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Chapter 4:

Political history.

Medford takes a rich share in the political honors of the country. At an early date, it expressed its determination to preserve inviolate the rights and privileges secured to the colony by the charter of 1629. When the four colonies of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven united, May 19, 1643, under the name of “The United Colonies of New England,” their politics and patriotism [144] seem to expand together. This fraternal bond was especially strengthened in our ancestors' hearts, when, by the charter of Oct. 7, 1691, Plymouth was annexed to Massachusetts.

May 10, 1643: The General Court say “that the whole plantation, within this jurisdiction, is divided into four shires; to wit, Essex, Norfolk, Middlesex, and Suffolk.” Each had eight towns, except Norfolk, which had six.

June 4, 1689: “Ensign Peter Tufts was chosen by the town as Representative, according to the Honorable Council's signification.”

May 21, 1690: “Peter Tufts was chosen Deputy to attend the first session of the General Court, or until another shall be legally chosen.”

May 3, 1697: “Voted to pay the Representative 18d. per day, during his services in the General Court.”

The indignation of our fathers in Medford, at the oppressive taxation of Andross, was expressed by a fisherman, in a pointed figure drawn from his craft. Sir Edward Andross, belonging to that select political family of which Benedict Arnold was an accepted member, was sent by the king as a spy to New England in 1684. He gathered facts from his imagination, and returned to persuade the credulous royal government that the Colonies had forfeited their charter. This induced the king to appoint him “Governor-General and Vice-Admiral of New England, New York, and the Jerseys.” He arrived in Boston, Dec. 29, 1686, and commenced, as despots generally do, with professions of friendship and patriotism. But he came prepared for trampling on the liberties of the people, by bringing with him power to enact laws, raise an army, impose taxes, and abolish the representative system. He thus destroyed townships, and said,--“There is no such thing as a town in the whole country.” He and his Council were vested with all legislative and executive powers. And thus the country mourned over their lost charter and fallen liberties. This tyrant contended that every owner of land must renew his title to it, and for his agency the most exorbitant fees were demanded. He levied taxes without any permission from the people or government, and punished cruelly those who refused to pay. The inhabitants of every town were forbidden to meet and exercise their corporate powers, except once a year: and they were told by the Judges, in open Court, “that they had no more privileges left them, than not to be sold for slaves.” [145]

The Anglo-Saxon blood of our Puritan Fathers could not brook this; and they dared to more than think of relief. The great revolution of 1688, in the mother country, ending in the abdication of James, and the accession of William and Mary, afforded an encouraging example on this side the water. That example was promptly followed; and on the morning of the 18th of April, 1689, the people rose in righteous revolt, seized their oppressor, secured him in prison, and destroyed his government. This was decisive New Englandism. He was soon sent back to London to be tried. Of this odious ruler, one of the Medford people said, “If Andross comes to Medford, we will treat him, not with shad or alewives, but a sword-fish.”

The loyalty of our fathers was seen in their holding days of public fasting and prayer when sorrow or defeat visited the mother country, and of holding days of thanksgiving when prosperity and triumph blessed the king. As an example, we would mention a day of rejoicing set apart in Medford, October 14, 1743, on account of victory gained by the English troops in Germany.

1753: Medford was fined £ 10 for omitting to send a representative to the General Court; but, January 10, 1754, this fine was remitted.

Our town, though small, did its share in Philip's War, and raised money and men to put down that intelligent and brave Indian enemy. The same spirit of liberty breathed in their souls at a later day; and, when the odious Stamp Act was proclaimed, the inhabitants of Medford came together, as with a rush, on the 21st of October, 1765, to express their sober convictions of its unconstitutionality and injustice. With entire unanimity, they addressed a letter to their representative, protesting against some former acts of Parliament, but most emphatically against “this most grievous of all acts, wherein a complication of those burdens and restraints are unhappily imposed, which will undeniably deprive us of those invaluable liberties and privileges which we, as free-born Britons, have hitherto enjoyed.” Professing loyalty to their king and parliament, they nevertheless say, that, “whenever they require such an obedience from us as is incompatible with the enjoyment of our just liberties and properties, we cannot but arise and openly remonstrate against it. And this, we esteem, is so far from a spirit of rebellion and disloyalty in us, that to act the contrary would argue in us a [146] meanness and degeneracy of spirit much beneath the character of true Englishmen, and would therefore justly expose us to the contempt of all true lovers of liberty, both in Great Britain and America.” --“Therefore we seriously enjoin it upon you, as our representative, that you be no ways aiding or assisting in the execution of said act.” This language, with them of prophecy, had a meaning almost as clear as it has with us of history. Their words have that political polarity which points at ultimate independence. If every little village in the Province was thus moved with quick indignation at the first instance of positive oppression, does it not prove the existence of a general sympathy and a united brotherhood which will be unconquerable? Medford felt every pulsation of the central heart, and spoke openly what she felt, and was ready to act as nobly as she spoke. The above resolves and instructions of the town were among the first and firmest of the acts of resistance to royal oppression.

On the 18th of March, 1766, Parliament repealed the odious act by a vote of two hundred and seventy-five to one hundred and sixty-seven. The joy exhibited at Medford, on this event, was most intense, and was manifested by fire-works, ringing of bells, and jubilant dinners.

