of Contents Next
& White Version
104b. The Stamp Act Congress. England's effort to make America pay for the war resulted in a series of taxation measures, as we have already seen, which were largely resented by the rings of smuggling merchants; and it was felt that America was being taxed to enable England to better suppress popular government. The restriction of manufacture also became a difficult task for British authorities in America, since paper, clothing, and numbers of other articles were being made in New England, in spite of all British efforts to suppress this form of activity.
In 1765, the British Parliament hit on a plan for both enforcement of taxation and suppression of certain American manufactures. The so-called Stamp Act required that all newspapers, advertisements, legal documents, wills, and many other kinds of writings be on special stamped paper. This was intended as a general tax on America, and would also be a blow at the illicit paper manufactures going on in America. Had it been completely enforced, thousands of Americans would have been left without any occupation, and everything in America would have had to suffer as a result.
Widespread opposition was evoked by this action in all the American colonies, but it was mainly a crystallization of the antagonism against England which had been growing as a result of other causes. To the Okamakammesset Association in Massachusetts, the exact incidence of taxation was of little importance, since it was intended to work for an organization similar to the tribal system, in which administration was a self-supporting affair, and required no tribute to keep it going. But the combined assertion of English authority and forcing of English goods that this involved, induced the tribes to take a hand, not with those who were protesting the Stamp Act, but to direct this protest so as to aid the secret factories and the farmers, and to bring trouble to a head. The Sons of Liberty, as a result, were ready to aid in any demonstrations in this matter; and, this being the case in Massachusetts, the Sons of Liberty Societies elsewhere followed the lead. When stamped paper was sent to Boston, the Sons of Liberty, to maintain the boycott against British goods, seized and burned the paper; in other ports, the Sons of Liberty started demonstrations, but did nothing further.
In October, 1765, delegates sent from the various colonial legislatures met in New York to draw up a petition to the British parliament for the repeal of the Stamp Act. This was known as the Stamp Act Congress, and was much more ephemeral than even the evanescent Congresses of 1690 and 1754, since in this case the delegates assembled to draw up a single document, and the Congress dissolved as soon as that work was done.
This Congress had no idea of defiance or rebellion, but rather consisted of a group of loyal subjects petitioning their rulers for mercy. However, the influence of the "Sons of Liberty" organizations was felt there, and the Massachusetts delegation managed to work the Stamp Act issue into a framework of theory regarding individual and colonial civil rights which indicates that the factory and land issue of that colony and the ideas of individual rights engendered by these issues had influenced the delegation. The petition in its final form, as forwarded to England, asked for a repeal of the Stamp Act, but also contained statements of the New England ideas of civil and colonial rights which marked their origin. As for individual rights, the claims were substantially what Massachusetts had claimed in the charter quarrels of the late seventeenth century, and what the Puritans had learned from the Penacook Federation. Although taxation was not a problem considered of great importance by the Okamakammessets, the Tribe managed to introduce into the Stamp Act Congress a slogan which placed the question squarely on the basis of the democratic ideals of the Penacook peoples, "No taxation without representation;" the theory being that the colonies in America could only be taxed by their own legislatures, not by the British parliament, in which America was not represented. By inference, this statement was made to apply to other matters of regulation, thus challenging England's control over America. This slogan was to become a watchword in subsequent difficulties on the tax question between America and England.
Although the tax issue was not itself likely to lead to rebellion, it gave some backing to the rebel leanings that existed both in New England and in the South. The theory expressed by the Congress's petition―strictly a New England one, and dating to the earlier charter difficulties of Massachusetts under Charles II―to the effect that colonial charters entitled the American provinces to govern themselves independently of interference by England, was a standard to which any shade of rebel tendency could rally; and the success of the Okamakammesset influence in inducing the Stamp Act Congress to put itself on record as supporting that theory, was another step toward forcing the peaceful tax protesters into joining hands with the rebels. It also put on record, for the first time, as the official declaration of a people, a declaration of civil and representative rights.
The slogan "no taxation without representation" happened to "hit home" in England, since it immediately brought up the question of the newly-arisen industrial cities such as Manchester, for which no parliamentary representation had been provided. Thus this issue in itself created dissension on the American question in England, although Parliament as a whole clung to its authority over America, and met the challenge of the Massachusetts theory of colonial charters by the opposite extreme, namely, that all the colonial charters were void, since Parliament's legislative powers over the British Empire could not be alienated to any other bodies such as colonial legislatures; that the American colonies had actually no right of self-government, and that all colonial laws not passed in London were invalid and ineffective. It was obviously a fight to the finish between American legislatures and British Parliament for the upper hand―but, so far, only a paper fight, and was limited, on the American side, by the fact that the American appeal to charters was actually an appeal to royal authority as opposed to parliamentary, and constituted a claim of allegiance by America to the British crown, but not to the parliament, over whose head the charters were granted.
