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Chapter 18:

The colonies meet in Congress.—Rockingham Adminis-Tration.

October, 1765.

The cry was the harbinger of an American Congress.
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The delegates of South Carolina, the fearless Gadsden, who never practised disguise, the upright, able, and eloquent Rutledge; Lynch, who combined good sense, patriotism, and honesty, with fiery energy, conciseness of speech, and dignity of manner, arrived first at its place of meeting. A little delay in its organization gave time for the representatives of New Jersey, where the lawyers were resolved to forego all business rather than purchase a stamp, to imitate the example of Delaware. ‘Such a Congress,’ said Colden to the delegates from Massachusetts, ‘is unconstitutional and unlawful; and I shall give them no countenance.’

While they were waiting, on the third day of October, the last stamp officer north of the Potomac, the stubborn John Hughes, a quaker of Philadelphia, as he lay desperately ill, heard muffled drums beat through the city, and the State House bell ring muffled, and then the trampling feet of the people assembling to [334] demand his resignation. His illness obtained for him

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some forbearance; but his written promise was extorted, not to do any thing that should have the least tendency to put the Stamp Act into execution in Pennsylvania or Delaware; and he announced to the governor his ‘resignation.’ ‘If Great Britain can or will suffer such conduct to pass unpunished,’ thus he wrote to the Commissioners of Stamps, ‘a man need not be a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, to see clearly that her empire in North America is at an end.’

On Monday, the seventh of October, delegates chosen by the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina; delegates named by a written requisition from the individual representatives of Delaware and New Jersey, and the legislative Committee of Correspondence of New-York, met at New-York, in Congress. New Hampshire, though not present by deputy, yet agreed to abide by the result; and they were gladdened during their session by the arrival of the express messenger from Georgia sent near a thousand miles by land to obtain a copy of their proceedings.1

The members of this first Union of the American people were elected by the representatives of the people of each separate colony. While they formed one body, their power was derived from independent sources. Each of the colonies existed in its individuality; and notwithstanding great differences in their respective population and extent of territory, as they met in Congress they recognised each other as equals, [335] ‘without the least claim of pre-eminence one over the

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The Congress entered directly on the consideration of the safest groundwork on which to rest the collective American liberties. Should they build on charters, or natural justice; on precedents and fact, or abstract truth; on special privileges, or universal season? Otis was instructed by Boston to support not only the liberty of the colonies, but also chartered rights. Johnson, of Connecticut, submitted a paper, which pleaded charters from the crown. But Robert R. Livingston, of New-York, ‘the goodness of whose heart set him above prejudices, and equally comprehended all mankind,’ would not place the hope of America on that foundation;2 and Gadsden, of South Carolina, giving utterance to the warm impulses of a brave and noble nature, spoke against it with irresistible impetuosity. ‘A confirmation of our essential and common rights as Englishmen,’ thus he himself reports his sentiments,3 ‘may be pleaded from charters safely enough; but any further dependence upon them may be fatal. We should stand upon the broad common ground of those natural rights that we all feel and know as men, and as descendants of Englishmen. I wish the charters may not ensnare us at last, by drawing different colonies to act differently in this great cause. Whenever that is the case, all will be over with the whole. There ought to be no New England man, no New-Yorker, known on the continent, but all of us Americans.’

These views prevailed; and in the proceedings of the Congress, the argument for American liberty [336] from royal grants was avoided. This is the first

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great step towards independence. Dummer had pleaded for colony charters; Livingston, Gadsden, and the Congress of 1765, provided for Americans self-existence and union, by claiming rights that preceded charters, and would survive their ruin.

And how would that union extend? What nations would be included in the name of Americans? The members of that Congress believed themselves responsible for the liberties of the continent; and even while they were deliberating, the vast prairies of Illinois, the great eastern valley of the Mississippi, with all its rivers gushing from the Alleghanies, with all its boundless primeval forests, spreading from the mountain tops to the alluvial margin of the mighty stream, with all its solitudes, in which futurity would summon the eager millions of so many tongues to build happy homes, passed from the sway of France into the temporary custody of England.

The French officers had, since the peace, been ready loyally to surrender the country to the English. From Mobile, Ross had passed through the land of the Choctaws and the Chickasaws, to the Cherokee river, which he descended in a canoe of his own building, to the Ohio, and so to the Mississippi and the Illinois. But the Illinois, the Missouri, and the Osage tribes, in a council held at Fort Chartres, breathed nothing but war. In vain did St. Ange entreat them to be soothed. ‘My father,’ spoke the chief of the Kaskaskias in the name of all, ‘My father, the Illinois nation deliberates on what it will do, without the counsel of others; but in what we have now done, we follow the mind of all the red men. We have [337] held many councils on this subject, and no man has

