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- Formation of the Union - 10/46 -

SPECIAL HISTORIES.--W. B. Weeden, _Economic and Special History of New England_, II. chs. xviii., xix.; Wm. Tudor, _Life of James Otis_; J. K. Hosmer, _Samuel Adams_, 21-312; J. T. Morse, _Benjamin Franklin_, 99-201; M. C. Tyler, _Literature of the Revolution_, I., and _Patrick Henry_, 32-147; H. C. Lodge, _George Washington_, I. ch. iv.

CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNTS.--Works of Washington, Franklin, Patrick Henry, and John Adams; James Otis, _Rights of the British Colonies asserted and proved_: Examination of Franklin (Franklin, _Works_, IV. 161-195); W. B. Donne, _Correspondence of George III. with Lord North_ [1768-1783]; John Dickinson, _Farmer's Letters_; Jonathan Trumbull, McFingal (epic poem); Mercy Warren, _History of the American Revolution_; Thomas Hutchinson, _History of Massachusetts_, III., and _Diary and Letters_; Joseph Galloway, _Candid Examination_; Stephen Hopkins, _Rights of the Colonies Examined_.--Reprints in _Library of American Literature_, III.; _Old South Leaflets_; _American History told by Contemporaries_, II.


[Sidenote: England's greatness.]

In 1763 the English were the most powerful nation in the world. The British islands, with a population of but 8,000,000 were the administrative centre of a vast colonial empire. Besides their American possessions, the English had a foothold in Africa through the possession of the former Dutch Cape Colony, and had laid the foundation of the present Indian Empire; small islands scattered through many seas furnished naval stations and points of defence. The situation of England bears a striking resemblance to the situation of Athens at the close of the Persian wars: a trading nation, a naval power, a governing race, a successful military people; the English completed the parallel by tightening the reins upon their colonies till they revolted. Of the other European powers, Portugal and Spain still preserved colonial empires in the West; but Spain was decaying. Great Britain had not only gained territory and prestige from the war, she had risen rich and prosperous, and a national debt of one hundred and forty million pounds was borne without serious difficulty.

[Sidenote: English government.]

It was a time of vigorous intellectual life, the period of Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, and Dr. Johnson. It was also a period of political development. The conditions seemed favorable for internal peace and for easy relations with the colonies. The long Jacobite movement had come to an end; George the Third was accepted by all classes and all parties as the legitimate sovereign. The system of government worked out in the preceding fifty years seemed well established; the ministers still governed through their control of Parliament; but the great Tory families, which for two generations had been excluded from the administration, were now coming forward. A new element in the government of England was the determination of George the Third to be an active political force. From his accession, in 1760, he had striven to build up a faction of personal adherents, popularly known as the "king's friends;" and he had broken down every combination of ministers which showed itself opposed to him. Although the nation was not yet conscious of it, the forces were at work which eventually were to create a party advocating the king's prerogative, and another party representing the right of the English people to govern themselves.

[Sidenote: Effect on the colonies.]

This change in political conditions could not but affect the English colonial policy. The king's imperious tone was reflected in all departments, and was especially positive when the colonies began to resist. It cannot be said that English parties divided on the question of governing the colonies, but when the struggle was once begun, the king's bitterest opponents fiercely criticised his policy, and made the cause of the colonists their own. The great struggle with the colonies thus became a part of the struggle between popular and autocratic principles of government in England.


[Sidenote: Grenville's colonial policy.]

Allusion has already been made ( 19) to vague schemes of colonial control suggested during the war. More serious measures were impending. When George Grenville became the head of the cabinet, in April, 1763, he took up and elaborated three distinctly new lines of policy, which grew to be the direct causes of the American Revolution. The first was the rigid execution of the Acts of Trade; the second was the taxation of the colonies for the partial support of British garrisons; the third was the permanent establishment of British troops in America. What was the purpose of each of these groups of measures?

[Sidenote: Navigation acts.] [Sidenote: Effect of the system.]

