previous next

Chapter 11:

The continent Supports Massachusetts.

September, 1774.

among the members elected to the continental con-
Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
gress, Galloway of Philadelphia was so thoroughly royalist that he acted as a volunteer spy for the British government. To the delegates from other colonies, as they arrived, he insinuated that ‘commissioners with full powers should repair to the British court, after the example of the Roman, Grecian, and Macedonian colonies on occasions of the like nature;’ but his colleagues spurned the thought of sending envoys to dangle at the heels of a minister, and undergo the scorn of parliament. Yet there was great diversity of opinions respecting the proper modes of resisting the aggressions of the mother country, and conciliation was the ardent wish of all. The South Carolinians greeted the delegates of Massachusetts as the envoys of freedom herself; and the Virginians equalled or surpassed their colleagues in resoluteness and spirit; but all united in desiring to promote ‘the union of Great Britain and the colonies on a constitutional foundation.’ [127]

On Monday the fifth day of September, the mem-

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
bers of congress, meeting at Smith's tavern, moved in a body to select the place for their deliberations. Galloway, the speaker of Pennsylvania, would have had them use the State House, but the carpenters of Philadelphia offered their plain but spacious hall; and from respect for the mechanics, it was accepted by a great majority. The names of the members were then called over, and Patrick Henry, Washington, Richard Henry Lee, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Jay, Gadsden, John Rutledge of South Carolina, the aged Hopkins of Rhode Island, and others, representing eleven colonies, answered to the call. Peyton Randolph, late speaker of the assembly of Virginia, was nominated president by Lynch of Carolina, and was unanimously chosen. The body then named itself ‘the congress,’ and its chairman ‘the president.’ Jay and Duane would have selected a secretary from among the members themselves, but they found no support; and on the motion of Lynch, Charles Thomson was appointed without further opposition. The measures that were to have divided America bound them closely together. Colonies differing in religious opinions and in commercial interests, in every thing dependent on climate and labor, in usages and manners, swayed by reciprocal prejudices, and frequently quarrelling with each other respecting boundaries, found themselves united in one representative body, and deriving from that union a power that was to be felt throughout the civilized world.

Then arose the question, as to the method of voting. There were fifty-five members; each colony [128] having sent as many as it pleased. Henry, a repre-

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
sentative of the largest state, intimated that it would be unjust for a little colony to weigh as much in the councils of America as a great one. ‘A little colony,’ observed Sullivan of New Hampshire, ‘has its all at stake as well as a great one.’ John Adams admitted that the vote by colonies was unequal, yet that an opposite course would lead to perplexing controversy, for there were no authentic records of the numbers of the people, or the value of their trade. Reserving the subject for further consideration the congress adjourned.

The discussion led the members to exaggerate the population of their respective colonies; and the aggregate of the estimates was made to exceed three millions. Few of them possessed accurate materials; Virginia and the Carolinas had never enumerated the woodsmen among the mountains and beyond them. From returns which were but in part accessible to the congress, it appears that the whole number of white inhabitants in all the thirteen colonies was, in 1774, about two millions one hundred thousand; of blacks, about five hundred thousand; the total population very nearly two millions six hundred thousand.

At the opening of the next day's session, a long and deep silence prevailed. Every one feared the responsibility of a decision which was to influence permanently the relations of independent states. The voice of Virginia was waited for, and was heard through Patrick Henry.

Making a recital of the wrongs inflicted on the colonies by acts of parliament, he declared that all [129] government was dissolved; that they were reduced

