LOSS OF THE MASSACHUSETTS CHARTER
The year 1676 was doubly noteworthy in the history of New England. As we have seen in the preceding chapter, it marked the definite end of the internal menace of the Indians in the colonies, which henceforth, except for border wars, could develop their life without that lurking fear of the savage that had always haunted the dwellers in such little towns as were planted beyond the area of compact settlement. If, on the one hand, the year thus seemed to open an era of an even more unrestricted development for the peculiar polity of New England, on the other, it also marked the beginning of a more determined effort on the part of the mother-country to exert her power over the colonies, and to bring them within the administrative scope of a better organized empire. The resultant contest, the earlier phases of which have already been described, was, in the main, carried on between Massachusetts and the Crown, and continued intermittently during the quarter of a century from the Restoration of the Stuarts to the inevitable loss of the colony’s charter in 1684. In a less critical day, it was wont to be described as an unmitigated struggle between liberty-loving colonists fighting for freedom, and a king bent solely upon wreaking his tyrannical will. But the door of the past is not to be unlocked with so crude a key, and historians have learned to distrust simple formulas.
In the domestic affairs of England, the question that was more and more urgently pressing for solution was that of the location of sovereignty, and the source of power. Following the Reformation, with the development of the modern nationalities, the establishment of state-churches, and the growth of dissent, the sixteenth century had witnessed the transfer of allegiance from ecclesiastical to civil authority. The idea of law, however, as non-moral and as derived from sanctions other than divine, was but slowly coming into being. The theory of the divine right of a king to rule, although it might be used to further the purposes of a self-seeking monarch, had not been originated to serve that end. It was a natural and necessary stage in the transfer of authoritative sanction from the Papacy to the civil rulers. It was, in a word, “the assertion that civil society has an inherent right to exist apart from its ecclesiastical utility,” and that it has a sanctity of its own, which may be set off against the claims of the theocrats.
If we would understand the expression of a political idea, it is as essential to study it in relation to the previous one which it was brought forth to contradict, as it is to analyze it philosophically. From the first standpoint, the doctrine of the divine right of kings performed a useful bit of service, while, philosophically, it is neither more nor less legitimate than that of the divine right of a majority. Liberty is not, as our forefathers were too often told, a natural fact. The only natural liberty is that granted to the individual, human or brute, to sustain his life and propagate his species if he can, in the face of a universe almost overwhelmingly bent upon their destruction. Civil liberty, on the other hand, is purely social, and is a very delicate and varying adjustment of rights and duties in the succeeding stages of man’s institutional development, which has risen and fallen in the past as that equilibrium has been disturbed. The divine right of kings was a protest against the divine right of the Pope. The divine right of a majority is a protest against the divine right of kings; but democracy has yet to prove whether it is any more capable than theocracy or monarchy of the sustained moral effort necessary to maintain the balance between rights and duties, so as to preserve and enlarge the liberty of the individual.
Aside from this question of divine right, there was a good deal to be said for the theory of sovereignty held by the later Stuarts, who possessed not only the legal, but the recognized, right to summon and dissolve Parliament, to create enough peers, lay and spiritual, and to charter enough boroughs, to alter completely the composition of both the Houses. With such a relationship, they may well have considered their Parliaments as but emanations of their own power. There is, however, even more to be admitted as to their later colonial policy. For while, in their domestic struggle with Parliament, they were setting themselves in opposition to almost all the progressive influences of the times, in their colonial plans, they were furthering some of the most important. The reign of Charles II may be taken to mark the end of religion and the beginning of commerce as the prime influence in national politics and international relations. From 1672, when Protestant England joined with Catholic France to crush Protestant Holland, until 1815, the wars of England were wars for trade; and the long duel for empire between that country and France was to make the imperial question essentially one of trade and defense. It was becoming more and more evident, indeed, that the seventeenth-century empire rested, fundamentally, upon trade; and it is probable that the pressure exerted by the merchant class was quite as large an element in shaping policy as was any personal design of the King.
The beginnings of settlement, scattered and unimportant, had in no way presaged the empire which was to develop within a half-century, and not only had territory been granted away recklessly, but the monarchs had been equally heedless of the future in the forms of government which they had permitted to grow up. By the time our story has now reached, the colonial problem, aside from any question of tyranny, undoubtedly called for new treatment. If the Empire were not to be a source of great military weakness, and if the Navigation Acts, upon which its commercial power rested, were to be properly enforced, it was obvious that a much greater degree of administrative unity and control would have to be realized. In particular, the granting of the charters, in which no provision had been made for a royal governor or for any definite channel of communication between the imperial government and the colony, had undoubtedly been a serious administrative blunder, which the attitude of Massachusetts had made at once worse and more obvious.
Indeed, just at a time when a strong administrative control was most necessary, it may well have appeared as if the Empire were drifting toward disruption. However different the material for colonization may have been in the various colonies,—and, in the main, it is now considered as more uniform than was formerly thought to have been the case,—the frontier influence was at work in them all; and the main characteristic which they possessed in common was their insistence upon the right of self-government. Not only among the continental colonies, but among the island ones as well, we find the same spirit from the start, and the same reiterated demand for assemblies and self-taxation. The story varies only in detail, whether we study Tobago, Trinidad, Antigua, Nevis, Jamaica, Barbadoes, Bermuda, or New England. These two points were wholly compatible with a well-organized empire, however, and England, for the most part, made no effort to interfere with either.
It was a different matter when the colonies declined to admit that the imperial government possessed any authority over them, or refused to observe those laws made for the regulation of the Empire as a whole. The case of Massachusetts had become notorious, not only throughout the Empire, but even among foreigners; and Colbert’s agent in the French West Indies could write that “the English who dwell near Boston will not worry themselves about the prohibitions which the King of England may issue, because they hardly recognize his authority.” Although, with reference to Virginia, it was reported that this “New England disease is very catching,” it seems to have been indigenous in the soil of most of the colonies. It had long since been reported that many in Barbadoes wished to become independent “and not run any fortune with England either in peace or war,” but to erect their “little limb of the Commonwealth into a free state.” In the very year in which Massachusetts lost her charter, the inhabitants of Bermuda were proclaiming that “we are free-born people, our Lands are our own, and wee will doe with our own what wee please, and if wee doe not like of the King’s Government wee can desert the Country.”
