John Quincy Adams Griffin.

A candid review of the project of annexation online

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CJjnthstauiii Blnti.


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" To be, or uot to be, that 's the question." .

In that only fragment of American eloquence tliat is destined to any
thing like an immortality, Mr. Webster declared that '' When the
mariner had been tossed for many days in thick weather, and on an
unknown sea, he naturally availed himself of the first pause in the
storm, the earliest glance of the sun, to take his latitude, and ascertain
how far the elements have driven him from his true course." Let us,
as far as we may, act upon this wisdom. There is to be no pause in
the storm. No sky more benignant than that now above us, can be
looked for until this question is finally settled. We are now in the
sweep and hurry of the final discussion. We are like that unfortunate
victim, who was drawn into the all-ingulfing gullet of Niagara;, if we
reach the shore noui, it is well ; if we proceed further, we are gone

Let us, then, calmly review what we have done. Let us, as in our
weakness we may be able, lift the curtain that enfolds the future.

The cily we inhabit is no sickly municipality, to which independent
life, is an untried experiment. She is not struggling for existence.
She is in no danger of foes from without. She has no internal feud
to distract, nor divide her. She is in no peril of her life from the
ambition, or other wickedness of her citizens. She, therefore, is in no
particular want of foreign aid. She is not compelled to call upon her
overgrown, but younger brother, to aid her. She has attained already
so many years of useful life, that she is hopeful of a most honorable
old age. She yet exhibits no symptoms of decay. Her citizens are
as industrious, as moral, as enterprising and as numerous as they were
in 1845, when, in committee of the whole, it was resolved that the
public health was such as to need nothing of this Boston nostrum of
annexation. Her streets resound, from early dawn to the blackest
night, with the busy hum of her industry. No blade of grass is suf-

fered to peep through her paving stones; its life is crushed out by the
hoofs of trade. No shipping rots at her wharves. Boston merchants
do not scorn the endorsement of a Charlestovvn wharfinger " when he
finds himself in a tight place." Flis banker, moreover, has often more
confidence in the back than the face of that note. Her children are
not growing up in ignorance. Few girls or boys can be found here,
who cannot read and understand the best literature Boston prints. The
superiority of Boston youth is so minute, that it has not yet been com-
puted. Her High and Grammar Schools are, confessedly, as good as
the same institutions in Boston. Competent judges claim that the
instruction here is more practical and thoughtful, and less mechanical,
than there. She has churches wherein is taught all of the Gospel that is
considered at all popular or respectable in Boston. She has religious
teachers who preach with as much ability and fervor as any elsewhere.
They are like the Boston ministers, save in their wages — they preach
for less " hire and salary." We are protected against all the elements,
as in Boston. Never, in fact, since Boston sent over some fellows,
whom she quartered in her best meeting-house, has this city been
visited by any conflagration which the energy of her citizens could not
stay within reasonable limits. Neither is this city a pauper in historic
renown. Her soil is moistened by the earliest blood of the Revolution.
The granite finger, from the sacramental ground of America, points to
the resting place of her heroes. Take, indeed, from the history of the
past the name of Charlestovvn, and it would be a meagre record that
would remain.

And thus we might proceed and enumerate all the essentials, and
most of the luxuries and extraordinary blessings, and many of the
glories of life, that we here enjoy as fully as do the citizens of Boston.
But we have said enough to make legitimate the inquiry we now pro-
pose to discuss, substantially started by Mr. Quincy, in his pamphlet,
of What is the occasion for the proposed change^ and what are the
reasons assigned for it 1

These reasons have been as various as they who have advanced
them. We shall be pardoned, therefore, for going into a somewhat
detailed enumeration thereof. They have changed, moreover, with
the shifting exigencies of the controversy. For this statement will be
required no coroboration by those familiar with the views expressed
by the advocates of annexation within the last eight months. " See,"
says your ultra annexationist to a cab driver, " we must be annexed so
as to have better streets." " Look," says the same man to old Grind-
stone, who, he knows, pays a large tax, " look, see what infernal ex-
travagance our city has indulged in fixing Medford Street. Our streets

are too good now. We must go for annexation and put a stop to this
business." Driven, indeed, by tlie laughter of the public, or the stub-
bornness of notorious facts, tliey have sought shelter from the conse-
fjuences of one absurdity under the protecting wings of anotlier.
Tlience they iiave again been expelled, till they liave successively
taken and abandoned every subterfuge that it is possible for the mind
of man to conceive.

