Samuel Cooke, The True Principles of Civil Government (1770)
[Samuel Cooke, A.M., Pastor of the Second Church in Cambridge, The True Principles of Civil Government. A Sermon Preached at Cambridge, in the Audience of His Honor Thomas Hutchinson, Esq; Lieutenant-Governor and Commander in Chief; The Honorable His Majesty's Council, and the Honorable House of Representatives, of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, May 30th, 1770. Being the Anniversary for the Election of His Majesty's Council for the Said Province (Boston: Edes and Gill, Printers to the Honorable House of Representatives, 1770). Reprinted in The Pulpit of the American Revolution: Or, the Political Sermons of the Period of 1776. With a Historical Introduction, Notes, and Illustrations, edited by John Wingate Thornton (Boston: Gould and Lincoln/New York: Sheldon and Company/Cincinnati: George S. Blanchard, 1860). Slightly abridged, reprinted from: pp. 147-182, with some editor's footnotes omitted.
Samuel Cooke graduated from Harvard College in 1735, during the administration of Massachusetts and New Hampshire Governor (and Harvard College Overseer) Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757).
For further reading:
Governor Jonathan Belcher (for the life and times of Governor Belcher)
The First Biography of Governor Jonathan Belcher and Jonathan Belcher: Christian Governor (for discussions of Governor Belcher's Christianity and view of government)
The following election sermons, preached during Governor Belcher's administration, illustrative of his views of civil government and matters of church and state:
Benjamin Colman, Government the Pillar of the Earth (1730)
John Webb, The Government of Christ (1738)
William Cooper, The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740)
See also: The original classic: Samuel Willard, The Character of a Good Ruler (1694)
These sermons set the stage for the election sermon of Samuel Cooke and others.
Cooke's sermon sketches an account of Prince William III of Orange-Nassau's Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 (specifically, its beneficial effects in New England). Governor Jonathan Belcher's father, Captain Andrew Belcher, helped bring about this Revolution in New England, standing up for the side of liberty and Prince William III. (Incidentally, it was William III and his wife Mary II for whom the College of William and Mary in Virginia was named.) Governor Jonathan Belcher honored William III by naming Princeton College's Nassau Hall for him. For further information, see:
Jonathan Belcher: Patriarch of Princeton
Jonathan Belcher, Founder of Princeton University
Note: Samuel Adams, Clerk of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (the famous Revolutionary, mentioned in the contemporary account reproduced below) was a Harvard College thesis candidate during the administration of Governor Jonathan Belcher.
Also: It should be noted that Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor before whom this sermon was preached (who became a famous Loyalist, following what has been described as his "ordeal" at the hands of the American Revolutionaries), was a political adherent of the local superimperialistic British (William Shirley) faction whose Hobbesian policies (originally designed by the British Board of Trade in England) brought on the American Revolution--beginning in the 1740's-1750's. (This British-led local faction-- which was abhorred by American Revolutionary John Adams (his own words, written in 1775 at the onset of the American Revolution, were sharply critical of Shirley)--was the administration that supplanted Governor Belcher (a native-born American). (For John Adams' words about Shirley, see: Bernard Mason, ed., The American Colonial Crisis: The Daniel Leonard-John Adams Letters to the Press, 1774-1775 (NY: Harper & Row, 1972), pp. 106-107.) (See also discussion below.)
For a discussion of the transition from liberty-loving Governor Belcher to the superimperialists whose policies goaded the colonials to react in a way that brought on the American Revolution (turning away from Governor Belcher was the turning point that brought on autocratic British government), see: Jonathan Belcher: Governor in the Emerging Trilateral Center of the New World Order.)
For further reading regarding autocracy ("arbitrary power"), see:
Standing Up to Autocracy
For government "under God" (a concept endorsed in Samuel Cooke's The True Principles of Civil Government) see:
Prayer or Patriotism (about "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance) in the Belcher Foundation Christian Law Library.
(Note, incidentally, that Samuel Cooke used the phrase "under God", in referring to the fact that the will of the people governs under God--subject to His Law's authority--as in the following Cooke sentence: "The people, the collective body only, have a right, under God, to determine who shall exercise this trust for the common interest, and to fix the bounds of their authority; and, consequently, unless we admit the most evident inconsistence, those in authority, in the whole of their public conduct, are accountable to the society which gave them their political existence." This is sufficient refutation of those who like to make a non-existent "contrast" between the will of the people and "under God"--when both are encapsulated in the same political idea: the will of the people elects rulers subject to the law and sovereignty of God--the "divine revelation" behind natural law, in the words of Samuel Cooke: "The laws of nature, though enforced by divine revelation, which bind the conscience of the upright, [....}" Here, too, is an explanation of natural law--and that God's Law predetermines man-made laws because it predates them, existing even in a state of nature. For further discussion of this in the context of the Ten Commandments, see Pretexts and Commandments.)
[Excerpt from editor Thornton's Prefatory Note:]
The preacher [Samuel Cooke], a graduate of Harvard College in the class of 1735, then in the sixty-second year of his age, was [according to Allen,] "a man of science, of a social disposition, distinguished by his good sense and prudence, and a faithful servant of the Lord Jesus." He died June 4, 1783, aged 74.
The spirit and formals of legislative action on "election day," in the revolutionary period, appear in the following contemporary account:
"BOSTON, May 31, 1770. Wednesday being the Anniversary of the Day appointed by the Royal Charter for the Election of Councillors for this Province, the Great and General Court or Assembly met at Harvard College, in Cambridge, at Nine o'clock in the Morning; when the usual Oaths were administered to the Gentlemen, who were returned to serve as Members of the Honorable House of Representatives, who also subscribed to the Declaration: The House, then made Choice of Mr. SAMUEL ADAMS for their Clerk; after which they chose the Hon. THOMAS CUSHING, Esq., their Speaker.
"About Ten o'clock His Honor the Lieutenant Governor [Thomas Hutchinson], being escorted by the Troop of Guards from his Seat at Milton, arrived at Harvard College, and being in the Chair, a Committee of the House presented the Speaker elect to His Honor, who afterwards sent a Message in Writing, agreeable to the Royal Explanatory Charter, that he approved of their choice. The House then chose a Committee to remonstrate to His Honor the Calling of the Assembly at that Place.
"At Eleven o'clock His Honor the Lieutenant Governor, accompanied by the Honorable His Majesty's Council, the Honorable House of Representatives, and a Number of other Gentlemen, preceded by the first Company in Cambridge of the Regiment of Militia, commanded by the Honorable Brigadier Brattle, went in Procession to the Meeting House, where a Sermon suitable to the Occasion was preached by the Rev. Mr. SAMUEL COOKE, of Cambridge, from these words: 2 Sam. 23:3, 4. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God, etc. After Divine Service the Procession returned to Harvard Hall, where an Entertainment was provided.
