Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

The first decided protests against the exercise of sovereign power by the crown, the first general moral and political revolt that marked the approach of the American War of Independence, took place in Massachusetts; so that the most striking events in the general history of the colonies as a whole from 1760 to 1775 are an intimate part of her annals. The beginning of the active opposition to the crown may be placed in the resistance, led by James Otis, to the issuing of writs (after 1752, Otis's famous argument against them being made in 1760-1761) to compel citizens to assist the revenue officers; followed later by the outburst of feeling at the imposition of the Stamp Act (1765), when Massachusetts took the lead in confronting the royal power. The governors put in office at this time by the crown were not of conciliatory temperaments, and the measures instituted in parliament (see UNITED STATES) served to increase bitterness of feeling. Royal troops sent to Boston (several regiments, 1768) irritated the populace, who were highly excited at the time, until in an outbreak on the 5th of March 1770 a file of garrison troops shot down in self-defence a few citizens in a crowd which assailed them. This is known as the “ Boston Massacre.” The merchants combined to prevent the importation of goods which by law would yield the crown a revenue; and the patriots-as the anti-prerogative party called themselves-under the lead of Samuel Adams, instituted regular communication between the different towns, and afterwards, following the initiative of Virginia, with the other colonies, through “ committees of correspondence ”; a method of the utmost advantage thereafter in forcing on the revolution by intensifying and unifying the resistance of the colony, and by inducing the co-operation of other colonies. In 1773 (Dec. 16) a party of citizens, disguised as Indians and instigated by popular meetings, boarded some tea-ships in -the harbour of Boston, and to prevent the landing of their taxable cargoes threw them into the sea; this incident is known in history as the “ Boston tea-party.” Parliament in retaliation closed the port of Boston (1774), a proceeding which only aroused more bitter feeling in the country towns and enlisted the sympathy of the other colonies. The governorship was now given to General Thomas Gage, who commanded the troops which had been sent to Boston. Everything foreboded an outbreak. Most of the families of the highest social position were averse to extreme measures; a large number were not won over and became expatriated loyalists. The popular agitators, headed by Samuel Adams-with whom John Hancock, an opulent merchant and one of the few of the richer people who deserted the crown, leagued himself-forced on the movement, which became war in April 1775, when Gage sent an expedition to Concord and Lexington to destroy military stores accumulated by the patriots and to capture Adams and Hancock, temporarily staying at Lexington. This detachment, commanded by Lord Percy, was assaulted, and returned with heavy loss. The country towns now poured their militia into Cambridge, opposite Boston; troops came from neighbouring colonies, and Artemas Ward, a Massachusetts general, was placed in command of the irregular force, which with superior numbers at once shut the royal army up in Boston. An attempt of the provincials to seize and hold a commanding hill in Charlestown brought on the battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775), in which the provincials were driven from the ground, although they lost much less heavily than the royal troops. Washington, chosen by the Continental Congress- to command the army, arrived in Cambridge in July 177 5, and stretching his lines around Boston, forced its evacuation in March 1776. The state was not again the scene of any conflict during the war. Generals Henry Knox and Benjamin Lincoln were the most distinguished officers contributed by the state to the revolutionary army. Out of an assessment at one time upon the states of $ 5,000,000 for the expenses of the war, Massachusetts was charged with $820,000, the next highest being $800,000 for Virginia. Of the 231,791 troops sent by all the colonies into the field, reckoning by annual terms, Massachusetts sent 67,907, the next highest being 31,939 from Connecticut, Virginia furnishing only 26,678; and her proportion of sailors was very much greater still. In every campaign in every colony save in 1779-80 her soldiery were in absolute, and still more in relative, number greater than those of any other colony. After the outbreak of the war a somewhat indefinite, heterogeneous provisional government was in power till a constitution was adopted in 1780, when John Hancock became the first governor. Governor James Bowdoin in 178651787 put down with clemency an almost bloodless insurrection in the western counties (there was strong disaffection, however, as far east as Middlesex), known as the Shays Rebellion, significant of the rife ideas of popular power, the economic distress, and the unsettled political conditions of the years of the Confederation. Daniel Shays (1747-182 5), the leader, was a brave Revolutionary captain of no special personal importance. The state debt was large, taxation was heavy, and industry was unsettled; worthless paper money was in circulation, yet some men demanded more; debtors were made desperate by prosecution; the state government seemed weak, the Federal government contemptibly so; the local courts would not, or from intimidation feared to, punish the turbulent, and demagogues encouraged ideas of popular power. A convention of delegates representing the malcontents of numerous towns in Worcester county met at Worcester on the 1 5th of August 1786 to consider grievances, and a week later a similar convention assembled at Hatfield, Hampshire county. Encouraged by these and other conventions in .order to obstruct the collection of debts and taxes, a mob prevented a session of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace at Northampton on the 29th of August, and in September other mobs prevented the same court from sitting in Worcester, Middlesex and Berkshire counties. About 1000 insurgents under Shays assembled at Springfield on the 26th of September to prevent the sitting there of the Supreme Court, from which they feared indictments. To protect the court and the national arsenal at Springfield, for which the Federal government was powerless to provide a guard, Major-General William Shepard (1737-1817) ordered out the militia, called for Volunteers, and supplied them with arms from the arsenal, and the court sat for three days. The Federal government now' attempted to enlist recruits, ostensibly to protect the western frontier from the Indians, but actually for the suppression of the insurrection; but the plan failed from lack of funds, and the insurgents continued to interrupt the procedure of the courts. In January 1787, however, Governor Bowdoiniraised an army of 4400 men and placed it under the command of Major-General Benjamin Lincoln (17 33-1810). While Lincoln was at Worcester Shays planned to capture the arsenal at Springfield, but on the 25th of January Shepard's men fired upon Shays's followers, killing four and putting the rest to Bight. Lincoln pursued them to Petersham, Worcester county, where on the 4th of February he routed them and took 150 prisoners. Subsequently the insurgents gathered in small bands in Berkshire county; but here, a league having been formed to assist the government, 84 insurgents were captured at West Stockbridge, and the insurrection practically terminated in an action at Sheffield on the 27th of February, in which the insurgents lost 2 killed and 30 wounded and the militia 2 killed and 1 wounded. Two of the insurgent leaders, Daniel Shays and Eli Parsons, escaped to Vermont soon after the rout at Petersham. Fourteen other insurgents who were tried by the Supreme Court in the spring of 1787 were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. They were, however, held rather as hostages for the good behaviour of worse offenders who had escaped, and were pardoned in September. In February 1788 Shays and Parsons petitioned for pardon, and this was granted by the legislature in the following June. The outcome of the uprising was an encouraging test of loyalty to the commonwealth; and the insurrection is regarded as having been very potent in preparing public opinion throughout the country for the adoption of a stronger national government. The Federal Constitution was ratified by Massachusetts by only a small majority on the 6th of February 1788, after its