History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter III
|←Chapter II||History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution
|Cursory Observations • Massachusetts Circular Letter • A new House of Representatives called • Governor Bernard impeached • A Riot on the Seizure of a Vessel • Troops applied for to protect the King’s Officers • A Convention at Boston • Troops arrive • A Combination against all Commerce with Great Britain • A General Assembly convened at Boston—removed to Cambridge • Governor Bernard after his Impeachment repairs to England|
The British colonies at this period through the American continent contained, exclusive of Canada and Nova Scotia, the provinces of New Hampshire and Massachusetts Bay, of Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Delaware counties, Virginia, Maryland, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, besides the Floridas, and an unbounded tract of wilderness not yet explored. These several provinces had been always governed by their own distinct legislatures. It is true there was some variety in their religious opinions, but a striking similarity in their political institutions, except in the proprietary governments. At the same time the colonies, afterwards the thirteen states, were equally marked with that manly spirit of freedom, characteristic of Americans from New Hampshire to Georgia.
Aroused by the same injuries from the parent state, threatened in the same manner by the common enemies to the rights of society among themselves, their petitions to the throne had been suppressed without even a reading, their remonstrances were ridiculed and their supplications rejected. They determined no longer to submit. All stood ready to unite in the same measures to obtain that redress of grievances they had so long requested, and that relief from burdens they had so long complained of, to so little purpose. Yet there was no bond of connection by which a similarity of sentiment and concord in action might appear, whether they were again disposed to revert to the hitherto fruitless mode of petition and remonstrance, or to leave that humiliating path for a line of conduct more cogent and influential in the contests of nations.
A circular letter dated February 11, 1768. by the legislature of Massachusetts, directed to the representatives and burgesses of the people through the continent, was a measure well calculated for this salutary purpose. (see Note 6 at the end of this chapter) This letter painted in the strongest colors the difficulties they apprehended, the embarrassments they felt, and the steps already taken to obtain relief. It contained the full opinion of that assembly relative to the late acts of parliament; while at the same time they expatiated on their duty and attachment to the King, and detailed in terms of respect the representations that had been made to his ministers, they expressed the boldest determination to continue a free but loyal people. Indeed there were few, if any, who indulged an idea of a final separation from Britain at so early a period; or that even wished for more than an equal participation of the privileges of the British constitution.
Independence was a plant of later growth. Though the soil might be congenial, and the boundaries of nature pointed out the event, yet every one chose to view it at a distance, rather than wished to witness the convulsions that such a dismemberment of the empire must necessarily occasion. After the circulation of this alarming letter (see Note 7 at the end of this chapter), wherever any of the governors had permitted the legislative bodies to meet, an answer was returned by the assemblies replete with encomiums on the exertion and zeal of the Massachusetts. They observed that the spirit that dictated that letter was but a transcript of their own feelings; and that though equally impressed with every sentiment of respect to the prince on the throne of Britain, and feeling the strongest attachment to the house of Hanover, they could not but reject with disdain the late measures so repugnant to the dignity of the crown and the true interest of the realm; and that at every hazard they were determined to resist all acts of parliament for the injurious purpose of raising a revenue in America. They also added that they had respectively offered the most humble supplications to the kind; that they had remonstrated to both houses of parliament, and had directed their agents at the British court to leave no effort untried to obtain relief, without being compelled to what might be deemed by royalty an illegal mode of opposition.
In consequence of the spirited proceedings of the House of Representatives, the General Assembly of Massachusetts was dissolved, nor were they suffered to meet again until a new election. These transactions were carefully transmitted to administration by several of the plantation governors, and particularly Mr. Bernard, with inflammatory observations of his own, interlarded with the most illiberal abuse of the principal leaders of the late measures in the Assembly of Massachusetts.