This Congress, being a temporary organization, did not impress the American colonies any further with the necessity or advisability of federating, but it did lay a foundation for future efforts in that direction. It also served to draw a line of cleavage in the colonies between the legislatures, chosen by the Americans, and the governors and judges who were sent over from England (except in the case of Connecticut and Rhode island, where even those were chosen at home).
The petition of the special Congress was rejected, and the Stamp Act went into effect—on paper. But the boycott on British importations was, in most of the colonies, much more effective, and the Stamp Act was totally disregarded in most of the American colonies. It is true that a few loyalists voluntarily obeyed the law; and New York City, from which a congress composed mainly of outsiders had issued the declaration of rights, was willing to petition the British authorities for a repeal, but, for the most part, would not follow to the extent of joining in a general defiance of established authority, although a few of the Sons of Liberty attempted to demonstrate for a boycott, thereby succeeding in getting a beating by the people of the city.
In most of America, however, enforcement of this law proved practically impossible. As producer of revenue for England, it was an utter failure, for the cost of enforcement was over ten times the amount of revenue actually obtained. Many newspapers, instead of printing on the stamped paper required by the law, appeared printed on American paper, carrying skulls and cross-bones where the stamp was supposed to appear.
A reduction in the amount of the stamp tax was later attempted, but failed as a measure of reconciliation. The reply came from Boston that the question was "not peace but principle;" a reply characteristic of the Yankee, for whom the principle has always been, as with the Penacook principles inhabiting the country before him, a matter of prime and fundamental importance.
It was about this time that the old Massachusetts rebel emblem of the Pine Tree, which was in its turn the emblem of the Penacook tribes, denoting the pine forests of New England and the type of freedom native to them, was put into use in modified form as a symbol of protest against arbitrary authority. The Pine Tree was still the emblem of the Massachusetts rebels, especially of the Okamakammesset followers; while those who indulged in the more centralized forms of protest sponsored by the Sons of Liberty in the colonies as a whole used the device in the modified form of a tall pole―the Pine Tree without its needles. These "liberty poles" played a great part in subsequent demonstrations against the authorities in America, and were later adopted as a rebel emblem in other countries.
105. Boston is Invaded. In 1767, after two years of futile effort at making the stamp tax yield a revenue for Great Britain, the English Parliament, still determined to make America pay the cost of the late war, repealed the Stamp Act in order to save a heavy drain on England's treasury, but replaced it by a tax on certain imports; and, to punish America for its resistance, authorized the British military authorities to occupy any part of the American colonies at the expense of the colonists.
As Boston was regarded as a "hotbed of revolt," it was there that the military occupation part of the measure was applied, and, in December, 1768, four shiploads of soldiers were landed at Long Wharf in Boston, with a store of ammunition and artillery that impressed some of the townspeople as being enough for a siege.
The new taxes, far from producing revenue, increased the smuggling trade. In Boston, as well as in many other parts of the American colonies, articles were illicitly imported from other European countries, such as Holland (it being forbidden to import any such merchandise except via England); and the boycott on British goods maintained by the Sons of Liberty associations was a further incentive to this procedure. This time, New York was affected, since importing was the main enterprise in that city; and many would-be opponents of the tax among the New York City merchants hastened to join the Sons of Liberty, flooding that organization, and turning the policy from a boycott (which would ruin the import trade) to a policy of dealing only in non-taxable goods. The boycott supporters were labelled "radicals," and accused of trying to destroy aristocracy in New York (apparently a sacrilege of some sort), and of bringing New York to "the leveling tendency of New England." The Sons of Liberty thus became in New York an instrumentality of the aristocracy and moneyed groups, from which the rebel elements were being fast "frozen out," even such as they were.
In the meantime, the military occupation of Boston, with the British soldiers conspicuously parading the streets and occupying the houses of townspeople who were forced to support them, was arousing to fury an already excited New England. Street clashes of one kind or another between soldiers and civilians were frequent on Boston streets, laborers in particular being the victims of unprovoked attacks on the part of the soldiery, as they were always under suspicion of being connected with the secret factories which the soldiers knew of, but could never find. Boston Common, the great park which was supposed to be the common property of the townspeople, was used for a military headquarters, while the marshland on the river front of the Common, separated by a small peak from the main portion of the Common, was used for frequent rebel rallies. The antagonism became greater every day. In the late afternoon of Monday, March 5, 1770, a group of laborers coming home from work were passing through the square on King Street where Governor Andros's tyranny had been overthrown some eighty-one years before; there they were challenged by a group of soldiers patrolling the place looking for a quarrel. An argument was started, and many sympathizers came to the aid of the laborers, filling the square with a defiant mob, such as the same place had been crowded with on the previous occasion when Andros was deposed. Again a group of defiant Bostonians were face to face with a British militia on the very same spot, although presumably this time to referee a "friendly argument." Suddenly, without warning, the soldiers fired indiscriminately into the throng, killing six men and wounding over thirty more. The group dispersed, but the fire of resentment left by this incident was to remain for many years. Every year, on March 5, the anniversary of the affray, secret memorial services were held for the victims of what the speakers named "the Boston Massacre." This yearly memorial gave the rebel elements, guided by the Okamakammessets who considered themselves still at war with Great Britain, an excellent opportunity to spread the feeling that it would remain a blot on Massachusetts until the militia occupying Boston were driven out; a result which was finally accomplished one March day six years later.
The soldiers who participated in the shooting were given a mock trial by Governor Hutchinson, and acquitted in a hurry; thus, of course, adding to the fury of the people against the administration. It is said, however, that Hutchinson, in later life, having throat trouble, kept declaring that the blood of the Boston Massacre was choking him.
106. The South Defies the Proclamation. In the meantime, the South was having its causes of difference with the British authority, for totally different reasons from what prevailed in New England. As we have seen, it was a small company of Virginians who started the Great Ohio War for the purpose of enriching themselves with the territory of the interior, beyond the mountains, in the Ohio Valley. The large landholders in the South, especially in Virginia, were expanding so much more rapidly than the population required, that they had to seize country in the Ohio Valley, for which they then had to fight France. The war ended, with England the victor, and France driven off the North American continent entirely. But the royal peace proclamation of 1763 reserved terrain beyond the mountains for the red tribes; all of which angered the Southern aristocrats and land-grabbers, who proceeded to appropriate the region anyway, in defiance of the proclamation. Even the poorer elements of the Southern provinces, seeking some refuge from the aristocracy, were attempting to push into the interior in advance of the aristocrats.
In 1768, a group of such adventurers assembled in the North Carolina mountains, to make their homes in the mystic western area beyond the peaks where the red men of the high hills located their "Happy Hunting Ground," or Kenta-Ke, where departed souls go. These would-be settlers, then, set out across the mountains to seek the mysterious land they called "Kentucke," and finally came out into the prairie region south of the Ohio River, where they settled in total disregard of the Cherokee inhabitants who already occupied the place. The several towns thus formed beyond the mountains were organized into a colonial administration called Transylvania (Beyond the Woods), which, though it still recognized British sovereignty in a distant way, was nevertheless in existence in direct defiance of British authority, and was practically, in point of fact, an independent republic, making war against the Cherokees, who were British allies.
A similar expedition the following year resulted in the formation of another group of towns beyond the mountains, but close to the foothills on the western side, and therefore much to the southeast of the Transylvania settlements. A system of administration was organized for these, under the name of Watauga. Thus these elements of Southern population, trying to escape westward from the Virginian and Carolinian aristocrats, founded what were practically two independent republics, whose situation was analogous to that of Vermont in the north, except that they were more outlawed than Vermont, in that the British officially permitted settlement in Vermont, but forbade it in Transylvania and Watauga. These two abortive republics were the foundations of the present states of Kentucky and Tennessee.
The Virginian aristocracy, in the meantime, had no intention of letting go either of these people over the mountains or the soil they were cultivating, and found that Virginia's old charter granted them terrain indefinitely west and northwest as far as the Pacific Ocean. This was done when no settlements had really been made, and when the kings were giving away freely the domains of others. The fact that since then the region beyond the mountains had been definitely given up by England to France apparently meant nothing to the "land-grabbers," whose previous actions in seizing the territory from France and the red tribes had brought on the war. Every effort, accordingly, was made to suppress the self-governing administrations in Transylvania and Watauga, and bring them under Virginian rule. But this, too, was forbidden by the royal proclamation, which meant that back in Virginia, the aristocracy was preparing to fight England over possession and control of the area beyond the mountains. Both the British government and the Virginian aristocracy were agreed on suppressing the western governments; but Britain wished to break up the settlements in order to free the ground for the Cherokees and the other red nations to whom the land really belonged, while the Virginians were attempting to bring Transylvania and Watauga under subjection.
