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Chapter 8: American political writing, 1760-1789

William Macdonald, Ph.D., Professor of History in Brown University.
  • The pre-eminence of American political literature.
  • -- James Otis. -- the Stamp Act controversy. -- the Stamp Act Congress. -- John Dickinson. -- Samuel Adams. -- the first Continental Congress. -- the Loyalists. -- the satirists. -- Franklin. -- Thomas Paine. -- a Declaration of the causes and necessity of taking up arms. -- the Declaration of Independence. -- the journal of the Continental Congress. -- the crisis. -- the constitutional Convention. -- the federalist


American history between 1760 and 1789-from the end, that is, so far as military operations were concerned, of the Seven Years War to the inauguration of the new government under the Federal Constitution-falls naturally into three well-marked periods. The first, comprising the development of the constitutional struggle with Great Britain over taxation and imperial control, reaches its culmination in the armed collision between the British and the patriot forces at Lexington, 19 April, 1775. The second period covers the eight years of war, ending with the peace treaty of September, 1783; while the third embraces the so-called “critical period” of the Confederation, and the formation and adoption of the Constitution.

Such a time of storm and stress, of revolution and evolution, is pretty certain, especially in a new country, if it bring forth literature at all, to bring forth such as is predominantly political in content, style, and purpose. The Revolutionary leaders who have left a large and permanent impress upon American literature were concerned chiefly with such weighty matters as the nature of the British constitution, the formulation of colonial rights, and the elaboration of schemes of government and administration; and it was of these things that they chiefly wrote. It is a striking tribute to the classical education of the age, to the moulding power of closely-reasoned theological and legal treatises on which ministers and lawyers fed,1 and to the subtle, pervasive influence of the English Bible, that the best political writing of the Revolutionary period attained a dignity and [125] impressiveness of style, a noble power of rhetorical form, and a telling incisiveness of phrase which won the instant admiration of English critics, and which stamp the political literature of American national beginnings as superior to the similar literature of any other people anywhere.

Of the first notable contribution to the literary history of the Revolution we have, unfortunately, only a second-hand report. When, in 1761, following the death of George II and the accession of George III, the surveyor-general of customs at Boston applied to the Superior Court of Massachusetts for the reissuance of writs of assistance,2 granting authority to search for and seize uncustomed goods, some merchants of Boston and others combined to oppose the application. James Otis the younger, for ten years past one of the leaders of the Massachusetts bar, and lately advocate-general, who, unable to support the application for the writs, had resigned his office, made the leading argument for the petitioners. In a great speech, the substance of which has survived only in notes taken at the time by John Adams,3 then a young lawyer, and more fully written out many years later, Otis challenged the writs as “the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that ever was found in an English law-book.” At once general in its terms and perpetual in its operation, lacking the exact specification of place and circumstance which a search-warrant ought to contain, such a writ was on both accounts illegal. The freedom of one's house was violated by it; the only precedent for it belonged to the days of arbitrary power under Charles II. “No acts of Parliament can establish such a writ.. . . An act against the constitution is void.”

Otis could impede, but he could not defeat, the application, and the writs were eventually issued. He had, however, raised the important question of the application of English law to the colonies, and the nature and extent of the “rights of Englishmen” which the colonial charters, in express terms, had guaranteed. Elected a member of the House of Representatives, he presently led an attack upon Governor Bernard for fitting [126] out an armed vessel without the approval of the House; drafted a communication in which the governor was charged with “taking from the House their most darling privilege, the right of originating all taxes” ; and late in 1762 published his first political pamphlet, A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, in which, mixed with extreme praise of the King of Great Britain and denunciation of the King of France, and vague suggestions as to the nature of human rights, the privileges of the colonies under the British constitution were stoutly maintained. Neither historically nor legally was the argument beyond question, and the claim of right was a call to the future rather than an interpretation of the past. What was said, however, was said with vigour and incisiveness, and to Otis's provincial audience carried weight.

The treaty of Paris, ceding to Great Britain all the vast possessions of France on the mainland of North America, together with Florida and other Spanish territory east of the Mississippi, was concluded 10 February, 1763. On the 23d of that month, Charles Townshend became first lord of trade, with the oversight of colonial administration, in the short-lived ministry of Bute, and some far-reaching changes in the colonial system were presently announced. The salaries of governors and judges, hitherto paid by the colonial assemblies, were now to be paid by the crown, thus insuring, it was believed, a better enforcement of the trade laws and a proper revenue from customs; and a standing army of ten thousand men was to be maintained in America, in anticipation of an attempt by France to recover what it had lost, the expense of the troops to be met by parliamentary taxation of the colonies. Grenville, who became prime minister in June, supported the plan. In March, 1764, Grenville gave notice of his intention to impose stamp duties; laying the matter over for a year, however, in order that the colonies might be consulted. In April a Sugar Act imposed new colonial customs duties.

The prospect of direct taxation by Parliament aroused widespread apprehension in America, and called forth in July the ablest and best-known of Otis's pamphlets, The rights of the British colonies asserted and proved. With notable moderation and restraint, and in a tone pervadingly judicial rather than [127] partisan, Otis argued the case for the colonies, appealing as before to the British constitution as he understood it, and to the logic of right, liberty, and justice. A colony being an integral part of the mother country, though territorially separated from it, its people are, “by the law of God and nature, by the common law, and by act of Parliament . . . entitled to all the natural, essential, inherent, and inseparable rights of our fellow-subjects in Great Britain.” Among these rights was that of freedom from taxation save with their own consent, and of representation in the supreme or some subordinate legislature. Parliament admittedly possessed a general supervisory authority over the colonies, but if, under the guise of regulation, it were to infringe upon the right of taxation through duly elected representatives, it would be guilty of an arbitrary violation of the constitution. Forcible resistance, however, even to an unconstitutional act, was not to be thought of.