Their charter, which still provided for the election of the legislature, obliged the governor to summon a new assembly to meet May 24, 1768. The first communication laid before the House by the governor contained a haughty requisition from the British minister of state, directing in his majesty's name that the present House should immediately rescind the resolutions of a former one, which had produced the celebrated circular letter. Governor Bernard also intimated that it was his majesty's pleasure that on a non-compliance with this extraordinary mandate the present assembly should be dissolved without delay. What heightened the resentment to the manner of this singular order signed by Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the American department, was that he therein intimated to the governor that he need not fear the most unqualified obedience on his part to the high measure of administration, assuring him that it would not operate to his disadvantage, as care would be taken in future to provide for his interest and to support the dignity of government, without the interpositions or existence of a provincial legislature.
These messages were received by the representative body with a steadiness and resolution becoming the defenders of the rights of a free people. After appointing a committee to consider and prepare an answer to them, they proceeded with great coolness to the usual business of the session, without further notice of what had passed. Within a day or two, they received second message from the governor, purporting that he expected an immediate and an explicit answer to the authoritative requisition; and that if they longer postponed their resolutions, he should consider their delay as an "oppugnation to his majesty's authority, and a negative to the command, by an expiring faction." On this, the House desired time to consult their constituents on such an extraordinary question. This being peremptorily and petulantly refused, the House ordered the Board of Council to be informed that they were entering on a debate of important, that they should give them notice when it was over, and directed the doorkeeper to call no member out, on any pretense whatever.
The committee appointed to answer the governor's several messages were gentlemen of known attachment to the cause of their country, who on every occasion had rejected all servile compliances with ministerial requisitions. They were not long on the business. When they returned to the House, the galleries were immediately cleared, and they reported on answer, bold and determined, yet decent an disloyal. In the course of their reply, they observed that it was not an "expiring faction," that the governor had charged with "oppugnation to this majesty's authority," that it was the best blood of the colony who opposed the ministerial measures, men of reputation, fortune and rank, equal to any who enjoyed the smiles of government; that their exertions were from a conscious sense of duty to their God, to their King, to their country, and to posterity. [The principal members of this committee were Major Joseph Hawley of Northampton, James Otis, Esquire of Boston, Samuel Adams, James Warren of Plymouth, John Hancock, and Thomas Cushing, Esquires.]
This committee at the same time reported a very spirited letter to Lord Hillsborough, which they had prepared to lay before the House. In this they remonstrated on the injustice as well as absurdity of a requisition when a compliance was impracticable, even had they the inclination to rescind the doings of a former house. This letter was approved by the house, and on division on the question of rescinding the vote of a former Assembly, it was negatived by a majority of 92 to 17.
The same committee was immediately nominated to prepare a petition to the King to remove Mr. Bernard from the government of Massachusetts. They drew up a petition for this purpose without leaving the House and immediately reported it. They alleged a long list of accusations against the governor, and requested his majesty that one more worthy to represent so great and good a king might be sent to preside in the province. Thus impeached by the house, the same minority that had appeared ready to rescind the circular letter declared themselves against the impeachment of Governor Bernard [Journals of the house.] Their servility was marked with peculiar odium: they were stigmatized by the appellation of the infamous 17, until their names were lost in a succession of great events and more important characters.
When the doors of the House were opened, the secretary who had been long in waiting for admission informed the House that the governor was in the chair and desired their attendance in the Council Chamber. They complied without hesitation, but were received in a most ungracious manner. With much ill humor, the Governor reprimanded them in the language of an angry pedagogue, instead of the manner becoming the first magistrate when addressing the representatives of a free people: he concluded his harangue by proroguing the assembly, which within a few days he dissolved by proclamation.
In the mean time by warm and virulent letters from the indiscreet Governor; by others full of invective from the commissioners of the customers, and by the secret influence of some, who yet concealed themselves within the vizard of moderation, "who held the language of patriotism, but trod in the footsteps of tyranny," leave was obtained from administration to apply to the commander in chief of the King's troops, then at New York, to send several regiments to Boston, as a necessary aid to civil government, which they represented as too weak to suppress the disorders of the times. It was urged that this step was absolutely necessary to enable the officers of the crown to carry into execution the laws of the supreme legislature.
