“THE BOSTON PORT BILL” AT KENYON COLLEGE

 

March 17, 1841

Gambier, OH

 

A knowledge of the past is so necessary to secure prosperity for the future that no one will deny that the history of the United States should be familiar to citizens. Yet we fear there are very many of those who claim the honored title of educated men who in their desire to know the history of other nations neglect their own, and think themselves excusable if they are acquainted only with its general features since the establishment of our independence. If those same persons were desirous of thoroughly understanding the character of an individual they would not be satisfied that their knowledge of him should commence after he had become established in life, when many important traits of his disposition must be concealed. They would wish rather, to trace the gradual developments of his character and the pleasures and vexations, the temptations and difficulties of his earlier years: most of all however would they desire to know his conduct at that dangerous period between youth and maturity which is so often the crisis in man’s existence.

In the same manner if they would know well their country’s history, they should watch from its earliest beginnings “the growth of that little speck scarce visible in the mass of national interest” and trace the gradual developments of that patriotic order which when once it burst into a flame, shrunk from no danger and defied control. But especially should they acquaint themselves with those important events which furnished the immediate cause of the Revolution, and were in truth the crisis in our national existence. Among these events, none perhaps more affected the public mind and fixed the determination of the colonial than those which caused, and which resulted from the Boston Port Bill.

The Bostonians had from a very early period been foremost in opposing the unlawful requisitions of the colonial governors. For the tenacity with which they clung to their rights, they were stigmatized as the ring leaders in all the riots which disturbed the peace of the colonies. It was at Boston that ominous outbreaks of public feeling so vindictive of the fearful conflagration which was about to follow had most frequently appeared. It was there that on the ever memorable fifth of March 1770, American blood was first spilled by the soldiers of that nation which the colonists had been proud to call by the endearing name of ‘mother’. It was mainly owing to the vigorous measures there taken that Parliament finally repealed the obvious Revenue Act of ’68 in which the ___ government claimed the right of taxing the colonies without their consent. And when the obnoxious duty on that state commodity of every domestic circle the article of tea was continued, it was there that opposition was most energetic and determined. The British Government supposed that this tax was so trifling that it would not be assisted; Sadly did they mistake the jealous watchfulness of the people with when they were contending. For with that devotion to principle and resolute defiance of arbitrary power which marked their every action they determined to oppose the imposition of any tax levied upon them without their consent. Associations were formed and committees appointed to present the importation of that on which the hated impost was laid. They prohibited ____ and such was the unanimous spirit of the people that their regulations were respected and obeyed by all.

 

Time would fail me to recount the numerous acts of enthusiasm which were then performed. But I should indeed be doing deep injustice, were I to omit mentioning in terms of the highest praise the conduct of the mothers in America, at a time when even Franklin feared the ‘sun of Liberty had set’. We need not go to the pages of ancient history for examples of female patriotism. The looks of Massachusetts showed by their noble self denial in the critical times of ’73 that they were as devoted lovers of Independence and Union as the fair politicians of 1840. It is recorded on one of the highest pages of American history that besides a large number of young ladies more than three-hundred maid matrons signed a pledge totally to abstain from their favorite beverage of tea, not as some would now because of what they might think hurtful in the article, but because an innocent gift of Providence had been made the instrument of an odious oppression, which with their husbands and fathers, and sons they were resolved to resist. Mere justice alone, that pledges and the signers names would descend to posterity on the same imperishable scroll with our Declaration of Independence.

