First Crisis of the American Revolution
TOWNSHEND was succeeded in the exchequer by Lord North, eldest son of the Earl of Guildford, a young man of sound judgment, wide knowledge, and rare sweetness of temper, but wholly lacking in sympathy with popular government. As leader of the House of Commons, he was sufficiently able in debate to hold his ground against the fiercest attacks of Burke and Fox, but he had no strength of will. His lazy good-nature and his Tory principles made him a great favorite with the king, who, through his influence over Lord North, began now to exercise the power of a cabinet minister, and to take a more important part than hitherto in the direction of affairs. Soon after North entered the cabinet, colonial affairs were taken from Lord Shelburne and put in charge of Lord Hillsborough, a man after the king’s own heart. Conway was dismissed from the cabinet, and his place was taken by Lord Weymouth, who had voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act. The Earl of Sandwich, who never spoke of the Americans but in terms of abuse, was at the same time made postmaster-general; and in the following year Lord Chatham resigned the privy seal.
While the ministry, by these important changes, was becoming more and more hostile to the just claims of the Americans, those claims were powerfully urged in America, both in popular literature and in well-considered state papers. John Dickinson, at once a devoted friend of England and an ardent American patriot, published his celebrated Farmer’s Letters, which were greatly admired in both countries for their temperateness of tone and elegance of expression. In these letters, Dickinson held a position quite similar to that occupied by Burke. Recognizing that the constitutional relations of the colonies to the mother country had always been extremely vague and ill-defined, he urged that the same state of things should be kept up forever through a genuine English feeling of compromise, which should refrain from pushing any abstract theory of sovereignty to its extreme logical conclusions. At the same time, he declared that the Townshend revenue acts were “ a most dangerous innovation ” upon the liberties of the people, and significantly hinted that, should the ministry persevere in its tyrannical policy, “ English history affords examples of resistance by force.” While Dickinson was publishing these letters, Samuel Adams wrote for the Massachusetts assembly a series of addresses to the ministry, a petition to the king, and a circular letter to the assemblies of the other colonies. In these very able state papers, Adams declared that a proper representation of American interests in the British Parliament was impracticable, and that, in accordance with the spirit of the English Constitution, no taxes could be levied in America except by the colonial legislatures. He argued that the Townshend acts were unconstitutional, and asked that they should be repealed, and that the colonies should resume the position which they had occupied before the beginning of the present troubles. The petition to the king was couched in beautiful and touching language, but the author seems to have understood very well how little effect it was likely to produce. His daughter, Mrs. Wells, used to tell how one evening, as her father had just finished writing this petition, and had taken up his hat to go out, she observed that the paper would soon be touched by the royal hand. “ More likely, my dear,” he replied, “ it will be spurned by the royal foot! ” Adams rightly expected much more from the circular letter to the other colonies, in which he invited them to coöperate with Massachusetts in resisting the Townshend acts, and in petitioning for their repeal. The assembly, having adopted all these papers by a large majority, was forthwith prorogued by Governor Bernard, who, in a violent speech, called them demagogues to whose happiness “ everlasting contention was necessary.” But the work was done. The circular letter brought encouraging replies from the other colonies. The condemnation of the Townshend acts was unanimous, and leading merchants in most of the towns entered into agreements not to import any more English goods until the acts should be repealed. Ladies formed associations, under the name of Daughters of Liberty, pledging themselves to wear homespun clothes and to abstain from drinking tea. The feeling of the country was thus plainly enough expressed, but nowhere as yet was there any riot or disorder, and no one as yet, except, perhaps, Samuel Adams, had begun to think of a political separation from England. Even he did not look upon such a course as desirable, but the treatment of his remonstrances by the king and the ministry soon led him to change his opinion.
The petition of the Massachusetts assembly was received by the king with silent contempt, but the circular letter threw him into a rage. In cabinet meeting, it was pronounced to be little better than an overt act of rebellion, and the ministers were encouraged in this opinion by letters from Bernard, who represented the whole affair as the wicked attempt of a few vile demagogues to sow the seeds of dissension broadcast over the continent. We have before had occasion to observe the extreme jealousy with which the Crown had always regarded any attempt at concerted action among the colonies which did not originate with itself. But here was an attempt at concerted action in flagrant opposition to the royal will. Lord Hillsborough instructed Bernard to command the assembly to rescind their circular letter, and, in case of their refusal, to send them home about their business. This was to be repeated year after year, so that, until Massachusetts should see fit to declare herself humbled and penitent, she must go without a legislature. At the same time, Hillsborough ordered the assemblies in all the other colonies to treat the Massachusetts circular with contempt, — and this, too, under penalty of instant dissolution. From a constitutional point of view, these arrogant orders deserve to be ranked among the curiosities of political history. They serve to mark the rapid progress the ministry was making in the art of misgovernment. A year before, Townshend had suspended the New York legislature by an act of Parliament. Now, a Secretary of State, by a simple royal order, threatened to suspend all the legislative bodies of America unless they should vote according to his dictation.
When Hillsborough’s orders were laid before the Massachusetts assembly, they were greeted with scorn. “ We are asked to rescind,” said Otis. “ Let Britain rescind her measures, or the colonies are lost to her forever.” Nevertheless, it was only after nine days of careful and temperate discussion that the question was put, when the assembly decided, by a vote of ninety-two to seventeen, that it would not rescind its circular letter. Bernard immediately dissolved the assembly, but its vote was hailed with delight throughout the country, and the “ Illustrious Ninety-Two ” became the favorite toast on all convivial occasions. Nor were the other colonial assemblies at all readier than that of Massachusetts to yield to the Secretary’s dictation. They all expressed the most cordial sympathy with the recommendations of the circular letter ; and in several instances they were dissolved by the governors, according to Hillsborough’s instructions.
While these fruitless remonstrances against the Townshend acts had been preparing, the commissioners of the customs, in enforcing the acts, had taken no pains to avoid irritating the people. In the spring of 1768, the fifty-gun frigate Romney had been sent to mount guard in the harbor of Boston, and while she lay there several of the citizens were seized and impressed as seamen, — a lawless practice long afterward common in the British navy, but already stigmatized as barbarous by public opinion in America. As long ago as 1747, when the relations between the colonies and the home government were quite harmonious, resistance to the press-gang had resulted in a riot in the streets of Boston. Now while the town was very indignant over this lawless kidnapping of its citizens, on the 10th of dune, 1768, John Hancock’s sloop Liberty was seized at the wharf by a boat’s crew from the Romney, for an alleged violation of the revenue laws, though without official warrant. Insults and recriminations ensued between the officers and the citizens assembled on the wharf, until after a while the excitement grew into a mild form of riot, in which a few windows were broken, some of the officers were pelted, and finally a pleasure-boat, belonging to the collector, was pulled up out of the water, carried to the Common, and burned there, when Hancock and Adams, arriving upon the scene, put a step to the commotion. A few days afterward, a town meeting was held in Faneuil Hall; but as the crowd was too great to be contained in the building, it was adjourned to the Old South Meeting-House, where Otis addressed the people from the pulpit. A petition to the governor was prepared, in which it was set forth that the impressment of peaceful citizens was an illegal act, and that the state of the town was as if war had been declared against it; and the governor was requested to order the instant removal of the frigate from the harbor. A committee of twenty-one leading citizens was appointed to deliver this petition to the governor at his house in Jamaica Plain. In his letters to the Secretary of State, Bernard professed to live in constant fear of assassination, and was always begging for troops to protect him against the incendiary and blackguard mob of Boston. Yet as he looked down the beautiful road from his open window, that summer afternoon, what he saw was not a ragged mob, armed with knives and bludgeons, shouting “ Liberty, or death! ” and bearing the head of a revenue collector aloft on the point of a pike, but a quiet pro-, cession of eleven chaises, from which there alighted at his door twenty-one gentlemen, as sedate and stately in demeanor as those old Roman senators at whom the Gaulish chief so marveled. There followed a very affable interview, during which wine was passed around. The next day the governor’s answer was read in town meeting, declining to remove the frigate, but promising that in future there should be no impressment of Massachusetts citizens ; and with this compromise the wrath of the people was for a moment assuaged.
