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great spirit to our army. Time will not admit of my adding at present more than that I am Your affectionate friend,
SAMUEL ADAMS. Elbridge Gerry, Esq.
That an army of undisciplined militia should attempt to keep the field against a powerful body of regular troops, without powder enough to fire a salute in honour of their commanding general, shows what confidence they placed in the justice of their cause, and how great was the public spirit which could be relied upon as an equivalent for this materiel of war.
No formal declaration of hostilities had yet been made. The colonies still professed allegiance to the crown, and the dream of independence, if it had crossed the vision of the leading men of the times, was yet too indistinct and imperfect to be the subject of public discussion.
First measure of Naval Warfare........ Correspondence with John
The commander in chief was every where received with cordiality and respect; but the addresses that were made to him expressed a belief in the temporary character of his command ; and although on two fatal occasions the blood of the country had been poured out like water in open conflict with the armed troops of the king, the minds of the people had not shaken off their colonial vassalage. They were contented to be subjects; they asked only not to be slaves.
Some men in the grand assemblies which directed these important affairs, saw that a revolution had begun, and they knew the truth of a remark of later time, the sentiment of which then influenced their conduct, that “revolutions do not go backward.” They became sensible that war was in fact waged, and that the issue of the conflict would depend on the vigour, with which it was maintained. These statesmen were disposed to secure to the colonies all the advantages of belligerents, and as an army was authorized on land, they were inclined to prepare and commnission a regular naval force to co-operate by sea.
Among the most determined of these was Mr. Gerry. Ardent and persevering in his natural disposition, he became warmed with additional zeal by circumstances, which daily came under his observation. His own fortune and fame he had early and freely embarked in the cause, and he was indefatigable in exciting a corresponding disposition in the minds of his associates, and giving to their common efforts the most powerful direction.
To do this he thought free opportunity should be allowed to the enterprise of a mercantile and military marine, which, under the authority of the province, should be authorized to capture and bring in for adjudication hostile property on the high seas. But the arrangements of such a plan were not free from formidable embarrassments. To grant letters of marque and reprisal is the prerogative of the sovereign, and for a colony to authorize such an act against its acknowledged sovereign, was certainly rebellious if not treasona ble. The preparation of the Americans had hitherto been limited to self-defence. They had
professed no other or further design; and it was not without serious question, whether the people were yet ready to sanction measures of a different character. But aggression is sometimes the best, and sometimes the only defence.
Impressed with the importance of the object, and trusting to the intelligence of the community to see and approve its advantages, Mr. Gerry proposed appointing a committee to prepare a law to encourage the fitting out of armed vessels, and to establish a court for the trial and condemnation of prizes. The measure was sustained, though not without opposition, and Mı. Gerry was of course chairman of the committee.
It was no slight difficulty to make this law appear even plausibly consistent with the provincial character of Massachusetts. The difficulty was suggested to Mr. Gerry by some gentlemen not so seriously impressed with its importance as he was. Never fear, said he, we will contrive to whereas the matter into some reasonable form.
The law reported by this committee was passed by the provincial congress November 10, 1775, and is the first actual avowal of offensive hostility against the mother country, which is to be found in the annals of the revolution. It is not the less worthy of consideration as the first effort to establish an American naval armament. Its preamble is a curious effort to reconcile the theory of obedience and the fact of resistance; to maintain nominal allegiance with actual rebellion.*
* At a later day Mr. Gerry gave the following account of this law in a letter to Mr. Adams.
“ This reminds me of an anecdote often told by the late governour Sullivan of an act, which was prepared by him and myself in the lobby of the Watertown meeting-house, where at that time the provincial congress held its session, the lobby being a small apartment, with a window, under the belfry. The act was to authorize privateering. The governour agreed to draw the act on condition that I should prepare the preamble. This I grounded on the royal charter of the province, which authorized us to levy war against the common enemy of both countries. Such we considered the British nation, with the ships of war and armies employed against-us; and we, accordingly, as loyal subjects, used all the power given us by the charter to capture and destroy them. The goverpour said the act and its preamble was printed in the London Magazine, as a political curiosity.”— See Appendir A.
In referring to this law, Mrs. Warren in her history of the revolution, calls it a “ spirited measure contemplated by few." The arming and equipping ships (she says) to cruise on British property, was a bold attempt, that startled the apprehensions of many, zealously opposed to the exercise of
President Adams, one of the great actors in this national drama, and whose correspondence has so often already illustrated its character and interest, commenting at a subsequent period on Mrs. Warren's history, remarks in a letter to Mr. Gerry, “I should have expected this ingenious lady would have inserted your law, which is one of the most important documents in the history
of the revolution; but the above paragraph is all she says upon an event so extremely important to the salvation of her country at that time and this."