A Stated Meeting of the Society was held at the house of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, No. 28 Newbury Street, Boston, on Thursday, 18 December, 1919, the President, Fred Norris Robinson, Ph. D., in the chair.
The Records of the Annual Meeting in November were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary reported the death on the twenty-second of November of Mr. Franklin Carter, a Corresponding Member.
The President announced his appointment of Messrs. Edward Channing, William Roscoe Thayer, and Frederick Jackson Turner as delegates from this Society to the annual Conference of Historical Societies to be held in Cleveland this month in connection with the meeting of the American Historical Association.
Mr. William C. Lane exhibited a water-color view of Harvard College made by Houdin d’Orgemont in 1795, and spoke as follows:
This early water-color view of Harvard College is the property of Miss Ada Bouvé of Hingham, who inherited it from her mother, Mrs. Thomas Tracy Bouvé, to whom it had come from her grandfather, Mr. Nathan Thayer of Hingham.
Mrs. Bouvé sent a photograph of the drawing to the Library in 1895, and at that time communicated the following information in regard to it:
It was painted in 1795 by Houdin-d’Orgemont, a young Frenchman, who fled from Guadeloupe, one of the French West Indies, in fear for his life during the troublous times preceding and subsequent to the execution of Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette. He found refuge in Hingham, Mass., where he lived, with a younger brother, at the house of Mr. Nathan Lincoln. Upon the restoration of order in France, he was called home; but, not being permitted to land when he reached the island, returned to Hingham, where he resided some time longer.
Engraved for The Colonial Scoiety of Masschusetts from the original in the possession of Miss Ada Bouvé
The two brothers were young men of considerable culture, and probably went to sketch many places in the vicinity, though I do not learn that any other of their sketches have remained in the family of their friends in Hingham.
Mr. Albert Matthews read the following paper, written by Professor Kenneth Colegrove of Northwestern University:
Instructions to the Deputies in Colonial Legislatures1143
One of the characteristics of the New England town-meeting system in colonial days was the practice of voting instructions to the deputies in the popular assemblies. By means of these votes of instructions, the freemen in the towns attempted to control the action of their representatives upon measures of both local and general interest. This practice began concurrently with the establishment of representative government in the Puritan colonies; and it continued until the third decade after the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, being abandoned about the same time that New England Federalism expired. During this extensive period, the initiative and the referendum were also frequently employed by the towns as means of controlling their deputies; and occasionally the recall.
I The Rise of Representative Government in New England
The first Charter of Massachusetts provided that the governor, magistrates and freemen of the Company of Massachusetts-Bay should hold a Great and General Court four times each year for the management of the affairs of the corporation. At the Easter session of the General Court, the freemen were to elect the governor and magistrates for the ensuing year. The Court also possessed the power to admit individuals to the freedom of the Company. The original grantees had intended that the administration of the Company should remain in London. Eventually, however, the seat of government was removed to Boston, thereby producing a chain of events remarkable in the history of free government.
Apparently the Charter had created a pure democracy, for all the freemen possessed the right to attend the General Court, and all had a voice in making the laws and electing the rulers. In reality, however, the government for several years was what John Winthrop called a “mixed aristocracy.” The magistrates and the elders of the churches overawed the simple freemen of the Bible commonwealth and carried measures in the quarterly Courts according to their own notions.
John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, had come to the New England “wilderness” in the year 1630, bringing with him the original copy of the Company’s Charter. Of him the poet has tunefully sung —
Why leavest thou, John, thy station, in Suffolk, thy own soile,
Christ will have thee a pillar be, for’s people thou must toyle;
He chang’d thy heart, then take his part, ’gainst prelates proud invading
His Kingly throne set up alone, in wildernesse their shading.1144
Deeply imbued with the stern spirit of Puritanism, the lord of the manor of Groton in old Suffolk heartily took up the burden of founding “Christ’s glorious Kingdome” in New England; and, rejoicing in his task, he started out to govern this commonwealth without much reference to the opinions of the governed.