A new pretext had been recently given to the malignant party, to urge with the show of plausibility the immediate necessity of the military arm to quell the riotous proceedings of the town of Boston, to strengthen the hands of government, and restore order and tranquility to the province. The seizure of a vessel belonging to a popular gentleman, [John Hancock, Esquire, afterwards governor of the Massachusetts], under suspicion of a breach of the acts of trade, raised a sudden resentment among the citizens of Boston. The conduct of the owner was indeed reprehensible, in permitting a part of the cargo to be unladen in a clandestine manner; but the mode of the seizure appeared like a design to raise a sudden ferment, that might be improved to corroborate the arguments for the necessity of standing troops to be stationed within the town.
On a certain signal, a number of boats, manned and armed, rowed up to the wharf, cut the fasts of the suspected vessel, carried her off, and placed her under the stern of a ship of war, as if apprehensive of a rescue. This was executed in the edge of the evening, when apprentices and the younger classes were usually in the streets. It had what was thought to be the desired effect; the inconsiderate rabble, unapprehensive of the snare, and thoughtless of consequences, pelted some of the custom-house officers with brick-bats, broke their windows, drew one of their boats before the door of the gentleman they thought injured, and set it on fire; after which they dispersed without further mischief.
This trivial disturbance was exaggerated until it wore the complexion of a riot of the first magnitude. By the insinuations of the party and their malignant conduct, it was not strange that in England it was considered as a London mob collected in the streets of Boston, with some formidable desperado at their head. After this fracas, the custom-house officers repaired immediately to Castle William as did the Board of Commissioners. This fortress was about a league from the town. From thence they expressed their apprehensions of personal danger, in strong language. Fresh applications were made to General Gage to hasten on his forces from New York, assuring him that the lives of the officers of the Crown were insecure unless placed beyond the reach of popular resentment, by an immediate military aid. In consequence of these representations, several detachments from Halifax, and two regiments lately from Ireland, were directed to repair to Boston with all possible dispatch.
The experience of all ages, and the observations both of the historian and the philosopher agree that a standing army is the most ready engine in the hand of despotism to debase the powers of the human mind and eradicate the manly spirit of freedom. The people have certainly everything to fear from a government when the springs of its authority are fortified only a standing military force. Wherever an army is established, it introduces a revolution in manners, corrupts the morals, propagates every species of vice, and degrades the human character. Threatened with the immediate introduction of this dream calamity, deprived by the dissolution of their legislature of all power to make any legal opposition; neglected by their Sovereign, and insulted by the Governor he had set over them, much the largest part of the community was convinced that they had no resource but in the strength of their virtues, the energy of their resolutions, and the justice of their cause.
In this state of general apprehension, confusion, and suspense, the inhabitants of Boston again requested Governor Bernard to convoke an Assembly, and suffer the representatives of the whole people to consult and advise at this critical conjuncture. He rejected this application with an air of insult, and no time was to be lost. Letters were instantly forwarded from the capital, requesting a delegation of suitable persons to met in convention from every town in the province before the arrival of the troops, and if possible, to take some steps to prevent the fatal effects of these dangerous and unprecedented measures.
The whole country felt themselves interested, ad readily complied with the proposal. The most respectable persons from 196 towns were chosen delegates to assemble at Boston, on September 22. They accordingly met at that time and place; as soon as they were convened, the Governor sent them an angry message, admonishing them immediately to disperse, assuring them "the King was determined to maintain his entire sovereignty over the province — that their present meeting might be in consequence of their ignorance — that that if after this admonition, they continued their usurpation, they might repent their temerity, as he was determined to assert the authority of the Crown in a more public manner, if they continued to disregard this authoritative warning."
He, however, found he had not men to deal with, either ignorant of law, regardless of its sanctions, or terrified by the frowns of power. The Convention made him a spirited but decent answer, containing the reasons of their assembling, and the line of conduct they were determined to pursue in spite of every menace. The Governor refused to receive their reply; he urged the illegality of the Assembly, and made use of every subterfuge to interrupt their proceedings.
Their situation was indeed truly delicate, as well as dangerous. The Convention was a body not known in the constitution of their government, and in the strict sense of law, it might be styled a treasonable meeting. They still professed fealty to the Crown of Britain; and though the principle had been shaken by injuries, that might have justified a more sudden renunciation of loyalty, yet theirs was cherished by a degree of religious scruple, amidst every species of insult. Thus while they wished to support this temper, and to cherish their former affection, they felt with poignancy the invasion of their rights, and hourly expected the arrival of an armed force, to back the threatenings of their first magistrate.
