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Chapter 21:

The spirit of New England.

February, 1775.

on the day on which the king received the address
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of parliament, the members of the second provincial congress of Massachusetts, about two hundred and fourteen in number, appointed eleven men as their committee of safety, charged to resist every attempt at executing the acts of parliament. For this purpose they were empowered to take possession of the warlike stores of the province, to make returns of the militia and minute men, and to muster so many of the militia as they should judge necessary. General officers were appointed to command the force that should be so assembled. First of those who accepted the trust was Artemas Ward, a soldier of some experience in the French war. Next him as brigadier, stood Seth Pomeroy, the still older veteran, who had served at the siege of Louisburg.

‘Resistance to tyranny,’ thus the congress addressed the inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay, ‘becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. [229] Fleets, troops, and every implement of war

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are sent into the province, to wrest from you that freedom which it is your duty, even at the risk of your lives, to hand inviolate to posterity. Continue steadfast, and with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which Heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us.’

These rustic statesmen, in their sincere simplicity, were the true representatives of the inhabitants of Massachusetts. They came together tremulous with emotion, yet resolved from duty never to yield. They were frugal even to parsimony, making the most sparing appropriations ever thought of by a nation preparing for war; yet they held their property and their blood of less account than liberty. They were startled at the lightest rustling of impending danger, but they were no more moved from their deep seated purpose than the granite rock which seems to quiver with the flickering shadow of the overhanging cloud, as the wind drives it by. ‘Life and liberty shall go together,’ was their language. ‘Our existence as a free people absolutely depends on our acting with spirit and vigor,’ said Joseph Warren; and he wished England to know that the Americans had courage enough to fight for their freedom. ‘The people,’ said Samuel Adams, ‘will defend their liberties with dignity. One regular attempt to subdue this or any other colony, whatever may be the first issue of the attempt, will open a quarrel which will never be closed, till what some of them affect to apprehend, and we truly deprecate, shall take effect.’

The second provincial congress before its adjournment appointed a committee to prepare in the recess [230] rules and regulations for the constitutional army.

Chap. XXI.} 1775. Feb.

They declined to levy taxes in form; but they recommended the inhabitants to pay all their province tax to a treasurer of their appointment. They re-elected their old delegates to congress. They forbade work or supplies for the English troops, ‘for,’ said they, ‘we may be driven to the hard necessity of taking up arms in our own defence.’ They urged one of their committees to prepare military stores; and directed reviews of every company of minute men. Aware of the design of the ministry to secure the Canadians and Indians, they authorized communications with the province of Quebec through the committee of correspondence of Boston. A delegation from Connecticut was received, and measures were concerted for corresponding with that and all the other colonies. After appointing a day of fasting, enjoining the colony to beware of a surprise, and recommending military discipline, they closed a session of sixteen days.

The spies of Gage found everywhere the people intent on military exercises; or listening to confident speeches from their officers; or learning from the clergy to esteem themselves as of the tribe of Judah. ‘Behold,’ said one of the ministers at a very full review of the militia, ‘God himself is with us for our captain, and his priests with sounding trumpets to cry alarm. O children of Israel,’ thus he rebuked the English; ‘fight ye not against the Lord God of your fathers; for ye shall not prosper.’

On these bustling preparations of men, who had no artillery, very few muskets with bayonets, and no treasury, the loyalists looked with derision; [231] never for a moment doubting that the power of