In the meanwhile the Puritan settlers were pushing out along the coast and into the interior parts of Massachusetts. Salem, Dorchester, and Charlestown had been settled even before the “City-like Towne of Boston” was founded. Watertown, Roxbury, Lynn, Cambridge, Ipswich, and Newbury were soon established; and Marblehead gained the notice of the Court in the year 1632. It was inconvenient for the freemen in the more remote settlements to attend the General Court in Boston four times each year; and quite likely these freemen would have remained for a considerable time unrepresented in the General Court, had not this body levied a tax upon all the plantations. The freemen of Watertown immediately protested against the principle of taxation without representation; and their protest was the beginning of a movement which led to a revolution in the Bible commonwealth.1145
In the spring of 1634 the outlying towns took the unusual step of appointing deputies to attend the May session of the General Court. Upon arriving in Boston these defenders of constitutional liberty demanded a “sight” of the royal patent, and Winthrop was compelled to comply with this demand. Eagerly scanning the parchment which bore the great seal of England, the deputies found that its legal phraseology confirmed their assumption that the legislative and appointive power of the Company lay within the grasp of the majority of the freemen. Accordingly, when the General Court was convened, the discontented freemen boldly claimed their rights. They ousted the Governor, elected in his place a man of their own choice, and passed a law permitting the towns to send two or three deputies to the General Court with power to make laws and grant lands.1146 Thus began the system of representative government in Massachusetts, which was copied in time by Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.1147
II The Town-Meeting System
Several years before the revolution of 1634 the system of town government in Massachusetts had already appeared. As soon as a new settlement was established, the proprietors and other inhabitants would meet from time to time in town-meeting to transact the business of the town. The freemen, however, soon found it convenient to appoint selectmen to execute the orders of the town-meetings. These officials were carefully instructed as to what to do and how to do it; and they were required to make a detailed report of their actions to the town. The voting of instructions to the selectmen and the hearing of the report of the selectmen was the most important business that usually came before the town for discussion and decision.1148 This mode of government was very convenient for a small democracy, and the New England people took pride in the possession of a system whereby, for purposes of efficiency, they delegated the exercise of certain powers to a committee of their fellow-citizens while at the same time they kept these officers constantly under their thumb. When the towns began to send deputies to the General Court, they treated their deputies as they treated their selectmen, and not only voted instructions to govern their conduct in the colonial assembly but also required the deputy upon his return from Boston to make a report concerning the business which had been transacted at the General Court.
III Earliest Evidence of Town Instructions
The practice of voting instructions for the deputies began almost immediately upon the establishment of representative government in Massachusetts. In Plymouth Colony, as early as September, 1640, a law was passed providing for instructions to the deputies. The General Court enacted “That the Constables of euery Towne wth in the Goūt shall warne the townes men whereof they are to come together as they doe for other townes businesse when the Committees [the deputies of the towns] shall think it fitt, as well to acquaint them with what is ꝑpounded or enacted at the Court, as to receive instrucc͠ons for any other busines they would haue donne.”1149 In Massachusetts, the General Court in the June session and in the October session of the year 1641 asked the towns to instruct their deputies upon two projects.1150 One of these projects was a proposal to change the method of electing magistrates, the other was the adoption of a new code of legal procedure. From Winthrop’s account we learn that the deputies returned to the General Court at the following sessions with the mandates of their towns upon these questions.
In the year 1642 the towns appear to have initiated action in the case of Sherman versus Keayne. This celebrated episode concerning the lost pig of Goody Sherman has furnished considerable merriment for historians; but the Great and General Court gravely considered the case for seven days, while an extraordinary meeting of the Governor, magistrates, deputies, and elders was convened for the purpose of putting an end to the bitter quarrel which had so violently upset the Puritan commonwealth. The story of a poor woman robbed of her pig by a rich and grasping merchant of Boston, denied justice by the magistrates, and fined twenty pounds sterling for having attempted to recover her property, resounded from one end of the little colony to the other, and seriously undermined all respect for law and magistracy. The country was greatly agitated. And Winthrop, who was now back in the graces of the freemen and serving as Governor, indicates in his diary that the towns commanded their deputies to see that justice was done.1151 The end of the affair was that Goody Sherman and the Boston merchant came to an understanding in regard to her claim for damages. But, in the meantime, a profound change had occurred in the constitutional organization of the colony. The deputies no longer sat with the magistrates in the Great and General Court. Hereafter they met in separate rooms; and thus arose the two houses of the General Court.