Great prudence and moderation, however, marked the transactions of an assembly of men thus circumstanced; they could in their present situation only recapitulate their sufferings, felt and feared. This they did in a pointed and nervous style, in a letter addressed to Mr. De Berdt, [See letter to Mr. De Berdt, in the journals of the House.], the agent of the province, residing in London. They stated the circumstances that occasioned their meeting, and a full detail of their proceedings. They enclosed a petition to the king, and ordered their agent to deliver it with his own hand. The Convention then separated, ad returned to their respective towns, where they impressed on their constituents the same perseverance, forbearance, and magnanimity that had marked their own resolutions.
Within a few days after the separation, the troops arrived from Halifax. This was indeed a painful era. The American War may be dated from the hostile parade of this day; a day which marks with infamy the councils of Britain. At this period, the inhabitants of the colonies almost universally breathed an unshaken loyalty to the King of England, and the strongest attachment to a country whence they derived their origin. Thus was the astonishment of the whole province excited, when to the grief and consternation of the town of Boston several regiments were landed and marched, sword in hand, through the principal streets of their city, then in profound peace.
The disembarkation of the King's troops, which took place on October 1, 1768, was viewed by a vast crowd of spectators, who beheld the solemn prelude to devastation and bloodshed with a kind of sullen silence, that denoted the deepest resentment. Yet whatever might be the feelings of the citizens, not one among the gazing multitude discovered any disposition to resist by arms the power and authority of the King of Great Britain. This appearance of decent submission and order was very unexpected to some, whose guilty fears had led them to expect a violent and tumultuous resistance to the landing of a large body of armed soldiers in the town. The peaceable demeanor of the people was construed, by the party who had brought this evil on the city, as a mark of abject submission.
As they supposed from the present acquiescent deportment that the spirit of the inhabitants was totally subdued on the first appearance of military power, they consequently rose in their demands. General Gage arrived from New York soon after the King's troops reached Boston. With the aid of the Governor, the Chief Justice of the province, and the Sheriff of the County of Suffolk, he forced quarters for his soldiers in all the unoccupied houses in the town. The Council convened on this occasion opposed the measure; but to such a height was the insolence of power pushed, by their passionate, vindictive, and wrong-headed Governor, that in spite of the remonstrances of several magistrates, and the importunities of the people, he suffered the State House, where the archives of the province were deposited, to be improved as barracks for the King's troops. Thus the members of Council, the magistrates of the town, and the courts of justice were daily interrupted, and frequently challenged in their way to their several departments in business, by military sentinels posted at the doors.
A standing army thus placed in their capital, their commerce fettered, their characters traduced, their representative body prevented meeting, the united petitions of all ranks that they might be convened at this critical conjuncture rejected by the Governor; and still threatened with a further augmentation of troops to enforce measures of ever view repugnant to the principles of the British constitution; little hope remained of a peaceful accommodation.
The most rational arguments had been urged by the legislative assemblies, by corporate bodies, associations, and individual characters of eminence, to shake the arbitrary system that augured evils to both countries. But their addresses were disdainfully rejected; the King and court of Great Britain appeared equally deaf to the cry of millions, who only asked a restoration of their rights. At the same time, every worthless incendiary, who, taking advantage of these miserable times, crossed the Atlantic with a tale of accusation against his country, was listened to with attention, and rewarded with some token of royal favor.
In this situation, no remedy appeared to be left, short of an appeal to the sword, unless an entire suspension of that commercial intercourse which had contributed so much to the glory and grandeur of Britain, could be effected throughout the colonies. As all the American continent was involved in one common danger, it was not found difficult to obtain a general combination against all further importations from England, a few articles only excepted. The mercantile body through all the provinces entered into solemn engagements, and plighted their faith and honor to each other, and to their country, that no orders should be forwarded by them for British or India goods within a limited term, except for certain specified articles of necessary use. These engagements originated in Boston, and were for a time strictly adhered to through all the colonies. Great encouragement was given to American manufactures, and if pride of apparel was at all indulged, it was in wearing the stuffs fabricated in their own looms. Harmony and union, prudence and economy, industry and virtue, were inculcated in their publications and enforced by the example of the most respectable characters.
