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The day after the circular was adopted, the board of commissioners of the revenue at Boston, co-operating with Bernard, addressed to their superiors in England a secret memorial. Expressing apprehensions for their own safety, they complained of the American press, especially of the seeming moderation, parade of learning, and most mischievous tendency of the Farmer's Letters; of New England town-meetings, “ in which,” they said, “ the lowest mechanics discussed the most important points of government with the utmost freedom ;” of Rhode Island, as if it had even proposed to stop the revenue money; of Massachusetts, for having invited every province to discountenance the consumption of British manufact
“We have every reason,” they added, “to expect that we shall find it impracticable to enforce the execution of the revenue laws, until the hand of government is properly strengthened. At present, there is not a ship-of-war in the province, nor a company of soldiers nearer than New York."
The alternative was thus presented to the ministry and the king. On the one side, Massachusetts asked relief from taxation without representation, and invited the several colonies to unite in the petition; the crown officers, on the other, sent their memorial for a fleet and regiments.
But what could an armed force find to do? The opposition was passive. The house left no doubt of its purpose not to arrest the execution of any law; on the twenty-sixth
of February, by a vote of eighty-one to the one vote of Timothy Ruggles, it discouraged the use of superfluities; and gave a preference to American manufactures in resolves which, said Bernard, “were so decently and cautiously worded that at another time they would scarcely have given offence." Could an army compel a colonist to buy a new coat, or to drink tea, or to purchase what he was resolved to do without ? Grafton, North, even Hillsborough, disapproved of Townshend's revenue act. Why will they not quiet America by its revocation? Sending regiments into Boston will be a summons to America to make the last appeal.
Grenville and his friends insisted on declaring meetings and associations like those of Boston illegal and punishable, and advised some immediate chastisement. “I wish,” said
every American in the world could hear me.
he now spoke for a prohibition of their fisheries. Some of the ministry were ready to proceed at once against Massachusetts with extreme severity. When America was mentioned, nothing could be heard but bitterest invectives. That it must submit, no one questioned.
While Hillsborough was writing encomiums on Bernard, praising his own "justice and lenity," and lauding the king as the tender father of all his subjects, Choiseul discerned the importance of the rising controversy; and, that he might unbosom his thoughts with freedom, he appointed to the place of ambassador in England his own most confidential friend, the Count du Châtelet, son of the celebrated woman with whom Voltaire had been intimately connected. The new diplomatist was a person of quick perceptions, courage, and knowledge of the world; and he was also deeply imbued with the philosophy of his age.
The difficulty respecting taxation was heightened by personal contentions, which exasperated members of the legislature of Massachusetts. The house discovered that their leaving the crown officers out of the council had been misrepresented by Bernard to Shelburne; and, in the most
temperate language, they wisely suggested the recall of the governor, of whose accusatory letters they asked for copies. “It is not in the power of these people to move my temper," wrote Bernard. A paper in the “ Boston Gazette," written by Warren, exposed “the obstinate malice, diabolical thirst for mischief, effrontery, guileful treachery, and wickedness” of Bernard. The council censured the publication. The governor called on the house to order a prosecution of the printers. “The liberty of the press," they answered, “is the great bulwark of freedom." On proroguing the legislature, Bernard chid in public its leading members. “ There are men,” said he, “to whose importance everlasting contention is necessary. Time will soon pull the masks off those false patriots who are sacrificing their country to the gratification of their own passions. I shall defend this injured country from the evils which threaten it, arising from the machinations of a few, very few, discontented men.' “ The flagitious libel," he wrote home, “ blasphemes kingly government itself;" but it was only a coarse sketch of his own bad qualities. told the grand jury,” said Hutchinson, “almost in plain words, that they might depend on being damned, if they did not find against the paper, as containing high treason." The jury refused. 6 Oaths and the laws have lost their force," wrote Hutchinson; while “the honest and independent grand jurors” became the favorite toast of the Sons of Liberty
On the day on which the general court was prorogued, merchants of Boston began a subscription to renounce commerce with England, and invited the merchants of the whole continent to give the world the spectacle of a universal passive resistance.
Kalb, who was astonished at the prosperity of the colonies and the immense number of merchant vessels in all the waters from the Chesapeake to Boston, thought for a moment that, if the provinces could jointly discuss their interests by deputies, an independent state would soon be formed. The people were brave; and their militia not inferior to regular troops.
And yet, after studying the
spirit of New England, he was persuaded that all classes sincerely loved their mother country, and would never accept foreign aid. Besides, so convinced were they of the justice of their demands and their own importance, they would not hold it possible that they should be driven to the last appeal. “It is my fixed opinion," said he, “that the firebrands will be worsted, and that the colonies will, in the end, obtain all the satisfaction which they demand. Sooner or later, the government must recognise its being in the wrong."
The crown officers in Boston persevered in their intrigues. “ The annual election of councillors," wrote Bernard, “ is the canker-worm of the constitution of this government, whose weight cannot be put in the scale against that of the people.” “To keep the balance even,” argued Hutchinson, “ there is need of aid from the other side of the water." How to induce the British government to change the char
ter and send over troops, was the constant theme of discussion; and it was concerted that the eighteenth
of March, the anniversary of the repeal of the stamp act, should be made to further the design. Reports were industriously spread of an intended insurrection on that day; of danger to the commissioners of the customs. The Sons of Liberty, on their part, were anxious to preserve order. At daybreak, the effigy of Paxton and that of another revenue officer were found hanging on Liberty Tree; they were instantly taken down by the friends of the people. The governor endeavored to magnify “the atrociousness of the insult,” and to express fears of violence; the council justly insisted there was no danger of disturbance. The day was celebrated by a temperate festival, at which toasts were drunk to the freedom of the press; to Paoli and the Corsicans; to the joint freedom of America and Ireland ; to the immortal memory of Brutus, Cassius, Hampden, and Sydney. Those who dined together broke up early. There was no bonfire lighted ; and “in the evening,” wrote Hutchinson within the week of the event, “ we had only such a mob as we have long been used to on the fifth of November, and other holidays." Gage, who afterwards made careful
inquiry in Boston, declared the disturbance to have been “trifling.” But Bernard reported a “great disposition to the utmost disorder,” hundreds “parading the streets with yells and outcries ; a very terrible night to those who thought themselves objects of the popular fury.” “I can afford no protection to the commissioners," he continues. “ I have not the shadow of authority or power. I am obnoxious to the madness of the people, yet left exposed to their resentment, without any possible resort of protection;" thus hinting the need of “troops, as well to support the king's government as to protect the persons of his officers."
To insure the arrival of an armed force, the commissioners of the customs applied directly to the naval commander at Halifax, and sent a second memorial to the lords of the treasury. They said that a design had certainly been formed to bring them on the eighteenth of March to Liberty Tree, and oblige them to renounce their commissions. “The governor and magistracy,” they add, “ have not the least authority or power in this place. We depend on the favor of the mob for our protection. We cannot answer for our security for a day, much less will it be in our power to carry the revenue laws into effect.”
These letters went from Boston to the ministry, in March. The tales of riots were false. The people were opposed to the revenue system of the British parliament, and hoped for redress; if the ministry should refuse it, they were resolved to avoid every act of violence, to escape paying the taxes by never buying the goods on which they were imposed, and to induce their repeal by ceasing to consume English manufactures. England had on her side the general affection of the people, the certainty that the country could not as yet manufacture for itself, and consequently the certainty that the schemes of non-importation would fail. Would she but substitute a frank and upright man for Bernard, the wants of the colonists might weary them of their self-denial.
But the administration of public affairs had degenerated into a system of patronage, which had money for its object;