The Wars Between England and America
by T. C. Smith
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First printed 1914/15.



The purpose of this volume is to show how social, economic, and political causes led to a period of almost continuous antagonism between England and the American communities from 1763 to the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent in 1815, and how that antagonism was ended. The war of American Independence, 1775-1783, and the war of 1812-1815 give their names to the book, not because of their military or naval importance, but because they mark, in each case, the outcome of successive years of unavailing efforts on the part of each country to avoid bloodshed. With this aim in view, no more detailed study of the internal political history or institutions of either country can be included than is necessary to account for different political habits; nor can the events of diplomatic history be developed beyond what is called for to explain persistent lines of action or the conclusion of a significant treaty.




I THE ELEMENTS OF ANTAGONISM, 1763 . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 II THE CONTEST OVER PARLIAMENTARY TAXATION, 1763-1773 . . . 28 III THE DISRUPTION OF THE EMPIRE, 1773-1776 . . . . . . . . . 51 IV THE CIVIL WAR IN THE EMPIRE, 1776-1778 . . . . . . . . . 75 V FRENCH INTERVENTION AND BRITISH FAILURE, 1778-1781 . . . 96 VI BRITISH PARTIES AND AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE, 1778-1783 . . 114 VII THE FORMATION OF THE UNITED STATES, 1781-1793 . . . . . . 129 VIII THE FIRST PERIOD OF COMMERCIAL ANTAGONISM, 1783-1795 . . 149 IX THE TRIUMPH OF DEMOCRACY IN THE UNITED STATES, 1795-1805 169 X THE SECOND PERIOD OF COMMERCIAL ANTAGONISM, 1805-1812 . . 189 XI THE WAR FOR "SAILORS' RIGHTS" AND WESTWARD EXPANSION, 1812-1815 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215 XII END OF THE ANTAGONISM: A CENTURY OF PEACE . . . . . . . . 236 BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 251 INDEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 254





In 1763, by the Peace of Paris, England won a position of unapproached supremacy in colonial possessions and in naval strength. The entire North American continent east of the Mississippi River was now under the British flag, and four West India sugar islands were added to those already in English hands. In India, the rivalry of the French was definitely crushed and the control of the revenues and fortunes of the native potentates was transferred to the East India Company. Guided by the genius of Pitt, British armies had beaten French in Germany and America, and British fleets had conquered French and Spanish with complete ease. The power of the Empire seemed beyond challenge. Yet within this Empire itself there lay already the seeds of a discord which was soon {10} to develop into an irrepressible contest, leading to civil war; then, for a generation, to drive the separated parts into renewed antagonism, and finally to cause a second war. Between the North American colonies and the mother country there existed such moral, political, and economic divergence that nothing but prudent and patient statesmanship on both sides of the Atlantic could prevent disaster.

The fundamental source of antagonism lay in the fact that the thirteen colonies had developed a wholly different social and political life from that of the mother country. Originally, the prevailing ideas and habits of the colonists and of the Englishmen who remained at home had been substantially the same. In England, as in America, the gentry and middle classes played a leading part during the years from 1600 to 1660. But by 1763 England, under the Hanoverian kings, had become a state where all political and social power had been gathered into the hands of a landed aristocracy which dominated the government, the Church, and the professions. In parliament, the House of Commons—once the body which reflected the conscious strength of the gentry and citizens,—had now fallen under the control of the peers, owing to the decayed condition of scores of ancient parliamentary boroughs. Nearly one-third of the seats were actually {11} or substantially owned by noblemen, and of the remainder a majority were venal, the close corporations of Mayor and Aldermen selling freely their right to return two members at each parliamentary election. In addition, the influence and prestige of the great landowners were so powerful that even in the counties, and in those boroughs where the number of electors was considerable, none but members of the ruling class sought election. So far as the members of the middle class were concerned—the merchants, master weavers, iron producers, and craftsmen,—they were strong in wealth and their wishes counted heavily with the aristocracy in all legislation of a financial or commercial nature; but of actual part in the government they had none. As for the lower classes,—the labourers, tenant farmers, and shopkeepers,—they were able as a rule to influence government only by rioting and uproar. Without the ballot, they had no other way.

Owing to the personal weakness of successive monarchs since the death of William III, there had grown up the cabinet system of government which, in 1763, meant the reduction of the King to the position of an honorary figurehead and the actual control of officers, perquisites, patronage, and preferment, as well as the direction of public policy, by the leaders of parliamentary groups. The King was {12} obliged to select his ministers from among the members of noble families in the Lords or Commons, who agreed among themselves after elaborate bargains and negotiations upon the formation of cabinets and the distribution of honours. In this way sundry great Whig family "connections," as they were called, had come to monopolize political power, excluding Tories, or adherents of the Stuarts, and treating government as solely a matter of aristocratic concern. Into this limited circle, a poor man could rise only by making himself useful through his talents or his eloquence to one of the ruling cliques, and the goal of his career was naturally a peerage.

The weakness of this system of government by family connection lay in its thorough dependence upon customs of patronage and perquisite. The public offices were heavily burdened with lucrative sinecures, which were used in the factional contests to buy support in Parliament, as were also peerages, contracts, and money bribes. When George III ascended the throne, in 1760, he found the most powerful Minister in the Cabinet to be the Duke of Newcastle, whose sole qualification, apart from his birth, was his pre-eminent ability to handle patronage and purchase votes. That such a system did not ruin England was due to the tenacity and personal courage of this aristocracy and to {13} its use of parliamentary methods, whereby the orderly conduct of legislation and taxation and the habit of public attack and defence of government measures furnished political training for the whole ruling class. Further, the absence of any sharp caste lines made it possible for them to turn, in times of crisis, to such strong-fibred and masterful commoners as Walpole and Pitt, each of whom, in his way, saved the country from the incompetent hands of titled ministries.

This system, moreover, rested in 1763 on the aquiescence of practically all Englishmen. It was accepted by middle and lower classes alike as normal and admirable; and only a small body of radicals felt called upon to criticize the exclusion of the mass of taxpayers from a share in the government. Pitt, in Parliament, was ready to proclaim a national will as something distinct from the voice of the borough-owners, but he had few followers. Only in London and a few counties did sundry advocates of parliamentary reform strive in the years after 1763 to emphasize these views by organizing the freemen to petition and to "instruct" their representatives in the Commons. Such desires evoked nothing but contempt and antipathy in the great majority of Englishmen. Especially when they became audible in the mouths of rioters did they appear revolutionary and {14} obnoxious to the lovers of peace, good order, and the undisturbed collection of rents and taxes. Nothing but a genuine social revolution could bring such ideas to victory and that, in 1763, lay very far in the future. For the time conservatism reigned supreme.

In the thirteen colonies, on the other hand, the communities of middle-class Englishmen who emigrated in the seventeenth century had developed nothing resembling a real aristocracy. Social distinctions, modelled on those of the old country, remained between the men of large wealth—such as the great landed proprietors in New York and the planters in the South, or the successful merchants in New England and the Middle colonies—and the small farmers, shopkeepers, and fishermen, who formed the bulk of the population; while all of these joined in regarding the outlying frontiersmen as elements of society deserving of small consideration. Men of property, education, and "position" exercised a distinct leadership in public and private life. Yet all this remained purely social; in law no such thing as an aristocracy could be found, and in government the colonies had grown to be very nearly republican. Here lay the fundamental distinction between the England and the America of 1763. In America, a title or peerage conferred no political rights {15} whatever; these were founded in every case on law, on a royal charter or a royal commission which established a frame of government, and were based on moderate property qualifications which admitted a majority of adult males to the suffrage and to office.

In every colony the government consisted of a governor, a council, and an assembly representing the freemen. This body, by charter, or royal instructions, had the full right to impose taxes and vote laws; and, although its acts were liable to veto by the governor, or by the Crown through the Privy Council, it possessed the actual control of political power. This it derived immediately from its constituents and not from any patrons, lords, or close corporations. Representation and the popular will were, in fact, indissolubly united.

The governor in two colonies, Connecticut and Rhode Island, was chosen by the freemen. Elsewhere, he was appointed by an outside authority: in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland by the hereditary proprietor to whom the charter had been granted, in all other colonies by the Crown. The councillors, who commonly exercised judicial functions in addition to their duties as the governor's advisers and as the upper house of the legislature, were appointed in all colonies except the three in New England; {16} and they were chosen in all cases from among the socially prominent colonists. The judges, also, were appointed by the governor; and they, with governor and council, were supposed to represent the home government in the colonies.

