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Chapter 63:

The way to restore peace.

May, 1776.

hope still rested on the royal commissioners for
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restoring peace; but the British ministers knew nothing of that great science of government which studies the character, innate energies, and dispositions of a people. The statesman, like others, can command nature only by obeying her laws; he can serve man only by respecting the conditions of his being; he can sway a nation only by penetrating what is at work in the mind of its masses, and taking heed of the state of its development; any attempt in that day to produce in Britain republics like those of New England, could have brought forth nothing but anarchy and civil war; the blind resolve to conform American institutions to the pattern of the British aristocracy, led to a revolution.

In its policy towards America, Britain was at war with itself; its own government was distinguished by being a limited one; and yet it claimed for the [360] king in parliament unlimited power over the colonies.

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Sandwich was impatient of all restraints on their administration; he desired to exercise over them nothing short of a full and absolute authority, and regretted that the government was cramped by the cry of liberty, with which no chief executive power was troubled except that of England.

Had conciliation been designed, the commissioners would have been despatched long before; but the measure which had for its object the pacification of English opinion, was suffered to drag along for more than a year, till the news that Howe had been driven from Boston burst upon the public, and precipitated the counsels of the ministry.

The letters patent for the commissioners, which were issued on the sixth of May, conferred power on Lord Howe and General Howe, jointly and severally, to grant pardons to such as should give early proofs of their sincere abhorrence of their defection from loyalty and should duly sue for mercy. The two points in controversy were the right of taxation, and the repeal of the changes in the charter of Massachusetts. Lord North, when he relapsed into his natural bias towards justice, used to say publicly that the right of taxation was abandoned; Germain always asserted that it was not. The instructions to the commissioners were founded upon the resolution of the twentieth of February, 1775; which the colonies had solemnly declared to be insufficient. The parliamentary change in the charter of Massachusetts was to be enforced; and secret instructions required that Connecticut and Rhode Island should be compelled, if possible, to accept analogous changes; so that not only was uncon [361] ditional submission required, but in the moment of

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victory other colonial charters were still further to be violated, in order to carry out the system which the king had pursued from the time of the ministry of Bute. Lord Howe wished well to the Americans, kept up his friendly relations with Chatham, and escaped the suspicion of a subservient complicity with the administration. It was said by his authority, that he would not go to America unless he had powers to treat on terms of conciliation; he refused to accept a civilian as his colleague, and though his brother was named with him in the commission, he insisted on the power of acting alone; but if his sincerity is left unimpeached, it is at the expense of his reputation for discernment; for the commission for restoring peace was a delusion. The ministers had provided forces, amounting to about forty thousand men; sufficient, as they thought, to beat down the insurrection; and they were resolved, as masters of events, to employ their army with unrelenting firmness.

The friends of liberty in England had never been so desponding. The budget for the year included an additional duty on newspapers, which Lord North did not regard as a public benefit, but rather as ‘a species of luxury that ought to be taxed.’ Debate in the house of commons brought no result: Fox, who joined calmness of temperament to sweetness of disposition, and, as his powers unfolded themselves, gave evidence of a genial sagacity that saw beyond parliamentary strife the reality of general principles, vainly struggled to keep up the courage of his political friends. A pamphlet, written with masterly ability by Richard Price, on liberty, which he defined to be a government [362] of laws made by common consent, won for its

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author the freedom of the city of London, and was widely circulated through the kingdom, and the continent of Europe, especially Germany. His masterly plea for America was unavailing; but his tract gained peculiar importance from his applying to the actual condition of the representation of his own country, the principle on which America justified her resistance. ‘The time may come,’ said he, ‘when a general election in Britain will be nothing but a general auction of boroughs.’

Carrying the war into the heart of English politics and society, he raised the cry for the reform in parliament, which was never to be hushed, and transferred English opinion to the side of America for the sake of that liberty which was of all things dearest to the English nation.

