The Eve of the Revolution,
Carl Becker

Part 3 out of 3

apathy of the people, it would clearly "be an arduous task for
any man to attempt to awaken a sufficient Number in the colonies
to so grand an undertaking." But Samuel Adams, who thought
"nothing should be despaired of," took upon himself the
performance of this arduous task. Such committees, if they were
anywhere needed, were certainly needed in Massachusetts, where
the people labored under a "state of perfect Despotism," daily
submitting to be ruled--by a native Governor who refused to accept
a grant from the General Court, received his salary from London,
and governed the province according to his instructions. "Is it
not enough," asked Valerius Poplicola in the "Gazette" "to have a
Governor...PENSIONED by those on whom his existence
depends? ...Is Life, Property, and Every Thing dear and
sacred, to be now submitted to the Decisions of PENSION'D JUDGES,
holding their places during the pleasure of SUCH a Governor, and
a Council PERHAPS overawed?"

Confronted by so unprecedented a situation, it occurred to Samuel
Adams that perhaps Mr. Hutchinson himself might be induced to
come to his assistance. Late in 1772 he accordingly got the
Boston town meeting to present to the Governor an address
expressing great alarm at the establishment of salaries for
judges, and praying that the legislature, which was to meet the
2d of December, might not be prorogued. It was possible that in
replying the Governor might take a "high tone," refusing the
request as an interference with his own prerogative; but, as it
was clearly the right of the people to petition, for the Governor
to refuse would be, Samuel Adams thought, to "put himself IN THE
WRONG, in the opinion of every honest and sensible man; the
consequence of which will be that such measures as the people may
determine upon to save themselves...will be the more
reconcilable even to cautious minds, and thus we may expect that
unanimity which we wish for." The Governor, in a tone that might
be called "high," did in fact object to the request as not
properly a function of town meetings and thus furnished the
occasion for organizing the committees which he thought so
disturbing to the state of government.

It was on November 2, 1772, upon a motion of Samuel Adams, that a
committee was appointed by a town meeting in Faneuil Hall "to
state the Rights of the colonies and of this Province in
particular, as Men, as Christians, and as Subjects; to
communicate and publish the same to the several Towns in this
Province and to the World as the sense of this Town, with the
Infringements and Violations thereof that have been, or from time
to time may be made...requesting of each Town a free
communication of their Sentiments on this Subject." The report of
the committee, adopted November 20, announced to the world that,
as men, the colonists, and those of Massachusetts in particular,
were possessed of certain "Natural Rights," among them the right
to life, liberty, and property; and that, inasmuch as "men enter
into voluntary consent," they still retained
"every Natural Right not expressly given up or by the nature of
the Social Compact necessarily ceded." Being Christians as well
as men, the colonists enjoyed also those rights formulated in
"the institutes of the great Lawgiver and head of the Christian
Church, ...written and promulgated in the New Testament."
Lastly, being Englishmen, the colonists were, "by the Common Law
and by the acts of the British Parliament...declared to be
entitled to all the Liberties and Privileges of Subjects
born...within the Realm." The infringements which had been made
upon these rights, although well known, were once more stated at
length; and all the towns of the province were requested, in
case they agreed with the sentiments of the Town of Boston, to
unite in a common effort "to rescue from impending ruin our
happy and glorious Constitution." For its part, the Town of
Boston was confident that the wisdom of the other towns, as
well as their regard for themselves and the rising generation,
would not suffer them "to dose, or set supinely indifferent on
the brink of destruction, while the Iron hand of oppression is
daily tearing the choicest Fruit from the fair Tree of Liberty."

Moderate men might think, in the winter of 1773, that "the Iron
hand of oppression tearing the choicest Fruit from the Fair Tree
of Liberty" was a figure of speech which did not shape itself
with nice flexibility to the exact form and pressure of
observable facts. It is the limitation of moderate men to be much
governed by observable facts; and if the majority could not at
once rise to the rhetoric of Samuel Adams, it was doubtless
because they had not his instinctive sense of the Arch
Conspirator's truly implacable enmity to America. The full
measure of this enmity Mr. Adams lived in the hope of some day

It was of course well known that Mr. Bernard had formerly written
home letters most injurious to the province; and in 1770 there
"was abundant reason to be jealous," as Samuel Adams, writing on
behalf of the Town of Boston, assured Benjamin Franklin, "that
the most mischievous and virulent accounts have been lately sent
to Administration from Castle William," no doubt from the
Commissioners of the Customs. Conveying malicious and unfounded
misrepresentations of America under the seal of official
correspondence had indeed long been a favorite means of mending
the fortunes of those decayed gentlemen and bankrupt politicians
whose ambition it was to rise in office by playing the sycophant
to some great man in England. Mr. Bernard had "played this game,"
and had been found out at it, as every one knew. But Mr. Bernard
was no American; and it was scarcely to be imagined that Mr.
Hutchinson, who boasted "that his Ancestors were of the first
Rank and figure in the Country, who...had all the Honors
lavished upon him which his Fellow-Citizens had it in their power
to bestow, who professed the strongest attachment to his native
Country and the most tender feelings for its Rights, ...should
be so lost to all sense of Gratitude and public Love as to aid
the Designs of despotick power for the sake of rising a single
step higher."

This was indeed scarcely to be imagined, yet Samuel Adams
imagined it perfectly. Before there was any material evidence of
the fact, he was able, by reasonable inference, to erect
well-grounded suspicions into a kind of working hypothesis. Mr.
Hutchinson, Governor of the Province, was an Enemy of Liberty
with many English friends; he would be required by official duty
and led by personal inclination to maintain a regular
correspondence with high officials in England; from which the
conclusion was that Thomas Hutchinson, professed friend of
America, was a traitor, in secret alienating the affections of
the King from his loyal subjects. Samuel Adams knew this well;
and now, after all these years, the material evidence necessary
to convince men of little faith was at hand. Under circumstances
that might be regarded as providential, Thomas Hutchinson was at
last unmasked.

The prelude to this dramatic performance was pronounced in the
Massachusetts Assembly, one day in June, 1773, by Mr. John
Hancock, who darkly declared that within eight and forty hours a
discovery of great pith and moment would be made to the House. On
the next day but one, Samuel Adams arose and desired the
galleries cleared, as there were matters to lay before the
members which the members only had a right to know of. When the
galleries were cleared he informed the House that certain
letters, written by high officials in the province and extremely
hostile to the rights and liberties of America, had been procured
in England and transmitted to a gentleman who had in turn placed
them in his, Mr. Adams's, hands, but with the strictest
injunction that they be returned without being copied or pitted.
Mr. Adams had given his pledge to this effect; and, if the House
would receive them on these terms, he would be glad to read the
letters, no restriction having been placed on their being read.
They were read accordingly; and a committee having been appointed
to make recommendations, it was at length resolved by the House
of Assembly that certain letters presented to it by Mr. Samuel
Adams tended and were manifestly designed to undermine the
Constitution and establish a despotic power in the province. The
proceedings of the House being spread abroad, it soon became
everywhere known that only the pledged word of the House stood in
the way of revelations highly damaging to the public character of
Governor Hutchinson.

This outcome of the matter, however gratifying to Samuel Adams,
did not satisfy Governor Hutchinson. After there had been "buzzed
about for three or four months a story of something that would
amaze everybody," and these dark rumors being "spread through all
the towns in the province and everybody's expectations...
raised," it was exasperating to his pragmatic nature to have
nothing more definite transpire than that the something which
would amaze everybody would indeed amaze everybody if only it
could be made known. It should at least be made known to the
person most concerned. The Governor therefore requested the
Assembly to furnish him copies of the letters which were
attributed to him and declared by the House to "be destructive of
the Constitution. In reply, the House sent certain dates only.
The House was of opinion that the Governor could easily make
authentic copies of whatever letters he had written at these
dates, if he had written any; and such copies, being furnished to
the Assembly, might be published, and the whole matter thus
cleared up without violating the pledged word of anyone.

With this request the Governor refused to comply, on the ground
that it would be improper to reveal his private correspondence
and contrary to instructions to reveal that of a public nature.
He would say, however, that he had written letters on the days
mentioned, but in these letters there was no statement of fact or
expression of opinion not already well known. What his opinions
were the Assembly and the world might very well gather from his
published speeches and his "History of Massachusetts Bay". It
could scarcely be maintained that he had ever lacked frankness in
the expression of his opinions; and while his opinions might be
thought destructive of the Constitution, it was rather late to be
amazed at them. In any case, the Assembly was assured by the
Governor that his letters neither tended "nor were designed to
subvert, but rather to preserve entire the constitution of
government" as established by the charter of the province.

