General Washington, by Bradley T. Johnson, Chapter 5

Washington and Lee University

General Washington

By General Bradley T. Johnson

CHAPTER V.

THE BEGINNING OF THE REVOLUTION.

THE failure of the Americans to adequately support with men and money the campaigns against the French in Canada created the idea at home that proper means should be taken to compel them to do so. It was decided that they could not be trusted to raise money by taxing themselves to support imperial objects, and therefore it was necessary to devise methods by which they could be made to do their duty to the empire. The method proposed was by imperial taxation, imposed by the imperial Parliament.

In the Parliament America was not represented, and it was perhaps impracticable to grant the provincials representation there. Such a measure was suggested, considered, and rejected. The plainest, simplest form of taxation, and one which was familiar to the English, was to require all legal process, papers, conveyances, and wills to be written on stamped paper which was supplied by the Government. This form of taxation does not incommode the great body of the people, but touches mainly the class which deals with purchase and sale, with exchange, with transactions in money, and with the business of the people. But, like all taxation, it distributes itself through the entire community, and falls equally on all property and on every class. It had been in force in England for generations, and was acquiesced in as just, equal, and convenient.

The idea of a central government for the New England in America had been conceived and discussed by statesmen on either side of the Atlantic long before the pressure of New France brought the question of continental union up for decision. As far back as 1701, Robert Livingston, of New York, had suggested that all the colonies should be united under one government; and, in 1752, Lieutenant-Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, urged upon the Lords of Trade the establishment of two separate confederacies in the North and South. It was agreed on all hands that concentration of the resources of all the colonies was necessary for the common defense; but it was with equal unanimity that each colony claimed the sole right to regulate all of its internal affairs.

In 1754 the impending war with France brought this question to a decision, and several of the royal governors, upon the recommendation of the Earl of Holdernesse, Secretary of State, called a congress of all the colonies to be held at Albany. The object was to secure co-operation of the colonies against the French and the alliance of the Indian tribes, and thus divide the hereditary enemies of the English in America, and also to prepare and propose for adoption some plan of confederation which would be accepted by all the colonies. Only seven out of the thirteen sent delegates—New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

On the 4th of July, 1754 this congress adopted a plan of union proposed by Benjamin Franklin, a deputy from Pennsylvania. This plan provided that a Federal Grand Council should meet every year at Philadelphia, to be composed of “members” from each colony, proportioned to its military strength, which was to elect its own officers. The Grand Council was to be elected by the General Assembly of each colony selecting “members of the Council” to which the colony was entitled. The plan is particular to designate them “members of the Council,” and nowhere “representatives, delegates, or deputies,” so carefully was it guarded from possible inference from designations or words. After the first term, “members” were to be selected for three years, proportioned to taxes paid into the common fund.

The government was to be administered by a president-general to be appointed by the Crown, who was to appoint all military officers subject to the confirmation of the Grand Council and to have a veto on its acts. The Grand Council was to have entire control over the questions of peace and war, defense against and trade with the Indians. As to Continental matters, it could raise armies and impose taxes. The plan utterly failed, and was nowhere received with favor, except by Governor Shirley, of Massachusetts. Neither to the provincial nor to the home government was it acceptable. But notwithstanding this futile attempt at union the fact was as imperative as ever.

The French in Canada barely exceeded fifty thousand souls—men, women, and children; the English on the Atlantic numbered nearly eleven hundred thousand; but the French, scattered over a wide territory, were controlled by one will and wielded by one arm—a governor, always a soldier; while the English were divided into thirteen separate governments, each independent of all the rest, and only connected by the ties of common blood, laws, race, and language. Thus the first movement for a Continental union for defense against the Indians and Roman Catholics failed; but the germ of the movement was planted, and as soon as necessity arose for united action, co-operation was had.

When the Stamp Act was passed, in 1765, Massachusetts promptly called a Congress to meet at New York, the headquarters of the British army in America. There the deputies from nine colonies out of the thirteen met, each colony having an equal vote. They were from Massachusetts, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. The Governor of Virginia prevented that province from being represented by refusing to convoke the General Assembly, and by executive influence New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Georgia were also unrepresented. But the people everywhere were in full accord with the sentiment of resistance to the illegal act of government.

This Congress, under the lead of Christopher Gadsden, of South Carolina, asserted in moderate but positive terms that the English in America were entitled to all the essential and common rights of Englishmen at home. “We should stand,” said Gadsden, “upon the broad common ground of those natural rights that we all know and feel as men, and as the descendants of Englishmen.”

This was the keynote, this the general feeling through all the colonies, “that we are Englishmen,” and entitled to equal rights with Englishmen at home, greatest and chiefest of which was the right to enforce, obtain, and defend those rights, with arms, at the expense of life, blood, and fortune. The pureblooded race of English in New England and on the Chesapeake were unanimous for resistance in arms. The mixed population of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were neither unanimous nor determined on such a course. In North Carolina the English were for resistance, and the Scotch Highlanders, the representatives of the Jacobite feeling, many of whom were fugitives from Culloden, were zealous in the support of the House of Hanover, for the overthrow of which they had given fortune, blood, and native land. But they held themselves bound by their parol and their oath of allegiance, and the bloodiest conflicts of the Revolution were to take place between the friends and kinsmen of Flora McDonald in North Carolina, where she lived, and the descendants of the English who fought them or their ancestors in 1715 and 1745. The Irish everywhere were prompt for rebellion, and the Roman Catholics, principal of whom were the great landholders and leaders of Maryland, were firm in defense of their rights as Englishmen.

There has never been a day in which the English Roman Catholic has not been clear in claiming hereditary rights and courageous in defending them. Whether under Lord Howard of Effingham, against Medina-Sidonia, and Guise, and the Grand Armada, or against the Scotch irruptions under the Stuarts, or against threats of invasion by Napoleon, whenever and wherever the rights of Englishmen have been threatened or the integrity of the realm endangered, the English Roman Catholics have been foremost in defense of them.

The ultimate consequences of the Braddock campaign, therefore, were to relieve the colonies from the pressure of threats of invasion from the French in the North and the Spaniard in the South, and to impel them toward Continental union to defend themselves from the inroads of the Indians from the West and the English from the East.

The rebellion of 1775, the Revolution of 1776–’81, were the logical consequences of Braddock’s defeat, which made the conquest of Canada, or the loss of North America, the sole alternatives to the English nation, and which produced the supreme effort which resulted in the subjection of the continent to the English, and, as a consequence of that, the independence of the English in America, of the English beyond sea.

It was just and proper that the English in America should provide means and men for their own defense. They had done so from the first settlement, raising and subsisting their own troops; but they had done so by their own legislatures, themselves being judges of what was necessary and proper to be done. The taxing power was retained in their own hands. When, therefore, the British ministry proposed in Parliament to raise funds for the common defense by imposing a stamp tax on the colonies, the proposition was met by indignant protest all the way from Boston to Savannah.

Washington, at Mount Vernon, engaged in the supervision of his plantation, his family, and his servants, was deeply impressed with the prodigious importance of the proposition. His neighbor, George Mason, of Gunston Hall, the profoundest political thinker of his generation in Virginia, thoroughly informed as to history, and especially the history of the English race and its reiterated struggle in arms against unrestrained absolute power of government, thoroughly sympathized with him.

He demonstrated to the self-contained soldier-planter the inevitable consequences of yielding to the first encroachment of power on liberty, and that only two courses were possible—prompt and early resistance or abject submission. And he foresaw that resistance meant separation. Freed from the threat of the French and the Spaniard, abundantly able to deal with the Indian, he knew that when once the issue was joined the provincials would promptly vindicate their ability to meet the British regulars in the field, and the colonies their capacity for governing themselves, and that thereafter it would be impossible to reconcile them to subordination to the British Parliament.

Washington was, before everything, a Virginian; but he was an Englishman as well. The Braddock campaign had emancipated him from that provincialism which exaggerated all the high characteristics of the home people, and he appreciated them at their fair value. He considered the Virginian Englishman the equal in every way of the Briton at home. The Stamp Act, therefore, shocked him, and the repeal of the law, with the reservation of the power and right of Parliament to tax the American colonists, filled him with gloomy forebodings.

He did not want a separation from friends and kindred at home. He was not in favor of secession, and it was not until flagrant war demanded all the assistance that could be brought to support it that he consented to the Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, from which, under the lead of Patrick Henry, came the first defiance of the British Parliament and the first assertion of the principle on which resistance to it was to rest. “The taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen to represent them, . . . is the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom, without which the Constitution can not exist,” was the declaration of Henry’s resolutions passed by the House. They further declared that any attempt to vest the power of taxation in any other body than the Colonial Assembly was a menace to British no less than to American freedom; that the people of Virginia were not bound to obey any law enacted in disregard of these fundamental principles; and that any one who should maintain the contrary should be regarded as a public enemy.

But, looking back over the century and a quarter that has intervened, it is still impossible to understand the utter fatuity which controlled the British Cabinet in the twenty years that passed before the Declaration of Independence. Deep down imbedded in the heart of the race, from its emigration from Germany to the British Isle, was a conviction that no man should be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by the judgment of his peers and the law of the land. His peers were his neighbors impaneled into a jury of twelve men, who, sitting in judgment, administered justice in the light of his life, his character, and his career, more or less known to them.

In the reign of Charles II a law had been passed
to enforce revenue laws—that when smuggled goods
were suspected to be concealed in any house, a
writ of assistance might be issued from the admiralty,
commanding the marshal to search all suspected
places and seize all suspected goods and arrest
all, suspected persons, and, if necessary, to summon
to his assistance such force as might be in his
judgment necessary. An act of William III granted
to revenue officers in America all the powers they
were entitled to in England. In addition, an act was
passed to preserve timber for the royal navy, and
many trees were blazed and marked with the broad
arrow in the forests of Maine, the two Carolinas,
and Georgia, and thus dedicated to the use of the
navy. Any trespass on this royal preserve was punished
in the admiralty by stripes, fine, and imprisonment.

By the Statute of Treasons of Henry VIII, all treasons committed anywhere under the British dominion were triable in England. On the charge that American juries could not be relied on to convict their fellow-subjects for violation of revenue laws, the old statutes of Henry VIII and Charles II were revived to secure convictions and deprive them of trial by jury. All ordinary offenses against the revenue laws were triable by one judge, without a jury, in admiralty. All extraordinary offenders were to be deported to England and tried by a jury, when conviction was sure. Thus the right to tax themselves, and the right to trial by a jury of their neighbors, were alike denied by the British Government to the provincials. The writ of assistance authorized the marshal to search every suspected place for proof of suspected crime. It laid every house open to the menials of the admiralty. His house was no longer a man’s castle, but was open on demand to any officer of the Admiralty Court.

The attempt to extend the admiralty jurisdiction, and thus deprive freeborn Englishmen of their hereditary right of trial by jury, the assertion of the power of the writs of assistance, which were general warrants authorized to search all suspected places, seize all suspected goods, and arrest all suspected persons, roused the people like a fire-bell by night, and the coast, from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, blazed with bonfires burning in effigy the obnoxious admiralty judges and minions who sought to perpetrate this outrage on the freeborn.

The controversy between the common law and the admiralty courts had raged in England from the time when the Count of the Saxon shore was necessarily vested with authority to call out all the power of the sea and land to resist invasion by Saxon, or Dane, or Norseman; and only as the power of the central government of king, lords, and commons was crystallized into regular forms and developed into governing force to establish security for home, life, and property, were the King’s courts of sufficient authority to protect the King’s subjects against the usurpations and aggressions of the admiralty; and it was not until the time of Lord Coke that his rugged English brain and courage established on immutable foundations the principle that the jurisdiction of the admiralty was bounded by the tide, and controlled only the doings of men on the great deep.

So deeply seated is this desire of power to extend itself on the one side, and the desire of the freeborn to resist usurpation on the other, that the struggle between the admiralty and the common right has been continued from the colonies to the States, until the fourth generation after the Declaration of Independence has not been able sufficiently to check or bridle the admiralty jurisdiction within the limits established by Lord Coke.

The use of stamps was so universally repudiated, the law requiring the use of them so generally ignored, that they passed out of existence and made no sign. The stamp officers everywhere were forced to resign their offices, and the stamps were burnt or reshipped home. The stamp officer for Annapolis in Maryland escaped to New York, where, under the guns of the British fleet and the protection of the British army, he hoped to live in peace. But the irate Marylanders pursued him there, and a committee from Annapolis forced him, at the point of the sword, to resign his place. The courts of Maryland required public and private business to be transacted without stamps, and the bar of Charleston, South Carolina, unanimously signed an application to the court that the law should be ignored in that jurisdiction, because it was manifestly contrary to the fundamental rights of Englishmen.