While the Massachusetts Colony Records prove that the practice of voting instructions had begun at least as early as 1641, there is no evidence of these votes to be found in the records of the towns for this year. Unlike the minutes of the proprietors’ meetings, the records of the town-meetings in the early days were not kept with the same care which marked a later generation, and in many cases these documents have been totally lost. From such scant records as remain, however, we have considerable evidence of votes of instructions after the middle of the century. Thus the Boston Records show that Boston gave a mandate to its representatives on March 14, 1653. Altogether, there are records of eighteen votes of instructions by Boston town-meetings previous to the Revolution of 1689.1152 In 1655 the town of Hampton in New Hampshire (which then acknowledged the jurisdiction of Massachusetts and sent a deputy to the General Court at Boston) instructed its representative to demand from the General Court permission to hold a market once each week.1153 In 1658 another New Hampshire town, Dover, commanded its deputy to oppose any interference by the General Court with the freedom of the beaver trade. The deputy was also instructed to “Bring all such lawes as are macked at this Cortt as other Debeties do.” Hereafter, Dover voted instructions to its deputy once every year immediately upon his election.1154 Among other Massachusetts towns, evidence of the early use of instructions can be found in the published records of Salem, Scituate, Hingham, Springfield, Plymouth, Ipswich, and Duxbury.1155
The epoch of the Revolution of 1689 saw considerable activity on the part of the towns in the matter of instructing their deputies. Votes of instructions were employed not only to resist the usurpations of the Stuart despotism in 1683–1686, but also for the purpose of establishing the provisional government of the colony after the downfall of Sir Edmund Andros.1156 In this connection it is worthy of note that in the year 1689 the town of Newton instructed its deputy to demand for the new government a more liberal franchise with the abolition of religious qualifications — “an enlargement of freemen, — that all free-holders, that are of an honest conversation and competent estate, may have their vote in all civil elections.”1157
On March 14, 1653, the town of Boston appointed a committee to draw up instructions for her newly elected members.1158 This procedure was generally adopted, not only in Boston, but throughout New England. After the annual election of deputies a committee on instructions would be named. This committee would then retire, while the town-meeting gave its attention to other business; or else the meeting would adjourn to a later date. In either case the committee reported their instructions to the town-meeting; and this report was debated by the town — not infrequently for several days — and adopted, amended, or rejected as the town saw fit. Throughout the year, other town-meetings might be summoned, on the demand of ten freemen, to vote new instructions to the representatives. As a rule, free-speech seems to have dominated the assemblies. Sometimes there was too much of it. “Each individual,” said the Rev. William Gordon in his description of the town-meetings on the eve of the American Revolution, “has an equal liberty of delivering his opinion, and is not liable to be silenced or browbeaten by a richer or greater townsman than himself.”1159 Samuel Sewall, the worthy jurist of witchcraft fame, has left us a picture of the “contentions” and “ferments” which prolonged the Boston town-meeting through the afternoons until candles had to be lighted to finish the business. And William Pyncheon has given us a glimpse of similar meetings in Salem.1160 Although every freeman in Boston, even in the early nineteenth century when they numbered seven thousand, had a right to express his opinion in town-meeting, the exigencies of a large assembly naturally limited the exercise of his legitimate powers. And the humble freeman in Boston was not so apt to ventilate his opinions in a speech to his fellow-citizens as was the freeman in the smaller towns like Groton, or Hadley, or Braintree, where two or three score was a goodly number at any town-meeting.
