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The Passing of the Rubicon (Part 1)


 ISSUE was now joined between America and England. They faced each other-the' great historic figure and the stripling of a century - and knew that the limit had been reached. The next move might be irrevocable.

"You must submit to the tax." "I will not submit."

Englishmen, with some few eminent exceptions, believed that England was in the right. If the word of Parliament was not law, what was? If the law it made could be disregarded, what could stand? A colony was a child: children must be kept in subjection. Colonies were planted for the benefit and extension of commerce; if they were permitted to conduct their commerce without regard to the mother country, their reason for existence was gone. The protection of a colony was expensive: why should not the protected one bear a part at least of the expense? If the mother country allowed the colony to fix the amount it should pay, what guarantee could she have that it would pay anything? Could mighty England assume toward little America the attitude of a tradesman, humbly standing at the door with a bill, asking whether it would be convenient to pay something on account? If there were to be condescension, it should not come from America. She clamored for justice; England would be just: but she must first be obeyed. England. might forgive the debt, but must insist upon acknowledgment that the debt wary due, and upon the right to collect it at pleasure. As for the plea that taxation should postulate representation, it would not bear examination. It might be true that Parliament was a theoretically representative body; but in fact it was a gathering of the men in England best qualified to govern, who were rather selected than elected. Many of the commons held their seats by favor of the nobility; the suffrage, as practiced, was a recognition that the people might have a voice in the Government of the country; but that voice was not to be a deciding one. It was exercised only by a part of the people, and even then largely under advice or influence. Many important towns and districts had no representatives. Americans were as well off as these Englishmen; on what ground could they demand to be better off? They must trust to the will of England to secure their advantage in securing her own; to her wisdom, equity, and benevolence. Why should they complain of the Navigation Acts? What more did they want, than a market?-and that England afforded. Why should they feel aggrieved at the restriction on their manufactures? England could manufacture articles better than they could, and it was necessary to the well-being of her manufacturing classes that they should be free from American competition. Did they object to the measures England took to prevent smuggling and illicit dealing? They had only themselves to blame: was it not notorious that evasions and open violations of the law had for years existed? Did they object to royal governors? What better expedient was there to keep the two countries in touch with each other-to maintain that "representation" in England which they craved?-whereas, were they to choose governors from among themselves, they would soon drift away from sympathy with and understanding of England. land. And why all this uproar about the stamp tax? What easier, more equitable way could be devised to get the financial tribute required without pressing hard on anyone? If Americans would object to that, they would object to anything; and they must either be abandoned entirely to their own devices which of course was out of the question-or they must be compelled, if they would not do it voluntarily, to accede to it. Compulsion meant force; force meant a resident English army; and that army must be supported and accommodated by those for whose regulation it was established.

Such was the attitude of men like Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, who spoke on the subject in the House of Lords. He refused to recognize any essential distinction between external and internal taxes; though,- as Pitt pointed out, the former was designed for the regulation of trade, and whatever profit arose from it was incidental; while the latter was imposed to raise revenue for the Home Government, and was, in effect, arbitrarily appropriating the property of subjects without their consent asked or obtained. Pitt disposed of the argument of virtual representation by denying it point-blank; Americans were not in the same position with those Englishmen who were not directly represented in Parliament; because the latter were inhabitants of the kingdom, and could be, and were indirectly represented in a hundred ways. But, while opposing the right of Parliament to rob America, he asserted in the strongest terms its right to govern her. "The will of Parliament, properly signified, must forever keep the colonies dependent upon the sovereign kingdom of Great Britain. If any idea of renouncing allegiance has existed, it was but a momentary frenzy. In a good cause, the force of this country can crush America to atoms. But on this ground of the Stamp Act, I am one who will lift up my hands against it. I rejoice that America has resisted. In such a cause your success would be hazardous. America, if she fell, would embrace the pillar of the state, and pull down the Constitution along with her."

The Lords passed the bill against a minority of five. In the Commons, where Burke ardently spoke in favor of the tax, the majority was even greater. "It was decided that irresponsible taxation was not a tyranny but a vested right; that Parliament held legislative power, not as a representative body, but in absolute trust: that it was not and had never been responsible to the people." This was the new Toryism, which was to create a new opposition. The debate aroused a discussion of popular rights in England itself, and the press began to advocate genuine representation. Meanwhile, it looked ill for the colonies. But a law which is only engrossed on parchment, and is not also founded in natural truth and justice, has no binding power, even though it be supported by the army and navy of England. Humanity was on the side of America, and made her small numbers and physical weakness as strong as all that is good and right in the world. All appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, there is nothing real but right. Had America fought only for herself, she would have failed.

