The Commonwealth in England went to pieces at the death of Oliver Cromwell, its founder. The Stuart dynasty came back, but, alas! unimproved. Charles II. was a much meaner man than his father, and James II. was more detestable still. The rule of such kings was destined to work sad changes in the hitherto free condition of Massachusetts. This colony had sympathized with the Commonwealth more heartily than any of the others. Hither had fled for refuge Goffe and Whalley, two of the accomplices in the death of Charles I.
Congregational church polity was here established by law, to the exclusion of all others, even of episcopacy, for whose sake Charles was harrying poor Covenanters to death on every hillside in Scotland. Nor would his lawyers let the king forget Charles I.'s attack on the Massachusetts charter, begun so early as 1635, or the grounds therefor, such as the unwarranted transfer of it to Boston, or the likelihood that but for the outbreak of the Civil War it would have been annulled by the Long Parliament itself. Obviously Massachusetts could not hope to be let alone by the home government which had just come in.
At first the king, graciously responding to the colony's humble petition, confirmed the charter granted by his father; but no sooner had he done so than the hot royalists about him began plotting to overthrow the same, and their purpose never slumbered till it was accomplished. Massachusetts was too prosperous and too visibly destined for great power in America to be suffered longer to go its independent way as hitherto.
[illustration: King Charles II]
The province--as yet, of course, excluding Plymouth with its twelve towns and five thousand inhabitants--contained at this time, 1660, about twenty-five thousand souls, living in fifty-two towns. These were nearly all on the coast; Dedham, Concord, Brookfield, Lancaster, Marlborough, and the Connecticut Valley hamlets of Springfield, Hadley, and Northampton being the most noteworthy exceptions. Though agriculture was the principal business, fishing was a staple industry, its product going to France, Spain, and the Straits. Pipe-staves, fir-boards, much material for ships, as masts, pitch and tar, also pork and beef, horses and corn, were shipped from this colony to Virginia, in return for tobacco and sugar either for home consumption or for export to England. Some iron was manufactured. The province enjoyed great prosperity. Boston stood forth as a lively and growing centre, and an English traveller about this time declared some of its merchants to be "damnable rich."
As their most precious possession the colonists prized their liberties, which they claimed in virtue of their original patent. In a paper which it put forth on June 10, 1661, the General Court asserted for the colony the right to elect and empower its own officers, both high and low, to make its laws, to execute the same without appeal so long as they were not repugnant to those of England, and to defend itself by force and arms when necessary, against every infringement of its rights, even from acts of Parliament or of the king, if prejudicial to the country or contrary to just colonial legislation. In a word Massachusetts, even so early, regarded itself to all intents and purposes an independent State, and would have proclaimed accordingly had it felt sufficiently strong.
Manifestly the king would not grant so much. On the occasion of his confirming the charter he demanded that the oath of allegiance be taken by the people of the colony; that justice be administered there in his name; and that the franchise be extended to all freemen of sufficient substance, with the liberty to use in worship, public and private, the forms of the English Church. The people obeyed but in part, for they would not even appear to admit the king's will to be their law. The franchise was slightly extended, in a grudging way, but no new religious privileges were at this time conceded. Unfortunately political and religious liberty were now in conflict. It was worse for the Baptists and Quakers that the king favored them, and the treatment which they received in the colony inclined them to the royalist side in the controversy.
In July, 1664, commissioners arrived in Boston with full authority to investigate the administration of the New England charters. Such a procedure not being provided for in the Massachusetts document, the General Court, backed by the citizens almost to a man, successfully prevented complainants from appearing before the commission. The commissioners having summoned the colony as defendant in a certain case, a herald trumpeted proclamation through the streets, on the morning set for the trial, inhibiting all from aiding their designs. The trial collapsed, and the gentlemen who had ordered it, baffled and disgusted, moved on to New Hampshire, there also to be balked by a decree of the Massachusetts Governor and Council forbidding the towns so much as to meet at their behest.
Vengeance for such defiance was delayed by Charles II.'s very vices. Clarendon's fall had left him surrounded by profligate aides, too timid and too indolent to face the resolute men of Massachusetts. They often discussed the contumacy of the colony, but went no further than words. Massachusetts was even encouraged, in 1668, forcibly to reassert its authority in Maine, against rule either by the king or by Sir Ferdinanda Gorges's heir as proprietary.
