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Chapter 13:

The day—star of the American union.

April—May, 1765.

if the British Parliament can tax America, it may
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tax Ireland and India, and hold the wealth of the East and of the West at the service of its own septennial oligarchy. As the relation of the government to its outlying dominions would become one of power and not of right, it could not but employ its accumulated resources to make itself the master of the ocean and the oppressor of mankind. ‘This system, if it is suffered to prevail,’ said Oxenbridge Thacher, of Boston, ‘will extinguish the flame of liberty all over the world.’

On the discovery of the new hemisphere, the tradition was widely spread through the old, that it conceals a fountain whose ever-flowing waters have power to reanimate age and restore its prime. The tradition was true; but the youth to be renewed was the youth of society; the life to bloom afresh was the life of the race. [270]

Freedom, thy brow
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     Glorious in beauty though it be, is scarred
with tokens of old wars; thy massive limbs
     Are strong with struggling. Power at thee has launched
His bolts, and with his lightnings smitten thee;
     They could not quench the life thou hast from heaven.

Here in the Western World, the ancient warrior, ‘twin-born with man,’ counselled by the ripened wisdom of thousands of years, shall renovate his being, and guide every people of every tongue through the assured self-direction of the individual mind to the harmonious exercise of the collective reason of the State.

‘The Colonies,’ said the press of New-York, just before the Stamp Act became a law, ‘may from present weakness submit to the impositions of ministerial power, but they will certainly hate that power as tyrannical; and, as soon as they are able, will throw it off.’ Colonial opposition confidently appealed from acts of authority to the sanctity of law; from the bar, weekly papers came forth, which loyalists denounced as ‘most licentious.’ ‘Associations of lawyers,’ said Colden, in the impotence of despair, ‘are the most dangerous of any next to the military,’ and he ‘lamented’ that, as yet, ‘the faction’ could not be ‘crushed.’1

Still New-York continued tranquil. New England, where the chief writer against the impending Stamp Act had admitted the jurisdiction of the British parliament, was slow to anger. The child of Old England, she was 10th to impute to the parent country a fixed design to subvert her rights. The patriot Hopkins [271] of Rhode Island, had written, and that colony had

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authoritatively published their common belief, that ‘the glorious constitution of Great Britain is the best that ever existed among men.’ Such was the universal opinion. Massachusetts had been led to rely on the inviolability of English freedom, and on the equity of parliament; and, when the blow fell, which, though visibly foreshown, had not been certainly expected, ‘the people looked upon their liberties as gone,’ giving way for a time to listless agony. ‘Tears,’ said Otis, ‘relieve me a moment;’ and repelling the imputation, ‘that the continent of America was about to become insurgent,’ ‘it is the duty of all,’ he added, ‘humbly and silently to acquiesce in all the decisions of the supreme legislature. Nine hundred and ninety-nine in a thousand of the colonists, will never once entertain a thought but of submission to our sovereign, and to the authority of parliament in all possible contingencies.’2 ‘They undoubtedly have the right to levy internal taxes on the colonies.’3 ‘From my soul,’ said he, ‘I detest and abhor the
thought of making a question of jurisdiction.’4

No person appeared to wish for national selfexistence. In North Carolina, where Tryon5 acted as Governor, the majority of the legislature were even persuaded by him to make provision for the support of the Church of England, so that dissenters themselves, who more and more abounded in that colony, should not be exempted from sharing the cost of the [272] established religion. In Georgia, the stamp duty

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seemed as equal as any that could be generally imposed on the colonies;6 though the manner of imposing it greatly inspired alarm.

While the act was in abeyance, Hutchinson had, in letters to England, pleaded for the ancient privilege of the colonies with regard to internal taxes; but, on learning the decision of parliament, he made haste to say, that ‘it could be to no purpose to claim a right of exemption, when the whole body of the people of England were against it.’ He was only ‘waiting to know what more parliament would do towards raising the sums which the colonies were to pay,’ and which as yet were not half provided for.7 Openly espousing the defence of the act as legally right,8 in his charges, as Chief Justice, he admonished ‘the jurors and people’ of the several counties to obey.9 Nor did the result seem doubtful. There could be no danger but from union; and ‘no two colonies,’ said he, ‘think alike; there is no uniformity of measures; the bundle of sticks thus separated will be easily broken.’ ‘The Stamp Act,’ he assured the ministry, five weeks after the news of its passage, ‘is received among us with as much decency as could be expected; it leaves no room for evasion, and will execute itself.’10

Yet the opposition to its execution was preparing, and in theory it was at once rejected.

