Francis’ Post Legislative Activity
In 1772 a rumor was circulating throughout the Province that Great Britain had decided to pay the salaries of Colonial Judges of the Superior Court of Judicature. The Whigs believed the purpose of the new policy was to appoint corrupt officials who would “. . . enslave & oppress our honest people.” On October 14, 1772, Boston Whigs circulated a petition calling for a Town Meeting so the people could speak their minds on judges’ stipends. Their petition said no “free people” could tolerate such a “judiciary constitution;” that it would complete the “Ruin of our Liberties.”
At the Town Meeting October 30, Samuel Adams’ motion was passed unanimously:
That a Committee of Correspondence be appointed to consist of twenty-one persons — to state the rights of the colonists, and of this Province in particular, as Men, as Christians, and as Subjects; to communicate and publish the same to the several Towns in this Province and to the world as the sense of this town, with the Infringements and Violations thereof that have been, or from time to time may be made –
Also requesting of each Town a free communication of their Sentiments on this Subject.
By April 1773 at least 119 towns and districts in Massachusetts had taken some action and at least 25 more responded within the succeeding five months. Thus a majority of the Province’s 260 towns created a Committee of Correspondence whose members were the men of property and “parts,” the same men who regularly led town affairs – Selectmen, Moderators, Deacons, militia Captains, physicians, and lawyers.
Westborough Refuses to Sacrifice Rights and Liberties
Westborough was among the first to respond, electing a Committee of Seven on January 1, 1773. On January 4, the Committee reported that the oppressions complained of in Boston, if not confronted, will ruin the Province. It deplored “extorting money without our consent” and said they should not sacrifice their rights and liberties but to “prize [them] beyond life itself.”
A motion, stating “the town regarded resistance as a corollary of watchfulness,” was passed. It said that once tyranny was perceived, opposition becomes a duty; “that everyone qualified to vote in Town affairs should at all times have a proper sense of them [their rights and the infringements] especially as the future happiness of his family as well as himself depends greatly on their [the infringements] being removed.”
My great (5) grand parents, Francis and Abigail Whipple, were 69 and 66 at this time.
The Westborough Town Meeting of June 17, 1774 took a major step towards independence when it elected a Committee of Correspondence, a Committee to Provision Troops in Case of Alarm, and a Committee to buy a four-pound “field-piece, 400 weight of ball with 10-half barrels of powder, and 500 weight of lead and flints.”
Royal Government Authority Assumed by County Conventions
Massachusetts government was drastically reordered during the second half of 1774. Royal administration collapsed and authority was assumed by representative bodies formed at the local, county, and provincial levels. By summer, County Conventions emerged as the primary entity to coordinate and direct Provincial political activity. Town leaders, recognizing the need for broad consultation and planning in the absence of a Provincial Assembly, created ad hoc County Conventions with town-elected Deputies. While only advisory and lacking legal or coercive authority, the Conventions became instruments for achieving unified, cooperative action without jeopardizing local initiative or control.
Worcester was the second of nine counties to meet in Convention and develop a plan of detailed leadership including advice on military preparations and promoting a detailed political demonstration.
While its Resolves contained a Pledge of Allegiance to the King, it also asserted “that we have, within ourselves the exclusive right of originating each and every law respecting ourselves.” The Convention also recommended non-consumption agreements as the best way to influence Britain, pointing out that in addition it would “greatly prevent extravagance, save our money, encourage our own manufactures, and reform our manners.” It recommended immediate resistance by condemning all Justices who publicly supported Gov. Thomas Gage and urged every town to adopt measures to thwart enforcement of the Massachusetts Government Acts passed by Parliament and became law on May 20, 1774.
The Act changed the colony’s Charter and provided for greater Royal control by giving the King sole power to appoint and dismiss the Council. Many civil offices chosen by election were now to be appointed by the Royal Governor. Town meetings were forbidden without consent of the Governor, except for one regularly scheduled annual meeting. In short, the Act took the executive power from the hands of the democratic part of government.” Taking control of the governmental apparatus, and in particular the Courts, led the citizens to believe that this new arbitrary government might soon seize their tools, their livestock, or even their farms.
Worcester County Leads Uprising
Worcester County was at the center of a massive uprising. The patriots of the town of Worcester called for a meeting of several counties to coordinate the resistance. One-hundred-thirty Town Delegates and members of local Committees of Correspondence met at Worcester at the end of August. This gathering equaled the size of a meeting of the General Court.
The first goal of the Convention was to prevent the newly organized “unconstitutional” Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions from convening. Delegates urged everyone in the County to assemble in Worcester September 6 when the Courts were to meet. The goal was to convince Justices not to sit and the Jurors and Litigants to boycott the Courts. Secondly, towns were urged to send Delegates to the Provincial Congress which was to meet in Cambridge in October. Members who attended created the Massachusetts Provincial Congress which acted as an independent government in the early stages of the American Revolution
On August 27, General Gage, in a letter to Lord Dartmouth, wrote: “In Worcester, they keep no Terms, openly threaten Resistance by Arms, have been purchasing Arms, preparing them, casting Ball, and providing Powder, and threaten to attack any Troops who dare to oppose them. I apprehend that I shall soon be obliged to march a Body of Troops into that Township, and perhaps into others, as occasion happens, to preserve the Peace.“
Upon receiving a report that the Gage planned to send troops to guard the Courts, the Convention developed an “invasion” plan for the Committees of Correspondence to help defend invaded towns.
