The Founding of New England/XVII

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
The Founding of New England by James Truslow Adams
XVII. The New Order

CHAPTER XVII

THE NEW ORDER

Just a year before the events of that 18th of April, described at the close of the last chapter, the Reverend Increase Mather had sailed for England as representative of “many congregations” in the colony, in an effort to secure from King James the restoration of an assembly, confirmation of land-titles, and as many of the old charter privileges as possible. Although he was more than once received in audience by the King, before the Revolution brought the negotiations to an abrupt end, it had been evident for some time that the churches’ agent was likely to gain little more than fair words and memories of royal interviews.[1] He had, however, succeeded in making useful friends, one among whom, Sir Henry Ashurst, became associated with him as agent, and another, Lord Wharton, introduced him to the Prince of Orange a month before the coronation, enabling him thus early to present a petition for the restoration of the charter.[2]

Three days after that interview, a circular letter was prepared, to be sent to all the English colonies, ordering officials then in office to continue to administer affairs temporarily until the new government could send different instructions.[3] Word of this was given to Mather by Jephson, a cousin of Wharton and an under-secretary to the King. Mather’s alarm, when he heard of it, would seem to indicate that he either had definite information of the uprising planned in Boston, or very strong suspicions of what might occur. Prince William had already been two months in England, and it is incredible that Mather should not have sent home some word of an event of such overwhelming importance to the colony as the overthrow of the Stuart monarchy. His later censure of the colonists for not having promptly resumed the charter government, instead of temporizing, and his laying the blame for his partial failure in England upon their not having done so, may also suggest the nature of the advice sent by him.[4] He could hardly have expected the new King to determine offhand the form of government for the Dominion of New England, then constituting over one half of the empire in America. An order for a few months’ longer continuance of the Andros government, under the circumstances, would not have been a serious matter, unless that government had already been overthrown, or was about to be, by the colonists’ acts. However that may be, Mather and Sir William Phips, now also temporarily in London, petitioned against the dispatch of the letter to New England, and succeeded in having orders issued instead for a new governor in place of Andros, and a temporary form of government, to include a popular assembly.[5]

News of the revolution at Boston reached London the last week in June, and soon letters from Randolph and others supplied the English government with the details of what had occurred.[6] Toward the end of July, orders were issued to the provisional government in Boston to send Andros and the other prisoners to England “forthwith,” on the first ship bound thither, and that they be treated civilly.[7] The order was not received in Massachusetts until November 24, and then was not complied with.[8] Although two ships were ready to sail in December, an embargo was laid upon the vessels, and it was not until the middle of the next February that the prisoners, after treatment which they considered unnecessarily harsh, were allowed to start.[9] It had probably been felt that their presence in London might interfere with the success of the colony’s agents.

The leaders who had planned the Boston revolution had undoubtedly desired the eventual restoration of the old charter, and the return of the Church and themselves into control of the government. It is probable also that the majority of the inhabitants wished for the reëstablishment of charter government, which they looked upon as ensuring themselves against arbitrary acts by England or English officials. The desires of the people as a whole, however, were by no means identical with those of the leaders who formed the temporary government in Boston, or were acting as agents in England, virtually all of whom were of the narrowest clerical party. When the fall of the Andros government necessitated the formation of another, those who had taken the lead on the day of its overthrow associated twenty-two others with themselves, and formed a “Council for the safety of the people and conservation of the peace,” with Bradstreet and Wait Winthrop in the chief offices.[10] The decision of a convention, held May 8, as to a new government was not considered sufficiently decisive, and another was convened, which included representatives from fifty-four towns. Hutchinson says that “two days were spent in disputes,” and that “the people without doors were also much divided in sentiments.” Apparently the representatives of forty towns voted in favor of resuming the charter, and those of fourteen against it.[11] A compromise, not only between those for and against the charter, but also between those for and against the expediency of immediate resumption, resulted in the formation of a government composed of those officials who had been chosen in the last election under the old charter. Within a few weeks, Plymouth, which had never had a charter, and Connecticut and Rhode Island, the legal proceedings against which had never been consummated, also quietly resumed their former governments.[12]

Of the points to be considered in granting a new charter for Massachusetts, or the resumption of the old one, those most likely to be discussed by the people—outside of the question of land-titles, as to which the colonists were naturally unanimous—would be the assembly, the governorship, and the franchise. As to the justice and necessity of a representative body for legislation and taxation, there was probably no difference of opinion in the colony. For that matter, as we saw in the last chapter, there was virtually none in the English government at home, or among its officials in Massachusetts, with the all-important exception of the late, but unlamented, monarch. As to the governor, it was natural that the majority of the people should prefer a chief magistrate elected by themselves rather than one appointed by England, though it is not at all certain that they were right. The old oligarchical government had grossly misused its power, and those who had a keen recollection of what toleration had meant in the days before Andros, and who realized the military danger in the old system of small, disunited, and contentious colonies, can certainly be accused of no lack of “patriotism” in their preference for a royal governor, to serve as a check upon the intolerance and military incapacity of the old regime.

