Causes of the Revolutionary War

THE sound of the rejoicings called forth by the repeal of the Stamp Act had hardly died away before it was seen how little had really been gained beyond immediate and temporary relief. The Stamp Act was gone, but the Declaratory Act, and the Sugar Act, and the Mutiny Act, requiring quarters to be provided for English troops, and recently extended to the colonies, remained unmodified and unchanged. The Rockingham ministry was dissolved; Pitt came again to the helm, and was made the Earl of Chatham. The clouds of his strange illness gathered about the prime minister, and the conduct of affairs fell into the hands of Charles Townshend, a believer in the Stamp Act, and with no faith in Pitt's distinction between internal and external taxation. He was determined to pursue the policy of Grenville, and laid his plans to quarter garrisons in the large towns of America and have them supported by the colonial Assemblies, and to exact a revenue from the colonies. The trouble had, indeed, already begun in New York, where the Assembly, which had passed a limited act for the supply of two regiments in December, 1766, refused to provide for quartering troops, and stood firm through a long controversy with Sir Henry Moore. In the following spring, Parliament, under the lead of Townshend, suspended the legislative powers of New York, as a punishment for their disobedience. This was a warning which could not be mistaken. In the other colonies, even when requisitions were complied with, there was careful evasion of obedience to the terms of the act, and sympathy with New York spread far and wide, carrying with it deep disquiet and indignation. Not content with beginning to enforce the Mutiny Act, Townshend carried measures to impose port duties on wine, oil, and fruit from Spain and Portugal, and on glass, paper, lead, colors, and tea. The revenue thus raised was to be used for the payment of the crown officers, and for the establishment of a civil list. This was a blow at the most vital rights of the colonies, for it took from them the control of their governments. The new policy, unchecked by the death of Townshend in the autumn of 1767, excited the utmost apprehension in America, and fanned into flame the smouldering embers of the opposition to the Stamp Act. Again non-importation agreements were discussed, but without combination or effect; and Massachusetts, thoroughly alarmed at the prospect of independent crown officers, determined on stronger measures. The Assembly resolved to send a petition to the king, and letters to the statesmen of England. In the petition, drawn, probably, by Samuel Adams, the Assembly set forth the conditions of their settlement, argued against taxation without representation, and protested against the presence of a standing army, and the project of rendering the judicial and executive officers independent of the people. They followed this action by a resolve inviting the other colonies to unite with them in petitions to the king against the new taxation. At every step Bernard and Hutchinson resisted the Assembly, which moved forward steadily, cautiously, and firmly, making no mistakes, and giving no openings. Bernard and the crown officers met the action of the Assembly by a counter-memorial, inveighing against the freedom and independent temper of the colonists, and advising the immediate presence of fleets and armies,--supporting their requests with tales of projected riots, for the people had begun to be restless, although there was really no danger of any serious outbreak.

Hillsborough, the new Secretary of State, and the king's friends were indignant at the action of Massachusetts, and letters were sent to the other colonies denouncing the Massachusetts circular, and to Bernard instructing him to order the House to rescind their resolve, and, if they refused, to dissolve them. Meantime, the excitement increased. John Hancock's sloop Liberty was seized, on the ground of evasion of the customs. There was a slight disturbance, and revenue officers, in pretended fear of their lives, took refuge on the Romney man-of-war, while the town and the governor quarreled about the affair. When the general court met, strengthened by the sympathy of Connecticut and New Jersey, and by the letter of Virginia, where their principles had been sustained by resolutions of the Burgesses, Hillsborough's letter was presented. The House, by an overwhelming vote, refused to rescind; the court was dissolved, and Massachusetts was left without a legislature. Boston town meeting took into its hands the power which Hillsborough and Bernard sought to crush. They called a convention of delegates from the towns of the province while troops were on their way to Massachusetts; and this convention came together, demanded in vain a general court, passed strong resolutions against taxation and a standing army, and adjourned. while the Council refused to make provision for the expected soldiers until the barracks were filled, and the old beacon was prepared as in the days of Andros. Soon after the convention dissolved, two regiments, presently increased to four, and artillery, landed and marched into the town. The Council refused quarters until the barracks were occupied; and, after camping for some time in the open air, the troops were finally quartered and supplied at the expense of the crown. No measure could possibly have been taken better calculated to produce civil war. The troops were sent to overawe, and they merely irritated the people. Into a peaceful town, into a province which had simply remonstrated and petitioned legally and properly in defence of their rights, were suddenly thrust royal regiments. The strong feeling of independence in a country where garrisons were absolutely unknown was outraged, while the bad character and licentious habits of the soldiery incensed a rigid, austere, and sober people. Attempts at military coercion and the presence of troops were sure to breed trouble; and, worse than this, they not only awakened the sympathy of the other colonies, but alarmed them for their own safety. It was outside pressure and peril in its strongest form, and nothing tended so strongly to produce the union which alone could be fatal to English rule.

