« AnteriorContinua »
that he did not wish the Repeal of the Stamp Act, but for it to remain with such modifications as Parliament should judge necessary. Of enforcing or repealing, he preferred repealing. It is quite possible that if his views had been followed the interval for discussion might have postponed the evil day.
iii. Colonial Governments and Mob Law.-Yet the greater question behind the Act gave very little opening for conciliation. Franklin proposed to draw a line between the local assemblies and the mob. The proceedings of the assemblies have been very different from those of the mobs and should be distinguished, he says, as having no connection with each other. The connection lay in the impotence of the assemblies to control the mobs, or to punish disorder, or to cease incitements on their own part to rebellion. The Assembly of Virginia, after the passing of the Stamp Act, asserted in 1755 the exclusive right of the assembly to lay taxes and impositions on the inhabitants of that colony and that every attempt to vest such a power elsewhere is “illegal, unconstitutional and unjust, and has a manifest tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom.” (Grenville Papers, Vol. III., p. 78, note.) The difficulty of repealing the Stamp Act, writes a physician from Rhode Island, whose house had been pulled down by the mob, was greatly increased by the conduct of the colonies, who continued to assist and cooperate in embarrassing the administration who have undertaken it (the repeal) against opposers that were very considerable and powerful in respect of their quality, capacity, connections and influence, and who lost not the shadow of any opportunity to prevent or retard the repeal (ibid., 1766). In October of the same year Whately, writing to George Grenville, tells him of the events in Boston in consequence of the Stamp Act, and that in Rhode Island the collector of customs and distributors of the stamps had been obliged to take refuge on board ship.
The actions of the American mobs, encouraged by Pitt and other influential men, have to be considered by the side of the riots in Great Britain, sometimes encouraged by the Whig leaders, as asserted by Lord North at the time. In May, 1765, there was a riot of the weavers, the House of Lords having rejected the Silk Bill. They violently attacked the house of the Duke of Bedford. Henry Fox, Lord Holland, says Walpole, dropped to me these remarkable words, “what an artful man might do with these mobs." The disappointed friend of humanity in the Anti-Jacobin, “ I give thee sixpence ? I will see thee damned first, wretch who no sense of wrong can rouse to vengeance,” is a good picture of the eighteenthcentury demagogue.
In 1766 there were very serious riots on account of the high price of provisions. In 1768 the mob, shouting “Wilkes and Liberty,” for neither of which Dr. Johnson cared, tampered with the discipline of the Army, and tried to rescue Wilkes on his way to prison. He being sent to gaol, they pulled up the rails, made a bonfire, compelled people to illuminate, and committed many outrages. The magistrates, trying to read the Riot Act, were pelted with stones and bricks, and the soldiers, being assaulted, and firing and killing in return, were prosecuted. The King stood by them. The journeymen tailors also rioted. Wilkes was called to the bar of the House to answer scurrilous remarks in a letter to Lord Weymouth. King George, with good sense, took the measure of the demagogue. “I could have wished Wilkes had not been ordered before the House, for he must be in a jail the next term, if not given new life by some punishment inflicted on him which will bring him new supplies"-an event which happened. In the absence of any police only very reluctant military action could be taken.
As an illustration of this mob law Walpole told a story of an attack made by the coalheavers on one Green, who had an official position as agent in a dispute between coalworkers and coalheavers. Green, a maid, and a sailor defended the house and killed eighteen of them. Green, tried for murder, was acquitted ; seven of the coalheavers were hanged. Yet while Green had to conceal himself, his sister was attacked by the brutes, their faces covered with crape, dragged into the street and murdered. The siege lasted nine hours, the Guards coming at five in the morning. In 1769 the riots of the Spitalfield weavers led to the execution of some of them. Lord Villiers, writing to the Duke of Grafton in 1765, says :
The weavers assembled again yesterday, much more riotously than the day before ; they attempted to pull down Bedford House; and at last the Horse Guards were ordered to give them a general charge.
After this the mob adjourned to Carr, the mercer's house, which perhaps by this time may be quite down; the last I heard of them was that they had begun upon it, and the Lord Mayor had applied for a battalion of Guards."
With so great difficulty in controlling the mobs of London it was natural that the ministers should hesitate to take strong measures against the mobs of Boston, especially as the loud voice of the ex-dictator Pitt was raised in their favour. Meanwhile, the Boston mob completely terrorized the loyal and orderly elements, forced the stamp officers by threats and violence to resign, attacked, robbed and destroyed houses, including that of the Lieut.-Governor, where they destroyed a collection of most valuable manuscripts, and the houses of the Marshal, Surveyor of the Port, Registrar-General of the Admiralty, and Controller of the Customs, plundering the plate and money, seizing the ships, and tarring and feathering officers and loyal men. There was no power to repress the riot, as the militia themselves were part of the mob. Then, on March 18th, 1766, came in the Rockingham ministry and repealed the Stamp Act with a declaration of the right to tax. On the motion for repeal it was proposed to “explain and amend " instead of repeal, but this was refused by 275 to 167. The repeal was no doubt received with relief by the British merchants, as the colonists had formed associations to exclude British goods, and had refused to pay their debts to British merchants. Petitions against the Act had been presented by colonial assemblies and London merchants, but owing to a rule of the House of Commons, forbidding the reception of petitions on money bills, they were put aside.
But the effect of the repeal was to destroy, once for all, all authority of the British government over the revolted provinces. “What country, what town, what profession, what order of men would submit to the most legal impositions, if government once showed itself afraid, and recoiled as soon as force was used to reject the duty ?” writes Walpole in England. “In the present case the insult was unparalleled and accompanied by every kind of aggravating circumstance." “Nothing," says Ramsay, the historian of South Carolina
“could have been more impolitic than this repeal, provided the ministry of England seriously intended to resume the scheme of an American revenue: and nothing more wise, had the idea been for ever dropped. This concession had the effect of inspiring the Americans with high ideas of the necessity of their trade to Great Britain." The immense European expansion of trade was awakening the colonist to his advantages of cheap raw material for manufacture, freedom from social burdens, and opportunities for evading port duties. In future he holds the loss of his trade as a whip over the head of the British Parliament. From henceforth the taxation of these colonies means only a conflict between the interests of the British manufacturer and the American trader, smuggler, exporter and farmer. Yet it was the British manufacturer and exporter who, from the fear of losing his trade, forced the repeal.
Before leaving this part of the subject I must call attention to the beastly cruelty and torture used to crush the loyalists and to prevent the king's officers from carrying out their duties by the obscene patriots of America, tarring and feathering. It must have been effectual in bringing over to the side of revolution many of the loyal colonists who felt no grievance. Except for the scalping by the Indians and the pitch caps used a little later by the British on the Irish, it was the most horrible form of torture used. The wretched officer or prominent citizen, stripped naked, covered with tar and rolled in feathers, had to escape from the “patriots” whom Chatham and the Whigs were lauding and hounding on, to spend days in removing the beastliness from his body. Mr. Gascoigne in Parliament, speaking in 1774 of Boston, says, “ They have other modes of punishment which they make use of by way of argument and reason; the house of any person with whom they are displeased they immediately daub over with excrement and tar, by which means the whole family is obliged to quit it ” (P.H., XVII). Was it any wonder that the revolt grew and prospered, and that the authority three thousand miles away was powerless to suppress it? The men who did these vile acts were not, like the riff-raff of the French Revolution, men with a long past of suffering and despair behind them; "every inhabitant,” says Ramsay, "was or
might easily become a freeholder. No ecclesiastical establishment invoked the rights of conscience or fettered the freeborn mind.” They had no cause for their cruelty, which was the result of cowardice, of a baseless fear. Neither British nor American children ought to be taught to admire them or the men who encouraged or applauded their acts.
Why were not these beastly acts of violence checked by the local authority without waiting for British interference ? The helplessness of the governor, of the magistrates and civil power in face of the terrorism of the mob, and the relation of the governor to the militia and the army, is the key to all that precedes actual war. The assembly at Boston" grants the support of power only from year to year, and the taxes paying all the officers of government as it was suggested they intend to do ” would destroy the illegal influence of the lawyers who, dominating the assembly, were too strong for the executive powers of government (P.H., XVI., 121). In December, 1772, in a debate on a clause in the Mutiny Bill for regulating Courts Martial in America, Governor Pownall made a vigorous protest on the ground that, as he alleged, the army in America was established contrary to law and to the constitution. “Let your military Commander-in-Chief have by law a power of holding Courts Martial they have not, but which they have exercised under wrested interpretations of law, contrary to and in disseizance of the legal and constitutional powers of the supreme civil magistrate.” The position of the governor as it appeared to the British Parliament is well illustrated in the debate on the closing of the port of Boston in 1774. The officer in command in Boston wrote that he was not called on by the magistrates, but that, if he had, he could have stopped the riot, but not without some bloodshed and firing upon their town and killing many innocent people.
Burke enquires, Did not the governor at once send for assistance? Why did not the governor exercise his authority ? Why did not the ships execute their duty ? What was the reason they did not ? And he blames Lord North for
behind the legislative authority “instead of executing a salutary massacre of Bostonians on his own responsibility.” Lord North gives the answer : It appears (P.H., XVII., 1192) that the civil magistrate has been for a