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Tension between England and her colonies, particularly the New England colonies, went all the way back to their founding, as we have seen, and this conflict was largely religious in nature. Nevertheless, for a century and a half, America saw the benefits of remaining in some loose affiliation with the empire as outweighing any advantage of complete separation. In addition to the religious conflict, however, England and the colonies, especially those in New England, had evolved different conceptions of government. The Puritans, which included Congregationalists, Baptists, and other dissenting Protestant groups, had put into practice the compact theory, dating back to the founding of Plymouth under the Mayflower Compact. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were established by people voluntarily covenanting together to form a "civil body politic." Under the covenant conception, government's legitimate and proper function was to protect the inalienable rights of man, as granted by God, such as the rights to life, liberty, and property. Indeed, this is the philosophy of government set forth in America's Declaration of Independence. Under the American form of government, which is really an extension and secularization of the New England conception, government receives its authority only from the consent of the governed as expressed in the covenant, compact, or constitution.
That government's authority derived from the "consent of the governed" was a notion some Englishmen could accept -in theory. But to permit the people to actually dissolve and establish governments at will sounded utopian and anarchistic. London could accept much of Locke's social compact, but not the part about rulers serving at the whim of the ruled. The lesson of the Puritan and Glorious Revolutions, to most British, was that only under the most dire circumstances could the people dissolve an existing regime. Moreover, the American colonists were second-class citizens within the British empire. If pressed, officials in London would have conceded that the rights of Englishmen extended to the people of North America, but they did not actually believe this. The colonists were British subjects, not citizens, and British policy reflected this perspective. The colonies, in England's view, were Crown possessions. Even though Americans had been governing themselves for most of their colonial history, the sovereign political authority still rested with London.
Thus a conflict was inevitable, particularly when England became serious about administering its empire, annulled the authority of the colonial governments, and in their place appointed governors who would report directly to London. Though the colonies retained assemblies elected by the local population, the direction that English policy was heading was unmistakable. Consolidation of the empire in North America took place over a long period of time, by degrees. So while there was often much tension and unhappiness over English policy, London's behavior never seemed to warrant full scale rebellion - not, that is, until 1776.
The conclusion of the French and Indian War produced an outpouring of patriotic fervor in the colonies. The Americans felt proud of their contributions to victory, began to think of themselves as a nation in their own right, and had their own war hero, that gallant man on a white horse from Virginia. The colonists began to talk of their own glorious future as Americans, with barely a reference to Britain. One Massachusetts doctor, Nathaniel Ames, asked if it made sense for an entire continent of more than 2 million people to be subordinate to a set of small islands off the French coast. Moreover, the British throughout the French and Indian War had treated the colonial militia with disrespect and had abandoned the American theater when it no longer suited their purposes to remain there, thus leaving the colonists to confront the savagery of the French and Indians on their own.
There was also the entire matter of trade. To London, the colonies were useful only so far as they were profitable The colonies were enmeshed in Britain's commercial mercantile system, which was designed to finance Britain's war machine. The arrangement was essentially as follows: the colonies were to provide raw materials that British industry would turn into finished products that could then be sold back to the colonies. England looked with favor upon colonies that fit into the system. Virginia was London's favorite colony. It produced tobacco and other agricultural products that did not compete with British industry and that could be loaded onto British vessels and exported all over the world for substantial profit. In addition, Virginia did not have advanced industry, and so bought many products from the old country: clothes, linens, shoes, and the like.
New England, however, was not satisfactory from England's perspective. The Puritans discovered that it was far cheaper to produce finished products at home than to pay the cost of importing them from England. Moreover, the Puritan products were often superior to those of British industries, which had grown somewhat fat and lazy under the protection of monopoly trade laws. The Puritans were building and sailing their own ships that were faster and better than the British ships, and they had no qualms about moving into British markets. In response, Parliament began to pass a patchwork of irksome laws, directed at New England, such as the Molasses Act of 1733, which interrupted the Puritan rum business by placing a stiff tariff on molasses from the French and Spanish West Indies. The law was calculated to punish three long-time enemies of the Crown: the French, the Spanish, and the Puritans. But the Puritan merchants simply ignored the law, smuggling the molasses past customs officials and trading for it in the under-ground market. Massachusetts also had its own money - the "pine-tree" shilling-which was honored in the colonies to the endless irritation of the British authorities.
From the days of its founding, New England wanted no part of the British system, had no desire to finance its empire, and above all wanted no part of the Anglican Church. The Crown was constantly threatening to install bishops in the colonies to administer their churches according to acceptable English ways. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, originally established in 1701 by the Anglican Church for the purpose of converting the Indians, had become, by the middle of the 18th century, an instrument for bringing America's Protestant dissidents into communion with the English Church. Congregational, Presbyterian, and Baptist ministers would respond to every rumor of London imposing bishops on them with flurries of impassioned sermons, scathing editorials in such papers as The Boston Gazette, and shrill pamphlets denouncing the proposal. When the Reverend Jonathan Boucher, an Anglican rector from Annapolis, returned to England in 1775, he said the issue of bishops was the backbone of the revolutionary cause. According to historian Arthur L. Cross, "The efforts of the Episcopalians to push their plan [to install bishops in America] was at least one of the causes tending to accentuate the growing alienation between Great Britain and her colonial subjects beyond the seas which prepared the ground for revolution soon to follow." And it was in New England that the sentiment for revolution was most fervent. The ministers and civil leaders of the towns along the Eastern Seaboard made it clear very early that they did not want taxes and they did not want bishops.
The Reverend Jonathan Mayhew, a Harvard graduate and pastor at Boston's West Church, was passionate in his warnings of the danger the prospect of bishops presented to the colonists. Bishops, said Mayhew, were instruments for "establishing tyrannies over the bodies and souls of men." Since an Anglican bishop in those days was merely an extension of the arm of the London government - "different branches of the same plan of power," as Mayhew put it - it is easy to see how this issue triggered thought on the entire issue of when rebellion against civil authority is justified. In his famous sermon, A Discourse Concerning Unlimitted Submission, which he delivered at West Church in January 1750, Mayhew maintained that the people are bound by Scripture to obey only just authorities. His sermon was an answer to those who cite Romans 13:1-3 as an argument for unquestioned, passive obedience to the government. It is "blasphemy," he said "to call tyrants and oppressors God's ministers. . .
"It is unquestionably the duty of children to submit to their parents; and of servants to their masters. But no one asserts that it is their duty to obey and submit to them in all supposable cases; or universally a sin to resist them. Now does this tend to subvert the just authority of parents and masters? Or to introduce confusion and anarchy into private families? No. How then does the same principle tend to unhinge the government of that larger family, the body politic? We know, in general, that children and servants are obliged to obey their parents and masters respectively. We know also, with equal certainty, that they are not obliged to submit to them in all things, without exception; but may, in some cases, reasonably, and therefore in nocently, resist them."
Mayhew's sermon was published and widely circulated in pamphlet form. There was a Lockean ring to his words. But he was mainly concerned with bringing his politics in line with principles in Scripture: "What unprejudiced man can think that God made ALL to be thus subservient to the lawless pleasure and frenzy of ONE, so that it shall always be a sin to resist him! Nothing but the most plain and express revelation from heaven could make a sober impartial man believe such a monstrous, unaccountable doctrine, and, indeed, the thing itself appears so shocking- so out of all proportion, that it may be questioned whether all the miracles that ever were wrought could make it credible, that this doctrine really came from God. At present, there is not the least syllable of Scripture which gives any countenance to it."
In the pamphlet version of his sermon, it is evident that Mayhew came under some criticism for bringing politics so blatantly into the pulpit; he attached a preface explaining his rationale for doing so: "It is hoped that but few will think the subject an improper one to be discoursed on in the pulpit under a notion that this is preaching politics instead of Christ. However, to remove all prejudices of this sort, I beg it may be remembered that All Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). Why then should not those parts of Scripture which relate to civil government be examined and explained from the desk... Civil tyranny is usually small in its beginning, like ‘the drop of a bucket,' till at length, like a mighty torrent, or the raging waves of the sea, it bears down on all before it, and deluges whole countries and empires."