Probably the most disputed point, and the one on which the leaders in control were opposed to the best opinion among the people at large, was that of the franchise. The question was, whether Massachusetts was to remain the private preserve of a persecuting religious sect, or was to be the home of a free people. For half a century, the leaders and the old church party had resisted, by every means in their power,—by fraud, trickery, and bloodshed, as well as by legitimate influence,—the granting of a voice in the government to any individual who could not be counted upon to uphold the power and authority of the priesthood and the Church. Little by little, that power and authority had been declining as, on the one hand, the people had grown in intellectual independence, and, on the other, the leaders had shown themselves less and less worthy of their exalted position. But, in England, Mather was exerting every means to fasten the shackles permanently on the colony by insisting upon the old Congregational test for the suffrage. In acting thus, he claimed to be the representative, not of one element, but of the whole people, a majority of whom would have been disfranchised by his success. What the people themselves were thinking was shown by the vote at the town-meeting of Watertown on May 20, 1689, to choose representatives for the convention. After it had been agreed that they should be instructed to vote for the resumption of the charter, until further orders were received from England, it was added, as the only but significant restriction, that the number of freemen “be inlarged further then have been the Custom of this Colony formerly.”[13] In this crisis, therefore, as has been the case all through our narrative, it is necessary to distinguish clearly the two separate struggles for freedom—that between the colony as a whole and England, and that between the liberal element among the people and the narrow oligarchical leaders, lay and clerical, of the theocratical party in control.

The weakness of the provisional government, due both to the character of the men composing it, and to the lack of a clear mandate from the people, was evident from the start. When, for example, Dudley was released from prison on account of illness, on a bond for £1000, and confined to his own house, a mob broke into it and carried him back to jail. The keeper refused to retain him without a warrant, and he was again confined, in another house. The mob having discovered this, the excitement became so great, and the control of the government was so slight, that Bradstreet, the Governor, had to write to Dudley, and abjectly beg him to reincarcerate himself voluntarily, as otherwise the authorities could not protect his family.[14] A fortnight later, a writer from Boston stated that there was much division among the people, and that “every man is a Governor.” Another wrote, July 31, 1689, that “all is confusion”; and, in October, Elizabeth Usher sent word to her husband that “there is little trade and the ferment is as great as ever.” A few days later, Governor Bradstreet himself was complaining to the Lords of Trade of the people who “are busy to weaken the hands of the Government,” and lamenting the Indian depredations and the empty treasury.[15]

Almost the first act of the provisional government had been to draw off and disperse many of the troops left by Andros to guard the eastern province, while the discipline of all was ruined by the dismissing of a number of officers on religious and political grounds.[16] The Indians realized the situation, and, with the arms and ammunition previously supplied to them by the Boston merchants, descended upon the unhappy settlers. The fort at Pemaquid, the great importance of which had always been denied by the colonists because it was urged by Andros, was captured, owing to the carelessness of the small garrison left there, and about twenty houses were destroyed by the savages. At Saco, Oyster River, and other places, houses were burned, and the inhabitants murdered, and all the horrors of Indian warfare once more came thick upon the border. The sudden disintegration of the Dominion, the inability of the separate colonies to act together quickly and harmoniously, and the lack of authority and military ability, left the frontier defenseless. In April, 1689, war had been declared between France and England, and the colonies seemed helpless before the menace of the French and Indians from the north.

A few weeks after Massachusetts had disbanded the forces that Andros had collected, the government attempted to raise more by a draft. The people questioned both its authority to press men, and its ability to pay them, and, for the most part, flatly refused either to volunteer or to be drafted.[17] A large part of Maine and the country eastward was overrun, and in October the inhabitants were reported to be flocking into Boston.[18] In that month, Bradstreet wrote to the Lords of Trade that there had been great depredations in Maine, New Hampshire, and even in Massachusetts, and that the government’s efforts to check them had been of no avail, although a joint force had finally been raised by Plymouth, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.[19] Part of this force, wretchedly clothed and poorly supplied, had been sent eastward under Colonel Church, the veteran of Philip’s War, but had accomplished little. Indeed, so carelessly was it outfitted and officered, that it was only when unexpectedly forced into action that the unhappy soldiers discovered that the ammunition did not fit their guns.

In January, 1690, the people of Maine sent a petition to England, complaining of lack of protection by Massachusetts, begging for help, and placing their losses at three hundred lives and £40,000 in goods.[20] The people of Great Island, New Hampshire, likewise wrote to the mother-country, complaining of Massachusetts and of the danger from the French and Indians.[21] In midwinter, came the frightful massacres at Schenectady and Salmon Falls; and even Bradstreet and the Council, on behalf of Massachusetts herself, wrote to the Lords of Trade, begging for arms and ammunition. The request was granted, and stores, including two hundred barrels of powder, were ordered shipped to Boston by the English government, although too late for the purpose that the colonists had had in mind but had not stated.[22] In addition, the English navy was active in providing convoys for all the colonial shipping, including that of New England.[23] Such items in the English records as “the convoys for Virginia, Maryland, Newfoundland and New England will sail on the 31st. October, and that for Africa on the 20th.,” or a list of ninety merchant ships, forming only one of the convoyed fleets from America, or the request by Massachusetts for a royal ship-of-war to guard her coastwise commerce, were the best answers to such premature “patriots” as the Reverend Joshua Moody, who was telling the men of Boston that they had no dependence on the Crown, and that the power of England was of no authority over them.[24]

The plan which had been conceived, and for which additional resources were needed, was that of attacking the French, who were the driving force behind the Indian raids, at their headquarters in Canada, instead of carrying on an almost impossible system of defensive tactics along a frontier several hundred miles long. The theory was good; but to put it in practice would require leaders with military ability, and a whole-hearted willingness on the part of the separate colonies to sink their petty jealousies and act together. Unfortunately, both the ability and the spirit of cooperation were lacking.

