From John, Fiske, Unpublished Orations: “The Discovery of the Columbia River, and the Whitman Controversy;” The Crispus Attucks Memorial;” and “Columbus Memorial”; The Bibliophile Society; Boston; 1909; pp. 63-98
The troubles and disorders in Boston which led to the Revolution began soon after the grant of writs of assistance to the revenue officers in 1761. These writs of assistance were general search-warrants, empowering the collectors of customs to enter houses or shops in search of smuggled goods, but without specifying either houses or goods. This made it possible for a revenue officer to visit anybody’s house — perhaps from mere spite — and lay hands upon such articles as it might please him to condemn as having been 65 brought into town without paying duty. The exercise of such an odious tyranny was sure to be resisted, and it was resisted. During the next half dozen years, there were many instances in which warehouse doors were barricaded and the officers successfully defied. Into the midst of this irritation came the Stamp Act of 1765, a law which was repealed the next year because it was found impossible to enforce it in any of the colonies. The immediate fruits of the Stamp Act were riots in New York and Boston and elsewhere; and one of these riots in Boston was perhaps the most shameful affair in all the history of this town. It is quite characteristic of mob law to strike in the wrong places, and to punish those who have not offended. An impression got abroad that Chief Justice Hutchinson had favored the passage of the Stamp Act, and had acted as an informer against certain merchants suspected of breaking the revenue laws. This impression was entirely incorrect, but under the influence of it, one night in August, 1765, a drunken mob broke into Mr. Hutchinson’s house, threw his furniture and pictures into the street, and destroyed the noble library which he had been thirty years in collecting, and which contained many priceless historical documents, the loss of which can never be replaced. Let us here particularly observe that this disgraceful affair was at once disowned and condemned by the people of Boston. Before 66 Governor Bernard next morning had time to summon the Council, a town-meeting here in Faneuil Hall had expressed its abhorrence of the work of the rioters, and similar expressions of feeling were soon heard from town-meetings all over the Commonwealth. The ringleaders were imprisoned, and the Legislature, chosen by the people, hastened to indemnify Mr. Hutchinson, so far as possible, for the damage inflicted by the mob. This incident shows conclusively that the people of Massachusetts felt no sympathy for rioters; and it should be borne in mind when we come to consider the very different feelings which were called forth by the circumstances of the Boston Massacre. Let us not fail to note that the great popular leader, Samuel Adams, whom the loyalists were fond of calling the “chief incendiary,” was emphatic in his condemnation of the Hutchinson riot. One of Adams’ favorite maxims was, “Always keep your enemy in the wrong.” He knew that the American people were in the right, and therefore always appealed to reason, and always deprecated any resort to violence.
We may now pass to the year 1767, when Parliament, under the lead of Charles Townshend, passed a new revenue law for America. If the old revenue laws were odious because of the harsh way in which they were enforced, this act of 1767 was doubly odious because of the principle 67 which it involved. Hitherto such acts had been passed with the design of regulating the commerce of the British Empire. This Townshend act, in laying duties upon tea and other articles, had a very different purpose. Under pretence of regulating commerce, it sought to deprive the Americans of the right of self-government. This was at once evident from the way in which the revenue derived from the tea and other articles was to be used. It was to be used for defraying the cost of a civil service to be established in all the colonies, and to be directly responsible to the crown. There had been much dispute for fifty years as to the way in which the governors’ salaries should be paid. The act of 1767 was the prelude to a series of measures for taking this question out of the hands of the people entirely. It was five years more before the most serious of these measures, attacking the independence of the judges, was passed; but the whole policy of the British government was so clearly indicated in the preamble to the act of 1767 that the Americans could not mistake it. People often talk as if the American Revolution originated in a mere money dispute, or else some theoretical discussion over the right of representation. This is a grave mistake. It was far from being a mere question of paying duties, and there was much more in it than an assertion of abstract principle. It was something that 68 came home with grim reality to everybody’s door. Tea was selected as the chief article for taxation because it was supposed that people could not get along without it. In its act of 1767, the British government said to the American people: “We know very well that your wives and daughters will never give up their quiet social entertainments, in which tea is deemed indispensable. We are therefore going to tax that article, and with the money which you thus cannot help paying, we are going to defray the salaries of your governors and judges, and thus make them entirely independent of you, and responsible only to us.” What was this but a shameless demand that the American people should part with their liberty? It was answered in three ways. Merchants in all the colonies answered by forming associations pledged to buy no more goods of any sort from England until the act of 1767 should be repealed. The ladies answered by forming associations pledged to wear homespun clothes and drink no more tea until the government should retreat from its position. The Massachusetts Assembly answered in 1768 by its famous circular letter addressed to the other colonies, inviting them to coöperate with Massachusetts in resisting the enforcement of the law, and in petitioning for its prompt repeal.
