Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

quickened the contagion of revolutionary doctrines, and the fact, that the oppressive measures of the Government immediately affected commercial interests, rendered the large ports the scenes of the first grievance and complaint. Our city was the theatre of the first overt act of rebellion and actual insurrection. In fact, the materials for combustion had been long collecting there. At various times anterior to the general conflagration, the fire of opposition had burst forth; and though, as in the case of the combat with Captain Preston, it had been suppressed, every thing seemed on that account the more ready for rekindling, whenever accident should apply the torch. In our sister city, there was less harmony of sentiment and action, in consequence not only of a different constitution of society, but of an accidental difference in the course of events. Manifest as was the dissimilarity in the former particular, occasioned by the influence of the proprietary party, who had a direct and substantial interest in the preservation of tranquillity, and by the pacific tendency of the principles of the Society of Friends, it would beyond doubt have been less apparent, had the same impulse to violence been given. We do not pretend to say, that the staid and reflecting ancestors of our Philadelphia brethren would have gone to the work of rebellion, as did our progenitors, in masquerade; but there is every reason to believe, that, had the tea ships arrived first at that city, and the same arrogant folly and insolence been exhibited there as here, by the Government party, the waters of the Delaware would have been impregnated with the hated herb. As it was, there was more than one developement of excessive and appropriate exasperation. On receiving the intelligence of Dr. Franklin's examination before the Privy Council, a manifestation of feeling occurred, illustrative of the actual state of the public mind. A cart was prepared, with the usual decorations for such exhibitions, in which were placed the figures of the SolicitorGeneral, Mr. Wedderburne, and Governor Hutchinson, and in open defiance of the delegated authority of royalty, was drawn through the principal streets of the city, and with its contents publicly burned in the presence of an immense concourse at the Coffee-house. When the arrival of the tea ships was announced, a degree of excitement prevailed, which, had it not been tranquillized, would have led to open violence and resistance. Meeting after meeting had been held in anticipation of the event, and the most strenuous exertions made

a

by all parties, to give to the inevitable explosion a direction suited to their various views. A spontaneous, though informal resolution was taken, that the ordinary services of pilotage should be withheld; and though the leading whigs earnestly opposed such a course, as calculated to discredit the cause of opposition, the decision was formed and the vessel was unable to procure a pilot. Her actual arrival below the city was a signal for a more open demonstration of popular sentiment. A town meeting composed of several thousand citizens was convened, and resolutions suited to the meridian of Faneuil Hall were adopted, threatening summary retribution in case the wishes of the people should be slighted. This indication of certain consequences, the captain and consignees thought it expedient to regard; and in less than six hours from the time of dropping anchor in the Delaware, the ministerial adventure was on its return to Great Britain.

We have referred to the conduct of the Philadelphians in relation to the Revenue Bill rather than to that produced by the Stamp Act, because it better illustrates the actual state of feeling anterior to the catastrophe, and because it served immediately to bring forward the patriots, who, in the eventful struggles of succeeding years, gained enduring fame. Before this time the ardent and zealous, those who were truly the men of revolution, cautiously, and, from a strong sense of expediency, kept themselves in the shade until accident should occasion the final rupture. They felt that active participation on their part might produce a reaction, and, by rendering the timid still more cautious, might obstruct the current of popular seeling, which they knew would flow on without their interference. The necessity and propriety of this reserve resulted from a peculiarity in the political condition of the Province, arising from local causes, and from the great ascendency of the Quaker interest, whose acquiescence it was necessary for the popular party to secure. For many years, the councils of the Colony had been distracted by conflicts of a violent kind. There had been an uninterrupted series of disputes between the proprietaries and the popular branch of the Colonial Legislature, of which the natural result was increased obstinacy on both sides, without the least shadow of concession by either. The Quakers, uniformly the predominant sect, averse in all instances from extremities of any kind, had acquired great influence, by their wealth, their numbers, and their respectability, and, by the inculcation of their pacific tenets, obviated the effect of contests so bitter and unremitting. Had these principles been less prevalent, different consequences would have ensued, and the Assembly of this Colony, like those of Virginia and Massachusetts, would have been the theatre of animated and fearless discussions, in which the least loyal doctrines would have been boldly uttered and resolutely sustained. As it was, however, in the first instance anti-ministerial, and à fortiori revolutionary opinions met with comparatively little favor. Every effort was made to prevent a rupture, which, is it once occurred, every one knew must be irreparable. It was necessary to try every conceivable project of conciliation and compromise, before this pacific set of men could be induced to enter the ranks of opposition. During the disputes with the Governors, the Friends had consistently supported what were called the popular doctrines, and had uniformly opposed the proprietary interests. Transition from one kind of opposition to another would seem to be natural. Yet, with all their inveterate and well-ascertained antipathy to the proprietors, and their avowed anxiety to alter the form of Colonial Government, they shrank from active resistance to the parent country, and scrupulously avoided the contagion of principles, by any construction or in any degree revolutionary. It was in this way, that the patriotic career of Pennsylvania was at first retarded, and it was on this account, that her active and zealous whigs appeared comparatively at a later period before the world. They were, for the reasons we have briefly stated, hampered by the necessity of a gradual persuasion of the Friends, and by the reasonable fear, that extreme measures of any kind, if taken too soon, would occasion a fatal secession. They had foresight enough to know that the halcyon season of equivocal tranquillity which then existed, and the continuance of which was the burthen of many a fervent prayer, could not in the nature of things endure long, and they attached too much importance to harmony of sentiment and action on the occurrence of the catastrophe, to endanger it by indiscreet and premature manifestations of their zeal. When Mr. Quincy, at a still later period, with characteristic ardor, complained in a letter to Mr. Dickinson, of the refinements, delays, and experiments of the Philadelphians,' he forgot the difference of the elements which he and his correspondent breathed ; that while in the one place the atmosphere was

[ocr errors]

electrical with indignant zeal, and but one voice was heard and one sentiment uttered; in the other there was a temporary qualification of hostile feeling, which time only could remove. He knew nothing of the anxieties and deferred hopes of those who sympathized with every grievance, and bitterly lamented their inability to place themselves at once in the line of opposition.

The crisis was not long postponed. The unceremonious refusal to permit the importation of the tea shipments, was an act of confessed illegality and aggravated insult

, which no one was so sanguine as to suppose would be allowed to pass unnoticed by the ministry, and every one waited in silent expectation for the developement of vengeance.

The Bostonians had thrown the tea into the river. The Philadelphians had not, because they had found in those interested more compliant adversaries, but had compelled the captain to carry back his cargo whence it came. The difference of offence was slight, for though there was but one criminal overt act, so perfect was the sympathy throughout the Colonies, that there were no degrees of excitement on this point, and those who had most actively offended were not more reasonably apprehensive than those who had justified the act of violence, and whose innocence of outrage could only be attributed to the want of opportunity. For several months after the tea ship sailed, there was an ominous tranquillity, broken by no expression of public feeling. It was the boding quiet that precedes the storm. There is a passage in the life of the puritan, Colonel Hutchinson, couched in the quaint language of the day, which is accurately descriptive of the period to which we allude ; • The land,' says the fair historian, was then at peace,—it being towards the end of the reigne of King James 1.,-if that quietness may be called a peace, which was rather like the calme and smooth surface of the sea, whose dark womb is already impregnated of a horrid tempest.' Legislative omnipotence, the vital principle of the Stamp Act, the declaratory law and the Revenue Bill had been defied, and no one doubted, that severe retribution would follow the commission of what, on the royal and ministerial scale of criminality, was the height of political enormity. The bolt of vengeance did not long lie unemployed in the metropolitan armory. The fury of insulted authority was realized and concentrated in the Boston Port Bill, the news of which, and of the conduct of its

6

immediate victims, reached Philadelphia in the early part of May, 1774, and marked the era of the full developement of the patriotic zeal, which previously had been unnaturally suppressed.

The object we have had in view, is not to dwell upon the details of local history further than as they illustrate the valuable biographical materials which are yet to be produced. The prominent incidents of the times have been recorded by the general historian; but the hidden impulses to action, the secret motives, the remote and final causes of these results, can be ascertained only from the private and confidential correspondence of the patriots of the times. In the interval between the intelligence of the Port Bill, and the meeting of the Congress of 1774, each hour seemed destined to develope some new mode of oppression abroad, and some variety of excitement and l'esentment at home. On the part of the patriots, activity had usurped the place of deliberation, and compromise and conciliation were forgotten in the sense of the necessity of some kind of opposition to claims and impositions, felt and acknowledged by all but a small fragment of the coinmunity to be intolerable. By opposition we do not mean actual hostility and rebellion, having independence for its aim, for such a result we have no reason to believe was then generally anticipated, but resolute refusal to acknowledge the right of imposition and coercion, and a readiness to yield unreserved sympathy to those who were the immediate victims of ministerial tyranny. Such an opposition was fully organized in Philadelphia before the assembling of the General Congress. When that body met, the necessity of local exertion seemed to be in a measure removed, and the individuals who had been the heroes of the provincial stage, and to whose merits and efforts we wish especially to refer, were transferred to a higher sphere of action on the legislative theatre of the nation. The proceedings of the Congress of 1774 are matters of history, to which we reser no further than incidentally to notice them. It was the venerable parent of American legislation, the untainted source of our national honor and renown. It was an assembly placed by the character of its objects above the suspicion of impure or selfish motive, representing the majesty of an injured people, and acting under the guidance of no wish, but to do full justice to the end of its institution. It embodied all the romance and purity of purpose that adorn revolutions, and was destitute of

« IndietroContinua »