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Carolina. Mr. Jefferson himself, the author of the “ Declaration,” took his seat under credentials duly approved by the General Assembly of Virginia. The members from the city and county of New York produced certificates, that they had been chosen “by duly certified polls.” Other counties in New York sent delegates, and in two of them, at least, Orange and Westchester, it seems that only “freeholders ” voted, after the manner of the old elections. And it was undoubtedly the general rule throughout the country, that in choosing members of conventions, provincial congresses, or committees for appointing delegates to the Continental Congress, only those were allowed to act who were regularly qualified to vote according to the standing laws or practice of each Colony. Exceptions there may have been in some cases, under very pressing emergencies, when business was transacted in great haste, or under great excitement ; but the general rule was unquestionably as we have stated.
We will not weary the patience of our readers by adducing further evidence to show, that the spirit of the American Revolution is directly opposed to the pretensions and the conduct of the insurgent party in Rhode Island. We feel as if it were an insult to the memory of the patriots who achieved our independence, to pursue the comparison that we have here instituted. It is necessary to go to the history of other countries, or to some later and more mournful passages in our own annals, to find a fit parallel to the proceedings of the Suffrage party. We find one in the disgraceful and terrific scenes of the earlier part of the French Revolution, when all France groaned under the tyranny of the mob of Paris and its environs, when constitutions were made, sworn to, and abrogated, as if they were the playthings of an hour, and when the pernicious doctrines of Jacobinism were first preached to the world, and enforced by the pike, the bayonet, and the guillotine. Illegal assemblies usurped the character and office of duly appointed legislatures. Unauthorized clubs overawed the government, and the reign of terror susperseded that of order and law. The theory, that any collection of individuals may assume the name of "the people,” may pursue their ends by means of intimidation and force, and mould the constitution of the state to their own will, was there carried out and illustrated in a way equally shocking to reason and humanity.
Since the separation of this country from England, there have been three formidable revolts against the authority of the established government, each of which caused great terror and excitement at the time, but was finally subdued by a large military force, with little bloodshed, and a signal display of clemency towards the vanquished. The first was the Shays rebellion in Massachusetts, in 1786 ; the second was the “whiskey insurrection," in 1794, in the western part of Pennsylvania ; and the third was the rebellion that we have now been considering. Of these three, the last was far the most flagitious, as it was unprovoked by any practical grievance, and not palliated by any distress in the circumstances of the insurgent population. It was a causeless revolt, not incited by the weight of heavy taxation, not growing out of conmercial distress, nor nurtured by the destitution and misery of the disaffected classes. In every respect but this, the
. rebellion first mentioned affords a remarkable parallel to it. The closest resemblance exists between the two, in regard to the character and numbers of the rebels, the doctrines that they advanced, and the means by which they were suppressed.
The disturbances in Massachusetts grew out of the sick and exhausted condition of the whole country at the close of the Revolutionary war. Public and private debts existed to an enormous amount, agriculture and commerce stagnated, taxation was heavy, and distress was universal. At this time, Shays and his associates undertook to shut up the courts by violence, and to intimidate the government into the adoption of their unjust and arbitrary measures.
It is certain, that their party had the majority in several counties ; it is quite probable, that they had the majority in the whole State ; for their great object was to postpone the decision of the whole matter till a new legislature should be chosen, when they were confident of obtaining the command of both branches. They held unlicensed conventions, in which more than fifty towns were represented, " voted their own constitutionality,” assumed the name of the people, demanded a revision of the constitution, arrayed themselves against the legislature, and demanded the redress of grievances with arms in their hands. Job Shattuck, one of their leaders, at the head of an armed force, took possession of the court-house at Worcester, and sent a written message to
the judges, “that it was the sense of the people, that the courts should not sit." “ They thought themselves," says Minot, the historian of the insurrection, “they thought themselves to be a majority of the people, as some pretended, and so vested with a supreme power of altering whatever appeared to them to be wrong in the polity of the country.” Washington was asked to use his great personal influence to stay the mad proceedings of the rebels. He replied :
“ You talk, my good Sir, of employing influence to appease the present tumults in Massachusetts. I know not where that influence is to be found ; nor, if attainable, that it would be a proper remedy for these disorders. Influence is not govern
Let us have a government, by which our lives, liberties, and properties will be secured, or let us know the worst at once."
“Let the reins of government then be braced,” he continued, “and held with a steady hand; and every violation of the constitution be reprehended. If defective, let it be amended; but not suffered to be trampled upon while it has existence.”
