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The History of the United States from 1492 to 1910, Volume 1
The Passing of the Rubicon
by Hawthorne, Julian

Issue was now joined between America and England. They faced each other --the great, historic figure, and the stripling of a century--and knew that the limit had been reached. The next move might be irrevocable.
"You must submit to the tax."--"I will not submit."
Englishmen, with some few eminent exceptions, believed that England was in the right. If the word of Parliament was not law, what was? If the law it made could be disregarded, what could stand? A colony was a child: children must be kept in subjection. Colonies were planted for the benefit and extension of commerce; if they were permitted to conduct their commerce without regard to the mother country, their reason for existence was gone. The protection of a colony was expensive: why should not the protected one bear a part at least of the expense? If the mother country allowed the colony to fix the amount it should pay, what guarantee could she have that it would pay anything? Could mighty England assume toward little America the attitude of a tradesman, humbly standing at the door with a bill, asking whether it would be convenient to pay something on account? If there were to be condescension, it should not come from America. She clamored for justice; England would be just: but she must first be obeyed. England might forgive the debt, but must insist upon acknowledgment that the debt was due, and upon the right to collect it at pleasure. As for the plea that taxation should postulate representation, it would not bear examination. It might be true that Parliament was a theoretically representative body; but, in fact, it was a gathering of the men in England best qualified to govern, who were rather selected than elected. Many of the commons held their seats by favor of the nobility; the suffrage, as practiced, was a recognition that the people might have a voice in the government of the country; but that voice was not to be a deciding one. It was exercised only by a part of the people, and even then, largely under advice or influence. Many important towns and districts had no representatives. Americans were as well off as these Englishmen; on what ground could they demand to be better off? They must trust to the will of England to secure their advantage in securing her own; to her wisdom, equity, and benevolence. Why should they complain of the Navigation Acts? What more did they want than a market?--and that, England afforded. Why should they feel aggrieved at the restriction on their manufactures? England could manufacture articles better than they could, and it was necessary to the well-being of her manufacturing classes that they should be free from American competition. Did they object to the measures England took to prevent smuggling and illicit dealing?--They had only themselves to blame: was it not notorious that evasions and open violations of the law had for years existed? Did they object to royal governors?--What better expedient was there to keep the two countries in touch with each other--to maintain that "representation" in England which they craved?--whereas, were they to choose governors from among themselves, they would soon drift away from sympathy with and understanding of England. And why all this uproar about the stamp tax? What easier, more equitable way could be devised to get the financial tribute required without pressing hard on any one? If Americans would object to that, they would object to anything; and they must either be abandoned entirely to their own devices--which of course was out of the question--or they must be compelled, if they would not do it voluntarily, to accede to it. Compulsion meant force; force meant a resident English army; and that army must be supported and accommodated by those for whose regulation it was established.

Such was the attitude of men like Lord Chief-justice Mansfield, who spoke on the subject in the House of Lords. He refused to recognize any essential distinction between external and internal taxes; though, as Pitt pointed out, the former was designed for the regulation of trade, and whatever profit arose from it was incidental; while the latter was imposed to raise revenue for the home government, and was, in effect, arbitrarily appropriating the property of subjects without their consent asked or obtained. Pitt disposed of the argument of virtual representation by denying it point-blank; Americans were not in the same position with those Englishmen who were not directly represented in Parliament; because the latter were inhabitants of the kingdom, and could be, and were indirectly represented in a hundred ways. But while opposing the right of Parliament to rob America, he asserted in the strongest terms its right to govern her. "The will of Parliament, properly signified, must forever keep the colonies dependent upon the sovereign kingdom of Great Britain. If any idea of renouncing allegiance has existed, it was but a momentary frenzy. In a good cause, the force of this country can crush America to atoms. But on this ground of the stamp act, I am one who will lift up my hands against it. I rejoice that America has resisted. In such a cause, your success would be hazardous. America, if she fell, would embrace the pillar of the state, and pull down the constitution along with her."

The Lords passed the bill against a minority of five. In the Commons, where Burke ardently spoke in favor of the tax, the majority was even greater. "It was decided that irresponsible taxation was not a tyranny but a vested right; that Parliament held legislative power, not as a representative body but in absolute trust: that it was not and had never been responsible to the people." This was the new Toryism, which was to create a new opposition. The debate aroused a discussion of popular rights in England itself, and the press began to advocate genuine representation. Meanwhile, it looked ill for the colonies. But a law which is only engrossed on parchment, and is not also founded in natural truth and justice, has no binding power, even though it be supported by the army and navy of England. Humanity was on the side of America, and made her small numbers and physical weakness as strong as all that is good and right in the world. All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is nothing real but right. Had America fought only for herself, she would have failed.

The instances of mob violence in the colonies at this period were not to be classed with lawless outbreaks in countries which have a government of their own. The colonies were subjected to a government which they did not elect or approve; and the management of their affairs consequently reverted inevitably and rightly to the body of the people themselves. They had no officers and no organization, but they knew what they wanted; and having in view the slowness of inter-communication, and the differences in the ideas and customs of the several colonies, the unanimity of their action in the present juncture is surprising. When their congress met in New York on the 7th of October, 1765, their debate was less as to principles than as to the manner of their declaration and enforcement. The watchword, "Join or die," had been started in September, and was taken up all over the country. Union was strength, and on union all were resolved. The mob had put a stop to the execution of the law; it now rested with the congress to settle in what way and on what grounds the repeal of the law should be demanded. Against the people and the congress were arrayed the royal governors and other officials, and the troops. The former deluged the home government with exhortations to be firm; the latter waited the word to act, not without misgivings; for here were two million inhabitants, a third or fourth part of whom might bear arms.