"Previous to the choice of Councillors--in the afternoon--Letters were read from the Hon. BENJAMIN LINCOLN, Esq.; the Hon. JOHN HILL, Esq.; the Hon. GAMALIEL BRADFORD, Esq.; resigning their Seats at the Council Board, on account of their Age and Bodily Indisposition.
"The following gentlemen were elected Councillors for the ensuing year, viz.:
For the late Colony of MASSACHUSETTS BAY.
SAMUEL DANFORTH, Esq.; JAMES PITTS, Esq.;
ISAAC ROYALL, Esq.; SAMUEL DEXTER, Esq.;
JOHN ERVING, Esq.; JOSEPH GERRISH, Esq.;
WILLIAM BRATTLE, Esq.; THOMAS SANDERS, Esq.;
JAMES BOWDOIN, Esq.; JOHN HANCOCK, Esq;
THOMAS HUBBARD, Esq.; ARTEMAS WARD, Esq.;
HARRISON GRAY, Esq.; BENJA[MIN] GREENLEAF,Esq.;
JAMES RUSSELL, Esq.; JOSHUA HENSHAW, Esq.;
ROYALL TYLER, Esq.; STEPHEN HALL, Esq.
For the late Colony of PLYMOUTH.
JAMES OTIS, Esq.; JERATHMEEL BOWERS, Esq.;
WILLIAM SEVER, Esq.; WALTER SPOONER, Esq.
For the late Province of MAINE.
NATHANIEL SPARHAWK, Esq.; JEREMIAH POWELL, Esq.;
JOHN BRADBURY, Esq.
JAMES GOWEN, Esq.
JAMES HUMPHREY, Esq.; GEORGE LEONARD, JR., Esq.
"The list of Councillors chosen Yesterday being this day, agreeable to the Direction of the Royal Charter, presented to the Lieutenant Governor, His Honor was pleased to consent to the Election of the Gentlemen before-mentioned, except the Hon. JOHN HANCOCK, Esq., and JERATHMEEL BOWERS, Esq. JOSEPH GERRISH, Esq., declined going to the Board."
--- The Massachusetts Gazette Monday, June 4, 1770
[Editor Thornton's Note: "Those marked + [Joseph Gerrish, William Brattle, Thomas Sanders, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, Artemas Ward, Benjamin Greenleaf, Joshua Henshaw, Stephen Hall, James Otis, Jerathmeel Bowers, Walter Spooner, James Gowen, James Humphrey, and George Leonard, Jr.] were not of the Council last year."]
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, May 30, 1770.
Resolved, That Mr. Gardner of Cambridge, Mr. Remington, and Mr. Gardner of Stow, be a Committee to return the thanks of this House to the Rev. Mr. Samuel Cooke for his Sermon preached yesterday before the General Court, being the day of the election of Councillors; and to desire of him a copy thereof for the press.
SAMUEL ADAMS, Clerk.
AN ELECTION SERMON.
HE THAT RULETH OVER MEN MUST BE JUST, RULING IN THE FEAR OF GOD. AND HE SHALL BE AS THE LIGHT OF THE MORNING WHEN THE SUN RISETH, EVEN A MORNING WITHOUT CLOUDS: AS THE TENDER GRASS SPRINGING OUT OF THE EARTH BY CLEAR SHINING AFTER RAIN. -- 2 Sam. 23:3, 4.
The solemn introduction to the words now read, respectable hearers, is manifestly designed to engage your attention and regard, as given by inspiration from God, and as containing the last, the dying words of one of the greatest and best of earthly rulers, who, by ruling in the fear of God, had served his generation according to the divine will. Transporting reflection! when his flesh and his heart failed, and his glory was consigned to dust.
From this and many other passages in the sacred oracles, it is evident that the Supreme Ruler, though he has directed to no particular mode of civil government, yet allows and approves of the establishment of it among men.
The ends of civil government, in divine revelation, are clearly pointed out, the character of rulers described, and the duty of subjects asserted and explained; and in this view civil government may be considered as an ordinance of God, and, when justly exercised, greatly subservient to the glorious purposes of divine providence and grace: but the particular form is left to the choice and determination of mankind.
In a pure state of nature, government is in a great measure unnecessary. Private property in that state is inconsiderable. Man need no arbiter to determine their rights; they covet only a bare support; their stock is but the subsistence of a day; the uncultivated deserts are their habitations, and they carry their all with them in their frequent removes. They are each one a law to himself, which, in general, is of force sufficient for their security in that course of life.
It is far otherwise when mankind are formed into collective bodies, or a social state of life. Here, their frequent mutual [...] [interrelationships], in a degree, necessarily leads them to different apprehensions respecting their several rights, even where their intentions are upright. Temptations to injustice and violence increase, and the occasions of them multiply in proportion to the increase and opulence of the society. The laws of nature, though enforced by divine revelation, which bind the conscience of the upright, prove insufficient to restrain the sons of violence, who have not the fear of God before their eyes.
A society cannot long subsist in such a state; their safety, their social being, depends upon the establishment of determinate rules or laws, with proper penalties to enforce them, to which individuals shall be subjected. The laws, however wisely adapted, cannot operate to the public security unless they are properly executed. The execution of them remaining in the hands of the whole community, leaves individuals to determine their own rights, and, in effect, in the same circumstances as in a state of nature. The remedy in this case is solely in the hands of the community.
A society emerging from a state of nature, in respect to authority, are all upon a level; no individual can justly challenge a right to make or execute the laws by which it is to be governed, but only by the choice or general consent of the community. The people, the collective body only, have a right, under God, to determine who shall exercise this trust for the common interest, and to fix the bounds of their authority; and, consequently, unless we admit the most evident inconsistence, those in authority, in the the whole of their public conduct, are accountable to the society which gave them their political existence. This is evidently the natural origin and state of all civil government, the sole end and design of which is, not to ennoble a few and enslave the multitude, but the public benefit, the good of the people; that they may be protected in their persons, and secured in the enjoyment of all their rights, and be enabled to lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty. While this manifest design of civil government, under whatever form, is kept in full view, the reciprocal obligations of rulers and subjects are obvious, and the extent of prerogative and liberty will be indisputable.
In a civil state, that form is most eligible which is best adapted to promote the ends of government--the benefit of the community. Reason and experience teach that a mixed government is most conducive to this end. In the present imperfect state, the whole power cannot with safety be entrusted with a single person; nor with many, acting jointly in the same public capacity. Various branches of power, concentring in the community from which they originally derive their authority, are a mutual check to each other in their several departments, and jointly secure the common interest. This may indeed, in some instances, retard the operations of government, but will add dignity to its deliberate counsels and weight to its dictates.
