PreAmerican Revolution

There was a curious feature in the political circles of England and America in 1768. It consisted, in Great Britain, in the use of the number Forty-five, and in America of that number and Ninety-two combined, having a similar significance. John Wilkes, an ardent politician and fearless political writer in London, published a serial work called The North Briton. In number Forty-five of that work, he made a very severe attack on the government. That was in 1763. He was prosecuted by the crown lawyer for libel and confined in the Tower, but was acquitted and received five thousand dollars as damages from the under-secretary, Wood. As Wilkes was regarded as the advocate of the people, this prosecution of their champion, by the government, was considered a malicious proceeding, and a blow at the freedom of speech and the press by the aristocracy. Violent political excitement ensued, and "Forty-five," the number of The North Briton that contained the attack, became the war-cry of the democratic party in Great Britain and the colonies. After ninety-two members of the Massachusetts Legislature voted against rescinding their resolutions embodied in their famous Circular, "Ninety-two" became a political catchword here, and its application was curious. Frothingham says:

"When the Americans in London heard of the action of the Massachusetts Assembly, their favorite toast became: `May the unrescinding Ninety-two be forever united in idea with the glorious Forty-five.' These talismanic numbers were combined in endless variety in the colonies. Ninety-two patriots at the festival would drink forty-five toasts. The representatives would have forty-five or ninety-two votes. The ball would have ninety-two jigs and forty-five minuets. The Daughters of Liberty would, at a quilting party, find their garment of forty-five pieces of calico of one color and ninety-two of another. Ninety-two Sons of Liberty would raise a flag-staff forty-five feet high. At a dedication of a Liberty Tree in Charleston, forty-five lights hung on its branches, forty-five of the company bore torches in the procession, and they joined in the march in honor to the Massachusetts Ninety-two. At the festival, forty-five candles lighted the table, and ninety-two glasses were used in drinking the toasts; and the president gave as a sentiment: May the ensuing members of the Assembly be unanimous, and never recede from the resolutions of the Massachusetts Ninety-two."

When news of these events in Massachusetts in the summer of 1768 reached England, and was soon followed by rumors that nonimportation leagues were again forming, anger, deep solicitude and dismay prevailed. The exasperated ministry determined to punish the disobedient colony most severely. Lord Mansfield thought the members of the Assembly who, by their votes, had invited the union of the colonies in the assertion of their rights, ought to be summoned to England to answer for their conduct. The king, on the opening of Parliament, charged the Bostonians with a subversion of the constitution, and eagerness for independence of Great Britain. Both Houses denounced the proceedings of citizens and legislature of Massachusetts, and proposed to transport Otis, Hancock, the Adamses and other leaders to England for trial and punishment under an unrepealed act of Henry the Eighth. Exaggeration followed exaggeration as vessel after vessel reached England from America, and the friends of the colonists abroad were dumb, for awhile, for they had no available excuse to offer for the conduct of Massachusetts as misrepresented. Their silence gave a tacit sanction to the hot temper of the government and the harsh measures proposed by the ministry; and the mercantile and manufacturing interests were greatly disturbed by apprehensions of an absolute cessation of trade between them and the Americans. The colonial merchants were then owing British merchants twenty million dollars. Will this amount and the trade of the Americans be lost together? was the absorbing question of the hour in commercial circles.

Unfortunately the British ministry were so satisfied with the supposed eminent ability of the Earl of Hillsborough to manage colonial affairs, that the whole American business was left to his discretion and control. Governor Bernard was his chief source of information concerning the temper and conduct of the Americans. That officer was false to them and false to his master, giving the latter untruthful accounts of events in our country. He perceived the dangers that were gathering around the royal governments everywhere, and he exaggerated every movement, hoping to induce the ministry to send troops and war-ships to Boston to overawe the people and make his own seat more secure. He sought to keep the people there quiet until such forces might arrive, by mischievous duplicity. The council was assured that if the people would cease the discussion of the question of parliamentary power over the colonies, he would support their petition praying for relief from the recently enacted revenue laws. They consented, and Bernard showed a letter which he had written to Hillsborough in favor of the petition. Public excitement cooled, and the loyal Americans had hopes of repose. But in a secret letter of the same date, the perfidious governor gave to his master every possible form of argument in favor of not relaxing, in the least degree, the stringency and enforcement of the revenue laws. Hillsborough, equally false, encouraged the duplicity, and wrote a deceptive reply to be shown to the council. He actually used the name of his king as an abettor of the falsehood.

