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The American revolution.

Epoch Third.

America Declares itself independent.


[8] [9]

America Declares itself independent.

Chapter 1:

America, Britain and France, in May, 1774.

May, 1774.

The hour of the American Revolution was come
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The people of the continent with irresistible energy obeyed one general impulse, as the earth in spring listens to the command of nature, and without the appearance of effort bursts forth to life in perfect harmony. The change which Divine wisdom ordained, and which no human policy or force could hold back, proceeded as uniformly and as majestically as the laws of being, and was as certain as the decrees of eternity. The movement was quickened, even when it was most resisted; and its fiercest adversaries worked together effectually for its fulfilment. The indestructible elements of freedom in the colonies asked room for expansion and growth. Standing in manifold relations with the governments, the culture, and the experience of the past, the Americans seized [22] as their peculiar inheritance the traditions of liberty.
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Beyond any other nation they had made trial of the possible forms of popular representation; and respected the activity of individual conscience and thought. The resources of the vast country in agriculture and commerce, forests and fisheries, mines and materials for manufactures, were so diversified and complete, that their development could neither be guided nor circumscribed by a government beyond the ocean; the numbers, purity, culture, industry, and daring of its inhabitants proclaimed the existence of a people, rich in creative energy, and ripe for institutions of their own.

They were rushing towards revolution, and they knew it not. They refused to acknowledge even to themselves the hope that was swelling within them; and yet they were possessed by the truth, that man holds inherent and indefeasible rights; and as their religion had its witness coeval and coextensive with intelligence, so in their political aspirations they deduced from universal principles a bill of rights, as old as creation and as wide as humanity. The idea of freedom had never been wholly unknown; it had always revealed itself at least to a few of the wise, whose prophetic instincts were quickened by love of their kind; its rising light flashed joy across the darkest centuries; and its growing energy can be traced in the tendency of the ages. In America it was the breath of life to the people. For the first time it found a region and a race, where it could be professed with the earnestness of an indwelling conviction, and be defended with the enthusiasm that heretofore had marked no wars but those for religion. When all Europe slumbered over questions [23] of liberty, a band of exiles, keeping watch by night,

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heard the glad tidings which promised the political regeneration of the world. A revolution, unexpected in the moment of its coming, but prepared by glorious forerunners, grew naturally and necessarily out of the series of past events by the formative principle of a living belief. And why should man organize resistance to the grand design of Providence? Why should not the consent of the ancestral land and the gratulations of every other call the young nation to its place among the powers of the earth? Britain was the mighty mother who bred and formed men capable of laying the foundation of so noble an empire; and she alone could have formed them. She had excelled all nations of the world as the planter of colonies. The condition which entitled her colonies to independence was now more than fulfilled. Their vigorous vitality refused conformity to foreign laws and external rule. They could take no other way to perfection than by the unconstrained development of that which was within them. They were not only able to govern themselves, they alone were able to do so; subordination visibly repressed their energies. It was only by self-direction that they could at all times and in entireness freely employ in action their collective and individual powers to the fullest extent of their ever increasing intelligence. Could not the illustrious nation which had gained no distinction in war, in literature, or in science, comparable to that of having wisely founded distant settlements on a system of liberty, willingly perfect its beneficent work, now when no more was required than the acknowledgment that its offspring was come [24] of age, and its own duty accomplished? Why must
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the ripening of lineal virtue be struck at, as rebellion in the lawful sons? Why is their unwavering attachment to the essential principle of their existence to be persecuted as treason, rather than viewed with delight as the crowning glory of the country from which they sprung? If the institutions of Britain were so deeply fixed in the usages and opinions of its people, that their deviations from justice could not as yet be rectified; if the old continent was pining under systems of authority which were not fit to be borne, and which as yet no way opened to amend, why should not a people be heartened to build a commonwealth in the wilderness, which alone offered it a home? So reasoned a few in Britain who were jeered ‘as visionary enthusiasts;’ deserving no weight in public affairs. Parliament had asserted an absolute lordship over the colonies in all cases whatsoever; and fretting itself into a frenzy at the denial of its unlimited dominion, was blindly destroying all its recognised authority in the madness of its zeal for more. The majority of the ministers, including the most active and determined, were bent on the immediate employment of force. Lord North, who recoiled from civil war, exercised no control over his colleagues, leaving the government to be conducted by the several departments. As a consequence, the king became the only point of administrative union, and ruled as well as reigned. In him an approving conscience had no misgiving as to his duty. His heart knew no relenting; his will never wavered. Though America were to be drenched in blood and its towns reduced to [25] ashes, though its people were to be driven to struggle
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for total independence, though he himself should findit necessary to bid high for hosts of mercenaries from the Scheldt to Moscow, and in quest of savage allies, go tapping at every wigwam from Lake Huron to the Gulf of Mexico, he was resolved to coerce the thirteen colonies into submission. The people of Great Britain identified themselves, though but for the moment, with his anger, and talked like so many kings of their subjects beyond the Atlantic. Of their ability to crush resistance they refused to doubt; nor did they, nor the ministers, nor George the Third, apprehend interference, except from that great neighboring kingdom whose vast colonial system Britain had just overthrown.