It turned out that the settlements of Watauga were south of the line mentioned in Virginia's charter as the southern boundary; all of which meant that the "charter" claim was transferred to North Carolina, whose landlords were as intent on subjecting Watauga as the Virginian ones had been. In two of the southern colonies, then, namely, Virginia and North Carolina, the landed proprietors were determined to subjugate the western pioneers, and ready to defy British authority in order to do it.
Meanwhile, George Washington and his group of Virginian aristocrats, whose "land-grabbing" activities had started the Great Ohio War, were busy trying to take possession of some of the terrain that England had forbidden them to take. Since their pre-war activities had mainly been on the upper Ohio, it was there that the "Vandalia Company," as this group now called itself (possibly because they were really a group of vandals), began to apportion large estates to its members, taking possession in the name of the Dominion of Virginia. This action, of course, put them on record as having committed a definite act of defiance of the Crown.
It will be seen that defiance of British authority was of a directly opposite nature in the South from what it was in New England. Virginia and North Carolina were performing acts of defiance mainly in support of further aristocratic privilege; for distinctly aggressive purposes; for the purpose of suppressing the new popular governments arising in the west; and for the purpose of being better able to enslave the common people. Massachusetts, on the contrary, was in constant defiance of British authority in defense of laborers and craftsmen; to resist the encroachments of British aristocracy; to defend the people against enslavement. The smuggling rings, however, which were not in agreement with either the New England labor groups or the Southern aristocracy, managed to hang on to both movements to cover their smuggling operations, and formed a link between the two diametrically opposed rebel movements which had really nothing in common except a common enemy.
107. The Virginia Liberals. In the meantime, a different set in Virginia was arising to link the aristocratic rebels of Virginia with the proletarian ones of New England. A group of liberals, such as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, who were largely followers of Rousseau's book "Contrat Social," published in French during the war, were advancing theories of human liberty which were indefinite enough to be used by the Virginian aristocrats to justify their acts of defiance, and also to dovetail well with the ideas of civil rights as advanced by the Massachusetts rebels. They were a discordant element in Virginia, even amongst the forces of defiance, for these theories of liberty were ill adapted for the use of an upper class in rebellion for more power; they opposed slavery, which, with the Virginian aristocrats, was the worst possible form of heresy; and they largely opposed the power of the Anglican Church, which was the established church in Virginia, and backed by the aristocracy there.
The defiant aristocrats of Virginia, however, were quite willing to see the established church kept out of the Kentucky question and the related questions concerning Virginian expansion. The taxation problem entered into the issue too, so that Virginia passed a law reducing ministers' salaries; which England declared void as opposed to royal authority over the church. In this case the Virginia liberals were able to prove themselves heroes by fighting for the validity of this law; and they thus gained the opportunity of expounding their ideas regarding liberty, which were largely a cross between the slogans then being rapidly turned out in Massachusetts, and the "social contract" theories of Rousseau.
The Virginia liberals, besides presenting Virginian defiance to the world in a way to make the New England rebels think Virginia agreed with them, also served the purpose of lining up behind the rebel aristocrats those elements in Virginia who still preserved the tradition of the "lost cause" of Bacon's rebellion of 1706, and who were still secretly celebrating as a day of remembrance and hope for future successful revolt the anniversary of the false amnesty granted on Saturday, July 4, 1676. This potential insurgent group hardly fitted in with the aristocratic element who were leading Virginian rebellion for their own private ends, any more than the liberals who brought them together fitted in with either. But the propaganda issued by the Virginia liberals of that period was of the type that gave to all those elements a temporary illusion of unity, which could last only as long as the destructive stage of the revolution would last.
108. The Quebec Act. While thus discontent had been brewing in the old English colonies since the Great Ohio War, it was otherwise in the newer and the non-English settlements under British rule. The province of New Brunswick, established during the war out of territory conquered from France, and the province of Nova Scotia, peopled by a new immigration sent from England to replace the banished Acadians, naturally extremely loyal to Britain; and, in proportion as the older English colonies were deprived of rights, these new provinces received the privileges taken from the older colonies. Canada―the truly French region around the St. Lawrence River―was as yet under military government, but every effort was made to please the French population there, and to curb the predatory tendencies of the newcomers from the older colonies. The tendency was to work toward an administration as close as possible to what Canada had had, before the war, under France.
In 1772, a permanent civil government for Canada was provided by the Quebec Act, which defined the Province of Quebec as extending to the Ohio River, and placed it under French civil law and English criminal law. The Catholic Church was recognized as the established church in that province, and was allowed to maintain censorship over all communications and publications, as it had when Quebec was under French rule.
