Policy of King Charles I for American Colonies

The reign of republicanism in England, under Oliver Cromwell and his son, was short. King Charles the First, after contending with the people for the royal prerogative and the throne for several years, was beheaded on a cold winter's morning in January, 1649, in front of his own palace of White-hall. Royalty was then abolished. Late in May, 1660, the son of King Charles, who had been proclaimed monarch of England under the title of Charles the Second, rode into London on horseback between his brothers the Dukes of York and Gloucester, and took up his abode in the palace of Whitehall, while flags waved, bells rang, cannon roared, trumpets brayed, shouts rent the air and fountains poured out costly libations of wine as tokens of the public joy. After a struggle for about twenty years between royalists and republicans, the monarchy was restored, and the English people again became subjects of the head of the Scottish house of Stuart.

The members of the House of Commons had constituted a High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles the First, and many of them signed his death-warrant. These were hunted by the royal vengeance. Some perished on the scaffold. Among these were Hugh Peters and Henry Vane, who had figured conspicuously in New England more than twenty years before. Many fled and so escaped the fatal block. Among these were Edward Whalley and William Goffe, who went to New England and gave the first news of the restoration of monarchy. The former was a cousin of Cromwell and of Hampden, and a distinguished cavalry officer. He had been entrusted with the custody of the royal prisoner, and was one of the signers of his death-warrant. Cromwell appointed him one of the major-generals who assisted in the government of the commonwealth, and was of his most active lieutenants. Goffe, a son of a Puritan clergyman, was Whalley's son-in-law, a colonel of infantry and member of the High Court who signed the death-warrant of the king. He, also, was one of Cromwell's ten major-generals.

Orders speedily followed the fugitives to New England for their arrest, and officers came from Old England for the same purpose. The "regicides," or king-killers, as they were called, were, after awhile, closely hunted, but the authorities and people of New England effectually concealed them from their enemies for years. When danger lowered, they fled from Boston to New Haven, and for a long time occupied a cave not far from that place. Finally they made their abode in the remote town of Hadley, where they were joined by Colonel Dixwell, another "regicide," who finally settled in New Haven. In Hadley, Whalley died. Goffe survived him until after King Phillip's war, which we shall notice presently; but from the time when they took up their abode there, in disguise, they disappeared from public view. During that period, so terrible to New England settlers, Hadley was surrounded by hostile Indians. The people were in the meeting-house observing a fast day. They were armed, as usual, and sallied out to drive off the Indians. At that moment a tall, venerable personage, with a white, flowing beard, clad in a white robe and carrying a glittering sword, suddenly appeared among the people, took the lead of the armed men, caused them to observe strict military discipline, and led them to victory. The people believed the stranger (who as suddenly disappeared) to be an angel sent by the Lord for their deliverance. The "angel" was General Goffe, who was stout in body and valiant in spirit. It is related that soon after his arrival in Boston, a fencing-master erected a stage on the Common, on which he walked several days, defying any man to fight him with swords. Goffe accepted the challenge. He wrapped a huge cheese in a linen cloth as a shield, and arming himself with a mop filled with muddy water from the gutter, he appeared on the platform. The fencing-master made a thrust at him, which Goffe received in the cheese in which he held the sword until he had smeared his antagonist with mud. The enraged fencing-master caught up a broad-sword, when Goffe exclaimed: "Stop, sir; hitherto, you see, I have only played with you, and not attempted to harm you; but if you come at me now with the broad-sword, know that I will certainly take your life." The alarmed fencing-master cried out, as he dropped his sword, "Who can you be? You must be either Goffe, or Whalley, or the Devil, for there were no other men in England who could beat me."

The New England colonies, and especially that of Massachusetts, expected very little favor from the new monarch, for their republicanism was decided and conspicuous. In the course of a few months after the restoration the General Court of Massachusetts sent addresses to the King and Parliament, chiefly because enemies of New England evidently possessed the confidence of the monarch and his ministers. In those addresses, general loyalty was expressed, and they prayed for a "continuance of civil and religious liberties" which they had long enjoyed, and promised for the crown, in return for its protection of their freedom, the "blessings of a people trust is in God."

The king returned a gracious answer in the form of general expressions of good-will, but his smiles were not propitious. He resolved not to show these distant political enemies of his father any favors. The stringent provisions of the navigation laws and commercial restrictions from which Cromwell had exempted the New Englanders were now renewed and rigorously enforced. Expecting collisions with the Crown, the latter, in Massachusetts, issued a declaration of natural and chartered rights, in which they claimed the liberty to choose their own executive officers and representatives; to admit freemen on their own prescribed terms; to appoint all officers and define their powers and duties; to exercise, by annually elected magistrates and deputies, any function of human government; to defend themselves by force of arms, if necessary, against every aggression, and to reject, as an infringement of their right, "any parliamentary or royal imposition prejudicial to the country and contrary to any just act of colonial legislation."

Massachusetts now sent agents to London to persuade the king of their loyalty, at the same time to secure their independence in local affairs, as a self-governing people. It was a difficult task, but John Newton and Simon Bradstreet successfully performed it. In the autumn of 1662, the king confirmed the Massachusetts charter, and granted a conditional amnesty or general pardon for all past offences during the late civil war; at the same time the king asserted his right to interfere with the domestic concerns of the colony.

The people of Massachusetts did not concede this royal right, and in 1664, commissioners were sent over, in a royal fleet, destined to take possession of New Netherlands, commanded by Colonel Nicolls, one of the commissioners, to "settle the peace and security of the country on a solid foundation"-in other words, to rule New England as deputies of the monarch. The people of Massachusetts were greatly irritated by this measure, and spoke out freely. False stories were carried to the ears of the king respecting the rebellion of the colonies, and for awhile there was a general belief in London that Whalley and Goffe were at the head of a New England army, and that the New England Confederacy had been formed for the express purpose of casting off all dependence on the mother country and establishing a republic in America. At the same time the colonists regarded the commissioners as royal instruments of oppression who would destroy their liberties. Massachusetts boldly protested against the exercise of their authority within its domain. So did the other New England colonies excepting Rhode Island. The acts and orders of the commissioners were generally disregarded, and after producing much ill-feeling and stimulating a democratic spirit throughout New England, they departed in 1666, leaving the colonies triumphant. Massachusetts ever afterwards held a front rank in the sturdy battle for independence which was waged for more than a hundred years. Yet she had a fierce struggle, at times, with royalty abroad, royal agents in her bosom, and pale and dusky enemies on her borders. At about the time when she triumphed over the efforts of the Crown to enslave her, she was involved in a most disastrous war with Metacomet, or King Philip, a son of the then dead Massasoit. That contest is known in our history as KING PHILIP'S WAR.


Return to Our Country, Vol. I