‘Should Great Britain tax Ireland,’ inquired a [273] plain New England yeoman early in May, through

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the Providence Gazette, ‘would it be thought a project of independence for that people to remonstrate? The northern colonies fall but little short of Ireland for numbers. Their inhabitants are not dependent on the people of Britain, nor the people of Britain on them, only that they are subjects of the same king.’11 In Boston, the annual election of representatives in May excited the passions of the people. Men called to mind the noble sentiments which had been interwoven into the body of the remonstrances of New-York; and compared them with the diffidence and want of spirit in the petition which the arts of Hutchinson had prevailed on the legislature of Massachusetts Bay to accept. They were embittered at the thought that they had been cajoled into forbearing to claim exemption from taxation as a right; and that yet their prayer had been suppressed by the ministry with haughty and impartial disdain. While the patriots on the one side censured the fatal acquiescence of Otis,12 as a surrender of their liberties, the friends of government jeered at the vacillations and strange moods into which his irritability betrayed him, and called him a Massaniello and a madman. Keenly sensitive, and in the gloom that was thickening around him, conscious of his own sincerity, he repelled the insult with scorn. ‘The divine Brutus,’ said he, ‘once wore the cloak of a fool and a madman; the only cloak a man of true honor and spirit condescends to put on.’ And to merited reproaches he answered like one who was broken-hearted and could find no consolation: ‘Tell me, my once dear friends, [274] what I have got by all this, besides the curse causeless
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of thousands, for whose welfare my heart has bled yearly, and is now ready to burst?13 Were it lawful to get at the cause of all your calamities, I would leap like the roe to purchase your ransom with my life or his.’

The town of Boston remained faithful to the most genial of its patriots; and though his conduct was often wild, and wayward, and contradictory, never failed to show him honor, so long as he retained enough of the light of reason to be sensible of its confidence.

Thus opinion was fermenting at the North, but as yet without a declared purpose in action.

Virginia received the plan to tax America by parliament with consternation. At first the planters foreboded universal ruin; but soon they resolved that the act should recoil on England, and began to be proud of frugality; articles of luxury of English manufacture were banished; and thread-bare coats were most in fashion. A large and embarrassing provincial debt enforced the policy of thrift.

Happily, the legislature of Virginia was then assembled; and the electors of Louisa county had just filled a sudden vacancy in their representation by making choice of Patrick Henry. He had resided among them scarcely a year, but his benignity of temper, pure life, and simplicity of habits, had already won their love. Devoted from his heart to their interest, he never flattered the people, and was never forsaken by them. As he took his place, not yet [275] acquainted with the forms of business in the house, or

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with its members, he saw the time for the enforcement of the stamp-tax drawing near, while all the other colonies, through timid hesitation, or the want of opportunity, still remained silent, and cautious loyalty hushed the experienced statesmen of his own. More than half the assembly had made the approaching close of the session an excuse for returning home. But Patrick Henry disdained submission. Alone, a burgess of but a few days, unadvised and unassisted, in an auspicious moment, of which the recollection cheered him to his latest day, he came forward in the committee of the whole house, and while Thomas Jefferson, a young collegian, from the mountain frontier, stood outside of the closed hall, eager to catch the first tidings of resistance, and George Washington, as is believed, was in his place as a member, he maintained by resolutions,14 that the inhabitants of Virginia inherited from the first adventurers and settlers of that Dominion, equal franchises with the people of Great Britain; that royal charters had declared this equality; that taxation by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, was the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom and of the constitution; that the people of that most ancient colony had uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being thus governed by their own laws respecting their internal polity and taxation; that this right had never been forfeited, nor in any other way given up, [276] but had been constantly recognised by the king and
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people of Great Britain.