The repeal of the Stamp Act amounted to nothing. It reasserted the right of Parliament to tax the colonies, and while experience had just proved that this right of taxation would never produce revenue, for it could not be enforced, the insistence on this theoretical right gave grave offense to the English in America. It is the peculiarity of the race that they feel ideas like facts, and the assertion of an obnoxious principle is with them as bad as the enforcement of it.

The levy of a few shillings ship-money on John Hampden did not inconvenience him, nor did it threaten his neighbors, but the assertion of the right to take his property without his consent implied the right to take the property of any man for any purpose, and thus no man’s home was safe, and he held everything at the pleasure of the King. On that issue the English took arms, overthrew a dynasty, and after many battles on many bloody fields have established a government where security for life, liberty, and property has never been exceeded in the history of the world.

In 1761 the revenue officer of Boston applied to Chief-Justice Hutchinson for a writ of assistance—that is, a general warrant to search all suspected places for all suspected goods and persons, specifying none of them James Otis appeared before the court as counsel for the people, and with fiery eloquence demonstrated that general warrants were contrary to the Constitution, and that no one was bound to respect them He did not point out the logical consequence—the common sense of the people did that—that no man could interfere with any other man’s rights of person or property without the authority of the law, and that whoever did so, without legal warrant, was a trespasser, and might legally be resisted by force.

If a private trespass might thus be met by force—and that has been a maxim of the common law from the time “beyond which the memory of man runneth not”—so much the more was it the duty of the loyal subject as of the free citizen to take arms to resist trespass on the common right, the right of all men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The British Administration withdrew the stamp tax. It cost more to collect it than it could be made to yield, but it put in a “continual claim” of the right to tax the provincials, and arranged to enforce the regulations of trade more rigorously.

Under the British navigation acts—remnant of the Commonwealth and of Cromwell’s policy—all trade with the colonies was required to be carried on through home ports in British bottoms. Thus sugar from Jamaica to Maryland must first be shipped to Bristol or London or Portsmouth in British ships, and thence to the James River or the Potomac. It was this violation of the natural laws of trade that forced the traders of New England, who flew as free and fearless sails as any Viking under the raven flag, to defy the law and run sugar into home ports.

But, as population increased in the intervening century, the navigation acts operated in unforeseen ways, and imposed unheard-of burdens on the people. In York, Pennsylvania, there was a manufactory of beaver hats, which were needed in Maryland. They could not be wagoned to Baltimore, forty miles off, because direct trade between the colonies was forbidden. The Virginians on the Rappahannock produced a high quality of pig iron, which was needed in Baltimore and elsewhere, to be manufactured into plows, axes, and hoes. But the same law prevented the direct trade. And, ten thousand times worse, from the minute either hats or iron started on their roundabout journey to the consumer, they became subject to admiralty law and were deprived of the right to a trial by jury. A dozen hats smuggled across the border rendered every house liable to search, every box to seizure, and every person to arrest. Every province was surrounded by an iron wall of protection; interstate trade was absolutely prohibited, and the interchange of products among neighbors was forbidden.

Under natural conditions, the great fisheries of the Chesapeake would have been the source of untold prosperity to their possessors and their neighbors. Their rich yield could have been exchanged for the hats, cloths, leather, and industrial products of Pennsylvania, and both sides made a profit and prospered. But the British intellect is incapable of taking in the idea of the equality of other men.

Though the provincials were in the main of their own blood, they never did understand, never could appreciate, the fact that societies are born, grow, develop, and arrive at maturity precisely as men do, and, as men require different treatment from boys, so mature provinces occupy different positions in the world from infant colonies. It is this incapacity that is now risking the British hold on her colonies, and which will certainly lose her Canada and Australasia, unless she recognizes them as her equals and associates with them on terms of equal rights.

The pretensions of the admiralty were steadily resisted. James Otis’s attack on general search warrants, or writs of assistance, was followed up in every other colony except Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Perhaps the inducements of trade were more dominating in those colonies, and peace and thrift were preferred to the tempestuous struggle of civil war for the preservation of hereditary rights.

