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Chapter 62:

The example of the Carolinas and Rhode Island.

February—May, 1776.

The American congress needed an impulse from
Chap. LXII.} 1776. Feb.
the resolute spirit of some colonial convention, and an example of a government springing wholly from the people. Massachusetts had followed closely the forms of its charter; New Hampshire had deviated as little as possible from its former system; neither of the two had appointed a chief executive officer. On the eighth of February the convention of South Carolina, by Drayton, their president, presented their thanks to John Rutledge and Henry Middleton for their services in the American congress, which had made its appeal to the King of kings, established a navy, treasury, and general post-office, exercised control over commerce, and granted to colonies permission to create civil institutions, independent of the regal authority.

The next day Gadsden arrived, and in like manner heard the voice of public gratitude; in return, he presented the standard which was to be used by the [346] American navy, representing in a yellow field a rat-

Chap. LXII.} 1776. Feb.
tlesnake of thirteen full-grown rattles, coiled to strike, with the motto: Don't Tread on me. When, on the tenth, the report on reforming the provincial government was considered, and many hesitated, Gadsden spoke out not only for the new constitution, but for the absolute independence of America. The sentiment came like a thunderbolt upon the members, of whom the majority had thus far refused to contemplate the end towards which they were irresistibly impelled. One member avowed his willingness to ride post by day and night to Philadelphia, in order to assist in reuniting Great Britain and her colonies; another heaped the coarsest abuse upon the author of Common Sense: but meanwhile the criminal laws could not be enforced for want of officers; public and private affairs were running into confusion; the imminent danger of invasion was proved by intercepted letters; so that necessity compelled the adoption of some adequate system of rule.

While a committee of eleven was preparing the organic law, Gadsden, on the thirteenth, began to act as senior officer of the army. Measures of defence were vigorously pursued, companies of militia called down to Charleston, and the military forces augmented by two regiments of riflemen. In the early part of the year Sullivan's Island was a wilderness; near the present fort, the wet ground was thickly covered with myrtle, live oak, and palmettos; there, on the second of March, William Moultrie was ordered to

take the command, and complete a fort large enough to hold a garrison of a thousand men. The colony, which had already issued one million one hundred [347] and twenty thousand pounds of paper money, voted
Chap. LXII.} 1776. Mar.
an additional sum of seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds.

A strong party in the provincial congress, under the lead of Rawlins Lowndes, endeavored to postpone the consideration of the form of government reported by the committee; but the nearness of danger would not admit of delay; and the clauses that were most resisted, were adopted by a vote of about four to three. But when, on the twenty first of March, they received the act of parliament of the preceding December, which authorized the capture of American vessels and property, they gave up the hope of reconciliation; and on the twenty sixth, professing a desire of accommodation with Great Britain, even ‘though traduced and treated as rebels,’ asserting ‘the good of the people to be the origin and end of all government,’ and enumerating with clearness and fulness the unwarrantable acts of the British parliament, the implacability of the king, and the violence of the officers bearing his commission, they established a constitution for South Carolina. The executive power was intrusted to a president, who was endowed with a veto on legislation, and who was also commander in chief; the congress then in session resolved itself into a general assembly till their successors should be elected by the people in the following October; the numerous and arbitrary representation which had prevailed originally in the committee of 1774 and had been continued in the first and second congress of 1775, without respect to numbers or property, was confirmed by the new instrument, so that Charleston kept the right of sending thirty members; the old [348] laws prescribing the qualifications of the electors and

Chap. LXII.} 1776. Mar.
the elected were continued in force; a legislative council of thirteen was elected by the general assembly out of their own body; the general assembly and the legislative council elected jointly by ballot the president and vice president; the privy council of seven was composed of the vice president, three members chosen by ballot by the assembly, and three by the legislative council; the judges were chosen by ballot jointly by the two branches of the legislature, by whose address they might be removed, though otherwise they were to hold office during good behavior.

On the twenty seventh John Rutledge was chosen president; Henry Laurens, vice president; and William Henry Drayton, chief justice. On accepting office, Rutledge addressed the general assembly: ‘To preside over the welfare of a brave and generous people is in my opinion the highest honor any man can receive; I wish that your choice had fallen upon one better qualified to discharge the arduous duties of this station; yet in so perilous a season as the present, I will not withhold my best services. I assure myself of receiving the support and assistance of every good man in the colony; and my most fervent prayer to the omnipotent Ruler of the universe is, that, under his gracious providence, the liberties of America may be forever preserved.’