There would be an end of all government, if one or a number of subjects or subordinate provinces should take upon them so far to judge of the justice of an act of Parliament, as to refuse obedience to it. . . . Therefore let the Parliament lay what burdens they please on us, we must, it is our duty to submit and patiently bear them, till they will be pleased to relieve us.

Otis voiced effectively the first impulse of thoughtful, patriotic Americans as they contemplated the prospect of parliamentary taxation. The proposed act violated the constitution whose benefits the colonists claimed, but forcible resistance would be treason. The same line of argument, more systematically and cogently put, characterized Oxenbridge Thacher's Sentiments of a British American (1764). Thacher was a fellow townsman of Otis, and the two had been associated in the case of the writs of assistance. Like Otis, Thacher's legal argument closes with a strong profession of loyalty to the crown, and there is no good ground for thinking that in either case the profession was insincere. Argument and dissent were an Englishman's right, and the constitution had grown by protest against abuses.

An even more effective statement of the American case is found in The rights of colonies examined, a pamphlet written by Stephen Hopkins, governor of Rhode Island, and published [128] at Providence in 1765. Admitting the right of Parliament to regulate the affairs of the whole empire, Hopkins not only claims for the colonies “as much freedom as the mother state from which they went out,” but dwells forcibly upon the dangerous tendency of the new policy, the widespread apprehension which it has already aroused, and the absence of any clear necessity for raising an American revenue by parliamentary fiat.

What motive . . . can remain, to induce the parliament to abridge the privileges, and lessen the rights of the most loyal and dutiful subjects; subjects justly intituled to ample freedom, who have long enjoyed, and not abused or forfeited their liberties, who have used them to their own advantage, in dutiful subserviency to the orders and interests of Great-Britain?

Such reasoning as that of Otis, Thacher, and Hopkins, however convincing to the popular mind, avoided, but did not settle, the important and difficult constitutional question of the ultimate authority of Parliament over the colonies. On that question the wisest were certain to differ, and a presentation of the other side of the case was speedily forthcoming. In February, 1765, there appeared at Newport A Letter from a Gentleman at Halifax, to his Friend in Rhode-Island, published anonymously, but written by Martin Howard, a Newport lawyer of repute. In this temperate, logical, and readable pamphlet, the “Gentleman at Halifax,” replying to Hopkins's “labored, ostentatious piece,” puts his finger on the primary defect in the whole colonial argument, namely, the claim “that the colonies have rights independent of, and not controulable by the authority of parliament.” If they derived their political rights from Parliament, were not those rights subject to interpretation or abridgement by Parliament? A lively controversy ensued. Hopkins defended himself in a series of articles in the Providence Gazette, while Otis, his zeal for debate knowing no provincial bounds, printed A Vindication of the British Colonies against the Aspersions of the Halifax Gentleman. Howard retorted with A Defence of the Letter from a Gentleman at Halifax, to his Friend in Rhode-Island, to which Otis responded with Brief remarks on the defence of the Halifax libel on the British-American-colonies. The tide of patriotism was rising, however, [129] and the populace presently took a hand. Before the summer was over Howard, after being hanged and burned in effigy at Newport, fled to England, and the “rights of the colonies” were both “asserted and proved.”

No substitute for the stamp tax having been agreed upon by the colonial assemblies, the Stamp Act became a law (March, 1765). In the interval between the approval of the act and the date (I November) at which it was to go into effect, disorderly bodies calling themselves “Sons of liberty” organized a campaign of forcible resistance; with the result that, when the first of November arrived, stamps and stamped paper were not to be had. Meantime, the newspaper and pamphlet controversy continued. To a pamphlet written by Soame Jenyns, a member of Parliament, published in 1765, entitled The objections to the taxation of our American colonies, by the legislature of great Britain, briefly considered, Otis replied with Considerations on behalf of the colonies, in a letter to a noble Lord, the argument of which, save in its plea for leniency and consideration on the part of Great Britain in view of the extent and importance of the colonies, does not differ materially from that which the author had previously advanced. John Adams, “with the exception of Jefferson . . . the most readable of the statesmen of the Revolutionary period,” now entered the lists with a series of four essays, published anonymously and without title in the Boston Gazette in August, 1765. Beginning with an examination of the “ecclesiatical and civil tyranny” which he found exemplified in the canon and feudal law, and of which the Stamp Act was held up as the consummate illustration, Adams traced the course of the historical struggle between corporate oppression and individual liberty and self-assertion. “Admitting we are children, have not children a right to complain when their parents are attempting to break their limbs, to administer poison, or to sell them to enemies for slaves?” Adams had read his history with a Puritan obsession, and neither his interpretation of facts nor his reasoning did him here much credit. The essays had influence, however. Reprinted in The London chronicle, they were finally published in 1768, in revised form, under the misleading title of A dissertation on the canon and the feudal law.4 [130]

With the resolutions,5 memorials, and petitions of the Stamp Act Congress (October, 1765), we reach the first of the series of great state papers which, while of supreme value for the proper understanding of the constitutional position of the colonies, are also, in some respects, the most characteristic literary product of the Revolutionary period. Nowhere else in American literature does the peculiar gift of formal expression and logical exposition in politics show itself on so large a scale or in so great a cause, and in no country in the world has such expression moved so long and so consistently on a high plane, or voiced itself with so much dignity, condensed forcefulness, or formal beauty. For the most part the work of a few hands, and in some cases of composite authorship, the state papers of the American Revolution became, through their force of argument and sweep of phrase, the accepted statements of political faith, first for the patriot party, and then for the American people.