During the discussions about the stamp tax, the provincial governors had represented to the Lords of Trade that, while the Americans would resist every attempt at direct taxation, they would be satisfied with indirect contributions to the imperial treasury for the common defense, raised by means of regulations of trade—tariff taxes, as we now understand them. Accordingly, the Administration, under the lead of Charles Townsend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, imposed a tax on glass, paper, lead, paints, colors, and tea, imported into the colonies. This act was to be enforced by a board of revenue commissioners for the whole country, to sit at Boston, and general writs of assistance were expressly authorized. That is, that a board at Boston was to issue a general warrant to search all houses in Maryland, to seize all property, and to arrest all persons that the revenue collector for the district chose to search, seize, and arrest.

The King was to appoint governors and judges and create a general civil list, and grant pensions in every colony, all of which were to be paid out of the fund raised by tariff taxation; that is, that the people were to be deprived of all influence over their executive and judicial officers, as their legislatures were superseded by the imperial Parliament, and they were to be delivered into the hands of the Crown, with life, liberty, and property absolutely at its disposal, utterly stripped of their right of trial by jury.

No such scheme of absolutism was ever applied to people of English blood before. Not Strafford, in his wildest dreams of “thorough,” ever imagined such a plan of subjugating a freeborn people to absolute authority. The tariff on imports was promptly met by the colonists by agreements among themselves not to import anything from home, or purchase or use anything imported. The Townsend Tariff Act was passed in 1767, but so fierce was the opposition to it, that in 1769 Parliament repealed all except the duty on tea.

Tea was probably selected because a tax on it would be the least annoying, and would touch fewer people than any other tax whatever. The retention of it would assert the right of Parliament to tax the colonies. The tax would not produce over three hundred pounds; and as tea was unknown to the great mass of the people, and used only by the few rich and traveled families, it was supposed that a tax on it would pass unnoticed, and the principle assorted be universally acquiesced in because it inconvenienced nobody. So little was the use of tea known, that tradition says that a gentleman in Virginia gave his overseer a pound of tea as a present to his wife, who, thinking it was some new-fashioned “greens,” promptly boiled the whole of it in a pot with a big ham!

At this period few people anywhere meditated secession, and independence of the home government. It was dimly crystallizing in the mind of Patrick Henry, but without definite form. Samuel Adams, of Massachusetts, claimed that from the passage of the Declaratory Act asserting the omnipotence of Parliament, he became fixed in purpose and clear in intention to produce a complete separation, as the only defense from the constant intermeddling of the mother country with the affairs and domestic rights of the provincials. But George Mason, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, Thomas Johnson and Charles Carroll, of Maryland, Richard Caswell, of North Carolina, and Christopher Gadsden and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, of South Carolina, all patriotic Englishmen, all devoted to the traditions and the institutions of “home,” the birthplace and grave of their ancestors for generations, had no desire for separation, and certainly no intention to prepare for it.

George Mason was of too philosophic a mind not to understand that a combination by people to resist law—law enacted with all the guarantees, securities, forms, and sanctions ever thrown around any law—on the vague ground that such a law was no law, because contrary to common right and the fundamental principles of justice, Mason was too well read in history, and too sagacious, not to appreciate that the first step was being taken to arouse resistance to government; that such rebellion was very different from the rebellion against Charles I and the Star Chamber, and that against James II, when the result of resistance must of necessity be not a revolution in the principles, but a change in the administrators, of government.

The combination against law, beginning with the repudiation of the Stamp Act, followed by the nonimportation agreement, organized in provincial congresses, could only result in absolute defeat and subjection to the will of Great Britain, when the colonies would be governed by military law applied by soldiers, as the Southern States were while under the reconstruction governments, or in complete success, which would secure the colonies absolute control of their own destinies, and this, once secured, must result in independence, for the victor never yet has submitted to the sway of the vanquished.

But while a few prophetic and enthusiastic minds and hearts, aflame with the divine frenzy of passion, of sentiment, of devotion to high ideals, felt that the issue was between subjugation and slavery or liberty and independence, the great mass of the property holders, the churchmen, the landholders, were faithful in their love of home and kin, and had not the remotest idea that they were being led in the path of a separation, to be achieved at the expense of so many tears and lives and so much blood and property.

The tariff on tea, therefore, though it touched nobody or annoyed any one, was taken by the leaders North and South to be more insidious and more dangerous than an open notorious violation of common right. A tax levied and collected by the King’s tax-gatherer from door to door would have aroused the people like the fiery cross of Clan-Alpin, and the representative of the royal authority would have been booted from the mountains to the sea. But in order to confuse the question of right, the import duty paid by the East India Company on tea imported into England was remitted to the company on tea exported to America, so that the price of tea, with Townsend’s tariff on it, was no greater than before it was imposed.

