The Eve of the Revolution,
Carl Becker

Part 1 out of 3

The Eve Of The Revolution, A Chronicle Of The Breach With England

by Carl Becker


In this brief sketch I have chiefly endeavored to convey to the
reader, not a record of what men did, but a sense of how they
thought and felt about what they did. To give the quality and
texture of the state of mind and feeling of an individual or
class, to create for the reader the illusion (not DELUSION, O
able Critic!) of the intellectual atmosphere of past times, I
have as a matter of course introduced many quotations; but I have
also ventured to resort frequently to the literary device (this,
I know, gives the whole thing away) of telling the story by means
of a rather free paraphrase of what some imagined spectator or
participant might have thought or said about the matter in hand.
If the critic says that the product of such methods is not
history, I am willing to call it by any name that is better; the
point of greatest relevance being the truth and effectiveness of
the illusion aimed at--the extent to which it reproduces the
quality of the thought and feeling of those days, the extent to
which it enables the reader to enter into such states of mind and
feeling. The truth of such history (or whatever the critic wishes
to call it) cannot of course be determined by a mere verification
of references.

To one of my colleagues, who has read the entire manuscript, I am
under obligations for many suggestions and corrections in matters
of detail; and I would gladly mention his name if it could be
supposed that an historian of established reputation would wish
to be associated, even in any slight way, with an enterprise of
questionable orthodoxy.

Carl Becker.

Ithaca, New York, January 6, 1918.




CHAPTER I. A Patriot Of 1763

His Majesty's reign...I predict will be happy and truly
glorious.--Benjamin Franklin.

The 29th of January, 1757, was a notable day in the life of Ben
Franklin of Philadelphia, well known in the metropolis of America
as printer and politician, and famous abroad as a scientist and
Friend of the Human Race. It was on that day that the Assembly of
Pennsylvania commissioned him as its agent to repair to London in
support of its petition against the Proprietors of the Province,
who were charged with having "obstinately persisted in manacling
their deputies [the Governors of Pennsylvania] with instructions
inconsistent not only with the privileges of the people, but with
the service of the Crown." We may, therefore, if we choose,
imagine the philosopher on that day, being then in his
fifty-first year, walking through the streets of this metropolis
of America (a town of something less than twenty thousand
inhabitants) to his modest home, and there informing his "Dear
Debby" that her husband, now apparently become a great man in a
small world, was ordered immediately "home to England."

In those leisurely days, going home to England was no slight
undertaking; and immediately, when there was any question of a
great journey, meant as soon as the gods might bring it to pass.
"I had agreed with Captain Morris, of the Pacquet at New York,
for my passage," he writes in the "Autobiography," "and my stores
were put on board, when Lord Loudoun arrived at Philadelphia,
expressly, as he told me, to endeavor an accommodation between
the Governor and the Assembly, that his Majesty's service might
not be obstructed by their dissentions." Franklin was the very
man to effect an accommodation, when he set his mind to it, as he
did on this occasion; but "in the mean time," he relates, "the
Pacquet had sailed with my sea stores, which was some loss to me,
and my only recompence was his Lordship's thanks for my service,
all the credit for obtaining the accommodation falling to his

It was now war time, and the packets were at the disposal of Lord
Loudoun, commander of the forces in America. The General was good
enough to inform his accommodating friend that of the two packets
then at New York, one was given out to sail on Saturday, the 12th
of April--"but," the great man added very confidentially, "I may
let you know, entre nous, that if you are there by Monday
morning, you will be in time, but do not delay longer." As early
as the 4th of April, accordingly, the provincial printer and
Friend of the Human Race, accompanied by many neighbors "to see
him out of the province," left Philadelphia. He arrived at
Trenton "well before night," and expected, in case "the roads
were no worse," to reach Woodbridge by the night following. In
crossing over to New York on the Monday, some accident at the
ferry delayed him, so that he did not reach the city till nearly
noon, and he feared that he might miss the packet after all--Lord
Loudoun had so precisely mentioned Monday morning. Happily, no
such thing! The packet was still there. It did not sail that day,
or the next either; and as late as the 29th of April Franklin was
still hanging about waiting to be off. For it was war time and
the packets waited the orders of General Loudoun, who, ready in
promises but slow in execution, was said to be "like St. George
on the signs, always on horseback but never rides on."

Franklin himself was a deliberate man, and at the last moment he
decided, for some reason or other, not to take the first packet.
Behold him, therefore, waiting for the second through the month
of May and the greater part of June! "This tedious state of
uncertainty and long waiting," during which the agent of the
Province of Pennsylvania, running back and forth from New York to
Woodbridge, spent his time more uselessly than ever he
remembered, was duly credited to the perversity of the British
General. But at last they were off, and on the 26th of July,
three and a half months after leaving Philadelphia, Franklin
arrived in London to take up the work of his mission; and there
he remained, always expecting to return shortly, but always
delayed, for something more than five years.

These were glorious days in the history of Old England, the most
heroic since the reign of Good Queen Bess. When the provincial
printer arrived in London, the King and the politicians had
already been forced, through multiplied reverses in every part of
the world, to confer power upon William Pitt, a disagreeable man
indeed, but still a great genius and War Lord, who soon turned
defeat into victory. It was the privilege of Franklin, here in
the capital of the Empire, to share the exaltation engendered by
those successive conquests that gave India and America to the
little island kingdom, and made Englishmen, in Horace Walpole's
phrase, "heirs apparent of the Romans." No Briton rejoiced more
sincerely than this provincial American in the extension of the
Empire. He labored with good will and good humor, and doubtless
with good effect, to remove popular prejudice against his
countrymen; and he wrote a masterly pamphlet to prove the wisdom
of retaining Canada rather than Guadaloupe at the close of the
war, confidently assuring his readers that the colonies would
never, even when once the French danger was removed, "unite
against their own nation, which protects and encourages them,
with which they have so many connections and ties of blood,
interest, and affection, and which 'tis well known they all love
much more than they love one another." Franklin, at least, loved
Old England, and it might well be maintained that these were the
happiest years of his life. He was mentally so cosmopolitan, so
much at ease in the world, that here in London he readily found
himself at home indeed. The business of his particular mission,
strictly attended to, occupied no great part of his time. He
devoted long days to his beloved scientific experiments, and
carried on a voluminous correspondence with David Hume and Lord
Kames, and with many other men of note in England, France, and
Italy. He made journeys, to Holland, to Cambridge, to ancestral
places and the homes of surviving relatives; but mostly, one may
imagine, he gave himself to a steady flow of that "agreeable and
instructive conversation" of which he was so much the master and
the devotee. He was more famous than he knew, and the reception
that everywhere awaited him was flattering, and as agreeable to
his unwarped and emancipated mind as it was flattering. "The
regard and friendship I meet with," he confesses, "and the
conversation of ingenious men, give me no small pleasure"; and at
Cambridge, "my vanity was not a little gratified by the
particular regard shown me by the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor
of the University, and the Heads of the Colleges." As the years
passed, the sense of being at ease among friends grew stronger;
the serene and placid letters to "Dear Debby" became rather less
frequent; the desire to return to America was much attenuated.

How delightful, indeed, was this Old England! "Of all the
enviable things England has," he writes, "I envy it most its
people.... Why should this little island enjoy in almost
every neighborhood more sensible, virtuous, and elegant minds,
than we can collect in ranging one hundred leagues of our vast
forests?" What a proper place for a philosopher to spin out the
remnant of his days! The idea had occurred to him; he was
persistently urged by his friend William Strahan to carry it into
effect; and his other friend, David Hume, made him a pretty
compliment on the same theme: "America has sent us many good
things, gold, silver, sugar, tobacco; but you are the first
philosopher for whom we are beholden to her. It is our own fault
that we have not kept him; whence it appears that we do not agree
with Solomon, that wisdom is above gold; for we take good care
never to send back an ounce of the latter, which we once lay our
fingers upon." The philosopher was willing enough to remain; and
of the two objections which he mentioned to Strahan, the rooted
aversion of his wife to embarking on the ocean and his love for
Philadelphia, the latter for the moment clearly gave him less
difficulty than the former. "I cannot leave this happy island and
my friends in it without extreme regret," he writes at the moment
of departure. "I am going from the old world to the new; and I
fancy I feel like those who are leaving this world for the next;
grief at the parting; fear of the passage; hope for the future."

When, on the 1st of November, 1762, Franklin quietly slipped into
Philadelphia, he found that the new world had not forgotten him.
For many days his house was filled from morning till night with a
succession of friends, old and new, come to congratulate him on
his return; excellent people all, no doubt, and yet presenting,
one may suppose, a rather sharp contrast to the "virtuous and
elegant minds" from whom he had recently parted in England. The
letters he wrote, immediately following his return to America, to
his friends William Strahan and Mary Stevenson lack something of
the cheerful and contented good humor which is Franklin's most
characteristic tone. His thoughts, like those of a homesick man,
are ever dwelling on his English friends, and he still nourishes
the fond hope of returning, bag and baggage, to England for good
and all. The very letter which he begins by relating the
cordiality of his reception in Philadelphia he closes by assuring
Strahan that "in two years at fartherest I hope to settle all my
affairs in such manner as that I may then conveniently remove to
England--provided," he adds as an afterthought, "we can persuade
the good woman to cross the sea. That will be the great

It is not known whether it was this difficulty that prevented the
eminent doctor, revered in two continents for his wisdom, from
changing the place of his residence. Dear Debby, as docile as a
child in most respects, very likely had her settled prejudices,
of which the desire to remain on dry land may have been one, and
one of the most obstinate. Or it may be that Franklin found
himself too much occupied, too much involved in affairs after his
long absence, to make even a beginning in his cherished plan; or
else, as the months passed and he settled once more to the
familiar, humdrum life of the American metropolis, sober second
thought may have revealed to him what was doubtless a higher
wisdom. "Business, public and private, devours my time," he
writes in March, 1764. "I must return to England for repose. With
such thoughts I flatter myself, and need some kind friend to put
Perhaps, after all, Dear Debby was this kind friend; in which
case Americans must all, to this day, be much indebted to the
good woman.

At least it was no apprehension of difficulties arising between
England and the colonies that induced Franklin to remain in
America. The Peace of Paris he regarded as "the most
advantageous" of any recorded in British annals, very fitting to
mark the close of a successful war, and well suited to usher in
the long period of prosperous felicity which should properly
distinguish the reign of a virtuous prince. Never before, in
Franklin's opinion, were the relations between Britain and her
colonies more happy; and there could be, he thought, no good
reason to fear that the excellent young King would be distressed,
or his prerogative diminished, by factitious parliamentary

"You now fear for our virtuous young King, that the faction
forming will overpower him and render his reign uncomfortable [he
writes to Strahan]. On the contrary, I am of opinion that his
virtue and the consciousness of his sincere intentions to make
his people happy will give him firmness and steadiness in his
measures and in the support of the honest friends he has chosen
to serve him; and when that firmness is fully perceived, faction
will dissolve and be dissipated like a morning fog before the
rising sun, leaving the rest of the day clear with a sky serene
and cloudless. Such after a few of the first years will be the
future course of his Majesty's reign, which I predict will be
happy and truly glorious. A new war I cannot yet see reason to
apprehend. The peace will I think long continue, and your nation
be as happy as they deserve to be."

CHAPTER II. The Burden Of Empire

Nothing of note in Parliament, except one slight day on the
American taxes.--Horace Walpole.