Chap. XXI.} 1775. Feb.
Great Britain would trample down, repress, and overwhelm every movement of insurrection. To crush the spirit of resistance by terror, and to diffuse a cowardly panic, Daniel Leonard, of Taunton, speaking for them all, held up the spectres of ‘high treason,’ ‘actual rebellion,’ and ‘anarchy.’ He ran through the history of the strife; argued that it was reasonable for America to share in the national burden as in the national benefit; that there was no oppressive exercise of the power of parliament; that the tax of threepence on tea was no tyranny, since a duty of a shilling, imposed as a regulation of trade, had just been taken off; that the bounties paid in England on American produce exceeded the American revenue more than fourfold; that no grievance was felt or seen; that in the universal prosperity, the merchants in the colonies were rich, the yeomanry affluent, the humblest able to gain an estate; that the population doubled in twenty-five years, building cities in the wilderness, and interspersing schools and colleges through the continent; that the country abounded with infallible marks of opulence and freedom; that even James Otis had admitted the authority of parliament over the colonies, and had proved the necessity and duty of obedience to its acts; that resistance to parliament by force would be treason; that rebels would deservedly be cut down like grass before the scythe of the mower, while the gibbet and the scaffold would make away with those whom the sword should spare; that Great Britain was resolved to maintain the power of parliament, and was able to do so; that the colonies south of Pennsylvania had [232] barely men enough to govern their numerous slaves,
Chap. XXI.} 1775. Feb.
and defend themselves against the Indians; that the northern colonies had no military stores, nor money to procure them, nor discipline, nor subordination, nor generals capable of opposing officers bred to arms; that five thousand British troops would prevail against fifty thousand Americans; that the British navy on the first day of war would be master of their trade, fisheries, navigation, and maritime towns; that the Canadians and savages would prey upon the back settlements, so that a regular army could devastate the land like a whirlwind; that the colonies never would unite, and New England, perhaps even Massachusetts, would be left to fall alone; that even in Massachusetts thousands among the men of property and others, would flock, to the royal standard, while the province would be drenched in the blood of rebels.

The appeal of Leonard was read with triumph by the tories. But John Adams, kindling with indignation at his dastardly menaces and mode of reasoning, entered the lists as the champion of American freedom; employing the fruits of his long study of the British law, the constitution, and of natural right, and expressing the true sentiments of New England.

My friends: Human nature itself is evermore an advocate for liberty. The people can understand and feel the difference between true and false, right and wrong, virtue and vice. To the sense of this difference the friends of mankind appeal.

That all men by nature are equal; that kings have but a delegated authority which the people may resume, are the revolution principles of 1688, are the principles of Aristotle and Plato, of Livy and [233] Cicero, of Sydney, Harrington, and Locke, of nature

Chap. XXI.} 1775. Feb.
and eternal reason.

The people are in their nature so gentle, that there never was a government in which thousands of mistakes were not overlooked. Not ingratitude to their rulers, but much love is their constant fault. Popular leaders never could for any length of time persuade a large people that they were wronged, unless they really were so. They have acted on the defensive from first to last; are still struggling at the expense of their ease, health, peace, wealth, and preferment, and, like the Prince of Orange, resolve never to see their country in entire subjection to arbitrary power, but rather to die fighting against it in the last ditch.

Nor can the people be losers in the end. Should they be unsuccessful, they can but be slaves, as they would have been had they not resisted; if they die, death is better than slavery; if they succeed, their gains are immense, for they preserve their liberties. Without the resistance of the Romans to Tarquin, would the Roman orators, poets, and historians, the great teachers of humanity, the delight and glory of mankind, ever have existed? Did not the Swiss cantons gain by resistance to Albert and Gessler? Did not the Seven United Provinces gain by resistance to Philip, Alva, and Granvelle? Did not the English gain by resistance to John when Magna Charta was obtained? by resistance to Charles the First? to James the Second?

To the scheme of having a revenue in America by authority of parliament, the active, sagacious, and very able Franklin, the eminent philosopher, the distinguished [234] patriot, in the administration of the busy,

Chap. XXI.} 1775. Feb.
intriguing, enterprising Shirley, sent an answer in writing, which exhausted the subject.

If the parliament of Great Britain had all the natural foundations of authority, wisdom, goodness, justice, power, would not an unlimited subjection of three millions of people to that parliament at three thousand miles distance, be real slavery? But when both electors and elected are become corrupt, you would be the most abject of slaves to the worst of masters. The minister and his advocates call resistance to acts of parliament treason and rebellion. But the people are not to be intimidated by hard words; they know, that in the opinion of all the colonies parliament has no authority over them excepting to regulate their trade, and this merely by consent.

All America is united in sentiment. When a masterly statesman, to whom America has erected a statue in her heart for his integrity, fortitude, and perseverance in her cause, invented a committee of correspondence in Boston, did not every colony, nay every county, city, hundred, and town upon the whole continent, adopt the measure, as if it had been a revelation from above? Look over the resolves of the colonies for the past year; you will see, that one understanding governs, one heart animates the whole.