But in reality there was no effective imperial control. The Crown, it is true, appeared to have large powers. It granted charters, established provinces by commissions, exercised the right to annul laws and hear appeals from colonial decisions, exacted reports from governors, sent instructions, and made appointments and removals at will. But nearly all the colonial officials, except the few customs officers, were paid out of colonial appropriations, and this one fact sufficed to deprive them of any independent position. In nearly every colony, the assembly, in the course of two-thirds of a century of incessant petty conflict, of incessant wrangling and bargaining, of incessant encroachments on the nominal legal powers of the governor, had made itself master of the administration. The colonists resisted all attempts to direct their military or civil policy, laid only such taxes as they chose, raised only such troops as they saw fit, passed only such laws as seemed to them desirable, and tied the governor's hands by every sort of device. They usurped the {17} appointment of the colonial treasurer, they appointed committees to oversee the expenditure of sums voted, they systematically withheld a salary from the governor, in order to render him dependent upon annual "presents," liable to diminution or termination in case he did not satisfy the assembly's wishes. The history of the years from 1689 to 1763 is a chronicle of continual defeat for governors who were obliged to see one power after another wrenched away from them. Under the circumstances, the political life of the thirteen colonies was practically republican in character, and was as marked for its absence of administrative machinery as the home government was for its aristocracy and centralization.

Another feature of colonial life tended to accentuate this difference. Although religion had ceased to be a political question, and the English Church was no longer regarded, save in New England, as dangerous to liberty, the fact that the great majority of the colonists were dissenters—Congregational, Presbyterian, or Reformed, with a considerable scattering of Baptists and other sects—had an effect on the attitude of the people toward England. In the home country, the controlling social classes accepted the established church as part of the constitution; but in the colonies it had small {18} strength, and even where it was by law established it remained little more than an official body, the "Governor's church." This tended to widen the gap between the political views of the individualistic dissenting and Puritan sects in the colonies and the people at home.

The American of 1763 was thus a different kind of man from the Englishman. As a result of the divergent development on the two sides of the Atlantic from a common ancestry, their political habits had become mutually incomprehensible. To the Englishman, the rule of the nobility was normal—the ideal political system. He was content, if a commoner, with the place assigned to him. To the colonist, on the other hand, government in which the majority of adult male inhabitants possessed the chief power was the only valid form,—all others were vicious. Patriotism meant two contradictory things. The Englishman's patriotism was sturdy but unenthusiastic, and showed itself almost as much in a contempt for foreigners as in complacency over English institutions. The colonist, on the contrary, had a double allegiance: one conventional and traditional, to the British crown; the other a new, intensely local and narrow attachment to his province. England was still the "old home," looked to as the source of political authority, of manners and literature. It was for many of {19} the residents their recent abode and, for all except a few of Dutch, German, or French extraction, their ancestral country. But already this "loyalty" on the part of the colonists was dwindling into something more sentimental than real. The genuine local patriotism of the colonists was shown by their persistent struggle against the representatives of English authority in the governors' chairs. There had developed in America a new sort of man, an "American," who wished to be as independent of government as possible, and who, while professing and no doubt feeling a general loyalty to England, was in fact a patriot of his own colony.

The colonists entered very slightly into the thoughts of the English noblemen and gentry. They were regarded in a highly practical way, without a trace of any sentiment, as members of the middle and lower classes, not without a large criminal admixture, who had been helped and allowed to build up some unruly and not very admirable communities. Nor did the English middle classes look upon the colonists with much interest, or regard them as, on the whole, their equals. The prevailing colonial political habits, as seen from England, suggested only unwarrantable wrangling indicative of political incompetence and a spirit of disobedience. Loyalty, to an {20} Englishman, meant submission to the law. To men trained in such different schools, words did not mean the same thing. The time had come when the two peoples were scarcely able to understand each other.

A second cause for antagonism, scarcely less fundamental and destined to cause equal irritation, is to be found in the conflict between the economic life of the American communities and the beliefs of the mother country concerning commercial and naval policy. Great Britain, in 1763, was predominantly a trading country. Its ships carried goods for all the nations of Europe and brought imports to England from all lands. Although the manufacturers were not yet in possession of the new inventions which were to revolutionize the industries of the world, they were active and prosperous in their domestic production of hardware and textiles, and they furnished cargoes for the shipowners to transport to all quarters. To these two great interests of the middle classes, banking and finance were largely subsidiary. Agriculture, the mainstay of the nobility and gentry, continued to hold first place in the interests of the governing classes, but the importance of all sources of wealth was fully recognized.

In the colonies, on the contrary, manufacture scarcely existed beyond the domestic {21} production of articles for local use; and the inhabitants relied on importations for nearly all finished commodities and for all luxuries. Their products were chiefly things which Great Britain could not itself raise, such as sugar in the West Indies; tobacco from the islands and the southern mainland colonies; indigo and rice from Carolina; furs, skins, masts, pine products; and, from New England, above all, fish. The natural market for these articles was in England or in other colonies; and in return British manufactures found their natural market in the new communities. When the Economic Revolution transformed industry, and factories, driven by steam, made England the workshop of the world, the existing tendency for her to supply America with manufactured products was intensified regardless of the political separation of the two countries. Not until later economic changes supervened was this normal relationship altered.

The traditional British policy in 1763 was that of the so-called Mercantile System, which involved a thoroughgoing application of the principle of protection to the British shipowner, manufacturer, and corn-grower against any competition. An elaborate tariff, with a system of prohibitions and bounties, attempted to prevent the landowner from being undersold by foreign corn, and the {22} manufacturer from meeting competition from foreign producers. Navigation Acts shut out foreign-built, -owned, or -manned ships from the carrying trade between any region but their home country and England, reserving all other commerce for British vessels. Into this last restriction there entered another purely political consideration, namely, the perpetuation of a supply of mariners for the British navy, whose importance was fully recognized. So far as the colonies were concerned, they were brought within the scope of mercantilist ideas by being considered as sources of supply for England in products not possible to raise at home, as markets which must be reserved for British manufacturers and traders, and as places which must not be allowed to develop any rivalry to British producers. Furthermore, they were so situated that by proper regulations they might serve to encourage British shipping even if this involved an economic loss.

The Navigation Acts accordingly, from 1660 to 1763, were designed to put this theory into operation, and excluded all foreign vessels from trading with the colonies, prohibited any trade to the colonies except from British ports and enumerated certain commodities—sugar, cotton, dye woods, indigo, rice, furs—which could be sent only to England. To ensure the carrying out of these {23} laws, an elaborate system of bonds and local duties was devised, and customs officers were appointed, resident in the colonies, while governors were obliged to take oath to enforce the Acts. As time revealed defects or unnecessary stringencies, the restrictions were frequently modified. The Carolinas, for instance, were allowed to ship rice not only to England, but to any place in Europe south of Cape Finisterre. Bounties were established to aid the production of tar and turpentine; but special Acts prohibited the export of hats from the colonies, or the manufacture of rolled iron, in order to check a possible source of competition to British producers. In short, the Board of Trade, the administrative body charged with the oversight of the plantations, devoted its energies to suggesting devices which should aid the colonists, benefit the British consumer and producer, and increase "navigation."

It does not appear that the Acts of Trade were, in general, a source of loss to the colonies. Their vessels shared in the privileges reserved for British-built ships. The compulsory sending of the enumerated commodities to England may have damaged the tobacco-growers; but in other respects it did little harm. The articles would have gone to England in any case. The restriction of importation to goods from England was no {24} great grievance, since British products would, in any case, have supplied the American market. Even the effort, by an Act of 1672, to check intercolonial trade in enumerated commodities was not oppressive, for, with one exception noted below, there was no great development of such a trade. By 1763, according to the best evidence, the thirteen colonies seem to have adjusted their habits to the Navigation Acts, and to have been carrying on their flourishing commerce within these restrictions.