Should the congress base its liberties on charter rights, or on natural justice and universal reason?--On the latter, said Gadsden of South Carolina; and the rest acceded. "I wish," Gadsden had said, "that the charters may not ensnare us at last by drawing different colonies to act differently in this great cause. There ought to be no New England man, no New Yorker, known on the continent, but all Americans." It was a great truth to be enunciated at that time. There were statesmen less wise in this country a hundred years later. The Duke of Choiseul, premier of France, and one of the acutest ministers that ever lived, foresaw the independence of America, and even so early began to take measures having in view the attitude of France in that contingency.--In the congress, Otis advocated repeal, not of the stamp act alone, but of all acts laying a duty on trade; and it was finally agreed to mention the latter as grievances. Trial by jury was stipulated for instead of admiralty jurisdiction; taxes should be imposed only by colonial legislatures, representation in Parliament being impracticable. One or two of the delegates feared to sign the document embodying these views and demands; whereupon Dyer of Connecticut observed that since disunion in these matters was fatal, the remaining delegates ought to sign them; and this was done, only Ruggles and Ogden, of Massachusetts and of New Jersey respectively, declining. By this act the colonies became "a bundle of sticks which could neither be bent nor broken." At the same time, Samuel Adams addressed a letter to Governor Bernard of Massachusetts. "To suppose a right in Parliament to tax subjects without their consent includes the idea of a despotic power," said he. "The stamp act cancels the very conditions upon which our ancestors, with toil and blood and at their sole expense, settled this country. It tends to destroy that mutual confidence and affection, as well as that equality, which ought to subsist among all his majesty's subjects: and what is worst of all evils, if his majesty's subjects are not to be governed according to the known and stated rules of the constitution, their minds may in time become disaffected."

On the 1st of November, the day when the act was to go into effect, Colden, governor of New York, "resolved to have the stamps distributed." The army and navy professed themselves ready to support him. But the population rose up in a body against it, with Isaac Sears as leader. "If you fire on us, we'll hang you," they told Colden. Torchlight processions, with the governor's effigy burned in a bonfire composed of his own carriages, right under the guns of the fort in which he had taken refuge, followed. Colden capitulated, and even gave up the stamps into the custody of the people. Similar scenes were enacted in the other colonies. The principle of "union and liberty" became daily more deeply rooted. If England refused to repeal the act, "we will repeal it ourselves," declared the colonists. John Adams said that the colonies were already discharged from allegiance, because they were "out of the king's protection" --protection and allegiance being reciprocal. The Sons of Liberty became a recognized organization. The press printed an admonition to George III., brief but pithy: GREAT SIR, RETREAT, OR YOU ARE RUINED. Otis maintained that the king, by mismanaging colonial affairs, had practically abdicated, so far as they were concerned. Israel Putnam, being of an active turn, rode through Connecticut to count noses, and reported that he could raise a force of ten thousand men. Meanwhile the routine business of the country went on with but slight modification, though according to the stamp act nothing that was done without a stamp was good in law. But it appeared, upon experiment, that if the law was in the people it could be dispensed with on paper. And wherever you went, you found a population smilingly clad in homespun.

Would England repeal the act? The House of Lords voted in favor of enforcing it, February, 1766. In the Commons, General Howard declared that if it were passed, rather than imbrue his hands in the blood of his countrymen, he would sheathe his sword in his own body. The House divided two to one against the repeal. The king said he was willing to modify, but not to repeal it. On the 13th Franklin was summoned to the bar. He showed why the colonies could not and would not pay the tax, and that, unless it were repealed, their affection for England, and the commerce depending thereon, would be lost. Would America pay a modified stamp duty?--he was asked; and bravely replied, "No: never: they will never submit to it." But could not a military force carry the act into effect?--"They cannot force a man to take stamps who chooses to do without them," was the answer. He added that the colonists thought it hard that a body in which they were not represented should make a merit of giving what was not its own but theirs. He affirmed a difference between internal and external taxation, because the former could not be evaded, whereas articles of consumption, on which the duty formed part of the price, could be dispensed with at will. "But what if necessaries of life should be taxed?" asked Grenville, thinking he had Franklin on the hip. But the American sage crushingly replied, "I do not know a single article imported into the colonies but what they can either do without it, or make it for themselves."

In the final debates, Pitt, called on to say whether, should total repeal be granted, in compliance with American menaces of resistance, the consequence would not be the overthrow of British authority in America, gave his voice for repeal as a right. Grenville, on the other hand, thought that America should learn that "prayers are not to be brought to Caesar through riot and sedition." The vote for repeal, and against modified enforcement, was two hundred and seventy-five to one hundred and sixty-seven. The dissenting members of the Lords signed a protest, because, should they assent to the repeal merely because it had passed the lower house, "we in effect vote ourselves useless." This suggests the "Je ne vois pas la nécessité" of the French epigrammatist. The Lords took themselves too seriously. Meanwhile, Bow bells were rung, Pitt was cheered, and flags flew; the news was sent to America in fast packets, and the rejoicing in the colonies was great. Prisoners for debt were set free, there were illuminations and bonfires, and honor was paid to Pitt, Camden, Barre, and to the king, who was eating his heart with vexation fit having been compelled to assent to what he called "the fatal repeal."