Let us address ourselves now to the more permanent arguments
urged by the friends of this project. These were fully presented to
the Committee of the Legislature, both by witnesses and counsel.

First : It was said a consolidated government was better than sepa-
rate local administrations. It is obvious this is mere assertion. It finds
no support in the history of other cities ; it receives no nourislunent
from the theory of our political system. It is admitted, indeed, to be in
direct conflict with the spirit of that system. It is conceded, by its
advocates, to be centralization in its most odious form. It is, therefore,
liable to all the objections that have been urged by the wise and good,
in times past, against this dangerous policy. There is nothing in the
political temper of Boston calculated to lessen this danger. She never
has declined to grasp or wield power that came within her reach. And
when she shall have grown more lusty, and of course proportionally
more self-important, by the expansion of her territory, her greediness
for political power will not be satisfied, but rather will her appetite be
whet into greater craving. Already it is declared, that into the same
capacious maw of hers a sweep of ten miles from the brokers of State
Street shall soon go. Lynn shoes, it is absurdly contended, will meet
with a readier sale, if pegged under the eye of a Boston Alderman.
Waltham will suddenly expand, it is urged, into a young giant, if her
citizens are obliged to make pilgrimage to Court Street, would they
have their names on the check-list. How delightful it will be, if all
the poor within a half day's journey of State Street are swept off down
to Deer Island ! This pretence of increased business energy but feebly
masks the real purpose of concentrating political power. The sarcasm
that has heretofore spoken of the learned gentlemen who make laws
€very winter, at the State House, as the Boston legislature, will be
more legitimate in the future, than in the past, if this measure succeed.
And the act by which this annexation is to be consummated, has not
sought to mitigate this evil. The interests of Cliarlestown, say the
advocates of annexation, are all Bostonian, and will be more so when
the marriage treaty is ratified. Vet this act of union, in conformity
with the Constitution of the State, which never anticipated so wild a
project, and which is fortified at all points against it, denies our citizens

all particlpancy in the election of that host of Representatives, and
formidable body of Senators, who really control the legislation of the
State. This pill that has been prescribed for us, then, is by no means
suo-ar-coated. It comes in its bitterest form. It is as crude as the ele-
ments of which it is composed coulJ make it. It has seen the alembic
of no political chemist. It bears evident marks of haste in the prepa-
ration thereof. It throws the wealth and government of Charlestown
into the lap and hands of Boston, reserving no share of political
strength, and only saying " Take it all, O, State Street, deal whh us as
you will ; we want a guardian ; do what you can for us, and we must
be satisfied ; we ccnuwl complain ; we have closed up our mouth, and
torn out our tongue."

Second : Reduced rates of taxation to the people of Charlestown,
was urged as one of the strongest grounds of union. This vapor, that
for a time blinded the eyes of some of our citizens, has been dissi-
pated by the sudden uprising of the sun of truth. The statistics of
the present year, upon this subject, are before the public. The tax
payers of our city are rejoicing, at this stringent hour in the money
market, in a light taxation ; while our friends over the river, like the
historic characters of old time, are calling upon us to come over and
help lift their heavy burden. The city of Charlestown has passed its
critical period in the matter of taxation. She has reached the " turn
of life," so to speak. Her city government has been fully organized.
Her schools are established. Her educational institutions are built and
paid for. Her almshouse has been saved from the fiery furnace of a
lawsuit, and in a somewhat more accessible place than Deer Island.
And in the county of which she has heretofore formed so distinguished
and important a part, she has been called on to contribute largely to
expenses that cannot occur again for at least two hundred years. She
has paid her part towards the erection of the three best court-houses
that can be found in America. She has erected jails enough for all
her criminals for the next twenty decades. She has built a house of
correction that will accommodate, in comfort, all the vagabonds that
will fall into misfortune during a longer interval than that named
above. To all these, and other expenditures, she has largely contrib-
uted, and the fact has appeared in the tax bills of our citizens ; but
these can never come again. So that if Charlestown remains in Mid-
dlesex County, the hat of the publican will not again be thrust in her
face for many long years. On the other hand, let her ally herself to
Boston, and what will be the consequence in the way of taxation ?
Hear what one of the sturdiest advocates of annexation said, in answer
to this question, less than a week ago. " Charlestown," in coming

