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Within six months after the adjournment of the First Continental Congress, the Association of 1774 was ratified by all the colonies except Georgia and New York. As in the case of choosing delegates, this action was taken in conventions, provincial congresses, or regular legislative assemblies.

At the same time, local committees were everywhere appointed to enforce the Association. Even before it was adopted the terrorism of loyalists had begun. Tarring and feathering was becoming the order of the day. The time had now come when men must choose sides. Loyalists were bitterly stigmatized as Tories and traitors, and the cause of liberty was sullied by acts of intolerance and persecution — the inevitable accompaniments of revolution.

In Georgia the patriotic party was unable to gain acceptance of the Association; but it was ratified by forty-five of the deputies to the provincial congress which met at Savannah on March 18, 1775. A motion of approval was defeated in the New York assembly, but that body did not abandon the American cause. The papers adopted by it, and forwarded to Edmund Burke, its agent in England, were conceived in much the same spirit as were those of Congress. The remonstrance to the commons "was found to be so emphatic in its claims of rights that the ministers opposed and prevented its reception." Furthermore, in both Georgia and New York local committees of inspection were created.

The appeal to arms seemed unavoidable; yet even at this late hour, the American leaders were resolved to use force, if force must be employed, not to set up independence, but to gain a redress of grievances. In October 1774, Washington wrote that independence is not "desired by any thinking man in all North America." Yet in the Virginia convention two months before he had said, "I will raise one thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march myself at their head for the relief of Boston." December 22 he is reported as already in command in the Northern Neck of "one thousand volunteers, as fine fellows and good woodsmen as any on our continent"; and January 17, 1775, in his county of Fairfax, he presided at a meeting which enrolled the militia and voted a tax for the purchase of arms and to pay for the service of the men.

Twelve days later Samuel Adams declared that "one regular attempt" of the ministers to subdue a colony would "open a quarrel which will never be closed, till what some of them affect to apprehend, and we sincerely deprecate, will take effect. "In still more emphatic words — five weeks before Lexington — John Adams pronounced the assertion that the people of Massachusetts were eager for independence "as great a slander on the province as ever was committed to writing."

Throughout the continent, preparations were made for armed resistance to the coercive acts. Congress had given warning that the "schemes agitated against these colonies have been so conducted, as to render it prudent that you should extend your views to mournful events, and be, in all respects, prepared for every contingency." The people responded by organizing military companies and supplying themselves with arms and ammunition. In Massachusetts in particular, affairs were moving swiftly to a crisis. The people were resolved that government under the regulating act should not be set up. Many of the "mandamus" councilors provided for by that act were forced to decline or to resign their commissions; courts were prevented from sitting; in Boston, jurors refused to be sworn; and Chief Justice Oliver was compelled to give up his office as president of the council.

Meanwhile, the popular anger was stirred by the conduct of Gage. In June he issued a proclamation which Washington condemned as "more becoming a Turkish bashaw, than an English governor." It called the non-importation agreement an "unwarrantable, hostile, and traitorous combination"; its subscribers "declared and open enemies of the King, Parliament, and the Kingdom"; and enjoined "all Magistrates and other officers within the several counties in this Province, ... to apprehend and secure for trial all and every person" who may publish or sign or invite others to sign the aforesaid "Covenant." This futile menace only increased the number of those who hastened to subscribe to the agreement. Alarmed at the hostile attitude of the province, Gage removed the seat of government from Salem back to Boston, and on September 1 took a step that came near precipitating a bloody conflict. By his order, a body of troops seized the stock of powder belonging to the province, stored on Quarry Hill "in Charlestown bounds" near Medford, and carried it to the castle. At the same time, two field pieces were brought off from Cambridge.

The news of the seizure caused great excitement. The next morning thousands of freeholders, leaving their guns in the rear, advanced to Cambridge, where they compelled several of the new councillors to resign. The militia of Worcester County and the volunteers of Hampshire County started for Boston. Incensed by the additional rumor that the warships had fired on the town, killing several persons, Israel Putnam summoned the militia of Connecticut to take up arms, and thousands responded to his call. But all these companies were stopped by express riders from Boston, reporting that at present no action was to be taken. Against the remonstrance of the selectmen the governor gave further offense by fortifying the Neck, the only entrance to Boston on the land side. This called forth a protest from the Suffolk County convention at Milton.

