D. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) Hurd.

History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Volume 2) online

. (page 36 of 118)
Online LibraryD. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) HurdHistory of Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 118)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

stimulating inducement to industrious exertion, and having no
resources but those resulting from commercial employment, the
prospcet before them is melancholy in the extreme. That they
can provide for themselves the comforts and conveniences of
life without recurrence to distant countries is abundantly refuted
by tho well-tried experience of their ancestors, who, guided by
the hand of heaven to these shores, came as mere cultivators
of tile soil, but were impelled by injurious circumstances, iu
spite of their usages and habits, to abandon their agricultural
pursuits, and resort to the treasures of the ocean and tho export
of those treasures to distant countries for tho means of support.

"While the dangers of traversing the Atlantic are diminished,
and some of the accustomed avenues of trade are opened, as
well by the convulsive struggles of the Spanish nation for tho
rights of self-government against the most wanton usurpation
the world had ever witnessed, as by the relaxation of the order
of the British Council in favor of that oppressed people, they
candidly confess that their own sympathies are deeply excited

by their magnanimous struggles, and it will, in their opinion,
tarnish the splendor of our own glorious revolution should the
United States refuse to reciprocate those beneficial aids received
in the progress of it from that gallaot nation.

" Prohibiting laws that subject citizens to grievous privations
and sufferings, the policy of which is at least questionable, and
the temptation to the violation of which, from the nature of man,
aro almost irresistible, will gradually undermine the morals of
society, and introduce a laxity of principle and contempt of
the laws more to be deplored than even the useless waste of
property. From these and other weighty considerations your
memorialists pray the President wholly or partially to suspend
the embargo laws, if his powers are competeut to that object,
and if not, to convene Congress at an early period, that an
immediate repeal of them may he effected."

To this address the following reply from President
JelFerson was promptly received, the original of which,
written by his own hand, is preserved in Pilgrim

" To the inhabitant* of the town of Plymouth in Uynl town meet-
ing assembled :

"Your representation and request were received on the 8th
inst., and have been considered with tho attention due to every
expression of the sentiments and feelings of so respectable a
body of my fellow-citizens. No person has seen with more
concern than myself the inconveniences brought on our country
in general by the circumstances of tho times in which wo bap-
pen to live, — times to which the history of nations presents no
parallel. For years we have been looking as spectators on our
brethren of Europe afflicted by all those evils which necessarily
follow an abandonment of the moral rules which bind men and
nations together. Connected with them in friendship and com-
merce, we have happily so far kept aloof from their calamitous
conflicts by asteady observance of justice towards all, by much
forbearance and multiplied sacrifices. At length, however, all
regard to the rights of others having been thrown aside, the
belligerent powers have beset the highway of commercial in-
tercourse with edicts which, taken together, expose our com-
merce and marines, under almost every destination, a prey to
their fleets and armies. Each party, indeed, would admit our
commerce with themselves with the view of associating us in
their war against the other; but wo have wished war with
neither. Under these circumstances were passed the laws of
which you complain by those delegated to exercise the powers
of legislation for you, with every sympathy of a common in-
terest in exercising them faithfully. In reviewing these meas-
ures, therefore, we should advert to the difliculties out of which
a choice was of necessity to be made. To bavo submitted our
rightful commerce to prohibitions and tributary exactions from
others, would bavo been to surrender our independence; to re-
sist thorn by arms was war. Without consulting the state of
things or the choice of tho nation, tho alternative preferred by
the legislature of suspending a commerce placed undur such un-
exampled difficulties, besides saving to our citizens their prop-
erty and our mariners to their country, has the peculiar advan-
tage of giving time to the belligerent nations to reverse a
conduct as contrary to their interests as it is to our rights.

" In the event of such peace or suspension of hostilities be-
tween the belligerent powers of Europe, or of such change in
their measures affecting natural commerce as may render that
of the United States sufficiently safe in the judgment of the
President, ho is authorized to suspend the embargo. But no
peace or suspension of hostilities, no change of measures af-
fecting neutral commerce is known to have taken place. The



orders of England and the decrees of France and Spain ex-
isting at the date of these laws are still unrepealed as far as we
know. In Spain, indeed, a contest for the government appears
to have arisen, but of its course or prospects we have no in-
formation on which prudence would undertake a hasty change
in our policy, even were the authority of the Executive com-
petent to such a decision.