A great many people besides the Governor desired to see letters
the substance of which could be so differently understood. Samuel
Adams probably preferred not to be forced to print them knowing
their contents, he may have thought that here was a case of those
"dangers which, being known, lose half their power for evil";
besides, having pledged his word, he wished to keep it. Yet the
pressure of public opinion, becoming every day greater, was
difficult to resist, particularly by men who were firm believers
in the wisdom of the people. Moreover, it presently appeared that
there was no longer any point in refusing to publish the letters,
inasmuch as Mr. Hancock assured the House that men on the street
were, in some way not known, possessed of copies, some of which
had been placed in his hands. Mr. Hancock's copies being found on
comparison to be accurate rescripts of the letters which had been
read in the House, a committee was accordingly appointed to
consider how the House might come into honorable possession of
the originals; from which committee Mr. Hawley soon reported that
Samuel Adams had informed them that the gentleman from whom he
had received the letters now consented to their being copied,
seeing that they had already been copied, and printed, seeing
that they were already widely circulated; whereupon the House,
considering itself in honorable possession, ordered the letters
all published.

Nevertheless it was thought expedient, before issuing the
letters, to print and circulate such a series of "Resolves" as
might prepare the public mind for what was to come later. This
was accordingly done. The "Resolves," bearing date of June 16,
1773, indicated clearly and at length the precise significance of
the letters; declared it to be the humble opinion of the House
that it was not to the interest of the Crown to continue in high
places persons "who are known to have, with great industry,
though secretly, endeavored to undermine, alter, and overthrow
the Constitution of the province"; and concluded by praying "that
his Majesty would be pleased to remove...forever from the
government thereof" the Honorable Andrew Oliver and his
Excellency Thomas Hutchinson.

His Majesty did not remove Mr. Hutchinson; but the Governor's
usefulness, from every point of view, was at an end. When the
notorious letters were finally printed, it appeared that there
were seventeen in all, of which six were written by Mr.
Hutchinson in the years 1768 and 1769. These latter documents did
not in fact add anything to the world's stock of knowledge; but
they had been so heralded, ushered in with so much portentous
explication that they scarcely needed to be read to be
understood. "Had they been Chevy Chase," the Governor said, the
people would have believed them "full of evil and treason." It
was indeed the perfect fruit of Samuel Adams's labors that the
significance of Mr. Hutchinson's letters had in some manner
become independent of their contents. So awake were the people to
the danger of being deceived, that whatever the Governor now said
or ever had written was taken to be but the substance of things
hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Meanwhile, the attention of all patriots was diverted from the
letters to a far more serious matter; and when, on December 16,
1773, a cargo of the East India Company's tea, consigned among
others to Thomas and Elisha Hutchinson, was thrown into Boston
harbor, the great crisis, which Samuel Adams had done so much to
make inevitable by virtue of thinking it so, was at last a
reality. It was a limitation of Thomas Hutchinson's excellent
administrative mind that lie was wholly unaware of this crisis.
In February of the next year, finding that "a little discreet
conduct," or indeed any conduct on his part, was altogether
without good effect, the Governor announced that he had "obtained
leave from the King to go to England." On the 1st of June,
driving from his home to the foot of Dorchester Heights, he
embarked on the Minerva and arrived in London one month later. It
was his expectation that after a brief absence, when General Gage
by a show of military force should have brought the province to a
reasonable frame of mind, he would return and assume again the
responsibilities of his office. He never returned, but died in
England on June 3, 1780, an unhappy and a homesick exile from the
country which he loved.

CHAPTER VI. Testing The Issue

The die is now cast; the colonies must either submit or
triumph.--George III.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
inalienable Rights, that among, these are Life, Liberty, and the
pursuit of Happiness.--Thomas Jefferson.

Two months and ten days after Mr. Hutchinson embarked for
England, John Adams, the Hon. Thomas Cushing, Mr. Samuel Adams,
and Robert Treat Paine set out "from Boston, from Mr. Cushing's
house, and rode to Coolidge's, where they dined...with a
large company of gentlemen, who went out and prepared an
entertainment for them at that place. A most kindly and
affectionate meeting we had, and about four in the afternoon we
took leave of them, amidst the kindest wishes and fervent prayers
of every man in the company for our health and success. The scene
was truly affecting, beyond all description affecting." The four
men who in this manner left Boston on the 10th of August, 1774,
were bound for Philadelphia to attend the first Continental
Congress. Even Samuel Adams, in excellent spirits, a little
resplendent and doubtless a little uncomfortable in his new suit
and new silk hose, could scarcely have known that they were about
to share in one of the decisive events in the history of the
modern world.

The calling of the Continental Congress had followed hard upon
those recent measures of the British Government which no
reasonable man could doubt were designed to reduce the colonies
to a state of slavery. In May, 1773, the East India Company,
whose privileges in India had just been greatly restricted, was
given permission to export tea from its English warehouses
directly to America, free of all English customs and excise
duties. The three-penny duty in America was indeed retained; but
this small tax would not prevent the Company from selling its
teas in America at a lower price than other importers, either
smugglers or legitimate traders, could afford. It was true the
Americans were opposed to the three-penny tax, and they had bound
themselves not to import any dutied tea; yet neither the
opposition to the tax nor the non-importation agreements entered
into had prevented American merchants from importing, during the
last three years, about 580,831 pounds of English tea, upon which
the duty had been paid without occasioning much comment.

With these facts in mind, hard-headed American merchants, to whom
the Company applied for information about the state of the tea
trade in the colonies, assured the directors that the Americans
drank a great deal of tea, which hitherto had been largely
smuggled from Holland; and that, although they were in principle
much opposed to the tax, "mankind in general are bound by
interest," and "the Company can afford their teas cheaper than
the Americans can smuggle them from foreigners, which puts the
success of the design beyond a doubt."

The hard-headed merchants were doubtless much surprised at the
universal outcry which was raised when it became known that the
East India Company was preparing to import its teas into the
colonies; and yet the strenuous opposition everywhere exhibited
rather confirmed than refuted the philosophical reflection that
"mankind in general are bound by interest." Neither the New York
and Philadelphia merchants who smuggled tea from Holland, nor the
Boston and Charleston merchants who imported dutied tea from
England, could see any advantage to them in having this
profitable business taken over by the East India Company. Mr.
Hancock, for example, was one of the Boston merchants who
imported a good deal of dutied tea from England, a fact which was
better known then than it has been since; and at Philadelphia
John Adams was questioned rather closely about Mr. Hancock's
violation of the non-importation agreement, in reply to which he
could only say: "Mr. Hancock, I believe, is justifiable, but I am
not certain whether he is strictly so." Justifiable or not, Mr.
Hancock would not wish to see the entire tea trade of America in
the hands of the East India Company.

And indeed to whose interest would it be to have an English
company granted a monopoly of a thriving branch of American
trade? To those, doubtless, who were the consignees of the
Company, such as the sons of Thomas Hutchinson, or Mr. Abram Lott
of New York. Certainly no private merchant "who is acquainted
with the operation of a monopoly...will send out or order tea
to America when those who have it at first hand send to the same
market." And therefore, since the Company have the whole supply,
America will "ultimately be at their mercy to extort what price
they please for their tea. And when they find their success in
this article, they will obtain liberty to export their spices,
silks, etc." This was the light in which the matter appeared to
the New York Committee of Correspondence.

John Dickinson saw the matter in the same light, a light which
his superior abilities enabled him to portray in more lurid
colors. The conduct of the East India Company in Asia, he said,

"has given ample proof how little they regard the laws of
nations, the rights, liberties, or lives of men. They have levied
war, excited rebellions, dethroned princes, and sacrificed
millions for the sake of gain. The revenues of mighty kingdoms
have centered in their coffers. And these not being sufficient to
glut their avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled
barbarities, extortions, and monopolies, stripped the miserable
inhabitants of their property and reduced whole provinces to
indigence and ruin.... Thus having drained the sources of that
immense wealth...they now, it seems, cast their eyes on
America, a new theater, whereon to exercise their talents of
rapine, oppression, and cruelty. The monopoly of tea, is, I dare
say, but a small part of the plan they have formed to strip us of
our property. But thank God we are not Sea Poys, nor Marattas,
but British subjects, who are born to liberty, who know its
worth, and who prize it high."

For all of these reasons, therefore--because they were in
principle opposed to taxation without consent, and by interest
opposed to an English company monopolizing the tea trade, and
perhaps because they desired to give a signal demonstration of
the fact that they were neither Sea Poys nor Marattas--Americans
were willing to resort to the use of force in order to maintain
their own rights by depriving the East India Company of its

When Capt. Curling's ship arrived in Charleston, the people in
that town, assembled to deal with the grave crisis, were somewhat
uncertain what to do with the Company's tea. On the very ship
which brought the Company's tea, there were some chests consigned
to private merchants; and certain enthusiastic patriots attending
the meeting of citizens affirmed that the importation of dutied
tea by private merchants contrary to the non-importation
agreement was no less destructive to liberty than the importation
of tea by the East India Company. "All this," it was said,
"evinced a desire of not entering hastily into measures." In the
end, the Company's tea was seized by the Collector and stored in
the vaults under the Exchange. At New York and Philadelphia, the
Company's tea ships were required to return to England without
landing; and it was only at Boston, where Governor Hutchinson,
whose sons had been appointed by the Company as its consignees,
refused return clearance papers, that the tea, some 14,000 pounds
worth of it, was thrown into the harbor.