All Europe, though at peace, was languishing under exhaustion from wars of ambition, or vices of government, and crying out for relief from abuses which threatened to dissolve the old social order. In France, enduring life belonged to two elements only in the state—the people and monarchical power; and every successive event increased the importance of the one and the other. It was its common people which saved that country from perishing of corrupt unbelief, and made it the most powerful state of continental Europe. The peasants, it is true, were poor and oppressed and ignorant; but all Frenchmen, alike townspeople and villagers, were free. There was no protecting philanthropy on the part of the nobility; no hierarchy of mutually dependent ranks; no softening of contrasts by the blending of colors and harmonizing of shades; the poor, though gay by temperament, lived sad and apart; bereft of intercourse with [26] superior culture; never mirthful but in mockery of

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misery; not cared for in their want, nor solaced in hospitals, nor visited in prisons; but the bonds had been struck alike from the mechanic in the workshop and the hind in the fields. The laborer at the forge was no longer a serf; the lord of the manor exercised jurisdiction no more over vassals; in all of old France the peasants were freemen, and in the happiest provinces had been so for half a thousand years. Only a few of them, as of the nobles in the middle ages, could read; but a vast number owned the acres which they tilled. By lineage, language, universality of personal freedom, and diffusion of landed property, the common people of France formed one compact and indivisible nation.

Two circumstances which increased the wretchedness of the third estate, increased also their importance. The feudal aristocracy had been called into being for the protection of the kingdom; but in the progress of ages, they had escaped from the obligation to military service. They abdicated their dignity as the peers of their sovereign; and though they still scorned every profession but that of arms, they received their commissions from the king's favor, and drew from his exchequer their pay as hirelings. Thus the organization of the army ceased to circumscribe royal power, which now raised soldiers directly from the humbler classes. The defence of the country had passed from the king and his peers with their vassals to the king in direct connection with those vassals who were thus become a people.

Again, the nobility, carefully securing the exemption of their own estates, had, in their struggles with [27] the central power, betrayed the commons, by allow-