Tea was made the test, and when, in the fall of 1773, vessels loaded with tea were sent to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, preparations were made to prevent the landing of the cargoes. At Boston, after a public meeting called to prevent the landing of the tea, a party of men, disguised as Indians, at night threw the tea overboard in the harbor. At Charleston the tea was landed, but compelled to be stored in damp cellars, where it was speedily destroyed by mold.

But at Annapolis the boldness of the rebels surpassed all experience. On the arrival of the ship Peggy Stewart in that port, consigned to her owner, one Stewart, a Scotch factor, the Whig Club of Anne Arundel County were convened by their president, Dr. Charles Alexander Warfield, and with hatbands inscribed “Liberty or Death,” they rode on Annapolis, and in open day gave Stewart the alternative of being hung before his own door or of firing his own ship with his own hand. He naturally chose the latter, and the Peggy Stewart was burned at her wharf in open day, by the direction of the principal people of the county, without disguise, who acted openly, and assumed the responsibility for their acts.

The tax on tea was, therefore, as conspicuous a failure as that on stamps had been, and it was abandoned. But Boston was required to pay for the tea destroyed by her mob, and did pay for it. A demand for payment on Maryland would have met with prompt refusal. Theirs was not the spirit to temporize, nor to draw back from a position deliberately assumed. But while the commercial sense of Boston led it to seek to obviate the consequences of the acts of its people—extra-legal, illegal, or rebellious—the body of the people, when their spirits are aroused, never temporize. On any question of right or honor, of faith or trust, the mass of feeling, in the mass of free people, may always be counted on as being on the right side, as they understand it.

And the people of Massachusetts were far above the traders and business men of Boston their standard of the rights of Englishmen, and their willingness to make sacrifice of property to maintain them, and their unselfish devotion and faith in the eternal truth and life of them. Boston was selected by the ministry at home for the experimentum in corpore vili. Her port was closed by act of Parliament, and her commerce obliterated. Major-General Gage, who had commanded the Forty-fourth Regiment as Lieutenant Colonel in Dunbar’s Brigade of the rear guard at the Battle of the Monongahela, was sent to restore order in Boston with four regiments of regulars.

The provincial authorities would make no provision for billeting the troops. The experience of James II in billeting troops on the people in time of peace was too recent for the royal governor or royal general to dare to billet troops on Boston, so they lived under canvas on Boston Common, all through a Boston winter. The unnecessary hardships to which the soldiers were exposed, their consequent rheumatism and pleurisy, were not calculated to beget or to cultivate good feeling between citizens and soldiers, and consequently there were collisions, attacks on single soldiers, or on detached parties of them, until at last, in an affray in open day, the soldiers shot down several citizens who were leading the mob which was driving them into their quarters.

This was called “the Boston Massacre.” Six men lost their lives in it. It is a miracle that every red-coat in Boston was not shot down that night. There were plenty of old soldiers of Louisburgh and old sailors of Marblehead in Boston, and they could have wiped out the British garrison as completely as that other British garrison was wiped out at Delhi. But for self-control and prudence the men of New England are unsurpassed. Gage arrested the officer and his detachment who fired on the mob, and turned them over to the civil authority for trial. James Otis and John Adams defended them, and they were acquitted on the plea of self-defense. This remarkable though proper verdict may perhaps be explained on the ground of a healthy respect for General Gage’s guns, and a reasonable doubt whether any other verdict would have been carried out.

During the days of reconstruction, while Virginia was Military District No. 1, a Federal sentinel shot and killed a citizen for not respecting his challenge on post. The man was doubtless amenable to the articles of war, but the commanding officer preferred to turn him over to the civil courts for trial and punishment. He was defended by an ex-Confederate officer. The Hustings court of the city of Richmond promptly acquitted him, on the ground that as a soldier he was bound to obey orders, and that the officer who gave the order was responsible, if anybody was; and, further, that the officer of the guard was not subject to civil jurisdiction during the military occupation of a conquered territory. So the coolness and judgment of the Boston jury may have been tempered by some like considerations to those which controlled the Virginia court.

Return to General Washington