Affairs of this sort, reported with gross exaggeration by the governor and revenue commissioners to the ministry, produced in England the impression that Boston was a lawless and riotous town, full of cutthroats and blacklegs, whose violence could be held in check only by martial law. Of all the misconceptions of America by England which brought about the American Revolution, perhaps this notion of the turbulence of Boston was the most ludicrous. From its first foundation down to the present day, Boston has been one of the most quiet and orderly towns in the world, and its annals are stained with fewer crimes, whether against person or property, than those of any other large city known to history. During the ten years of excitement which preceded the War of Independence there was one disgraceful riot in Boston, — that in which Hutchinson’s house was sacked ; but in all this time not a drop of blood was shed by the people, nor was anybody’s life for a moment in danger at their hands. The episode of the sloop Liberty, as here described, was a fair sample of the disorders which occurred at Boston at periods of extreme excitement; and in any European town in the eighteenth century it would hardly have been deemed worthy of mention.
Even before the affair of the Liberty, the government had made up its mind to send troops to Boston, in order to overawe the popular party and show them that the king and Lord Hillsborough were in earnest. The news of the Liberty affair, however, served to revive any hesitation that might hitherto have been felt. Vengeance was denounced against the insolent town of Boston. The most seditious spirits, such as Otis and Adams, must be made an example of, and thus the others might be frightened into submission. With such intent, Lord Hillsborough sent over to inquire “ if any person had committed any acts which, under the statutes of Henry VIII. against treason committed abroad, might justify their being brought to England for trial.” This raking-up of an obsolete statute, enacted at one of the worst periods of English history, and before England had any colonies at all, served only to enrage the Americans. But besides all this, the town meeting, that pernicious nursery of sedition, must be put down or overawed; and in pursuance of this scheme, two regiments of soldiers and a frigate were to be sent over to Boston at the ministry’s earliest convenience. To make an example of Boston, it was thought, would have a wholesome effect upon the temper of the whole country.
It was now, in the summer of 1768, that Samuel Adams made up his mind that there was no hope of redress from the British government, and that the only remedy was to be found in the assertion of political independence by the American colonies. The courteous petitions and temperate remonstrances of the American assemblies had been met, not by rational arguments, but by insulting and illegal royal orders ; and now at last an army was on the way from England to enforce the tyrannical measures of government, and to terrify the people into submission. Accordingly, Adams came to the conclusion that the only proper course for the colonies was to declare themselves independent of Great Britain, to unite together in a permanent confederation, and to invite European alliances. We have his own words for the fact that from this moment until the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, he consecrated all his energies, with burning enthusiasm, upon the attainment of that great object. Yet in 1768 no one knew better than Samuel Adams that the time had not yet come when his bold policy could be safely adopted, and that any premature attempt at armed resistance on the part of Massachusetts might prove fatal. At this time, no other American statesman had thought the matter out so far as to reach Adams’s conclusions. No American had as yet felt any desire to terminate the political connection with England. Even those who most thoroughly condemned the measures of the government did not consider the case hopeless, but believed that in one way or another a peaceful solution was still attainable. For a long time this attitude was sincerely and patiently maintained. Even Washington, when he came to take command of the army at Cambridge, after the battle of Bunker Hill, had not made up his mind that the object of the war was to be the independence of the colonies. In the same month of July, 1775, Jefferson said expressly, “ We have not raised armies with designs of separating from Great Britain and establishing independent states. Necessity has not yet driven us into that desperate measure.” The Declaration of Independence was at last brought about only with difficulty and after prolonged discussion. Our great - great - grandfathers looked upon themselves as Englishmen, and felt proud of their connection with England. Their determination to resist arbitrary measures was at first in no way associated in their minds with disaffection toward the mother country. Besides this, the task of effecting a separation by military measures seemed to most persons quite hopeless. It was not until after Bunker Hill had shown that American soldiers were a match for British soldiers in the field, and after Washington’s capture of Boston had shown that the enemy really could be dislodged from a whole section of the country, that the more hopeful patriots began to feel confident of the ultimate success of a war for independence. It is hard for us now to realize how terrible the difficulties seemed to the men who surmounted them. Throughout the war, beside the Tories who openly sympathized with the enemy, there were many worthy people who thought we were “ going too far,” and who magnified our losses and depreciated our gains, — quite like the people who, in the War of Secession, used to be called “croakers.” The depression of even the boldest, after such defeats as that of Long Island, was dreadful. How inadequate was the general sense of our real strength, how dim the general comprehension of the great events that were happening, may best be seen in the satirical writings of some of the loyalists. At the time of the French alliance, there were many who predicted that the result of this step would be to undo the work of the Seven Years’ War, to reinstate the French in America with full control over the thirteen colonies, and to establish despotism and popery all over the continent. A satirical pamphlet, published in 1779, just ten years before the Bastile was torn down in Paris, drew an imaginary picture of a bastile which ten years later was to stand in New York, and, with still further license of fantasy, portrayed Samuel Adams in the garb of a Dominican friar. Such nonsense is of course no index to the sentiments or the beliefs of the patriotic American people, but the mere fact that it could occur to anybody shows how hard it was for people to realize how thoroughly competent America was to take care of herself. The more we reflect upon the slowness with which the country came to the full consciousness of its power and importance, the more fully we bring ourselves to realize how unwilling America was to tear herself asunder from England, and how the Declaration of Independence was only at last resorted to when it had become evident that no other course was compatible with the preservation of our self-respect ; the more thoroughly we realize, the nearer we shall come toward duly estimating the fact that in 1768, seven years before the battle of Lexington, the master mind of Samuel Adams had fully grasped the conception of a confederation of American states independent of British control. The clearness with which he saw this, as the inevitable outcome of the political conditions of the time, gave to his views and his acts, in every emergency that arose, a commanding influence throughout the land that was simply incalculable.
In September, 1768, it was announced in Boston that the troops were on their way, and would soon be landed. There happened to be a legal obstacle, unforeseen by the ministry, to their being quartered in the city. In accordance with the general act of Parliament for quartering troops, the regular barracks at Castle William in the harbor would have to be filled before the town could be required to find quarters for any troops. Another clause of the act provided that if any military officer should take upon himself to quarter soldiers in any of his Majesty’s dominions otherwise than as allowed by the act, he should be straightway dismissed the service. At the news that the troops were about to arrive, the governor was asked to convene the assembly, that it might be decided how to receive them. On Bernard’s refusal, the selectmen of Boston issued a circular, inviting all the towns of Massachusetts to send delegates to a general convention, in order that deliberate action might be taken upon this important matter. In answer to the circular, delegates from ninety-six towns assembled in Faneuil Hall, and, laughing at the governor’s order to “ disperse,” proceeded to show how, in the exercise of the undoubted right of public meeting, the colony could virtually legislate for itself, in the absence of its regular legislature. The convention, finding that nothing was necessary for Boston to do but insist upon strict compliance with the letter of the law, adjourned. In October, two regiments arrived, and were allowed to land without opposition, but no lodging was provided for them. Bernard, in fear of an affray, had gone out into the country ; but nothing could have been further from the thoughts of the people. The commander, Colonel Dalrymple, requested shelter for his men, but was told that he must quarter them in the barracks at Castle William. As the night was frosty, however, the Sons of Liberty allowed them to sleep in Faneuil Hall. Next day, the governor, finding everything quiet, came back, and heard Dalrymple’s complaint. But in vain did he apply in turn to the council, to the selectmen, and to the justices of the peace, to grant quarters for the troops ; he was told that the law was plain, and that the Castle must first be occupied. The governor then tried to get possession of an old dilapidated building which belonged to the colony ; but the tenants had taken legal advice, and told him to turn them out if he dared. Nothing could be more provoking. General Gage was obliged to come on from his headquarters at New York ; but not even he, the commander-in-chief of his Majesty’s forces in America, could quarter the troops in violation of the statute without running the risk of being cashiered, on conviction before two justices of the peace. So the soldiers stayed at night in tents on the Common, until the weather grew so cold that Dalrymple was obliged to hire some buildings for them at exorbitant rates, and at the expense of the Crown. By way of insult to the people, two cannon were planted on King Street, with their muzzles pointing toward the Town House. But as the troops could do nothing without a requisition from a civil magistrate, and as the usual strict decorum was preserved throughout the town, there was nothing in the world for them to do. In case of an insurrection, the force was too small to be of any use; and so far as the policy of overawing the town was concerned, no doubt the soldiers were more afraid of the people than the people of the soldiers.