On the twenty eighth the oaths of office were administered: then, to make a formal promulgation of the new constitution, the council and assembly, preceded by the president and vice president, and the [349] sheriff bearing the sword of state, walked out in a

Chap. LXII.} 1776. Mar.
solemn procession from the State-house to the Exchange, in the presence of the troops and the militia of South Carolina, whose line extended down Broad street and along the bay; the people, as they crowded with transport round the men whom they had chosen to office, whom they had raised to power from among themselves, whom they for any misconduct could displace, whom they knew, and loved, and revered, gazed on the new order with rapture and tears of joy.

Early in April the legislative bodies, while they

declared that they still earnestly desired an accommodation with Great Britain, addressed the president: ‘Conscious of our natural and unalienable rights, and determined to make every effort to retain them, we see your elevation, from the midst of us, to govern this country, as the natural consequence of unprovoked, cruel, and accumulated oppressions. Chosen by the suffrages of a free people, you will make the constitution the great rule of your conduct; in the discharge of your duties under that constitution we will support you with our lives and fortunes.’

The condition of South Carolina was peculiar; a large part of its population was British by birth; and many of the herdsmen and hunters in the upper country had not been on the continent more than ten years; they had taken no part in the movements of resistance; had sent no gifts to the poor of Boston, no pledges to Massachusetts. At least one half of the inhabitants were either inert and unmoved, or more ready to take part with the king than with the insurgents. When the planters who were natives of the [350] colony, risked their fortunes, the peace of their fami-

Chap. LXII.} 1776. Apr.
lies, and their lives, from sympathy with a distant colony with which they had no similarity of pursuits, no considerable commerce, and no personal intimacies, they had in their rear a population still attached to the crown as well as hostile Indian tribes; in their houses and on their estates numerous bondsmen of a different race; along the sea an unprotected coast, indented by bays, and inlets, and rivers. But their spirit rose with danger: in words penned by Drayton and Cotesworth Pinckney, the assembly condemned the British plan of sending commissioners to treat with the several colonies, as a fraudulent scheme for subverting their liberties by negotiations, and resolved to communicate with the court of Great Britain only through the continental congress.

When, on the eleventh of April, they closed their session, Rutledge, knowing well that the wished-for accommodation with Great Britain could never be obtained, and willing to sacrifice every temporal happiness to establish and perpetuate the freedom of Carolina, cheered them on towards the consciousness of having formed an independent republic.

‘On my part,’ said he,

a most solemn oath has been taken for the faithful discharge of my duty; on yours, a solemn assurance has been given to support me therein. Thus, a public compact between us stands recorded. I shall keep this oath ever in mind; the constitution shall be the invariable rule of my conduct; our laws and religion, and the liberties of America, shall be maintained and defended to the utmost of my power: I repose the most perfect confidence in your engagement. And now, gentlemen, [351] let me entreat that if any persons in your several

Chap. LXII.} 1776. Apr.
parishes and districts are still strangers to the nature and merits of the dispute between Great Britain and the colonies, you will explain it to them fully and teach them, if they are so unfortunate as not to know, their inherent rights. Relate to them the various unjust and cruel statutes which the British parliament have enacted, and the many sanguinary measures to enforce an unlimited and destructive claim. The endeavors to engage barbarous nations to imbrue their hands in the innocent blood of helpless women and children, and the attempts to make ignorant domestics subservient to the most wicked purposes, are acts at which humanity must revolt.

Show your constituents, then, the indispensable necessity which there was for establishing some mode of government in this colony; the benefits of that which a full and free representation has established; and that the consent of the people is the origin, and their happiness the end of government. Let it be known that this constitution is but temporary, till an accommodation of the unhappy differences between Great Britain and America can be obtained, and that such an event is still desired. Disdaining private interest and present emolument, when placed in competition with the liberties of millions, and seeing no alternative but unconditional submission, or a defence becoming men born to freedom, no man who is worthy of life, liberty, or property, will hesitate about the choice. Although superior force may lay waste our towns and ravage our country, it can never eradicate from the breasts of free men those principles which are ingrafted in their very nature. Such men will [352] do their duty, neither knowing nor regarding conse-

Chap. LXII.} 1776. Apr.
quences; but trusting that the Almighty arm, which has been so signally stretched out for our defence, will deliver them in a righteous cause.

