The Albany Congress of 1754

It isn’t always easy to tell success from failure, even long after the fact. The Albany Congress made specific proposals. The British Colonial Office turned them down. So did every one of the legislatures from the seven colonies that had sent representatives. Nothing proposed was ever implemented. And yet Benjamin Franklin, much later, said that had its proposal been implemented, the Revolutionary War probably wouldn’t have happened.

Pretty extravagant language for a conference of only 21 delegates, representing only the northern seven of the 13 colonies, meeting for only three weeks. Justified?

Well, that conference eventually became seen as the colonists’ first attempt at continental unity, and many elements of the plan it proposed were implemented in the Articles of Confederation and then the Constitution.

The summer of 1754 was the beginning of the French and Indian War in North America. Washington’s encounter in May made it clear that war with France was likely. Even if it didn’t come to that, there were other matters of common concern, most particularly how to achieve better relations with the Indian nations on the frontiers of the colonies.

The legislatures of the (then) four New England states, plus those of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, sent representatives to the meeting in Albany, which convened June 19 and continued to July 11, 1754. The Carolinas, Georgia, Delaware and New Jersey did not participate, presumably because they were not on the front line of any potential conflict. For some reason not at all clear to me, neither did Virginia, which had the largest territory to defend against the French and Indians.

“The Conference of Albany” was supposed to be talking about coordinated actions and attitudes toward French and Indians. Perhaps it was natural for the conference to be dominated by Benjamin Franklin’s Albany Plan.

Franklin, ever the combination of practical man of affairs and visionary thinker, proposed that the colonists create a “grand council” that would have jurisdiction over Indian affairs. As matters stood, each colony dealt with various tribes, and so the Mohawks, say, might sign a treaty with New York that ignored or contradicted a treaty signed with Pennsylvania. The jumble of competing jurisdictions made everyone’s life complicated. Franklin proposed that the various legislatures create the council and cede it sole power to deal with the Indians. He wasn’t thinking of a federal government (as far as anybody knows), but of a sort of specialized supra-colonial legislative agency confined to one set of problems.

The King would appoint an executive, who together with a Grand Council selected by the colonial legislatures would be responsible for Indian affairs, military preparedness, and enforcement of laws regulating trade and finance. An equivalent today might be one of those compacts of states that deal with the problems of a multi-state river system, like the Colorado or the headwaters of Chesapeake Bay. A different analogy might be the Coal and Steel Community that was set up in Europe after World War II, that grew to become the Common Market and eventually the European Community.

(Some think that the example of the Iroquois confederation inspired the Albany Plan. Mainstream historians tend to credit English precedents, instead, as more familiar to colonial legislators.)

In any case, it never got off the ground.

The delegates approved a plan calling for a grand council with jurisdiction over Indian affairs, consisting of delegates appointed by each colonial assembly and a president to be appointed by the Crown. The colonies’ legislatures rejected the plan, since it would encroach upon their powers. The Colonial Office rejected the plan, perhaps because it had been hoping for some kind of unified military command. The British Board of Trade turned it down, too.

And that was the end of the matter. Or – was it?

The Albany Congress marked the first time that various colonies had met to discuss a common concern. Even though the Southern colonies were absent, it was a beginning. It would become the precedent for the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 and, much more importantly, the First Continental Congress in 1774, which as we have seen led directly if not immediately first to the Articles of Confederation and then to the Constitution.

Franklin, in 1789:

“On reflection it now seems probable, that if the foregoing plan or some thing like it, had been adopted and carried into execution, the subsequent separation of the colonies from the mother country might not so soon have happened, nor the mischiefs suffered on both sides have occurred, perhaps during another century. For the colonies, if so united, would have really been, as they then thought themselves, sufficient to their own defense, and being trusted with it, as by the plan, an army from Britain, for that purpose would have been unnecessary: The pretences for framing the Stamp Act would not then have existed, nor the other projects for drawing a revenue from America to Britain by Acts of Parliament, which were the cause of the breach, and attended with such terrible expense of blood and treasure: so that the different parts of the Empire might still have remained in peace and union.”

Maybe so, maybe no. In any case, that isn’t the way it happened.

The French and Indian War

North America before the French and Indian War: British settlement confined to the Atlantic seaboard.