In Virginia, when the Burgesses met, resolutions were passed declaring against taxation, and asserting the right to trial by a jury of the vicinage, and to combination among the colonies. Botetourt dissolved the Assembly, and the Burgesses met in convention and formed a stringent non-importation agreement. Virginia carried with her the Southern colonies, and her example was followed in Delaware and Pennsylvania, and when the general court came together again in Massachusetts they promptly adopted the resolutions. Some of the troops had been withdrawn; but two regiments were kept on Bernard's request, and he and the legislature were in no good humor when they met at Cambridge, whither the governor adjourned them. The House refused flatly to provide for troops, or to give a salary for the year to Bernard, who was recalled, and who soon after, having prorogued the refractory Assembly, departed from Boston, amid the noisy rejoicings of the populace, leaving Hutchinson to rule in his stead. While Massachusetts and Virginia were thus coming together and preparing the American Union, the ministry in England, halting and undecided, rather frightened at the results of their energetic policy, and desperately embroiled with Wilkes, decided to recede. They sent a circular to the colonies, promising to lay no more taxes, and to repeal the duties on glass, paper, and colors, retaining only that on tea. Their action was that of well-meaning, narrow, and weak men. They should either then and there have enforced their policy at the point of the bayonet, or they should have fully and frankly given way on every point. To save their pride, maintain their doctrines, and please the king, they retained one paltry tax, yielding perhaps three hundred pounds a year, but which carried the vital principle with it as surely and clearly as revenue involving millions. The course of the ministry had slowly brought the conflict to the point at which complete victory on one side or the other was alone possible. The colonies were fully alive to the situation, and saw that while one tax remained nothing had been gained. The non-importation agreements spread everywhere, and were strongly enforced, and all society was drawn into a refusal to use tea. Conflicts with the revenue officers in Rhode Island and elsewhere grew more and more frequent, and the relations of the people with the soldiery in New York and Boston more and more strained. In New York there were violent affrays between the soldiers and the people over the erection of the liberty-pole, and there was fighting in the streets. These outbreaks heightened the feeling in Boston, where the soldiers were taunted and insulted, and where recurring fights between populace and red-coats showed that a crisis was at hand. On the 3d of March there was an ugly brawl, and on the evening of the 5th there was another fray, and trouble with the sentry. Before quiet was restored there was renewed fighting, and a crowd gathered round the sentry in King Street. Alarmed and angry, the man called out the guard; the mob rapidly increased; insults were followed by missiles; one soldier discharged his gun; there was a scattering fire from the troops, and three of the citizens were killed and two mortally wounded. Blood had been shed, and it looked as if civil war had begun. The regiments were turned out, the people poured into the streets; it was a mere chance that the American Revolution was not then to open. But Hutchinson appeared in the balcony of the State-House, promised an investigation, and besought peace. The people dispersed, and war was for the moment averted; but nothing could efface the memory of this affray. Regular troops had fired upon the citizens, human life had been sacrificed, and the exaggerated title of the "Boston Massacre" showed the importance attached to this event, which served for years to keep alive and develop resistance to England.

The morning after the massacre the select-men waited on Hutchinson and urged the removal of the troops. At eleven the town meeting came together, and chose a committee, with Samuel Adams at its head, to wait upon the governor and demand the withdrawal of the troops. Hutchinson wished to delay and postpone. He offered to have the Twenty-Ninth Regiment, which had fired on the people, removed to the Castle, and the other put under proper restraint. The committee went back through thronged streets, and made its report, which was pronounced unsatisfactory, and a new committee, again headed by Adams, went back to the governor. The interview which followed in the council-chamber, as the daylight slowly faded, was one of the great dramatic scenes of the American Revolution. In that moment Samuel Adams was pre-eminent, and all the greatness and force of his mind and character concentrated to raise him up as the great tribune of the people. The incarnation of right and justice, the true champion of the people, he stood before the fit representative of a weak, vacillating, proud, and stupid ministry, and made the representative quail before him. "If you can remove one, you can remove both," he said to Hutchinson; "there are three thousand people in yonder town meeting; the country is rising; night is falling; and we must have an answer." Hutchinson hesitated a moment, trembled, and gave way. Before a week elapsed, all the troops were withdrawn; and meantime they had watched the funerals of their victims, seen their companions arrested for murder, beheld a town meeting called to hurry their departure, and had been kept under strict guard by the militia of the town they went forth to garrison. Staying and going were alike full of humiliation and defeat. It was a great triumph; and as the news of the events at Boston spread, a strong sense of relief filled the colonies.

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