No sooner were the soldiers thus established in Boston than Samuel Adams published a series of letters signed “ Vindex,” in which he argued that to keep up “ a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, without the consent of Parliament, was against the law ; that the consent of Parliament necessarily implied the consent of the people,, who were always present in Parliament, either by themselves or by their representatives ; and that the Americans, as they were not and could not be represented in Parliament, were therefore suffering under military tyranny over which they were allowed to exercise no control.” The only notice taken of this argument by Bernard and Hillsborough was an attempt to collect evidence upon the strength of which its author might be indicted for treason, and sent over to London to be tried; but Adams had been so wary in all his proceedings that it was impossible to charge him with any technical offense, and to have seized him otherwise than by due process of law would have been to precipitate rebellion in Massachusetts. In Parliament, the proposal to extend the act of Henry VIII. to America was bitterly opposed by Burke, Barré, Pownall, and Dowdeswell, and even by Grenville, who characterized it as sheer madness; but the measure was carried, nevertheless. Burke further maintained, in an eloquent speech, that the royal order requiring Massachusetts to rescind her circular letter was absolutely unconstitutional ; and here again Grenville agreed with him. The attention of Parliament, during the spring of 1769, was occupied chiefly with American affairs. Pownall moved that the Townshend acts should be repealed, and in this he was earnestly seconded by a petition of the London merchants ; for the non-importation policy of Americans had begun to bear hard upon business in London. After much debate, Lord North proposed a compromise, repealing all the Townshend acts except that which laid duty on tea. The more clear-headed members saw that such a compromise, which yielded nothing in the matter of principle, would do no good. Beckford pointed out the fact that the tea-duty did not bring in £300 to the government; and Lord Beauchamp pertinently asked whether it were worth while, for such a paltry revenue, to make enemies of three millions of people. Grafton, Camden, Conway, Burke, Barré, and Dowdeswell wished to have the tea-duty repealed also, and the whole principle of parliamentary taxation given up; and Lord North agreed with them in his secret heart, but could not bring himself to act contrary to the king’s wishes. “ America must fear you before she can love you,” said Lord North. . . . “ I am against repealing the last act of Parliament, securing to us a revenue out of America; I will never think of repealing it until I see America prostrate at my feet.” “ To effect this,” said Barré, “ is not so easy as some imagine ; the Americans are a numerous, a respectable, a hardy, a free people. But were it ever so easy, does any friend to his country really wish to see America thus humbled ? In such a situation, she would serve only as a monument of your arrogance and your folly. For my part, the America I wish to see is America increasing and prosperous, raising her hand in graceful dignity, with freedom and firmness asserting her rights at your bar, vindicating her liberties, pleading her services, and conscious of her merit. This is the America that will have spirit to fight your battles, to sustain you when hard pushed by some prevailing foe, and by her industry will be able to consume your manufactures, support your trade, and pour wealth and splendor into your towns and cities. If we do not change our conduct towards her, America will be torn from our side. . . . Unless you repeal this law, you run the risk of losing America.” But the ministers were deaf to Barré’s sweet reasonableness and graceful eloquence. “ We shall grant nothing to the Americans,” said Lord Hillsborough, “ except what they may ask with a halter round their necks.” “ They are a race of convicted felons,” echoed poor old Dr. Johnson, — who had probably been reading Moll Flanders, — “ and they ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging.” As the result of the discussion, Lord North’s so-called compromise was adopted, and a circular was sent to America, promising that all the obnoxious acts, except the tea-duty, should be repealed. At the same time, Bernard was recalled from Massachusetts to appease the indignation of the people, and made a baronet to show that the ministry approved of his conduct as governor. He was succeeded by Thomas Hutchinson, a man of great learning and brilliant talent, whose History of Massachusetts Bay entitles him to a high rank among the worthies of early American literature. As a native of Massachusetts, it was supposed by Lord North that he would be less likely to irritate the people than his arrogant and quarrelsome predecessor. But in this the government turned out to be mistaken. As to Hutchinson’s sincere patriotism there can now be no doubt whatever. There was something pathetic in the intensity of his love for New England, which to him was the goodliest of all lands, the paradise of this world. He had been greatly admired for his learning and accomplishments, and the people of Massachusetts had elected him to one office after another, and shown him every mark of esteem until the evil days of the Stamp Act. It then appeared that he was a Tory on principle, and a thorough believer in the British doctrine of the absolute supremacy of Parliament, and popular feeling instantly turned against him. He was called a turncoat and traitor, and a thankless dog withal, whose ruling passion was avarice. His conduct and his motives were alike misjudged. He had tried to dissuade the Grenville ministry from passing the Stamp Act; but when once the obnoxious measure had become law, he thought it his duty to enforce it like other laws. For this he was charged with being recreant to his own convictions, and in the shameful riot of August, 1765, he was the worst sufferer. No public man in America has ever been the object of more virulent hatred. None has been more grossly misrepresented by historians. His appointment as governor in 1769, however well meant, was accordingly a blunder of the first magnitude.
While these things were going on, a strong word of sympathy came from Virginia. When Hillsborough made up his mind to browbeat Boston, he thought it worth while to cajole the Virginians, and try to win them from the cause which Massachusetts was so boldly defending. So Botetourt, a most genial and conciliatory man, was sent over to be governor of Virginia, to beguile the people with his affable maimer and sweet discourse. But between a quarrelsome Bernard and a gracious Botetourt the practical difference was little, where grave questions of constitutional right were involved. In May, 1769, the Virginia legislature assembled at Williamsburgh. Among its members were Patrick Henry, Washington, and Jefferson. The assembly condemned the Townshend acts, asserted that the people of Virginia could be taxed only by their own representatives, declared that it was both lawful and expedient for all the colonies to join in a protest against any violation of the rights of Americans, and especially warned the king of the dangers that might ensue if any American citizen were to be carried beyond sea for trial. Finally, it sent copies of these resolutions to all the other colonial assemblies, inviting their concurrence. At this point Lord Botetourt dissolved the assembly; but the members straightway met again in convention at the Apollo tavern, and adopted a series of resolutions prepared by Washington, in which they pledged themselves to continue the policy of nonimportation until all the obnoxious acts of 1767 should be repealed. These resolutions were adopted by all the Southern colonies.