But what hope was there of reform in England? It was the vices of its ruling classes which prepared reform by forcing independence on America. Or how could France at that time offer liberty a home? ‘For my part,’ said Chastellux, ‘I think there can be neither durable liberty nor happiness but for nations who have representative governments.’ ‘I think so too,’ said the octogenarian Voltaire. ‘The right of self-administration,’ said Malesherbes to Louis the Sixteenth, as he threw up his ministry in despair, ‘belongs to every community; it is a natural right, the right of reason. The surest, the most natural method is for a king to consult the nation itself.’

Turgot, like Malesherbes, believed in the imprescriptible rights of man to the free use of his powers; and wished also that the executive chief should profit [363] by the counsels of the collected wisdom of the na-

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tion; but he now stood without any support in the cabinet; and his want of influence had appeared in the discussions on America. One of two things must therefore follow; either Turgot must become all prevailing and establish his system, or go into private life. Maurepas, roused by jealousy, insinuated to the right-minded king, that discontent pervaded France, and that it had Turgot alone for its object; that it was not best to wait for his resignation, for he might give as his reason for the act that he was hindered in the accomplishment of good. On the twelfth of May he was therefore dismissed, as one who was not suited to his place. For a moment the friends of the people had a beautiful and a peaceful dream; but it soon passed away, leaving the monarchy of France to sway and fall, and the people to be awakened by the example of the western world. The new minister of finance was De Clugny; a passionate and intemperate rogue, a gamester, and a debauchee, who at once conciliated support by giving out that he would do nothing disagreeable to the farmers general of the revenue. ‘To what masters, ye great gods, do ye give up the universe!’ exclaimed Condorcet. In parting with Malesherbes, the king discarded his truest personal friend; in Turgot, French monarchy lost its firmest support, the nobility its only possible saviour; but for America the result was very different; no one was left in the cabinet who was able to restrain the government from yielding to the rising enthusiasm for America. So tangled is the web of history! The retirement of the two men who were the apostles of liberty pushed [364] forward the cause of human freedom, though by ir-
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regular and disorderly movements.

In the early part of the century Leibnitz had found traces of the opinions of Epicurus and Spinoza in the books that were most in vogue, and in the men of the great world who were the masters of affairs, and he had foretold in consequence a general overturn in Europe. ‘The generous sentiment which prefers country and the general good to life,’ he said, ‘is dying out; public spirit is no more in fashion, and has lost the support of good morals and true religion; the ruling motive in the best is honor, and that is a principle which tolerates any thing but baseness, does not condemn shedding a deluge of blood from ambition or caprice, and might suffer a Herostratus or a Don Juan to pass for a hero; patriotism is mocked at, and the well-intentioned, who speak of what will become of posterity, are answered by saying that posterity may see to that. If this mental epidemic goes on increasing, providence will correct mankind by the revolution which it must cause.’

But men had more and more given the reins to brutal passions; and throwing off the importunate fear of an overruling providence, no longer knew of any thing superior to humanity, or more godlike than themselves. ‘What distinguishes man,’ said Aristotle, ‘is the faculty of recognizing something higher and better than himself.’ The eighteenth century refused to look for any thing better; the belief in the divine reason was derided like the cowering at spectres and hobgoblins; and the worship of humanity became the prevailing idolatry. Art was commissioned to gratify taste; morality had for its office to increase pleasure; [365] forgetting that the highest liberty consists in being

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forced by right reason to choose the best, men cherished sensualism as a system, and self-indulgence was the law of courts and aristocracies. A blind, unreasoning, selfish conservatism, assumed that creative power was exhausted; that nature had completed her work, and that nothing was to be done but to keep things as they were; not knowing that this conception is at war with nature herself and her eternal order, men substituted for true conservatism, which looks always to the action of moral forces, the basest form of atheism and the most hopeless theory of despotic power.

