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CHAP. his intercession. But Gage was neither fit to recon
cile nor to subdue. By his mild temper and love of 1774. society, he gained the good-will of his boon com
panions, and escaped personal enmities; but in earnest business he inspired neither confidence nor fear. Though his disposition was far from being malignant, he was so poor in spirit and so weak of will, so dull in his perceptions and so' unsettled in his opinions, that he was sure to follow the worst advice, and vacillate between smooth words of concession and merciless severity. He had promised the king that with four regiments he would play the “lion,” and troops beyond his requisition were hourly expected. His instructions enjoined upon him the seizure and condign punishment of Samuel Adams, Hancock, Joseph Warren, and other leading patriots; but he stood in such dread of them that he never so much as attempted their arrest.
The people of Massachusetts were almost exclusively of English origin; beyond any other colony, they loved the land of their ancestors; but their fond attachment made them only the more sensitive to its tyranny. To subject them to taxation without their consent, was robbing them of their birthright; they scorned the British parliament as “a junto of the servants of the crown, rather than the representatives of England.” Not disguising to themselves their danger, but confident of victory, they were resolved to stand together as brothers for a life of liberty.
The merchants of Newburyport were the first who agreed to suspend all commerce with Britain and Ireland. Salem, also, the place marked out as the new seat of government, in a very full town meeting
and after unimpassioned debates, decided almost CHAP. unanimously to stop trade not with Britain only, but even with the West Indies. If in Boston a few cra
May. vens proposed to purchase a relaxation of the blockade by quailing before power, the majority were beset by no temptation so strong as that of routing at once the insignificant number of troops who had come to overawe them. But Samuel Adams, while he compared their spirit to that of Sparta or Rome, was ever inculcating “patience as the characteristic of a patriot,” and the people, having sent forth their cry to the continent, waited self-possessed for voices of consolation,
NEW YORK PROPOSES A GENERAL CONGRESS.
CHAP. New York anticipated the prayer of Boston.
Its people, who had received the port-act directly from May. England, felt the wrong to that town, as a wound to
themselves, and even the lukewarm kindled with resentment. From the epoch of the stamp-act, their Sons of Liberty, styled by the royalists “the Presbyterian junto,” had kept up a committee of correspondence. Yet Sears, MacDougal, and Lamb, still its principal members, represented the sympathies of the mechanics of the city, more than of the merchants; and they never enjoyed the full confidence of the great landed proprietors who, by the tenure of estates throughout New York, formed a recognised aristocracy. To unite the whole province on the side of liberty, a more comprehensive combination was, therefore, required. The old committee advocated the questionable policy of an immediate suspension of commerce with Britain ; but they also proposed—and they were the first to propose—"a general congress.”
These recommendations they forwarded through Con- CHAP. necticut to Boston, with entreaties to that town to stand firm ; and in full confidence of approval, they May applied not to New England only, but to Philadelphia, and through Philadelphia to every colony at the South.
Such was the inception of the continental congress of 1774. It was the last achievement of the Sons of Liberty of New York. Their words of cheering to Boston, and their summons to the country, had already gone forth, when, on the evening of the sixteenth of May, they convoked the inhabitants of their city. A sense of the impending change pervaded the meeting and tempered passionate rashness. Some who were in a secret understanding with officers of the crown, sought to evade all decisive measures ; the merchants were averse to headlong engagements for suspending trade; the gentry feared, lest the men, who on all former occasions had led the multitude, should preserve the control in the day, which was felt to be near at hand, when an independent people would shape the permanent institutions of a continent. Under a conservative influence, the motion prevailed to supersede the old committee of correspondence by a new one of fifty, and its members were selected by open nomination. The choice included men from all classes. Nearly a third part were of those who followed the British standard to the last; others were lukewarm, unsteady, and blind to the nearness of revolution; others again were enthusiastic Sons of Liberty. The friends to government claimed that the majority was inflexibly loyal ; the control fell into the hands of men who, like John
CHAP. Jay, still aimed at reconciling a continued dependence
on England with the just freedom of the colonies.
Meantime, the port-act was circulated with incredible rapidity. In some places it was printed upon mourning paper with a black border, and cried about the streets as a barbarous murder; in others, it was burned with great solemnity in the presence of vast bodies of the people. On the seventeenth the representatives of Connecticut, with clear perceptions and firm courage, made a declaration of rights. “Let us play the man,” said they, “ for the cause of our country; and trust the event to Him who orders all events for the best good of His people.” On the same day, the freemen of the town of Providence, unsolicited from abroad, and after full discussion, voted to promote “a congress of the representatives of all the North American colonies.” Declaring
“personal liberty an essential part of the natural May rights of mankind,” they also expressed the wish to
prohibit the importation of negro slaves, and to set free all negroes born in the colony.
Two days after these spontaneous movements, the people of the city and county of New York assembled to inaugurate their new committee with the formality of public approval. Two parties appeared in array; on the one side men of property, on the other tradesmen and mechanics. Foreboding a revolution, they seemed to contend in advance, whether their future government should be formed upon the basis of property, or on purely popular principles. It was plain that knowledge had penetrated the mass of the people, who were growing accustomed to reason for themselves, and were ready to found a