Of the important papers agreed to by the Stamp Act Congress, two--a declaration of rights and grievances and a petition to the king — were mainly the work of John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, whose notable career as a political writer, already begun in the controversial atmosphere of his own colony, was to earn for him the title of “the penman of the Revolution.” At the end of the year 1765 Dickinson also published at Philadelphia a pamphlet entitled The late regulations respecting the British colonies on the Continent of America considered, in a letter from a Gentleman in Philadelphia to his friend in London,6 which was reprinted in London and attracted favourable notice. A notable pamphlet, published anonymously, by Daniel Dulany of Maryland, one of the ablest of colonial lawyers, entitled Considerations on the propriety of imposing taxes in the British colonies, for the purpose of raising a revenue, by Act of Parliament, in which the notion of the “virtual representation” of the colonies in Parliament was conclusively denied, appeared while the Stamp Act Congress was in session, and was also republished in London.

The repeal of the Stamp Act (March, 1766) caused a sudden cessation of the agitation in America; and the ominous Declaratory [131] Act, asserting for the first time the right of Parliament “to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever,” received little attention. In June, 1767, however, the New York assembly was suspended by act of Parliament for its refusal to comply with the requirements of an act for the quartering of troops; while the Townshend acts, which followed immediately, laid duties upon a number of colonial imports, established resident customs commissioners in America, legalized writs of assistance, and readjusted the tea duties in the interest of the hard-pressed East India Company. The colonies, in resisting the Stamp Act, had dwelt upon the unconstitutionality of internal taxation — by a Parliament in which they were not represented. Townshend now sought to turn the tables by imposing the external taxes which he professed to think the colonies, by inference, had conceded the right of Parliament to impose.

The passage of the Townshend acts revived, though to a. less wide extent, the controversy over colonial rights. Of the writings which attended this phase of the discussion, easily the most important is John Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the inhabitants of the British colonies.7 First published in a Philadelphia newspaper in 1767-68,8 and reproduced from thence in most of the newspapers then issued in the colonies, they were in 1768 collected in a pamphlet, of which some eight editions appeared in America, two in London, one in Dublin, and a French version in Amsterdam. Without the legal mastery of Thacher or Dulany, but, fortunately, also without the discursiveness and extravagance of Otis or the intellectual and religious bias of John Adams, Dickinson reviewed, earnestly and directly, the colonial case; warned the colonies of the grave danger of admitting any form of parliamentary taxation, external or internal; sustained the right of protest and petition, and urged economy, thrift, and the development of American industry. Forcible resistance, indeed, is with him not to be thought of, and the idea of independence is spurned; yet at the same time Dickinson insists

that we cannot be happy, without being free; that we cannot be free, without being secure in our property; that we cannot be secure [132] in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away; that taxes imposed on us by parliament, do thus take it away.

On the whole, it is the form rather than the substance of the Letters from a Farmer that is most original. Dickinson wrote as a cultivated, prosperous gentleman, addressing an audience of intelligent, but plain, people the soil of whose minds had been already somewhat prepared. What Dickinson did, and did with effective skill, was to present in attractive literary form the best of what had already been said and thought on behalf of the colonial claims, and to adapt the argument to the new crisis presented by the Townshend programme. Too patriotic to submit without a protest, and too thoughtful to rebel, he voiced more successfully, perhaps, than any other American publicist of his day, the sober second-thought of the great body of colonists who were ready to carry resistance to any point short of separation and war.

The Massachusetts Circular Letter9 (11 February, 1768), prepared by Samuel Adams for a committee of the House of Representatives, and addressed to the speakers of other representative houses throughout the colonies, introduces to us the man who, more zealously and persistently than anyone else, devoted himself to achieving American independence. Holding the humble office of tax-collector in Boston, Adams's devotion to public causes, joined to a rare talent for political organization, had already made him the master of the Boston town-meeting and the leading spirit in the provincial House of Representatives. In the course of the bitter fight which he waged against Governor Bernard and Governor Hutchinson, and in furtherance of his relentless insistence upon the right of complete local self-government for the colonies, Adams drafted, in whole or in part, most of the resolutions and reports which made Massachusetts the leader in the constitutional struggle, and which also marked it for special punishment later at the hands of Parliament.

The Circular Letter, studiously dignified and respectful in tone, is the best summary statement of the colonial argument which had thus far been put forward. Admitting the supreme [133] legislative authority of Parliament over the whole empire, it rests its case on the

essential, unalterable right, in nature, engrafted into the British constitution, as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within the realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his consent.

So precious is the right of representation, and so great the “utter impracticability” of actually being represented in Parliament, that this House think that a taxation of their constituents, even without their consent, grievous as it is, would be preferable to any representation that could be admitted for them there. Devotion to naked principle could go no farther, nor indicate more clearly the desired goal of independence.

The Townshend Revenue Act remained in force until April, 1770. The act produced an inappreciable revenue, necessitated extraordinary expenditures for its enforcement, and had no other effect upon the situation in America than to reawaken and solidify the colonial opposition to parliamentary taxation, and stimulate interest in the development of colonial manufactures and in the concerted non-importation and non-consumption of British goods. One of the first steps of the North ministry was to repeal it (1770), except the tax of three pence a pound on tea, retained to assert the principle of the Declaratory Act of 1766. For the next two years and more the agitation was not actively kept up, and even such violent disorders as the Boston Massacre (March, 1770) and the burning of the revenue schooner Gaspke (1772) occasioned hardly more than local excitement. Colonial newspapers continued to print essays on American rights, and houses of assembly embodied their views in resolutions; but these occasional writings, while doubtless not without their influence upon public opinion, hardly constitute a political literature of importance.

