By John Tripp
As another addend to my original article on the events leading the Founders actions, I am going to expand the scope of the timeframe for this document being written, taking into account several events in a short period of time, between 1774 and the convention start in 1787. In this article, I will keep within the original pre-Declaration days.
I talked about the Sugar and Stamp Acts being catalysts for the coming revolution, but there are other events which must be placed beside them, and include all as a whole to put a true perspective on the words George Mason put to paper.
Shortly after the Stamp Act, the British Parliament made what many historians call the biggest mistake in their efforts to control the colonies. The " Coersive Acts ", or " Intolerable Acts ", as the patriots named them, were far more oppressive to people of Massachusettes than the taxes imposed by Parliament in the two years previously. There is a major difference in the laws of an empirical colony than a Commonwealth. Massachusettes was a province, or commonwealth of the British State. They were subject to the same laws that the people in Britain were, while an empirical colony was allowed to make their own Charters, elect their own officials, make their own courts, and appoint their own officials as they saw fit. The only time the British Rule got involved was in cases of insurrection or cases in the local courts where a decision could not be reached. Then the English supreme court, or Privy Councel, made the final decisions. The Parliament appointed proxy courts in the colonies to adjudicate these cases. The Judges who were sent to hold these positions viewed them as punishment, and often were repayment for corruption or incompetence. These seats of power in England were granted in the usual way, by cronyism or simply purchased by wealthy land barons for relatives. Imagine how bad they must have been to be sent to America ! The legalization of slavery can be attributed to one of their earliest decisions, in 1619, in the Anthony Johnson case. It was blasphemy for the Puritans to own another person, so who else could be to blame ?
There were ten Acts of Intolerance involved in 1774, with the most oppressive ones being the forced housing of British troops in the dwellings of any building the governor chose, and the " Massachusettes Government Act, which stripped the citizens of the commonwealth of their ability to elect their own representation or appoint anyone without approval of the Crown. It gave the Governor broad new powers we could associate with Marshal Law today. It is also noteworthy to mention the turmoil between then Governor Hutchinson and the Mass. Parliament just before this act. John Adams and his followers argued in the courts of Massachusettes for the same rights as the other colonies. Hutchinson was a pure loyalist, and dismissed the entire Parliament once.
The Crown, being too preoccupied with the war with France to care about the colonies at all, had allowed the Commonwealth to rule itself in the same empirical manner as the other colonies until King George III took the Crown. One of the costs of allowing people to taste freedom, is they seldom want to give it up willingly later. But the Boston Tea Party and the like circumstances in Annapolis and Charleston made the egos in Parliament commit to these new mandates. Edmund Burke, one of the few members of Parliament argueing for Mass., said to the other MPs, " This dignity of your's is a terrible incumbrance to you ". Only he and a handful of others in Britain could see what these Acts would do to put dry kindle on the small fires already starting.
Two other major Intolerable Acts done by Parliament, and which effected all the colonies, was 1. - shutting down Boston Harbor completely, via military blockade. No imports or exports from the Port of Boston made the rest of the colonies think, if the Crown can do this to Massachusettes, what can they do to us next. And 2. - The Quebec Act, which gave the laws of France standing in the courts there. It granted the Canadians new powers and freedoms, and directly and intentionally gave Roman Catholics the power to rule there. This to the Puritan reformists of New England was Blasphemy. Most of all, this Act opened up the lands of the Ohio Valley to the Canadians. Many colonial Charters already laid claim to these vast lands. These actions galvanized the patriots and convinced many still sitting on the fence to take the next step. Even the rich loyalist had much invested in the lands west of the colonies already.
Virginia, the only other commonwealth in the colonies, led the way towards a union of the colonies, for strength in numbers was the only way to combat this great power. Their House of Burgesses called for a Continental Congress in late 1774. The colonies had been bombarded with pamphlets written by Franklin and Jefferson to help pursuede the other, more loyalist colonies to agree it was in their best interest. Jefferson's " Summary View " wrote, " Acts of power, assumed by a body of man, foreign to our constitutions, and unacknowledged by our laws...with Kings who are servents of the people, not the proprietors. Open your breast, sire, to liberal and expanded thought. Let not the name of George the Third be a blot in the page of history."
It was the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses that did little more than gather a weak union for the common defense of the colonies, but was the precursor of the Declaration of Independence. The short, yet fiery speach by Richard Henry Lee at the !st Convention can be read in my initial article.