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Chapter 36:

The towns of Massachusetts meet in Convention.— Hillsborough's Administration of the Colonies con-tinued.


The approach of military rule convinced Samuel
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Adams of the necessity of American Independence. From this moment,1 he struggled for it deliberately and unremittingly as became one who delighted in the stern creed of Calvin, which, wherever it has prevailed, in Geneva, Holland, Scotland, Puritan England, New England, has spread intelligence, severity of morals, love of freedom, and courage. He gave himself to his glorious work, as devotedly as though he had in his keeping the liberties of mankind, and was a chosen instrument for fulfilling what had been decreed by the Divine counsels from all eternity. Such a cause left no room for fear. ‘He was,’ said Bernard, ‘one of the principal and most desperate of the chiefs of the faction;’ ‘the all in all’2 wrote Hutchinson, [193] who wished him ‘taken off,’ and who has left
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on record, that his purity was always above all price. Henceforward, one high service absorbed his soul— the independence of his country. To promote that end, he was ready to serve, and never claim a reward for service; to efface himself and put forward others; seeking the greatest things for his country, and content with the humblest for himself. Boston gathered about him. From a town of merchants and mechanics, it grew with him to be the hope of the world; and the sons of toil, as they took courage to peril fortune and life for the liberties they inherited, rose to be and to feel that they were the champions of human freedom.

With the people of Boston, in the street, at public meetings, at the ship-yards, wherever he met them, he reasoned on the subject that engrossed his affections. His clear sagacity discerned that Bernard, and Hutchinson, and the Commissioners of the Customs, had solicited the aid of an army; and he exclaimed against their treachery with bitterness. He held that it would be just to destroy every soldier whose foot should touch the shore. ‘The King,’ he would say, ‘has no right to send troops here to invade the country; if they come, they will come as foreign enemies.’

‘We will not submit to any tax,’ he spoke out, ‘nor become slaves. We will take up arms and spend our last drop of blood, before the King and. Parliament shall impose on us, or settle Crown officers 3 [194] independent of the colonial Legislature to dragoon

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us.’ He openly denied the superiority of the existing forms of government. It was not reverence for Kings, he would say, that brought the ancestors of New England to America. They fled from Kings and bishops, and looked up to the King of Kings. ‘We are free, therefore,’ he concluded, ‘and want no King.’4 ‘The times were never better in Rome, than when they had no King and were a free State.’ As he reflected on the extent of the Colonies in America, he saw the vast empire that was forming, and was conscious it must fashion its own institutions, and reform those of England.

But at this time Massachusetts had no representative body. Bernard had hinted, that instructions might be given to forbid the calling of the Assembly even at the annual period in May; and to reduce the Province to submission by the indefinite suspension of its Legislature. Was there no remedy? The men of Boston and the villages round about it were ready to spring to arms. But of what use were ‘unconnected’ movements? Ten thousand men had assembled suddenly in 1746 on the rumor of the approach of a French expedition; thirty thousand could at a signal come forth, with gun in hand, to drive the British troops into the sea; but was there the steady courage to keep passion in check, and restrain disorder?

On the fifth of September, there appeared in the Boston Gazette, a paper in the form of Queries,5 [195] designed to persuade the people that the Acts of Par-

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liament and the measures of the British Governmentfor their execution, necessarily implied a leaping over all those covenants and compacts which were the basis of the political union with Great Britain; that, therefore, it was expedient for the inhabitants of every town in the Province, to choose representatives for a General Assembly with instructions, on their coming together, to pray for the enlargement of their privileges to the extent of that first original Charter6 of the Colony, which left to the people the choice of their Governor, and reserved to the Crown no negative on their laws. ‘If,’ continued the writer, ‘an army should be sent to reduce us to slavery, we will put our lives in our hands and cry to the Judge of all the earth, who will do right, saying: Behold—how they come to cast us out of this possession which thou hast given us to inherit. Help us, O Lord, our God; for we rest on Thee, and in Thy name we go against this multitude.’