This circular letter enraged King George and his ministers, and an order in council presently 69 called upon the Massachusetts Assembly to rescind it. At the same time orders were sent to the assemblies of all the other colonies, forbidding them to pay any heed to the Massachusetts circular, under penalty of instant dissolution. Thus said the King, and how was he answered? For the first time, perhaps, in any American legislative body, there was uttered a threat of rebellion. “We are asked to rescind, are we?” said James Otis; “Let Great Britain rescind her measures, or the colonies are lost to her forever!” After a debate of nine days, the Massachusetts Assembly decided, by a vote of ninety-two to seventeen, that it would not rescind its circular letter. The Assembly was immediately dissolved by Governor Bernard, but its vote was hailed with delight all over the country, and “the Illustrious Ninety-two” became the favorite toast on all convivial occasions. In several other colonies the assemblies passed resolutions expressing their sympathy with Massachusetts, and for so doing they were turned out of doors by the governors, in conformity to the royal order.
A decisive issue was thus rapidly forming between the colonies and the crown; and as the freedom of all was alike involved in it, the way was fast being smoothed for the beginnings of the American Union. As the ministry were inclined to try conclusions, especially with Massachusetts and with Boston, everything that was done here 70 for the next seven years was watched with intense interest, and was fraught with peculiar significance for the whole country. In the spring of 1768, the fifty-gun frigate Romney was sent to mount guard in Boston harbor and aid the revenue commissioners; and while she lay there several of the citizens were seized and impressed as seamen.
Now. while the town was very indignant over this lawless kidnapping of its citizens, on the 10th of June, John Hancock’s sloop Liberty was seized at the wharf by a boat’s crew from the Romney, for an alleged violation of the revenue laws, though without official warrant. Insults and incriminations ensued between the officers and the citizens assembled on the wharf, until after a while the excitement grew into a mild form of riot, in which a few windows were broken, some of the officers were pelted, and finally a pleasure-boat belonging to the collector was pulled up out of the water, carried to the Common, and burned there — when, at length, Hancock and Adams arriving upon the scene, put a stop to the commotion. A few days afterward a town-meeting was held in Faneuil Hall; but as the crowd was too great to be contained in the building, it was adjourned to the Old South Meeting-House, where Otis addressed the people from the pulpit. A petition to the Governor was prepared, in which it was set forth that the impressment of peaceful 71 citizens was an illegal act, and that the state of the town was as if war had been declared against it; and the Governor was requested to order the instant removal of the frigate from the harbor. A committee of twenty-one leading citizens was appointed to deliver this petition to the Governor at his house in Jamaica Plain. In his letters to the Secretary of State, Bernard professed to live in constant fear of assassination, and was always begging for troops to protect him against the incendiary and blackguard mob of Boston. Yet, as he looked down the beautiful road from his open window that summer afternoon, what he saw was not a ragged mob armed with knives and bludgeons, shouting “Liberty or death,” and bearing the head of a revenue collector aloft on the point of a pike — what he saw was a quiet procession of eleven chaises, from which there alighted at his door twenty-one gentlemen, as sedate and stately in demeanor as those old Roman senators at whom the Gaulish chief so marvelled. There followed a very affable interview, during which wine was passed around; and next day the Governor’s answer was read in town-meeting, declining to remove the frigate, but promising that in future there should be no more impressment of Massachusetts citizens; and with this compromise the wrath of the people was, for the moment, assuaged.72
Affairs of this sort, reported with gross exaggeration by the Governor and revenue commissioners to the ministry, produced in England the impression that Boston was a lawless and riotous town, full of cutthroats and blacklegs, whose violence could only be held in check by martial law. Of all the misconceptions of America by England which brought about the American Revolution, perhaps this notion of the extreme turbulence of Boston was the most ludicrous. During the ten years of excitement which preceded the war of independence, if we except the one shameful sriot in which Hutchinson’s house was sacked, there was much less uproar and confusion in Boston than might reasonably have been expected. In all this time not a drop of blood was shed by the people, nor was anybody’s life for a moment in danger at their hands. The only fit ground for wonder is that they behaved themselves so quietly. The disturbance attending the seizure of the sloop Liberty was a fair sample of the disorders which occurred at moments of extreme excitement, and it was nothing compared to the riots which used to happen in London in those days. “The worst you could say about Boston,” observed Colonel Barré in Parliament, “was that she was imitating the mother country.”