The British government, while repealing the law, had yet affirmed its sovereign authority over the colonies. The colonies, on the other hand, were inclined to confirm their present advantage and take a step still further in advance. They would not be taxed without representation; why should they submit to any legislation whatever without representation? What right had England to enforce the Navigation Acts? The more the general situation was contemplated and discussed, the plainer to all did it appear that union was indispensable. The governors of most of the colonies were directing a treacherous attack against the charters; but bold students of the drift of things were foreseeing a time when charters might be superseded by independence. Patriots everywhere were keenly on the watch for any symptoms of a design on Parliament's part to raise a revenue from America. The presence and quartering of English soldiers in the colonies was regarded as not only a burden, but an insinuation. It was moreover a constant occasion of disturbance; for there was no love lost between the people and the soldiers. But, that there was no disposition on the people's part to pick quarrels or to borrow trouble, was evident from their voluntarily passing resolutions for the reimbursement of persons, like Hutchinson, who had suffered loss from the riots. If England would treat them like reasonable creatures, they were more than willing to meet her half way. It is probable that but for the royal governors, England and America might have arrived at an amicable understanding; yet, in the ultimate interests of both countries, it was better that the evil counselors of the day should prevail.

Townshend, an able, eloquent, but entirely untrustworthy man, devoted to affairs, and of insatiable though unprincipled ambition, proposed in Parliament to formulate a plan to derive a permanent revenue from America. This Parliament has been described by historians, and is convicted by its record, as the most corrupt, profligate and unscrupulous in English annals. William Pitt, who had accepted the title of Lord Chatham, and entered the House of Lords, was nominally the leader, but his health and failing faculties left him no real power. Shelburne, Secretary of State, was moderate and liberal, but no match for Townshend's brilliancy. The latter's proposal was to suspend the legislature of New York, as a punishment for the insubordination of the colony and a warning to others; to support a resident army, and to pay salaries to governors, judges and other crown officers, out of the revenue from America; to establish commissioners of the customs in the country; to legalize general writs of assistance; to permit no native-born American to hold office under the crown; and to make the revenue derivable from specified taxes on imports. The tax on tea was among those particularly mentioned. This was the scheme which was to be substituted for the repealed stamp tax; the colonies had objected to that as internal; this was external, and, though Townshend had refused to admit any difference between the two, he now employed it as a means of bringing the colonies to terms. The measure was received with acclaim by Parliament, though it was contrary to the real sentiment of the English nation. The king was charmed with it. Townshend died soon after it was passed, at the age of forty-one; and the king called on Lord North to take his place; a man of infirm will, but able, well-informed and clear-minded, with a settled predisposition against the cause of the people. He was as good an enemy of America as Grenville himself, though a less ill-natured one.

But, viewing this period broadly, it is manifest that the finest brains and best hearts, both in England and America, were friends to the cause of liberty. America, certainly, at this critical epoch in her career, produced a remarkable band of statesmen and patriots, perfectly fitted to the parts they had to play. The two Adamses, Gadsden, Franklin, Otis, Patrick Henry, Livingstone of New York, John Hancock, the wealthy and splendid Boston merchant, Hawley of Connecticut, and Washington, meditating upon the liberties of his country in the retirement of Mount Vernon, and unconsciously preparing himself to lead her armies through the Revolution--there has never been a company of better men active at one time in any country. Just at this juncture, too, there arose in Delaware a prophet by the name of John Dickinson, who wrote under the title of The Farmer, and who formulated an argument against the new revenue law which caught the attention of all the colonies. England, he pointed out, prohibits American manufactures; she now lays duties on importations, for the purpose of revenue only. Americans were taking steps to establish a league to abstain from purchasing any articles brought from England, intending thus to defeat the operation of the act without breaking the law. This might answer in the case of luxuries, or of things which could be made at home. But what if England were to meet this move by laying a duty on some necessary of life, and then forbid Americans to manufacture it at home? Obviously, they would then be constrained to buy it, paying the duty, and thus surrendering their freedom. From this point of view it would not be enough to evade the tax; it must be repealed, or resisted; and resistance meant war.

Unless, however, some action of an official character were taken, binding the colonies to co-operation, it was evident that the law would gradually go into effect. The Massachusetts assembly, early in 1768, sent to its London agent a letter, composed by Samuel Adams, embodying their formal protest to the articles of the revenue act and its corollaries. At the same time, they sent copies of the statement to the other colonial assemblies in the country, accompanied with the suggestion that all unite in discontinuing the use of British imported manufactures and other articles. The crown officers, for their part, renewed their appeal to England for naval and military forces to compel obedience and secure order.

