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last treatises adapted to the publick sentiments and spirit of the times, at the commencement of the American Revolution, that new editions of them were printed in Boston in the year 1773.
We will pass over some instances of minor importance, and come next to the affair of lord Loudoun. In 1757 he demanded of the general court of Massachusetts to quarter his troops among the people. They refused to comply, on the plea that the act of parliament relative to this subject did not extend to the colonies; and although he threatened to compel them by force, yet they resolutely withstood his threats, and in an address to governour Pownall, they boldly declared, that the inhabitants of this colony are entitled to the natural rights of Englishmen ; that by the royal charter, the powers and privileges of civil government are granted to them; that the enjoyment of these rights, these powers and privileges, is their support, under all their burdens and pressures; and that this will animate and encourage them to resist to the last breath a cruel invading enemy! Journal of the House for 1757, p. 209.
We may bring, as another instance, the controversy which happened about this time, between the House and Council, relative to the passing of the treasurer's accounts. We need not go into the detail; it is sufficient for our purpose to mention a part of the reply of the House to the King's Council, namely,
That the house challenged as their special rights and privileges the sole modelling of all laws for imposing taxes on the people for the defence and support of government, and had power to inquire into and judge of the uses and occasions, for which monies were demanded and given, and to appropriate the same; and that by the British constitution those powers and privileges were hereditary to the representatives of the people.' Minot, ii.
It was about the year 1760, when the abuses practised by the custom house officers became so notorious, and so op. pressive to the merchants of Boston, that they resolved to endure them no longer, and represented their grievances in a memorial to the general court. A committee of investigation was appointed, on the report of which, the house requested the governour's assent to certain modes of process which they proposed, and by which they might recover such money as it
appeared had been illegally withheld from the treasury. The result of these proceedings gave rise to a petition from the custom house officers to the superiour court, desiring writs of assistance to be granted, according to the usage in England. The petitioners stated, that without such writs, they could not exercise their offices in such manner as his majesty's service required.' Warm debates ensued. Mr. James Otis, the memorable patriot, the profound statesman, the eloquent and learned lawyer, engaged in the cause for the inhabitants of Boston. The following extracts from his plea will show with sufficient clearness his own sentiments, as well as those of many others, who were his friends and associates. Addressing the court, he says,
'I was desired by one of the court to look into the books, and consider the question now before them concerning writs of assistance. I have accordingly considered it, and now appear, not only in obedience to your order, but likewise in behalf of the inhabitants of this town, who have presented another petition-and out of regard to the liberties of the subject. And I take this opportunity to declare, that I will to my dying day oppose with ail the powers and faculties God has given me, all such instruments of slavery on the one hand, and villany on the other, as this writ of assistance. I argue this cause with the greater pleasure, as it is in favour of British liberty, at a time when we hear the greatest monarch upon earth declaring from his throne, that he glories in the name of Briton, and that the privileges of his people are dearer to him, than the most valuable prerogatives of his crown; and as it is in opposition to a kind of power, the exercise of which, in former periods of English history, cost one king of England his head, and another his throne. Let the consequences be what they will, I am determined to proceed. The only principles of publick conduct, that are worthy of a gentleman or a man, are to sacrifice estate, ease, health, and applause, and even life, to the sacred calls of his country. These manly sentiments in private life make the good citizen; in publick life, the patriot and the hero. I do not say, that when brought to the test I shall be invincible. I pray God I may never be brought to the melancholy trial; but if ever I should, it will then he known how far I can reduce to practice the principles, which I know to be founded in truth." Minot, ii. pp. 91-94.
The whole plea is a fine specimen of eloquence, and forensick reasoning, and displays not more strongly the feelings and resolute purposes of an ardent and enlightened patriot,
than the energies of a great mind. He discovers the same sentiments throughout his admirable treatise on the Rights of the British Colonists. In this he considers the subject of taxation at large, and speaks constantly with not less firmness and decision, if with less vehemence, than Mr. Henry did the year after in Virginia. In May, 1764, the inhabitants of Boston, in their instructions to their representatives, of whom Mr. Otis was one, express themselves in the following terms.
'We cannot help expressing our surprise, that when so early notice was given by the agent, of the intentions of the ministry, to burthen us with new taxes, so little regard was had to this most interesting matter, that the court was not even called together to consult about it till the latter end of the year. There is now no room for delay;-we therefore expect that you will use your earliest endeavours in the general assembly, that such methods may be taken as will effectually prevent these proceedings against us.' Rights of the British Colonists, Append. p. 103.
This was six months before the subject was discussed in the house of burgesses in Virginia, and more than a year before Mr. Henry brought forward his resolutions. Will Mr. Wirt say, after statements such as we have made, that, previously to these resolutions, no heart seems to have been bold enough to conceive of the idea of resistance by force?" We believe, if he will carefully read the history of Massachusetts Bay during that period, he will find, that there were many hearts not only bold enough to conceive of resistance, but determined enough to enforce it, the moment the exigency of the times demanded. To mention the Otises, the Adamses, the Quincys, the Hancocks of that time, is enumerating but a small portion of those, who knew the tenure, the extent and value of their rights, and who were resolved to support them at the hazard of any sacrifice. Instead of the idea of resistance originating in Virginia, it does not appear, that the house of burgesses even remonstrated till several months after the example had been set by some of the other states,—and not until the governments of the colonies had been solicited severally by the legislature of Massachusetts to join with them in certain measures to prevent a stamp act, or any other imposition and taxes upon this and the other American provinces.' (Journal of the House for 1764.) Instructions to the same effect were
also voted by the legislature on the same day, June 13th, to be sent to their agent in London. You are to remonstrate
against these measures,' say they, and to prevent the imposition of any further duties or taxes on these colonies.' The first memorial and remonstrance of the house of burgesses, bear date the 18th of December following. New York had already remonstrated, and in a petition conceived in such strong terms,' says Gordon, (i. 156,) and deemed so inflammatory, that their agent could not prevail on any one member of the house to present it.'
‹ The assemblies of Massachusetts and New York were alarmed-they came to some resolutions, which, with a petition from each, to the house of commons, were transmitted to the board of trade in England. They were laid before the privy council on the 11th of December, 1764. The Council advised the king to lay them before the parliament,-they were never laid before parliament-they were suppressed.' Prior Documents, p. 5.
We have been led into these details by a wish to correct some erroneous impressions, which we think Mr. Wirt's views calculated to produce. We see no reason for assenting to his remark, that the revolution may truly be said to have commenced with Mr. Henry's resolutions; and much less, that the house of burgesses in Virginia led the opposition to the stamp act.' We should the more readily assent to propositions like these, were it not for the fact, that those resolutions produced no apparent effect in Virginia, or, as far as we can learn, in the other colonies. The history of Virginia contains no records of any measures of resistance, or any consideration of the subject during the five years following; and it would even seem, that the resolutions themselves were passed contrary to the general sentiments of the people. There was a majority in the house of one only in their favour, and on reconsideration the next day, the fifth resolution, and the only one, which was clothed in terms more expressive, than what had already appeared in the remonstrances of some of the states, was erased from the books by a vote of the house. And even in this resolution, we discover nothing which indicates more firmness, or a more decided spirit of resistance, than in some of the resolves of the Massachusetts Legislature, which we have selected. It is as follows; • Resolved, therefore, That the general assembly of this colony have the sole right and power to lay taxes and imposi
tions upon the inhabitants of this colony; and that every attempt to vest such power in any person or persons whatsoever, other than the general assembly aforesaid, has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.'
Mr. Wirt would give us all along to understand, that Virginia was foremost in bringing about, as well as in conducting the revolutionary contest. This we conceive to be a mistake; and it is this mistake, which we have been endeavouring to correct; not because we are disposed to weaken the claims of one state, and strengthen those of another, in regard to the agency they had in originating and prosecuting the noble designs, which terminated in our independence; we are only desirous, that the truth should be known, as nearly as possible, to such of his readers as are not acquainted with the subject in its various relations. That the people of Massachusetts were conspicuous, every one will acknowledge; but that they took the lead we are not ambitious to prove. Virginia was in the very first ranks; her councils were guided by patriotism and talents, and she was as bold to act, as prompt to decide. The point of precedence between any of the states is of very little importance, since the great object could never have been obtained, without the united efforts of them all ;-it is a matter of historical fact, on which every one can judge. We may form some notion, perhaps, of the opinion in England at the time, by the following extract from a ministerial publication of some note, printed in London, in the year 1769, and entitled A Short View of the History of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay.
In all the late American disturbances, and in every attempt against the authority of the British government, the people of Massachusetts Bay have taken the lead. In their publick proceedings, as well as in their private writings, they have been constantly holding out to us their first charter rights and the original terms of their colonization. Every new move towards independence has been theirs; and in every fresh mode of resistance against the laws, they have first set the example.' p. 1.
In connexion with the subject, which we have been examining, we must stop here also to correct another errour, into which Mr. Wirt has fallen. It is well known, that the committees of correspondence, established at the commencement of our revolutionary difficulties, were a most powerful engine Vol. VI. No. 3.