Aside from the influence of the frontier, however, the element of time was also beginning to make itself felt. In New England, practically the entire first generation of settlers had died by the end of Philip’s War. The “freemen” who were now guiding her destinies had, for the most part, been born in the settlements, and were colonials, in the strict sense of the word. They possessed no fond memories of the mother-country, or close personal ties with individuals there. Their interests and outlook were provincial and local to a degree that we can hardly realize. They were caught in a little back-water, and the great current of English life was sweeping on with but slight influence upon them. The first planters had been drawn to a large extent from a very sound element in the England of their day, but, with few exceptions, they were men of narrow outlook, which had naturally become still narrower in their laborious, isolated life in America. Among the religious elements in the new communities, the intensity of their faith in the divine nature of their mission, combined with their extraordinary self-consciousness, tended to breed a belief in their own superiority, which infected not only the whole of New England, but much subsequent historical writing. Stoughton’s preaching that “God sifted a whole nation that he might send choice grain over into this wilderness” was but a mild expression of what the New Englanders thoroughly believed and loved to be told.
We have already expressed our high appreciation of the character of much of the early immigration to that section of the country; but it cannot be claimed that it included any of the real leaders in England in any line of thought or action; and figures which loom large against the background of the wilderness change their proportions materially when measured by the national life in the old country. It has been claimed that Cromwell, at one time, thought seriously of emigrating to New England; and it is illuminating to consider, had he done so, the resultant comparative stature, in view of the new standard of measure thus introduced, of such men as Bradstreet and Stoughton. The New England leaders were, indeed, of a more intellectual type generally than came to the other colonies, and there was, perhaps, more play of mind among the people than in either the southern continental or the island settlements. Common-school education was fostered to a degree unknown elsewhere at the time, and the village school, with the town-meeting and the Congregational church, soon took its place in New England’s typical community life. In 1647 Massachusetts passed a law requiring every town of fifty families to maintain a teacher of reading and writing, and each town of one hundred families to establish a grammar school. Every town in Connecticut had its provision for elementary education, and each county its Latin school. Even Plymouth, in spite of its poverty, was also fairly well provided. In Harvard, which was founded as early as 1636, the colonies long possessed the only English institution of higher learning in the new world although there was a French college in Quebec, founded at virtually the same time as Harvard. The early Virginia settlers were, at first, indeed, as solicitous as the New Englanders about education, but the results of the geographic environment were felt as strongly in this as in the other matters on which we have already touched. With the bad roads and the scattered life of the plantations, it was impossible for the common school to take root as it did in the compact little villages of New England. But if the common schooling was somewhat less diffused, the culture of the educated class was wider, and the private libraries of the Virginians offer to the booklover a refreshing contrast to the dead weight of theology on the New England shelves. Nor were these southern libraries confined, as used to be thought, to a few families, research tending constantly to minimize the supposed difference between New England and the rest of the colonies in this regard.
Moreover, although her devotion to education was to bear noble fruit in the years to come, and is one of the chief contributions of New England to our national life, its original object, and almost the sole use to which it was put, was religious, and it may be questioned whether its earlier influence upon the people at large was not narrowing rather than broadening. For, in the absence, for the average citizen in New England, of almost any books other than theological, and of any intellectual stimulus other than the sermon, the earlier result of such education as the people received seems to have been mainly an intensified preoccupation with the problems of Calvinism, and a remarkable extension of the influence of the priesthood. The attitude of Massachusetts, in extirpating so far as possible all ideas opposed to her official theology, in banishing those who persisted in giving expression to them, and in exercising a strict censorship over the only printing-press in New England, nullified, to a great extent, the benefits that might otherwise have been derived from her “educational” system in the sense of schools. In the writings of the men who settled Massachusetts or visited it in the earliest period, there is a freshness and charm of outlook and phrase which allures the reader even of to-day. In Smith or Bradford, Higginson or Wood, one feels in the presence of a healthy mind, actively interested in this world or the next; but when these men have passed, the balance of the century leaves us hardly a work which, for a modern reader, possesses any interest other than antiquarian or historical.
In England, men’s minds had been profoundly stirred by the great parliamentary struggle, the Civil War, and all the influences of the new period. In science, Ray was founding systematic zoology, Harvey had discovered the circulation of the blood, Newton the law of gravitation, Boyle the law of gases which bears his name, and Halley was working in his observatory at Greenwich. Among the numerous contemporary writers whom our educated colonists might have been reading had they been in England, we may mention, at hazard, Locke, Hobbes, Butler, Marvell, Sir Thomas Browne, Milton, Taylor, Izaak Walton, Bunyan, Fuller, Clarendon, Herbert, Dryden, and Herrick. But of all this varied intellectual life, it may be said that practically nothing reached the vast majority of New Englanders, whose science was still made up of the superstitious observances of “special providences,” and whose political life was centred in the meeting of church or town. If they felt the need of verse, they read Uriah Oakes or Michael Wigglesworth, and the need must have been as great as its reward was inadequate. Of other printed literature indigenous to the soil, there was practically none except theological, and the few historical accounts brought out by the Indian wars.
