History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter V
The speculatist and the philosopher frequently observe a casual subordination of circumstances independent of political decision, which fixes the character and manners of nations. This thought may be piously improved till it leads the mind to view those causalities directed by a secret hand which points the revolutions of time and decides the fate of empires. The occasional instruments for the completion of the grand system of Providence have seldom any other stimulus but the bubble of fame, the lust of wealth, or some contemptible passion that centers in self. Event he bosom of virtue warmed by higher principles and the man actuated by nobler motives walks in a narrow sphere of comprehension. The scale by which the ideas of mortals are circumscribed generally limits his wishes to a certain point without consideration, or a just calculation of extensive consequences.
Thus while the King of Great Britain was contending with the colonies for a three-penny duty on tea, and the Americans with the bold spirit of patriotism resisting an encroachment on their rights, the one thought they only asked a moderate and reasonable indulgence from their Sovereign, which they had a right to demand if withheld; on the other side, the most severe and strong measures were adopted and exercised towards the colonies, which parliament considered as only the proper and necessary chastisement of rebellious subjects. Thus on the eve of one of the most remarkable revolutions recorded in the pages of history, a revolution which Great Britain precipitated by her indiscretion and which the hardiest sons of America viewed in the beginning of opposition as a work reserved for the enterprising hand of posterity, few on either side comprehended the magnitude of the contest, and fewer still had the courage to name the independence of the American colonies as the ultimatum of their designs.
After the spirits of men had been wrought up to a high tone of resentment by repeated injuries on the one hand, and an open resistance on the other, there was little reason to expect a ready compliance with regulations, repugnant to the feelings, the principles, and the interest of Americans. The parliament of Britain therefore thought it expedient to enforce obedience by the sword and determined to send out an armament sufficient for the purpose early in the spring of 1774. The subjugation of the colonies by arms was yet considered in England by some as a work of such facility that four or five regiments, with a few ships of the line were equal to the business, provided they were commanded by officers who had not sagacity enough to judge of the impropriety of the measures of administration, nor humanity to feel for the miseries of the people or liberality to endeavor to mitigate the rigors of government. In consequence of this opinion, Admiral Montague was recalled from Boston and Admiral Graves appointed to succeed, whose character was known to be more avaricious, severe, and vigilant than his predecessor, and in all respects a more fit instrument to execute the weak, indigested and irritating system.
General Gage, unhappily for himself, as will appear in the sequel, was selected as a proper person to take the command of all his Majesty's forces in North America, and reduce the country to submission. He had married a lady of respectable connections in New York, and had held with considerable reputation for several years a military employment in the colonies. He was at this time appointed governor and commander in chief of the province of Massachusetts Bay; directed to repair immediately there, and on his arrival to remove the seat of government from Boston, and to convene the General Assembly to meet at Salem, a smaller town, situated about twenty miles from the capital. The Governor, Lieutenant-Governor, the Secretary, the Board of Commissioners, and all crown officers were ordered by special mandate to leave Boston and make the town of Salem the place of their future residence.
A few days before the annual election for May 1774, the new Governor of the Massachusetts arrived. He was received by the inhabitants of Boston with the same respect that had been usually shown to those who were dignified by the title of the King's representative. An elegant entertainment was provided at Faneuil Hall, to which he was escorted by a company of cadets and attended with great civility by the magistrates and principal gentlemen of the town; and though jealousy, disgust and resentment burnt in the bosom of one party, the most unwarrantable designs occupied the thoughts of the other, yet the appearance of politeness and good humor was kept up through the etiquette of the day.
The week following was the anniversary of the general election, agreeable to charter. The day was ushered in with the usual parade, and the House of Representatives proceeded to business in the common form: but a specimen of the measures to be expected from the new administration appeared in the first act of authority recorded of Governor Gage. A list of counselors was presented for his approbation, from which he erased the names of thirteen gentlemen out of twenty-eight, unanimously chosen by the free voice of the representatives of the people, leaving only a quorum as established by charter, or it was apprehended, in the exercise of his new prerogative he might have annihilated the whole. Most of the gentlemen on the negatived list had been distinguished for their attachment to the ancient constitution, and their decided opposition to the present ministerial measures. Among them was James Bowdoin Esq. whose understanding, discernment and conscientious deportment rendered him a very unfit instrument for the view of the court at this extraordinary period. John Winthrop, Hollisian professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at Cambridge; his public conduct was but the emanation of superior genius, united with an excellent heart, as much distinguished for every private virtue as for his attachment to the liberties of a country that may glory in giving birth to a man of exalted character. [Dr. Winthrop was lineally descended from the first governor of Massachusetts, and inherited the virtues and talents of his great ancestor, too well known to need any encomium.] Colonel Otis of Barn stable, whose name has been already mentioned; and John Adams, a barrister at law of rising abilities; his appearance on the theater of politics commenced at this period; we shall meet him again in still more dignified stations. These gentlemen had been undoubtedly pointed out as obnoxious to administration by the predecessor of Governor Gage, as he had not been long enough in the province to discriminate characters.
The House of Representatives did not think proper to replace the members of Council by a new choice; they silently bore this indiscreet exercise of authority, sensible it was but a prelude to the impending storm. The Assembly was the next day adjourned for a week; at the expiration of that time, they were directed to meet at Salem. In the interim the Governor removed himself and the whole band of revenue and crown officers deserted the town of Boston at once, as a place devoted to destruction.
