MoboReader > Literature > The Emancipation of Massachusetts

   Chapter 8 — THE SCIRE FACIAS.

The Emancipation of Massachusetts By Brooks Adams Characters: 54918

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Had the Puritan Commonwealth been in reality the thing which its historians have described; had it been a society guided by men devoted to civil liberty, and as liberal in religion as was consistent with the temper of their age, the early relations of Massachusetts toward Great Britain might now be a pleasanter study for her children. Cordiality toward Charles I. would indeed have been impossible, for the Puritans well knew the fate in store for them should the court triumph. Gorges was the representative of the despotic policy toward America, and so early as 1634, probably at his instigation, Laud became the head of a commission, with absolute control over the plantations, while the next year a writ of quo warranto was brought against the patent. [Footnote: See introduction to New Canaan, Prince Soc. ed.] With Naseby, however, these dangers vanished, and thenceforward there would have been nothing to mar an affectionate confidence in both Parliament and the Protector.

In fact, however, Massachusetts was a petty state, too feeble for independence, yet ruled by an autocratic priesthood whose power rested upon legislation antagonistic to English law; therefore the ecclesiastics were jealous of Parliament, and had little love for Cromwell, whom they found wanting in "a thorough testimony against the blasphemers of our days." [Footnote: Diary of Hull, Palfrey, ii. 400, 401, and note.]

The result was that the elders clung obstinately to every privilege which served their ends, and repudiated every obligation which conflicted with their ambition. Clerical political morality seldom fails to be instructive, and the following example is typical of that peculiar mode of reasoning. The terms of admission to ordinary corporations were fixed by each organization for itself, but in case of injustice the courts could give relief by setting aside unreasonable ordinances, and sometimes Parliament itself would interfere, as it did upon the petition against the exactions of the Merchant Adventurers. Now there was nothing upon which the theocracy more strongly insisted than that "our charter doeth expresly give vs an absolute & free choyce of our oune members;" [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 287.] because by means of a religious test the ministers could pack the constituencies with their tools; but on the other hand they as strenuously argued "that no appeals or other ways of interrupting our proceedings do lie against us," [Footnote: Winthrop, ii. 283.] because they well knew that any bench of judges before whom such questions might come would annul the most vital of their statutes as repugnant to the British Constitution.

Unfortunately for these churchmen, their objects, as ecclesiastical politicians, could seldom be reconciled with their duty as English subjects. At the outset, though made a corporation within the realm, they felt constrained to organize in America to escape judicial supervision. They were then obliged to incorporate towns and counties, to form a representative assembly, and to levy general taxes and duties, none of which things they had power to do. Still, such irregularities as these, had they been all, most English statesmen would have overlooked as unavoidable. But when it came to adopting a criminal code based on the Pentateuch, and, in support of a dissenting form of worship, fining and imprisoning, whipping, mutilating, and hanging English subjects without the sanction of English law; when, finally, the Episcopal Church itself was suppressed, and peaceful subjects were excluded from the corporation for no reason but because they partook of her communion, and were forbidden to seek redress by appealing to the courts of their king, it seems impossible that any self-respecting government could have long been passive.

At the Restoration Massachusetts had grown arrogant from long impunity. She thought the time of reckoning would never come, and even in trivial matters seemed to take a pride in slighting Great Britain and in vaunting her independence. Laws were enacted in the name of the Commonwealth, the king's name was not in the writs, nor were the royal arms upon the public buildings; even the oath of allegiance was rejected, though it was unobjectionable in form. She had grown to believe that were offence taken she had only to invent pretexts for delay, to have her fault forgotten in some new revolution. General Denison, at the Quaker trials, put the popular belief in a nut-shell: "This year ye will go to complain to the Parliament, and the next year they will send to see how it is; and the third year the government is changed." [Footnote: Sewel, p. 280.]

But, beside these irritating domestic questions, the corporation was bitterly embroiled with its neighbors. Samuel Gorton and his friends were inhabitants of Rhode Island, and were, no doubt, troublesome to deal with; but their particular offence was ecclesiastical. An armed force was sent over the border and they were seized. They were brought to Boston and tried on the charge of being "blasphemous enemies of the true religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of all his holy ordinances, and likewise of all civil government among his people, and particularly within this jurisdiction." [Footnote: Winthrop, ii. 146.] All the magistrates but three thought that Gorton ought to die, but he was finally sentenced to an imprisonment of barbarous cruelty. The invasion of Rhode Island was a violation of an independent jurisdiction, the arrest was illegal, the sentence an arbitrary outrage. [Footnote: See paper of Mr. Charles Deane, New Eng. Historical and Genealogical Register, vol. iv.]

Massachusetts was also at feud in the north, and none of her quarrels brought more serious results than this with the proprietors of New Hampshire and Maine. The grant in the charter was of all lands between the Charles and Merrimack, and also all lands within the space of three miles to the northward of the said Merrimack, or to the northward of any part thereof, and all lands lying within the limits aforesaid from the Atlantic to the South Sea.

Clearly the intention was to give a margin of three miles beyond a river which was then supposed to flow from west to east, and accordingly the territory to the north, being unoccupied, was granted to Mason and Gorges. Nor was this construction questioned before 1639-the General Court having at an early day measured off the three miles and marked the boundary by what was called the Bound House.