Even before the affair of the Liberty, the government had made up its mind to send troops to 73 Boston. The avowed purpose in sending them was to preserve order; and such events as the sacking of Hutchinson’s house must have gone far toward creating in England a public opinion which should sanction such a measure. But beneath this avowed purpose lay the ultimate purpose, on the part of the King and his friends, of intimidating the popular party and enforcing the Townshend act. The people of Boston understood this perfectly well. They knew that the Townshend act was contrary to the whole spirit of the British constitution; and in this they were at one with many of the ablest and most liberal statesmen of England. There were no disorders that had not directly originated in British aggressions — not one. Let this unjust and mischievous act of legislation be repealed, and there would be no disorders to be repressed. Whatever the ostensible purpose by which the sending of these troops was justified to the British people, there could be no doubt as to its real meaning. It meant the substitution of brute force for argument; it meant military tyranny. And this, I say, the people of Boston knew full well, although some of their descendants seem to have forgotten it.
In September, 1768, it was announced in Boston that the troops were on their way, and would soon be landed. There happened to be a legal obstacle, unforeseen by the ministry, to their being quartered 74 in the city. In accordance with the general act of Parliament for quartering troops, the regular barracks at Castle William in the harbor would have to be filled before the town could be required to find quarters for any troops. Another clause of the act provided that if any military officer should take upon himself to quarter soldiers in any of His Majesty’s dominion, otherwise than as allowed by the act, he should straightway be dismissed the service. At the news that the troops were about to arrive, the Governor was asked to convene the Assembly, that it might be decided how to receive them. On Bernard’s refusal, the selectmen of Boston issued a circular, inviting all the towns of Massachusetts to send delegates to a general convention, in order that deliberate action might be taken upon this important matter. In answer to the circular, delegates from ninety-six towns assembled in Faneuil Hall, and, laughing at the Goernor’s order to “disperse,” proceeded to show how, in the exercise of the undoubted right of public assembly, the colony could virtually legislate for itself in the absence of its regular Legislature. The convention, finding that nothing was necessary for Boston to do but insist upon strict compliance with the letter of the law, adjourned. In October, two regiments — the Fourteenth and Twenty-ninth — arrived, and were allowed to land without opposition, but no lodging was provided 75 for them. Governor Bernard, in fear of an affray, had gone out into the country; but nothing could have been further from the thoughts of the people. The commander, Colonel Dalrymple of the Fourteenth, requested shelter for his men, but was told that he must quarter them in the barracks at Castle William. As the night was frosty, however, they were compassionately allowed to sleep in Faneuil Hall. Next day, the Governor, finding everything quiet, came back, and heard Dalrymple’s complaint. But in vain did he apply in turn to the Council, to the selectmen, and to the justices of the peace, to grant quarters for the troops: he was told that the law was plain, and that the Castle must first be occupied. The Governor then tried to get possession of an old dilapidated building which belonged to the colony, but the tenants had taken legal advice, and told him to turn them out if he dared. Nothing could be more provoking. General Gage was obliged to come on from his headquarters at New York; but not even he, the commander-in-chief of his Majesty’s forces in America, could quarter the troops in violation of the statute, without running the risk of being cashiered on conviction before two justices of the peace. So the soldiers stayed in tents on the Commons, until the weather grew so cold that Dalrymple was obliged to hire some buildings for them at exorbitant rates and at the expense of the crown. 76 By the time this question was settled, two more regiments — the Sixty-fourth and the Sixty-fifth — had arrived, and were quartered in some large storehouses on Wheelwright’s wharf. The Fourteenth was quartered in a building on Brattle street, owned by James Murray, and henceforth known as “Murray’s Barracks;” the Twenty-ninth was quartered between King and Water streets; and the main guard was accommodated in King street near the Town House. Small detachments were posted at the ferries and on Boston Neck, and two cannon were planted on King street with their muzzles pointing toward the Town House — for what purpose it would be hard to say; but it could hardly be otherwise interpreted by the people than as a menace and an insult.