The eyes of the whole world are on America; the eyes of every other colony are on this; a colony, whose reputation for generosity and magnanimity is universally acknowledged. I trust it will not be diminished by our future conduct; that there will be no civil discord here; and that the only strife amongst brethren will be, who shall do most to serve and to save an injured country.

The word which South Carolina hesitated to pronounce, was uttered by North Carolina. That colony, proud of its victory over domestic enemies, and roused to defiance by the presence of Clinton, the British general, in one of their rivers, met in congress at Halifax on the fourth of April, on the eighth appointed a select committee, of which Harnett was the head, to consider the usurpations and violences of the British parliament and king, and on the twelfth, after listening to its report, unanimously ‘empowered their delegates in the continental congress to concur with the delegates of the other colonies in declaring independency and forming foreign alliances.’ At the same time they reserved to their colony the sole right of forming its own constitution and laws.

North Carolina was the first colony to vote an explicit sanction to independence; South Carolina won from all patriots equal praise by her ‘virtuous and glorious example of instituting a complete government.’ When, on the twenty third of April, the courts of justice were opened with solemnity at [353] Charleston, the chief justice, after an elaborate deduc-

Chap. LXII.} 1776 Apr.
tion, charged the grand jury in these words:

The law of the land authorizes me to declare, and it is my duty to declare the law, that George the Third, king of Great Britain, has abdicated the government, that he has no authority over us, and we owe no obedience to him.

It has been the policy of the British authority to cramp and confine our trade so as to be subservient to their commerce, our real interest being ever out of the question; the new constitution is wisely adapted to enable us to trade with foreign nations, and thereby to supply our wants at the cheapest markets in the universe; to extend our trade infinitely beyond what has ever been known; to encourage manufactures among us; and to promote the happiness of the people, from among whom, by virtue and merit, the poorest man may arrive at the highest dignity. Oh, Carolinians! happy would you be under this new constitution, if you knew your happy state.

True reconcilement never can exist between Great Britain and America, the latter being in subjection to the former. The Almighty created America to be independent of Britain; to refuse our labors in this divine work, is to refuse to be a great, a free, a pious, and a happy people!

The great abilities of Rutledge were equal to the office which he had fearlessly accepted; order and method grew at once out of the substitution of a single executive for committees; from him the officers of the regiments as well as of the militia, derived their commissions; to prepare for the British army and [354] naval squadron which were known to be on the way,

Chap. LXII.} 1776. Apr.
the mechanics and laborers of Charleston, assisted by great numbers of negroes from the country, were employed in fortifying the town. When in April, under the orders of the continental congress, the veteran Armstrong arrived to take the command of the army, he found little more to do than receive the hospitalities of the inhabitants.

The designs against the Carolinas left Virginia

free from invasion. Lee, on his arrival at Williamsburg, took up his quarters in the palace of the governor; querulous as ever, he praised the provincial congress of New York as ‘angels of decision’ compared with the Virginia committee of safety. Yet his reputation ensured deference to his advice; and at
his instance, directions were given for the removal of all inhabitants from the exposed parts of Norfolk and Princess Anne counties; an inconsiderate order which it was soon found necessary to mitigate or rescind.

Letters, intercepted in April, indicated some concert of action on the part of Eden, the governor of Maryland, with Dunmore: Lee, though Maryland was not within his district, and in contempt of the regularly appointed committee of that colony, directed Samuel Purviance, of the committee of Baltimore, to seize Eden without ceremony or delay. The interference was resented as an insult on the authority which the people had constituted; the Maryland committee, even after the continental congress directed his arrest, still avoided a final rupture with British authority, and suffered their governor to remain at liberty on his parole.

The spirit of temporizing showed itself still more

[355] clearly in Philadelphia. The moderate men, as they
Chap. LXII.} 1776. May.
were called, who desired a reconciliation with Great Britain upon the best terms she would give, but at any rate a reconciliation, held many meetings to prepare for the election of the additional burgesses who were to be chosen in May; and when the day of election came, the friends of independence carried only Clymer; the moderate men, combining with the proprietary party, the officers of the provincial government, the avowed tories, and such of the Roman Catholics as could not control their antipathy to the Presbyterians, elected the three others. The elections in the country were also not wholly unfavorable to the interests of the proprietary. Yet as independence was become inevitable, the result only foreboded a bitter internal strife. Neither was the success of the proprietary party a fair expression of public opinion: the franchise in the city was confined to those possessing fifty pounds; Germans, who composed a large part of the inhabitants of the province and were zealots for liberty, were not allowed to give their votes unless they were naturalized, and could not be naturalized without taking the oath of allegiance to the king; moreover, of the natives of Pennsylvania, many hundreds of the warmest patriots had been carried by their public spirit to the camp on the Hudson, and even to Canada; leaving power in the hands of the timid who remained at home.