There were plenty of men in England, any time before 1763, who
found that an excellent arrangement which permitted them to hold
office in the colonies while continuing to reside in London. They
were thereby enabled to make debts, and sometimes even to pay
them, without troubling much about their duties; and one may
easily think of them, over their claret, as Mr. Trevelyan says,
lamenting the cruelty of a secretary of state who hinted that,
for form's sake at least, they had best show themselves once in a
while in America. They might have replied with Junius: "It was
not Virginia that wanted a governor, but a court favorite that
wanted a salary." Certainly Virginia could do with a minimum of
royal officials; but most court favorites wanted salaries, for
without salaries unendowed gentlemen could not conveniently live
in London.

One of these gentlemen, in the year 1763, was Mr. Grosvenor
Bedford. He was not, to be sure, a court favorite, but a man, now
well along in years, who had long ago been appointed to be
Collector of the Customs at the port of Philadelphia. The
appointment had been made by the great minister, Robert Walpole,
for whom Mr. Bedford had unquestionably done some service or
other, and of whose son, Horace Walpole, the letter-writer, he
had continued from that day to be a kind of dependent or protege,
being precisely the sort of unobtrusive factotum which that
fastidious eccentric needed to manage his mundane affairs. But
now, after this long time, when the King's business was placed in
the hands of George Grenville, who entertained the odd notion
that a Collector of the Customs should reside at the port of
entry where the customs were collected rather than in London
where he drew his salary, it was being noised about, and was
presently reported at Strawberry Hill, that Mr. Bedford, along
with many other estimable gentlemen, was forthwith to be turned
out of his office.

To Horace Walpole it was a point of more than academic importance
to know whether gentlemen were to be unceremoniously turned out
of their offices. As far back as 1738, while still a lad, he had
himself been appointed to be Usher of the Exchequer; and as soon
as he came of age, he says, "I took possession of two other
little patent places in the Exchequer, called Comptroller of the
Pipe, and Clerk of the Estreats"--all these places having been
procured for him through the generosity of his father. The duties
of these offices, one may suppose, were not arduous, for it seems
that they were competently administered by Mr. Grosvenor Bedford,
in addition to his duties as Collector of the Customs at the port
of Philadelphia; so well administered, indeed, that Horace
Walpole's income from them, which in 1740 was perhaps not more
than 1500 pounds a year, nearly doubled in the course of a
generation. And this income, together with another thousand which
he had annually from the Collector's place in the Custom House,
added to the interest of 20,000 pounds which he had inherited,
enabled him to live very well, with immense leisure for writing
odd books, and letters full of extremely interesting comment on
the levity and low aims of his contemporaries.

And so Horace Walpole, good patron that he was and competent
letter-writer, very naturally, hearing that Mr. Bedford was to
lose an office to which in the course of years he had become much
accustomed, sat down and wrote a letter to Mr. George Grenville
in behalf of his friend and servant. "Though I am sensible I have
no pretensions for asking you a favour, ...yet I flatter
myself I shall not be thought quite impertinent in interceding
for a person, who I can answer has neither been to blame nor any
way deserved punishment, and therefore I think you, Sir, will be
ready to save him from prejudice. The person I mean is my deputy,
Mr. Grosvenor Bedford, who, above five and twenty years ago, was
appointed Collector of the Customs in Philadelphia by my father.
I hear he is threatened to be turned out. If the least fault can
be laid to his charge, I do not desire to have him protected. If
there cannot, I am too well persuaded, Sir, of your justice not
to be sure you will be pleased to protect him."

George Grenville, a dry, precise man of great knowledge and
industry, almost always right in little matters and very patient
of the misapprehensions of less exact people, wrote in reply a
letter which many would think entirely adequate to the matter in
hand: "I have never heard [he began] of any complaint against Mr.
Grosvenor Bedford, or of any desire to turn him out; but by the
office which you tell me he holds in North America, I believe I
know the state of the case, which I will inform you of, that you
may be enabled to judge of it yourself. Heavy complaints were
last year made in Parliament of the state of our revenues in
North America which amount to between 1,000 pounds and 9,000
pounds a year, the collecting of which costs upon the
establishment of the Customs in Great Britain between 7,000
pounds and 8,000 pounds a year. This, it was urged, arose from
the making all these offices sinecures in England. When I came to
the Treasury* I directed the Commissioners of the Customs to be
written to, that they might inform us how the revenue might be
improved, and to what causes they attributed the present
diminished state of it.... The principal cause which they
assigned was the absence of the officers who lived in England by
leave of the Treasury, which they proposed should be recalled.
This we complied with, and ordered them all to their duty, and
the Commissioners of the Customs to present others in the room of
such as should not obey. I take it for granted that this is Mr.
Bedford's case. If it is, it will be attended with difficulty to
make an exception, as they are every one of them applying to be
excepted out of the orders.... If it is not so, or if Mr.
Bedford can suggest to me any proper means of obviating it
without overturning the whole regulation, he will do me a
sensible pleasure.

* On the resignation of Lord Bute in April, 1763, Grenville
formed a ministry, himself taking the two offices of First Lord
of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

There is no evidence to show that Mr. Bedford was able to do Mr.
Grenville this "sensible pleasure." The incident, apparently
closed, was one of many indications that a new policy for dealing
with America was about to be inaugurated; and although Grenville
had been made minister for reasons that were remote enough from
any question of efficiency in government, no better man could
have been chosen for applying to colonial administration the
principles of good business management. His connection with the
Treasury, as well as the natural bent of his mind, had made him
"confessedly the ablest man of business in the House of Commons."
The Governors of the Bank of England, very efficient men
certainly, held it a great point in the minister's favor that
they "could never do business with any man with the same ease
they had done it with him." Undoubtedly the first axiom of
business is that one's accounts should be kept straight, one's
books nicely balanced; the second, that one's assets should
exceed one's liabilities. Mr. Grenville, accordingly, "had
studied the revenues with professional assiduity, and something
of professional ideas seemed to mingle in all his regulations
concerning them." He "felt the weight of debt, amounting at this
time to one hundred and fifty-eight millions, which oppressed his
country, and he looked to the amelioration of the revenue as the
only mode of relieving it."

It is true there were some untouched sources of revenue still
available in England. As sinecures went in that day, Mr.
Grosvenor Bedford's was not of the best; and on any consideration
of the matter from the point of view of revenue only, Grenville
might well have turned his attention to a different class of
officials; for example, to the Master of the Rolls in Ireland,
Mr. Rigby, who was also Paymaster of the Forces, and to whose
credit there stood at the Bank of England, as Mr. Trevelyan
assures us, a million pounds of the public money, the interest of
which was paid to him "or to his creditors." This was a much
better thing than Grosvenor Bedford had with his paltry
collectorship at Philadelphia; and the interest on a million
pounds, more or less, had it been diverted from Mr. Rigby's
pocket to the public treasury, would perhaps have equaled the
entire increase in the revenue to be expected from even the most
efficient administration of the customs in all the ports of,
America. In addition, it should perhaps be said that Mr. Rigby,
although excelled by none, was by no means the only man in high
place with a good degree of talent for exploiting the common

The reform of such practices, very likely, was work for a
statesman rather than for a man of business. A good man of
business, called upon to manage the King's affairs, was likely to
find many obstacles in the way of depriving the Paymaster of the
Forces of his customary sources of income, and Mr. Grenville, at
least, never attempted anything so hazardous. Scurrilous
pamphleteers, in fact, had made it a charge against the minister
that he had increased rather than diminished the evil of
sinecures--"It had been written in pamphlets that 400,000 pounds
a year was dealt out in pensions"; from which charge the able
Chancellor, on the occasion of opening his first budget in the
House of Commons, the 9th of March, 1764, defended himself by
denying that the sums were "so great as alleged." It was scarcely
an adequate defense; but the truth is that Grenville was sure to
be less distressed by a bad custom, no law forbidding, than by a
law, good or bad, not strictly enforced, particularly if the law
was intended to bring in a revenue.

Instinctively, therefore, the minister turned to America, where
it was a notorious fact that there were revenue laws that had not
been enforced these many years. Mr. Grenville, we may suppose,
since it was charged against him in a famous epigram, read the
American dispatches with considerable care, so that it is quite
possible he may have chanced to see and to shake his head over
the sworn statement of Mr. Sampson Toovey, a statement which
throws much light upon colonial liberties and the practices of
English officials in those days:

"I, Sampson Toovey [so the statement runs], Clerk to James
Cockle, Esq., Collector of His Majesty's Customs for the Port of
Salem, do declare on oath, that ever since I have been in the
office, it hath been customary for said Cockle to receive of the
masters of vessels entering from Lisbon, casks of wine, boxes of
fruit, etc., which was a gratuity for suffering their vessels to
be entered with salt or ballast only, and passing over unnoticed
such cargoes of wine, fruit, etc., which are prohibited to be
imported into His Majesty's Plantations. Part of which wine,
fruit, etc., the said James Cockle used to share with Governor
Bernard. And I further declare that I used to be the negotiator
of this business, and receive the wine, fruit, etc., and dispose
of them agreeable to Mr. Cockle's orders. Witness my hand.
Sampson Toovey."

The curious historian would like much to know, in case Mr.
Grenville did see the declaration of Sampson Toovey, whether he
saw also a letter in which Governor Bernard gave it as his
opinion that if the colonial governments were to be refashioned
it should be on a new plan, since "there is no system in North
America fit to be made a module of."

Secretary Grenville, whether or not he ever saw this letter from
Governor Bernard, was familiar with the ideas which inspired it.
Most crown officials in America, and the governors above all,
finding themselves little more than executive agents of the
colonial assemblies, had long clamored for the remodeling of
colonial governments: the charters, they said, should be
recalled; the functions of the assemblies should be limited and
more precisely defined; judges should be appointed at the
pleasure of the King; and judges and governors alike should be
paid out of a permanent civil list in England drawn from revenue
raised in America. In urging these changes, crown officials in
America were powerfully supported by men of influence in England;
by Halifax since the day, some fifteen years before, when he was
appointed to the office of Colonial Secretary; by the brilliant
Charles Townshend who, in the year 1763, as first Lord of the
Treasury in Bute's ministry, had formulated a bill which would
have been highly pleasing to Governor Bernard had it been passed
into law. And now similar schemes were being urged upon Grenville
by his own colleagues, notably by the Earl of Halifax, who is
said to have become, in a formal interview with the first
minister, extremely heated and eager in the matter.

But all to no purpose. Mr. Grenville was well content with the
form of the colonial governments, being probably of Pope's
opinion that "the system that is best administered is best." In
Grenville's opinion, the Massachusetts government was good
enough, and all the trouble arose from the inattention of royal
officials to their manifest duties and from the pleasant custom
of depositing at Governor Bernard's back door sundry pipes of
wine with the compliments of Mr. Cockle. Most men in England
agreed that such pleasant customs had been tolerated long enough.
To their suppression the first minister accordingly gave his best
attention; and while Mr. Rigby continued to enjoy great
perquisites in England, many obscure customs officials, such as
Grosvenor Bedford, were ordered to their, posts to prevent small
peculations in America. To assist them, or their successors, in
this business, ships of war were stationed conveniently for the
intercepting of smugglers, general writs were authorized to
facilitate the search for goods illegally entered, and the
governors, His Excellency Governor Bernard among the number, were
newly instructed to give their best efforts to the enforcement of
the trade acts.

