Изображения страниц

as profitable as they might be, and to check the monopoly and the restrictive policy of England. The state might do something for this purpose; but, in his opinion, "it was necessary to give to congress the authority to regulate foreign commerce with and for all the states." He recommended, at this time, that the powers of congress should be enlarged for that purpose. The articles of confederation he considered inadequate to the state of the country, or to provide a remedy on the subject of foreign trade; and he even suggested, that there should be a convention, to increase the authority of congress in this respect. In the same speech, the governor proposed establishing a large manufactory of pot and pearl ashes, in the interior of the state, to be supported by the government, which he believed would yield immediately a large income. At that time there was an unusual demand for those articles in England; and was the chief thing, except specie, sent from Massachusetts for the payment of English goods. But the plan was never adopted.

The general court received these sentiments of the governor with entire approbation, and manifested their purpose to give them effect. They declared their resolution to spare no efforts to support the public credit; and to provide for the payment of the debt of the state. On the subject of an increase of the powers of congress, they passed the following resolves:-"As the prosperity of a nation cannot be secured without a due degree of power in the rulers, the present embarrassed state of our public affairs must convince every one of the necessity of a revision of the powers of congress, and as it is the right and duty of every state in the union fully to communicate their sentiments to the rest, on subjects relating to their common interests, and to solicit their concurrence in such measures as the exigency may require-Resolved, that in the opinion of this court, the present powers of congress are not adequate to the great purposes they were designed to effect: Resolved, that it is highly expedient there should be a convention of delegates from all the states of the union, as soon as may be, to revise the articles of confederation, and to report to congress how far it may be necessary to alter and enlarge the same: Resolved, that congress be requested to recommend a convention of delegates from the several states, to revise the confederation and to report how far it may be necessary to enlarge the same, to secure and perpetuate the primary objects of the union."*

*Thus early did Massachusetts propose an enlargement of the power of congress, for general purposes; especially for regulating commerce with foreign countries, and for raising a revenue from it, to support the public credit. Governor Bowdoin is entitled to the honor of first urging it. And it was necessary such a proposal should come from the authority of the states; and not originally from the people.

These proceedings were communicated to congress, for its consideration and action; and also to the other states, requesting them to pass laws for regulating foreign commerce; but particularly urging them to give additional powers to congress, to make uniform regulations for the whole country. In October and January following, Governor Bowdoin presented the subject again to the general court, and advised that full power be given to congress, to regulate the commercial intercourse of all the states with foreign nations. The evils attending the acts of the separate states, diverse and various as they were, were felt most sensibly in Massachusetts; and the general court made some attempts to remedy them, by prohibiting British vessels to carry the products of the state; they were also forbid entering and unlading, when they brought cargoes from ports from which American vessels were excluded; and only three places of entry were allowed within the state.

The advice of Governor Bowdoin, and the resolves of the general court of Massachusetts thereon, no doubt led to a proposal by Virginia, early in 1786, to hold a convention in Maryland, composed of a committee from every state in the union, to take into consideration the trade and commerce of the country; and to agree on some general plan, or to invest congress with full power on the subject. The general court of Massachusetts appointed a committee, and some other states adopted the same course; but only five states were represented, and no plan was formed; but it was the opinion of the meeting that a convention should be held the following spring, composed of delegates from all the states, "to revise the articles of confederation, and to give sufficient power to congress to make and enforce such regulations as might be necessary for the credit, respectability, and prosperity of the country."

The requisitions of congress for large sums, in 1785 and '86, and the payments of interest and instalments of principal to be made by the state for its own debt, together with large deficits of former taxes, pressed heavily on the people, and led some almost to despair. The governor gave incessant attention to the subject of the finances of the state; far more than had been usual, or his duty was supposed to require. But he was desirous of forming some plan which would support the public credit, and afford all possible relief to the people. The proper debt of the state was $5,000,000, and the portion of the continental debt, which Massachusetts must provide for, was fully equal to that sum. The revenue from excise and imposts, for the year 1785, was estimated at $190,000. But a greater sum was expected from imposts; added to which a tax of

$333,000 for fifteen years, it was calculated, would discharge the whole debt. The difficulty was to effect this. The prospect was appalling to many; and some soon became desperate, and rose in arms against the authority of the state. There was another cause of embarrassment; during the years 1784 and 1785, there were large importations of British goods on credit; the time of payment had arrived, and many who had been extravagant in purchasing, thought it first necessary to pay these debts, as far as they were able, and to leave the payment of their taxes to some future day. The governor urged the general court to make every effort to discharge the public debt. "It was difficult, (he said,) he was aware, and would require some sacrifices, but such efforts and such sacrifices must be made, or the credit and peace of the country would be lost.” Had the taxes for 1781, '82, '83, and '84, been promptly paid, the pressures of 1785 and '86 would not have been so great. It would have required, indeed, uncommon exertions; but there would have been found less evils, than arose from an accumulation of burdens within a single year; or those resulting from a desperate attempt to prevent the payment altogether by a resort to lawless force.