This, after many dangerous conflicts with arbitrary power, is now the happy constitution of our parent state. We rejoice in the gladness of our nation. May no weapon formed against it prosper; may it be preserved inviolate till time shall be no more. This, under God, has caused Great Britain to exalt her head above the nations, restored the dignity of royal authority, and rendered our kings truly benefactors. The prince upon the British throne can have no real interest distinct from his subjects; his crown is his inheritance, his kingdom his patrimony, which he must be disposed to improve for his own and his family's interest; his highest glory is to rule over a free people and reign in the hearts of his subjects. The Peers, who are lords of Parliament, are his hereditary council. The Commons, elected by the people, are considered as the grand inquest of the kingdom, and, while incorrupt, are a check upon the highest offices in the state. A constitution thus happily formed and supported, as a late writer has observed, cannot easily be subverted but by the prevalence of venality in the representatives of the people. How far septennial parliaments conduce to this, time may further show; or whether this is not an infraction upon the national constitution, is not for me to determine. But the best constitution, separately considered, is only as a line which marks out the enclosure, or as a fitly organized body without spirit or animal life.(1)
The advantages of civil government, even under the British form, greatly depend upon the character and conduct of those to whom the administration is committed. When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked bears rule, the people mourn. The Most High, therefore, who is just in all His ways, good to all, and whose commands strike dread, has strictly enjoined faithfulness upon all those who are advanced to any place of public trust. Rulers of this character cooperate with God in His gracious dispensations of providence, and under Him are diffusive blessings to the people, and are compared to the light of morning, when the sun rises, even a morning without clouds.
By the ruler in the text is intended not only the king as supreme, but also every one in subordinate place of power and trust, whether they act in legislative or executive capacity, or both. In whatever station men act for the public, they are included in this general term, and must direct their conduct by the same upright principle. Justice, as here expressed, is not to be taken in a limited sense, but as a general term, including every quality necessary to be exercised for the public good by those who accept the charge of it. Justice must be tempered with wisdom, prudence, and clemency, otherwise it will degenerate into rigor and oppression.
This solemn charge given to rulers is not an arbitrary injunction imposed by God, but is founded in the most obvious laws of nature and reason. Rulers are appointed for this very end--to be ministers of God for good. The people have a right to expect this from them, and to require it, not as an act of grace, but as their unquestionable due. It is the express or implicit condition upon which they were chosen and continued in public office, that they attend continually upon this very thing. Their time, their abilities, their authority--by their acceptance of the public trust--are consecrated to the community, and cannot, in justice, be withheld; they are obliged to seek the welfare of the people, and exert all their powers to promote the common interest. This continual solicitude for the common good, however depressing it may appear, is what rulers of every degree have taken upon themselves; and, in justice to the people, in faithfulness to God, they must either sustain it with fidelity, or resign their office.
The first attention of the faithful ruler will be to the subjects of government in their specific nature. He will not forget that he rules over men--men who are of the same species with himself, and by nature equal--men who are the offspring of God, and alike formed after His glorious image--men of like passions and feelings with himself, and, as men, in the sight of their common Creator of equal importance--men who have raised him to power, and support him in the exercise of it--men who are reasonable beings, and can be subjected to no human restrictions which are not founded in reason, and of the fitness of which they may be convinced--men who are moral agents, and under the absolute control of the High Possesser of heaven and earth, and cannot, without the greatest impropriety and disloyalty to the King of kings, yield unlimited subjection (2) to any inferior power--men whom the Son of God has condescended to ransom, and dignified their nature by becoming the Son of Man--men who have the most evident right, in every decent way, to represent to rulers their grievances, and seek redress. The people forfeit the rank they hold in God's creation when they silently yield this important point, and sordidly, like Issachar, crouch under every burden wantonly laid upon them. And rulers greatly tarnish their dignity when they attempt to treat their subjects otherwise than as their fellow men--men who have reposed the highest confidence in their fidelity, and to whom they are accountable for their public conduct--and, in a word, men among whom they must, without distinction, stand before the dread tribunal of Heaven. Just rulers, therefore, in making and executing the laws of society, will consider who they are to oblige, and accommodate them to the state and condition of men.
Fidelity to the public requires that the laws be as plain and explicit as possible, that the less knowing may understand, and not be ensnared by them, while the artful evade their force. Mysteries of law and government may be made a cloak of unrighteousness. The benefits of the constitution and of the laws must extend to every branch and each individual in society, of whatever degree, that every man may enjoy his property, and pursue his honest course of life with security. The just ruler, sensible he is in trust for the public, with an impartial hand will supply the various offices in society; his eye will be upon the faithful; merit only in the candidate will attract his attention. He will not, without sufficient reason, multiply lucrative offices in the community, which naturally tends to introduce idleness and oppression. Justice requires that the emoluments of every office, constituted for the common interest, be proportioned to their dignity and the service performed for the public; parsimony, in this case, enervates the force of government, and frustrates the most patriotic measures. A people, therefore, for their own security, must be supposed willing to pay tribute to whom it is due, and freely support the dignity of those under whose protection they confide. On the other hand, the people may apprehend that they have just reason to complain of oppression and wrong, and to be jealous of their liberties, when subordinate public offices are made the surest step to wealth and ease. This not only increases the expenses of government, but is naturally productive of dissipation and luxury, of the severest animosities among candidates for public posts, and of venality and corruption--the most fatal to a free state.
Rulers are appointed guardians of the constitution in their respective stations, and must confine themselves within the limits by which their authority is circumscribed. A free state will no longer continue so than while the constitution is maintained entire in all its branches and connections. If the several members of the legislative power become entirely independent of each other, it produces a schism in the body politic; and the effect is the same when the executive is in no degree under the control of the legislative power--the balance is destroyed, and the execution of the laws left to arbitrary will. The several branches of civil power, as joint pillars, each bearing its due proportion, are the support, and the only proper support, of a political structure regularly formed. A constitution which cannot support its own weight must fall; it must be supposed essentially defective in its form or administration.
Military aid has ever been deemed dangerous to a free civil state, and often has been used as an effectual engine to subvert it. Those who, in the camp and in the field of battle, are our glory and defense, from the experience of other nations, will be thought, in time of peace, a very improper safeguard to a constitution which has liberty, British liberty, for its basis. When a people are in subjection to those who are detached from their fellow citizens, under distinct laws and rules, supported in idleness and luxury, armed with the terrors of death, under the most absolute command, ready and obliged to execute the most daring orders--what must, what has been the consequence?
Inter arma silent leges.
Justice also requires of rulers, in their legislative capacity, that they attend to the operation of their own acts, and repeal whatever laws, upon an impartial review, they find to be inconsistent with the laws of God, the rights of men, and the general benefit of society. This the community has a right to expect. And they must have mistaken apprehensions of true dignity who imagine they can acquire or support it by persisting in wrong measures, and thereby counteracting the sole end of government. It belongs to the all-seeing God alone absolutely to be of one mind. It is the glory of man, in whatever station, to perceive and correct his mistakes. Arrogant pretenses to infallibility, in matters of state or religion, represent human nature in the most contemptible light. We have a view of our nature in its most abject state when we read the senseless laws of the Medes and Persians, [....] Stability in promoting the public good, which justice demands, leads to a change of measures when the interest of the community requires it, which must often be the case in this mutable, imperfect state.