" You desire that in this defect of power Congress may be
specially convened. It is unnecessary to examine the evidence
or the character of the facts which are supposed to dictate such
a cull, because you will be sensible on an attention to dates that
the legal period of their meeting is as early as in this extensive
country they could be fully convened by a special call.

" I should with great willingness have executed the wishes
of the inhabitants of Plymouth had peace or a repeal of the
obnoxious edicts or other changes produced the case in which
aloue the laws have given me that authority, and so many mo-
tives of justice and interest lead to such changes that we ought
continually to expect them. But while these edicts remain the
legislature alone can prescribe the course to be pursued.

" Tuo. Jkfpeuson.

"Sept. 10, 1808."

The sentiments of the above memorial to the
President betray in the writer statesmanlike qualities,
which the Legislature of later times sadly needs.
Nothing is more true than that laws which do not
represent the general sentiment of the community
provoke violations, to which men from their very
nature are irresistibly tempted, and gradually lead to
a popular contempt for the law-making power, which
is more dangerous than the evil sought to be reme-
died. The embargo laws furnished no exception. The
feeling against them was so strong that, like the revenue
laws of to-day, which a large part of the community
think it no sin to evade, their violation was only re-
strained by force, and when successfully committed
was universally applauded. In Plymouth there were
some striking instances. One vessel loaded with fish
for a foreign market at the time the laws went into
operation, being under suspicion, was stripped of her
riggiug by government officers, and thus made, as it
was thought, secure against any breach of the enact-
ment. But the owners were more shrewd than the
officers thought, and found ready hands to aid them
in getting their vessel to sea. Capt. Samuel Doteu, a
mau of peculiar courage and energy, selecting a dark
and stormy night for his operations, after the town
was quiet, with an active gang of men, stripped a
vessel at the same wharf belonging to the same owuers,
fitted her sails and rigging to the dismantled schooner,
and before daylight had made an offing in the bay.
The same captain on another occasiou, after night
had set in, with a boat's crew sailed across the bay
to Provincetown, and boarding a Plymouth vessel
lying at anchor without officers or men, safe, as it
was thought, under the eye of a gunboat commanded
by Capt. Thomas Nicholson, of Plymouth, put quietly

out to sea, without being missed from her anchorage
until outside of Wood-end, when a long parting shot
was the only protest which could be made against the
bold undertaking.

Affairs continued to grow worse, the embargo be-
came more aggravated, and at a meeting of the town
held Jan. 20, 1809, Joshua Thomas offered the fol-
lowing resolve :

" At a meeting of the town of Plymouth, legally Assembled
the 26th of January, 180'J, after mature deliberation, resolved
that the inhabitants of this town fur the last eight years have
witnessed a disastrous and aoti-comincrcial system of policy in
the administration of national affairs, which, by necessary gra-
dation has reached so awful a crisis chat, without some imme-
diate radical change in this system, the United States will pre-
sent the melancholy spectacle of a government without energy
and a community without morals, and, as is always incident to
so marked a state of the body politic, recourse must be had to
military topics, which, instead of operating as restrictions, will
precipitato its dissolution.

"That, early after the commencement of the present inaus-
picious administration, open hostilities were proclaimed against
the enlightened principles and measures that, with a rapidity
unknown in the annals of republics, had raised the United
States to an unrivalled height of prosperity and happiness, and
a relentless persecution was waged against its citizens and pa-
triots who had expended their blood and treasure in the estab-
lishment of our independence, because they support the prin-
ciples and measures thus sanctioned by experience.

" That, as well to depress foreign commerce as to answer
certain favorite political purposes, the whule internal revenue,
embracing chieHy articles of luxury, was improvidently abol-
ished, and as a substitute additional duties were imposed upon
articles of importation that, in large commercial cities and
towns, among the more indigent class of citizens, constitute the
necessaries of life.