Mayhew is considered by many to be a prophet of the American Revolution. Most Americans were in fact still quite happy to be in the empire at this time. But Mayhew in 1750 had fired the first volley, and his sermon set forth both the inteHectual and Scriptural justification for viewing British policy with jaundiced eye, and for beginning to think about possible rebellion. Though he was much criticized for his inflammatory rhetoric by some, his words rang true with many others, especially in 1762, when Parliament voted to station 10,000 British troops in the colonies. The British said the troops were necessary to provide adequate protection for the people of North America. Their real purpose, however, was to enforce existing trade laws, in particular the Sugar Act. The Archbishop of Canterbury added fuel to the fire in 1763 when he issued a formal recommendation to the King to begin appointing colonial bishops. Over these issues James Otis and Samuel Adams made names for themselves and launched their careers as revolutionaries.
James Otis, a prosperous Boston lawyer, fired another shot across the bow of England's colonial mercantile policy when he objected to British customs officials being granted authority, with so-called writs of assistance, to enter people's homes, ships, or shops at any time to search for smuggled goods. Writs of assistance were unlike search warrants, which require justification for a search as well as a list of specific items being sought.
Otis resigned his post as the king's advocate general in 1761 to argue against the writs on principles of the laws of God and nature. His speech before the Court, presided over by the newly appointed Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, took Mayhew's sermons another step toward the codification of a coherent revolutionary ideology. "A man who is quiet and orderly is as secure in his house as a prince in his castle," said Otis, arguing that "should an Act of Parliament be against any of His [God's] natural laws . . . their declaration would be contrary to eternal truth, equity and justice, and consequently void." The views of the "English government towards the colonies and the views of the colonies towards the British government," he said, are "directly in opposition to each other." He warned England to "give up its pretensions" of complete dominion over the colonies, or there would be a violent "collision." A young John Adams, who was in the audience, said "Otis was a flame of fire,; . . the seeds of patriots and heroes were then and there sown.
Otis later extended his arguments at a town meeting in Boston and published them in a pamphlet entitled Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. Though Otis profusely quoted John Locke throughout his treatise, he took issue with the notion that government is an arbitrary contrivance of men, dependent, as Locke suggested, upon a compact between men. Certainly, said Otis, there must be a compact, but for a compact to "have any solid foundation," it must be planted "in the unchangeable will of God, the author of nature, whose laws never vary." Government is "most evidently founded on the necessities of our nature. It is by no means an arbitrary thing, depending merely on compact of human will for existence. We come into the world forlorn and helpless; and if left alone and to ourselves at any one period in our lives, we should soon die in want, despair or distraction . . We have a King, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, but eternally watches for our good; whose rain falls on the just and unjust".1 Locke actually believed this as well and would have found no fault with Otis's assertions. But Otis wanted to make crystal clear to British authorities the identity of America's true King.
Otis warned, "Tyranny of all kinds is to be abhorred, whether it be in the hands of one, or of the few, or of the many . . . The power of God Almighty is the only power that can properly and strictly be called supreme and absolute. In order of nature immediately under Him comes the power of simple democracy, or the power of the whole over the whole. Subordinate to both these are all other political powers."
Otis articulated the case for diffusion rather than concentration of power in the hands of one or a few men: "It is the greatest idolatry, begotten by flattery, on the body of pride that could induce one to think that a single mortal should be able to hold so great a power, if ever so well inclined. Hence the origin of deifying princes: It was from the trick of gulling the vulgar into a belief that their tyrants were omniscient; and that it was therefore right that they should be considered omnipotent."