Gradually, however, as it became known that the Merrimack rose to the north, larger claims were made. In 1641 the four New Hampshire towns were absorbed with the consent of their inhabitants, who thus gained a regular government; another happy consequence was the settlement of sundry eminent divines, by whose ministrations the people "were very much civilized and reformed." [Footnote: Neal's New England, i. 210.]

In 1652 a survey was made of the whole river, and 43° 40' 12" was fixed as the latitude of its source. A line extended east from three miles north of this point came out near Portland, and the intervening space was forthwith annexed. The result of such a policy was that Charles had hardly been crowned before complaints poured in from every side. Quakers, Baptists, Episcopalians, all who had suffered persecution, flocked to the foot of the throne; and beside these came those who had been injured in their estates, foremost of whom were the heirs of Mason and Gorges. The pressure was so great and the outcry so loud that, in September, 1660, it was thought in London a governor-general would be sent to Boston; [Footnote: Leverett to Endicott. Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 40.] and, in point of fact, almost the first communication between the king and his colony was his order to spare the Quakers.

The outlook was gloomy, and there was hesitation as to the course to pursue. At length it was decided to send Norton and Bradstreet to England to present an address and protect the public interests. The mission was not agreeable; Norton especially was reluctant, and with reason, for he had been foremost in the Quaker persecutions, and was probably aware that in the eye of English law the executions were homicide.

However, after long vacillation, "the Lord so encouraged and strengthened" his heart that he ventured to sail. [Footnote: Feb. 11, 1661-2. Palfrey, ii. 524.] So far as the crown was concerned apprehension was needless, for Lord Clarendon was prime minister, whose policy toward New England was throughout wise and moderate, and the agents were well received. Still they were restless in London, and Sewel tells an anecdote which may partly account for their impatience to be gone.

"Now the deputies of New England came to London, and endeavored to clear themselves as much as possible, but especially priest Norton, who bowed no less reverently before the archbishop, than before the king....

"They would fain have altogether excused themselves; and priest Norton thought it sufficient to say that he did not assist in the bloody trial, nor had advised to it. But John Copeland, whose ear was cut off at Boston, charged the contrary upon him: and G. Fox, the elder, got occasion to speak with them in the presence of some of his friends, and asked Simon Broadstreet, one of the New England magistrates, 'whether he had not a hand in putting to death those they nicknamed Quakers?' He not being able to deny this confessed he had. Then G. Fox asked him and his associates that were present, 'whether they would acknowledge themselves to be subjects to the laws of England? and if they did by what law they had put his friends to death?' They answered, 'They were subjects to the laws of England; and they had put his friends to death by the same law, as the Jesuits were put to death in England.' Hereupon G. Fox asked, 'whether they did believe that those his friends, whom they had put to death, were Jesuits, or jesuitically affected?' They said 'Nay.' 'Then,' replied G. Fox, 'ye have murdered them; for since ye put them to death by the law that Jesuits are put to death here in England, it plainly appears, you have put them to death arbitrarily, without any law.' Thus Broadstreet, finding himself and his company ensnar'd by their own words, ask'd, 'Are you come to catch us?' But he told them 'They had catch'd themselves, and they might justly be questioned for their lives; and if the father of William Robinson (one of those that were put to death) were in town, it was probable he would question them, and bring their lives into jeopardy. For he not being of the Quakers persuasion, would perhaps not have so much regard to the point of forbearance, as they had.' Broadstreet seeing himself thus in danger began to flinch and to sculk; for some of the old royalists were earnest with the Quakers to prosecute the New England persecutors. But G. Fox and his friends said, 'They left them to the Lord, to whom vengeance belonged, and he would repay it.' Broadstreet however, not thinking it safe to stay in England, left the city, and with his companions went back again to New England." [Footnote: Sewel, p. 288.]

The following June the agents were given the king's answer [Footnote: 1662, June 28.] to their address and then sailed for home. It is certainly a most creditable state paper. The people of Massachusetts were thanked for their good will, they were promised oblivion for the past, and were assured that they should have their charter confirmed to them and be safe in all their privileges and liberties, provided they would make certain reforms in their government. They were required to repeal such statutes as were contrary to the laws of England, to take the oath of allegiance, and to administer justice in the king's name. And then followed two propositions that were crucial: "And since the principle and foundation of that charter was and is the freedom of liberty of conscience, wee do hereby charge and require you that that freedom and liberty be duely admitted," especially in favor of those "that desire to use the Book of Common Prayer." And secondly, "that all the freeholders of competent estates, not vicious in conversations, orthodox in religion (though of different perswasions concerning church government) may have their vote in the election of all officers civill or millitary." [Footnote: Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 101-103.]

However judicious these reforms may have been, or howsoever strictly they conformed with the spirit of English law, was immaterial. They struck at the root of the secular power of the clergy, and they roused deep indignation. The agents had braved no little danger, and had shown no little skill in behalf of the commonwealth; and the fate of John Norton enables us to realize the rancor of theological feeling. The successor of Cotton, by general consent the leading minister, in some respects the most eminent man in Massachusetts, he had undertaken a difficult mission against his will, in which he had acquitted himself well; yet on his return he was so treated by his brethren and friends that he died in the spring of a broken heart. [Footnote: April 5, 1663.]

The General Court took no notice of the king's demands except to order the writs to run in the royal name. [Footnote: Oct. 8, 1662. Mass. Rec. vol. iv. pt. 2, p. 58.] And it is a sign of the boldness, or else of the indiscretion, of those in power, that this crisis was chosen for striking a new coin, [Footnote: 1662, May 7.]-an act confessedly illegal and certain to give offence in England, both as an assumption of sovereignty and an interference with the currency.

From the first Lord Clarendon paid some attention to colonial affairs, and he appears to have been much dissatisfied with the condition in which he found them. At length, in 1664, he decided to send a commission to New England to act upon the spot.

Great pressure must have been brought by some who had suffered, for Samuel Maverick, the Episcopalian, who had been fined and imprisoned in 1646 for petitioning with Childe, was made a member. Colonel Richard Nichols, the head of the board, was a man of ability and judgment; the choice of Sir Robert Carr and Colonel George Cartwright was less judicious.

The commissioners were given a public and private set of instructions, [Footnote: Public Instructions, Hutch. Hist. i. 459.] and both were admirable. They were to examine the condition of the country and its laws, and, if possible, to make some arrangement by which the crown might have a negative at least upon the choice of the governor; they were to urge the reforms already demanded by the king, especially a larger toleration, for "they doe in truth deny that liberty of conscience to each other, which is equally provided for and granted to every one of them by their charter." [Footnote: Private Instructions O'Callaghan Documents, iii. 58.] They were directed to be conciliatory toward the people, and under no circumstances to meddle with public worship, nor were they to press for any sudden enforcement of the revenue acts. On one point alone they were to insist: they were instructed to sit to hear appeals in causes in which the parties alleged they had been wronged by colonial decisions.

Unquestionably the chancellor was right in principle. The only way whereby such powerful corporations as the trade-guilds or the East India Company could be kept from acts of oppression was through the appellate jurisdiction, by which means their enactments could be brought before the courts, and those annulled which in the opinion of the judges transcended the charters. The Company of Massachusetts Bay was a corporation having jurisdiction over many thousand English subjects, only a minority of whom were freemen and voters. So long, therefore, as she remained within the empire, the crown was bound to see that the privileges of the English Constitution were not denied within her territory. Yet, though this is true, it is equally certain that the erection of a commission of appeal without an act of Parliament was irregular. The stretch of prerogative, nevertheless, cannot be considered oppressive when it is remembered that Massachusetts was a corporation which had escaped from the realm to avoid judicial process, and which refused to appear and plead; hence Lord Clarendon had but this alternative: he could send judges to sit upon the spot, or he could proceed against the charter in London. The course he chose may have been illegal, but it was the milder of the two.

The commissioners landed on July 23, 1664, but they did not stay in Boston. Their first business was to subdue the Dutch at New York, and they soon left to make the attack. The General Court now recurred, for the first time, to the dispatch which their agents had brought home, and proceeded to amend the law relating to the franchise. They extended the qualification by enacting that Englishmen who presented a certificate under the hands of the minister of the town that they were orthodox in religion and not vicious in life, and who paid, beside, 10s. at a single rate, might become freemen, as well as those who were church-members. [Footnote: Mass. Rec. vol. iv. pt. 2, p. 117.] The effect of such a change could hardly have been toward liberality, rather, probably, toward concentration of power in the church. However slight, there was some popular control over the rejection of an applicant to join a congregation; but giving a certificate was an act that must have depended on the pastor's will alone.

The court then drew up an address to the king: "If your poore subjects, ... doe... prostrate themselues at your royal feete, & begg yor favor, wee hope it will be graciously accepted by your majestje, and that as the high place you sustejne on earth doeth number you here among the gods, [priests can cringe as well as torture] so you will jmitate the God of heaven, in being ready... to receive their crjes...," [Footnote: Mass. Rec. vol. iv. pt. 2, p. 129.] And he was implored to reflect on the affliction of heart it was to them, that their sins had provoked God to permit their adversaries to procure a commission, under the great seal, to four persons to hear appeals. When this address reached London it caused surprise. The chancellor was annoyed. He wrote to America, pointing out that His Majesty would hardly think himself well used at complaints before a beginning had been made, and a demand that his commission should be revoked before his commissioners had been able to deliver their instructions. "I know," he said, "they are expressly inhibited from intermedling with, or instructing the administration of justice, according to the formes observed there; but if in truth, in any extraordinary case, the proceedings there have been irregular, and against the rules of justice, as some particular cases, particularly recommended to them by His Majesty, seeme to be, it cannot be presumed that His Majesty hath or will leave his subjects of New England, without hope of redresse by an appeale to him, which his subjects of all his other kingdomes have free liberty to make." [Footnote: Hutch. Hist. i. 465.]

The campaign against New York was short and successful, and the commissioners were soon at leisure. As they had reason to believe that Massachusetts would prove stubborn, they judged it wiser to begin with the more tractable colonies first. They therefore went to Plymouth, [Footnote: Feb. 1664-5.] and, on their arrival, according to their instructions, submitted the four following propositions:-

First. That all householders should take the oath of allegiance, and that justice should be administered in the king's name.

Second. That all men of competent estates and civil conversation, though of different judgments, might be admitted to be freemen, and have liberty to choose and be chosen officers, both civil and military.

Third. That all men and women of orthodox opinions, competent knowledge, and civil lives not scandalous, should be admitted to the Lord's Supper [and have baptism for their children, either in existing churches or their own].

Fourth. That all laws ... derogatory to his majesty should be repealed. [Footnote: Palfrey, ii. 601.]

Substantially the same proposals were made subsequently in Rhode Island and Connecticut. They were accepted without a murmur. A few appeal cases were heard, and the work was done.

The commissioners reported their entire satisfaction to the government, the colonies sent loyal addresses, and Charles returned affectionate answers.

Massachusetts alone remained to be dealt with, but her temper was in striking contrast to that of the rest of New England. The reason is obvious. Nowhere else was there a fusion of church and state. The people had, therefore, no oppressive statutes to uphold, nor anything to conceal. Provided the liberty of English subjects was secured to them they were content to obey the English Constitution. On the other hand, Massachusetts was a theocracy, the power of whose priesthood rested on enactments contrary to British institutions, and which, therefore, would have been annulled upon appeal. Hence the clerical party were wild with fear and rage, and nerved themselves to desperate resistance.

"But alasse, sir, the commission impowering those commisioners to heare and determine all cases whatever, ... should it take place, what would become of our civill government which hath binn, under God, the heade of that libertie for our consciences for which the first adventurers ... bore all ... discouragements that encountered them ... in this wildernes." Rather than submit, they protested they had "sooner leave our place and all our pleasant outward injoyments." [Footnote: Court to Boyle. Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 113.]

Under such conditions a direct issue was soon reached. The General Court, in answer to the commissioners' proposals, maintained that the observance of their charter was inconsistent with appeals; that they had already provided an oath of allegiance; that they had conformed to his majesty's requirements in regard to the franchise; and lastly, in relation to toleration, there was no equivocation. "Concerning the vse of the Common Prayer Booke"... we had not become "voluntary exiles from our deare native country, ... could wee haue seene the word of God, warranting us to performe our devotions in that way, & to haue the same set vp here; wee conceive it is apparent that it will disturbe our peace in our present enjoyments." [Footnote: 1665. Mass. Rec. vol. iv. pt. 2, p.200]

Argument was useless. The so-called oath of allegiance was not that required by Parliament; the alteration in the franchise was a sham; while the two most important points, appeals to England and toleration in religion, were rejected. The commissioners, therefore, asked for a direct answer to this question: "Whither doe yow acknowledge his majestjes comission ... to be of full force?" [Footnote: Mass. Rec. vol. iv. pt. 2, p.204] They were met by evasion. On the 23d of May they gave notice that they should sit the next morning to hear the case of Thos. Deane et al. vs. The Gov. & Co. of Mass. Bay, a revenue appeal. Forthwith the General Court proclaimed by trumpet that the hearing would not be permitted.

Coercion was impossible, as no troops were at hand. The commissioners accordingly withdrew and went to Maine, which they proceeded to sever from Massachusetts. [Footnote: June, 1665] In this they followed the king's instructions, who himself acted upon the advice of the law officers of the crown, who had given an opinion sustaining the claim of Gorges. [Footnote: Charles II.'s letter to Inhabitants of Maine. Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 110; Palf. ii. 622.]

The triumph was complete. All that the English government was then able to do was to recall the commissioners, direct that agents should be sent to London at once, and forbid interference with Maine. No notice was taken of the order to send agents; and in 1668 possession was again taken of the province, and the courts of the company once more sat in the county of York. [Footnote: July, 1668. Report of Com. Mass. Rec. vol. iv. pt. 2, p. 401.]

This was the culmination of the Puritan Commonwealth. The clergy were exultant, and the Rev. Mr. Davenport of New Haven wrote in delight to Leverett:-

"Their claiming power to sit authoritatively as a court for appeales, and that to be managed in an arbitrary way, was a manifest laying of a groundworke to undermine your whole government established by your charter. If you had consented thereunto, you had plucked downe with your owne hands that house which wisdom had built for you and your posterity.... As for the solemnity of publishing it, in three places, by sounding a trumpet, I believe you did it upon good advice, ... for declaring the courage and resolution of the whole countrey to defend their charter liberties and priviledges, and not to yeeld up theire right voluntarily, so long as they can hold it, in dependence upon God in Christ, whose interest is in it, for his protection and blessing, who will be with you while you are with him." [Footnote: Davenport to Leverett. Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 119.]

Although the colonists were alarmed at their own success, there was nothing to fear. At no time before or since could England have been so safely defied. In 1664 war was begun against Holland; 1665 was the year of the plague; 1666 of the fire. In June, 1667, the Dutch, having dispersed the British fleets, sailed up the Medway, and their guns were heard in London. Peace became necessary, and in August Clarendon was dismissed from office. The discord between the crown and Parliament paralyzed the nation, and the wastefulness of Charles kept him always poor. By the treaty of Dover in 1670 he became a pensioner of Louis XIV. The Cabal followed, probably the worst ministry England ever saw; and in 1672, at Clifford's suggestion, the exchequer was closed and the debt repudiated to provide funds for the second Dutch war. In March fighting began, and the tremendous battles with De Ruyter kept the navy in the Channel. At length, in 1673, the Cabal fell, and Danby became prime minister.

Although during these years of disaster and disgrace Massachusetts was not molested by Great Britain, they were not all years during which the theocracy could tranquilly enjoy its victory.

So early as 1671 the movements of the Indians began to give anxiety; and in 1675 Philip's War broke out, which brought the colony to the brink of ruin, and in which the clergy saw the judgment of God against the Commonwealth, for tenderness toward the Quakers. [Footnote: Reforming Synod, Magnalia, bk. 5, pt. 4.]

With the rise of Danby a more regular administration opened, and, as usual, the attention of the government was fixed upon Massachusetts by the clamors of those who demanded redress for injuries alleged to have been received at her hands. In 1674 the heirs of Mason and Gorges, in despair at the reoccupation of Maine, proposed to surrender their claim to the king, reserving one third of the product of the customs for themselves. The London merchants also had become restive under the systematic violation of the Navigation Acts. The breach in the revenue laws had, indeed, been long a subject of complaint, and

the commissioners had received instructions relating thereto; but it was not till this year that these questions became serious.

