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Chapter 30

HOOD AT BOSTON--THE GENERAL COURT REFUSES TO DO BUSINESS UNDER MILITARY SWAY--RESISTS THE BILLETING ACT--EFFECT OF THE NON-IMPORTATION ASSOCIATION--LORD NORTH PREMIER--DUTIES REVOKED EXCEPT ON TEA--THE BOSTON MASSACRE--DISUSE OF TEA--CONCILIATORY CONDUCT OF LORD BOTETOURT--HIS DEATH.


"The worst is past, and the spirit of sedition broken," writes Hood to Grenville, early in the spring of 1769.

[Footnote: Grenville Papers, vol. iii.]

When the commodore wrote this, his ships were in the harbor, and troops occupied the town, and he flattered himself that at length turbulent Boston was quelled. But it only awaited its time to be seditious according to rule; there was always an irresistible "method in its madness."

In the month of May, the General Court, hitherto prorogued, met according to charter. A committee immediately waited on the governor, stating it was impossible to do business with dignity and freedom while the town was invested by sea and land, and a military guard was stationed at the state-house, with cannon pointed at the door; and they requested the governor, as his majesty's representative, to have such forces removed out of the port and gates of the city during the session of the Assembly.

The governor replied that he had no authority over either the ships or troops. The court persisted in refusing to transact business while so circumstanced, and the governor was obliged to transfer the session to Cambridge. There he addressed a message to that body in July, requiring funds for the payment of the troops, and quarters for their accommodation. The Assembly, after ample discussion of past grievances, resolved, that the establishment of a standing army in the colony in a time of peace was an invasion of natural rights; that a standing army was not known as a part of the British constitution, and that the sending an armed force to aid the civil authority was unprecedented, and highly dangerous to the people.

After waiting some days without receiving an answer to his message, the governor sent to know whether the Assembly would, or would not, make provision for the troops. In their reply, they followed the example of the Legislature of New York, in commenting on the mutiny, or billeting act, and ended by declining to furnish funds for the purposes specified, "being incompatible with their own honor and interest, and their duty to their constituents." They were in consequence again prorogued, to meet in Boston on the 10th of January.

So stood affairs in Massachusetts. In the mean time, the non-importation associations, being generally observed throughout the colonies, produced the effect on British commerce which Washington had anticipated, and Parliament was incessantly importuned by petitions from British merchants, imploring its intervention to save them from ruin.

Early in 1770, an important change took place in the British cabinet. The Duke of Grafton suddenly resigned, and the reins of government passed into the hands of Lord North. He was a man of limited capacity, but a favorite of the king, and subservient to his narrow colonial policy. His administration, so eventful to America, commenced with an error. In the month of March, an act was passed, revoking all the duties laid in 1767, excepting that on tea. This single tax was continued, as he observed, "to maintain the parliamentary right of taxation,"--the very right which was the grand object of contest. In this, however, he was in fact yielding, against his better judgment, to the stubborn tenacity of the king.

He endeavored to reconcile the opposition, and perhaps himself, to the measure, by plausible reasoning. An impost of threepence on the pound could never, he alleged, be opposed by the colonists, unless they were determined to rebel against Great Britain. Besides, a duty on that article, payable in England, and amounting to nearly one shilling on the pound, was taken off on its exportation to America, so that the inhabitants of the colonies saved ninepence on the pound.

Here was the stumbling-block at the threshold of Lord North's administration. In vain the members of the opposition urged that this single exception, while it would produce no revenue, would keep alive the whole cause of contention; that so long as a single external duty was enforced, the colonies would consider their rights invaded, and would remain unappeased. Lord North was not to be convinced; or rather, he knew the royal will was inflexible, and he complied with its behests. "The properest time to exert our right of taxation," said he, "is when the right is refused. To temporize is to yield; and the authority of the mother country, if it is now unsupported, will be relinquished for ever: a total repeal cannot be thought of, till America is prostrate at our feet."

[Footnote: Holmes's Amer. Annals, vol. ii., p. 173.]

On the very day in which this ominous bill was passed in Parliament, a sinister occurrence took place in Boston. Some of the young men of the place insulted the military while under arms; the latter resented it; the young men, after a scuffle, were put to flight, and pursued. The alarm bells rang,--a mob assembled; the custom-house was threatened; the troops, in protecting it, were assailed with clubs and stones, and obliged to use their fire-arms, before the tumult could be quelled. Four of the populace were killed, and several wounded. The troops were now removed from the town, which remained in the highest state of exasperation; and this untoward occurrence received the opprobrious, and somewhat extravagant name of "the Boston massacre."

The colonists, as a matter of convenience, resumed the consumption of those articles on which the duties had been repealed; but continued, on principle, the rigorous disuse of tea, excepting such as had been smuggled in. New England was particularly earnest in the matter; many of the inhabitants, in the spirit of their Puritan progenitors, made a covenant to drink no more of the forbidden beverage, until the duty on tea should be repealed.

In Virginia the public discontents, which had been allayed by the conciliatory conduct of Lord Botetourt, and by his assurances, made on the strength of letters received from the ministry, that the grievances complained of would be speedily redressed, now broke out with more violence than ever. The Virginians spurned the mock-remedy which left the real cause of complaint untouched. His lordship also felt deeply wounded by the disingenuousness of ministers which had led him into such a predicament, and wrote home demanding his discharge. Before it arrived, an attack of bilious fever, acting upon a delicate and sensitive frame, enfeebled by anxiety and chagrin, laid him in his grave. He left behind him a name endeared to the Virginians by his amiable manners, his liberal patronage of the arts, and, above all, by his zealous intercession for their rights. Washington himself testifies that he was inclined "to render every just and reasonable service to the people whom he governed." A statue to his memory was decreed by the House of Burgesses, to be erected in the area of the capitol. It is still to be seen, though in a mutilated condition, in Williamsburg, the old seat of government, and a county in Virginia continues to bear his honored name.


Washington Irving