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been of a mind to accept this peace.’ And turning to the English officer, he said, ‘Go hence as soon as you can, and tell your chief, that the Illinois and all our brethren will make war on you, if you come upon our lands. Away, away, and tell your chief that these lands are ours; no one can claim them, not even the other red men. Why will you come here? You do not know us; we never have seen you. Tell your chief to stay on his own lands, as we do on ours. Assure him that we will have no English here, and that this is the mind of all the red men. Adieu. Go, and never return, or our wild warriors will make you fall.’ ‘We,’ said the chiefs of the Osages and Missouris, ‘think like our brethren, the Illinois; we will aid them to keep their lands. Why, O Englishman, do you not remain on your lands as the red men do on theirs. These lands are ours; we hold them from our ancestors; they dwelt upon them, and now they are ours. No one can claim them of us. Therefore depart; begone, begone, begone; and tell your chief, the Red Men will have no Englishman here. Begone, never to return. We will have among us none other than the French.’ Ross was obliged to go down the river to New Orleans, indebted for his safety to the circumspection of St. Ange.

But Fraser, who arrived from Pittsburg, brought proofs that the Senecas, the Delawares, and the Shawnees, had made peace with the English. ‘It was not the Illinois who declared war against the English,’ tile chiefs of the Kaskaskias then said. ‘We took up the hatchet, solicited by our elder brothers, the Delawares, the Senecas, the Shawnees, and the Ottawas. Let them make peace: we ourselves have none [338] to make; we follow as they shall lead.’ ‘I waged

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this war,’ said Pontiac, ‘because, for two years together, the Delawares and Shawnees begged me to take up arms against the English. So I became their ally, and was of their mind;’ and resisting no longer, he who was in a manner adored by the nations round about, plighted his word for peace, and kept4 it with integrity and humanity.

A just curiosity may ask, how many persons of foreign lineage had gathered in the valley of the Illinois since its discovery by the missionaries. Fraser was told that there were of white men, able to bear arms, seven hundred; of white women, five hundred; of their children, eight hundred and fifty; of negroes of both sexes, nine hundred;5 The banks of the Wabash, we learn from another source, were occupied by about one hundred and ten French families, most of which were at Vincennes.6 Fraser sought to overawe the French traders with the menace of an English army that was to come among them. But they laughed him to scorn, pointing to the Mississippi, which they could so easily cross, and beyond which they would be safe from English jurisdiction. As he embarked for New Orleans, Pontiac again gave him assurances of continuing peace, if the Shawnees and other nations on the Ohio would recall their war-belts.

Already Croghan, an Indian agent, was on his way from Fort Pitt to Illinois, attended with Shawnese deputies. As he approached the Wabash, his party was attacked and plundered by a band of Indians of that river, who killed two of his own men [339] and three of the Shawnees. But hearing from him

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that the Iroquois, the Shawnees, and the Delawares had made peace, they were terrified lest the whole of the northern Indians should join to avenge on them the death of those whom they had slain; and they sued piteously for forgiveness. The five nations that dwelt on the Wabash gave him each a calumet, and offered to guide British troops from Fort Pitt to the Illinois.

Brother,’ said they all to Croghan, ‘have pity on us, our women and children. The Great Spirit, who lade all things, made you and the French first, and us after, so that we are your youngest brethren. It is you, brother, and the French made this last war. The French and you are now all as one people. In the name of all our tribes, promote the good work of peace.’

While on his way to the Illinois, Croghan met deputations from the nations dwelling there, and Pontiac himself;7 with whom it was agreed, that the English should take possession of all the posts which the French formerly held. From the Wabash, the agent went to Detroit, where the good results were confirmed in council.

As soon as an account of the success of this negotiation reached Fort Pitt, Captain Stirling, with one hundred men of the Forty-second regiment, was detached down the Ohio, to relieve the French garrison. They arrived safely at Fort Chartres, where St. Ange gave them a friendly reception; and, in the fall of the leaf, on the morning of the tenth of October,8 he surrendered to them the left bank of the Mississippi. [340]

Some of the French crossed the river, so that at

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St. Genevieve, a place that had been occupied for several years, there were at least five-and-twenty families; while St. Louis, whose origin dates from the fifteenth of February, 1764,9 and whose skilfully chosen site and unequalled advantages soon attracted the admiration of the British commander, already counted about twice that number, and ranked as the leading settlement on the western side of the Mississippi. In all the English portion of the valley, there remained less than two thousand inhabitants of European origin. And of these, few or none were attached to England. She had won the valley of the Mississippi, and dared not colonize it, lest colonies so remote should renounce their dependence. The government then instituted was the absolute rule of the British army, with a local judge to decide all disputes among the inhabitants according to the customs of the country, yet subject to an appeal to the military chief.