All this was but an incident, to be sure, in the minister's
general scheme for "ameliorating the revenue." It was not until
the 9th of March, 1764, that Grenville, "not disguising how much
he was hurt by abuse," opened his first budget, "fully, for
brevity was not his failing," and still with great "art and
ability." Although ministers were to be congratulated, he
thought, "on the revenue being managed with more frugality than
in the late reign," the House scarcely need be told that the war
had greatly increased the debt, an increase not to be placed at a
lower figure than some seventy odd millions; and so, on account
of this great increase in the debt, and in spite of gratifying
advances in the customs duties and the salutary cutting off of
the German subsidies, taxes were now, the House would easily
understand, necessarily much higher than formerly--"our taxes,"
he said, "exceeded by three millions what they were in 1754."
Much money, doubtless, could still be raised on the land tax, if
the House was at all disposed to put on another half shilling in
the pound. Ministers could take it quite for granted, however,
that country squires, sitting on the benches, would not be
disposed to increase the land tax, but would much prefer some
skillful manipulation of the colonial customs, provided only
there was some one who understood that art well enough to
explain to the House where such duties were meant to fall and
how much they might reasonably be expected to bring in. And
there, in fact, was Mr. Grenville explaining it all with "art and
ability," for which task, indeed, there could be none superior to
his Majesty's Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had so long
"studied the revenue with professional assiduity."

The items of the budget, rather dull reading now and none too
illuminating, fell pleasantly upon the ears of country squires
sitting there on the benches; and the particular taxes no doubt
seemed reasonably clear to them, even if they had no perfect
understanding of the laws of incidence, inasmuch as sundry of the
new duties apparently fell upon the distant Americans, who were
known to be rich and were generally thought, on no less an
authority than Jasper Mauduit, agent of the Province of
Massachusetts Bay, to be easily able and not unwilling to pay
considerable sums towards ameliorating the revenue. It was odd,
perhaps, that Americans should be willing to pay; but that was no
great matter, if they were able, since no one could deny their
obligation. And so country squires, and London merchants too,
listened comfortably to the reading of the budget so well
designed to relieve the one of taxes and swell the profits
flowing into the coffers of the other.

"That a duty of 2 pounds 19s. 9d. per cwt. avoirdupois, be laid
upon all foreign coffee, imported from any place (except Great
Britain) into the British colonies and plantations in America.
That a duty of 6d. per pound weight be laid upon all foreign
indigo, imported into the said colonies and plantations. That a
duty of 7 pounds per ton be laid upon all wine of the growth of
the Madeiras, or of any other island or place, lawfully imported
from the respective place of the growth of such wine, into the
said colonies and plantations. That a duty of 10s. per ton be
laid upon all Portugal, Spanish, or other wine (except French
wine), imported from Great Britain into the said colonies and
plantations. That a duty of 2s. per pound weight be laid upon all
wrought silks, Bengals, and stuffs mixed with silk or herbs; of
the manufacture of Persia, China, or East India, imported from
Great Britain into the said colonies and plantations. That a duty
of 2s. 6d. per piece be laid upon all callicoes...." The
list no doubt was a long one; and quite right, too, thought
country squires, all of whom, to a man, were willing to pay no
more land tax.

Other men besides country squires were interested in Mr.
Grenville's budget, notably the West Indian sugar planters,
virtually and actually represented in the House of Commons and
voting there this day. Many of them were rich men no doubt; but
sugar planting, they would assure you in confidence, was not what
it had been; and if they were well off after a fashion, they
might have been much better off but for the shameless frauds
which for thirty years had made a dead letter of the Molasses Act
of 1733. It was notorious that the merchants of the northern and
middle colonies, regarding neither the Acts of Trade nor the
dictates of nature, had every year carried their provisions and
fish to the foreign islands, receiving in exchange molasses,
cochineal, "medical druggs," and "gold and silver in bullion and
coin." With molasses the thrifty New Englanders made great
quantities of inferior rum, the common drink of that day,
regarded as essential to the health of sailors engaged in fishing
off the Grand Banks, and by far the cheapest and most effective
instrument for procuring negroes in Africa or for inducing the
western Indians to surrender their valuable furs for some
trumpery of colored cloth or spangled bracelet. All this thriving
traffic did not benefit British planters, who had molasses of
their own and a superior quality of rum which they were not
unwilling to sell.

Such traffic, since it did not benefit them, British planters
were disposed to think must be bad for England. They were
therefore willing to support Mr. Grenville's budget, which
proposed that the importation of foreign rum into any British
colony be prohibited in future; and which further proposed that
the Act of 6 George II, c. 13, be continued, with modifications
to make it effective, the modifications of chief importance being
the additional duty of twenty-two shillings per hundredweight
upon all sugar and the reduction by one half of the prohibitive
duty of sixpence on all foreign molasses imported into the
British plantations. It was a matter of minor importance
doubtless, but one to which they had no objections since the
minister made a point of it, that the produce of all the duties
which should be raised by virtue of the said act, made in the
sixth year of His late Majesty's reign, "be paid into the receipt
of His Majesty's Exchequer, and there reserved, to be from time
to time disposed of by Parliament, towards defraying the
necessary expences of defending, protecting, and securing the
British colonies and plantations in America."

With singularly little debate, honorable and right honorable
members were ready to vote this new Sugar Act, having the
minister's word for it that it would be enforced, the revenue
thereby much improved, and a sudden stop put to the
long-established illicit traffic with the foreign islands, a
traffic so beneficial to the northern colonies, so prejudicial to
the Empire and the pockets of planters. Thus it was that Mr.
Grenville came opportunely to the aid of the Spanish
authorities, who for many years had employed their guarda costas
in a vain effort to suppress this very traffic, conceiving it,
oddly enough, to be injurious to Spain and highly advantageous
to Britain.

It may be that the Spanish authorities regarded the West Indian
trade as a commercial system rather than as a means of revenue.
This aspect of the matter, the commercial effects of his
measures, Mr. Grenville at all events managed not to take
suffciently into account, which was rather odd, seeing that he
professed to hold the commercial system embodied in the
Navigation and Trade Acts in such high esteem, as a kind of
"English Palladium." No one could have wished less than Grenville
to lay sacrilegious hands on this Palladium, have less intended
to throw sand into the nicely adjusted bearings of the Empire's
smoothly working commercial system. If he managed nevertheless to
do something of this sort, it was doubtless by virtue of being
such a "good man of business," by virtue of viewing the art of
government too narrowly as a question of revenue only. For the
moment, preoccupied as they were with the quest of revenue, the
new measures seemed to Mr. Grenville and to the squires and
planters who voted them well adapted to raising a moderate sum,
part only of some 350,000 pounds, for the just and laudable
purpose of "defraying the necessary expences of defending,
protecting, and securing the British colonies and plantations in

The problem of colonial defense, so closely connected with the
question of revenue, was none of Grenville's making but was a
legacy of the war and of that Peace of Paris which had added an
immense territory to the Empire. When the diplomats of England
and France at last discovered, in some mysterious manner, that it
had "pleased the Most High to diffuse the spirit of union and
concord among the Princes," the world was informed that, as the
price of "a Christian, universal; and perpetual peace," France
would cede to England what had remained to her of Nova Scotia,
Canada, and all the possessions of France on the left bank of the
Mississippi except the City of New Orleans and the island on
which it stands; that she would cede also the islands of Grenada
and the Grenadines, the islands of St. Vincent, Dominica, and
Tobago, and the River Senegal with all of its forts and
factories; and that she would for the future be content, so far
as her activities in India were concerned, with the five
factories which she possessed there at the beginning of the year

The average Briton, as well as honorable and right honorable
members of the House, had known that England possessed colonies
and had understood that colonies, as a matter of course, existed
to supply him with sugar and rice, indigo and tobacco, and in
return to buy at a good price whatever he might himself wish to
sell. Beyond all this he had given slight attention to the matter
of colonies until the great Pitt had somewhat stirred his slow
imagination with talk of empire and destiny. It was doubtless a
liberalizing as well as a sobering revelation to be told that he
was the "heir apparent of the Romans," with the responsibilities
that are implied in having a high mission in the world. Now that
his attention was called to the matter, it seemed to the average
Briton that in meeting the obligation of this high mission and in
dealing with this far-flung empire, a policy of efficiency such
as that advocated by Mr. Grenville might well replace a policy of
salutary neglect; and if the national debt had doubled during the
war, as he was authoritatively assured, why indeed should not the
Americans, grown rich under the fostering care of England and
lately freed from the menace of France by the force of British
arms, be expected to observe the Trade Acts and to contribute
their fair share to the defense of that new world of which they
were the chief beneficiaries?

If Americans were quite ready in their easy going way to take
chances in the matter of defense, hoping that things would turn
out for the best in the future as they had in the past, British
statesmen and right honorable members of the House, viewing the
question broadly and without provincial illusions, understood
that a policy of preparedness was the only salvation; a policy of
muddling through would no longer suffice as it had done in the
good old days before country squires and London merchants
realized that their country was a world power. In those days,
when the shrewd Robert Walpole refused to meddle with schemes for
taxing America, the accepted theory of defense was a simple one.
If Britain policed the sea and kept the Bourbons in their place,
it was thought that the colonies might be left to manage the
Indians; fur traders, whose lure the red man could not resist,
and settlers occupying the lands beyond the mountains, so it was
said, would do the business. In 1749, five hundred thousand acres
of land had been granted to the Ohio Company "in the King's
interest" and "to cultivate a friendship with the nations of
Indians inhabiting those parts"; and as late as 1754 the Board of
Trade was still encouraging the rapid settling of the West,
"inasmuch as nothing can more effectively tend to defeat the
dangerous designs of the French."

On the eve of the last French war it may well have seemed to the
Board of Trade that this policy was being attended with
gratifying results. In the year 1749, La Galissomere, the acting
Governor of Canada, commissioned Celoron de Blainville to take
possession of the Ohio Valley, which he did in form, descending
the river to the Maumee, and so to Lake Erie and home again,
having at convenient points proclaimed the sovereignty of Louis
XV over that country, and having laid down, as evidence of the
accomplished fact, certain lead plates bearing awe-inspiring
inscriptions, some of which have been discovered and are
preserved to this day. It was none the less a dangerous junket.
Everywhere Blainville found the Indians of hostile mind;
everywhere, in every village almost, he found English traders
plying their traffic and "cultivating a friendship with the
Indians"; so that upon his return in 1750, in spite of the lead
plates so securely buried, he must needs write in his journal:
"All I can say is that the nations of those countries are ill
disposed towards the French and devoted to the English."

During the first years of the war all this devotion was
nevertheless seen to be of little worth. Like Providence, the
Indians were sure to side with the big battalions. For want of a
few effective garrisons at the beginning, the English found
themselves deserted by their quondam allies, and although they
recovered this facile allegiance as soon as the French garrisons
were taken, it was evident enough in the late years of the war
that fear alone inspired the red man's loyalty. The Indian
apparently did not realize at this early date that his was an
inferior race destined to be supplanted. Of a primitive and
uncultivated intelligence, it was not possible for him to foresee
the beneficent designs of the Ohio Company or to observe with
friendly curiosity the surveyors who came to draw imaginary lines
through the virgin forest. And therefore, even in an age when the
natural rights of man were being loudly proclaimed, the "Nations
of Indians inhabiting those parts" were only too ready to believe
what the Virginia traders told them of the Pennsylvanians, what
the Pennsylvania traders told them of the Virginians--that the
fair words of the English were but a kind of mask to conceal the
greed of men who had no other desire than to deprive the red man
of his beloved hunting grounds.