Mr. Madison, also, in a number of the “ Federalist," alluding to this very rebellion, says :
“ At first view, it might not seem to square with the republi. can theory, to suppose either that a majority have not the right, or that a minority will have the force, to subvert a government; and, consequently, that the federal interposition can never be required, but when it would be improper. ' But theoretic reasoning in this, as in most cases, must be qualified by the lessons of practice. Why may not illicit combinations for purposes of violence be formed as well by a majority of a State, especially of a small State, as by a majority of a county, or a district of the same State ; and if the authority of the State ought, in the latter case, to protect the local magistracy, ought not the federal ar thority, in the former, to support the State authority ? "
At last, by great exertions on the part of the government and the well affected citizens, an army of four thousand men, under General Lincoln, was fitted out, and after a very severe campaign in the midst of winter, this dangerous insurrection was suppressed with but little loss of life. *
* If our brethren in Rhode Island have had some cause to complain of the laxity and unfriendliness of the government of Massachusetts, in not affording them sufficient aid and countenance during the recent disturbances, we may refer them to the Shays rebellion, as showing the other side of the picture, and proving that they were not always very active in their
of the rebels suffered capital punishment, though many had richly deserved that fate.
We cannot dwell upon the history of the rebellion in Pennsylvania. There, too, a great majority of the people in the disaffected country were banded together in open opposition to the government and the laws. Their conduct was such, says Pitkin, “that no alternative was left, but either to surrender the government into the hands of the lawless and disobedient, or compel submission by military force.' President Washington issued a proclamation, declaring that the very existence of the government, and the fundamental principles of social order, are materially involved in the issue,” and requiring the insurgents to disperse and retire to their homes. When this had no effect, by calling out the militia of the neighbouring States, he assembled a force of over twelve thousand men, and with its aid effectually quelled the insurrection. Mercy was again shown to the vanquished.
But what chiefly distinguishes the rebellion in Rhode Island both from the one in Massachusetts, and from that in Pennsylvania, and which aggravates the criminality of the former in the highest degree, is the fact, that redress of the only grievances, of which the disaffected party complained, was offered to them in the incipient stages of their revolt, and was refused. They were permitted to vote, in February, 1842, upon the “ Landholders’ Constitution,” which would have established a government in every respect unexceptionable, and they rejected it. For the first time, perhaps, in the annals of the world, the people declared, that they would not have reform, and preferred revolution. They stood out upon a mere punctilio, saying that they would not accept the matter as a gift, but were determined to seize upon it by an armed force, as their own right. They acted as if it were a light thing to kindle the flames of civil war, to array members of the same family on opposite sides, and to destroy by violence the constituted authority of the State. No language is too strong to be applied to such nefarious and inhuman conduct. We justly shrink with horror from the man who has struck his parent. But what can be thought of him, who raises a parricidal hand against his country, the common parent of all, to whom every reasonable being owes the greatest measure of filial homage and obedience ? Therefore has treason always been distinguished as the highest crime known to the law, and the traitor is singled out for the universal detestation of mankind.
duties towards us. After the main body of the insurgents was defeated and dispersed, parties of them took refuge in the neighbouring States, and continued to keep up the alarm and excitement in the border towns, by returning to Massachusetts from time to time, and resuming their former
Governor Bowdoin applied to the executive authorities of these States to put an end to such irregular proceedings, and to apprehend and deliver up the refugees. In most instances, the application was successful, but not in all. The historian Minot shall tell the rest.
“ But the authority of Rhode Island was far from taking steps to secure the fugitives from justice, who publicly resorted there. When a motion was made in their Assembly, upon the act of Massachusetts for apprehending the principals of the rebellion being read, that a law should be passed, requesting the Governor to issue a proclamation for apprehending them, if within that State, it was lost by a great majority; and one of the very refugees was allowed a seat within their chamber. Minot's History of he Insurrection. p. 152.
“ Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur."
These remarks do not tend in the slightest degree to disparage the motives or the conduct of the illustrious men who have been found, in all ages of the world, eager to withstand oppression, and to contend in the cause of freedom and of right, against an unjust and arbitrary government, though at the hazard of their lives, and of every thing which renders life desirable. Honor, everlasting honor, to their memories, whether they perished upon the scaffold, or lived to enjoy a nation's gratitude, and read their triumph in a nation's eyes !” But the sacred right of revolution," as it has been aptly termed, is not to be brought out of its shrine on any mean or ordinary occasion. It must not be used as a cloak for ambitious usurpation, for reckless love of change, or for treacherous revolt. A grave and fearful responsibility rests upon
those who exercise it, and unless the cause be just, and the necessity of the case be urgent, not even a successful issue of the contest will relieve them, in the judgment of posterity, from the censure due to the traitor and the enemy of his native land. The patriot's fame depends as much on the caution and reluctance with which he unsettles the foundations of government, and opposes the established authorities of the state, as on the courage and perseverance which he manifests in the midst of the strife. He is answerable for all the misery and desolation that follow in the train of civil war ; for the evil passions that are excited;