Wednesday, the seventh, early in the morning, the Senegal left the port.7 The next day, the Duke of Cumberland, a large ship, sailed for Nova Scotia. On the eighth of September, Bernard let it be known that both vessels of war were gone to fetch three regiments. Sullen discontent appeared on almost every brow.8 On the ninth a Petition was signed for a Town Meeting ‘to consider of the most wise, constitutional, loyal, and salutary [196] measures’9 reference to the expected arrival of

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Union was the heart's desire of Boston; union first with all the towns of the Province, and next with the sister Colonies; and the confidence which must precede union could be established only by consummate prudence and self-control. On Saturday, Otis, Samuel Adams, and Warren met at the house of Warren,10 and drew up the plan for the Town Meeting, the Resolves, and the order of the debates. The subject was not wholly new; Otis had long before pointed out the proper mode of redress in the contingency11 which had now occurred. It must be ascertained if the Colony in the midst of excitement could preserve the self-possession necessary for instituting government.12

All day Sunday Bernard suffered from ‘false alarms and threats as usual;’ insisted, that a rising was agreed upon;13 and in his fright at an empty barrel placed on the beacon, actually called a meeting of the Council.14

On Monday the twelfth, the inhabitants of Boston gathered in a Town Meeting at Faneuil Hall, where the arms belonging to the town, to the number of four hundred muskets, lay in boxes on the floor. After a prayer from the fervid and eloquent Cooper, minister of the Congregation in Brattle Street, and the election of Otis as moderator, a committee inquired [197] of the Governor the grounds of his apprehen-

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sions that regiments of his majesty's troops were daily to be expected; and he was also requested ‘in the precarious situation of their invaluable rights and privileges, civil and religious, to issue precepts for a General Assembly.’ On the next morning at ten o'clock, report was made, that troops were expected to arrive; and that Bernard refused to call an Assembly. Rashness on the part of the people of Boston would have forfeited the confidence of their own Province, and the sympathies of the rest; while feebleness would have overwhelmed their cause with ridicule. It was necessary for them to halt; but to find a position where it was safe to do so; and they began with the declaration that ‘It is the first principle in civil society, founded in nature and reason, that no law of the society can be binding on any individual, without his consent, given by himself in person, or by his representative of his own free election.’ They further appealed not to natural rights only, but to the precedents of the revolution of 1688; to the conditions on which the House of Hanover received the throne; to the bill of rights of William and Mary; and to their own Charter; and then they proceeded to resolve, ‘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.’ To remove uncertainty respecting these rights, they voted, ‘that money could not be levied, nor a standing army be kept up in the Province but by their own free consent.’

This report was divers times distinctly read and [198] considered, and it was unanimously voted that it

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be accepted and recorded. The record remains to the honor of Boston among all posterity.

‘There are the arms,’ said Otis, pointing to the chests in which they lay. ‘When an attempt is made against your liberties, they will be delivered.’ One man, impatient to offer resistance, cried out, that they wanted a head; another, an old man, was ready to rise and resume all power; a third reasoned, that liberty is as precious as life, and may equally be defended against the aggressor; that when a people's liberties are threatened, they are in a state of war and have a right to defend themselves.

But every excessive opinion was overruled or restrained, so that the country might the more cheerfully respond to the town of Boston. The Bill of Rights declared that for the redress of grievances, Parliaments ought to be held frequently; the Assembly of Massachusetts had been arbitrarily dissolved; and Bernard refused to issue writs for a new one; so that the legislative rights of the Colony were suspended. The Town therefore, following the precedent of 1688, proposed a Convention in Faneuil Hall. To this body they elected Cushing, Otis, Samuel Adams, and Hancock, a committee to represent them; and directed their Selectmen to inform the several towns of the Province of their design.15 It was also voted by a very great majority [199] that every one of the inhabitants should provide him-

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self with fire-arms and ammunition; and this vote was grounded partly on the prevailing rumor of a war with France, but more on the precedent of the Revolution of King William and Queen Mary. A cordial letter was read from the merchants of New-York, communicating the agreement16 of themselves and the mechanics, to cease importing British goods.

It was also unanimously voted, that the selectmen wait on the several ministers of the Gospel within the town to desire that the next Tuesday might be set apart as a day of fasting and prayer; and it was so kept by all the Congregational churches.