Thus it was that the industrious men with pedantic minds who day
by day read the dispatches that accumulated in the office of the
Board of Trade became aware, during the years from 1758 to 1761,
that the old policy of defense was not altogether adequate. "The
granting of lands hitherto unsettled," so the Board reported in
1761, "appears to be a measure of the most dangerous tendency."
In December of the same year all governors were accordingly
forbidden "to pass grants...or encourage settlements upon any
lands within the said colonies which may interfere with the
Indians bordering upon them."

The policy thus initiated found final expression in the famous
Proclamation of 1763, in the early months of Grenville's
ministry. By the terms of the Proclamation no further grants were
to be made within lands "which, not having been ceded to, or
purchased by us, are reserved to the said Indians"--that is to
say, "all the lands lying to the westward of the sources of the
rivers which fall into the sea from the west or the northwest."
All persons who had "either willfully or inadvertently seated
themselves" on the reserved lands were required "forthwith to
remove themselves"; and for the future no man was to presume to
trade with the Indians without first giving bond to observe such
regulations as "we shall at any time think fit
for the benefit of the said trade." All these provisions were
designed "to the end that the Indians may be convinced of our
justice and determined resolution to remove all reasonable cause
of discontent." By royal act the territory west of the
Alleghanies to the Mississippi, from Florida to 50 degrees north
latitude, was thus closed to settlement "for the present" and
"reserved to the Indians."

Having thus taken measures to protect the Indians against the
colonists, the mother country was quite ready to protect the
colonists against the Indians. Rash Americans were apt to say the
danger was over now that the French were "expelled from Canada."
This statement was childish enough in view of the late Pontiac
uprising which was with such great difficulty suppressed--if
indeed one could say that it was suppressed--by a general as
efficient even as Amherst, with seasoned British troops at his
command. The red man, even if he submitted outwardly, harbored in
his vengeful heart the rankling memory of many griefs, real or
imaginary; and he was still easily swayed by his ancient but now
humiliated French friends, who had been "expelled from Canada"
only indeed in a political sense but were still very much there
as promoters of trouble. What folly, therefore, to talk of
withdrawing the troops from America! No sane man but could see
that, under the circumstances, such a move was quite out of the

It would materially change the circumstances, undoubtedly, if
Americans could ever be induced to undertake, in any systematic
and adequate manner, to provide for their own defense in their
own way. In that case the mother country would be only too glad
to withdraw her troops, of which indeed she had none too many.
But it was well known what the colonists could be relied upon to
do, or rather what they could be relied upon not to do, in the
way of cooperative effort. Ministers had not forgotten that on
the eve of the last war, at the very climax of the danger, the
colonial assemblies had rejected a Plan of Union prepared by
Benjamin Franklin, the one man, if any man there was, to bring
the colonies together. They had rejected the plan as involving
too great concentration of authority, and they were unwilling to
barter the veriest jot or tittle of their much prized provincial
liberty for any amount of protection. And if they rejected this
plan--a very mild and harmless plan, ministers were bound to
think--it was not likely they could be induced, in time of peace,
to adopt any plan that might be thought adequate in England. Such
a plan, for example, was that prepared by the Board of Trade, by
which commissioners appointed by the governors were empowered to
determine the military establishment and to apportion the expense
of maintaining it among the several colonies on the basis of
wealth and population. Assemblies which for years past had
systematically deprived governors of all discretionary power to
expend money raised by the assemblies themselves would surely
never surrender to governors the power of determining how much
assemblies should raise for governors to expend.

Doubtless it might be said with truth that the colonies had
voluntarily contributed more than their fair share in the last
war; but it was also true that Pitt, and Pitt alone, could get
them to do this. The King could not always count on there being
in England a great genius like Pitt, and besides he did not
always find it convenient, for reasons which could be given, to
employ a great genius like Pitt. A system of defense had to be
designed for normal times and normal men; and in normal times
with normal men at the helm, ministers were agreed, the American
attitude towards defense was very cleverly described by Franklin:
"Everyone cries, a Union is absolutely necessary, but when it
comes to the manner and form of the Union, their weak noddles are
perfectly distracted."

Noddles of ministers, however, were in no way distracted but saw
clearly that, if Americans could not agree on any plan of
defense, there was no alternative but "an interposition of the
authority of Parliament." Such interposition, recommended by the
Board of Trade and already proposed by Charles Townshend in the
last ministry, was now taken in hand by Grenville. The troops
were to remain in America; the Mutiny Act, which required
soldiers in barracks to be furnished with provisions and utensils
by local authorities, and which as a matter of course went where
the army went, was supplemented by the Quartering Act, which made
further provision for the billeting and supplying of the troops
in America. And for raising some part of the general maintenance
fund ministers could think of no tax more equitable, or easier to
be levied and collected, than a stamp tax. Some such tax, stamp
tax or poll tax, had often been recommended by colonial
governors, as a means of bringing the colonies "to a sense of
their duty to the King, to awaken them to take care of their
lives and their fortunes." A crown officer in North Carolina, Mr.
M'Culloh, was good enough to assure Mr. Charles Jenkinson, one of
the Secretaries of the Treasury, backing up his assertion with
sundry statistical exhibits, that a stamp tax on the continental
colonies would easily yield 60,000 pounds, and twice that sum if
extended to the West Indies. As early as September 23, 1763, Mr.
Jenkinson, acting on an authorization of the Treasury Board,
accordingly wrote to the Commissioners of Stamped Duties,
directing them "to prepare, for their Lordships' consideration, a
draft of an act for imposing proper stamp duties on His Majesty's
subjects in America and the West Indies."

Mr. Grenville, who was not in any case the man to do things in a
hurry, nevertheless proceeded very leisurely in the matter. He
knew very well that Pitt had refused to "burn his fingers" with
any stamp tax; "and some men, such as his friend and secretary,
Mr. Jackson, for example, and the Earl of Hillsborough, advised
him to abandon the project altogether, while others urged delay
at least, in order that Americans might have an opportunity to
present their objections, if they had any. It was decided
therefore to postpone the matter for a year; and in presenting
the budget on March 9, 1764, the first minister merely gave
notice that "it maybe proper to charge certain stamp duties in
the said colonies and plantations." Of all the plans for taxing
America, he said, this one seemed to him the best; yet he was not
wedded to it, and would willingly adopt any other preferred by
the colonists, if they could suggest any other of equal efficacy.
Meanwhile, he wished only to call upon honorable members of the
House to say now, if any were so minded, that Parliament had not
the right to impose any tax, external or internal, upon the
colonies; to which solemn question, asked in full house, there
was not one negative, nor any reply except Alderman Beckford
saying: "As we are stout, I hope we shall be merciful."

It soon appeared that Americans did have objections to a stamp
tax. Whether it were equitable or not, they would rather it
should not be laid, really preferring not to be dished up in any
sauce whatever, however fine. The tax might, as ministers said,
be easily collected, or its collection might perhaps be attended
with certain difficulties; in either case it would remain, for
reasons which they were ready to advance, a most objectionable
tax. Certain colonial agents then in England accordingly sought
an interview with the first minister in order to convince him, if
possible, of this fact. Grenville was very likely more than ready
to grant them an interview, relying upon the strength of his
position, on his "tenderness for the subjects in America," and
upon his well-known powers of persuasion, to bring them to his
way of thinking. To get from the colonial agents a kind of assent
to his measure would be to win a point of no slight strategic
value, there being at least a modicum of truth in the notion that
just government springs from the consent of the governed.

"I have proposed the resolution [the minister explained to the
agents] from a real regard and tenderness for the subjects in the
colonies. It is highly reasonable they should contribute
something towards the charge of protecting themselves, and in aid
of the great expense Great Britain has put herself to on their
account. No tax appears to me so easy and equitable as a stamp
duty. It will fall only upon property, will be collected by the
fewest officers, and will be equally spread over America and the
West Indies.... It does not require any number of officers
vested with extraordinary powers of entering houses, or extend a
sort of influence which I never wished to increase. The colonists
now have it in their power, by agreeing to this tax, to establish
a precedent for their being consulted before any tax is imposed
upon them by Parliament; for their approbation of it being
signified to Parliament next year...will afford a forcible
argument for the like proceeding in all such cases. If they think
of any other mode of taxation more convenient to them, and make
any proposition of equal efficacy with the stamp duty, I will
give it all due consideration."

The agents appear at least to have been silenced by this speech,
which was, one must admit, so fatherly and so very reasonable in
tone; and doubtless Grenville thought them convinced, too, since
he always so perfectly convinced himself. At all events, he found
it possible, for this or for some other reason, to put the whole
matter out of his mind until the next year. The patriotic
American historian, well instructed in the importance of the
Stamp Act, has at first a difficulty in understanding how it
could occupy, among the things that interested English statesmen
at this time, a strictly subordinate place; and he wonders
greatly, as he runs with eager interest through the
correspondence of Grenville for the year 1764, to find it barely
mentioned there. Whether the King received him less coldly today
than the day before yesterday was apparently more on the
minister's mind than any possibility that the Stamp Act might be
received rather warmly in the colonies. The contemporaries of
Grenville, even Pitt himself, have almost as little to say about
the coming great event; all of which compels the historian,
reviewing the matter judiciously, to reflect sadly that
Englishmen of that day were not as fully aware of the importance
of the measure before it was passed as good patriots have since

There is much to confirm this notion in the circumstances
attending the passage of the bill through Parliament in the
winter of 1765. Grenville was perhaps further reassured, in spite
of persistent rumors of much high talk in America, by the results
of a second interview which he had with the colonial agents just
before introducing the measure into the House of Commons. "I take
no pleasure," he again explained in his reasonable way, "in
bringing upon myself their resentments; it is my duty to manage
the revenue. I have really been made to believe that, considering
the whole circumstances of the mother country and the colonies,
the latter can and ought to pay something to the common cause. I
know of no better way than that now pursuing to lay such a tax.
If you can tell of a better, I will adopt it."

Franklin, who was present with the others on this occasion,
ventured to suggest that the "usual constitutional way" of
obtaining colonial support, through the King's requisition, would
be better. "Can you agree," asked Grenville, "on the proportions
each colony should raise?" No, they could not agree, as Franklin
was bound to admit, knowing the fact better than most men. And if
no adequate answer was forthcoming from Franklin, a man so ready
in expedients and so practiced in the subtleties of dialectic, it
is no great wonder that Grenville thought the agents now fully
convinced by his reasoning, which after all was only an
impersonal formulation of the inexorable logic of the situation.