The first statute had been passed by the Long Parliament, but the one that most concerned the colonies was not enacted till 1663. The object was not only to protect English shipping, but to give her the entire trade of her dependencies. To that end it was made illegal to import European produce into any plantation except through England; and, conversely, colonial goods could only be exported by being landed in England.

The theory upon which this legislation was based is exploded; enforced, it would have crippled commerce; but it was then, and always had been, a dead letter at Boston. New England was fast getting its share of the carrying trade. London merchants already began to feel the competition of its cheap and untaxed ships, and manufacturers to complain that they were undersold in the American market, by goods brought direct from the Continental ports. A petition, therefore, was presented to the king, to carry the law into effect. No colonial office then existed; the affairs of the dependencies were assigned to a committee of the Privy Council, called the Lords of Committee of Trade and Plantations; and on these questions being referred by them to the proper officers, the commissioners of customs sustained the merchants; the attorney-general, the heirs of Mason and Gorges. [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 281; Chalmers's Political Annals of the United Colonies, p. 262.] The famous Edward Randolph now appears. The government was still too deeply embarrassed to act with energy. A temporizing policy was therefore adopted; and as the experiment of a commission had failed, Randolph was chosen as a messenger to carry the petitions and opinions to Massachusetts; together with a letter from the king, directing that agents should be sent in answer thereto. After delivering them, he was ordered to devote himself to preparing a report upon the country. He reached Boston June 10, 1676. Although it was a time of terrible suffering from the ravages of the Indian war, the temper of the magistrates was harsher than ever.

The repulse of the commissioners had convinced them that Charles was not only lazy and ignorant, but too poor to use force; and they also believed him to be so embroiled with Parliament as to make his overthrow probable. Filled with such feelings, their reception of Randolph was almost brutal. John Leverett was governor, who seems to have taken pains to mark his contempt in every way in his power. Randolph was an able, but an unscrupulous man, and probably it would not have been difficult to have secured his good-will. Far however from bribing, or even flattering him, they so treated him as to make him the bitterest enemy the Puritan Commonwealth ever knew.

Being admitted into the council chamber, he delivered the letter. [Footnote: Randolph's Narrative. Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 240.] The governor opened it, glanced at the signature, and, pretending never to have heard of Henry Coventry, asked who he might be. He was told he was his majesty's principal secretary of state. He then read it aloud to the magistrates. Even the fierce Endicott, when he received the famous "missive" from the Quaker Shattock, "laid off his hat ... [when] he look'd upon the papers," [Footnote: Sewel, p. 282.] as a mark of respect to his king; but Leverett and his council remained covered. Then the governor said "that the matters therein contained were very inconsiderable things and easily answered, and it did no way concern that government to take any notice thereof;" and so Randolph was dismissed. Five days after he was again sent for, and asked whether he "intended for London by that ship that was ready to saile?" If so, he could have a duplicate of the answer to the king, as the original was to go by other hands. He replied that he had other business in charge, and inquired whether they had well considered the petitions, and fixed upon their agents so soon. Leverett did not deign to answer, but told him "he looked upon me as Mr. Mason's agent, and that I might withdraw." The next day he saw the governor at his own house, who took occasion, when Randolph referred to the Navigation Acts, to expound the legal views of the theocracy. "He freely declared to me that the lawes made by your majestie and your Parliament obligeth them in nothing but what consists with the interest of that colony, that the legislative power is and abides in them solely ... and that all matters in difference are to be concluded by their finall determination, without any appeal to your majestie, and that your majestie ought not to retrench their liberties, but may enlarge them." [Footnote: Randolph's Narrative. Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 243.] One last interview took place when Randolph went for dispatches for England, after his return from New Hampshire; then he "was entertained by" Leverett "with a sharp reproof for publishing the substance of my errand into those parts, contained in your majestie's letters, ... telling me that I designed to make a mutiny.... I told him, if I had done anything amisse, upon complaint made to your majestie he would certainly have justice done him."...

"At my departure ... he ... intreated me to give a favourable report of the country and the magistrates thereof, adding that those that blessed them God would blesse, and those that cursed them God would curse." And that "they were a people truely fearing the Lord and very obedient to your majestie." [Footnote: Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 248.] And so the royal messenger was dismissed in wrath, to tell his story to the king.

The legislature met in August, 1676, and a decision had to be made concerning agents. On the whole, the clergy concluded it would be wiser to obey the crown, "provided they be, with vtmost care & caution, qualified as to their instructions." [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 99.] Accordingly, after a short adjournment, the General Court chose William Stoughton and Peter Bulkely; and having strictly limited their power to a settlement of the territorial controversy, they sent them on their mission. [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 114.]

Almost invariably public affairs were seen by the envoys of the Company in a different light from that in which they were viewed by the clerical party at home, and these particularly had not been long in London before they became profoundly alarmed. There was, indeed, reason for grave apprehension. The selfish and cruel policy of the theocracy had borne its natural fruit: without an ally in the world, Massachusetts was beset by enemies. Quakers, Baptists, and Episcopalians whom she had persecuted and exiled; the heirs of Mason and Gorges, whom she had wronged; Andros, whom she had maligned; [Footnote: He had been accused of countenancing aid to Philip when governor of New York. O'Callaghan Documents, iii. 258.] and Randolph, whom she had insulted, wrought against her with a government whose sovereign she had offended and whose laws she had defied. Even her English friends had been much alienated. [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 278, 279.]