"That, when our extensive navigation was deriving security
from our infant navy, which, rising rapidly to respectability,
promised further protection from insult and depredation, this
navy was suddenly consigned to destruction, on the miserable
pretext of economical reform and upon the visionary idea that
the empire of reason would be established among pirate* and
freebooters, while millions have been lavished in the purchase
of a wild and useless waste of territory from an overgrown
power, whose title to it was founded in violence and usurpation.
That, by the partial and invidious management of our external
relations, by a servilo compliance with the views of one bellig-
erent, whose restless ambition is grasping at the subjugation of
the civilized world, and by the unnecessary provocations offered
to another magnanimously contending for its existence and the
emancipation of the oppressed, our national peace is endangered
and our national dignity and good faith sacrificed on the altar
of duplicity. That by tho intentional suppression of material
parts of tho diplomatic correspondence with the belligerent
powers in Europe, against whom we have grounds of complaint,
the real disposition of those powers towards the United States
bus been withheld from the people, in consequence ol which
their passions aud resentuients have been unjustifiably intlu-
enced against the only belligerent possessing any formidable
means of aunoyance. And though in a just cause wu will nut
shrink from war with the most powerful nation, we hesitate not
to say that it would be madness wantonly to provoke hostilities
with the tirilish.

"That, in the rapid progression of calamitous measures, too



umny and tou painful to enumerate, the chilling bund uf death '
bos at length beeu luid on all our foreign and on almost all our |
domestic commerce, and the hardy and industrious men inhab-
iting uu extensive sea-coast are called upon to endure with pa-
tience the miseries of starvation in the futile hope of starving
one of the belligerents into unimportant concessions. That, to
carry into complete effect the multiplied misnamed embargo
laws, acknowledged arbitrary provision? are introduced into the
laws that outrage the most sacred rights and immunities secured
to us by the constitution, by which provisions the innocent arc
implicated with the guilty. Unreasonable and excessive bouds
are required and excessive fines imposed. The President of the
United States is vested with the power of legislation, with a
standing army under his control and under the control also uf
orliceis uf his creation, who are authorized, on pretended sus-
picious, without warrant from the civil magistrate, to violate
and search our dwelling.- 1 , and in the strong uud emphatic lan-
guage uf the late celebrated Mr. Otis, in his argument against
writs of assistance, a much less pernicious engine of oppression,
they can go from house to house exercising their petty tyranny,
till tlit: sound of the last trump shall excite in their breasts dif-
ferent emotions. That by a base surrender of thoir invaluable
blessings and rights, among which are the indefeasible rights of
acquiring and alienating property, and using and possessing it
conformably to our inclinations and wishes and for the special
security of which the sacred compact was formed, we shall
prove ourselves unworthy of the great and glorious ancestors
from whom we boost our desceut, and who, to avoid less aggra-
vated evils than are inflicted upon us, abandoned their native
land, and, encountering innumerable evils, began a settlement
in this place.

"That we feel a high sense of gratitude for the noble stand
and manly display of eloquence exhibited by the Hon. Messrs.
Pickering and Lloyd in the Senate of the United States, and by
the Hon. Mr. Quincy and his colleagues of the minority in the
House of Representatives, and from all those of the minority in
both houses of Congress who have lifted their voices and their
hands against the unconstitutional invasion of our rights; and
as tbeir patriotic efforts have been unavailing, we will, as the
last resort, petition our State Legislature to rescue us from im-
pending ruin.

" And as we have the fullest confidence in their virtues, for-
titude, and wisdom, we pledge ourselves to support the measures
devised to attain this object to tho utmost of our power."

The selectmen were appointed a committee to draft
a petition to the Legislature, and the following re-
solve was also adopted:

" Revolved, That since the annihilation of our commerce, and
the consequent failure of our revenue, the unnecessary employ-
ment, at exorbitant wages, of a horde of spies, patrols, and in-
formers tu Wiitch our empty dismantled ships, is a wasto of
public money and must increase the necessity of resorting to
the hard-earned savings of the laborers, husbandmen, me-
chanics, ami sailors."