What North America called the French and Indian War, the rest of the world called the Seven Years’ War. It was a global war, fought from Europe to the subcontinent of India and elsewhere, but here we will concern ourselves only with the war in North America. (The war in North America extended from 1754 to 1760; the war in Europe continued from 1756 to 1763.)

The North American part of the war was fought from the Virginia frontier to Nova Scotia. Each side had its colonists, soldiers from the parent country, and Indian allies.

The French particularly depended on Indian allies, because they were so heavily outnumbered. They had few settlers on the ground (about 75,000, mostly along the St. Lawrence River valley) and were defended by about 3,000 colonial troops, and no French regulars.

The British colonies outnumbered them 20 to one, about a million and a half people strung along the Atlantic coast from Georgia to Newfoundland, and continually moving inland. Most of the British colonies had only ill-trained local militia, but Virginia, being by far the largest colony, with the longest and most exposed frontier, hosted several companies of British regulars. And oddly enough, the first battle in what became a global struggle was precipitated in May, 1754 by a 22-year-old Virginia militia Colonel named George Washington.

Years before, British activity in the Ohio territories had prompted the Governor-General of New France to dispatch a force of 300 men to the area, with the objective of punishing the Miami tribe for continuing to trade with the British. In 1753,  a mixed 2,000-man force constructed and garrisoned forts in the area. As the force moved south, it drove off or captured British traders, thus alienating the Mingo Indians.

The Iroquois sent to the British Superintendent for Indian Affairs in the New York region and beyond, William Johnson, whom the Iroquois called “He who does great things.” (Must have been an interesting man. He spoke their languages, had been made a colonel of the Iroquois, as well as a colonel of the Western New York Militia.) The Mohawks insisted that the British block French expansion.

The French began building Fort Duquesne, near the site of present-day Pittsburgh. (At issue was the control of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, and ultimately the Ohio.) The Governor  of Virginia ordered 21-year-old Major Washington to warn the French to leave. Washington’s party surprised them on May 28, killing many of them, including their commanding officer, at the Battle of Jumonville Glen.

On July 4, however, Washington was forced to surrender Fort Necessity to a French force. When England heard of the battles, the government sent an army expedition to dislodge the French. The British plans leaked, and France sent New France six regiments. Naval engagements led to formal declarations of war in 1756.

The year 1755 was a year of disasters for the British, with four operations against the French all failing. The worst defeat came to British General Edward Braddock at the Battle of the Monongahela. Braddock lost 1,000 killed or injured, and died of his wounds a few days later. Young Washington led the remaining 500 British troops to safety in Virginia. In preventing defeat from turning into a rout, Washington immediately became famous throughout the colonies. (In 1774, delegates to the First Continental Congress, meeting the man they had read about 20 years earlier, were surprised to see not some old greybeard but a young and vigorous man of 42.)

Military matters didn’t go much better for the British in the following two years, except in Canada, where forces from Nova Scotia overcame the French in Acadia (present-day New Brunswick). British commander in chief William Shirley, acting without orders, expelled the French from the area, thus dispersing the Acadians (or ‘Cadians, and eventually Cajuns) as far as Louisiana.

. In 1757, a mixed French force of Canadian scouts and Indians besieged Fort William Henry, which finally capitulated with an agreement to withdraw under parole. When the withdrawal began, some of Montcalm’s Indian allies, angered at the lost opportunity for loot, attacked the British column, killing and capturing several hundred men, women, children, and slaves. And, since smallpox was present within the fort, the siege may have helped spread smallpox among the Indians beyond the Mississippi, as returning warriors unknowingly carried it with them.

The turning point of the war came after William Pitt became Prime Minister. He committed large numbers of troops and ships to the struggle in the New World, which France was unable to match, partly due to the British blockade, partly due to France’s military entanglements on the European continent.

In 1759, which the British called the year of miracles, the British captured both Ticonderoga and Quebec city. In September 1760, the French Governor-General negotiated a surrender that guaranteed French residents religious freedom, security of property and the right to remain if they chose. And that was more or less the end of the fighting on the North American continent. The war in North America officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, a few days before another treaty ended the Seven Years’ War.

Now, notice this. The British offered France a choice: surrender either its continental North American possessions east of the Mississippi or the two Caribbean islands that the British had occupied, Guadeloupe and Martinique – and the French chose to keep the islands, for the value of their sugar production. Inexplicable to us, logical to them.