The area between the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, not included in the Province of Quebec by the royal peace proclamation, but containing numerous French settlements, such as Detroit, Vincennes, Sandouske, was now included in the new territory of the civil government of Quebec. It had long been recognized as an integral part of Canada, but was the region for which Washington and his Virginians originally started the Great Ohio War. This Ohio territory, originally settled by the red tribes, and partly by French, had been constantly claimed by Virginia ever since the war, but now England definitely recognized it as Canadian. Canada, having just acquired such a large accession of land, was, on the whole, pleased with the new dispensation, and, at a period when most of the older colonies were grumbling against the mother country, England found a valuable ally in the French Canadians.
The Quebec Act also confirmed the claim of the military government at New York to the territory of the Green Mountains, which increased the determination of the Vermonters to resist both New York and British authority.
109. Other Complaints. These were not the only causes of complaint the English colonists in America had against England.
In the first place, due to the difficulty in enforcing many of the laws designed mainly to show British authority over America, it proved necessary for the British government to send over large numbers of English bureaucrats to take charge of that enforcement. Of course, these bureaucrats were given extensive powers in the way of collecting their salaries and expenses from the people in America, adding considerably to the economic difficulties of the Americans. This petty tyranny was a source dissatisfaction among all classes of Americans, and pleased nobody except the officials themselves. In North Carolina, the governor helped himself liberally to everything the people had, much of which went for the support of officials, but most of which went to enrich the governor himself. This had been a recognized practice in New York ever since its foundation, but North Carolina did not submit so easily, and armed groups of citizens called "Regulators" were formed to oppose this type of robbery. They made the mistake, however, of assembling openly and avowing their purpose, thus giving the British militia the chance of defeating them decisively before the organization could get a good start. Most of the Regulators, as well as their sympathizers, escaped into the Watauga colony beyond the mountains, helping to make it more defiant of British authority than ever. Many also fled to the mountains of North Carolina itself, within the lines still open for settlement under the royal proclamation, and practically made a rebel district out of the mountain region. An undercurrent of resentment was also left in the older North Carolina villages nearer the seacoast.
In Pennsylvania, including its autonomous appendage, the Delaware Counties, the Penn family had become regular feudal lords, insisting on their aristocratic and manorial privileges at the expense of the people of their land. This meant straining of relations between the poorer elements of the population, and the Penn family, who for their own benefit were taxing the people of the two colonies to the utmost. This family, now established as feudal overlords of the two colonies for nearly a century, were no longer following the liberal principles on which their ancestor, William Penn, had proceeded in founding the colony, but, being, as it were, "born to the purple," they had become petty tyrants. The Sons of Liberty in Pennsylvania and the three lower Delaware counties directed their efforts toward supporting the interests of the common people against those of the Penns. In the lower counties there was the additional local appeal that freedom from control by the Penns would also mean separation from Pennsylvania itself, whose authority over them had always irked the Delaware Counties.
New England and Pennsylvania had been anxious for over a century to accomplish the abolition of slavery. In New England, the Penacook Federation had always opposed the introduction of slavery, and the Okamakammesset motto, "No slave upon our land," had been gradually inculcated into the Puritans as well. Even as early as 1634, resolutions were passed in the Massachusetts Bay General Court condemning slavery. Pennsylvania was inhabited by Quakers, to whom slaveholding was a sin, and who considered all men rightfully equal, but Great Britain would not permit any measures looking toward actual abolition of slavery, with the result that New England and Pennsylvania were both straining at the leash. This situation had been more serious since the time Queen Anne had undertaken to act as slave-trade agent for Spain; and later Great Britain attempted to force the American colonies to handle this trade. Many New Englanders were not averse to taking up this enterprise, but general opinion was against it, and though, under British rule, such traders were within the law, the home towns in New England lost no opportunity of harassing such people, if it had to be done by legal technicalities and hair-splitting. New England and Pennsylvania both resented having slavery and the slave-trade forced upon them; and this made an additional reason for objection to government by Britain. In the South, of course, where almost all labor was performed by slaves working for landed aristocrats, there was no such objection; neither was there any such objection in New York and its extension, East Jersey, where the slave-trade was an important item of livelihood, and where slavery had begun to spread considerably. West Jersey, however, sided with Pennsylvania, from which it was colonized, against the mother country.