In consequence of these determinations, the clamors of the British manufacturers arose to tumult in many parts of the kingdom; but no artifice was neglected to quiet the trading part of the nation. There were some Americans who by letters encouraged administration to persevere in their measures relative to the colonies, assuring them in the strongest terms that the interruption of commerce was but a temporary struggle, or rather an effort of despair. No one in the country urged his opinion with more indiscreet zeal than Andre Oliver, Esquire, then Secretary in the Massachusetts. He suggested "that government should stipulate with the merchants in England to purchase large quantities of goods proper for the American market; agreeing beforehand to allow them a premium equal to the advance of their stock in trade, if the price of their goods was not sufficiently enhanced by a tenfold demand in future, even though the goods might lay on hand till this temporary stagnation of business should cease." He concluded his political rhapsody with this inhuman boast to this correspondent: "By such a step the game will be up with my countrymen." [See the original letters of Mr. Oliver to Mr. Whately and others, which were afterwards published in a pamphlet; also in the British Remembrancer, 1773.]
The prediction on both sides of the Atlantic that this combination, which depended wholly on the commercial part of the community, could not be of long duration, proved indeed too true. A regard to private interest ever operates more forcibly on the bulk of mankind than the ties of honor, or the principles of patriotism; and when the latter are incompatible with the former, the balance seldom hangs long in equilibrium. Thus it is not uncommon to see virtue, liberty, love of country, and regard to character, sacrificed at the shrine of wealth.
The winter following this salutary combination, a partial repeal of the act imposing duties on certain articles of British manufacture took place. ON this it immediately appeared that some in New York had previously given conditional orders to their correspondents that if the measures of Parliament should in any degree be relaxed, that without farther application they should furnish them with large quantities of goods. Several in the other colonies had discovered as much avidity for an early importation as the Yorkers. They had given similar orders, and both received larger supplies than usual, of British merchandise, early in the spring of 1769. The people, of course, considered the agreement nullified by the conduct of the merchants, and the intercourse with England for a time went on as usual, without any check. Thus, by breaking through the agreement within the limited time of restriction, a measure was defeated which, had it been religiously observed, might have prevented the tragical consequences which ensured.
After this event, a series of altercation and abuse, of recrimination and suspense, was kept up on both sides of the Atlantic, without much appearance of lenity on the one side or decision on the other. There appeared little disposition in Parliament to relax the reins of government, and less in the Americans to yield implicit obedience. But whether from an opinion that they had taken the lead in opposition, or whether from their having a greater proportion of British sycophants among themselves, whose artful insinuations operated against their country, or from other concurring circumstances, the Massachusetts was still the principal butt of ministerial resentment. It is therefore necessary yet to continue a more particular detail of the situation of that province.
As their charter was not yet annihilated, Governor Bernard found himself under a necessity, as the period of annual election approached, to issue writs to convene a General Assembly. Accordingly, a new House of Representatives met at Boston as usual on May 31, 1769. They immediately petitioned the Governor to remove the military parade that surrounded the State House, urging that such a hostile appearance might over-awe their proceedings, and prevent the freedom of election and debate.
A unanimous resolve passed, "that it was the opinion of the House that placing an armed force in the metropolis while the General Assembly is there convened is a breach of privilege, and totally inconsistent with the dignity and freedom with which they ought to deliberate and determine; " adding, "that they meant ever to support their constitutional rights, that they should never voluntarily recede from their just claims, contained both in the letter and spirit of the constitution."
After several messages both from the Council and the House o Representatives, the Governor, ever obstinate in error, declared he had no authority over the King's troops, nor should he use any influence to have them removed. [Journals of the House, 1769.] Thus by express acknowledgment of the first magistrate, it appeared that the military was set so far above the civil authority that the latter was totally unable to check the wanton exercise of this newly established power in the province. But the Assembly peremptorily determined to do no business while thus insulted by the planting of cannon at the doors of the State House, and interrupted in their solemn deliberations by the noisy evolutions of military discipline.