All through the year 1769, the British troops remained quartered in Boston at the king’s expense. According to Samuel Adams, their principal employment seemed to be to parade in the streets, and by their merry-andrew tricks to excite the contempt of the women and children. But the soldiers did much to annoy the people, to whom their very presence was an insult. They led brawling, riotous lives, and made the quiet streets hideous by night with their drunken shouts. Scores of loose women, who had followed the regiments across the ocean, came to scandalize the town for a while, and then to encumber the almshouse. On Sundays the soldiers would race horses on the Common, or would play Yankee Doodle just outside the church-doors during the services. Now and then oaths, or fisticuffs, or blows with sticks, were exchanged between soldiers and citizens, and once or twice a more serious affair occurred. One evening in September, a dastardly assault was made upon James Otis, in the British Coffee House, by one Robinson, a commissioner of customs, assisted by half a dozen army officers. It reminds one of the assault upon Charles Sumner by Brooks of South Carolina, shortly before the War of Secession, Otis was savagely beaten, and received a blow on the head with a sword, from the effects of which he never recovered, but finally lost his reason. The popular wrath at this outrage was intense, but there was no disturbance. Otis brought suit against Robinson, and recovered £2000 in damages, but refused to accept a penny of it when Robinson confessed himself in the wrong, and humbly asked pardon for his irreparable offense. On the 22d of February, 1770, an informer named Richardson, being pelted by a party of schoolboys, withdrew into his house, opened a window, and fired at random into the crowd, killing one little boy and severely wounding another. He was found guilty of murder, but was pardoned. At last, on the 2d of March, an angry quarrel occurred between a party of soldiers and some of the workmen at a ropewalk, and for two or three days there was considerable excitement in the town, and people talked together, standing about the streets in groups ; but Hutchinson did not even take the precaution of ordering the soldiers to be kept within their barracks, for he did not believe that the people intended a riot, nor that the troops would dare to fire on the citizens without express permission from himself. On the evening of March 5th, at about eight o’clock, a large crowd collected near the barracks, on Brattle Street, and from bandying abusive epithets with the soldiers began pelting them with snow-halls and striking at them with sticks, while the soldiers now and then dealt blows with their muskets. Presently, Captain Goldfinch, coming along, ordered the men into their barracks for the night, and thus stopped the affray. But meanwhile some one had got into the Old Brick MeetingHouse, opposite the head of King Street, and rung the bell; and this, being interpreted as an alarm of fire, brought out many people into the moonlit streets. It was now a little past nine. The sentinel who was pacing in front of the Custom House had a few minutes before knocked down a barber’s boy for calling names at the captain, as he went up to stop the affray on Brattle Street. The crowd in King Street now began to pelt the sentinel, and some shouted, “ Kill him ! ’ when Captain Preston and seven privates from the twenty - ninth regiment crossed the street to his aid : and thus the file of nine soldiers confronted an angry crowd of fifty or sixty unarmed men, who pressed up to the very muzzles of their guns, threw snow at their faces, and dared them to fire. All at once, but quite unexpectedly and probably without orders from Preston, seven of the leveled pieces were discharged, instantly killing four men and wounding seven others, of whom two afterwards died. Immediately the alarm was spread through the town, and it might have gone hard with the soldiery, had not Hutchinson presently arrived on the scene, and quieted the people by ordering the arrest of Preston and his men. Next morning the council advised the removal of one of the regiments, but in the afternoon an immense town meeting, called at Faneuil Hall, adjourned to the Old South Meeting-House ; and as they passed by the Town House, the governor, looking out upon their march, judged “ their spirit to be as high as was the spirit of their ancestors when they imprisoned Andros, while they were four times as numerous.” All the way from the church to the Town House the street was crowded with the people, while a committee, headed by Samuel Adams, waited upon the governor, and received his assurance that one regiment should be removed. As the committee came out from the Town House, to carry the governor’s reply to the meeting in the church, the people pressed back on either side to let them pass; and Adams, leading the way with uncovered head through the lane thus formed, and bowing first to one side and then to the other, passed along the watch-word, “ Both regiments, or none ! ” When, in the church, the question was put to vote, three thousand voices shouted, “ Both regiments, or none ! ” and armed with this ultimatum the committee returned to the Town House, where the governor was seated with Colonel Dalrymple and the members of the council. Then Adams, in quiet but earnest tones, stretching forth his arm and pointing his finger at Hutchinson, said that if as royal governor of the province he had the power to remove one regiment he had equally the power to remove both, that the voice of three thousand freemen demanded that all soldiery be forthwith removed from the town, and that if he failed to heed their just demand, he did so at his peril. “ I observed his knees to tremble,” said the old hero afterward, “ I saw his face grow pale, — and I enjoyed the sight! ” Before sundown the order had gone forth for the removal of both regiments to Castle William, and not until then did the meeting in the church break up. From that day forth the fourteenth and twenty-ninth regiments were known in Parliament as “the Sam Adams regiments.”
Such was the famous Boston Massacre. All the mildness of New England civilization is brought most strikingly before ns in that truculent phrase. The careless shooting of half a dozen townsmen is described by a word which historians apply to such events as Cawnpore or the Sicilian Vespers. Lord Sherbrooke, better known as Robert Lowe, declared a few years ago, in a speech on the uses of a classical education, that the battle of Marathon was really of less account than a modern colliery explosion, because only 192 of the Greek army lost their lives ! From such a point of view, one might argue that the Boston Massacre was an event of far less importance than an ordinary free fight among Colorado gamblers. It is needless to say that this is not the historical point of view. Historical events are not to be measured with a foot-rule. This story of the Boston Massacre is a very trite one, but it has its lessons. It furnishes an instructive illustration of the high state of civilization reached by the people among whom it happened, — by the oppressors as well as those whom it was sought to oppress. The quartering of troops in a peaceful town is something that has in most ages been regarded with horror. Under the senatorial government of Rome, it used to be said that the quartering of troops, even upon a friendly province and for the purpose of protecting it, was a visitation only less to be dreaded than an inroad of hostile barbarians. When we reflect that the British regiments were encamped in Boston during seventeen months, among a population to whom they were thoroughly odious, the fact that only half a dozen persons lost their lives, while otherwise no really grave crimes seem to have been committed, is a fact quite as creditable to the discipline of the soldiers as to the moderation of the people. In most ages and countries, the shooting of half a dozen citizens under such circumstances would either have produced but a slight impression, or, on the other hand, would perhaps have resulted on the spot in a wholesale slaughter of the offending soldiers. The fact that so profound an impression was made in Boston and throughout the country, while at the same time the guilty parties were left to be dealt with in the ordinary course of law, is a striking commentary upon the general peacefulness and decorum of American life, and it shows how high and severe was the standard by which our forefathers judged all lawless proceedings. And here it may not be irrelevant to add that, throughout the constitutional struggles which led to the Revolution, the American standard of political right and wrong was so high that contemporary European politicians found it sometimes difficult to understand it. And for a like reason, even the most fair - minded English historians sometimes fail to see why the Americans should have been so quick to take offense at acts of the British government which doubtless were not meant to be oppressive. If George III. had been a bloodthirsty despot, like Philip II. of Spain ; if General Gage had been another Duke of Alva; if American citizens by the hundred had been burned alive or broken on the wheel in New York and Boston; if whole towns had been given up to the cruelty and lust of a beastly soldiery, then no one — not even Dr. Johnson — would have found it hard to understand why the Americans should have exhibited a rebellious temper. But it is one signal characteristic of the progress of political civilization that the part played by sheer brute force in a barbarous age is fully equaled by the part played by a mere covert threat of injustice in a more advanced age. The effect which a blow in the face would produce upon a barbarian will be wrought upon a civilized man by an assertion of some far-reaching legal principle, which only in a subtle and ultimate analysis includes the possibility of a blow in the face. From this point of view, the quickness with which such acts as those of Charles Townshend were comprehended in their remotest bearings is the most striking proof one could wish of the extremely high grade of political culture which our forefathers had reached through their system of perpetual free discussion in town meeting. They had, moreover, reached a point where any manifestation of simple brute force in the course of a political dispute was exceedingly disgusting and shocking to them. To their minds, the careless slaughter of six citizens conveyed just as much meaning as a St. Bartholomew massacre would have conveyed to the minds of men in a lower stage of political development. It was not strange, therefore, that Samuel Adams and his friends should have been ready to make the Boston Massacre the occasion of a moral lesson to their contemporaries. As far as the poor soldiers were concerned, the most significant fact is that there was no attempt to wreak a paltry vengeance on them. Brought to trial on a charge of murder, after a judicious delay of seven months, they were ably defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincy, and all were acquitted save two, who were convicted of manslaughter, and let off with slight punishment. There were some hotheads who grumbled at the verdict, but the people of Boston generally acquiesced in it, as they showed by immediately choosing John Adams for their representative in the assembly, — a fact which Mr. Lecky calls very remarkable. Such an event as the Boston Massacre could not fail for a long time to point a moral among a people so unused to violence and bloodshed. One of the earliest of American engravers, Paul Revere, — an ardent patriot, from whom we shall soon hear again, — published a quaint colored engraving of the scene in King Street, which for a long time was widely circulated, though it has now become very scarce. At the same time, it was decided that the fatal Fifth of March should be solemnly commemorated each year by an oration to be delivered in the Old South Meeting-House ; and this custom was kept up until the recognition of American independence in 1783, when the day for the oration was changed to the Fourth of July.