The instances of mob violence in the colonies at this period were not to be classed with lawless outbreaks in countries which have a government of their own. The colonies were subjected to a government which they did not elect or approve; and the management of, their affairs consequently reverted inevitably and rightly to the body of the people themselves. They had no officers and no organization, but they knew what they wanted; and having in view the slowness of intercommunication, and the differences in the ideas and customs of the several colonies, the unanimity of their action in the present juncture is surprising. When their congress met in New York on the 7th of October, 1765, their debate was less as to principle than as to the manner of their declaration and enforcement. The watchword, "Join or die," had been started in September, and was taken up all over the country. Union was strength, and on union all were resolved. The mob had put a stop to the execution of the law; it now rested with the congress to settle in what way and on what grounds the repeal of the law should be demanded. Against the people and the congress were arrayed the royal governors and other officials, and the troops. The former deluged the Home Government with exhortations to be firm; the latter waited the word to act, not without misgivings; for here were two million inhabitants, a third or fourth part of whom might bear arms.

Should the congress base its liberties -on charter rights, or on natural justice and universal reason? On the latter, said Gadsden of South Carolina; and the rest acceded. "I wish," Gadsden had said, "that the charters may not ensnare us at last by drawing different colonies to act differently in this great cause. There ought to be no New England man, no New Yorker, known on the continent, but all Americans." It was a great truth to be enunciated at that time. There were statesmen less wise in this country a hundred years later. The Duke of Choiseul, premier of France, and one of the acutest ministers that ever lived, foresaw the independence of America, and even so early began to take measures having in view the attitude of France in that contingency. In the congress, Otis advocated repeal, not of the Stamp Act alone, but of all acts laying a duty on trade; and it was finally agreed to mention the latter as grievances. Trial by jury was stipulated for instead of admiralty jurisdiction; taxes should be imposed only by colonial legislatures, representation in Parliament being impracticable. One or two of the delegates feared to sign the document embodying these views and demands; whereupon Dyer of Connecticut observed that since disunion in these matters was fatal, the remaining delegates ought to sign them; and this was done, only Ruggles and Ogden, of Massachusetts and of New Jersey respectively, declining. By this act the colonies became "a bundle of sticks which could neither be bent nor broken" At the same time, Samuel Adams addressed a letter to Governor Bernard of Massachusetts. "To suppose a right in Parliament to tax subjects without their consent includes the idea of a despotic power," said he. "The Stamp Act cancels the very conditions upon which our ancestors, with toil and blood and at their sole expense, settled this coup-. try. It tends to destroy that mutual confidence and affection, as well as that equality, which ought to subsist among all his Majesty's subjects: and what is worst of all evils, if his Majesty's subjects are not to be governed according to the known and stated rules of the Constitution, their minds may in time become disaffected."

On the 1st of November, the day when the act was to go into effect, Colden, Governor of New York, "resolved to have the stamps distributed." The army and navy professed themselves ready to support him. But the population rose up in a body against it with Isaac Sears as leader. "If you fiire on us, we'll hang you," they told Colden. Torchlight processions, with the Governor's effigy burned in a bonfire composed of his own carriages, right under the guns of the fort in which he had taken refuge, followed. Colden capitulated, and even gave up the stamps into the custody of the people. Similar scenes were enacted in the other colonies. The principle of "union and liberty" became daily more deeply rooted. If England refused to repeal the act, `owe will repeal it ourselves," declared the colonists. John Adams said that the colonies were already discharged from allegiance, because they were "out of the King's protection"protection and allegiance being reciprocal. The Sons of Liberty became a recognized organization. The press printed an admonition to George III, brief but pithy: GREAT SIR, RETREAT, OR You ARE RUINED. Otis maintained that the King, by mismanaging colonial affairs, had practically abdicated, so far as they were concerned. Israel Putnam, being of an active turn, rode through Connecticut to count noses, and reported that he could raise a force of ten thousand men. Meanwhile the routine business of the country went on with but slight modification, though according to the Stamp Act nothing that was done without a stamp was good in law. But it appeared, upon experiment, that if the law was in the people it could be dispensed with on paper: And wherever you went, you found a population smilingly clad in homespun.