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ing the monarch to tax them at will. Proving false to their trust as the privileged guardians of liberty, and renouncing the military service that had formed the motive to their creation, they made themselves an insulated and worthless caste. All that was beneficent in feudalism had died out. Soulless relics of the past, the nobles threw up their hereditary rustic independence to fasten themselves as courtiers upon the treasury. They hung like a burden on the state, which they no longer guided, nor sustained, nor defended, nor consoled. Some few among them, rising superior to their rank, helped to bear society onwards to its regeneration; but as a class their life was morally at an end. France could throw them off as readily as a stag sheds its antlers. They had abdicated their political importance, which passed to the people. The imposts which they refused to share, and which in two centuries had increased tenfold, fell almost exclusively on the lowly, who toiled and suffered, having no redress against those employed by the government; regarding the monarch with touching reverence and love, though they knew him mostly as the power that harried them; ruled as though joy were no fit companion for labor; as though want were the necessary goad to industry, and sorrow the only guarantee of quiet. They were the strength of the kingdom, the ceaseless producers of its wealth; the repairer of its armies; the sole and exhaustless source of its revenue; and yet, in their forlornness, they cherished scarcely a dim vision of a happier futurity below.

Meantime monarchy was concentrating a mass of [28] power, which a strong arm could wield with irresist-

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ible effect, which an effeminate squanderer could not exhaust. Instead of a sovereign restrained by his equals, and depending on free grants from the states, one will commanded a standing army, and imposed taxes on the unprivileged classes. These taxes, moreover, it collected by its own officers, so that throughout all the provinces of France an administration of plebeians, accountable to the king alone, superseded in substance, though not always in form, the ancient methods of feudalism.

Like the army and the treasury the establishment of religion was subordinate to the crown. The Catholic church assumes to represent the Divine wisdom itself, and as a logical consequence, the law which it interprets should be higher than the temporal power. The Gallican church owned allegiance to the state; and when it was observed that Jesuits had inculcated the subordination of the temporal sovereign to a superior rule under which the wicked tyrant might be arraigned, dethroned, or even slain, Louis the Fifteenth uprooted by his word the best organized religious society in Christendom; not perceiving that the sudden exile of the Jesuits and their schools of learning, left the rising generation more easy converts to unbelief. The clergy were tainted with the general scepticism; they stooped before the temporal power to win its protection, and did not scruple to enforce by persecution a semblance of homage to the symbols of religion, of which the life was put to sleep.

The magistrates, with graver manners than the clergy or the nobility, did not so much hate administrative despotism as grasp at its direction; they themselves [29] had so scanty means of self-defence against its

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arm, that when they hesitated to register the king's decrees, even the word of Louis the Fifteenth could dissolve parliaments which were almost as ancient as the French monarchy itself.

For the benefit of the king's treasury, free charters, granted or confirmed in the middle ages to towns and cities, had over and over again been confiscated, to be ransomed by the citizens, or sold to an oligarchy; so that municipal liberties were no longer independent of the royal caprice.

France was the most lettered nation of the world, and its authors loved to be politicians. Of these the conservative class, whose fanatical partisanship included in their system of order the continuance of every established abuse, had no support but in the king. Scoffers also abounded; but they did not care to restrain arbitrary power, or remove the abuses which they satirized. One universal scepticism questioned the creed of churches and the code of feudal law, the authority of the hierarchy and the sanctity of monarchy; but unbelief had neither the capacity nor the wish to organize a new civilization. The philosophy of the day could not guide a revolution, for it professed to receive no truth but through the senses, denied the moral government of the world, and derided the possibility of disinterested goodness. As there was no practical school of politics in which experience might train statesmen to test new projects, the passion for elementary theories had no moderating counterpoise; and the authors of ameliorating plans favored the unity of administration, that one indisputable word might abolish the complicated [30] usages and laws which had been the deposits of many

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conquests, or the growth of ages, and found a uniform system on principles of human reason.

At this time the central power, in the hands of a monarch infamous by his enslavement to pleasure, had become hideously selfish and immoral; palsied and depraved; swallowing up all other authority, and yet unconscious of the attendant radical change in the feudal constitution; dreaming itself absolute, yet wanting personal respectability; confessing the necessity of administrative reforms, which it was yet unable to direct. For great ends it was helpless, though it was able to torture and distress the feeble; to fill the criminal code with the barbarisms of arrogant cruelty; to reserve for exceptional courts every accusation against even the humblest of its agents; to judge by special tribunals questions involving life and fortune; to issue arbitrary warrants of imprisonment; to punish without information or sentence; making itself the more hateful the less it was restrained.