The just ruler will not fear to have his public conduct critically inspected, but will choose to recommend himself to the approbation of every man. As he expects to be obeyed for conscience's sake, he will require nothing inconsistent with its dictates, and be desirous that the most scrupulous mind may acquiesce in the justice of his rule. As in his whole administration, so in this, he will be ambitious to imitate the Supreme Ruler, who appeals to His people--"Are not my ways equal?" Knowing, therefore, that his conduct will bear the light, and his public character be established by being fully known, he will rather encourage than discountenance a decent freedom of speech, not only in public assemblies, but among the people. This liberty is essential to a free constitution, and the ruler's surest guide. As in nature we best judge of causes by their effects, so rulers hereby will receive the surest information of the fitness of their laws (3) and the exactness of their execution, the success of their measures, and whether they are chargeable with any mistakes from partial evidence or human frailty, and whether all acting under them, in any subordinate place, express the fidelity becoming their office. This decent liberty the just ruler will consider not as his grant, but a right inherent in the people, without which their obedience is rendered merely passive; and though, possibly, under a just administration, it may degenerate into licentiousness, which in its extreme is subversive of all government, yet the history of past ages and of our nation shows that the greatest dangers have arisen from lawless power. The body of a people are disposed to lead quiet and peaceable lives, and it is their highest interest to support the government under which their quietness is ensured. They retain a reverence for their superiors, and seldom foresee or suspect danger till they feel their burdens.
Rulers of every degree are in a measure above the fear of man, but are, equally with others, under the restraints of the divine law. The Almighty has not divested himself of his own absolute authority by permitting subordinate government among men. He allows none to rule otherwise than under him and in his fear, and without a true fear of God, justice will be found to be but an empty name. Though reason may in some degree investigate the relation and fitness of things, yet I think it evident that moral obligations are founded wholly in a belief of God and his superintending providence. This belief, deeply impressed on the mind, brings the most convincing evidence that men are moral agents, obliged to act according to the natural and evident relation of things, and the rank they bear in God's creation; that the divine will, however made known to them, is the law by which all their actions must be regulated, and their state finally determined.
Rulers may in a degree be influenced to act for the public good from education, from a desire of applause, from the natural benevolence of their temper; but these motives are feeble and inconstant without the superior aids of religion. They are men of like passions with others, and the true fear of God only is sufficient to control the lusts of men, and especially the lust of dominion, to suppress pride, the bane of every desirable quality in the human soul, the never-failing source of wanton and capricious power. "So did not I," said the renowned governor of Judah, "because of the fear of God." He had nothing to fear from the people. His commission he received from the luxurious Persian court, where the voice of distress was not heard, where no sad countenance might appear; but he feared his God. This moved him to hear the cries of his people, and without delay redress their wrongs. He knew this was pleasing to his God, and, while he acted in his fear, trusted He would think upon him for good. This fear does not intend simply a dread of the Almighty as the Supreme Ruler and Judge of men, but especially a filial reverence, founded in esteem and superlative love implanted in the heart. This will naturally produce a conformity to God in his moral perfections, an inclination to do His will, and a delight in those acts of beneficence which the Maker of all things displays throughout His extended creation. This fear of God is the beginning and also the perfection of human wisdom; and, though dominion is not absolutely founded in grace, yet a true principle of religion must be considered as a necessary qualification in a ruler.
The religion of Jesus teaches the true fear of God, and marvelously discloses the plan of divine government. In His gospel, as through a glass, we see heaven opened, the mysteries of providence and grace unveiled, Jesus sitting on the right hand of God, to whom all power is committed, and coming to judge the world in righteousness. Here is discovered, to the admiration of angels, the joy of saints, and the terror of the wicked, the government of the man Christ Jesus, founded in justice and mercy, which in His glorious administration meet together in perfect harmony. The scepter of His kingdom is a right scepter; He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. And though His throne is on high--prepared in the heavens--yet He makes known to the sons of men His mighty acts and the glorious majesty of His kingdom. By Him kings reign and princes decree justice, even all the nobles and judges of the earth. His eyes are upon the ways of men. His voice, which is full of majesty, to earthly potentates is, Be wise now, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth; serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice in your exalted stations with submissive awe; embrace the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way.
The Christian temper, wrought in the heart by the divine Spirit, restores the human mind to its primitive [first] rectitude, animates every faculty of the soul, directs every action to its proper end, extends its views beyond the narrow limits of time, and raises its desires to immortal glory. This makes the face of every saint to shine, but renders the ruler, in his elevated station, gloriously resplendent. This commands reverence to his person, attention to his counsels, respect to the laws, and authority to all his directions, and renders an obedient people easy and happy under his rule--which leads to the consideration of the last thing suggested in the text, viz.: The glorious effects of a just administration of government.
"And he shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain." This includes both the distinguishing honor and respect acquired by rulers of this character, and the unspeakable felicity of a people thus favored of the Lord. Justice and judgment are the habitation of the throne of the Most High, and he delights to honor those who rule over men in his fear. He has dignified them with a title of divinity, and called them, in a peculiar sense, the children of the Highest. And we are not to wonder that, in the darker ages of the world, from worshipping the host of heaven the ignorant multitude were led to pay divine honors to their beneficent rulers, whom they esteemed as demi-gods.
The light of divine revelation has dispelled these mists of superstition and impiety, and opened to the pious ruler's view the sure prospect of unfading glory in the life to come; and in the present state he is not without his reward. To find that his conduct meets with public approbation, that he is acceptable to the multitude of his brethren, greatly corroborates his internal evidence of integrity and impartiality, and especially of his ability for public action, and--which is the height of his ambition in this state of probation--enlarges his opportunity of doing good. The shouts of applause--[...] from [...] the grateful, the artless multitude--the pious ruler receives as the voice of nature--the voice of God. This is his support under the weight of government, and fixes his dependence upon the aid of the Almighty, in whose fear he rules. How excellent in the sight of God and man are rulers of this character!
Truly the light is good, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun. Thus desirable, thus benign, are wise and faithful rulers to a people. The beautiful allusion in the text naturally illustrates this. The sun, as the center of the solar system, connects the planetary worlds, and retains them in their respective orbits. They all yield to the greater force of his attractive power, and thus with the greatest regularity observe the laws impressed upon the material creation. The ruler of the day, as on a throne, shining in his strength, nearly preserves his station, and under the prime Agent directs all their motions, imparting light and heat to his several attendants and the various beings which the Creator has placed upon them. His refulgent rays dispel the gloomy shades, and cause the cheerful light to arise out of thick darkness, and all nature to rejoice. The planets, with their lesser attendants, in conformity to their common head, mutually reflect with feebler beams their borrowed light for the common benefit; and all, in proportion to their distance and gravity, bear their part to support the balance of the grand machine.