The controversy concerning the boundary was referred to the two chief justices, who promptly decided against the Company; [Footnote: See Opinion; Chalmers's Annals, p. 504.] and the easy acquiescence of the General Court must raise a doubt as to their faith in the soundness of their claims. And now again the fatality which seemed to pursue the theocracy in all its dealings with England led it to give fresh provocation to the king by secretly buying the title of Gorges for twelve hundred and fifty pounds. [Footnote: May, 1677. Chalmers's Annals, pp. 396, 397. See notes, Palfrey, iii. 312.]

Charles had intended to settle Maine on the Duke of Monmouth. It was a worthless possession, whose revenue never paid for its defence; yet so stubborn was the colony that it made haste to anticipate the crown and thus become "Lord Proprietary" of a burdensome province at the cost of a slight which was never forgiven. Almost immediately the Privy Council had begun to open other matters, such as coining and illicit trade; and the attorney-general drew up a list of statutes which, in his opinion, were contrary to the laws of England. The agents protested that they were limited by their instructions, but were sharply told that his majesty did not think of treating with his own subjects as with foreigners, and it would be well to intimate the same to their principals. [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 309.] In December, 1677, Stoughton wrote in great alarm that something must be done concerning the Navigation Acts or a breach would be inevitable. [Footnote: Hutch. Hist. i. 288.] And the General Court saw reason in this emergency to increase the tension by reviving the obnoxious oath of fidelity to the country, [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 154.]-the substitute for the oath of allegiance,-and thus gave Randolph a new and potent weapon. In the spring [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 316, 317; Chalmers's Annals, p. 439.] the law officers gave an opinion that the misdemeanors alleged against Massachusetts were sufficient to avoid her patent; and the Privy Council, in view of the encroachments and injuries which she had continually practised on her neighbors, and her contempt of his majesty's commands, advised that a quo warranto should be brought against the charter. Randolph was appointed collector at Boston. [Footnote: 1678, May 31.]

Even Leverett now saw that some concessions must be made, and the General Court ordered the oath of allegiance to be taken; nothing but perversity seems to have caused the long delay. [Footnote: Oct. 2, 1678. Mass. Rec. v. 193. See Palfrey, iii. 320, note 2.] The royal arms were also carved in the court-house; and this was all, for the clergy were determined upon those matters touching their authority. The agents were told, "that which is farr more considerable then all these is the interest of the Lord Jesus & of his churches ... which ought to be farr dearer to us than our liues; and ... wee would not that by any concessions of ours, or of yours... the least stone should be put out of the wall." [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 202.]

Both agents and magistrates were, nevertheless, thoroughly frightened, and being determined not to yield, in fact, they resorted to a policy of misrepresentation, with the hope of deceiving the English government. [Footnote: See Answers of Agents, Chalmers's Annals, p. 450.] Stoughton and Bulkely had already assured the Lords of Committee that the "rest of the inhabitants were very inconsiderable as to number, compared with those that were acknowledged church-members." [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 318.] They were in fact probably as five to one. The General Court had been censured for using the word Commonwealth in official documents, as intimating independence. They hastened to assure the crown that it had not of late been used, and should not be thereafter; [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 198. And see, in general, the official correspondence, pp. 197-203.] yet in November, 1675, commissions were thus issued. [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 322.] But the breaking out of the Popish plot began to absorb the whole attention of the government at London; and the agents, after receiving a last rebuke for the presumption of the colony in buying Maine, were at length allowed to depart. [Footnote: Nov. 1679.]

Nearly half a century had elapsed since the emigration, and with the growth of wealth and population changes had come. In March, John Leverett, who had long been the head of the high-church party, died, and the election of Simon Bradstreet as his successor was a triumph for the opposition. Great as the clerical influence still was, it had lost much of its old despotic power, and the congregations were no longer united in support of the policy of their pastors. This policy was singularly desperate. Casting aside all but ecclesiastical considerations, the clergy consistently rejected any compromise with the crown which threatened to touch the church. Almost from the first they had recognized that substantial independence was necessary in order to maintain the theocracy. Had the colony been strong, they would doubtless have renounced their allegiance; but its weakness was such that, without the protection of England, it would have been seized by France. Hence they resorted to expedients which could only end in disaster, for it was impossible for Massachusetts, while part of the British Empire, to refuse obedience at her pleasure to laws which other colonies cheerfully obeyed.

Without an ally, no resistance could be made to England, when at length her sovereignty should be asserted; and an armed occupation and military government were inevitable upon a breach.

Though such considerations are little apt to induce a priesthood to surrender their temporal power, they usually control commercial communities. Accordingly, Boston and the larger towns favored concession, while the country was the ministers' stronghold. The result of this divergence of opinion was that the moderate party, to which Bradstreet and Dudley belonged, predominated in the Board of Assistants, while the deputies remained immovable. The branches of the legislature thus became opposed; no course of action could be agreed on, and the theocracy drifted to its destruction.