Such impoverishment of the intellectual life was a necessary consequence of living in the wilderness in the seventeenth century; but it was none the less a misfortune because inevitable. In New England, however, a peculiar result ensued from the combination of the extreme rarity of the intellectual atmosphere and the partial education of her people. In the other colonies, men may have been more ignorant of books, but they were healthy-minded. In New England, the concentration of an awakened mental life almost wholly upon the problems of election or damnation created a condition of ethical morbidity, and bequeathed to us the legacy of what may almost be called that section’s fourth contribution to American life—the New England conscience, with its pathological questionings and elaborate system of taboos. It is an interesting psychological study, not without its immediate historical bearings, to contrast the diaries of such English officials as Pepys or Evelyn with that kept by the active Massachusetts official, Sewall, who could amuse himself all Christmas Day arranging the coffins in the family vault, and pronounce the occupation to have been “an awful yet pleasing Treat.” Toward the end of the seventeenth century, public opinion; in New England, economic, religious, political, and social, had grown largely out of touch with that in the old country; but the nature of the case demanded that, in the:last analysis, the government of the Empire must be mainly determined by the latter and not by the former.
As in England, however, parties based on civil differences were replacing the old religious ones, so in New England, parties were forming due to the rise of altered economic conditions, and the passing of the early religious spirit. We have already noted the presence in Massachusetts, from the start, of a considerable body of: dissent from the doctrine and polity of the colonial state church, and the decline in fervor even within the group of the Saints themselves. Men who, according to the official church theory, were not of the elect, and yet who were conscious of trying to live helpful, honest, God-fearing lives; refused to acknowledge the truth of the denunciations which, under penalty of fine, they were forced to listen to, Sunday after Sunday, hurled at themselves by the leading divines. . Hooker might thunder that “no carrion in a ditch smells more loathsomely in the nostrils of man, than a natural man’s works do in the nostrils of the Almighty” or Shepard declare that the mind of the natural man “is a nest of all the foul opinions, heresies, that ever were vented,” and his heart “a foul sink all of atheism, sodomy, blasphemy, murder, whoredom, adultery, witchcraft, buggery.” The bow had been bent too long, and had lost its spring. Bradstreet might still demand that “the old stand firm’s against “that cursed Bratt Toleration,” but Bishop reported more truly “that many are gospel-glutted and growing weary.”
At the time when religion was thus gradually passing as the leading cause of division in New England, other forces were at work to align the citizens into new parties. In a former chapter, we called attention to the early beginning, on a small scale, of the divergence between the life of the frontiers and that of the older and more established settlements. With the growth of a few of the larger centres, notably Boston; there also developed the conflict of economic interests and political outlook between town and country. The prosperity of the Empire under the Navigation Acts had increased enormously, and New England, although refusing to obey the laws, had shared to the full in the resultant growth of trade and wealth. From all these causes, there had developed fairly distinct opposing groups—a large element of liberals in theology, as against the maintainers of rigid orthodoxy; a conservative “east” against a radical “west,” a progressive urban population, contrasted with the more narrow-minded, unchanging rural laborers and, farmers; and a trading, moneyed class, with views and interests differing from the agricultural. The distinctions are real and marked, though the numbers of those in the various parties, and their exact groupings on special questions, can only be approximated. The magistrates, consisting, for the most part, of men of wealth and position chosen from the larger centres, and the deputies, resident in each of the towns from which they were elected, represented, in their differing attitudes, the moderate and radical opinion of the colonies as a whole. In the relations with England, those who were liberal in theology, in closer personal or commercial contact with the old country, and more conservative in their outlook, would naturally favor a conciliatory attitude. Those, on the other hand, who believed that the supreme object at stake was the maintaining of the peculiar ecclesiastical organization of their church-state, with its religious franchise tests, and those who had no direct business relations with England or other countries, would as naturally tend to adopt an unyielding attitude of opposition. There is a direct line of descent from the moderate party of 1676 to the Loyalist party of 1776; and, as the wholesale condemnation of the latter is now considered uncritical, so, also, we cannot off-hand divide the parties of the earlier struggle into traitors and patriots.
As in old England the main question of the day was the location of sovereignty, so it was in the New, and in the relations between the two. The theory of the state as based upon original contract, which, although implicit in feudalism, was, as we have seen, probably derived in New England from the church covenant, had even less historical or philosophical basis than that of divine right. However, the advances made by mankind are not less real because they have nearly always been contemporaneously justified by false assumptions. In such cases “conclusions are more permanent than premises,” as Mr. Balfour points out in speaking of “the incongruity between the causes by which beliefs are sustained, and the official reasons by which they are from time to time justified.” It is in this very failure of man to reason rightly as to the grounds of his own efforts that we perceive most clearly the operations of forces in human history independent of man’s own will and thought, precisely where, for himself, the illusion of a reasoned freedom is strongest. Although the theories of divine right and of original compact have now both been discarded among the philosophical lumber of the past, the latter theory was of enormous influence in shaping American political thought. Before, however, that thought could legitimately give expression to the dictum, “No taxation without representation,” it was necessary that the community as a whole, and not a religious sect, should be considered to be the “people”; and before Massachusetts could join in declaring that “All men are created equal,” she had to abandon her earlier politico-religious distinction between a minority born to be everlasting saints and a majority doomed to eternal damnation. We must now turn to consider, more in detail, the story of how that result was achieved.
The heirs of Mason and Gorges had never abandoned their claims to the territory in New Hampshire and Maine which had been illegally absorbed by Massachusetts, and, of late, they had been pressing their respective cases with more and more insistence. In May, 1675, the law officers of the Crown reported to the Committee for Foreign Plantations that, in their opinion, both claims were based upon valid titles. It was not mainly, however, the complaints of these individual claimants, or Mason’s detailed recommendations to send commissioners to New England, which decided the government to take a more active part in the administration of the colonies. Peace had been signed with the Dutch in the preceding year, and the ending of the war provided leisure for undertaking more seriously the reorganization of colonial administration. The reform began at home with the abolition of the old Council Committee, and the placing of colonial affairs in the hands of a new committee known as the Lords of Trade and Plantations. Its members were able men, well qualified for their work, and displayed considerable energy, holding eighty-nine meetings in the first year after their organization.