Would England repeal the act?. 'The House of Lords voted in favor of enforcing it, February, 1766. In the Commons, General Howard declared that if it were passed, rather than imbrue his hands in the blood of his countrymen, he would sheathe his sword in his own body. The House divided two to one against the repeal. The King said he was willing to modify, but not to repeal it. On the 13th Franklin was summoned to the bar. He showed why the colonies could not and would not pay the tax, and that, unless it were repealed, their affection for England, and the commerce depending thereon, would be lost. Would America pay a modified stamp duty? he was asked; and bravely replied,. "No: never: they will never submit to it." But could not a military force carry the act into effect? "They cannot force a man to take stamps who chooses to do without them," was the answer. He added that the colonists thought it hard that a body in which they were not represented should make a merit of giving what was not its own but theirs. He armed a difference between internal and external taxation, because the former could not be evaded, whereas articles of consumption, on which the duty formed part of the price, could be dispensed with at will. "But what if necessaries of life, should be taxed?" asked Grenville, thinking he had Franklin on the hip. But the American sage crushingly replied, "I do not know a single article imported into the colonies but what they can either do without it, or make it for themselves."

In the final debates, Pitt, called on to say whether, should total repeal be granted, in compliance with American menaces of resistance, the consequence would not be the overthrow of British authority in America, gave his voice for repeal as a right. Grenville, on the other hand, thought that America should learn that "prayers are not to be brought to Caesar through riot and sedition." The vote for repeal, and against modified enforcement, was two hundred and seventy-five to one hundred and sixtyseven. The dissenting members of the Lords signed a protest, because, should they assent to the repeal merely because it had passed the lower house, "we in effect vote ourselves useless." This suggests the Je ne vois pas la necessite of the French epigrammatist. The Lords took themselves too seriously. Meanwhile, Bow-bells were rung, Pitt was cheered, and flags flew; the news was sent to America in fast packets, and the rejoicing in the colonies was great. Prisoners-for debt were set free, there were illuminations and bonfires, and honor was paid to Pitt, Camden, Barre, and to the King, who was eating his heart with vexation at having been compelled to assent to what he called "the fatal repeal."

The British Government, while repealing the law, had yet armed its sovereign authority over the colonies. The colonies, on the other hand, were inclined to confirm their present advantage and take a step still further in advance. They would not be taxed without representation; why should they submit to any legislation whatever without representation? What right had England to enforce the Navigation Acts? The more the general situation was contemplated and discussed, the plainer to all did it appear that union was indispensable. The governors of most of the colonies were directing a treacherous attack against the charters; but bold students of the drift of things were foreseeing a time when charters might be superseded by independence. Patriots everywhere were keenly on the watch for any symptoms of a design on Parliament's part to raise a revenue from America. The presence and quartering of English soldiers in the colonies was regarded as not only a burden, but an insinuation. It was moreover a constant occasion of disturbance; for there was no love lost between the people and the soldiers. But that there was no disposition on the people's part to pick quarrels or to borrow trouble was evident from their voluntarily passing resolutions for the reimbursement of persons, like Hutchinson, who had suffered loss from the riots. If England would treat them like reasonable creatures, they were more than willing to meet her half way. It is probable that but for the royal governors, England and America might have arrived at an amicable understanding; yet, in the ultimate interests of both countries, it was better that the evil counselors of the day should prevail.

Townshend, an able, eloquent, but entirely untrustworthy man, devoted to affairs, and of insatiable though unprincipled ambition, proposed in Parliament to formulate a plan to derive a permanent revenue from America. This Parliament has been described by historians and is convicted by its record as the most corrupt, profligate and unscrupulous in English annals. William Pitt, who had accepted the title of Lord Chatham, and entered the House of Lords, was nominally the leader, but his health and failing faculties left him no real power. Shelburne, Secretary of State, was moderate and liberal, but no match for Townshend's brilliancy. The latter's proposal was to suspend the Legislature of New York, as a punishment for the insubordination of the colony and a warning to others; to support a resident army, and to pay salaries to governors, judges, and other Crown officers out of the revenue from America; to establish commissioners of the customs in the country; to legalize general writs of assistance; to permit no native-born American to hold office under the Crown; and to, make the revenue derivable from specified taxes on imports. The tax on tea was among those particularly mentioned. This was the scheme which was to be substituted for the repealed stamp tax; the colonies had objected to that as internal; this was external, and, though Townshend had refused to admit any difference between the two, he now employed it as a means of bringing the colonies to terms. The measure was received with acclaim by Parliament, though it was. contrary to the real sentiment of the English nation. The King was charmed with it. Townshend died soon after it was passed, at the age of forty-one; and the King called on Lord North to take his place; a man of infirm will, but able, wellinformed and clear-minded, with a settled predisposition against the cause of the people. He was. as good an enemy of America as Grenville himself, though a less ill-natured one.

But, viewing this period broadly, it is manifest that the finest brains and best hearts, both in England and America, were friends to the cause of liberty. America, certainly, at this critical epoch in her career, produced a remarkable band of statesmen and patriots, perfectly fitted to the parts they had to play. The two Adamses, Gadsden, Franklin, Otis, Patrick Henry, Livingstone of New York, John Hancock, the wealthy and splendid Boston merchant, Haw ley of Connecticut, and Washington, meditating upon the liberties of his country in the retirement of Mount Vernon, and unconsciously preparing himself to lead her armies through the Revolution - there has never been a company of better men active at one time in any country. Just at this juncture, too, there arose in Delaware a prophet by the name of John Dickinson, who wrote under the title of The Farmer, and who formulated an argument against the new revenue law which caught the attention of all the colonies. England, he pointed out, prohibits American manufactures; she now lays duties on importations, for the purpose of revenue only. Americans were taking steps to.establish a league to abstain from purchasing any articles brought from England, intending thus to defeat the operation of the act without breaking the law. This might answer in the case of luxuries, or of things which could be made at home. But what if England were to meet this move by laying a duty on some necessary of life, and then forbid Americans to manufacture it at home? Obviously, they would then be constrained to buy it, paying the duty, and thus surrendering their freedom. From this point of view it would not be enough to evade the tax; it must be repealed, or resisted; and resistance meant war.

Unless, however, some action of an official character were taken, binding the colonies to cooperation, it was evident that the law would gradually go into effect. The Massachusetts Assembly, early in 1768, sent to its London agent a letter, composed by Samuel Adams, embodying their formal protest to the articles of the revenue act and its corollaries. At the same time, they sent copies of the statement to the other colonial assemblies in the country, accompanied with the suggestion that all unite in discontinuing the use of British imported manufactures and other articles. The Crown officers, for their part, renewed their appeal to England for naval and military forces to compel obedience and secure order.