Five weeks before the Boston Massacre the Duke of Grafton had resigned, and Lord North had become Prime Minister of England. The colonies were kept under Hillsborough, and that great friend of arbitrary government, Lord Thurlow, as solicitor - general, became the king’s chief legal adviser. George III., was now, to all intents and purposes, his own prime minister, and remained so until after the overthrow at Yorktown. The colonial policy of the government soon became more vexatious than ever. The promised repeal of all the Townshend acts, except the act imposing the tea-duty, was carried through Parliament in April, and its first effect in America, as Lord North had foreseen, was to weaken the spirit of opposition, and to divide the more complaisant colonies from those that were most staunch. The policy of non - importation had pressed with special severity upon the commerce of New York, and the merchants there complained that these fireeating planters of Virginia and farmers of Massachusetts were growing rich at the expense of their neighbors. In July, the New York merchants broke the nonimportation agreement, and sent orders to England for all sorts of merchandise except tea. Such a measure, on the part of so great a seaport, virtually overthrew the non-importation policy, upon which the patriots mainly relied to force the repeal of the Tea Act. The wrath of the other colonies was intense. At the Boston town meeting the letter of the New York merchants was torn in pieces. In New Jersey, the students of Princeton College, James Madison being one of the number, assembled on the green in their black gowns and solemnly burned the letter, while the church-bells were tolled. The offending merchants were stigmatized as “ Revolters,” and in Charleston their conduct was vehemently denounced. “ You had better send us your old liberty-pole,” said Philadelphia to New York, with bitter sarcasm, “ for you clearly have no further use for it.”
This breaking of the non-importation agreement by New York left no general issue upon which the colonies could be sure to unite unless the ministry should proceed to force an issue upon the Tea Act. For the present, Lord North saw the advantage he had gained, and was not inclined to take any such step. Nevertheless, as just observed, the policy of the government soon became more vexatious than ever. In the summer of 1770, the king entered upon a series of local quarrels with the different colonies, taking care not to raise any general issue. Royal instructions were sent over to the different governments, enjoining courses of action which were unconstitutional and sure to offend the people. The assemblies were either dissolved, or convened at strange places, as at Beaufort in South Carolina, more than seventy miles from the capital, or at Cambridge in Massachusetts. The local governments were as far as possible ignored, and local officers were appointed, with salaries to be paid by the Crown. In Massachusetts, these officers were illegally exempted from the payment of taxes. In Maryland, where the charter had expressly provided that no taxes could ever be levied by the British Crown, the governor was ordered to levy taxes indirectly by reviving a law regulating officers’ fees, which had expired by lapse of time. In North Carolina, excessive fees were extorted, and the sheriffs in many cases collected taxes of which they rendered no account. The upper counties of both the Carolinas were peopled by a hardy set of small farmers and herdsmen, Presbyterians, of Scotch-Irish pedigree, who were known by the name of “ Regulators,” because, under the exigencies of their rough frontier life, they formed voluntary associations for the regulation of their own police and the condign punishment of horse-thieves and other criminals. In 1771, the North Carolina Regulators, goaded by repeated acts of extortion and of unlawful imprisonment, rose in rebellion. A fierce battle was fought at Alamance, near the head-waters of the Cape Fear River, in which the Regulators were totally defeated by Governor Tryon, leaving two hundred of their number dead and wounded upon the field ; and six of their leaders, taken prisoners, were summarily hanged for treason. For this achievement Tryon was pronounced the ablest of the colonial governors, and was soon promoted to the governorship of New York, where he left his name for a time upon the vaguely defined wilderness beyond Schenectady, known in the literature of the Revolutionary War as Tryon County. The barbarous condition of the frontier where these scenes occurred, and the fact that the militia of the lower counties voluntarily assisted the governor in his campaign against the Regulators, deprived these events of any such moral influence as they might otherwise have had upon the country; so that it is not the Cape Fear but the Concord River that ordinarily occurs to us, when we think of the first bloodshed in the Revolutionary War.
In Rhode Island, the eight-gun schooner Gaspee, commanded by Lieutenant Duddington, was commissioned to enforce the revenue acts along the coasts of Narraganset Bay, and she set about the work with reckless and indiscriminating zeal. “ Thorough ” was Duddington’s motto, as it was Lord Strafford’s. He not only stopped and searched every vessel that entered the bay, and seized whatever goods he pleased, whether there was any evidence of their being contraband or not, but, besides this, he stole the sheep and hogs of the farmers near the coast, cut down their trees, fired upon market-boats, and behaved in general with unbearable insolence. In March, 1772, the people of Rhode Island complained of these outrages. The matter was referred to Rear-Admiral Montagu, commanding the little fleet in Boston harbor. Montagu declared that the lieutenant was only doing his duty, and insolently added that if any of the Rhode Island people should presume to interfere they would be hanged as pirates. For three months longer the Gaspee kept up her irritating behavior, until one evening in June, while chasing a swift American ship, she ran aground. The following night she was attacked by a party of men in eight boats, and captured after a short skirmish, in which Duddington was severely wounded. The crew were set on shore, and the schooner was burned to the water’s edge. This bold act of reprisal was not relished by the government, and large rewards were offered for the arrest of the men concerned in it; but although everybody knew who they were, it was impossible to obtain any evidence against them. By a royal order in council, the Rhode Island government was commanded to arrest the offenders and deliver them to Rear-Admiral Montagu, to be taken over to England for trial; but Stephen Hopkins, the venerable chief justice of Rhode Island, flatly refused to take cognizance of any such arrest if made within the colony.
The black thunder-clouds of war now gathered quickly. In August, 1772, the king ventured upon an act which went further than anything that had yet occurred toward hastening on the crisis. It was ordered that all the Massachusetts judges, holding their places during the king’s pleasure, should henceforth have their salaries paid by the Crown, and not by the colony. This act, which aimed directly at the independence of the judiciary, aroused intense indignation. The people of Massachusetts were furious, and Samuel Adams now took a step which contributed more than anything that had yet been done toward organizing the opposition to the king throughout the whole country. The idea of establishing committees of correspondence was not wholly new. The great preacher Jonathan Mayhew had recommended such a step to James Otis in 1766, and he was led to it through his experience of church matters. Writing in haste, on a Sunday morning, he said, “ To a good man all time is holy enough ; and none is too holy to do good, or to think upon it. Cultivating a good understanding and hearty friendship between these colonies appears to me so necessary a part of prudence and good policy that no favorable opportunity for that purpose should be omitted. . . . You have heard of the communion of churches: . . . while I was thinking of this in my bed, the great use and importance of a communion of colonies appeared to me in a strong light, which led me immediately to set down these hints to transmit to you.” The plan which Mayhew had in mind was the establishment of a regular system of correspondence whereby the colonies could take combined action in defense of their liberties. In the grand crisis of 1772, Samuel Adams saw how much might be effected through committees of correspondence that could not well be effected through the ordinary governmental machinery of the colonies. At the October town meeting in Boston, a committee was appointed to ask the governor whether the judges’ salaries were to to be paid in conformity to the royal order ; and he was furthermore requested to convoke the assembly, in order that the people might have a chance to express their views on so important a matter. But Hutchinson told the committee to mind its own business : he refused to say what would be done about the salaries, and denied the right of the town to petition for a meeting of the assembly. Massachusetts was thus virtually without a general government at a moment when the public mind was agitated by a question of supreme importance. Samuel Adams thereupon moved the appointment of a committee of correspondence, “ to consist of twenty-one persons, to state the rights of the colonists and of this province in particular, as men and Christians and as subjects ; and to communicate and publish the same to the several towns and to the world as the sense of this town, with the infringements and violations thereof that have been, or from time to time may be, made.” The adoption of this measure at first excited the scorn of Hutchinson, who described the committee as composed of “ deacons,” “ atheists,” and “ black-hearted fellows,” whom one would not cave to meet in the dark. He predicted that they would only make themselves ridiculous, but he soon found reason to change his mind. The response to the statements of the Boston committee was prompt and unanimous, and before the end of the year more than eighty towns had already organized their committees of correspondence. Here was a new legislative body, springing directly from the people, and competent, as events soon showed, to manage great affairs. Its influence reached into every remotest corner of Massachusetts, it was always virtually in session, and no governor could dissolve or prorogue it. Though unknown to the law, the creation of it involved no violation of law. The right of the towns of Massachusetts to ask one another’s advice could no more be disputed than the right of the freemen of any single town to hold a town meeting. The power thus created was omnipresent, but intangible. “ This,” said Daniel Leonard, the great Tory pamphleteer, two years afterwards, “is the foulest, subtlest, and most venomous serpent ever issued from the egg of sedition. It is the source of the rebellion. I saw the small seed when it was planted : it was a grain of mustard. I have watched the plant until it has become a great tree. The vilest reptiles that crawl upon the earth are concealed at the root; the foulest birds of the air rest upon its branches. I would now induce you to go to work immediately with axes and hatchets and cut it down, for a twofold reason, — because it is a pest to society, and lest it be felled suddenly by a stronger arm, and crush its thousands in its fall.”