To this early period of revolutionary agitation belong also the first two volumes of Thomas Hutchinson's History of the colony of Massachusetts Bay (1764-67)10 and the famous Hutchinson [134] “Letters,” which, although not made public until 1773, date from 1768-69. Written by Hutchinson, previous to his governorship, to a friend in England, the “Letters” discuss events in Massachusetts from the point of view of a loyalist official who, deeply attached to the colony, was also deeply concerned at the grave course which affairs were taking, and who could honestly declare:

I wish the good of the colony when I wish to see some further restraint of liberty rather than the connexion with the parent state should be broken; for I am sure such a breach must prove the ruin of the colony.

By means never divulged, Franklin, in 1773, got possession of the letters and sent them to friends in Boston, where their publication greatly intensified the hostility to Hutchinson and precipitated his recall.

With the destruction of the tea at Boston (16 December, 1773), the controversy between the colonies and the mother country entered upon the stage which was to lead to a declaration of independence and to war. In February, 1774, at a hearing before the Privy Council on a petition from Massachusetts for Hutchinson's removal, Franklin was bitterly denounced for his connection with the Hutchinson letters, and was presently removed from his office of deputy postmaster-general for North America. In March, the port of Boston was by statute closed to commerce, except in food, after I June, until compensation should be made to the East India Company for the loss of the tea. In May, the charter of Massachusetts was so altered by act of Parliament as largely to deprive the colony of self-government, while by another statute provision was made for the trial in England, or in another colony, of persons accused of murder or other capital offence because of anything done by them in suppressing riots or enforcing the revenue laws. In June, more stringent regulations were enacted for the quartering of troops. General Gage had already arrived at Boston as military governor, and the coercion of the colony began.

The first Continental Congress, which met at Philadelphia 5 September, adopted a set of “Declarations and resolves,” 11 [135] similar in tone and general argument to those of the Stamp Act Congress, but containing a significant admission of the right of Parliament to regulate the external trade of the colonies, provided the aim were regulation and not taxation. A petition to the king and an address to the inhabitants of Canada, both drafted by Dickinson, were also adopted, together with a memorial to the inhabitants of British America, drawn by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, and an eloquent address to the people of Great Britain, the work of John Jay of New York, later the first chief-justice of the United States Supreme Court. An agreement known as the “Association” 12 pledged the people of the colonies to commercial non-intercourse with Great Britain, and to the encouragement of industry, economy, and neighbourly kindness. Copies of these various state papers were separately printed and widely circulated.

The passage of the coercive acts, and the assembling by a Congress to consider plans of united resistance, stirred anew the fires of literary controversy. In May, 1774, the same month that saw the arrival of Gage and the British troops at Boston, Josiah Quincy published at that place his Observations on the Act of Parliament, commonly called the Boston Port-Bill; with thoughts on Civil Society and standing Armies. Quincy was a brilliant young lawyer, who, in company with John Adams, had chivalrously defended the British soldiers indicted for participation in the Boston Massacre, in 1770. A competent critic13 has suggested that the larger part of the pamphlet, dealing with “civil society and standing armies,” had been carefully prepared some time before, advantage being taken of the Port Act to publish the work with an expanded title. Quincy's pamphlet was shortly followed by James Wilson's Considerations on the nature and the extent of the legislative authority of the British Parliament, an ingenious rejection of such authority in favour of allegiance to the king alone. The writer, a young lawyer of Philadelphia, was later to contribute powerfully to the acceptance of the Federal Constitution by Pennsylvania.

Not all who entered the lists, however, agreed so unreservedly with the sentiments of Congress or of the patriot [136] leaders. A series of papers in The Pennsylvania packet, reprinted in a pamphlet with the title A Few Political Reflections Submitted to the Consideration of the British Colonies, by a Citizen of Philadelphia, and attributed to Richard Wells, urged compensation for the tea and the abandonment of violent protest, at the same time arguing for united rejection of the claim to taxation on the ground that the colonies were too old and too strong to be kept in leading-strings. An anonymous Letter from a Virginian, addressed to the Congress at Philadelphia, went further and frankly questioned the constitutional soundness and political wisdom of the arguments put forth by the Congress.

No history of the American Revolution, or of the political literature to which it gave birth, would be complete without consideration of the loyalists. That independence was in fact the work of a minority, and that the methods by which the loyal majority was overawed and, in part, expelled were as high-handed and cruel as they were active and vigorous, must be freely conceded. Weighty as was the colonial argument, force and violence were freely employed to give effect to it. But the great loyalist party, numbering among its leaders many of the ablest, most devoted, and wealthiest men in colonial life, was not crushed without a struggle; and the arguments with which its adherents defended their cause and sought to defeat that of their opponents were not less ably put or trenchantly phrased than those of the patriots themselves.

Soon after the “Association” agreement of the Continental Congress was adopted (October, 1774), there was published in New York the first of four pamphlets by a “Westchester Farmer.” The author was the Rev. Samuel Seabury, then and for some time rector of St. Peter's Church, Westchester, and later, by time's curious working, first bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The four pamphlets, entitled respectively Free thoughts on the proceedings of the Continental Congress, The Congress Canvassed, A view of the controversy between great-britain and her colonies, and An alarm to the legislature of the province of New-York, were a powerful attack upon the aims and policy of the Congress and the patriot leaders, and a plea for such adjustment as would assure to the colonies local self-government, on the one hand. [137] with full recognition of parliamentary authority on the other. For writing the pamphlets Seabury was mobbed, imprisoned, and hounded until in 1776 he took refuge within the British lines.

It was in reply to the first of Seabury's pamphlets that Alexander Hamilton, then a college student of seventeen, made anonymously his first essay in authorship with A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies (1774) and A Farmer Refuted (1775). None of the pamphleteers of the Revolutionary period excels Hamilton in the logical acumen and expository power which he here displays, and none approached him in his clear discernment of the theatre and character of the war, if war must be. Yet even Hamilton, with all his precocious intellectual power, failed to point out beyond peradventure how union with the Empire under allegiance to the king comported with a denial of the legislative power of Parliament. The only outcome for the colonies was independence, and independence was the word which, as yet, most colonial leaders appeared anxious to avoid.