The purpose of government, said Otis, must be the protection of life, liberty, and property: "There is no one act which a government can have a right to make that does not tend to the advancement of the security, tranquility and prosperity of the -people. If life, liberty and property could be enjoyed in as great perfection in solitude, as in society, there would be no need of government." Quite clearly Otis would not consider compelling people through taxation to finance Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, welfare, or Urban Development Block Grants, to be a legitimate government function. "Government is founded on the necessities of human nature and ultimately on the will of God, the author of nature." But, said Otis, "it is left to every man as he comes of age to choose what society he will continue to belong to. Nay if one has a mind to turn hermit, and after he has been born, nursed, and brought up in the arms of society, and acquired the habits and passions of social life, is willing to run the risk of starving alone, which is generally unavoidable in a state of hermitage, who shall hinder him? I know of no human law, founded on the law of nature, to restrain him from separating himself from all species if he can find it in his heart to leave them.. . The grand political problem in all ages has been to invent the best combination or distribution of the supreme powers of legislation and execution. Those states have made the greatest figure, and have been most durable in which those powers have not only been separated from each other, but placed each in more hands than one, or a few." The Romans, said Otis, "never had a proper balance between the senate and the people, and the want of this is generally agreed by the few who know anything of the matter to have been the cause of their fall."
Otis' pamphlet was a sensation. It was printed in The Boston Gazette as well as in London. The Massachusetts legislative assembly adopted some of the most poignant excerpts in a resolution protesting arbitrary taxation imposed by the Sugar Act. Some in Parliament and the King's Court must have thought Otis' words to be wild ranting. England had forgotten the principles of government that had been won over the course of two Revolutions: the Puritan Revolution that established the supremacy of God's fixed laws over all government, even the king; and the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that established Parliament as the supreme legislative authority and codified a body of inalienable rights and privileges held by the people.
But England, by the middle of the 18th century, had grown corrupt during its period of unparalleled prosperity and military grandeur, and did little more than pay lip service to the great principles of liberty and justice enshrined in the Declaration of Rights. To the average American, Britain was nothing more than a policeman, an arbitrary and capricious one at that, whose only apparent function was to present the colonials with a growing list of prohibitions. Otis's pamphlet could not have been published at a worse time for the British, who had just passed the Revenue Act of 1764 and were putting the finishing touches on the notorious Stamp Act of 1765. For as Otis had said: "The sum of my argument is that civil government is of God... [and] that no parts of His Majesty's dominions can be taxed without consent."
The Revenue Act, in addition to taxing sugar, levied duties on wine, silk, linen, leather, and coffee. Though these were primarily luxury items, many colonists relied on them as currency to exchange for life's necessities. The Stamp Act of 1765, which levied duties on tea and glass, raised the greatest uproar yet. Also taxed were newspapers and all legal documents, including land deeds, college diplomas, liquor licenses, and dona tions to churches, schools, and colleges. Worst of all, every tax-able document had to be printed on special stamped paper sold by official distributors certifying the tax had been paid. The incredibly cumbersome government machinery needed to implement the law was almost beyond belief.
"If the colonist is taxed without his consent," warned one New York newspaper, "he will perhaps seek change." As Richard Henry Lee of Virginia put it: "The ways of Heaven are inscrutable"; concluding: "This step of the mother country, though intended to secure our dependence, may produce a fatal resentment and be subversive of that end." Meanwhile, James Otis was making speeches all over Massachusetts, calling on the people to oppose the tyrannical laws, especially the Stamp Act. "One single act of Parliament," he said, "we find has set people a thinking in six months more than they had done in their whole lives before."
"Otis everywhere appeared the principal," wrote the Governor of Massachusetts, Francis Bernard in 1766, alarmed at the unruly behavior of the colonists, who in every town along the Eastern Seaboard had begun rioting, terrorizing customs officials and burning the dreaded stamp paper. Otis, lamented Governor Bernard, "was the chief director, chamber council, counsellor at the bar, popular haranguer and assembly orator . . .I desire not to revive the disputes concerning the Stamp Act; I wish they were buried beyond the reach of memory."
