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Chapter 9:

Massachusetts Defeats the regulating act.

August, 1774.

the congressional delegates from Massachusetts, con
Chap. IX.} 1774. Aug.
secrated by their office as her suppliant ambassadors in the day of her distress, were welcomed everywhere on their journey with hospitable feasts and tears of sympathy. No governor in the pride of office was ever attended with more assiduous solicitude; no general returning in triumph with sincerer love. The men of Hartford, after giving pledges to abide by the resolutions of the congress, accompanied them to Middletown, from which place they were escorted by carriages and a cavalcade. The bells of New Haven were set ringing as they drew near, and those who had not gone out to meet them, thronged the windows and doors to gaze. There they were encouraged by Roger Sherman, whom solid sense and the power of clear analysis were to constitute one of the master builders of our republic. ‘The parliament of Great Britain,’ said he, ‘can rightfully make laws for America in no case whatever.’ The freeholders [107] of Albemarle county, in Virginia, had a
Chap. IX.} 1774. Aug.
month earlier expressed the same conclusion, and, in the language of Jefferson, claimed to hold the privilege of exemption from the authority of every other legislature than their own as one of the common rights of mankind.

After resting one night at New Haven, and visiting the grave of the regicide Dixwell, the envoys continued on their way. As they reached the Hudson, they found that the British ministry had failed to allure, to intimidate, or to divide New York. A federative union of all the English colonies, under the sovereignty of the British king, had for a quarter of a century formed the aspiration of its ablest men, who long remained confident of the ultimate consummation of their hopes. The great design had been repeatedly promoted by the legislature of the province. The people wished neither to surrender liberty, nor to dissolve their connection with the crown of England. The possibility of framing an independent republic with one jurisdiction from the far North to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic indefinitely to the West, was a vision of which nothing in the history of man could promise the realization. Lord Kames, the friend of Franklin, though he was persuaded that the separation of the British colonies was inevitably approaching, affirmed that their political union was impossible. Prudent men long regarded the establishment of a confederacy of widely extended territories, as a doubtful experiment, except under the moderating influence of a permanent executive. That the colonies, if disconnected from England, would fall into bloody dissensions among themselves, [108] had been the anxious fear of Otis of Massa-

Chap. IX.} 1774. Aug.
chusetts; and was now the apprehension of Philip Livingston of New York. Union, with the security of all constitutional rights, under the auspices of the British king, was still the purpose of Jay and his intimate associates. This policy had brought all classes together, and loyal men who, like William Smith, were its advocates, passed for ‘consistent, unshaken friends to their country and her liberties.’ The community did not as yet know with what sullen passion the idea had been trampled under foot by the British ministry, nor how it was hated by the British king; and as yet prudence suppressed every allusion to an ‘appeal’ to arms. But the appeal was nearer at hand than the most sagacious believed.

The last Tuesday in August was the day for holding the supreme court in Boston; Oliver, the impeached chief justice, was to preside; and in the conduct of business to conform for the first time to the new act of parliament. The day was to decide whether Massachusetts would submit to the regulating act; and Gage, who thought it might be necessary for a part of his army to escort the judges in their circuit as far as Worcester, anticipated no opposition to organizing the court in the heart of the garrisoned town. But neither he nor his employers had computed the power of resistance in a community where the great mass is inflamed with love for a sacred cause.

Before Samuel Adams departed, he had concerted the measures by which Suffolk county would be best able to bring the wrongs of the town and the province before the general congress; and he left the [109] direction with Warren, whose impetuous fearlessness

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was tempered by self-possession, gentleness, and good sense, and who had reluctantly become convinced that all connection with the British parliament must be thrown off. On the sixteenth of August a county congress of the towns of Suffolk, which then embraced Norfolk, met at a tavern in the village of Stoughton. As the aged Samuel Dunbar, the rigid Calvinist minister of its first parish, breathed forth among them his prayer for liberty, the venerable man seemed inspired with ‘the most divine and prophetical enthusiasm.’ ‘We must stand undisguised upon one side or the other,’ said Thayer, of Braintree. The members were unanimous and firm; but they postponed their decision, till it could be promulgated with greater formality. To this end, and in contempt of Gage and the act of parliament, they directed special meetings in every town and precinct in the county, to elect delegates with full powers to appear at Dedham on the first Monday in September. From such a county congress Warren predicted ‘very important consequences.’

