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- The Emancipation of Massachusetts - 60/65 -
tenacity wherewith the people clung to their customs of self-government; and so long as these usages were respected, under which they had always lived, and which they believed to be as well established as Magna Charta, there were not in all the king's broad dominions more loyal subjects than men like Washington, Jefferson, and Jay.
The generation now living can read the history of the Revolution dispassionately, and to them it is growing clear that our ancestors were technically in the wrong. For centuries Parliament has been theoretically absolute; therefore it might constitutionally tax the colonies, or do whatsoever else with them it pleased. Practically, however, it is self- evident that the most perfect despotism must be limited by the extent to which subjects will obey, and this is a matter of habit; rebellions, therefore, are usually caused by the conservative instinct, represented by the will of the sovereign, attempting to enforce obedience to customs which a people have outgrown.
In 1776, though the Middle Ages had passed, their traditions still prevailed in Europe, and probably the antagonism between this survival of a dead civilization and the modern democracy of America was too deep for any arbitrament save trial by battle. Identically the same dispute had arisen in England the century before, when the commons rebelled against the prerogatives of the crown, and Cromwell fought like Washington, in the cause of individual emancipation; but the movement in Great Britain was too radical for the age, and was followed by a reaction whose force was not spent when George III. came to the throne.
Precedent is only inflexible among stationary races, and advancing nations glory in their capacity for change; hence it is precisely those who have led revolt successfully who have won the brightest fame. If, therefore, it be admitted that they should rank among mankind's noblest benefactors, who have risked their lives to win the freedom we enjoy, and which seems destined to endure, there are few to whom posterity owes a deeper debt than to our early statesmen; nor, judging their handiwork by the test of time, have many lived who in genius have surpassed them. In the fourth article of their Declaration of Rights, the Continental Congress resolved that the colonists "are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures, ... in all cases of taxation and internal polity, subject only to the negative of their sovereign, in such manner as has been heretofore used and accustomed. But, ... we cheerfully consent to the operation of such acts of Parliament as are, _bona fide_, restrained to the regulation of our external commerce."
In 1778 a statute was passed, of which an English jurist wrote in 1885: "One act, indeed, of the British Parliament might, looked at in the light of history, claim a peculiar sanctity. It is certainly an enactment of which the terms, we may safely predict, will never be repealed and the spirit never be violated.... It provides that Parliament' will not impose any duty, tax or assessment whatever, payable in any of his majesty's colonies ... except only such duties as it may be expedient to impose for the regulation of commerce.'" [Footnote: _The Law of the Constitution_, Dicey, p. 62.]
Thus is the memory of their grievance held sacred by the descendants of their adversaries after the lapse of a century, and the local self- government for which they pleaded has become the immutable policy of the empire. The principles they laid down have been equally enduring, for they proclaimed the equality of men before the law, the corner-stone of modern civilization, and the Constitution they wrote still remains the fundamental charter of the liberties of the republic of the United States.
Nevertheless it remains true that secular liberalism alone could never have produced the peculiarly acrimonious hostility to Great Britain wherein Massachusetts stood preeminent, whose causes, if traced, will be found imbedded at the very foundation of her social organization, and to have been steadily in action ever since the settlement. Too little study is given to ecclesiastical history, for probably nothing throws so much light on certain phases of development; and particularly in the case of this Commonwealth the impulses which moulded her destiny cannot be understood unless the events that stimulated the passions of her clergy are steadily kept in view.
The early aggrandizement of her priests has been described; the inevitable conflict with the law into which their ambition plunged them, and the overthrow of the theocracy which resulted therefrom, have been related; but the causes that kept alive the old exasperation with England throughout the eighteenth century have not yet been told.
The influence of men like Leverett and Colman tended to broaden the church, but necessarily the process was slow; and there is no lack of evidence that the majority of the ministers had little relish for the toleration forced upon them by the second charter. It is not surprising, therefore, to find the sectaries soon again driven to invoke the protection of the king.
Though doubtless some monastic orders have been vowed to poverty, it will probably be generally conceded that a life of privation has not found favor with divines as a class; and one of the earliest acts of the provincial legislature bid each town choose an able and orthodox minister to dispense the Word of God, who should be "suitably encouraged" by an assessment on all inhabitants without distinction. This was for many years a bitter grievance to the dissenting minority; but there was worse to come; for sometimes the majority were heterodox, when pastors were elected who gave great scandal to their evangelical brethren. Therefore, for the prevention of "atheism, irreligion and prophaness," [Footnote: _Province Laws_, 1715, c. 17.] it was enacted in 1775 that the justices of the county should report any town without an orthodox minister, and thereupon the General Court should settle a candidate recommended to them by the ordained elders, and levy a special tax for his support. Nor could men animated by the fervent piety which raised the Mathers to eminence in their profession be expected to sit by tamely while blasphemers not only worshipped openly, but refused to contribute to their incomes.
"We expect no other but Satan will show his rage against us for our endeavors to lessen his kingdom of darkness. He hath grievously afflicted me (by God's permission) by infatuating or bewitching three or four who live in a corner of my parish with Quaker notions, [who] now hold a separate meeting by themselves." [Footnote: Rev. S. Danforth, 1720. _Mass. Hist. Coll._ fourth series, i.]
The heretics, on their side, were filled with the same stubborn spirit which had caused them "obstinately and proudly" to "persecute" Norton and Endicott in earlier days. In 1722 godly preachers were settled at Dartmouth and Tiverton, under the act, the majority of whose people were Quakers and Baptists; and the Friends tell their own story in a petition they presented to the crown in 1724: "That the said Joseph Anthony and John Siffon were appointed assessors of the taxes for the said town of Tiverton, and the said John Akin and said Philip Tabor for the town of Dartmouth, but some of the said assessors being of the people called Quakers, and others of them also dissenting from the Presbyterians and Independents, and greatest part of the inhabitants of the said towns being also Quakers or Anabaptists ... the said assessors duly assessed the other taxes ... relating to the support of government ... yet they could not in conscience assess any of the inhabitants of the said towns anything for or towards the maintenance of any ministers.
"That the said Joseph Anthony, John Siffon, John Akin and Philip Tabor, (on pretence of their non-compliance with the said law) were on the 25th of the month called May, 1723, committed to the jail aforesaid, where they still continue prisoners under great sufferings and hardships both to themselves and families, and where they must remain and die, if not relieved by the king's royal clemancy and favour." [Footnote: Gough's _Quakers_, iv. 222, 223.]
A hearing was had upon this petition before the Privy Council, and in June, 1724, an order was made directing the remission of the special taxes and the release of the prisoners, who were accordingly liberated in obedience thereto, after they had been incarcerated for thirteen months.
The blow was felt to be so severe that the convention of ministers the next May decided to convene a synod, and Dr. Cotton Mather was appointed to draw up a petition to the legislature.
"Considering the great and visible decay of piety in the country, and the growth of many miscarriages, which we fear may have provoked the glorious Lord in a series of various judgments wonderfully to distress us.... It is humbly desired that ... the ... churches ... meet by their pastors ... in a synod, and from thence offer their advice upon.... What are the miscarriages whereof we have reason to think the judgments of heaven, upon us, call us to be more generally sensible, and what may be the most evangelical and effectual expedients to put a stop unto those or the like miscarriages." [Footnote: Hutch. _Hist._ 3d ed. ii. 292, note.]
The "evangelical expedient" was of course to revive the Cambridge Platform; nor was such a scheme manifestly impossible, for the council voted "that the synod ... will be agreeable to this board, and the reverend ministers are desired to take their own time, for the said assembly; and it is earnestly wished the issue thereof may be a happy reformation." [Footnote: Chalmers's _Opinions_, i. 8.] In the house of representatives this resolution was read and referred to the next session.
Meanwhile the Episcopalian clergymen of Boston, in much alarm, presented a memorial to the General Court, remonstrating against the proposed measure; but the council resolved "it contained an indecent reflection on the proceedings of that board," [Footnote: _Idem_, p. 9.] and dismissed it. Nothing discouraged, the remonstrants applied for protection to the Bishop of London, who brought the matter to the attention of the law officers of the crown. In their opinion to call a synod would be "a contempt of his majesty's prerogative," and if "notwithstanding, ... they shall continue to hold their assembly, ... the principal actors therein [should] be prosecuted ... for a misdemeanour." [Footnote: Chalmers's _Opinions_, p. 13.]
Steadily and surely the coil was tightening which was destined to strangle the established church of Massachusetts; but the resistance of the ministers was desperate, and lent a tinge of theological hate to the outbreak of the Revolution. They believed it would be impossible for them to remain a dominant priesthood if Episcopalianism, supported by the patronage of the crown, should be allowed to take root in the land; yet the Episcopalians represented conservatism, therefore they were forced to become radicals, and the liberalism they taught was fated to destroy their power.
Meanwhile their sacred vineyard lay open to attack upon every side. At Boston the royal governors went to King's Chapel and encouraged the use of the liturgy, while an inroad was made into Connecticut from New York. Early in the century a certain Colonel Heathcote organized a regular system of invasion. He was a man eminently fitted for the task, being filled with zeal for the conversion of dissenters. "I have the charity to believe that, after having heard one of our ministers preach, they will not look upon our church to be such a monster as she is represented; and being convinced of some of the cheats, many of them may duly consider of the sin of schism." [Footnote: Conn. _Church Documents_, i. 12.]
"They have abundance of odd kind of laws, to prevent any dissenting ... and endeavour to keep the people in as much blindness and unacquaintedness with any other religion as possible, but in a more particular manner the church, looking upon her as the most dangerous enemy they have to grapple withal, and abundance of pains is taken to make the ignorant think as bad
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