Otis's brilliant oratory inspired Samuel Adams to help mobilize the Sons of Liberty, which was to become the central organizing vehicle for the American Revolution. Adams and Otis were masters of political agitation, organizing leaders of churches as well as street gangs. On August 14, 1765, some Patriots hanged an effigy of newly appointed stamp paper distributor Andrew Oliver. Dangling next to Oliver was a boot with a devil crawling out of it. A squad of law enforcement officers arrived to arrest the rioters, but fled in fright when they saw the size of the mob. The crowd took the effigy down, proceeded to the stamp office, destroyed it, and then marched to Oliver's house. Oliver had long since departed to a royal fort in Boston Harbor. The mob was not interested in bloodshed, but frightened some of Oliver's friends when they beheaded Oliver's effigy and set it on fire.
Patriot rabble threatened customs officials everywhere, sometimes forcing them to eat the stamp paper. In New York, Lieutenant Governor Colden took refuge on a British ship after a mob broke into his house and forced the people there to burn the stamp paper. When an Anglican cleric in New York used a sermon to advocate loyalty to the King, Patriot William Livingston retorted: "The people are the Lord's anointed. Though named ‘mob' and ‘rabble,' the people are the darlings of Providence." "Power is a sad thing," proclaimed the Presbyterians of Philadelphia. "Our mother should remember we are children, not slaves." "When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them," said Congregationalists in the North, "the people answered the king, saying: ‘What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; to your tents, 0 Israel! Now look after your own house, David!"' (1 Kings 12:16).
Such was the feeling throughout the colonies. So spontaneous and widespread was the outpouring of sentiment against the Stamp Act that Otis and Adams actually found their primary task was to control the protests, lest they become violent and un- dermine the cause of liberty they were meant to defend. Indeed, says historian Samuel Eliot Morison, "no blood was shed anywhere" by the rioters during the Stamp Act crisis.
Samuel Adams was a Calvinist "of the strictest sect," says historian George Bancroft. He was a member of Boston's Congregational church. Evening and morning in his house was a place of prayer and, says Bancroft, "no one more revered the Sabbath. He was a tender husband, an affectionate parent the walls of his modest mansion never witnessed anything inconsistent with the discipline of a man whose desire for his birthplace was that ‘Boston might become a Christian Sparta."' Inspired by Adams's and Otis's example, Sons of Liberty organizations sprouted in virtually every major town in every colony. Many were led by people who would prove to be the most luminous leaders in American history. Before Virginia's assembly, Patrick Henry in May 1765 made a famous speech- "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell" - which inspired a vitriolic set of resolves by the Virginia assembly condemning the Stamp Act taxes.
Adams, Otis, and their followers saw an opportunity to demonstrate to the British a united colonial opposition. Upon their urging, Massachusetts sent a circular letter in June 1765, inviting all the colonies to send delegates to a Congress, which would convene in October in New York City. Twenty-seven rep- resentatives from nine colonies responded, demonstrating that the Americans were capable of united action when pressed. In attendance at the gathering, known as the Stamp Act Congress, were such luminaries as John Dickinson of Pennsylvania; Thomas Lynch, Christopher Gradsden, and John Rutledge of the Carolinas; Daniel Dulany of Maryland; Eliphalet Dyer and William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut; Robert and Philip Livingston of New York. A delegate from Delaware, Caesar Rodney, declared it "an assembly of the greatest ability I ever saw.
The Congress passed a set of resolutions demanding that Parliament repeal the Stamp Act immediately, asserting the right to trial by a july of one's peers and that only their own representatives in their own legislatures had the right to levy taxes on the colonies. This was a fateful day for British rule, because from that moment on the colonies would work in concert to defy British claims to legislative authority over North America.
The Sons of Liberty of Providence, Rhode Island, sent circular letters to all the colonies, saying: "We shall be ready at all times not only to vindicate ourselves. . . from lawless might, but as occasion may require to give aid to the other colonies for the rescuing them from every attempt against their liberties." And in December 1765, delegates of the Connecticut Sons met with New York Sons to form a mutual defense agreement, pledging to "match with the utmost dispatch . . . with their whole force if required . . to the relief of those that shall, are, or may be in danger from the Stamp Act." Boycotts of English goods were organized. American merchant ships sailed with unstamped cargos. And from the pulpit in Boston, Mayhew preached: "The Gospel promises liberty and permits resistance."
It did not much matter that Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766 as unenforceable. For the Sons of Liberty had demonstrated their ability to organize a rebellion and had caused the fall of the ministry of Richard Grenville, who had come under political fire in England for his inept handling of colonial policy. After the Stamp Act repeal, the Reverend Jonathan Mayhew wrote a letter to Otis, which suggested structuring their political organization according to the Congregational Church model. "You have heard," he wrote, "about the communion of churches; while I was thinking of this in my bed, the great use and importance of a communion of colonies appeared to me in strong light. Would it not be decorous for our assembly to send circulars to all the rest, expressing a desire to cement union among ourselves? A good foundation for this has been laid by the Congress at New York; never losing sight of it may be a means of perpetuating our liberties."
It is a shame that Mayhew died shortly thereafter. For no one better understood that the future of America's success lay in the idea of small federated republics patterned after the primitive churches in the New Testament, and governed according to laws that have the consent of the people. America would be a nation of decentralized authority and voluntary associations; or, as far as these radical Protestant Patriots were concerned, there would be no human authorities whatsoever.
Not long after the repeal of the Stamp Act, Charles Townsend, the ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer (Britain's version of Treasury Secretary) chastised Parliament: "Fear! Cowards! Dare not tax America! I dare tax America!" Townsend was pompous, vain, and conceited. He was, said Edmund Burke, "a statesman who has left nothing but errors to account for his fame." He was contemptuous of the colonists, but he was eloquent in speech. His orations in the House of Commons often lasted more than an hour. "I would govern the Americans . . . I would restrain their trade and their manufactures as subor dinate to the mother country," he declared. "I dare tax America! I will! I will!" And tax America he did.
Passed in June 1767, the Townsend Act imposed stiff duties on all English products entering the colonies: tea, paper, glass, and other materials. Moreover, Townsend proclaimed, these taxes would be enforced with rigor. Violators would be tried without a jury by judges who received their pay from the duties collected. An especially odious feature of the Townsend duties was that revenue collected financed the administration of the colonies, paying the salaries of soldiers, policemen, judges, and governors. In other words, a major aim of the law was to force the colonists to pay for their jailers.
One effect of the Townsend duties was to cause an American depression. Just prior to the passing of this act, Parliament had enacted the Declaratory Act, which rejected the colonial position that Parliament's powers were in any way limited with regard to the administration of America, stating: Parliament had "full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever."
As usual, it was the people of Boston who took the lead in expressing resentment, and re-instituting boycotts of English products. "The die is thrown," cried one Boston Patriot. "We will form an immediate combination to eat nothing, drink nothing, wear nothing imported from Great Britain... Our strength consists in union; let us above all be of one heart and one mind; let us call on our sister colonies to join with us in asserting our rights." The Sons of Liberty's information and organizational apparatus once again cranked into full gear and launched a vigorous campaign to win support for their boycott. The Boston Gazette, under the editorship of Sons of Liberty member Benjamin Edes, filled its pages with screeching broadsides against the taxes.
The New York Gazette, ordinarily more circumspect in tone, published an article by William Livingston, significant because Livingston was from a powerful, aristocratic family, which under normal circumstances would not be expected to mix with the rabble-rousing Protestant dissidents of New England. Livingston wrote: "Courage Americans . . . the finger of God points out a mighty empire to your sons. The savages of wilderness were never expelled to make room for idolaters and slaves. The land we possess is a gift of Heaven to our fathers. Divine Providence seems to have decreed it to our latest posterity. The day dawns in which the foundation of this mighty empire is to be laid by the establishment of a regular American Constitution. All that has hitherto been done seem to be little besides this collection of materials for the construction of this glorious fabric. ‘Tis time to put them together . . . Our growth is so vast," said Livingston, "that before seven years roll over our heads the first stone must be laid-Peace or war: famine or plenty; poverty or affluence . . . What an era this is to America; and how loud the call to violence and activity!"
The Puritan merchants, artisans, craftsmen, and preachers of New England needed to persuade men of substance of the justice of their cause. Men such as Livingston had much to lose from revolution. That he had virtually advocated war against Great Britain meant America was on the brink of explosion.
John Dickinson of Pennsylvania joined in the chorus. A prosperous lawyer and gentleman farmer who was married to a rich Quaker, Dickinson during the winter of 1767-68 wrote a series of letters, modestly titled "A Farmer's Letters to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies." Published in newspapers throughout the colonies, Dickinson's essays were among the best expositions of colonial rights that had yet appeared.
"Our vigilance and our union are success and safety. Our negligence and our division are distress and death," he wrote. "Let us consider ourselves as men - freemen - Christian freemen - separated from the world, and firmly bound together by the same rights, interests and dangers.
"Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds-that we cannot be happy without being free - that we cannot be free without being secure in our property, if without our consent others may, as by right, take it away - that taxes imposed on us by Parliament do thus take it away - that duties laid for the sole purpose of raising money are taxes - that attempts to lay such duties should be instantly and firmly opposed - that this opposition can never be effectual unless it is the united effort of these provinces...
"The belief in these truths, I verily think, my countrymen, is indispensably necessary to your happiness. I beseech you, therefore, teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your houses, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up
The "prosperity [of the colonies] does not depend on ministerial favors doled out to particular provinces. They form one political body, of which each colony is a member. Their happiness is founded on their constitution, and is to be promoted by preserving that constitution2 in unabated vigor, throughout every part. A spot, a speck of decay, however small the limb on which it appears, and however remote it may seem from the vitals, should be alarming...
"Let us take care of our rights, and we therein take care of our prosperity." For "slavery is ever preceded by sleep . . . If we are not affected by any reverence for the memory of our ancestors who transmitted to us that freedom in which they had been blessed-if we are not animated by any regard for posterity, to whom, by the most sacred obligations, we are bound to deliver down the invaluable inheritance, then indeed any minister, or any tool of a minister, or any creature of a tool of a minister, or any lower instrument of administration, if lower there be, is a personage whom it may be dangerous to offend.
"Whatever kind of minister he is that attempts to innovate a single iota in the privileges of these colonies, him I hope you will undauntedly oppose. . . On such emergencies you may surely, without presumption, believe that Almighty God Himself will look down upon your righteous contest with gracious approbation. You will be a band of brothers, cemented by the dearest ties, and strengthened with inconceivable supplies of force and constancy, by that sympathetic ardor, which animates good men, confederated in a single cause... You are assigned by Divine Providence in the appointed order of things, the protectors of unborn ages, whose fate depends on your virtue."
Liberty and virtue, in Dickinson's mind, were indissolubly connected. When states lose their liberty, he said, "this calamity is generally owing to the decay of virtue."
Widely published, Dickinson's letters had momentous impact. English politicians studied every sentence and waited with nervous anticipation for each of the 12 epistles to appear in order to gauge the mood of the colonies. It was clear that the Americans were not accepting the taxes with aplomb. "My Lord," wrote Massachusetts Governor Bernard to the English authorities, "this is not a fictitious argument, but a real one." As eloquently as any, Dickinson had provided more intellectual and moral ammunition for liberty.
But Samuel Adams understood that activists are motivated more by emotion than logic. A master agitator, he invented symbols and organized street theater to keep the masses involved. There was dancing around the Liberty Tree, which was a large elm in Boston Common. Effigies of unpopular customs officials and tax collectors were hung and burned. He and James Otis asked John Dickinson, who had proven himself so eloquent in prose, to compose an American freedom song to be sung at demonstrations. Dickinson obliged, and this is what he produced:
Come join hand in hand, brave Americans all;
And rouse your bold hearts at fair Liberty's call.
No tyrannous acts shall suppress your just claim;
Or stain with dishonor America's name.
In freedom we're born and in freedom we'll live; Our purses are ready, Steady, Friends, steady.
Not as slaves, but as freemen our money we'll give.
Then join in hand brave Americans all;
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.
To die we can bear, but to serve we disdain.
For shame is to freemen more dreadful than pain.
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Published by the Christian Defense Fund.
© Copyright 1997 by the Christian Defense Fund. All rights reserved.
© Copyright 1988, Benjamin Hart