The object of the first series was simply to secure obedience to the Navigation Acts (Colonies, Section 44, 128),--laws long on the statute book, and admitted by most Americans to be legal. The Acts were intended simply to secure to the mother-country the trade of the colonies; they were in accordance with the practice of other nations; they were far milder than the similar systems of France and Spain, because they gave to colonial vessels and to colonial merchants the same privileges as those enjoyed by English ship-owners and traders. The Acts dated from 1645, but had repeatedly been re-enacted and enlarged, and from time to time more efficient provision was made for their enforcement. In the first place, the Navigation Acts required that all the colonial trade should be carried on in ships built and owned in England or the colonies. In the second place, most of the colonial products were included in a list of "enumerated goods," which could be sent abroad, even in English or colonial vessels, only to English ports. The intention was to give to English home merchants a middleman's profit in the exchange of American for foreign goods. Among the enumerated goods were tobacco, sugar, indigo, copper, and furs, most of them produced by the tropical and sub-tropical colonies. Lumber, provisions, and fish were usually not enumerated; and naval stores, such as tar, hemp, and masts, even received an English bounty. In 1733 was passed the "Sugar Act," by which prohibitory duties were laid on sugar and molasses imported from foreign colonies to the English plantations, Many of these provisions little affected the continental colonies, and in some respects were favorable to them. Thus the restriction of trade to English and colonial vessels stimulated ship- building and the shipping interest in the colonies. From 1772 to 1775 more than two thousand vessels were built in America.

[Sidenote: Illegal trade.] [Sidenote: Difficulty of enforcement.]

The chief difficulty with the system arose out of the obstinate determination of the colonies, especially in New England, to trade with their French and Spanish neighbors in the West Indies, with or without permission: they were able in those markets to sell qualities of fish and lumber for which there was no demand in England. Well might it have been said, as a governor of Virginia had said a century earlier: "Mighty and destructive have been the obstructions to our trade and navigation by that severe Act of Parliament,... for all are most obedient to the laws, while New England men break through them and trade to any place where their interests lead them to." The colonists were obliged to register their ships; it was a common practice to register them at much below their actual tonnage, or to omit the ceremony altogether. Colonial officials could not be depended upon to detect or to punish infractions of the Acts, and for that purpose the English Government had placed customs officers in the principal ports. Small duties were laid on imports, not to furnish revenue, but rather to furnish fees for those officers. The amount thus collected was not more than two thousand pounds a year; and the necessary salaries, aggregating between seven and eight thousand pounds, were paid by the British government.

24. WRITS OF ASSISTANCE (1761-1764).

[Sidenote: Smuggling.] [Sidenote: Argument of James Otis.]

Under the English acts violation of the Navigation Laws was smuggling, and was punishable in the usual courts. Two practical difficulties had always been found in prosecutions, and they were much increased as soon as a more vigorous execution was entered upon. It was hard to secure evidence, for smuggled goods, once landed, rapidly disappeared; and the lower colonial judges were both to deal severely with their brethren, engaged in a business which public sentiment did not condemn. In 1761 an attempt was made in Massachusetts to avoid both these difficulties through the use of the familiar Writs of Assistance. These were legal processes by which authority was given to custom-house officers to make search for smuggled goods; since they were general in their terms and authorized the search of any premises by day, they might have been made the means of vexatious visits and interference. In February, 1761, an application for such a writ was brought before the Superior Court of Massachusetts, which was not subject to popular influence. James Otis, advocate-general of the colony, resigned his office rather than plead the cause of the government, and became the leading counsel in opposition. The arguments in favor of the writ were that without some such process the laws could not be executed, and that similar writs were authorized by English statutes. Otis in his plea insisted that no English statute applied to the colonies unless they were specially mentioned, and that hence English precedents had no application. But he went far beyond the legal principles involved. He declared in plain terms that the Navigation Acts were "a taxation law made by a foreign legislature without our consent." He asserted that the Acts of Trade were "irreconcilable with the colonial charters, and hence were void." He declared that there were "rights derived only from nature and the Author of nature;" that they were "inherent, inalienable, and indefeasible by any laws, pacts, contracts, governments, or stipulations which man could devise." The court, after inquiring into the practice in England, issued the writs to the custom-house officers, although it does not appear that they made use of them.

[Sidenote: Effect of the discussion.]

The practical effect of Otis's speech has been much exaggerated. John Adams, who heard and took notes on the argument, declared, years later, that "American independence was then born," and that "Mr. Otis's oration against Writs of Assistance breathed into this nation the breath of life." The community was not conscious at the time that a new and startling doctrine had been put forth, or that loyalty to England was involved. The arguments drawn from the rights of man and the supremacy of the charters were of a kind familiar to the colonists. The real novelty was the bold application of these principles, the denial of the legality of a system more than a century old.

[Sidenote: Enforcement.]

So far was the home government from accepting these doctrines that in 1763 the offensive Sugar Act was renewed. New import duties were laid, and more stringent provisions made for enforcing the Acts of Trade; and the ground

Formation of the Union - 10/46

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