The month of May was the usual time for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to send out writs for the election of the members to the Great and General Court. By the Charter of 1691 Boston was entitled to return four deputies. The election of deputies took place in the freemen’s meeting; and the duty of issuing the warrants to summon the freemen’s meeting devolved upon the selectmen. Frequently the warrants contained a clause declaring that a vote would be taken upon the question of instructing the deputies.1161
As Boston grew in size the number of voters greatly increased. At the election of deputies in 1696, Sewall noted that 134 ballots were cast.1162 Under date of February 16, 1703, he records the following: “2 p.m̄. Town-Meeting at Boston to chuse Representatives. Mr. Colman pray’ed. Chose S. Sewall Moderator. Voters 459. . . . This was the most unanimous Election that I remember to have seen in Boston, and the most Voters.”1163 In the May election of 1744 there were 532 votes cast; in the election of 1754 there were 603 votes.1164
The great increase in the number of freemen invited the application of new methods of democratic control; and in 1763 a promising young lawyer, John Adams, who in later years was to succeed Washington as President of the United States, complained that the management of Boston’s politics had fallen into the hands of a “clique of intriguers.”1165 Adams made this complaint after he had ferreted out the secret of the Caucus Club, which met in the garret of the mansion of Tom Dawes.1166 Dawes was a master-mason, or, better say, architect and contractor. He designed the Brattle Street Church built in 1772–1773, drew plans of the parsonage and other property owned by the Old South Church, and was one of three commissioners appointed in 1795 to erect the State House on Beacon Hill.1167 He owned considerable property in houses, held the position of adjutant of the Boston regiment, and, when his bones were at last laid to rest in King’s Chapel Burying-Ground, he well deserved the following epitaph which his descendants in a later generation bestowed upon him:
Of his taste for the Grecian Simplicity
in Architecture there are many Monuments
which he raised when that Art was new to us.
The Records of Massachusetts shew
that he was one of her active Legislators
. . . . and discharged various trusts
To his own honor and the Public Weal.1168
The garret of the Dawes mansion on Purchase Street was large and comfortable, and here the Caucus Club was accustomed to hold its meetings. Among other associates came John Ruddock, a lawyer and selectman, William Story, the Deputy Register of the Court of Vice-Admiralty, William Cooper, for forty-nine years the town-clerk of Boston, William Fairfield, an assessor of long standing, and Samuel Adams, the maltster, the good-natured, careless, eloquent Master of Arts of Harvard College, a man so well-beloved by his fellow-citizens that his negligence as tax-collector was forgiven by vote of the town.
Among these cronies, John Adams complained, the policies of the town were determined upon, prior to every town-meeting, and “selectmen, assessors, collectors, wardens, fire-wards, and representatives were regularly chosen before they were chosen in the town.” Having discussed their plans in secret, the Caucus Club frequently came to an understanding with the Merchants’ Club,1169 which was composed of such men as John Hancock, John Rowe, Thomas Cushing, James Otis, and Josiah Quincy, and frequently united with this organization upon a ticket of candidates. The ticket was often printed and distributed as a broadside. Sometimes it was published in the newspapers, as in the Boston Evening Post for May 14, 1764.
The student of Boston’s government may obtain a vivid picture of election proceedings by a perusal of the Boston Records. On the day of election at ten o’clock in the morning, the selectmen call the freemen to order in Faneuil Hall. A minister of the gospel is requested to “pray with the town.” Then the town-clerk reads the warrant for summoning the meeting and sundry election laws of the Great and General Court; whereupon the chairman of the selectmen proposes that the town shall proceed to elect four representatives by ballot. A motion to this effect is carried by unanimous consent, and the chairman announces that the poll will close at twelve o’clock. The voters write the names of their candidates upon slips of paper and hand them to the selectmen. Throughout the morning the crowd of freemen come and go. At noon the hall is filled with excited spectators and the result of the poll is announced. Technically the freemen’s meeting is now at an end, but the assembly does not break up. There is further business to transact, and a town-meeting will be held. The selectmen call for nominations for moderator; and after the election of this presiding officer an adjournment is usually taken for dinner.
The worthy freeman who has assiduously attended the freemen’s meeting finds that the election of representatives has consumed the best part of the morning unless he has returned to his business immediately after casting his vote, and the town-meeting will take the greater part of his afternoon. It is in the afternoon meeting that the question of instructing the representatives will come up. If the motion to instruct the deputies is passed in the affirmative, the procedure will be to appoint a committee to draw up the instructions. To the obscure freeman this may appear to be a cut and dried performance; for the committee will be composed of a bare half dozen of the “most respectable characters,” and the paper which they draft will sometimes be adopted at the end of the town-meeting without any alterations. There will not be lacking those who complain that the instructions are secretly drawn up in dark corners, whereas the liberties of freemen require that instructions to representatives should be framed in an open assembly.1170 But, oftentimes, the substance of the instructions will evoke a sharp debate, and the simple freeman will thus hear the affairs of the town and of the commonwealth discussed by the keenest wits of the province; while, if his boldness gets the better of his prudence, he will attempt to gain the floor to express his own sentiments on the question before the meeting.