Before the attacks of the “Westchester Farmer” had ceased, Daniel Leonard, a Boston lawyer of social prominence, began the publication in a loyalist newspaper, over the pen-name of “Massachusettensis,” of a series of seventeen letters, To the inhabitants of the province of the Massachusetts-Bay (1774-75). Seabury had emphasized the impracticability and political unwisdom of the recommendations of the Congress. Leonard assailed the unconstitutional arguments of the patriots, and the revolutionary character of their attacks upon parliamentary enactments and crown officers.

The task of combating the influence of “Massachusettensis” was undertaken by John Adams, who, early in 1775, published in the Boston Gazette, over the signature of “Novanglus,” a series of letters traversing Leonard's argument. Twelve articles had appeared when the battle of Lexington (19 April, 1775) intervened. Adams did not lack legal knowledge or logical proficiency, but he was no match for Leonard in debate, nor could he keep to the point; and although the republication of the letters in London, and a reprint many years later in the United States, gave some vogue to the name “Novanglus,” the essays won no permanent distinction either [138] for themselves or for their author. It was as a hard-working member of the Continental Congress, and not as a writer or political philosopher, that Adams made his worthiest contribution to the American cause.

To a different class belong the numerous writings of Joseph Galloway, a delegate from Pennsylvania to the first Continental Congress. Already prominent in the politics of his colony, Galloway submitted to the Congress a Plan of a proposed union between great Britain and the colonies. Read in the light of the present day, the scheme seems like a suggestive anticipation of later British colonial policy; but the Congress, after debating it at length, and rejecting it by the narrow majority of a single vote, trampled it under foot, and ordered all reference to it expunged from the printed journal. Galloway later published the plan in A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of Great Britain and the Colonies (New York, 1775). In 1778, after two years spent with the British forces, Galloway went to England, where he was thought sufficiently important to be examined before the House of Commons, and where he continued to publish pamphlets on America until the end of the war.

Another New York loyalist, President Myles Cooper of King's College (now Columbia), gifted with wit and sarcasm above most of his fellows, entered the lists in 1774 with two anonymous pamphlets-The American Querist: or, Some Questions Proposed relative to the Present Disputes between Great Britain and her American Colonies, and A friendly address to all Reasonable Americans. In August, 1775, a mob stripped and mutilated him, but he contrived to escape to a British ship-of-war, and thence to England, where he obtained ecclesiastical preferment. Charles Lee, soon to be numbered among the renegades and traitors, but at the moment in the enjoyment of a repute as a military expert which he had done little to earn, replied to Cooper with some cleverness in Strictures on a pamphlet, entitled a Friendly address to all Reasonable Americans (1775)-the only contribution of Lee's to the patriot cause for which he may be appreciatively remembered.

Although not published until 1797, by which time the author had been for more than twenty years resident in England, Jonathan Boucher's A View of the Causes and Consequences [139] of the American Revolution may perhaps be included in our enumeration of loyalist writings. From 1762 to 1775 Boucher was rector of parishes in Maryland and Virginia, finding time, however, to take an active part in colonial politics. The volume referred to, dedicated to Washington and prefaced by an extended introduction, consists of thirteen sermons preached to his American congregations, and forms as a whole the best presentation of the loyalist cause as embraced and championed by an Anglican minister. For his boldness, however, his parishioners drove him into exile, in common with many another clergyman who held similar views.

Mention should also be made here of the poems of Philip Freneau and John Trumbull, although the fuller discussion of their literary significance belongs elsewhere in this work.14 The first of Freneau's poems of the Revolution, On the Conqueror of America shut up in Boston and General Gage's Soliloquy, were published in the summer of 1775, while the siege of Boston was in progress. Trumbull, whose muse had already responded to some of the earlier incidents of the war, published the first canto of McFingal in January, 1776. Grounded, as were the writings of both of these authors, in a clear, popular understanding of the points at issue, and foreshadowing, in Freneau's case, the ultimate attainment of independence, the satirical humour of the poems confirmed the faithful and strengthened the wavering quite as effectively as state papers or pamphlet treatises.

The great influence of Benjamin Franklin, covering the entire period of the revolutionary struggle, was exerted chiefly through the customary channels of diplomacy, and in a voluminous correspondence with friends and public men on both sides of the Atlantic; and his contemporary publications, comparatively few in number, carried weight because of their directness and sturdy common sense, and of the fame of their writer as a scientist or as the author of Poor Richard's Almanac or as the skilful champion of the colonial cause in England, rather than because of their literary merit or their substantive contribution to the American argument. The report of his Examination15 before the House of Commons (1766), while the repeal of the Stamp Act was under discussion, showed a statesmanlike [140] knowledge of American conditions, and dexterity and boldness in defending the patriot cause. In January, 1768, he contributed to The London chronicle an article entitled Causes of the American Discontents before 1768, and later in the year he wrote a short preface for a London reprint of Dickinson's Letters from a Farmer.