Massachusetts, indeed, carried out an easy and successful raid upon Acadia, whither Sir William Phips sailed from Nantasket, on April 28, 1690, with five ships and several hundred soldiers.[25] Phips, who is said to have been one of twenty-six children of a Maine backwoodsman, and who in his youth was unable to read or write, had acquired wealth and social position, first, by the not very original method of marrying a rich widow, and, secondly, by the more unusual one of locating a sunken treasure-ship with £300,000 sterling, of which his share was a considerable one. He had already married the widow. When he arrived at Port Royal, in command of the Massachusetts fleet, he had no difficulty in securing the surrender of the fort, as his force outnumbered the garrison ten to one. A succinct diary tells, in admirable style, the important events of his short sojourn, it being pertinent to note that the Reverend Joshua Moody was his chaplain. “May, 11. The fort surrendered. May, 12. Went ashore to search for hidden goods. We cut down the cross, rifled the church, pulled down the high altar, and broke their images. May, 13. Kept gathering plunder all day. May, 14. The inhabitants swore allegiance to King William and Queen Mary.”[26] All very satisfying, doubtless, to the Reverend Mr. Moody. But, unfortunately, the plunder, about the distribution of which some unpleasant things were later said in Boston, was found to amount to £3000 less than the cost of the expedition..[27]

The easy conquest, however, inspired larger hopes, while the common danger to all the colonies might have been counted upon to induce them to lay aside their particularism, and join in a common effort, if anything could. A meeting of commissioners from Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New York was held at the latter city, and a combined attack on Canada was planned.[28] A land force, made up of troops from Maryland and the four colonies just mentioned, was to march from Albany to capture Montreal, while, simultaneously, a fleet from Boston was to attack Quebec. There seems to have been no realization of the difficulties of carrying out such a complex joint operation, although, to the very letter notifying the English government of the grandiose scheme, had to be added a postscript, to the effect that there were already “great distractions amongst the Forces.” Everything went wrong. New York provided only one hundred and fifty of the four hundred men promised. The hundred and sixty sent from Massachusetts were recalled on news of the sacking of Casco. Plymouth sent none, and Connecticut less than her quota; the Indian allies, always uncertain, declined to move, and there were desertions among the whites. The colonies fell out over the appointment of a commander, agreement, but not harmony, finally being attained with the selection of Winthrop.[29] Although the unfortunate force, ill-equipped and badly organized, reached Wood Creek, near the southern end of Lake Champlain, they were unable to advance farther, and, save for a little skirmishing, the whole expedition was a costly failure, demonstrating conclusively that, even in the face of overwhelming danger, the colonies, if left to themselves, were as yet unable to unite in effective action.

Although the naval expedition against Quebec reached its objective, it also was unsuccessful, and was a mixture of farce and tragedy. Phips, who was quite incompetent as the leader of such an undertaking, was put in chief command, and on August 9 sailed from Boston with a force of about twenty-two hundred men, in thirty-two vessels of all sorts, mostly small. For some reason, which does not appear, nine weeks were consumed in reaching Quebec, of which the last three were spent within a few days of the city, owing to the lack of a pilot.[30] The failure of the land expedition against Montreal, and Phips’s delay in ascending the river, had allowed Frontenac to reach Quebec with reinforcements before the hostile fleet dropped anchor a little below the town. The conqueror of Port Royal first tried the effect of a demand for surrender, and sent a summons “as severe as our four clergymen (who were joined to the Council of War) could make it.”[31] Frontenac treated it with contempt, and refused to send more than a verbal reply, except by his cannon.

Phips then called another council of war, and delayed action while seven hundred more reinforcements arrived at the city. The plan finally decided upon was a simultaneous attack by land and water. About twelve hundred men were to be landed, and after crossing a small river, were to ascend to the rear of the city, which they were to attempt to carry by assault, while the fleet bombarded it from the front. The land forces, under Major Walley, were set on shore, where they remained for some days, unable to advance, and suffering greatly from disease, hunger, and exposure. The necessary and expected support which the fleet was to provide them was almost wholly lacking, and neither boats, ammunition, nor food was supplied in proper quantities. On the other hand, Phips, with a total disregard of the land expedition with which he was supposed to be cooperating, fired away all the fleet’s scanty store of powder and shot, expending a considerable portion of it in an unsuccessful effort to hit a picture of the Holy Family, which had been hung on the cathedral spire. Nothing having been accomplished by the futile cannonading, except to provide the Quebec gunners with shot for their guns, and the English ammunition being exhausted, the incompetent commander had nothing to do but to order a retreat and return to Boston. The land forces under Walley had behaved well, but in reëmbarking lost all semblance of discipline, took to the boats much like a base-ball crowd to the street cars, and abandoned their cannon.[32] The self-flattering belief of democracy that training of any sort is a waste of time, and that, in military affairs, competent commanders and disciplined troops can be found at any moment in a crisis, had again proved a costly fallacy.

Original Draft of Indented Notes of 1690

In November, Phips reached Boston with the first of his armada; and other vessels continued to straggle in at intervals until February. Some of them were never heard of at all. As the colony gradually came to a realization of the magnitude of the disaster, it was in despair, as it well might be. Few men had fallen in fighting, but, owing to the incompetence and thoughtlessness of the leaders, both civil and military, the mortality had been great. The lack of clothes and food, the cold, smallpox, fever, and exposure had killed men by scores. The loss was estimated as high as a thousand, and certainly ran into many hundreds.[33] Moreover, the government, with an empty treasury, had recklessly financed the expedition by promises to pay, expecting to be reimbursed from the anticipated plunder. There was no plunder, and the colossal failure had cost £50,000.[34] A Boston merchant wrote to a correspondent in London that, since assuming office, the new government had involved the colony to the extent of, possibly, £200,000, and that it was almost “run aground.”[35]

Virtually bankrupt, and with the discharged soldiers and other creditors clamoring for their pay, the government took the first step on the road to paper money, which was later to cost it dear. The debts were ordered paid with certificates receivable for taxes, ranging in denomination from two shillings to ten pounds.[36] An original issue of £7000 was increased in a few months to £40,000; and owing to the government’s lack of credit and stability, the notes fell quickly in value, and were soon at a discount of thirty to fifty per cent.[37] Taxes rose to formerly unheard-of amounts, and the depression both of business and of sentiment became extreme.[38] Cotton Mather was said to be satisfied to attribute all the colony’s troubles to the presence of the Episcopalian congregation worshiping in the King’s Chapel; and the Governor and Council wrote to England, pointing out that the whole disaster must have been due to God, who had “spit in our faces”—a phrase for a state paper which darts a vivid light, in several directions, among the colony’s elect.[39] There were many, however, who were inclined to lay the blame for the growing ruin of all their affairs in less exalted quarters. The government did its best to suppress or refute all criticism, and the press, whose lack of freedom had been so bitterly complained of only a few months before under Andros, was quickly taken in hand again, and a stricter censorship than ever established.[40] Although nothing could be printed except propaganda in favor of the provisional government, the increasing discontent of many in all classes made itself heard, both in the colony and in England.