The system of committees of correspondence did indeed grow into a mighty tree ; for it was nothing less than the beginning of the American Union. Adams himself by no means intended to confine his plan to Massachusetts, for in the following April he wrote to Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, urging the establishment of similar committees in every colony. But Virginia had already acted in the matter. When its assembly met in March, 1773, the news of the refusal of Hopkins to obey the royal order, of the attack upon the Massachusetts judiciary, and of the organization of the committees of correspondence was the all-exciting subjects of conversation. The motion to establish a system of intercolonial committees of correspondence was made by the youthful Dabney Carr, and eloquently supported by Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee. It was unanimously adopted, and very soon several other colonies elected committees, in response to the invitation from Virginia.
This was the most decided step toward revolution that had yet been taken by the Americans. It only remained for the various intercolonial committees to assemble together, and there would be a congress speaking in the name of the continent. To bring about such an act of union, nothing more was needed than some fresh course of aggression on the part of the British government which should raise a general issue in all the colonies; and, with the rare genius of blundering which had possessed it ever since the accession of George III., the government now went on to provide such an issue. It was preëminently a moment when the question of taxation should have been let alone. Throughout the American world there was a strong feeling of irritation, which might still have been allayed had the ministry shown a yielding temper. The grounds of complaint had come to be different in the different colonies, and in some cases, in which we can clearly see the good sense of Lord North prevailing over the obstinacy of the king, the ministry had gained a point by yielding. In the Rhode Island case, they had seized a convenient opportunity and let the matter drop, to the manifest advantage of their position. In Massachusetts, the discontent had come to be alarming, and it was skillfully organized. The assembly had offered the judges their salaries in the usual form, and had threatened to impeach them if they should dare to accept a penny from the Crown. The recent action of Virginia had shown that these two most powerful of the colonies were in strong sympathy with one another. It was just this moment that George III. chose for reviving the question of taxation, upon which all the colonies would be sure to act as a unit, and sure to withstand him to his face. The duty on tea had been retained simply as a matter of principle. It did not bring three hundred pounds a year into the British exchequer. But the king thought this a favorable time for asserting the obnoxious principle which the tax involved.
Thus, as in Mrs. Gamp’s case, a teapot became the cause or occasion of a division between friends. The measures now taken by the government brought matters at once to a crisis. None of the colonies would take tea on its terms. Lord Hillsborough had lately been superseded as colonial secretary by Lord Dartmouth, an amiable man like the Prime Minister, but like him wholly under the influence of the king. Lord Dartmouth’s appointment was made the occasion of introducing a series of new measures. The affairs of the East India Company were in a bad condition, and it was thought that the trouble was partly due to the loss of the American trade in tea. The Americans would not buy tea shipped from England, but they smuggled it freely from Holland, and the smuggling could not be stopped by mere force. The best way to obviate the difficulty, it was thought, would be to make English tea cheaper in America than foreign tea, while still retaining the duty of threepence on a pound. If this could be achieved, it was thought the Americans would be sure to buy English tea by reason of its cheapness, and would thus be ensnared into admitting the principle involved in the duty. This ingenious scheme shows how unable the king and his ministers were to imagine that the Americans could take a higher view of the matter than that of pounds, shillings, and pence. In order to enable the East India Company to sell its tea cheap in America, a drawback was allowed of all the duties which such tea had been wont to pay on entering England on its way from China. In this way, the Americans would now find it actually cheaper to buy the English tea with the duty on it than to smuggle their tea from Holland. To this scheme, Lord North said, it was of no use for any one to offer objections, for the king would have it so. “ The king meant to try the question with America.” In accordance with this policy, several ships loaded with tea set sail in the autumn of 1773 for the four principal ports, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Agents or consignees of the East India Company were appointed by letter to receive the tea in these four towns.
As soon as the details of this scheme were known in America, the popular wrath was even greater than that which had been stirred up by the Stamp Act, and the whole country was at once in a blaze, from Maine to Georgia. Nevertheless, only legal measures of resistance were contemplated. In Philadelphia, a great meeting was held in October at the State House, and it was voted that whosoever should lend countenance to the receiving or unloading of the tea would be regarded as an enemy to his country. The consignees were then requested to resign their commissions, and did so. In New York and Charleston, also, the consignees threw up their commissions. In Boston, a similar demand was made, but the consignees absolutely refused to resign ; and thus the eyes of the whole country were directed toward Boston as the battlefield on which the great issue was to be tried.
During the month of November many town meetings were held in Faneuil Hall. On the 17th, authentic intelligence was brought that the tea-ships would soon arrive. The next day, a committee, headed by Samuel Adams, waited upon the consignees, and again asked them to resign. Upon their refusal, the town meeting instantly dissolved itself, without a word of comment or debate ; and at this ominous silence the consignees and the governor were filled with a vague sense of alarm, as if some storm were brewing whereof none could foresee the results. All felt that the decision now rested with the committees of correspondence. Four days afterward, the committees of Cambridge, Brookline. Roxbury, and Dorchester met the Boston committee at Faneuil Hall, and it was unanimously resolved that on no account should the tea be landed. The five towns also sent a letter to all the other towns in the colony, saying, “ Brethren, we are reduced to this dilemma : either to sit down quiet under this and every other burden that our enemies shall see fit to lay upon us, or to rise up and resist this and every plan laid for our destruction, as becomes wise freemen. In this extremity we earnestly request your advice.” There was nothing weak or doubtful in the response. From Petersham and Lenox perched on their lofty hilltops, from the valleys of the Connecticut and the Merrimack, from Chatham on the bleak peninsula of Cape Cod, there came but one message, — to give up life and all that makes life dear, rather than submit like slaves to this great wrong. Like words of encouragement came from other colonies. In Philadelphia, at the news of the bold stand Massachusetts was about to take, the church-bells were rung, and there was general rejoicing about the streets. A letter from the men of Philadelphia to the men of Boston said, “ Our only fear is lest you may shrink. May God give you virtue enough to save the liberties of your country.”