It is not only at the annual election of representatives that instructions may be voted. The selectmen, upon their own motion, may call a meeting for this purpose at any time during the year. Or, if the selectmen fail to call such a meeting, and any ambitious or discontented citizens think that the selectmen are delinquent in their duty, they may circulate a petition about town praying the selectmen to summon a special town-meeting. If the petition bears a goodly number of names the selectmen will grant the request.1171 In fact, there is a law upon the statute-books, enacted in the fourth year of the reign of King William and Queen Mary (1692), which requires the selectmen to include in the warrant for calling the next town-meeting any proposition which ten freeholders may petition to have submitted to the town.1172 And should the selectmen refuse the demand of the petitioners, the aggrieved freemen may complain to the justices of the peace at the next session of the County Court and there obtain a warrant addressed to the constable, commanding him to summon a meeting of the town for the purpose of voting upon the proposals of the petitioners.
VI Corporate Capacity of the New England Towns
The corporate capacity of the constituencies was one of the features which distinguished the New England representative systems from those of the middle and southern colonies. In the former systems the town was the basis of representation; in the latter systems, the county or shire or parish was the basis.1173 As we have already seen, town meeting government was highly conducive to the growth of the practice of instructing. An orderly meeting was at the disposal of the electors, summoned at least once a year, and generally several times in each season of the year; and by means of this incorporated assembly the freemen were able to address their representatives with considerable show of authority. On the other hand, the members of the popular assemblies in the middle and southern colonies were elected at the hustings, as in England, where the sheriff took the “view of hands” on the open green before the court house, or else checked the voters’ names off a list as they filed past his table.1174 The freemen of the counties and shires were not organized in any corporate capacity; and, accordingly, no meeting of freemen at the hustings could claim to be anything else than an extra-legal mass-meeting of citizens. It was not until the year 1765, at the beginning of the American Revolutionary era, that the freemen of the middle; and southern colonies undertook to meet in an organized manner and to vote instructions to their deputies in the popular assembly.1175
In the motherland, a similar tendency to employ instructions and positive mandates was a consequence of the corporate nature of certain constituencies. The freemen of the English shires seldom undertook to instruct their knights in Parliament. But the corporations of the boroughs frequently instructed the burgesses. In 1681 the freemen of the City of London in Common Hall instructed the four members in Parliament to refuse their assent to money grants until security against Popery was obtained; in 1696 to urge an investigation of the conspiracy against the monarchy and the adoption of measures to safe-guard merchant ships from falling into the enemy’s hands; in 1697 to pursue a strong policy against France; in 1714 to impeach the ministry for mismanagement of the war against Louis XIV; and in 1740, to reduce the number of “placemen” in the House of Commons.1176 The practice of voting instructions was not limited to London. In 1742, for instance, when the clamor for the impeachment of Sir Robert Walpole was at its height, the boroughs of London, Stirling, Aberdeen, York, Hereford, and Coventry, among other cities, sent instructions to their burgesses demanding that the ex-minister be brought to punishment.1177
Thus, both in the motherland and in the colonies, wherever the constituencies of the legislative assembly were organized in a corporate capacity there appeared a tendency to control the representatives by means of authoritative mandates.
VII The Initiative and Referendum
By means of a vote of instructions the inhabitants of any town could initiate such legislation as they saw fit. In one feature, however, there was a difference between this colonial practice and the modern initiative. Our Puritan forefathers in the town-meetings did not as a rule draw up the exact wording of the new laws which they demanded. They merely stated in more or less general terms what they desired in the way of legislation; it was seldom that the constituents of a deputy actually undertook to frame the law which they desired to be put on the statute-book. With the initiative went the referendum. In Rhode Island, during the years 1647 to 1663, every law passed by the General Assembly had to be referred to the towns for acceptance or rejection.1178 But this requirement was exceptional. The referendum in New England was more frequently a specialized form of instruction of deputies, a practice by which the members of the lower house had recourse to their constituents for instructions or advice upon particular bills or questions of policy.
