Obrázky stránek

Your care in this matter will be a further obligation to Your humble servants,


By order of committee. Mr. Elbridge Gerry.


Boston, Sept. 22, 1774.


I am desired by the committee of donations to request the favour of you, or some of our friends, to buy for us a load or two of wood, to pay as great a part as you can out of the corn that was left with you by the North Carolina vessel about three weeks past. We understand that corn sells at 3s. Ad. at Salem. Please to excuse us thus frequently troubling you, and be assured the committee are sensible of their great obligations to you and their friends at Marblehead. Your friend and humble servant,



The Provincial Congress of Massachusetts........Mr. Gerry elected a

Member........ Its Character.

Events were occurring too important and multiplied to be managed any longer by mere local committees. The Boston port bill had shut up its harbour and annihilated all its trade; a solemn league and covenant followed it, by which the people were bound not to import or use any English goods. The courts of justice were interrupted because of the arrangements about salaries. A law existed by which persons accused of political offences might be sent to Great Britain for trial. These great events combined to produce a patriotic excitement, and put into requisition the talents, the character and the virtue of the land. An assembly of delegates from all the towns in the province convened at Salem in October, to which Mr. Gerry was returned by a large majority as one of the members from his native town. From Salem the convention adjourned to Concord, and assumed the form of a legislative meeting, by choosing John Hancock to be their president, and Benjamin Lincoln their secretary.

This assembly had no justification for convening


by any provisions of the provincial charter ; and their assuming the powers of legislation, and other high acts of authority and government, was supported by no other sanction than the voluntary consent and approbation of the people.

Resistance to organized government usually begins by military force. The arm of the law is active and powerful enough to put down all opposition that is not supported by the bayonet ; but the American revolution began by the exertion of moral and intellectual power. It commenced in an intelligent and peaceable effort by the people to direct for themselves, and by themselves, the public business of the province; and so far as Massachusetts was concerned, the assembling of these delegates with the intention of exercising all the powers of legislation, and carrying this intention into complete effect, was a perfect abandonment of the provincial government, an overthrow of the royal power, and the beginning of the existence of a free, sovereign and independent state.

The assembly which met at Concord, and afterwards at Watertown, assumed the title of the provincial congress. Their numbers, their forms of proceeding, all the minor arrangements of their session were as conformable as might be to ancient usage under the charter of the crown. But they assembled without the sanction of the authority therein prescribed. They were not the legislative power in that instrument intended. The governour was excluded from any connexion with their deliberations. No approbation from the executive was sought for, in order to give efficacy to their resolves. They assumed the entire legislative and executive authority of the province. The governour and the royal charter under which he acted were effectually deposed.


This assembly of distinguished citizens, unsupported by military power, but resting with more security on the voluntary approbation of the people, constituted in effect the supreme power of a new commonwealth ; and maintained it with consummate ability and eventual success. From the day of their first meeting the royal authority within the province of Massachusetts was forever at an end.

Historians in the splendour of those wonderful achievements, which accompanied the American revolution, have passed with too little attention this great event, in which it may be said to have commenced. The assembling of a provincial congress was in fact the beginning of that grand spectacle. Whatever preceded it was preparation for the astonishing event. Whatever followed it was the mode or the means of securing or confirming it. This was the revolution. The province by this act threw off its allegiance to the crown. The people by their delegates established a new political power. With steadiness, con

fidence, prudence and moderation, they proceeded by their own authority to organize a government, which should endeavour to preserve for them their invaluable rights.

Appearances of respect for the crown were indeed preserved as far as possible, and there were undoubtedly timid and interested men in and out of the congress, who did not realize or were unwilling to admit the full character of this popular assembly; but neither appearances of respect, nor professions of duty could disguise the undeniable fact, that one government had ceased, and another government had begun.

The earlier organization of the first continental congress, which met in Philadelphia on the fourth of September preceding, cannot be considered as anticipating the designs of this provincial assembly, or derogating from the honour to which it is entitled in the eyes of posterity. A convention of delegates from several of the provinces, for consultation on matters of common interest, was not unknown to the earlier history of the country; and did not necessarily interfere with the allegiance of the subjects; on the contrary, it was a measure tending rather to confirm and establish it. Thus the congress at Philadelphia, taking former similar assemblies as its guide, did not at first intersere with any lawfully established power. It did not come into collision with any of the prerogatives of the crown. Whatever the prophetic spirit of pa

« PředchozíPokračovat »