The despondency and hesitation of the assembly of Pennsylvania was in marked contrast with the fortitude of Rhode Island, whose general assembly, on the fourth day of May, passed an act discharging the inhabitants of that colony from allegiance to the king [356] of Great Britain. The measure was carried in the

Chap. LXII.} 1776. May.
upper house unanimously, and in the house of deputies, where sixty were present, with but six dissentient voices. The overturn was complete; the act was at once a declaration of independence, and an organization of a self-constituted republic. Its first exercise of independent power authorized its delegates in congress to join in treating with any prince, state, or potentate for the security of the colonies. It also directed them to favor the most proper measures for confirming the strictest union; yet at the same time they were charged ‘to secure to the colony, in the strongest and most perfect manner, its present established form and all powers of government, so far as they relate to its internal police and the conduct of its own affairs, civil and religious.’

The interest of the approaching campaign centred in New York, to which place Washington had repaired with all his forces that were not ordered to Canada. At New York the British government designed to concentrate its strength, in the hopes of overwhelming all resistance in one campaign. Meantime the British general, who had fled from Boston so precipitately that he had been obliged to remain several days in Nantasket Road, to adjust his ships for the voyage, was awaiting reinforcements at Halifax; and during the interval he was willing that the attempt on the Southern colonies should be continued. That expedition had been planned in October by the king himself, ‘whose solicitude for pursuing with vigor every measure that tended to crush the present dangerous rebellion in the colonies, excited in him the most exemplary attention to every object of advantage.’ [357] But delays, as usual, intervened. The instruc-

Chap. LXII.} 1776. May.
tions to Clinton were not finished till December, nor received by him till May. He was to issue a proclamation of pardon to all but ‘the principal instigators and abettors of the rebellion, to dissolve the provincial congresses and committees of safety, to restore the regular administration of justice, to arrest the persons and destroy the property of all who should refuse to give satisfactory tests of their obedience.’ From North Carolina he might proceed at his own choice either to Virginia or to South Carolina, in like manner, ‘to seize the persons and destroy the property of rebels wherever it could be done with effect.’ In South Carolina he was to attack and reduce Charleston, as a prelude to the fall of Savannah, and to the restoration of the whole of the sea-coast to the king's government.

The fleet and transports, designed to act under Clinton, did not leave Cork harbor till February; they were scattered by a storm soon after going to sea; for two weeks they met constant and most violent adverse gales; they long continued to be delayed by contrary winds; and not till the third of May, after a passage of more than eighty days, did Sir Peter Parker, Cornwallis, and such ships as kept them company, enter Cape Fear River. Most of the transports had arrived before them.

All joined ‘to lament the fatal delays.’ What was to be done with the formidable armament, was the first question for deliberation. Clinton inclined to look into the Chesapeake, which would bring him nearer New York; but Lord William Campbell earnestly urged upon Sir Peter Parker an attack on [358] Charleston; and as intelligence was received, ‘that

Chap. LXII.} 1776. May.
the works erected by the rebels on Sullivan's Island which was the key to the harbor, were in an imperfect and unfinished state, Clinton was induced to acquiesce in the proposal of the commodore to attempt the reduction of that fortress by a sudden attack,’ to be followed up by such other immediate efforts as might be invited by ‘a moral certainty of rapid success.’

With these purposes, the British prepared to retire from North Carolina; but Martin, before leaving his government, sent a party to burn the house of Hooper, a delegate in the continental congress; Cornwallis, with nine hundred men,—it was his first exploit in America,—landed in Brunswick county, and with a loss of two men killed and one taken prisoner, burned and ravaged the plantation of the North Carolina brigadier, Robert Howe; and Sir Henry Clinton, in conformity with his instructions from the king, issued his proclamation on the fifth of May, against committees and congresses, and inviting the people ‘to appease the vengeance of an incensed nation,’ offered pardon to all who would submit, except Robert Howe and Cornelius Harnett.

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