The congress at Philadelphia have assured us, that if force attempts to carry the late innovating measures against us, all America ought to support us. Maryland and Delaware have taken the powers of the militia into the hands of the people, and established [235] it by their own authority for the defence of

Chap. XXI.} 1775. Feb.
Massachusetts. Virginia and the Carolinas are preparing. The unanimity in congress can hardly be paralleled. The mighty questions of the revolution of 1688 were determined in the convention of parliament by small majorities of two or three, and four or five only; the almost unanimity in your assemblies and especially in the continental congress, are providential dispensations in our favor, the clearest demonstration of the cordial, firm, radical, and indissoluble union of the colonies.

If Great Britain were united, she could not subdue a country a thousand leagues off. How many years, how many millions, did it take to conquer the poor province of Canada, which yet would never have submitted but on a capitulation, securing religion and property? But Great Britain is not united against us. Millions in England and Scotland think it unrighteous, impolitic, and ruinous to make war upon us; and a minister, though he may have a marble heart, will proceed with a desponding spirit. London has bound her members under their hands to assist us; Bristol has chosen two known friends of America; many of the most virtuous of the nobility and gentry are for us, and among them a St. Asaph, a Camden, and a Chatham; the best bishop that adorns the bench, as great a judge as the nation can boast, and the greatest statesman it ever saw.

I would ask, by what law the parliament has authority over America? By the law in the Old and New Testament it has none; by the law of nature and nations it has none; by the common law of England it has none; by statute law it has none; for [236] no statute for this purpose was made before the set-

Chap. XXI.} 1775. Feb.
tlement of the colonies, and the declaratory act of was made without our consent by a parliament which had no authority beyond the four seas.

The subordination of Ireland is founded on conquest and consent. But America never was conquered by Britain. She never consented to be a state, dependent upon the British parliament. What religious, moral, or political obligations, then, are we under, to submit to parliament as supreme? None at all. If Great Britain will resort to force, all Europe will pronounce her a tyrant, and America never will submit to her, be the danger of disobedience as great as it will.

If Great Britain has protected the colonies, all the profits of our trade centred in her lap. If she has been a nursing mother to us, we have, as nursed children commonly do, been very fond of her, and rewarded her all along tenfold for all her care.

We New England men do not derive our laws from parliament, nor from common law, but from the law of nature and the compact made with the king in our charters. If our charters could be forfeited, and were actually forfeited, the only consequence would be, that the king would have no power over us at all. The connection would be broken between the crown and the natives of this country. The charter of London in an arbitrary reign was decreed forfeited; the charter of Massachusetts was declared forfeited also. But no American charter will ever be decreed forfeited again; or if any should, the decree will be regarded no more than a vote of the lower house of the Robinhood [237] society. God forbid the privileges of millions of

Chap. XXI.} 1775 Feb.
Americans should depend upon the discretion of a lord chancellor. It may as well be pretended that the people of Great Britain can forfeit their privileges, as the people of this province. If the contract of state is broken, the people and king of England must recur to nature. It is the same in this province. We shall never more submit to decrees in chancery, or acts of parliament, annihilating charters or “abridging English liberties.”

Should the nation suffer the minister to persevere in his madness and send fire and sword against us, we have men enough to defend ourselves. The colonies south of Pennsylvania have a back country, inhabited by a hardy robust people, many of whom are emigrants from New England, and habituated like multitudes of New England men, to carry their rifles on one shoulder to defend themselves against the savages, while they carry their axes, scythes, and hoes upon the other. We have manufacturers of fire-arms; powder has been made here; nor could the whole British navy prevent the importation of arms and ammunition. The new-fangled militia will have the discipline and subordination of regular troops. A navy might burn a seaport town, but will the minister be nearer his mark? At present we hold the power of the Canadians as nothing; their dispositions, moreover, are not unfriendly to us. The savages will be more likely to be our friends than our enemies.

The two characteristics of this people, religion and humanity, are strongly marked in all their proceedings. We are not exciting a rebellion. Resistance [238] by arms against usurpation and lawless violence,

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is not rebellion by the law of God or the land. Resistance to lawful authority makes rebellion. Hampden, Russell, Sydney, Holt, Somers, Tillotson, were no rebels. If an act of parliament is null and void, it is lawful to resist it.

This people under great trials and dangers, have discovered great abilities and virtues, and that nothing is so terrible to them as the loss of their liberties. They act for America and posterity. If there is no possible medium between absolute independence and subjection to the authority of parliament, all North America are convinced of their independence, and determined to defend it at all hazards.

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