Every external appearance of respect was still kept up towards the new Governor. The Council, the House, the judiciary officers, the mercantile and other bodies prepared and offered congratulatory addresses as usual, on the recent arrival of the commander in chief at the seat of government. The incense was received both at Boston and Salem with the usual satisfaction, except the address from the remaining Board of Councilors; this was checked with asperity, and the reading it through forbidden, as the composition contained some strictures on administration, and censured rather too freely for the delicate ear of an infant magistrate the conduct of some of his predecessors. But this was the last compliment of the kind ever offered by either branch of the legislature of the Massachusetts to a governor appointed by the King of Great Britain. No marks of ministerial resentment had either humbled or intimidated the spirits, nor shook the intrepidity of mind necessary for the times; and though it was first called into action in the Massachusetts, it breathed its influence through all the colonies. They all seemed equally prepared to suffer and equally determined to resist in unison, if no means but that of absolute submission was to be the test of loyalty.
The first day of June, 1774, the day when the Boston port bill began to operate, was observed in most of the colonies with uncommon solemnity as a day of fasting and prayer. In all of them, sympathy and indignation, compassion and resentment alternately arose in every bosom. A zeal to relieve and an alacrity to support the distressed Bostonians seemed to pervade the whole continent, except the dependents on the Crown, and their partisans, allured by interest to adhere to the royal cause. There were indeed a few others in every colony led to unite with and to think favorably of the measures of administration from their attachment to monarchy, in which they had been educated; and some there were who justified all things done by the hand of power, either from fear, ignorance, or imbecility.
The session at Salem was of short duration, but it was a busy and an important period. The leading characters in the House of Representatives contemplated the present moment, replete with consequences of the utmost magnitude. They judged it a crisis that required measures bold and decisive, though hazardous, and that the extrication of their country from the designs of their enemies depended much on the conduct of the present assembly. Their charter was on the point of annihilation. A military governor had just arrived with troops on the spot to support the arbitrary systems of the Court of St. James.
These appearances had a disagreeable effect on some who had before cooperated with the patriots; they began to tremble at the power and severity of Britain, at a time when firmness was most required, zeal indispensable, and secrecy necessary. Yet those who possessed the energies of mind requisite for the completion or the defeat of great designs had not their ardor or resolution shaken in the smallest degree by either dangers, threats, or caresses. It was a prime object to select a few members of the House that might be trusted most confidentially on any emergency. This task fell to Mr. Samuel Adams of Boston and Mr. Warren of Plymouth. They drew off a few chosen spirits who met at a place appointed for a secret conference. [Among these the names of Hancock, Cushing, and Halwey, of Sullivan, Robert Payne, and Benjamin Greenleaf of Newburyport and many others should not be forgotten, but ought always to be mentioned with respect, for their zeal at this critical moment.] Several others were introduced the ensuing evening, when a discussion of circumstances took place. Immediate decision and effectual modes of action were urged and such caution energy and dispatch were observed by this daring and dauntless secret council that on the third evening of their conference their business was ripe for execution.
This committee had digested a plan for a general congress from all the colonies to consult on the common safety of America; named their own delegates; and as all present were convinced of the necessity and expediency of such a convention, they estimated the expense, and provided funds for the liquidation, prepared letters to the other colonies, enforcing the reasons for their strong confederacy, and disclosed their proceedings to the House, before the governmental party had the least suspicion of their designs. [ Such a remarkable coincidence of opinion, energy, and zeal existed between the provinces of Virginia and the Massachusetts that their measures and resolutions were often similar, previous to the opportunity ;for conference. Thus the propriety of a general congress had been discussed and agreed upon by the Virginians before they were informed of the resolutions of Massachusetts. Some of the other colonies had contemplated the same measure without any previous consultation.] Before the full disclosure of the business they were upon, the doors of the House were locked, and a vote passed, that no one should be suffered to enter or retire until a final determination took place on the important questions before them. When these designs were opened, the partisans of administration then in the House were thunderstruck with measures so replete with ability and vigor and that wore such as aspect of high and dangerous consequences.
These transactions might have been legally styled treasonable, but loyalty had lost its influence and power its terrors. Firm and disinterested, intrepid and united, they stood ready to submit to the chances of war and to sacrifice their devoted lives to preserve inviolate and to transmit to posterity the inherent rights of men conferred on all by the God of nature and the privileges of Englishmen, claimed by Americans from the sacred sanctions of compact.
When the measures agitated in the secret conference were laid before the House of Representatives, one of the members, a devotee to all governors, pretended a sudden indisposition and requested leave to withdraw. He pleaded the necessities of nature, was released from his uneasy confinement, and ran immediately to Governor Gate with information of the bold and high-handed proceedings of the lower house. The Governor, not less alarmed than the sycophant at these unexpected maneuvers, instantly directed the Secretary to dissolve the Assembly by proclamation.
Finding the doors of the House closed and no prospect of admittance for him, the Secretary desired the door keeper to acquaint the House he had a message from the Governor and requested leave to deliver it. The Speaker replied that it was the order of the House that no one should be permitted to enter on any pretense whatever before the business they were upon was fully completed. Agitated and embarrassed, the Secretary then read on the stairs a proclamation for the immediate dissolution of the General Assembly.
