THE HISTORY
OF THE
UNITED STATES

FROM 1492 TO 1920

BY JULIAN HAWTHORNE

P F COLLIER & SONS COMPANY, NEW YORK 1920

Search Historical Newspaper Collections

-----------------------------------------------------------


CHAPTER  XII
The Plains of Abraham and the Stamp Act (Part 2)

 

 As the last of the army formed upon the ragged field, dawn' broke upon the east, and soon the early sunshine sparkled on their weapons and glowed along the ranks of English red. Meanwhile Montcalm had been apprised; his first instinct of incredulity had been swept away by, the inevitable truth, and he manned himself for the struggle. Often had he .conquered against odds; bat now his spirit must bow before a spirit stronger than his, as Antony's before Augustus. And what had he to oppose against the seasoned veterans of the English army, thrice armed in the consciousness of their unparalleled achievement? Five weak and astounded battalions and a horde of inchoate peasants. But Montcalm did not falter; by ten he had taken up his position, and by eleven, -after some ineffectual cannonading, to allow time for the arrival of reenforcements which came not, be led the charge. The attack was disordered by the uneven ground, the fences, and the ravines; and it was broken by the granite front of the English (three-fourths of them Americana) and their long-reserved and withering fire. The undisciplined Canadians flinched from that certain death; and Wolfe, advancing on them with his grenadiers, saw them melt away before the cold steel could reach them. The two leaders faced each other, both equally undaunted and alert; it was like a duel between them; no opening was missed, no chance neglected. The smoke hung in the still air of morning; the long lines of men swayed and undulated beneath it obscurely, and the roar of musketry dinned terribly in the air, here slackening for a moment, there breaking forth in volleying thunders; and men were dropping everywhere; there were shoutings from the captains, the fierce crash of cheers, yells of triumph or. agony, and the faint groans of the wounded unto death.- -Wolfe was hit, but he did not heed it; Montcalm has received a musket ball, but he cannot yet die. The English battle does not yield; it advances, the light of victory is upon it. Backward stagger the French; Montcalm strives to check the fatal movement, but the flying death has torn its way through his body, and he can no more. Wolfe, even as the day was won, got his death wound in the breast, but "Support me-don't let my brave fellows see me drop," he gasped out. His thoughts were with his army; let the retreat of the enemy be cut off; and he died with a happy will and with God's name on his lips. Montcalm lingered, suggesting means by which to retrieve the day; but the power of France died with him. Quebec was lost and won; and human history was turned into a new channel, and no longer flowing through the caverns of medieval error, rolled its current toward the sunlight of liberty and progress. "The more a man is versed in business, the more he finds the hand of Providence everywhere," was the reply of William Pitt when Parliament congratulated him on the victory. He had wrought his plans with wisdom and zeal; but "except the Lord build the city, they labor in .vain who build it." There have been great statesmen and brave soldiers before Pitt and Wolfe and since, but there could be only one fall of Quebec with all which that implied.

The following spring and summer were overshadowed by an unrighteous war against the Cherokees, precipitated by the royalist Governor of Virginia, Lyttleton. An attempt by the French under Levi to recapture Quebec failed, in spite of the folly of the English commander, Murray; Pitt had foreseen the effort and destroyed it with an English fleet. Amherst, in his own tortoiselike way, advanced and took possession of Montreal; and by permission of -the Indian, Pontiac, who regarded himself as lord of the country, the English flag' was carried to the outposts. Canada had surrendered; in the terms imposed, property and the religious faith of the people were respected; but nothing was promised them in the way of civil liberty. In discussing the European peace that was now looked for, question was raised whether to restore Canada or the West Indian island of Guadaloupe to France. Some, who feared that the retention of Canada would too much incline the colonies to independence, favored its return. But Franklin said that Canada would be a source of strength to England. The expense of defending that vast frontier would be saved; the rapidly increasing population would absorb English manufactures without limit, and their necessary devotion to farming would diminish their competition as manufacturers. He pointed out that their differences in governments and mutual jealousies made their united action against England unthinkable, "unless you grossly abuse them" "Very true - that, I see, will happen," 'returned the English lawyer Pratt, afterward Lord Camden, the Attorney General. But Pitt would not listen to Canada's being given up; he was. for England, not for any English clique. On the other hand, one of those cliques was preparing to carry out the long-meditated taxation of the colonies; and the sudden death of George 11, bringing his son to the throne, favored their purpose; for the third George had character and energy, and not a little intelligence for a king; and he was soon seen to intend the reestablishment of the royal prerogative in all its integrity. As a preliminary step to this end he accepted Pitt's resignation in October, 1761.

