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Scarcely had this disastrous war come to an end when New England was called upon to face a new danger, and one from an altogether different source. The new foe was the British monarch. But this was not the beginning of the trouble. Fifteen years before, soon after Charles II had come to the throne, he became embittered toward the people of New England for refusing to give up the regicides, Whalley and Goffe, who had assisted in the putting to death of his father.

This feeling of the king was heightened by the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights of 1661, which, while professing allegiance to the king, was regarded by him as an encroachment on his authority. This declaration is one of the memorable documents of the colonial era. By it the General Court declared any imposition contrary to their own just laws, not repugnant to the laws of England, "to be an infringement" of their rights. This was aimed for the most part, at the Navigation Acts. It has the true American ring. Doyle, the British historian, declares that it seems to take us forward a hundred years, and that the "men of 1776 had nothing to add to or take from the words of their ancestors."

Commissioners were sent to the colony in 1664, and a long and fruitless controversy concerning violations of the Navigation Acts and other matters resulted. Massachusetts would probably have lost her charter at this period but for the war between England and Holland. A Dutch fleet had entered the Thames and was threatening London. This enlisted the full energy of the mother country, and New England's liberties continued for some years longer.

But the resentment of Charles against the colonies only slumbered; it was not dead. His hands being again free, he opened the old quarrel. Massachusetts was the chief object of his wrath, nor was it difficult for him to find grounds of accusation against the colony: her disregard of the Navigation Acts, her refusal to allow the English Church within the colony, her purchase of the territory of Maine;1 and even the independent way in which the New England colonies had managed the Indian war was offensive to the Crown.

It must be added, however, that there was a deep-laid scheme in England to destroy the separate colonial governments, and united all New England, New York, and New Jersey under one government, so as to curb the growing spirit of liberty and to resist more effectually the French aggressions from Canada.

In 1676 Edward Randolph, an officer of King Charles, and an enemy of the colony, arrived in Boston. His complaints to the king of the neglect of the people of the colony to observe the Navigation Acts added fuel to the flame of the monarch's wrath. Randolph set about to build up a more liberal party, with Tory leanings, in Massachusetts; and it must be added, he was to some extent successful.

Times had changed somewhat in Massachusetts Bay. The rigid Puritan rule of the preceding generation had softened. The Puritan party in England had waned, and no longer was it able to fight the political battles of its American offspring. Moreover, as men in the colony advanced in wealth and engaged in commerce on the high seas, they were unwilling to incur the displeasure of England. From these causes and through the efforts of Randolph a moderate party grew up in Church and State, a party that preferred a moderate course, rather than one of open defiance to the king.

The attitude of this party made it easier for the king in his charter-breaking campaign than it would have been had the people of the Bay been a unit in their opposition. But the great majority of the people were not with this new party. The colony as a whole resisted the royal encroachments at every step; but after a long legal struggle of nearly eight years she was forced to give up that noble charter which Winthrop had brought from England fifty-four years before, and which, as the guardian of their liberties, had imbedded itself deeply in the hearts of the people. With the charter went the independent government of Massachusetts, to return no more for a hundred years,2 when a later generation was to rise in successful rebellion against the mother country.

In the year following this triumph of the Crown King Charles died, and his brother, James II, more tyrannical than himself, began his short and turbulent reign. He sent Sir Edmund Andros, who had made a record as governor of New York and New Jersey, to govern New England and also New York and New Jersey. Andros arrived late in 1686, and made his seat in Boston. The people knew and despised him, nor did his brief administration do aught to redeem his reputation.

As a royal officer he was faithful, but he had little respect for the people. Instructed to make laws and levy taxes without a legislative body, by the aid of a council only, he was not slow in carrying out his instructions. He abolished the legislature and laid taxes at his pleasure; he even took from the local town meeting its power of taxing; he sent innocent men to jail and curbed the liberty of the press. This was exasperating in the extreme, but the acme was reached when the despotic governor attacked the titles to the land, pronounced many of them void, and exacted quitrents from the owners.

Andros demanded the charter of Rhode Island, and while the charter itself was placed beyond his reach,3 the colony yielded readily to his sway. In Connecticut he was strongly opposed, but, appearing in person at Hartford, he demanded the charter. The assembly was in session and Andros present. The session was prolonged till late in the night, when suddenly the lights were put out, as tradition informs us, and Captain Wadsworth seized the precious charter, escaped in the darkness, and hid it in the hollow of an oak tree, ever after known as the Charter Oak.

Andros' reign in New England was that of a despot. As Doyle says, "All those devices of tyranny which England had resisted, even where they were rare and exception, were now adopted as part of the regular machinery of government."4 But there were breakers ahead. The spirit of liberty, fostered by a half century of self-government, could not be crushed in the New England heart. The people waited, and the opportunity came.

While Andros was at the height of his power a copy of the declaration of the Prince of Orange to the English people reached the colony. Andros arrested the messenger that brought it, but he could not arrest the wild shout of joy that rang from one settlement to another, from the ocean shore to the river valley. Next came the news of the prince's landing on British soil, and this became the signal for the people to rise in rebellion against their oppressor. Andros was seized and sent a prisoner to England, and the people again breathed the air of liberty.

Soon after this the older charters of Rhode Island and Connecticut were declared restored, and they continued in operation till long after the Revolution. Massachusetts failed to recover her old charter, but was granted a new one. By this the territory of the colony was greatly extended through the addition of Plymouth, Maine, and Nova Scotia.

But the ancient independence was gone. The laws were again to be made and the taxes levied by a legislature elected by the people; but every act must henceforth be sent to England for the royal approval, and henceforth the governor, his deputy and secretary were to be appointments of the Crown. The new charter also opened the door of citizenship, requiring a property test, but no longer a religious test. This feature destroyed forever that intimate union of Church and State that had characterized the first generation in Massachusetts Bay. The Church and State were still united, but the Puritan hierarchy had full control and the assembly -- rendered it unlike any other American charter. From this cause Massachusetts is often placed in a class by itself as a semi-royal colony.

Regretfully, we take final leave of Plymouth as a separate organization -- Plymouth, the oldest of the New England colonies and destined in future ages to be held in memory the most sacred of them all. For seventy-one years the colony had sailed its little boat through storm and sunshine, but from this time its identity must be lost in that of Massachusetts. Of the original band of Pilgrims who had left England in the Mayflower, but two remained alive.5


Footnotes

1It was about this time that the heirs of Mason and Gorges laid claim to New Hampshire and Maine, repudiating the dominion of Massachusetts. They won their suit; New Hampshire became a royal province, but Massachusetts purchased Maine of Gorge's heirs for 1250. This act of independence greatly incensed the king.[return]

2Except for two years, 1689-1691.[return]

3Winsor, Vol. III, p. 339.[return]

4"English Colonies," Vol. II, p. 305.[return]

5The two survivors were John Cooke, who died in1695, and Mary Cushman, who lived seventy-nine years after the famous voyage, dying in 1699. Mary Cushman, however, was survived by Peregrine White, the child born on the Mayflower.

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV, pp. 99-103. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.




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