The main point gained, the delegates for a congress chosen, supplies for their support voted, and letters to the other colonies requesting them to accord in these measures, signed by the Speaker, the members cheerfully dispersed and returned to their constituents, satisfied that, notwithstanding the precipitant dissolution of the Assembly, they had done all that the circumstances of the times would admit, to remedy the present and guard against future evils.
This early step to promote the general interest of the colonies and lay the foundation of union and concord in all their subsequent transactions will ever reflect luster on the characters of those who conducted it with such firmness and decision. It was indeed a very critical era: nor were those gentlemen insensible of the truth of the observation that "whoever has a standing army at command has or may have the state." Nor were they less sensible that in the present circumstance while they acknowledged themselves the subjects of the King of England, their conduct must be styled rebellion and that death must be the inevitable consequence of defeat. Yet life was then considered a trivial stake in competition with liberty.
All the old colonies except Georgia readily acceded to the proposal of calling a general congress. They made immediate exertions that there might be no discord in the councils of the several provinces and that their opposition should be consistent, spirited and systematical. Most of them had previously laid aside many of their local prejudices and by public resolves and various other modes had expressed their disgust at the summary proceedings of Parliament against the Massachusetts. They reprobated the port bill in terms of detestation, raised liberal contributions for the suffering inhabitants of Boston, and continued their determinations to support that province at every hazard through the conflict in which they were involved.
In conformity to the coercive system, the governors of all the colonies frowned on the sympathetic part the several legislative bodies had been disposed to take with the turbulent descendants, as they were pleased to style the Massachusetts, of puritans, republicans and regicides. Thus most of the colonial assemblies had been petulantly dissolved, nor could any applications from the people prevail on the supreme magistrate to suffer the representatives and burgesses to meet, and in a legal capacity deliberate on measures most consistent with loyalty and freedom. But this persevering obstinacy of the governors did not retard the resolutions of the people; they met in parishes, and selected persons from almost every town to meet in provincial conventions and there to make choice of suitable delegates to meet in general congress.
The beginning of autumn, 1774 was the time appointed, and the city of Philadelphia chosen as the most central and convenient place for this body to meet and deliberate at so critical a conjuncture. Yet such as the attachment to Britain, the strength of habit, and the influence of ancient forms; such the reluctant dread of spilling human blood, which at that period was universally felt in America, that there were few who did not ardently wish some friendly intervention might yet prevent a rupture which probably might shake the empire of Britain and waste the inhabitants on both sides of the Atlantic.
At the early period, there were some who viewed the step of their summoning a general congress, under existing circumstances of peculiar embarrassment, as a prelude to a revolution which appeared pregnant with events that might affect not only the political systems but the character and manners of a considerable part of the habitable globe. [This observation has since been verified in the remarkable revolution in France — a struggle fro freedom on one side and the combinations of European monarch on the other, to depress and eradicate the spirit of liberty caught in America, was displayed to the world. Nor was any of the combination of princes at the Treaty of Piloting more persevering in the cause of despotism than the King of Great Britain.]
America was then little known, her character, ability, and police less understood abroad. But she soon became the object of attention among the potentates of Europe, the admiration of both the philosophic and the brave, and her fields of theater of fame throughout the civilized world. Her principles were disseminated: the seeds sown in America ripened in the more cultivated grounds of Europe, and inspired ideas among the enslaved nations that have long trembled at the name of the bastate and the bastinado. This may finally lead to the completion of prophetic predictions and spread universal liberty and peace as far at least as is compatible with the present state of human nature. The wild vagaries of the perfectibility of man, so long as the passions to which the species are liable play about the hearts of all, may be left to the dreaming scholiast who wanders in search of impracticable theories. He may remain entangled in his own web, while that rational liberty, to which all have a right, may be exhibited and defended by men of principle and heroism who better understand the laws of social order.
Through the summer previous to the meeting of Congress, no expressions of loyalty to the Sovereign or affection to the parent state were neglected in their public declarations. Yet the colonies seemed to be animated as it were by one soul to train their youth to arms, to withhold all commercial connection with Great Britain, and to cultivate that unanimity necessary to bind society when ancient forms are relaxed of broken and the common safety required the assumption of new modes of government. But while attentive to the regulations of their internal economy and police, each colony beheld with a friendly and compassionate eye, the severe struggles of the Massachusetts where the arm of power was principally leveled and the ebullitions of ministerial resentment poured forth as if to terrify the sister provinces into submission.
Not long after the dissolution of the last Assembly ever convened in that province on the principles of their former charter, Admiral Graves arrived in Boston with several ships of the line and a number of transports laden with troops, military stores, and all warlike accouterments. The troops landed peaceably, took possession of the open grounds, and formed several encampments within the town.
At the same time arrived the bill for new modeling the government of the Massachusetts. By this bill, their former charter was entirely vacated: a council of 36 members was appointed by mandamus to hold their places during the King's pleasures; all judges, justices, sheriffs, etc. were to be appointed by the Governor, without the advice of council, and to be removed at his sole option. Jurors in future were to be named by the sheriff, instead of the usual and more impartial mode of drawing them by lot. All town-meetings without express leave from the governor were forbidden, except those annually held in the spring for the choice of representatives and town-officers. Several other violations of the former compact completed the system.