The royal charter required that they should proceed to the choice of a speaker, and the election of a Council, the first day of the meeting of the Assembly. They had conformed to this as usual, but protested against its being considered as a precedent on any future emergency. Thus amidst the warmest expressions of resentment from all classes, for the indignity offered a free people by this haughty treatment of their legislature, the Governor suffered them to sit several weeks without doing business; and at last compelled them to give way to an armed force, by adjourning the General Assembly to Cambridge.
The internal state of the province required the attention of the House at this critical exigency of affairs. They, therefore, on their first meeting at Cambridge, resolved, "That it was their opinion that the British constitution admits no armed force within the realm, but for the purpose of offensive or defensive war. That placing troops in the colony in the midst of profound peace was a breach of privilege, an infraction on the natural rights of the people, and manifestly subversive of that happy form of government they had hitherto enjoyed. That the honor, dignity, and service of the Sovereign should be attended to by that Assembly, so far as was consistent with the just rights of the people, their own dignity, and the freedom of debate; but that proceeding to business while an armed force was quartered in the province was not a dereliction of the privileges legally claimed by the colony, but from necessity, and that no undue advantage should be taken from their compliance."
After this, they had not time to do any other business before two messages of a very extraordinary nature, in their opinion were laid before them. [Journals of the first session at Cambridge.] The first was an order under the sign-manual of the King, that Mr. Bernard should repair to England to lay the state of the province before him. To this message was tacked a request from the Governor, that as he attended his Majesty's pleasure as commander in chief of the province, his salary might be continued, though absent. The substance of the other message was an account of General Gage's expenditures in quartering his troops in the town of Boston; accompanied by an unqualified demand for the establishment of fund for the discharge thereof. The Governor added that he was requested by General Gage to make requisition for future provision for quartering his troops within the town.
The subsequent resolves of the House on these messages were comformable to the usual spirit of that Assembly. They warmly censured both Governor Bernard and General Gage for wantonly acting against the constitution; charged them with making false and injurious representations against his Majesty's faithful subjects, and discovering on all occasions, a most inimical disposition towards the colonies. They observed that General Gage had rashly and impertinently intermeddled with affairs altogether out of his line, and that he had betrayed a degree of ignorance equal to his malice when he presumed to touch on the civil police of the province. They complained heavily of the arbitrary designs of government, the introduction of a standing army, and the encroachments on civil liberty; and concluded with a declaration replete with sentiment so men conscious of their own freedom and integrity, and deeply affected with the injuries offered their country. They observed that to the utmost of their power they should vindicate the rights of human nature and the privileges of Englishmen, and explicitly declared that duty to their constituents forbade a compliance with either of these messages. This clear, decided answer being delivered, the Governor summoned the House to attend, and after a short, angry, and threatening speech, he prorogued the Assembly to January, 1770.
Governor Bernard immediately embarked for Europe, from whence he never more returned to a country he had by his arbitrary disposition and indiscreet conduct inflamed to a degree that required both judgment and prudence to cool, perhaps beyond the abilities, and certainly incompatible with the views of the administration in being.
The province had little reason to suppose that considerations of the interest of the people had any part in the recall or detention of this mischievous emissary. His reception at Court, the summary proceedings with regard to his impeachment and trial, and the character of the man appointed to succeed him, strongly counteracted such a flattering opinion. Notwithstanding the high charges that had been alleged against Governor Bernard, he was acquitted by the King and Council, without allowing time to the Assembly to support their accusations, honored with a title, and rewarded with a pension of 1000 pounds sterling per annum on the Irish establishment.
Governor Bernard had reason to be perfectly satisfied with the success of his appointment tot he government of Massachusetts as it related to his personal interest. His conduct there procured him the smiles of the British Court, an honorary title, ad a pension for life. Besides this, the legislature of that province had in the early part of his administration, in a moment of complacency, or perhaps from digested policy with a hope of bribing him to his duty and stimulating him to defend their invaded rights, made him a grant of a very large tract of land, the whole of the island of Mount Desert. This was afterwards reclaimed by a Madame Gregoire, in right of her ancestors, who had obtained a patent of some part of that country in the early days of European emigration. But as Governor Bernard's property in American had never been confiscated, the General Assembly of Massachusetts afterwards granted to his son, Sir John Bernard, who still possesses this territory, two townships of land near the River Kennebeck, in lieu of the valuable isle recovered by Madame Gregoire.