over to us, said the Boston Journal, uttering nothing but the truth, " will
assist us tji defraying the principal of the Water Debt, arid in meeting
the necessary expenses for repairs and interest, lohich last year exceed-
ed the income of the Water Works by the stun of one hundred and
thirty-one thousand and forty dollars.'''' This " principal," which
Charlestown " will assist in defraying," is near six millions of dol-
lars ! It is refreshing to contemplate this, especially if one has al-
ready a morbid imagination on this matter of taxes. To any one who
grumbled at his last year's tax bill, it will be a particularly interesting
subject of thought. To such a mind, fatally bent on annexation, we
would commend two other matters of profitable contemplation. In
the first jilace, look at the enormous debt of Suffolk County, which,
like the water investment, we " must assist in defraying." That Jail,
for instance, built after an unheard of and extravagant style of archi-
tecture, which in winter punishes its inmates by freezing, and by suffo-
cation in summer, has made a mark on the assessor's book that will
reappear on the tax bills for many a long year. In the second place,
see what lurks in your own Act of Annexation ; see what poison has
been strewn in the "bill of fare," by way of dessert. Middlesex Coun-
ty, it seems, is to have a parting hand grip with us, just by way of fu-
ture remembrance. Like absconding insolvents, we are to be arrested
for debt, because we are " fleeing the jurisdiction." " Great cities,"
generalizes Mr. Jefferson, " are great sores." Little cities are small
festers, in the way of crime, we continue. Lowell, Charlestown and
Cambridge, in that sense, are festers in the County of Middlesex.
Their existence rendered it necessary to build the jails and houses of
correction we have named. Charlestown was largely responsible for
the erection thereof.

There are other county expenses, of which she was the occasion, if
not the immediate cause. Now it is well settled, that if a guest seat
himself at the table, and nibble at all, though he leave before the en-
tertainment is concluded, he must, nevertheless, settle with his host.
It is a sound principle. The Act of Annexation is to " try it on " to
our city. If she goes over, she has got to leave a large share of her
treasure behind her, to repair the damage she has done, and to pay the
expenses she has been partly the occasion of. This is to be done at
once, not by instalments. The cold, hard hand of an old companion,
that has always treated us well, but whom we have ignominiously de-
serted in her old age, will be searching in the pockets of our tax payers
for a quantity of dollars equal to all the expense we have caused. It
will be a profoundly " dead horse," too, that we shall be paying for.
Dissolution is so apparent that even Coroner Pratt would " deem an


inquest unnecessary." We shall be paying for court-houses in which
we shall not be permitted to quarrel ; for jails, in which we shall have
no right to be shut up ourselves, or have our children incarcerated ;
for houses of correction, wherein we can find no wholesome discipline,
when we fall into error. Can any horse-flesh, then, we would like to
ask, be more decayed than that ? Could any taxes be thrown wider
awav ? See, then, how mightily our rates will mount up as soon as
this measure is adopted ! We shall be like the tenant who leaves one
house and goes into another before his lease of the former has expired.
He pays double rent. Middlesex County will hold out her slouched
hat, not for alms, but for dues, and the Supreme Court will compel us
to pay. Boston, whh her Water Debt, and Suffolk County, with her
burden, will hereafter, as now, invite us to help them carry a load that
causes their unassisted strength to stagger not a little. In a word, we
shall be beset by two pick-pockets ; the one, not in the most amiable
temper, because we have cut her acquaintance rather unceremoniously ;
the other, feeling like a hostess who has a guest that has come prema-
turely and uninvited to dinner.