Notwithstanding the opposition displayed was so active, a cargo of tea arrived, which the governor under the crown would not permit to be stored up nor sent back as had been done at other parts. The Bostonians knew that if landed it would be sold and the right of taxation by precedent established. They knew too that resistance on their part would be the bracing of all the naval power of the mystery of the ocean. But urged on such orators as James Otis who with his inspiring eloquence “breathed into this nation the breath of life” they did not hesitate. At a meeting in “Old Fancied Hall” they declared their unshaken loyalty to their king and their unwavering determination to resist the oppression of his ministers. They did not take this step in ignorance of the dangerous ____ they were approaching. They were admonished, that it was not the spirit which vapored within those walls that must stand them in hour of need, that the actions of that day would call forth events which would for different spirit necessary for their salvation. They were warned to consider the issue to look to the _________ well before they advanced to these measures which must bring on the most trying and horrible opportunity ever _____. They pondered well these prophetic words they did look forward to the end, they wondered that the result might indeed be terrible to them, but placing their reliance on the same men over which had protected their fathers in their previous voyages across the stormy __________, they again _________________ to perform what they believed their duty and defend their rights. Soon after the adjournment of the meeting a number of persons in disguise went on board the tea ships and emptied their contents into  ____. After the work was done, the multitude who had assembled to witness the scene retired without violent turnout to their respective houses. This was consummated the only act of aggression committed by the _______________ of public opinion was turned towards independence. It cannot properly be styled __________ in the words of a citizen of Boston “it was but the spasm of an acquired fame and happened ____ she had been so long galled without, and vexed within, that patience had ceased to be a virtue.” To wreak vengeance on the Bostonians the British ministers framed, and proposed to parliament the chance of closing their port and removing the custom house to Salem. They maintained the ____ their measures on the ground that from Boston had issued all the mischief which had disturbed the colony ______ which infected America. And that they were expedient because they would dissolve the power. ___ which had been formed, reestablish obedience where rebellion had already commenced anguish forever the unyielding _____ of the Bostonians. The friends of America opposed the Bill which was to authorize these measures with all the eloquence which patriotism, and a good cause could inspire. They declared it unjust and inhuman because it condemned the accused without appearing and punished indiscriminately the innocent and the guilty. They concluded that it was inexpedient because it would confirm their obstinacy and exasperate their fury. But argument and eloquence were alike lest reform the infiltrated parliament who by the passage of that bill verified the old proverbs “whom the Gods wish to destroy they first, make mad.” After the destruction of the tea a portentous quiet pervaded in the colonies. Like the calm which precedes the tempest it was the more frightful from its very stillness. For many months no intelligence was received from England. What anxious moments were passed in that dread interval by those master minds who had with their words of thrilling power raised and ruled the storm of resistance. The colonists knew they could not escape the severest retribution. Many of them feared that when the tempest came on the mass of the people would shrink from its fury. But as the crisis approached their determination increased and when they heard the fearful import of the news they quailed not beneath its terrors. They knew that the time had now come when they must fight for those free principles of government which they had labored to establish for all future generations after all mankind. Their purpose has no sudden ebullition of passion; it was not a solitary gleam of patriotism which shot up and expired; but a continued and enduring spirit of self sacrifice which lasted to the end. All the colonies were fired by the same order which animated the _______ attempted to escape the responsibility of having opposed what they were punished for _______. The legislature of Virginia mindful of the Power which must prove their surest ___ in the hour of ____, resolved that the day when the law took effect should be observed with patience and humiliation, that the Divine Mary should be entreated to inspire all hearts and minds with the same affection and the same thoughts that all might concur in combined ____ Liberty. And when for this act that liberty of patriots was dissolved by the royal governor they took another and more decisive step towards independence. They recommended the colonies to choose deputies who should assemble in congress to consult for the general welfare of America. Thus the good old Dominion was the first to set the example of making ________ out of the cause of Boston. To her we are indebted for the first recommendation that congress which gave to our government “a local habitation and a name. Thus was the Revolution commenced by that stern opposition to tyranny which characterized the Pilgrim Fathers of New England, and afterwards supported and urged on by that chivalrous spirit which even distinguished the cavaliers of Virginia. 

The day the Port Bill went into operation the Sublime Spectacle was represented of a whole people in mourning for the calamity of one small city. The cabinet of Great Britain now learned for the first time the strength of that Union which originally springing from a sense of common danger, had been nourished in hardships and matured in ___. So far from the formidable league being broken by their confident schemes the feeling of sympathy and the noble generosity displayed by the other colonies, formed anew the formalities of friendships and affection. The inhabitants of Salem disclaiming to profit by the __ of their former rival, freely tendered the merchants of Boston their store houses and ____. And when the people were unable longer to obtain the necessaries of life they were generously supplied by the neighboring towns and even from South Carolina the received liberal presents of money and provisions, a fact which clearly proves how far in early times the North and the South were actuated by a strong ______ both of principles and feelings. As there were no sectional jealousies to divide their councils, and weaken their exertions, there were then no envious distinctions between the rich and the poor. They bore equally the sufferings of adversity and rejoiced together over their success and their triumphs. Every individual who wished to preserve his Liberty and the pleasure of beholding himself a link in the golden chain of Freedom which connected the whole population together. They all felt as was declared by their first congress “that if they tamely submitted to live, and move, and ___ other being, at the arbitrary will of a licentious minister, future generations would load their memories with incessant execration, but if on the other hand, they resisted successfully that fatal ____ which proclaimed the power to frame laws for them in all cases, posterity would acknowledge that virtue which had preserved them free and happy, and while they enjoyed the rewards and blessings of the faithful, the torrent of panegyrists would roll their reputations to that latest period when the Streams of Time shall be absorbed in the Abyss of Eternity. ”

With feelings that attuned to the most perfect harmony the people of all the colonies commenced the struggle of independence. And the bonds of Union then formed were soon sealed by the life’s blood of some of the purest patriots who ever lived.

And if we would guard that ‘Sacred Seal’ inviolate the Union must be preserved. It was that which enabled oppressed people “to startle the tyrant in his dreams of power.” It was Union that reared the majestic column of our National glory, and that alone can prevent it from crumbling into ashes.

Finished Feb. 26, 1841 by
Rutherford Birchard Hayes 

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