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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Tyrant of New England
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[The English colonies in America, with the exception of those of Virginia and the Carolinas, were instituted under conditions of marked liberality, and enjoyed a degree of religious and political freedom unknown in Europe at that day. Small groups of colonists, far removed from European institutions, and struggling with the difficulties of an untamed nature, could not be expected to conform to the intricate regulations of the old nationalities which they had left, and they at once began to govern themselves on the republican principle, in accordance with the simplicity of their conditions. Monarchy made itself felt most fully in Virginia and the Carolinas, yet even here provincial Assemblies were quickly established, and the rigidity of the earlier systems abated. Maryland and Pennsylvania were organized under highly-liberal constitutions, while the New England colonies began their existence as provincial republics.

This state of affairs long continued with but spasmodic interferences from England, and the spirit of republicanism had greatly developed in the American colonies ere any serious effort was made to deprive them of their liberties. The growth of free institutions had been much favored by the strong republican sentiment then prevailing in England, which resulted in the overthrow of monarchy and the formation of the Commonwealth. After the death of Cromwell, and the re-establishment of the monarchy, indications of a desire to restrict the liberties of the colonies, now flourishing and important, became manifest. Charles II. granted to his brother James, the Duke of York, the whole territory from the Connecticut River to the shores of the Delaware, which grant was quickly followed by the illegal seizure of New Amsterdam, which received the name of New York.

The Dutch rule over this province had been to a considerable extent autocratic, and this was continued by the English governors, despite-the protests of the people. In 1672, during a war between England and Holland, the city was recaptured by the Dutch, but was returned to the English on the conclusion of peace. The Duke of York now obtained a new patent to confirm his title, and made Edmund Andros governor of the province. The rule of this governor was tyrannical. He levied taxes without asking the consent of the people, and refused them a representative Assembly. He attempted to extend his jurisdiction over New Jersey, and as far east as the Connecticut River, but failed in this. Under Thomas Dongan, the succeeding governor, a representative government was established in New York, through the advice of William Penn.

With the accession of the Duke of York to the throne, under the title of James II., a vigorous effort to overthrow the liberties of the colonists was made. A direct tax was decreed, printing-presses were forbidden, and many arbitrary edicts passed. In 1686 the late tyrannical governor of New York, now Sir Edmund Andros, was sent to Massachusetts, with a commission as governor of all the New England provinces. In 1688 his rule was extended over New York. He at once displayed the intention to act the tyrant, and immediately on his arrival in Boston, in December, 1686, demanded a surrender of all the charters of the colonies, while publishing edicts which annulled the existing liberties of the people. Of the several colonies, Connecticut alone refused to surrender its charter. To enforce his demand Andros marched to Hartford with a body of soldiers in October, 1687. The story of these events we quote from the antique "History of Connecticut," by Benjamin Trumbull.]

Mr. Dudley, while president of the commissioners, had written to the governor and company, advising them to resign the charter into the hands of his majesty, and promising to use his influence in favor of the colony. Mr. Dudley's commission was superseded by a commission to Sir Edmund Andros to be governor of New England. He arrived at Boston on the 19th of December, 1686. The next day his commission was published, and he took on him the administration of government. Soon after his arrival he wrote to the governor and company that he had a commission from his majesty to receive their charter, if they would resign it; and he pressed them, in obedience to the king, and as they would give him an opportunity to serve them, to resign it to his pleasure.. But the colony [of Connecticut] insisted on their charter rights, and on the promise of King James, as well as of his royal brother, to defend and secure them in the enjoyment of their privileges and estates, and would not surrender their charter to either..

The Assembly met, as usual, in October, and the government continued according to charter until the last of the month. About this time, Sir Edmund, with his suite, and more than sixty regular troops, came to Hartford, when the Assembly were sitting, demanded the charter, and declared the government under it to be dissolved. The Assembly were extremely reluctant and slow with respect to any resolve to surrender the charter, or with respect to any motion to bring it forth. The tradition is that Governor Treat strongly represented the great expense and hardships of the colonists in planting the country, the blood treasure which they had expended in defending it, both against the savages and foreigners; to what hardships and dangers he himself had been exposed for that purpose; and that it was like giving up his life, now to surrender the patent and privileges so dearly bought and so long enjoyed. The important affair was debated and kept in suspense until the evening, when the charter was brought and laid upon the table, where the Assembly were sitting. By this time, great numbers of people were assembled, and men sufficiently bold to enterprise whatever might be necessary or expedient. The lights were instantly extinguished, and one Captain Wadsworth, of Hartford, in the most silent and secret manner, carried off the charter, and secreted it in a large hollow tree, fronting the house of the Honorable Samuel Wyllys, then one of the magistrates of the colony. The people appeared all peaceable and orderly. The candles were officiously relighted, but the patent was gone, and no discovery could be made of it, or of the person who had conveyed it away.

[This stirring scene which is told with more dramatic additions by later authors, unfortunately rests upon traditional evidence only, and is entirely unsupported by documentary testimony. While it may have actually occurred, there is no positive proof that it did. The documents simply tell us that Sir Edmund assumed the government, and closed the colonial records with a statement of this fact, and the ominous word "Finis." It was, for the time being, "the end" of American liberty.]

Sir Edmund began his government with the most flattering protestations of his regard to the public safety and happiness. He instructed the judges to administer justice, as far as might be consistent with the new regulations, according to the former laws and customs. It is, however, well observed by Governor Hutchinson, that "Nero concealed his tyrannical disposition more years than Sir Edmund and his creatures did months." He soon laid a restraint upon the liberty of the press; and then one far more grievous upon marriage.. Magistrates only were allowed to join people in the bands of wedlock. The governor not only deprived the clergy of the perquisite from marriages, but soon suspended the laws for their support, and would not suffer any person to be obliged to pay anything to his minister. Nay, he menaced the people that, if they resisted his will, their meeting-houses should be taken from them, and that any person who should give twopence to a non-conformist minister should be punished.

The fees of all officers, under this new administration, were exorbitant.. Sir Edmund, without an Assembly, nay, without a majority of his council, taxed the people at pleasure. He and Randolph, with four or five others of his creatures, who were sufficiently wicked to join with him in all his oppressive designs, managed the affairs of government as they pleased. But these were but the beginnings of oppression and sorrow. They were soon greatly increased and more extensively spread..

As the charters were now either vacated, surrendered, or the government under them suspended, it was declared that the titles of the colonists to their lands were of no value. Sir Edmund declared that Indian deeds were no better than "the scratch of a bear's paw." Not the fairest purchases and most ample conveyances from the natives, no dangers, disbursements, nor labors in cultivating a wilderness and turning it into orchards, gardens, and pleasant fields, no grants by charter, nor by legislatures constituted by them, no declarations of preceding kings, nor of his then present majesty, promising them the quiet enjoyment of their houses and lands, nor fifty or sixty years' undisturbed possession, were pleas of any validity or consideration with Sir Edmund and his minions. The purchasers and cultivators, after fifty and sixty years' improvement, were obliged to take out patents for their estates. For these, in some instances, a fee of fifty pounds was demanded..

The governor, and a small number of his council, in the most arbitrary manner, fined and imprisoned numbers of the inhabitants of Massachusetts, and denied them the benefit of the act of habeas corpus. All town meetings were prohibited, except one in the month of May, for the election of town officers.. No person was suffered to go out of the country without leave from the governor, lest complaints should be carried to England against his administration. At the same time, he so well knew the temper and views of his royal master that he feared little from him, even though complaints should be carried over against him. Hence he and his dependents oppressed the people, and enriched themselves without restraint.

[Despite his efforts, complaints and petitions made their way to England; yet they proved of little effect upon the king.]

In the reign of James II., petitions so reasonable and just could not be heard. The prince at home, and his officers abroad, like greedy harpies, preyed upon the people without control. Randolph was not ashamed to make his boast, in his letters, with respect to Governor Andros and his council, "that they were as arbitrary as the Great Turk." All New England groaned under their oppression. The heaviest share of it, however, fell upon the inhabitants of Massachusetts and New Plymouth. Connecticut had been less obnoxious to government than Massachusetts, and, as it was further removed from the seat of government, was less under the notice and influence of those oppressors..

All the motives to great actions, to industry, economy, enterprise, wealth, and population, were in a manner annihilated. A general inactivity and languishment pervaded the whole public body. Liberty, property, and everything which ought to be dear to men, every day grew more and more insecure. The colonies were in a state of general despondency with respect to the restoration of their privileges, and the truth of that divine maxim, "When the wicked beareth rule the people mourn," was, in a striking manner, everywhere exemplified.

[Fortunately, this grinding tyranny was not of long continuance. Early in 1689 tidings reached Boston that James II. was no longer king: in November, 1688, William of Orange had landed in England and driven the tyrant from his throne. The Bostonians at once rebelled against Andros. His tyranny was denounced by the magistrates, and he, with several of his creatures, was seized and imprisoned. Andros twice attempted to escape from confinement, and once got as far as Rhode Island, but was captured and brought back. In July he was sent to England, where he was acquitted without trial. And so ended the most prominent early effort to take away the liberties of the American people. Andros was subsequently (in 1692) made governor of Virginia. Here, however, his rule was less arbitrary, and he became popular with the planters.

The traditions of early Connecticut present one more scene of great dramatic interest, in which the spirit of liberty of the people, and the energy of Captain Wadsworth, were manifested in the same determined manner as in the incident described. This occurred in 1693, during King William's War. An account of it may be quoted from Trumbull.]

Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, governor of New York, who had arrived at the seat of his government August 29, 1692, had received a commission entirely inconsistent with the charter rights and safety of the colonies. He was vested with plenary powers of commanding the whole militia of Connecticut and the neighboring provinces. He insisted on the command of the militia of Connecticut. As this was expressly given to the colony, by charter, the legislature would not submit to his requisition.

[A special Assembly met, and drew up a petition to the king, representing the true state of affairs in the colony, and the disadvantage and danger which might result from giving the command of the militia to the governor of another province.]

The colony wished to serve his majesty's interest, and as far as possible, consistently with their chartered rights, to maintain a good understanding with Governor Fletcher. William Pitkin, Esquire, was therefore sent to New York, to treat and make terms with him respecting the militia, until his majesty's pleasure should be further known. But no terms could be made with him short of an explicit submission of the militia to his command.

On the 26th of October he came to Hartford, while the Assembly were sitting, and, in his majesty's name, demanded their submission of the militia to his command, as they would answer it to his majesty, and that they would give him a speedy answer in two words, Yes, or No.. He ordered the militia of Hartford under arms, that he might beat up for volunteers. It was judged expedient to call the train-bands of Hartford together; but the Assembly insisted that the command of the militia was expressly vested, by charter, in the governor and company, and that they could by no means, consistently with their just rights and the common safety, resign it into any other hands.

[In response Governor Fletcher made the declaration that he had no design upon the civil rights of the colonists, and offered the command of the militia to Governor Treat, under his commission.]

The Assembly, nevertheless, would not give up the command of the militia; nor would Governor Treat receive a commission from Colonel Fletcher.

The train-bands of Hartford assembled, and, as the tradition is, while Captain Wadsworth, the senior officer, was walking in front of the companies and exercising the soldiers, Colonel Fletcher ordered his commission and instructions to be read. Captain Wadsworth instantly commanded, "Beat the drums;" and there was such a roaring of them that nothing else could be heard. Colonel Fletcher commanded silence. But no sooner had Bayard made an attempt to read again, than Wadsworth commands, "Drum, drum, I say." The drummers understood their business, and instantly beat up with all the art and life of which they were masters. "Silence, silence," says the colonel. No sooner was there a pause, than Wadsworth speaks with great earnestness, "Drum, drum, I say;" and, turning to his excellency, said, "If I am interrupted again I will make the sun shine through you in a moment." He spoke with such energy in his voice and meaning in his countenance that no further attempts were made to read or enlist men. Such numbers of people collected together, and their spirits appeared so high, that the governor and his suite judged it expedient soon to leave the town and return to New York.

Benjamin Trumbull

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