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triotism might have expected from the wisdom which it collected, and the enthusiasm which it excited, it assumed for itself no exercise of sovereignty. Its session was peaceable, and beyond the danger of hostile aggression.
Not so the provincial congress of Massachusetts. Its organization was in opposition to the king's authority. It was so considered by the governour, who admonished the members that “their assembling as they had done was a violation of their own constitution."
The provincial congress met not for consultation merely, but action; and it proceeded to measures, which, had defeat ensued, would unquestionably have been termed overt acts of treason ; and subjected the leading members to capital punishment.
With more than Spartan firmness this band of patriots voluntarily assumed the responsibility of their dangerous situation. In the very front of the formidable force which was collected in the metropolis, and in view of the tyrannical use which was made of it among their friends, unmoved by their own personal danger, and undismayed by an awful disparity of power, they made every honourable exertion which men could make, to rouse among their countrymen, and extend far and wide the spirit of resistance; and to provide the means for making this resistance effectual. In addresses and resolutions of the most impassioned eloquence
and overwhelming invective, they poured forth the complaints and resentment of a high minded, an enlightened and an oppressed people ; and satisfied that they could not
“Charm ache with air, nor agony with words,” they laboured industriously to increase that physical ability, which should give efficacy to the high moral feelings they devoutly invoked.
Measures of the Provincial Congress of 1774........ Its Committees.
REPRESENTATIVEs in the general court of the province of Massachusetts were chosen by the several corporate towns of the province, the number from each town depending on its population. The right of election was rarely exercised to its full extent.
The number of members at any one time, seldom exceeded one hundred and forty. In selecting delegates to the provincial congress, the same rule was observed, but the right was more generally exercised. Few towns were unrepresented, and the larger returned a full delegation. The whole number which convened were two hundred and forty-eight.
The first efficient measure of the congress was to secure the materials of war, and especially to obtain a supply of arms and ammunition, of which the province was lamentably deficient. They directed that taxes should no longer be paid to the treasurer of the province, but appointed a treasurer by their own authority, to whom the annual assessments were to be paid. They reorganized the militia, invited voluntary associations to be formed for instruction in the military art, appointed general officers, and took such other measures as a provident foresight of the approaching crisis rendered expedient for the safety of their constituents.
According to the habit of the times, important affairs were intrusted to select committees, by whose intelligence and activity the necessary measures were arranged, often without reference to the appointing body. These committees, in the unsettled state of legal authority, exercised an executive power where it was useful, almost according to their discretion. The importance of the business of a committee was marked by the character of the individuals selected to compose it. The post of honour was always that of labour, and it might be of danger; and was assigned, not as a vain compliment to individual influence, but to call into full exercise the talents that it elevated.
On the organization of the assembly, a committee was appointed to consider the state of the province. Fourteen of the most distinguished members of the congress, among whom was Mr. Gerry, composed this committee. They published a bold and energetic appeal, which, in the form of an address to governour Gage, was calculated to justify the authority they had assumed, to awaken their constituents to the dangers which they feared, and to rouse them to a sense of the injuries they had sustained. They professed their loyalty to the crown, and their disposition for tranquillity and peace; but they affirmed, that the regal power was preserve the
exerted to harass and enslave them, and had ceased to be a blessing. They enumerated, in strong terms, the evils, under which they were suffering, and claimed a discontinuance of the offensive measures which produced them, as the only way to
of the community. Not contented with a mere proclamation of their rights, the congress appointed a committee of safety to preserve them. This was a kind of executive commission, whose power was almost as unlimited as the Roman dictators, « ne quid detrementi capiat respublica.” Mr. Gerry was of course a member of this committee.
It is to the credit of the individuals, of whom this and the several other committees for action were composed, that in the arduous and delicate duties which the occasion required, when energy on their part might operate injuriously on private rights, and hesitation be fatal to the public interest; when before them was an exasperated mil tary power, and around them open adherents of the crown, or timid friends and vacillating advisers; when the generally prevailing spirit of the people often outstripped the limits of prudence, and required, in particular cases, to be restrained and controlled, as often as to be urged on and excited ; when the civil authority, which had lost the usual badges of its power, was necessarily silent, and difficulties of such novel and perplexing character were constantly recurring as might justify depart