The king and the government inclined to think that force was the remedy in this case. It was in vain that the more magnanimous called attention to the fact that an army and navy could not compel a man to buy a black broadcloth coat, if he liked a homespun one better. Inflammatory reports from America represented it as being practically in a state of insurrection. A Boston newspaper, which had published a severe arraignment of Governor Bernard, was tried for libel, and the jury, though informed by Hutchinson that if they did not convict of high treason they "might depend on being damned," brought in a verdict of acquittal. The Adams letter was laid before the English ministry and pronounced to be "of a most dangerous and factious tendency," and an injunction was dispatched to the several colonial governors to bid their assemblies to treat it with contempt, and if they declined, to dissolve them. Gage was ordered to enforce tranquillity. But the colonial resistance had thus far been passive only. The assemblies now declared that they had exclusive right to tax the people; Virginia not only agreed to the Adams letter, but indited one even more uncompromising; Pennsylvania and New York fell into line. A Boston committee presented an address to Bernard asking him to mediate between the people and England; he promised to do so, but at the same time sent out secret requests to have regiments sent to Boston. Divining his duplicity, John Adams, at the next town meeting, formulated the people's resolve to vindicate their rights "at the utmost hazard of their lives and fortunes," declaring that whosoever should solicit the importation of troops was "an enemy to this town and province." The determination not to rescind the principles stated in the Samuel Adams letter of January was unanimous. Lord Mansfield thereupon declared that the Americans must be reduced to entire obedience before their alleged grievances could be considered. Camden confessed that he did not know what to do; the law must be executed: but how? "If any province is to be chastised, it should be Boston." Finally, two regiments and a squadron were ordered to Boston from Halifax. Samuel Adams felt that the time was now at hand either for independence or annihilation, and he affirmed publicly that the colonists would be justified in "destroying every British soldier whose foot should touch the shore." In the country round Boston, thirty thousand men were ready to fight. A meeting was called in Faneuil Hall, and it resolved that "the inhabitants of the Town of Boston will at the utmost peril of their lives and fortunes maintain and defend their rights, liberties, privileges and immunities."--"And," said Otis, pointing to four hundred muskets which had been collected, "there are your arms; when an attempt is made against your liberties, they will be delivered." Bernard, who was pale with alarm, had to announce that the regiments were coming, and would be quartered, one in Castle William, the other on the town. The council replied that there was room enough in the Castle for both, and that, according to the law, any officer attempting to use private houses would be cashiered. In the midst of the dispute, the regiments arrived. The convention had, from the first, law on their side; and in order to preserve this advantage were determined to offer only a passive resistance to the revenue law, and to abstain from violence until it was offered to them. No charge of high treason would stand against any one. The anchoring of the squadron off Castle William, with guns trained on the State House, had no effect. On the first of October, in compliance with an order from Gage, and in the absence of Bernard, who had fled to the country in a panic, the regiments were landed at Long Wharf. With military music playing, fixed bayonets and loaded guns, they marched to the Common, which was whitened by their tents. An artillery train was also brought ashore. An attempt to browbeat the people into providing quarters failed, and the officers dared not seize them. At length they were obliged to rent rooms, and some of the men were lodged in the State House, as the weather became too cold for outdoor encampment; not a few of them deserted, and escaped into the country. But Boston was under military rule, though there was nothing for the soldiers to do. Sentinels were posted about the town, and citizens were challenged as they walked their streets. On the Sabbath Day, drums and bugles disturbed the worshipers in the churches. Officers of the custom house and army officers met at the British coffee house in King Street. On the south side of the State House was a court of guard, defended by two brass cannon, and a large number of soldiers were kept there; in front of the custom house, further down the street, a sentinel paced his beat. Boston was indignant, but restricted itself to ceasing all purchases of importations, trusting thus to wear out their oppressors. Some of the younger men, however, were becoming restive under the implied or overt insults of the officers and soldiery, and there were occasional quarrels which might develop into something more serious. It was at this time that the French inhabitants of New Orleans rose and drove out the Spanish governor, Ulloa; and Du Chatelet remarked that it was "a good example for the English colonies." But Boston needed no example; she afforded one in herself. All the other colonies had indorsed her attitude; but the animosity of England was concentrated against her. The whole kingdom was embattled against the one small town; two more regiments had been sent there, but no rebellion could be found. Was it the purpose to provoke one? Soldiers, from time to time, were arrested for misdemeanors, and brought before the civil magistrates, but were pardoned, when convicted, by the higher courts. Samuel Adams and others, on the other hand, continued to be threatened with prosecution for treason, but did not recede from their position. Bernard, Hutchinson, Oliver, and the attorney-general acted as secret informers and purveyors of evidence against the patriots. All petitions from the colonies addressed to the English government were refused so much as a hearing. And yet there was a strong division of opinion in Parliament as to the course England was taking; and there were many who wished that the question of taxation had never been raised. In 1769, it was conceded that the duties on most specified articles should be abolished; nevertheless, Hillsborough, Secretary for the Colonies, said that he would "grant nothing to Americans except what they might ask with a halter round their necks"; and the great Samuel Johnson did not scruple to add that "they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging." Against such intemperate vaporings are to be set the noble resolutions of the Virginia assembly, of which Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Washington were members, extending its sympathy and support to Massachusetts, warning King George against carrying Americans beyond seas for trial, and advocating colonial union. This was the more admirable, because England had treated Virginia with especial tenderness and consideration. Similar resolutions in other colonies followed, and a regular correspondence between the assemblies was agreed to. The folly of English oppression had already created a united America.

At length the English government, weakened by the opposition, and by the badness of their cause, agreed to abolish all duties except that on tea, which was now bought cheaper in Boston than in London; and to withdraw two at least of the regiments. But Boston was contending for a principle, not for a few hundred pounds, and refused to accept the tea as a compromise. Much more conducive to good feeling was the recall of Governor Bernard, just as he was making himself comfortable for a long tenure of office under the protection of British soldiers. This man's character is as contemptible as any in colonial history. It was not merely or chiefly that he was an abject miser and a foe to liberty. He was a convicted liar, a spy, and a double-dealer; and his cowardice made him despised even by the British. He scrupled not to swindle the British government, by conniving at smuggling, while assuring them of his zeal in putting it down. While smiling in men's faces, he was covertly laying plots for their destruction. His last thought, after receiving the crushing news of his recall, was to try to beguile the assembly into voting him his salary for the coming year. The attempt failed, and he retreated in disgrace, with joy-bells ringing in his ears. His only consolation was that he left Hutchinson in his place, as ill-disposed toward liberty and honor as himself, and his superior in intelligence. His recall had been due to the desire of London merchants, who believed that his presence was destructive of their commercial interests. The ministers for whom he had incurred so much ignominy would do nothing for him; for the dishonorable are always ready to sacrifice their instruments.

Hutchinson immediately began the system of secret conspiracy against the lives and liberties of the chief citizens of Boston which marked his administration; flattering them in their presence, while writing letters of false accusations to the English ministry, which he begged them never to disclose. But his cowardice was equal to Bernard's; so that when the people detected an informer, and tarred and feathered him, he dared not order the English regiments to interfere, and no one else was qualified to give the word. But the hatred between the soldiers and the citizens was inflamed. A British officer told his men, if they were "touched" by a citizen, to "run him through the body." Many young men went armed with oaken cudgels.

Two sons of Hutchinson, worthy of their sire, were guilty of felony in breaking a lock to get at a consignment of tea, which had been locked up by the committee of merchants. The merchants called Hutchinson to account; he promised to deposit the price of what tea had been sold and to return the rest. Dalrymple, the commander, issued twelve rounds of ammunition, with which the soldiers ostentatiously paraded the streets. But inasmuch as no one but the governor was authorized to bid them fire, and the citizens knew Hutchinson's timidity too well to imagine that he would do such a thing, this only led to taunts and revilings; and such epithets as "lobster-backs" and "damned rebels" were freely bandied between the military and the young men. The officers made common cause with their men, and the custom house people fomented the bitterness. A vague plan seems to have been formed to provoke the citizens into attacking the military, who were then to fire, and plead self-defense.

On Friday, March 2, 1770, some soldiers came to blows with men employed on a rope-walk. The affair was talked over in the barracks, and nothing was done to restrain the desire of the soldiers for revenge, or to keep them off the streets at night. On the 5th, squads of them were forging about, armed with bludgeons, bayonets and cutlasses, boasting of their "valor," challenging the people they met, and even striking them. Their officers openly encouraged them. Their regiments were the Fourteenth and the Twenty-ninth, notorious for their dissoluteness and disorderliness. The night was cold, and a few inches of snow fell. Other groups of soldiers came out, with their flintlocks in their hands: a boy was struck on the head; several times the guns were leveled, and the threat was made to fire. One youth was knocked down with a cutlass. Knots of angry young men began to range hither and thither with staves:--"Where are they? --Cowards!--Fire if you dare!--Lobster-scoundrels!" The soldiers, on the other hand, were giving way to fury, striking persons in the doors of their houses, calling out that they would kill everybody, and shouting "Fire--fire!" as if it were a watchword. But as yet no irrevocable act had been done.

Soon after nine o'clock, however, the alarm bell at the top of King Street was rung hurriedly. Many persons thought it was for fire; and as Boston had been nearly destroyed by a great fire ten years before, a large crowd rapidly poured out into the streets. But the frosty air carried no scent of smoke, and as the bell soon stopped its clangor, a number returned to their homes; but the younger and more hot-headed smelled mischief, if not smoke, and drew from various directions toward the barracks. A party of them came down King Street toward the custom house. They were halted by the gruff "Who goes there?" of the sentry, and his bayonet at their breasts.

There were words of defiance: a sudden scuffle: and out of the barrack gate came pouring the guard, with guns in their hands. Almost in the same moment a great multitude of citizens came surging in from all sides, and thronged in front of the custom house, where the fight seemed to be going on. Those behind pushed against those in front, and all became wedged in a mass, trying to see what was going forward, swaying this way and that, uttering broken shouts, threatening, warning, asking, replying; and hot at heart with that fierce craving to measure strength against strength which is the characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon when his blood is up. The soldiers were wholly in the wrong: they had no right to be where they were; they had no right to wantonly annoy and provoke citizens in their own town; their presence in the colony, for the purpose of constraining a peaceful population, was a crime; but consciousness of this fact did not lessen their animosity. As for the Boston people, they felt, as they faced the emissaries of their oppressors on that wintry night, the accumulated exasperation of generations of injustice, and perhaps a stern thrill of joy that now, at last, the final, unforgivable outrage was to be perpetrated.

The great majority of citizens had not even sticks in their hands; none of them carried guns or cutlasses. Some snowballs were thrown at the soldiers, who faced the crowd with savage faces, and leveled bayonets. Then there was a fresh crowding and uproar, for Captain Preston and a squad of eight men had issued from the guard house and were forcing their way to their comrades with the point of the cold steel. Their red coats and black shakos and the glint of the moonlight on their weapons made them conspicuous in the struggling mass, and the sinister intent which was manifest in their look and bearing sent a strange thrill through the multitude.

A tall man in a black cloak, who five years later was a general of artillery in the American army, laid his hand on Preston's shoulder forcibly. "For God's sake, sir, get back to your barracks; if you fire, you must die for it!" exclaimed he, in a deep voice. Preston stared at him, hardly seeming to see him, and quivering with agitation. "Stand aside --I know what I'm about," he replied huskily. As the soldiers reached the sentinel's post and faced about in a semicircle, the crowd fell back, and there were voices calling "Home--home!" The soldiers began to load, pouring the powder and ball into the muzzles of their guns, and ramming the charge home sharply with their ramrods. At this, a dozen men, with cudgels, advanced upon the soldiers, cheering, and passed in front of them, striking the barrels of their muskets with their sticks. "Cowardly rascals!--drop your guns, and we're ready for you," said some between their gritted teeth. "Fire, lobsters!--you daren't fire!" cried others. "Down with 'em! drive the cowards to their barracks!" shouted some. "Are your men loaded?" demanded a citizen, stepping up to Preston; and when the latter nodded--"Will they fire upon the inhabitants?"--"Not without my orders," the captain seemed to say. "Come on, you rascals--fire if you dare--you daren't fire!" yelled the fiercer spirits, now beside themselves with passion; and one struck a soldier's piece. He leveled it and fired, at the same moment that Preston waved his sword and gave the word. A man fell at the shot: the people gave back; the other soldiers fired deliberately and viciously, not in a volley, but one after another, taking aim. Some of them started forward to use the bayonet. It is said that a figure was seen to come out on the balcony of the custom house, his face concealed by a veil hanging down over it, and fire into the retreating throng. The open space in front of the soldiers was overhung with smoke, which slowly dissolved away, and revealed eleven New Englanders stretched along the trodden snow of their native town. Some tried to rise; others lay still. Blood flowed from their wounds, smoking in the icy air, and tinging the white snow red. The deed had been done.