Proceeding thus leisurely, having taken so much pains to elicit
reasonable objection and none being forthcoming, Grenville, quite
sure of his ground, brought in from the Ways and Means Committee,
in February, 1765, the fifty-five resolutions which required that
stamped paper, printed by the government and sold by officers
appointed for that purpose, be used for nearly all legal
documents, for all customs papers, for appointments to all
offices carrying a salary of 20 pounds except military and
judicial offices, for all grants of privilege and franchises made
by the colonial assemblies, for Licenses to retail liquors, for
all pamphlets, advertisements, handbills, newspapers, almanacs,
and calendars, and for the sale of packages containing playing
cards and dice. The expediency of the act was now explained to
the House, as it had been explained to the agents. That the act
was legal, which few people in fact denied, Grenville, doing
everything thoroughly and with system, proceeded to demonstrate
also. The colonies claim, he said, "the privilege of all British
subjects of being taxed only with their own consent." Well, for
his part, he hoped they might always enjoy that privilege. "May
this sacred pledge of liberty," cried the minister with unwonted
eloquence, "be preserved inviolate to the utmost verge of our
dominions and to the latest pages of our history." But Americans
were clearly wrong in supposing the Stamp Act would deprive them
of the rights of Englishmen, for, upon any ground on which it
could be said that Englishmen were represented, it could be
maintained, and he was free to assert, that Americans were
represented, in Parliament, which was the common council of the
whole Empire.

The measure was well received. Mr. Jackson supposed that
Parliament had a right to tax America, but he much doubted the
expediency of the present act. If it was necessary, as ministers
claimed, to tax the colonies, the latter should be permitted to
elect some part of the Parliament, "otherwise the liberties of
America, I do not say will be lost, but will be in danger." The
one notable event of this "slight day" was occasioned by a remark
of Charles Townshend, who asked with some asperity whether "these
American children, planted by our care, nourished up by our
indulgence to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by
our arms," would now be so unfilial as to "grudge to contribute
their mite to relieve us from the heavy burden under which we
lie?" Upon which Colonel Isaac Barre sprang to his feet and
delivered an impassioned, unpremeditated reply which stirred the
dull House for perhaps three minutes

"They planted by YOUR care! No; your oppression planted them in
America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated,
inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all
the hardships to which human nature is liable .... They nourished
up by your indulgence! They grew by your neglect of them. As soon
as you began to care about them, that care was exercised in
sending persons to rule them in one department and another, who
were, perhaps, the deputies of deputies to some members of this
house, sent to spy out their liberties, to misrepresent their
actions, and to prey upon them; men whose behaviour on many
occasions has caused the blood of these sons of liberty to recoil
within them.... They protected by your arms! They have nobly
taken up arms in your defense; have exerted a valor amidst their
constant and laborious industry, for the defense of a country
whose frontier was drenched in blood, while its interior parts
yielded all its little savings to your emolument."

A very warm speech, and a capital hit, too, thought the honorable
members of the House, as they settled comfortably back again to
endure the routine of a dull day. Towards midnight, after seven
hours of languid debate, an adjournment was carried, as everyone
foresaw it would be, by a great majority--205 to 49 in support of
the ministry. On the 13th of February the Stamp Act bill was
introduced and read for the first time, without debate. It passed
the House on the 27th; on the 8th of March it was approved by the
Lords without protest, amendment, debate, or division; and two
weeks later, the King being then temporarily out of his mind, the
bill received the royal assent by commission.

At a later day, when the fatal effects of the Act were but too
apparent, it was made a charge against the ministers that they
had persisted in passing the measure in the face of strong
opposition. But it was not so. "As to the fact of a strenuous
opposition to the Stamp Act," said Burke, in his famous speech on
American taxation, "I sat as a stranger in your gallery when it
was under consideration. Far from anything inflammatory, I never
heard a more languid debate in this house.... In fact, the
affair passed with so very, very little noise, that in town they
scarcely knew the nature of what you were doing." So far as men
concerned themselves with the doings of Parliament, the colonial
measures of Grenville were greatly applauded; and that not alone
by men who were ignorant of America. Thomas Pownall, once
Governor of Massachusetts, well acquainted with the colonies and
no bad friend of their liberties, published in April, 1764, a
pamphlet on the "Administration of the Colonies" which he
dedicated to George Grenville, "the great minister," who he
desired might live to see the "power, prosperity, and honor that
must be given to his country, by so great and important an event
as the interweaving the administration of the colonies into the
British administration."

CHAPTER III. The Rights Of A Nation

British subjects, by removing to America, cultivating a
wilderness, extending the domain, and increasing the wealth,
commerce, and power of the mother country, at the hazard of their
lives and fortunes, ought not, and in fact do not thereby lose
their native rights.--Benjamin Franklin.

It was the misfortune of Grenville that this "interweaving," as
Pownall described it, should have been undertaken at a most
inopportune time, when the very conditions which made Englishmen
conscious of the burden of empire were giving to Americans a new
and highly stimulating sense of power and independence. The
marvelous growth of the colonies in population and wealth, much
commented upon by all observers and asserted by ministers as one
principal reason why Americans should pay taxes, was indeed well
worth some consideration. A million and a half of people spread
over the Atlantic seaboard might be thought no great number; but
it was a new thing in the world, well worth noting--which had in
fact been carefully noted by Benjamin Franklin in a pamphlet on
"The Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc."--that
within three-quarters of a century the population of the
continental colonies had doubled every twenty-five years, whereas
the population of Old England during a hundred years past had not
doubled once and now stood at only some six and a half millions.
If this should go on--and, considering the immense stretches of
free land beyond the mountains, no one could suppose that the
present rate of increase would soon fall off--it was not unlikely
that in another century the center of empire, following the
course of the sun, would come to rest in the New World. With
these facts in mind, one might indeed say that a people with so
much vitality and expansive power was abundantly able to pay
taxes; but perhaps it was also a fair inference, if any one was
disposed to press the matter, that, unless it was so minded, such
a people was already, or assuredly soon would be, equally able
not to pay them.

People in new countries, being called provincial, being often
told in effect that having made their bed they may lie in it,
easily maintain their self-respect if they are able to say that
the bed is indeed a very comfortable one. If, therefore,
Americans had been given to boasting, their growing wealth was
not, any more than their increasing numbers, a thing to be passed
over in silence. In every colony the "starving time," even if it
had ever existed, was now no more than an ancient tradition.
"Every man of industry has it in his power to live well,"
according to William Smith of New York, "and many are the
instances of persons who came here distressed in their poverty
who now enjoy easy and plentiful fortunes." If Americans were not
always aware that they were rich men individually, they were at
all events well instructed, by old-world visitors who came to
observe them with a certain air of condescension, that
collectively at least their material prosperity was a thing to be
envied even by more advanced and more civilized peoples.
Therefore any man called upon to pay a penny tax and finding his
pocket bare might take a decent pride in the fact, which none
need doubt since foreigners like Peter Kalm found it so, that
"the English colonies in this part of the world have increased so
much in...their riches, that they almost vie with old England."

That the colonies might possibly "vie with old England," was a
notion which good Americans could contemplate with much
equanimity; and even if the Swedish traveler, according to a
habit of travelers, had stretched the facts a point or two, it
was still abundantly clear that the continental colonies were
thought to be, even by Englishmen themselves, of far greater
importance to the mother country than they had formerly been.
Very old men could remember the time when English statesmen and
economists, viewing colonies as providentially designed to
promote the increase of trade, had regarded the northern colonies
as little better than heavy incumbrances on the Empire, and their
commerce scarcely worth the cost of protection. It was no longer
so; it could no longer be said that two-thirds of colonial
commerce was with the tobacco and sugar plantations, or that
Jamaica took off more English exports than the middle and
northern colonies combined; but it could be said, and was now
being loudly proclaimed--when it was a point of debate whether to
keep Canada or Guadeloupe--that the northern colonies had already
outstripped the islands as consumers of English commodities.

Of this fact Americans themselves were well aware. The question
whether it was for the interest of England to keep Canada or
Guadeloupe, which was much discussed in 1760, called forth the
notable pamphlet from Franklin, entitled "The Interest of Great
Britain Considered," in which he arranged in convenient form for
the benefit of Englishmen certain statistics of trade. From these
statistics it appeared that, whereas in 1748 English exports to
the northern colonies and to the West Indies stood at some
830,000 pounds and 730,000 pounds respectively, ten years later
the exports to the West Indies were still no more than 877,571
pounds while those to the northern colonies had advanced to
nearly two millions. Nor was it likely that this rate of increase
would fall off in the future. "The trade to our northern
colonies," said Franklin, "is not only greater but yearly
increasing with the increase of the people .... The occasion for
English goods in North America, and the inclination to have and
use them, is and must be for ages to come, much greater than the
ability of the people to buy them." For English merchants the
prospect was therefore an inviting one; and if Canada rather than
Guadeloupe was kept at the close of the war, it was because
statesmen and economists were coming to estimate the value of
colonies in terms of what they could buy, and not merely, as of
old, in terms of what they could sell. From this point of view,
the superiority of the continental over the insular colonies was
not to be doubted. Americans might well find great satisfaction
in this disposition of the mother country to regard her
continental colonies so highly and to think their trade of so
much moment to her; all of which, nevertheless, doubtless
inclined them sometimes to speculate on the delicate question
whether, in case they were so important to the mother country,
they were not perhaps more important to her than she was to them.

The consciousness of rapidly increasing material power, which was
greatly strengthened by the last French war, did nothing to dull
the sense of rights, but it was, on the contrary, a marked
stimulus to the mind in formulating a plausible, if theoretical,
justification of desired aims. Doubtless no American would say
that being able to pay taxes was a good reason for not paying
them, or that obligations might rightly be ignored as soon as one
was in a position to do so successfully; but that he should not
"lose his native rights" any American could more readily
understand when he recalled that his ancestors had without
assistance from the mother country transformed a wilderness into
populous and thriving communities whose trade was now becoming
indispensable to Britain. Therefore, in the summer of 1764,
before the doctrine of colonial rights had been very clearly
stated or much refined, every American knew that the Sugar Act
and also the proposed Stamp Act were grievously burdensome, and
that in some way or other and for reasons which he might not be
able to give with precision, they involved an infringement of
essential English liberties. Most men in the colonies, at this
early date, would doubtless have agreed with the views expressed
in a letter written to a friend in England by Thomas Hutchinson
of Boston, who was later so well hated by his compatriots for not
having changed his views with the progress of events.

"The colonists [said Hutchinson] claim a power of making laws,
and a privilege of exemption from taxes, unless voted by their
own representatives.... Nor are the privileges of the people
less affected by duties laid for the sake of the money arising
from them than by an internal tax. Not one tenth part of the
people of Great Britain have a voice in the elections to
Parliament; and, therefore, the colonies can have no claim to it;
but every man of property in England may have his voice, if he
will. Besides, acts of Parliament do not generally affect
individuals, and every interest is represented. But the colonies
have an interest distinct from the interest of the nation; and
shall the Parliament be at once party and judge?...

"The nation treats her colonies as a father who should sell the
services of his sons to reimburse him what they had cost him, but
without the same reason; for none of the colonies, except Georgia
and Halifax, occasioned any charge to the Crown or kingdom in the
settlement of them. The people of New England fled for the sake
of civil and religious liberty; multitudes flocked to America
with this dependence, that their liberties should be safe. They
and their posterity have enjoyed them to their content, and
therefore have endured with greater cheerfulness all the
hardships of settling new countries. No ill use has been made of
these privileges; but the domain and wealth of Great Britain have
received amazing addition. Surely the services we have rendered
the nation have not subjected us to any forfeitures.

"I know it is said the colonies are a charge to the nation, and
they should contribute to their own defense and protection. But
during the last war they annually contributed so largely that the
Parliament was convinced the burden would be insupportable; and
from year to year made them compensation; in several of the
colonies for several years together more men were raised, in
proportion, than by the nation. In the trading towns, one fourth
part of the profit of trade, besides imposts and excise, was
annually paid to the support of the war and public charges; in
the country towns, a farm which would hardly rent for twenty
pounds a year, paid ten pounds in taxes. If the inhabitants of
Britain had paid in the same proportion, there would have been no
great increase in the national debt."