110. Smugglers' Resistance. We have seen that the smuggling rings in the various American ports became allied with the Sons of Liberty in so far as the taxation question was involved. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, which had never been under direct supervision from England as had the other colonies, England's attempts at thus controlling the import trade seemed a direct blow at the popular administration of the provinces, and possibly an entering wedge towards placing those colonies under an English governor as the others had. Both provinces were full of harbors and bays and inlets which were favorable for smuggling; but Connecticut's harbors opened on Long Island Sound, not directly on the ocean, while Rhode Island opened on the ocean, and was therefore better situated for smuggling operations, which were now actually conducted with the approval of the provincial government.
To prevent this lawbreaking, a British ship was stationed at the mouth of Narragansett Bay, at the original Red Island. This ship, the Gaspee, searched thoroughly every ship that attempted to pass in or out. The smuggling trade and the taxation question were, of course, of little or no interest to the secret organizations behind the Sons of Liberty; but a direct interference by Great Britain in the affairs of the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, one of the great strongholds of popular rights, was a different matter. So, one night in 1772, eight boats filled with people set out from Providence for the mouth of the bay, proceeded noiselessly as befitted their secret mission, and came up unexpectedly alongside the Gaspee. Then the passengers of these boats, still unnoticed, and without arousing the suspicions of the Gaspee's crew, boarded the British ship, and seized everyone on board. The ship's crew were taken off to shore and left bound, while the Gaspee itself was set on fire.
The British authorities offered a reward of £4000 for information leading to the arrest of the guilty parties, but nobody volunteered any information. This expedition was conducted in secrecy, and has remained in the same cloud of secrecy ever since. It was never revealed who was responsible for this act of defiance, the first of its kind to show itself in America out of all the mass of complaint and discontent.
Finally the British Parliament, now more desperately attempting to assert its authority over America rather than to obtain a revenge, decided, in 1773, to repeal all import taxes but one―enough to show America that Britain still ruled. This was what it was thought would be a comparatively unimportant one, namely, a tax on tea, which, due to the smuggling trade, was not imported from England to any great extent. The British government, however, this time made arrangements with the British East India Company by which tea could be "dumped" in America more cheaply than it was sold in England, and more cheaply than it could be smuggled in from Holland.
Under this arrangement, the British East India Company sent test shiploads of tea to importers in all the large American ports in the fall of 1773, the British government hoping that by that means it might prove possible to collect some revenue from America. Needless to say, this attempt at forcing goods on America came into direct conflict with the boycott on British goods which had been maintained by the Sons of Liberty and their affiliated secret associations and committees. Even in New York, where the boycott was not on British articles, but merely on taxable material, there was serious objection to forcing shiploads of goods in that manner on merchants who had never ordered them. The British authorities assumed a threatening attitude, and one which amounted to a warning that the people of the various ports would be held strictly responsible for any boycott, or for anything that happened to the cargoes. As a rhymester of the time expressed the British point of view in the matter:
In most of the ports, the consignees, who had never actually ordered the tea, were easily persuaded to refuse to take it; and, as even the law imposed on America from England had not as yet provided for forcing anyone to buy anything not asked for, the East India Company's ships had little else to do than go back to England with their entire cargoes. This happened at New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and several other ports. At Charleston, in South Carolina, the Sons of Liberty actually went to the extent of buying up ship and cargo, and burning them in the harbor; whereby a conspicuous demonstration was effected, and no tax paid, while the ship owner and the East India Company received their money and had nothing of which to complain.
Such displays of ill will had, of course, been expected from Boston, and there the East India Company took the precaution of arranging with a Boston merchant to receive the tea. To induce this consignee to resign was not possible; and, since Boston had a large military force occupying it, any open exhibition of resentment against landing the tea was equally out of the question.
The Boston smuggling ring was especially concerned in keeping the tea out of the town; while the Okamakammesset sympathizers, from Middlesex and the interior of Massachusetts, were little interested in the tax on tea; much more in bringing matters to the point of rebellion. The smugglers were pacific, talking against the authorities, but taking no decisive steps, and were totally out of sympathy with any attempt to make Massachusetts independent of Great Britain. The Okamakammessets, therefore, whose interest in tea was almost nil, saw in this impasse a good opportunity to force the smuggling ring into a rebel position.
When the East India Company's ship landed at Griffin's Wharf in Boston on Sunday, November 28, 1773, the Boston smuggling group, and the Sons of Liberty, organized mass meetings of protest at the Old South Church and at Faneuil Hall. The ship captain was persuaded to postpone landing the tea, to avoid civil disturbances in the town. But the law only allowed a delay of twenty days, and after this time the consignee could force an unloading of the cargo.