No sooner were the soldiers thus established in Boston than Samuel Adams published the series of letters signed “Vindex,” in which he argued that to quarter an army among the people of Massachusetts without the consent of the Legislature was as unjustifiable and as gross a violation of the Bill of Rights as it would be to quarter an army in London without the consent of Parliament. In other words, the troops were intruders and trespassers in Boston; they had no right to be here at all, since the government had transcended its constitutional powers in sending them. This was part and parcel of 77 Adams’ doctrine, that the Massachusetts Legislature was as supreme in Massachusetts as the Parliament in Great Britain; that Americans must be governed by lawmakers chosen by themselves, and not by lawmakers chosen by other people. It was to maintain this doctrine that the Revolutionary War was fought; and our forefathers, who maintained it, were quite right in holding that the soldiers were intruders, who might with entire propriety be warned off the premises or forcibly ejected, should occasion require it. For the present the milder course of petition to the King was the proper one; and in the annual March meeting of 1769, a paper was adopted, praying for the removal of the troops. In April the ministry, without consulting Governor Bernard, instructed General Gage at New York to use his own discretion as to keeping the troops at Boston or withdrawing them. Early in June Gage ordered the Sixty-fourth and Sixty-fifth Regiments away from Boston, and in the letter in which he advised Bernard of this order, he asked him if it would not be better to removed the other two regiments also. The citizens, hearing of this, held a town-meeting, and declared that the civil magistrates were quite able to protect life and property, so that the mere presence of the troops was an insult to the town. Bernard, however, wrote to Gage that it would not be prudent to remove the troops, though perhaps 78 one regiment in the town and one at the Castle might be enough. The result was that nothing more was done, and the Fourteen and Twenty-ninth Regiments remained at their quarters. In July, Bernard sailed for England, leaving affairs in the hands of Hutchinson as lieutenant-governor.
While these things were going on, the soldiers did many things that greatly annoyed the people. They led brawling, riotous lives, and made the quiet streets hideous by night with their drunken shouts. Scores of loose women, who had followed the regiments across the ocean, came to scandalize the town for awhile, and then to encumber the almshouse. On Sundays the soldiers would race horses on the Common, or would play “Yankee Doodle” just outside the church-doors during the services. Now and then oaths, or fisticuffs, or blows with sticks were exchanged between soldiers and citizens, and at length a much more serious affair occurred. One evening in September a dastardly assault was made upon James Otis at the British Coffee House by one Robinson, a Commissioner of Customs, assisted by half a dozen army officers. It was a strange parallel to the assault upon Charles Sumner by Brooks of South Carolina, shortly before the War of Secession. Otis was savagely beaten, and received a blow on the head with a sword, from the effects of which he never recovered, but finally lost his reason. The popular wrath at this outrage 79 was intense, but there was no disturbance. Otis brought suit against Robinson, and recovered two thousand pounds in damages, but refused to accept a penny of it when Robinson confessed himself in the wrong, and humbly asked pardon for his irreparable offence.
During the next six months the tension of feeling steadily increased. Dr. Franklin wrote from London that he lived in constant dread of the news of some outbreak that might occasion irreparable mischief. In the course of February, 1770, there was an unusual number of personal encounters. In one or two instances criminals were forcibly rescued from the hands of the constable. Citizens were pricked with bayonets. On the 22d of that month, a well-known informer named Richardson, being pelted by a party of school boys, withdrew into his house, opened a window, and fired at random into the crowd, killing a little boy, Christopher Snyder, about eleven years of age, and severely wounding a son of Captain John Gore. The funeral of the murdered boy took place on Monday, the 26th, and was attended by a grand procession of citizens. It was with some difficulty that Richardson, on his way to jail, was protected from the wrath of the people. On his trial in April he was convicted of murder, but after two years in prison was pardoned. We can well understand that the state of feeling in the days following the little 80 boy’s funeral must have been extremely intense. Quarrels and blows were constantly occurring that week. The Twenty-ninth Regiment, according to Hutchinson, contained a number of rough and ill-disciplined fellows, and as their quarters were very near Mr. John Gray’s ropewalk, they came into frequent collision with the workmen.
On Friday things assumed a decidedly warlike aspect. About noon a soldier put his head into one of the windows of the ropewalk, and gave vent to his spleen in oaths and taunts, until presently a workman came out and knocked him down, while another took away his sword. The soldier then went to the barracks and returned with a dozen companions armed with clubs. A fight ensued, in which the soldiers were worsted, and beat a retreat. Presently they returned again, reinforced to the number of thirty or forty, but all hands in the ropewalk were now ready to receive them, and they were again beaten off with bruises and scars. Cutlasses were used, and some blood was drawn, though no one was seriously hurt. On Saturday, Colonel Carr, commander of the Twenty-ninth, complained to Governor Hutchinson; and on Monday the complaint was laid before the Council, and several members of that body declared their opinion that the only way of insuring against a deadly affray was to withdraw the two regiments from the town to the Castle. In the afternoon a handbill was 81 posted by the soldiers, informing the rebellious people of Boston that they were determined to join together and defend themselves against all opponents. There was some anxiety among the citizens, and people gathered in groups on street-corners, discussing the situation. The loud and angry threats of the soldiers led many to believe that a massacre was intended. It was time, they said, to wet their bayonets in the blood of these New England people. At about eight in the evening, a crowd collected near the barracks in Brattle street. Conspicuous among the throng was a very tall colored man, who seemed to be acting as a leader. From bandying abusive epithets with the soldiers, the crowd went on to pelt them with snowballs, while, in turn, blows were dealt with the butt-ends of muskets. Presently, Captain Goldfinch coming along, ordered his men into their barracks for the night, and thus seemed to have stopped the affray. But meanwhile some one had got into the Old Brick Meeting-house, opposite the head of King street — where the Sears Building now stands — and rung the bell; and this, being interpreted as an alarm of fire, bought out many more people into the moonlit streets. It was now a little past nine o’clock. Bands of soldiers and of citizens were hurrying hither and thither, and the accounts of what happened are as disorderly and conflicting as the incidents which they try to relate. There 82 were cries of “Town-born, turn out! the red-coats are going to kill us!” and responses from the soldiers, “Damn you, we will walk a lane through you all!” Between the limits of what are now known as Dock square and School street in the one direction and Scollay square and Long wharf in the other, there was the surging of the crowd, — not a vast and continuous crowd, but a series of groups of enraged men, gesticulating and cursing, actuated by no definite plan, but simply giving incoherent utterance to the passions which had been so long restrained, and were at last wrought up beyond endurance.
In Dock square, “a tall gentleman in a large white wig and red cloak” harangued the crowd for a few minutes, and they listened quietly while he was speaking. Who this mysterious person was, or what he said, has never been ascertained. Presently there was a shout of “Hurrah for the main guard! there is the nest!” and the crowed began pouring into King street, through Exchange lane, while the tall colored man, whose name was Crispus Attucks, led a party in the same direction through the lower part of Cornhill, now included in Washington street.
In front of the Custom House, on the corner of King street and Exchange lane, a sentinel was pacing. A few minutes before, as Captain Goldfinch passed by on his way to stop the affray in Brattle street, a barber’s apprentice had 83 reviled him for having had his hair dressed and gone off without paying. The sentinel knocked the boy down, and was forthwith pelted with snowballs by other boys. While this was going on, the crowd from Dock square arrived upon the scene, and the sentinel retreated up the steps of the Custom House, and called for help. Some one ran to the guardhouse and cried, “They are killing the sentinel; turn out the guard!” Captain Preston and seven or eight privates from the Twenty-ninth came up the street upon the double-quick, prodding people with their bayonets and shouting, “Make way, damn you, make way!” “Are you going to murder people?” asked a sailor. “Yes, by God, root and branch,” was the reply. As the soldiers formed in a half-circle around the sentry-box, and Preston ordered them to prime and load, the bookseller, Henry Knox, afterward major-general in the Continental Army, seized the captain by the coat, and warned him that if blood was shed, he would have to answer for it with his life. “I know it,” said Preston. “I hope,” said another gentleman, “you do not intend to fire on the people.” “By no means,” said Preston. The crowd pressed up to the muzzles of the guns, threw snow in the soldier’s faces, and dared them to fire. Amid the clamor and scurry there were so many cries of “Fire!” that it would not have been strange had some one of them been mistaken for an order. 84 It is most likely that no such order was given by Preston; but all at once seven of the levelled pieces were discharged, not simultaneously, but in quick succession like the striking of a clock. The first shot, fired by a soldier named Montgomery, killed Crispus Attucks, who was standing quietly at a little distance leaning upon a stick. The second, fired by one Kilroy, slew Samuel Gray, who was just stepping toward the fallen Attucks. The next killed James Caldwell, a sailor, standing in the middle of the sreet. Samuel Maverick, a boy of seventeen, and Patrick Carr had heard the church-bell, and come out to see where the fire was. They were shot and mortally wounded as they were crossing the street. Maverick died next morning, Carr nine days later. Six other men fell, dangerously, but not fatally, wounded.