Nor is there occasion for any national expense in America. For
one hundred years together the New England colonies received no
aid in their wars with the Indians, assisted by the French. Those
governments now molested are as able to defend their respective
frontiers; and had rather do the whole of it by a tax of their
own raising, than pay their proportion in any other way.
Moreover, it must be prejudicial to the national interest to
impose parliamentary taxes. The advantages promised by an
increase of the revenue are all fallacious and delusive. You will
lose more than you will gain. Britain already reaps the profit of
all their trade, and of the increase of their substance. By
cherishing their present turn of mind, you will serve your
interest more than by your present schemes.

Thomas Hutchinson, or any other man, might write a private letter
without committing his country, or, with due caution to his
correspondent, even himself; but for effective public and
official protest the colonial assemblies were the proper
channels, and very expert they were in the business, after having
for half a century and more devoted themselves with singleness of
purpose to the guardianship of colonial liberties. Until now,
liberties had been chiefly threatened by the insidious designs of
colonial governors, who were for the most part appointed by the
Crown and very likely therefore to be infected with the spirit of
prerogative than which nothing could be more dangerous, as
everyone must know who recalled the great events of the last
century. With those great events, the eminent men who directed
the colonial assemblies--heads or scions or proteges of the best
families in America, men of wealth and not without reading--were
entirely familiar; they knew as well as any man that the
liberties of Englishmen had been vindicated against royal
prerogative only by depriving one king of his head and another of
his crown; and they needed no instruction in the significance of
the "glorious revolution," the high justification of which was to
be found in the political gospel of John Locke, whose book they
had commonly bought and conveniently placed on their library

More often than not, it is true, colonial governors were but
ordinary Englishmen with neither the instinct nor the capacity
for tyranny, intent mainly upon getting their salaries paid and
laying by a competence against the day when they might return to
England. But if they were not kings, at least they had certain
royal characteristics; and a certain flavor of despotism,
clinging as it were to their official robes and reviving in
sensitive provincial minds the memory of bygone parliamentary
battles, was an ever-present stimulus to the eternal vigilance
which was well known to be the price of liberty.

And so, throughout the eighteenth century, little colonial
aristocracies played their part, in imagination clothing their
governors in the decaying vesture of old-world tyrants and
themselves assuming the homespun garb, half Roman and half
Puritan, of a virtuous republicanism. Small matters were thus
stamped with great character. To debate a point of procedure in
the Boston or Williamsburg assembly was not, to be sure, as high
a privilege as to obstruct legislation in Westminster; but men of
the best American families, fashioning their minds as well as
their houses on good English models, thought of themselves, in
withholding a governor's salary or limiting his executive power,
as but reenacting on a lesser stage the great parliamentary
struggles of the seventeenth century. It was the illusion of
sharing in great events rather than any low mercenary motive that
made Americans guard with jealous care their legislative
independence; a certain hypersensitiveness in matters of taxation
they knew to be the virtue of men standing for liberties which
Englishmen had once won and might lose before they were aware.

As a matter of course, therefore, the colonial assemblies
protested against the measures of Grenville. The General Court of
Massachusetts instructed its agent to say that the Sugar Act
would ruin the New England fisheries upon which the industrial
prosperity of the northern colonies depended. What they would
lose was set down with some care, in precise figures: the fishing
trade, "estimated at 164,000 pounds per annum; the vessels
employed in it, which would be nearly useless, at 100,000 pounds;
the provisions used in it, the casks for packing fish, and other
articles, at 22,700 pounds and upwards: to all which there was to
be added the loss of the advantage of sending lumber, horses,
provisions, and other commodities to the foreign plantations as
cargoes, the vessels employed to carry the fish to Spain and
Portugal, the dismissing of 5,000 seamen from their employment,"
besides many other losses, all arising from the very simple fact
that the British islands to which the trade of the colonies was
virtually confined by the Sugar Act could furnish no suffcient
market for the products of New England, to say nothing of the
middle colonies, nor a tithe of the molasses and other
commodities now imported from the foreign islands in exchange.

Of the things taken in exchange, silver, in coin and bullion, was
not the least important, since it was essential for the
"remittances to England for goods imported into the provinces,"
remittances which during the last eighteen months, it was said,
"had been made in specie to the amount of 150,000 pounds besides
90,000 pounds in Treasurer's bills for the reimbursement money."
Any man must thus see, since even Governor Bernard was convinced
of it, that the new duties would drain the colony of all its hard
money, and so, as the Governor said, "There will be an end of the
specie currency in Massachusetts." And with her trade half gone
and her hard money entirely so, the old Bay colony would have to
manufacture for herself those very commodities which English
merchants were so desirous of selling in America.

The Sugar Act was thus made out to be, even from the point of
view of English merchants, an economic blunder; but in the eyes
of vigilant Bostonians it was something more, and much worse than
an economic blunder. Vigilant Bostonians assembled in Town
Meeting in May, 1764, in order to instruct their representatives
how they ought to act in these serious times; and knowing that
they ought to protest but perhaps not knowing precisely on what
grounds, they committed the drafting of their instructions to
Samuel Adams, a middle-aged man who had given much time to the
consideration of political questions, and above all to this very
question of taxation, upon which he had wonderfully clarified his
ideas by much meditation and the writing of effective political
pieces for the newspapers.

Through the eyes of Samuel Adams, therefore, vigilant Bostonians
saw clearly that the Sugar Act, to say nothing of the Stamp Act,
was not only an economic blunder but a menace to political
liberty as well. "If our trade may be taxed," so the instructions
ran," why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and
everything we possess or make use of? This we apprehend
annihilates our charter right to govern and tax ourselves. It
strikes at our British privileges which, as we have never
forfeited them, we hold in common with our fellow-subjects who
are natives of Great Britain. If taxes are laid upon us in any
shape without our having a legal representative where they are
laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to
the miserable state of tributary slaves?" Very formidable
questions, couched in high-sounding phrases, and representing
well enough in form and in substance the state of mind of
colonial assemblies in the summer of 1764 in respect to the Sugar
Act and the proposed Stamp Act.

Yet these resounding phrases doubtless meant something less to
Americans of 1764 than one is apt to suppose. The rights of
freemen had so often, in the proceedings of colonial assemblies
as well as in the newspaper communications of many a Brutus and
Cato, been made to depend upon withholding a governor's salary or
defining precisely how he should expend a hundred pounds or so,
that moderate terms could hardly be trusted to cope with the
serious business of parliamentary taxation. "Reduced from the
character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary
slaves" was in fact hardly more than a conventional and dignified
way of expressing a firm but entirely respectful protest.

The truth is, therefore, that while everyone protested in such
spirited terms as might occur to him, few men in these early days
supposed the new laws would not take effect, and fewer still
counseled the right or believed in the practicability of forcible
resistance. "We yield obedience to the act granting duties,"
declared the Massachusetts Assembly. "Let Parliament lay what
duties they please on us," said James Otis; "it is our duty to
submit and patiently bear them till they be pleased to relieve
us." Franklin assured his friends that the passage of the Stamp
Act could not have been prevented any more easily than the sun's
setting, recommended that they endure the one mischance with the
same equanimity with which they faced the other necessity, and
even saw certain advantages in the way of self-discipline which
might come of it through the practice of a greater frugality. Not
yet perceiving the dishonor attaching to the function of
distributing stamps, he did his two friends, Jared Ingersoll of
Connecticut and John Hughes of Pennsylvania, the service of
procuring for them the appointment to the new office; and Richard
Henry Lee, as good a patriot as any man and therefore of
necessity at some pains later to explain his motives in the
matter, applied for the position in Virginia.

Richard Henry Lee was no friend of tyrants, but an American
freeman, less distinguished as yet than his name, which was a
famous one and not without offense to be omitted from any list of
the Old Dominion's "best families." The best families of the Old
Dominion, tide-water tobacco planters of considerable estates,
admirers and imitators of the minor aristocracy of England, took
it as a matter of course that the political fortunes of the
province were committed to their care and for many generations
had successfully maintained the public interest against the
double danger of executive tyranny and popular licentiousness. It
is therefore not surprising that the many obscure freeholders,
minor planters, and lesser men who filled the House of Burgesses
had followed the able leadership of that little coterie of
interrelated families comprising the Virginia aristocracy. John
Robinson, Speaker of the House and Treasurer of the colony, of
good repute still in the spring of 1765, was doubtless the head
and front of this aristocracy, the inner circle of which would
also include Peyton Randolph, then King's Attorney, and Edmund
Pendleton, well known for his cool persuasiveness in debate, the
learned constitutional lawyer, Richard Bland, the sturdy and
honest but ungraceful Robert Carter Nicholas, and George Wythe,
noblest Roman of them all, steeped in classical lore, with the
thin, sharp face of a Caesar and for virtuous integrity a very
Cato. Conscious of their English heritage, they were at once
proud of their loyalty to Britain and jealous of their well-won
provincial liberties. As became British-American freemen, they
had already drawn a proper Memorial against the Sugar Act and
were now, as they leisurely gathered at Williamsburg in the early
weeks of May, 1765, unwilling to protest again at present, for
they had not as yet received any reply to their former dignified
and respectful petition.

To this assembly of the burgesses in 1765, there came from the
back-country beyond the first falls of the Virginia rivers, the
frontier of that day, many deputies who must have presented, in
dress and manners as well as in ideas, a sharp contrast to the
eminent leaders of the aristocracy. Among them was Thomas
Marshall, father of a famous son, and Patrick Henry, a young man
of twenty-nine years, a heaven-born orator and destined to be the
leader and interpreter of the silent "simple folk" of the Old
Dominion. In Hanover County, in which this tribune of the people
was born and reared and which he now represented, there were, as
in all the backcountry counties, few great estates and few
slaves, no notable country-seats with pretension to architectural
excellence, no modishly dressed aristocracy with leisure for
reading and the cultivation of manners becoming a gentleman.
Beyond the tide-water, men for the most part earned their bread
by the sweat of their brows, lived the life and esteemed the
virtues of a primitive society, and braced their minds with the
tonic of Calvin's theology--a tonic somewhat tempered in these
late enlightened days by a more humane philosophy and the
friendly emotionalism of simple folk living close to nature.

Free burgesses from the back-country, set apart in dress and
manners from the great planters, less learned and less practiced
in oratory and the subtle art of condescension and patronage than
the cultivated men of the inner circle, were nevertheless staunch
defenders of liberty and American rights and were perhaps
beginning to question, in these days of popular discussion,
whether liberty could very well flourish among men whose wealth
was derived from the labor of negro slaves, or be well guarded
under all circumstances by those who, regarding themselves as
superior to the general run of men, might be in danger of
mistaking their particular interests for the common welfare. And
indeed it now seemed that these great men who sent their sons to
London to be educated, who every year shipped their tobacco to
England and bought their clothes of English merchants with whom
their credit was always good, were grown something too timid, on
account of their loyalty to Britain, in the great question of
asserting the rights of America.