For the next five years Franklin was occupied with his duties as colonial agent of Massachusetts, Georgia, and other colonies. His writings during that period consist almost wholly of letters, and of articles on electricity and economic subjects. Then, in September, 1773, he attacked the colonial policy of Hillsborough in Rules by which a great Empire may be reduced to a small one, following this, early in 1774, with an article On the rise and progress of the differences between great Britain and her American colonies. The publication of the Hutchinson letters, although it brought official censure and cost Franklin the loss of a remunerative office, did not materially affect his reputation or weaken his influence; but a Tract relative to the affair of Hutchinson's letters, written in 1774, was, possibly from prudential reasons, not published.16

That persistent opposition to Parliament, whether through elaborated constitutional arguments or by such practical devices as commercial non-intercourse, might in the end raise the issue of independence, had early been perceived; and the earnest protestations of loyalty to the crown which are found in the resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress or the declaration and resolves of the First Continental Congress, if read chiefly in the light of subsequent events, do not seem entirely unequivocal. Not until late in 1775, however, after armed collisions had occurred at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, after Gage had been hopelessly besieged at Boston, and after a second Continental Congress, assuming the general direction of affairs, had begun the organization of a revolutionary government, appointed Washington commander-in-chief, and taken the first steps toward obtaining foreign aid, did the demand for independence, or even the disposition seriously to consider it, become general.

Of the writings which contributed immediately to the final break, the foremost place must be given to Thomas Paine's [141] Common sense (1776). Paine, after an unimportant and not wholly respectable career in England, came to America in 1774, in his thirty-eighth year, armed with introductions from Franklin, and settled at Philadelphia. His pamphlet Common sense, published in January, 1776, seized the psychological moment. Brushing aside all legal and historical argument as no longer to the point, and resorting to the wildest exaggeration and misrepresentation for the purpose of discrediting England and its people, Paine laid his finger on the heart of the situation. The colonies had gone too far to turn back. They were already alienated. The British connection was no longer valuable to them, and reconciliation would be an evil rather than a good. Common sense dictated that they should be free. Enthusiastic acclaim from leaders and public, and a sale of over 100,000 copies within three months, attested the success and power of Paine's first essay in political pamphleteering.

Sweeping as Paine's success was, the course of events had nevertheless prepared the way. In February, 1775, Lord North had startled the House of Commons by introducing and passing a conciliatory resolution; but the offer, unsatisfactory less because of its terms than because of want of confidence in the ministry and the king, had been effectually prejudiced by the passage, in March and April, of bills restraining the trade of the colonies to Great Britain and the British West Indies, and by further provisions for the prosecution of the war. It was on the first of the restraining bills, that relating to New England, that Burke made his great speech on conciliation. In June came the battle of Bunker Hill and the appointment of Washington as commander-in-chief. On 6 July Congress adopted a Declaration of the causes and necessity of taking up arms,17 the joint work of Dickinson and Jefferson, and one of the greatest of the state papers of the Revolution. Still protesting that “we have not raised armies with ambitious designs of separating from Great Britain, and establishing independent states,” the declaration reviewed, vigorously but with dignity, the course of recent events, protested in the name of liberty against a policy that would enslave the colonies, and proclaimed solemnly the intention of fighting until freedom was assured. [142]

In our own native land, in defence of the freedom that is our birthright, and which we ever enjoyed till the late violation of it — for the protection of our property, acquired solely by the honest industry of our fore-fathers and ourselves, against violence actually offered, we have taken up arms. We shall lay them down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors, and all danger of their being renewed shall be removed, and not before.

Two days later (8 July) a last petition to the king once more protested loyalty and devotion, and prayed the interposition of the crown to bring about reconciliation. At the end of the month, however, in an elaborate report drawn by Jefferson, Lord North's offer of conciliation was emphatically, almost contemptuously, rejected. In August a royal proclamation declared the colonies in rebellion. Franklin, meantime, had quietly slipped out of England and returned to America, where he was at once elected to Congress. He had withstood to the last the encroachments of parliamentary authority in England, and was now to witness the passing of royal authority in America. With the rejection of petitions on the one side and of compromise on the other, Paine could well urge that the time had come to act.

For the writing of the Declaration of Independence (4 July, 1776) Jefferson had had some preparation, in a way, through two publications already favourably known to members of the Congress. In 1774 he had published at Williamsburg A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Set Forth in Some Resolutions Intended for the Instruction of the Present Delegates of the People of Virginia now in Convention, in which, with somewhat flamboyant boldness of phrase, he had offered to the king “the advice of your great American council,” and had appealed to him to open his breast “to liberal and expanded thought,” that the name of George the Third might not be “a blot in the page of history.” In June, 1775, he bad framed an Address of the House of burgesses, on the subject of Lord North's conciliatory resolution, which was adopted by the house and served as the model for the report on the same resolution which was approved by the Congress in July. He had also, as we have seen, collaborated with Dickinson in the preparation of the Declaration of the causes and necessity of taking up arms. [143]

The real preparation, however, lay, not in Jefferson's training or skill as a writer, nor in the possession by him of extraordinary insight or prophetic vision, but in the succession of events for the fifteen years past and in the innumerable pamphlets and essays which those had called out. The conduct of the king, the ministry, and the Parliament, the history and necessities of the colonies, and the constitutional foundations of empire had all been repeatedly and ably examined by lawyers and publicists, and the findings set forth by accomplished writers, long before Jefferson was called upon to say the final word. Of all the criticisms that have been passed upon the Declaration of Independence, the least to the point is that it is not original. The material was at hand, the argument had been elaborated, the conclusions had been drawn. For originality there was as little opportunity as there was need. What was required now was a concise summing up of the whole matter, full enough to give a clear impression of completeness, vigorous and bold enough to serve as a national manifesto, and polished, dignified, and incisive enough to catch the ear, to linger in the memory, and to bear endless repetition. That Jefferson met this need with consummate success, working into one brief statement doctrine, accusation, argument, and declaration of freedom, was a demonstration that the hour and the man had met.