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
to a state of nature; that the congress then assembled was but the first in a never ending succession of congresses; that their present decision would form a precedent. Asserting the necessity of union and his own determination to submit to the opinion of the majority, he discussed the mischiefs of an unequal representation, the advantage of a system that should give each colony its just weight; and he breathed the ‘hope that future ages would quote their proceedings with applause.’ The democratical part of the constitution, he insisted, must be preserved in its purity. Without absolutely refusing some regard in the adjustment of representation to the opulence of a colony as marked by its exports and imports, he yet himself spoke for a representation of men. ‘Slaves,’ said he, ‘are to be thrown out of the question; if the freemen can be represented according to their numbers, I am satisfied.’ To the objection that such a representation would confer an undue preponderance on the more populous states, he replied, ‘British oppression has effaced the boundaries of the several colonies; the distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American.’ ‘A compound of numbers and property,’ said Lynch, of South Carolina, ‘should determine the weight of the colonies.’ But he admitted that such a rule could not then be settled. In the same spirit spoke the elder Rutledge. ‘We have,’ said he, ‘no legal authority; and obedience to the measures we adopt will only follow their reasonableness, apparent utility, and necessity. We have no [130] coercive authority. Our constituents are bound only
Chap. XI.} 1774 Sept.
in honor to observe our determinations.’ ‘I cannot see any way of voting but by colonies,’ said Gadsden. ‘Every colony,’ insisted Ward, of Rhode Island, ‘should have an equal vote. The counties of Virginia are unequal in point of wealth and numbers, yet each has a right to send two members to its legislature. We come, if necessary, to make a sacrifice of our all, and by such a sacrifice the weakest will suffer as much as the greatest.’ Harrison, of Virginia, spoke strongly on the opposite side, and was ‘very apprehensive, that if such a disrespect should be put upon his countrymen, as that Virginia should have no greater weight than the smallest colony, they would never be seen at another convention.’ But his menace of disunion showed only how little he understood the heart of the Ancient Dominion; and he was at once rebuked by his colleagues. ‘Though a representation equal to the importance of each colony, were ever so just,’ said Richard Henry Lee, ‘the delegates from the several colonies are unprepared with materials to settle that equality.’ Bland, of Virginia, saw no safety but in voting by colonies. ‘The question,’ he added, ‘is, whether the rights and liberties of America shall be contended for, or given up to arbitrary power.’ Pendleton acquiesced, yet wished the subject might be open for reconsideration, when proper materials should have been obtained.

This opinion prevailed, and it was resolved that, in taking questions, each colony should have one voice; but the journal adds as the reason, that ‘the [131] congress was not then able to procure proper mate-

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
rials for ascertaining the importance of each colony.’

Henry, during the debate, had declared ‘that an entire new government must be founded.’ ‘I cannot yet think that all government is at an end,’ said Jay in reply, ‘or that we came to frame an American constitution, instead of endeavoring to correct the faults in an old one. The measure of arbitrary power is not full, and it must run over, before we undertake to frame a new constitution.’

It was next voted that ‘the doors be kept shut during the time of business;’ and the members bound themselves by their honor to keep the proceedings secret, until the majority should direct them to be made public. The treacherous Galloway pledged his honor with the rest.

To the proposal that congress the next day. should be opened with prayer, Jay and Rutledge objected, on account of the great diversity of religious sentiments. ‘I am no bigot,’ said Samuel Adams, the Congregationalist; ‘I can hear a prayer from a man of piety and virtue, who is at the same time a friend to his country;’ and on his nomination, Duche, an Episcopal clergyman, was chosen for the service. Before the adjournment, Putnam's express arrived with the report of a bloody attack on the people by the troops at Boston; of Connecticut as well as Massachusetts rising in arms. The next day muffled bells were tolled. At the opening of congress, Washington was present, standing in prayer, and Henry, and Randolph, and Lee, and Jay, and Rutledge, and Gadsden; and by their side Presbyterians and Congregationalists, the Livingstons, [132] Sherman, Samuel Adams, John Adams, and others of

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
New England, who believed that a rude soldiery were then infesting the dwellings and taking the lives of their friends. When the psalm for the day was read, Heaven itself seemed uttering its oracle. ‘Plead thou my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me; and fight thou against them that fight against me. Lay hand upon the shield and buckler, and stand up to help me. Bring forth the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me. Who is like unto thee, who deliverest the poor from him that is too strong for him? Lord! how long wilt thou look on? Awake, and stand up to judge my quarrel; avenge thou my cause, my God and my Lord.’ After this the minister unexpectedly burst into an extempore prayer for America, for the congress, for Massachusetts, and especially for Boston, with the earnestness of the best divines of New England.