The church-bells now began pealing, the alarm was spread through the town, people flocked by hundreds to the scene, the drums beat to arms, the Twenty-ninth Regiment was called out, and drawn up for platoon firing, and a general slaughter seemed imminent, when the arrival of Hutchinson put an end to the tumult. The scholarly lieutenant-governor, in his study in North square had heard the bells, and supposed there was a fire somewhere; but soon there came knocks at his front door, and flurried and breathless cries that “the troops had risen on the 85 people.” Making all haste to King street, he shouted indignantly to Preston, “Are you the commanding officer?” “Yes, sir.” “What do you mean by firing on the people without an order from a civil magistrate?” All that could be heard of Preston’s reply was something about saving the sentry. A sudden surge of the crowd pushed Hutchinson in through the door of the Town House. He ran up-stairs into the Council chamber and came out on the balcony. In spite of his Tory sympathies, his lofty character and the memory of his splendid public services still gave him much weight with the people, and they listened quietly as he addressed them. A court of inquiry was ordered, the soldiers were sent to their barracks, Preston and his squad were arrested, the people slowly dispersed to their homes, and it was three o’clock in the morning before Hutchinson left the scene.
In the forenoon the Council advised the removal of the offending regiment — the Twenty-ninth — but in the afternoon an immense town-meeting, called at Faneuil Hall, adjourned to the Old South Meeting-house; and as they passed by the Town House, the lieutenant-governor, looking upon their march, judged “their sprit to be as high as was the spirit of their ancestors when they imprisoned Andros, while they were four times as numerous.” All the way from the church to the Town House the street was crowded 86 with the people, while a committee, headed by Samuel Adams, waited upon the lieutenant-governor, and received his assurance that the Twenty-ninth Regiment should be removed. As the committee came out from the Town House to carry the lieutenant-governor’s reply to the meeting in the church, the people pressed back on either side to let them pass; and Adams, leading the way with uncovered head through the lane thus formed, and bowing first to one side and to the other, passed along the watchword “Both regiments or none!” When, in the church, the question was put to vote, three thousand voices shouted, “Both regiments or none!” and armed with this ultimatum the committee returned to the Town House, where the lieutenant-governor was seated with Colonel Dalrymple and the members of the Council. Then Adams, in quiet but earnest tones, stretching forth his arm and pointing his finger at Hutchinson, reminded him that if, as royal governor of the province, he had the power to remove one regiment, he had equally the power to remove both; that the voice of three thousand freemen demanded that all soldiery be forthwith removed from the town; and that if he failed to heed their just demands, he did so at his peril. “I observed his knees to tremble,” said the old hero afterward, “I saw his face grow pale, and I enjoyed the sight!” Before sundown the order had gone forth for the 87 removal of both regiments to Castle William, and not until then did the meeting in the church break up.
It has often been remarked that this scene in the Council Chamber would make a fine subject for an historical painting. The removal of the instruments of tyranny at the behest of a New England town-meeting was certainly one of the most impressive scenes in history, and it summed up the coming Revolution as an overture sums up the musical drama to which it is prefixed. It was four years before British troops were again quartered in Boston; and on the sixth anniversary of the memorable scene in the Council Chamber, General Howe looked with rueful gaze at Washington’s threatening batteries on Dorchester Heights, and decided that it was high time to retreat from the town. When the news of the affray in King street, and the consequent removal of the troops, reached England, the King’s friends were chagrined, and there was some discussion in Parliament as to whether it would do to submit tamely to such a defeat. It was suggested that the troops ought to be ordered back into the town, when Colonel Barré pithily asked, “If, under the circumstances, the commanders over there saw fit to remove the troops, what minister here will venture to order them back?” As nobody was ready with a reply to this question, the subject was dropped; 88 but for many years afterwards the Fourteenth and Twenty-ninth Regiments were familiarly known in Parliament as “The Sam Adams Regiments.”