This new mode of government, though it had been for some time expected, occasioned such loud complaints, such universal murmurs that several of the newly appointed counselors had not the courage to accept places which they were sensible would reflect disgrace on their memory. Tow of them [These were James Russell, Esq. of Charlestown, and William Vassal, Esq. of Boston.] seemed really to decline from principle and publicly declared they would have no hand in the dereliction of the rights of their country. Several others relinquished their seats for fear of offending their countrymen. But most of them, selected by Mr. Hutchinson as proper instruments for the purpose, were destitute of all ideas of public virtue. They readily took the qualifying oaths and engaged to lend their hand to erase the last vestige of freedom in that devoted province.
The people, still firm and undaunted, assembled in multitudes and repaired to the houses of the obnoxious counselors. They demanded an immediate resignation of their unconstitutional appoints, and a solemn assurance that they would never accept any office incompatible with the former privileges enjoyed by their country. Some of them, terrified by the resolution of the people, complied and remained afterwards quiet and unmolested in their own houses. Others, who had prostrated all principle in the hope of preferment and were hardy enough to go every length to secure it, conscious of the guilty part they had acted, made their escape into Boston, where they were sure of the protection of the King's troops. Indeed that unhappy town soon became the receptacle of all the devotees to ministerial measures from every part of the province: they there consoled themselves with the barbarous hope that Parliament would take the severest measures to enforce their own acts, nor were these hopes unfounded.
It has been observed that by the late edict for the better administration of justice in the Massachusetts, any man was liable on the slightest suspicion of treason or misprision of treason, to be dragged from his own family or vicinity to any part of the King of England's dominions for trial. It was now reported that General Gage had orders to arrest the leading characters in opposition and transport them beyond sea and that a reinforcement of troops might be hourly expected sufficient to enable him to execute all the mad projects of a rash and unprincipled ministry.
Though the operation of this system in its utmost latitude was daily threatened and expected, it made little impression on a people determined to withhold even a tacit consent to any infractions on their charter. They considered the present measures as a breach of a solemn covenant, which at the same time that it subjected them to the authority of the King of England, stipulated to them the equal enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of free and natural-born subjects. They chose to hazard the consequences of returning back to a state of nature, rather than quietly submit to unjust and arbitrary measures continually accumulating. This was a dangerous experiment, though they were sensible that the necessities of man will soon restore order and subordination, even from confusion and anarchy: on the contrary, the yoke of despotism once riveted, no human sagacity can justly calculate its termination.
While matters hung in this suspense, the people in all the shire towns collected in prodigious numbers to prevent the sitting of the courts of common law; forbidding the justices to meet, or the jurors to impanel, and obliging all civil magistrates to bind themselves by oath not to conform to the late acts of Parliament in any judiciary proceedings; and all military officers were called upon to resign their commissions. Thus were the bands of society relaxed, law set at defiance, and government unhinged throughout the province. Perhaps this may be marked in the annals of time as one of the most extraordinary ears in the history of man: the exertions of spirit awakened by the severe hand of power had led to that most alarming experiment of leveling all ranks, and destroying all subordination.
It cannot be denied that nothing is more difficult than to restrain the provoked multitude when once aroused by a sense of wrong, from the supineness which generally over spreads the common class of mankind. Ignorant and fierce, they know not in the first ebullitions of resentment how to repel with safety the arm of the oppressor. It is a work of time to establish a regular opposition to long-established tyranny. A celebrated writer has observed that "men bear with the defects in their police as they do wit the inconveniences and hardships in living"; and perhaps the facility of the human mind in adapting itself to its circumstances was never more remarkably exemplified than it was at this time in America.
Trade had long been embarrassed throughout the colonies by the restraints of Parliament and the rapacity of revenue officers; the shutting up the port of Boston was felt in every villa of the New England colonies; the bill for altering the constitution of Massachusetts prevented all legislative proceedings; the executive officers were rendered incapable of acting in their several departments and the courts of justice shut up. it must be ascribed to the virtue of the people, however reluctant some may be to acknowledge this truth, that they did not feel the effects of anarchy in the extreme.
But a general forbearance and complacency seemed for a time almost to preclude the necessity of legal restraint; and except in a few instances, when the indiscretion of individuals provoked abuse, there was less violence and personal insult than perhaps ever was known in the same period of time, when all political union was broken down, and private affection weakened, by the virulence of party prejudice, which generally cuts in sunder the bands of social and friendly connection. The people irritated in the highest degree, the sword seemed to be half drawn from the scabbard, while the trembling hand appeared unwilling to display its whetted point; and all America, as well as the Massachusetts, suspended all partial opposition, and waited to anxious hope and expectation the decisions of a Continental Congress.
This respected Assembly, the Amphyctions of the western world, convened by the free suffrages of twelve colonies, met at the time proposed, on the fourth of September, 1774. They entered on business with hearts warmed with the love of their country, a sense of the common and equal rights of man, and the dignity of human nature. Peyton Randolph, Esq. a gentleman from Virginia, whose sobriety, integrity, and political abilities, qualified him for the important station, was unanimously chosen to preside in this grand council of American peers.
Though this body was sensibly affected by the many injuries received from the parent state, their first wish was a reconciliation on terms of reciprocity, justice and honor. In consequence of these sentiments with the duty due to their constituents, every thing that might tend to widen the breach between Great Britain and the colonies. Yet they were determined, if Parliament continued deaf to the calls of justice, not to submit to the yoke of tyranny, but to take the preparatory steps necessary for a vigorous resistance.