The first use of the referendum in Massachusetts appears to have been in the year 1641, seven years after the freemen from the outlying towns had overturned the aristocratic régime of John Winthrop and inaugurated the representative system. In the June session, as we have already mentioned in another place, the General Court submitted to the towns a new plan for collecting the annual vote for magistrates. On this occasion the deputies were ordered to carry copies of the proposed law to the towns and to “make returnes at the next Court, what the minds of the freemen are hearin, that the Court may ꝑceede accordingly.”1179 Governor Winthrop tells us in his diary that the greater number of the towns “refused” the proposed law.1180 In the October session, in the same year, another referendum was ordered, this time upon the question of the adoption of a newly drafted legal code.1181 As a result of this referendum, the curious mixture of Scripture,. Puritan political notions, and the Common Law of England, known as the “Body of Liberties,” was voted to be “the law of the land,” as we learn from the scribbling in the hand-writing of Governor Winthrop upon the last yellow page of the first volume of the Massachusetts Colony Records preserved in the State House in Boston.
Hereafter the referendum was frequently used throughout the colonial period. No unusual constitutional process, therefore, was required when the House of Representatives in 1776 desired to ascertain the will of the commonwealth upon the question of independence from Great Britain. On May 10, 1776, the following resolution was adopted:
Resolved, As the Opinion of this House that the inhabitants of each town in this Colony, ought in full Meeting warned for that Purpose, to advise the Person or Persons who shall be chosen to Represent them in the next General Court, whether that if the honorable Congress should, for the Safety of the said Colonies, declare them Independent of the Kingdom of Great-Britain, they the said Inhabitants will solemnly engage with their Lives and Fortunes to Support the Congress in the Measure.1182
In response to this referendum or appeal to the country, the towns of Massachusetts held meetings in May and June, and, after electing their deputies for the next General Court, instructed them in vigorous terms to support the Continental Congress in any of its measures looking towards independence.1183 Many of the towns on this occasion drew up elaborate instructions, which reviewed the grievances of the American colonies and gave the history of the controversy with Great Britain.
During the four years following the Declaration of Independence the referendum was employed upon several occasions, particularly when the question of making a State constitution was referred to the towns.1184 The Constitution of 1780 was adopted as the result of these votes. Throughout the colonial history of Massachusetts, as well as in the Revolutionary epoch, there had been a tendency to confine the use of the referendum to constitutional questions. And after the establishment of the Federal Government, the referendum was strictly limited to questions of fundamental law.
VIII The Recall
Our Puritan forefathers attempted to use the recall, with varying degrees of success. In 1644, the townsmen of Gloucester “dismissed” William Stevens who represented them in the General Court and chose another in his place. The General Court, however, refused to seat the new deputy, and an order was sent to the town of Gloucester for the return of Stevens. The town was informed that it might bring complaint against their deputy, and, if they were able to show that he was “vnfitt for ye service of this Courte, yt then this howse shall acc° it theire dutie to deale wth him as an offending member thereof.”1185 Against this decision of the General Court the town was unable to prevail. In the year 1686, however, Salem asserted the right to withdraw her deputies at the General Court.1186 And in the following year, the town of Fairfield in Connecticut stripped its deputies of their offices for having weakly yielded to the demands of Sir Edmund Andros at the memorable meeting of the Council whereat the popular leaders are said to have plucked the charter out of the hands of the Stuart despot and hid it in the hollow of an oak.1187
A century later, at another constitutional crisis, the New England towns very generally exercised the right of recall, without objection on the part of the legislature. In 1774, among other instances, the town of Rehoboth summarily dismissed Captain John Wheeler as their delegate to the Provincial Congress and elected a more enthusiastic patriot in his place.1188 Four years later, when the adoption of a State constitution was under discussion in Massachusetts, the same town proposed as one of the fundamental laws a provision “enabling each town in this State at any time, to elect a Representative or Representatives to represent them in the General Court, and thereby to recall their former Representative or Representatives as the pleasure of any town may be.”1189 Other towns likewise urged the adoption of the recall as a part of the new constitution. The suggestion was not followed by the Convention which framed the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. But, on the other hand, the Convention retained a feature of the old Massachusetts system, which was practically as effective as the recall would have been in controlling the representatives of the towns. This was the provision for annual elections, a habit so deeply rooted in Massachusetts political life that the people have been loath to abandon it even in the twentieth century when the inconvenience of a yearly contest for governor and representatives has become very distressing. John Adams and the revolutionary patriots of Massachusetts considered the annual return of public officials to the status of simple citizens as a panacea for the majority of political ills.1190 They believed in the maxim: “Where annual elections end, there tyranny begins.” So they would have all great men —
Like bubbles on the sea of matter borne,
They rise, they break, and to that sea return.