It was the sacrifice of the lives of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr that brought about this preliminary victory of the American Revolution. Their death effected in a moment what seventeen months of petition and discussion had failed to accomplish. Instead of the King’s representatives intimidating the people of Boston, it was the people of Boston that had intimidated the King’s representatives. Nature is apt to demand some forfeit in accomplishing great results, and for achieving this particular result the lives of those five men were the forfeit. It is, therefore, historically correct to regard them as the first martyrs to the cause of American independence; as such they have long deserved a monument in the most honorable place that Boston could give for the purpose; and such a place is Boston Common. If experience did not teach us how full the world is of paradox and looseness of thought, I should deem it incredible that any student of history should ever have doubted so plain and obvious a conclusion. The present generation of historical students is very creditably engaged in attempts to do justice to the motives of the Tories of the Revolution, who 89 have, in many instances, been maligned and misunderstood. Such attempts deserve our warmest sympathy, for it is the duty of the historian to understand the past, and only in so far as he divests himself of partisan prejudice can he understand it. But in order to be fair toward Tories, it is not necessary to become Tories ourselves. We seem to be in some danger of forgetting this obvious caution. Some of our scholars seem to have swung around into the Tory view of the events which ushered in the Revolution, and things have been said about the Boston Massacre which one would think fit to make glorious old Samuel Adams turn in his grave. The motives and purposes of the victims have been belittled or aspersed. In truth, we know little or nothing about their motives and purposes; but we may fairly suppose them to have been actuated by the same feelings toward the soldiery that animated Adams and Warren and the patriots of Boston in general. The five victims were obscure men. As we have lately been reminded, they did not belong to our “first families.” This, however, did not prevent Doctor Warren from calling them “our slaughtered brethren,” and I do not suppose anybody that heard this phrase from the lips of that high-minded patriot would have attributed it to a seeking after political effect. The immense concourse of people, including our “first families,” 90 that followed them on the 8th of March to their grave in the Old Granary Burying-ground, unquestionably regarded them as victims who had suffered in the common cause. Of their personal history next to nothing is known. Three of them — Caldwell, Carr and Maverick — would seem to have been bystanders accidentally shot. Of the two who took a prominent part in the affair, Gray was one of the workmen at the ropewalk: Attucks was a stranger in Boston. He was a sailor employed on Captain Folger’s whaleship from Nantucket, which was lying in Boston harbor. He was described as a mulatto, and may very probably have been the slave Crispus, six foot two inches in height, who ran away from his master, William Browne, of Framingham, in the fall of 1750, and was duly advertised in the Boston Gazette of November 20, in that year. It that be the case, he was about forty-six years old at the time of his death. It has also been argued that he may have been a Natick Indian, since the name Attucks is certainly an Indian name signifying “deer.” Quite likely he had both Indian and African blood in his veins; such a thing was not unusual in the country about Framingham. At the time of his death his home is said to have been in the Island of Nassau, and he was apparently embarked for North Carolina, working his way, perhaps, towards his home. From this time until independence was won, there was hardly a 91 struggle in which brave men of his race and color did not nobly acquit themselves.
Such was the famous “Boston Massacre.” The excellent British historian, Mr. Lecky, observes that “there are many dreadful massacres recorded in the pages of history — the Massacre of the Danes by the Saxons, the Massacre of the Sicilian Vespers, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew — but it may be questioned whether any of them produced such torrents of indignant eloquence as this affair.” (Hist. Eng. III., 367.) In commenting upon the very gentle sarcasm here implied, I would remind Mr. Lecky that it will not do to try to measure history with a foot-rule. Lord Sherbrooke — better known as Robert Lowe — declared a few years ago, in a speech on the uses of a classical education, that the Battle of Marathon was really of less account than a modern colliery explosion, because only one hundred and ninety-two of the Greek army lost their lives. From such a point of view, one might argue that the “Boston Massacre” was an event of far less importance than an ordinary free fight among Colorado gamblers. It is needless to say that this is not the historical point of view. Historically, the “Boston Massacre” is not only important from the fresh impetus it gave to the nascent revolutionary feeling among the Americans at that time, but it furnishes an instructive illustration of the high state of civilization that 92 had been attained by the people among whom it happened — by the oppressors as well as those whom it was sought to oppress. The quartering of troops in a peaceful town is something that has in most ages been regarded with horror. Under the senatorial government of Rome, it used to said that the quartering of troops, even upon a friendly province and for the purpose of protecting it, was a visitation only less to be dreaded than an inroad of hostile barbarians. When we reflect that the British regiments were encamped in Boston during seventeen months, among a population not whom they were thoroughly odious, the fact that only half a dozen persons lost