So, the peace treaty gave the British everything east of the Mississippi, handed over the rest of French possessions to their Spanish allies, and left France with only the Caribbean islands plus a couple of fishing islands in the St. Lawrence.

The Seven Years’ War nearly doubled Britain’s national debt, which as we have seen led to attempts to impose taxes on the colonies. The French debt increased as well, and they handed over some of the richest and most productive farmland and hunting territories in the world. The Indians, regardless which side they had allied with, found that the British now faced no counterweight to expansion. British takeover of Spanish Florida prompted most of its population to leave for Cuba, and sent Indian tribes westward to avoid the British, leading to rising tensions between the Choctaw and the Creek. The war changed everything.

 

Proclamations versus land-hunger

The Royal Proclamation of 1763 began the process of turning the British Empire’s total victory over the French into the loss of the American colonies. But why?

Once I would have said something like this: “The British government, in its blindness, totally disregarded the legitimate interests of the American colonists.” That’s the way American history often paints it. But from London, each disastrous move seemed reasonable, even logical. The frontier problems King George tried to address were much the same as those that faced another George – Washington – thirty years later.

* * *

The Treaty of Paris that ended the French and Indian War in 1763 expelled the French from North America, leaving the British in uncontested possession from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the northern and western limits of settlement in Canada. But of that vast territory, the British American had settled only the areas between the ocean and the Appalachians, and that sparsely. From the mountains to the Mississippi, and throughout most of what had been French Canada, those actually in possession were American Indians.

British North America regarded the Treaty of Paris as the green light for expansion . But their imperial leaders weren’t so sure that was a good idea. The French had considered the Indian nations centered on the Great Lakes to be valuable allies. Could those Indians be reconciled? It had to be considered. In October, King George surprised the colonists with his Royal Proclamation of 1763, forbidding settlement beyond the mountains.

In those days, Indians were not remnant peoples. In 1763, and into George Washington’s presidency 30 years later, they were nations, and although they were outnumbered, the technological gap was not so large (that is, they were not so impossibly outgunned) and they were neither desperate nor helpless. In fact, the Indians helped precipitate the proclamation.

While the king and his ministers were wrestling with the problem of reorganizing the governing of North America, they learned of the outbreak of the rebellion led by Pontiac, an attempt to prevent the British from occupying the lands formerly claimed (but not settled) by France. Pontiac’s War would continue for three years and end in defeat, but its largest impact may have been the impetus it provided for the Royal Proclamation.

King George decreed that for the time being, no more settlement would be allowed west of the Appalachians. Any lands whose rivers flowed into the Atlantic were open to colonial settlement. Lands whose rivers flowed into the Mississippi were reserved for the Indian nations. Furthermore, the act prohibited purchase of Indian land by anyone other than Crown officials, not colonial officials.

That proclamation, like so many temporizing acts of statesmanship, sought not to prevent change but to delay it, in the hope of making it more manageable. With time (London hoped) the Indians would learn to live with the British as they had lived with the French.

But the land-hungry colonials had fought hard against the French. They had been raised to fear the French-Indian combination that had resulted in so many backwoods massacres. Were they now to be deprived of the fruits of their victory? King George, like his royal predecessor King Canute, was able to command the tide to halt, but was unable to enforce it.

The clamor for revision or withdrawal of the proclamation began pretty fast, encompassing not only settlers who were already beyond the mountains, but prominent public men and land speculators both in North America and in the home islands. It wasn’t long before the boundary line was moved westward, first in the Treaty of Sort Stanwix (1768), then in the Treaty of Lochaber (1770), until the area open to British American settlement extended Virginia into what later became the states of Kentucky and, still later, West Virginia.

But the damage to relations between mother country and its American colonies had been done. The colonists (particularly colonial land speculators, which in those days meant nearly anybody with a little extra money) resented the British government’s refusal to permit new settlements. The proclamation ignited suspicions that the actions that seemed eminently reasonable to the Crown officials were evidence of a deep-laid plot to suppress and oppress them for the greater good of the home island.

Suspicion usually trumps reason, and so it proved in the 1700s. But after the American Revolution, the new government found itself confronting the sme problem that the proclamation of 1763 had tried to address. A series of laws and court decisions attempted to protect Indian lands from encroachment, and declared that only the federal government could buy Indian land, but in the end hunger for land and resources trumped governmental regulations every time. In the long run, the United States government’s policies were not much different from those of King George, and not much more effective.