The duty and honor of the kingdom were sacrificed in its foreign policy. Louis the Fifteenth was a tranquil spectator of the division of Poland, and courted the friendship of George the Third of England, not to efface the false notion of international enmity which was a brand on the civilization of that age, but to gain a new support for monarchical power. For this end the humiliations of the last war would have been forgiven by the monarch, had not the heart of the nation still palpitated with resentment. Under the supremacy of the king's mistress sensual pleasure ruled the court; dictated the appointment [31] of ministers; confused the administration; multiplied

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the griefs of the overburdened peasantry; and would have irretrievably degraded France, but for its third estate, who were always rising in importance, ready to lift their head and assert their power, whenever in any part of the world a happier people should give them an example.

The heir to the throne of France was not admitted to the royal council, and grew up ignorant of business and inert. The dauphiness Marie Antoinette, in the splendor of supreme rank, preserved the gay cheerfulness of youth. She was conscious of being lovely, and was willing to be admired; but she knew how to temper graceful condescension with august severity. Impatient of the stateliness of etiquette, which controlled her choice of companions even more than the disposition of her hours, she broke away from wearisome formalities with the eager vivacity of self-will; and was happiest when she could forget that she wasa princess and be herself. From the same quickness of nature, she readily took part in any prevailing public excitement, regardless of reasons of state or the decorum of the palace. Unless her pride was incensed, she was merciful; and she delighted in bestowing gifts; but her benevolence was chiefly the indulgence of a capricious humor, which never attracted the affection of the poor. Faithful in her devotedness to the nobles, she knew not the utter decay of their order; and had no other thought than that the traditions of centuries bound them to defend her life and name. But the rugged days of feudalism were gone by; and its frivolous descendants were more ready to draw their [32] swords for precedence in a dance at court, than to

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protect the honor of their future queen. From her arrival in France, Marie Antoinette was hated by the opponents of the Austrian alliance; and even while she was receiving the homage of the court during her first years at Versailles, a faction in the highest ranks calumniated her artless impulsiveness as the evidence of crime.

On this scene of a degenerate nobility and popular distress; of administrative corruptness and ruined finances; of a brave but luxurious army and a slothful navy; of royal authority, unbounded, unquestioned, and yet despised; of rising deference to public opinion in a nation thoroughly united and true to its nationality, Louis the Sixteenth, while not yet twenty years old, entered as king. When, on the tenth of May, 1774, he and the still younger Marie Antoinette were told that his grandfather was no more, they threw themselves on their knees, crying, ‘We are too young to reign;’ and prayed God to direct their inexperience. The city of Paris was delirious with joy at their accession. ‘It is our paramount wish to make our people happy,’ was the language of the first edict of the new absolute prince. ‘He excels in writing prose,’ said Voltaire, on reading the words of promise; ‘he seems inspired by Marcus Aurelius; he desires what is good and does it. Happy they, who, like him, are but twenty years old, and will long enjoy the sweets of his reign.’ Caron de Beaumarchais, the sparkling dramatist and restless plebeian adventurer, made haste to solicit the royal patronage of his genius for intrigue. ‘Is there,’ said he through De Sartine, the head of the police, ‘any [33] thing which the king wishes to know alone and at

Chap. I.} 1774. May.
once, any thing which he wishes done quickly and secretly, here am I, who have at his service a head, a heart, arms, and no tongue.’

The young monarch, with all his zeal for administrative improvements, had no revolutionary tendencies, and held, like his predecessor, that the king alone should reign; yet his state papers were soon to cite reverently the law of nature and the rights of man; and the will of the people, shrouded in majesty, was to walk its rounds in the palace invisible, yet supreme.