In 1785, a change was made in the criminal law, as to certain offences which had before been punished by mere imprisonment, or by whipping and sitting on the gallows: and the punishment provided was confinement to hard labor, on Castle Island, near Boston. The feelings of the people were averse to corporal punishment, and it was believed the criminal was hardened by such treatment.

It was a question, whether confinement to hard labor was not a sufficient punishment, and whether there could not be some hope also of the reformation of the criminal. Houses of correction in the counties were not then provided; and many offenders were confined together in the jails without employment, and at leisure to devise further plans and modes of mischief. This experiment led to the state penitentiary at Charlestown afterwards; but the results of the system have been viewed very differently by different individuals, who profess to have examined into the subject.*

* It is now the general opinion, that the objection against the penitentiary is owing to the abuses and imperfections of the system, when first es tablished. Many were crowded into the same room, or cell; and there was no classification for those of different degrees of criminality. These defects have been remedied; the criminals are kept separate, and are also favored with moral and religious instructions. The benefits of penitentiaries are now far greater than formerly.


The Governor urges payment of part of the debt, and a system to maintain public credit-The general court do not respond to his advice-Conventions of the people, complaining of the courts of law-Legal processes for collecting debts, and of laying so large taxes--Extra session of general court in September, 1786-Conventions of people increase-Open opposition to law-Proclamation and energetic measures of the governor--Militia called out to protect the court-Measures for the relief of the people, but not satisfactory to them-Lenity to the insurgents, and an address to the people-Insurgents continue their opposition, and attempt to stop the courts-They assemble at Springfield to prevent the sitting of the courtMilitia called out under General Lincoln, and marched to Worcester and Springfield--Insurgents flee from Springfield, and are pursued to Hadley, Amherst, and Petersham, where many were taken, and the residue fled-Affairs in Berkshire.


MR. BOWDOIN was again chosen governor, in 1786, by a very large vote. In his public address to the general court,

he recommended the interests of education and of the university; (but the great object of his speech was to persuade them to make adequate and prompt provision for the payment of such part of the public debt, as was then due, and called for to satisfy the demands of various creditors, already long delayed; all which amounted to $1,500,000. To maintain the credit of the state any longer, this sum must be collected; or an agreement made with some of the creditors, by payment of interest, and an arrangement which would give them confidence in the public promise of payment at a given day. The general court doubted the ability or the disposition of the people to pay the amount required; and hesitated as to laying a new tax when there were several former ones uncollected. The governor reminded them of a law of 1781, and still in force, authorizing the treasurer to issue warrants for a tax, sufficient to pay interest and principal due, for any year, even if no tax

act should be passed. And he informed the general court, that one million of dollars would be absolutely necessary to discharge present demands on the state, and to furnish the sum called for by congress. The general court, however, directed the treasurer to suspend his warrants for the sums required to pay the holders of public securities, for which the taxes had been before pledged, and which had then become due.

The representatives were generally censured for this measure; their apology was the burdens of their constituents, and the impossibility to collect such a large sum within the year. But at the same time, they voted a tax on polls and estates to be forthwith paid, to comply with a request of congress. When a motion was made at the same session, (June 1786) to issue paper and make it a tender, it was negatived by a vote of five sixths of the house.

In their efforts to pay the amount of taxes, the personal debts of the people had been suffered to accumulate, and creditors had recourse to legal processes to collect their demands. The people held conventions in several counties, at which they passed rash and threatening resolutions, censuring the legislature and declaring "the courts of law to be engines of oppression." In some of the western counties, large numbers of the people assembled where the courts were to be holden, and prevented their proceeding to the usual business. They complained of the great amount of taxes, and of such large assessments in so short a time: of allowing such large sums to congress, and of applying so much to the payment of soldiers, (who, it was said, might wait) instead of supporting_government and paying what was absolutely necessary. They complained of the fees of lawyers and of the costs of court, which they pretended were too great. They objected to the senate, as a needless branch of the government, the expense of which might be dispensed with. They also complained of the high salaries of some public offices: and they referred to the extra services of Massachusetts, which it was supposed were such as would excuse the state from paying so largely at the call of congress.

The governor summoned an extra session of the general court to be holden in September, by the unanimous advice of the council. Before the meeting of the legislature, the conduct of the people was so disorderly and alarming in some parts of the state, that the governor issued a proclamation forbidding their assembling to obstruct the regular course of law, and calling on public officers and other good citizens to use

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »