Page images

for averting the evils of civil war, and to give one heart and one mind to the people in defence of their just rights. But since the character of the gentlemen who drew up these words was far from being so grave or so religious as to give any weight to that Resolution in their hands, they prevailed on a venerable elder, Mr. Nicholas, to propose it in his own name. Accordingly when proposed by Mr. Nicholas the appointment of the 1st of June as a day of fasting and prayer passed without opposition Such a vote without the Governor's sanction was deemed a daring inroad on his authority. The Earl of Dunmore, who at that period filled the office, on the very next day and in much wrath dissolved the Assembly. But a large majority of the members, nothing daunted, repaired to the Raleigh Tavern; and in their favourite Apollo chamber signed Articles of Association pledging themselves against the purchase of British merchandise, and desiring their Committee of Correspondence to communicate with the Committees of the other Colonies on the expediency of appointing delegates to meet not merely on this occasion but every year in General Congress.

Nearly the same feeling was displayed in the other Colonies. The Boston Port Bill was commonly printed with a black border round it, as though it contained funeral news; and it was cried in the streets of many towns under the title of “A barbarous, cruel, bloody, and “ inhuman murder.” At Philadelphia the Quakers were beginning to deem it inconsistent with their principles to strive any further against the Government; but the rest of the inhabitants agreed to suspend all business on the 1st of June. In most places the Virginia Resolution was adopted, and the day was set aside for fasting and prayer. To relieve the people of Boston under the impending loss of their trade subscriptions of money were announced; and by means of the Corresponding Committees there was set on foot a combination under the ominous name of the “ Solemn League and Covenant neither to purchase nor consume any more goods from Great Britain until their grievances should be redressed.

At Boston itself on the morning of the 1st of June all eyes were anxiously turned to the town-clock which had no sooner struck twelve than the custom-house was closed and all legal business was suspended. The revenueofficers were removed to Salem, where the Assembly had. already been convened for the week ensuing. But General Gage in the execution of his appointed duty found almost insuperable difficulties from the resolute and wide-spread resentment of the people. When the Assembly did meet according to his order it displayed such a spirit as in his opinion to require its immediate Dissolution. He received an adverse Address even from the merchants and freeholders of Salem, commiserating the fate of Boston, and declining to raise their fortunes on the ruin of their neighbours. Other Resolutions betokening in their terms no slight ferment of the public mind were passed at various meetings of the towns and counties. But far beyond them all in vehemence were the Resolutions of the deiegates from the towns in the county of Suffolk, of which towns Boston was the chief. These purported : that no obedience was due to the late Acts of Parliament; that no taxes should be paid to Government; that the persons who had accepted seats in the Council by nomination from the King had acted in direct violation of their public duty; that the late Act establishing the Roman Catholic religion in Canada was dangerous in an extreme degree to the Protestant Religion, and to the rights and liberties of all America ; that the inhabitants of the towns should use their utmost diligence to acquaint themselves with the art of war, and for that purpose should appear under arms at least once in every week.

According to the terms of the recent Act of Parliament thirty-six persons had been named by the Crown as members of the Council for this province, but only twenty-four would consent to take the oaths, and of these one half under the dread of personal violence speedily resigned. The superior Court of Justice met in due form at Boston with the Chief Justice at its head, but the juries to a man refused to serve. Throughout the Colony the sheriffs, magistrates, and clerks either made their peace with the people by solemnly promising not to act under the new law, or else fled for shelter to the well. guarded town of Boston. That town indeed appeared the sole remaining spot within the province where the King's government was obeyed, or where its officers and adherents were secure. General Gage having received large reinforcements had now under his command in Massachusetts no less than six regiments with a train of artillery. These troops for the most part he encamped on the Common close to Boston ; and desertion becoming frequent and much encouraged, he stationed a strong guard on Boston Neck, the narrow isthmus which alone connected the town and Common with the open country. Some time afterwards, seeing the necessity of keeping the soldiers separate from the people, he began to fortify that neck of land, and also to build temporary barracks. As the time approached for the general muster of the Militia he deemed it essential in that state of public feeling to deprive them of their stores and ammunition, which he removed from the provincial arsenal at Cambridge to his own custody at Boston. Such measures, however, and above all his intrenchments on Boston Neck, could not be adopted without greatly adding to the exasperation of the province. A cry was raised that he designed to blockade the town, and reduce the inhabitants by famine. He found his intended works obstructed


his supplies of straw were set on fire; his boats conveying bricks were sunk; his waggons laden with timber were overturned. Nothing but his watchful care and brave forbearance still prevented (and could they always prevent?) some bloody conflict.