Parliament resumes taxation, June 29, 1767, asserting its right to “bind the Colonies in all cases whatsoever.” Duties were laid on paper, tea, glass, and painters' colors. A custom-house was opened, and a civil list established; and the act provides, that, after ministerial warrants are satisfied, the residue of the revenue shall be at the disposal of Parliament. The trump of doom could not have caused a more general awakening. New England now was doubly alive.

The preparation-note was sounded in Medford, Dec. 21, 1772, in these words:--

Voted to choose a Committee to take under consideration the grievances we labor under, and in particular of salaries said to be appointed by the Crown for our supreme judges; and also to draw up instructions for our representative relative thereto.

This signal-gun, fired from the battlements of liberty, gave not an “uncertain sound,” as will be seen in the following acts of our patriotic fathers. Dec. 31, 1772:--

Voted that the thanks of the town of Medford be given to the respectable inhabitants of the town of Boston for their patriotic care [147] and vigilance (discovered on several occasions) in endeavoring to preserve our civil constitution from innovation, and to maintain the same inviolate. And we do assure them that our assistance shall not be wanting in the use of all such lawful proper measures as shall be thought expedient to be adopted for the preservation of our liberties, civil and religious.

The calm and solemn declaration of sentiments, sent at this time to their representative, is as follows:--

to Simon Tufts, Esq.
Sir,--You being our representative, we, your constituents, this day, in lawful town-meeting assembled, having taken into serious consideration the many and alarming grievances, as generally and justly complained of, which the Colonies in general, and this Province in particular, labor under, as being subversive of the essential rights and privileges of free British subjects, and repugnant both to the letter and spirit of our royal charter, take the freedom to lay before you our sentiments thereupon, and to enjoin you, as our representative, to use your best endeavors in the Honorable House of Representatives, at their next sessions, in promoting and assisting in such constitutional measures as shall appear best, and most likely to obtain redress of the same.

It would be too tedious, as well as needless, to enumerate, and particularly remind you of all the grievances we suffer at this time from ministerial and parliamentary proceedings; but it may suffice to say generally that our sentiments of the claims we are justly entitled to, as free British subjects, and also of the infringements from time to time made upon them, are similar to those contained in the pamphlet (now read) which our patriotic brethren of Boston have generously furnished us with; which book we recommend to your serious perusal.

In particular, we desire that you inquire into the truth of a report currently spread and prevailing among us, namely, that the Hon. Justices of the Superior Court are in future to receive their salaries from the Crown. Since such a provision, which renders them so enormously dependent upon the Crown, is of so threatening an aspect, so dangerous to the free and impartial administration of justice, as must alarm every serious person who has the welfare of his country at heart, it gives us just reason to fear that the axe is now laid at the root of our liberty, with a fixed intention to hew it down.

Therefore, sir, if, upon inquiry, you find this to be really the case, we trust you will zealously and vigorously exert yourself to avert so formidable an evil, and frustrate the wicked machinations of our inveterate enemies; and, in the mean time, that you will endeavor that the Hon. Justices of the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assizes, and General Jail Delivery, be amply and [148] honorably supported by grants from the General Assembly, and in such a manner as shall best tend to the maintaining of justice in the land. Finally, that you endeavor that the disputes and differences now subsisting betwixt Great Britain and the Colonies be speedily and amicably adjusted, and peace and harmony again restored.

A copy of the above was sent to the town of Boston.

The records of Medford are full of the most clear and stirring expressions of patriotism with reference to the oppressions of the Crown. So near to Boston, every pulsation of that central heart found an answering beat in the bosoms of our ancestors. They were among the first and steadiest supporters of colonial rights. There were men in Medford, in 1770, who knew their political, civil, and religious position, and who were ready to defend themselves from parliaments and ministers and kings. It will not be necessary to copy into this history the many declarations and resolutions which glow with the auroral light of liberty on the records of the town. It may be interesting to see into what form their views and feelings had settled in 1773; and these may be apprehended by the following record of a town-meeting held for the special purpose of expressing their opinion upon the Tea Question.

The record is as follows:--

The town being informed, that, by reason of the American merchants generally refusing to import tea from Great Britain while subjected to the payment of the duty imposed thereon by the British Parliament, the East India Company there have been so greatly embarrassed in the sale of their teas, that they have at length determined (through permission of Parliament) to export a supply for the Colonies on their own account. Several ships have already arrived in Boston with large quantities on board, and several more are daily expected; and we are informed that the said duty will be paid upon all such teas.

To prevent, therefore, the many formidable evils consequent upon the success of this alarming and subtle attempt to rivet the chains of oppression, the town, after mature deliberation, comes into the following resolutions:--

1. Resolved, That it is the incumbent duty of all free British subjects in America to unite in the use of all lawful measures necessary and expedient for the preservation and security of their rights and privileges, civil and religious.

2. That it is the opinion of this town, that the British Parliament have no constitutional authority to tax these Colonies without their own consent; and that, therefore, the present duty laid upon tea, [149] imported here from Great Britain for the purpose of a revenue, is a tax illegally laid upon and extorted from us.

3. That said India Company's exporting their own teas to the Colonies, while charged with said duty, has a direct tendency to establish said revenue acts.

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