By this apposite metaphor the divine Spirit has represented the character and extensive beneficence of the faithful ruler, who, with a godlike ardor, employs his authority and influence to advance the common interest. The righteous Lord, whose countenance beholds the upright, will support and succeed rulers of this character, and it is an evidence of his favor to a people when such are appointed to rule over them. The natural effect of this is quietness and peace, as showers upon the tender grass, and clear shining after rain. In this case a loyal people must be happy, and fully sensible that they are so, while they find their persons in safety, their liberties preserved, their property defended, and their confidence in their rulers entire. The necessary expenses of the government will be borne by the community with pleasure while justice holds the balance and righteousness flows down their streets.
Such a civil state, according to the natural course of things, must flourish in peace at home, and be respectable abroad; private virtues will be encouraged, and vice driven into darkness; industry in the most effectual manner promoted, arts and sciences patronized, the true fear of God cultivated, and his worship maintained. This--this is their only invaluable treasure. This is the glory, safety, and best interest of rulers--the sure protection and durable felicity of a people. This, through the Redeemer, renders the Almighty propitious, and near unto a people in all they call upon him for. Happy must the people be that is in such a case; yes, happy is the people whose God is the Lord.
But the affairs of this important day demand our more immediate attention.
With sincere gratitude to our Almighty Preserver, we see the return of this anniversary, and the leaders of this people assembled--though not, according to the general desire, in the city (4) of our solemnities--to ask counsel of God, and, as we trust, in the integrity of their hearts, and by the skillfulness of their hands, to lead us in ways of righteousness and peace. The season indeed is dark; but God is our sun and shield. When we consider the days of old, and the years of ancient times, the scene brightens, our hopes revive. (5) Our fathers trusted in God; he was their help and their shield.
These ever-memorable worthies, nearly a century and a half since, by the prevalence of spiritual and civil tyranny, were driven from their delightful native land to seek a quiet retreat in these uncultivated ends of the earth; and, however doubtful it might appear to them, or others, whether the lands they were going to possess were properly under the English jurisdiction, yet our ancestors were desirous of retaining a relation to their native country, and to be considered as subjects of the same prince. They left their native land with the strongest assurances that they and their posterity should enjoy the privileges of free, natural-born English subjects, which they supposed fully comprehended in their charter. The powers of government therein confirmed to them they considered as including English liberty in its full extent; and however defective their charter might be in form--a thing common in that day--yet the spirit and evident intention of it appears to be then understood. The reserve therein made, of passing no laws contrary to those of the parent state, was then considered as a conclusive evidence of their full power, under that restriction only, to enact whatever laws they should judge conducive to their benefit.
Our fathers supposed [...] that a legislative power, respecting their internal polity, was ratified to them; and that nothing short of this, considering their local circumstances, could entitle them or their posterity to the rights and liberties of free, natural-born English subjects. And it does not appear but that this was the general sentiment of the nation and Parliament. (6) They did not then view their American adventurers in the light ancient Rome did her distant colonies, as tributaries unjustly subjected to arbitrary rule by the dread or force of her victorious arms, but as sons, arrived to mature age, entitled to distinct property, yet connected by mutual ties of affection and interest, and united under the common supreme head.
The New England charter was not considered as an act of grace, but a compact between the sovereign and the first patentees. Our fathers plead their right to the privilege of it in their address (7) to King Charles the Second, wherein they say "it was granted to them, their heirs, assigns, and associates forever; not only the absolute use and propriety of the tract of land therein mentioned, but also full and absolute power of governing all the people of this place by men chosen from among themselves, and according to such laws as they shall from time to time see meet to make and establish, not being repugnant to the laws of England; they paying only the fifth part of the ore of gold and silver that shall be found here, for and in respect of all duties, demands, exactions, and services whatsoever." And, from an apprehension that the powers given by the crown to the four commissioners sent here were in effect subversive of their rights and government, they add: "We are carefully studious of all due subjection to your Majesty, and that not only for wrath, but for conscience' sake." "But it is a great unhappiness to be reduced to so hard a case as to have no other testimony of our subjection and loyalty offered us but this; viz., to destroy our own being, which nature teacheth us to preserve, or to yield up our liberties, which are far dearer to us than our lives; and which, had we any fears of being deprived of, we had never wandered from our fathers' houses into these ends of the earth, nor laid out our labors and estates therein."
But all their humble addresses were to no purpose. As an honorable historian observes: "At this time Great Britain, and Scotland especially, was suffering under a prince inimical to civil liberty; and New England, without a miraculous interposition, must expect to share the same judgments." And, indeed, of this bitter cup, the dregs were reserved for this people, in that and the succeeding happily short but inglorious reign. Our charter was dissolved, (8) and despotic power took place. Sir Edmund Andros--a name never to be forgotten--in imitation of his royal master, in wanton triumph trampled upon all our laws and rights; and his government was only tolerable as it was a deliverance from the shocking terrors of the more infamous Kirk. Sir Edmund at first made high professions of regard to the public good. But it has been observed "that Nero concealed his tyrannical disposition more years than Sir Edmund and his creatures did months."
But the triumphing of the wicked is often short. The glorious revolution, under the Prince of Orange, displayed a brighter scene to Great Britain and her colonies; and though no part of its extended empire did bear a greater part in the joy of that memorable event than this province, yet it was then apprehended we were not the greatest sharers in the happy effects of it. I trust we are not insensible of the blessings we then received, nor unthankful for our deliverance from the depths of woe.
We submitted to the form of government established under our present charter, trusting, under God, in the wisdom and paternal tenderness of our gracious sovereign, that in all appointments reserved to the crown a sacred regard would be maintained to the rights of British subjects, and that the royal ear would always be open to every reasonable request and complaint. It is far from my intention to determine whether there has been just reason for uneasiness or complaint on this account. But, with all submission, I presume the present occasion will permit me to say that the importance of his Majesty's Council to this people appears in a more conspicuous light since the endeavors which have been used to render this invaluable branch of our constitution wholly dependent upon the chair. Should this ever be the case--which God forbid!--liberty here will cease. This day of the gladness of our hearts will be turned into the deepest sorrow.
The authority and influence of his Majesty's Council, in various respects, while happily free from restraints, is momentous; our well-being greatly depends upon their wisdom and integrity. The concern of electing to this important trust wise and faithful men belongs to our honored fathers now in General Assembly convened. Men of this character, we trust, are to be found; and upon such, and only such, we presume will the eye of the electors be this day. It is with pleasure that we see this choice in the hands of a very respectable part of the community, and nearly interested in the effects of it. But our reliance, fathers, under God, is upon your acting in his fear. God stands in the assembly of the mighty, and perfectly discerns the motives by which you act. May his fear rule in your hearts, and unerring counsel be your guide. You have received a sure token of respect by your being raised to this high trust; but true honor is acquired only by acting in character. Honor yourselves, gentlemen--honor the council board, your country, your king, and your God, by the choice you this day make. You will attentively consider the true design of all true government, and, without partiality, give your voice for those you judge most capable and disposed to promote the public interest. Then you will have the satisfaction of having faithfully discharged your trust, and be sure of the approbation of the Most High.
The chief command in this province is now devolved upon one (9) of distinguished abilities, who knows our state, and naturally must care for us--one who, in early life, has received from his country the highest tokens of honor and trust in its power to bestow; and we have a right to expect that the higher degrees of them conferred by our gracious sovereign will operate through the course of his administration to the welfare of this people. His Honor is not insensible that, as his power is independent of the people, their safety must depend, under Providence, upon his wisdom, justice, and paternal tenderness in the exercise of it. It is our ardent wish and prayer that his administration may procure ease and quietness to himself and the province; and, having served his generation according to the Divine will, he may rise to superior honors in the kingdom of God.
When the elections of this important day are determined, what further remains to be undertaken for the securing our liberties, promoting peace and good order, and, above all, the advancement of religion, the true fear of God through the land, will demand the highest attention of the General Assembly. We trust the Fountain of light, who gives wisdom freely, will not scatter darkness in your paths, and that the day is far distant when there shall be cause justly to complain, The foundations are destroyed--what can the righteous do? Our present distresses, civil fathers, loudly call upon us all, and you in special, to stir up ourselves in the fear of God. Arise! -- this matter belongs unto you; we also will be with you. Be of good courage, and do it.
Whether any other laws are necessary for this purpose, or whether there is a failure in the execution of the laws in being, I presume not to say. But, with all due respect, I may be permitted to affirm that no human authority can enforce the practice of religion with equal success to your example. Your example, fathers, not only in your public administrations, but also in private life, will be the most forcible law--the most effectual means to teach us the fear of the Lord, and to depart from evil. Then, and not till then, shall we be free indeed; being delivered from the dominion of sin, we become the true sons of God.
The extent of the secular power in matters of religion is undetermined; but all agree that the example of those in authority has the greatest influence upon the manners of the people. We are far from pleading for any established (10) mode of worship, but an operative fear of God, the honor of the Redeemer, the everlasting King, according to his gospel. We, whose peculiar charge it is to instruct the people, preach to little purpose while those in an advanced state, by their practice, say the fear of God is not before their eyes; yet will we not cease to seek the Lord till he come and rain down righteousness upon us.
[* * * * *]
1. [Editor Thornton's Note:] [Alexander] Pope's explanation of his two celebrated lines--
"For forms of government let fools contest:
Whate'er is best administered is best"--
was, "that no form of government, however excellent in itself, can be sufficient to make a people happy unless it be administered with integrity. On the contrary, the best sort of government, when the form of it is preserved and the administration corrupt, is most dangerous." When the political institutions of our fathers cease to be animated by their spirit and virtues, the forms only will remain, monuments of their wisdom, and not less of our folly.
2. [Editor Thornton's Note:] "Three millions of people, so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to makes slaves of the rest" of the nation. --- [William] Pitt. "We have counted the cost of this contest, and find nothing so dreadful as voluntary slavery." -- Dec. of Congress, July 6, 1775.
3. [Editor Thornton's Note:] In his letter to England, Oct. 20, 1769, [Thomas] Hutchinson wrote: "I have been tolerably treated since the Governor's"--Bernard--"departure, no other charge being made against me in our scandalous newspapers except my bad principles in matters of government."
4. [Editor Thornton's Note:] At the Town House, in Boston, from which usual place of legislation the arbitrary interference of the king excluded us. This show of despotism, rather than the inconvenience, is the real objection to sitting at Cambridge.
5. [Editor Thornton's Note:] Here is a clear and beautiful reference to the principles and history of New England, and of "the glorious Revolution" of 1689--a reminiscence very profitable for Governor Hutchinson to reflect on, and very suggestive to the Board of Councillors and House of Representatives who hear it, and to all people who may read it. Samuel Adams, Clerk, and now "the most active member of the House," will see that it is published and circulated. It suggests precedents for curing the present ills in our body politic, if gentler remedies, such as petitions and remonstrances, prove to be insufficient. Dr. [Jonathan] Mayhew, twenty years before this [during the despotic administration of Governor William Shirley, patron of Thomas Hutchinson], considered in his pulpit "the extent of that subjection to the higher powers which is enjoined as a duty upon all Christians. Some," he said, "have thought it warrantable and glorious to disobey the civil powers in certain cases, and in cases of very great and general oppression," etc. [***]
6. [Editor Thornton's Note:] This was a complimentary and politic view, no doubt; but to Massachusetts the price of her liberty had been eternal vigilance. Indifference to the colonies, the changes of government, the contests between liberty and despotism in England, each in turn were opportunities to our fathers for defeating the ceaseless intrigues of our enemies. The history of our charters, treated as a specialty, would be a proud monument to the prudence, judgment, foresight, tact--the statesmanship--of the fathers of New England.
[One of those fathers of New England, who helped to safeguard and preserve the Massachusetts charter during the early eighteenth century, was Jonathan Belcher. See: A Good Ruler in the Emerging Trilateral Center. His father, Captain Andrew Belcher, was one of the Bostonians who helped effect King William III's Glorious Revolution in New England when Jonathan was about seven years old. For Captain Andrew's story, see commentary below.]
7. [Editor Thornton's Note:] After the restoration of monarchy, in 1660, and the "Charles the Martyr" clergy and courtiers were reinstated--not by the aid of the Independents--the old Laudian hate of New England became rampant, and we find abundant letters from their emissaries to Clarendon, to the Bishop of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the like, with a plenty of reports, of "articles of high misdemeanor," writs of quo warranto, discourses of petty intrigue, and other spawn of such creatures as [Governor Edmund] Andros, Randolph, and Maverick. The Revolution of 1689, simultaneous in Old England and New England, blasted their hopes. [* * * * *]
8. [Editor Thornton's Note:] On the 18th of June, 1684. James II was proclaimed in Boston, 1686, April 12th; and, May 15th, Dudley received a commission, as President, with a Council, to govern Massachusetts, which was superseded by the arrival of Andros, December 19, 1686, as Governor of New England. He reigned till 10th of April, 1689, when he was seized by the "sovereign" people, and late in the year was "sent in safe custody" to England. Andros was a fit instrument for James II, who commended the atrocities of a Jeffries, and would sell his crown and his people to France.
