Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE COLONIES MEET IN CONGRESS. ROCKINGHAM ADMINIS

TRATION.

OCTOBER, 1765.

The cry was the harbinger of an American congress.

The delegates of South Carolina — Gadsden, who 26. never practised disguise; the upright and eloquent

John Rutledge; Lynch, who combined good sense, patriotism, and honesty with conciseness of speech and dignity of manner — arrived first at its place of meeting. In New Jersey, where the lawyers were resolved to forego all business rather than purchase a stamp, a little delay in the organization of its house of representatives gave them time to imitate the example of Delaware.

While they were waiting, on the third day of October, the last stamp officer north of the Potomac, the stubborn John Hughes, a Quaker of Philadelphia, as he lay desperately ill, heard the beating of muffled drums through the city, the ringing of the muffled state house bell, and the trampling feet of the people assembling to demand his resignation. His illness obtained for him some forbearance; but his written promise was extorted not to do any thing that should have the least tendency to put the stamp act into execution in Pennsylvania or Delaware; and he announced to the governor his “resignation.” “If Great Britain cap or will suffer such conduct to pass unpunished,” thus he wrote to the commissioners of stamps, “a man need not be a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, to see clearly that her empire in North America is at an end.”

On Monday, the seventh of October, delegates chosen

1765.

by the house of representatives of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and South Carolina; delegates named by a written requisition from the individual representatives of Delaware and New Jersey; and the legislative committee of correspondence of New York, met at New York in congress. New 100 Hampshire, though not present by deputy, agreed to abide by the result; and they were gladdened during their session by the arrival of the messenger from Georgia, sent near a thousand miles by land to obtain a copy of their proceedings.

The members of this first union of the American people were elected by representatives of each separate colony; and, notwithstanding great differences in their respective population and extent of territory, they recognised each other as equals, “ without the least claim of pre-eminence one over the other.”

The congress entered directly on the consideration of the safest groundwork on which to rest the collective American liberties. Should they build on charters or natural justice, on precedents and fact or abstract truth, on special privileges or universal reason? Otis was instructed by Boston to support not only the liberty of the colonies, but also chartered rights; and Johnson, of Connecticut, submitted a paper, which pleaded charters from the crown. But Robert R. Livingston, of New York, “the goodness of whose heart set him above prejudices, and equally comprehended all mankind,” would not place the hope of America on that foundation; and Gadsden, of South Carolina, spoke against it with irresistible impetuosity. “A confirmation of our essential and common rights as Englishmen,” thus he himself reports his sentiments, “ may be pleaded from charters safely enough ; but any further dependence upon them may be fatal. We should stand upon the broad common ground of those natural rights that we all feel and know as men, and as descendants of Englishmen. I wish the charters may not ensnare us at last, by drawing different colonies to act differently in this great cause. Whenever that is the case, all will be over with the whole. There ought to be no

[ocr errors]

New England man, no New-Yorker, known on the continent, but all of us Americans.”

These views prevailed; and, in the proceedings of the congress, the argument for American liberty from royal grants was avoided. This is the first great step towards

independence. Dummer had pleaded for colony char1765.

ters; Livingston, Gadsden, and the congress of 1765

provided for Americans self-existence and union, by claiming rights that preceded charters and would survive their ruin.

And how would that union extend? What nations would be included in the name of Americans? Even while congress were deliberating, the prairies of Illinois, the great eastern valley of the Mississippi, with all its solitudes, in which futurity would summon the eager millions of so many tongues to build happy homes, passed from the sway of France into the temporary custody of England.

The French officers had, since the peace, been ready loyally to surrender the country to the English. But the Illinois, the Missouri, and the Osage tribes would not consent. At a council held in the spring of 1765 at Fort Chartres, the chief of the Kaskaskias, turning to the English officer, said : “Go hence, and tell your chief that the Illinois and all our brethren will make war on you, if you come upon our lands. Away, and tell your chief that these lands are ours; no one can claim them, not even the other red men. Tell your chief that we will have no English here, and that this is the mind of all the red men. Go, and never return, or our wild warriors will make you

fall."

But when Fraser, who arrived from Pittsburg, brought proofs that their elder brothers, the Senecas, the Delawares, and the Shawnees, had made peace with the English, the Kaskaskias said: “We follow as they shall lead.” “I waged this war," said Pontiac, “because, for two years together, the Delawares and Shawnees begged me to take up arms against the English. So I became their ally, and was of their mind ;” and, resisting no longer, he plighted his word for peace, and kept it with integrity.

A just curiosity may ask how many persons of foreign lineage had gathered in the valley of the Illinois since its discovery by the missionaries. Fraser was told that there were of white men, able to bear arms, seven hundred; of white women, five hundred; of their children, 1765. eight hundred and fifty; of negroes of both sexes, nine hundred. The banks of the Wabash, we learn from another source, were occupied by about one hundred and ten French families, most of which were at Vincennes. Fraser sought to overawe the French traders with the menace of an English army that was to come among them; but they pointed to the Mississippi, beyond which they would be safe from English jurisdiction. As he embarked for New Orleans, Pontiac again gave him assurances of continuing peace, if the Shawnees and other nations on the Ohio would recall their war-belts.

With Croghan, an Indian agent, who followed from Fort Pitt, the Illinois nations, and Pontiac himself, agreed that the English should take possession of all the posts which the French formerly held ; and Captain Stirling, with one hundred men of the forty-second regiment, was detached down the Ohio, to relieve the French garrison. At Fort Chartres, St. Ange, who had served for fifty years in the wilderness, gave them a friendly reception; and in the fall of the leaf, on the morning of the tenth of October, he surrendered to them the left bank of the Mississippi.

Some of the French crossed the river, so that at St. Genevieve there were at least five-and-twenty families; while St. Louis, whose origin dates from the fifteenth of February, 1764, and whose skilfully chosen site attracted the admiration of the British commander, already counted about twice that number, and ranked as the leading settlement on the western side of the Mississippi. In the English portion of the distant territory, the government then instituted was the absolute rule of the British army, with a local judge to decide all disputes among the inhabitants according to the customs of the country, yet subject to an appeal to the military chief.

Thus France, as she retired from the valley of the Missis

them the let the French crosfeast five-and-t

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

sippi, cast behind no look of longing. The Duke de Choi

seul, who at that time was minister of the marine and : for the colonies, repressed regrets for the cession. He

saw that America must soon become independent, predicted to his sovereign the nearness of the final struggle between England and its dependencies, and urged that France should prepare for the impending crisis by increasing its naval force.

The amiable but inexperienced men who formed the active ministry of England had been suddenly and unexpectedly brought to the administration of an empire. Of the men whose support they needed, many were among the oldest and loudest supporters of the stamp-tax. So orders were given to Bernard in Massachusetts, and elsewhere to governors, in cases of a vacancy, to act as stamp distributors; and the resolves of Virginia were reserved for the consideration of that very parliament which had passed the stamp act by a vote of five to one. Nothing was promised to America but relief to trade, where it was improperly curbed. To rouse the ministry from its indifference, Thomas Hollis, who perceived in the 6 ugly squall,” that had just reached them, the forerunner of the general hurricane, waited on Rockingham with the accounts which he had received from Mayhew, that the stamp act, and the power given to the admiralty courts to dispense with juries, were detested “as instances of grievous oppression, and scarce better than downright tyranny,” not by Boston only, but by the people throughout the continent; that the tax could never be carried into execution, unless at the point of the sword, by at least one considerable army in each province, at the hazard of the destruction of the American colonies, or their entire revolt and loss. The ministry shrunk from enforcing by arms the law which a part of them in their hearts disapproved ; and on the twenty-fourth of October, the last day but one of the session of the American congress, and only seven before the time for the stamp act to go into effect, Conway, by advice of the privy council, sent letters to the American governors and to the general, exhorting to “persuasive methods” and “ the utmost prudence and lenity.”

« ZurückWeiter »