Jean Jacques Rousseau would have well understood Patrick Henry,
one of those passionate temperaments whose reason functions not
in the service of knowledge but of good instincts and fine
emotions; a nature to be easily possessed of an exalted
enthusiasm for popular rights and for celebrating the virtues of
the industrious poor. This enthusiasm in the case of Patrick
Henry was intensified by his own eloquence, which had been so
effectively exhibited in the famous Parson's Cause, and in
opposition to the shady scheme which the old leaders in the House
of Burgesses had contrived to protect John Robinson, the
Treasurer, from being exposed to a charge of embezzlement. Such
courageous exploits, widely noised abroad, had won for the young
man great applause and had got him a kind of party of devoted
followers in the backcountry and among the yeomanry and young men
throughout the province, so that to take the lead and to stand
boldly forth as the champion of liberty and the submerged rights
of mankind seemed to Patrick Henry a kind of mission laid upon
him, in virtue of his heavenly gift of speech, by that Providence
which shapes the destinies of men.

It was said that Mr. Henry was not learned in the law; but he had
read in "Coke upon Littleton" that an Act of Parliament against
Magna Carta, or common right, or reason, is void--which was
clearly the case of the Stamp Act. On the flyleaf of an old copy
of that book this unlearned lawyer accordingly wrote out some
resolutions of protest which he showed to his friends, George
Johnston and John Fleming, for their approval. Their approval
once obtained, Mr. Johnston moved, with Mr. Henry as second, that
the House of Burgesses should go into committee of the whole, "to
consider the steps necessary to be taken in consequence of the
resolutions...charging certain Stamp Duties in the colonies";
which was accordingly done on the 29th of May, upon which day Mr.
Henry presented his resolutions.

The 29th of May was late in that session of the Virginia House of
Burgesses; and most likely the resolutions would have been
rejected if some two-thirds of the members, who knew nothing of
Mr. Henry's plans and supposed the business of the Assembly
finished, had not already gone home. Among those who had thus
departed, it is not likely that there were many of Patrick
Henry's followers. Yet even so there was much opposition. The
resolutions were apparently refashioned in committee of the
whole, for a preamble was omitted outright and four "Resolves"
were made over into five which were presented to the House on the
day following.

Young Mr. Jefferson, at that time a law student and naturally
much interested in the business of lawmaking, heard the whole of
this day's famous debate from the door of communication between
the House and the lobby. The five resolutions, he afterwards
remembered, were "opposed by Randolph, Bland, Pendleton,
Nicholas, Wythe, and all the old members, whose influence in the
House had, till then, been unbroken;...not from any question
of our rights, but on the ground that the same sentiments had
been, at their preceding session, expressed in a more
conciliatory form, to which the answers were not yet received.
But torrents of sublime eloquence from Mr. Henry, backed by the
solid reasoning of Johnston, prevailed." It was in connection
with the fifth resolution, upon which the debate was "most
bloody," that Patrick Henry is said to have declared that
"Tarquin and Caesar had each his Brutus, Charles the First his
Cromwell, and George the Third--"; upon which cries of "Treason"
were heard from every part of the House. Treason or not, the
resolution was carried, although by one vote only; and the young
law student standing at the door of the House heard Peyton
Randolph say, as he came hastily out into the lobby: "By God, I
would have given 500 guineas for a single vote." And no doubt he
would, at that moment, being then much heated.

Next day Mr. Randolph was probably much cooler; and so apparently
were some others who, in the enthusiasm of debate and under the
compelling eye of Patrick Henry, had voted for the last defiant
resolution. Thinking the matter settled, Patrick Henry had
already gone home "to recommend himself to his constituents," as
his enemies thought, "by spreading treason."

But the matter was not yet settled. Early on that morning of the
31st, before the House assembled, the young law student who was
so curious about the business of lawmaking saw Colonel Peter
Randolph, of his Majesty's Council, standing at the Clerk's
table, "thumbing over the volumes of journals to find a
precedent for expunging a vote of the House." Whether the
precedent was found the young law student did not afterwards
recollect; but it is known that on motion of Peyton Randolph the
fifth resolution was that day erased from the record. Mr. Henry
was not then present. He had been seen, on the afternoon before,
"passing along the street, on his way to his home in Louisa, clad
in a pair of leather breeches, his saddle-bags on his arm,
leading a lean horse." The four resolutions thus adopted as the
deliberate and formal protest of the Old Dominion were as mild
and harmless as could well be. They asserted no more than that
the first adventurers and settlers of Virginia brought with them
and transmitted to their posterity all the privileges at any time
enjoyed by the people of Great Britain; that by two royal
charters they had been formally declared to be as surely
possessed of these privileges as if they had been born and were
then abiding within the realm; that the taxation of the people by
themselves or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them
"is the only security against a burthensome taxation, and the
distinguishing characteristick of British freedom, without which
the ancient constitution cannot exist"; and that the loyal colony
of Virginia had in fact without interruption enjoyed this
inestimable right, which had never been forfeited or surrendered
nor ever hitherto denied by the kings or the people of Britain.
No treason here, expressed or implied; nor any occasion for 500
guineas passing from one hand to another to prove that the
province of Virginia was still the ancient and loyal Old

But Fate, or Providence, or whatever it is that presides at the
destinies of nations, has a way of setting aside with ironical
smile the most deliberate actions of men. And so, on this
occasion, it turned out that the hard-won victory of Messrs.
Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, and Wythe was of no avail. William
Gordon tells us, without mentioning the source of his
information, that "a manuscript of the unrevised resolves soon
reached Philadelphia, having been sent off immediately upon their
passing, that the earliest information of what had been done
might be obtained by the Sons of Liberty." From Philadelphia a
copy was forwarded, on June 17, to New York, in which loyal city
the resolutions were thought "so treasonable that their
possessors declined printing them"; but an Irish gentleman from
Connecticut, who was then in town, inquired after them and was
with great precaution permitted to take a copy, which he
straightway carried to New England. All this may be true or not;
but certain it is that six resolutions purporting to come from
Virginia were printed in the Newport "Mercury" on June 24, 1765,
and afterwards, on July 1, in many Boston papers.

The document thus printed did not indeed include the famous fifth
resolution upon which the debate in the House of Burgesses was
"most bloody" and which had been there adopted by a single vote
and afterwards erased from the record; but it included two others
much stronger than that eminently treasonable one:

"Resolved, That his Majesty's Liege people, the inhabitants of
this colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or
ordinance whatever, designed to impose any taxation whatsoever
upon them, other than the laws and ordinances of the General
Assembly aforesaid. Resolved, That any person who shall, by
speaking or writing, assert or maintain that any person or
persons, other than the General Assembly of this colony, have any
right or power to impose any taxation on the people here, shall
be deemed an enemy to his Majesty's colony."

These resolutions, which Governor Fauquier had not seen, and
which were perhaps never debated in the House of Burgesses, were
now circulated far and wide as part of the mature decision of the
Virginia Assembly. On the 14th of September, Messrs. Randolph,
Wythe, and Nicholas were appointed a committee to apprise the
Assembly's agent "of a spurious copy of the resolves of the last
Assembly...being dispersed and printed in the News Papers and
to send him a true copy of the votes on that occasion." In those
days of slow and difficult communication, the truth, three months
late, could not easily overtake the falsehood or ever effectively
replace it. In later years, when it was thought an honor to
have begun the Revolution, many men denied the decisive effect of
the Virginia Resolutions in convincing the colonists that the
Stamp Act might be successfully resisted. But contemporaries were
agreed in according them that glory or that infamy. "Two or three
months ago," said Governor Bernard, "I thought that this people
would submit to the Stamp Act. Murmurs were indeed continually
heard, but they seemed to be such as would die away. The
publishing the Virginia Resolutions proved an alarm-bell to the
disaffected." We read the resolutions, said Jonathan Sewell,
"with wonder. They savored of independence; they flattered the
human passions; the reasoning was specious; we wished it
conclusive. The transition to believing it so was easy, and we,
almost all America, followed their example in resolving that the
Parliament had no such right." And the good patriot John Adams,
who afterwards attributed the honor to James Otis, said in 1776
that the "author of the first Virginia Resolutions against the
Stamp Act...will have the glory with posterity of beginning...this
great Revolution.*

* Upon the death of George II, 1760, the collectors of the
customs at Boston applied for new writs of assistance. The grant
was opposed by the merchants, and the question was argued before
the Superior Court. It was on this occasion that James Otis made
a speech in favor of the rights of the colonists as men and
Englishmen. All that is known of it is contained in some rough
notes taken at the time by John Adams ("Works of John Adams,"
ii., 125). An elaboration of these notes was printed in the
"Massachusetts Spy," April 29, 1778, and with corrections by
Adams fifty years after the event in William Tudor's "Life of
James Otis," chs. 5-7. This is the speech to which Adams, at a
later date, attributed the beginning of the Revolution.

James Otis in 1765 declared the Virginia Resolutions to be
treasonable. It was precisely their treasonable flavor that
electrified the country, while the fact that they came from the
Old Dominion made men think that a union of the colonies, so
essential to successful resistance, might be achieved in spite of
all. The Old Dominion, counted the most English of the colonies
in respect to her institutions and her sympathies, had a
character for loyalty that, in any matter of opposition to
Britain, gave double weight to her action. Easy-going
tobacco-planters, Church of England men all, were well known not
to be great admirers of the precise Puritans of New England,
whose moral fervor and conscious rectitude seemed to them a
species of fanaticism savoring more of canting hypocrisy than of
that natural virtue affected by men of parts. Franklin may well
have had Virginia and Massachusetts in mind when he said, but a
few years earlier, no one need fear that the colonies "will unite
against their own nation...which 'tis well known they all
love much more than they love one another." Nor could anyone have
supposed that the "Ancient and Loyal Colony of Virginia" would
out-Boston Boston in asserting the rights of America. Yet this was
what had come to pass, the evidence of which was the printed
resolutions now circulating far and wide and being read in this
month of July when it was being noised about that a Congress was
proposed for the coming October. The proposal had in fact come
from Massachusetts Bay in the form of a circular letter inviting
all the colonies to send delegates to New York for the purpose of
preparing a loyal and humble "representation of their condition,"
and of imploring relief from the King and Parliament of Great

No very encouraging response was immediately forthcoming. The
Assembly of New Jersey unanimously declined to send any
delegates, although it declared itself "not without a just
sensibility respecting the late acts of Parliament," and wished
"such other colonies as think proper to be active every success
they can loyally and reasonably desire." For two months there was
no indication that any colony would think it "proper to be
active"; but during August and September the assemblies of six
colonies chose deputies to the congress, and when that body
finally assembled in October, less formally designated
representatives from three other colonies appeared upon the
scene. The Assembly of New Hampshire declined to take part.
Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina were also unrepresented,
which was perhaps due to the fact that the governors of those
provinces refused to call the assemblies together to consider the
Massachusetts circular letter. Of the 27 members of the Stamp Act
Congress, few if any were inclined to rash or venturesome
measures. It is reported that Lord Melbourne, as Prime Minister
of England, once remarked to his Cabinet, "It doesn't matter what
we say, but we must all say the same thing." What the Stamp Act
Congress said was to be sure of some importance, but that it
should say something which all could agree to was of even greater
importance. "There ought to be no New England man, no New Yorker,
known on the continent," wrote Christopher Gadsden of South
Carolina, "but all of us Americans." New Yorkers and New England
men could not indeed be so easily transformed over night; but the
Stamp Act Congress was significant as marking a kind of beginning
in that slow and difficult process. After eleven days of debate,
in which sharp differences of opinion were no doubt revealed, a
declaration of rights and grievances was at last adopted; a
declaration which was so cautiously and loyally phrased that all
could subscribe to it, and which was perhaps for that very reason
not quite satisfactory to anyone.