On the fourteenth of September, just after a vessel had arrived in forty days from Falmouth, bringing news how angry people in England were with the Americans,17 that three regiments were coming over, that fifty State prisoners were to be sent home, the Selectmen issued a circular, repeating the history of their grievances, and inviting every town in the Province to send a Committee to the Convention, to give ‘sound and wholesome advice,’ and ‘prevent any sudden and unconnected measures.’ The city of London had never done the like in the great rebellion.18

The proceedings of the Meeting in Boston had a greater tendency towards a revolution, than any previous measures in any of the Colonies. ‘They [200] have delivered their sentiments in the style of a

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ruling and sovereign nation, who acknowledge no dependence;’ wrote Gage. ‘Sedition,’ he feared, ‘might be catching, and show itself in New-York.’19 ‘Your life is in danger from those Catilines, the Sons of Liberty,’ said Auchmuty20 to Hutchinson. Bernard was sure that but for the Romney, a rebellion would have broken out; he reported a design against the Castle, and talked of discovering the very names of five hundred men enrolled for the service; he acknowledged what he called ‘the melancholick truth, that his government was subdued;’ he trembled for his own safety; two regiments would not be sufficient for his protection. ‘I dare not,’ said he, ‘publish a proclamation against the Convention,21 without first securing my retreat.’ ‘I wish I were away,’22 he owned to those around him; the offer of a baronetcy and the Vice-Government of Virginia coming to hand, he accepted them ‘most thankfully,’ and hoped to embark for England in a fortnight.23 He had hardly indulged in this day-dream for twentyfour hours, when his expectations were dashed by the account of Botetourt's appointment, and he began to quake, lest he should lose24 Massachusetts also. Of a sudden he was become the most anxious and unhappy man in Boston. [201]

On Monday, the nineteenth, Bernard announ-

Chap XXXVI} 1768. Sept.
ced to the Council, that two regiments were expected from Ireland, that two others were coming at once from Halifax, and desired that for one of them quarters might be prepared25 within the town. ‘The process in quartering,’ replied the Council,26 ‘must be regulated by the Act of Parliament;’ and that required the civil officers to ‘quarter and billet the officers and soldiers in his Majesty's service in the barracks; and only in case there was not sufficient room in the barracks to find other quarters for the residue of them.’27 The Council, therefore, after an adjournment of three days, during which ‘the militia were under arms,28 exercising and firing,’ spoke out plainly, that as the barracks at Castle William were sufficient to accommodate both regiments ordered from Halifax, the Act of Parliament required that they should be quartered there. Upon this, Bernard produced the letter of General Gage, by which it appeared, that one only of the coming regiments was ordered for the present to Castle William, and one to the town of Boston. ‘It is no disrespect to the General’ answered the Council, ‘to say that no order whatsoever, coming from a General or a Secretary of War, or any less authority than his Majesty and Parliament, can supersede an Act of Parliament;’ and they insisted, that General Gage could not have intended otherwise, for the Act provided, ‘that if any military officer should take upon himself to quarter [202] soldiers in any of his Majesty's dominions in America
Chap. XXXVI.} 1768. Sept.
otherwise than was limited and allowed by the Act, he should be ipso facto cashiered and disabled to hold any military employment in his Majesty's service.’29 Besides it was urged that quartering troops in the body of the town was inconsistent with its peace.

The Council, who were conducted in their opposition by James Bowdoin, one of the most heartily loyal men in the King's dominions, was in the right in the interpretation of the law, and equally so on the question of prudence; for why irritate the people of the town unnecessarily by the presence of soldiers? At the Castle they would be serviceable on the shortest notice.

Bernard, with no ground of complaint against the Council, but that they respected the law and gave good and prudent advice, only wrote to Hillsborough:30 ‘The Council are desirous to lend a hand to the Convention, to bring about a forfeiture of the Charter.31 The Government is entirely subdued. If the three regiments ordered to Boston, were now quietly in their quarters, it would not follow that it could renew its functions. The forfeiture of the Charter is an event most devoutly to be wished.’32

On the appointed day, Thursday, the twentysecond of September, the anniversary of the King's coronation, about seventy persons, from sixty-six [203] towns, came together in Faneuil Hall in Convention,33

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and their number increased, till ninety-six towns and eight districts, nearly every settlement in the Colony, were represented. By the mere act of assembling, the object of the Convention was accomplished. It was a bold and successful attempt to show, that f the policy of suppressing the Legislature should be persisted in, a way was discovered by which legislative government could still be instituted, and a general expression of opinion and concentration of power be obtained. And though at first Otis was unaccountably absent,34 they marked their own sense of the character of this meeting by electing the Speaker and Clerk of the late House of Representatives to the same offices in their own body.