The sovereign of Spain, on wishing his kinsman joy of his accession, reminded him, as the head of the Bourbons, of their double relationship by his mother's side, as well as his father's; and expressed the wish for ‘their closest union and most perfect harmony;’ for, said he, ‘the family compact guarantees the prosperity and glory of our House.’ At that time, the Catholic king was fully employed in personally regulating his finances, and in preparations to chastise the pirates of Algiers, as well as to extort from Portugal a renunciation of its claims to extend the boundaries of Brazil. The sovereign of France was engrossed by the pressing anxieties attending the dismissal of an odious ministry, and the inauguration of domestic reform; so that neither of the princes seemed at leisure to foment troubles in North America.

Yet, next to Du Barry and her party, there was no such sincere mourner for Louis the Fifteenth as George the Third. The continuance of the cordial understanding between the two crowns would depend upon the persons in whom the young king should [34] place his confidence. To conciliate his good will, the

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London Court Gazette announced him as ‘king of France,’ though English official language had heretofore spoken only of ‘the French king,’ and the Herald's office still knew no other king of France than the head of the House of Hanover.

At the same time the British ministers, always jealous of the Bourbons, kept spies to guess at their secrets; to hearken after the significant whispers of their ministers; to bribe workmen in their navy yards for a report of every keel that was laid, every new armament or reinforcement to the usual fleets. Doubting the French assurances of a wish to see the troubles in America quieted, they resolved to force the American struggle to an immediate issue, hoping not only to insulate Massachusetts, but even to confine the contest to its capital.

On the day of the accession of Louis the Sixteenth,

the act closing the port of Boston, transferring the board of customs to Marblehead, and the seat of government to Salem, reached the devoted town. The king was confident that the slow torture which was to be applied, would constrain its inhabitants to cry out for mercy and promise unconditional obedience. Success in resistance could come only from an American union, which was not to be hoped for, unless Boston should offer herself as a willing sacrifice. The mechanics and merchants and laborers, altogether scarcely so many as thirty-five hundred able-bodied men, knew that they were acting, not for the liberty of a province or of America, but for freedom itself. They were inspired by the thought that the Providence which rules the world demanded of them heroic self-denial, [35] as the champions of humanity. The country never
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doubted their perseverance, and they trusted the fel low-feeling of the continent.

As soon as the act was received, the Boston committee of correspondence, by the hand of Joseph Warren, invited eight neighboring towns to a conference ‘on the critical state of public affairs.’ On the twelfth, at noon, Metcalf Bowler, the speaker of the assembly of Rhode Island, came before them with the cheering news, that, in answer to a recent circular letter from the body over which he presided, all the thirteen governments were pledged to union. Punctually, at the hour of three in the afternoon of that day, the committees of Dorchester, Roxbury, Brookline, Newton, Cambridge, Charlestown, Lynn, and Lexington, joined them in Faneuil Hall, the cradle of American liberty, where for ten years the freemen of the town had debated the great question of justifiable resistance. The lowly men who now met there were most of them accustomed to feed their own cattle; to fold their own sheep; to guide their own plough; all trained to public life in the little democracies of their towns; some of them captains in the militia and officers of the church according to the discipline of Congregationalists; nearly all of them communicants, under a public covenant with God. They grew in greatness as their sphere enlarged. Their virtues burst the confines of village life. They felt themselves to be citizens not of little municipalities, but of the whole world of mankind. In their dark hour light broke upon them from their own truth and courage. Placing Samuel Adams at their nead, and guided by a report prepared by Joseph [36] Warren of Boston, Gardner of Cambridge, and others,

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they agreed unanimously on the injustice and cruelty of the act, by which parliament, without competent jurisdiction, and contrary as well to natural right as to the laws of all civilized states, had, without a hearing, set apart, accused, tried, and condemned the town of Boston. The delegates from the eight villages were reminded by those of Boston, that that port could recover its trade by paying for the tea which had been thrown overboard; but they held it unworthy even to notice the humiliating offer, promising on their part to join ‘their suffering brethren in every measure of relief.’