On Sunday, the 28th, the Dartmouth, first of the tea-ships, arrived in the harbor. The urgency of the business in hand overcame the sabbatarian scruples of the people. The committee of correspondence met at once, and obtained from Rotch, the owner of the vessel, a promise that the ship should not he entered before Tuesday. Samuel Adams then invited the committee of the five towns, to which Charlestown was now added, to hold a mass-meeting the next morning at Faneuil Hall. More than five thousand people assembled, but as the Cradle of Liberty could not hold so many, the meeting was adjourned to the Old South Meeting-House. It was voted, without a single dissenting voice, that the tea should be sent back to England in the ship which had brought it. Rotch was forbidden to enter the ship at the Custom House, and Captain Hall, the ship’s master, was notified that “ it was at his peril if he suffered any of the tea brought by him to be landed.” A nightwatch of twenty-five citizens was set to guard the vessel, and so the meeting adjourned till next day, when it was understood that the consignees would be ready to make some proposals in the matter. Next day, the message was brought from the consignees that it was out of their power to send back the tea; but if it should be landed, they declared themselves willing to store it, and not expose any of it for sale until word could be had from England. Before action could be taken upon this message, the sheriff of Suffolk County entered the church and read a proclamation from the governor, warning the people to disperse and “ surcease all further unlawful proceedings at their utmost peril.” A storm of hisses was the only reply, and the business of the meeting went on. The proposal of the consignees was rejected, and Rotch and Hall, being present, were made to promise that the tea should go back to England in the Dartmouth, without being landed or paying duty. Resolutions were then passed, forbidding all owners or masters of ships to bring any tea from Great Britain to any part of Massachusetts, so long as the act imposing a duty on it remained unrepealed. Whoever should disregard this injunction would be treated as an enemy to his country, his ships would be prevented from landing, — by force, if necessary, — and his tea would be sent back to the place whence it might have come. It was further voted that the citizens of Boston and the other towns here assembled would see that these resolutions were carried into effect, “ at the risk of their lives and property.” Notice of these resolutions was sent to the owners of the other ships, now daily expected. And, to crown all, a committee, of which Adams was chairman, was appointed to send a printed copy of these proceedings to New York and Philadelphia, to every seaport in Massachusetts, and to the British government.
Two or three days after this meeting, the other two ships arrived, and, under orders from the committee of correspondence, were anchored by the side of the Dartmouth, at Griffin’s Wharf, near the foot of Pearl Street. A military watch was kept at the wharf day and night. sentinels were placed in the church belfries, chosen post-riders, with horses saddled and bridled, were ready to alarm the neighboring towns, beacon-fires were piled all ready for fighting upon every hilltop, and any attempt to land the tea forcibly would have been the signal for an instant uprising throughout at least four counties. Now, in accordance with the laws providing for the entry and clearance of shipping at custom houses, it was necessary that every ship should land its cargo within twenty days from its arrival. In case this was not done, the revenue officers were authorized to seize the ship and land its cargo themselves. In the case of the Dartmouth, the captain had promised to take her back to England without unloading; but still, before she could legally start, she must obtain a clearance from the collector of customs, or, in default of this, a pass from the governor. At sunrise of Friday, the 17th of December, the twenty days would have expired. On Saturday, the 11th, Rotch was summoned before the committee of correspondence, and Samuel Adams asked why he had not kept his promise, and started his ship off for England. He sought to excuse himself on the ground that he had not the power to do so, whereupon he was told that he must apply to the collector for a clearance. Hearing of these things, the governor gave strict orders at the Castle to fire upon any vessel trying to get out to sea without a proper permit; and two ships from Montagu’s fleet, which had been laid up for the winter, were stationed at the entrance of the harbor, to make sure against the Dartmouth’s going out. Tuesday came, and Rotch, having done nothing, was summoned before the town meeting, and peremptorily ordered to apply for a clearance. Samuel Adams and nine others accompanied him to the Custom House to witness the proceedings, but the collector refused to give an answer until the next day. The meeting then adjourned till Thursday, the last of the twenty days. On Wednesday morning, Rotch was again escorted to the Custom House, and the collector refused to give a clearance unless the tea should first be landed. On the morning of Thursday, December 16th, the assembly which was gathered in the Old South Meeting-House, and in the streets about it, numbered more than seven thousand people. It was to be one of the most momentous days in the history of the world. The clearance having been refused, nothing now remained but to order Rotch to request a pass for his ship from the governor. But the wary Hutchinson, well knowing what was about to be required of him, had gone out to his country house at Milton, so as to foil the proceedings by his absence. But the meeting was not to be so trifled with. Rotch was enjoined, on his peril, to repair to the governor at Milton, and ask for his pass ; and while he was gone, the meeting considered what was to be done in case of a refusal. Without a pass it would be impossible for the ship to clear the harbor under the guns of the Castle ; and by sunrise, next morning, the revenue officers would be empowered to seize the ship, and save by a violent assault upon them it would be impossible to prevent the landing of the tea. “ Who knows,” said John Rowe, " how tea will mingle with salt water ? ” and great applause followed the suggestion. Yet the plan which was to serve as a last resort had unquestionably been adopted in secret committee long before this. It appears to have been worked out in detail in a little back room at the office of the Boston Gazette, and there is no doubt that Samuel Adams, with some others of the popular leaders, had a share in devising it. But among the thousands present at the town meeting, it is probable that very few knew just what it was designed to do. At five in the afternoon, it was unanimously voted that, come what would, the tea should not be landed. It had now grown dark, and the church was dimly lighted with candles. Determined not to act until the last legal method of relief should have been tried and found wanting, the great assembly was still waiting quietly in and about the church when, an hour after nightfall, Rotch returned from Milton with the governor’s refusal. Then, amid profound stillness, Samuel Adams arose and said, quietly but distinctly, “ This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.” It was the declaration of war; the law had shown itself unequal to the occasion, and nothing now remained but a direct appeal to force. Scarcely had the watchword left his mouth when a war-whoop answered from outside the door, and fifty men in the guise of Mohawk Indians passed quickly by the entrance, and hastened to Griffin’s Wharf. Before the nine o’clock bell rang, the three hundred and fortytwo chests of tea laden upon the three ships had been cut open, and their contents emptied into the sea. Not a person was harmed ; no other property was injured ; and the vast crowd, looking upon the scene from the wharf in the clear frosty moonlight, was so still that the click of the hatchets could be distinctly heard. Next morning, the salted tea, as driven by wind and wave, lay in long rows on Dorchester beach, while Paul Revere, booted and spurred, was riding post-haste to Philadelphia, with the glorious news that Boston had at last thrown down the gauntlet for the king of England to pick up.
This heroic action of Boston was greeted with public rejoicing throughout all the thirteen colonies, and the other principal seaports were not slow to follow the example. A ship laden with two hundred and fifty-seven chests of tea had already arrived at Charleston on the 2d of December ; but the consignees had resigned, and after twenty days the ship’s cargo was seized and landed ; and so, as there was no one to receive it, or pay the duty, it was thrown into a damp cellar, where it spoiled. In Philadelphia, on the 25th, a ship arrived with tea; but a meeting of five thousand men forced the consignees to resign, and the captain straightway set sail for England, the ship having been stopped before it had come within the jurisdiction of the custom house.
In Massachusetts, the exultation knew no bounds. “This,” said John Adams, “ is the most magnificent movement of all. There is a dignity, a majesty, a sublimity, in this last effort of the patriots that I greatly admire.” Indeed, often as it has been cited and described, the Boston Tea Party was an event so great that even American historians have generally failed to do it justice. This supreme assertion by a New England town meeting of the most fundamental principle of political freedom has been curiously misunderstood by British writers, of whatever party. The most recent Tory historian, Mr. Lecky, speaks of “ the Tea-Riot at Boston,” and characterizes it as an “ outrage.” The most recent Liberal historian, Mr. Green, alludes to it as “ a trivial riot.” Such expressions betray most profound misapprehension alike of the significance of this noble scene and of the political conditions in which it originated. There is no difficulty in defining a riot. The pages of history teem with accounts of popular tumults, wherein passion breaks loose and wreaks its fell purpose, unguided and unrestrained by reason. No definition could be further from describing the colossal event which occurred in Boston on the 16th of December, 1773. Here passion was guided and curbed by sound reason at every step, down to the last moment, in the dim candle-light of the old church, when the noble Puritan statesman quietly told his hearers that the moment for using force had at last, and through no fault of theirs, arrived. They had reached a point where the written law had failed them ; and in their effort to defend the eternal principles of natural justice, they were now most reluctantly compelled to fall back upon the paramount law of self-preservation. It was the one supreme moment in a controversy supremely important to mankind, and in which the common sense of the world has since acknowledged that they were wholly in the right. It was the one moment of all that troubled time in which no compromise was possible. “ Had the tea been landed,” says the contemporary historian, Gordon, “ the union of the colonies in opposing the ministerial scheme would have been dissolved ; and it would have been extremely difficult ever after to have restored it.” In view of the stupendous issues at stake, the patience of the men of Boston was far more remarkable than their boldness. For the quiet sublimity of reasonable but dauntless moral purpose, the heroic annals of Greece and Rome can show us no greater scene than that which the Old South Meeting-House witnessed on the day when the tea was destroyed.