The New England question promptly came in for a share of their attention. We have already noted the many and constant complaints in regard to Massachusetts, and the attitude of that colony toward the Royal Commissioners in 1664. While all these old matters, as well as the newly delivered legal opinions regarding the Mason and Gorges claims, were before the Lords of Trade, they probably found their chief ground for dissatisfaction with Massachusetts in her disregard of the Navigation Acts, and the assumption of virtual independence. Captain Wyborne of H. M. S. Garland, after a visit to Boston, reported that New England’s trade to Europe and the West Indies had become very great, and that the magistrates refused to act regarding violations of the law, the people looking upon themselves as “a free state.” About six weeks later, twenty-eight English merchants complained that New England was illegally trading on a great scale between Europe and the various parts of the British Empire, and so underselling the English in both markets, and ruining business. New England herself produced none of the “enumerated commodities,” and, had she confined herself to legitimate trade, would not have been placed at any appreciable disadvantage by the Navigation Acts of this period. By evading the law, however, she gained not only the advantage of an unrestricted commerce, when such was not allowed in any of the over-seas empires of the time, but also an extra, illegitimate profit, over and above her law-abiding competitors, exactly as a smuggler of dutiable articles makes a larger profit than the legitimate merchant, solely by virtue of the existence of the very laws that the former evades. The amount lost by England on New England’s domestic illegal trade was not great; but, if the rapidly increasing business of those colonies between Europe and the rest of the Empire were allowed to go on unchecked, the integrity of the whole imperial structure would be seriously threatened. Mason had advised that a new commissioner, or a governor general, be sent to New England; but the English government refused, on the ground that it would give needless affront, and “would look like awarding execution on those people before they were heard.” It was, therefore, decided that Massachusetts should be asked to send over agents; and, probably in view of the colony’s now well-known policy of delay, it was determined to transmit the demand by a special messenger, who should bring back personally the answer of the General Court. The individual selected for this task was Edward Randolph, who was instructed, not only to deliver the King’s letter, and receive the reply, but also to make a report on trade and other conditions in the colony, in order that the government might have a better basis for intelligent action.
Randolph was of the narrow-minded, official type, a stickler for technicalities, a thorough believer in centralized imperial control, and easily influenced by prejudice, but possessed of enormous energy, and of very considerable ability. He had the not uncommon fault of forcing facts to fit his theories rather than building theories from the facts; but in his long connection with the colonies, in offices in which it would have been peculiarly easy to live by bribes, he was incorruptibly honest, a rare quality in that day. Moreover, although always poor, and in his later life embittered, he could yet be generous toward the distress of others; and when Mason’s motherless children were suffering from poverty in England, he allowed them £20 a year from his own scanty income. While he was violently opposed to the decentralization of authority involved in the charter governments, he was not anxious to play the tyrant, and seems to have believed that the changes he had at heart would benefit not only the Empire, but the colonists as well. On more than one occasion, indeed, this “blasted wretch,” as Mather called him, defended their interests against the Crown. No English official in our colonial history, however, was more thoroughly hated, and he returned the feeling in so far as the ruling powers of Massachusetts were concerned. In this he was hardly to be blamed, for their attitude and policy toward him, from the first, consisted in covert obstruction and open insult.
He arrived in Boston early in June, and at once showed his credentials, and stated his errand, to Governor Leverett. At the meeting of the Council, at which the King’s letter was presented, the Governor and all but three magistrates kept their hats on while the missive was being read, refusing to uncover .according to the usual custom. When the reading was concluded, Leverett curtly stated that “the matters therein contained were very inconsiderable things and easily answered,” although, in reality, it was the most important communication that the local government had ever received. When Randolph called their attention to the demand of the King that an answer be returned, he was simply told that the matter would be considered.
Although his instructions were that he should remain a month, in order to gather the data required before returning, the Council announced, within two days, that they had an answer prepared to the royal letter, which they were going to send immediately, but which they would not entrust to Randolph, offering him only a copy, despite the King’s express command. When Randolph asked if they could have well considered so weighty a matter in forty-eight hours, he was curtly requested to withdraw, unless he had further orders from the King, as the Councillors looked upon him as Mason’s agent.
Meanwhile, several ships had arrived direct from various European ports, contrary to the Navigation Acts, of which Randolph spoke to the Governor in the course of an interview on the following day. Leverett thereupon declared that the laws made by King and Parliament did not apply to Massachusetts, and that any dispute between England and the colony was to be decided by the colony and not by England. Randolph next proceeded into New Hampshire, where he showed letters from Mason, and naturally received many complaints from disaffected inhabitants in regard to Massachusetts. For his actions there, he was sharply rebuked by Leverett, who accused him of trying to “make a mutiny and disturbance.” Randolph had also suggested, just before going to New Hampshire, that the General Court be summoned, in order to consider the King’s dispatch; but this was not done, and he finally sailed for England with only a copy of the letter written by the Council. In that letter, Leverett wrote, with considerable effrontery, that the complaints of Mason and Gorges were “impertinencies, mistakes and falsehoods,” but said nothing about complying with the demand to send agents, except that the General Court, which, he claimed, could not then be summoned on account of sickness and the Indian War, would be convened later.
Owing to the unwise course of the rulers, Randolph could hardly fail to have been biased by the information received from their opponents; and the result is evident in the long report which he submitted to the Lords of Trade on his return. Although, owing to his preconceived ideas, and the circumstances of his stay, he misjudged the strength of the opposing parties in the colony, and although certain of his statistics were greatly exaggerated, the report, on the whole, gave a detailed and truthful presentation of the general situation, and confirmed other information possessed in England. For, while Randolph was on his way west, the Lords of Trade had pursued their investigations, and summoned before them merchants trading with New England. Of these, “some were shy to unfold the mystery, others pretended ignorance, but most declared plainly” that New England traders were regularly breaking the law, and that, by their direct trade in European goods with the other colonies they were able to undersell, by twenty per cent, those doing a legitimate business. This was confirmed, a few weeks later, by an official returned from a trip to the West Indies, who reported seventeen New England ships engaged there in a clandestine trade with Europe in logwood for dyeing, which not only threatened to involve the whole Empire in a war with Spain, but provided England’s rivals with cheaper dyes than she herself obtained. It was becoming more and more evident, the deeper the matter was probed, that the question was not a domestic one for Massachusetts, whatever she might choose to assume, but one that involved the interests of England and the Empire.
