Beginnings of the American Revolution
DURING the seventy years which had elapsed since the overthrow of the Stuart dynasty, the relations between the American colonies and the home government had been 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 manifestly 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 demeanor 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 legislature, 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 government 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 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 a 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-honored 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 received 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 selfgovernment. 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, Governor 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 oyer the navigation of the Savannah River. Jeremiah Dummer, in his famous Defence of the New 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 favor 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 vast sweep of his intelligence. had fitted him for sounder and wider views of the political needs of the time than were taken by most of his contemporaries. In a certain sense he may be said to have belonged to two very different colonies; nor was he unfamiliar with ideas current in the mother country. 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 governorgeneral, 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 great 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 much 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 favor of it — though their advocacy was at present, no doubt, determined mainly by 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 favored 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 remodeling 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 ever 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 behavior, 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 behavior.”
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 all legal documents 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. Poor old 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 remonstrances of the colonies were of no avail. Early in 1765 the Stamp Act was passed. It is worthy of remark that, now that the obnoxious law was fairly enacted, 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. Wo 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 rank as one of the greatest of 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 the legal currency of 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. 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 favor, 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 favored 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.
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 furious 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 derided in England 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 be 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 BowlingGreen, 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 fiercest 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 honorably intended, than that which had lately been made upon the Americans. Of the honest conviction of Grenville and his supporters that they were entirely in the right, and that the Americans were governed by purely sordid and vulgar motives in resisting the Stamp Act, there cannot be the slightest doubt. To refute this gross misconception of the American position, Pitt hastened from a sick-bed to the House of Commons, and delivered those speeches, in which he avowed that he rejoiced in the resistance of the Americans, and declared that, had they submitted tamely to the measures of Grenville, they would have shown themselves only fit to be slaves. He pointed out distinctly that the Americans were upholding those eternal principles of political justice which should be to all Englishmen most dear, and that a victory over the colonies would be of ill-omen for English liberty, whether in the Old World or in the New. Beware, he said, how you persist in this illconsidered policy, “ In such a cause your success would be hazardous. America, if she fell, would fall like the strong man with his arms around the pillars of the Constitution.” There could be no sounder political philosophy than was contained in these burning sentences of Pitt. From all the history of the European world since the later days of the Roman Republic, there is no more important lesson to be learned than this, — that it is impossible for a free people to govern a dependent people despotically without endangering its own freedom. Pitt therefore urged that the Stamp Act should instantly be repealed, and that the reason for the repeal should be explicitly stated to be because the act “ was founded on an erroneous principle.” At the same time he recommended the passage of a Declaratory Act, in which the sovereign authority of Parliament over the colonies should be strongly asserted with respect to everything except direct taxation. Similar views were set forth in the House of Lords, with great learning and ability, by Lord Camden; but he was vehemently opposed by Lord Mansfield, and when the question came to a decision the only peers who supported Camden were Lords Shelburne, Cornwallis, Paulet, and Torrington. The result finally reached was the unconditional repeal of the Stamp Act, and the simultaneous passage of a Declaratory Act, in which the views of Pitt and Camden were ignored, and Parliament asserted its right to make laws binding on the colonies “ in all cases whatsoever.” By the people of London the repeal was received with enthusiastic delight, and Pitt and Conway, as they appeared on the street, were loudly cheered, while Grenville was greeted with a storm of hisses. In America the effect of the news was electric. There were bonfires in every town, while addresses of thanks to the king were voted in all the legislatures. Little heed was paid to the Declaratory Act, which was regarded merely as an artifice for saving the pride of the British government. There was a unanimous outburst of loyalty all over the country, and never did the people seem less in a mood for rebellion than now.
The quarrel had now been made up. On the question of principle, the British had the last word. The government had got out of its dilemma remarkably well, and the plain and obvious course for British statesmanship was not to allow another such direct issue to come up between the colonies and the mother country. To force on another such issue while the memory of this one was fresh in everybody’s mind was sheer madness. To raise the question wantonly, as Charles Townshend did in the course of the very next year, was one of those blunders that are worse than crimes.