Its charter had assigned to the colony land to a point three miles north of the Merrimac. Bold in the favor of the Commonwealth, the authorities measured from the head-waters of that river. But Plymouth had originally claimed all the territory west of the Kennebec, and had sold it to Gorges. Charles II. favored the Gorges heirs against Massachusetts, and for some years previous to 1668 Massachusetts' power over Maine had been in abeyance. Ten years later, in 1678, to make assurance doubly sure, Massachusetts bought off the Gorges claimants, at the round price of twelve hundred and fifty pounds sterling.
From 1641 Massachusetts had borne sway in New Hampshire as well, ignoring John Mason's claim under Charles I.'s charters of 1629 and 1635, still urged by one of Mason's grandsons, backed by Charles II. Here Massachusetts was beaten. In July, 1679, New Hampshire was permanently separated from her, and erected into a royal province, of a nature to be explained in a subsequent chapter, being the earliest government of this kind in New England.
These territorial assumptions on the part of Massachusetts much increased the king's hostility. This probably would not have proved fatal had it not been re-enforced by the determination of the merchants and manufacturers of the mother-country to crush what they feared was becoming a rival power beyond seas. They insisted upon full enforcement of the Navigation Laws, which made America's foreign trade in a cruel degree subservient to English interest. So incorrigible was the colony, it was found that this end could be compassed only by the abrogation of the charter, so that English law might become immediately valid in Massachusetts, colonial laws to the contrary notwithstanding. Accordingly, in 1684, the charter was vacated and the colonists ceased to be free, their old government with its popular representation giving way to an arbitrary commission.
The other New England colonies--Plymouth, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Haven--had made haste to proclaim Charles II. so soon as restored to the throne, and to begin carrying on their governments in his name. That beautiful and able man, the younger Winthrop, sped to London on Connecticut's behalf, and, aided by his colony's friends at court, the Earls of Clarendon and Manchester and Viscount Say and Seal, in 1662 secured to Connecticut, now made to include New Haven, a charter so liberal that it continued till October 5, 1818, the ground law of the State, then to be supplanted only by a close vote. Under this paper, which declared all lands between the Narragansett River and the Pacific Ocean Connecticut territory, Connecticut received every whit of that right to govern itself which Charles was so sternly challenging in the case of Massachusetts.
[Illustration: John Winthrop the Younger.]
From this time on, as indeed earlier, Connecticut was for many years perhaps the most delightful example of popular government in all history. Connecticut and New Haven together had about ten thousand inhabitants. Their rulers were just, wise, and of a mind truly to serve the people. Here none were persecuted for their faith. Education was universal. Few were poor, none very rich. Nearly all supplies were of domestic production, nothing as yet being exported but a few cattle.
Under the second Charles Rhode Island fared quite as well as Connecticut. This was remarkable, inasmuch as the little colony of three thousand souls, in their four towns of Providence, Newport, Portsmouth, and Warwick, insisted on "holding forth the lively experiment"--and it proved lively indeed--"of full liberty in religious concernments." Charles did not oppose this, and Clarendon favored it, a motive of both here, as with Connecticut, being to rear in New England a power friendly to the Crown, that should rival and check Massachusetts. Both these commonwealths were granted absolute independence in all but name. No oath of allegiance to the king was demanded. Appeals to England were not provided for.
Though having no quarrel with the king, the two southern colonies were not without their trials. Connecticut, besides continual fear of the Dutch and the Indians, was much agitated by the controversy over the question whether children of moral parents not church members should be baptized, a question at length settled affirmatively by the so-called Half-Way Covenant. It also had its boundary disputes with Massachusetts, with Rhode Island--for Connecticut took the Narragansett River of its charter to be the bay of that name--and with New York, which, by the Duke of York's new patent, issued on the recovery of that province from the Dutch in 1674, reached the Connecticut River. During England's war with Holland, 1672-74, all the colonies stood in some fear of Dutch attacks.
Rhode Island had worse troubles than Connecticut. It, too, had boundary disputes, serious and perpetual; but graver by much were its internal feuds, caused partly by the mutual jealousy of its four towns, partly by the numerous and jarring religious persuasions here represented. Government was painfully feeble. Only with utmost difficulty could the necessary taxes be raised. Warwick in particular was for some time in arrears to John Clark, of Newport, for his invaluable services in securing the charter of 1663. Quakers and the divers sorts of Baptists valiantly warred each against other, using, with dreadful address, those most deadly of carnal weapons, tongue and pen. On George Fox's visit to the colony, Roger Williams, zealous for a debate, pursued the eminent Quaker from Providence to Newport, rowing thither in his canoe and arriving at midnight, only to find that his intended opponent had departed, The latter's champion was ready, however, and a discussion of four days ensued.
[Illustration: Sir Edmond Andros]
Before its sentence of death reached Massachusetts Charles II. was no more, and James II., his brother, had ascended the throne. It was for a time uncertain what sort of authority the stricken colony would be called to accept. Already, as Duke of York, James II. had been Proprietary of Maine east of the Kennebec (Sagadahoc), as well as of Delaware, New Jersey, and New York. Now that he had the problem of ruling Massachusetts to solve, it naturally occurred to the king to make Sir Edmond Andros, already governor of New York, master also over the whole of English America from the Saint Croix to the Delaware.
In southern New England the reign of Andros wrought no downright persecution. He suspended the charters, and, with an irresponsible council in each colony, assumed all legislative as well as administrative power. Rhode Island submitted tamely. Her sister colony did the same, save that, at Hartford, according to good tradition, in the midst of the altercation about delivering the charter, prolonged into candle-light, suddenly it was dark, and the precious document disappeared to a secure place in the hollow trunk of an oak. This tree, henceforth called the Charter Oak, stood till prostrated by a gale on August 20, 1856.
[Illustration: The Charter Oak at Hartford.]
But in Massachusetts the colonists' worst fears were realized. Andros, with a council of his own creation, made laws, levied taxes, and controlled the militia. He had authority to suppress all printing-presses and to encourage Episcopacy. In the latter interest he opened King's Chapel to the Prayer Book. His permission was required for any one to leave the colony. Extortionate fees and taxes were imposed. Puritans had to swear on the Bible, which they regarded wicked, or be disfranchised. Personal and proprietary rights were summarily set at naught, and all deeds to land were declared void till renewed--for money, of course. The citizens were reduced to a condition hardly short of slavery.
There is no describing the joy which pervaded New England as the news of the Revolution of 1688 flew from colony to colony. Andros slunk away from Boston, glad to escape alive. Drums beat and gala-day was kept. Old magistrates were reinstated. Town meetings were resumed. All believed that God had interposed, in answer to prayer, to bring deliverance to his people from popery and thraldom.
This revolution, ushering in the liberal monarchy of William and Mary, restored to Rhode Island and Connecticut their old charter governments in full. New Hampshire, after a momentary union with Massachusetts again, became once more a royal province. As to Massachusetts itself, a large party of the citizens now either did not wish the old state of things renewed, or were too timid to agree in demanding back their charter as of right. Had they been bold and united, they might have succeeded in this without any opposition from the Crown. Instead, a new charter was conferred, creating Massachusetts also a royal province, yet with government more liberal than the other provinces of this order enjoyed. The governor was appointed by the Crown, and could convene, adjourn, or dissolve the Legislature. With the consent of his council he also created the judges, from whose highest sentence appeal could be taken to the Privy Council. The governor could veto legislation, and the king annul any law under three years old.
If in these things the new polity was inferior to the old, in two respects it was superior; Suffrage was now practically universal, and every species of religious profession, save Catholicism, made legal. Also, Massachusetts territory was enlarged southward to take in all Plymouth, eastward to embrace Maine (Sagadahoc) and Nova Scotia. Maine, henceforth including Sagadahoc, that is, all land eastward to the Saint Croix, remained part of Massachusetts till March 15, 1820, when it became a member of the Union by itself. Nova Scotia, over which Phips's conquest of Port Royal in 1690 had established a nominal rather than a real English authority, was assigned to France again by the Treaty of Ryswick, 1697.
[Illustration: Box in which the Connecticut Charter was kept.]