government were, on the whole, peaceful; and the history of the colonies, except for the great and romantic struggle with New France, would have been almost destitute of striking incidents. In view of the perpetual menace from France, it was clearly unwise for the British government to irritate the colonies, or do anything to weaken their loyalty; and they were accordingly left very much to themselves. Still, they were not likely to be treated with any great liberality,—for such was not then, as it is hardly even yet, the way of governments,—and if their attachment to England still continued strong, it was in spite of the general demeanour of the mother-country.
Since 1675 the general supervision of the colonies had been in the hands of a standing committee of the Privy Council, styled the “Lords of the Committee of Trade and Plantations,” and familiarly known as the “Lords of Trade.” To this board the governors sent frequent and full reports of the proceedings in the colonial legislatures, of the state of agriculture and trade, of the revenues of the colonies, and of the way in which the public money was spent. In private letters, too, the governors poured forth their complaints into the ears of the Lords of Trade, and these complaints were many and loud. Except in Pennsylvania and Maryland, which were like hereditary monarchies, and in Connecticut and Rhode Island, where the governors were elected by the people, the colonial governors were now invariably appointed by the Crown. In most cases they were inclined to take high views regarding the royal prerogative, and in nearly all cases they were unable to understand the political attitude of the colonists, who on the one hand gloried in their connection with England, and on the other hand, precisely because they were Englishmen, were unwilling to yield on any occasion whatsoever one jot or tittle of their ancient liberties. Moreover, through the ubiquity of the popular assemblies and the directness of their control over the administration of public affairs, the political life of America was both really and ostensibly freer than that of England was at that time; and the ancient liberties of Englishmen, if not better preserved, were at least more conspicuously asserted. As a natural consequence, the royal governors were continually trying to do things which the people would not let them do, they were in a chronic state of angry warfare with their assemblies, and they were incessant in their complaints to the Lords of Trade. They represented the Americans as a factious and turbulent people, with their heads turned by queer political crotchets, unwilling to obey the laws and eager to break off their connection with the British Empire. In this way they did much to arouse an unfriendly feeling toward the colonies, although eminent Englishmen were not wanting who understood American affairs too well to let their opinions be thus lightly influenced. Upon the Lords of Trade these misrepresentations wrought with so much effect that now and then they would send out instructions to suspend the writ of habeas corpus, or to abridge the freedom of the press. Sometimes their acts were absurdly arbitrary. In New Hampshire, the people maintained that as free-born Englishmen they had the right to choose their representatives; but the governor held, on the contrary, that this was no right, but only a privilege, which the Crown might withhold, or grant, or revoke, all at its own good pleasure. To uphold the royal prerogative, the governor was instructed to issue writs for elections to some of the towns, while withholding them from others; but the resistance of the people to this piece of tyranny was so determined that the Lords of Trade thought it best to yield.
In Massachusetts, for more than thirty years, there went on an unceasing controversy between the General Court and the successive royal governors, Shute, Burnet, and Belcher, with reference to the governor’s salary. The Lords of Trade insisted that the governor should be paid a fixed salary; but lest this should make the governor too independent, the General Court obstinately refused to establish a salary, but made grants to the governor from year to year, in imitation of the time-honoured usage of Parliament. This method was, no doubt, inconvenient for the governors; but the colonists rightly valued it as one of the safeguards of popular liberty, and to their persistent refusal the Crown was obliged to give way. Similar controversies, in New York and South Carolina, were attended with similar results; while in Virginia the assembly more than once refused to vote supplies, on the ground that the liberties of the colony were in danger.
Such grievances as these, reported year by year to the Lords of Trade, and losing nothing in the manner in which they were told, went far to create in England an opinion that America was a lawless country, and sorely in need of a strong government. From time to time various schemes were proposed for limiting the powers of the colonial assemblies, for increasing the power of the governors, for introducing a titled nobility, for taxing the colonists by act of Parliament, or for weakening the feeling of local independence by uniting several colonies into one. Until after the French troubles had been disposed of, little came of any of these schemes.