9. [Editor Thornton's Note:] Thomas Hutchinson, distinguished as the historian of the province, and excellent in private life, but whose ambition quickened his conscience only in his duty to the king, and made him an enemy to his country. Born September 9, 1711, of an ancient and honorable family, he graduated at Harvard College in 1727, at the early age of sixteen; was of the Council from 1749 to 1766; lieutenant governor from 1758 to 1771; in 1760 appointed Chief Justice, and was now at the head of the government, after the departure of Governor Bernard. Faithful to the British ministry in all its measures, some of which he suggested, he left his native country June 1st, 1774, and died in England in June, 1780. [* * *]
[Unfortunately for Hutchinson, his "ambition" led him into the fold of British lawyer/imperialist Shirley (the proponent of many of the measures for which Hutchinson was later blamed). (See discussion below.)]
10. [Editor Thornton's Note:] "Civil rulers ought undoubtedly to be nursing fathers to the church, by reproof, exhortation, and their own good and liberal example, as well as to protect and defend her against injustice and oppression; but the very notion of taxing all to support any religious denomination," etc. ---- Address of the Baptists to the Congress at Cambridge, Nov. 22, 1776.
By the amendment of the constitution, in 1833, the absolute separation of church and state was completed. On this subject, see "Life and Times of Isaac Backus," by Rev. Dr. Hovey, 1858.
[Note: What Thornton meant by "absolute separation of church and state" was NOT what some in the twenty-first century mean by using that phrase. Clearly, Thornton took "absolute separation" to mean "established mode of worship". This comports with the Founding Fathers' understanding of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause: that it simply prohibited making any denomination or religion the established religion of the nation. Note that this was still editor Thornton's understanding of the Establishment Clause in 1860 (on the eve of the American Civil War). See: Chief Justice Rehnquist's dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) and its district court case, Jaffree v. Board of School Commissioners (1983).]
The Constitutional Crisis of the Massachusetts Charter
by Belcher Foundation
The godly people of New England, nicknamed the "Puritans", fled the tyrannical government of King Charles II and his persecuting Archbishop Laud in the 1630's. These Christians started over in a new land, where they built homes hoping to live in peace with the freedom to worship God as they longed to do. They hoped to make New England a "city on a hill", like Jesus had told them believers should be: communities so Christ-like they would make the rest of the world stop and wonder and praise the Christ who had inspired them. And for fifty years, the founding fathers of New England did just that. Godly men, like John Cotton and Thomas Hooker, encouraged the whole of British North America to live for God and put His kingdom and righteousness first in their lives. It seemed their shining example was too much for England's dictatorial King James II to tolerate.
So, in the 1680's, King James deprived the Massachusetts Bay Colony of its charter--the original charter the first settlers had brought over with them to America. Not content merely to revoke the liberty of Massachusetts, the king threatened neighboring Rhode Island and Connecticut with revocation of their charters, as well. New England was in an uproar, concerned about losing their religious and political freedoms.
Then the king commissioned a "Governor General" to rule over the American colonies: Sir Edmund Andros. Andros, an Englishman, promptly united the New England colonies together into a New England Confederacy, which he ruled as absolute dictator of one governmental entity. Marching to Hartford with his troops, Andros demanded that the Connecticut governor surrender its charter, and when that colony refused, Andros took over the government by force. He installed government corruption as a way of life, prevented anyone from leaving his government (so they couldn't spread word about his tyrannies), and threatened anyone who spoke the truth about him to the king or Parliament. After adding New York to his list of subject colonies, Andros treated that colony as badly as he did New England.
Outraged at the attacks on the colonial liberties, Massachusetts formed a Committee of Safety to oust Andros and restore freedom to beleaguered New England. One of the members of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety was Captain Andrew Belcher, a Boston merchant and father of Jonathan Belcher who later became governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire (at that time, Massachusetts also included the territory of Maine). The Committee's efforts coincided with the ouster of King James II by William III, Prince of the House of Orange-Nassau. After the "Glorious Revolution" that swept away the regime of King James II and his dependents, including Andros, William III reigned with his wife Mary II as England's King William and Queen Mary. (The College of William and Mary in Virginia, established in 1693, was named for them.) And Captain Andrew Belcher helped bring about this Glorious Revolution in New England. At the time of the Glorious Revolution in 1688-89, his son Jonathan (born in 1682) was about seven years old. This was probably part of the reason why Jonathan Belcher, when Governor of New Jersey, named Princeton College's first building (which the Princeton trustees wanted to name Belcher Hall) Nassau Hall in honor of William III.
(Thus Captain Andrew Belcher certainly exemplified the spirit of Standing Up to Autocracy: An American Value.)
Following the Glorious Revolution (which led to the period of the Hanoverian succession), Connecticut and Rhode Island's charters were restored, but by some oversight, Massachusetts was forced to petition for a new charter, which it obtained, but the new charter was one with restrictions on the people's freedom.
John Wingate Thornton stated in 1860 (p. 178): "The 'province' charter of October 7, 1691, was submitted to not without reluctance. By it the governor had the sole appointment of military officers, of officers of the courts of justice with the consent of the Council, and a negative on all others chosen by the General Court; so that, as the governor held his commission from the crown, they were, in effect, royal appointments, though not salaried by the crown. Under the former charter all were chosen by the General Court, and so accountable to the people."
Under the new charter the king commissioned the governor, whose hands were tied, metaphorically speaking, so that in future he was bound to follow the commands of the king over the wishes of the colony's legislators. Massachusetts did not regain the full liberty it had formerly enjoyed under its old charter--an issue that came up again in the context of the American Revolution.
From that time on, till the American Revolution, Great Britain's Board of Trade (the administrative body chiefly responsible for overseeing trade in the American colonies) periodically attempted to revoke the charters of Massachusetts and Connecticut in order to bring them under greater subjection to the British government.
Revolutionary patriot and future United States President John Adams wrote on January 30, 1775 (in a letter reprinted in Bernard Mason, ed., The American Colonial Crisis: The Daniel Leonard-John Adams Letters to the Press, 1774-1775 (NY: Harper & Row, 1972), pp. 106-117), that Edmund Andros' plan of dominating New England was revived by William Shirley, the British-born governor installed in place of American-born Jonathan Belcher. Andros' plans were "buried" with him for a long time, Adams said, until Shirley's reign, when the plans were "revived" by the British superimperialists whom the American Revolutionaries were resisting in 1775. According to John Adams, Shirley's "principal" secretary of state was Thomas Hutchinson. The Stamp Act was the resultant plan hatched by this "junto" (the eighteenth-century term for a party or clique group), according to Adams. According to what Adams said in this very important letter: In 1754, Shirley suggested the essence of the Stamp Act to Franklin, who promptly repudiated it and chastised Shirley for ever proposing such a scheme. But then, Adams inferred, Shirley was not "honest". However, Adams speculated whether Franklin's remarks had an effect on the Stamp Act being temporarily abandoned and Shirley "removed" from his governorship.