Throwing the tea into the harbor raised a sharp sense of
resentment in the minds of Britons. The common feeling was that,
unless the British Government was prepared to renounce all
pretense of governing the colonies, something must be done. There
were a few, such as Josiah Tucker, who thought that the thing to
do was to give up the colonies; in their opinion, colonies were
in any case more of a burden than an advantage, the supposed
advantages of colonies being bound up with restrictions on trade,
and restrictions on trade being contrary to the natural law by
which commerce should be free. But the natural law was only a
recent discovery not yet widely accepted in England; and it did
not occur to the average Briton that the colonies should be given
up. The colonies, he supposed, were English colonies; and he
thought the time had come to establish that fact. He had heard
that the colonies had grievances. All he knew was that the
Government had good-naturedly made concessions for the last ten
years; and as for this new grievance about tea, the average
Briton made out only that the Americans could buy their tea
cheaper than he could himself.

Obviously the time had come for Old England to set the colonies
right by showing less concession and more power. Four regiments,
as General Gage said, would do the business. The average Briton
therefore gave his cordial approval to four "coercive" measures,
passed by overwhelming majorities in Parliament, which remodeled
the Massachusetts charter, authorized the Governor to transfer to
courts in other colonies or to England any cases involving a
breach of the peace or the conduct of public officers, provided
for quartering troops on the inhabitants, and closed the port of
Boston until the East India Company should have been compensated
for the loss of its tea. In order to make these measures
effective, General Gage, commander of the American forces, was
made Governor of Massachussetts. To what extent he would find it
necessary to use the military depended upon the Bostonians. "The
die is now cast," the King wrote to Lord North; "the colonies
must either submit or triumph." The King's judgment was not
always good; but it must be conceded that in this instance he had
penetrated to the very center of the situation.

Massachusetts, very naturally, wished not to submit, but whether
she could triumph without the support of the other colonies was
more than doubtful; and it was to obtain this support, to devise
if possible a method of resistance agreeable to all, that the
Congress was now assembling at Philadelphia. The spirit in which
the colonies received the news of the Boston Port Bill augured
well for union, for in every colony it was felt that this was a
challenge which could not be evaded without giving the lie to ten
years of high talk about the inalienable rights of Englishmen. As
Charles James Fox said, "all were taught to consider the town of
Boston as suffering in the common cause." This sentiment John
Adams found everywhere expressed--found everywhere, as he took
his leisurely journey southward, that people were "very firm" in
their determination to support Massachusetts against the
oppression of the British Government.

In respect to the measures which should be adopted to achieve the
end desired, there was not the same unanimity. Mr. Adams, at the
age of thirty-eight years, never having been out of New England,
kept his eyes very wide open as he entered the foreign colonies
of New York and Pennsylvania. In New York he was much impressed
with the "elegant country seats," with the bountiful hospitality,
and the lavish way of living. "A more elegant breakfast I never
saw"--this was at Mr. Scott's house--"rich plate, a very large
silver coffee-pot, a very large silver tea-pot, napkins of the
finest materials, toast, and bread and butter in great
perfection," and then, to top it off, "a plate of beautiful
peaches, another of pears, and another of plums, and a musk-melon
were placed upon the table." Nevertheless, in spite of the
friendliness shown to him personally, in spite of the sympathy
which, abstractly considered, the New Yorkers expressed for the
sad state of Boston, Mr. Adams was made to understand that if it
came to practical measures for the support of Massachusetts, many
diverse currents of opinion and interest would make themselves

New York was "very firm" in the cause, certainly, but "Mr.
MacDougall gave a caution to avoid every expression which looked
like an allusion to the last appeal. He says there is a powerful
party here who are intimidated by fears of a civil war, and they
have been induced to acquiesce by assurances that there was no
danger, and that a peaceful cessation of commerce would effect
relief. Another party, he says, are intimidated lest the leveling
spirit of the New England colonies should propagate itself into
New York. Another party are instigated by Episcopalian prejudices
against New England. Another party are merchants largely
concerned in navigation, and therefore afraid of non-importation,
nonconsumption, and non-exportation agreements. Another party are
those who are looking up to Government for favors."

These interests were doubtless well enough represented by the New
York deputies to the Congress, whom Mr. Adams now saw for the
first time. Mr. Jay, it was said, was a good student of the law
and a hard worker. Mr. Low, "they say, will profess attachment to
the cause of liberty, but his sincerity is doubted." Mr. Alsop
was thought to be of good heart, but unequal, as Mr. Scott
affirmed, "to the trust in point of abilities." Mr. Duane--this
was Mr. Adams's own impression--"has a sly, surveying eye, ...
very sensible, I think, and very artful." And finally there was
Mr. Livingston, "a downright, straightforward many" who reminded
Mr. Adams that Massachusetts had once hung some Quakers, affirmed
positively that civil war would follow the renunciation of
allegiance to Britain, and threw out vague hints of the Goths and

Confiding these matters to his "Diary" and keeping his own
opinion, Mr. Adams passed on to Philadelphia. There the
Massachusetts men were cordially welcomed, twice over, but
straightway cautioned against two gentlemen, one of whom was "Dr.
Smith, the Provost of the College, who is looking up to
Government for an American Episcopate and a pair of lawn
sleeves"--a very soft, polite man, "insinuating, adulating,
sensible, learned, insidious, indefatigable," with art enough,
"and refinement upon art, to make impressions even upon Mr.
Dickinson and Mr. Reed." In Pennsylvania, as in every colony, Mr.
Adams found, there was a tribe of people "exactly like the tribe,
in the Massachusetts, of Hutchinsonian Addressers." Some of this
tribe had managed to elbow their way into the committees of
deputies to the Congress, at least from the middle colonies, and
probably from South Carolina as well.

The "most spirited and consistent of any" of the deputies were
the gentlemen from Virginia, among whom were Mr. Henry and Mr. R.
H. Lee, said to be the Demosthenes and the Cicero of America. The
latter, Mr. Adams liked much, a "masterly man" who was very
strong for the most vigorous measures. But it seemed that even
Mr. Lee was strong for vigorous measures only because he was
"absolutely certain that the same ship which carries hence the
resolutions will bring back the redress." If he supposed
otherwise, he "should be for exceptions."

>From the first day of the Congress it was known that the
Massachusetts men were in favor of "vigorous measures;" vigorous
measures being understood to mean the adoption of strict
non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreements.
There were moments when John Adams thought even these measures
tame and unheroic: "When Demosthenes (God forgive the vanity of
recollecting his example) went ambassador from Athens to the
other states of Greece, to excite a confederacy against Phillip,
he did not go to propose a Non-Importation or Non-Consumption
Agreement...." For all this, the Massachusetts men kept
themselves well in the background, knowing that there was much
jealousy and some fear of New England leadership and well aware
that the recent experience with non-importation agreements had
greatly diminished, in the mercantile colonies of New York,
Pennsylvania, and South Carolina, the enthusiasm for such

The trouble with non-importation agreements, as Major Hawley had
told John Adams, was that "they will not be faithfully observed;
that the Congress have no power to enforce obedience to their
laws; that they will be like a legislative without an executive.
"Did Congress have, or could it assume, authority to compel men
to observe its resolutions, to compel them to observe, for
example, a non-importation agreement? This was a delicate
question upon which opinion was divided. "We have no legal
authority," said Mr. Rutledge, "and obedience to our
determinations will only follow the reasonableness, the apparent
utility, and necessity of the measures we adopt. We have no
coercive or legislative authority." If this was so, the
non-intercourse policy would doubtless prove a broken reed.
Massachusetts men were likely to be of another opinion, were
likely to agree with Patrick Henry, who armed that "Government is
dissolved. Fleets and armies and the present state of things show
that government is dissolved. We are in a state of nature, Sir!"
If they were indeed in a state of nature, it was perhaps high
time that Congress should assume the powers of a government, in
which case it might be possible to adopt and to enforce
non-intercourse measures. In this gingerly way did the deputies
lift the curtain and peer down the road to revolution.

The deputies, like true Britons, contrived to avoid the highly
theoretical question of authority, and began straightway to
concern themselves with the practical question of whether the
Congress, with or without authority, should recommend the
adoption of strict non-intercourse agreements. Upon this question,
as the chief issue, the deputies were divided into nearly equal
groups. Mr. Galloway, Mr. Duane, and Mr. Rutledge were perhaps
the leaders of those, probably a majority at first, who were
opposed to such vigorous measures, fearing that they were
intended as a cloak to cover the essentially revolutionary
designs of the shrewd New Englanders. "We have too much reason to
suspect that independence is aimed at," Mr. Low warned the
Congress; and Mr. Galloway could see that while the Massachusetts
men were in "behavior very modest, yet they are not so much so as
not to throw out hints, which like straws and feathers show from
which point in the compass the wind comes." In the early days of
the Congress, if we are to believe Mr. Hutchinson, this cold
north wind was so much disliked that the New York and New Jersey
deputies, "and others," carried a vote against the adoption of
non-intercourse agreements, "agreed to present a petition to the
King," and "expected to break up, when letters arrived from Dr.
Franklin which put an end to the petition."

