Page images

years ago were above 90, had now fallen to about 86; that the land and malt taxes were almost entirely absorbed by the increased expenditure required for the navy. All this rendered the attitude of the colonies peculiarly irritating. The publication of the letters of Hutchinson produced great indignation among English politicians; and the burning of the Gaspee,' the destruction of tea in Boston harbour, and the manifest connivance of the whole population in the outrage, raised that indignation to the highest point. The time for temporising, it was said, was over. It was necessary to show that England possessed some real power of executing her laws and protecting her officers, and the Ministers were probably supported by a large majority of the English people when they resolved to throw away the scabbard, and to exert all the powers of Parliament to reduce Massachusetts to obedience.

The measures that were taken were very stringent. By one Act the harbour of Boston was legally closed. The Customhouse officers were removed to Salem. All landing, lading, and shipping of merchandise in Boston harbour was forbidden, and English men-of-war were appointed to maintain the blockade. The town, which owed its whole prosperity to its commercial activity, was debarred from all commerce by sea, and was to continue under this ban till it had made compensation to the East India Company for the tea which had been destroyed, and had satisfied the Crown that trade would for the future be safely carried on in Boston, property protected, laws obeyed, and duties regularly paid.?

By another Act, Parliament exercised the power which, as the supreme legislative body of the Empire, Mansfield and other lawyers ascribed to it, of remodelling by its own authority the Charter of Massachusetts. The General Assembly, which was esteemed the legitimate representative of the de. mocratic element in the Constitution, was left entirely untouched; but the Council, or Upper Chamber, which had been hitherto elected by the Assembly, was now to be appointed, as in most of the other colonies of America, by the Crown, and the whole executive power was to cease to emanate from the people. The judges and magistrates of all kinds, including | Annuai Register, 1774, p. 53.

? 14 George III. c. 19.

the sheriffs, were to be appointed by the royal governor, and were to be revocable at pleasure. Jurymen, instead of being chosen by popular election, were to be summoned by the sheriffs. The right of public meeting, which had lately been much employed in inciting the populace against the Government, was seriously abridged. No meeting except election meetings might henceforth be keld, and no subject discussed, without the permission of the governor.'

It was more than probable that such grave changes would be resisted by force, that blood would be shed, and that English soldiers would again be tried for their lives before a civil tribunal. The conduct of the Boston judges and of the Boston jury at the trial of Captain Preston and his soldiers had redounded to their immortal honour; but Government was resolved that no such risk should be again incurred, and that soldiers who were brought to trial for enforcing the law against the inhabitants of Boston, should never again be tried by 3 Boston jury. To remove the trial of prisoners from a district where popular feeling was so violent that a fair trial was not likely to be obtained, was a practice not wholly unknown to English law. Scotch juries were not suffered to try rebels, or Sussex juries smugglers; and an Act was now passed for the impartial administration of justice,' which provided that if any person in the province of Massachusetts were indicted for murder or any other capital offence, and if it should appear to the governor that the incriminated act was committed in aiding the magistrates to suppress tumult and riot, and also that a fair trial cannot be had in the province, the prisoner should be sent for trial to any other colony, or to Great Britain.?

These were the three great coercive measures of 1774. It is not necessary to dilate upon them, for their character is transparently evident, and the provocation that produced them has been sufficiently explained. The colonial estimate of them was tersely stated in the remonstrance of the province. By the first, they say, 'the property of unoffending thousands is arbitrarily taken away for the act of a few individuals ; by the second our chartered liberties are annihilated, and by the third our lives may be destroyed with impunity.' General Gage, | 14 George III. c. 45.

: Ibid. c. 39.

who had for some years been commander-in-chief of the whole English army in America, was appointed Governor of Massachusetts, and entrusted with the task of carrying out the coercive policy of Parliament; and in order to assist him, an Act was carried, quartering soldiers on the inhabitants.

One other measure relating to the colonies was carried during this session, which met with great opposition, and which, though important in American history, is still more important in the history of religious liberty. It was the famous Quebec Act, for the purpose of ascertaining the limits and regulating the condition of the new province of Canada.? The great majority of the inhabitants of that province were French, who had been accustomed to live under an arbitrary government, and whose religious and social conditions differed widely from those of the English colonists. The Government resolved, as the event showed very wisely, that they would not subvert the ancient laws of the province, or introduce into them the democratic system which existed in New England. The English law with trial by jury was introduced in all criminal cases; but as all contracts and settlements had hitherto been made under French law, and as that law was most congenial to their tastes and habits and traditions, it was maintained. In all civil cases, therefore, French law without trial by jury continued in force. A legislative Council, varying from seventeen to twenty-three members, open to men of both religions, and appointed by the Crown, managed all legislative business except taxation, which was expressly reserved. The territory of the province, determined by the proclamation of 1763, was enlarged so as to include some outlying districts, which were chiefly inhabited by French ; and by a bold measure, which excited great indignation both among the Puritans of New England and among the Whigs at home, the Catholic religion, which was that of the great majority of the inhabitants, was virtually established. The Catholic clergy obtained a full parliamentary title to their old ecclesiastical estates, and to tithes paid by members of their own religion; but no Protestant was obliged to pay tithes.

