Tying the Colonies to Apron Strings

THE English long have been the freest people in Europe but they never have been liberal exporters of freedom. They have won their liberties for themselves and left other people to go and do likewise.

The "glorious revolution" of 1689, which overthrew the Stuart Kings and freed England, was an inglorious reaction in the England that had sprung up overseas. It took away the independence that the colonial English had enjoyed ever since they settled in the New World.

A New Englander was chosen by William of Orange to be his first tool in the destruction of that independence. The youngest of 21 sons and 26 children born to a mother who nevertheless outlived her husband, this William Phips tended the maternal flock on the pastures of his birthplace in the town of Woolwich, Me. Going up to Boston to seek his fortune in the metropolis, he learned at 22 to read and write, and entered upon a career of bold adventure at sea. After he had dragged from the deep a sunken galleon of Spain with 34 tons of silver and enough gold and jewels aboard to total in value $1,350,000 the royal sword was waved above him as he knelt at the steps of the throne, and the King bade the shepherd lad of Woowich to arise as "Sir William."

That first American knight was appointed royal Governor of Massachusetts for the purpose of sugar coating for the colony the bitter pill of its changed status. The merchant and shipping class swallowed it with good grace because the new charter freed them from the supremacy of the Puritan pastors. Many others welcomed the overthrow of the theocracy which had denied them a voice and vote because they were not members of the Orthodox or established church. Also the colony was compensated by receiving back its Legislature, or General Court, which James II had taken away.

The colonies had grown to ten in number and to a population of more than 200,000 when William and Mary started to reorganize them and tie them to the apron strings of Mother England by placing royal Governors over them. The business men of England had aided in bringing the new King and Queen to the throne and they pushed the policy of making the colonies profitable for English business. That desire was as natural as the desire of the colonists to make the colonies profitable for colonial business. But there came the rub, and the royal Governors caught the friction.

Those English carpetbaggers in the colonies necessarily behaved much as the Northern carpetbaggers behaved in the Southern States after the Civil War. Politicians did not go south for their health. Nor did many office seekers come out from England to win glory in an uncouth country among a people who did not want them.

The Governor of New Hampshire, after that colony was set off from Massachusetts, cooly proposed to his official superior in London that together they shake down Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut for $15,000 or $20,000 each, in return for royal decisions on pending disputes. That same enterprising gentleman also outlined a system for selling royal pardons in Boston at an aggregate profit of $50,000, and he thought it would be well to see how much could be stolen out of a $25,000 fund for "evangelizing the Indians."

Another royal Governor was so reduced to dependence on artificial cheer in his exile in New York that he died of alcoholism. The wife of still another New York Governor terrified the town by commandeering whatever her eye fancied until people hid their household valuables when they saw her coming. Various governors fraudulently carved out from the choicest of public lands vast domains for themselves.

In the long struggle between the royal Governors and the Colonial Legislatures, the colonies resorted to pettifoggery and legalistic trickery which fastened upon the American people the habit of law dodging . . . and they have not yet succeeded in throwing it off. The new charters required the colonies to establish a permanent income for the Governors. England herself was keeping her own King dependent on a yearly grant from Parliament, and the colonial assemblies held up the salaries of the Governors until those officials had approved legislative acts.

The charters also required that an act must be submitted for approval by the British Government itself within a certain period, usually within three years of its passage. The colonial assemblies hit upon the trick of enacting laws to run for only two years and 11 months. At the expiration of that time, the laws were reenacted for another two years and 11 months.

As England attempted with trade and navigation acts to shackle colonial commerce, law evasion and open lawlessness became a part of American patriotism. If royal enforcement officials could not be bribed to wink at smuggling, they were outwitted, mobbed, treated to a ride on a rail or decorated with a coat of tar and feathers. A zealous customs officer, spying on Boston smugglers at night, was arrested for violating the curfew law. Another who interfered with the unloading of an unlawful cargo on Sunday was arrested for breaking the Sabbath.

Colonial judges and juries refused to convict offenders against what they regarded as alien and unjust laws. When England set up Admiralty Courts for the enforcement of those laws, the persons condemned by the King's tribunals were liberated by the local judiciary.

Both England and America were adrift on an uncharted sea. The English were as yet but novices in the art of Empire. The colonials were at a task never given to men before, as the American colonies were the first anywhere to have been colonized by the colonists themselves, without Government direction or aid.

If there was much fumbling and blundering in such an unprecedented situation, two hundred years ago and more, it is small wonder. Britain and her self-governing Dominions are even yet groping for a solution of the problem.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Nov 15, 1927, p. 18