 

Through the Cumberland Gap

[“Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap,” George Caleb Bingham, 1852]

For a few generations, English colonists continued to think of themselves in relation to the ocean, with all its connections to home. But with time, the settlers of western Pennsylvania, and Virginia, and North Carolina, increasingly looked not east, but west. For decades, pioneering families settled the long Shenandoah valley, moving from the Pennsylvania Dutch country down through Maryland and Virginia as far as North Carolina. (In this way, North Carolina, a state with few good natural harbors, was actually settled as much west to east as east to west.)

The settlers wanted to stay in the latitudes they were used to, but the mountain chain kept funneling them southward. The way westward was blocked by the Appalachians, far too high and too rugged for the technology of the day to run roads through. For that, you’d need to find a chink in the wall, an interruption in the mountain chain.

Surely there was such a way over the Appalachians. There had to be!

There was, and it became the gateway to the West. Located more or less where the modern-day states of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee come together, the Cumberland Gap was found in 1750 by a Virginia doctor named Thomas Walker, who gave it the name by which we still call it.

Walker found the gap, but the man who did more than anyone else to open the way to Kentucky was Daniel Boone.

He was born of Quaker parents on the edge of the Pennsylvania frontier in 1734, two years after George Washington. The Pennsylvania Quaker had good relations with the Indians, and the Lenape Indians taught young Boone as much about woodcraft as did the local white settlers. (He was given his first rifle at the age of 12 to provide food for the family.) In 1750, when Daniel was 16, his father moved the family to western North Carolina.

Like Abraham Lincoln two generations later, Boone grew up on the frontier and so had little formal education. Like Lincoln, he became a lifelong reader. (In later years, he would bring books with him on his long hunting expeditions, sometimes entertaining his companions by reading to them around the evening campfire.) But unlike Lincoln, Boone never had much to do with cities or even towns. Instead, he became an unexcelled master of the woods. (Late in life someone asked him if, in his extensive solitary travels,  he had ever gotten lost. He said, no, he wasn’t ever lost, “but I was bewildered once for three days.”)

In 1755, during the French and Indian War, Boone was a wagon driver with the same expedition that Washington narrowly saved from total disaster. (We’ll come to that.) Oddly enough, one of the most important results of that failed expedition was that a wagon driver’s imagination was caught another driver’s tales of his travels across the mountains, trading with the Indians in a place they called Kentucky.

Nothing happened just then. Boone went home and the following year married. But the seed had been planted. For years, he supported his family as a commercial hunter, going alone or with a few others into the wilderness, hunting and trapping for weeks or months along what were called the Medicine Trails (buffalo migration trails), then returning to sell the hides and pelts. But by the mid-1760s, colonial immigration into the Yadkin valley area had made it harder for a hunter to find enough game to make ends meet. Time to move.

Dniel Boone thought about moving to the Pensacola, Florida area, and actually bought some land there, but his wife refused to move so far from everything she knew. Not Florida? Well, where? And then fate stepped in, and here again was John Finley, still with his tales of Kentucky.

Boone first reached Kentucky in the fall of 1767 while on a long hunt with his brother. After he learned that the feared Iroquois Indians had signed the Fort Stanwix treaty, ceding Kentucky to the British, he Boone began a two-year hunting expedition in Kentucky, but in December, 1769, he was captured by Shawnees, who had not signed the Fort Stanwix treaty, and regarded Kentucky as their hunting ground. They confiscated the skins and told Boone and his companion to leave and never return.

But Boone continued hunting and exploring Kentucky. In September, 1773, he led a group of about 50 would-be emigrants to establish a settlement in Kentucky. But the attempt was abandoned after one of Boone’s sons, and another man, were captured by a band of Delaware, Shawnees, and Cherokee Indians, and tortured to death.

That massacre led to what was called Dunmore’s War between Virginia and the Shawnees, which ended in the Shawnees relinquishing their claims to Kentucky. And in 1775, a North Carolina judge named Richard Henderson hired Boone to blaze what became known as the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap. Boone led a party of 30 into central Kentucky, marking a path to the Kentucky River and founding Boonesborough. He brought his family there on September 8, 1775. He was 49 years old.

The road he marked, and the settlements he founded and protected, are the reason that Kentucky had enough inhabitants in 1792 to be admitted to the Union as the first state west of the Appalachians, eleven years prior to the admission of Ohio.

He had a lot more life to live, but the story is too long to tell here. He served as an officer of militia in the Revolutionary War, fighting in the 1782 Battle of Blue Licks, fought after the surrender at Yorktown. He continued pioneering, and became a legend in his own lifetime, famous not only in America but in Europe. Daniel Boone died of natural causes on September 26, 1820, nearly 86 years old. By the time he died, the wilderness road had enabled an estimated 300,000 men, women and children to get past the mountain barrier.

 

Map from Wikipedia

 

 

Committees of Correspondence

They were members not of one civilization, but three — New England, the South, and the Middle Colonies. They differed in religion, in past politics (Cavalier or Puritan), in form of government, and in economic interests. They even differed in their original demographics, which had shaped them in different ways. New England (like Oregon, later) had been settled by families, sometimes by transplanted communities; the South (like California, later) had been settled by wild young men seeking to make their fortunes. And, in social makeup as in geography, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were in the middle.

It took a lot of doing to turn thirteen colonies into one fledgling nation. History had left them a legacy of mutual suspicions and misunderstandings. But under the pressure of events, representatives of the colonies learned to share information with one another and then, gradually, to meet, understand each other as representatives of their respective regions, work together, make common plans, and carry out those plans. Learning to work together and to depend upon one another meant overcoming all those differences, a process that was fueled by certain commercial interests, and concrete resentment of a high-handed and distant government, and was bolstered by the political theory all these men had learned as young Englishmen.

But, one by one, England’s actions seemed to imperil the autonomous status the colonies had taken for granted for a century and a half, until the colonists began to think of themselves less as thirteen equally sovereign entities and more as one entity faced with a common peril. It was a long road. The first step, arguably, was the creation of committees of correspondence.

Samuel Adams was in at the beginning of the movement, as in so many things connected to the revolution, and so was Dr. Joseph Warren. Very early on, they recognized that if they were to gain popular support, they would have to influence the town meetings held throughout Massachusetts, which, of course were initially dominated by Loyalists. In November, 1772, they persuaded the Boston town meeting to create a standing Committee of Correspondence, in order to (among other things) prepare “a letter to be sent to all the towns of this province and to the world, giving the sense of this town.” Its first communication was a list of grievances against Britain, along with a request that their views be supported and that “a free communication of your sentiments to this town, of our common danger” be returned.

Among the grievances listed were

that Parliament had assumed power of legislation for the colonists without their consent;

that it had raised illegal revenues;

that tax collectors had been appointed by the Crown, rather than, as hitherto, by the province;

that the tax collectors were “entrusted with power too absolute and arbitrary,”

that the king was using tax revenue to pay provincial government officers, “making them dependent on him, in violation of the charter,”

etc.

In response, most Massachusetts towns joined in establishing a network of Committees of Correspondence throughout the colony.

The Virginians followed a few months later, in March, 1773, establishing an eleven-man permanent Committee of Correspondence, among whose members were Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. The cooperative spirit prevalent in colonial society was naturally receptive to the idea. Other colonies followed the lead of the two most populous and most influential colonies, and by the following year, such committees were functioning in all thirteen colonies, acting as a sort of non-electronic internet to keep each other informed.

It is estimated that in all between 7,000 and 8,000 men served as delegates at the local and colony level on the various committees. The committees gradually extended their power over many aspects of American public life, until they became shadow governments, superseding colonial legislatures and royal officials.

These committees enabled the leading statesmen of the various colonies to get to know one another virtually, prior to the call for the Continental Congress in 1774 that allowed many of them to meet in the physical. That First Continental Congress, as we have seen, called for the Second Continental Congress to convene in May, 1775, by which time the events at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, had moved things far beyond what anyone had anticipated. After that point, in 1774 and 1775, local committees supervised the elections of provincial conventions, which took over the actual operation of colonial government.

Meanwhile the Second Continental Congress became the coordinating body during the revolution, and morphed into something between a permanent alliance and a sort of super-government with the passage of the Article of Confederation.

The Committees of Correspondence were not the voice of the majority; but they were loud, vigorous, and coordinated. With time, and in response to the pressure of events, the committees moved from being a network of communication to being provisional governments. The French say, it’s the first step that counts. The Committees of Correspondence, in their collective impact, were that first step.