Thus France retired from the valley of the Mississippi, and cast behind no look of longing. The philosophers of that day, a name which comprehended almost every body in Paris, were full of joy at their success in effecting the exile of the Jesuits. The clergy, in their remonstrances to Louis XV., unmindful of America, uttered only their fear, that ‘the press would soon effect the ruin of church and state— of religion, and the fundamental laws of monarchy.’10 The king, immersed in the most scandalous voluptuousness, dreamed not of danger from afar, and cared not for losing the imperial territory that bore his [341] name; but shared the alarm11 of the church at the

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free-thinking and free press which late years had fostered. The Duke de Choiseul, who at that time was minister of the marine and for the colonies, revolved in his own mind the coming fortunes of the new world; repressed regrets for Louisiana, because he saw that America must soon become independent; predicted to his sovereign the nearness of the final struggle between England and its dependencies, and urged earnestly, that France should so increase its naval force,12 as to be prepared to take advantage of the impending crisis.

The amiable, but inexperienced men who formed the active ministry of England, were less discerning. The names of Rockingham, and Grafton, and Conway, must be pronounced with respect; yet suddenly and unexpectedly brought to the administration of an empire, they knew not what to propose. Of the men on whose support they were compelled to rely, many were among the loudest and ablest supporters of the Stamp tax. So orders were given13 to Bernard, in Massachusetts, and elsewhere to governors, in cases of a vacancy, to act as stamp-distributors; and the resolves of Virginia were reserved for the consideration of that very parliament which had passed the Stamp Act by a majority of five to one. Rockingham had promised nothing to the friends of America but relief to trade, where it was improperly curbed. To rouse the ministry from its indifference, Thomas Hollis,14 who perceived in the ‘ugly squall,’ that had just reached [342] them from America, the forerunner of the gen-

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eral hurricane, waited on Rockingham, with the accounts which he had received from Mayhew,15 that the Stamp Act, and the power given to the Admiralty courts to dispense with juries, were detested ‘as instances of grievous oppression, and scarce better than downright tyranny,’ not by Boston only, but by the people throughout the continent; that it could never be carried into execution, unless at the point of the sword, by at least one considerable army in each province at the hazard of either the destruction of the American colonies, or their entire revolt and loss. The ministry shrunk from enforcing by arms the law which a part of them in their hearts disapproved; and on the twenty-fourth of October, the last day but one of the session of the American Congress, and only seven before the time for the Stamp Act to go into effect, Conway, by advice of the Privy Council, sent orders to the American Governors, and to the General, exhorting to ‘persuasive methods,’ and ‘the utmost prudence and lenity.’16

The conduct of America was regulated by the Congress, at New-York. ‘Those who compose it,’ said Gage, ‘are of various characters and opinions; but in general, the spirit of democracy is strong among them; supporting the independence of the provinces, as not subject to the legislative power of Great Britain. The question is not of the inexpediency of the Stamp Act; but that it is unconstitutional and contrary to their rights.’17 No colony [343] was better represented than South Carolina. Her

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delegation gave a chief to two of the three great committees, and in all that was done well, her mind visibly appeared.

The difficult task of defining the rights and ‘setting forth the liberty’ which America ‘ought to enjoy,’ led the Assembly to debate for two weeks ‘on liberty, privileges, and prerogative.’ In these debates, Otis, of Boston, himself the father of the Congress, displayed great knowledge of the interests of America, and assisted to kindle the fires which afterwards lighted the country on its path to freedom.

It was proposed to ‘insist upon a repeal of all acts, laying duties on trade, as well as the Stamp Act.’ ‘If we do not make an explicit acknowledgment of the power of Britain to regulate our trade,’ said the too gentle Livingston, ‘she will never give up the point of internal taxation.’ But he was combated with great heat, till at last the Congress, by the hand of Rutledge, of South Carolina, erased from the declaration of rights the unguarded concession; and the restrictions on American commerce, though practically acquiesced in, were enumerated as grievances.

Still Gadsden and Lynch were not satisfied. With vigorous dialectics, they proceeded from a denial of the power of parliament in America, to deny the propriety of approaching either house with a petition. ‘The House of Commons,’ reasoned Gadsden, with the persevering earnestness of conviction, ‘refused to receive the addresses of the colonies, when the matter was pending; besides, we neither hold our rights from them nor from the Lords.’ But yielding to the majority, Gadsden suppressed his opposition; ‘for,’ said he, ‘union is most certainly all in all.’ [344]

The carefully considered documents in which the

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Congress embodied the demands of America, dwell mainly on the inherent right to trial by jury, in opposition to the extension of the Admiralty jurisdiction, and the right to freedom from taxation, except through the respective colonial legislatures. These were promulgated in the declaratory resolutions, with the further assertion, that the people of the colonies not only are not, but, from their local circumstances, never can be represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain; that taxes never have been and never can be constitutionally imposed on the colonies, but by their respective legislatures; that all supplies to the crown are free gifts; and that for the people of Great Britain to grant the property of the colonists was neither reasonable nor consistent with the principles, nor with the spirit of the British constitution. The same immunities were claimed in the address to the king, as ‘essential principles, inherent rights and liberties;’ of which the security was necessary to the ‘most effectual connection of America with the British empire.’ They also formed the theme of the memorial to the House of Lords, mingled with complaints of the ‘late restrictions on trade.’