6,000 Worcester County Citizens Assemble
When September 6 arrived, 6,000 Worcester County citizens, organized in Town Militia Companies, assembled on the Worcester Common, grouped by Town (250 were from Westborough). They performed a pageant of popular sovereignty – requiring the Court officials to tread a path through the ranks of the people while continuously reading aloud their pledge to ignore the government Acts and suspend the Courts.
The pledge signed by the officers of the Court which included three Judges of the Inferior Court, 18 Justices of the Peace, two attorneys, and the Sheriffs: “ . . . All judicial proceedings be stayed by the Justices of the Court appointed this day, by law, to be held at Worcester, on account of the unconstitutional act of the British Parliament, respecting the administration of justice in this Province, which, if effect, will reduce the inhabitants thereof to mere arbitrary power, we do assure you, that we will stay all such judicial proceedings of said Courts, and will not endeavor to put said Act into execution.” As they walked between the lines of the assembled group, hat in hand, they had to read over and over –some estimates were that the statement was read by each 30 times – so that all could hear. All known Tories in town were required to march with the Justices.
Before the day ended and the people returned home, the Convention extended the nullification of English authority to include all Militia officers, resolving they should resign their commissions since they came from the Governor. Instead, the towns should elect their officers.
On September 7 the Convention asked those Justices of the Peace who had pledged to support the Governor and criticized the actions of the people, to repudiate their pledges Eleven of the 14 complied so the Convention Resolved that all of the Justices of Peace who had held office as of June 30 (this included Francis) – except Timothy Ruggles, John Murray, and James Putnam who continued to support Gov. Thomas Gage – should be obeyed until the Provincial Congress made other provisions.
Provincial Congress Assumes Powers of Government
The Provincial Congress met in Cambridge in October and assumed the powers and authority of government. This action caused Governor Gage to issue the following Proclamation: “I have thought it my Duty to issue this Proclamation, hereby earnestly exhorting, and, in His Majesty’s Name strictly prohibiting all his liege Subjects within the Providence, from complying in any Degree, with the said Requisitions, Recommendations, Directions or resolves of the aforesaid unlawful assembly, as they regard his Majesty’s highest Displeasure, and would avoid the Pains and Penalties of the Law. And I do hereby charge and command all Justices of the Peace, and Sheriffs, Constables, Collectors and other officers in their several Departments, to be vigilant and faithful in the Execution and Discharge of their Duty in their respective offices, agreeable to the well known established Laws of the Land; and, to the utmost of their Power, by all lawful Ways and Means, to discountenance, discourage and prevent a Compliance with such dangerous Resolves of the above-mentioned, or any other unlawful Assembly whatever.” Signed at Boston this 10th Day of November in the Fifteenth year of the Reign of his Majesty, George the Third, by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France and Ireland, King Defender of the Faith, &c Annoque Domini 1774.
Westborough issued its last Town-Meeting warrant in his Majesty’s name February 13, 1776. The next meeting, May13, was opened “in the name of their Government and the People of Massachusetts Bay.” On May 24 it instructed Capt. Stephen Maynard, its Representative to the Provincial Congress, to conform to a Resolve of the House concerning “Independency.” On July 2, 1776 it voted that “every man should pay his just proportion in supporting the war from April 19, 1775 forward. In January 1778, the Town voted to pay £1,204, its share of the £400,000 state loan issued to help pay for the war.
Worcester County’s Revolution Precedes Battle of Lexington-Concord
The Random House Dictionary describes a “Revolution” as a forcible overthrow of an established government or political system by the people governed, By this definition, the people of Worcester County staged a full-scale revolution long before the Battle of Lexington and Concord April 19, 1775. It was bloodless, had no famous leaders, was basically middle-class, and was far removed from Boston. General Gage reported to London that “the flames of sedition” had “spread universally throughout the country, beyond conception.” The patriots reigned supreme in rural Massachusetts for seven months.
The constitutional crisis lasted from the fall of 1774 until June 1780 when a new Constitution was formally proclaimed. After six years of quasi-legal interim arrangements when Massachusetts was governed by the towns, first in conjunction with the Provincial Congress, and after August 1775 with the General Court, the people created the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a carefully rationalized structure for republican government. Under wartime conditions, and in spite of severe economic problems, the inhabitants of Massachusetts had systematically analyzed questions of representative government, and after rejecting one Constitution, they settled on a structure which was to prove both stable and durable. John Hancock was elected the Chief Executive by a nearly unanimously vote under the Constitution.
With his many years of public service, Francis would have followed the politics of the Revolution with great interest, especially the June 9, 1775 recommendation of the Continental Congress that Massachusetts’ towns elect a Council to govern the Colony “until a Governor of his Majesty’s appointment will consent to govern” according to the Colony’s Charter.
He would have been concerned about the enormous expenses of the Revolution and the rapid depreciation of money. Paper money was issued by the Continental Congress and the several states and ultimately became valueless and was repudiated. When the Massachusetts Constitution was adopted the state’s debt of £3,050,000 dwarfed the less than £100,000 debt owed before the war. Heavy state taxes plus burdensome Town debts and heavy private debt combined to cause great financial difficulty.
TO BE CONTINUED