In July, 1766, — less than six months after the repeal of the Stamp Act, — the Rockingham ministry fell, and the formation of a new ministry was entrusted to Pitt, the man who best appreciated the value of the American colonies. But the state of Pitt’s health was not such as to warrant his taking upon himself the arduous duties of Prime Minister. He took the great seal, and, accepting the earldom of Chatham, passed into the House of Lords. The Duke of Grafton became Prime Minister, under Pitt’s guidance ; Conway and Lord Shelburne were Secretaries of State, and Camden became Lord Chancellor, — all three of them warmest friends of the Americans, and adopting the extreme American view of the constitutional questions lately at issue ; and along with these was Charles Townshend, the evil spirit of the administration, as Chancellor of the Exchequer. From such a ministry, it might at first sight seem strange that a fresh quarrel with America should have proceeded. But Chatham’s illness soon overpowered him, so that he was kept at home suffering excruciating pain, and could neither guide nor even pay due attention to the proceedings of his colleagues. Of the rest of the ministry, only Conway and Townshend were in the House of Commons, where the real direction of affairs rested; and when Lord Chatham was out of the way, as the Duke of Grafton counted for nothing, the strongest man in the cabinet was unquestionably Townshend. How when an act for raising an American revenue was proposed by Townshend, a prejudice against it was sure to be excited at once, simply because every American knew well what Townshend’s views were. It would have been difficult for such a man even to assume a conciliatory attitude without having his motives suspected; and if the question with Great Britain had been simply that of raising a revenue on statesmanlike principles, it would have been well to entrust the business to some one like Lord Shelburne, in whom the Americans had confidence. In 1767, Townshend ventured to do what in any English ministry of the present day would be impossible. In flat opposition to the policy of Chatham and the rest of his colleagues, trusting in the favor of the king and in his own ability to coax or browbeat the House of Commons, he audaciously brought in a series of new measures for taxing America. “ I expect to be dismissed for my pains,” he said in the House, with flippant defiance; and indeed he came very near it. As soon as he heard what was going on, Chatham mustered up strength enough to go to London and insist upon Townshend’s dismissal. But Lord North was the only person that could be thought of to take Townshend’s place, and Lord North, who never could bear to offend the king, declined the appointment. Before Chatham could devise a way out of his quandary, his malady again laid him prostrate, and Townshend was not only not turned out, but was left practically supreme in the cabinet. The new measures for taxing America were soon passed. In the debates on the Stamp Act, it had been argued that while Parliament had no right to impose a direct tax upon the Americans, it might still properly regulate American trade by port duties. The distinction had been insisted upon by Pitt, and had been virtually acknowledged by the Americans, who had from time to time submitted to acts of Parliament imposing duties upon merchandise imported into the colonies. Nay, more, when charged with inconsistency for submitting to such acts while resisting the Stamp Act, several leading Americans had explicitly adopted the distinction between internal and external taxation, and declared themselves ready to submit to the latter while determined to resist the former. Townshend was now ready, as he declared, to take them at their word. By way of doing so, he began by laughing to scorn the distinction between internal and external taxation, and declaring that Parliament possessed the undoubted right of taxing the Americans without their own consent; but since objections had been raised to a direct tax, he was willing to resort to port duties, — a measure to which the Americans were logically bound to assent. Duties were accordingly imposed on wine, oil, and fruits, if carried directly to America from Spain or Portugal; on glass, paper, lead, and painters’ colors ; and lastly on tea. The revenue to be derived from these duties was to be devoted to paying a fixed salary to the royal governors and to the justices appointed at the king’s pleasure. The Crown was also empowered to create a general civil list in every colony, and to grant salaries and pensions at its arbitrary will. A board of revenue commissioners for the whole country was to be established at Boston, armed with extraordinary powers ; and general writs of assistance were expressly legalized and permitted.
Such was the way in which Townshend proceeded to take the Americans at their word. His course was a distinct warning to the Americans that, if they yielded now, they might expect some new Stamp Act or other measures of direct taxation to follow ; and so it simply invited resistance. That no doubt might be left on this point, the purpose for which the revenue was to be used showed clearly that the object of this legislation was not to regulate trade, but to assert British supremacy over the colonies at the expense of their political freedom. By providing for a civil list in each colony, to be responsible only to the Crown, it aimed at American self-government even a more deadly blow than had been aimed at it by the Stamp Act. It meddled with the “ internal police ” of every colony, and would thus have introduced a most vexatious form of tyranny as soon as it had taken effect. A special act by which the Townshend revenue acts were accompanied still further revealed the temper and purposes of the British government. The colony of New York had been required to provide certain supplies for the regular troops quartered in the city, under command of General Gage ; and the colonial assembly had insisted upon providing these supplies in its own way, and in disregard of special instructions from England. For this offense, Parliament now passed an act suspending the New York assembly from its legislative functions until it should have complied with the instructions regarding the supplies to the army. It need not be said that the precedent involved in this act, if once admitted, would have virtually annulled the legislative independence of every one of the colonial assemblies.
We may perhaps wonder that an English Parliament should have been prevailed on to pass such audacious acts as these, and by large majorities. But we must remember that in those days the English system of representation was so imperfect, and had come to be so overgrown with abuses, that an act of Parliament was by no means sure to represent the average judgment of the English people. The House of Commons was so far under the corrupt influence of the aristocracy, and was so inadequately controlled by popular opinion, that at almost any time it was possible for an eloquent, determined, and unscrupulous minister to carry measures through it such as could never have been carried through any of the reformed Parliaments since 1832. It is not easy, perhaps, to say with confidence what the popular feeling in England was in 1767 with reference to the policy of Charles Townshend. The rural population was much more ignorant than it is to-day, and its political opinions were strongly influenced by the country squires, — a worthy set of men, but not generally distinguished for the flexibility of their minds or the breadth of their views. But as a sample of the most intelligent popular feeling in England at that time, it will probably not be unfair to cite that of the city of London, which was usually found arrayed on the side of free government. No wiser advice was heard in Parliament, on the subject of the New York dispute, than was given by Alderman Beckford, father of the illustrious author of Vathek, when he said, “ Do like the best of physicians, and heal the disease by doing nothing.” On many other important occasions in the course of this unfortunate quarrel, the city of London gave expression to opinions which the king and Parliament would have done well to heed. But even if the House of Commons had reflected popular feeling in 1767 as clearly as it has done since 1832, it is by no means sure that it would have known how to deal successfully with the American question. The problem was really a new one in political history ; and there was no adequate precedent to guide the statesmen in dealing with the peculiar combination of considerations it involved. As far as concerned the relations of Englishmen in England to the Crown and to Parliament, the British Constitution had at last reached a point where it worked quite smoothly. All contingencies likely to arise seemed to have been provided for. But when it came to the relations of Englishmen in America to the Crown and to Parliament, the case was very different. The case had its peculiar conditions, which the British Constitution in skillful hands would no doubt have proved elastic enough to satisfy ; but just at this time the British Constitution happened to be in very unskillful hands, and wholly failed to meet the exigencies of the occasion. The chief difficulty lay in the fact that while on the one hand the American principle of no taxation without representation was unquestionably sound and just, on the other hand the exemption of any part of the British Empire from the jurisdiction of Parliament seemed equivalent to destroying the political unity of the empire. This could not but seem to any English statesman a most lamentable result, and no English statesman felt this more strongly than Lord Chatham.
There were only two possible ways in which the difference could be accommodated. Either the American colonies must elect representatives to the Parliament at Westminster ; or else the right of levying taxes must be left where it already resided, in their own legislative bodies. The first alternative was seriously considered by eminent political thinkers, both in England and America. In England it was favorably regarded by Adam Smith, and in America by Benjamin Franklin and James Otis. In 1774, some of the loyalists in the first Continental Congress recommended such a scheme. In 1778, after the overthrow of Burgoyne, the king himself began to think favorably of such a way out of the quarrel. But this alternative was doubtless from the first quite visionary and impractical. The difficulties in the way of securing anything like equality of representation would probably have been insuperable ; and the difficulty in dividing jurisdiction fairly between the local colonial legislature and the American contingent in the Parliament at Westminster would far have exceeded any of the difficulties that have arisen in the attempt to adjust the relations of the several States to the general government in our Federal Union. Mere distance, too, which even to-day would go far toward rendering such a scheme impracticable, would have been a still more fatal obstacle in the days of Chatham and Townshend. If, even with the vast enlargement of the political horizon which our hundred years’ experience of federalism has effected, the difficulty of such a union still seems so great, we may be sure it would have proved quite insuperable then. The only practicable solution would have been the frank and cordial admission, by the British government, of the essential soundness of the American position that, in accordance with the entire spirit of the English Constitution. the right of levying taxes in America resided only in the colonial legislatures, in which alone could American freemen be adequately represented. Nor was there really any reason to fear that such a step would imperil the unity of the empire. How mistaken this fear was, on the part of English statesmen, is best shown by the fact that, in her liberal and enlightened dealings with her colonies at the present day, England has consistently adopted the very course of action which alone would have conciliated such men as Samuel Adams in the days of the Stamp Act. By pursuing such a policy, the British government has today a genuine hold upon the affections of its pioneers in Australia and New Zealand and Africa. If such a statesman as Gladstone could have dealt freely with the American question during the twelve years following the Peace of Paris, the history of that time need not have been the pitiable story of a blind and obstinate effort to enforce submission to an ill-considered and arbitrary policy on the part of the king and his ministers. The feeling by which the king’s party was guided, in the treatment of the American question, was very much the same as the feeling which lately inspired the Tory criticisms upon Gladstone’s policy in South Africa. Lord Beaconsfield — a man in many respects remarkably like Charles Townshend — bequeathed to his successor a thoroughly unjustifiable quarrel with the Dutch farmers of the Transvaal; and Mr. Gladstone, after examining the case on its merits, had the moral courage to acknowledge that England was wrong, and to concede the demands of the Boers, even after three successive military defeats at their hands. Perhaps no other public act of England in the nineteenth century has done her greater honor than this. But said the Tories, All the world will now laugh at Englishmen, and call them cowards. In order to vindicate the military prestige of England, the true policy would be, forsooth, to prolong the war until the Boers had been once thoroughly defeated, and then grant them self-government. Just as if the whole world did not know, as well as it can possibly know anything, that whatever qualities the English nation may lack, it certainly does not lack courage, or the ability to win victories in a good cause ! All honor to the Christian statesman who dares to leave England’s military prestige to be vindicated by the glorious records of a thousand years, and even in the hour of well-merited defeat sets a higher value on political justice than on a reputation for dealing hard blows ! Such incidents as this are big with hope for the future. They show us what sort of political morality our children’s children may expect to see, when mankind shall have come somewhat nearer toward being truly civilized.
In the eighteenth century, no such exhibition of good sense and good feeling, in the interest of political justice, could have been expected from any European statesman, unless from a Turgot or a Chatham. But Charles Townshend was not even called upon to exercise any such self-control. Had he simply taken Alderman Beckford’s advice, and done nothing, all would have been well ; but his meddling had now put the government into a position which it was ruinous to maintain, but from which it was difficult to retreat. American tradition rightly lays the chief blame for the troubles which brought on the Revolutionary War to George III.; but, in fairness, it is well to remember that he did not suggest Townshend’s measures, though he zealously adopted and cherished them when once propounded. The blame for wantonly throwing the apple of discord belongs to Townshend more than to any one else. After doing this, within three months from the time his bills had passed the House of Commons, Townshend was seized with a fever, and died at the age of fortyone. A man of extraordinary gifts, but without a trace of earnest moral conviction, he had entered upon a splendid career; but his insincere nature, which turned everything into jest, had stamped itself upon his work. He bequeathed to his country nothing but the quarrel which was soon to deprive her of the grandest part of that empire upon which the sun shall never set.
If Townshend’s immediate object in originating these measures was to curry favor with George III., and get the lion’s share in the disposal of the king’s im mense corruption-fund, he had doubtless gone to work in the right way. The king was delighted with Townshend’s measures, and after the sudden death of his minister he made them his own, and staked his whole political career as a monarch upon their success. These measures were the fatal legacy which the brighter political charlatan left to the duller political fanatic. The fierce persistency with which George now sought to force Townshend’s measures upon the Americans partook of the nature of fanaticism, and we shall not understand it unless we bear in mind the state of political parties in England between 1760 and 1784. When George III. came to the throne, in 1760, England had been governed for more than half a century by the great Whig families which had been brought into the foreground by the revolution of 1688. The Tories had been utterly discredited and cast out of political life by reason of their willingness to conspire with the Stuart pretenders in disturbing the peace of the country. Cabinet government, in its modern form, had begun to grow up during the long and prosperous administration of Sir Robert Walpole, who was the first English Prime Minister in the full sense. Under Walpole’s wise and powerful sway, the first two Georges had possessed scarcely more than the shadow of sovereignty. It was the third George’s ambition to become a real king, like the king of France or the king of Spain. From earliest babyhood, his mother had forever been impressing upon him the precept, “ George, be king! ” and this simple lesson had constituted pretty much the whole of his education. Popular tradition regards him as the most ignorant king that ever sat upon the English throne ; and so far as general culture is concerned, this opinion is undoubtedly correct. He used to wonder what people could find to admire in such a wretched driveler as Shakespeare, and he never was capable of understanding any problem which required the slightest trace of imagination or of generalizing power. Nevertheless, the popular American tradition undoubtedly errs in exaggerating his stupidity, and laying too little stress upon the worst side of his character. George III. was not destitute of a certain kind of ability, which often gets highly rated in this not too clear-sighted world. He could see an immediate end very distinctly, and acquired considerable power from the dogged industry with which he pursued it. In an age where some of the noblest English statesmen drank their gallon of strong wine daily, or sat late at the gambling-table, or lived in scarcely hidden concubinage. George III. was decorous in personal habits and pure in domestic relations, and no banker’s clerk in London applied himself to the details of business more industriously than he. He had a genuine talent for administration, and he devoted this talent most assiduously to selfish ends. Scantily endowed with human sympathy, and almost boorishly stiff in his ordinary unstudied manner, he could be smooth as oil whenever he liked. He was an adept in gaining men’s confidence by a show of interest, and securing their aid by dint of fair promises ; and when he found them of no further use, he could turn them adrift with wanton insult. Any one who dared to disagree with him upon even the slightest point of policy he straightway regarded as a natural enemy, and pursued him ever afterward with vindictive hatred. As a natural consequence, he surrounded himself with weak and short-sighted advisers, and toward all statesmen of broad views and independent character he nursed the bitterest rancor. He had little faith in human honor or rectitude. In pursuing an end he was not often deterred by scruples, and as a liar — well, mendacity has usually been part of the royal prerogative in most countries !
Such was the man who, on coming to the throne in 1760, had it for his first and chiefest thought to break down the growing system of cabinet government in England. For the moment circumstances seemed to favor him. The ascendency of the great Whig families was endangered on two sides. On the one hand, the Tory party had outlived that idle, romantic love for the Stuarts upon which it found it impossible to thrive. The Tories began coming to court again, and they gave the new king all the benefit of their superstitious theories of high prerogative and divine right. On the other hand, a strong popular feeling was beginning to grow up against parliamentary government as conducted by the old Whig families. The House of Commons no longer fairly represented the people. Ancient boroughs, which possessed but a handful of population, or, like Old Sarum, had no inhabitants at all, still sent their representatives to Parliament, while great cities of recent growth, such as Birmingham and Leeds, were unrepresented. To a great extent, it was the most progressive parts of the kingdom which were thus excluded from a share in the government, while the rotten boroughs were disposed of by secret lobbying, or even by open bargain and sale. A few Whig families, the heads of which sat in the House of Lords, thus virtually owned a considerable part of the House of Commons ; and, under such circumstances, it was not at all strange that Parliament should sometimes, as in the Wilkes case, array itself in flat opposition to the will of the people. The only wonder is that there were not more such scandals. The party of “ Old Whigs,” numbering in its ranks some of the ablest and most patriotic men in England, was contented with this state of things, upon which it had thrived for two generations, and could not be made to understand the iniquity of it, — any more than an old cut-and-dried American politician in our time can be made to understand the iniquity of the “ spoils system.” Of this party, the Marquis of Rockingham was the political leader, and Edmund Burke was the great representative statesman. In strong opposition to the Old Whig policy there had grown up the party of New Whigs, bent upon bringing about some measure of parliamentary reform, whereby the House of Commons might truly represent the people of Great Britain. In Parliament this party was small in numbers, but weighty in character, and at its head was the greatest Englishman of the eighteenth century, the elder William Pitt, under whose guidance England had won her Indian empire and established her dominion over the seas, while she had driven the French from America, and enabled Frederick the Great to lay the foundations of modern Germany.