In the meantime, the protest meetings went on, and delegates were sent to the governor in vain to seek some peaceful way out of the situation. In the evening of the nineteenth day of the twenty, Thursday, December 16, 1773, after some of the Okamakammesset sympathizers in the Sons of Liberty had managed to dispose of the ship captain by the suggestion that a solution might be reached by a last minute appeal to the governor at his residence in Milton, a great special town meeting was held in Boston in the Old South Church. Samuel Adams, a leader in the smuggling ring, but with strong rebel tendencies, was addressing the meeting of the citizens of Boston, telling them that everything possible had been done to keep the tea out of the town, and that it would be necessary to bow to superior force; when suddenly, from the street was heard the sound of war-whoops, reminiscent of the old days when the red tribes raided a town. The citizens attending the town-meeting flocked to the door, to find the streets filled with what seemed like an army of red men, in Mohawk regalia, marching down toward the docks.
It would appear that, in the afternoon, as soon as it had become obvious that the ship captain would be out of town, crowds of people were brought in across the Charles River from Middlesex, and that it was these Middlesex rebels who were marching through the streets of Boston, disguised as Mohawks. The citizens of Boston themselves were practically all in the town-meeting seeking a peaceful solution of the difficulty with the tea; and the Mohawk regalia, considering that the Mohawks themselves were British allies, must have come from the supply captured by some Penacook tribe during the past wars; and, coming from Middlesex, that tribe must have been the Tribe of the Okamakammessets. The whole arrangement was started and finished, however, in such a shroud of mystery that, although thousands of people must have been connected with it, neither the citizens of Boston―even those friendly to the rebels―nor the ship captain, nor the governor and his militia, had the slightest inkling of what was coming; and so secret was it that nobody to this day has ever found out definitely who was in this unusual procession. As Julian Hawthorne says: "Who were they?―Never was a secret better kept; after six score years we know as little did King George's officers on that night. They seem to have sprung into existence solely to do that one bold deed, and then to vanish like a dream."
Whoever may have been in this strange procession, they marched down to Griffin's Wharf to the tune of war-whoops, boarded the ship "Dartmouth," on which the tea was still loaded, tomahawked the tea chests open, and threw their contents into the Bay. All night these "Indians" worked, until the last tea-leaf had gone to join its fellows in the gigantic brew of tea which was prepared that night, using the waters of Boston Harbor, and boiled on the fires of the Okamakammesset rebel spirit.
This incident, which has since come to be known as the Boston Tea Party, was not an important victory in itself, but it did have the effect of crystallizing sentiment on both sides. The smuggling associations hitherto had been hesitant about drastic measures; but now they would certainly be blamed for this destruction of the East India Company's tea, especially since some of them had been heard to say that the tea ought to be destroyed. The result was that the smugglers were forced into a rebel position, whether they liked it or not, and the Middlesex rebels had definitely gained them as allies. This "Tea Party" both strengthened the rebel line-up in America and definitely antagonized England―not so much against America as against Boston.
This act of insurrection actually proved to be the turning-point which set America definitely on the road to revolution. The rebel feeling was certainly not over the tea; and the tax question interested only a small portion of those who were opposed to the British policy in America. But a secretly-arranged demonstration, sprung as a surprise in the same manner in which Andros had formerly been overthrown, was calculated to set off rebel fires in quarters having no connection with the tea troubles.
111. Correspondence Committees. Ever since the war, the Okamakammessets had not wished to rely on the comparatively open association of the Sons of Liberty entirely for making public contacts, and had organized an intermediate group to maintain contacts with everyone concerned in Massachusetts. This society consisted of a group of "correspondence committees," picked at first by the Okamakammessets from among their sympathizers, to maintain communication with one another, and with both the Tribal Councils and members, and the more open organizations, such as the Sons of Liberty and the more rebellious town meetings, and by means of which suggestions could pass along quietly to the proper place at the proper time. These committees maintained their own messengers, based on the old Penacook courier system, using the same roads, riding secretly to transmit messages; and sometimes these riders also carried false messages for the authorities to capture.
Later, the Sons of Liberty followed the example, choosing their own correspondence committees on the same plan; and the example was later followed, after the "Boston Massacre," by the town meetings in many parts of New England. These various grades of correspondence committees representing different societies maintained contact with each other, in many cases not knowing exactly whom these committees they corresponded with actually represented. The tribe itself, and other secret tactical organizations, were thus able to keep themselves out of sight of even the groups which were working among the people for a change.