This measure had been contemplated by several gentlemen a year or two before it took place; among others, by the learned Jonathan Mayhew of Boston. See the annexed letter written by him soon after the repeal of the Stamp Act. The abilities, virtue, and patriotism of Doctor Mayhew were so distinguished that the following fragment may be pleasing and particularly impressive, as it was the last letter he ever wrote to anyone, and within three days after its date, this great and good man closed his eyes on the politics and vanities of human life.
Lord's day morning, June 8, 1766
Honorable James Otis, Junior, Esquire
To a good man all the time is holy enough and none too holy to do good, or to think upon it.
Cultivating a good understanding and hearty friendship between these colonies and their several houses of assembly appears to me to be so necessary a part of prudence and good policy, all things considered, that no favorable opportunity for that purpose ought to be omitted. I think such a one now presents. Would it not be very proper and decorous for our assembly to send circular congratulatory letters to all the rest, without exception, on the repeal and the present favorable aspect of things? Letters conceived at once in terms of warm friendship and regard to them, of loyalty to the King, of filial affection towards the mother country, and intimating a desire to cement and perpetuate union among ourselves, by all practicable and laudable methods? A good foundation is already laid for this latter, by the late Congress, which in my poor opinion was a wise measure, and actually contributed not a little towards our obtaining a redress of grievances, however some may affect to disparage it. Pursuing this track, and never losing sight of it, maybe of the utmost importance to the colonies, on some future occasions, perhaps the only means of perpetuating their liberties; for what may be hereafter we cannot tell, how favorable soever present appearances may be. It is not safe for the colonies to sleep, since they will probably always have some wakeful enemies in Britain; and if they should be such children as to do so, I hope there are at least some persons too much of men and friends to them to rock the cradle or sing lullaby to them.
You have heard of the communion of churches, and I am very early tomorrow morning to set out for Rutland, to assist at an ecclesiastical council. Not expecting to return this week, while I was thinking of this in my bed, with the dawn of day, the great use and importance of a communion of colonies appeared to me in a very strong light, which determined me immediately to set down these hints, in order to transmit them to you. Not knowing but the house may be prorogued or dissolved before my return, or having an opportunity to speak to you, you will make such a use of them as you think proper, or none at all.
I have had a sight of the answer to the last very extraordinary speech [Speech of Governor Bernard], with which I was much pleased. It appears to me solid and judicious, and though spirited, not more so than the case absolutely required, unless we could be content to have an absolute and uncontrollable, instead of a limited, constitutional governor. I cannot think the man will have one wise and good, much less one truly great man at home to stand by him in so open and flagrant an attack upon our charter rights and privileges. But the less asperity in language the better, provided there is firmness in adhering to our rights, in opposition to all encroachments.
I am, sir Your most obedient, Humble servant, Jonathan Mayhew
Copy of the circular letter which was sent from the House of Representatives of the province of Massachusetts Bay to the speakers of the respective Houses of Representatives and Burgesses on the continent of North America.
Province of the Massachusetts Bay, February 11, 1768
The House of Representatives of this province have taken into their serious consideration the great difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents, by the operation of the several acts of Parliament imposing duties and taxes on the American colonies.
As it is a subject in which every colony is deeply interested, they have no reason to doubt but your House is duly impressed with its importance; and that such constitutional measures will be come into as are proper. It seems to be necessary that all possible care should be taken that the representations of the several Assemblies, upon so delicate a point, should harmonize with each other. The House therefore hope that this letter will be candidly considered, in no other light than as expressing a disposition freely to communicate their mind to a sister colony upon a common concern, in the same manner as they would be glad to receive the sentiments of your, or any other House of Assembly on the continent.