After a thorough discussion of the civil, political, and commercial interests of both countries, the natural ties, and the mutual benefits resulting from the strictest amity, and the unhappy consequences that must ensue, if driven to the last appeal, they resolved on a dutiful and loyal petition to the King, recapitulating their grievances, and imploring redress: they modestly remonstrated, and obliquely censured the authors of those mischiefs, which filled all America with complaint.
They drew up an affectionate, but spirited memorial to the people of England, reminding them that they held their own boasted liberties on a precarious tenure, if government, under the sanction of Parliamentary authority, might enforce by the terrors of the sword their unconstitutional edicts. They informed them, that they determined, from a sense of justice to posterity, and for the honor of human nature, to resist all infringements on the natural rights of men; that, if neither the dictates of equity, nor the suggestions of humanity, were powerful enough to restrain a wanton administration from shedding blood in a cause so derogatory to the principles of justice, not all the exertions of superior strength should lead them to submit servilely to the impositions of a foreign power. They forwarded a well-adapted address to the French inhabitants of Canada, to which they subjoined a detail of their rights, with observations on the alarming aspect of the late Quebec bill, and invited them to join in the common cause of America.
Energy and precision, political ability, and the genuine amor patriae marked the measures of the short session of this Congress. They concluded their proceedings with an address to the several American colonies, exhorting them to union and perseverance in the modes of opposition they had pointed out. Among the most important of these was a strong recommendation to discontinue all commerce with Great Britain, and encourage the improvement of arts and manufactures among themselves. They exhorted all ranks and orders of men to a strict adherence to industry, frugality, and sobriety of manners; and to look primarily to the supreme ruler of the universe, who is able to defeat the crafty designs of the most potent enemy. They agreed on a declaration of rights, and entered into an association, to which the signature of every member of Congress was affixed [see Note 10 at the bottom of this page]; in which they bound themselves to suspend all farther intercourse with Great Britain, to import no merchandise from that hostile country, to abstain from the use of all India teas; and that after a limited time, if a radical redress of grievances was not obtained, no American produce should be exported either to England or the West India islands under the jurisdiction of Britain.
To these recommendations were added several sumptuary resolves; after which they advised their constituents to a new choice of delegates to meet in congress on May 10, 1775: they judged it probable that, by that time, they should hear the success of their petitions to the throne. They then prudently dissolved themselves, and returned to their private occupations in their several provinces, there to wait the operation of their resolutions and addresses.
It is scarcely possible to describe the influence of the transactions and resolves of Congress on the generality of the people throughout the wide extended continent of America. History records no injunctions of men, that were ever more religiously observed; or any human laws more readily and universally obeyed, than were the recommendations of this revered body. It is indeed a singular phenomenon in the story of human conduct, that when all legal institutions were abolished, and long established governments at once annihilated in so many distinct states that the recommendations of committees and conventions, not enforced by penal sanctions, should be equally influential and binding with the severest code of law, backed by royal authority, and strengthened by the murdering sword of despotism. Doubtless the fear of popular resentment operated on some, with a force equal to the rod of the magistrate: the singular punishments [Such as tarring and feathering, etc.], inflicted in some instances by an inflamed rabble, on a few who endeavored to counteract the public measures, deterred others from opening violating the public resolves, and acting against the general consent of the people.
Not the bitterest foe to American freedom, whatever might be his wishes, presumed to counteract the general voice by an avowed importation of a single article of British merchandise, after the first day of February, 1775. The cargoes of all vessels that happened to arrive after this limited period were punctually delivered to the committees of correspondence, in the first port of their arrival, and sold at public auction. The prime cost and charges and the half of one per cent was paid to the owners, and the surplus of the profits was appropriated to the relief of the distressed inhabitants of Boston, agreeable to the seventh article in the association of the Continental Congress.
The voice of the multitude is as the rushing down of a torrent, nor is it strange that some outrages were committed against a few obstinate and imprudent partisans of the court, by persons of as little consideration as themselves. It is true that in the course of the arduous struggle, there were many irregularities that could not be justified and some violences in consequence of the general discontent that will not stand the test, when examined at the bar of equity; yet perhaps fewer than ever took place in any country under similar circumstances. Witness the convulsions of Rome on the demolition of her first race of kings; the insurrections and commotions of her colonies before the downfall of the commonwealth; and to come nearer home, the confusions, the mobs, the cruelties in Britain in their civil convulsions, from William the Conqueror to the days of the Stuarts, and from the arbitrary Stuarts to the riots of London and Liverpool, even in the reign of George III.
Many other instances of the dread effects of popular commotion, when wrought up to resistance by the oppressive hand of power, might be adduced from the history of nations, [France might have been mentioned as a remarkable instance of the truth of these observations, had they not been written several years before the extraordinary revolutions and cruel convulsions that have since agitated that unhappy country. Every one will observe the astonishing difference in the conduct of the people of America and of France, in the two revolutions which took place within a few years of each other. In the one, all was horror, robbery, assassination, murder, devastation and massacre; in the other, a general sense of rectitude checked the commission of those crimes, and the dread of spilling human blood withheld for a time the hand of party, even when the passions were irritated to the extreme. This must be attributed to the different religion, government, laws, and manners of the two countries, previous to these great events; not to any difference in the nature of man; in similar circumstances, revenge, cruelty, confusion, and every evil work, operate equally on the ungoverned passions of men in al nations.] and the ferocity of human nature, when not governed by interest or fear. Considering the right of personal liberty, which ever one justly claims, the tenacious regard to property, and the pride of opinion, which sometimes operates to the dissolution of the tenderest ties of nature, it is wonderful, when the mind was elevated by these powerful springs, and the passions whetted by opposition or insult, that riot and confusion, desolation and bloodshed, was not the fatal consequence of the long interregnum of law and government throughout the colonies. Yet not a life was lost till the trump of war summoned all parties to the field.