Stubborn scapegoat

Now, granted, Thomas Hutchinson was bull-headed. And granted he collected offices the way Franklin Roosevelt collected postage stamps. And granted that he was neither well loved nor well respected. (John Adams described him as an avaricious “courtier.”) Granted, too, that as the last royal governor of Massachusetts, he was an amazingly thorough failure. Lord North (himself not much of a statesman) thought that the outbreak of the revolutionary war was caused as much by the publication of Hutchinson’s confidential letters as any other single thing. So, as a statesman, a failure. But was the American-born Hutchinson a traitor to the colonies, and to the cause of freedom, as so often charged? Hardly. For all his faults, he deserves sympathy as the highest-placed victim of the unofficial lynchings sponsored by the Sons of Liberty.

Hutchinson was born in 1711, which made him not quite 60 at the time of the Boston Tea Party. There was nothing to be said against his ancestry. He was a direct descendant of Anne Hutchinson, who took on the Puritans of Boston, helped found Rhode Island, and wound up taking refuge with the Dutch to avoid bigoted Puritan revenge. In fact, his own life may be seen as a sort of distorted mirror of hers. His more immediate ancestry, on both sides, consisted of well-off merchants. Hutchinson was born respectable, and never got over it.

He graduated from Harvard College at 16, was conspicuously successful at commerce from an early age, made a happy marriage, and at age 26 was elected first as a selectman in the city of Boston and then as a member of the General Court, which is what Massachusetts called its general assembly. He was a “hard money” man long before the term came into use. Thomas Hart Benton would have approved, but his contemporaries did not, until in 1749 he sponsored a bill that succeeded in replacing the colony’s paper money with specie without bringing on a depression. After that, he was very popular for a while. But time would demonstrate that he had a positive genius for misreading the times and alienating people.

No reason to detail his career before 1758. Among other things he was appointed to the Governor’s Council; was appointed judge of probate and a Common Pleas justice; he was named a delegate to the Albany Convention (of which we shall take notice in due course) where he drafted a plan for colonial union in cooperation with Benjamin Franklin. Then he was appointed lieutenant governor. When the governor obtained leave to return to England, in 1759, Hutchinson served as acting governor until the next governor, Francis Bernard, arrived to assume office. Bernard promptly appointed Hutchinson Chief Justice of the province’s superior court, although Hutchinson had no legal training and had not sought the post.

He never should have accepted the post, for at least three reasons. One, Hutchinson made some bad decisions, including authorizing arbitrary searches by customs officials. Two, he left himself open to criticism as avaricious of power, since besides being chief justice, he was lieutenant governor and a member of the Governor’s Council. Three and perhaps most important, in taking the post he made an enemy of James Otis Sr. and the popular party.

Bad enough, but then came the Sugar Act, and the Stamp Act. Hutchinson opposed the Sugar Act, and he and Bernard warned London not to proceed with the 1765 Stamp Act, but Hutchinson opposed the use of radical language in the assembly’s petition to Parliament, got it moderated, and privately supported calls for its repeal. His reward was to be accused of secretly favoring the act.

Hutchinson opposed the Stamp Act, but he allowed his brother-in-law to become “stamp master,” responsible to implement the act in the province. On 13 August 1765, mobs sacked the brother-in-law’s home and office, and two weeks later they destroyed Hutchinson’s Boston house (the family narrowly escaping). The family silver was stolen, the furniture was stolen or destroyed, and Hutchinson’s collection of historically important manuscripts was scattered. There were no police, there were no troops. The Sons of Liberty had it all their own way.

The house he lost in Boston

Governor Bernard requested troops to protect crown officials, a little late. When the Stamp Act was followed by the Townshend Acts, Bernard was recalled, and left for England in August, 1769, leaving Hutchinson as acting governor, in the time for the Boston Massacre. He went to the scene, promised that justice would be applied fairly, and had the British soldiers arrested. Then he resigned.

But while his letter of resignation was traveling east, his commission as governor was traveling west, and with the commission came strict instructions. One restricted meetings of the governor’s council, another required the governor’s approval of appointment as colonial agents. A third relocated the provincial assembly across the river in Cambridge, to insulate it from Boston hooligans under political control. The radicals saw, or pretended to see, this as a usurpation of power, never conceding that mob rule might inspire and require counter-measures. And when Hutchinson announced that his salary henceforth would be paid by the crown, even the province’s moderates moved closer to the rulers of the mob, as fears continue to escalate.