Ou the same day the selectmen, consisting of Wil-
liam Davis, John Bishop, Joseph Bartlett, and John
Paty, reported the following petition, which was
adopted :

" Tu the Honorable the Semite and the Honorable the I/ouie
of Jlepreuentutivca of the Commonwealth of Miiatuthuticttf :
"Tho Inhabitants of the town of Plymouth respectfully rep-
resent that they were among the moot zealous in procuring the
adoption of the Constitution of the United States, and have

never considered it as containing more ample powers than were
necessary to provide for the common defense and other import-
ant objects for which it was framed, neither have they, like
other zealous citizens, received it in the light of a foreign gov-
ernment, hostile to the interests of the undivided States, hut
though they have endeavored to entertain correct ideas of the
Constitution and the powers vested in it, they never consented
to give the general government power, the exercise uf which
would contravene a single article in the Declaration of Rights
that makes a part of the Constitution uf this Commonwealth,
because the power to infringe these essential rights would
render the general government a very different thing from what
it was designed to be, viz., a government of men and nut of
laws. They contemplate, however, that the Legislatures of the
several States would keep a vigilant eye on the measures of the
general government, and would interfere whenever uu warrant-
able measures were taken, or ambitious encroachments made on
the rights of the citizens.

"With this impression they feel it their indispensable duty
in this tremendous crisis to implore the ilonurable Legislature
tu devise and pursue such measures as their enlightened judg-
ment shall dictate, to preserve the general Constitution from
violation, and to relieve them from the severe pressure under
which they are suffering.

"Without undertaking to decide on the constitutionality of
an unlimited embargo law, they do nut hesitate to say with
great confidence that the supplementary law madu to enforce it
contains many provisions that are in direct violation of the
aforesuid Declaration of Rights, and that the pcoplo of this
Commonwealth never conceded to the general government power
and authority which they conceived dangerous to concede to
the State government. Among the enumeration of these essen-
tial and inalienable rights are those of acquiring, possessing,
and protecting property, of exemption from excessive bail and
the imposition of excessive fines, and of being secure from all
unreasonable searches and seizure of their persons, their houses,
their papers, and all their possessions. It is ouly necessary to
read the group of embargo laws to discover, on the face of t lie m,
the most flagrant infractions of all those sacred rights. In ad-
dition to which, and the most monstrous of all the violations,
these embargo laws are to be enforced by military execution
without any application to tho civil magistrate. They will not
trespass upon the time of the Honorable Court by descanting
on the general impolicy of the embargo laws, even if they were
authorized by the Constitution. Tho privation and distress
occasioned by them are universally felt, nor will they recapitu-
late the other ruinous measures of the present administration
of the general government, that by forcibly diverting the cur-
rent when in the full tide of successful experiment have plunged
the United States into a gulf of wretchedness. These measures
are seriously impressed on the minds uud hearts of um-i of our

" In the wisdom, firmness, and patriotism of the Uouorable
Legislature they place under Providence their hist hope, with
the most unbounded reliance that no constitutional remedy will
remain unessayed to rescue this unhappy country from the
destructiun that threatens it.

" William Davis.
" John Disiiuf.
44 Joseph Dautlett.
"John Patv.

"Plymouth, Jan. 26, 1809."

After the declaration of war with Great Britain, at
a meeting of the town held July 20, 1812, the fol-
lowing petition to the selectmen was read :



"Gentlemen, — The subscribers alarmed at the momentous
aspect of our public affairs request you to call a meeting of the
inhabitants of this town at as early a period as convenieutly
may be, to deliberate upon and carry into effect such legal and
constitutional measures as shall be calculated to terminate the
calamities of an offensive war, commenced under the most un-
favorable auspices, and which must be particularly distressing
and ruinous to this section of the United States, By memorial-
izing the President of these States upon the impolicy and in-
justice of this war, and by solemnly protesting against an
alliance with despotic France, whose friendship more than its
enmity has been fatal to every other republic on the globe, to
chouse delegates to meet in County Convention and Committee
of Correspondence, and to do whatever else in the opinion of
the town may be adopted to obtain the important objects in

"Joshua Thomas «fc 15 others."