Meantime Boston was not left to deliberate alone. On Friday, the twenty-sixth, its committee were joined at Faneuil Hall by delegates from the several towns of the counties of Worcester, Middlesex, and Essex; and on the next day, after calm consultation, they collectively denied the power of parliament to change the minutest tittle of their laws. As a consequence, they found that all appointments to the newly-instituted council, and all authority exercised by the courts of justice, were unconstitutional; and therefore that the officers, should they attempt to act, [110] would become ‘usurpers of power’ and enemies to

Chap. IX.} 1774. Aug.
the province, even though they bore the commission of the king. The Boston port-act they found to be a wicked violation of the rights to life, liberty, and the means of sustenance, which all men hold by the grace of Heaven, irrespectively of the king's leave. The act of parliament removing from American courts the trials of officers who should take the lives of Americans, they described as the extreme measure in the system of despotism.

For remedies, the convention proposed a provincial congress with large executive powers. In the mean time the unconstitutional courts were to be forbidden to proceed, and their officers to be detested as ‘traitors cloaked with a pretext of law.’ It was known that Gage had orders to make arrests; each individual patriot was therefore placed under the protection of his county and of the province. The practice of the military art was declared to be the duty of the people.

Gage began to show alarm. He looked about him for more troops; he recommended the repair of Crown Point; and a strong garrison at Ticonderoga; a well-guarded line of communication between New York and Canada. He himself came from Salem to support the chief justice in opening the court at Boston.

On the same day began the term of the inferior court at Springfield. But early in the morning, fifteen hundred or two thousand men, with drums and trumpets, marched into that town, set up a black flag at the court-house, and threatened death to any one who should enter. After some treaty, the judges [111] executed a written covenant not to put their commis-

Chap. IX.} 1774. Aug.
sions in force; Worthington resigned his office of councillor; those of the lawyers who had sent an address to Gage, atoned for their offence by a written confession. Williams, the tory of Hatfield, and others were compelled successively to go round a large circle, and ask forgiveness. Catlin and Warner fell upon their knees; old Captain Mirreck, of Monson, was drawn in a cart and threatened to be tarred and feathered. The people agreed that the troops, if Gage should march them to Worcester, should be resisted by at least twenty thousand men from Hampshire county and Connecticut.

At Boston the judges took their seats, and the usual proclamations were made; when the men who had been returned as jurors, one and all, refused to take the oath. Being asked why they refused, Thomas Chase, who was of the petit jury, gave as his reason, ‘that the chief justice of the court stood impeached by the late representatives of the province.’ In a paper offered by the jury, the judges found their authority disputed for the further reasons, that the charter of the province had been changed with no warrant but an act of parliament, and that three of the judges, in violation of the constitution, had accepted seats in the new council.

The chief justice and his colleagues, repairing in a body to the governor, represented the impossibility of exercising their office in Boston or in any other part of the province; the army was too small for their protection; and besides, none would act as jurors. Thus the authority of the new government, [112] as established by act of parliament, perished in the

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presence of the governor, the judges, and the army.

Gage summoned his council, but only to meet new discomfitures. Its members dared not show themselves at Salem, and he consented to their violating the act of parliament by meeting in Boston. Hutchinson, the son of the former governor, withdrew from the council. The few who retained their places advised unanimously to send no troops into the interior, but so to reinforce the army as to constitute Boston a ‘place of safe retreat.’

Far different was the spirit displayed on that day at Concord by the county convention, in which every town and district of Middlesex was represented. ‘We must now exert ourselves,’ said they, ‘or all those efforts which for ten years past have brightened the annals of this country, will be totally frustrated. Life and death, or what is more, freedom and slavery, are now before us.’ In behalf, therefore, of themselves and of future generations, they enumerated the violations of their rights by late acts of parliament, which they avowed their purpose to nullify, and they sent their resolves by an express to the continental congress. ‘We are grieved,’ said they, ‘to find ourselves reduced to the necessity of entering into the discussion of those great and profound questions; but we deprecate a state of slavery. Our fathers left us a fair inheritance, purchased by blood and treasure; this we are resolved to transmit equally fair to our children; no danger shall affright, no difficulties intimidate us; and if, in support of our rights, we are called to encounter even death, we are [113] yet undaunted; sensible that he can never die too

Chap. IX.} 1774. Aug.
soon who lays down his life in support of the laws and liberties of his country.’

The convention separated in the evening of the last day of August, to await the decisions of the continental congress; but before the next sun was up the aspect of affairs was changed.

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