their lives, and that otherwise no really grave crimes seem to have been committed, is a fact highly creditable both to the discipline of the soldiers and to the moderation of the people. In most ages and countries the shooting of half a dozen citizens under such circumstances would either have produced but a slight impression, or, on the other hand, would perhaps have resulted on the spot in a wholesale slaughter of the offending soldiers. The fact that so profound an impression was made in Boston and throughout the country, while at the same time the guilty parties were left to be dealt with in the ordinary course of law, is a striking commentary upon the general peacefulness and decorum of American life; and it shows how high and severe was the standard by 93 which our forefathers judged all lawless proceedings. And here it may not be irrelevant to add that, throughout the constitutional struggles which led to the Revolution, the American standard of political right and wrong was so high that contemporary European politicians found it sometimes difficult to understand it. And for a like reason, even the most fair-minded modern English historians sometimes fail to see why the Americans should have been so quick to take offence at acts of the British government which doubtless were not meant to be oppressive. If George III. had been a bloodthirsty despot, like Philip II., of Spain; if General Gage had been like the Duke of Alva; if American citizens by the hundred had been burned alive or broken on the wheel in New York and Boston; if towns such as Providence and Hartford had been given up to the cruelty and lust of a beastly soldiery — then no one would ever have found it hard to understand why the Americans should have exhibited a rebellious temper. But it is one signal characteristic of the progress of political civilization, that the part played by sheer brute force in a barbarous age is fully equalled by the part played by a mere covert threat of injustice in a more advanced age. The effect which a blow in the face would produce upon a barbarian will be wrought upon a civilized man by an assertion of some far-reaching legal principle, which only in 94 a subtle and ultimate analysis includes the possibility of a blow in the face. From this point of view, the quickness with which such acts as those of Charles Townshend were comprehended in their remotest bearings is the most striking proof one could wish of the high grade of political culture which our forefathers had reached through their system of perpetual free discussion in town-meeting. They had, moreover, reached a point where any manifestation of simple brute force in the course of a political dispute was exceedingly disgusting and shocking to them. To their minds the careless or wanton slaughter of five citizens conveyed just as much meaning as a St. Bartholomew massacre would have conveyed to the minds of men in a lower stage of political development.
It was not strange, therefore, that Samuel Adams and his friends should have been ready to make the “Boston Massacre” the occasion of a moral lesson to their contemporaries. As far as the offending soldiers were concerned, they were most honorably dealt with. There was no attempt to wreak a paltry vengeance on them. Brought to trial on a charge of murder, after a judicious delay of seven months, they were able defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincy, and all were acquitted save Montgomery and Kilroy, who were convicted of manslaughter, and branded in the hand. There were some hot-heads who 95 grumbled at the verdict, but the people of Boston generally acquiesced in it, as they showed by choosing John Adams for their representative in the Assembly. At the same time, such an event as the “Boston Massacre” could not fail for a long time to point a moral among a people so unused to violence and bloodshed. Paul Revere, who was one of the earliest of American engravers, published a quaint colored engraving of the scene in King street, which for a long time was widely circulated, though it has now become very scarce. Below the picture are the following verses, written in the rhymed ten-syllable couplets which the eighteenth century was so fond of turning out by the yard:
These last lines give expression to the feelings of those who condemned the verdict of the court, and they show how intense was the indignation over the bloodshed and the sympathy for the victims. The self-restraint shown by the people, while under the influence of such feelings, is in the highest degree creditable to Boston; and the moral lessons of the story are such as ought never to be forgotten. Adams and Warren, and their patriot friends, were right in deciding that the fatal 5th of March should be solemnly commemorated each year by an oration to be delivered in the Old South Meeting-house, and this custom was kept up until the recognition of American Independence in 1783, when the day for the oration was changed to the 4th of July. At the very first annual March meeting after the massacre, it was proposed to erect a monument to commemorate it. The form of the proposal shows that the character of the event was understood by the town-people at that time as I have endeavored to set it forth today. In dedicating this memorial on Boston Common after the lapse of more than a century, we are but performing an act of justice too long delayed. There let it stand for future generations to contemplate as a monument of the wickedness and folly of all attempts to employ brute force in compelling the obedience of the people to laws which they have had no voice in making.
The statue is seven feet high, and weights one thousand seven hundred and ninety pounds. Beneath the apex of the shaft, cut into the surface, are thirteen stars, which suggest the original thirteen States of the Union. Below the stars in raised letters appear the names of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, James Caldwell, Samuel Maverick and Patrick Carr, the five victims of the massacre.