Then on motion made and seconded the moderator
put the following votes:

1st. He requested all those persons in the meeting
that were for war to hold up their hands ; and not one
hand was held up.

2d. He requested all those persons in the meeting
that were for peace to hold up their hands ; when it
appeared that every hand in the meeting was held up,
being about three hundred.

Then the following memorial to the President of
the United States was read and adopted :

" To the Preaideut of the United Sltitea.

"The inhabitants of the town of Plymouth, in the Common-
wealth of Massachusetts, in legal town-meeting assembled, re-
spectfully show that, having recently united with their fellow-
citizens in (he vicinity in memorializing Congress upon the
menacing aspect of their public relations, solicitously, though
ineffectually, supplicating the national legislature to remove
the impolitic restrictions that had almost annihilated a once
lucrative commerce, and especially to avert the host of calami-
ties that in repeated succession will follow a war with Great
Britain, they now address you, sir, to interpose your Presiden-
tial powers iiinl iulluencc, that in a great measure control the
destinies of tho nation, to rescue them from scenes of horror
from the near prospect of which hope, the solace of the wretched,
tlees away, and which, in their serious apprehension, will en-
danger tho existence of the social compact when the rulers of a
free pcoplo deliberately and obstinately persevere in a system
of measures directly tending, if not intentionally devised, to
distress a large and respectable section of tho country to gratify
the unfounded jealousies and restless, envious passions of an-
other, and the irritation produced by the operation of such a
partial system begins to discover its natural effects, it is un-
questionably the part of wisdom seasonably to contemplate the
possible consequences.

"What must bo the extent and degree of suffering before
avowed resistance to the constituted authorities becomes a duty.
cannot be accurately defined, but tho awful, though sometimes
necessary, decision must be submitted to the judgment aud
feelings of the sufferers themselves. They have the authority
of Mr. Madison that even the unpopularity of warrantable
measures in the federal government in particular States will
justify a refusal of concurrence ; what then, they would inquire,
is the justifiable mode of opposition to an unwarrantable meas-
ure of the government not only unpopular but fraught with
degradation and ruin? Surely, in tho opinion of Mr. Madison,

such efficient counter-action by regular and constitutional
meant* as will insure redress.

" The enumeration of wrongs inflicted by Great Britain on
the Uuited States, exhibited by the committee of foreign rela-
tions, recapitulated in the manifesto nud assigned as tho cause
of war by this vivid coloring and sublimated extravagance,
evidently betrays the vagaries of an over-heated imagination.
Allusions are made to injuries that have been honorably ad-
justed, and to swell the catalogue of wrongs, the stale, vulgar
story of Indian hostilities, stimulated by British agents, and
tho miserable tale of John Henry are introduced, which iiffcct
your memorialists in the same ludicrous manner as a declaration
of war against Great Britain by a former King of Spain, wherein
he estimated the injuries he had received at the precise number
of one hundred. Divert these protended causes of war of all
specieB and artificial representation, consult tho history of all
the wars among commercial belligerents for the last two cen-
turies, contrast the injuries heaped upon neutrals in these wars
with those sustained by tho United States from Great Britain,
take into account the peculiar ferocious character of the war
that has raged in Europe almost without interruption for more
than tweuty year?, tho notorious partialities shown to Franco
during the administration of your immediate predecessor, und
your memorialists pronounce with mueh confidence that no
legitimate causes of war exist against Great Britain. In the
convulsed unnatural state of society, consequent on war, from
the principles of policy assumed by belligerents arising from
their varying relative situations, evils and embarrassments
always have been and always will be incident to neutrals, un-
willing to encounter any impediments in their pursuit of wealth,
which, if considered as just causes of war, the inevitable result

Online LibraryD. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) HurdHistory of Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Volume 2) → online text (page 36 of 118)