The Journals of the Congress do not record any vote of this kind;
but a number of things are known to have occurred in the Congress
which the Journals do not record. On September 17, the famous
"Suffolk Resolves" were laid before the deputies for their
approval. The resolutions had been adopted by a county convention
in Massachusetts, and in substance they recommended to the
people of Massachusetts to form a government independent of that
of which General Gage was the Governor, urged them meanwhile to
arm themselves in their own defense, and assured them that "no
obedience is due from this province to either or any part" of the
Coercive Acts. These were indeed "vigorous measures"; and when
the resolutions came before Congress, "long and warm debates
ensued between the parties," Mr. Galloway afterwards remembered;
and he says that when the vote to approve them was finally
carried, "two of the dissenting members presumed to offer their
protest to it in writing which was negatived," and when they then
insisted that the "tender of the protest and the negative should
be entered on the minutes, this was also rejected."

Later in the month, September 28, Mr. Galloway introduced his
famous plan for a "British-American Parliament" as a method for
permanent reconciliation. The motion to enter the plan on the
minutes and to refer it for further consideration gave rise to
"long and warm debates," the motion being carried by a majority
of one colony; but subsequently, probably on October 21, it was
voted to expunge the plan, together with all resolutions
referring to it, from the minutes. Nothing, as Benjamin Franklin
wrote from England, could so encourage the British Government to
persist in its oppressive policy as the knowledge that
dissensions existed in the Congress; and since these dissensions
did unfortunately exist, there was a widespread feeling that it
would be the part of wisdom to conceal them as much as possible.

No doubt a majority of the deputies, when they first read the
Suffolk Resolutions, were amazed that the rash New Englanders
should venture to pledge themselves so frankly to rebellion.
Certainly no one who thought himself a loyal subject of King
George could even contemplate rebellion; but, on the other hand,
to leave Massachusetts in the lurch after so much talk of union
and the maintenance of American rights would make loyal Americans
look a little ridiculous. That would be to show themselves lambs
as soon as Britons had shown themselves lions, which was
precisely what their enemies in England boasted they would do.
Confronted by this difficult dilemma, moderate men without
decided opinions began to fix their attention less upon the exact
nature of the measures they were asked to support, and more upon
the probable effect of such measures upon the British Government.
It might be true, and all reports from England seemed to point
that way, that the British Government was only brandishing the
sword in terrorem, to see whether the Americans would not run at
once to cover; in which case it would be wiser for all loyal
subjects to pledge themselves even to rebellion, the prospect
being so very good that Britain would quickly sheathe its sword
and present instead the olive branch, saying, "This is what I
intended to offer." Therefore, rather than leave Massachusetts in
the lurch and so give the lie to the boasted unity of the
colonies, many moderate and loyal subjects voted to approve the
Suffolk Resolutions, which they thought very rash and ill-advised

Whatever differences still prevailed, if indeed practical men
could hold out after the accomplished fact, might be bridged and
compromised by adopting those petitions and addresses which the
timid thought sufficient and at the same time by subscribing to
and "recommending" those non-intercourse agreements which the
bolder sort thought essential.

This compromise was in fact effected. The Congress unanimously
adopted the moderate addresses which Lord Chatham afterwards
praised for their masterly exposition of true constitutional
principles; but it likewise adopted, also unanimously, a series
of resolutions known as the Association, to which the deputies
subscribed their names. By signing the Association, the deputies
bound themselves, and recommended the people in all the colonies
to bind themselves, not to import, after December 1, 1774, any
commodities from Great Britain or Ireland, or molasses, syrups,
sugars, and coffee from the British plantations, or East India
Company tea from any place, or wines from Madeira, or foreign
indigo; not to consume, after March 1, 1775, any of these
commodities; and not to export, after September 10, 1775, any
commodities whatever to Great Britain, Ireland, or the West
Indies, "except rice to Europe." It was further recommended that
a committee be formed in each city, town, and county, whose
business it should be to observe the conduct of all persons,
those who refused to sign the Association as well as those who
signed it, and to publish the names of all persons who did not
observe the agreements there entered into, "to the end that all
such foes of the rights of British-America may be publicly known
and universally condemned as the enemies of American liberty";
and it was likewise recommended that the committees should
inspect the customs entries frequently, that they should seize
all goods imported contrary to the recommendation of the
Association and reship them, or, if the owner preferred, sell
them at public auction, the owner to be recompensed for the first
costs, the profits, if any, to be devoted to relieving the people
of Boston.

Having thus adopted a Petition to the King, a Memorial to the
Inhabitants of the British Colonies, and an Address to the People
of Great Britain, and having recommended a certain line of
conduct to be followed by all loyal Americans, the first
Continental Congress adjourned. It had assumed no "coercive or
legislative authority"; obedience to its determinations would
doubtless depend, as Mr. Rutledge had said, upon "the
reasonableness, the apparent utility and necessity" of its

"There can be no doubt," the Earl of Dartmouth is reported to
have said, "that every one who had signed the Association was
guilty of treason." The Earl of Dartmouth was not counted one of
the enemies of America; and if this was his opinion of the action
of the first Continental Congress, Lord North's supporters in
Parliament, a great majority since the recent elections, were not
likely to take a more favorable view of it. Nevertheless, when
the American question came up for consideration in the winter of
1776, "conciliation" was a word frequently heard on all sides,
and even corrupt ministers were understood to be dallying with
schemes of accommodation. In January and February great men were
sending agents, and even coming themselves, to Dr. Franklin to
learn what in his opinion the colonies would be satisfied with.
Lord Chatham, as might be guessed, was meditating a plan. On the
29th of January, he came to Craven Street and showed it to
Franklin, who made notes upon it, and later went out to Hayes,
two hours' ride from London, where he remained for four hours
listening to the easy flow of the Great Commoner's eloquence
without being able to get any of his own ideas presented.

Fortified by the presence if not by the advice of Franklin, Lord
Chatham laid his plan before Parliament on the 1st of February.
He would have an explicit declaration of the dependence of the
colonies on the Crown and Parliament in all matters of trade and
an equally explicit declaration that no tag should be
imposed upon the colonies without their consent; and when the
Congress at Philadelphia should have acknowledged the supremacy
of the Crown and Parliament and should have made a free and
perpetual grant of revenue, then he would have all the obnoxious
acts passed since 1764, and especially the Coercive Acts, totally
repealed. Lord Sandwich, in a warm speech, moved to reject these
proposals at once; and when the vote was taken it was found that
61 noble lords were in favor of rejecting them at once, while
only 31 were opposed to so doing.

Lord North was perhaps less opposed to reconciliation than other
noble lords were. A few days later Franklin was approached by
Admiral Howe, who was understood to know the First Minister's
mind, to learn whether he might not suggest something for the
Government to go upon. The venerable Friend of the Human Race was
willing enough to set down on paper some "Hints" which Admiral
Howe might think advisable to show to ministers. It happened,
however, that the "Hints" went far beyond anything the Government
had in mind. Ministers would perhaps be willing to repeal the Tea
Act and the Boston Port Bill; but they felt strongly that the act
regulating the Massachusetts charter must stand as "an example of
the power of Parliament." Franklin, on the other hand, was
certain that "while Parliament claims the right of altering
American constitutions at pleasure, there can be no agreement."
Since the parties were so far apart, it seemed useless to
continue the informal negotiation, and on February 20, Lord North
laid before Parliament his own plan for effecting an

Perhaps, after all, it was not his own plan; for Lord North, much
inclined to regard himself as the King's minister, was likely to
subordinate his wishes to those of his master. King George III,
at all events, had his own ideas on conciliation. "I am a friend
to holding out the olive branch," he wrote in February, "yet I
believe that, when vigorous measures appear to be the only means,
the colonies will submit." Knowing the King's ideas, as well as
those of Dr. Franklin, Lord North accordingly introduced into
Parliament the Resolution on Conciliation, which provided that
when any colony should make provision "for contributing their
proportion to the common defense, ...and for the support of
the civil government, and the administration of justice in such
province, will be proper, ...for so long as such
provision shall be made, forbear, in respect of such
province, levy any Duty, Tax, or Assessment, ...except...
for the regulation of commerce." The minister's resolution,
although by most of his supporters thought to be useless, was
adopted by a vote of 274 to 88.

It was not the intention of the Government to hold out the olive
branch by itself. Lord North, and perhaps the King also, hoped
the colonies would accept it; but by all maxims of politics an
olive branch was more likely to be accepted if the shining sword
was presented at the same time as the only alternative. As early
as the 10th of February, Lord North had introduced into
Parliament a bill, finally passed March 30, "to restrain the
trade and commerce" of the New England colonies to "Great
Britain, Ireland, and the British islands in the West Indies,"
and to exclude these colonies from "carrying on any fishery on
the banks of Newfoundland," it being "highly unfit that the
inhabitants of the said provinces...should enjoy the same
privileges of which his Majesty's faithful and
obedient subjects are entitled." The provisions of this act were
extended to the other colonies in April; and meantime measures
were taken to strengthen the naval forces.