‘They have committed treason,’ shouted all the Crown officers in America. ‘At least the selectmen, in issuing the Circular for a Convention, have done so;’ and pains were taken to obtain and preserve some of their original letters with their signatures. ‘Boston,’ said Gage, ‘is mutinous,’35 ‘its resolves treasonable and desperate.’ ‘Mad people procured them; mad people govern the town and influence the Province.’36

The Convention, soon after it was organized, requested the Governor to summon the Constitutional Assembly of the Province, in order to consider of measures for preventing an unconstitutional encroachment [204] of military power on the civil establishment.

Chap. XXXVI.} 1768. Sept.
The Governor37 refused to receive this petition; and he admonished ‘the gentlemen assembled at Faneuil Hall, under the name of a Convention,’38 to break up instantly and separate themselves, or they should be made to ‘repent of their rashness.’ The message was received with derision.

In the same spirit, the Council, adhering to their purpose of conforming strictly to the Billeting Act, reduced to writing the reasons for their decision to provide no quarters in town till the barracks at the Castle should be full; and on the twenty-sixth of September communicated it to Bernard, published it in the Boston Gazette, and sent a copy to Lord Hillsborough. The law was explicit and unambiguous; and not only sanctioned but required the decision which they had taken.

The paper of the Council proved a disregard for an Act of Parliament by the very persons who set up to enforce Parliamentary authority. On the side of the Province, no law was violated;39 only men would not buy tea, glass, colors, or paper; on the side of Hillsborough, Bernard and Gage, requisitions were made contrary to the words and the indisputable intent of the Statute. In the very beginning of the coercive measures, Boston gained a moral victory; it placed itself on the side of law; and proved its enemies to be lawbreakers. The immediate effect of the publication was, says Bernard,40 ‘the greatest [205] blow that had been given to the King's Government.’

Chap. XXXVI.} 1768. Sept.
‘Nine tenths of the people considered the declaration of the Council just.’41 ‘Throughout the Province they were ripe for almost any thing.’42 The British Ministry, never dared seriously to insist on the provision for the troops required by the Billeting Act.

The Convention, which remained but six days in session, repeated the Protest of Massachusetts against taxation of the Colonies by the British Parliament; against a standing army; against the danger to ‘the liberties of America from a united body of pensioners and soldiers.’43 They renewed their Petition to the King, which they enjoined their Agent to deliver in person as speedily as possible. They resolved to preserve good order, by the aid of the civil magistrate alone. ‘While the people,’ said they, ‘wisely observe the medium between an abject submission under grievous oppression on the one hand, and irrational attempts to obtain redress on the other, they may promise themselves success in recovering the exercise of their just rights, relying on Him who ruleth according to his pleasure, with unerring wisdom and irresistible influence, in the hearts of the children of men.’44 They then dissolved themselves, leaving the care for the public to the Council.

This was the first great example in America of [206] the Fabian policy; the first restoration of affairs by

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delay. Indiscreet men murmured; but the intelligent perceived the greatness of the result. When the Attorney and Solicitor-General of England were called upon to find traces of high treason in what had been done, De Grey as well as Dunning declared, none45 had been committed. ‘Look into the papers,’ said De Grey, ‘and see how well these Americans are versed in the crown law; I doubt whether they have been guilty of an overt act of treason, but I am sure they have come within a hair's breadth of it.’46

1 S. Adams's own statement to a friend in 1775. Ms.

2 ‘Instar omnium;’ the phrase is taken from a later letter of Hutchinson's.

3 Affidavit of Richard Silvester, sworn to before Chief Justice Hutchinson, and sent to the Secretary of State at the time the Ministry designed to take off the principal incendiaries. The words of S. Adams are known to have been uttered at or near this time.