A plan for taxing the colonies was once proposed to Sir Robert Walpole, but the sagacious old statesman dismissed it with a laugh. “What!” said he. “I have half of Old England set against me already, and do you think I will have all New England likewise?” From time to time the liberal charters of Rhode Island and Connecticut were threatened, but nothing came of this. But in one direction the Lords of Trade were more active. One of their most cherished plans was to bring about a union of all the colonies under a single head; but this was not to be a union of the kind which the Americans, with consummate statesmanship, afterward wrought out for themselves. It was not to be a union based upon the idea of the sacredness of local self-government, but it was a union to be achieved, as far as possible, at the expense of local self-government. To bring all the colonies together under a single viceroy would, it was thought, diminish seriously the power of each local assembly, while at the same time such a union would no doubt make the military strength of the colonies much more available in case of war.
In 1764, Francis Bernard, Governor of Massachusetts, wrote that “to settle the American governments to the greatest possible advantage, it will be necessary to reduce the number of them; in some places to unite and consolidate; in others to separate and transfer; and in general to divide by natural boundaries instead of imaginary lines. If there should be but one form of government established for the North American provinces, it would greatly facilitate the reformation of them.” As long ago as 1701, Robert Livingston of New York had made similar suggestions; and in 1752, Dinwiddie of Virginia recommended that the Northern and Southern colonies be united respectively into two great confederacies.
The desirableness of bringing about a union of the colonies was also recognized by all the most liberal-minded American statesmen, though from a very different point of view. They agreed with the royal governors and with the Lords of Trade as to the urgent need for concentrating the military strength of the colonies, and they thought that this end could best be subserved by some kind of federal union. But at the same time they held that the integrity of the local self-government of each colony was of the first importance, and that no system of federation would be practicable which should in any degree essentially impair that integrity. To bring about a federal union on such terms was no easy matter; it was a task fitted to tax the greatest of statesmen at any time. At that time it was undoubtedly a hopeless task. The need for union was not generally felt by the people.
The sympathies between the different colonies were weak and liable to be overborne by prejudices arising from rivalry or from differences in social structure. To the merchant of Boston, the Virginian planter was still almost a foreigner, though both the one and the other were pure-blooded Englishmen. Commercial jealousies were very keen. Disputes about boundaries were not uncommon. In 1756, Georgia and South Carolina actually came to blows over the navigation of the Savannah river. Jeremiah Dummer, in his famous “Defence of the New England Charters,” said that it was impossible that the colonies should ever be brought to unite; and Burnaby thought that if the hand of Great Britain were once taken off, there would be chronic civil war all the way from Maine to Georgia.
In 1754, the prospect of immediate war with the French led several of the royal governors to call for a congress of all the colonies, to be held at Albany. The primary purpose of the meeting was to make sure of the friendship of the Six Nations, and to organize a general scheme of operations against the French. The secondary purpose was to prepare some plan of confederation which all the colonies might be persuaded to adopt. New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland—only seven colonies of the thirteen—sent commissioners to this congress. The people showed little interest in the movement. It does not appear that any public meetings were held in favour of it. Among the newspapers, the only one which warmly approved of it seems to have been the “Pennsylvania Gazette,” edited by Benjamin Franklin, which appeared with a union device and the motto “Unite or Die!”
The circumstances of Franklin’s life, no less than the wide sweep of his intelligence, had fitted him for sounder views of the political needs of the time than were taken by most of his contemporaries. As a native of Massachusetts who dwelt in Pennsylvania, he may be said to have belonged to two very different colonies; and he had spent time enough in London to become well acquainted with British ideas.
During the session of the Albany Congress, a first attempt was made to establish a permanent union of the thirteen colonies. It was to Franklin that the plan was chiefly due. The legislative assembly of each colony was to choose, once in three years, representatives to attend a federal Grand Council; which was to meet every year at Philadelphia, a town which could be reached by a twenty days’ journey either from South Carolina or from New Hampshire. This Grand Council was to choose its own speaker, and could neither be dissolved nor prorogued, nor kept sitting longer than six weeks at any one time, except by its own consent or by especial order of the Crown. The Grand Council was to make treaties with the Indians and to regulate the Indian trade; and it was to have sole power of legislation on all matters concerning the colonies as a whole. To these ends, it could levy taxes, enlist soldiers, build forts, and nominate all civil officers. Its laws were to be submitted to the king for approval, and the royal veto, in order to be of effect, must be exercised within three years.
