Page images
PDF
EPUB

1768. March,

and was supported by the king, from the love of authority. The government of England had more and more ceased to represent the noble spirit of England. The twelfth parliament, which had taxed America and was now near its dissolution, exceeded all former ones in profligacy. The men of Bolingbroke's time took bribes more openly than those of Walpole ; those of Walpole, than those of the Pelhams; and those of the Pelhams, than those since the accession of George III. : so that direct gifts of money were grown less frequent, as public opinion increased in power. But there never was a parliament so shameless in its corruption as this twelfth parliament, which virtually severed America from England. It had its votes ready for anybody that was minister, and for any measure that the minister of the day might propose. It gave an almost unanimous support to Pitt, when, for the last time in seventy years, the foreign politics of England were on the side of liberty. It had a

majority for Newcastle after he had ejected Pitt; for Bute, when he dismissed Newcastle ; for Gren

ville, so long as he was the friend of Bute; for Grenville, when he became Bute's implacable foe; and for the inexperienced Rockingham. The shadow of Chatham, after his desertion of the house, could sway its decisions. When Charles Townshend, rebelling in the cabinet, seemed likely to become minister, it gave its applause to him. When Townshend died, North easily restored subordination.

Nor was it less impudent as to measures. It promoted the alliance with the king of Prussia, and deserted him ; it protected the issue of general warwants, and utterly condemned them; it passed the stamp act, and it repealed the stamp act; it began to treat America with tenderness, then veered about, imposed new taxes, changed American constitutions, and trifled with the freedom of the American legislative. It was corrupt, and knew itself to be corrupt, and made a jest of its corruption. While it lasted, it bestowed its favors on any minister of any party; and when it was gone, and had no more chances at prostitution, men wrote its epitaph as of the most scandalously abandoned body that England had ever known.

Up to this time, the colonists had looked to parliament as the bulwark of their liberties; henceforward, they knew it to be their most dangerous enemy. They avowed that they would not pay taxes which it assumed to impose. Some still allowed it a right to restrain colonial trade; but the advanced opinion among the patriots was that each provincial legislature must be perfectly free; that laws were not valid unless sanctioned by the consent of America herself. Without disputing what the past had established, they were resolved to oppose any minister that should attempt to “innovate” a single iota in their privileges. “Almighty God himself," wrote Dickinson, “ will look down upon your righteous contest with approbation. You will be a band of brothers, strengthened with inconceivable supplies of force and constancy by that sympathetic ardor which animates good men, confederated in a good cause. You are assigned by Divine Providence, in the appointed order of things, the protector of unborn ages, whose fate depends upon

your virtue.”

1768.

The people of Boston responded to this appeal. The men whose fathers came to the wilderness for freedom to say their prayers would not fear to take up arms against a preamble which implied their servitude. In a townmeeting, Malcom moved their thanks to the ingen- March. ious author of the Farmer's Letters ; and Hancock, Samuel Adams, and Warren were of the committee to greet him in the name of the town as “the friend of Americans, and the benefactor of mankind."

They may with equal reason make one step more,” wrote Hutchinson to the Duke of Grafton : "they may deny the regal as well as the parliamentary authority, although no man as yet has that in his thoughts.”

Du Châtelet, in England, having made his inquiries into the resources of America, was persuaded that, even if the detailed statements before him were one half too large, Eng. land could not reduce her colonies, should they raise the standard of rebellion. “ Their population is so great," said he to Choiseul, “ that a breath would scatter the troops sent to enforce obedience. The ever existing attractions of

VOL. IV.

6

an entire independence and of a free commerce cannot fail to keep their minds continually in a state of disgust at the national subjection. The English government may take some false step, which will in a single day set all these springs in activity. A great number of chances can hasten the revolution which all the world foresees without daring to assign its epoch. I please myself with the thought that it is not so far off as some imagine, and that we should spare neither pains nor expense to co-operate with it. We must also nourish his Catholic majesty's disposition to avenge his wrongs. The ties that bind America to England are three fourths broken. It must soon throw off the yoke. To make themselves independent, the inhabitants want nothing but arms, courage, and a chief. If they had among them a genius equal to Cromwell, this republic would be more easy to establish than the one of which that usurper was the head. Perhaps this man exists; perhaps nothing is wanting but happy circumstances to place him upon an exalted theatre.”