It is a characteristic of such times as these in Massachusetts that even the gravest personages no longer frown on even the most lawless proceedings. We find, for instance, a Minister of the Gospel in one of his familiar letters record with manifest glee a scheme of wanton assault, and a jocular pretext assigned for it, upon a gentleman who had no otherwise offended than through the office which he held :-“ Commissioner Hallowell passed “through Cambridge while the people were assembled

there. He had gone by some time, when it was stated

by somebody that it might be proper to have a con“ ference with him. A number of men on horseback

instantly set out to bring him back, but they were dis“ suaded... A single horseman of his own bead

at every


" went on, and coming up to him in a chaise with a com•

panion and servant on horseback told him he must “stop and go back. Hallowell snapped his pistol twice

at him, got upon his servant's horse, and rode with the “ utmost speed to town, followed by the horseman till he

came within call of the guard at the entrance of the 6 town." *

During this time the idea of a General Congress spread rapidly through the Colonies, and was carried into effect mainly by means of the lately appointed Committees of Correspondence. Then it was that the importance of such Committees became apparent; without them it seems certain that the scheme would never have ripened into fruit. They selected Philadelphia for the place, and the beginning of September for the time of meeting. The Colonies which agreed to send delegates to the Congress were twelve; namely, the four New England States and the two Carolinas, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. In all these the mode of appointing the delegates was by no means the same. Thus in Massachusetts they were appointed by the legitimate Assembly just before its Dissolution, and with a race for time against the Governor. In Virginia they owed their nomination to a new House of Burgesses elected for that object without the Governor's authority, and bearing the name of a Convention. In two or three other provinces the vote of a Committee, or even the cry of a multitude, was deemed sufficient. Nor was the number of the delegates uniform ; it varied in the several Colonies from eight to two This disparity, however, did not affect the votes, since it was agreed that each Colony should have one vote, whatever might be the number of its deputies. In the directions and instructions which each Colony gave its representatives on this occasion there was also much

* Dr. Cooper to Dr. Franklin, Sept. 9. 1774. See also the American Archives, vol. i. p. 764.

† The latter was the case in New York where, as Chief Justice Marshall says,

“ it is probable that no legislative act authorizing an “ election to Congress could have been obtained.” Yet the members thus chosen contrary to law “ were very readily received into Congress.” (Life of Washington, note to vol. ii. p. 157. ed. 1805.)

[ocr errors]

variety; some being couched in moderate, some in violent, others again in vague and general, terms.

When fully assembled the members of Congress amounted to fifty-five. Most of them were lawyers. On the 4th of September nearly all appeared in Philadelphia. Next day they met for public business at the Carpenters' Hall; and as their first step they unanimously chose for President Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, the late Speaker of the House of Burgesses. The Virginian deputies indeed, among whom were Henry and Washington, seem to have been much superior to their brethren from the other provinces. Thus speaks of them a gentleman of Philadelphia : “ There are some fine fellows come from

Virginia, but they are very high. The Bostonians are “ mere milksops to them. We understand they are the

capital men of their Colony both in fortune and under“standing."*

Having selected their President, the Congress next determined that their deliberations should take place with closed doors, and that their proceedings, except such as they might themselves choose to publish, should be kept inviolably secret. By this system they added greatly to the effect of their final measures, and bore on all public occasions the appearance of entire concord and undivided vigour ; while on the contrary, if we may trust the disclosures of one of their own members, Mr. Joseph Galloway, long irresolution and numerous controversies had prevailed among them. It is clear indeed that at this period in America there were even on the patriotic side two opposite parties in presence. The first

, and as I believe by far the smaller, though comprising a large part of Virginia and nearly the whole of Massachusetts, was already ripe for civil war. To the other party belonged such men as Mr. Dickinson of Pennsylvania, the author of the “ Farmer's Letters.” These men telt as yet no disaffection to the Throne, no enmity to England; they had hitherto, in their own opinion and intention, opposed only her encroachments but not her just authority; and while firmly determined to have redress for

* Life and Correspondence of Preside nt Reed, by his grandson William Reed, vol. i. p. 75., an authentic and important contribution to general history.

« PreviousContinue »