Already orders had been given by the Secretary to General Gage to be in readiness to furnish troops whenever Bernard should make a requisition for them. When that officer heard of the disturbance in the New England capital, he sent word to the governor that the troops were in readiness. Bernard was anxious to send for them, but he could not make a requisition without the consent of his council. That body declared that the civil power did not need the support of troops, nor was it for his majesty's service or the peace of the province that any should be required.

When the duplicity, the desires, and the acts of Bernard became known, the citizens of Boston could restrain their indignation with difficulty. Satisfied that the troops would come sooner or later, they resolved to put the engine of non-importation, which had worked so powerfully before, into vigorous operation. In August [1768] nearly all the merchants of Boston subscribed such a league, to go into operation on the first of January following, hoping, through the influence of the British merchants, to restrain the hand of the government uplifted to smite the Americans. The Sons of Liberty were active everywhere, and watched every movement of the crown officers. They soon discovered a British military officer in their city, evidently making preparations for barracks for troops. They gave the alarm. A town-meeting was called at Faneuil Hall, when James Otis, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and John Adams were appointed a committee to wait on the governor to ascertain whether the visit of the military officer was for such a purpose, and to request him to call a special session of the legislature. Bernard told them that troops were about to be quartered in Boston, and he refused to call the Assembly until he might hear from home. The governor was evidently alarmed, for he knew the great popularity of the men who stood before him. All Boston stood behind them, but its whole population was not more than sixteen thousand souls. His tone was more pacific than usual. Judging them by his own standard of morality, he had actually stooped to make some of these men his friends by bribes. He sent a commission to John Hancock, as a member of his council. That patriot tore the paper into shreds in presence of the people. He offered the lucrative office of advocate-general in the court of admiralty to John Adams, who instantly rejected it. He cautiously approached the sturdy Puritan, Samuel Adams, with honeyed words and an offer of place, but received such a rebuke that the words I have already quoted were afterward wrung from Hutchinson--"He is of such an obstinate and inflexible disposition that he could never be conciliated by any office or gift whatsoever."

The governor's refusal to call the Assembly impelled the town-meeting to recommend a convention of delegates from all the towns in the province to be held in Boston, under the plausible pretext that the prevailing apprehension of war with France required a general consultation. Apprehending war with the mother country was the real cause for the movement. The convention assembled on the 22nd of September, 1768, when more than a hundred delegates represented every town and district in the province but one. Thomas Cushing, Speaker of the Assembly, presided. They petitioned the governor to summon a general court. He answered by denouncing the convention as a treasonable body. They disclaimed all pretension to political authority, professed the utmost loyalty to the king, and said they had met in that "dark and distressing time to consult and advise as to the best manner of preserving peace and good order." The governor, in daily expectation of troops from Halifax, which, on his requisition, Gage had ordered to Boston, assumed a haughty tone, warned them to desist from further proceedings, and admonished them to disperse without delay. The Convention, unmoved by his words, remained in session four days, took moderate action, and stood firm in their purpose. They adopted a petition to the king, an address to the people setting forth the alarming state of the country, and advised abstinence from all violence, and submission to legal authority.

The people were now thoroughly alive to a sense of their dangers and duties. The great political questions of the hour occupied their minds. The pulpit became a sort of political forum. Patriotism and Christianity were regarded as twin sisters. Order everywhere prevailed. Excitement had given way to Reason. The other colonies were watching Massachusetts intently. Virginia sent her salutatory greetings. The good Governor Botetourt, in pursuance of his prescribed duty, had dissolved her Assembly. They reorganized in a private house, and then adopted a nonimportation agreement presented by George Washington. Other colonies sent cheering words, especially after troops had landed

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