When the news of this affair reached England, it was quite naturally pronounced by Lord North a fitting culmination to years of riot and lawlessness. This, said Lord George Germaine, is what comes of their wretched old town meetings. The Americans have really no government. These “ are the proceedings of a tumultuous and riotous rabble, who ought, if they bad the least prudence, to follow their mercantile employments, and not trouble themselves with politics and government, which they do not understand. Some gentlemen say, ‘ Oh, don’t break their charter ; don’t take away rights granted them by the predecessors of the Crown.’ Whoever wishes to preserve such charters, I wish him no worse than to govern such subjects.” “ These remarks,” said Lord North, “ are worthy of a great mind.” “ If we take a determined stand now,” said Lord Mansfield, “ Boston will submit, and all will end in victory without carnage.” “ The town of Boston,” said Mr. Venn, " ought to he knocked about their ears and destroyed. You will never meet with proper obedience to the laws of this country until you have destroyed that nest of locusts.” General Gage, who had just come home on a visit, assured the king that the other colonies might speak fair words to Massachusetts, but would do nothing to help her ; and he offered with four regiments to make a speedy end of the whole matter. “ They will be lions,” said Gage, “ while we are lambs ; but if we take the resolute part, they will prove very meek, I promise you.” It was in this spirit and under the influence of these ideas that the ministry took up the business of dealing with the refractory colony of Massachusetts. Lord North proposed a series of five measures, which, from the king’s point of view, would serve not only to heal the wounded pride of Great Britain, but also to prevent any more riotous outbreaks among this lawless American people. Just at this moment, the opposition ventured upon a bold stroke. Fox said truly that no plan for pacifying the colonies would be worth a rush unless the unconditional repeal of the Tea Act should form part of it. A bill for the repealing of the Tea Act was brought in by Fuller, and a lively debate ensued, in the course of which Edmund Burke made one of the finest speeches ever heard in the House of Commons ; setting forth in all the wealth of his knowledge the extreme danger of the course upon which the ministry had entered, and showing how little good fruit was to be expected from a coercive policy, even if successful. Burke was ably supported by Fox, Conway, Barré, Savile, Dowdeswell, Pownall, and Dunning. But the current had set too strongly against conciliation. Lord North sounded the keynote of the whole British policy when he said, “ To repeal the tea-duty would stamp us with timidity.” Come what might, it would never do for the Americans to get it into their heads that the government was not all-powerful. They must be humbled first, that they might be reasoned with afterwards. The tea-duty, accordingly, was not repealed, but Lord North’s five acts for the better regulation of American affairs were all passed by Parliament.
By the first act, known as the Boston Port Bill, no ships were to be allowed to enter or clear the port of Boston until the rebellious town should have indemnified the East India Company for the loss of its tea, and should otherwise have made it appear to the king that it would hereafter show a spirit of submission. Marblehead was made a port of entry instead of Boston, and Salem was made the seat of government.
By the second act, known as the Regulating Act, the charter of Massachusetts was annulled without preliminary notice, and her free government was destroyed. Under the charter, the members of the council for each year were chosen in a convention consisting of the council of the preceding year and the assembly. Each councilor held office for a year, and was paid out of an appropriation made by the assembly. Now, hereafter, the members of the council were to be appointed by the governor on a royal writ of mandamus, them salaries were to be paid by the Crown, and they could be removed from office at the king’s pleasure. The governor was empowered to appoint all judges and officers of courts, and all such officers were to be paid by the king and to hold office during his pleasure. The governor and his dependent council could appoint sheriffs and remove them without assigning any reason, and these dependent sheriffs were to have the sole right of returning juries. But, worse than all, the town - meeting system of local self-government was ruthlessly swept away. Town meetings could indeed be held twice a year for the election of town officers, but no other business could be transacted in them. The effect of all these changes would, of course, be to concentrate all power in the hands of the governor, leaving no check whatever upon his arbitrary will. It would, in short, transform the free commonwealth of Massachusetts into an absolute despotism, such as no Englishman had ever lived under in any age. And this tremendous act was to go into operation on the first day of the following June.
By the third act — a pet measure of George III., to which Lord North assented with great reluctance — it was provided that if any magistrate, soldier, or revenue officer in Massachusetts should be indicted for murder, he should be tried, not in Massachusetts, but in Great Britain. This measure — though doubtless unintentionally — served to encourage the soldiery in shooting down peaceful citizens, and it led by a natural sequence to the bloodshed on Lexington green. It was defended on the ground that in case of any chance affray between soldiers and citizens, it would not be possible for the soldiers to obtain a fair trial in Massachusetts. Less than four years had elapsed since Preston’s men had been so readily acquitted of murder after the shooting in King Street, but such facts were of no avail now. The momentous bill passed in the House of Commons by a vote of more than four to one, in spite of Colonel Barré’s ominous warnings.
By the fourth act all legal obstacles to the quartering of troops in Boston or any other town in Massachusetts were swept away.
By the fifth act, known as the Quebec Act, the free exercise of the Catholic religion was sanctioned throughout Canada, — a very judicious measure of religious toleration, which concerned the other colonies but little, however it might in some cases offend their prejudices. But this act went on to extend the boundaries of Canada southward to the Ohio River, in defiance of the territorial claim of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia. This magnificent region, the part of North America which was next to be colonized by men of English race, was to be governed by a viceroy, with despotic powers ; and such people as should come to live there were to have neither popular meetings, nor habeas corpus, nor freedom of the press. “ This,” said Lord Thurlow, “is the only sort of constitution fit for a colony,” — and all the American colonies, he significantly added, had better be reduced to this condition as soon as possible.
When all these acts had been passed, in April, 1774, General Gage was commissioned to supersede Hutchinson as governor of Massachusetts, and was sent over with as little delay as possible, together with the four regiments which were to scare the people into submission. On the first day of June, he was to close the port of Boston and begin starving the town into good behavior ; he was to arrest the leading patriots and send them to England for trial; and he was expressly authorized to use his own discretion as to allowing the soldiers to fire upon the people. All these measures for enslaving peaceful and law-abiding Englishmen the king of England now contemplated, as he himself declared, “ with supreme satisfaction.”
In recounting such measures as these, the historian is tempted to pause for a moment, and ask whether it could really have been an English government that planned and decreed such things. From the autocratic mouth of an Artaxerxes or an Abderrahman one would naturally expect such edicts to issue. From the misguided cabinets of Spain and France, in evil times, measures in spirit like these had been known to proceed. But England had for ages stood before the world as the staunch defender of personal liberty and of local self-government; and through the mighty strength which this spirit of freedom, and nothing else, had given her, she had won the high privilege of spreading her noble and beneficent political ideas over the best part of the habitable globe. Yet in the five acts of this political tragedy of 1774 we find England arrayed in hostility to every principle of public justice which Englishmen had from time immemorial held sacred. Upon the great continent which she had so lately won from the French champions of despotism, we see her, in a fit of obstinate anger, vainly seeking to establish a tyrannical régime no better than that which but yesterday it had been her glory to overthrow. Such was the strange, the humiliating, the self-contradictory attitude into which England had at length been brought by the short-sighted Tory policy of George III.!
But this policy was no less futile than it was unworthy of the noble, freedomloving English people. For after that fated 1st of June, the sovereign authority of England, whether exerted through king or through Parliament, was never more to be recognized by the men of Massachusetts.