Such was the declaration of colonial rights, adopted at his instance by the Assembly of Virginia. It followed from these resolutions, and Patrick Henry so expressed it in a fifth supplementary one, that the General Assembly of the whole colony have the sole right and power to lay taxes on the inhabitants of the colony, and that any attempt to vest such power in any other persons whatever tended to destroy British as well as American freedom. It was still further set forth, yet not by Henry, in two resolutions, which, though they were not officially produced, equally embodied the mind of the younger part of the Assembly, that the inhabitants of Virginia were not bound to yield obedience to any law designed to impose taxation upon them, other than the laws of their own General Assembly, and that any one who should, either by speaking or writing, maintain the contrary, should be deemed an enemy to the colony.

A stormy debate arose, and many threats were uttered.15 Robinson, the Speaker, already a defaulter, Peyton Randolph, the king's attorney, and the frank, honest, and independent George Wythe, a lover of classic learning, accustomed to guide the house by his strong understanding and single-minded integrity, exerted all their powers to moderate the tone of ‘the hot and virulent resolutions;’16 while John Randolph, the best lawyer in the colony, ‘singly’17 resisted the whole proceeding. But, on the other side, George Johnston, of Fairfax, reasoned with solidity and firmness, and Henry flamed with impassioned zeal. Lifted [277] beyond himself, ‘Tarquin,’ he cried, ‘and Caesar,

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had each his Brutus; Charles the First, his Cromwell; and George the Third——’ ‘Treason!’ shouted the Speaker; ‘treason, treason!’ was echoed round the house, while Henry, fixing his eye on the first interrupter, continued without faltering, ‘may profit by their example!’18

Swayed by his words, the committee of the whole showed its good will to the spirit of all the resolutions enumerated; but the five offered by Patrick Henry were alone reported to the house, and on Thursday, the thirtieth of May, having been adopted by small majorities, the fifth by a vote of twenty to nineteen, they became a part of the public record. ‘I would have given five hundred guineas for a single vote,’19 ‘exclaimed the Attorney-General, aloud, as he came out past young Jefferson, into whose youthful soul the proceedings of that day sunk so deeply, that resistance to tyranny became a part of his nature. But Henry carried all the young members with him.’20 That night, thinking his work done, he rode home; but the next day, in his absence, an attempt was made to strike all the resolutions off the journals, and the fifth, and the fifth only, was blotted out. The Lieutenant Governor, though he did not believe new elections would fall on what he esteemed cool, reasonable men, dissolved the assembly; but the four resolutions which remained on the journals and the two others, on which no vote had been taken, were published in the newspapers throughout [278] America, and by men of all parties, by royalists in

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office, not less than by public bodies in the colonies, were received without dispute as the avowed sentiment of the Old Dominion.

This is the ‘way the fire began in Virginia.’21 Of the American colonies, ‘Virginia rang the alarm bell.’22Virginia gave the signal for the continent.’23

At the opening of the legislature of Massachusetts, Oliver, who had been appointed stamp-distributor, was, on the joint ballot of both branches, re-elected councillor, by a majority of but three out of about one hundred and twenty votes.24 More than half the representatives voted against him.

On the very day on which the resolves of Virginia were adopted, and just as the publication of the speech of Barre in the New England paper acquainted all the people, that within parliament itself they had been hailed as the ‘Sons of Liberty,’ a message from Governor Bernard, who believed the fulfilment of his hopes and counsels near at hand, informed the new legislature of Massachusetts, that ‘they should not vainly make the difficult or impracticable attempt to transfer manufactures from their established abode; that the general settlement of the American provinces, though it might necessarily produce some regulations disagreeable from their novelty, had been long ago proposed, and would now be prosecuted to its utmost completion; that submission to the decrees of the supreme legislature, to which all [279] other powers in the British empire were subordinate,

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was the duty and the interest of the colonies; that this supreme legislature, the parliament of Great Britain, was happily the sanctuary of liberty and justice; and that the prince who presided over it realized the idea of a patriot king.’