1 14 George III. c. 54. 2 Ibid. c. 83.

3 According to General Carleton, the Governor, Canada contained 150,000 Catholics, and less than 400 Protestants : and the French Catholics

greatly preferred having their trials determined by judges to having them determined by juries, and had not the least desire for any popular assemblies - Pari. Hist. xvii. 1367, 1368.

The Quebec Act was little less distasteful to the colonists than the coercive measures that have been related. The existence upon their frontiers of an English state governed on a despotic principle was deemed a new danger to their liberties, while the establishment of Catholicism offended their deepest religious sentiment. Its toleration had indeed been provided for by the Peace of Paris, and on the death of the last French bishop the Government had agreed to recognise a resident Catholic bishop on the condition that he and his successors should be designated by itself, but the political position of the Catholics had been for some time undetermined. The Protestant grand jurors at Quebec had insisted that no Catholie should be admitted to grand or petty juries, and the party they represented would have gladly concentrated all civil and political power in the hands of an infinitesimal body of Protestant immigrants, degraded the Catholics into a servile caste, and reproduced in America in a greatly aggravated form the detestable social condition which existed in Ireland. At home the strength of the anti-Catholic feeling was a few years later abundantly shown, but, with the exception of some parts of Scotland, no portion of the British Islands was animated with the religious fervour of New England, and no sketch of the American Revolution is adequate which does not take this influence into account. In this as in many other respects these colonies presented a vivid image of an England which had long since passed away. Their democratic church government, according to which each congregation elected its own minister, their historical connection with those austere republicans who had abandoned their native country to worship God after their own fashion in a desert land, and the intensely Protestant type of their belief, had all conspired to strengthen the Puritan spirit, and in the absence of most forms of intellectual life the pulpit had acquired an almost unparalleled ascendency. The chief and almost the only popular celebration in Massachusetts before the struggle of the Revolution was that of the 5th of November. In Boston, which

| See a curious account of this celebration in Tudor's Life of Otis, pp.

26-29. It degenerated into a violent contention between different parts of

was the chief centre of the political movement, the theological spirit was especially strong, for the population was unusually homogeneous both in race and in religion. The Congregationalists were three or four times as numerous as the Episcopalians, and other sects were as yet scarcely represented.'

The spirit of American puritanism was indeed so fierce and jealous that the American Episcopalians who were connected with the English Church were never suffered in the colonial period to have a bishop among them, but remained under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London. Berkeley, Butler, and Secker had vainly represented how injurious this system was to the spiritual welfare of the American Episcopalians. Sherlock complained bitterly that he was made responsible for the religious welfare of a vast country which he had never seen, which he never would see, and over which he could exercise no real influence. Gibson tried to exercise some control over the colonial clergy, but found that he had no means of enforcing his will. Archbishop Tenison had even left a legacy for the endowment of two bishoprics in America. The Episcopalians themselves petitioned earnestly for a resident bishop, and stated in the clearest terms that they wished him to be only a spiritual functionary destitute of all temporal authority. The powers exercised in the consistory courts in England, it was said, are not desired for bishops residing in America. They were not to be supported by any tax ; they were not to be placed either in New England or Pennsylvania, where non-episcopal forms of religion prevailed, or to be suffered in any colony to exercise any authority, except over the members of their own persuasion. It was urged that those who were in communion with the Established Church of Boston. When the Americans invaded According to Sherlock, the EpiscoCanada in 1775, Washington forbade palian ministers in America were the commemoration, lest it should irri- chiefly Scotch and Irish.

A great tate the Canadian Catholics. Sparks' number of them appear to have been Washington, iii. 144.

educated in Dublin University. The | Tudor's Life of Otis, pp. 446, 447. Massachusetts Assembly, writing in

. See the report of Bishop Sher- 1768 to their agent in England, against lock to the King in Council, on the the taxation of America by England, Church in the Colonies.- Documents say: The revenue raised in America, relating to the Colonial History of for aught we can tell, may be as conNew York, vol. vii. pp. 360–369. Much stitutionally applied towards the supinformation about the condition of port of prelacy, as of soldiers and penthe Episcopalians in America will be sioners;' and they add, “We hope in found in the correspondence between God such an establishment will never Archbishop Secker and some Ameri- take place in America.'—Wells' Life can clergymen in the same volume. of 8. Adams, i, 200. VOL. III.


« PreviousContinue »