Third : The next grand reason pressed was, tliat Charlestown
needed water, purer and more of it. As to some portions of the city,
the premise is granted. But what then } Will annexation give it at
a cheaper rate, or more speedily than it may otherwise be obtained ?
Surely not, unless all signs fail more fatally in this dry time than ever
before. This cry of " water," and this general thirst, may be readily
appeased by the Legislature, and will be, unless the " Boston " General
Court refuse aid to any measure not for the immediate benefit of the
three hills. It cannot be had without paying for it. But the price at
which it may be had, will be less without than with annexation. Join-
ing with Cambridge in her project, or obtaining it by legislative aid
from the Boston pipes that now pass through our city, without annexa-
tion, we shall have it freed from the enormous burden of that water
debt. And this expense could not be heavy, for the greater portion of
Charlestown needs no better water than the wells and heavens afford.
And this supply is inexhaustible, and by no means expensive ; for the
wells disappoint no man's expectations in the dryest heat of summer,
and " the most ancient heavens are fresh and strong," distilling their
blessings freely without the exaction of salaries or water tax. And
the clamor of " poor water," that is now raised for the first time, though
well founded in regard to some localities, is false and hollow in respect
of others. There is more good water here now than is drank ; and
cold water is not unfrequently traduced in order to make the transition
to gin less violent and indefensible. From the time Thomas Walford


built his " palisadoed and thatched house," on tlio sUipc of Town Hill,
more than two centuries ago, down to the present hour, the heuhh of
our people has suiTereci more from average rum, than poor water. It
will be so in the future. But the evil of poor water, as we have seen,
so far as it is an evil, is easily remedied. It would have been done by
the last Legislature, had it not been for the determination, in certain
high quarters, to compel us to annexation by heavy tolls on our bridges,
and by shutting out the water from our citizens.

Fourth: Annexation, it was again said, will give further and better
protection against fires. Herein the Fire Department was foully tra-
duced. It was hinted, in direct terms, that it was inefficient by reason
of the rowdyism of those who composed it. The proof signally failed
to establish this point. Its efficiency is known and respected here and
elsewhere. Neither in Boston, nor in any other city, can, in fact, its
equal be found. It is not composed, as in some other places, of citizens
without character or reputation ; but the most valuable men we have
among us, are embodied in it. We say most valuable, because they
are the men by whom the business of the great active world is done.
And upon these depends any city for its prosperity or its misfortunes.
If they are unworthy, it is soon seen and felt in the reputation in which
that citv is held at home and abroad. Superannuated and inactive men
are useful, undoubtedly, to hold the world together ; but a community
made up of such would scarcely be desirable. But the Fire Depart-
ment comprises the muscle, and not a httle of the mind of our city.
The people here are largely indebted thereto, for that exemption from
loss, by fire, which they^have so long enjoyed. And it was certainly
an il'.-advised attack, which was made upon it in the hope of advancing
this scheme. For if its annihilation be one of the main objects of
union, the prayer of every good citizen should be that it be forever

Fifth : A rise in real estate, it was said, would be the next conse-
quence. Why would this be so? it was demanded. Annexation
brings her physically no nearer Boston. The same hridge will sepa-
rate "the cities then, that divides them now. Yes ; but, said the annex-
ationist, the traders in real estate, the brokers and speculators therein,
will demand more for it, by a general conspiracy among themselves
and the great land proprietors, and ii must go up as coal, and (lour, and
the other essentials of life have gone up. Now this reply proves too
much. The whole argument proves too much. It shows that ninety-
nine one-hundredths of our population are to starve by it. It shows
that no man is to gain by it, unless he is the owner of at least a whole
street of houses, unincumbered by mortgage. For if the price of real
estate is to be thus enhanced, it necessarily follows that the rents and
taxes of these houses rise also. He, therefore, who now pays two
hundred dollars and taxes for the house that shelters himself and his
family, and has hard work to pay that and keep the wolf of hunger
from his door, with nine dollars per ton for his coal, and thirty cents
per pound for grev or striped butter, will find old Skinflint, his landlord,
dem.anding two hundred and fifty dollars and higher taxes than before.