Contrary to usage, the house made no reply; but on the sixth of June, James Otis,25 of Boston, in single-minded wisdom, advised the calling of an American Congress, which should come together without asking the consent of the king, and should consist of committees from each of the thirteen colonies, to be appointed respectively by the delegates of the people, without regard to the other branches of the legislature. Such an assembly had never existed; and the purpose of deliberating upon the acts of parliament was equally novel. The tories sneered26 at the proposal, as visionary and impracticable; Grenville himself had circulated through the colonies the opinion that ‘from jealousy of neighborhood and clashing interests, they could never form a dangerous alliance among themselves, but must permanently preserve entire their common connection with the mother country.’ But heedless alike of the derision of those about them, and of the prophecy of the minister, the representatives of Massachusetts shared the creative instinct of Otis. Avoiding every expression of a final judgment, and insuring unanimity by even refusing27 to consider the question of their exclusive right to originate measures [280] of internal taxation, they sent letters to every

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assembly on the continent, proposing that committees of the several assemblies should meet at New-York, on the first Tuesday of the following October, ‘to consult together,’ and ‘consider of a united representation to implore relief.’ They also elected Otis and two others of their own members to repair to New York accordingly.

At the same time the province increased its strength by perseverance in appropriating annually fifty thousand pounds towards discharging its debt; and so good was its credit, and so affluent its people, that the interest on the remaining debt was reduced from six to five per cent. by a public subscription among themselves.28

Simultaneously, in the very first days of June, and before the proceedings in Virginia and Massachusetts were known in New-York, where the re-print of the Stamp Act was hawked about the streets as the ‘Folly of England and the ruin of America,’ a Freeman of that town, discussing the policy of Grenville, and the arguments on which it rested, demonstrated that they were leading alike to the reform of the British parliament and the independence of America.

‘It is not the tax,’ said he,

it is the unconstitutional manner of imposing it, that is the great subject of uneasiness to the colonies. The minister admitted in parliament, that they had in the fullest sense the right to be taxed only by their own consent, given by their representatives; and grounds his pretence of the [281] right to tax them entirely upon this, that they are

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virtually represented in parliament.

It is said that they are in the same situation as the inhabitants of Leeds, Halifax, Birmingham, Manchester, and several other corporate towns; and that the right of electing does not comprehend above one-tenth part of the people of England.

And in this land of liberty, for so it was our glory to call it, are there really men so insensible to shame, as before the awful tribunal of reason, to mention the hardships which, through their practices, some places in England are obliged to bear without redress, as precedents for imposing still greater hardships and wrongs upon America?

It has long been the complaint of the most judicious in England, as the greatest misfortune to the nation, that its people are so unequally represented. Time and change of circumstances have occasioned defects in the rules or forms of choosing representatives for parliament. Some large towns send none to represent them; while several insignificant places, of only a few indigent persons, whose chief support is the sale of their votes, send many members. Seats are purchased with the nation's money; and a corrupt administration, by bribing others with places and pensions, can command a majority in the House of Commons that will pass what laws they please. These evils are too notorious to escape general observation, and too atrocious to be palliated. Why are not these crying grievances redressed? Only because they afford the greatest opportunities for bribery and corruption.

The fundamental principle of the English constitution is reason and natural right. It has within itself the principle of self-preservation, correction, and [282] improvement. That there are several towns, corpo-

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rations, and bodies of people in England in similar circumstances as the colonies, shows that some of the people in England, as well as those in America, are injured and oppressed; but shows no sort of right for the oppression. Those places ought to join with the Americans in remonstrances to obtain redress of grievances.

The absurdity of our being represented in parliament is so glaring, that it is almost an affront to common sense to use arguments to expose it; and yet it has been so much insisted upon, that it seems as if the free use of common sense was to be prohibited as well as our other common rights.

But the cases in England, cited to justify the taxation of America, are in no way similar. The taxation of America is arbitrary and tyrannical, and what the parliament of England have no right to impose. The colonies are not only unconnected in interest with any members of parliament, but, in many respects, entirely opposite; indeed, I believe, in all respects where their affairs would come before that house; for when has it meddled with any matter relating to them, except to lay some imposition upon them?

As to the towns in England which send no members to parliament, there are many persons in parliament deeply interested in them; all the counties where they stand, do send members; and many of their inhabitants are voters for the county members. As to the moneyed interest, there are in the house a sufficient number of those who have considerable property in money to take due care of that interest. Those persons who have no votes have yet the opportunity [283] of influence in elections. Nor is it difficult for

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any man of fortune to procure a right of voting. So that the mention of these cases, as parallel with that of the colonies, is wonderfully trifling and impertinent.