Despite all that has been written of the town-meeting, and the general impression that the average New Englander was almost solely a political and religious animal, there is little evidence to prove that the ordinary man in that section cared any more about government than the ordinary man in Virginia or Maryland. In fact, at a little later period, the more accurate election returns would seem to indicate that he then cared even less.[41] The small minority that ran the government and the churches was naturally active and vocal. But the fact that four fifths of the people were reasonably content to join no church, and to have no voice in the government, certainly does not argue, in that time and place, any very high degree of political, religious, or intellectual interest as compared with the rest of America. In the blue haze of that incense in honor of the colonial New Englanders, lighted by themselves and tended by their descendants, we are apt, a little absurdly sometimes, to lose sight of coarse fundamentals. The average man or boy in the New England of this period probably looked upon the theory that the main end of the colony’s existence was to make the world safe for the Congregational church, in very much the same way in which those of us who happened to be in France lately found that the average “doughboy” regarded his main end there to be making the world safe for democracy.

Such very truthful remarks as that already quoted, made by the residents of Cape Ann, when they replied to an early whiff of the incense by saying that their main end had been fish, cannot be too much emphasized. They are as precious as they are rare. Impersonal love of liberty is about as common as uncombined oxygen; and so long as the average man could catch cod, sell whiskey to the Indians, raise crops on land he felt was his own, or stand at his little shop-counter, he did not much care—much as, by way of conversation, he might talk-about the governor in Boston or the king in England. But let him believe that either was threatening his God-given right to accumulate pine-tree shillings, and there would be trouble.

This, the Governor and Council, by their evident inability to handle the situation, were rapidly bringing about. There is nothing unexpected in the cry now beginning to ascend to England, that “we mightily want a government,”[42] or unpatriotic in the attitude of those who did not desire the complete restoration of the former conditions. In England, however, that was exactly what the agents, with Mather at their head, were striving for. Their charges against Andros had entirely broken down, as had their hopes of a restoration of the old charter.[43] Attempts to have it restored by Parliamentary action or by a Writ of Error had both failed, and the agents’ efforts were thereafter directed to obtaining from the King a new charter, with as favorable terms as possible.[44] It may be pointed out that the agents were not representatives of the colony as a whole, but only of the old church party, and that the terms which would be considered favorable by them would be such as would ensure continued control by the theocratic element.

The echoes of the events in the colony that we have been describing had been sounding in England with increasing loudness and frequency, in the shape of private letters and formal addresses.[45] Mather, indeed, attempted to minimize all complaints from the colony, from whatever source, and was somewhat reckless in his imputations and disregard of facts. Thirty-four petitioners of Charlestown, including many substantial men, he characterized as “a few bankrupt Publicans and Vagabonds,” “persons brought up and educated in all manner of Debauchery and Depravation,” “greedy as Hell.”[46] In his effort to prove the great prosperity and importance of New England under the old theocratic government, he grotesquely claimed that, whereas New England had turned a wilderness into a fruitful field, most of the other colonies had “turned a fruitful field into a barren wilderness.” The facts were probably far better known to the Lords of Trade than they were to Mather, and these showed that the population of the other colonies outnumbered that of New England more than two to one, while of England’s colonial trade seven eighths was with the “barren wildernesses” of the sugar and tobacco colonies, and only one ninth with New England’s “fruitful field.”[47] In that very year, of the two hundred and twenty-six ships sailing from England to colonial ports, but seven were bound for New England.[48]

Mather’s anonymous but scarcely veiled threats that the colony would revolt, if the old theocracy and its charter privileges were not restored,[49] failed to impress the government, which, however, had been seriously endeavoring to meet all the legitimate aspirations of the colonists. Mather, who had had several interviews with King William, and had enlisted the sympathy of the Queen,[50] had little difficulty in getting a number of proposals altered, when the reasons were pointed out; but the King and government were both firm in favor of a governor appointed by England, and a property, not a religious, qualification for the franchise. Mather bitterly opposed both these suggestions, particularly that relating to the suffrage, saying he would sooner part with his life than consent. The ministers of state, however, were growing somewhat tired of the clergyman’s representations and misrepresentations, and curtly told him that his consent was neither “expected nor desired”; that he was not a plenipotentiary from a sovereign state; and that, if it was true, as he claimed, that Massachusetts would not accept the new charter, then she could “take what would follow,” for “his Majesty was resolved to settle the Countrey.”[51]

The obvious fact that the colonists were not by any means unanimous in their desire for the old charter, the genuine wish of the English government to provide toleration, the long record of delays and bickerings in the colony’s relations with England, and the necessity for a different organization if the Navigation Acts were to be enforced, probably all had their influence in shaping the government’s policy. Of still greater immediate import, perhaps, was the military situation. With the prospect of a life-and-death struggle with France, the Franco-British frontier in America became a sphere of the highest military interest and importance; and, aside from previous records or any preconceived ideas on the part of English statesmen, the colonists had, within the past year, shown that, if left to themselves, they were unable properly to safeguard either their own homes or the interests of the Empire.