Having thus insisted on their rights in strong terms, the Congress purposely18 employed a different style in the address to the House of Commons, insisting chiefly on the disadvantages the new measure might occasion, as well to the mother country as to the colonies. They disclaimed for America the ‘impracticable’ idea of a representation in any but American Legislatures. Acknowledging ‘all due subordma, [345] tion to the parliament of Great Britain,’ and extolling

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the ‘English constitution as the most perfect form of government,’ the source of ‘all their civil and religious liberties;’ they argued that, in reason and sound policy, there exists a material distinction between the exercise of a parliamentary jurisdiction in general acts of legislation for the amendment of the common law or the regulation of trade through the whole empire, and the exercise of that jurisdiction by imposing taxes on the colonies; from which they, therefore, entreated to be relieved.

While the Congress were still anxiously engaged in weighing each word and phrase which they were to adopt, it was rumored that a ship laden with stamps had arrived. At once, all the vessels in the harbor lowered their colors in sign of grief. The following night, papers were posted up at the doors of every public office, and at the corners of the streets, in the name of the country, threatening the first man that should either distribute or make use of stamped paper. ‘Assure yourselves,’ thus the stamp distributors were warned, ‘the spirit of Brutus and Cassius is yet alive.’ The people grew more and more inflamed, declaring, ‘we will not submit to the Stamp Act upon any account, or in any instance.’ ‘In this, we will no more submit to parliament than to the Divan at Constantinople.’ ‘We will ward it off till we can get France or Spain to protect us.’ From mouth to mouth flew the words of John Adams, ‘You have rights antecedent to all earthly government; rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws; rights derived from the Great Legislator of the Universe.’ In the midst of this intense excitement, the Congress brought its deliberations to a [346] close. Ruggles, of Massachusetts, and Ogden, of New

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Jersey, pretended that the resistance to the Stamp Act through all America was treason, argued strenuously in favor of the supreme authority of parliament, and cavilling to the last at particular expressions, refused to sign the papers prepared by the Congress. Dyer, of Connecticut, had conceded that there were objections of weight; but in the night of the twentyfourth, ‘union,’ said he, ‘is so necessary, disunion so fatal, in these matters, that as we cannot agree upon any alteration, they ought to be signed as they are, by those who are authorized to do so.’19 Ogden insisted, that it was better for each province to petition separately for itself; and Ruggles, the presiding officer of the Congress, heedless of their indignation, still interposed his scruples and timidities.

On the morning of the twenty-fifth, the anniversary of the accession of George the Third, the Congress assembled for the last time, and the delegates of six colonies being empowered to do so, namely; all the delegates from Massachusetts, except Ruggles; all from New Jersey, except Ogden; all those of Rhode Island; all of Pennsylvania, excepting Dickinson, who was absent but adhered; all of Delaware; and all of Maryland, with the virtual assent of New Hampshire, Connecticut, New-York, South Carolina, and Georgia, set their hands to the papers, by which the colonies became, as they expressed it, ‘a bundle of sticks, which could neither be bent nor broken.’

1 James Otis to Henry Shelburne, Ms.

2 R. R. Livingston, jr., to the historian, Gordon.

3 Ms. Letter of Christopher Gadsden.

4 Fraser to Gage, 18 May.

5 Fraser to Gage, 15 May.

6 Croghan, in Craig's Olden Time, and in Mann Butler's Kentucky. Gage to Halifax, 10 Aug.

7 Croghan to Alexander McKee, 3 Aug.

8 Capt. Stirling to Gage. French Procts Verbal.

9 Prinne's Anniversary Discourse.

10 Bishops to Louis XV.: ‘Nous touchons au moment fatal, ou la librairie perdra laelise et l'dtat.’

11 The king's answer to the clergy, 1765.

12 Memorial of Choiseul, communicated to me verbally, by M. de Barante, who has a copy of it.

13 Grey Cooper to Bernard, 8 Oct, 1765. Same to Shirley, 10 Oct. Treasury Letter Book.

14 Hollis: Diary, 23 Oct.

15 Mayhew to Hollis, 26 Sept.

16 Conway to Gage; to Bernard; to the Governors of North America.

17 Gage to Conway, 12 Oct.

18 South Carolina to its agent, Garth, 16 Oct. 1765.

19 Journal of W. S. Johnson. Dyer to Johnson, 8 Oct.

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