The Mutiny Act: Resistance by the colonies



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.





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