A sullen muttering of horror, swelling by degrees into a roar of rage, burst from hundreds of throats as that spectacle was seen; and in a moment, as it seemed, the town drums had beat to arms, the bells were clanging, and all Boston was pressing tumultuously into King Street. The Twenty-ninth regiment was hurriedly marshaled under arms; it appeared at first as if the populace, thousands strong, and not without weapons, would rush upon them and tear them in pieces. But by this time the saner and stronger men had reached the scene, and set themselves resolutely to withhold the people. "You shall have justice," they told them, "but let it be by due course of law." And there was Hutchinson, promising everything in his dismay, hurrying between the soldiers and the crowd, his feet making blood-stained marks in the snow as he went. To no man more than to him was due the guilt of that night's work.

Prompt and clean measures were taken: a town-meeting was held, and the immediate withdrawal of all troops from Boston was required. The wretched Hutchinson tried to temporize: he denied that he had power to move the soldiers; then he consented to send one regiment away, letting the other remain; the people would accept no compromise; Dalrymple said that he would do as the governor directed. Samuel Adams and Hutchinson finally faced each other in Faneuil Hall. "If you have power to remove one regiment, you have power to remove both," said Adams, in a low but distinct voice, pointing his finger at the other. "Here are three thousand people: they are becoming very impatient: the country is in general motion: night is approaching: an immediate answer is expected: it is at your peril if you refuse." And describing the scene afterward, Adams said, "at the appearance of the determined citizens, peremptorily demanding redress of grievances, I saw his knees tremble and his face grow pale: and I enjoyed the sight!" Truly, it was a subject for a great artist to immortalize. The troops must go: and they went, choking with humiliation.

The news of this affair in England shocked the more reasonable people, and led to criticism of the ministers; but Lord North, supported by the king, would not consent to remove the tax on tea. He made it "a test of authority," and a punishment for "American insolence." It was an expensive punishment for England; the cost of keeping an army in the colonies, and other incidental expenses, footed up about half a million dollars, against a revenue from duties of four hundred dollars only. Americans got their tea from the Dutch by smuggling and by corrupt connivance of the English customs officers; and the loss of the English East India Company was estimated at two and a half million dollars at least. There was great uneasiness at this absurd showing; and Burke declared that "the idea of a military establishment in America is all wrong." Lord Chatham, reading the letters from Boston patriots, and resolutions of assemblies, remarked, "These worthy New Englanders ever feel as Old Englanders ought to feel." The colonists, however, zealous as they were for their liberties, were ready to meet half way any effort toward conciliation on England's part. The agreement to accept no British imports was but slackly kept, in spite of protests from South Carolina and elsewhere. The people were wearied of strife and would have welcomed any honorable means of peace. In this juncture, two things only kept alive the spirit of independence; neither would have sufficed apart from the other. The first was the pig-headedness of the English government, with the king at the head of it, and men like Thurlow, an irreconcilable foe to America, assisting; together with the conspiracy against the colonies of the royal governors and officials, who sent home false and exaggerated reports, all aiming to show that martial law was the only thing that could insure order--or, in other words, secure them their salaries and perquisites. These persons, by continually irritating the raw place, prevented the colonists from forgetting their injuries. In South Carolina, Governor Tryon, a bloody-minded Irishman, went further; he took the field against the "Regulators"--a body of citizens who had organized to counteract the lawlessness of the internal conduct of the colony--and after a skirmish took a number of them prisoners and hanged them out of hand; most of the rest, to save their lives, took to the woods and, journeying westward, came upon the lovely vales of Tennessee, which was thus settled. Daniel Boone had already made himself at home in Kentucky. In Virginia, where the people were disposed to loyalty, the agitation to do away with slavery, both on practical and moral grounds, was harshly opposed by England, and the other colonies, sympathizing with her action, were snubbed along with her. In short, the pompous and hide-bound Hillsborough followed everywhere the policy of alienation, under the impression that he was maintaining English dignity.

But all this would not have sufficed to keep the colonies on their course toward independence, had it not been for the ceaseless vigilance and foresight of Samuel Adams in Boston, Benjamin Franklin in London, and the small but eminent band of patriots whom they worked with. Adams, profoundly meditating on the signs of the times and the qualities of human nature, perceived that England would continue to oppress, and that the longer the colonies abstained from open resistance, the more difficult would the inevitable revolt become. He did not hesitate, therefore, to speak in ever plainer and bolder terms as the peril augmented. Reason was on his side, and his command of logic and of terse and telling language enabled him to set his cause in the most effective light. By drawing a distinction between the king and his ministers, he opened the way to arraign the latter for their "wickedness" in sending an "impudent mandate" to one assembly to rescind the lawful resolution of another. The too eager Hutchinson fell into the trap, and pointed out that it was the king, rather than the ministry, who must be charged with impudence. But this was not to disprove the impudence; it was simply to make the king instead of the ministry obnoxious to the charge, and to enlighten the people as to who their real enemy was. "The king," said Adams, "has placed us in a position where we must either pay no tax at all, or pay it in accordance with his good pleasure"--against the charter and the constitution. "The liberties of our country," he went on, "are worth defending at all hazards. Every step has been taken but one: and the last appeal requires prudence, fortitude and unanimity. America must herself, under God, work out her own salvation." He set resolutely to work to put into execution his plan of a committee of correspondence, to elicit and stimulate the patriotic views of the various colonies. "The people must instruct their representatives to send a remonstrance to the king, and assure him, unless their liberties are immediately restored whole and entire, they will form an independent commonwealth, and offer a free trade to all nations."--"It is more than time," Adams wrote to Warren, "to be rid of both tyrants and tyranny." He prepared a statement of rights, among which was the right to change allegiance in case oppression became intolerable, and to rescue and preserve their liberties sword in hand. A detailed statement of grievances was also drawn up, to be submitted to the king; its specifications were no doubt familiar to Jefferson, when he wrote the "Declaration" four years later. This document was circulated throughout the colony, and was indorsed with unexpected enthusiasm by scores of towns; many of them, with rustic bluntness, telling their thoughts in language even stronger than that of their model. The fishermen of Marblehead (of whom history says not much, but whatever is said, is memorable) affirmed that they were "incensed at the unconstitutional, unrighteous proceedings of the ministers, detested the name of Hillsborough, and were ready to unite for the recovery of their violated rights." In Plymouth, "ninety to one were for fighting Great Britain." The village of Pembroke, inhabited by descendants of the Pilgrims, said that the oppressions which existed must and would issue in the total dissolution of the union between the mother country and the colonies. "Death is more eligible than slavery," said Marlborough; and Lenox refused to "crouch, Issachar-like between the two burdens of poverty and slavery." There was no doubt about the sentiment of the country; and the hands of Adams and his colleagues were immensely strengthened by the revelation.

In the spring of 1773 the next step was taken by Virginia. Young Dabney Carr rose in the assembly and moved a system of correspondence between all the colonies similar to that which had been established in Massachusetts. In other words, the intercommunication of councils in all the colonies was organized, and when these councils should meet, the Continental Congress would exist. The response was earnest and cordial from Georgia to Maine. Things were rapidly shaping themselves for the end. If anything more were needed to consolidate England's offspring against her, it was not wanting. Hutchinson, the veteran plotter and self-seeker, who never did a generous or magnanimous act, who stabbed men in the back, and who valued money more than country or honor, was exposed to the contempt of all men both in America and England, and was forced to resign his governorship in disgrace and to fly to England, where he died a few years later. Franklin was the immediate means of his downfall. A member of Parliament had remarked to him in conversation that the alleged grievances of which the colonists complained had not been inflicted by any English initiative, but were the result of solicitation from the most respectable of the colonists themselves, who had affirmed these measures to be essential to the welfare of the country. Franklin lifted his eyebrows; upon which his interlocutor produced a number of Hutchinson's secret letters to Hillsborough. They proved a conspiracy, on the part of Hutchinson, Oliver and others, to crush American liberty and introduce military rule: they were treasonable in the worst sense. Franklin remarked, after reading them, that his resentment against England's arbitrary conduct was much abated; since it was now evident that the oppression had been suggested and urged by Americans whom England must have supposed represented the better class of the colonists. He sent the letters to Boston; and "as to the writers," he wrote, "when I find them bartering away the liberties of their native country for posts, negotiating for salaries and pensions extorted from the people, and, conscious of the odium these might be attended with, calling for troops to protect and secure them in the enjoyment of them;--when I see them exciting jealousies in the crown, and provoking it to wrath against so great a part of its most faithful subjects; creating enmities between the different countries of which the empire consists; occasioning a great expense to the old country for suppressing or preventing imaginary rebellions in the new, and to the new country for the payment of needless gratifications to useless officers and enemies--I cannot but doubt their sincerity even in the political principles they profess, and deem them mere time-servers, seeking their own private emoluments through any quantity of public mischief; betrayers of the interest not of their native country only, but of the government they pretend to serve, and of the whole English empire."

The letters were read in the assembly in secret session. But in the meanwhile Hutchinson had been led into another mistake. He had denied, in his speech to the legislature, that any line could be drawn between the supreme authority of Parliament and the total independence of the colonies. Either yield, then (he said), or convince me of error. The terrible Adams asked nothing better. Accepting Hutchinson's alternative, he answered, "If there be no such line between Parliament's supreme authority and our total independence, then are we either vassals of Parliament or independent. But since the parties to the compact cannot have intended that one of them should be vassals, it follows that our independence was intended. If, as you contend, two independent legislatures cannot coexist in one and the same state, then have our charters made us distinct states from England."--Thus had the governor unwittingly pointed his opponent's spear, and, instead of driving him to attack Parliament, been placed in the position of implicitly questioning its authority himself.

But this was nothing compared with the revelation of his treacherous letters. His first instinct, of course, was falsehood. "I never wrote any letter tending to subvert the constitution," he asseverated. Being confronted with his own sign-manual, "Their design," he cried, "is not to subvert but to protect." But he knew he was ruined, and sent word to his correspondents in England to burn the letters they held. The letters were published, and distributed all over the colonies. Not a man or woman in the country but knew Hutchinson for the dastardly traitor he was. A petition to remove him and Oliver was sent to the king, but he hastened to submit his resignation, with a whining entreaty that he be not "left destitute, to be insulted and triumphed over." And bringing false charges against Franklin, he begged to receive the latter's office of deputy postmaster-general.