This correspondence committee system centered about Middlesex County, which was the original home of the Okamakammessets. It soon spread over not only Massachusetts, but the rest of the New England provinces, and amounted to a secret restoration of the old New England Confederation. Vermont, which was officially part of New York, but which was actually maintaining itself independent of all outside authority including the British, affiliated itself with this system as an aid to maintaining its independence, although with a warning that no outside encroachments would be allowed.
The first attempt at affiliating with this correspondence committee framework outside New England was on the part of Virginia, which, as we have seen, although not in sympathy with New England's difficulties, had its own troubles with British authority. Virginia's correspondence committee, however, was not actually a secret association as were those in New England, but was in reality an open legislative committee to correspond with the New England rebels; and which, far from being a help, actually endangered the insurgents in New England. Virginia's example was followed by other Southern provinces, and this at least had the effect of a design for united action, but one which the New Englanders had to be on their guard against. The Sons of Liberty in New York arranged finally similar committees as a link between New England and the South, but these functioned merely as a communication link, as the New York organization had never been willing to undertake united action with anybody else.
112. The Boston Port Bill. The news of the "Boston Tea Party" was, as may be expected, received in England by a general fury on the part of the authorities. This animosity was not directed against America as a whole, there never having been such a unit in existence politically; not even against the Province of Massachusetts Bay, whose responsibility in the matter was not obvious. It was directed against the town of Boston, where the trouble occurred, and which had already aroused considerable antagonism in England. It seemed to be largely an issue with the British government whether the British Empire could beat Boston, or whether Boston could beat the British Empire. Such recommendations were heard in Parliament as: "I would pull Boston about their ears, and wipe out that nest of locusts."
The final result of the winter's discussion in an enraged Parliament was the passage of what was known as the Boston Port Bill, closing the port to all trade, and abolishing the charter government of Massachusetts. The province, including Maine, was placed under a military government, and all town meetings were forbidden, bringing back approximately the same situation as under the Andros regime. The fact that Boston had overthrown Andros in a hurried surprised attack never discouraged the British government from trying the same experiment again.
Because all these actions of the British Parliament were taken in the King's name, as is the habit with the British government, the idea spread in America that it was the Crown that was to blame, but that England itself was on America's side. The fact remains, however, that it was Parliament that took action every time during this period, and that America was contending not with the British King, but with the Parliament, the representatives of the British people; and it was the Parliament that was so intent on taking revenge on Massachusetts.
To further punish the town of Boston, the capital was to be removed from there to Salem, where a hand-picked legislature was to be allowed to assemble provided they would obey the military governor of the province.
The new arrangement was to go into effect Wednesday, June 1, 1774. A large military force, under the command of General Gage, who was to be the new military governor of Massachusetts, was sent over to occupy the province, and especially Boston. A renewal of the Andros regime was expected.
The whole plan of this military government of Massachusetts was on the basis of collecting an indemnity, and the occupation was supposed to last until the East India Company was paid damages for the destroyed tea. This procedure called forth expressions of sympathy from the rest of the American provinces, such as: "Don't pay for an ounce of the damned tea," from the Virginia correspondence committee; while, in many places, supporters of the rebel movement started propaganda to ban the use of the "noxious word," tea. New York, however, where the military type of government had been ingrained in the people's habits for over a century, seemed to take the same attitude as England, that Massachusetts was being disobedient and was getting proper punishment.
In the meantime Middlesex County was preparing to disregard the new regime soon to be imposed on Massachusetts from England. Representatives from the town meetings assembled into a County Convention at Concord, which was to take charge of the new local administration. For enforcement of the peace in Middlesex, and to prevent the British military government from taking control in Middlesex, a local volunteer militia was gathered together through the various secret societies, meeting and operating in secret, and adopting the slogan "Ready at a minute's notice," a slight alteration of the Okamakammesset slogan, "Prompt when duty calls." For this reason the new under-cover militia became known as the Minute Men. Similar County Conventions and Minute-Men bands were quietly assembled in other counties of Massachusetts on the Middlesex model, and delegates from the various County Conventions met in Concord as a "Provincial Assembly" to coordinate all the work of the county associations and supervise an organized resistance to the new military regime that was being sent over from England to take charge of the affairs of Massachusetts. The County Conventions and the Provincial Assembly retained the real allegiance of the bulk of the population of the province (outside of the small aristocracy and bureaucracy, which was not important in Massachusetts outside of Boston itself). The program was to be, not a definite revolt against the new authority (since support for a definite rebellion against England would at that time have been difficult to muster), but a passive resistance, organized and orderly, to the authority until such time as further and more decisive action could be taken. This passive resistance was given the name of "civil disobedience," which was the entering wedge to casting off the shackles of British rule in America.