According to John Adams, Thomas Hutchinson, Shirley's aide, then worked to undermine Shirley's successor, Governor Thomas Pownall, who finally gave up and handed the governorship over to Francis Bernard. (See Editor Thornton's note 3.) According to Adams, Bernard became the tool of the local junto (the one started by, and left behind by, Shirley). This junto persuaded Bernard to revive the Stamp Act idea in 1764. Adams said that Bernard transmitted the junto's idea to the British government--not the other way around! The junto even misrepresented to the British government that the American people "expected" the colonies to be dominated by Parliament. Furthermore, said Adams, the junto's motives were personal and selfish: They wanted the Americans' money for themselves--not to apply it to the national debt. Actually, the junto wanted this money to be used to greatly increase the governor's and lieutenant governor's salaries. Also, they planned to gain financial control of the judicial branch in the colony, thus making it "independent" of the citizens' will. The junto also planned to abolish the colonial charters--the very thing that Jonathan Belcher had prevented the British government from doing in 1729. The junto also revived their old plans for a colonial union--all under the subjection of Parliament.
(It was Martin Bladen's Board of Trade that tried to make America more dependent on Great Britain by calling for the imposition of new imperialistic measures in 1729. William Shirley was one of Bladen's adherents and was later one of the Halifax-Bedford imperialist triumvirate of governors. To see the story of Martin Bladen's colonial union plan and its consequences for the New World Order, see The Emerging Trilateral Center.)
John Adams implied he had observed the junto for twelve years, and it was "plain" what the junto's plans were.
According to Adams, George Grenville, credited proposer of the Stamp Act, actually built upon the junto's Stamp Act idea. (See the Emerging Trilateral Center article.)
Jonathan Belcher Saves the Charter
Jonathan Belcher, like his father, could see that the danger of losing American liberty was increasing. A charter was the basis of a government's existence, it was like a "constitution" guaranteeing the people liberty of conscience and their other freedoms. In 1721, the people of New England were once again terrified by the moves of the British government. Their minds were in a state of revolt against the threatened deprivation of their charter liberties.
The Connecticut colony's agent, Jeremiah Dummer, was sent to England to defend the New England charters. In A Defense of the New England Charters (London: W. Wilkins, 1721), Dummer presented the colonials' case. He had a tough position to defend: The Board of Trade was looking for any excuse to revoke the colonial charters. Though New England had not exhibited any misconduct, the British government proposed several subtle, tangential excuses for taking the charters away.
First, the Board of Trade accused the New England governments of not vigorously pursuing British assaults against French Canada. Sometimes, it seemed as if the Board of Trade viewed the American colonies merely as a "farm" for raising British soldiers and sailors. (On this issue, see the Trilateral Center series of articles.) But New England raised as much money and men as they could, and tenaciously led expeditions against French Canada. The expeditions brought financial hardship to New England, along with the loss of some of its finest soldiers, who died on the march. New England captured several Canadian posts, including the key Cape Breton. But Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, architect of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, gave Cape Breton back to the French, leaving the door open for the French to pester New England again. (See: Camerica: Trilateral Center of the New World Order.)
Viscount Bolingbroke harbored French sympathies, and two years later, he fled Britain as a suspected traitor. Safely in France, he struck up a friendship with an obscure writer, into whom Bolingbroke inculcated his deistical views. That writer became the famed French philosophe, Voltaire. (See: The Trilateral Center: Benjamin Franklin and the New World Order as well as Camerica.)
Unfortunately for Dummer, in May 1728, he became seriously ill and wrote to Connecticut's governor and legislature asking them to send another agent to assist him in his duties. Consequently, Connecticut's governor, Joseph Talcott, and its legislature, the General Assembly, asked Jonathan Belcher, a classmate of Dummer's at Harvard College and the owner of a plantation at Connecticut's Merriden, to act as Connecticut's agent at the Court of St. James. And Jonathan Belcher agreed.
Nothing less than American liberty was at stake!
But Jonathan Belcher had a good experience to make use of: As a very young man, he had visited the Court of Hanover, had kissed Princess Sophia's hand, and had enjoyed several visits to the royal family, who welcomed the young visitor from New England with open arms. Jonathan had recently graduated from Harvard College, and he had been eager to learn about trade and religion. He had walked with Sophia's daughter, Princess Sophia Dorothea, and had met the elder Sophia's son and grandson, both named George. Soon after that visit, the son ascended the British throne as King George I, and a year before Jonathan voyaged to England in 1728 as Connecticut's agent, the grandson began his reign as King George II. The new king was about the same age as Jonathan, and twenty years before, they had parted as friends.
That's why, probably, Connecticut, as well as Massachusetts, chose Jonathan Belcher to be their agent to the British court. The New England governments probably knew that George II knew Jonathan, that the king and their agent were friends. Surely George would listen to his old friend Jonathan Belcher! And let the colonies keep their liberties!
Surely Jonathan could persuade the king to see the falsity of those arguments asserted against New England in Parliament by the Board of Trade's representatives. According to Jeremiah Dummer, the Board said, in essence, "New England cannot enforce the king's Acts of Trade and Navigation; New England merchants smuggle goods to the king's enemies, the Spanish and the French." Another spurious argument the Board and its allies in Parliament asserted was, "New England legislatures pass laws that go against the laws of Great Britain." Most seriously of all, the Board of Trade asserted that Americans were planning an American Revolution! After a number of years, those freedom-loving people living at a distance from Great Britain would decide to throw off the yoke of the Mother Country and form their own nation; therefore, the colonies must be curbed before they ever reached that point, the Board's argument went. The Board of Trade tried to take over American liberties then! And what better way to rein in independent colonies than taking away the instruments of their governments?
The British government might have tried to oppress the Americans in 1729 like they did in the 1760's-1770's--except that in 1729, Jonathan Belcher stopped them!
Jeremiah Dummer said such notions of independence were nonsense. The American colonies would never break away from Great Britain.
Jonathan Belcher was not so sure that they wouldn't. The situation was more serious than Dummer gave it credit. Surely, New England's people could not live without their liberties. And Jonathan was a New England man, so he knew that fact very well. Born in Massachusetts, the land of his father and grandfather before him, Jonathan also descended from original settlers of Connecticut on his mother's side, so that he always considered himself almost a Connecticut "native son"--another reason for Connecticut's legislature to select him as their agent. Jonathan Belcher, like his father before him, wanted the New England charters to remain safe and secure bulwarks of the people's liberties. (See: Governor Jonathan Belcher: Champion of Civil and Religious Liberty and Poems about Governor Jonathan Belcher.) Surely, the Board of Trade must see that such repeated threats only made the people of New England more nervous, more suspicious of the British government. Why, if the Board wanted to encourage America to revolt, it couldn't have chosen better methods to do so than by threatened revocations of American charters!
After British government officials heard Jonathan Belcher's petition for letting New England keep their charters, they readily agreed that the charters should remain intact. New England's liberties were safe, for the moment, and Jonathan had every reason to feel proud of himself. He had accomplished his mission!
"The Constitutional Crisis of the Massachusetts Charter": Copyright 2003 Belcher Foundation. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.
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