The age had ceased to wrestle with doubt, and accepted it not with anguish as the despair of reason, but with congratulation and pride. To renounce the search for eternal truth passed for wisdom; the notion that there can be no cognition of the immutable and the divine, the shallow infidelity which denies the beautiful, the true, and the good, was extolled as the perfection of enlightened reason, the highest end of intellectual striving. The agony of questioning was over; men cherished no wish for any thing beyond appearances and vain show. The prevailing philosophy in its arrogance was proud of its chains. It not only derided the infinite in man, but it jeered at the thought that man can commune with the infinite. It scoffed at all knowledge that transcends the senses, limited itself to the inferior lessons of experience, and rejected ideas which are the archetypes of things for ideas which were no more than pictures on the brain; dethroning the beautiful for the agreeable; the right [366] for the useful; the true for the seeming; knowing

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nothing of a universal moral government, referring every thing to the self of the individual. Hume brought this philosophy of materialism to the test, and applying doubt to its lessons, laid bare its corruption. His profound and searching scepticism was the bier on which it was laid out in state; where all the world might come and see that it really was no more. But while he taught the world that it led to nothingness, he taught nothing in its stead.

It was the same in practical life. Hume might oppose the war with America, because it threatened to mortgage all the revenues of the land in England; but ever welcome at the Bourbon palace and acceptable to George the Third, he had professed to prove that tyrants should not be deposed, that the euthanasia of the British constitution would be absolutism. Scepticism like this could not build up a commonwealth or renovate the world; there must be a new birth in philosophy, or all is lost in the world of reflection; in political life there is no hope of improvement, but from that inborn faith in the intelligent, moral, and divine government of the world, which always survives in the masses. Away, then, with the system of impotent doubt, which teaches that Europe cannot be extricated from the defilements of a selfish aristocracy or despotism, that the British constitution, though it may have a happy death, can have no reform. Let scepticism, the wandering nomad, that intrudes into every field only to desecrate and deny, strike her tents and make way for a people who have power to build up the house of humanity, because they have faith in eternal truth and trust in [367] that higher foresight, which over all brings forth bet-

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ter things out of evil and out of good.

The day on which George the Third sealed the instructions to his commissioners, congress decided to take no measures for their reception until previous application should be made; voted to issue ten millions of dollars in bills of credit for the purpose of carrying on the war for the current year; and took into consideration the proposition of John Adams, that ‘each one of the United Colonies, where no government sufficient to the exigencies of their affairs had as yet been established, should adopt such government, as would, in the opinion of the representatives of the people, best conduce to the happiness and safety of their constituents and of America.’ This last was the decisive measure which he had advised twelve months before, and which the timid had kept back in order still to petition and negotiate; with full knowledge of the importance of the movement, it was now resisted through two successive days, but on the tenth of May triumphed over all procrastinators. John Adams, Edward Rutledge, and Richard Henry Lee were then appointed to prepare a preamble to the resolution. Lee and Adams were of one mind; and on the following Monday they made their report. Recalling the act of parliament which excluded the Americans from the protection of the crown, the king's neglect to return any answer whatever to their petition, the employment of the whole force of the kingdom, aided by foreign mercenaries, for their destruction, they declared that it was ‘absolutely irreconcilable with reason and good conscience for the people of these colonies now to take the oaths and affirmations [368] necessary for the support of any government

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under the crown of Great Britain, and that it was necessary that the exercise of every kind of authority under the crown should be totally suppressed, and all the powers of government exerted under the authority of the people of the colonies for the preservation of their peace and their defence against their enemies.’

These words, of which every one bore the impress of John Adams, implied a complete separation from Britain, a total, absolute independence of the parliament, the crown, and the nation. It was also a blow dealt directly against the proprietary governments, especially that of Pennsylvania, whose members of assembly had thus far continued to take the oaths and affirmations, which reason and conscience were now invoked to condemn. Duane sounded the alarm; the preamble, in his view, openly avowed independence and separation; but before changing the government of the colonies, he wished to wait for the opinions of the inhabitants, who were to be followed and not driven on. After causing the instructions from New York to be read, he showed that the powers conferred on him did not extend so far as to justify him in voting for the measure without a breach of trust; and yet, if the averments of the preamble should be confirmed, he pledged New York to independence. Sherman argued, that the adoption of the resolution was the best way to procure the harmony with Great Britain, which New York desired. Mackean, who represented Delaware, thought the step must be taken, or liberty, property, and life be lost. ‘The first object of New York,’ said Samuel Adams, ‘is [369] the establishment of their rights. Our petitions are

