The Rebels; or, Boston before the Revolution/Chapter IV

Then Otis rose, and great in patriot fame,
To listening crowds resistance dared proclaim.
From men like Otis, independence grew;
From such beginnings empire rose to view.

Hon. Thomas Dawes

On the following day, the Court of Assizes and the Supreme Court met in the Council Chamber. Four of the judges wore "voluminous wigs, broad bands, and robes of scarlet cloth." The Chief Justice alone entered without the customary badges of his profession. A plain suit of black, which he had worn on the preceding night, was all that had been saved from the enraged populace.

A murmur of indignation ran through the court when he appeared; and it was very evident that the citizens of Boston deeply regretted, and severely discountenanced the shameless outrages they had been compelled to witness. Nothing was now heard of the political bitterness and personal abuse that had, of late, mingled too frequently with their public debates; on the contrary, respectful and conciliating attention marked the whole assembly;---and when the court were about to adjourn, Samuel Adams arose and requested all the lovers of genuine freedom to meet at Faneuil Hall, to pass some resolves concerning the indemnification of Hutchinson's losses, and to take proper measures to prevent such excesses in future. A crowded meeting accordingly took place. Without one dissenting voice, they passed resolutions to patrole the streets from sunset to sunrise, and to petition the Legislature that the ruined mansion of the Chief Justice should be repaired at the expense of the state.

The friends of government pretended to look on all this as the artful manoeuvres of men anxious to ward off the effects of their crime. To further their tyrannical design of obtaining military assistance from England, the two governors chose to represent the affair as the spontaneous movement of the whole town, suggested and aided by its best and most influential citizens; and one of Bernard's friends, who had accompanied Somerville to the hall, was impolitic enough to say aloud, "This is a sheer pretence. The legislature approve of the transaction; and would publicly vindicate it, if they dared. All this only serves to show that they have not spirit enough to carry them through."

With a face of flame, James Otis arose and answered, "You assert what no honest man can believe, sir. A policy as wicked as it is shallow, can alone induce our enemies to give currency to such an opinion. Affect a disbelief, if you please; but you well know that all the nerve and sinew of the community were exerted to stem the torrent of popular fury, during the whole of the last fearful night.

"I do not oppose the resolutions in favour of Governor Hutchinson. No one more sincerely regrets the insults offered his person, and the injury done to his property; but I cannot restrain my indignation, when I hear the public virtue, that so promptly recoils from undue violence, stigmatized as time-serving conwardice. Some will mistake my zeal for personal resentment; but those who understand me well, will hear, in my voice, the thundering echo of a free people, who cannot be silenced, and who will not be mocked.

"Let him who dares to say we have not spirit sufficient to resist oppression, look at the fallen cupola, the prostrate pillars, the tattered hangings, and the ruined walls in Friezel Court!

"God forbid that I should thus recapitulate in order to add insult to outrage. I merely wish to prove that the spirit which cannot be controlled by friends, will never be overcome by enemies.

"England may as well dam up the waters of the Nile with bulrushes, as to fetter the step of Freedom, more proud and firm in this youthful land, than where she treads the sequestered glens of Scotland, or couches herself among the magnificent mountains of Switzerland.

"Arbitrary principles, like those against which we now contend, have cost one king of England his life, another his crown,---and they may yet cost a third his most flourishing colonies.

"We are two millions strong,---one fifth fighting men.

"We are bold and vigorous,---and we call no man master.

"To a nation from whom we are proud to derive our origin, we ever were, and we ever will be, ready to yield unforced assistance; but it must not, and it never can be extorted!" exclaimed he, striking his hand, till the hall rung again. Low murmurs of "Treason! treason!" were heard in some parts of the room, and Henry Osborne, fearing his vehemence might betray him into danger, gently touched his arm. "Am I not of age?" said Otis, petulantly; but instantly calming his irritation, he continued,

"Some have sneeringly asked, Are the Americans too poor to pay a few pounds on stamped paper? No! America, thanks to God and herself, is rich. But the right to take ten pounds implies the right to take a thousand; and what must be the wealth that avarice, aided by power, cannot exhaust?

"True, the spectre is now small; but the shadow he casts before him is huge enough to darken all this fair land.

"Others, in sentimental style, talk of the immense debt of gratitude which we owe to England. And what is the amount of this debt? Why, truly, it is the same that the young lion owes to the dam, which has brought it forth on the solitude of the mountain, or left it amid the winds and storms of the desert.

"We plunged into the wave with the magna charta of freedom in our teeth, because the faggot and the torch were behind us. We have waked this new world from its savage lethargy; forests have been prostrated in our path; towns and cities have grown up suddenly as the flowers of the tropics, and the fires in our autumnal woods are scarcely more rapid than the increase of our wealth and population.

"And do we owe all this to the kind succour of our mother country? No! we owe it to the tyranny that drove us from her,---to the pelting storms, which invigorated our helpless infancy.

"But perhaps others will say, we ask no money from your gratitude,---we only demand that you should pay your own expenses.

"And who, I pray, is to judge of their necessity? Why, the king---(and, with all due reverence to his sacred majesty, he understands the real wants of his distant subjects, as little as he does the language of the Choctaws.) Who is to judge concerning the frequency of these demands? The ministry. Who is to judge whether the money is properly expended? The cabinet behind the throne.

"In every instance, those who take are to judge for those who pay; and if this system is suffered to go into operation, we shall have reason to esteem it a great privilege, that rain and dew do not depend upon parliament; otherwise they would soon be taxed and dried.

"But, thanks be to God, there is freedom enough left upon earth to resist such monstrous injustice. The flame of liberty is extinguished in Greece and Rome, but the light of its glowing embers is still bright and strong on the shores of America. Actuated by its sacred influence, we will resist unto death. But we will not countenance anarchy and misrule. The wrongs that a desperate community have heaped upon their enemies, shall be amply and speedily repaired. Still, it may be well for some proud men to remember that a fire is lighted in these Colonies, which one breath of theirs may kindle into such fury, that the blood of all England cannot extinguish it."

A murmur of delight ran through the whole assembly. The impetuous eloquence of his manner swept every thing before it. Loud and reiterated applause began to resound through the building; and shouts of "Otis forever! the friend of the people!" were heard around the doors. Even the friends of the administration had awaited his conclusion in breathless admiration. True, the charm ceased with his voice; and though the involuntary tribute they had paid to talents and integrity could not be recalled, it was immediately overbalanced by threatening words and scornful smiles.

To have surprised an enemy into unwilling praise, must give a delightful consciousness of mental power to the greatest and best of minds; but intellect has a still greater triumph, when genius, born in poverty and nurtured in seclusion, sees wealth and rank, with all their gilded trappings, shrink to their own nothingness, and pay reluctant homage where heaven has set its own high impress of nobility. That Mr. Otis was too much gifted by fortune, to enjoy this last species of exultation, certainly did not soften the asperity of his enemies. It was doubly provoking, that one whose situation in society was so commanding, and whose influence was so extensive, should dare, thus openly, to throw the gauntlet of defiance; and on their way homeward, not a few talked of the necessity of ridding England of so formidable a foe.

Leaving them to "nurse their wrath," we will follow his friend, Henry Osborne. After apologizing to Mr. Otis for his friendly interruption, and giving his most cordial congratulations, he walked home through Friezel Court, thinking it possible some valuable papers might yet be saved.

Many people were still around the doors, intently examining the various articles that lay crushed and scattered in every direction.

Henry passed into the ruined library, and as the gaunt figure of Mr. Townsend met his view, he involuntarily started back. The old miser thrust something into his side pocket, with all the trembling eagerness of dotage; and immediately began to make some inarticulate apologies about a paper he had lost.

"Distressful times these, sir," said he, "when a man's earnings an't safe night nor day. Nothing can be done with money, but to hide it in the bowels of the earth."

"Have you suffered from the recent riot?" inquired Osborne, with a mingled expression of contempt and compassion.

"I can't say I have, sir; but I have had great losses in my day. I am a poor man now; and---"

He was going to add more, but the entrance of Governor Hutchinson and his sister occasioned a sudden pause. The miser changed colour, felt in his pocket to ascertain that the secreted parcel was secure, and said rapidly, "I hope your honour will excuse my being here. I just stepped down to see how things looked."

"My doors always opened upon the inside," replied Hutchinson; "and I could not now close them against any one, if I would."

There was a slight tremor in his voice, and the tears actually crowded into his eyes, when he looked on the wreck of that splendid library, which he had been more than thirty years collecting with all the devotedness of antiquarian zeal. Indeed the scene was melancholy enough. Books were stripped of their covers, manuscripts torn to pieces, the royal portraits rent from top to bottom, and the beautiful, swan-like neck of Mary Stuart was all that remained of the proud line of busts.

"Oh dear," cried Miss Sandford, "you may say what you will, the world never was half as wicked as it is now. Who would think it?" added she, springing forward, and raising something from a heap of rubbish. "Here is my blue silk damask, that I wore to a ball as long ago as the year 25, stuffed into a porridge pot;---the very gown that Mrs. Winthrop hated so much because her husband insisted upon it that I never looked so well in any thing else. What will this world come to?"

The gentlemen gave all the condolence that so important a subject demanded, and the querulous maiden began making fresh researches. At every new instance of wasteful destruction, Mr. Townsend would signify his horror by a sympathizing groan. At first, Miss Sandford felt disposed to ask him to leave the room; but when she looked up and saw his grotesque figure bending over the ruined furniture with such a look of utter distress, she felt strongly inclined to be merry at his expense. Perceiving the gentlemen had passed into the adjoining rooms, she ventured to compromise with dignity, and began, "When I wore this gown, Mr. Townsend, you were young, and used to attend balls, I suppose."

"Oh dear, yes," rejoined the miser. "I have spent a deal of money in them foolish ways; the more is the pity."

"But they say you are very rich now."

"Do they?" said the old man, chuckling. Then putting on a long face, he added, "'T an't true, though. I'm a dreadful poor man. Just enough to keep soul and body together, that 's all."

"I should not think your soul and body would be a very weighty concern, whether together or separate. You are very much out of health?"

"Yes, indeed I am. I have a power of diseases."

"Perhaps you suffer for want of good nursing. It is a pity you had not married when you were young, Mr. Townsend,"

"I don't know, I don't know. Women are dreadful expensive."

"But you are rich, and it is not too late now to find some kind notable woman, for a wife."

"I hope it is, I hope it is. Women are despit expensive. Why, I don't keep a horse, because it costs such a power of money."

"But, Mr. Townsend, a prudent woman---"

"I tell you they are all dreadful costly," exclaimed the persecuted bachelor, pushing his cap hard over his forehead, and making the best of his way out of the house.

After examining the chambers, to ascertain whether any remnant of a wardrobe could be found, Miss Sandford and her brother returned to Mr. Osborne's, where they had consented to take up their temporary abode.

The interview with the miser afforded the girls many a laugh; but when Doctor Byles heard of it, he shook his head significantly, and said, "There is many a true word spoken in jest."