Massachusetts Born In Rebellion

MASSACHUSETTS was born in revolt. No wonder the Revolution of 1776 was cradled in Boston.
The men who planted the Puritan colony did not, like the Virginians, try to transplant English institutions. They had left England to be rid of many of those institutions.

While Charles I was hunting down the Puritan heretics in England, his attention was drawn to the Puritans in Massachusetts. They had the hardihood to forbid the services and even the prayer book of the Church of England in an English colony and they deported men for raising objection to that policy.
Some of the deportees, who had been shipped back to England, were eager talebearers against the colonial government. Among them were Morton of Merrymount and Philip Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe's ears had been cut off by order of John Endicott, as "an example for all carnal men to presume to speak the least word that might tend to the dishonor of the church in Salem, yea, the mother church of all that holy land." But his tongue had been spared, and it told a tale that moved Archbishop Laud to threaten the removal of Governor Winthrop's ears.

Massachusetts was commanded by the King in 1634 to surrender its charter. All land titles were annulled. The whole of New England was partitioned among a favored few in England and placed under the thumb of a royal governor general. Power of life and death over the colonists was given to a royal commission. At the head of it was that dreaded heresy hunter, Archbishop Laud, who declared that the King would not suffer "such numbers of people to run to ruin."
Without flinching, the four-year-old colony stood up to all those dire threats. It resolved to reject any royal governor and to defend itself against even the King's majesty.
To the horror of bystanders, John Endicott's sword slashed the red cross of St. George from the royal ensign in Salem. A fort and cannon were set up on Castle Island in Boston Harbor. Train bands drilled for the first time on Boston Common and on various town greens. As a means of quick communication between them in an emergency, a beacon was erected on the highest eminence of the capital; hence Beacon Hill.

That war cloud soon blew over. Charles I found troubles enough nearer home, with John Hampden among his troublers. The long conflict was on in England between King and Parliament.
In the midst of that distraction in the mother country, Massachusetts slipped into the West Indian market. From that start her ships swiftly pressed forward in the colonial carrying trade generally. The enterprising colony had gained an advantage that the English strove for more than a century to overcome, until their laws to restrict New England commerce aided to bring on the American Revolution.
"God rocked three nations," said Rev. John Cotton, "that he might procure some rest unto his people in this wilderness." While civil war raged in England, the Massachusetts government was forgotten and left free to go its own way for thirty years. All the while it acted as if it were a neutral power. It forbade the raising of troops for the King and refused also to proclaim Cromwell as Lord Protector.

When Governor Winthrop came over in 1630, he brought with him a royal charter. This was cleverly twisted into a document that gave him and a dozen other leaders power to govern a colony that stretched from a point three miles south of the Charles to a point three miles north of the Merrimac River. At the top of that framework of government, under which the colony of Massachusetts Bay was to live for half a century, stood the governor, with a board of assistants, like the board of directors of any corporation. The stockholders of charter members constituted a General Court, a name that ever since has been retained by the legislature of Massachusetts.
A minor fraction of one per cent of the population ruled the colony at the start. All the rest were without vote or voice in the government. None but the men who formed the corporation had any part in its control, and only twelve of these were present on the ground. Those twelve alone out of a population of two thousand in 1630 sat in the General Court, which was the governing body.
When the insiders yielded to the demand that arose in the first year and admitted somewhat more than one hundred outsiders, they took away at the same time the real power of the General Court. In so doing they violated the charter; but that document was kept out of sight.
As early as 1632, Watertown raised the issue of taxation without representation, which spread and spread throughout the colonies, until it was decided by the Revolution. "It was not safe to pay money after that sort," so declared that pioneer protest from Watertown, "for fear of bringing our posterity into bondage."
The oligarchs of Boston had to make concessions or see discontented colonists move on into the free wilderness and found new colonies. Ultimately members of the orthodox state church, the Congregational Church, were admitted into the government as freemen, and in 1634 the overcrowded General Court was changed into an assembly of elected representatives.
Still four-fifths of the men of voting age were without a ballot, because a large proportion of the colonists were not members of the Congregational Church. Even the Puritans were not all permitted to join the church. The law compelled every one to attend services. But the ministers had the power to say who should be admitted to membership, and they kept the churches small and select.

The rulers of the colony had rebelled against authority in London. They were breeding rebels against their own.

James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930