As a matter of fact, the new charter, as finally granted, was a far better document than the one desired by Mather. What he had tried to get was a constitution for a virtually independent theocratic state, the fundamental law of which should provide for the perpetual retention of political power in the hands of a religious sect. What the English government granted was a charter by which the colony took her natural place, indeed, in an empire without whose protection she was defenseless, but which, at the same time, gave to her citizens a degree of self-government and political freedom which the theocratic group would never have been willing to concede. The substitution of a moderate property qualification for the franchise, in place of any other whatsoever, at once placed the colony abreast of the most liberal political thought of the day; while local self-government was restored in the form of a popular assembly. Regardless of the whims or religious prejudices of any clique in power, and irrespective of his class or creed, any resident of the colony who had been sufficiently industrious or fortunate to acquire a freehold estate worth forty shillings per annum, or real or personal property to the value of forty pounds, could now claim, as a right, a voice in the government of his commonwealth.[52] Thanks to England, the final deathblow had legally been dealt to the theocracy, and the foundation laid for genuine self-government and religious toleration in the colony. Those elements in its future development which we are apt to consider as typically American had, in fact, in the case of Massachusetts, been forced upon her leaders, fighting against them to the last ditch, by an English King who could hardly speak the language of his subjects.

One important aspect of this change in the franchise must not be overlooked. Under the old religious test, there had been, within the body of enfranchised voters, no social question. All had possessed the vote, without distinction between rich and poor. The struggle for the franchise, therefore, would always have remained a purely religious one between those within and those without the pale of a particular church. With the abandonment of the religious test, and the substitution of a property qualification, the question became a social one, and the way was opened for that struggle for the democratization of the state and society which became the dominant motive in the Revolution of a century later. The colonies could never have united on a question of religion, or even of trade. The basis had to be so wide as to appeal to the most numerous class in every colony; and that appeal could only be social, and was found to lie in the demand for the abolition of privilege and the extension of democracy. The new charter of 1691 must be regarded as an honest effort to devise such a governmental system as should allow to the colonists the greatest degree of local liberty consistent with the welfare and administrative necessities of the Empire as a whole, in the light of existing political theory. It cannot too often be pointed out that the colonial period was a colonial period, and that the relations subsisting between England and the colonies were necessarily those subsisting between a sovereign state and its dependencies. There was no more reason for the colonist of Massachusetts or Barbadoes to consider himself entirely independent of English control, than there is for the settler in Alaska to consider himself wholly independent of the United States to-day. It is inconsistent to claim that the authority of Congress, in the twentieth century, should reach to Guam or Nome, but that the authority of Parliament, in the seventeenth, should have stopped at Land’s End. To find fault with administrative arrangements proper under the above conditions, merely because they would have been unsuitable had the subsequently revolting colonies then been the independent states they later developed into, is to look through the wrong end of the historian’s telescope. If we are to judge the governments provided for the colonies in comparison with models in later American history, they should not be compared with the constitutions of our sovereign states, but with those provided for our own dependent colonies and territories; and in their broader features, the constitutions granted by Congress to organized territories reproduce very closely the old royal governments of the earlier period.

In the first place, we may note that the governor of a territory is not elected by the people, but is appointed by the president, and is removable by him, as the Massachusetts charter of 1691 provided that her governor should be removable by the king. In territories, as in the colonies, laws passed by the bicameral legislature are subject, not only to veto by the governor, but also to disallowance by the higher sovereign power. The review of colonial legislation, to which our forefathers objected so strongly when colonists, we adopted ourselves when we, in turn became a “mother-country”; and in some cases, at least, the laws passed by territorial legislatures were specifically made subject to review by Congress. It is needless to remind the reader that the citizens of our territories are no more directly represented in that body than the colonists were in Parliament, and that taxation without direct representation is as much a factor in our present state as it was in the British Empire. In one respect, the Massachusetts charter of 1691, indeed, was more liberal than our territorial governments; for in Massachusetts the judges were appointed by the governor with the consent of the council, or upper house of the legislature, while in American territories they are appointed by the president without the consent of the inhabitants.[53]

To many in the colony, however, the change from the old charter form to the new seemed a loss of independence. The former governing element felt that their control had been vastly weakened. The church party anticipated that the end of all things might be due when the Congregational church no longer legally controlled the elections. The presence of a governor and other officials appointed by the Crown, the review of legislation, the right of appeal, and other evidences of the colony having become part of a great organization instead of a practically independent, even if insignificant, little collection of towns, was unwelcome to those who had had a false idea of the role which, in that time and place, it was possible for them and the colony to play in the world.

On the other hand, there were very substantial advantages under the new regime. Although, owing to an obscure and probably not very reputable intrigue, New Hampshire was given a separate government, the bounds of the new Massachusetts were extended to include Plymouth, Maine, and the eastern country as far as Nova Scotia.[54] Moreover, the colonists had never really possessed anything like the rights which they had claimed and exercised under the old charter. The whole system of town government, for example, had been extra-legal. The infliction of the death-penalty was illegal, and there was no question that the colonists had exceeded their rights in taxing the non-freemen. Now all the false reasoning and sophistries that the settlers had indulged in, in their efforts to prove the old charter adequate as the basis of a government, were no longer necessary. Massachusetts at last had, what she had never possessed before, a written constitution, which clearly set forth her form of government, and validated, to a very great extent, those institutions which she had cherished.[55] The royal officials, disliked as their presence might be by the irreconcilables, actually and symbolically brought the colony into relations with the larger life of the empire. In her thought, her commerce, and her political relations, New England’s largest colony was at last forced out of that position of defiant isolation which her former leaders had chosen for her, and made to participate, so far as her provincial position allowed, in the main currents of the world’s activities. The new charter definitely marked the end of one era and the beginning of another.

This change was more than political and economic. It has been evident from the foregoing narrative that the power of the clergy had been felt in every sphere of the colony’s life. In the pulpits, in the schools, in the colleges, in the censorship of the press, in the legislature, even in the councils of war and the courts of justice, their influence had been incalculable. The story of the struggle against it, and of its gradual yielding to defeat, as the people more and more made good their right to believe as they would and live their lives as they chose, has occupied many of our pages. The course of development, however, which was to make Massachusetts the leader of liberal thought among the states, was a long one, and, in part, it was but a reaction and a protest against the theological repression of this earlier period.

Although the charter of 1691 had definitely ended the legalized control of the Congregational church, which was still to maintain a privileged position until 1812, the organization desperately struggled to retain its power. The members of the new government, thanks to the efforts of Mather in England, were nearly all of the clerical party. He had, indeed, succeeded in having the more important offices filled with the most fanatical, or the most subservient, of the men in the colony’s public life. His son, the Reverend Cotton Mather, when he heard of the list of officials, wrote ecstatically in his diary: “The time for Favour was now come; the sett Time was come! . . . all the Councellors of the Province are of my own Father’s Nomination; and my Father-in-law, with several related unto me, and several Brethren of my own church, are among them. The Governour of the Province is not my Enemy but one whom I baptized, namely Sir William Phips, and one of my own Flock, and one of my dearest Friends.”[56] He might have added that the savagely bigoted Stoughton was made Deputy Governor.

At the very time when this effort was being made still to control the government, in spite of its altered form, events occurred that gave a staggering blow to that unofficial power which the clergy had been accustomed to exert as the acknowledged intellectual leaders of the community. For, in the generation of 1690, the witchcraft frenzy, in which the clergy took a leading part, brought about the same sort of anti-clerical reaction that had been a result of the Quaker persecutions by them in the generation of 1660.

We shall not concern ourselves with the details of the horrible delusion, which, for the last time in New England, caused the blood of innocent victims to be shed as a result of theological beliefs. They may be found amply set forth elsewhere, and concern rather the antiquarian and the psychologist than the historian.[57] For us, the interest lies in their influence upon the intellectual development of the colony, and the growth of its people.

It is quite true that communities in all ages and places have been occasionally subject to being thrown off their mental balance, and during the period of frenzy or panic have committed acts of folly or crime, for which they have subsequently been heartily repentant. But to state a fact is not to explain it; and to find the underlying cause of the psychologic disturbance in northeastern Massachusetts in 1692—during which two hundred persons were accused of being in league with the devil, one hundred and fifty were imprisoned, and twenty-nine put to death,—in such influences as the loss of the charter, or the “harsh aspects of the scenery”—seems to me wholly inadequate, to say the least.[58] The scenery of the native American wild “invited to stern and melancholy musing,” as New England’s best-known historian phrases it, for about a thousand miles north and south of Mr. Mather’s study in Boston, or the Reverend Mr. Parris’s cottage in Salem Village, and would seem to be rather dispersed as the cause of a very localized phenomenon.

It is needless to point out that the belief in witchcraft had been widespread throughout the world; but since the days of King James I, there had been, among English people, only isolated cases, save during the years of the Puritan political supremacy in England and the closing days of that same supremacy in Massachusetts.[59] Of the more than seventy cases in England since the Restoration, the great majority had resulted in acquittals, and in two cases only had the unfortunate victims been executed. We have seen, in an earlier chapter, the extraordinarily large sphere accorded to the devil in Puritan theology, and that theology’s virtual repudiation of science by its considering every event in the universe, from the sun’s course in heaven to a spider’s falling into the porridge, as a direct interposition of the divine will. While Boyle, Newton, and other founders of the new scientific age in England, were tracing the reign of law, the intellectual leaders of New England were engaged in gathering together collections of “remarkable providences,” ranging in interest from the sudden death of a Sabbath-breaker to the evident marking for destruction, out of a whole library, of a copy of the book of Common Prayer, by a mouse evidently brought up in the “New England way.” Of the moral earnestness of such men there is no question, nor of the abiding stamp which they have left upon the New England consciousness. Happily, much of the good they did has survived, while much of the political and intellectual damage they likewise did, and would have continued to do, had they had their way, has passed.

In 1681, a group of the most eminent of the clergy around Boston determined upon a large coöperative work, to involve the research of many authors, and the labor of some years. It was to be a collection of remarkable providences, of divine judgments, of “thunders as are unusual, strange apparitions, or whatever else shall happen that is prodigious, witchcrafts, diabolical possessions, judgments upon noted sinners,” and the like.[60] Each clergyman was to make diligent search among his congregation, and it is obvious what a stimulant such a wholesale inquiry among the people, by the intellectual leaders of the community, would be toward arousing interest, and intensifying the belief, in such matters. A few years later, Increase Mather published his book on the subject, in which he gave numerous cases of witchcraft and possession, and recited the signs by which it might be known. It became the study of the young Cotton Mather, whom in 1686, at the age of twenty-three, we find wrestling in prayer to cast the devils out of New England, and undertaking to track down those leagued with them.[61]

Testimonial to the Good Character of Rebecca Nourse, executed as a Witch.jpg

Interest in the subject continued to be stirred up, and in 1688, the criminal nonsense of some children of Boston, and their accusations against a washerwoman, resulted in her being denounced as a witch. Cotton Mather, who had now found the case for which he had been longing, and in which he might do ghostly battle, took the eldest girl home with him. She played upon the clergyman’s colossal vanity, and, on evidence which ought not to have shut up a dog, the unfortunate washerwoman was hanged. Mather now proceeded, by another book and by frenzied sermons, to arouse the fears and superstitions of the crowd. With one of the most noted clergymen in Boston doing all he could to foster it, the belief deepened and spread, and the minds of many, who would not otherwise have given thought to it, were prepared to believe in that “plot of the Devil against New England” which Mather preached.

Early in 1692, some children of Salem feigned the symptoms of which they had heard their elders speak. Two of them belonged to the family of the local clergyman, Mr. Parris, who now entered on the devil-hunt, with a fanaticism which knew no bounds, and an honesty which seems to have been questionable.[62] To his efforts were added those of the Reverend Mr. Noyes. Charge after charge was launched against innocent people, and by the time Phips arrived in the colony as governor, in May, over a hundred persons were already in prison awaiting trial. Vain of his undeserved authority, the appointee and pliant tool of Mather, he immediately appointed an illegal court to try the witchcraft cases, with Stoughton as presiding judge. In the frenzy of superstitious fanaticism which followed, justice, legal evidence, even a verdict of the jury, were set aside, and victim after victim hurried to the gallows, while one, with horrible tortures lasting several days, was pressed to death under heavy weights.[63] The clergy, formally referred to by the Governor and court for advice, while carefully hedging as to certain particulars, urged the court on to “speedy and vigorous prosecution”; and Mather wrote to one of them, extolling “the noble service” of “Encountering the Wicked Spiritts in the high places of our Air, & of detecting & of confounding of their confederates.”[64] The Reverend Mr. Burroughs, of Wells, who avowed that “there neither are, nor ever were witches,” was condemned; and although the spectators at his hanging were so moved as almost to prevent the sentence from being carried out, Mather, who was witnessing the spectacle from horseback, told the people that the victim was not an ordained clergyman, and that, in any case, the devil often appeared as an Angel of Light.[65]

Finally, the reaction set in, and the sober sense of the community set itself against the ravings and goadings of the more fanatical clergy and church members. The commission of the special court expired with the assembling of the General Court, and was not renewed. Phips, evidently fearing criticism from England, wrote to the Earl of Nottingham, disingenuously laying all the blame for the judicial proceedings on Stoughton, and quoted Increase Mather and the other divines.[66] Courageous laymen, like Thomas Brattle and Robert Calef, both merchants, exerted their influence against the delusion; and when Mather tried to start another alarm in Boston, less than a year after the last execution at Salem, public opinion was arrayed solidly against him. In 1700, Calef’s book in answer to Mather’s “Wonders of the Invisible World” was printed in London and quickly imported into the colony. Though the rage of the Mathers, father and son, was unbounded, their cause had been thoroughly discredited, and their day was past. They belonged, in reality, to the sixteenth century, while Calef, the merchant, defending the cause of intellectual freedom with no weapon but that of common sense, belonged to the eighteenth, the dawn of which was now at hand.

It was the voice of that century to which the people were now to hearken. Thenceforth, happily for itself as well as for America, the church was to be unable to rely either upon political power or upon blind fanaticism to uphold its leadership—a leadership which now, perforce, took on a nobler form. The work of the founders was over. In the extension of their influence throughout the country, wherever we find groups of settlers from the New England states, we find, indeed the church, the common-school, and the town-meeting; but it is a liberalized church, a non-sectarian school, and a town-meeting in which the citizen’s vote is not dependent upon the possession of any peculiar theological belief.

It was usual, in an earlier and less critical day, to trace all of New England’s greatness, and of her noble contributions to our common American life, to the same little group of leaders, who were supposed to have done all because they did much. Life is not so simple as that, and in the founding of New England, and the development of her liberties, we must find place for English kings and statesmen, for colonial liberals and martyrs, as well as for Pilgrim Father and Puritan Priest.

THE END


Notes[edit]

  1. Mather sailed April 7, 1688. Andros Tracts, vols. III, pp. 130 ff., and II, pp. 274 ff. As the addresses which he carried with him were unsigned, and as they were merely issued “in the name of many Congregations,” it is impossible to say whom he really represented when he sailed.
  2. Andros Tracts, vol. III, pp. 146 f.
  3. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 4, 7.
  4. Andros Tracts, vol. II, p. 291. Cf., however, Cotton Mather, Diary, vol. I, p. 138 n.
  5. Andros Tracts, vols. II, p. 274, and III, p. 148; Palfrey, History, vol. III, p. 591 n.; Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 6, 8, 11.
  6. Sewall, Diary, vol. 1, pp. 261 f.
  7. Randolph Papers, vol. IV, pp. 290 f.; Andros Tracts, vol. III, p. III. The list of prisoners is in Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 109.
  8. Randolph Papers, vol. V, p. 23.
  9. Randolph Papers, vols. II, pp, 110, 116, 118, 121, v, pp. 20, 26 ff., and vi, pp. 325, 331. 334; Andros Tracts, vol. I, p. 174; Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 263.
  10. Hutchinson, History, vol. 1, p. 340.
  11. Ibid., p. 344; Mather Papers, pp. 708 f.
  12. Plymouth Colonial Records, vol. VI, pp. 206 f.; R. I. Records, vol. III, p. 266; Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 34, 62; Conn. Col. Records, vol. III, pp. 250 ff., 463 ff.
  13. Watertown Records, vol. II, p. 37.
  14. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. III, 120. Bradstreet s letter is cited from Board of Trade Mss., by Kimball, Joseph Dudley, pp. 52 f. The Cal. State Pap. reference gives the bail as £10,000. I have followed Kimball in stating it at £1000.
  15. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 82, 111, 120, 158, 167.
  16. Tracts, vol. III, pp. 248. The colony’s defense against Andros’s charges in this connection is weak and far from truthful. Ibid., pp. 34 ff.
  17. Cal. State Pap., Cal., 1689-92, pp. III, 120.
  18. Ibid., p. 158.
  19. Ibid., p. 167.
  20. Ibid., p. 212.
  21. Ibid., pp. 262 f.
  22. Ibid., pp. 240, 273, 282 f.
  23. Ibid., pp. 322, 575, 577 f., 675.
  24. Randolph Papers vol. VI, p. 295.
  25. The number of men and vessels varies in different accounts. Cf. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 275 f., 376; Parkman, Frontenac, p. 247.
  26. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 275 f.
  27. Ibid., p. 376.
  28. N. Y. Col. Docts., vol. III, p. 732.
  29. Ibid., vols. IV, p. 194, and III, pp. 727, 752; Documentary History of New York, vol. II, p. 266.
  30. Walley’s Journal, in Hutchinson, History, vol. I, p. 477; Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 384. Most of the contemporary accounts, French and English, are conveniently brought together by E. Myrand, in Sir Wm. Phips devant Québec; Quebec, 1893.
  31. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 384. The summons is in Mather, Magnalia, vol. I, p. 186. Cf. Parkman, Frontenac, p. 279 n.
  32. Parkman, Frontenac, p. 287; Walley’s Journal, pp. 470 ff.; Phips’s own account is in Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 45.
  33. Ibid., pp. 376 f., 385, 369, 387.
  34. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 377, 369; Parkman, Frontenac, p. 297; Andros Tracts, vol. II, p. 238.
  35. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 377.
  36. A. McF. Davis, Currency and Banking in the Province of Massachusetts Bay (New York, 1900), vol. I, pp. 10 ff.
  37. Davis, Currency, vol. I, pp. 16 f.; Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 377.
  38. Ibid., pp. 385, 387, 399.
  39. Ibid., p. 369; Andros Tracts, vol. III, p. 53.
  40. Duniway, Freedom of the Press, pp. 67 ff.
  41. McKinley, Suffrage Franchise, pp. 47, 357. Cf., also, L. G. Tyler, in William and Mary Quarterly, vol. XXVI, p. 278.
  42. Cal. State Pap., Col, 1689-92, p. 300.
  43. No one would sign even the brief charges submitted, and they were dismissed. Andros Tracts, vols. II, pp. 173 ff., 1, pp. 150 ff., and III, pp. 19 ff.
  44. Andros Tracts, vols. II, pp. 15 ff., 75 ff., and III, pp. 149 ff.
  45. Cf., besides the authorities already cited, Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, pp. 212, 213 (2), 343, 366, 368, 409.
  46. Andros Tracts, vol. II, pp. 230, 240 ff. A report to the Board of Trade, in regard to these “vagabond” signers, probably exaggerated on the other side, puts down two as worth £12,000 each, two at £10,000, three at £6000, two at £5000, two at £4000, five at £3000, etc. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1689-92, p. 422.
  47. Andros Tracts, vol. II, pp. 254 f.; A Century of Population, p. 9, gives 82,000 in New England and 124,000 in the south, in 1690. To the latter figure must be added those for the island colonies; Beer, Old Colonial System, vol. I, pp. 41 ff. The trade figures are for 1697.
  48. Beer, Old Colonial System. Of the remainder, 103 went to Virginia and Maryland, 71 to Barbadoes, 23 to the Leeward Islands, 20 to Jamaica, one to Bermuda, and one to Pennsylvania.
  49. Andros Tracts, vol. II, pp. 245, 248, 269.
  50. Ibid., vols. II, pp. 277 ff., and III, pp. 156 ff.
  51. Andros Tracts, vols. II, p. 281, and III, p. 165.
  52. The charter is printed in Colonial Society Massachusetts Publications, vol. II, pp. 7 ff.
  53. Willoughby, Territories and Dependencies, pp. 54 ff.; Bryce, American Commonwealth, vol. I. pp 553 ff. The constitutions of the territories may be found in Organic Acts, Senate Document No. 148, 56th Congress, 1st Session. As an example of legislative review, cf. p. 96 (New Mexico): “All the laws passed by the legislative assembly and governor shall be submitted to the Congress of the United States, and, if disapproved, shall be null and of no effect.” Under the act organizing a government in Alaska, in 1884, it was specifically provided that there should be no legislative assembly. Ibid., p. 206.
  54. For the form of government established in New Hampshire, which became a royal province, vide Fry, New Hampshire, pp. 71 ff.
  55. Cf. Greene, The Provincial Governor, pp. 92, 179. For a discussion of the charter, vide Osgood, American Colonies, vol. III, pp. 439 ff.
  56. Cotton Mather, Diary, in Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Series VII, vol. VII, p. 148.
  57. Cf. C. W. Upham, History of Witchcraft and Salem Village, Boston, 1867, 2 vols; Palfrey, History, vol. IV, pp. 96 ff.; the works of Cotton Mather and Robert Calef, edited by S. G. Drake and published as The Witchcraft Delusion in New England, 3 vols., Roxbury, 1866; I. Mather, Remarkable Providences, London, 1890.
  58. Palfrey, History, vol. IV, pp. 128 f.
  59. W. Notestein, History of Witchcraft in England (American Historical Association, 1911), pp. 400 ff.
  60. I. Mather, Remarkable Providences, Preface.
  61. C. Mather, Diary, vol. I, p. 114.
  62. Vide the remonstrance against him, in Upham, Witchcraft, vol. II, pp. 497 f., and Drake, Witchcraft Delusion, vol. II, p. 41.
  63. Sewall, Diary, vol. I, p. 364.
  64. Hutchinson, History, vol. II, pp. 52 f.; Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Series IV, vol. VIII, p. 391.
  65. Sewall, Diary, vol. I, p. 363; Drake, Witchcraft Delusion, vol. III, pp. 38 f.
  66. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1693-96, p. 30.