The first Massachusetts assembly, since the regulating act took effect, had been summoned to meet at Salem, on October 5, 1774; but fearing that the mandamus councilors would not be suffered to take their seats, Gage issued a proclamation countermanding the call. Disregarding the proclamation, held to be irregular, many of the representatives met at Salem at the appointed time. After waiting two days, the governor not appearing, they resolved themselves into a provincial congress, and a few days later adjourned to Concord, where John Hancock was chosen president and Benjamin Lincoln secretary.

This provincial congress, which soon removed to Cambridge, proceeded to form a military organization. A committee of safety was appointed with the power to call out the militia. Other committees were raised to put the province in a state of defense and to procure military stores. Three generals were chosen; the towns were directed to provide themselves with arms and ammunition; and the militia were ordered to choose company and regimental officers and to perfect themselves in discipline; while one-fourth of their number — the "minute-men" — were to be ready to march at a moment's notice.

The acts of the first provincial congress, like those of its successor, had all the force of law in the province. It was formed according to the provisions of the charter governing the choice of the House of Representatives, but it sat without a council. In vain Gage denounced its proceedings as illegal. Indeed, his functions as civil governor were now practically at an end: the royal courts were suspended, the council was destroyed, and the lesser executive bodies took their direction from the provincial congress. Therefore Gage was obliged more and more to fall back on his authority as commander of the army. Thus the revolution was practically inaugurated in Massachusetts.

A last opportunity was now given to the British government to choose between the ways that led either to peace or civil war. The ministers did not hesitate a minute to undertake the forcible subjugation of the colonies, and in the newly elected Parliament, they found themselves sustained by an overwhelming majority. The long struggle of Wilkes for constitutional rights was, indeed, crowned with success, and he was allowed to take his seat in the Commons unopposed. But popular sentiment, so far as an imperfect representation and a feeble press could give it expression, seemed strongly in favor of coercion. Gage had suggested that it might be well "to cut the colonies adrift, and leave them to anarchy and repentance." The idea was hateful to the king. "The New England governments are now in a state of rebellion," he said to North; "blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent."

The petition of Congress, with the other papers relating to America, was laid before Parliament, on January 19, 1775. The next day Chatham moved an address to the king for "immediate orders" to remove the forces from the town of Boston as soon as practicable. At once the way must be opened for conciliation; "an hour now lost may produce years of calamity," Though his motion was supported by Shelburrte and Camden, it was rejected by a vote of nearly three to one. "Nothing," said the king, "can be more calculated to bring the Americans to a due submission."

Chatham's efforts to save the empire did not end here. February 1 he brought forward a scheme for reconciliation which was liberal in spirit though requiring mutual concessions: all the obnoxious acts were to be repealed; no tax for revenue was ever to be demanded "from British freemen in America" without "common consent" given in the provincial assemblies. In return, all British subjects in the colonies were required to acknowledge the "supreme legislative authority and superintending power" of Parliament. To make this acknowledgment the delegates of the Continental Congress were to assemble, and they were required to grant to the king "a certain perpetual revenue," to be placed at the disposal of Parliament. "Chatham exerted himself on this occasion with renewed and remarkable vigor; but, in spite of all his efforts, after a warm and very pointed debate, his bill was refused the courtesy of lying on the table, and contrary to the usual course, was rejected by a vote of two to one at the first reading."

Some days later Lord North himself astonished his friends by submitting a plan for conciliation. He proposed that when any colony, through its legislature, shall make provision for contributing its "proportion to the common defense," and "shall engage to make provision also for the support of the Civil Government, and the Administration of Justice, in such Province," it "will be proper, if such proposal shall be approved" by the king and Parliament, to "forbear" laying any tax upon it except for the regulation of commerce. The measure was a mere palliative, sure to be rejected in America, and not satisfactory to the ministerial party. Nevertheless, out of deference to the prime minister, on February 27 it was adopted by a large majority.

In his heart, Lord North distrusted the very policy which he represented. Already, on February 9, at his instance, both houses had presented an address to the king, declaring that rebellion existed in Massachusetts and pledging their aid in subduing it. The next day he asked leave to introduce the bill for the "New England restraining Act," saying that "as the Americans had refused to trade with this Kingdom, it was but just that we should not suffer them to trade with any other nation."

While this measure was pending, Edmund Burke delivered his great speech on conciliation. Instead of seeking a revenue, he advised Parliament to admit the "people of our colonies into an interest in the constitution." "From six capital sources: descent, form of government, religion in the northern provinces, manners in the southern, education, the remoteness of the situation from the first mover of government — from all these causes a fierce spirit of liberty has grown up. It looks to me narrow and pedantic to apply the ordinary ideas of criminal justice to this great public contest. I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people."

Burke's warning went unheeded. March 13, 1775, disregarding the protests of British merchants, the restraining act received the royal assent. By this statute the trade of New England was confined to Great Britain, Ireland, and the British West Indies; and its people were cut off from the northern fisheries, one of their chief means of support. In April, after news of the approval of the acts of congress was received from America, a like restraint was put upon the commerce of all the other colonies except New York and Georgia, which had refused to accept the Association, and North Carolina, which the ministers had been led to believe would be won over. All petitions for conciliation were slighted. William Howe, with Clinton and Burgoyne, was sent out to reinforce Gage, and with him also went Lord Howe as commander of the naval force. But before the two brothers — "bearing the sword and the olive branch" — could reach America, the first blood of the Revolution had been shed on Lexington Green.

The second provincial congress of Massachusetts met at Cambridge, on February 1, 1775 - Under its authority, the committee of safety — whose leading spirits were now John Hancock and Joseph Warren — made a vigorous effort to put the province in a state of defense. Arms were distributed, provisions purchased, and military stores laid up. Express riders were appointed to call out the militia in case the troops should take the field. This activity was stimulated by the news from Parliament. Congress then determined to raise an army and appointed a day of fasting and prayer. Although Gage hesitated to act on the rash suggestions of Dartmouth, that the colonists should be disarmed, he sent out expeditions to seize the military stores. A company of troops, ordered to Salem to bring off some brass cannon said to be deposited there (February 26), narrowly escaped a combat with the people, mainly through the good sense of the officer in command.

Gage was now determined to send a secret expedition to destroy the magazines at Concord, a village eighteen miles northwest of Boston. To accomplish this task, on the night of April 18 Lieutenant-Colonel Smith set out with eight hundred men. The secret was not well kept, and William Dawes and Paul Revere were despatched to give the alarm.

About daylight, the troops reached Lexington, a small town twelve miles from Boston. On the common near the church, sixty or seventy of the "minutemen" under Captain Parker were drawn up. According to evidence which American historians have usually accepted as conclusive, Major Pit Cairn commanded the provincials to lay down their arms and disperse. When the order was not promptly obeyed, the regulars began firing, and soon eight of the Americans lay dead or dying upon the green, while ten others were wounded. After the battle, the provincial congress of Massachusetts ordered depositions to be taken and a narrative prepared, with a view to fixing the responsibility for the commencement of hostilities.

Of the sixty-two eye-witnesses, many of them members of Captain Parker's company, who testified regarding the fight at Lexington, all but one swore that the British began firing at the command of an officer before the minute-men had made any resistance. Nevertheless, such ex parte evidence, from the very nature of the circumstances, is not decisive. Incidentally, its weakness is in part disclosed by a British soldier who deposed that he took part in the action, "but which party fired first, I cannot exactly say, as our troops rushed on shouting, and huzzaing, previous to the firing, which was continued ..., so long as any of the provincials were to be seen."Moreover, Major Pitcairn — an honorable man, not at all likely unprovoked to order a murderous assault upon peaceful citizens — "insisted upon it to the day of his death, that the colonists fired first; and that he commanded not to fire, and endeavored to stay and stop the firing after it began." At any rate, the real responsibility for this fatal affray mounts higher than Captain Parker or Major Pitcairn and rests squarely on the shoulders of the statesmen whose fatuous policy had created these dangerous conditions.

From Lexington, the British marched on to Concord, where a guard placed by them at the Old North Bridge fired on a body of provincials who approached. The fire was returned, and several men were killed and wounded on each side.

Meanwhile, the country was aroused; and when about noon — after destroying such stores as he could find — Colonel Smith began the return march, he found his troops menaced in flank and rear by the provincials, who had gathered from many towns. From the shelter of rocks, trees, and fences, during a retreat of six miles to Lexington, an irregular but deadly fire was poured in. The regulars showed no lack of courage, but they were without necessary supplies and fought at a terrible disadvantage. At Lexington, they were nearly exhausted, and probably must soon have surrendered had they not here been received in a hollow square by a strong force under Lord Percy, whom Gage had sent to their relief.

After a short rest, Percy, who now had about eighteen hundred men in his command, began the retreat. At once the Americans renewed the attack, and the fight did not cease until at nightfall the harassed troops found shelter in Charlestown under the guns of the king's ships. On this day the Americans lost about ninety men and the British three times as many.

Debate was thus suspended by the appeal to arms. In its address to the "Inhabitants of Great Britain," the provincial congress did, indeed, allege that the "marks of ministerial vengeance have not yet detached us from our royal sovereign"; but in fact, on April 19, 1775, the war for independence had actually begun. The British force in Boston at once found itself besieged by twenty thousand minute-men, who were presently replaced by a New England army of volunteers. The moral effect of the action was very great: from New Hampshire to Georgia the colonies stood united. This unanimity was not wholly spontaneous, but it was due largely to the suddenly created revolutionary governments. In part through greater energy and superior organization, the patriots were everywhere able to triumph over the loyalist opposition. Lord North's plan of conciliation was not accepted in any colony. The assemblies refused to desert the common cause by acting separately and referred the matter to the decision of the Continental Congress.

The military spirit was fast rising. On May 10 a daring expedition under Ethan Allen, without authorization even from a revolutionary congress, seized the strong fortress of Ticonderoga, securing a large number of cannon and a vast quantity of military stores. Crown Point was likewise taken without opposition. The enthusiasm aroused by these events was not lessened by the news from Boston. The arrival of reinforcements under Howe, Clinton, and Burgoyne greatly augmented the army of Gage, and he resolved to take the offensive. On the night of June 16, to strengthen their besieging lines, the Americans seized and fortified the heights of Charlestown, known as Bunker Hill. The next day — after three desperate charges, and after the powder of the provincials had given out — the hill was taken by the British, but at a loss of over a thousand men — nearly one-third of the attacking force. For the Americans, who lost about four hundred and fifty, the defeat had all the moral effects of a victory, for it deepened their conviction that they would be able to withstand the king's regulars.

May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress had assembled in the state-house at Philadelphia; and soon it assumed the functions of a national government, which it continued to exercise for the next six years. At first, it acted rather as an adviser of the colonies than as a body vested with sovereign power. Thus counsel was given to New York regarding the proper treatment of the king's troops when they should arrive. May 26 it was unanimously resolved that the militia of that province should be armed and trained, "to prevent any attempt that may be made to gain possession of the city." The Massachusetts Provincial Congress, on its application, was advised to vest the government in an assembly and council, according to the forms of the ancient constitution, "until a governor, of his majesty's appointment, will consent to govern the colony according to its charter."

Congress soon found it necessary to undertake a sovereign function of the highest importance — the creation of a national army. On June 14 it was decided that continental troops should be raised. The next day — following a suggestion of John Adams — George Washington, of Virginia, was unanimously selected to "command all the continental forces, raised, or to be raised, for the defense of American liberty." July 2 the man whose life and character during the next twenty-four years were to have a mighty influence for good in shaping the American nation arrived in Cambridge to discharge the first duty which that nation had laid upon him.