In 1772, Hutchinson had told the assembly that the colony either was wholly subject to Parliament, or was effectively independent. The assembly’s response stated that the colonial charter granted autonomy. This was of course reported to the colonial secretary in England, and he told colonial agent Benjamin Franklin that the assembly must retract its response.

Now, here’s where you have to decide how big a camel you are willing to swallow. Franklin sent, to the speaker of the Massachusetts assembly, a package of letters that Hutchinson and other colonial officials had written in the late 1760s, saying that they must not be widely circulated, because he was not “at liberty to make the letters public.” Franklin, in reading the letters, had concluded that they had misinformed Parliament of the situation. He sent the letters hoping to deflect the colony’s anger from Parliament to Hutchinson and others. But how could they do that if they were not to be circulated?

Of course the inevitable happened. Samuel Adams, clerk of the assembly, got his hands on them and got them published in June 1773, and in short order they were reprinted throughout the colonies. Can anybody believe that Franklin intended any other outcome? And Samuel Adams was careful about what he did and didn’t allow into print, making it seem as though Hutchinson had been conspiring with officials in London to deprive the colonists of their rights.

It was as ruthless as using mobs to terrorize Boston, and as successful. The assembly demanded Hutchinson’s removal. Hutchinson requested permission to come to England to defend himself. By the time he received the letter authorizing his return, the season was too late for travel, so he was still in Boston for its Tea Party, which he inadvertently helped cause by preventing the ships from leaving port without having paid duty.

In May, 1774, Massachusetts got a new governor, General Thomas Gage. And in June Hutchinson sailed for England, thinking it was for only a short time, not dreaming that he would never see his country again. He was well received by the king, by the colonial secretary, and by the prime minister, but his political life was over. The king offered to make Hutchinson a baronet, but he had lost most of his fortune when his American properties were confiscated, and had to decline. On July 4, 1776, of all dates, Oxford University awarded Hutchinson an honorary doctorate of law degree.

In exile, Hutchinson continued work on his history of the colony, the first two volumes of which had been published in Boston in 1764 and 1767, spanning the years 1628 to 1750. The third volume (posthumously published in 1828, in London), covered the years 1749-1774 and comprised, he said, “a detailed narrative of the origins and early states of the American revolution.” Hutchinson died in London in 1780, aged 68, an unwilling exile, maligned and impoverished.

 

From Stamp Act to Tea Party

The sequence of events that led from the Stamp Act to the revolution isn’t much fun to read. In this case history is something like what Bismark said about sausage and legislation: If you like it, don’t look too closely into how it is made. So we’re going to trot quickly through a sequence of events that warrant closer examination than they’re going to get.

Seven years of war, which we will trace shortly, had expelled France from North America. Canada was now British, and Louisiana was now Spanish. The colonists had been glad for England’s protection against the French, but the Spanish, and the Indian tribes, they could handle by themselves. Happy ending.

But then Parliament decided that since the North American colonies were the chief beneficiaries of a very expensive war, it was only right that they should help pay for it. Enter the Stamp Act of 1765. The British people had paid it for three quarters of a century, so why should the colonies be exempt? Only fair, right? The MPs, as is so often the habit of legislators, apparently legislated without understanding what they were doing, how it would be perceived, or why it would be opposed. They never did seem to understand why the colonies objected, and apparently it never occurred to them that they might be unable to have their way. The Stamp Act passed by overwhelming margins — 205–49 in the House of Commons, unanimously in the House of Lords.

It was to go into effect November 1, 1765. After that date, every newspaper and legal document would have to use stamped paper. (In this instance, stamped means embossed. We’re not talking about the equivalent of postage stamps.) Can you think of a better way to assure a people’s hostility to a given tax than to be sure that it bears particularly on lawyers and editors? Attorney licenses, court papers, land grants, playing cards, dice, newspapers and pamphlets….

Add to that the fact that, by law, the tax could be paid for only in English specie, rather than colonial paper, which was impossible even if the tax were not objectionable for other reasons. Add to that the fact that the tax was imposed in order to help pay for British troops to be stationed in North America, when the peace had made their presence entirely unnecessary.

But what was worst was that according to their royal charters, all the colonies were subject to the king, not the parliament. They had their own long-recognized legislatures, and other than in matters of imperial trade and defense, they governed themselves and taxed themselves without interference from a legislature they were not represented in (and did not want to be represented in, since they would be so hopelessly outnumbered).