His Majesty's subjects in the colonies, the declaration affirmed,
are entitled to those "inherent rights and liberties" which are
enjoyed by "his natural born subjects" in Great Britain; among
which rights is that most important one of "not being taxed
without their own consent"; and since the people of the colonies,
"from local circumstances, cannot be represented in the House of
Commons," it follows that taxes cannot be "imposed upon them, but
by their respective legislatures." The Stamp Act, being a direct
tax, was therefore declared to have a "manifest tendency to
subvert the rights and liberties of the colonies." Of the Sugar
Act, which was not a direct tax, so much could not be said; but
this act was at least "burthensome and grievous," being
subversive of trade if not of liberty. No one was likely to be
profoundly stirred by the declaration of the Stamp Act Congress,
in this month of October when the spirited Virginia Resolutions
were everywhere well known.

"The frozen politicians of a more northern government," according
to the "Boston Gazette," "say they [the people of Virginia] have
spoken treason"; but the "Boston Gazette," for its part, thought
they had "spoken very sensibly." With much reading of the
resolutions and of the commendatory remarks with which they were
everywhere received, the treasonable flavor of their boldest
phrases no doubt grew less pronounced, and high talk took on more
and more the character of good sense. During the summer of 1765
the happy phrase of Isaac Barre--"these sons of liberty"--was
everywhere repeated, and was put on as a kind of protective
coloring by strong patriots, who henceforth thought of themselves
as Sons of Liberty and no traitors at all. Rather were they
traitors who would in any way justify an act of tyranny; most of
all those so-called Americans, accepting the office of Stamp
Master, who cunningly aspired to make a farthing profit out of
the hateful business of enslaving their own countrymen.

Who these gentry might be was not certainly known until early
August, when Jared Ingersoll, himself as it turned out one of the
miscreants, brought the commissions over from London, whereupon
the names were all printed in the papers. It then appeared that
the gentleman appointed to distribute the stamps in Massachusetts
was Andrew Oliver, a man very well connected in that province and
of great influence with the beet people, not infrequently
entrusted with high office and perquisites, and but recently
elected by the unsuspecting Bostonians to represent them in the
council of Massachusetts Bay Colony. It seemed inconsistent that
a man so often honored by the people should meanwhile pledge
himself to destroy their liberties; and so on the morning of the
14th of August, Mr. Oliver's effigy, together with a horned
devil's head peeping out of an old boot, was to be seen hanging
from the Liberty Tree at the south end of Boston, near the
distillery of Thomas Chase, brewer and warm Son of Liberty.
During the day people stopped to make merry over the spectacle;
and in the evening, after work hours, a great crowd gathered to
see what would happen. When the effigy was cut down and carried
away, the crowd very naturally followed along through the streets
and through the Town House, justifying themselves--many
respectable people were in the crowd--for being there by calling
out, "Liberty and Property forever; no Stamp." And what with
tramping and shouting in the warm August evening, the whole crowd
became much heated and ever more enthusiastic, so that, the line
of march by some chance lying past the new stamp office and Mr.
Oliver's house, the people were not to be restrained from
destroying the former and breaking in the windows of the latter,
in detestation of the hated Stamp Act and of the principle that
property might be taken without consent. Mr. Oliver hastened to
resign his office, which doubtless led many people to think the
methods taken to induce him to do so were very good ones and such
as might well be made further use of. It was in fact not long
afterwards, about dusk of the evening of the 26th of August, that
a mob of men, more deliberately organized than before, ransacked
the office of William Story, Deputy Registrar of the Court of
Admiralty, and, after burning the obnoxious records kept there,
they forcibly entered the house, and the cellar too, of Benjamin
Hallowell, Comptroller of the Customs. "Then the Monsters," says
Deacon Tudor, "being enflam'd with Rum & Wine which they got in
sd. Hallowell's cellar, proceeded with Shouts to the Dwelling
House of the Hon-l. Thos. Hutchinson, Esq., Lieut. Governor,
& enter'd in a voyalent manner." At that moment the
Lieutenant-Governor was sitting comfortably at dinner and had
barely time to escape with his family before the massive front
door was broken in with axes. As young Mr. Hutchinson went out by
the back way he heard someone say: "Damn him, he's upstairs,
we'll have him yet." They did not indeed accomplish this purpose;
but when the morning broke the splendid house was seen to be
completely gutted, the partition walls broken in, the roof partly
off, and the priceless possessions of the owner ruined past
repair: mahogany and walnut furniture finished in morocco and
crimson damask, tapestries and Turkey carpets, rare paintings,
cabinets of fine glass and old china, stores of immaculate linen,
India paduasoy gowns and red Genoa robes, a choice collection of
books richly bound in leather and many manuscript documents, the
fruit of thirty years' labor in collecting--all broken and cut
and cast about to make a rubbish heap and a bonfire. From the
mire of the street there was afterwards picked up a manuscript
history of Massachusetts which is preserved to this day, the
soiled pages of which may still be seen in the Boston library.
Mr. Hutchinson was no friend of the Stamp Act; but he was a rich
man, Lieutenant-Governor of the province, and brother-in-law of
Andrew Oliver.

Government offered the usual rewards--which were never
claimed--for evidence leading to the detection of any persons
concerned in the riots. Men of repute, including the staunchest
patriots such as Samuel Adams and Jonathan Mayhew, expressed
their abhorrence of mobs and of all licentious proceedings in
general; but many were nevertheless disposed to think, with good
Deacon Tudor, that in this particular instance "the universal
Obhorrance of the Stamp Act was the cause of the Mob's riseing."
It would be well to punish the mob, but punishing the mob would
not cure the evil which was the cause of the mob; for where there
was oppression the lower sort of people, as was well known, would
be sure to express opposition in the way commonly practiced by
them everywhere, in London as well as in Boston, by gathering in
the streets in crowds, in which event some deplorable excesses
were bound to follow, however much deprecated by men of substance
and standing. If ministers wished the people to be tranquil, let
them repeal the Stamp Act; if they were determined to persist in
it, and should attempt to land and distribute the stamps, loyal
and law-abiding citizens, however much they might regret the
fact, could only say that similar disorders were very likely to
become even more frequent and more serious in the future than
they had been in the past.

As the first of November approached, that being the day set for
the levying of the tax, attention and discussion came naturally
to center on the stamps rather than on the Stamp Act. Crowds of
curious people gathered wherever there seemed a prospect of
catching a glimpse of the bundles of stamped papers. Upon their
arrival the papers had to be landed; they could therefore be
seen; and the mere sight of them was likely to be a sufficient
challenge to action. It seemed a simple matter to resist a law
which could be of no effect without the existence of certain
papers, paper being a substance easily disposed of. And
everywhere in fact the stamps were disposed of--disposed of by
mobs, with the tacit consent and impalpable encouragement of many
men who, having a reputable position to maintain, would
themselves by no means endure to be seen in a common crowd; men
of good estate whom no one could think of as countenancers of
violence, but who were, on this occasion, as Mr. Livingston said,
"not averse to a little rioting" on condition that it be kept
within bounds and well directed to the attainment of their just

A little rioting, so easy to be set on foot, was difficult to
keep within reasonable bounds, as Mr. Livingston and his friends
in New York soon discovered, somewhat to their chagrin. In New
York, even after the stamps were surrendered by
Lieutenant-Governor Colden and safely lodged in the Town House,
there were many excesses wholly unnecessary to the attainment of
the original object. Mr. Colden's new chariot, certainly never
designed to carry the stamps, was burned; and on repeated
occasions windows were broken and "particulars" threatened that
their houses would presently be pulled down. Mr. Livingston was
himself the owner of houses, had an immense respect for property
rights and for the law that guaranteed them, and therefore wished
very much that the lower sort of people would give over their
mobbish practices now that the stamps had been disposed of. Since
the law could not now operate without stamps, what more was
necessary except to wait in good order, patiently denying
themselves those activities that involved a violation of the law,
until the law should be repealed? The Stamp Act Congress had
protested in a proper and becoming manner; merchants had agreed
not to import British goods; the Governor had closed the courts.
Stopping of business would doubtless be annoying and might very
likely produce some distress. But it would be legal and it would
be effective: the government would get no revenue; British
merchants no profit; and Americans could not be charged with
violating a law the failure of which was primarily due to the
fact that papers indispensable to its application were, for one
reason or another, not forthcoming.

Mr. Livingston, happily possessed of the conservative
temperament, was disposed to achieve desired ends with the least
possible disturbance of his own affairs and those of his country;
and most men of independent means, landowners and merchants of
considerable estates, moneyed men and high salaried officials
whose incomes were not greatly affected by any temporary business
depression, were likely to be of Mr. Livingston's opinion,
particularly in this matter of the Stamp Act. Sitting comfortably
at dinner every day and well knowing where they could lay hands
on money to pay current bills, they enjoyed a high sense of being
defenders of liberty and at the same time eminently law-abiding
citizens. They professed a decided preference for nullifying the
Stamp Act without violating it. Sitting at dinner over their
wine, they swore that they would let ships lie in harbor and rot
there if necessary, and would let the courts close for a year or
two years, rather than employ taxed papers to collect their just
debts; with a round oath they bound themselves to it, sealing the
pledge, very likely, by sipping another glass of Madeira. In the
defense of just rights, Mr. Livingston and his conservative
friends were willing to sacrifice much: they foresaw some months
of business stagnation, which they nevertheless contemplated with
equanimity, being prepared to tide over the dull time by living
in a diminished manner, if necessary even dispensing with
customary bottles of Madeira at dinner.

Men of radical temperament, having generally less regard for the
status quo, are quick to see ulterior motives back of
conservative timidity and solemn profession of respect for law
and order. It was so in the case of the Stamp Act. Small
shopkeepers who were soon sold out and had no great stock of "old
moth-eaten goods" to offer at enhanced prices, rising young
lawyers whose fees ceased with the closing of the courts,
artisans and laborers who bought their dinners (no Madeira
included) with their daily wage--these, and indeed all the lower
sort of people, contemplated the stopping of business with much
alarm. Mr. John Adams, a young lawyer of Braintree and Boston,
was greatly interested in the question of the courts of justice.
Were the courts to be closed on the ground that no legal business
could be done without stamped papers? Or were they to go on
trying cases, enforcing the 'collection of debts, and probating
wills precisely as if no Stamp Act had ever been heard of? The
Boston superior court was being adjourned continuously, for a
fortnight at a time, through the influence of Messrs. Hutchinson
and Oliver, to the great and steadily rising wrath of young Mr.
Adams. The courts must soon be opened, he said to himself; their
inactivity "will make a large chasm in my affairs, if it should
not reduce me to distress." Young Mr. Adams, who had, no less
than Mr. Oliver, a family to support and children to provide for,
was just at the point of making a reputation and winning a
competence "when this execrable project was set on foot for my
ruin as well as that of America in general." And therefore Mr.
Adams, and Mr. Samuel Adams, and Mr. Otis, and Mr. Gridley, in
order to avert the ruin of America in general, were "very warm"
to have the courts open and very bitter against Messrs.
Hutchinson and Oliver whose "insolence and impudence and
chicanery" in the matter were obvious, and whose secret motives
might easily be inferred. Little wonder if these men, who had


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