Before this matter could be settled, affairs in Boston had come to a crisis. The East India Company had large consignments of tea ready for shipment to the principal towns along the American coast. The latter warned them of loss, but Lord North said "The king means to try this question with America." It was seen that the connection between England and her colonies could be continued only on a basis of equal liberties, and "Resist all shipments of tea!" was the word. New York and Philadelphia settled the matter by commanding all consignees to resign, which they did; but this was not to be the solution in Boston. When, on November 28th, the "Dartmouth," Captain Rotch, arrived with one hundred and fourteen cases of tea, the representatives of the people ordered him not to enter till Tuesday, the 30th. Four weeks before a meeting at Liberty Tree had been summoned, and the consignees directed to attend and resign. The meeting was held, but Clarke and the other consignees had refused to recognize its authority. They now temporized, and were granted a day to consider; meanwhile a guard was kept on the ship. The next day the consignees proposed to suspend action until they could write to the exporters for advice; but this was seen to be a subterfuge and was indignantly refused. Rotch agreed to take the tea back; but the custom house refused him a clearance. For if the ship remained in port, with her cargo undischarged, twenty days, the authorities could seize and land it by law. If then the people were to prevail, they must do so within that time. It seemed as if they must be defeated; for if the consignees would not resign, and the ship could not get a clearance, nothing but a direct violation of the law could prevent the tea from being landed. To make assurance surer, two frigates kept guard at the mouth of the harbor, and the guns of the Castle were loaded. The governor and the officers were already chuckling over their anticipated victory.

Adams and the committee of correspondence met, in secret session, and what they determined never has transpired and can be surmised by inference only. On Thursday, December 16th, a great meeting was called in the Old South Church. Thousands of people from surrounding towns were in attendance; the willingness and eagerness of them all to resist at the cost of their lives and fortunes had been abundantly expressed. Had there been an armed force with which they could have fought, the way would have been easy; but there was nothing palpable here: only that intangible Law, which they had never yet broken, and their uniform loyalty to which, in their disputes with England, had given them strength and advantage. Must they defy it now, in the cause of liberty, and engage in a scuffle with the king's officers, in which the latter would be technically at least in the right? No doubt they might prevail: but would not the moral defeat counterbalance the gain?

"Throw it overboard!" Young had exclaimed, at a meeting two weeks before. The suggestion had seemed to pass unheeded; but this was a crisis when every proposition must be considered. Josiah Quincy and other speakers set clearly before the multitude the dilemma in which they stood. Rotch had been dispatched to Milton, where the governor had taken refuge, to ask for a pass out of the harbor, this being the last resort after the refusal of clearance papers. The short winter day drew to a close; darkness fell, and the church, filled with that great throng of resolute New Englanders, was lighted only by a few wax candles, whose dim flare flickered on the stern and anxious countenances that packed the pews and crowded the aisles, and upon Adams, Young, Quincy, Hancock, and the other leaders, grouped round the pulpit. They were in the house of God: would He provide help for His people? A few hours more, and the cargo in yonder ship would lapse into the hands of the British admiral. The meeting had given its final, unanimous vote that the cargo never should be landed; but what measures were to be taken to prevent it, was known to but few.

It was near six when a commotion at the door resolved itself into the ushering-in of Rotch, panting from his ten-mile ride in the frosty air; he made his way up the aisle, and delivered his report: the governor had refused the pass. No other reply had been looked for; but at the news a silence fell upon the grim assembly, which felt that it was now face to face with the sinister power of the king. Then of a sudden, loud shouts came from the lower part of the church, near the open door; and even as Adams rose to his feet and throwing up his arm, called out, "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country"--there was heard from without the shrill, reduplicating yell of the Indian war whoop; and dusky figures were seen to pass, their faces grisly with streaks of black and red, feathers tossing in their hair, and blankets gathered round their shoulders; each, as he passed through the dim light-ray, swung his hatchet, uttered his war-cry, and was swallowed up in darkness again. Out poured the multitude from the church, startled, excited, mystified, obscurely feeling that some decisive act was about to be done: and here are Adams and Hancock among them, cheering on that strange procession which passed down toward the wharfs swiftly, two by two, and seeming to increase in numbers as they passed. After them streamed the people, murmuring and questioning, through the winter gloom of the narrow street, until the high-shouldered houses fell away, and there were the wide reaches of the harbor, with the ships lying at Griffin's Wharf amid the cakes of ice that swung up and down with the movement of the tide. As they came there, a strange silence fell upon all, amid which the Indians--were they Indians?--swung themselves lightly aboard the vessels, and went swiftly and silently to work. Up from the hold came case after case of tea, which were seized and broken open by the hatchets, the sound of their breaking being clearly audible in the tense stillness; and the black contents were showered into the waters. Minute after minute, hour after hour went by, and still the wild figures worked, and still the multitude looked on, forgetful of the cold, their hearts beating higher and fuller with exultation as they saw the hated cargo disappear. It was all but ten of the clock before the last hatchet-stroke that smote the king's fetters from Massachusetts had been delivered; and then the feathered and painted figures leaped ashore, drawing their blankets round their faces, and melted silently into the crowd, and were lost, never again to reappear. Who were they?--Never was secret better kept; after six score years we know as little as did King George's officers on that night. They seemed to have sprung into existence solely to do that one bold deed, and then to vanish like a dream. But the deed was no dream; nor its sequel. No blood was shed on the night of the 16th of December, 1773: but Massachusetts, and through her the other colonies, then and there gave notice to King George that he had passed the limits which they had appointed for his tyranny; and the next argument must be held at the musket's mouth.


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