Valor is an instinct that appears even among savages, as a dictate of nature planted for self-defense; but patriotism on the diffusive principles of general benevolence, is the child of society. This virtue with the fair accomplishments of science, gradually grows and increases with civilization, until refinement is wrought to a height that poisons and corrupts the mind. This appears when the accumulation of wealth is rapid, and the gratifications of luxurious appetite become easy; the seeds of benevolence are then often destroyed and the man reverts back to selfish barbarism, and feels no check to his rapacity and boundless ambition, though his passions may be frequently veiled under various alluring and deceptive appearances.
America was now a fair field for a transcript of all the virtues and vices that have illumined or darkened, disgraced and reigned triumphant in their turn over all the other quarters of the habitable globe. The progress of every thing had there been remarkably rapid, from the first settlement of the country. Learning was cultivated, knowledge disseminated, politeness and morals improved, and valor and patriotism cherished, in proportion to the rapidity of her population. This extraordinary cultivation of arts and manners may be accounted for, from the stage of society and improvement in which the first planters of America were educated before they left their native clime. The first emigrations to North America were not composed of a strolling banditti of rude nations, like the first people of most other colonies in the history of the world. The early settlers in the newly discovered continent were as far advanced in civilization, policy, and manner; in their ideas of government, the nature of compacts, and the bands of civil union, as any of their neighbors at that period among the most polished nations of Europe. Thus they soon grew to maturity and became able to vie with their European ancestors in arts, in arms, in perspicuity in the cabinet, courage in the field, and ability for foreign negotiations, and in the same space of time that most other colonies have required to pare off the ruggedness of their native ferocity, establish the rudiments of civil society, and begin the fabric of government and jurisprudence. Yet as they were not fully sensible of their own strength and abilities, they wished still to hang upon the arm, and look up for protection to their original parent.
The united voice of millions still acknowledged the scepter of Brunswick; firmly attached to the House of Hanover, educated in the principles of monarchy, and fond of that mode of government under certain limitations, they were still petitioning the King of England only to be restored to the same footing of privilege claimed by his other subjects, and wished ardently to keep the way open to a reunion, consistent with their ideas of honor and freedom.
Thus the grand council of union were disposed to wait the operations of time, without hurrying to momentous decisions that might in a degree have sanctioned severities in the parent state that would have shut up every avenue to reconciliation. While the representatives of all the provinces had thus been deliberating, the individual colonies were far from being idle. Provincial congresses and conventions had in almost every province taken place of the old forms of legislation and government, and they were all equally industrious and united in the same modes to combat the intrigues of the governmental faction, which equally forfeited the whole, though the eastern borders of the continent more immediately suffered. But their institutions in infancy, commerce suspended, and their property seized; threatened by the national orators, by the proud chieftains of military departments, and by the British fleet and army daily augmenting, hostilities of the most serious nature lowered on all sides; the artillery of war and the fire of rhetoric seemed to combine for the destruction of America.
The minds of the people at this period, though not dismayed, were generally solemnized, in expectation of events, decisive both to political and private happiness, and every brow appeared expressive of sober anxiety. The people trembled for their liberties, the merchant for his interest, the Tories for their places, the Whigs for their country, and the virtuous ;for the manners of society.
It must be allowed that the genius of America was bold, resolute and enterprising; tenacious of the rights their fathers had endured such hardships to purchase, they determined to defend to the last breath the invaluable possession. to check this ardent characteristic it had, previous to the time we are upon, been considered, as if by common consent among the plantation governors, a stroke of policy to depress the militia of the country. All military discipline had for several years been totally neglected; thus untrained to arms, whenever there had been an occasional call in aid of British operations in America, the militia were considered as a rustic set of auxiliaries, and employed not only in the least honorable, but the most menial services. Though this indignity was felt, it was never properly resented; they had borne the burden of fatigue and subordination without much complaint: but the martial spirit of the country now became conspicuous, and the inclination of the youth of every class was universally cherished, and military evolutions were the interludes that most delighted even children in the intermission of their sedentary exercises at school.
Among the maneuvers of this period of expectation, a certain quota of hardy youth were drawn from the train-bands in every town, who were styled minute men. They voluntarily devoted a daily portion of their time to improve themselves in the military art, under officers of their own choice. Thus when hostilities commenced, every district could furnish a number of soldiers who wanted nothing but experience in the operations of war to make them a match for any troops the Sovereign of Britain could boast.
This military ardor wore an unpleasant aspect in the eyes of administration. By a letter from Lord Dartmouth to General Gage, soon after he was appointed governor of the Massachusetts, it appeared that a project for disarming certain provinces was seriously contemplated in the cabinet. [General Gage in his reply to the minister upon the above suggestion, observes, "Your lordship's idea of disarming certain provinces would doubtless be consistent with produce and safety; but it neither is nor has been practicable, without having resources to force: we must first become masters of the country."] The Parliament actually prohibited the exportation of arms, ammunition, and military stores to any part of America, except for their own fleets and armies employed in the colonies; and the king's troops were frequently sent out in small parties to dismantle the forts, and seize the powder magazines or other military stores wherever they could be found. The people throughout the colonies with better success took similar measures to secure to themselves whatever warlike stores were already in the country. Thus a kind of predatory struggle almost universally took place. Every appearance of hostilities was discoverable in the occasional rencontres, except the drawing of blood, which was for a time suspended; delayed on one side from an apprehension that they were not quite ripe for the conflict; on the other, from an expectation of reinforcements that might ensure victory on the easiest terms; and perhaps by both, from the recollection of their former connection and attachment.
A disunion of the colonies had long bee zealously wished for, and vainly attempted by administration; as that could not be effected, it was deemed a wise and politic measure to make an example of one they judged the most refractory. Thus resentment seemed particularly leveled at the Massachusetts; consequently they obliged that colony first to measure the sword with the hardy veterans of Britain.
The spirited proceedings of the County of Suffolk, soon after the arrival of Gage, and his hasty dissolution of the General Assembly, in some measure damped the expectation of the ministry, who had flattered themselves that the depression and ruin of the Massachusetts would strike terror through the other provinces, and render the work of conquest more easy. But the decision and energy of this Convention, composed of members from the principal towns in the county, discovered that the spirit of Americans at that time was not to be coerced by dragoons and that if one colony, under the immediate frowns of government, with an army in their capital, were thus bold and determined, new calculations must be made for the subjugation of all.
The Convention met in Suffolk, at once unanimously renounced the authority of the new legislature, and engaged to bear harmless all officers who should refuse to act under it. They pronounced all those who had accepted seats at the Board of Council by mandamus the incorrigible enemies of their country. They recommended to the people to perfect themselves in the art of war, and prepare to resist by force of arms every hostile invasion. They resolved, that if any person should be apprehended for his exertions in the public cause, reprisals should be made, by seizing and holding in custody the principal officers of the Crown, wherever they could be found, until ample justice should be done. They advised the collectors and receivers of all public moneys to hold it in their hands until appropriations should be directed by authority of a provincial congress. They earnestly urged an immediate choice of delegates for that purpose and recommended their convening at Salem.
These and several other resolves in the same style and manner, were considered by government as the most overt acts of treason that had yet taken place; but their doings were but a specimen of the spirit which actuated the whole province. Every town, with the utmost alacrity, chose one or more of the most respectable gentlemen, to meet in provincial congress, agreeable to the recommendation of October 15, 1774. They were requested by their constituents to take into consideration the distressed state of the country and to devise the most practicable measures to extricate the people from their present perplexed situation.
In the mean time, to preclude the appearance of necessity for such a convention, Governor Gage issued precepts summoning a new General Assembly to meet at Salem, the week preceding the time appointed for the meeting of the Convention. The people obeyed the order of the Governor, and every where chose their representatives; but they all chose the same persons they had recently delegated to meet in Convention. Whether the governor was apprehensive that it would not be safe for his mandamus council to venture out of the capital, or whether conscious that it would not be a constitutional assembly or from the imbecility of his own mind, in a situation altogether new to him, is uncertain; but from whatever cause it arose, he discovered his embarrassment by a proclamation dated the day before he was to meet them at Salem to dissolve the new House of Representatives. This extraordinary dissolution only precipitated the pre-determination of the delegates. They had taken their line of conduct, and their determinations were not easily shaken.
The Council chosen by the House on the day of their last election had also, as requested, repaired to Salem. The design was to proceed to business a usual, without any notice of the annihilation of their charter. Their determination was, if the Governor refused to met with or countenance them, to consider him as absent from the province. It had been usual under the old charter, when the Governor's signature could not be obtained by reason of death or absence, that by the names of 15 counselors affixed thereto, all the acts of assembly were equally valid, as when signed by the Governor. But by the extraordinary conduct of the chief magistrate, the General Assembly was left at liberty to complete measures in any mode or form that appeared most expedient. Accordingly, they adjourned to Concord, a town situated about 30 miles from Salem, and there prosecuted the business of their constituents.
As it was not yet thought prudent to assume all the powers of an organized government, they chose a president, and acted as a provincial congress, as previously proposed. They recommended to the militia to choose their own officers and submit to regular discipline at least thrice a week, and that a fourth part of them should be drafted and hold themselves in readiness to march at a moment's warning to any part of the province. They recommended to the several counties to adhere to their own resolves, and to keep the courts of common law shut until some future period, when justice could be legally administered. They appointed a committee of supplies to provide ammunition, provisions, and warlike stores, and to deposit them in some place of safety, ready for use, if they should be obliged to take up arms in defense of their rights.
This business required talents and energy to make arrangements for exigencies, new and untried. Fortunately, "Elbridge Gerry, Esq. was placed at the head of this commissions, who executed it with his usual punctuality and indefatigable industry. This gentleman entered from principle, early in the opposition to British encroachments, and continued one of the most uniform republicans to the end of the contest. He was the next year chosen a delegate to the Continental Congress. Firm, exact, perspicuous, and tenacious of public and private honor, he rendered essential service to the union for many years that he continued a member of that honorable body. [Mr. Gerry's services and exertions to promote the public interest through every important station which he filled from this period until he was appointed to negotiate with the Republic of France in the year 1798 were uniform. There his indefatigable zeal, his penetration, and cool perseverance when everything appeared on the eve of rupture between the two republics, laid the foundation and formed the outlines of an accommodation which soon after terminated in an amicable treaty between France and the United States of America.]
The Provincial Congress appointed a Committee of Safety, consisting of nine members, and vested them with powers to act as they should see fit for the public service, in the recess, and to call them together again, on any extraordinary emergency; and before they separated, they chose a new set of delegates to meet in General Congress the ensuing spring. After this they held a conference with the committees of donation and correspondence and the selectmen of the town of Boston on the expediency of an effort to remove the inhabitants from a town blockaded on all sides. They then separated for a few weeks to exert their influence in aid to the resolutions of the people; to strengthen their fortitude, and prepare them for the approaching storm, which they were sensible could be at no great distance.
Though the inhabitants of Boston were shut up in garrison, insulted by the troops, and in many respects felt the evils of a severe military government; yet the difficulty of removing thousands from their residence in the capital, to seek an asylum in the country on the eve of winter, appeared fraught with inconveniences too great to be attempted. They were, of consequence, the most of them obliged to continue amid the outrages of a licentious army, and wait patiently the events of the ensuing spring.
The principal inhabitants of the town, though more immediately under the eye of their oppressors, lost no part of their determined spirit, but still acted in unison with their friends more at liberty without the city. A bold instance of this appeared when Mr. Oliver, the chief justice, regardless of the impeachment that lay against him, attempted with his associates to open the Superior Court and transact business according to the new regulations. Advertisements were posted in several public places, forbidding on their peril the attorneys and barristers at law to carry any cause up to the bar. Both the grand and petit-jurors refused attendance, and finally the court was obliged to adjourn without delay.
These circumstances greatly alarmed the party, more especially those natives of the country who had taken sanctuary under the banners of an officer who had orders to enforce the acts of administration, even at the point of the bayonet. Apprehensive they might be dragged from their asylum within the gates, they were continually urging General Gage to more vigorous measures without. They assured him that it would be easy for him to execute the designs of government provided he would by law marital seize, try, or transport to England such persons as were most particularly obnoxious; and that if the people once saw him thus determined, they would sacrifice their leaders and submit quietly.
They associated and bound themselves by covenant to go all lengths in support of the projects of administration against their country; but the General, assured of reinforcements in the spring, sufficient to enable him to open a bloody campaign, and not remarkable for resolution or activity, had not the courage, and perhaps not the inclination, to try the dangerous experiment, until he felt himself stronger. He was also sensible of the striking similarity of genius, manners, and conduct of the colonies in union. It was observable to everyone that local prejudices, either in religion or government, taste or politics, were suspended, and that every distinction was sunk, in the consideration of the necessity of connection and vigor in one general system of defense. He therefore proceeded no farther, during the winter, than publishing proclamations against congresses, committees, and conventions, styling all associations of the kind unlawful and treasonable combinations, and forbidding all persons to pay the smallest regard to their recommendations, on penalty of his Majesty's severest displeasure.
These feeble exertions only confirmed the people in their adherence to the modes pointed out by those to whom they had entrusted the safety of the Commonwealth. The only active movement of the season was that of a party commanded by Colon Leslie, who departed from Castle William on the evening of Saturday, February 27, 1775, on a secret expedition to Salem. The design was principally to seize a few cannon on the ensuing morning. The people apprised of his approach, drew up a bridge over which his troops were to pass. Leslie, finding his passage would be disputed and having no orders to proceed to blows, after much expostulation engaged that if he might be permitted to go on the ground, he would molest neither public nor private property. The bridge was immediately let down, and through a line of armed inhabitants, ready to take vengeance on a forfeiture of his word, he only marched to the extreme part of the town and then returned to Boston, to the mortification of himself and his friends, that an officer of Colonel Leslie's acknowledged bravery should be sent out on so frivolous an errand.
This incident discovered the determination of the Americans, carefully to avoid everything that had the appearance of beginning hostilities on their part; an imputation that might have been attended with great inconvenience; nor indeed were they prepared to precipitate a conflict, the consequences and the termination of which no human calculation could reach. This maneuver also discovered that the people of the country were not deficient in point of courage, but that they stood charged for a resistance that might smite the sceptered hand, whenever it should be stretched forth to arrest by force the inheritance purchased by the blood of ancestors, whose self-denying virtues had rivaled the admired heroes of antiquity.
Names of the members of the American Congress, in 1774.
Peyton Randolph, President
New Hampshire: John Sullivan, Nathaniel Folsom Massachusetts Bay: Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, Samuel Ward Connecticut: Eliphalet Dyer, Roger Sherman, Silas Deane New York: Isaac Low, John Alsop, John Jay, James Duane, William Floyd, Henry Wisner, Samuel Bocrum New Jersey: James Kinsey, William Livingston, Stephen Crane, Richard Smith Pennsylvania: Joseph Galloway, Charles Humphreys, John Dickenson, Thomas Mifflin, Edward Biddle, John Morton, George Ross Newcastle, etc.: Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, George Read Maryland: Matthew Tilghman, Thomas Johnson, William Paca, Samuel Chase Virginia: Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Junior, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, R. Caswell South Carolina: Henry Middleton, Thomas Lynch, Christopher Gadsden, John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge