History of the Loyalists: New Measures of Taxation Passed by Parliament

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History of the Loyalists: New Measures of Taxation Passed by Parliament
James Hannay
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HISTORY OF THE LOYALISTS NEW MEASURES OF TAXATION PASSED BY PARLIAMENT. The Quartering of Troops—The Smuggling Interest—Remonstrances From Massachusetts—Coercing the Colonial Legislatures—More Rioting in Boston —Troops Brought From Halifax to Preserve Order. BY JAMES HANNAY. CHAPTER II. A COLONIAL CIVIL LIST. The ministry of the marquis of Rockingham, by which the stamp act was repealed, had but a brief term of existence, being driven from power in July of the same year. The duke of Grafton became prime minister, while Pitt, who was created earl of Chatham, and made keeper of the privy seal, was expected to be the real leader of the ministry. The dismissal of the Rockingham cabinet was the result of a discreditable intrigue in which the king, who was always the enemy of those who held liberal views, took a prominent part. The elevation of the great commoner to the house of lords, by which he lost, to a great extent, his hold on the people, was a part of the same plan. The king was even more successful than he could have hoped to be, for soon after the new ministry was formed, Lord Chatham was attacked by a severe illness which prevented him from attending the meetings of the cabinet, and finally compelled him to retire for several years from public life. Chatham’s absence from his post led to weakness and disorganization in a ministry which had been formed of very discordant elements, and the opposition, taking advantage of this, defeated it on the budget which proposed to raise part of the revenue by a land tax. The ministry did not resign, bat Charles Townshend, the chancellor of the exchequer, an eloquent man of rash and over-bearing character, proposed to his colleagues to raise a portion of the deficiency in the revenue by a tax on certain articles in the form of import duties to be paid in the American colonies. It was not without reluctance that the cabinet yielded to this proposal, the duke of Grafton himself being decidedly against it. Townshend, however, had his way, and he brought in a bill to impose a duty upon paper, glass, painters’ colors, lead and tea imported by the Americans. This bill was passed and became law on the 29th June, 1767. Another bill became law three days later which provided for taking off a shilling a pound of the export tax on tea and granting a drawback upon all teas exported to Ireland and America. The preamble to the first mentioned act stated that these duties were imposed for the better support of the government and the administration of the colonies. One clause of the act enabled the crown to establish a general civil list throughout every province in North America, with salaries or pensions. This virtually gave the home government the control of the officials who administered justice and performed other public duties in the colonies. The same thing was done at a later period with reference to the civil list of this province, which did not come fully under the control of the legislature until more than half a century after New Brunswick was established as a separate province. The same act provided that after all such ministerial warrants for the support of the civil list had been disposed of, the residue of the revenue obtained under the act should be at the disposal of parliament to defray the expense of defending and protecting the colonies. Provision was also made for the reorganization of the colonial custom house system, and the establishment of a board of revenue commissioners, to have its seat at Boston. THE QUARTERING OF TROOPS. The colonists understood this act to mean that the number of regular troops in the colonies was to be increased, and they were confirmed in this belief by an addition which has been made to the mutiny act, when it was re-enacted in 1705. This was a clause which required the colonists to furnish the troops with "fire, candles, vinegar, salt; bedding, utensils for cooking, and liquors, such as beer, cider and rum." This provision was intended to facilitate the quartering of troops upon the inhabitants in the event of their services being required either for defensive purposes or to put down insurrection. It is clear from the easy manner in which these acts were pushed through parliament, that the representatives of the English people had no adequate idea of the spirit which prevailed in the colonies, or of the resistance which they were likely to provoke. To the colony of Massachusetts, with a population of pure English, these new laws were particularly odious. Massachusetts had been at its inception a pure democracy, the governor and other officials being elected by the people, and although this arrangement had been changed the people still-continued democratic in their views, and were certain to be auspicious of the acts of officials whom they could not control. They had also many reasons for dissatisfaction with English legislation in regard to the colonies, reasons which have been to a large extent ignored by historians who were content to find in the stamp act and the duty on tea the sole causes of the revolution. Trade was hampered by the operation of the navigation laws to a degree that can hardly be credited at this day, and colonial manufactures were suppressed. According to Sabine there were 29 acts of parliament which restricted and bound down colonial industry. Whatever their number may have been, it is certain that these laws were oppressive and injurious to the colonies. They forbade the use of water falls for manufacturing purposes, the erection of machinery, the use of looms and spindles and the working of wood and iron. Trees in the forest suitable for masts in the royal navy were forbidden to be cut down. The industry of the colonists was restrained by such legal impediments, and the more enterprising among them sought the sea as the most promising and profitable field for their labor. Even in this element the laws of navigation interposed to check them, but these laws could be and were evaded. A British customs establishment in the North American colonies was not a new thing when the act of 1767 was pasted, but the attempt to enforce it was a novelty and was certain to be resisted. Before that time there had been collectors of customs at all the principal ports, but they seldom interfered with those who undertook to evade the navigation and customs laws and these laws had become practically a dead letter. Whole cargoes were smuggled at once, or if any duty was paid it was only on a small part of the cargo, the rest being taken in free under the noses of the customs officials. Hush money was paid to the officers of the customs and in this way their visual organs became so affected that they could not see smuggled goods. Smuggling, indeed, under the system then in force, had almost risen to the dignity of a legitimate business and was a recognized feature in commerce. It was carried on so extensively as to have become an important interest not to be rashly interfered with. It produced a class of men very prominent in the revolution of whom John Hancock, the first signer of the declaration of independence, was a type. Hancock inherited from his uncle a large fortune, which the latter had made by contracts with the British government and by smuggling. The Hancocks, uncle and nephew, smuggled tea into Boston in molasses hogsheads, and it was a matter of indifference to them how high the duties were so long as payment of them was not enforced. But when an attempt was made to enforce the revenue laws John Hancock became a patriot and a rebel. In his eyes at least the assertion of an abstract light in an act of parliament, in regard to the imposition of customs by that body, was a matter of no consequence so long as the duty had not to be paid. The duty on tea prior to 1767 was a shilling a pound payable in England, but only enough tea was imported from that country to cover the smuggling operations. The greater part of the tea came from Holland and was a much inferior article to that sold in England. When the duty was changed from a shilling a pound payable in England to three pence a pound payable in the colonies, it might have been supposed that the charge would have been considered advantageous to the colonies, but the fact that the smaller duty was to be enforced made it a shocking outrage in the eyes of John Hancock and his associates More than one-quarter of the men who signed the declaration of independence were directly or indirectly engaged in smuggling, and John Hancock himself, when the first blood of the war was shed at Lexington, was respondent in the admiralty court, in suits brought against him by the crown, to recover nearly half a million dollars as penalties for smuggling. Under those circumstances the motives which inspired Hancock to become a patriot and which made him such a loud mouthed advocate of liberty need hardly be explained. THE SMUGGLING INTEREST IN THE COLONIES. Benjamin Franklin, as we have already seen, admitted the right of parliament to impose duties on goods brought overseas, on the ground that as the protector of commerce on the seas England might claim to be reimbursed, at least in part, in this way. But the smuggling merchants of Boston who were so largely responsible for the revolution, could see nothing but injustice in laws which interfered with their illegal gains. American historians are never at a loss to find reasons for indignation at the conduct of the British government, and are always ready to shift their ground with alacrity when a too close adherence to their own principles interferes with their principal object, which is to show that everything the British parliament did was wrong. Sabine says: "We find the merchants of the ports of New England, and especially those of Boston and Salem, deeply exasperated by the attempts of the revenue officers, under fresh and peremptory orders, to exact strict observance of the laws of navigation and trade; and by a pretension set up under these instructions, to enter and search places suspected of containing smuggled goods. To submit to this pretension was to surrender the quiet of their homes and the order of their warehouses to the underlings of the government, and the property which they held to the rapacity of informers, whose gains would be in proportion to their wickedness. Those, therefore, of the two principal towns of Massachusetts, who were interested in continuing the business which they had long pursued without molestation, and under a sort of prescriptive right, and in preserving their property from the grasp of pimps and spies, determined to withstand the crown officers, and to appeal to the tribunals for protection against their claims." It will be observed that Mr. Sabine’s denunciations apply equally to all laws for raising a revenue by customs duties no matter by whom enacted. The persons whom he describes as pimps and spies are a necessary feature of every custom house, and the quiet of a smugglers borne and the order of a smuggler’s warehouse are always in danger of being disturbed by revenue officers whether they have been created by the authority of parliament or of congress. Mr. Sabine lived long enough to see a tariff posted by the congress of his own country the most oppressive and the most productive of pimps and spies of any ever imposed upon a free people, and if he had lived a little longer he might have read the speeches of public men who were ready to affirm that a tariff which taxes every imported article to the utmost limit, and sometimes beyond it, is a sign of progress and an instrument for the promotion of a higher civilization. IMPOLITIC PLANS OF TAXATION. Still the exaggerated and absurd rhetoric of a partial historian does not alter the fact that the plan of taxation adopted by parliament in 1767 was impolitic and unwise. A law must be judged by its consequences, and not by abstract theories of right, and tested by this standard the legislation referred to was bad. The new acts met with an opposition as general as that which confronted the stamp act. They called forth resolves, petitions and remonstrances from the colonies. Early in February 1763 the Pennsylvania assembly took into consideration the act imposing duties on paper, glass, painter’s colors and teas, and gave instructions to their agents to unite with the agents of the other colonies in applying to parliament for relief. The assembly in Massachusetts drew up a circular letter to the sister colonies for the purpose of bringing about united action. In this letter it was stated that they had "taken into their serious consideration the great difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents by the operation of several acts of parliament imposing duties and taxes on the American colonies." They related the measures they had taken in petitioning the king, and making representations to the ministry; and requested the other colonies to unite with them in suitable measures to obtain redress. The letter was closed with the following strong expression of loyalty; "This house cannot conclude without expressing their firm confidence in the king, our common head and father, that the united and dutiful supplications of his distressed American subjects will meet with his royal and favorable acceptance." Most of the colonial assemblies approved the action of Massachusetts and sent resolves and petitions to England in harmony with the request of that colony. COERCING THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE The British ministry was deeply offended at this circular letter, and in a communication addressed by Lord Hillsborough to Governor Bernard of Massachusetts, it was stated that the proceedings which gave rise to the circular letter were "unfair, contrary to the real sense of the assembly and procured by surprise." Governor Bernard was instructed so soon as the general court is again assembled to require of the house of representatives in his majesty's name of to rescind the resolution which gave birth to the circular letter from the speaker, and to declare their disapprobation and dissent to that rash and nasty proceeding.” In the event of a refusal to comply with this request Governor Bernard was instructed to dissolve the general court and to transmit to Lord Hillsborough an account of its proceedings. The latter at the same time transmitted a circular letter to the governors of all the colonies, enclosing a copy of the Massachusetts circular letter, and containing the following paragraph; "As his majesty considers this measure to be of the most dangerous and factious tendency, calculated to inflame the minds of his good subjects in the colonies, and promote an unwarrantable combination, and to exhibit an open opposition to and denial of the authority of parliament, and to subvert the true principles of the constitution, it is his majesty’s pleasure that you shall immediately, upon the receipt hereof, exert your utmost influence to defeat this flagitious attempt to disturb the public peace, by prevailing upon the assembly of your province to take no notice of it, which will be treating it with the contempt it deserves." PROTEST OF THE MASSACHUSETTS LEGISLATURE. The Massachusetts general court or legislature met in June, 1768, and Governor Bernard at once laid the earl of Hillsborough’s communication before the house of representatives. This communication, as has been already stated, contained a threat of dissolution, but this threat did not have the effect intended. The house addressed a letter to Lord Hillsborough, setting forth the several votes and resolutions that had been passed in the last house of representatives in regard to the circular letter, showing that they had been dealt with in a full house and carried by large majorities. A message to the governor was agreed to, the spirit of which can be gathered from the following extract: — "It is to us incomprehensible that we should be required, on the peril of a dissolution of the general court, to rescind a resolution of a former house, when it is evident that that resolution has no existence but as a mere historical fact. Your excellency must know, that the resolution is, to speak in the language of the common law, not now executory, but to all intents and purposes, executed. If, as is most probable, by the word "rescinding," is intended the passing a vote in direct and express disapprobation of the measure taken by the former house as illegal, inflammatory and tending to promote no justifiable combinations against his majesty’s peace, crown and dignity, we must take the liberty to testify and publicly to declare that we take it to be the native, inherent, and indefeasible right of the subject, jointly or severally, to petition the king for redress of grievances; provided always, that the same be done in a decent, dutiful, loyal and constitutional way, without tumult, disorder and confusion. If the votes of the house are to be controlled by the direction of a minister, we have left us but a vain semblance of liberty. We have now only to inform you that this house have voted not to rescind, and that on a division on the question there were 92 nays to 17 years." MORE RIOTING IN BOSTON. Governor Bernard dissolved the legislature on the day following the receipt of this communication. In acting thus he simply obeyed the orders of the home government whose servant he was. It was an unwise movement, for it gave the party which was anti- British and anti-monarchial an opportunity of posing as the victims of tyranny. It was clear that the legislature of Massachusetts was determined not to admit the wisdom of propriety of enforcing the customs duties, and there was little probability of any new legislature that might be elected bolding different views. The people generally were opposed to the enforcement of the customs laws and some of them were ready to go all lengths to prevent them from becoming effective. While the members of the legislature stood upon what they conceived to be legal ground, the mob which obeyed John Hancock were ready to tear the officers of the law to pieces at his bidding. This was clearly shown by an occurrence just prior to the meeting of the general court. The sloop Liberty laden with wines from Madeiva belonging to John Hancock arrived at Boston. It was the common practice for the tide waiter, upon the arrival of a vessel, to repair to the cabin and remain there drinking punch with the master, while the sailors were landing the dutiable goods. When the Liberty arrived Thomas Kirk the tide waiter went on board and was invited into the cabin. As he declined to agree to any of the propositions that were made to him to permit the cargo to be smuggled, Marshall, the captain, and others in Hancock’s employ locked him in the cabin, and proceeded to remove the cargo. Kirk was locked up about 9 o'clock in the evening, and all the wine was got on shore before daylight next morning. Captain Marshall exerted himself so much to promote his master's interests that he died during the night, at is supposed from over exertion. In the morning when Kirk was released he reported the affair to Harrison, the collector, and Hallowell, the controller of customs, and the Liberty was seized for breach of the revenue laws. As the seizure to be effective had to be supported by force, the vessel was towed under the guns of the Romney, ship of war. This act appeared to the smugglers of Boston to be a frightful outrage, and they resorted to their usual method of showing their disapprobation. A mob was at once organized and headed by one Malcomb, who was extensively engaged in smuggling. Harrison was attacked, pelted with stones and severely beaten; Hallowell experienced still worse treatment, and was wounded and bruised to such a degree that it was thought he would die. Both had to take refuge on board the Romney. The offices of the commissioners of the customs, who had recently arrived from England, were also attacked, and the custom house boat was dragged to the common and burnt. As was to be expected the usual wrecking and robbery of the houses of the obnoxious officials took place, and the friends of liberty made free with the money kept in the homes and the wines stored in their cellars. No one was ever punished for these disgraceful and cowardly proceedings, and the house of representatives, by its silence, lent its sanction to these acts of violence. Governor Bernard, alarmed at these lawless demonstrations sent to Halifax a request that troops be forwarded to Boston. When this became known a committee consisting of James Otis, Samuel Adams, John Hancock and John Adams were appointed by a town meeting, to wait on the governor, ascertain whether the report was true and request him to call a special meeting of the assembly. He admitted that troops were coming but declined to summon the assembly without instructions from the home government. The opponents of the governor then called a convention of delegates from all the Massachusetts towns to meet in Boston on the 22nd September. This convention petitioned the governor to summon a general court, but he refused even to receive the petition and denounced the convention as treasonable. By this act he played into the hands of the revolutionary party, for the tone of the convention was moderate, and the members from places outside of Boston, who were not interested in smuggling, were not disposed to push matters to extremity. The convention before adjourning drafted a petition to the king; a letter to the agent of the colony in England defending the province against the charge of showing a rebellious spirit; and adopted an address to the people in which the alarming state of the country was set forth; but submission to legal authority and abstinence from rioting were recommended. This advice may have been honestly intended or it may have been like the orders given by a gentleman to his servants, when they were turning an obnoxious person off the premises, "don’t put him under the pump." ARRIVAL OF TROOPS FROM HALIFAX The day after the adjournment of the convention two British regiments, the 14th and the 29th, numbering 1 000 men, arrived at Boston from Halifax. They were in eight armed vessels, which anchored in the harbor in a position to command the town, and the men were landed. The selectmen of Boston were asked to provide quarters for the troops in the town, but they refused to do so, had demanded that they be sent to the barracks of Castle Island. A part of the troops encamped on the Common and a part occupied Faneuil Hall and the town-house. The rioters and smugglers of Boston naturally viewed with great disfavor these demonstrations of ability to preserve the peace. Still it would have been better if the necessity for using troops had been avoided by refraining from the postage of acts which provoked rebellion, for it was clear the employment of force on one side would cause force to be employed on the other, and that the outcome could not be favorable to the good relations between the mother country and the colonies. [End of Chapter II.]