To make a general union possible, self-restraint must regulate courage. The meeting knew that a declaration of independence would have alienated their sister colonies, and thus far they had not discovered that independence was really the desire of their own hearts. To suggest nothing till a congress could be convened, would have seemed to them like abandoning the town to bleed away its life without relief or solace. The king had expected to starve its people into submission; in their circular letter to the committees of the other colonies, they proposed as a counter action a general cessation of trade with Britain. ‘Now,’ they added, ‘is the time when all should be united in opposition to this violation of the liberties of all. The single question is, whether you consider Boston as suffering in the common cause, and sensibly feel and resent the injury and affront offered to her? We cannot believe otherwise; assuring you that, not in the least intimidated by this inhuman [37] treatment, we are still determined to maintain to the

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utmost of our abilities the rights of America.’

The next day, while Gage was sailing into the harbor with the vice-regal powers of commanderin-chief for the continent, as well as the civil authority of governor in the province, Samuel Adams presided over a very numerous town meeting, which was attended by many that had hitherto kept aloof. The thought of republican Rome, in its purest age, animated their consultations. The port-act was read, and in bold debate was pronounced repugnant to law, religion, and common sense. At the same time, those who, from loss of employment, were to be the first to encounter want, were remembered with tender compassion, and measures were put in train for their relief. Then the inhabitants, by the hand of Samuel Adams, made their touching appeal ‘to all the sister colonies, promising to suffer for America with a becoming fortitude, confessing that singly they might find their trial too severe, and entreating not to be left to struggle alone, when the very being of every colony, considered as a free people, depended upon the event.’

On the seventeenth of May, Gage, who had remained four days with Hutchinson at Castle William, landed at Long Wharf amidst salutes from ships and batteries. Received by the council and civil officers, he was escorted by the Boston Cadets, under Hancock, to the State House, where the council presented a loyal address, and his commission was proclaimed with three volleys of musketry and as many cheers. He then partook of a public dinner in Faneuil Hall. A hope still lingered that relief might come through [38] his intercession. But Gage was neither fit to recon-

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cile nor to subdue. By his mild temper and love of society, he gained the good — will of his boon companions, and escaped personal enmities; but in earnest business he inspired neither confidence nor fear. Though his disposition was far from being malignant, he was so poor in spirit and so weak of will, so dull in his perceptions and so unsettled in his opinions, that he was sure to follow the worst advice, and vacillate between smooth words of concession and merciless severity. He had promised the king that with four regiments he would play the ‘lion,’ and troops beyond his requisition were hourly expected. His instructions enjoined upon him the seizure and condign punishment of Samuel Adams, Hancock, Joseph Warren, and other leading patriots; but he stood in such dread of them that he never so much as attempted their arrest.

The people of Massachusetts were almost exclusively of English origin; beyond any other colony, they loved the land of their ancestors; but their fond attachment made them only the more sensitive to its tyranny. To subject them to taxation without their consent, was robbing them of their birthright; they scorned the British parliament as ‘a junto of the servants of the crown, rather than the representatives of England.’ Not disguising to themselves their danger, but confident of victory, they were resolved to stand together as brothers for a life of liberty.

The merchants of Newburyport were the first who agreed to suspend all commerce with Britain and Ireland. Salem, also, the place marked out as the new seat of government, in a very full town meeting [39] and after unimpassioned debates, decided almost

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unanimously to stop trade not with Britain only, but even with the West Indies. If in Boston a few cravens proposed to purchase a relaxation of the blockade by quailing before power, the majority were beset by no temptation so strong as that of routing at once the insignificant number of troops who had come to overawe them. But Samuel Adams, while he compared their spirit to that of Sparta or Rome, was ever inculcating ‘patience as the characteristic of a patriot,’ and the people, having sent forth their cry to the continent, waited self-possessed for voices of consolation.

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