To this Grand Council each colony was to send a number of representatives, proportioned to its contributions to the continental military service; yet no colony was to send less than two or more than seven representatives. With the exception of such matters of general concern as were to be managed by the Grand Council, each colony was to retain its powers of legislation intact. On an emergency, any colony might singly defend itself against foreign attack, and the federal government was prohibited from impressing soldiers or seamen without the consent of the local legislature.
The supreme executive power was to be vested in a president or governor-general, appointed and paid by the Crown. He was to nominate all military officers, subject to the approval of the Grand Council, and was to have a veto on all the acts of the Grand Council. No money could be issued save by joint order of the governor-general and the council.
This plan, said Franklin, “is not altogether to my mind, but it is as I could get it.” It should be observed, to the credit of its author, that this scheme, long afterward known as the “Albany Plan,” contemplated the formation of a self-sustaining federal government, and not of a mere league. As Frothingham well says, “It designed to confer on the representatives of the people the power of making laws acting directly on individuals, and appointing officers to execute them, and yet not to interfere with the execution of the laws operating on the same individuals by the local officers.” It would have erected “a public authority as obligatory in its sphere as the local governments were in their spheres.” In this respect it was much more complete than the scheme of confederation agreed on in Congress in 1777, and it afforded a valuable precedent for the more elaborate and perfect Federal Constitution of 1787. It was in its main features a noble scheme, and the great statesman who devised it was already looking forward to the immense growth of the American Union, though he had not yet foreseen the separation of the colonies from the mother-country. In less than a century, he said, the great country behind the Alleghanies must become “a populous and powerful dominion;” and he recommended that two new colonies should at once be founded in the West,—the one on Lake Erie, the other in the valley of the Ohio,—with free chartered governments like those of Rhode Island and Connecticut.
But public opinion was not yet ripe for the adoption of Franklin’s bold and comprehensive ideas. Of the royal governors who were anxious to see the colonies united on any terms, none opposed the plan except Delancey of New York, who wished to reserve to the governors a veto upon all elections of representatives to the Grand Council. To this it was rightly objected that such a veto power would virtually destroy the freedom of elections, and make the Grand Council an assembly of creatures of the governors.
On the popular side the objections were many. The New England delegates, on the whole, were the least disinclined to union; yet Connecticut urged that the veto power of the governor-general might prove ruinous to the whole scheme; that the concentration of all the military forces in his hands would be fraught with dangers to liberty; and that even the power of taxation, lodged in the hands of an assembly so remote from local interests, was hardly compatible with the preservation of the ancient rights of Englishmen. After long debate, the assembly at Albany decided to adopt Franklin’s plan, and copies of it were sent to all the colonies for their consideration. But nowhere did it meet with approval. The mere fact that the royal governors were all in favour of it—though their advocacy was at present, no doubt, determined mainly by sound military reasons—was quite enough to create an insuperable prejudice against it on the part of the people. The Massachusetts legislature seems to have been the only one which gave it a respectful consideration, albeit a large town meeting in Boston denounced it as subversive of liberty. Pennsylvania rejected it without a word of discussion. None of the assemblies favoured it. On the other hand, when sent over to England to be inspected by the Lords of Trade, it only irritated and disgusted them. As they truly said, it was a scheme of union “complete in itself;” and ever since the days of the New England confederacy the Crown had looked with extreme jealousy upon all attempts at concerted action among the colonies which did not originate with itself. Besides this, the Lords of Trade were now considering a plan of their own for remodelling the governments of the colonies, establishing a standing army, enforcing the navigation acts, and levying taxes by authority of Parliament. Accordingly little heed was paid to Franklin’s ideas. Though the royal governors had approved the Albany plan, in default of any scheme of union more to their minds, they had no real sympathy with it.
In 1756, Shirley wrote to the Lords of Trade, urging upon them the paramount necessity for a union of the American colonies, in order to withstand the French; while at the same time he disparaged Franklin’s scheme, as containing principles of government unfit even for a single colony like Rhode Island, and much more unfit for a great American confederacy. The union, he urged, should be effected by act of Parliament, and by the same authority a general fund should be raised to meet the expenses of the war,—an end which Shirley thought might be most speedily and quietly attained by means of a “stamp duty.” As Shirley had been for fifteen years governor of Massachusetts, and was now commander-in-chief of all the troops in America, his opinion had great weight with the Lords of Trade; and the same views being reiterated by Dinwiddie of Virginia, Sharpe of Maryland, Hardy of New York, and other governors, the notion that Parliament must tax the Americans became deeply rooted in the British official mind.
Nothing was done, however, until the work of the French war had been accomplished. In 1761, it was decided to enforce the Navigation Act, and one of the revenue officers at Boston applied to the superior court for a “writ of assistance,” or general search-warrant, to enable him to enter private houses and search for smuggled goods, but without specifying either houses or goods. Such general warrants had been allowed by a statute of the bad reign of Charles II., and a statute of William III., in general terms, had granted to revenue officers in America like powers to those they possessed in England. But James Otis showed that the issue of such writs was contrary to the whole spirit of the British constitution. To issue such universal warrants allowing the menials of the custom house, on mere suspicion, and perhaps from motives of personal enmity, to invade the home of any citizen, without being held responsible for any rudeness they might commit there,—such, he said, was “a kind of power, the exercise of which cost one king of England his head and another his throne;” and he plainly declared that even an act of Parliament which should sanction so gross an infringement of the immemorial rights of Englishmen would be treated as null and void. Chief Justice Hutchinson granted the writs of assistance, and as an interpreter of the law he was doubtless right in so doing; but Otis’s argument suggested the question whether Americans were bound to obey laws which they had no share in making, and his passionate eloquence made so great an impression upon the people that this scene in the court room has been since remembered—and not unjustly—as the opening scene of the American Revolution.
In the same year the arbitrary temper of the government was exhibited in New York. Down to this time the chief justice of the colony had held office only during good behaviour, and had been liable to dismissal at the hands of the colonial assembly. The chief justice was now made removable only by the Crown, a measure which struck directly at the independent administration of justice in the colony. The assembly tried to protect itself by refusing to assign a fixed salary to the chief justice, whereupon the king ordered that the salary should be paid out of the quit-rents for the public lands. At the same time instructions were sent to all the royal governors to grant no judicial commissions for any other period than “during the king’s pleasure;” and to show that this was meant in earnest, the governor of New Jersey was next year peremptorily dismissed for commissioning a judge “during good behaviour.” In 1762, a question distinctly involving the right of the people to control the expenditure of their own money came up in Massachusetts. Governor Bernard, without authority from the assembly, had sent a couple of ships to the northward, to protect the fisheries against French privateers, and an expense of some £400 had been thus incurred. The assembly was now ordered to pay this sum, but it refused to do so.
"It would be of little consequence to the people,” said Otis, in the debate on the question, “whether they were subject to George or Louis, the king of Great Britain or the French king, if both were arbitrary, as both would be, if both could levy taxes without Parliament.” A cry of “Treason!” from one of the less clear-headed members greeted this bold statement; and Otis, being afterward taken to task for his language, published a “Vindication,” in which he maintained that the rights of a colonial assembly, as regarded the expenditure of public money, were as sacred as the rights of the House of Commons.
In April, 1763, just three years after the accession of George III., George Grenville became Prime Minister of England, while at the same time Charles Townshend was First Lord of Trade. Townshend had paid considerable attention to American affairs, and was supposed to know more about them than any other man in England. But his studies had led him to the conclusion that the colonies ought to be deprived of their self-government, and that a standing army ought to be maintained in America by means of taxes arbitrarily assessed upon the people by Parliament.
Grenville was far from approving of such extreme measures as these, but he thought that a tax ought to be imposed upon the colonies, in order to help defray the expenses of the French war. Yet in point of fact, as Franklin truly said, the colonies had “raised, paid, and clothed nearly twenty-five thousand men during the last war,—a number equal to those sent from Great Britain, and far beyond their proportion. They went deeply into debt in doing this; and all their estates and taxes are mortgaged for many years to come for discharging that debt.” That the colonies had contributed more than an equitable share toward the expenses of the war, that their contributions had even been in excess of their ability, had been freely acknowledged by Parliament, which, on several occasions between 1756 and 1763, had voted large sums to be paid over to the colonies, in partial compensation for their excessive outlay. Parliament was therefore clearly estopped from making the defrayal of the war debt the occasion for imposing upon the colonies a tax of a new and strange character, and under circumstances which made the payment of such a tax seem equivalent to a surrender of their rights as free English communities.