The first certain information that Lord North had extended the
olive branch reached New York April 24, 1775, two weeks before
the day fixed for the meeting of the second Continental Congress.
Important changes had taken place since the first Congress, six
months earlier, had sent forth its resolutions. In every colony
there was a sufficient number of patriots who saw "the
reasonableness, the apparent utility, and necessity" of forming
the committees which the Association recommended; and these
committees everywhere, with a marked degree of success,
immediately set about convincing their neighbors of the utility
and necessity of signing the non-importation agreement, or at
least of observing it even if they were not disposed to sign it.
To deny the reasonableness of the Association was now indeed much
more difficult than it would have been before the Congress
assembled; for the Congress, having published certain resolutions
unanimously entered into, had come to be the symbol of America
united in defense of its rights; and what American, if indeed one
might call him such, would wish to be thought disloyal to America
or an enemy of its liberties? It required a degree of assurance
for any man to set up his individual judgment against the
deliberate and united judgment of the chosen representatives of
all the colonies; and that must be indeed a very subtle mind
which could draw the distinction between an enemy of liberty and
a friend of liberty who was unwilling to observe the Association.

Some such subtle minds there were--a considerable number in most
colonies who declared themselves friends of liberty but not of
the Association, loyal to America but not to the Congress. One of
these was Samuel Seabury, an Episcopalian clergyman living in
Westchester County, New York, a vigorous, downright man, who at
once expressed his sentiments in a forcible and logical manner,
and with much sarcastic humor, in a series of pamphlets which
were widely read and much commended by those who found in them
their own views so effectively expressed. This Westchester
Farmer--for so he signed himself--proclaimed that he had always
been, and was still, a friend of liberty in general and of
American liberty in particular. The late British measures he
thought unwise and il-liberal, and he had hoped that the Congress
would be able to obtain redress, and perhaps even to effect a
permanent reconciliation. But, these hopes were seen to be vain
from the day when the Congress approved the Suffolk Resolutions
and, instead of adopting Mr. Galloway's plan, adopted the
Association. For no sane man could doubt that, under the thin
disguise of "recommendations," Congress had assumed the powers of
government and counseled rebellion. The obvious conclusion from
this was that, if one could not be a loyal American without
submitting to Congress, then it was impossible to be at the same
time a loyal American and a loyal British subject.

But, if the problem were rightly considered, Mr. Seabury thought
one might be loyal to America in the best sense without
supporting Congress; for, apart from any question of legality,
the Association was highly inexpedient, inasmuch as
non-importation would injure America more than it injured
England, and, for this reason if for no others, it would be found
impossible to "bully and frighten the supreme government of the
nation." Yet all this was beside the main point, which was that
the action of Congress, whether expedient or not, was illegal. It
was illegal because it authorized the committees to enforce the
Association upon all alike, upon those who never agreed to
observe it as well as upon those who did; and these committees,
as everyone knew, were so enforcing it and were "imposing
penalties upon those who have presumed to violate it." The
Congress talked loudly of the tyranny of the British Government.
Tyranny! Good Heavens! Was any tyranny worse than that of
self-constituted committees which, in the name of liberty, were
daily conducting the most hateful inquisition into the private
affairs of free British subjects? "Will you choose such
committees? Will you submit to them should they be chosen by the
weak, foolish, turbulent part of the...people? I will not.
No. If I must be enslaved, let it be by a KING at least, and not
by a parcel of upstart, lawless committeemen."

The Massachusetts men were meanwhile showing no disposition to
submit to the King. In that colony a Provincial Congress,
organized at Salem in October, 1774, and afterwards removed to
Cambridge, had assumed all powers of government in spite of
General Gage and contrary to the provisions of the act by which
Parliament had presumed to remodel the Massachusetts charter.
Outside of Boston at least, the allegiance of the people was
freely given to this extra-legal government; and under its
direction the towns began to prepare for defense by organizing
the militia and procuring and storing arms and ammunition.

To destroy such stores of ammunition seemed to General Gage quite
the most obvious of his duties; and Colonel Smith was accordingly
ordered to proceed to the little village of Concord, some
eighteen miles northwest of Boston, and destroy the magazines
which were known to be collected there. The night of the 18th of
April was the time fixed for this expedition; and in the evening
of that day patriots in Boston noted with alarm that bodies of
troops were moving towards the waterside. Dr. Joseph Warren,
knowing or easily guessing the destination of the troops, at once
despatched William Dawes, and later in the evening Paul Revere
also, to Lexington and Concord to spread the alarm. As the little
army of Colonel Smith--a thousand men, more or less--left Boston
and marched up into the country, church bells and the booming of
cannon announced their coming. Day was breaking when the British
troops approached the town of Lexington; and there on the green
they could see, in the early morning light, perhaps half a
hundred men standing in military array--fifty against a thousand!
The British rushed forward with huzzas, in the midst of which
shots were heard; and when the little band of minutemen was
dispersed eight of the fifty lay dead upon the village green.

The battle of Lexington was begun, but it was not yet finished.
Pushing on to Concord, the thousand disciplined British regulars
captured and destroyed the military stores collected there. This
was easily done; but the return from Concord to Lexington, and
from Lexington to Cambridge, proved a disastrous retreat. The
British found indeed no minutemen drawn up in military array to
block their path; but they found themselves subject to the deadly
fire of men concealed behind the trees and rocks and clumps of
shrubs that everywhere conveniently lined the open road. With
this method of warfare, not learned in books, the British were
unfamiliar. Discipline was but a handicap; and the fifteen
hundred soldiers that General Gage sent out to Lexington to
rescue Colonel Smith served only to make the disaster greater in
the end. When the retreating army finally reached the shelter of
Cambridge, it had lost, in killed and wounded, 247 men; while the
Americans, of whom it had been confidently asserted in England
that they would not stand against British regulars, had lost but

The courier announcing the news of Lexington passed through New
York on the 23d of April. Twenty-four hours later, during the
height of the excitement occasioned by that event, intelligence
arrived from England that Parliament had approved Lord North's
Resolution on Conciliation. For extending the olive branch, the
time was inauspicious; and when the second Continental Congress
assembled, two weeks later, on the l0th of May, men were
everywhere wrathfully declaring that the blood shed at Lexington
made allegiance to Britain forever impossible.

It might indeed have seemed that the time had come when every man
must decide, once for all, whether he would submit unreservedly
to the King or stand without question for the defense of America.
Yet not all men, not a majority of men in the second Continental
Congress, were of that opinion.

The second Congress was filled with moderate minded men who would
not believe the time had come when that decision had to be
made--men who were bound to sign themselves British-Americans
till the last possible moment, many of whom could not now have
told whether in the end they would sign themselves Britons or
Americans. Surely, they said, we need not make the decision yet.
We have the best of reasons for knowing that Britain will not
press matters to extremities. Can we not handle the olive branch
and the sword as well as Lord North? A little fighting, to
convince ministers that we can't be frightened, and all will be
well. We shall have been neither rebels nor slaves. The second
Congress was full of men who were, as yet, "Neither-Nor."

There was Joseph Galloway, once more elected to represent
Pennsylvania, ready to do what he could to keep Congress from
hasty action, hoping for the best yet rather expecting the worst,
discreetly retiring, at an early date, within the ranks of the
British loyalists. John Alsop, the "soft, sweet" man, was also
there, active enough in his mild way until the very last--until
the Declaration of Independence, as he said, "closed the last
door to reconciliation." There, too, was James Duane, with never
so great need of his "surveying eye" to enable him to size up the
situation. He is more discreet than any one, and sits quietly in
his seat, on those days when he finds it convenient to attend,
which is not too often--especially after November, at which time
he moved his effects to Duanesborough, and so very soon
disappears from sight, except perhaps vicariously in the person
of his servant, James Brattle, whom we see flitting obscurely
from Philadelphia to New York conveying secret information to
Governor Tryon. John Jay, the hard-reading young lawyer, who
favored Mr. Galloway's plan but in the end signed the
Association--here he is again, edging his way carefully along,
watching his step, crossing no bridges beforehand, well over
indeed before he seems aware of any gulf to be crossed. And here
is the famous Pennsylvania Farmer, leader of all moderate men,
John Dickinson; only too well aware of the gulf opening up before
him, fervently praying that it may close again of its own accord.
Mr. Dickinson has no mind for anything but conciliation, to
obtain which he will go the length of donning a Colonel's
uniform, or at least a Colonel's title, perfecting himself and
his neighbors in the manual of arms against the day when the King
would graciously listen to the loyal and humble petition of the