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answered only by fleets, and armies, and myrmidons from abroad. The king has thrown us out of his protection; why should we support governments under his authority?’ Floyd of New York was persuaded, ‘that it could not be long before his constituents would think it necessary to take up some more stable form of government than what they then exercised; that there were little or no hopes of commissioners coming to treat of peace; and that therefore America ought to be in a situation to preserve her liberties another way.’ ‘This preamble contains a reflection upon the conduct of some people in America,’ interposed Wilson, referring to the assembly of Pennsylvania, which so late as February had required oaths of allegiance of Reed and Rittenhouse. ‘If the preamble passes,’ he continued, ‘there will be an immediate dissolution of every kind of authority in this province; the people will be instantly in a state of nature. Before we are prepared to build the new house, why should we pull down the old one’ The delegates of Pennsylvania declined to vote on the question; those of Maryland announced, that, under their instructions, they should consider their colony as unrepresented, until they should receive the directions of their principals who were then sitting at Annapolis.

The measure proved ‘a piece of mechanism to work out independence;’ overruling the hesitation of the moderate men, the majority adopted the preamble, and ordered it to be published. ‘The gordian knot,’ said John Adams, ‘is cut;’ and as he ruminated in solitude upon the lead which he had assumed in summoning so many populous and opulent colonies to rise [370] from the state of subjection into that of independent

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republics, the great events which were rapidly advancig, elevated him above the weaknesses of human passions and filled his mind with awe. Many of those who were to take part in framing constitutions for future millions, turned to him for advice. He recalled the first principles of political morals, the lessons inculcated by American experience, and the example of England. Familiar with the wise and eloquent writings of those of her sons who had treated of liberty, and combining with them the results of his own reflections, he did not shrink from offering his advice. He found the only moral foundation of government in the consent of the people; yet he counselled respect for existing rules, and to avoid opening a fruitful source of controversy, he refused to promote for the present any alteration, at least in Massachusetts, in the qualifications of voters. ‘There is no good government,’ he said, ‘but what is republican; for a republic is an empire of laws and not of men;’ and to constitute the best of republics, he enforced the necessity of separating the executive, legislative, and judicial powers. The ill use which the royal governors had made of the veto power did not confuse his judgment; he upheld the principle that the chief executive magistrate ought to be invested with a negative upon the legislature. To the judges he wished to assign commissions during good behavior; and to establish their salaries by law; but to make them liable to impeachment and removal by the grand inquest of the colony.

The republics of the ancient world had grown out of cities, so that their governments were originally [371] municipalities; to make a republic possible in the

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large territories embraced in the several American colonies, where the whole society could never be assembled, power was to be deputed by the many to a few, who were to be elected by suffrage, and were in theory to be a faithful miniature portrait of the people. Nor yet should all power to be entrusted to one representative assembly. The advocates of a perfect unity in government favored the concentration of power in one body, for the sake of an unobstructed exercise of the popular will; but John Adams taught, what an analysis of the human mind and the examples of history through thousands of years unite to confirm, that a single assembly is liable to the frailties of a single individual; to passionate caprices; and to a selfish eagerness for the increase of its own importance. ‘If the legislative power,’ such were his words just as the American constitutions were forming, ‘if the legislative power is wholly in one assembly and the executive in another, or in a single person, these two powers will oppose and encroach upon each other, until the contest shall end in war, and the whole power, legislative and executive, be usurped by the strongest.’

These are words to be inscribed on the memory and hearts of every convention that would constitute a republic; yet, at that time, there was not one member of the continental congress who applied the principle to the continental congress itself. Hawley of Northampton, had advised an American parliament with two houses of legislature; but John Adams saw no occasion for any continental constitution except a congress which should contain a fair representation of the colonies, and confine its authority sacredly to war, [372] trade, disputes between colony and colony, the post-

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office, and the unappropriated public lands.

In the separate colonies, he urged that all the youth should be liberally educated, and all men be required to keep arms and to be trained to their use. A country having a constitution founded on these principles, diffusing knowledge among the people, and inspiring them with the conscious dignity becoming freemen, would, ‘when compared with the regions of monarchical or aristocratical domination, seem an Arcadia or an Elysium.’

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