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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 6890

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Malcontents put down.]

The cause of Massachusetts was unhesitatingly taken up by all the colonies, from New Hampshire to Georgia. America was united. This unanimity proceeded, however, not from the people, but from suddenly constituted revolutionary governments. No view of the Revolution could be just which does not recognize the fact that in no colony was there a large majority in favor of resistance, and in some the patriots were undoubtedly in a minority. The movement, started by a few seceders, carried with it a large body of men who were sincerely convinced that the British government was tyrannical. The majorities thus formed, silenced the minority, sometimes by mere intimidation, sometimes by ostracism, often by flagrant violence. One kind of pressure was felt by old George Watson of Plymouth, bending his bald head over his cane, as his neighbors one by one left the church in which he sat, because they would not associate with a "mandamus councillor." A different argument was employed on Judge James Smith of New York, in his coat of tar and feathers, the central figure of a shameful procession.

[Sidenote: Early organization.]

Another reason for the sudden strength shown by the Revolutionary movement was that the patriots were organized and the friends of the established government did not know their own strength. The agent of British influence in almost every colony was the governor. In 1775 the governors were all driven out. There was no centre of resistance about which the loyalists could gather. The patriots had seized the reins of government before their opponents fairly understood that they had been dropped.

[Sidenote: Feeling of common interest.]

Another influence which hastened the Revolution was a desire to supplant the men highest in official life. There was no place in the colonial government for a Samuel Adams or a John Adams while the Hutchinsons and the Olivers were preferred. But no personal ambitions can account for the agreement of thirteen colonies having so many points of dissimilarity. The merchants of Boston and New Haven, the townsmen of Concord and Pomfret, the farmers of the Hudson and Delaware valleys, and the aristocratic planters of Virginia and South Carolina, deliberately went to war rather than submit. The causes of the Revolution were general, were wide-spread, and were keenly felt by Americans of every class.

[Sidenote: Resistance of taxation.]

The grievance most strenuously put forward was that of "taxation without representation." On this point the colonists were supported by the powerful authority of Pitt and other English statesmen, and by an unbroken line of precedent. They accepted "external taxation;" at the beginning of the struggle they professed a willingness to pay requisitions apportioned in lump sums on the colonies; they were accustomed to heavy taxation for local purposes; in the years immediately preceding the Revolution the people of Massachusetts annually raised about ten shillings per head. They sincerely objected to taxation of a new kind, for a purpose which did not interest them, by a power which they could not control. The cry of "Taxation without representation" had great popular effect. It was simple, it was universal, it sounded like tyranny.

[Sidenote: Resistance of garrisons.]

A greater and more keenly felt grievance was the establishment of garrisons. The colonies were willing to

run their own risk of enemies. They asserted that the real purpose of the troops was to overawe their governments. The despatch of the regiments to Boston in 1768 was plainly intended to subdue a turbulent population. The British government made a serious mistake in insisting upon this point, whether with or without taxes.

[Sidenote: Resistance to Acts of Trade.]

By far the most effective cause of the Revolution was the English commercial system. One reason why a tax was felt to be so great a hardship was, that the colonies were already paying a heavy indirect tribute to the British nation, by the limitations on their trade. The fact that French and Spanish colonists suffered more than they did, was no argument to Englishmen accustomed in most ways to regulate themselves. The commercial system might have been enforced; perhaps a tax might have been laid: the two together made a grievance which the colonies would not endure.

[Sidenote: Stand for the charters.]

The coercive acts of 1774 gave a definite object for the general indignation. In altering the government of Massachusetts they destroyed the security of all the colonies. The Crown was held unable to withdraw a privilege once granted; Parliament might, however, undo to-morrow what it had done to-day. The instinct of the Americans was for a rigid constitution, unalterable by the ordinary forms of law. They were right in calling the coercive acts unconstitutional. They were contrary to the charters, they were contrary to precedent, and in the minds of the colonists the charters and precedent, taken together, formed an irrepealable body of law.

[Sidenote: Oppression not grievous.]

[Sidenote: Restraints on trade.]

[Sidenote: Resistance to one-man power.]

In looking back over this crisis, it is difficult to see that the colonists had suffered grievous oppression. The taxes had not taken four hundred thousand pounds out of their pockets in ten years. The armies had cost them nothing, and except in Boston had not interfered with the governments. The Acts of Trade were still systematically evaded, and the battle of Lexington came just in time to relieve John Hancock from the necessity of appearing before the court to answer to a charge of smuggling. The real justification of the Revolution is not to be found in the catalogue of grievances drawn up by the colonies. The Revolution was right because it represented two great principles of human progress. In the first place, as the Americans grew in importance, in numbers, and in wealth, they felt more and more indignant that their trade should be hampered for the benefit of men over seas. They represented the principle of the right of an individual to the products of his own industry; and their success has opened to profitable trade a thousand ports the world over. In the second place the Revolution was a resistance to arbitrary power. That arbitrary power was exercised by the Parliament of Great Britain; but, at that moment, by a combination which threatened the existence of popular government in England, the king was the ruling spirit over Parliament. The colonists represented the same general principles as the minority in England. As Sir Edward Thornton said, when minister of Great Britain to the United States, in 1879: "Englishmen now understand that in the American Revolution you were fighting our battles."

CHAPTER IV.

UNION AND INDEPENDENCE (1775-1783).

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