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Massachusettensis IIII


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER IIII.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


PERHAPS, by this time, some of you may enquire who it is, that suffers his pen to run so freely? I will tell you; it is a native of this province, that knew it before many, that are now basking in the rays of political sunshine, had a being. He was favored, not by whigs or tories, but the people, with such a stand in the community, as that he could distinctly see all the political manœuvres of the province. He saw some with pleasure, others with pain. If he condemns the conduct of the whigs, he does not always approve of the conduct of the tories. He dwells upon the misconduct of the former, because we are indebted to that for bringing us into this wretched state; unless the supineness of the latter, at some periods, and some impolitic efforts to check the whigs in their career, at others, that served like adding fuel to the fire, ought to be added to the account. He is now repaying your favours, if he knows his own heart, from the purest gratitude and the most undissembled patriotism, which will one day be acknowledged. I saw the small seed of sedition, when it was implanted: it was, as a grain of mustard. I have watched the plant until it has become a great tree; the vilest reptiles that crawl upon the earth, are concealed at the root; the foulest birds of the air rest upon its branches. I now would induce you to go to work immediately with axes and hatchets, and cut it down, for a two-fold reason; because it is a pest to society, and lest it be felled suddenly by a stronger arm, and crush its thousands in the fall.


An apprehension of injustice in the conduct of Great-Britain towards us, I have already told you was one source of our misery. Last week I endeavoured to convince you of the necessity of her regulating, or rather establishing, some government amongst us. I am now to point out the principles and motives, upon which the blockade act was made. The violent attack upon the property of the East-India company, in the destruction of their tea, was the cause of it. In order to form a right judgment of that transaction, it is necessary to go back and view the cause of its being sent here. As the government of England is mixt, so the spirit or genius of the nation is at once monarchical, aristocratical, democratical, martial, and commercial. It is difficult to determine, which is the most predominant principle; but it is worthy of remark, that to injure the British nation upon either of these points, is like injuring a Frenchman in the point of honor. Commerce is the great source of national wealth; for this reason it is cherished by all orders of men from the palace to the cottage. In some countries, a merchant is held in contempt by the nobles; in England they respect him. He rises to high honors in the state, often contracts alliances with the first families in the kingdom, and noble blood flows in the veins of his posterity. Trade is founded upon persons or countries mutually supplying each other with their redundances. Thus none are impoverished, all enriched, the asperities of human life worn away, and mankind made happier by it. Husbandry, manufacture, and merchandize are its triple support: deprived of either of these, it would cease.


Agriculture is the natural livelihood of a country but thinly inhabited, as arts and manufactures are of a populous one. The high price of labour prevents manufactures being carried on to advantage in the first; scarcity of soil obliges the inhabitants to pursue them in the latter. Upon these, and the considerations arising from the fertility and produce of different climates, and such like principles, the grand system of the British trade is founded. The collected wisdom of the nation has always been attentive to this great point of policy, that the national trade might be so balanced and poised, as that each part of her extended dominions might be benefited, and the whole concentre to the good of the empire. This evinces the necessity of acts for regulating trade.


To prevent one part of the empire being enriched at the expence and to the impoverishing of another, checks, restrictions, and sometimes absolute prohibitions, are necessary. These are imposed or taken off as circumstances vary. To carry the acts of trade into execution, many officers are necessary. Thus we see a number of custom-house officers so constituted, as to be checks and controuls upon each other, and prevent their swerving from their duty, should they be tempted; and a board of commissioners appointed to superintend the whole, like the commissioners of the customs in England. Hence also arises the necessity of courts of admiralty.


The laws and regulations of trade are esteemed in England as sacred. An estate made by smuggling, or pursuing an illicit trade, is there looked upon as filthy lucre, as monies amassed by gaming; and upon the same principle, because it is obtained at the expence and often ruin of others. The smuggler not only injures the public, but often ruins the fair trader.