4 Affidavits in the State-paper Office London.

5 Queries in Boston Gazette, 5 Sept. 1768; 701, 31, signed Clericus Americanus. Bernard to Hillsborough, 16 Sept. 1768, Letters to Hillsborough, &c. 70.

6 ‘The old Charter which had nothing of royalty in it.’ Bernard to Hillsborough, 16 September, 1768; Letters to Hillsborough, 74.

7 Compare Gage to Hillsborough, 7 Sept. 1768.

8 Bernard to Gage, 16 Sept, 1768. Captain Corner's Diary, Thursday, 8 Sept.

9 Words of the Petition to the Selectmen.

10 Bernard to Hillsborough, 16 September, 1768, Letters to the Ministry, 70. Corner's Diary, 10 September, 1768.

11 Diary of John Adams, in Works, II. 161, 162.

12 Captain Corner's Diary, Sunday, 11 Sept. 1768.

13 Bernard to Gage, 16 Sept.

14 Bernard to Hillsborough, Letters to the Ministry, 71.

15 Compare Edmund Burke's Speech, 8 Nov. 1768, in Cavendish, i. 39. ‘Such an order to a Governor was an annihilation of the Assembly; and when the Assembly was dissolved, an usurped Assembly met.’

16 New-York Resolves subscribed by merchants, dated 27 August, 1768, and Resolves by the tradesmen of New-York, dated 5 Sept. 1768, referring to the salutary measures entered into by the people of Boston. In supplement to Boston Gazette of 19 Sept. 1768.

17 Captain Corner's Diary, 14 Sept. 1768.

18 Hutchinson's History, III. 205.

19 Gage to Hillsborough, 26 Sept. 1768.

20 Robert Auchmuty to Hutchinson, 14 Sept. 1768.

21 Bernard to Hillsborough, 9 Sept. and 16 Sept. 1768. Letters to the Ministry, 70, 74.

22 Compare Hillsborough to Gage, 16 Sept. 1768, and Captain Corner's Diary, Thursday, 15 Sept. ‘Threats and panic as usual. The Governor wishes himself away; says he believes the Romney prevented rebellion.’

23 Bernard to Hillsborough, 17 September, 1768.

24 Bernard to Hillsborough, 18 September, 1768.

25 Bernard to Hillsborough, 23 September, 1768.

26 See Note to the Letter of the Major part of the Council to Lord Hillsborough, 15 April, 1769, in Letters to Hillsborough.

27 Major part of the Council to Hillsborough, 15 April, 1769.

28 Captain Corner's Diary.

29 Bernard to Hillsborough, 23 Sept. 1768, and answer of the Council, 26 Sept. 1768.

30 Compare Bernard to Hillsborough, 24 Sept. 1768, and S. Adams to De Berdt, Oct. 1768.

31 Bernard to Hillsborough, 26 September, 1768.

32 Bernard to Hillsborough, 27 September, 1768.

33 Compare Frances of the French Embassy at London to Choiseul, 28 October, 1768.

34Mr. Otis in the country much disconcerts them.’ Captain Corner's Diary for 22 Sept. ‘the Coronation.’

35 Compare Paper of Intelligence, inclosed in Gage's, No. 15, of 26 September, 1768.

36 Letters, &c. &c. 41.

37 Bernard's Message, to Gentlemen assembled at Faneuil Hall.

38 Compare the Report on this subject of Frances to Choiseul, 4 November, 1768.

39 Samuel Adams to De Berdt, Oct. 1768.

40 Supplement to Bernard to Hillsborough, No. 24, of 27 Sept. 1768.

41 Hutchinson to T. Whately, Boston, 4 Oct. 1768.

42 Andrew Eliot to T. Hollis, 27 Sept. 1768.

43 Boston Gazette, 10 October, 1768, contains the letter from the Convention to De Berdt, dated Boston, 27 September, 1768, and signed, Thomas Cushing, Chairman.

44 Compare Frances to Choiseul, 21 Sept. 1768; and Same to Same, 23 Sept. 1768. Also A. Eliot, to T. Hollis, 27 Sept, 1768, and Same to Same, 17 Oct. 1768.

45 Opinion of De Grey and Dunning on the Papers submitted to them, Nov. 1768.

46 The Attorney General in the Debate of 26 Jan. 1769; Cavendish, i. 196.

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