The consequence will be, he will either be obliged to retreat info a
smaller and less commodious tenement, in a poorer neighborhood in
the city, or else he will be obI«ged to remove his loved ones, and his
houseliold gods, to some suburban district, on some railroad, or at the
head of omnibus navigation, and to wear out his life by too early
breakfasts, and too late suppers, in, order to attend to his business in
North Boston, which, by the way, is gradually growing less by reason
of his absence therefrom. If this theory, therefore, of your ultra
annexationist, be sound, it is most obvious what its tendency is — " It
makes the rich richer, and the poor poorer.''' And those like ancient
Agur, having neither poverty nor riches, it loads with heavier burdens.
It crushes the life out of industry and enterprise, without capital. It
depresses the man, and elevates the dollar. It helps those who need
no help ; it destroys them that are struggling to live. It lays its curse
heavily upon all young men, unless they are large inheritors of landed
estates. It extinguishes and "crushes out" You/jo- America, and ele-
vates Fogie America instead. It leads, directly and distinctly, to the
formation of two classes in society — the very rich and the very poor.
It lays the burden of life upon the industry and enterprise of the city.
It makes that burden so great that no man can bear it and do more.
He must be either '' rich or a bachelor," to sustain it. Under its ope-
ration, in full swing, in ten years, there would be no " middling inte-
rest" left on Bunker Hill. North Boston will, indeed, have her
Beacon Street about the Monument, and her "Half Moon Alley" at
the Neck, and elsewhere all over the peninsula ; but she will not have,
as now, her thrifty laborers, her enterprising mechanics, her snug
tradesmen, her happy and prosperous families of the middle station
of life. And in this middle station the city now finds the sinews of
her' greatest strength. "Temperance, moderation, quietness, health,
society, all agreeable diversions, and all desirable pleasures, are the
blessings attending the middle station of life," said Robinson Crusoe,
Sen., in the admirable fiction of Defoe, to his wayward son. Let the
policy of the annexationist be carried out, this class and its blessings
will be measurably banished from our midst, by the stringent necessity
that will be induced.

Sixth : Another great point with the earlier friends of this measure
w'as, that a union of the police and watch of the two cities, would
furnish greater protection against crimes and criminals. In support of
this view it was claimed, that it would prevent the escape of prisoners
from Boston into another jurisdiction. No man lives who has ever
heard of a single defeat of justice from the grievance complained
against. The annals may be searched with the closest eye, but no
such case can be found. When an isolated instance is heard of, it will be
quite time to look for a remedy. Let us not call a doctor, until at least
some indication of present or approaching ill health be apparent. And
more especially let us cease to vex so important a quesiion as this of
annexation, with such trivial reasons. A Boston constable may now
pursue a Boston malefactor upon our soil, " exult in his successful
game," and be protected by the law in so doing. And how idle it is,
therefore, to make such complaints as the above, or like that of one of
the main witnesses before the Legislative Committee, whose reason for


annexation was, that tlicre was a scarcity of constables in Charlestown,
althouuh he achnilted that such as we had were of the first (jiialitv !
The \)\i\\n truth about this matter is this : if we were a pari of Dostun,
we should be obliged to pay for their day and night police, which is of
no earthly consequence to any man, woman or child, on this side of
the river.

SevaUh : We tlius have glanced at the most prominent reasons that
have been urged in favor of this project. We have not, and slialt not,
go into a detailed statement of others, which, whatever may have been
the original purpose of their utterance, only served to move the mirth
of those who listened to them. But an attempt has latterly been made
to promote this cause by liolding out the idea that the JNavy Yard, in
the event of annexation, may be removed from our soil. If res])ecta-
ble presses had not publislied the correspondence upon this subject, we
should have made no allusion to it here, for, at present, it really seems
too ridiculous for comment. The evidence, pointing to such removal
is distinctly this, and nothing more : —

One of the briefest of the " briefless barristers " of Court Street


Online LibraryJohn Quincy Adams GriffinA candid review of the project of annexation → online text (page 1 of 2)