At Mount Vernon, conversation with Arthur Lee fell on the dangers that overhung the country.

6 Whenever my country calls upon me,” said Washington, “I am ready to take my musket on my shoulder.”

“Courage, Americans !” cried William Livingston, April.

one of the famed New York « triumvirate” of antiprelatic lawyers. “Courage, Americans! liberty, religion, and sciences are on the wing to these shores. The finger of God points out a mighty empire to your sons. The savages of the wilderness were never expelled to make room for idolaters and slaves. The land we possess is the gift of Heaven to our fathers, and Divine Providence seems to have decreed it to our latest posterity. The day dawns in which the foundation of this mighty empire is to be laid, by the establishment of a regular American constitution. All that has hitherto been done seems to be little beside the collection of materials for this glorious fabric. 'Tis time to put them together. The transfer of the European part of the family is so vast, and our growth so swift, that, BEFORE SEVEN YEARS ROLL OVER OUR HEADS, the first stone must be laid.”

1768.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

AN ARMY AND A FLEET FOR BOSTON. HILLSBOROUGH's

ADMINISTRATION OF THE COLONIES CONTINUED.

APRIL—JUNE, 1768.

1768.

“ SEND over an army and a fleet to reduce the dogs to reason," was the cry at court and the public offices in England, on every rumor of colonial discontents. On the fifteenth of April, the circular letter of Massachu

April. setts reached the ministers. “It is an incentive to rebellion,” said some of them; and their choleric haste dictated most impolitic measures. A letter was sent by Hillsborough to the governors of each of the twelve other colonies, with a copy of the circular, which was described as “of a most dangerous and factious tendency,” calculated “to inflame the minds” of the people, “ to promote an unwarrantable combination, and to excite open opposition to the authority of parliament.” “You will therefore,” said he, “ exert your utmost influence to prevail upon

the assembly of your province to take no notice of it, which will be treating it with the contempt it deserves. If they give any countenance to this seditious paper, it will be your duty to prevent any proceedings upon it by an immediate prorogation or dissolution.” This order he sent even to the governor of Pennsylvania, who, by its charter, had no power to prorogue or dissolve an assembly. Massachusetts was told that the king considered “their resolutions contrary to the sense of the assembly, and procured by surprise. You will therefore," such was the command to Bernard, “ require of the house of representatives, in his majesty's name, to rescind the resolution which gave birth to the circular letter from the speaker, and to declare their disapprobation of

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

that rash and hasty proceeding." “If the new assembly should refuse to comply, it is the king's pleasure that you should immediately dissolve them.”

The agent of the assembly of Massachusetts interceded for the colony. Its petition was received by Hillsborough for the king's perusal, but was never officially presented. " It has been resolved in council," said the secretary, “that Governor Bernard have strict orders to insist upon the assembly's revoking their circular letter; and, if refused, he is immediately to dissolve them. Upon their next choice, he is again to insist on it; and, if then refused, he is to do the like; and as often as the case shall happen. I had settled the repeal of these acts with Lord North ; but the opposition of the colonies renders it absolutely necessary to support the authority of parliament.”

Here was a colonial system never before thought of. Townshend had suspended the legislative functions of New York by act of parliament. Now a secretary of state, speaking for the king, offered to Massachusetts the option of forfeiting its representative government, or submitting to his mandate. At the same time, the commander in chief in America was ordered to maintain the public tranquillity. But it was characteristic of Massachusetts that the peace had not been broken. The power of parliament was denied, but not resisted.

On the second of April, the assembly of Virginia read the circular letter from Massachusetts, and referred it to a. committee of the whole house. The petitions of freeholders of the counties of Chesterfield, Henrico, Dinwiddie, and Amelia, pointed to the act of parliament suspending the legislative power of New York, as of a tendency fatal to the liberties of a free people. The county of Westmoreland dwelt also on the new revenue act, as well as on the billeting act. The freeholders of Prince Williams enumerated all

three, which, like the stamp act, would shackle North April.

America with slavery. On the seventh, the illustrious

Bland reported resolutions reaffirming the exclusive right of the American assemblies to tax the American colonies; and they were unanimously confirmed. A committee

1768.

« PreviousContinue »