The duplicity characteristic of theological politics grew daily more marked. In May, 1679, a law had been passed forbidding the building of churches without leave from the freemen of the town or the General Court. [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 213.] On the 11th of June, 1680, three persons representing the society of Baptists were summoned before the legislature, charged with the crime of erecting a meeting-house. They were admonished and forbidden to meet for worship except with the established congregations; and their church was closed. [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 271.] That very day an address was voted to the king, one passage of which is as follows: "Concerning liberty of conscience, ... that after all, a multitude of notorious errors ... be openly broached, ... amongst us, as by the Quakers, &c., wee presume his majesty doeth not intend; and as for other Prottestant dissenters, that carry it peaceably & soberly, wee trust there shallbe no cause of just complaint against us on their behalfe." [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 287.]

Meanwhile Randolph had renewed his attack. He declared that in spite of promises and excuses the revenue laws were not enforced; that his men were beaten, and that he hourly expected to be thrown into prison; whereas in other colonies, he asserted, he was treated with great respect. [Footnote: June, 1680. Palfrey, iii. 340.] There can be no doubt ingenuity was used to devise means of annoyance, and certainly the life he was made to lead was hard. In March [Footnote: March 15, 1680-1.] he sailed for home, and while in London he made a series of reports to the government which seem to have produced the conviction that the moment for action had come. In December he returned, commissioned as deputy-surveyor and auditor-general for all New England, except New Hampshire. When Stoughton and Bulkely were dismissed, the colony had been commanded to send new agents within six months. In September, 1680, another royal letter had been written, in which the king dwelt upon the misconduct of his subjects, "when ... we signified unto you our gracious inclination to have all past deeds forgotten... wee then little thought that those markes of our grace and favour should have found no better acceptance amoung you.... We doe therefore by these our letters, strictly command and require you, as you tender your allegiance unto us, and will deserve the effects of our grace and favour (which wee are enclyned to afford you) seriously to reflect upon our commands; ... and particularly wee doe hereby command you to send over, within three months after the receipt hereof, such... persons as you shall think fitt to choose, and that you give them sufficient instructions to attend the regulation and settlement of that our government." [Footnote: Sept. 30. Hutch. Coll. , Prince Soc. ed. ii. 261.]

The General Court had not thought fit to regard these communications, and now Randolph came charged with a long and stern dispatch, in which agents were demanded forthwith, "in default whereof, we are fully resolved, in Trinity Term next ensuing, to direct our attorney-general to bring a quo warranto in our court of kings-bench, whereby our charter granted unto you, with all the powers thereof, may be legally evicted and made void; and so we bid you farewel." [Footnote: Chalmers's Annals, p. 449.]

Hitherto the clerical party had procrastinated, buoyed up by the hope that in the fierce struggle with the commons Charles might be overthrown; but this dream ended with the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, and further inaction became impossible. Joseph Dudley and John Richards were chosen agents, and provided with instructions bearing the peculiar tinge of ecclesiastical statesmanship.

They were directed to represent that appeals would be intolerable; and, for their private guidance, the legislature used these words: "We therefore doe not vnderstand by the regulation of the gouernment, that any alteration of the patent is intended; yow shall therefore neither doe nor consent to any thing that may violate or infringe the liberties & priuiledges granted to us by his majesties royall charter, or the gouernment established thereby; but if any thing be propounded that may tend therevnto, yow shall say, yow haue received no instruction in that matter." [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 349.] With reference to the complaints made against the colony, they were to inform the king "that wee haue no law prohibbiting any such as are of the perswasion of the church of England, nor haue any euer desired to worship God accordingly that haue been denyed." [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 347. March 23.]

Such a statement cannot be reconciled with the answer made the commissioners; and the laws compelled Episcopalians to attend the Congregational worship, and denied them the right to build churches of their own.

"As for the Annabaptists, they are now subject to no other poenal statutes then those of the Congregational way." This sophistry is typical. The law under which the Baptist church was closed applied in terms to all inhabitants, it is true; but it was contrived to suppress schism, it was used to coerce heretics, and it was unrepealed. Moreover, it would seem as though the statute inflicting banishment must then have still been in force.

The assurances given in regard to the reform of the suffrage were precisely parallel:-

"For admission of ffreemen, wee humbly conceive it is our liberty, by charter, to chuse whom wee will admitt into our oune company, which yet hath not binn restrayned to Congregational men, but others haue been admitted, who were also provided for according to his majestjes direction." [Footnote: 1681-2, March 23.]

Such insincerity gave weight to Randolph's words when he wrote: "My lord, I have but one thing to reminde your lordship, that nothing their agents can say or doe in England can be any ground for his majestie to depend upon." [Footnote: Randolph to Clarendon. Hutch. Coll., Prince Soc. ed. ii. 277]

With these documents and one thousand pounds for bribery, soon after increased to three, [Footnote: Chalmers's Annals, p. 461.] Dudley and Richards sailed. Their powers were at once rejected at London as insufficient, and the decisive moment came. [Footnote: Idem, p. 413.] The churchmen of Massachusetts had to determine whether to accept the secularization of their government or abandon every guaranty of popular liberty. The clergy did not hesitate before the momentous alternative: they exerted themselves to the utmost, and turned the scale for the last time. [Footnote: Hutch. Hist. i. 303, note.] In fresh instructions the agents were urged to do what was possible to avert, or at least delay, the stroke; but they were forbidden to consent to appeals, or to alterations in the qualifications required for the admission of freemen. [Footnote: 1683, March 30. Mass. Rec. v. 390.] They had previously been directed to pacify the king by a present of two thousand pounds; and this ill-judged attempt at bribery had covered them with ridicule. [Footnote: Hutch. Hist. i. 303, note.]