Now when George III. came to the throne, he took advantage of this division in the two parties in order to break down the power of the Old Whig families, which so long had ruled the country. To this end he used the revived Tory party with great effect, and bid against the Old Whigs for the rotten boroughs ; and in playing off one set of prejudices and interests against another, he displayed in the highest degree the cunning and craft of a self-seeking politician. His ordinary methods would have aroused the envy of Tammany. While engaged in such work, he had sense enough to see that the party from which he had most to fear was that of the New Whigs, whose scheme of parliamentary reform, if ever successful, would deprive him of the machinery of corruption upon which he relied. Much as he hated the Old Whig families, he hated Pitt and his followers still more heartily. He was perpetually denouncing Pitt as a “ trumpeter of sedition,” and often vehemently declared in public, and in the most offensive manner, that he wished that great man were dead. Such had been his eagerness to cast discredit upon Pitt’s policy that he had utterly lost sight of the imperial interests of England, which indeed his narrow intelligence was incapable of comprehending. One of the first acts of his reign had been to throw away Cuba and the Philippine Islands, which Pitt had just conquered from Spain ; while at the same time, by leaving Prussia in the lurch before the Seven Years’ War had fairly closed, he converted the great Frederick from one of England’s warmest friends into one of her bitterest enemies.
This political attitude of George III. toward the Whigs in general, and toward Pitt in particular, explains the fierce obstinacy with which he took up and carried on Townshend’s quarrel with the American colonies. For if the American position, that there should be no taxation without representation, were once to be granted, then it would straightway become necessary to admit the principles of parliamentary reform. The same principle that applied to such commonwealths as Massachusetts and Virginia would be forthwith applied to such towns as Birmingham and Leeds. The system of rotten boroughs would be swept away ; the chief engine of kingly corruption would thus be destroyed ; a reformed House of Commons, with the people at its back, would curb forever the pretensions of the Crown; and the detested Lord Chatham would become the real ruler of a renovated England, in which George III. would be a personage of very little political importance.
In these considerations we find the explanation of the acts of George III. which brought on the American Revolution, and we see why it is historically correct to regard him as the person chiefly responsible for the quarrel. The obstinacy with which he refused to listen to a word of reason from America was largely due to the exigencies of the political situation in which he found himself. For him, as well as for the colonies, it was a desperate struggle for political existence. He was glad to force on the issue in America rather than in England, because it would be comparatively easy to enlist British local feeling against the Americans as a remote set of “ rebels, ” with whom Englishmen had no interests in common, and thus obscure the real nature of the issue. Herein he showed himself a cunning politician, though an ignoble statesman. By playing off; against each other the two sections of the Whig party, he continued for a while to carry his point; and had he succeeded in overcoming the American resistance, and calling into England a well-trained army of victorious mercenaries, the political quarrel there could hardly have failed to develop into a civil war. A new rebellion would perhaps have overthrown George III. as James II. had been overthrown a century before. As it was, the victory of the Americans put an end to the personal government of the king in 1784, so quietly that the people scarcely realized the change. A peaceful election accomplished what otherwise could hardly have been effected without bloodshed. So while George III. lost the fairest portion of the British Empire, it was the sturdy Americans who, fighting the battle of freedom at once for the Old World and for the New, ended by overwhelming all his paltry schemes for personal aggrandizement in hopeless ruin, leaving him for posterity to contemplate as one of the most instructive examples of short-sighted folly that modern history affords.