To this general condition, however, there were some slight exceptions, and one serious one. The colonists undoubtedly resented the necessity of purchasing European products from English middlemen, and were especially desirous of importing Spanish and Portuguese wines and French brandies directly. Smuggling in these articles seems to have been steadily carried on. Much more important—and to the American ship-owners the kernel of the whole matter—was the problem of the West India trade. It was proved, as the eighteenth century progressed, that the North American colonies could balance their heavy indebtedness to the mother country for excess of imports over exports only by selling to the French, as well as the British West Indies, barrel staves, clapboards, fish and food products. In {25} return, they took sugar and molasses, developing in New England a flourishing rum manufacture, which in turn was used in the African slave trade. By these means the people of the New England and Middle colonies built up an active commerce, using their profits to balance their indebtedness to England. This "triangular trade" disturbed the British West India planters, who, being largely non-residents and very influential in London, induced Parliament, in 1733, to pass an Act imposing prohibitory duties on all sugar and molasses of foreign growth. This law, if enforced, would have struck a damaging blow at the prosperity of the Northern colonies, merely to benefit the West India sugar-growers by giving them a monopoly; but the evidence goes to show that it was systematically evaded and that French sugar, together with French and Portuguese wines, was still habitually smuggled into the colonies. Thus the Navigation Acts, in the only points where they would have been actually oppressive, were not enforced. The colonial governors saw the serious consequences and shrank from arousing discontent. It is significant that the same colonists who contended with the royal governors did not hesitate to violate a parliamentary law when it ran counter to their interests.

The only reason why the radical difference {26} between the colonies and the home government did not cause open conflict long before 1763 is to be found in the absorption of the English ministries in parliamentary manoeuvring at home, diplomacy, and European wars. The weakness of the imperial control was recognized and frequently complained of by governors, Boards of Trade, and other officials; but so long as the colonies continued to supply the sugar, furs, lumber and masts called for by the Acts, bought largely from English shippers and manufacturers, and stimulated the growth of British shipping, the Whig and Tory noblemen were content. The rapidly growing republicanism of the provincial and proprietary governments was ignored and allowed to develop unchecked. A half-century of complaints from thwarted governors, teeming with suggestions that England ought to take the government of the colonies into its own hands, produced no results beyond creating in official circles an opinion unfavourable to the colonists.

In the years of the French war, 1754-1760, the utter incompatibility between imperial theories on the one hand and colonial political habits on the other, could no longer be disregarded. In the midst of the struggle, the legislatures continued to wrangle with governors over points of privilege; they were slow to vote supplies; they were {27} dilatory in raising troops; they hung back from a jealous fear that their neighbour colonies might fail to do their share; they were ready to let British soldiers do all the hard fighting. Worse still, the colonial shipowners persisted in their trade with the French and Spanish West Indies, furnishing their enemies with supplies, and buying their sugar and molasses as usual. When, in Boston, writs of assistance were employed by the customs officials, in order that by a general power of search they might discover such smuggled property, the merchants protested in the courts, and James Otis, a fiery young lawyer, boldly declared the writs an infringement of the rights of the colonists, unconstitutional, and beyond the power of Parliament to authorize. To Ministers engaged in a tremendous war for the overthrow of France, the behaviour of the colonies revealed a spirit scarcely short of disloyalty, and a weakness of government no longer to be tolerated. The Secretaries, the Board of Trade, the customs officials, army officers, naval commanders, colonial governors, and judges all agreed that the time had come for a thorough and drastic reform. They approached the task purely and simply as members of the English governing classes, ignorant of the colonists' political ideas and totally indifferent to their views; and their measures were framed in the spirit {28} of unquestioning acceptance of the principles of the Acts of Trade as a fundamental national policy.



The Prime Minister responsible for the new colonial policy was George Grenville, who assumed his position in May, 1763, shortly after the final treaty of Paris. Every other member of his Cabinet was a nobleman, Grenville himself was brother of an earl, and most of them had had places in preceding Ministries. It was a typical administration of the period, completely aristocratic in membership and spirit, quite indifferent to colonial views, and incapable of comprehending colonial ideals even if they had known them. To them the business in hand was a purely practical one; and with confident energy Grenville pushed through a series of measures, which had been carefully worked out, of course, by minor officials unknown to fame, during the preceding months, {29} but which were destined to produce results undreamed of by any one in England.

In the first place, there were a number of measures to strengthen and revivify the Acts of Trade. Colonists were given new privileges in the whale fishery, hides and skins were "enumerated," and steps were taken to secure a more rigorous execution of the Acts by the employment of naval vessels against smuggling. A new Sugar Act reduced the tariff on foreign sugar to such a point that it would be heavily protective without being prohibitive, and at the same time imposed special duties on Portuguese wines, while providing additional machinery for collecting customs. This was clearly aimed at the weak point in the existing navigation system; but it introduced a new feature, for the sugar duties, unlike previous ones, were intended to raise a revenue, and this, it was provided in the Act, should be used to pay for the defence of America.

A second new policy was inaugurated in a proclamation of October, 1763, which made Florida and Canada despotically governed provinces, and set off all the land west of the head-waters of the rivers running into the Atlantic as an Indian reservation. No further land grants were to be made in that region, nor was any trade to be permitted with the Indians save by royal licence. The {30} Imperial government thus assumed control of Indian policy, and endeavoured to check any further growth of the existing communities to the West. Such a scheme necessitated the creation of a royal standing army in America on a larger scale than the previous garrisons; and this plan led to the third branch of the new policy, which contemplated the positive interposition of Parliament to remedy the shortcomings of colonial assemblies. An Act of 1764 prohibited the future issue of any paper money by any colony, thus terminating one of the chief grievances of British governors and merchants. But still more striking was an Act of 1765, which provided with great elaboration for the collection of a stamp tax in the colonies upon all legal documents, newspapers, and pamphlets. The proceeds were to be used to pay about one-third of the cost of the new standing army, which was to consist of ten thousand men. Taken in connection with the announced intention of using the revenue from the Sugar Act for the same purpose, it is obvious that Grenville's measures were meant to relieve the Imperial government from the necessity of depending in future upon the erratic and unmanageable colonial legislatures. They were parts of a general political and financial programme. There is not the slightest evidence that Grenville or his associates dreamed {31} that they were in any way affecting the colonists' rights or restricting their liberties. Grenville did consult the colonial agents—individuals authorized to represent the colonial assemblies in England—but simply with a view to meeting practical objections. The various proclamations or orders were issued without opposition, and the bills passed Parliament almost unnoticed. The British governing class was but slightly concerned with colonial reform: the Board of Trade, the colonial officials, and the responsible Ministers were the only people interested.

To the astonishment of the Cabinet and of the English public, the new measures, especially the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, raised a storm of opposition in the colonies unlike anything in their history. The reasons are obvious. If the new Sugar Act was to be enforced, it meant the end of the flourishing French West India intercourse and the death of the "triangular" trade. Every distiller, shipowner, and exporter of fish, timber, or grain, felt himself threatened with ruin. If the Stamp Act were enforced, it meant the collection of a tax from communities already in debt from the French wars, which were in future to be denied the facile escape from heavy taxes hitherto afforded by bills of credit. But the economic burdens threatened were almost lost sight of in the political {32} dangers. If England meant to impose taxes by parliamentary vote for military purposes, instead of calling upon the colonists to furnish money and men, it meant a deadly blow to the importance of the assemblies. They could no longer exercise complete control over their property and their finances. They would sink to the status of mere municipal bodies. So far as the Americans of 1765 were concerned, the feeling was universal that such a change was intolerable, that if they ceased to have the full power to give or withhold taxes at their discretion they were practically slaves.

In every colony there sprang to the front leaders who voiced these sentiments in impassioned speeches and pamphlets; for the most part young men, many of them lawyers accustomed to look for popular approval in resisting royal governors. Such men as James Otis and Samuel Adams in Massachusetts, William Livingston in New York, Patrick Henry in Virginia, Christopher Gadsden in South Carolina denounced the Stamp Act as tyrannous, unconstitutional, and an infringement of the liberties of the colonists. Popular anger rose steadily until, in the autumn, when the stamps arrived, the people of the thirteen colonies had nerved themselves to the pitch of refusing to obey the Act. Under pressure from crowds of angry men, {33} every distributor was compelled to resign, the stamps were in some cases destroyed, and in Boston the houses of unpopular officials were mobbed and sacked. Before the excitement, the governors stood utterly helpless. They could do nothing to carry out the Act.

In October, delegates representing nearly all the colonies met at New York, and drafted resolutions expressing their firm belief that no tax could legally be levied upon them but by their own consent, given through their legislatures. It was the right of Englishmen not to be taxed without their consent. Petitions in respectful but determined language were sent to the King and to Parliament, praying for the repeal of the Stamp Act and the Sugar Act. For the first time in their history, the colonies stood together in full harmony to denounce and reject an Act passed by Parliament. As a social and political fact, this unanimous demonstration of colonial feeling was of profound significance. The ease and ability with which the lawyers, planters, farmers, or merchants directed the popular excitement into effective channels showed the widespread political education of the Americans. A not dissimilar excitement in London in the same years found no other means of expressing itself than bloody rioting. It was American {34} republicanism showing its strongest aspect in political resistance.

The issue thus presented to the British government was one demanding the most careful consideration and far-seeing wisdom in its treatment. Grenville's measures, however admirable and reasonable in themselves, had stirred the bitter opposition of all the colonists, and the enforcement or modification of them called for steadiness and courage. Were the English governing noblemen of the day ready to persist in the new policy? If so, it meant violent controversy and possibly colonial insurrection; but the exertion of British authority, if coupled with strong naval pressure, ought to prevail. Angry as the colonists were, their language indicates that revolution was not in their thoughts; and, if there was one quality beyond all others in which the British aristocracy excelled, it was an inflexible tenacity when once a policy was definitely embraced. Unfortunately for both sides, the clear-cut issue thus raised was obscured and distorted by the presence on the throne of an ambitious young prince with a policy which threw British domestic affairs into unexampled confusion.

George III, obstinate, narrow-minded, and determined to make his own will felt in the choice of Ministers and the direction of affairs, had succeeded his grandfather in 1760. Too {35} astute to violate the fast-bound tradition of the British constitution that he must govern only through Ministers, he saw that to have his own way he must secure political servants who, while acting as Cabinet Ministers, should take their orders from him. He also saw that to destroy the hold of the Whig family cliques he must enter politics himself and buy, intimidate, and cajole in order to win a following for his Ministers in parliament. With this ideal in view, he subordinated all other considerations to the single one of getting subservient Ministers, and fought or intrigued against any Cabinet which did not accept his direction, until, in 1770, he finally triumphed. In the meantime he had kept England under a fluctuating succession of Ministries which forbade the maintenance of any coherent or authoritative colonial policy such as alone could have prevented disaster.

In 1761 George III tried to induce Parliament to accept the leadership of the Earl of Bute, his former tutor, who had never held public office; but his rapid rise to the Premiership aroused such jealousy among the nobility and such unpopularity among the people that the unfortunate Scot quailed before the storm of ridicule and abuse. He resigned in 1763, and was succeeded by Grenville, who instantly showed George III that he would take no dictation. On the contrary, {36} he drove the King to the point of fury by his masterfulness. In desperation, George then turned to the Marquis of Rockingham who, if equally determined to decline royal dictation, was personally less offensive to him; and there came in a Ministry of the usual type, all noblemen but two minor members, and all belonging to "connections" different from those of the Grenville Ministry. Thus it was that, when the unanimous defiance of the Americans reached England, the Ministers responsible for the colonial reforms were out of office, and the Rockingham Whigs had assumed control, feeling no obligation to continue anything begun by their predecessors. George III's interposition was responsible for this situation.

When Parliament met in January, 1766, the colonists received powerful allies, first in the British merchants, who petitioned against the Act as causing the practical stoppage of American purchases, and second in William Pitt, who, in a burning speech, embraced in full the colonists' position, and declared that a parliamentary tax upon the plantations was absolutely contrary to the rights of Englishmen. He "rejoiced that America has resisted." This radical position found few followers; but the Whig Ministry, after some hesitation, decided to grant the colonial demands while insisting {37} on the imperial rights of Parliament. This characteristically English action was highly distasteful to the majority in the House of Lords, who voted to execute the law, and to George III, who disliked to yield to mutinous subjects; but they were forced to give way. The Stamp Act was repealed, and the sugar duties were reduced to a low figure. At the same time a Declaratory Act was passed, asserting that Parliament had full power to bind the colonies "in all cases whatsoever." Thus the Americans had their way in part, while submitting to seeing their arguments rejected.

The consequences of this unfortunate affair were to bring into sharp contrast the British and the American views of the status of the colonies. The former considered them as parts of the realm, subject like any other part to the legislative authority of King, Lords, and Commons. The contention of the colonists, arising naturally from the true situation in each colonial government, that the rights of Englishmen guaranteed their freedom from taxation without representation, was answered by the perfectly sound legal assertion that the colonists, like all the people of England, were "virtually" represented in the House of Commons. The words, in short, meant one thing in England, another thing in America. English speakers {38} and writers pointed to the scores of statutes affecting the colonies, calling attention especially to the export duties of the Navigation Act of 1672, and the import duties of the Act of 1733, not to mention its revision of 1764. Further, Parliament had regulated provincial coinage and money, had set up a postal service, and established rates. Although Parliament had not imposed any such tax as the Stamp Act, it had, so far as precedent showed, exercised financial powers on many occasions.

To meet the British appeal to history, the colonists developed the theory that commercial regulation, including the imposition of customs duties, was "external" and hence lay naturally within the scope of imperial legislation, but that "internal" taxation was necessarily in the hands of the colonial assemblies. There was sufficient plausibility in this claim to commend it to Pitt, who adopted it in his speeches, and to Benjamin Franklin, the agent for Pennsylvania, already well known as a "philosopher," who expounded it confidently when he was examined as an expert on American affairs at the bar of the Commons. It was, however, without any clear legal justification, and, as English speakers kept pointing out, it was wholly incompatible with the existence of a genuine imperial government. That it was {39} a perfectly practical distinction, in keeping with English customs, was also true; but that was not to be realized until three-quarters of a century later.

With the repeal of the objectionable law the uproar in America ceased, and, amid profuse expressions of gratitude to Pitt, the Ministry, and the King, the colonists returned to their normal activities. The other parts of the Grenville programme were not altered, and it was now possible for English Ministers, by a wise and steady policy, to improve the weak spots in the colonial system without giving undue offence to a population whose sensitiveness and obstinate devotion to entire self-government had been so powerfully shown. Unfortunately, the King again interposed his influence in such wise as to prevent any rational colonial policy. In the summer of 1766, tiring of the Rockingham Ministry, he managed to bring together an odd coalition of political groups under the nominal headship of the Duke of Grafton. Pitt, who disliked the family cliques, accepted office and the title of Earl of Chatham, hoping to lead a national Ministry. The other elements were in part Whig, and in part representatives of the so-called "King's Friends"—a growing body of more or less venal politicians who clung to George's support for the sake of the patronage to be {40} gained—and several genuine Tories who looked to a revived royal power to end the Whig monopoly. From such a Cabinet no consistent policy was to be expected, save under leadership of a man like Pitt. Unfortunately the latter was immediately taken with an illness which kept him out of public life for two years; and Grafton, the nominal Prime Minister, was utterly unable to hold his own against the influence and intrigues of the King. From the start, accordingly, the Ministry proved weak and unstable, and it allowed a new set of colonial quarrels to develop.

Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, one of the originators of the new colonial policy under the Bute Ministry, was so ill-advised as to renew the attempt to raise a colonial revenue by parliamentary taxation. His manner of proposing the measure gave the impression that it was a piece of sheer bravado on his part, intended to regain the prestige which he had lost by failing to carry all of his first budget; but the nature of the scheme indicates its close connection with the Grenville ideals. Avoiding the appearance of a direct internal tax, he caused the imposition of duties on glass, painters' colours, paper, and tea, without any pretence of regulating commerce, but for the announced purpose of defraying the expenses {41} of governors and judges in the colonies. Another measure established an American Board of Commissioners for customs. Still another punished the province of New York for failing to comply with an Act of 1765 authorizing quartering of troops in the colonies. The assembly was forbidden to pass any law until it should make provision for the soldiers in question. Ex-governor Pownall of Massachusetts, now in Parliament, did not fail to warn the House of the danger into which it was running; but his words were unheeded, and the Bills passed promptly.

The result of these measures was inevitable. Every political leader in the colonies—nay, every voter—saw that the Townshend duties, while in form "external," were pure revenue measures, unconnected with the Acts of Trade, and intended to strike at colonial independence in a vital point. If Great Britain undertook henceforward to pay the salaries of royal officials, one of the principal sources of power would be taken away from the assemblies. Instantly the distinction of "external" and "internal" taxation was abandoned; and from end to end of the Atlantic seaboard a cry went up that the duties were an insidious attack on the liberties of the Americans, an outrageous taking of their property without their consent, and a wanton interference with their {42} governments. Not merely agitators such as the shrewd Samuel Adams and the eloquent Patrick Henry uttered these views, but men of far more considerable property and station—such as John Jay and New York landowners and importers, John Dickinson and the Philadelphia merchants, George Washington and the Virginia planters. While no general Congress was summoned, the legislatures of the colonies adopted elaborate resolutions, pamphleteers issued a stream of denunciations, and, most important of all, a concerted effort was made to break down the Acts by abstaining from any importations, not only of the taxed commodities, but, so far as possible, of any British products. Commercial boycott, it was hoped, would have the same effect as at the time of the Stamp Act.

By this time the colonial argument had come to assume a much broader character, for, in order to deny the validity of the New York Assembly Act and the Townshend duties, it became necessary to assert that Parliament, according to "natural rights," had no legislative authority over the internal affairs of a colony. This was vested, by the constitution of each province or chartered colony, in the Crown and the colonial legislature. Such a theory reduced the imperial tie to little more than a personal union through the monarch, coupled with the {43} admitted power of Parliament to regulate commerce and navigation. Evidently, as in all such cases, the theory was framed to justify a particular desire, namely, to keep things where they had been prior to 1763. The sole question at issue was, in reality, one of power, not of abstract or legal right. Once more it was clear to men of penetrating vision that the American colonies needed extremely careful handling. Whether their arguments were sound or fallacious, loyal or seditious, it was significant that the whole continent spoke with one voice and felt but one desire—to be allowed to exercise complete financial discretion and to retain full control over governors and judges. Unfortunately the condition of things in England was such that a cool or steady treatment of the question was becoming impossible. In the first place, the Grafton Ministry was reconstituted in 1768, the "Pittite" elements withdrawing, and being replaced by more King's Friends and Tories, while George III's influence grew predominant. Townshend died in September, 1767, but his place was taken by Lord North, a Tory and especially subservient to the King. A new secretaryship for the colonies was given to Lord Hillsborough, who had been in the Board of Trade in the Grenville Ministry, and represented his views. Neither of these {44} men was inclined to consider colonial clamour in any other light than as unpardonable impudence and sedition. In the second place, the old Whig family groups were fast assuming an attitude of bitter opposition to the new Tories, and by 1768 were prepared to use the American question as a convenient weapon to discredit the Ministry. They were quite as aristocratic in temper as the ministerial party, but advocated forbearance, conciliation, and calmness in dealing with the Americans, in speeches as remarkable for their political good sense as for their ferocity toward North, Hillsborough, and the rest. While the Ministry drew its views of the American situation from royal governors and officials, the Whigs habitually consulted with Franklin and the other colonial agents, who occupied a quasi-diplomatic position. Thus the American question became a partisan battleground. The Tories, attacked by the Whigs, developed a stubborn obstinacy in holding to a "firm" colonial policy, and exhibited a steady contempt and anger toward their American adversaries which was in no small degree due to the English party antagonism.

Still further to confuse the situation, there occurred at this time the contest of John Wilkes, backed by the London mob, against the Grafton Ministry. This demagogue, able {45} and profligate, had already come into conflict with the Grenville Ministry in 1765, and had been driven into exile. Now, in 1768, he returned and was repeatedly elected to the Commons, and as often unseated by the vindictive ministerial majority. Riots and bloodshed accompanied the agitation; and Wilkes and his supporters, backed by the parliamentary Whigs, habitually proclaimed the same doctrines of natural rights which were universally asserted in America. To the King and his Cabinet, Wilkes and the American leaders appeared indistinguishable. They were all brawling, disorderly, and dangerous demagogues, deserving of no consideration.

Under these circumstances, the complaints of the colonists, although supported by the Whigs and by Chatham, received scant courtesy in England. The Grafton Ministry showed nothing but an irritated intention to maintain imperial supremacy by insisting on the taxes and demanding submissiveness on the part of the assemblies. A series of "firm" instructions was sent out by Hillsborough, typical of which was an order that the Massachusetts legislature must rescind its circular letter of protest under threat of dissolution, and that the other assemblies must repudiate the letter under a similar menace. The sole result was a series of embittered wrangles, dissolutions, protests, {46} and quarrels which left the colonists still more inflamed. Then, at the suggestion of the Commissioners of Customs, two regiments of troops were sent to Boston to over-awe that particularly defiant colony. There being no legislature in session, the Massachusetts towns sent delegates to a voluntary convention which drafted a protest. Immediately, this action was denounced by Hillsborough as seditious and was censured by Parliament; while the Duke of Bedford moved that an old statute of Henry VIII, by which offenders outside the realm could be brought to England for trial, should be put into operation against the colonial agitators. When the Virginia legislature protested against this step, it was dissolved. Hillsborough and North acted as though they believed that a policy of scolding and nagging, if made sufficiently disagreeable, would bring the colonists to their senses. That the Whigs did not cease to pour contempt and ridicule on the folly of such behaviour was probably one reason why the government persisted in its course. The American question was coming to be beyond the reach of reason.

Yet in 1769 the Ministry could not avoid recognizing that as financial measures the Townshend duties were a hopeless failure, since their net proceeds were less than 300 pounds and the increased military expenses were {47} declared by Pownall to be over 170,000 pounds. On May 1, 1769, the Cabinet voted to repeal the taxes on glass, colours, and paper, but by a majority of one determined to keep the tea duty. This decision was due to the complaisance of Lord North, who saw the unwisdom of the step, but yielded to the King's wish to retain one tax in order to assert the principle of parliamentary supremacy. A year later, the Grafton Ministry finally broke up; and Lord North assumed control, with a Cabinet composed wholly of Tories and supported by George III to the full extent of his power, through patronage, bribes, social pressure, and political proscription. North himself was inclined to moderation in colonial matters. He carried the promised repeal of all the duties but the tea tax, and in 1772 replaced the arrogant and quarrelsome Hillsborough with the more amiable Lord Dartmouth. It looked for a while as though the political skies might clear, for the American merchants, tired of their self-imposed hardships, began to weaken in opposition. In 1769 the New York assembly voted to accept the parliamentary terms; and in 1770 the merchants of that colony voted to abandon general non-importation, keeping only the boycott on tea. This led to the general collapse of the non-importation agreements; but the colonial temper continued to be defiant and {48} suspicious, and wrangling with governors was incessant.

Occasional cases of violence confirmed the English Tories in their low view of the Americans. In March, 1770, a riot in Boston between town rowdies and the soldiers brought on a shooting affray in which five citizens were killed. This created intense indignation throughout the colonies, regardless of the provocation received by the soldiers, and led to an annual commemoration of the "Boston Massacre," marked by inflammatory speeches. The soldiers, however, when tried for murder in the local courts, were defended by prominent counsel, notably John Adams, and were acquitted. Two years later, on June 9, 1772, the Gaspee, a naval schooner, which had been very active in chasing smugglers in Rhode Island waters, was burned by a mob, and its captain taken prisoner. The utmost efforts of the home government failed to secure the detection or punishment of any one of the perpetrators.

Finally, in December, 1773, a still more serious explosion occurred. The North Ministry, desirous of assisting the East India Company, which was burdened with debt, removed practically all restrictions on the exportation of tea to America in hopes of increasing the sale by reducing the price. To the colonial leaders, now in a state of {49} chronic irritation, this measure seemed an insulting and insidious attempt to induce the Americans to forget their principles and buy the tea because it was cheap. It was denounced from end to end of the country in burning rhetoric; and when the cargoes of tea arrived their sale was completely prevented by the overwhelming pressure of public opinion. Consignees, waited on by great crowds, hastened to resign; and the tea was either seized for nonpayment of duties and allowed to spoil, or was sent back. In Boston, however, the Governor, Hutchinson, stiffly refused to let the tea ships depart without landing the tea, whereat the exasperated citizens watched an organized mob of disguised men board the ships and throw the tea into the harbour. Once more the unanimous voice of the colonies defied a parliamentary Act.

Such was the situation in 1773. Thirteen groups of British colonists, obstinately local in their interests, narrowly insistent on self-government, habituated to an antagonistic attitude toward royal governors, but, after all has been said, unquestionably loyal to the Crown and the home country, had been transformed into communities on the verge of permanent insubordination. Incapable of changing all their political habits, they could see in the British policy only a purpose {50} to deprive them of that self-government which was inseparable from liberty. The Crown Ministers, on the other hand, unable to discover anything illegal, oppressive, or unreasonable in any of their measures, found no explanation of the extravagant denunciations of the colonial radicals other than a determination to foment every possible difficulty with a view to throwing off all obedience. While Adams, Dickinson, Henry, Gadsden and the rest demanded their "rights," and protested against "incroachments" on their liberties, Bedford, Hillsborough, North, and Dartmouth insisted on the "indecency," "insolence," and "disloyalty" shown by the Americans. The colonial republicans and the British noblemen were unable to speak the same language. Yet the time had come to face the situation, and it was the duty of the Ministers to assume the task with something more serious than reproofs and legal formulae. The contest for power now begun must lead, unless terminated, straight to a disruption of the Empire.




When the news reached England that the people of the town of Boston had thrown the tea of the East India Company into the harbour, the patience of the North ministry, already severely strained, reached an end. Its members felt—and most of the English people felt with them—that to submit to such an act of violence was impossible. Every consideration of national dignity demanded that Boston and its rioters should be punished, and that the outrage done to the East India Company should receive atonement. Hitherto, they said, the contumacious colonists had been dealt with chiefly by arguments, reproofs, and, as it seemed to most Englishmen, with concessions and kindnesses which had won only insult and violence.

It was resolved to make an example of the delinquent community; and the first step was to humiliate its representative, Benjamin Franklin. Ever since 1765 he had been residing in England, respected as a philosopher and admired as a wit, bearing a sort of diplomatic character through his position as agent for the assemblies of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. In close {52} association with the Whig opposition, he was undoubtedly the best-known American, and among the most influential. Now, in 1774, having to present a petition from Massachusetts to the Privy Council for the removal of Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson, Franklin found it an awkward feature of the case that the colony's charges were based on private letters which he himself had in some way acquired and sent to Boston. The Court party determined to crush him, and at the hearing put forward Wedderburn, the Solicitor-General—a typical King's Friend—who passed over the subject of the petition to brand Franklin in virulent invective as a thief and scoundrel. Amidst general applause, the petition was rejected as false and scandalous, and Franklin was dismissed from his position of colonial Postmaster-General.

When Parliament met, it was instantly made clear that the sole idea controlling King, Cabinet, and the majority of Members was to bring the Massachusetts colonists to their senses by severe punitive legislation. The Whig opposition did not attempt to defend the destruction of the tea; but it spared no effort to make the Ministers see the folly of striking at effects and ignoring causes. In a masterly speech of April 19, 1774, Burke showed that the insistence on submission regardless of the grievances and of the nature {53} of the colonists was a dangerous and absurd policy, and Pownall and Chatham repeated his arguments, but without avail. The Ministerial party saw no danger, and felt nothing but the contempt of an irritated aristocracy. The original ideals of a general colonial reform were now lost sight of; the men responsible for them had all passed off the stage; Grenville, Townshend, and Halifax were dead, and North, careless and subservient to George III, Hillsborough, Suffolk, Sandwich, and Rochford—all noblemen, and in many cases inefficient—did not see beyond the problem of coercing noisy and troublesome rioters, indistinguishable from the followers of Wilkes. Over and over again they reiterated that the colonists' resentment was not to be feared, that they would submit to genuine firmness, that they were all cowardly and dared not resist a few regular troops. Lord George Germaine earned the thanks of Lord North by declaring that the colonists were only "a tumultuous and noisy rabble," men who ought to be "following their mercantile employment and not attempting to govern." Not a gleam of any other statesmanship appears in any of the Ministerial speeches than that displayed in the determination to exact complete submission.

There were passed, accordingly, by the full Ministerial majority, five measures known as {54} the Coercive Acts, or, in America, as the Five Intolerable Acts. The first one punished Boston by closing the port to all trade until the offending town should recompense the East India Company for the tea destroyed. The next altered the government of Massachusetts Bay by making the councillors appointive instead of elective, by placing the appointment and removal of all judicial officers entirely in the hands of the governor, by placing the selection of jurors in the hands of the sheriffs and prohibiting town-meetings—apart from the annual one to elect officers—without the governor's permission. A third Act authorized the transfer to England for trial of British officers charged with murder committed while in discharge of their duties. A fourth Act re-established the system of quartering troops.

The fifth Act reorganized the province of Quebec, whose government, under the Proclamation of 1763, had proved defective in several respects. The legal institutions of the new colony were not well adapted to the mixed French and British inhabitants, and the religious situation needed definition. The Quebec Act altered the government of the province by the creation of an appointive council, authorized the Catholic Church to collect tithes, and allow the French to substitute an oath of allegiance for the oath of {55} supremacy. Moreover, French civil law was permitted to exist. At the same time the boundaries of the province were extended into the region west of the mountains so as to include the lands north of the Ohio River.

With the passage of these Acts, the original causes for antagonism were superseded. The commissioners of customs might have enforced the Navigation Acts indefinitely; the objectionable Tea Act might have stood permanently on the statute-book; but, without a more tangible grievance, it is not easy to conceive of the colonists actually beginning a revolution. The time had now come when a more serious issue was raised than the right of Parliament to collect a revenue by a tariff in the colonies. If Parliament was to be allowed to crush the prosperity of a colonial seaport, to centralize a hitherto democratic government created by a royal charter, and to remove royal officers from the scope of colonial juries, it was clear that the end of all the powers and privileges wrung from royal or proprietary governors by generations of struggle was at hand. Yet the striking feature in this punitive legislation was that the North Ministry expected it to meet no resistance, although its execution, so far as the government of Massachusetts was concerned, rested on the consent of the colonists. There was, under the British {56} system, no administrative body capable of carrying out these laws, no military force except the few regiments in Boston, and no naval force beyond a few frigates and cruisers. The mere passage of the laws, according to North and to Lord Mansfield, was sufficient to bring submission.

Nothing more clearly shows the profound ignorance of the Tory Ministry than this expectation, for it was instantly disappointed. At the news of the Acts, the response from America was unanimous. Already the colonial Whigs were well organized in committees of correspondence, and now they acted not merely in Massachusetts but in every colony. The town of Boston refused to vote compensation, and was immediately closed under the terms of the Port Act. Expressions of sympathy and gifts of provisions came pouring into the doomed community; while public meetings, legislatures, political leaders and clergymen, in chorus denounced the Acts as unconstitutional, cruel, and tyrannous. The Quebec Act, extending the Catholic religion and French law into the interior valley under despotic government, was regarded as scarcely less sinister than the Regulating Act itself.

Under the efficient organization of the leaders a Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in October, 1774, to make united {57} protest. This body, comprising without exception the most influential men in the colonies, presented a clear contrast to Parliament in that every man was the representative of a community of freemen, self-governing and equal before the law. The leaders did not regard themselves in any sense as revolutionaries. They were simply delegates from the separate colonies, met to confer on their common dangers. Their action consisted in the preparation of a petition to the King, addresses to the people of England, the people of Quebec, and the people of the colonies, but not to Parliament, since they denied its right to pass any such laws as those under complaint. The Congress further drew up a declaration of rights which stated sharply the colonial claims, namely, that Parliament had no right to legislate for the internal affairs of the separate colonies. It also adopted a plan for putting commercial pressure on England by forming an Association whose members pledged themselves to consume no English products, and organize committees in every colony to enforce this boycott. The leaders in the body were destined to long careers of public prominence—such men as George Washington, Lee, and Patrick Henry of Virginia, Rutledge of South Carolina, Dickinson of Pennsylvania, Jay of New York, Samuel and John Adams of {58} Massachusetts. They differed considerably in their temper, the Massachusetts men being far more ready for drastic words and deeds than the others; but they held together admirably. If such protests as theirs could not win a hearing in England, it was hardly conceivable that any could.

Meanwhile the situation gave signs of being more explosive in reality than the respectful words of the Congress implied. In Massachusetts, the town of Boston showed no sign of submitting, and endured distress and actual starvation, although much cheered by gifts of food from all parts of the continent. The new government under the Regulating Act proved impossible to put into operation, for the popular detestation was visited in such insulting and menacing forms that the new councillors and judges dared not serve. More radical action followed. When Gage, having caused the election of a legislature, prorogued it before it had assembled, the members none the less gathered. Declaring that the Regulating Act was invalid, they elected a council, appointed a committee of safety, and named a receiver of taxes. On February 1, 1775, a second Provincial Congress was chosen by the towns, which had not even a nominal sanction by the governor. The colony was, in fact, in peaceful revolution, for Gage found himself unable to collect {59} taxes or to make his authority respected as governor beyond the range of his bayonets. Equally significant was it that in several other colonies, where the governors failed to call the legislatures, provincial congresses or conventions were spontaneously elected to supervise the situation and choose delegates to the Continental Congress.

So deep was the popular anger in Massachusetts Bay that the collection of arms and powder and the organization of militia were rapidly begun. Clearly, the Massachusetts leaders were preparing to persist to the verge of civil war. But by this time there began to be felt in the colonies a countercurrent of protest. As the situation grew darker, and men talked openly of possible separation unless the intolerable wrongs were redressed, all those whose interests or whose loyalty revolted at the idea of civil war became alarmed at the danger. Soon men of such minds began to print pamphlets, according to the fashion of the time, and to attempt to prevent the radicals from pushing the colonies into seditious courses. But the position of these conservatives was exceedingly difficult, for they were obliged to apologize for the home country at a time when every act on the part of that country indicated a complete indifference to colonial prejudices. Their arguments against {60} revolution or independence left, after all, no alternative except submission. Denounced as Tories by the hotter radicals, they found themselves at once more and more alarmed by the daring actions of the Whigs, and more detested by the excited people of their communities.

The action of the British government after these events showed no comprehension of the critical situation into which they were rushing. George III and North secured in the election of 1774 a triumphant majority of the Commons, and felt themselves beyond reach of danger at home. The arguments of the colonists, the protests of the Continental Congress, fell upon indifferent ears. Although Burke and Chatham exerted themselves with astonishing eloquence in the session of Parliament which began in November 1774, the Whig motions for conciliation were voted down by the full Ministerial majority. Petitions from merchants, who felt the pressure of the Non-importation Association, were shelved. So far as the policy of the Ministry may be described, it consisted of legislation to increase the punishment of Massachusetts Bay and extend it to other colonies, and to offer a conditional exemption from Parliamentary taxation. Both houses of Parliament declared Massachusetts Bay to be in rebellion, and voted to {61} crush all resistance. An Act was passed on March 30, to restrain the trade of New England, shutting off all colonial vessels from the fisheries, and forbidding them to trade with any country but England or Ireland. By a second Act, in April, this restriction was extended to all the colonies except New York and Georgia. The only purpose of this Act was punitive. Every step was fought by the Whig opposition, now thoroughly committed to the cause of the colonists, but their arguments had the inherent weakness of offering only a surrender to the colonists' position which the parliamentary majority was in no mood to consider. In fact it was only with great difficulty and after a stormy scene that North induced his party to vote a so-called conciliatory proposition offering to abstain from taxing any colony which should make such a fixed provision for civil and judicial officers as would satisfy Parliament.

It was only a few days after the passage of the restraining Acts by Parliament that the long-threatened civil war actually broke out in Massachusetts. General Gage, aware of the steady gathering of powder and war material by the revolutionary committee of safety, finally came to the conclusion that his position required him to break up these threatening bases of supplies. On April 19, 1775, he sent out a force of 800 men to {62} Lexington and Concord—towns a few miles from Boston—with orders to seize or destroy provisions and arms. They accomplished their purpose, after dispersing with musketry a squad of farmers at Lexington, but were hunted back to Boston by many times their number of excited "minute men," who from behind fences and at every crossroad harassed their retreat. A reinforcement of 1500 men enabled the raiding party to escape, but they lost over 800 men, and inflicted a total loss of only 90 in their flight.

Thus began the American Revolution, for the news of this day of bloody skirmishing, as it spread, started into flame the excitement of the colonial Whigs. From the other New England colonies men sprang to arms, and companies marched to Boston, where they remained in rude blockade outside the town, unprovided with artillery or military organization, but unwilling to return to their homes. From the hill-towns, a band of men surprised Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain, taking the cannon for use around Boston. In every other colony militia were organized, officers chosen and arms collected, and almost everywhere, except in Quaker Pennsylvania and in proprietary Maryland, the governors and royal officials fled to the seacoast to take refuge in royal ships of war, or resigned their positions at the command {63} of crowds of armed "minute men." Conventions and congresses, summoned by committees of safety, were elected by the Whigs and assumed control of the colonies, following the example of Massachusetts. The British colonial government, in short, crumbled to nothing in the spring of 1775. Only Gage's force of a few regiments, shut up in Boston, and a few naval vessels, represented the authority of England in America.

Again there met a Continental Congress at Philadelphia, whose duty it was to unify colonial action and to give the colonial answer to the late parliamentary acts. Once more the ablest men of the colonies were present, now gravely perturbed over the situation, and divided into two camps. On the one hand, most of the New Englanders, led by Samuel Adams and John Adams, his cousin, felt that the time for parley was at an end, that nothing was to be hoped for from the North Ministry, and that the only reasonable step was to declare independence. Others still hoped that George III would realize the extent of the crisis and be moved to concessions, while yet others, who hoped little, thought that one more effort should be made to avoid revolution. But none dreamed of surrender. Of the growing number of Americans who recoiled in horror from {64} the possibility of independence, and were beginning to show their dread in every way, not one was in this body. It represented only the radicals in the several colonies.

The Congress has been charged with inconsistency, for some of its measures were impelled by the most radical members, others by the conservatives. On the one hand, it declined to adopt a form of federation suggested by Franklin, and authorized Dickinson to draw up a final, respectful, almost obsequious petition to the King to avoid war—a document called the "Olive Branch"; but, on the other hand, it appointed Washington to command the troops near Boston as a Continental commander, adopted a report censuring the conciliatory proposition in bold language, and issued an address justifying with extravagant rhetoric the taking up of arms. Still more daring, it went so far as to arrange to pay the so-called "Continental army" by means of bills of credit, redeemable by the united colonies. Later, in 1775, it appointed a secret committee to correspond with friends abroad, and undertook extensive measures for raising troops and accumulating military stores. To the revolted colonies, who found themselves with no legal authorities, it gave the advice to form such governments as would secure peace and good order during the continuance {65} of the existing dispute, a step which was promptly taken by several.

Fighting meanwhile went on. General Gage, on June 17, undertook to drive from Charlestown, across the harbour from Boston, a body of about 1,500 provincial troops who had intrenched themselves on Breed's Hill. In all, about 3,000 British were brought to the attack, while gunboats raked the peninsula between Charlestown and the mainland, hindering the arrival of reinforcements. With true British contempt for their adversaries, the lines of red-uniformed troops marched under the hot sun up the hill, to be met with a merciless fire at short range from the rifles, muskets, and fowling pieces of the defenders. Two frontal attacks were thus repelled with murderous slaughter; but a third attack, delivered over the same ground, was pushed home, and the defenders were driven from their redoubt. Never was a victory more handsomely won or more dearly bought. The assailants lost not less than 1,000 out of 3,000 engaged, including 92 officers. The Americans lost only 450, but that was almost as large a proportion. It was obvious to any intelligent officer that the Americans might have been cut off from behind and compelled to surrender without being attacked; but Gage and his subordinates were anxious to teach the rebels a lesson. The {66} result of this action, known in history as "Bunker Hill," was to render him and nearly all the officers who served against Americans unwilling ever again to storm intrenchments. They discovered that, as Putnam, who commanded part of the forces, observed, the militia would fight well if their legs were covered. They were later to discover the converse, that with no protection militia were almost useless.

