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Six months after the General Assembly of New York adopted its Memorial, and four months after its rejection by both Houses of Parliament, the second Continental Congress met, in the month of September, at Philadelphia.

This Assembly consisted of fifty-five members, chosen by twelve colonies. The little colony of Georgia did not elect delegates, but promised to concur with the sister colonies in the effort to maintain their rights to the British Constitution. Many of the members of this Assembly were men of fortune and learning, and represented not only the general sentiments of the colonies, but their wealth and respectability.[359] "The object, as stated in the credentials of the delegates, and especially in those of the two most powerful colonies of Massachusetts and Virginia, was to obtain the redress of grievances, and to restore harmony between Great Britain and America, which, it was said, was desired by all good men. It was the conviction that this might be done through a Bill of Rights, in which the limits of the powers of the colonies and the mother country might be defined."[360]

Some three weeks after the assembling of Congress, before the end of September, a petition to the King was reported, considered, and adopted. This petition was addressed to the King, in behalf of the colonists, beseeching the interposition of the Royal authority and influence to procure them relief from their afflicting fears and jealousies, excited by the measures pursued by his Ministers, and submitting to his Majesty's consideration whether it may not be expedient for him to be pleased to direct some mode by which the united applications of his faithful colonists to the Throne may be improved into a happy and permanent reconciliation; and that in the meantime measures be taken for preventing the further destruction of the lives of his Majesty's subjects,[361] and that such statutes as more immediately distress any of his Majesty's colonies be repealed. "Attached to your Majesty's person, family, and government," concludes this address of the Congress, "with all the devotion that principle and affection can inspire, connected with Great Britain by the strongest ties that can unite societies, and deploring every event that tends in any degree to weaken them, we solemnly assure your Majesty that we not only most ardently desire that the former harmony between her and these colonies may be restored, but that a concord may be established between them upon so firm a basis as to perpetuate its blessings, uninterrupted by any future dissensions, to succeeding generations in both countries." This petition was read in Parliament the 7th of December, 1775, at the request of Mr. Hartley, with several other petitions for pacification; but they were all rejected by the House of Commons.[362] The answer of the King to the respectful and loyal constitutional petition of Congress was to proclaim the petitioners "rebels," and all that supported them "abettors of treason."[363]

The first day of November brought to the Continental Congress this proclamation, together with the intelligence that the British army and navy were to be largely increased, and that German mercenary soldiers from Hanover and Hesse had been hired, as it was found impossible to obtain soldiers in England to fight against their fellow-subjects in America.[365] On the same day the intelligence was received from General Washington, in Massachusetts, of the burning of Falmouth (now Portland).[366] The simultaneous intelligence of the treatment of the second petition of Congress, the Royal proclamation, the increase of the army and navy, the employment of seventeen thousand Hanoverians and Hessian mercenaries to subdue America, and the burning of Falmouth, produced a great sensation in Congress and throughout the colonies. Some of the New England members of the Congress, especially John and Samuel Adams, had long given up the idea of reconciliation with England, and had desired independence. This feeling was, however, cherished by very few members of the Congress; but the startling intelligence caused many members to abandon all hope of reconciliation with the mother country, and to regard independence as the only means of preserving their liberties. Yet a large majority of the Congress still refused to entertain the proposition of independence, and awaited instructions from their constituents as to what they should do in these novel and painful circumstances. In the meantime the Congress adopted energetic measures for the defence of the colonies, and the effectiveness of their union and government. In answer to applications from South Carolina and New Hampshire for advice on account of the practical suspension of their local Government, Congress "recommended" each province "to call a full and free representation of the people, and that the representatives, if they think it necessary, establish such a form of government as in their judgment will best promote the happiness of the people, and most effectually secure peace and good-will in the province _during the continuance of the present dispute between Great Britain and the colonies_". The province of Massachusetts had refused to acknowledge any other local Government than that which had been established by the Royal Charter of William and Mary, and which had never been cancelled by any legal proceedings; and they continued to elect their representatives, and the representatives met and appointed the Council, and acted under it, as far as possible, irrespective of General Gage and the officers of his appointment.

The colonies were a unit as to their determination to defend by force and at all hazards their constitutional rights and liberties as British subjects; but they were yet far from being a unit as to renunciation of all connection with England and the declaration of independence. The Legislature of Pennsylvania was in session when the news of the rejection of the second petition of Congress and the King's proclamation arrived, and when fresh instructions were asked from constituents of the members of Congress; and even under these circumstances, Mr. Dickenson, "The Immortal Farmer," whose masterly letters had done so much to enlighten the public mind of both England and America on the rights of the colonies and the unconstitutional acts of the British Administration and Parliament, repelled the idea of separation from England. The Legislature of Pennsylvania continued to require all its members to subscribe the old legal qualification which included the promise of allegiance to George the Third; "so that Franklin," says Bancroft, "though elected for Philadelphia, through the Irish and Presbyterians, would never take his seat. Dickenson had been returned for the county by an almost unanimous vote." The Legislature, on the 4th of November, elected nine delegates to the Continental Congress. Of these, one was too ill to serve; of the rest, "Franklin stood alone as the unhesitating champion of independence; _the majority remained to the last its opponents_. On the 9th, Dickenson reported and carried the following instructions to the Pennsylvania delegates: 'We direct that you exert your utmost endeavours to agree upon and recommend such measures as you shall judge to afford the best prospect of obtaining redress of American grievances, and restoring that union and harmony between Great Britain and the colonies so essential to the welfare and happiness of both countries. Though the oppressive measures of the British Parliament and Administration have compelled us to resist their violence by force of arms, yet we strictly enjoin you, that you, in behalf of this colony, dissent from and utterly reject any propositions, should such be made, that may cause or lead to a separation from our mother country, or a change of the form of this government.' The influence of the measure was wide. Delaware was naturally swayed by the example of its more powerful neighbour; the party of the proprietary of Maryland took courage; in a few weeks the Assembly of New Jersey, in like manner, held back the delegates of that province by an equally stringent declaration."[367] After stating that the Legislature of Pennsylvania, before its adjournment, adopted rules for the volunteer battalions, and appropriated eighty thousand pounds in provincial paper money to defray the expenses of military preparation, Mr. Bancroft adds, that "extreme discontent led the more determined to expose through the press the trimming of the Assembly; and Franklin encouraged Thomas Paine, an emigrant from England of the previous year, who was master of a singularly lucid and attractive style, to write an appeal to the people of America in favour of independence."[368] "Yet the men of that day had been born and educated as subjects of a king; to them the House of Hanover was a symbol of religious toleration, the British Constitution another word for the security of liberty and property under a representative government. They were not yet enemies of monarchy; they had as yet turned away from considering whether well-organized civil institutions could not be framed for wide territories without a king; and in the very moment of resistance they longed to escape the necessity of a revolution. Zubly, a delegate from Georgia, a Swiss by birth, declared in his place 'a republic to be little better than a government of devils;' shuddered at the idea of separation from Britain as fraught with greater evils than had yet been suffered."[369]

The exact time when the minds of the leading men in the Colonies, and the colonists, began to undergo a transition from the defence of their constitutional liberties as British subjects to their security by declaring independence of Great Britain, seems to have been the receipt of the intelligence of the scornful rejection of the second petition of Congress, and of the King's proclamation, putting the advocates of colonial rights out of the protection of the law, by declaring them rebels, and requiring all public officers, civil and military, to apprehend them with a view to their punishment as such. Some individuals of eminence in the colonies had previously despaired of reconciliation with England, and had regarded Independency as the only hope of preserving their liberties, but these were the exceptions: the leaders and colonists generally still hoped for reconciliation with England by having their liberties restored, as they were recognized and enjoyed at the close of the French war in 1763. They had regarded the King as their Father and Friend, and laid all the blame upon his Ministers and Parliament, against whose acts they appealed to the King for the protection of their rights and liberties. But it gradually transpired, from year to year, that the King himself was the real prompter of these oppressive acts and measures, and though long discredited,[370] yet when the King ostentatiously announced himself as the champion of the Parliament and its acts, his determination to enforce by the whole power of the realm, the absolute submission of the colonies; and when all this intelligence, so often repeated and doubted, was confirmed by the issue of the Royal proclamation, which it was known and admitted that the King himself had urged and hastened, the most sanguine advocates and friends of reconciliation were astounded and began to despair; and the idea of independence was now boldly advocated by the press.

In 1773, Dr. Franklin said to the Earl of Chatham, "I never heard from any person the least expression of a wish for separation." In October, 1774, Washington wrote, "I am well satisfied that no such thing as independence is desired by any thinking man in America; on the contrary, that it is the ardent wish of the warmest advocates for liberty that peace and tranquillity, on constitutional grounds, may be restored, and the horrors of civil discord prevented." Jefferson stated, "Before the 19th of April, 1775 (the day of General Gage's attack on Concord, and the Lexington affair), I never heard a whisper of a disposition to separate from Great Britain." And thirty-seven days before that wanton aggression of General Gage,[371] John Adams, in Boston, published:

"That there are any who pant after independence is the greatest slander on the Province." Sparks, in a note entitled "American Independence," in the second volume of the Writings of Washington, remarks: "It is not easy to determine at what precise date the idea of independence was first entertained by the principal persons in America." Samuel Adams, after the events of the 19th of April, 1775, was prepared to advocate it. Members of the Provincial Congress of New Hampshire were of the same opinion. President Dwight, of Yale College (Travels in New England and New York, Vol. I., p. 159), says: "In the month of July, 1775, I urged in conversation with several gentlemen of great respectability, firm Whigs, and my intimate friends, the importance and even necessity of a declaration of independence on the part of the colonies, but found them disposed to give me and my arguments a hostile and contemptuous, instead of a cordial reception. These gentlemen may be considered as the representatives of the great body of thinking men of this country." In the note of Sparks are embodied the recollections of Madison, Jay, and others, and the contemporary statements of Franklin and Penn. They are in harmony with the statements and quotations in the text, and sustain the judgment of Dr. Ramsay (History of South Carolina, Vol. I., p. 164), who says: "Till the rejection of the second petition of Congress, the reconciliation with the mother country was the unanimous wish of the Americans generally."[372]

When Washington heard of the affair of Concord and Lexington, April 19, 1775, he wrote, in his own quiet residence at Mount Vernon, "Unhappy is it to reflect that a brother's sword should be sheathed in a brother's breast, and that the once happy and peaceful plains of America are to be either drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But, can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?" Mr. Bancroft says: "The reply to Bunker Hill from England reached Washington before the end of September (1775); and the manifest determination of the Ministers to push the war by sea and land, with the utmost vigour, removed from his mind every doubt of the necessity of independence. Such also was the conclusion of Greene; and the army was impatient when any of the chaplains prayed for the King."[373]

It was thus that King George the Third, by his own acts, lost the confidence and affection of his loyal subjects in America, and hastened a catastrophe of which he had been repeatedly and faithfully warned, and which none deprecated more generally and earnestly than the leaders and inhabitants of the American colonies; but who determined, and openly declared their determination in every petition to the King and Parliament for ten years, that, if necessary, at all hazards, they would maintain and defend their constitutional rights as Englishmen.

Now, at the close of the year 1775, and before entering upon the eventful year of 1776, when the American colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence, let us recapitulate the events which thus brought the mother country and her colonial offspring face to face in armed hostility.

1. No loyalty and affection could be more cordial than that of the American colonies to England at the conquest of Canada from the French, and the peace of Paris between Great Britain and France in 1763. Even the ancient and traditional disaffection of Massachusetts to England had dissolved into feelings of gratitude and respect and avowed loyalty. Indeed, loyalty and attachment to England, and pride in the British Constitution, was the universal feeling of the American colonies at the close of the war which secured North America to England, and for the triumphant termination of which the American colonies had raised and equipped no less than twenty-five thousand men, without whose services the war could not have been accomplished.

2. The first five years of the war with France in America had been disastrous to Great Britain and the colonies, under a corrupt English Administration and incompetent generals; but after the accession of the Earl of Chatham to the Premiership the tide of war in America turned in favour of Great Britain by the appointment of able generals--Amherst and Wolfe--and Admiral Boscawen and others, and by adopting constitutional methods to develop the resources of the colonies for the war; and in two years the French power was crushed and ceased to exist in America. When the Crown, through its Prime Minister, made requisition to the Colonial Legislatures for money and men, as was the usage in England, the Colonial Legislatures responded by granting large sums of money, and sending into the field more than twenty thousand soldiers, who, by their skill, courage, and knowledge of the country, and its modes of travel and warfare, constituted the pioneers, skirmishers, and often the strongest arm of the British army, and largely contributed in every instance to its most splendid victories. Their loyalty, bravery, and patriotism extracted grateful acknowledgments in both Houses of Parliament, and even from the Throne; while the colonies as cordially acknowledged the essential and successful assistance of the mother country. At no period of colonial history was there so deep-felt, enthusiastic loyalty to the British Constitution and British connection as at the close of the war between France and England in 1763. But in the meantime George the Third, after his accession to the throne in 1760, determined not only to _reign over_ but to _rule_ his kingdom, both at home and abroad. He ignored party government or control in Parliament; he resolved to be his own Prime Minister--in other words, to be despotic; he dismissed the able and patriotic statesmen who had wiped off the disgrace inflicted on British arms and prestige during the five years of the French and Indian war in the American colonies, and had given America to England, and called men one after another to succeed them, who, though in some instances they were men of ability, and in one or two instances were men of amiable and Christian character, were upon the whole the most unscrupulous and corrupt statesmen that ever stood at the head of public affairs in England, and the two Parliaments elected under their auspices were the most venal ever known in British history. The King regarded as a personal enemy any member of Parliament who opposed his policy, and hated any Minister of State (and dismissed him as soon as possible) who offered advice to, instead of receiving it from, his Royal master and implicitly obeying it; and the Ministers whom he selected were too subservient to the despotism and caprices of the Royal will, at the frequent sacrifice of their own convictions and the best interests of the empire.

For more than a hundred years the colonies had provided for and controlled their own civil, judicial, and military administration of government; and when the King required special appropriations of money and raising of men during the Seven Years' War, requisitions were made by his Ministers in his name, through the Governors, to the several Provincial Legislatures, which responded with a liberality and patriotism that excited surprise in England at the extent of their resources in both money and men. But this very development of colonial power excited jealousy and apprehensions in England, instead of sympathy and respect; and within a twelvemonth after the treaty of Paris, in 1763, the King and his Ministers determined to discourage and crush all military spirit and organization in the colonies, to denude the Colonial Legislatures of all the attributes of British constitutional free government, by the British Government not only appointing the Governors of the colonies, but by appointing the members of one branch of the Legislature, by appointing Judges as well as other public officers to hold office during the pleasure of the Crown, and fixing and paying their salaries out of moneys paid by colonists, but levied not by the Colonial Legislatures, but by Acts of the British Parliament, contrary to the usage of more than a century; and under the pretext of _defending_ the colonies, but really for the purpose of ruling them; proposing an army of 20 regiments of 500 men each, to be raised and officered in England, from the penniless and often worse than penniless of the scions and relatives of Ministers and members of Parliament, and billeted upon the colonies at the estimated expense of £100,000 sterling a year, to be paid by the colonies out of the proceeds of the Stamp and other Acts of Parliament passed for the purpose of raising a revenue in the colonies for the support of its civil and military government.

No government is more odious and oppressive than that which has the mockery of the form of free government without its powers or attributes. An individual despot may be reached, terrified, or persuaded, but a despotic oligarchy has no restraint of individual responsibility, and is as intangible in its individuality as it is grasping and heartless in its acts and policy. For governors, all executive officers, judges, and legislative councillors appointed from England, together with military officers, 20 regiments all raised in England, the military commanders taking precedence of the local civil authorities, all irresponsible to the colonists, yet paid by them out of taxes imposed upon them without their consent, is the worst and most mercenary despotism that can be conceived. The colonists could indeed continue to elect representatives to one branch of their Legislatures; but the Houses of Assembly thus elected were powerless to protect the liberties or properties of their constituents, subject to abuse and dissolution in case of their remonstrating against unconstitutional acts of tyranny or advocating rights.

Such was the system passionately insisted upon by King George the Third to establish his absolute authority over his colonial subjects in America, and such were the methods devised by his venal Ministers and Parliament to provide places and emoluments for their sons, relatives, and dependents, at the expense of the colonists, to say nothing of the consequences to the virtue of colonial families from mercenary public officers and an immoral soldiery.

The American colonies merited other treatment than that which they received at the hands of the King and Parliament from 1763 to 1776; and they would have been unworthy of the name of Englishmen, and of the respect of mankind, had they yielded an iota of the constitutional rights of British subjects, for which they so lawfully and manfully contended. What the old colonies contended for during that eventful period was substantially the same as that which has been demanded and obtained during the present century by the colonies of the Canadian Dominion, under the names of "local self-government" or "responsible government," and which is now so fully enjoyed by them. Had Queen Victoria reigned in England instead of George the Third, there would have been no Declaration of Independence, no civil war in America, but the thirteen American provinces would have remained as affectionately united to the mother country, and as free as are the provinces of the Canadian Dominion at this day.

George the Third seems to me to have been, before and during the American Revolution, the worst Sovereign for the colonies that ever occupied the throne of England; but after and since that revolution he was the best of Sovereigns for the remaining British colonies of North America. He learned lessons during that revolution which essentially changed his character as the ruler of colonies, though I am not aware that he ever formally confessed the change through which he had passed. It is therefore quite reconcilable that he should be regarded by the old American colonies, now the United States, as a tyrant, while his name is revered and loved by the colonists of the Canadian Dominion as the Father of his people.