The period of active hostilities (1775-1781), which had already begun when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, was not characterized by literary activity. On the American side, at least, the case had been fully stated, and with the decision of the Congress to accept no terms of conciliation that did not recognize independence, there was no longer an English-speaking audience to which to appeal; while to France and Holland, whose aid was sought, the appeal was necessarily diplomatic rather than literary. With the recourse to arms, pamphleteers and essayists entered the army, or busied themselves with public service in Congress, state, or local community. Dickinson, who had drawn back when independence severed allegiance to the crown, nevertheless shouldered a musket. The loyalists were overawed or driven out, and their writings belong thereafter to the countries of their exile. Newspapers were few, paper was scarce, mails [144] were infrequent and precarious, schools and colleges were interrupted or suspended altogether.

Of publication and writing of certain sorts, on the other hand, there was a considerable volume. The Journal of the Continental Congress, published from time to time, with the exception of such parts as were thought to require secrecy,18 is an invaluable record of proceedings, although it contains no report of debates. Numerous reports, resolutions, and other state papers of importance were, however, printed separately in broadside or pamphlet form for the use of members of Congress or for wider distribution. The acts and resolutions of the state legislatures, so far as such bodies were able to meet, were also printed, together with occasional proclamations and other public documents.

The letters of American statesmen, particularly Washington, Franklin, John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Jay, and Patrick Henry, published long afterwards in collected editions, existed for the most part only in manuscript; but their quasipublic character, together with their circulation from hand to hand, often gave to them, to an extent much greater than would be the case today, though within limited circles, the essential character of publications. Larger audiences, but still local, were reached by sermons, many of which, especially those of the New England clergy, dealt much with the war and the political issues of the time. Comparatively few of these, however, were printed contemporaneously. Of great importance to an understanding of the revolutionary struggle are the journals and letter-books of soldiers and officers, both American and British, and the controversial narratives and defences of Burgoyne, Cornwallis, Clinton, and others regarding the conduct of military affairs; but few of these are predominantly political in character, almost none were printed in America at the time, and the publication of nearly all of those by American authors dates from years long subsequent to the war.

Of the war-time pamphlets, the most important are the series to which the author, Thomas Paine, gave the title of The crisis. The first issue of the series had its origin in the gloom and despondency occasioned by Washington's famous [145] retreat across New Jersey, in the fall and early winter of 1776; a retreat which to many seemed to presage the speedy collapse of the American cause. On 18 December, Washington, irritated and alarmed at the rapid dwindling of his army under the operation of short-term enlistment, wrote to his brother:

Between you and me, I think our affairs are in a very bad situation; not so much from the apprehension of General Howe's army, as from the defection of New York, Jerseys, and Pennsylvania . . . In a word, my dear Sir, if every nerve is not strained to recruit the new army with all possible expedition, I think the game is pretty near up.

The next day there issued from the press the first number of The crisis, with its ringing call:
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. . . . Up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. . . . The heart that feels not now, is dead.

Sixteen of these stirring pamphlets, produced as the hopes and fears, the successes and failures of the war gave occasion, were issued down to the end of 1783, when the series ended.

With the surrender of Cornwallis (October, 1781), the active military and naval operations of the war practically ceased. Nearly two years were to elapse before the treaty of peace (September, 1783) formally recognized the independence of the United States; but independence had been achieved in fact, and the way was now open for the discussion of new political problems. A frame of government, the Articles of Confederation, had gone into effect in March, 1781; and when fighting ended, Congress and the country turned their attention to the pressing questions of finance, the development and administration of the West, the restoration of normal conditions in industry, commerce, and social life, and the perfection of the Federal union. It is not without significance that, among the statesmen whose defence of colonial rights had developed both the theory and the practice of revolution, there were [146] many who were now to set the United States forward in the next stage of its career.

For the replacement of the Articles of Confederation by the “more perfect” union of the Federal Constitution, private correspondence, as in the case of the Revolution, did much to prepare the way. Jefferson and John Adams were absent from the country on diplomatic service, the former in France, the latter at the Court of St. James; and Franklin, prince of American diplomatists, was not, in the larger field of government, a constructive statesman. But Washington, Madison, Jay, Hamilton, Patrick Henry, and other leaders were busy with their pens, discussing with one another, particularly in the interval from 1785 to 1787, the defects of the Articles, the need of a firmer national organization, and the practical possibilities of united action. Prominent in this epistolary discussion were such questions as the protection and encouragement of American commerce, retaliation against England for its imperfect observance of the terms of peace, the adjustment of the opposing interests of large and small states, and the provision of an adequate revenue for the payment of the revolutionary debt and the maintenance of the Federal establishment.

In May, 1787, the Federal Convention met at Philadelphia. In anticipation of its deliberations, Madison set down his opinion as to the Vices of the Political System of the United States,19 and prepared a summary view Of Ancient and Modern Confederacies.20 The former noted most of the important points around which the debate later turned, but there is nothing in the Constitution to show that the latter had influence with the convention. The convention was preeminently a practical body. The sources of the Federal Constitution are in the government of England, the constitutions of the states, the Articles of Confederation, and the experience of the country and of Congress under the Articles. The Journal of the convention comprises only a bare record of proceedings, and does not report debates; the proceedings, moreover, were behind closed doors. For our knowledge of what was said, as distinguished from what was voted, we are dependent upon Madison's elaborate Notes, taken down at the time and corrected and [147] supplemented by the journal; some Minutes of Yates, a New York delegate; a Report by Luther Martin to the Maryland assembly21; and the letters, many of them still unpublished, of members of the convention. The elaborate publication of documents, debates, and reports which commonly attends a modern state constitutional convention was conspicuously lacking.