The House have humbly represented to the ministry their own sentiments; that His Majesty's high court of Parliament is the supreme legislative power over the whole empire; that in all free states the constitution is fixed; and as the supreme legislative derives its power and authority form the constitution, it cannot overleap the bounds of it, without destroying its foundation. That the constitution ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance; and therefore His Majesty's American subjects, who acknowledge themselves bound by the ties of allegiance, have an equitable claim to the full enjoyment of the fundamental rules of the British constitution. That it is an essential, unalterable right in nature, engrafted into the British constitution as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent. That the American subjects may therefore, exclusive of any consideration of charter rights, with a decent firmness, adapted to the character of freemen and subjects, assert this natural, constitutional right.
It is moreover their humble opinion, which they express with the greatest deference to the wisdom of the Parliament, that the acts made there, imposing duties on the people of this province for the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue, are infringements of their natural and constitutional rights. Because as they are not represented in the British Parliament, His Majesty's Commons in Britain, by those acts grant their property without their consent.
The House further are of opinion that their constituents, considering their local circumstances, cannot by any possibility be represented in Parliament; and that it will forever be impracticable that they should be equally represented there, and consequently not at all, being separated by an ocean of a thousand leagues. That His Majesty's royal predecessors for this reason were graciously pleased to form a subordinate legislative here, that their subjects might enjoy the unalienable right of a representation. Also, that considering the utter impracticability of their ever being fully and equally represented in Parliament, and the great expense that must unavoidably attend even a partial representation there, this House think that a taxation of their constituents, even without their consent, grievous as it is, would be preferable to any representation that could be admitted for them there.
Upon these principles, and also considering that were the right in the Parliament ever so clear, yet for obvious reasons it would be beyond the rule of equity that their constituents should be taxed on the manufactures of Great Britain here, in addition to the duties they pay for them in England, and other advantages arising to Great Britain from the Acts of Trade; this House have preferred a humble, dutiful, and loyal petition to Our Most Gracious Sovereign, and made such representations to His Majesty's ministers as they apprehend would tend to obtain redress.
They have also submitted to consideration, whether any people can be said to enjoy any degree of freedom, if the Crown, in addition to its undoubted authority of constituting a governor, should appoint him such a stipend as it should judge proper, without the consent of the people, and at their expense; and wither while the judges of the land and other civil officers hold not their commissions during good behavior, their having salaries appointed for them by the Crown, independent of the people, has not a tendency to subvert the principles of equity, and endanger the happiness and security of the subject.
In addition to these measures, the House have written a letter to their agent, Mr. De Derdt, the sentiments of which he is directed to lay before the ministry; wherein they take notice of the hardship of the Act for Preventing Mutiny and Deserting, which requires the governor and council to provide enumerated articles for the King's marching troops, and the people to pay the expense; and also the commission of the gentlemen appointed commissioners of the customers, to reside in America, which authorizes them to make as many appointments as they think fit, and to pay the appointees what sums they please, for whole mal-conduct they are no accountable. From when it may happen that officers of the Crown may be multiplied to such a degree as to become dangerous to the liberty of the people, by virtue of a commission which does not appear to this House to derive any such advantages to trade as many have been led to expect.
These are the sentiments and proceedings of this House; and as they have too much reason to believe that the enemies of the colonies have represented them to His Majesty's ministers, and the Parliament, as factious, disloyal, and having a disposition to make themselves independent of the mother country, they have taken occasion in the most humble terms to assure His Majesty and his ministers, that with regard to the people of this province and as they doubt not of all the colonies, that the charge is unjust.
The House is fully satisfied that your Assembly is too generous and enlarged in sentiment to believe that this letter proceeds from an ambition of taking the lead or dictating to the other assemblies. They freely submit their opinion to the judgment of others, an shall take it kind in your House to point out to them anything further that may be thought necessary.
This House cannot conclude without expressing their firm confidence in the King, our common head and father, that the united and dutiful supplications of his distressed American subjects will meet with his royal and favorable acceptance.
Signed by the Speaker.
A copy of the above letter is also, by order of the House, sent to Dennis De Berdt, Esquire, agent to the province in London, that he might make use of it, if necessary, to prevent any misrepresentations in England.