Much to the displeasure of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, already Judge of Probate, was by Governor Bernard appointed to the Chief Justiceship of the colony; the royalist direction of his sympathies was known. In February, 1761, he heard argument in court as to whether revenue officers had power to call in executive assistance to enforce the acts of trade. The Crown lawyer argued that to refuse it was to deny the sovereignty of the English Parliament in the colonies. Then James Otis arose and made a protest which tingled through the whole colony, and was the first direct blow aimed against English domination. Power such as was asked for, be said, had already cost one king of England his head and another his throne. Writs of assistance were open to intolerable abuse; were the instrument of arbitrary power and destructive of the fundamental principles of law. Reason and the Constitution were against them. "No act of Parliament can establish such a writ: an act of Parliament against the Constitution is void!" These words were the seed of revolution. Hutchinson was frightened, but succeeded in persuading his colleagues to postpone decision until he had written to England. The English instruction was to enforce the law, and the judges acted accordingly; but the people replied by electing Otis to the Assembly; and Hutchinson was more distrusted than ever: At the same time, in Virginia, Richard Henry Lee denounced the slave trade; the Legislature indorsed his plea, but England denied it. South Carolina was alienated by the same decree and also-by an unpopular war against the Cherokees. In New York the appointment of a judge "during the King's pleasure" roused the Assembly; but the result of their remonstrance was that all colonial governors were instructed from England to grant no judicial commissions but during the King's pleasure. This was to make the bench the instrument of the prerogative. A judge acted on questions of property without a jury on information furnished by Crown officers, and derived emoluments from his own award of forfeitures; and the governor would favor large seizures because he got one-third of the spoils. All the assemblies could do for the present was to reduce salaries; but that did not make the offenders any less avaricious. Moreover, the King began the practice of paying them in spite of the assemblies, and reproved the latter for "not being animated by a sense of their duty to their King and country."

James Otis continued to be the voice of the colonies: "Kings were made for the good of the- people, not the people for them. By the laws of God and nature, government must not raise taxes on the property of the people without the consent of the people. To tax without the Assembly's consent was the same in principle as for the King and the House of Lords to usurp legislative authority in England." For the utterance of these sentiments he was honored by the hearty support of the people, and still more by the denunciations of men of the Hutchinson sort. The ministers were not silent on the popular side. "Day Heaven blast the designs, though not the soul," said Mayhew with Christian discrimination, "of whoever he be among us who shall have the hardiness to attach the people's rights!" King George's answer, as soon as he bad concluded the peace with France and Spain in 1763, was to take measures to terrorize the colonists by sending out an army, of twenty battalions to be kept permanently in America, the expenses of which-the colonists were to pay. But by enforcing the acts of trade, England had now made herself the enemy of the whole civilized world, and the American colonies would not be without allies in the struggle that was drawing near.

While these matters were in agitation, among the white people, the Indians in the north were discovering grievances of their own. Pontiac , an Ottawa chief, and by his personal abilities the natural leader of many tribes, was the instigator and center of the revolt. The English masters of Canada had showed themselves less congenial to the red men than the French had done; they could not understand that savages had any rights. which they were bound to respect; while Pontiac conceived that no white man could live in the wilderness without his permission: Upon this issue trouble was inevitable; and Pontiac planned a general movement of all the Indians in the north against the colonists. The success of the scheme could, of course, be only momentary; that it attained the dignity of a "war" was due to the influence and energy of the Indian general. His design was of broad scope, embracing a simultaneous attack on all the English frontier forts; a wide coalition of tribes was effected; and though their tactics were not essentially different from those heretofore employed, by savages, yet their possession of arms, their skill in their use, and their numbers, made their onslaughts formidable. On several occasions they effected their entry into the forts, by, stratagem: a tale of misery told by a squaw; a ball in a game struck toward the door of the stronghold; professedly amicable conferences suddenly becoming massacres; such were the naive yet successful ruses employed. Many lives were lost, and the border lands were laid waste and panic-stricken; but it was impossible for the Indians to hold together, and their victories hastened their undoing. No general engagement, of course, was fought, but Pontiac's authority gradually abated, and he was finally compelled to go into retirement. His Conspiracy has its picturesque side, but it is not or ganically related to our history; it was merely a fresh expression of the familiar fact that there could be no sincere friendship between the white and the red. The former could live with the latter if they would live like them; but no attempt to reverse the case could succeed. The solemnity with which the practice of signing treaties of peace with the Indians has uniformly been kept up is one of the curious features of our colonial annals, and indeed of later times. Indians will keep the peace without treaties if they are kindly used and given liberty to do as they please; but no engagement is binding on them after they deem themselves wronged. They are pleased by the formalities, the speeches, and the gifts that accompany such conferences; they like to exchange compliments and to play with belts of wampum; and it is possible that when they make their promises they think they will keep them. They can understand the advantages of trade, and will make some acrifice of (their pride or convenience to secure them. But the mind is never dominant in them; the tides of passion flood it, and their wild nature carries them away. It may be surmised that we should have had fewer Indian troubles bad * we never entered into any treaty with them. But thousands of treaties have been made and broken, sometimes by one side, sometimes by the other, but always by one of the two. And then punishments must be administered; but if punishment is for improvement it has been as ineffective as the treaties. The only rational thing to do with an Indian is to kill him; and yet it may fairly be doubted whether complete moral justification could be shown for the killing of any Indian since Columbus landed at Salvador. As for Pontiac, a keg of liquor was inducement sufficient to one of his own race to murder him five years after the failure of his revolt.

Toward the end of September Jenkinson, Secretary of the Treasury in England, presented the draft for an American stamp tax-the true authorship of which was never disclosed. This tax was the result of the argument of exclusion applied to the problem: How to raise a permanent and sufficient revenue from the colonies. Foreign and internal commerce taxes would not serve, because such commerce was forbidden by the Navigation Acts. A poll tag would be inequitable to the slaveholders. Land taxes could not be collected. Exchequer bills were against an act of Parliament. Nothing but a stamp tax remained, and all persons concerned were in favor of it, the colonists only excepted. Their opinion was that taxation without representation was an iniquity. But they did not perhaps consider that England owed a debt of seven hundred million dollars, which must be provided for somehow; and that the interests of the Empire demanded, in the opinion of those who were at its head, that the colonies be ruled with a stronger hand than heretofore. George Grenville accepted the responsibility of the act.