Samuel Adams cogently argued: “For if our Trade may be taxed why not our Lands? Why not the Produce of our Lands & every thing we possess or make use of? This we apprehend annihilates our Charter Right to govern & tax ourselves…. If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having a legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves.

Taxation without representation became the burning issue among the colonials, while the MPs appear to have considered the issue little more than a smokescreen used to avoid taxes.

Well, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, stamp tax collectors were named in various cities, stamped paper was sent across the ocean – and they collected hardly anything! Resistance was immediate, organized and seemingly unanimous. The first joint colonial response to any British measure, the Stamp Act Congress, met in New York City in October, 1765, to petition for repeal. The Congress met in secret for 12 days, and produced a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. Besides protesting the Stamp Act, it asserted that Parliament could not represent the colonists. The Declaration was sent to the king, and petitions were also sent to both Houses of Parliament, but the most important result of the congress was that it met at all. From the Stamp Act Congress to the First Continental Congress was only a step, although that step took nine years.

Protest was not confined to the Stamp Act Congress. Colonial legislatures sent petitions and protests, the first committees of correspondence arose, to create communications links among the colonies, and — the darkest manifestations of resistance, and perhaps the most effective — incidents of mob violence became common, orchestrated by groups such as the Sons of Liberty. The revolutionary nature of the struggle is here apparent for the first time, as the lower classes begin to express their resentment of the rich and powerful, and find their own strength as they do so. Leaders such as James Otis and Samuel Adams were riding the back of the tiger, needing to retain mob support but attempting at the same time to restrain them from the worst excesses.

Boston was in the forefront of the violence. Its stamp distributor was hanged in effigy, had his stable house and coach and chaise burned, and his house looted, and resigned the next day. Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts colony, suffered mob violence which evicted his family from his mansion, destroyed the furniture, tore down the interior walls, emptied the wine cellar, and scattered his collection of Massachusetts historical papers. The governor offered a reward for information on who led the mob, but mobs freed everyone arrested. Naturally, in short order, every stamp tax distributor had resigned his commission, and a lot of stamped paper had been seized and either burned or dumped in harbors. For lack of the official paper, the courts couldn’t function. Wills couldn’t be probated, nor lawsuits entered or settled. It was an impossible situation.

Non-important agreements among merchants added to pressure on Parliament, for the American colonies were an important percentage of British trade. London merchants began coordinating a a national effort to pressure Parliament for repeal. The Act was repealed in March, 1766, having served to coordinate colonial resistance to Parliamentary interference with American domestic affairs. Naturally, Parliament made things worse, affirming its power to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”

Then came the Townshend Acts. In order to provide posts for 150 politically connected army officers who otherwise would have had to make an honest living, the British proposed to maintain a standing army in America when all external threats had been eliminated. That army cost money. In 1767,  Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed to raise that money by taxing America. The Revenue Act of 1767 levied duties on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea. These were five items that could not be manufactured in the colonies, and could not be bought legally from any source but Britain. (Townshend apparently thought that the colonists objected to direct rather than indirect taxes, and therefore would not object to tariffs. He never could understand about taxation without representation. He told MPs that he was establishing a precedent, which could be expanded.) So then the MPs needed the Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767, to create the American Board of Customs Commissioners to enforce trade regulations, and the Vice Admiralty Court Act of 1768, to create four district court to help customs officials prosecute smugglers.

Not only did Townshend want to tax America, he proposed to use some of that revenue to pay the salaries of governors and judges, to render them independent of the colonial legislatures upon whom they heretofore had been dependent. And, he wanted to tighten up compliance with trade regulations (that is, crack down on smuggling). And as if that weren’t enough, he proposed to punish the colony of New York for refusing to quarter troops as required by the 1765 Quartering Act.

You can imagine (but apparently Parliament could not) how well any of this went over. It is as if the MPs were deliberately working to teach the Americans to cooperate against them. In short order, matters were out of hand, mobs were intimidating Boston, and four British Army regiments were being sent to preserve or restore order. This worked about as well as anything else the MPs did, and on March 5, 1770, harassed troops threatened by a mob killed five American civilians (the “Boston Massacre”), and the Sons of Liberty had the incident they needed.

In April, the Repeal Act left in place the American Board of Customs, but removed the tax on everything but tea — to assert “the right of taxing the Americans.”