The King and the Government inclined to think that force was the remedy in this case. It was in vain that the more magnanimous called attention to the fact that an army and navy could not compel a man to buy a black broadcloth coat, if he liked a homespun one better. Inflammatory reports from America represented it as being practically in a state of insurrection. A Boston newspaper, which had published a severe arraignment of Governor Bernard, was tried for libel, and the jury, though informed by Hutchinson that if they did not convict of high treason they "might depend on being damned," brought in a verdict of acquittal. The Adams letter was laid before the English ministry and pronounced to be "of a most dangerous and factious tendency," and an injunction was dispatched to the several colonial governors to bid their assemblies to treat it with contempt, and if they declined, to dissolve them. Gage was ordered to enforce tranquillity. But the colonial resistance had thus far been passive only. The assemblies now declared that they had exclusive right to tax the people; Virginia not only agreed to the Adams letter, but indited one even more uncompromising; Pennsylvania and New York fell into line. A Boston committee presented an address to Bernard asking him to mediate between the people and England; he promised to do so, but at the same time sent out secret requests to have regiments sent to Boston. Divining his duplicity, John Adams, at the next town meeting, formulated the people's resolve to vindicate their rights "at the utmost hazard of their lives and fortunes," declaring that whosoever should solicit the importation of troops was "an enemy to this town and province." The determination not to rescind the principles stated in the Samuel Adams letter of January was unanimous. Lord Mansfield thereupon declared that the Americans must be reduced to entire obedience before their alleged; grievances could be considered. Camden confessed that he did not know what to do; the law must be executed: but how? "If any province is to be chastised, it should be Boston." Finally, two regiments and a squadron were ordered to Boston from Halifax. Samuel Adams felt that the time was now at hand either for independence or an nihilation, and he affirmed publicly that the colonists would be justified in "destroying every British soldier whose foot should touch the shore." In the country round Boston, thirty thousand men were ready to fight. A meeting was called in Faneuil Hall, and it resolved that "the inhabitants of the Town of Boston will at the utmost peril of their lives and fortunes maintain and defend their rights, liberties, privileges, and immunities." "And," said Otis, pointing to four hundred muskets which had been collected, "there are your arms; when an attempt is made against your liberties, they will be delivered." Bernard, who was pale with alarm, had to announce that the regiments were coming, and would be quartered, one in Castle William, the other on the town. The council replied that there was room enough in the Castle for both, and that, according to the law, any officer attempting to use private houses would be cashiered. In the midst of the dispute, the regiments arrived. The convention had from the first, law on their side; and in order to preserve this advantage were determined to offer only a passive resistance to the revenue law, and to abstain from violence until it was offered to them. No charge of high treason would stand against anyone. The anchoring of the squadron off Castle William, with guns trained on the State House had no effect. On the first of October, in compliance with an order from Gage, and in the absence of Bernard, who had fled to the country in a panic, the regiments were landed at Long Wharf. With military music playing, fixed bayonets and loaded guns, they marched to the Common, which was whitened by their tents. An artillery train was also brought ashore. An attempt to browbeat the people into providing quarters failed, and the officers dared not seize them. At length they were obliged to rent rooms, and some of the men were lodged in the State House, as the weather became too cold for outdoor encampment; not a few of them deserted, and escaped into the country. But Boston was under military rule, though there was nothing for the soldiers to do. Sentinels were posted about the town, and citizens were challenged as they walked their streets. On the Sab bath Day, drums and bugles disturbed the worshipers in the churches. Officers of the customhouse and army officers met at the British Coffee House in King Street. On the south side of the State House was a court of guard, defended by two brass cannon, and a large number of soldiers were kept there; in front of the customhouse, further down the street, a sentinel paced his beat. Boston was indignant, but restricted itself to ceasing all purchases of importations, trusting thus to wear out their oppressors. Some of the younger men, however, were becoming restive under the implied or overt insults of the officers and soldiery, and there were occasional quarrels which might develop into something more serious. It was at this time that the French inhabitants of New Orleans rose and drove out the Spanish Governor, Ulloa; and Du Chatelet remarked that it was "a good example for the English colonies. But Boston needed no example; she afforded one in herself. All the other colonies had indorsed her attitude; but the animosity of England was concentrated against her. The whole kingdom was embattled against the one small town; two more regiments had been sent there, but no rebellion could be found. Was it the purpose to provoke one? Soldiers, from time to time, were arrested for misdemeanors, and brought before the civil magistrates, but were pardoned, when convicted, by the higher courts. Samuel Adams and others, on the other hand, continued to be threatened with prosecution for treason, but did not recede from their position. Bernard, Hutchinson, Oliver, and the attorney general acted as secret informers and purveyors of evidence against the patriots. All petitions from the colonies addressed to the English Government were refused so much as a hearing. And yet there was a strong division of opinion in Parliament as to the course England was taking; and there were many who wished that the question of taxation had never been raised. In 1769, it was conceded that the duties on most specified articles should be abolished; nevertheless, Hillsborough, secretary for the colonies, said that he would "grant nothing to Americans except what they might ask with a halter round their necks"; and the great Samuel Johnson did not scruple to add that "they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging." Against such intemperate vaporings are to be set the noble resolutions of the Virginia Assembly of which Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and Washington were members, extending its sympathy and support to Massachusetts, warning King George against carrying Americans beyond seas for trial, and advocating colonial union. This was the more admirable, because England had treated Virginia with especial tenderness and consideration. Similar resolutions in other colonies followed, and a regular correspondence between the assemblies was agreed to. The folly of English oppression had already created a united America.

At length the English Government, weakened by the opposition, and by the badness of their cause, agreed to abolish all duties except that on tea, which was now bought cheaper in Boston than in London; and to withdraw two at least of the regiments. But Boston was contending for a principle, not for a few hundred pounds, and refused to accept the tea as a compromise. Much more conducive to good feeling was the. recall of Governor Bernard, just as he was making himself comfortable for a long tenure of office under the protection of British soldiers. This man's character is as contemptible as any in colonial history. It was not merely or chiefly that he was an abject miser and a foe to liberty. He was a convicted liar, a spy, and a doubledealer; and his cowardice made him despised even by the British. He did not scruple. at swindling the British Government by conniving at smuggling, while assuring them of his zeal in putting it down. While smiling in men's faces he was covertly laying plots for their destruction. His last thought, after receiving the crushing news of his recall, was to try to beguile the Assembly into voting him his salary for the coming year. The attempt failed and he retreated in disgrace, with joy bells ringing in his ears. His only consolation was that he left Hutchinson in his place, as ill-disposed toward liberty and honor as himself, and his superior in intelligence. His recall had been due to the desire of London merchants, who believed that his presence was destructive of their commercial interests. The ministers for whom'he had incurred so much ignominy would do nothing for him; for the dishonorable are always ready to sacrifice their instruments.

Continue to Chapter 13 Part 2