The King gave his consent to the employment of the entire official force of the colonies to prevent infringements of the Navigation Acts, and the army and 'navy were to assist them. There were large emoluments for seizures, and the right of search was unrestricted, afloat or ashore. In order to diminish the danger of union between the colonies, a new distribution, or alteration of boundaries, was adopted with a view to increasing their number. But the country between the Alleghenies. and the Mississippi was to be closed to colonization lest it should prove impossible to control settlers at such a distance. It proved, of course, still less possible to prevent emigration thither. But all seemed going well, and the Grenville Ministry was so firmly established that nothing seemed able to - shake it. The, fact that a young Virginia lawyer, Patrick Henry by name, had said in the course of an argument against the claim. of a clergyman for the value of some tobacco that a king who. annuls salutary laws is a tyrant and forfeits. all right to obedience; and that if ministers fail to fulfill the uses for which they were ordained, the community may justly strip them of their appointments-this circumstance probably did not come to the ears of the British Ministry; but it had its effect in Virginia. Grenville, however, was induced by the appeals of some influential Americans in London to postpone his tax for a year, so that the assemblies might have an opportunity to consent to it. By way of tempting them to do this he sought for special inducements; he revived the hemp and flax bounties; he permitted rice to be carried south of Carolina and Georgia on payment of half subsidy; and he removed the restrictions on the New England whale fishery.- He then informed Parliament of his purpose of applying the stamp tax to America, and asked if any member wished to question the right of Parliament to impose such a tax. In a full house not a single person rose to object. The King gave it his "hearty" approval. It only remained for America humbly and gratefully to accept it.

First came comments. "If taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary slaves?" asked Samuel Adams of Boston. "These duties are only the beginning of evils," said Livingston of New York. "Acts of Parliament against natural equity are void," Otis affirmed; and in a lucid and cogent analysis of the principles and ends of government he pointed out that the best good of the people could be secured only by a supreme legislative and executive ultimately in the people; but a universal congress being impracticable, representation was substituted : "but to bring the powers of all into the hands of one or some few, and to make them hereditary, is the interested work of the weak and wicked. Nothing but life and liberty are actually hereditable . . . . British colonists do not hold their liberties or their lands
by so slippery a tenure as the will of princes; the colonists are common children of the same Creator with their ]Pant Great Britain .... A time may come when Parliament shall declare every American charter void; but the natural, inherent rights of the colonists as men and citizens can never be abolished. The colonists know the blood and treasure independence would cost. They will never think of ,it till driven to it as the last fatal resort against ministerial oppression; but human nature must and will be rescued from the general slavery that has so -long triumphed over the species." The immediate practical result was that the colonists pledged themselves to use nothing of English manufacture, even to going without lamb to save wool. And even Hutchinson remarked that if England had paid as much for the support of the wars as had been voluntarily paid by the colonists, there would have been no great increase in the national debt. All this made no impression in England. The dregs of the Canadian population were a handful of disreputable Protestant ex-officers, traders, and publicans "the most immoral collection of men I ever knew," as Murray said-but judges and juries were selected from these gentry, and the Catholics were disfranchised. In New England boundaries were rearranged, and colonists had to buy new titles. New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, protested before Parliament against the taxation scheme; Philadelphia at first petitioned to be delivered from the selfishness of its proprietors even at the cost of becoming a royal colony; but later Franklin advised that they grant supplies to the Crown only when required of them "in' the usual constitutional manner." George Wythe, speaking for Virginia, remonstrated against measures "fitter for exiles driven from their country after ignominiously forfeiting its favor and protection than for the posterity of loyal Britons." Yet there were many royalist Americans who were urgent that English rule should be strengthened; and the English Board of Trade declared that the protests of the colonies showed "a most indecent disrespect to the Legislature of Great Britain." The King decreed that in all military matters in America the orders of the Commander in Chief there, and under him of the brigadiers, should be supreme; and only in the absence of these officers might the governors give the word. This became important on the occasion of the "Boston Massacre" a few years later. ' In Parliament Grenville said that he would never lend a hand toward forging chains for America, "lest in so doing I forge them for myself"; but he shuffled out of the American demand not- to be taxed without representation by declaring that Parliament was "the common council of the whole Empire," and added that America was to all intents and purposes as much represented in Parliament as many Englishmen. This assertion brought to his feet Barre the companion of Wolfe at Quebec. He denied that America was virtually represented, and said that the House was ignorant of American affairs. Charles Townshend, who posed as an infallible authority on America, replied that the last war had cost the colonies little, though they had profited much by it; and now these "American children, -planted by our care, nourished up to strength and opulence by our indulgence, and protected by our arms, grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy burden under which we lie."