Mr. Dickinson, staking all on the petition, was distressed at the
rash talk that went on out of doors; and in this respect, no one
distressed him more than his old friend, John Adams, who thought
and said that a petition was a waste of time and who was all for
the most vigorous measures (such, doubtless, as Demosthenes might
have counseled),--the seizure of all crown officers, the
formation of state governments, the raising of an army, and
negotiations for obtaining the assistance of France. When Mr.
Dickinson, having marshaled his followers from the middle
colonies and South Carolina, got his petition before the
Congress, John Adams, as a matter of course, made "an opposition
to it in as long a speech as I commonly answer to
all the arguments that had been urged." And Adams relates in his
"Diary" how, being shortly called out of Congress Hall, he was
followed by Mr. Dickinson, who broke out upon him in great anger.
"What is the reason, Mr. Adams, that you New-England men oppose
our measures of reconciliation? There now is Sullivan, in a long
harangue, following you in a determined opposition to our
petition to the King. Look ye! If you don't concur with us in our
pacific system, I and a number of us will break off from you in
New England, and we will carry on the opposition by ourselves in
our own way." At that moment it chanced that John Adams was "in a
very happy temper" (which was not always the case), and so, he
says, was able to reply very coolly. "Mr. Dickinson, there are
many things that I can very cheerfully sacrifice to harmony, and
even to unanimity; but I am not to be threatened into an express
adoption or approbation of measures which my judgment reprobates.
Congress must judge, and if they pronounce against me, I must
submit, as, if they determine against you, you ought to

The Congress did decide. It decided to adopt Mr. Dickinson's
petition; and to this measure John Adams submitted. But the
Congress also decided to raise a Continental army to assist
Massachusetts in driving the British forces out of Boston, of
which army it appointed, as Commander-in-Chief, George
Washington, Esq.; and in justification of these measures it
published a "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up

"Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources
are great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly
attainable .... Fortified with these animating reflections, we...
declare that...the arms we have been compelled by our enemies to
as same, we will...employ for the preservation of our liberties,
being with one mind resolved to die freemen rather than live as
slaves .... We have not raised armies with ambitious
designs of separating from Great Britain .... We shall lay them
down when hostilities shall cease on the part of the aggressors...
With an humble confidence in the mercies of the supreme and
impartial Judge and Ruler of the Universe, we...implore his
divine goodness to protect us happily through this great
conflict, to dispose our adversaries to reconciliation on
reasonable terms, and thereby to relieve the empire from the
calamities of civil war."

In these measures Mr. Dickinson acquiesced, as John Adams had
submitted to the petition. The "perfect" union which was thus
attained was nevertheless a union of wills rather than of
opinions; and on July 24, 1775, in a letter to James Warren, John
Adams gave a frank account of the state of mind to which the
perfect union had reduced him:

"In confidence, I am determined to write freely to you this time.
A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius, whose Fame has been
trumpeted so loudly, has given a silly Cast to our whole Doings.
We are between Hawk and Buzzard. We ought to have had in our
Hands a month ago the whole Legislative, executive, and judicial
of the whole Continent, and have completely modeled a
Constitution; to have raised a naval Power, and opened our Ports
wide; to have arrested every Friend of Government on the
Continent and held them as Hostages for the poor Victims of
Boston, and then opened the Door as wide as possible for Peace
and Reconciliation. After that they might have petitioned, and
negotiated, and addressed, etc., if they would. Is all this
extravagant? Is it wild? Is it not the soundest Policy?"

It seems that Mr. Adams would have presented the sword boldly,
keeping the olive branch carefully concealed behind his back. His
letter, intercepted by the British Government, and printed about
the time when Mr. Dickinson's petition vas received in London,
did nothing to make the union in America more perfect, or to
facilitate the opening of that refractory "Door...for Peace
and Reconciliation."

The truth is that John Adams no longer believed in the
possibility of opening this door, even by the tiniest crack; and
even those who still had faith in the petition as a means to that
end found it somewhat difficult to keep their faith alive during
the weary month of October while they waited for the King's
reply. Mr. Chase, although he had "not absolutely discarded every
glimpse of a hope of reconciliation," admitted that the prospect
was gloomy." Mr. Zubly assured Congress that he "did hope for a
reconciliation and that this winter may bring it"; and he added, as
if justifying himself against sceptical shrugs of shoulders, "I
may enjoy my hopes for reconciliation; others may enjoy theirs
that none will take place." It might almost seem that the idea of
reconciliation, in this October of 1775, was a vanishing image to
be enjoyed retrospectively rather than anything substantial to
build upon for the future. This it was, perhaps, that gave
especial point to Mr. Zubly's oft-repeated assertion that
Congress must speedily obtain one of two things--"a
reconciliation with Great Britain, or the means of carrying on
the war."

Reconciliation OR war! This was surely a new antithesis. Had not
arms been taken up for the purpose precisely of disposing their
adversaries "to reconciliation on reasonable terms"? Does Mr.
Zubly mean to say then that war is an alternative to
reconciliation--an alternative which will lead the colonies away
from compromise towards that which all have professed not to
desire? Is Mr. Zubly hinting at independence even before the King
has replied to the petition? No. This is not what Mr. Zubly
meant. What he had in the back of his mind, and what the Congress
was coming to have in the back of its mind, if one may judge from
the abbreviated notes which John Adams took of the debates in the
fall of 1775, was that if the colonies could not obtain
reconciliation by means of the non-intercourse measures very
soon--this very winter as Mr. Zubly hoped--they would have to
rely for reconciliation upon a vigorous prosecution of the war;
in which case the non-intercourse measures were likely to prove an
obstacle rather than an advantage, since they would make it
difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the "means of carrying on
the war."

The non-intercourse measures had been designed to obtain
conciliation by forcing Great Britain to make concessions; but if
Great Britain would make no concessions, then the non-intercourse
measures, by destroying the trade and prosperity of the colonies,
would have no other effect than to bring about conciliation by
forcing the colonies to make concessions themselves. This was not
the kind of conciliation that any one wanted; and so the real
antithesis which now confronted Congress was between war and
non-intercourse. Mr. Livingston put the situation clearly when
he said: "We are between hawk and buzzard; we puzzle ourselves
between the commercial and warlike opposition."

Through long debates Congress puzzled itself over the difficult
task of maintaining the Association and of obtaining the means
for carrying on the war. Doubtless a simple way out would be for
Congress to allow so much exportation only as might be necessary
to pay for arms and ammunition; and still not so simple either,
since it would at once excite many jealousies. "To get powder,"
Mr. Jay observed, "we keep a secret law that produce may be
exported. Then come the wrangles among the people. A vessel is
seen loading--a fellow runs to the committee." Well, it could not
be helped; let the fellow run to the committee, and let the
committee reassure him--that was the business of the committee;
and so the Congress authorized the several colonies to export as
much "produce, except horned cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry, as
they may deem necessary for the importation of arms, ammunition,
sulphur, and saltpetre." Thus powder might be obtained.

Nevertheless, war could not live by powder alone. The
imponderable moral factors had to be considered, chief of which
was the popular support or opposition which Congress and the army
might count upon under certain circumstances. No doubt people
were patriotic and wished to maintain their rights; but no doubt
people would be more patriotic and more enthusiastic and
practically active in their support of both Congress and the
army, if they were reasonably prosperous and contented than if
they were not. Self-denying ordinances were, by their very nature,
of temporary and limited efficacy; and it was pertinent to
inquire how long the people would be content with the total
stoppage of trade and the decay of business which was becoming
every day more marked. "We can live on acorns; but will we?" It
would perhaps be prudent not to expect "more virtue...from
our people than any people ever had"; it would be prudent "not to
put virtue to too severe a test, ...lest we wear it out." And
it might well be asked what would wear it out and "disunite us
more than the decay of all business? The people will feel, and
will say, that Congress tax them and oppress them more than
Parliament." If the people were to be asked to fight for their
rights, they must at all hazards not be allowed to say that
Congress oppressed them more than Parliament!

For the moment all this was no more than a confession that the
Association, originally designed as a finely chiseled
stepping-stone to reconciliation, was likely to prove a
stumbling-block unless the King graciously extended his royal
hand to give a hearty lift. It presently appeared that the King
refused to extend his hand. October 31, 1775, information reached
America that Richard Penn and Arthur Lee, having presented the
petition to Lord Dartmouth, were informed that the King would not
receive them, and furthermore that no answer would be returned to
the Congress. Ignoring the petition was to exhibit only one
degree more of contempt for that carefully prepared document than
the Congress had shown for Lord North's Resolution on
Conciliation; and now that the olive branch had been spurned on
both sides, it was a little difficult to see how either side
could possibly refuse the sword.

That the colonies would refuse the sword was not very likely;
but, as if to make a refusal impossible, the British Government,
on December 22, 1775, decided to thrust the sword into their
hands. This at all events was thought by many men to be the
effect of the Prohibitory Act, which declared the colonies
outside the protection of the Crown, and which, for the purpose
of reducing them to submission, laid an embargo upon all their
trade and proclaimed their ports in a state of blockade.

"I know not [John Adams wrote] whether you have seen the Act of
Parliament called the Restraining Act or Prohibitory Act, or
Piratical Act, or Act of Independency--for by all these titles is
it called. I think the most apposite is the Act of Independency;
the King, Lords, and Commons have united in sundering this
country from that, I think, forever. It is a complete
dismemberment of the British Empire. It throws thirteen colonies
out of the royal protection, and makes us independent in spite of
supplications and entreaties. It may be fortunate that the act of
Independency should come from the British Parliament rather than
from the American Congress; but it is very odd that Americans
should hesitate at accepting such a gift from them."