The congress that day appointed one committee on the rights of the colonies, and another on the British statutes affecting their manufactures and trade. They also received by a second express the same confused account of bloodshed near Boston. Proofs both of the sympathy and the resolution of the continent met the delegates of Massachusetts on every hand; and the cry of ‘war’ was pronounced with firmness.

The next day brought more exact information, and the committee of congress on the rights of the colonies began their deliberations. The first inquiry related to the foundation of those rights. Lee of Virginia rested them on nature. ‘Our ancestors,’ he said, ‘found here no government; and as a consequence had a right to make their own. Charters [133] are an unsafe reliance, for the king's right to grant

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
them has itself been denied. Besides, the right to life, and the right to liberty are inalienable.’ Jay of New York likewise recurred to the laws of nature. He would not admit the pretension to dominion founded on discovery, and he enumerated among natural rights, the right to emigrate, and the right of the emigrants to erect what government they pleased. John Rutledge, on the contrary, held that allegiance is inalienable; that the first emigrants had not had the right to elect their king; that American claims were derived from the British constitution rather than from the law of nature. But Sherman of Connecticut deduced allegiance from consent, without which the colonies were not bound by the act of settlement. Duane, like Rutledge, shrunk back from the appeal to the law of nature, and founded the power of government on property in land.

Behind all these views lay the question of the power of parliament over the colonies. Dickinson, not yet a member of congress, was fully of opinion that no officer under the new establishment in Massachusetts ought to be acknowledged, but advocated ‘allowing to parliament the regulation of trade upon principles of necessity, and the mutual interest of both countries.’ ‘A right of regulating trade,’ said Gadsden, true to the principle of 1765, ‘is a right of legislation, and a right of legislation in one case is a right in all;’ and he denied the claim with peremptory energy.

Amidst such varying opinions and theories, the congress, increased by delegates from North Carolina, and intent upon securing absolute unanimity, was [134] moving with great deliberation, and Galloway hoped

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
‘the two parties would remain on an equal balance.’ But in that body there was a man who knew how to bring the enthusiasm of the people into connection with its representatives. ‘Samuel Adams,’ wrote Galloway, ‘though by no means remarkable for brilliant abilities, is equal to most men in popular intrigue, and the management of a faction. He eats little, drinks little, sleeps little, and thinks much, and is most decisive and indefatigable in the pursuit of his objects. He was the man who, by his superior application managed at once the faction in congress at Philadelphia, and the factions in New England.’

One express had brought from Massachusetts the proceedings of Middlesex; another having now arrived, on Saturday, the seventeenth of September, the delegates of Massachusetts laid before congress the address of the Suffolk county convention to Gage, on his seizure of the provincial stock of powder and his hostile occupation of the only approach to Boston by land; and the resolutions of the same convention which declared that no obedience was due to the acts of parliament affecting their colony.

As the papers were read, expressions of esteem, love and admiration broke forth in generous and manly eloquence. In language which but faintly expressed their spirit, members from all the colonies declared their sympathy with their suffering countrymen in Massachusetts, most thoroughly approved the wisdom and fortitude with which opposition to ministerial measures had hitherto been conducted, and earnestly recommended perseverance according to the resolutions of the county of Suffolk. Knowing [135] that a new parliament must soon be chosen, they ex-

Chap. XI.} 1774. Sept.
pressed their trust ‘that the united efforts of North America would carry such conviction to the British nation of the unjust and ruinous policy of the present administration, as quickly to introduce better men and wiser measures.’

To this end they ordered their own resolutions with the communications from Suffolk county to be printed. But their appeal to the electors of Britain was anticipated. The inflexible king, weighing in advance the possible influence of the American congress, overruled Lord North, and on the last day of September suddenly dissolving parliament, he brought on the new election, before proposals for conciliation could be received.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1774 AD (11)
September (11)
September, 1774 AD (1)
1765 AD (1)
September 17th (1)
September 5th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: