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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard
» PART II. CONFLICT AND INDEPENDENCE
» CHAPTER VI

«·American Independence · Military Affairs·»


The Establishment of Government and the New Allegiance

The Committees of Correspondence.—As soon as debate had passed into armed resistance, the patriots found it necessary to consolidate their forces by organizing civil government. This was readily effected, for the means were at hand in town meetings, provincial legislatures, and committees of correspondence. The working tools of the Revolution were in fact the committees of correspondence—small, local, unofficial groups of patriots formed to exchange views and create public sentiment. As early as November, 1772, such a committee had been created in Boston under the leadership of Samuel Adams. It held regular meetings, sent emissaries to neighboring towns, and carried on a campaign of education in the doctrines of liberty.

The Colonies of North America at the Time of the Declaration of Independence

Upon local organizations similar in character to the Boston committee were built county committees and then the larger colonial committees, congresses, and conventions, all unofficial and representing the revolutionary elements. Ordinarily the provincial convention was merely the old legislative assembly freed from all royalist sympathizers and controlled by patriots. Finally, upon these colonial assemblies was built the Continental Congress, the precursor of union under the Articles of Confederation and ultimately under the Constitution of the United States. This was the revolutionary government set up within the British empire in America.

State Constitutions Framed.—With the rise of these new assemblies of the people, the old colonial governments broke down. From the royal provinces the governor, the judges, and the high officers fled in haste, and it became necessary to substitute patriot authorities. The appeal to the colonies advising them to adopt a new form of government for themselves, issued by the Congress in May, 1776, was quickly acted upon. Before the expiration of a year, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, and New York had drafted new constitutions as states, not as colonies uncertain of their destinies. Connecticut and Rhode Island, holding that their ancient charters were equal to their needs, merely renounced their allegiance to the king and went on as before so far as the form of government was concerned. South Carolina, which had drafted a temporary plan early in 1776, drew up a new and more complete constitution in 1778. Two years later Massachusetts with much deliberation put into force its fundamental law, which in most of its essential features remains unchanged to-day.

The new state constitutions in their broad outlines followed colonial models. For the royal governor was substituted a governor or president chosen usually by the legislature; but in two instances, New York and Massachusetts, by popular vote. For the provincial council there was substituted, except in Georgia, a senate; while the lower house, or assembly, was continued virtually without change. The old property restriction on the suffrage, though lowered slightly in some states, was continued in full force to the great discontent of the mechanics thus deprived of the ballot. The special qualifications, laid down in several constitutions, for governors, senators, and representatives, indicated that the revolutionary leaders were not prepared for any radical experiments in democracy. The protests of a few women, like Mrs. John Adams of Massachusetts and Mrs. Henry Corbin of Virginia, against a government which excluded them from political rights were treated as mild curiosities of no significance, although in New Jersey women were allowed to vote for many years on the same terms as men.

By the new state constitutions the signs and symbols of royal power, of authority derived from any source save “the people,” were swept aside and republican governments on an imposing scale presented for the first time to the modern world. Copies of these remarkable documents prepared by plain citizens were translated into French and widely circulated in Europe. There they were destined to serve as a guide and inspiration to a generation of constitution-makers whose mission it was to begin the democratic revolution in the Old World.

The Articles of Confederation.—The formation of state constitutions was an easy task for the revolutionary leaders. They had only to build on foundations already laid. The establishment of a national system of government was another matter. There had always been, it must be remembered, a system of central control over the colonies, but Americans had had little experience in its operation. When the supervision of the crown of Great Britain was suddenly broken, the patriot leaders, accustomed merely to provincial statesmanship, were poorly trained for action on a national stage.

Many forces worked against those who, like Franklin, had a vision of national destiny. There were differences in economic interest—commerce and industry in the North and the planting system of the South. There were contests over the apportionment of taxes and the quotas of troops for common defense. To these practical difficulties were added local pride, the vested rights of state and village politicians in their provincial dignity, and the scarcity of men with a large outlook upon the common enterprise.

Nevertheless, necessity compelled them to consider some sort of federation. The second Continental Congress had hardly opened its work before the most sagacious leaders began to urge the desirability of a permanent connection. As early as July, 1775, Congress resolved to go into a committee of the whole on the state of the union, and Franklin, undaunted by the fate of his Albany plan of twenty years before, again presented a draft of a constitution. Long and desultory debates followed and it was not until late in 1777 that Congress presented to the states the Articles of Confederation. Provincial jealousies delayed ratification, and it was the spring of 1781, a few months before the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, when Maryland, the last of the states, approved the Articles. This plan of union, though it was all that could be wrung from the reluctant states, provided for neither a chief executive nor a system of federal courts. It created simply a Congress of delegates in which each state had an equal voice and gave it the right to call upon the state legislatures for the sinews of government—money and soldiers.

The Application of Tests of Allegiance.—As the successive steps were taken in the direction of independent government, the patriots devised and applied tests designed to discover who were for and who were against the new nation in the process of making. When the first Continental Congress agreed not to allow the importation of British goods, it provided for the creation of local committees to enforce the rules. Such agencies were duly formed by the choice of men favoring the scheme, all opponents being excluded from the elections. Before these bodies those who persisted in buying British goods were summoned and warned or punished according to circumstances. As soon as the new state constitutions were put into effect, local committees set to work in the same way to ferret out all who were not outspoken in their support of the new order of things.

Mobbing the Tories
Mobbing the Tories

These patriot agencies, bearing different names in different sections, were sometimes ruthless in their methods. They called upon all men to sign the test of loyalty, frequently known as the “association test.” Those who refused were promptly branded as outlaws, while some of the more dangerous were thrown into jail. The prison camp in Connecticut at one time held the former governor of New Jersey and the mayor of New York. Thousands were black-listed and subjected to espionage. The black-list of Pennsylvania contained the names of nearly five hundred persons of prominence who were under suspicion. Loyalists or Tories who were bold enough to speak and write against the Revolution were suppressed and their pamphlets burned. In many places, particularly in the North, the property of the loyalists was confiscated and the proceeds applied to the cause of the Revolution.

The work of the official agencies for suppression of opposition was sometimes supplemented by mob violence. A few Tories were hanged without trial, and others were tarred and feathered. One was placed upon a cake of ice and held there “until his loyalty to King George might cool.” Whole families were driven out of their homes to find their way as best they could within the British lines or into Canada, where the British government gave them lands. Such excesses were deplored by Washington, but they were defended on the ground that in effect a civil war, as well as a war for independence, was being waged.

The Patriots and Tories.—Thus, by one process or another, those who were to be citizens of the new republic were separated from those who preferred to be subjects of King George. Just what proportion of the Americans favored independence and what share remained loyal to the British monarchy there is no way of knowing. The question of revolution was not submitted to popular vote, and on the point of numbers we have conflicting evidence. On the patriot side, there is the testimony of a careful and informed observer, John Adams, who asserted that two-thirds of the people were for the American cause and not more than one-third opposed the Revolution at all stages.

On behalf of the loyalists, or Tories as they were popularly known, extravagant claims were made. Joseph Galloway, who had been a member of the first Continental Congress and had fled to England when he saw its temper, testified before a committee of Parliament in 1779 that not one-fifth of the American people supported the insurrection and that “many more than four-fifths of the people prefer a union with Great Britain upon constitutional principles to independence.” At the same time General Robertson, who had lived in America twenty-four years, declared that “more than two-thirds of the people would prefer the king’s government to the Congress’ tyranny.” In an address to the king in that year a committee of American loyalists asserted that “the number of Americans in his Majesty’s army exceeded the number of troops enlisted by Congress to oppose them.”

The Character of the Loyalists.—When General Howe evacuated Boston, more than a thousand people fled with him. This great company, according to a careful historian, “formed the aristocracy of the province by virtue of their official rank; of their dignified callings and professions; of their hereditary wealth and of their culture.” The act of banishment passed by Massachusetts in 1778, listing over 300 Tories, “reads like the social register of the oldest and noblest families of New England,” more than one out of five being graduates of Harvard College. The same was true of New York and Philadelphia; namely, that the leading loyalists were prominent officials of the old order, clergymen and wealthy merchants. With passion the loyalists fought against the inevitable or with anguish of heart they left as refugees for a life of uncertainty in Canada or the mother country.

Tories Assail the Patriots.—The Tories who remained in America joined the British army by the thousands or in other ways aided the royal cause. Those who were skillful with the pen assailed the patriots in editorials, rhymes, satires, and political catechisms. They declared that the members of Congress were “obscure, pettifogging attorneys, bankrupt shopkeepers, outlawed smugglers, etc.” The people and their leaders they characterized as “wretched banditti … the refuse and dregs of mankind.” The generals in the army they sneered at as “men of rank and honor nearly on a par with those of the Congress.”

Patriot Writers Arouse the National Spirit.—Stung by Tory taunts, patriot writers devoted themselves to creating and sustaining a public opinion favorable to the American cause. Moreover, they had to combat the depression that grew out of the misfortunes in the early days of the war. A terrible disaster befell Generals Arnold and Montgomery in the winter of 1775 as they attempted to bring Canada into the revolution—a disaster that cost 5000 men; repeated calamities harassed Washington in 1776 as he was defeated on Long Island, driven out of New York City, and beaten at Harlem Heights and White Plains. These reverses were almost too great for the stoutest patriots.

Pamphleteers, preachers, and publicists rose, however, to meet the needs of the hour. John Witherspoon, provost of the College of New Jersey, forsook the classroom for the field of political controversy. The poet, Philip Freneau, flung taunts of cowardice at the Tories and celebrated the spirit of liberty in many a stirring poem. Songs, ballads, plays, and satires flowed from the press in an unending stream. Fast days, battle anniversaries, celebrations of important steps taken by Congress afforded to patriotic clergymen abundant opportunities for sermons. “Does Mr. Wiberd preach against oppression?” anxiously inquired John Adams in a letter to his wife. The answer was decisive. “The clergy of every denomination, not excepting the Episcopalian, thunder and lighten every Sabbath. They pray for Boston and Massachusetts. They thank God most explicitly and fervently for our remarkable successes. They pray for the American army.”

Thomas Paine never let his pen rest. He had been with the forces of Washington when they retreated from Fort Lee and were harried from New Jersey into Pennsylvania. He knew the effect of such reverses on the army as well as on the public. In December, 1776, he made a second great appeal to his countrymen in his pamphlet, “The Crisis,” the first part of which he had written while defeat and gloom were all about him. This tract was a cry for continued support of the Revolution. “These are the times that try men’s souls,” he opened. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of men and women.” Paine laid his lash fiercely on the Tories, branding every one as a coward grounded in “servile, slavish, self-interested fear.” He deplored the inadequacy of the militia and called for a real army. He refuted the charge that the retreat through New Jersey was a disaster and he promised victory soon. “By perseverance and fortitude,” he concluded, “we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission the sad choice of a variety of evils—a ravaged country, a depopulated city, habitations without safety and slavery without hope.... Look on this picture and weep over it.” His ringing call to arms was followed by another and another until the long contest was over.


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