Barre could not restrain his indignation. In the course of a fiery rejoinder he uttered truths that made him the most loved Englishman in America, when his words were published there. "Your oppressions planted them in America" he thundered. "They met with pleasure all hardships compared with those they suffered in their own country. They grew, by your neglect of them: as soon as you began to care for them, deputies of members of this House were sent to spy out their liberties, to misrepresent their actions, and to prey upon them; men whose behavior caused the blood of those Sons of Liberty to recoil within them: men who were often glad, by going to a foreign country, to escape being brought to the bar of justice in their own. They protected by your arms'? They have, amid their constant and laborious industry, nobly taken up arms for the defense of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood, while its interior parts yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And believe me -remember-the same spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first will accompany them still. They are as truly loyal as any subjects the King has; but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them, if ever they should be violated." But Grenville had gene too far to retreat; the case went against America by two hundred and forty-five to forty-nine; and only Beckford and Conway were on record as denying the power of Parliament to enact the tag. All petitions from the colonies were refused. "We have power to tax them, and we will tag them," said one of the ministers. In the House of Lords the bill was agreed to without debate or dissent. The King, at the time of signing the bill, was suffering from one of his periodic attacks of insanity; but the ratification was accepted as valid nevertheless. Neither Franklin nor any of the other American agents imagined the act would be forcibly resisted in America. Even Otis had said "We must submit." But they reckoned without their host., The Stamp Act was a twoedged sword; in aiming to cut down the liberties of America it severed the bonds that tied her to the mother country.

The prospect before the colonies was truly intolerable. No product of their industry could be exported save to England, none but English ships might enter their ports; no wool might be moved from one part of the country to another; no Bible might be printed anywhere; all hats must come from England; no ore might be mined or worked; duties were imposed on almost every imported article of use or luxury. No marriage, promissory note, or other transaction requiring documentary record was valid except with the Government stamp. In a word, convicts in a jail could hardly be shackled more severely than were these two millions of the most freedom-loving and intelligent people on the globe. "If this system were to prevail," remarked Thacher of Boston, 'it would extinguish the flame of liberty all over the world"

But it was not to prevail. Patrick Henry had been elected to the Legislature of Virginia. His first act was to maintain, in committee of the whole, that the colony had never given up its right to be governed by its own laws respecting taxation, and that it had been constantly recognized by England; and that any attempt to vest such power in other persons tended to destroy British as well as American freedom. In a passionate peroration he warned George III to remember the fate of other tyrants who had trampled on popular liberties.

Otis in Massachusetts suggested the novel idea of summoning a congress from all the colonies to de. liberate on the situation. In New York a ,writer declared that while there was no disposition among the colonies to break with England as long as they were permitted their full rights, yet they would be "satisfied with no less." "The Gospel promises liberty and permits resistance," said Mayhew. Finally, the dauntless and faithful Christopher Gadsden of South Carolina, after considering Massachusetts' suggestion of a union, pronounced, as head of the committee, in its favor.

In England, meanwhile, the cause of the colonies had been somewhat favored by the- willfulness of the King, who, in order to bring his court favorites into power, dismissed the Grenville ministry. There were no persons of ability in the new cabinet, and vacant feebleness was accounted better for America than resolute will to oppress. The King himself, however, never wavered in his resolve that the colonies should be taxed. On the other hand, the colonies were at this time disposed to think that the King was friendly to their liberties. But whatever misapprehensions existed on either side were soon to be finally dispelled.

In August, 1765, the names of the stamp distributers (who were to be citizens of the colonies) were published in America; and the packages of stamped paper were dispatched from England. There was an old elm tree in Boston, standing near the corner of Essex Street, opposite Boylston Market. On the morning of the 14th of August, two figures were descried by. early pedestrians hanging from the lower branches of the tree. "They were dressed in square-skirted coats and small clothes, and as their wigs hung down over their faces, they looked like real men. One was intended to represent the Earl of Bute, who was supposed to have advised the King .to tax America; the other was meant for the effigy of Andrew Oliver, a gentleman belonging to one of the most respectable families in Massachusetts, whom the King had appointed to be the distributer of stamps." It was in vain that Hutchinson ordered the removal of the effigies; the people had the matter in their own hands. In the evening a great and orderly crowd marched behind a bier bearing the. figures, gave three cheers for "Liberty, Property, and no stamps," before the State House, where the Governor and Hutchinson were in session, and thence went to the house which Oliver had intended for his stamp office, tore it down, and burned his image in the fire they kindled with it, in front of his own residence. "Death to the man who offers stamped paper to sell!" they shouted. "Beat an alarm!" quavered Hutchinson to the militia colonel. "My drummers are in the mob," was the reply; and when Hutchinson attempted to disperse the crowd, they forced him to run the gantlet, in the Indian fashion which was too familiar to New Englanders, and caught him several raps as he ran. "If Oliver had been there, he'd have been murdered," said Governor Bernard, with conviction;. "if he doesn't resign-!" But Oliver, much as he loved the perquisites of the office, loved his life more, and he resigned before the mob could threaten him. Bernard, with chattering teeth, was ensconced in the safest room in the castle. There remained Hutchinson, in his handsome house in Garden Court Street near the North Square. Late at night the mob came surging and roaring in that direction. As they turned into Garden Court Street, the sound of them was as if a wild beast had broken loose and was howling for its prey; From the window the terrified Chief Justice beheld "an immense concourse of people, rolling onward like a tempestuous flood that had swelled beyond its bounds and would sweep every thing before it. He felt, at that moment, that the wrath of the people was a thousandfold more terrible than the wrath of a king. That was a moment when an aristocrat and a loyalist might have learned how powerless are kings, nobles, and great men; when the low and humble range themselves against them. Had Hutchinson understood and remembered this lesson he need not in after years have been an exile from his native country, nor finally have laid his bones in a distant land."

The mob broke into the house, destroyed the valuable furniture, pictures, and library, and completely gutted it. The act was denounced and repudiated by the better class of patriots, like Adams and Mayhew; but it served a good purpose. The voice of the infuriated mob is sometimes the only one that tyranny can hear. One after another all the colonies refused to accept the Stamp Act, and every stamp officer was obliged to resign. Meanwhile the leaders discussed the people's rights openly. The law was to go into effect on November 1st. "Will you violate the law of Parliament?" was asked. "The Stamp Act is against Magna Charta, and Lord Coke says an act of Parliament against Magna Charta is for that reason void," was the reply. "Rulers are attorneys, agents, and trustees of the people," said Adams, "and if the trust is betrayed or wantonly trifled away, the people have a right to revoke the authority that they themselves have deputed, and to constitute abler and better agents. We have an indisputable right to demand our privileges against all the power and authority on earth." Never had there been such unanimity throughout the colonies; but in New York, General Gage, who had betrayed lack of courage under Amherst a few years before, but who was now Commander in Chief, declared he would put down disaffection with a strong hand. There were ships of war in the harbor, and the fort in the town mounted heavy guns. Major James of the artillery was intrusted with the preparations. "I'll cram the stamps down their throats with the end of my sword: if they attempt to rise I'll drive them out of town for a pack of rascals, with four, and twenty men!" It was easy to pass a Stamp Act, and to bring stamped paper into the colonies; but it would take more than Major James, and Governor Colden, and General Gage himself to make the people swallow them. The day of the "Sons of Liberty" was dawning.

Return to The Plains of Abraham and the Stamp Act Part 1  

 Return to THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES