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THE EVE OF REVOLUTION.
A CENTURY and a half had now passed since the first colony had been planted on American soil. The colonists were fast ripening into fitness for independence. They had increased with marvellous rapidity. Europe, never ceased to send forth her superfluous and needy thousands. America opened wide her hospitable doors, and gave assurance of liberty and comfort to all who came. The thirteen colonies now contained a population of about three millions.
Up to the year 1764, the Americans cherished a deep reverence and affection for the mother country. They were proud of her great place among the nations. They gloried in the splendor of her military achievements. They copied her manners and her fashions. She was in all things their model. They always spoke of England as “home.” To be an Old England man was to be a person of rank and importance among them. They yielded a loving obedience to her laws. They were governed, as Benjamin Franklin stated it, at the expense of simple pen and ink. When money was asked from their Assemblies, it was given without grudge. “They were led by a thread,” such was their love for the land which gave them birth.
Ten or twelve years passed. A marvellous change came over the temper of the American people. They bound themselves by great oaths to use no article of English manufacture, to engage in no transaction which
The Eve of Revolution.
would put a shilling into any English pocket. They formed " the inconvenient habit of carting,” that is, of tarring and feathering and dragging through the streets, such persons as avowed friendship for the English government. They burned the Acts of the English Parliament by the hands of the common hangman. They killed the king's soldiers. They refused every amicable proposal. They cast from them for ever the king's authority. They engendered a dislike to the English name, of which some traces lingered among them for generations.
By what unhallowed magic was this change wrought so swiftly? By what process, in so few years, were three millions of people taught to abhor the country they so loved ?
The ignorance and folly of the English government wrought this evil. But there is little cause for regret. Under the fuller knowledge of our modern time, colonies are allowed to discontinue their connection with the mother country when it is their wish to do so. Better had America gone in peace. But better to go, even in wrath and bloodshed, than continue in paralyzing dependence upon England.
For many years England had governed her American colonies harshly, and in a spirit of undisguised selfishness. America was ruled, not for her own good, but for the good of English commerce. She was not allowed to export her products except to England. No foreign ship might enter her ports. Woollen goods were not allowed to be sent from one colony to another. At one time the manufacture of hats was forbidden. In a liberal mood Parliament removed that prohibition, but decreed that no maker of hats should employ any negro workman, or any larger number of apprentices than two. Iron-works were forbidden. Up to the latest hour of English rule the Bible was not allowed to be printed in America.
The Americans had long borne the cost of their own government and defence. But in that age of small revenue and profuse expenditure on unmeaning continental wars, it had been often suggested that America should be taxed for the purposes of the home government. Some one proposed that to Sir Robert Walpole in a time of need. The wise Sir Robert shook his head. It must be a bolder man than he was who would attempt that. A man bolder, because less wise, was found in due time.
The Seven Years' War had ended, and England had added a hundred millions to her national debt. The country was suffering, as countries always do after great wars, and it was no easy matter to fit the new burdens on to the national shoulder. The hungry eye of Lord Grenville searched where a new tax might be laid. The Americans had begun visibly to prosper. Already their growing wealth was the theme of envious discourse among English merchants. The English officers who had fought in America spoke in glowing terms of the magnificent hospitality which had been extended to them. No more need be said. The House of Commons passed a resolution asserting their right to tax the Americans. No solitary voice was raised against this fatal resolution. Immediately after, an Act was passed imposing certain taxes upon silks, coffee, sugar, and other articles. The Americans remonstrated. They were willing, they said, to vote what moneys the king required of them, but they vehemently denied the right of any Assembly in which they were not represented to take from them any portion of their property. They were the subjects of the king, but they owed no obedience to the English Parliament. Lord Grenville went on his course. He had been told the Americans would complain but submit, and he believed it. Next session an Act was passed imposing Stamp Duties on America. The measure awakened no interest.
The Eve of Revolution.
Edmund Burke said he had never been present at a more languid debate. In the House of Lords there was no debate at all. With so little trouble was a continent rent away from the British empire.
Benjamin Franklin told the House of Commons that America would never submit to the Stamp Act, and that no power on earth could enforce it. The Americans made it impossible for Government to mistake their sentiments. Riots, which swelled from day to day into dimensions more enormous and alarming," burst forth in the New England States. Everywhere the stamp distributors were compelled to resign their offices. One unfortunate man was led forth to Boston Common, and made to sign his resignation in presence of a vast crowd. Another, in precarious health, was visited in his sick-room, and obliged to pledge that if he lived he would resign. A universal resolution was made that no English goods would be imported till the Stamp Act was repealed. The colonists would "eat nothing, drink nothing, wear nothing that comes from England," while this great injustice endured. The Act was to come into force on the ist of November. That day the bells rang out funereal peals, and the colonists wore the aspect of men on whom some heavy calamity has fallen. But the Act never came into force. Not one of Lord Grenville's stamps was ever bought or sold in America. Some of the stamped paper was burned by the mob. The rest was hidden away to save it from the same fate.
Without stamps, marriages were null; mercantile transactions ceased to be binding ; suits at law were impossible. Nevertheless, the business of human life went on. Men married ; they bought; they sold ; they went to law, — illegally, because without stamps. But no harm came of it.
England heard with amazement that America refused to obey the law. There were some who demanded that the
Stamp Act should be enforced by the sword. But it greatly moved the English merchants that America should cease to import their goods. William Pitt — not yet Earl of Chatham - denounced the Act, and said he was glad America had resisted. Pitt and the merchants triumphed, and the Act
was repealed. There was illumination in the city that night. The city bells rang for joy. The ships in the Thames displayed all their colors. The saddest heart in all London was that of poor King George, who never ceased to lament “ the fatal repeal of the Stamp Act."