In March, 1764, Grenville introduced in the House of Commons a series of Declaratory Resolves, announcing the intention of the government to raise a revenue in America by requiring various commercial and legal documents, newspapers, etc., to bear stamps, varying in price from threepence to ten pounds. A year was to elapse, however, before these resolutions should take effect in a formal enactment.
It marks the inferiority of the mother-country to the colonies in political development, at that time, that the only solicitude as yet entertained by the British official mind, with regard to this measure, seems to have been concerned with the question how far the Americans would be willing to part with their money. With the Americans it was as far as possible from being a question of pounds, shillings, and pence; but this was by no means correctly understood in England. The good Shirley, although he had lived so long in Massachusetts, had thought that a revenue might be most easily and quietly raised by means of a stamp duty. Of all kinds of direct tax, none, perhaps, is less annoying. But the position taken by the Americans had little to do with mere convenience; it rested from the outset upon the deepest foundations of political justice, and from this foothold neither threatening nor coaxing could stir it.
The first deliberate action with reference to the proposed Stamp Act was taken in the Boston town meeting in May, 1764. In this memorable town meeting Samuel Adams drew up a series of resolutions, which contained the first formal and public denial of the right of Parliament to tax the colonies without their consent; and while these resolutions were adopted by the Massachusetts assembly, a circular letter was at the same time sent to all the other colonies, setting forth the need for concerted and harmonious action in respect of so grave a matter. In response, the assemblies of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and South Carolina joined with Massachusetts in remonstrating against the proposed Stamp Act. All these memorials were remarkable for clearness of argument and simple dignity of language.
They all took their stand on the principle that, as free-born Englishmen, they could not rightfully be taxed by the House of Commons unless they were represented in that body. But the proviso was added, that if a letter from the secretary of state, coming in the king’s name, should be presented to the colonial assemblies, asking them to contribute something from their general resources to the needs of the British Empire, they would cheerfully, as heretofore, grant liberal sums of money, in token of their loyalty and of their interest in all that concerned the welfare of the mighty empire to which they belonged. These able and temperate memorials were sent to England; and in order to reinforce them by personal tact and address, Franklin went over to London as agent for the colony of Pennsylvania.
The alternative proposed by the colonies was virtually the same as the system of requisitions already in use, and the inefficiency of which, in securing a revenue, had been abundantly proved by the French war. Parliament therefore rejected it, and early in 1765 the Stamp Act was passed. It is worthy of remark that the idea that the Americans would resist its execution did not at once occur to Franklin. Acquiescence seemed to him, for the present, the only safe policy.
In writing to his friend Charles Thomson, he said that he could no more have hindered the passing of the Stamp Act than he could have hindered the sun’s setting. “That,” he says, “we could not do. But since it is down, my friend, and it may be long before it rises again, let us make as good a night of it as we can. We may still light candles. Frugality and industry will go a great way towards indemnifying us.” But Thomson, in his answer, with truer foresight, observed, “I much fear, instead of the candles you mentioned being lighted, you will hear of the works of darkness!” The news of the passage of the Stamp Act was greeted in America with a burst of indignation. In New York, the act was reprinted with a death’s-head upon it in place of the royal arms, and it was hawked about the streets under the title of “The Folly of England and the Ruin of America.” In Boston, the church-bells were tolled, and the flags on the shipping put at half-mast.
But formal defiance came first from Virginia. A year and a half before, a famous lawsuit, known as the “Parsons’ Cause,” had brought into public notice a young man who was destined to take high rank among modern orators. The lawsuit which made Patrick Henry’s reputation was one of the straws which showed how the stream of tendency in America was then strongly setting toward independence. Tobacco had not yet ceased to be a legal currency in Virginia, and by virtue of an old statute each clergyman of the Established Church was entitled to sixteen thousand pounds of tobacco as his yearly salary.
SPEAKER’S CHAIR, HOUSE OF BURGESSES
In 1755 and 1758, under the severe pressure of the French war, the assembly had passed relief acts, allowing all public dues, including the salaries of the clergy, to be paid either in kind or in money, at a fixed rate of twopence for a pound of tobacco. The policy of these acts was thoroughly unsound, as they involved a partial repudiation of debts; but the extreme distress of the community was pleaded in excuse, and every one, clergy as well as laymen, at first acquiesced in them. But in 1759 tobacco was worth sixpence per pound, and the clergy became dissatisfied. Their complaints reached the ears of Sherlock, the Bishop of London, and the act of 1758 was summarily vetoed by the king in council. The clergy brought suits to recover the unpaid portions of their salaries; in the test case of Rev. James Maury, the court decided the point of the law in their favour, on the ground of the royal veto, and nothing remained but to settle before a jury the amount of the damages. On this occasion, Henry appeared for the first time in court, and after a few timid and awkward sentences burst forth with an eloquent speech, in which he asserted the indefeasible right of Virginia to make laws for herself, and declared that in annulling a salutary ordinance at the request of a favoured class in the community “a king, from being the father of his people, degenerates into a tyrant, and forfeits all right to obedience.” Cries of “Treason!” were heard in the court room, but the jury immediately returned a verdict of one penny in damages, and Henry became the popular idol of Virginia. The clergy tried in vain to have him indicted for treason, alleging that his crime was hardly less heinous than that which had brought old Lord Lovat to the block. But the people of Louisa county replied, in 1765, by choosing him to represent them in the colonial assembly.
PATRICK HENRY MAKING HIS TARQUIN AND CÆSAR SPEECH
Hardly had Henry taken his seat in the assembly when the news of the Stamp Act arrived. In a committee of the whole house, he drew up a series of resolutions, declaring that the colonists were entitled to all the liberties and privileges of natural-born subjects, and that “the taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, ... is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, without which the ancient constitution cannot exist.” It was further declared that any attempt to vest the power of taxation in any other body than the colonial assembly was a menace to British no less than to American freedom; that the people of Virginia were not bound to obey any law enacted in disregard of these fundamental principles; and that any one who should maintain the contrary should be regarded as a public enemy. It was in the lively debate which ensued upon these resolutions, that Henry uttered those memorable words commending the example of Tarquin and Cæsar and Charles I. to the attention of George III. Before the vote had been taken upon all the resolutions, Governor Fauquier dissolved the assembly; but the resolutions were printed in the newspapers, and hailed with approval all over the country.
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts legislature, at the suggestion of Otis, had issued a circular letter to all the colonies, calling for a general congress, in order to concert measures of resistance to the Stamp Act. The first cordial response came from South Carolina, at the instance of Christopher Gadsden, a wealthy merchant of Charleston and a scholar learned in Oriental languages, a man of rare sagacity and most liberal spirit. On the 7th of October, the proposed congress assembled at New York, comprising delegates from Massachusetts, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York, in all nine colonies, which are here mentioned in the order of the dates at which they chose their delegates. In Virginia, the governor succeeded in preventing the meeting of the legislature, so that this great colony did not send delegates; and, for various reasons, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Georgia were likewise unrepresented at the congress. But the sentiment of all the thirteen colonies was none the less unanimous, and those which did not attend lost no time in declaring their full concurrence with what was done at New York. At this memorable meeting, held under the very guns of the British fleet and hard by the headquarters of General Gage, the commander-in-chief of the regular forces in America, a series of resolutions were adopted, echoing the spirit of Patrick Henry’s resolves, though couched in language somewhat more conciliatory, and memorials were addressed to the king and to both Houses of Parliament. Of all the delegates present, Gadsden took the broadest ground, in behalf both of liberty and of united action among the colonies. He objected to sending petitions to Parliament, lest thereby its paramount authority should implicitly and unwittingly be acknowledged. “A confirmation of our essential and common rights as Englishmen,” said he, “may be pleaded from charters safely enough; but any further dependence on them may be fatal. We should stand upon the broad common ground of those natural rights that we all feel and know as men and as descendants of Englishmen. I wish the charters may not ensnare us at last, by drawing different colonies to act differently in this great cause. Whenever that is the case, all will be over with the whole. There ought to be no New England man, no New Yorker, known on the continent; but all of us Americans.” So thought and said this broad-minded South Carolinian.
While these things were going on at New York, the Massachusetts assembly, under the lead of Samuel Adams, who had just taken his seat in it, drew up a very able state paper, in which it was declared, among other things, that “the Stamp Act wholly cancels the very conditions upon which our ancestors, with much toil and blood and at their sole expense, settled this country and enlarged his majesty’s dominions. It tends to destroy that mutual confidence and affection, as well as that equality, which ought ever to subsist among all his majesty’s subjects in this wide and extended empire; and what is the worst of all evils, if his majesty’s American subjects are not to be governed according to the known and stated rules of the constitution, their minds may in time become disaffected.” This moderate and dignified statement was applauded by many in England and by others derided as the “raving of a parcel of wild enthusiasts,” but from the position here taken Massachusetts never afterward receded.
But it was not only in these formal and decorous proceedings that the spirit of resistance was exhibited. The first announcement of the Stamp Act had called into existence a group of secret societies of workingmen known as “Sons of Liberty,” in allusion to a famous phrase in one of Colonel Barré’s speeches. These societies were solemnly pledged to resist the execution of the obnoxious law. On the 14th of August, the quiet town of Boston witnessed some extraordinary proceedings. At daybreak, the effigy of the stamp officer, Oliver, was seen hanging from a great elm-tree, while near it was suspended a boot, to represent the late prime minister, Lord Bute; and from the top of the boot-leg there issued a grotesque head, garnished with horns, to represent the devil. At nightfall the Sons of Liberty cut down these figures, and bore them on a bier through the streets until they reached King Street, where they demolished the frame of a house which was supposed to be erecting for a stamp office. Thence, carrying the beams of this frame to Fort Hill, where Oliver lived, they made a bonfire of them in front of his house, and in the bonfire they burned up the effigies.
Twelve days after, a mob sacked the splendid house of Chief Justice Hutchinson, threw his plate into the street, and destroyed the valuable library which he had been thirty years in collecting, and which contained many manuscripts, the loss of which was quite irreparable. As usual with mobs, the vengeance fell in the wrong place, for Hutchinson had done his best to prevent the passage of the Stamp Act. In most of the colonies, the stamp officers were compelled to resign their posts. Boxes of stamps arriving by ship were burned or thrown into the sea. Leading merchants agreed to import no more goods from England, and wealthy citizens set the example of dressing in homespun garments. Lawyers agreed to overlook the absence of the stamp on legal documents, while editors derisively issued their newspapers with a death’s-head in the place where the stamp was required to be put.
In New York, the presence of the troops for a moment encouraged the lieutenant-governor, Colden, to take a bold stand in behalf of the law. He talked of firing upon the people, but was warned that if he did so he would be speedily hanged on a lamp-post, like Captain Porteous of Edinburgh. A torchlight procession, carrying images of Colden and of the devil, broke into the governor’s coach-house, and, seizing his best chariot, paraded it about town with the images upon it, and finally burned up chariot and images on the Bowling Green, in full sight of Colden and the garrison, who looked on from the Battery, speechless with rage, but afraid to interfere. Gage did not dare to have the troops used, for fear of bringing on a civil war; and the next day the discomfited Colden was obliged to surrender all the stamps to the common council of New York, by whom they were at once locked up in the City Hall.
Nothing more was needed to prove the impossibility of carrying the Stamp Act into effect. An act which could be thus rudely defied under the very eyes of the commander-in-chief plainly could never be enforced without a war. But nobody wanted a war, and the matter began to be reconsidered in England. In July, the Grenville ministry had gone out of office, and the Marquis of Rockingham was now prime minister, while Conway, who had been one of the most energetic opponents of the Stamp Act, was secretary of state for the colonies. The new ministry would perhaps have been glad to let the question of taxing America remain in abeyance, but that was no longer possible.
The debate on the proposed repeal of the Stamp Act was one of the keenest that has ever been heard in the House of Commons. Grenville and his friends, now in opposition, maintained in all sincerity that no demand could ever be more just, or more honourably
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