The meeting of the General Court in Massachusetts, to consider the King’s letter, was not held until August, when the question of complying with the order to send agents to England was referred for advice to the clergy, as usual. Their opinion being in favor of obedience, the people’s representatives, in the following month, adopted an address to the King, and appointed Stoughton and Bulkley as agents. The address was accompanied by a long statement of the claims of Massachusetts to the disputed eastern territory, which presented her interpretation of her boundaries, and the benefits to the inhabitants of her government there, in as favorable a light as possible, dismissing the claims of Mason and Gorges, adjudged valid by the Crown lawyers, as “frivolous and insignificant allegations.” The colony still delayed, however, and her agents did not reach England until January of the following year. Their position was evidently realized to be an unenviable one, for the Reverend John Eliot wrote in his diary, “Mr. Stoughton & mr. Bulkly were sent to England to agent for the Country. Lord p’ty ym.” They were furnished with two sets of instructions, according to which they were given authority to act in regard to the Mason-Gorges matters only, and to plead lack of power as to all others. They were also, on the one hand, to represent to the King that the eastern provinces were of little value, and, on the other, to endeavor to purchase them from Mason and Gorges, if possible.
In limiting her agents to the one matter of the eastern provinces, Massachusetts was technically complying with the King’s request; but the New England question was much wider in scope than that, and the unhappy agents soon found themselves in deep waters. The colony’s policy had been such that the English government could not expect more from other agents than from those who were then actually present, who were, after all, primarily English subjects and not colonial representatives, and who could, therefore, well be called upon to explain their colony’s acts, though they could not bind her by agreements. Randolph was now busily engaged in pressing his views on the government, listing the crimes and misdemeanors of the colony, and outlining a course of action. While some of his accusations were so exaggerated as to be palpably false, others were unquestionably true, such as denying appeals to England, violating the Navigation Acts, imposing an oath of fidelity to the local government while refusing the oath of allegiance to England, and putting English citizens to death for religious opinions. He proposed that the King issue a general pardon for all past offenses, confirm real-estate titles on payment of a moderate quit-rent, grant liberty of conscience, and organize the colony as a royal province. Detailed evidence, in reference to the illegal trading, derived from such widely separated points as London, Jamaica, and Amsterdam, was also laid before the Committee. All these various allegations, together with the question of the validity of the charter, and the laws made by the General Court, were divided into “matters of law” and “matters of state,” and submitted to the judges and Privy Council respectively. While the decisions were pending, the agents were questioned in reference to the complaints against the colony, and answered as “private men,” admitting some of the statements, as to coining money and violating the Navigation Acts, but denying that the Quakers had been put to death on account of their religion only.
The decisions of the judges in regard to the matters submitted to them were eminently fair. The validity of the Massachusetts charter was upheld as originally granted, and it was further stated that the document had created the patentees a corporation upon the place. The latter opinion, which was of very doubtful legality, not only decided, in so far as it went, that the transfer of the charter to New England had been legal, but also settled in favor of the colony the question whether or not the Quo Warranto proceedings of 1635 had in reality dissolved the corporation. In regard to the geographical limits of the colony, however, the interpretation that Massachusetts had developed, in order to cover her encroachments, was declared to be without foundation. But at the last moment either the agents or the colony’s counsel had themselves retracted the absurd claims, in spite of their recent statement that those of Gorges and Mason were “frivolous,” and the earlier characterization of them as impertinent falsehoods. Those of the former were now sustained in full, both as to ownership and power of government. Mason was declared not to have received any legal rights to govern, although his title to the land north of the Merrimac was pronounced a valid one. As to the smaller territory in dispute, lying between that river and Salem, the Attorney-General was of the opinion that Mason had never taken legal possession, and that his claim, therefore, was probably not good against the actual possession by Massachusetts settlers for fifty years; but that the question would have to be tried in courts upon the place.
In regard to the Massachusetts laws, the Attorney-General properly objected to making capital such offenses “which are so by the word of God,” it being “suspicious what are so.” He pointed in particular, also, to such statutes as provided for the putting to death of stubborn and rebellious children, for civil marriage, for levying fines for observing Christmas Day, and laying penalties upon children for playing on Sunday, as well as those against heresy, and to the lack of provision for the oath of allegiance.
All these matters were then discussed with the agents, who were told that Massachusetts must confine herself to her legal boundaries, that she must ask pardon for having coined money, prepare to accept a supplementary charter, observe the Navigation Acts, receive a royal revenue officer, and repeal such laws as were repugnant to the laws of England. The question of the colony’s assumed right to tax non-freemen and strangers was also raised. The agents were further told that they could not return home as yet, as their presence would be useful; and as for their not having full powers, “his Majesty did not think of treating with his own subjects as with foreigners.” The whole course of Massachusetts in reference to the Royal Commissioners and her own agents, and her assuming to deal with the home government or not as she pleased, as if she were in reality independent and sovereign, had made some such step necessary, unless England was willing to allow the Empire to disintegrate. The agents were also sharply reminded that although, twelve years previously, the colony had been told that it could not retain the exclusive religious test for the franchise, and a law had been passed ostensibly granting it to non-church members, yet in reality the law was disregarded, and virtually only church members were allowed to vote.
To this the agents made a reply so disingenuous as to be false. They stated that they knew of no such practice, and that religious opinion was no bar to being elected a freeman, although the records indicate that only one man who was not a church member had been given the franchise in the preceding eleven years, as compared with eight hundred and seventy-five who were church members. Moreover, only five years previously, in the legal code of 1672, the law disfranchising all persons who did not attend the Congregational church had been reenacted, and, in fact, remained in force until the forfeiture of the charter.