Our adherence to the English Constitution is on account of its real excellence. * * It is not the mere name of English rights that can satisfy us. It is the reality that we claim as our inheritance, and would defend with our lives. * * Can any man be represented without his own consent* * Where is the advantage of it, if persons are appointed to represent us without our choice?*Would not our greatest enemies be the most likely to endeavor to be chosen for that office? * * Could such a right of representation be ever desired by any reasonable man? Is English liberty such a chimera as this?

The great fundamental principles of a government should be common to all its parts and members, else the whole will be endangered. If, then, the interest of the mother country and her colonies cannot be made to coincide, if the same constitution may not take place in both, if the welfare of the mother country necessarily requires a sacrifice of the most valuable natural rights of the colonies,—their right of making their own laws, and disposing of their own property by representatives of their own choosing,— if such is really the case between Great Britain and her colonies, then the connection between them ought to cease; and sooner or later it must inevitably cease. The English government cannot long act towards a part of its dominions upon principles diametrically opposed to its own, without losing itself in the slavery [284] it would impose upon the colonies, or learning them

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to throw it off and assert their freedom.

There never can be a disposition in the colonies to break off their connection with the mother country, so long as they are permitted to have the full enjoyment of those rights to which the English constitution entitles them. * * They desire no more; nor can they be satisfied with less. * *

Such were the words in which the sober judgment of New-York embodied its convictions.29 They were caught up by the impatient colonies; were reprinted in nearly all their newspapers; were approved of by the most learned and judicious on this continent; and even formed part of the instructions of South Carolina30 to its agent in England. Thus revolution proceeded. Virginia marshalled resistance; Massachusetts entreated union; New-York pointed to independence.

1 Golden to Halifax, 22 Feb. and 27 April, 1765.

2 Brief Remarks on the Defence of the Halifax Libel on the British American Colonies. Boston: print ed by Edmund Gill in Queen-street.

3 Vindication of the British Colonies, 21, 26.

4 Otis: Vindication, 26.

5 Tryon's Speech to the General Assembly of North Carolina, 2 May, 1765.

6 Georgia Committee to Knox, 15 April, 1765.

7 Hutchinson to I. Williams, 26 April 1775.

8 Hutchinson to Richard Jackson, 30 Aug. 1765.

9 Hutchinson to Secretary of State, 10 Oct. 1765.

10 Hutchinson to a friend, 4 March, 1765: to R. Jackson, 5 May, 4 and 5 June, 1765.

11 Providence Gazette, 11 May.

12 J. Adams: Novanglus, 238.

13 James Otis: To the Freeholders and other inhabitants of Boston. In Boston Gazette, 13 May.

14 For the authentic copy of Henry's Resolutions as first proposed, see Wirt's Patrick Henry, Section Second.

15 Patrick Henry, in Wirt.

16 Fauquier to Lords of Trade, 5 June, 1765, and 11 May, 1776.

17 Dunmore to Dartmouth, 25 June, 1775.

18 Letter from Virginia, 14 June, 1765. In the London Gazetteer of 13 Aug. 1765; and in General Advertiser to New-York Thursday's Gazette, 31 Oct. 1765.

19 Jefferson to Wirt.

20 Fauquier to Lords of Trade, 5 June, 1765.

21 John Hughes's Letter, in Boston Gazette of 22 Sept. 1766.

22 Bernard to Halifax, Aug. 1765.

23 Gage to Conway, 23 Sept. 1765.

24 Bernard to Lords of Trade. Representation of Lords of Trade, 1 Oct. 1765.

25 Diary of Ezra Stiles. Tenth Toast at Liberty Tree, 14 Aug. 1766. The late Alden Bradford the informed me, that Mrs. Warren, of Plymouth, who was the sister of Otis, told him the proposal was planned at her house, on the return of Otis from a visit to Barnstable. The impulse was given in Boston Instructions of 1764.

26 Letter from Boston in New-York Gazette of 3 Feb. 1766.

27 Brigadier Ruggle's Reasons, &c.

28 Bernard to Lords of Trade, 15 July, 1765.

29 Was John Morin Scott the author of the piece signed ‘Freeman?’ Colden and Gage attribute the political papers to the lawyers; and Scott seems most likely to have written this. But the opinion is only inferential. I know of no direct evidence.

30 South Carolina to Garth, 16 Dec. 1765.

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