While the convention was in session, there was published at Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, in separate editions, the first volume of John Adams's Defence of the constitutions of government of the United States of America. This work, written and first published in London, was occasioned, the author states, by Turgot's sweeping attack upon the American theory of government, contained in a letter to Dr. Richard Price, in 1778, and published by Price in his Observations on the importance of the American Revolution, and the means of making it a benefit to the world (1785). Two additional volumes appeared in 1788.22 The prominence of the author gave the work, especially the first volume, some vogue; but the disorderly arrangement, the verbose and careless style, the many glaring inaccuracies and inconsistencies due to hasty writing and negligent proofreading, a political philosophy nowhere profound, and the characteristic temper of the advocate rather than of the expositor, did Adams no credit; while his frank criticisms of some features of American government opened the way for attacks upon his sincerity and loyalty which followed him throughout his life. To this disfavour the “worship of the Constitution” as a perfect instrument, which began soon after the successful establishment of the government under it, undoubtedly contributed.

With the adjournment of the Convention in September, and the submission of the Constitution to ratifying conventions in the states, the public became for the first time acquainted with the pending scheme of government; and the great debate on ratification began. The newspapers teemed with political essays, and pamphlets multiplied. The Constitution lacked neither friends nor foes. On the side of the Constitution were [148] James Sullivan of Massachusetts, with his eleven letters of Cassius; Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut, with thirteen letters of A Landholder; Roger Sherman of the same state, who contributed five letters of A Countryman and two of A Citizen of New Haven; and John Dickinson, in his Letters of Fabius. The opposing views of the Anti-federalists were vigorously set forth by Agrippa, whose eighteen letters are probably to be ascribed to James Winthrop of Massachusetts; by George Clinton of New York, who published seven letters under the name of Cato; by Robert Yates, in two letters of Sydney; and in seven letters by Luther Martin.23

The pamphlet literature was equally important. Noah Webster, best known to later generations as a lexicographer, came to the support of the new instrument in An examination into the leading principles of the Federal Constitution; as did John Jay, in An address to the people of the state of New York; Pelatiah Webster of Philadelphia, in The weakness of Brutus exposed, a reply to the first of a series of sixteen essays ascribed to Thomas Treadwell of New York; Tench Coxe, in An examination of the Constitution, written over the pseudonym of “An American Citizen” ; and David Ramsay, in An address to the Freemen of South Carolina. The opposition was represented by Elbridge Gerry's Observations on the New Constitution; Melanchthon Smith's Address to the people of the state of New York, and preeminently by Richard Henry Lee, in his Observations leading to a fair examination of the system of government proposed by the late Convention, and by George Mason of Virginia, in his Objections to the proposed Federal Constitution, to the latter of whom James Iredell of North Carolina made an elaborate rejoinder.24

Incomparably superior, whether in content, or in form, or in permanent influence, to all the other political writing of the period are the eighty-five essays known collectively as The federalist. The essays, the joint work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay, appeared in the New York Independent journal during the seven months beginning October, 1787. They had been preceded, and to a considerable extent called out, by a series of attacks upon the new Constitution contributed by Governor [149] George Clinton and Robert Yates to the New York Journal, over the pen-names of “Cato” and “Brutus” respectively. The authorship of a few of the essays has been an interesting problem of historical criticism, but four were the work of Jay, fourteen were certainly written by Madison, three are probably to be ascribed to Madison, nine are probably Hamilton's, three are the work of Hamilton and Madison jointly, and the remaining fifty-one are the work of Hamilton.25 The plan was Hamilton's, moreover, and his influence undoubtedly dominated all the numbers of the series, whoever the particular author.

The papers of The federalist are in part an account of the merits and defects of confederacies, and a discussion of the difficulties and advantages of union, and in part an examination of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation and a defence of the provisions of the proposed Constitution. Their actual influence upon the ratification of the Constitution in New York, which was the chief reason for writing them, has probably been overrated, nor are they free from partisan bias and the kind of popular argument likely to be effective in political debate. As the earliest contemporary exposition, in extended form, of the Constitution, however, they occupy a unique position. Written in the heat of controversy, and before the great structure of American constitutional law had even been begun, they forecast with extraordinary acuteness some of the most fundamental principles of constitutional interpretation which the federal courts were later to adopt, as well as some of the grave political issues on which party lines were to form. Judicial reference and quotation have given to The federalist a weight of authority second only to that of the Constitution itself, and upon the authorship of the larger part of its pages the reputation of Hamilton as a publicist mainly rests. [150]

1 See Book I, Chap. VII, for evidence as to the knowledge of French radical books in the colonies after 1760

2 A form of writ is given in W. MacDonald, Select Charters, 259-261. The best account of the subject is in Quincy, Massachusetts reports, 395-540.

3 Works, II, 124 note, 521-525; X, 246-249, 274-276.

4 Works, III, 445-464.

5 Text in W. MacDonald, Select Charters, 314, 315.

6 Writings, ed. Ford, I, 211-245.

7 Writings, ed. Ford, 1, 307-406.

8 See also Book I, Chap. VII.

9 Text in W. MacDonald, Select Charters, 331-334.

10 See also Book I, Chap. II.

11 Text in W. MacDonald, Select Charters, 357-361.

12 Text in W. MacDonald. Select Charters, 362-367.

13 Tyler, Literary History of the American Revolution, I, 272 note.

14 Book I, Chap. IX.

15 Writings, ed. Smyth, IV, 412-448.

16 For Franklin, see also Book I, Chap. VI.

17 Text in W. MacDonald, Select Charters, 374-381.

18 The material in the Secret journals, 4 vols., Boston, 1821, is included in the Ford and Hunt edition of the Journals (see Bibliography).

19 Writings, ed. Hunt, II, 361-369.

20 Ibid., II, 369-390.

21 The foregoing are included in Elliott's Debates and Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention (see Bibliography).

22 Works, IV, v.

23 All the foregoing are reprinted in P. L. Ford, Essays on the Constitution.

24 The foregoing are collected in P. L. Ford, Pamphlets on the Constitution.

25 This follows the classification in Ford's edition.

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