The agents having sent home an account of their mission, the General Court passed a law requiring obedience to the Navigation Acts, and, without foundation, stated in a preamble that the King’s desire that the laws be enforced had not “binn before now signified unto us,” although the colony’s failure to observe them had been one of the main complaints of the Royal Commissioners in 1665, and in that year, the Court had promised to obey them and had repealed laws inconsistent with them. The government immediately called this false statement to the attention of the colony’s agents, who attempted to apologize for it as an “act of precipitation,” made just as the Court was rising, which could hardly improve the government’s opinion of the honesty of the colonial authorities, or of the attention they were giving to a very serious situation. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to find excuse for the statement; for not only were all the earlier proceedings a matter of record, but of the eleven magistrates who now declared that the colony had never had any knowledge of the matter before, nine had been members of the earlier Court, which had received the complaints, and passed the legislation. The Court’s own communication thus seemed to prove Randolph’s contention, and the evidence from other sources, that Massachusetts was, in reality, paying no attention to the laws of trade.
No effort was made by the Court to meet the other charges or requirements, and, so far from enforcing the oath of allegiance, they passed a new ordinance that any one in the colony, stranger or resident, who refused to take the local oath of fidelity, should be deprived of all legal rights and protection. In spite of the failure of the Court to attempt to meet any of the other points raised by the English government, they petitioned for an extension of the colony’s northern boundary so as to include the land lying between the Merrimac and the Piscataqua, and again instructed their agents to buy Maine from Gorges.
Randolph had no difficulty in exposing the misstatements as to the franchise and the Navigation Acts, and made further representations to the Lords of Trade. That body was now thoroughly tired of the attitude and tactics of Massachusetts, and decided that, so far from granting that colony an extension of territory, the “whole matter ought to bee considered from the Very Root.” They decided that the colonists both ignored “fair persuasions” and took no notice of orders, and that it was evidently impossible, judging presumably from the statements that were made by both the colonial government and its agents, to determine whether the laws were being enforced or not. In view of the facts, some of the Lords were of the opinion that nothing would solve the problem except the sending out of a royal governor, who could look after imperial interests and serve as a real channel of communication between the colony and the home government. As this could not be done under the charter, the question was referred to the Attorney-General whether, if the charter were, indeed, valid, the violations of its provisions had been sufficient to warrant its forfeiture. His opinion being that the violations were great enough to justify action, the Lords advised that Quo Warranto proceedings be instituted, and that Randolph be appointed Collector of Customs in New England. Shortly after, he received the appointment, in spite of the protests of the agents. For the first time there was now to be resident in the colony an official directly responsible to the imperial, and not to the local, government. The choice of both office and person for the introduction of a new system of control was unfortunate, but the change in the system itself had been forced by the colony’s own rulers.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts was doing nothing to render her position more favorable, and the purchase of Maine, which the agents had effected privately with Gorges for £1250, further irritated the government. Moreover, although Gorges could not alienate his rights of government, Massachusetts proceeded to exercise them in defiance of the royal order, of her own legal powers, and gradually, it would seem, of the desires of the inhabitants. The disaffection of the Maine people, who had been fairly contented before, may have been caused in part by the levying of quit-rents by Massachusetts, who, on becoming proprietor in place of Gorges, may have taken this means of reimbursing herself for the £1250 expended; for the records show that she did exercise such rights, and considered herself as in receipt of a regular income from quit-rents in her new province.
To add to the bad odor of New England affairs, the Atherton Land Company chose this particular juncture to reassert its claim to the Narragansett country, and that question rose to the surface again, Holden and Greene, of Rhode Island, making serious complaints before the Crown of the encroachments of Massachusetts. Although, so far as Connecticut and the Bay Colony were concerned, the whole question of the King’s Province had been settled a dozen years previously, they had both continued to plague their smaller neighbor with their claims, and Rhode Island now asked that the King appoint a “Supreme Court of judicature” over all the New England colonies, to settle boundary disputes. Although this was not done, Massachusetts was told to let the province alone, and the whole episode could not fail to impress the English government more forcibly than ever with the necessity of establishing a greater degree of local royal control. Soon after, the same suggestion of a Supreme Court was made in the curious case of a Connecticut Indian, who had made his way to England to complain both of fraud against himself and of the general treatment of his race by the colonists, against whom, he claimed, it was impossible to secure justice in the colonial courts.
In the fall of 1678, the Massachusetts Court finally agreed to administer the oath of allegiance, and to pass a law against treason; but beyond that they refused to go. In fact, in their answer to the Attorney-General regarding their laws, they announced that the laws of England did “not reach Amerrica,” and that, as the colonies were not represented in Parliament, they were not subject to the Navigation Acts. These, however, the Court reenacted, in order, according to their theory, to give them validity within Massachusetts.
The doctrine of no taxation without representation is a natural deduction from the contract theory, and has as little historical or philosophical justification as has that of the theoretical contract itself. It is mere commonplace to dwell on the philosophical weakness of the doctrine, the brief expression of which was to become the rallying cry of a continent a century later. From a practical standpoint, however, it may be pointed out, that what may be called the historical basis of representation in England in the seventeenth century was quite different from the numerical basis in the United States to-day, and that, in the former sense, the inhabitants of Massachusetts were as fully represented for purposes of taxation as were the vast majority of the citizens then resident in England, except for the unavoidable effects of distance alluded to in an earlier chapter. If, on the other hand, it be claimed that the colony’s government had in mind representation in the modern American sense, then they were acting even more tyrannically than was England, for they were themselves, without any legal right to do so under the charter, taxing the four fifths of the residents of Massachusetts who had no voice in the local government, save in exactly the same vicarious way in which all the colonists were represented in Parliament. It may also be noted that we, to-day, deny such representation, as Massachusetts was now claiming, to our own citizens resident in our territories and colonies. The theory of direct representation in Parliament of England’s overseas possessions was not a new one, however, nor was it evolved in America. In the sixteenth century, Calais had been represented for a short time, while Barbadoes had declared how “impracticable” it was that they should be taxed when unrepresented in Parliament, five years before the cry was raised in New England. Nor was that cry raised solely in the cause of freedom. The demand, in reality, was, not that there should be no taxation without representation, but that the members of the Congregational church should be confirmed in their claim to tax the entire community without interference from England. In the letter which the King sent to the colony by its agents, who, on account of the attention of the government being entirely absorbed with the Popish Plot, were at last permitted to leave in June, 1679, he again returned to the question of religion and the suffrage. He insisted upon toleration for all except Papists, and a property qualification as the only one necessary for the franchise. He also expressed his displeasure at the colony’s secret purchase of Maine, and directed the surrender of the title-deeds upon repayment of the price paid. The colony was also instructed to withdraw all commissions granted for governing New Hampshire, as the legal right of administration was vested in the Crown, which was then considering a new establishment there. Other agents, in place of those now returning, were ordered to be sent within six months, duly instructed to act in the necessary regulating of the colony’s affairs.
Massachusetts persisted in her old tactics, and it was over three years before she sent the required agents to England. Meanwhile, Randolph, during his first year as customs officer, had met with no assistance, and every possible obstruction, in the performance of his duties, so that not a single ship had been seized for irregular trading. In the court of February, 1680, the royal instructions were considered, and during the early part of the year a committee was appointed to revise the laws, while the New Hampshire commissions were canceled. The colony, however, proceeded to establish its own government in Maine, under the presidency of Danforth, despite the King’s commands and a local disturbance at Casco. In two letters to the English Secretary of State, Bradstreet, who had succeeded Leverett as governor, defended the purchase of the province, and virtually refused to alter the colony’s practice in the matter of the franchise, except by nominally conceding that members of the Church of England would not be considered heterodox. He held out no prospect of agents being sent, alleging the poverty of the colony and the danger of the “Turkish” pirates, who had captured several vessels. In reply, the King wrote, in September, insisting that agents be sent within three months, with sufficient powers to settle all outstanding questions, and with such evidences of title as the colony might claim, to the strip of land in dispute with Mason.
In January, 1681, this letter was read at a special meeting of the General Court, and Stoughton and Samuel Nowell were appointed agents. Stoughton evidently had no desire to repeat his former experiences, and, two months later, John Richards, a wealthy Boston merchant, was appointed in his place. The months went by, however, and the end of the year found the agents still in America.
The patience of the English government had now become exhausted. For twenty years, since the Restoration, that government had been endeavoring, by every means in its power, to settle the New England question in a way that would be satisfactory to all the colonists, regardless of creed, and would, at the same time, permit the maintenance of the trade-system upon which the Empire was based. Had Massachusetts at any time been willing to give up her illicit profits, she could very possibly have saved her charter. The violations of that instrument upon which final action was taken were as palpable and actual in 1660 as in 1684. Had the English government merely wished to overthrow that of Massachusetts, it could legally have done so at any time it desired; and the prompt dispatch of a thousand English troops, at the time of Bacon’s rebellion in Virginia, showed that it was capable of vigorous and effective action, when it was felt to be necessary. But every evidence points to the fact that it did not wish to be bothered with the problem in Massachusetts, or to proceed to strong measures until absolutely forced to do so by the persistent attitude of the colony, which was virtually seceding from the Empire. The “New England disease” of avowed independence and nullification was infecting the rest of the Empire, and undermining England’s prestige both within and without. The colony’s increasing illegal trade was threatening the destruction of the legitimate business of colonial and home merchants alike, as well as the Empire’s international relations. Although New England’s domestic trade was of slight value to the mother-country, she occupied a strategic position of first importance in relation to the valuable staple colonies of the south and the West Indies, and, in case of war with France, it was essential that England should have some means of official communication with, and control over, her strongest colony on the enemy’s frontier in America.
Over two years had now elapsed since Massachusetts had received orders to send agents, but she had sent none. She was, nevertheless, given one last chance. At the end of 1681, Randolph, who had been in England strongly urging Quo Warranto proceedings against the charter, arrived in Boston bearing a letter from the King. It required that more assistance be given to Randolph as collector, that the Navigation Acts be enforced, and that agents be sent within three months, or “wee shall take such further resolutions as are necessary to preserve our authority from being neglected.” The letter was much milder than the situation really warranted, and than the wording of a suggested draft by the Lords of Trade.
In February, 1682, the letter was read at a General Court, and; a month later, Stoughton and Joseph Dudley were elected agents against considerable opposition. Stoughton again refused to serve, and Richards was chosen in his place. Although comparatively little is known of him, it appears that he was strongly opposed to any concessions, whereas Dudley’s more pliant nature and moderate views, influenced perhaps by ambition to take a leading place under the altered conditions which he evidently considered inevitable, led him to an early and willing coöperation with the English government after the blow had fallen. Over three months more elapsed before the agents sailed, and it was midsummer when they reached England. Although they carried with them confidential instructions, and a public defense of the colony, they were given no powers to treat of anything that might tend to infringe “the liberties and priviledges” granted by the charter as interpreted by Massachusetts. It was obvious, therefore, that nothing could come of the negotiations, and that there was no recourse left to the English government except to acknowledge the virtual independence of the colony, or to void its charter.
In the answer that the agents made on their arrival, there was little that was new. When it was pointed out to them that the requirement for the franchise had been that no religious distinction should be made, and no qualification be necessary, except that the applicant be a freeholder, of the Protestant religion, taxable at ten shillings, they stated that there was no other distinction, and that all contrary laws had been repealed. As was shown by both the law and the practice of the colony, this statement was false both in fact and in implication. In reference to the three-years’ delay in complying with the request for agents, they alleged the danger of the seas, and lack of money, which latter was soon disproved by their clumsy and unsuccessful attempt to bribe the Lord Treasurer with £2000, which made them the laughing-stock of the Court. Their answers in other respects were almost equally unsatisfactory, and their lack of power having been acknowledged, they were told that they must secure sufficient authority from the colony or that the Quo Warranto proceedings would begin.
At the end of March, 1683, the General Court sent them additional instructions, but did not enlarge their powers, except that they were authorized to “tender” Maine or anything else which “our charter will not warrant our keeping.” They were to reiterate their statements as to the franchise, and to consent to nothing which would alter their “liberties and privileges in matters of religion.” In the last analysis, it became evident that the one thing the controlling element in Massachusetts would not yield was its ecclesiastical power.
The King hesitated no longer. Randolph, however, who carried the notice of the beginning of Quo Warranto proceedings to Boston, was authorized, at his own suggestion, to offer to Massachusetts the promise of a full protection of private interests and property rights, and a liberal regulation of the charter, if she would voluntarily submit, in which case the proceedings would be abandoned. The wholesale “regulation” of charters, as then being conducted by the Stuarts in England, held out little hope of the colony’s securing any such liberties in a new charter as she possessed in the old; but, on the other hand, not to yield was to lose all, and, in view of her past record, she could expect little sympathy from any quarter.
The magistrates were in favor of accepting the offer, but the deputies refused, and the Court continued deadlocked. It is impossible to determine what the public opinion was as to the situation. In the annual election, in spite of a determined effort to defeat him, Bradstreet, who was a moderate, secured 690 votes, against 631 for Danforth, who belonged to the radicals. Dudley, indeed, failed of reëlection, but so, also, did Richards; and the general result seems to represent only a slight preponderance for the party of no compromise. It must be remembered also that, owing to the fact that only one fifth of the men of the colony possessed the franchise, and that they were all church members, the vote cannot be taken to represent the sentiment of the colony as a whole, much of the discontented element necessarily not showing in the returns. Under the circumstances, it is significant that over one half of the church members seem to have voted for Bradstreet and compromise, for it is fair to presume that they would include a much larger proportion of irreconcilables than the unenfranchised body of non-church members, who would have nothing to gain by fighting England to a finish, in order to preserve a church of which they were not members, and a theocratical government which excluded them from power. Their very legitimate grievance may well have been, indeed, that that same government, in its effort to preserve privileges for itself which meant nothing, or worse than nothing, to four fifths of the inhabitants of the colony, had sacrificed those other privileges which did mean something to them.
We need not enter into the legal details of the course by which the charter was canceled. The Quo Warranto proceedings having proved abortive, a writ of Scire Facias was entered, and, on October 13, 1684, Massachusetts ceased to be a chartered colony, and found herself without a single one of the rights to which she had clung so tenaciously.
There seems to be no question of the technical legality of the proceedings; but, passing beyond those, there is nothing to regret in the course pursued by the Crown. The interpretation of the charter by the church party not only was inconsistent with the terms of that instrument itself, so that any government built upon it was illegal and constantly open to attack, but was inconsistent, also, with the development of liberty itself in its widest sense. If it were, indeed, true that the charter formed an unalterable constitution, under which company members alone were able to become enfranchised citizens, then the power to govern the state could legally have been confined forever to the two or three dozen “freemen” who alone were called for by the charter. The pressure had been so great that the number of freemen had been greatly enlarged, it is true; but, according to the leaders’ interpretation, this had been merely a boon granted out of good-will, and no additional freemen need ever be admitted. Their number might again be allowed to shrink, by death or disfranchisement, to the few required to fill the offices, who would, according to this theory, have the sole power of all government, including life and death, over the rest of the thirty-five thousand inhabitants. Although this, of course, was unlikely, nevertheless, those in control had shown definitely, when in order to maintain the theocracy they had sacrificed the whole political structure, rather than abandon their position with reference to extending the franchise, that nothing but a power so overwhelming as to be unopposable would have forced them peaceably to do so.
When we speak of liberty in connection with this early struggle with the home country, we should realize clearly that the party opposed to England fought to the end to perpetuate religious intolerance, and the entrenched privilege of a minority to tax an unenfranchised majority four times as numerous, and for the right to concentrate all political power in the hands of one religious sect. The clergy, who had wielded an extraordinary influence in the counsels of this governing minority, had, in many instances, been men of marked ability and fanatically devoted to the truth as they saw it. But as leaders, in the highest sense, they had very largely failed. From the beginning, they had striven to banish from the colony all ideas not in harmony with their own, and had thus lowered and impoverished the intellectual life of the community. On nearly every occasion, they had led in fanning the flames of intolerance and persecution. Over and over, they had helped to brutalize the natures of the citizens by calling for the blood of victims to whom the community would otherwise have shown mercy. One such example was yet to come, before the colony, disillusioned, was to reject their leadership finally in civil affairs.
But the present situation must have been of marked effect, when the people as a whole, non-church members as well as church members, found that, in the effort to perpetuate the theocracy, every civil right and safeguard, which they had considered they possessed under the charter, had been allowed to be taken from them. It is impossible, as we have said, accurately to gauge the public sentiment of the time from any data now available. The people, unquestionably, could be trusted to resist any real efforts from across the water to restrict such liberties as they were prepared to enjoy. We seem too often to take it for granted, not only that liberty is something which all men are entitled to, but that they are at all times ready for it. The story of their gradually being moulded, so that they are, in an ever-increasing degree, fit for it, would seem quite as important as that of their struggle to obtain it.
It would have been a great misfortune had the Massachusetts of 1684 been allowed to go her own way, and to strengthen and perpetuate the combined ecclesiastical and political system for which her leaders had fought. As it is, the influence remains too strong of her fundamental doctrine that, in matters in any degree tinged with an ethical value, a minority has the “divine right” to force its will upon the majority, and to use the arm of the civil power to enforce its moral views upon the nation. In the town-meeting and the public school, the founders of Massachusetts, lay and clerical, had made two contributions of untold influence to American political life; but it was well for personal liberty and intellectual freedom, when the real struggle came and independence was achieved, that it was for a people who had had some training in religious toleration and political equality, regardless of class or creed. And, curiously enough, so tangled is the skein of history, the laws which voiced and fostered those beliefs were due to one of the most shameless of English kings, and not to the fathers of the New England commonwealth.