The majority of those who refused to accept it--and the number
was large--retired, with saddened hearts for the most part, into
the ranks of the British Loyalists; only a few, with John
Dickinson at their head, could still visualize the vanishing
image of reconciliation. Whether the Prohibitory Act made
reconciliation impossible or not, one thing at all events it made
clear: if Britain was bent on forcing the colonies to submit by
ruining their trade, it could scarcely be good policy for the
colonies to help her do it; of which the reasonable conclusion
seemed to be that, since the Parliament wished to close the ports
of America to the world, Congress would do well to open them to
the world. On February 16, 1776, Congress accordingly took into
"consideration the propriety of opening the ports." To declare
the ports open to the world was no doubt easily done; but the
main thing after all was to carry on trade with the world; and
this was not so easy since British naval vessels were there to
prevent it. "We can't carry on a beneficial trade, as our enemies
will take our ships"; so Mr. Sherman said, and of this he thought
the obvious inference was that "a treaty with a foreign power is
necessary, before we open our trade, to protect it.

"A treaty with a foreign power"--Mr. Wythe also mentioned this as
a possible way of reviving the trade of the colonies; but a
treaty with a foreign power was easier conceived of than made,
and Mr. Wythe thought "other things are to be considered before
we adopt such a measure." In considering these "other things,"
Mr. Wythe asked and answered the fundamental question: "In what
character shall we treat?--as subjects of Great Britain--as
rebels?...If we should offer our trade to the court of
France, would they take notice of it any more than if Bristol or
Liverpool should offer theirs, while we profess to be subjects?
No. We must declare ourselves a free people." Thus it appeared
that the character of British subjects, no less than the
Association, was a stumblingblock in the way of obtaining "the
means of carrying on the war." The sword, as an instrument for
maintaining rights, could after all not be effectively wielded by
America so long as her hand was shackled by even the half-broken
ties of a professed allegiance to Britain. Therefore, when the
Congress, on the 6th of April, opened the ports of the colonies
to the world, the Declaration of Independence was a foregone

The idea of independence, for many months past, had hovered like
a disembodied hope or menace about the entrance ways of
controversy. A few clear-sighted men, such as John Adams and
Samuel Seabury, had so long contemplated the idea without
blinking that it had taken on familiar form and substance. But
the great majority had steadily refused to consider it, except as
a possible alternative not needing for the present to be
embraced. All these moderate, middle-of-the-way men had now to
bring this idea into the focus of attention, for the great
illusion that Britain would not push matters to extremities was
rapidly dissolving, and the time was come when it was no longer
possible for any man to be a British-American and when every man
must decide whether it was better to be an American even at the
price of rebellion or a Briton even at the price of submission.
It is true that many never made up their minds on this point,
being quite content to swear allegiance to whichever cause,
according to time or place, happened to be in the ascendant. But
of all those thinking men whose minds could be made up to stay,
perhaps a third--this is the estimate of John Adams--joined the
ranks of the British Loyalists; while the rest, with more or less
reluctance, gave their support, little or great, to the cause of

When one has made, with whatever reluctance, an irrevocable
decision, it is doubtless well to become adjusted to it as
rapidly as possible; and this he can best do by thinking of the
decision as a wise one--the only one, in fact, which a sensible
person could have made. Thus it was that the idea of
independence, embraced by most men with reluctance as a last
resort and a necessary evil, rapidly lost, in proportion as it
seemed necessary, its character of evil, took on the character of
the highest wisdom, and so came to be regarded as a predestined
event which all honest patriots must rejoice in having had a hand
in bringing about.

This change in the point of view would doubtless have been made
in any case; but in rapidly investing the idea of independence
with the shining virtues of an absolute good to be embraced
joyously, a great influence must be ascribed to the little
pamphlet entitled "Common Sense", written by a man then known to
good patriots as Thomas Paine, and printed in January, 1776.
Intrinsically considered, "Common Sense" was indeed no great
performance. The matter, thin at best, was neither profoundly nor
subtly reasoned; the manner could hardly be described by even the
most complacent critic as humane or engaging. Yet "Common Sense"
had its brief hour of fame. Its good fortune was to come at the
psychological moment; and being everywhere read during the months
from January to July, 1776, it was precisely suited to convince
men, not so much that they ought to declare independence, as that
they ought to declare it gladly, ought to cast off lightly their
former false and mawkish affection for the "mother country" and
once for all to make an end of backward yearning looks over the
shoulder at this burning Sodom.

To a militant patriot like Thomas Paine it was profoundly
humiliating to recall that for ten years past Americans had
professed themselves "humble and loyal subjects" and "dutiful
children," yielding to none in "admiration" for the "excellent
British Constitution," desiring only to live and die as free
citizens under the protecting wing of the mother country.
Recalling all this sickening sentimentalism, Mr. Paine uttered a
loud and ringing BOSH! Let us clear our minds of cant, he said in
effect, and ask ourselves what is the nature of government in
general and of the famous British Constitution in particular.
Like the Abbe Sieyes, Mr. Paine had completely mastered the
science of government, which was in fact extremely simple. Men
form societies, he said, to satisfy their wants, and then find
that governments have to be established to restrain their
wickedness; and therefore, since government is obviously a
necessary evil, that government is best which is simplest.

Just consider then this "excellent British Constitution," and say
whether it is simple. On the contrary, it is the most
complicated, irrational, and ridiculous contrivance ever devised
as a government of enlightened men. Its admirers say that this
complexity is a virtue, on account of the nice balance of powers
between King, Lords, and Commons, which guarantees a kind of
liberty through the resulting inertia of the whole. The Lords
check the Commons and the Commons check the King. But how comes
it that the King needs to be checked? Can he not be trusted? This
is really the secret of the whole business--that Monarchy
naturally tends to despotism; so that the complication of the
British Constitution is a virtue only because its basic principle
is false and vicious. If Americans still accept the doctrine of
the Divine Right of Kings, well and good; if not, then in
Heaven's name let them cease to bow down in abject admiration of
the British Constitution!

And in ceasing to admire the British Constitution, Americans
should also, Thomas Paine thought, give up that other fatal
error, the superstition that up to the present unhappy moment the
colonies had derived great benefits from living under the
protecting wing of the mother country. Protection! "We have
boasted the protection of Great Britain, without considering that
her motive was interest not attachment; and that she did not
protect us from our enemies ON OUR OWN ACCOUNT, but from her
enemies ON HER OWN ACCOUNT, from those who have no quarrel with
us on any other account, and who will always be our enemies ON
THE SAME ACCOUNT." An odd sort of protection that, which served
only to entangle the colonies in the toils of European intrigues
and rivalries, and to make enemies of those who would otherwise
befriends! "Our duty to mankind at large, as well as to
ourselves, instructs us to renounce the alliance: because, any
submission to, or dependence upon, Great Britain, tends directly
to involve this continent in European wars and quarrels, and set
us at variance with nations who would otherwise seek our
friendship and against whom we have neither anger nor complaint."

What foolishness then to seek reconciliation, even if it were
possible! Reconciliation at this stage would be the ruin of
America. If King George were indeed clever, he would eagerly
repeal all the obnoxious acts and make every concession; for when
the colonies had once become reconciled he could accomplish by
"craft and subtlety, in the long run, what he cannot do by force
and violence in the short one." The colonies, having come to
maturity, cannot always remain subject to tutelage; like the
youth who has reached his majority, they must sooner or later go
their own way. Why not now? Beware of reconciliation and of all
those who advocate it, for they are either "interested men, who
are not to be trusted, weak men who cannot see, prejudiced men
who will not see, or a certain set of moderate men who think
better of the European world than it deserves."

Such arguments were indeed precisely suited to convince men that
independence, so far from being an event in which they had become
entangled by the fatal network of circumstance, was an event
which they freely willed. "Read by almost every American, and
recommended as a work replete with truth, against which none but
the partial and prejudiced can form any objection,
satisfied multitudes that it is their true interest immediately
to cut the Gordian knot by which the...colonists have been
bound to Great Britain, and to open their commerce, as an
independent people, to all the nations of the world." In April
and May, after the Congress had opened the ports, the tide set
strongly and irresistibly in the direction of the formal
declaration. "Every post and every day rolls in upon us," John
Adams said, "Independence like a torrent." It was on the 7th of
June that Richard Henry Lee, in behalf of the Virginia delegation
and in obedience to the instructions from the Virginia
Convention, moved "that these United Colonies are, and of right
ought to be, free and independent State... ; that it is
expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for
forming foreign Alliances; ...and that a plan of confederation
be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their
consideration and approbation."

The "resolution respecting independency," debated at length, was
postponed till the 1st of July, when it was again brought up for
consideration. It was still, on that day, opposed by many,
chiefly by John Dickinson, who now said that he should not be
against independence ultimately, but that he could not consent to
it at the present moment because it would serve to divide rather
than to unite the colonies. At the close of the debate on the 1st
of July, there seemed little prospect of carrying the resolution
by a unanimous vote. The Delaware deputies were evenly divided,
the third member, Caesar Rodney, not being at the moment in
Philadelphia; the Pennsylvania deputies were opposed to the
resolution, three against two; while the New York and South
Carolina deputies were not in a position to vote at all, having,
as they said, no instructions. The final vote was therefore again
postponed until the following day.