From this time the British force remained quietly in Boston, fed and supplied from England at immense cost, and making no effort to attack the miscellaneous levies which General Washington undertook to form into an army during the summer and autumn. Nothing but the inaction of the British made it possible for Washington's command to remain, for they lacked powder, bayonets, horses and, most serious of all, they lacked all military conceptions. The elementary idea of obedience was inconceivable to them. Washington's irritation over the perfectly unconcerned democracy of the New Englanders was extreme; but he showed a wonderful patience and tenacity, and by sheer persistence began to create something like a military organization. Yet, even after months of drill and work the army remained little more than an armed mob. At length, in March, 1776, Washington managed to {67} place a force on Dorchester heights, which commanded the harbour from the south. At first Gage had some idea of attacking, but storms intervened; and finally, without another blow, he evacuated the city and sailed with all his force to Halifax. So ended a siege which ought never to have lasted a month had the British generals been seriously minded to break it up.

Other military events consisted of a few skirmishes in Virginia and North Carolina, where the governors managed to raise small forces of loyalists, who were thoroughly defeated by the Whig militia, and of a gallant but hopeless attempt by the rebels to capture Canada. After some futile efforts on the part of Congress to induce the French to revolt, two bodies of men, in the autumn of 1775, made their way across the border. One, entering Canada by way of Lake Champlain, occupied Montreal, and then advanced against Quebec, where it was joined by the other, which, with great hardships, had penetrated through the wilderness of northern Maine. The commanders, Richard Montgomery, Benedict Arnold, and Daniel Morgan of Virginia, were men of daring, but their force, numbering not more than 1,000, was inadequate; and, after the failure of an effort to carry the place by surprise on the night of December 31—in which Montgomery was {68} killed and Morgan captured—they were unable to do more than maintain a blockade outside the fortress.

The action of the North Ministry during these months showed no deviation from its policy of enforcing submission. The Olive Branch petition was refused a reception, and a proclamation was issued declaring the colonies in rebellion and warning all subjects against traitorous correspondence. When Parliament met in November, 1775, the opposition, led as usual by Burke, made one more effort to avoid civil war; but the Ministerial party rejected all proposals for conciliation, and devoted itself to preparing to crush the rebellion. On December 22, an Act became law which, if enforced, would have been a sentence of death to all colonial economic life. It superseded the Boston Port Act and the restraining Acts, absolutely prohibited all commerce with the revolted colonies, and authorized the impressment into the navy of all seamen found on vessels captured under the Act.

Military and naval preparations were slow and costly. The Admiralty and War Office, unprepared for a general war, had insufficient troops and sailors, and had to collect or create supplies and equipment. The Earl of Sandwich showed activity but slight capacity as First Lord of the Admiralty. Viscount {69} Barrington had been Secretary at War under Pitt during the French war, but he lacked force and influence. Hence, although Parliament voted 50,000 troops, there was confusion and delay. To secure a prompt supply of men, the Ministry took the step of hiring German mercenaries from the lesser Rhine princes—Hesse, Waldeck, and others,—at a rate per head with a fixed sum for deaths. This practice was customary in wars when England was obliged to protect Hanover from the French; but to use the same method against their own kindred in America was looked upon with aversion by many English, and aroused ungovernable indignation in all Americans. It seemed to show a callousness toward all ties of blood and speech which rendered any hope of reconciliation futile. The war was not, in fact, popular in England. The task of conquering rebels was not relished by many, and officers and noblemen of Whig connections in some cases resigned their commissions rather than serve. The parliamentary opposition denounced the war with fiery zeal as an iniquity and a scandal. Nevertheless, the general opinion in England supported the Ministry in its determination to assert the national strength; for the colonial behaviour seemed to the average Englishman as nothing more or less than impudent sedition, to yield to which would be disgrace.


To the Americans, the British action in 1776 showed that the only alternatives were submission or fighting; and, if the latter must be chosen, then it was the feeling of a growing number that independence was the only outcome. There now went on a contest between conservatives, including on one side those who opposed all civil war, those who were willing to fight to defend rights but who were unwilling to abandon hopes of forcing England to surrender its claims, and those whose businesses and connections were closely interwoven with the mother country and all the radicals on the other. Unfortunately for the conservatives they had only fear, or sentiment, for arguments, since the North Ministry gave them nothing to urge upon doubtful men. Still more unfortunately, they were, as a rule, outside the revolutionary organizations of conventions and committees, and were themselves without means of co-operating.

In the excitement and tension of the time, the ruder and rougher classes tended to regard all reluctance to join in the revolution as equivalent to upholding the North policy, and to attack as Tories all who did not heartily support the revolutionary cause. Violence and intimidation rapidly made themselves felt. Loyalists were threatened, forced by mobs to sign the Association; their houses {71} were defiled, their movements watched. Then [Transcriber's note: Their?] arms were taken from them, and if they showed anger or temper they were occasionally whipped or even tarred and feathered. In this way a determined minority backed by the poorer and rougher classes, overrode all opposition and swelled a rising cry for independence.

The Congress was slow, for it felt the need of unanimity; and such colonies as New York and Pennsylvania were controlled by moderates. But at length, in June, 1776, spurred on by the Virginia delegates and by the tireless urgings of the Massachusetts leaders, the body acted. Already some of the colonies had adopted constitutions whose language indicated their independence. Now the Continental Congress, after a final debate, adopted a Declaration of Independence, drafted by Jefferson of Virginia and supported by the eloquence of John Adams and the influence of Franklin. Basing their position on the doctrines of the natural right of men to exercise full self-government and to change their form of government when it became oppressive, the colonies, in this famous document, imitated the English Declaration of Rights of 1689 in drawing up a bill of indictment against George III's government. In this can be discovered every cause of resentment and every variety of {72} complaint which the thirteen colonies were ready to put forward. Practically all were political. There were allusions in plenty to the wrangles between governors and assemblies, denunciations of the parliamentary taxes and the coercing Acts, but no reference to the Acts of Trade. To the end, the colonists, even in the act of declaring independence, found their grievances in the field of government and not in economic regulation. What they wanted was the unrestricted power to legislate for themselves and to tax or refrain from taxing themselves. When these powers were diminished, their whole political ideal was ruined, and they preferred independence to what they considered servitude. Such ideas were beyond the comprehension of most Englishmen, to whom the whole thing was plain disloyalty, however cloaked in specious words and glittering generalities.

It has been said that the rupture was due to a spirit of independence in America which, in spite of all disclaimers, was determined to be entirely free from the mother country. Such was the assertion of the Tories and officials of the time, and the same idea is not infrequently repeated at the present day. But the truth is that the colonists would have been contented to remain indefinitely in union with England, subjects of the British {73} crown, sharers of the British commercial empire, provided they could have been sure of complete local self-government. The independence they demanded was far less than that now enjoyed by the great colonial unions of Canada, Australia, and South Africa. It may be assumed, of course, that unless Parliament exercised complete authority over internal as well as external matters—to employ the then customary distinction—there was no real imperial bond. Such was the position unanimously taken by the North Ministry and the Tories in 1776. But in view of the subsequent history of the English colonies it seems hardly deniable that some relationship similar to the existing colonial one might have been perpetuated had the Whig policy advocated by Burke been adopted, and the right of Parliament "to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever" been allowed to drop, in practice. The obstinate localism of the colonies was such that not until a generation after the Revolution did a genuine American national sentiment appear. The colonies were driven to act together in 1774-1776, but not to fuse, by a danger not to national but to local independence. This fact indicates how sharply defined was the field which the Americans insisted on having free from parliamentary invasion. Had it been possible for England {74} to recognize this fact, there would have been no revolution.

It is, of course, obvious that the traditional American view of the Revolution as caused by tyranny and oppression is symbolical, if not fictitious. The British government, in all its measures, from 1763 to 1774, was moderate, hesitating, and at worst irritating. Its action threatened to destroy the practical independence of the colonial assemblies; but the danger was political. Even the five "intolerable Acts" inflicted hardship on the town of Boston alone. It was not until the year 1775, when Parliament imposed severe commercial restrictions, that anything resembling actual oppression began; but by that time the colonies were in open revolt.

This fact only emphasizes, as Burke pointed out, the criminal folly of the North Ministry in allowing the situation to become dangerous. It was the misfortune of the British people in the eighteenth century that, in the critical years after 1767, George III and his Ministers were unable to conceive of any value in colonies which were not in the full sense dependencies, and were narrowly limited by the economic ideas of their time and the social conventions of their class. Since the colonies had developed, unchecked, their own political life under British government, it was not their duty humbly to {75} surrender all that had come to be identical with liberty in their eyes. It was the duty of British statesmen to recognize the situation and deal with it. This they failed to do, and the result was revolution.

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