Further negotiation would have been futile. Proceedings were begun at once, and Randolph was sent to Boston to serve the writ of quo warranto; [Footnote: 1683, July 20.] he was also charged with a royal declaration promising that, even then, were submission made, the charter should be restored with only such changes as the public welfare demanded. [Footnote: Mass. Rec. v. 422, 423.] Dudley, who was a man of much political sagacity, had returned and strongly urged moderation. The magistrates were not without the instincts of statesmanship: they saw that a breach with England must destroy all safeguards of the common freedom, and they voted an address to the crown accepting the proffered terms. [Footnote: 1683, 15 Nov. Hutch. Hist. i. 304.] But the clergy strove against them: the privileges of their order were at stake; they felt that the loss of their importance would be "destructive to the interest of religion and of Christ's kingdom in the colony," [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 381.] and they roused their congregations to resist. The deputies did not represent the people, but the church. They were men who had been trained from infancy by the priests, who had been admitted to the communion and the franchise on account of their religious fervor, and who had been brought into public life because the ecclesiastics found them pliable in their hands. The influence which had moulded their minds and guided their actions controlled them still, and they rejected the address. [Footnote: Nov. 30. Palfrey, iii. 385.] Increase Mather took the lead. He stood up at a great meeting in the Old South, and exhorted the people, "telling them how their forefathers did purchase it [the charter], and would they deliver it up, even as Ahab required Naboth's vineyard, Oh! their children would be bound to curse them." [Footnote: Palfrey, iii. 388, note 1.]

All that could be resolved on was to retain Robert Humphrys of the Middle Temple to interpose such delays as the law permitted; but no attempt was made at defence upon the merits of their cause, probably because all knew well that no such defence was possible.

Meanwhile, for technical reasons, the quo warranto had been abandoned, and a writ of scire facias had been issued out of chancery. On June 18, 1684, the lord keeper ordered the defendant to appear and plead on the first day of the next Michaelmas Term. The time allowed was too short for an answer from America, and judgment was entered by default. [Footnote: Decree entered June 21, 1684; confirmed, Oct. 23. Palfrey, iii. 393, note.] The decree was arbitrary, but no effort was made to obtain relief. The story, however, is best told by Humphrys himself:-

"It is matter of astonishment to me, to think of the returnes I haue had from you in the affaire of your charter; that a prudent people should think soe little, in a thing of the greatest moment to them.

"Which charge I humbly justify in the following particulars, and yet at the same time confess that all you could haue done would but haue gained more time, and spent more money, since the breaches assigned against you, were as obvious as vnanswerable, soe as all the service your councill and friends could haue done you here, would haue onely served to deplore, not prevent the inevitable loss.

"When I sent you the lord keeper's order of the 18th of June 1684 requireing your appeareing peromptorily the first day of Michaelmas Tearme then next, and pleading to yssue ... you may remember I sent with it such drafts of lettres of attorney, to pass vnder your comon seale as were essentially necessary to empower and justify such appearance, and pleading for you here, which you could not imagine but that you must haue had due time to returne them in, noe law compelling impossibilities.

"When the first day of that Michaelmas Tearme came, and your lettres of attorney neither were, nor indeed could be return'd ... I applyd by councill to the Court of Chancery to enlarge that time urgeing the impossibility of hauing a returne from you in the time allotted.... But it is true my lord keeper cutt the ground from under us which wee stood upon, by telling us the order of the 18th of June was a surprize upon his lordship and that he ought not to haue granted it, for that every corporacon ought to haue an attorney in every court to appeare to his majesties suite, and that London had such.... However certainely you ought when my lettres were come to you, nunc pro tune, to haue past the lettres of attorney I sent you under your comon seale and sent them me, and not to haue stopt them upon any private surmises from other hands then his you had entrusted in that matter; and the rather for that the judgments of law, espetially those taken by defaults for non appearances, are not like the laws of the Medes and Persians irrevocable, but are often on just grounds sett aside by the court here, and the defendants admitted to plead as if noe such judgments had been entred vp, and the very order it selfe of the 18th of June guies you a home instance of it.

"And indeed I did therefore forbeare giueing you an account of a further time being denyd, and the entry of judgment against you, expecting you would before such lettre could haue reacht you haue sent me the lettres of attorney vnder your corporacon seale that the court might haue been moved to admitt your appearance and plea and waiued the judgment.

"But instead of those lettres of attorney under your seale you sent me an address to his late majesty, I confess judiciously drawne. But it is my wonder in which of your capacityes you could imagine it should be presented to his majesty, for if as a corporacon, a body politique, it should have been putt under your corporacon seale if as a private comunity it should haue been signed by your order. But the paper has neither private hand nor publique seale to it and soe must be lost....

"In this condicon what could a man doe for you, nothing publiquely for he had noe warrant from you to justify the accon." [Footnote: Mass. Archives, cvi. 343.]

So perished the Puritan Commonwealth. The child of the Reformation, its life sprang from the assertion of the freedom of the mind; but this great and noble principle is fatal to the temporal power of a priesthood, and during the supremacy of the clergy the government was doomed to be both persecuting and repressive. Under no circumstance could the theocracy have endured: it must have fallen by revolt from within if not by attack from without. That Charles II. did in fact cause its overthrow gives him a claim to our common gratitude, for he then struck a decisive blow for the emancipation of Massachusetts; and thus his successor was enabled to open before her that splendid career of democratic constitutional liberty which was destined to become the basis of the jurisprudence of the American Union.

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top