Which of the deputies slept this night is not known. But it is
known that Caesar Rodney, hastily summoned, mounted his horse and
rode post-haste to Philadelphia, arriving in time to cast the
vote of Delaware in favor of independence; it is known that John
Dickinson and Robert Morris remained away from Independence
Hall, and that James Wilson changed his mind and voted with
Franklin and Morton; and it is known that the South Carolina
deputies came somehow to the conclusion, over night, that their
instructions were after all sufficient. Thus it was that on July
2, 1776, twelve colonies voted that "these United Colonies are,
and of right ought to be, Free and Independent States." One week
later, the New York deputies, having been properly instructed,
cast the vote of their colony for the resolution also.

Meanwhile, a committee had been appointed to prepare a formal
declaration, setting forth the circumstances and the motives
which might justify them, in the judgment of mankind, in taking
this momentous step. The committee had many meetings to discuss
the matter, and, when the main points had been agreed upon, John
Adams and Thomas Jefferson were instructed to "draw them up in
form, and clothe them in a proper dress." Many years afterwards,
in 1822, John Adams related, as accurately as he could, the
conversation which took place when these two met to perform the
task assigned them. "Jefferson proposed to me to make the
draught. I said, 'I will not.' 'You should do it.' 'Oh! no.' 'Why
will you not? You ought to do it.' 'I will not.' 'Why?' 'Reasons
enough.' 'What can be your reasons?' 'Reason first--You are a
Virginian, and a Virginian ought to appear at the head of this
business. Reason second--I am obnoxious, suspected, and
unpopular. You are very much otherwise. Reason third--You can
write ten times better than I can.' 'Well,' said Jefferson, 'if
you are decided, I will do as well as I can.'" In some such
manner as this it came about that Thomas Jefferson wrote the
Declaration of Independence, no doubt doing, as he said, the best
he could.

It is the judgment of posterity that Mr. Jefferson did very
well--which was doubtless due partly to the fact that he could
write, if not ten times better, at least better than John Adams.
Yet the happy phrasing of a brief paragraph or two could scarcely
By itself have won so much fame for the author; and perhaps much
Of the success of this famous paper came from the circumstance
That ten years of controversy over the question of political
rights had forced Americans to abandon, step by step, the
restricted ground of the positive and prescriptive rights of
Englishmen and to take their stand on the broader ground of the
natural and inherent rights of man. To have said, "We hold this
truth to be self-evident: that all Englishmen are endowed by the
British Constitution with the customary right of taxing themselves
internally" would probably have made no great impression on the
sophisticated European mind. It was Thomas Jefferson's good
fortune, in voicing the prevailing sentiment in America, to give
classic expression to those fundamental principles of a political
faith which was destined, in the course of a hundred years, to
win the allegiance of the greater part of the western world.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with
certain unalienable Rights, that among these, are Life, Liberty,
and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights,
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers
from the consent of the governed. That, whenever any form of
Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of
the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new
Government, laying its foundation on such Principles and
organizing its Powers in such form, as to them shall seem most
likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

It is to these principles--for a generation somewhat obscured, it
must be confessed, by the Shining Sword and the Almighty Dollar,
by the lengthening shadow of Imperialism and the soporific haze
of Historic Rights and the Survival of the Fittest--it is to
these principles, these "glittering generalities," that the minds
of men are turning again in this day of desolation as a refuge
from the cult of efficiency and from faith in "that which is just
by the judgment of experience."


Contemporary Writings; Many of the most important documents for
this period are in the following brief collections: W. Macdonald,
"Select Charters and Other Documents," 1906; H. W. Preston,
"Documents Illustrative of American History," 5th ed., 1900; H.
Niles, "Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America," 1822;
J. Almon, "Collection of Papers Relative to the Dispute between
Great Britain and America," 1777 (commonly cited as "Prior
Documents"). The spirit of the times is best seen in the
contemporary newspapers, many extracts from which are printed in
F. Moore, "Diary of the American Revolution from the Newspapers
and Original Documents," 1863. Of the numberless controversial
pamphlets, the following are noteworthy: J. Otis, "Rights of the
British Colonies Asserted and Proved," 1764; D. Dulaney,
"Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes on the British
Colonies" 1765; J. Dickinson, "Letters from a Farmer in
Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies, "1768
(also in "Writings of John Dickinson," 3 vols. 1895); W. Knox,
"The Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies
Reviewed," 1769 (excellent pro-British reply to Dickinson); S.
Jenyns, "The Objections to the Taxation of Our American Colonies
...Briefly Considered," 1765; J. Wilson, "Considerations on
the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British
Parliament," 1774 (also in "The Works of James Wilson," 2 vols.
1896); S. Seabury, "Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the
Continental Congress," 1774; T. Paine, "Common Sense," 1776 (also
in "Writings of Thomas Paine," 4 vols. 1894-96). These pamphlets
are not available to most readers, but all of them, together with
many others, have been admirably described and summarized in M.
C. Tyler, "The Literary History of the American Revolution," 2
vols. 1897. The letters and public papers of the leaders of the
Revolution have been mostly printed, among which some of the most
valuable and interesting collections are: C. F. Adams, "The Works
of John Adams," 10 vols. 1856 (vol. II); J. Adams, "Familiar
Letters of John Adams and his Wife Abigail Adams," 1875; W. C.
Ford, "The Warren-Adams Letters," 1917 (vol. I); A. H. Smyth,
"The Writing's of Benjamin Franklin," 10 vols. 1905-1907 (vols.
IV-VI); P. L. Ford, "The Writings of John Dickinson," 3 vols.
1895; H. A. Cushing, "The Writings of Samuel Adams," 4 vols.
1904-1908; P. O. Hutchinson, "Diary and Letters of Thomas
Hutchinson," 2 vols. 1884. The following works give the history
of the time as it appeared to various contemporaries: W. Gordon,
"History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment of American
Independence," 4 vols. 1788 (parts of the work taken bodily from
the "Annual Register"); D. Ramsey, "History of the Revolution of
South Carolina," 2 vols. 1785; A. Graydon, "Memoirs of His Own
Times," 1846; T. Hutchinson, "History of Massachusetts Bay," 3
vols. 1795-1828 (based on documents collected by the author, some
of which were destroyed in the Stamp Act riots); Mercy Warren,
"History of the American Revolution," 3 vols. 1805 (author was a
sister of James Otis); VP. Moultrie, "Memoirs of the American
Revolution so far as it Related to North and South Carolina," 2
vols. 1802; J. Drayton, "Memoirs of the American Revolution," 2
vols. 1821; T. Jones, "History of New York in the Revolutionary
War," 2 vols. 1879 (by a prominent New York Loyalist); "The
Annual Register," 1765-1776 (an English annual giving summaries
of political events supposed to have been prepared by Edmund
Burke); H. Walpole, "Memoirs of the Reign of George the Third," 4
vols. 1894.

Secondary Works: The best single volume on the Revolution is W.
E. H. Lecky, "The American Revolution," 1912. Other good
accounts: E. Charming, "History of the United States," vol. III,
1912; G. Howard, "Preliminaries of the American Revolution,"
1905; S. G. Fisher, "Struggle for American Independence," 2 vols.
1908 (controverts many traditional ideas. Interesting book by a
man who has been bored by the laudation of the heroic and
patriotic side of the Revolution). Of the more detailed
histories, the best are: G. Bancroft, "History of the United
States," 10 vols. 1834-1874 (vols. V-VIII deal with the period
1765-1776. Strongly prejudiced but accurate as to facts; based on
documents collected in European archives, some of which are not
easily obtainable elsewhere. Revised ed., 6 vols. 1885, omits
notes and references, and therefore not so valuable as the
original edition); G. O. Trevelyan, "The American Revolution," 6
vols. 1899 1914 (brilliantly written by an Englishman of Liberal
sympathies. On the whole the work on the Revolution best worth
reading). Studies of the beginnings of the Revolution in
particular colonies: C. H. Lincoln, "Revolutionary Movement in
Pennsylvania," 1901; H. J. Eckenrode, "The Revolution in
Virginia," 1916; C. L. Becker, "History of political Parties in
New York,1760-1776," 1909. The best account of the British policy
leading up to the Grenville measures is G. L: Beer, "British
Colonial Policy, 1754-1765", 1907. The interesting and important
subject of the Loyalists is sketched in C. H. Van Tyne, "The
Loyalists of the American Revolution," 1902. Interesting
biographies well worth reading: W. W. Henry, "Patrick Henry:
Life, Correspondence, and Speeches," 3 vols. 1891; J. K. Hosmer,
"Life of Thomas Hutchinson," 1896; J. K. Hosmer, "Samuel Adams,"
1893; M. Chamberlin, "John Adams," 1884; C. J. Stille, "The Life
and Times of John Dickinson," 1891; D. D. Wallace, "Life of Henry
Laurens," 1915; P. L. Ford, "The Many-Sided Franklin," 1899; J.
Parton, "Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin," 2 vols. 1867.


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