The great extent of sea-coast, many harbours, the variety of islands, the numerous creeks and navigable rivers, afford the greatest opportunity to drive an illicit trade in these colonies without detection. This advantage has not been overlooked by the avaricious, and many persons seem to have set the laws of trade at a defiance. This accounts for so many new regulations being made, new officers appointed, and ships of war from time to time stationed along the continent. The way to Holland and back again is well known; and by much the greatest part of the tea that has been drank in America for several years, has been imported from thence and other places, in direct violation of law. By this the smugglers have amassed great estates, to the prejudice of the fair trader. It was sensibly felt by the East-India company; they were prohibited from exporting their teas to America, and were obliged to sell it at auction in London; the London merchant purchased it, and put a profit upon it when he shipt it for America; the American merchant, in his turn, put a profit upon it, and after him the shopkeeper; so that it came to the consumers hands, at a very advanced price. Such quantities of tea were annually smuggled, that it was scarcely worth while for the American merchant to import tea from England at all. Some of the principal trading towns in America were wholly supplied with this commodity by smuggling: Boston however continued to import it, until advice was received that the parliament had it in contemplation to permit the East-India company to send their teas directly to America. The Boston merchants then sent their orders conditionally to their correspondents in England, to have tea shipt for them, in case the East-India company’s tea did not come out. One merchant, a great whig, had such an order lying in England for sixty chests, on his own account, when the company’s tea was sent. An act of parliament was made to enable the East-India company to send their tea directly to America, and sell it at auction there; not with a view of raising a revenue from the three-penny duty, but to put it out of the power of the smugglers to injure them by their infamous trade. We have it from good authority, that the revenue was not the consideration before parliament; and it is reasonable to suppose it: for had that been the point in view, it was only to restore the former regulation, which was then allowed to be constitutional, and the revenue would have been respectable. Had this new regulation taken effect, the people in America would have been great gainers. The wholesale merchant might have been deprived of some of his gains; but the retailer would have supplied himself with this article, directly from the auction, and the consumer reap the benefit; as tea would have been sold, under the price that had been usual, by near one half. Thus the country in general would have been great gainers, the East-India company secured in supplying the American markets with this article, which they are entitled to by the laws of trade, and smuggling suppressed, at least as to tea. A smuggler and a whig are cousin-germans, the offspring of two sisters, avarice and ambition. They had been playing into each others hands a long time. The smuggler received protection from the whig; and he, in his turn, received support from the smuggler. The illicit trader now demanded protection from his kinsman, and it would have been unnatural in him to have refused it; and beside, an opportunity presented of strengthening his own interest. The consignees were connected with the tories, and that was a further stimulus.—Accordingly, the press was again set to work, and the old story repeated with additions about monopolies; and many infatuated persons once more wrought up to a proper pitch to carry into execution any violent measures, that their leaders should propose. A bold stroke was resolved upon. The whigs, though they had got the art of managing the people, had too much sense to be ignorant that it was all a meer finesse, not only without, but directly repugnant to law, constitution and government, and could not last always. They determined to put all at hazard, and to be aut Cæsar aut nihil. The approaching storm was foreseen; and the first ship that arrived with the tea was detained below Castle-William. A body meeting was assembled at the old-south meeting-house, which has great advantage over a town-meeting, as no law has yet ascertained the qualification of the voters; each person present, of whatever age, estate, or country, may take the liberty to speak or vote at such an assembly; and that may serve as a skreen to the town where it originated, in case of any disastrous consequence. The body-meeting consisting of several thousands, being thus assembled, with the leading whigs at its head, in the first place sent for the owner of the tea-ship, and required him to bring her to the wharf, upon pain of their displeasure; the ship was accordingly brought up, and the master was obliged to enter at the custom-house: He reported the tea, after which twenty days are allowed for landing it and paying the duty.


The next step was to resolve.—They resolved that the tea should not be landed, nor the duty paid, that it should go home in the same bottom that it came in, &c. &c. This was the same as resolving to destroy it, for as the ship had been compelled to come to the wharf, and was entered at the custom-house, it could not, by law, be cleared out, without the duties being first paid, nor could the Governor grant a permit for the vessel to pass Castle-William, without a certificate from the custom-house of such clearance, consistent with his duty. The body accordingly ordered a military guard to watch the ship every night until further orders. The consignees had been applied to, by the selectmen, to send the tea to England: they answered, they could not, for if they did, it would be forfeited by the acts of trade, and they should be liable to make good the loss to the East-India company. Some of the consignees were mobbed, and all were obliged to fly to the castle, and there immure themselves. They petitioned the Governor and Council to take the property of the East-India company under their protection. The council declined being concerned in it. The consignees then offered the body to store the tea under the care of the selectmen or a committee of the town of Boston, and to have no further concern in the matter until they could send to England, and receive further instructions from their principals. This was refused with disdain. The military guard was regularly kept in rotation till the eve of the twentieth day, when the duties must have been paid, the tea landed, or be liable to seizure; then the military guard was withdrawn, or rather omitted being posted; and a number of persons in disguise forceably entered the ships (three being by this time arrived) split open the chefts, and emptied all the tea, being of ten thousand pounds sterling value, into the dock, and perfumed the town with its fragrance. Another circumstance ought not to be omitted: the afternoon before the destruction of the tea, the body sent the owner of one of the ships to the Governor, to demand a pass; he answered, that he would as soon give a pass for that as any other vessel, if he had the proper certificate from the custom-house, without which he could not give a pass for any, consistent with his duty. It was known that this would be the answer, when the message was sent; and it was with the utmost difficulty that the body were kept together till the messenger returned. When the report was made, a shout was set up in the galleries and at the door, and the meeting immediately dispersed. The Governor had, previous to this, sent a proclamation by the sheriff, commanding the body to disperse; they permitted it to be read, and answered it with a general hiss. These are the facts as truly and fairly stated, as I am able to state them. The oftensible reason for this conduct, was the tea’s being subject to the three-penny duty. Let us take the advocates for this transaction upon their own principle, and admit the duty to be unconstitutional, and see how the argument stands. Here is a cargo of tea, subject, upon its being entered and landed, to a duty of three-pence per pound, which is paid by the East-India company, or by their factors, which amounts to the same thing. Unless we purchase the tea, we shall never pay the duty; if we purchase it, we pay the three-pence included in the price; therefore, lest we should purchase it, we have a right to destroy it A flimsy pretext! and it either supposes the people destitute of virtue, or that their purchasing of the tea was a matter of no importance to the community; but even this gauze covering is stripped off, when we consider, that the Boston merchants, and some who were active at the body-meeting, were every day importing from England large quantities of tea, subject to the same duty, and vending it unmolested; and at this time had orders lying in their correspondents hands, to send them considerable quantities of tea, in case the East-India company should not send it themselves.


When the news of this transaction arrived in England, and it was considered in what manner almost every other regulation of trade had been evaded by artifice, and when artifice could no longer serve, recourse was had to violence; the British lion was roused. The crown-lawyers were called upon for the law; they answered, high-treason. Had a Cromwell, whom some amongst us deify and imitate, in all his imitable perfections, had the guidance of the national ire; unless compensation had been made to the sufferers immediately upon its being demanded, your proud capital had been levelled with the dust; not content with that, rivers of blood would have been shed to make atonement for the injured honour of the nation. It was debated whether to attaint the principals of treason. We have a gracious king upon the throne, he felt the resentment of a man, softened by the relentings of a parent. The bowels of our mother country yearned towards her refractory, obstinate child.


It was determined to consider the offence in a milder light, and to compel an indemnification for the sufferers, and prevent the like for the future, by such means as would be mild, compared with the insult to the nation, or severe, as our future conduct should be: That was to depend upon us. Accordingly, the blockade act was passed; and had an act of justice been done in indemnifying the sufferers, and an act of loyalty in putting a stop to seditious practices, our port had long since been opened. This act has been called unjust, because it involves the innocent in the same predicament with the guilty: But it ought to be considered, that our news-papers had announced to the world, that several thousands attended those body-meetings; and it did not appear, that there was one dissentient, or any protest entered. I do not know, how a person could expect distinction in such a case, if he neglected to distinguish himself. When the noble lord proposed it in the house of commons, he called upon all the members present to mention a better method of obtaining justice in this case: scarce one denied the necessity of doing something; but none could mention a more eligible way. Even ministerial opposition was abashed. If any parts of the act strike us, like the severity of a master; let us coolly advert to the aggravated insult, and, perhaps, we shall wonder at the lenity of a parent. After this transaction, all parties seem to have laid upon their oars, waiting to see what parliament would do. When the blockade act arrived, many and many were desirous of paying for the tea immediately; and some, who were guiltless of the crime, offered to contribute to the compensation: but our leading whigs must still rule the roast, and that inauspicious influence, that had led us hitherto, plunged us still deeper in misery. The whigs saw their ruin connected with a compliance with the terms of opening the port; as it would afford a convincing proof of the wretchedness of their policy in the destruction of the tea, and as they might justly have been expected to pay the money demanded themselves; and so set themselves industriously to work to prevent it, and engage the other colonies to espouse their cause.


This was a crisis too important and alarming to the province to be neglected by its friends. A number of as respectable persons as any in this province, belonging to Boston, Cambridge, Salem, and Marblehead, now came forward, publicly to disavow the proceedings of the whigs, to do justice to the much injured character of Mr. Hutchinson, and to strengthen his influence at the court of Great-Britain, where he was going to receive the well-deserved plaudit of his sovereign, that he might be able to obtain a repeal or some mitigation of that act, the terms of which, they foresaw, the perverseness of the whigs would prevent a compliance with. This was done by several addresses, which were subscribed by upwards of two hundred persons, and would have been by many more, had not the sudden embarkation of Mr. Hutchinson prevented it. The justices of the court of common pleas and general sessions of the peace, for the county of Plymouth, sent their address to him in England. There were some of almost all orders of men, among these addressers; but they consisted principally of men of property, and of large family connections; and several were independent in their circumstances, and lived wholly upon the income of their estates. Some indeed might be called partizans; but a very considerable proportion were persons that had, of choice, kept themselves at a distance from the political vortex, had beheld the competition of the whigs and tories, without any emotion; while the community remained safe, had looked down on the political dance, in its various mazes and intricacies, and saw one falling, another rising, rather as a matter of amusement: but, when they saw the capital of the province upon the point of being sacrificed by political cunning, it called up all their feelings.


Their motives were truly patriotic. Let us now attend to the ways and means by which the whigs prevented these exertions producing a good effect. Previous to this, a new and, till lately unheard of, mode of opposition had been devised, said to be the invention of the fertile brain of one of our party agents, called a committee of correspondence. This is the foulest, subtlest and most venomous serpent, that ever issued from the eggs of sedition. These committees generally consist of the highest whigs, or at least there is some high whig among them, that is the ruling spirit of the whole. They are commonly appointed at thin town-meetings, or if the meetings happen to be full, the moderate men seldom speak or act at all when this sort of business comes on. They have been by much too modest. Thus the meeting is often prefaced with “At a full town-meeting,” and the several resolves headed with nem. con. with strict truth; when, in fact, but a small proportion of the town have had a hand in the matter. It is said that the committee for the town of Boston was appointed for a special purpose, and that their commission long since expired. However that may be, these committees, when once established, think themselves amenable to none; they assume a dictatorial stile, and have an opportunity, under the apparent sanction of their several towns, of clandestinely wreaking private revenge on individuals, by traducing their characters, and holding them up as enemies to their country wherever they go, as also of misrepresenting facts and propagating sedition through the country. Thus, a man of principle and property, in travelling through the country, would be insulted by persons whose faces he had never before seen, he would often feel the smart without suspecting the hand that administred the blow. These committees, as they are not known in law, and can derive no authority from thence, lest they should not get their share of power, sometimes engross it all; they frequently erect themselves into a tribunal, where the same persons are at once legislator, accusers, witnesses, judges and jurors, and the mob the executioners. The accused has no day in court, and the execution of the sentence is the first notice he receives. This is the channel through which liberty matters have been chiefly conducted the summer and fall past. This accounts for the same distempers breaking out in different parts of the province at one and the same time, which might be attributed to something supernatural by those that were unacquainted with the secret conductors of the infection. It is chiefly owing to these committees, that so many respectable persons have been abused, and forced to sign recantations and resignations; that so many persons, to avoid such reiterated insults, as are more to be deprecated by a man of sentiment than death itself, have been obliged to quit their houses, families and business, and fly to the army for protection; that husband has been separated from wife, father from son, brother from brother, the sweet intercourse of conjugal and natural affection interrupted, and the unfortunate refugee forced to abandon all the comforts of domestic life. My countrymen, I beg you to pause and reflect on this conduct: have not these people, that are thus insulted, as good a right to think and act for themselves in matters of the last importance as the whigs? Are they not as closely connected with the interest of their country as the whigs? Do not their former lives and conversations appear to have been regulated by principle, as much as those of the whigs? You must answer, yes. Why then do you suffer them to be cruelly treated for differing in sentiment from you? Is it consistent with that liberty you profess? Let us wave the consideration of right and liberty, and see if this conduct can be reconciled to good policy. Do you expect to make converts by it? Persecution has the same effect in politics, that it has in religion; it confirms the sectary. Do you wish to silence them, that the inhabitants of the province may appear unanimous? The mal-treatment they received for differing from you, is an undeniable evidence that we are not unanimous. It may not be amiss to consider, that this is a changeable world, and time’s rolling wheel may, ere long, bring them uppermost; in that case, I am sure you would not wish to have them fraught with resentment. It is astonishing, my friends, that those, who are in pursuit of liberty, should ever suffer arbitrary power, in such an hideous form and squalid hue, to get a footing among them. I appeal to your good sense; I know you have it, and hope to penetrate to it, before I have finished my publications, notwithstanding the thick atmosphere that now invelopes it. But, to return from my digression. The committee of correspondence represented the destruction of the tea in their own way. They represented those that addressed Governor Hutchinson, as persons of no note or property; as mean, base wretches and seekers, who had been sacrificing their country in adulation of him. Whole nations have worshipped the rising, but, if this be an instance, it is the only instance of people’s worshipping the setting, sun. By this means, the humane and benevolent in various parts of the continent, were induced to advise us not to comply with the terms for opening our port, and engaged to relieve us with their charities, from the distress that must otherwise fall upon the poor. Their charitable intentions may ascend to heaven, like incense from the altar, in sweet memorial before the throne of God; but their donations came near proving fatal to the province: It encouraged the whigs to persevere in injustice, and has been the means of seducing many an honest man into the commission of a crime, that he did not suspect himself capable of being guilty of. What I have told you, are not the suggestions of a speculatist; there are some mistakes as to numbers, and there may be some as to time and place, partly owing to miscopying, and partly to my not always having the books and papers necessary to greater accuracy, at hand; but the relation of facts is in substance true, I had almost said, as holy writ.—I do not ask you to take the truths of them from an anonymous writer: The evidence of most of them is within your reach, examine for yourselves:—I promise, that the benefit you will reap therefrom will abundantly pay you for the trouble of the research; you will find, I have faithfully unriddled the whole mystery of our political iniquity. I do not address myself to whigs or tories, but to the whole people. I know you well. You are loyal at heart, friends to good order, and do violence to yourselves in harbouring, one moment, disrespectful sentiments towards Great-Britain, the land of our forefathers’ nativity, and sacred repository of their bones: but you have been most insidiously induced to believe, that Great-Britain is rapacious, cruel, and vindictive, and envies us the inheritance purchased by the sweat and blood of our ancestors. Could that thick mist that hovers over the land, and involves it in more than Egyptian darkness, be but once dispelled, that you might see our sovereign the provident father of all his people, and Great-Britain a nursing mother to these colonies, as they really are; long live our gracious king, and happiness to Britain, would resound from one end of the province to the other.


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

January 2, 1775


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