This would teach them the great political virtues of humility, patience and moderation, without which, in John Adams’s opinion, every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey!
A few years after the adoption of the first State Constitution the town of Cambridge passed a resolution in town-meeting succinctly describing the Massachusetts system which had then been in existence for nearly two centuries, and which, under the influence of modern life, was soon to become somewhat modified. “The Constitution of Massachusetts,” said the townsmen of Cambridge, “has provided for the annual choice of every branch of the Legislature, and that the people in the several towns may assemble to deliberate on public grievances, and to instruct their Representatives. By annual elections there are frequent opportunities to change the Representatives if their conduct is disapproved.”1191
IX General and Local Character of Town Mandates
The instructions voted by the various towns reflected the economic and social conditions of each particular locality. For instance, the towns-people of Scituate in 1665 experienced some hardship with reference to the ease with which debtors defrauded their creditors, and in this year the town commanded their deputy to move the Court for a new law to prevent debtors from paying their debts “with old rusty barrels of guns that are serviceable for no man, unless to work up as old iron.”1192 Boston, the metropolis of New England, where strangers could easily come and go, was frequently compelled to instruct her deputies to secure laws guarding the town from the charge of paupers who flocked in from the smaller towns or from the neighboring colonies. The Boston deputies were also often reminded by the town of the need for promoting trade and commerce.1193 Salem, another sea-port town which was chiefly interested in the fishing and whaling industries, was not content to rely upon the “ancient representation of a cod fish” mounted on a mahogany board and hung back of the Speaker’s chair in the Hall of the Representatives as a constant reminder that New England’s farm was on the seas; but we find the town, among other occasions, instructing its deputies in 1735 to move the General Court to send an appeal to England against the acts of Parliament which hampered the American trade in fish.1194 On the other hand, an inland town like Worcester was more interested in promoting agriculture than in fostering commerce or fishing. Worcester was near the centre of the interior district which became the scene of Shays’s Rebellion in 1786. During this period of agricultural discontent a hundred or more instructions were voted by various towns in the middle and western part of Massachusetts, demanding relief for the debtor class by increasing the circulation of paper money, and for the encouragement of farmers by a deduction in the land tax and a shifting of the burden of taxation upon the population engaged in commerce. Some small towns made even more radical demands, calling upon their deputies to exterminate the profession of lawyers, to abolish the quarterly sessions, and to remove the State House out of the wicked city of Boston into some more democratic and accessible inland town!1195
Thus, local opinions, prejudices, and interests found expression in the mandates voted by the freemen to their deputies in the lower house of the colonial assembly. Like the cahiers of the French, these documents were the voice of the people. It was not alone upon matters of local interest that the deputies were instructed. The whole realm of colonial legislation was covered by the freemen in town-meeting. Particularly in the struggle over the revocation of the Charter in 1684–1689 and in the contest over the governor’s salary in 1728–1733, the towns stood out for the liberties of the colony. In both of these conflicts Boston led the way in arousing concerted action. In the year 1684, when the House of Representatives was greatly disturbed by the demand of the British Crown for the surrender of the Massachusetts Charter, the deputies of Boston applied to their town for instructions in the matter. A town-meeting was accordingly summoned, and the leaders of the popular party invited the celebrated divine, Mr. Increase Mather, to address the meeting and give “his Thoughts on the case of Conscience before them.”1196 Mather came, bursting with eloquence; and in a passionate harangue he reminded the freemen of Boston that their forefathers had purchased the Charter at great sacrifice. “And would they deliuer it up, even as Ahab required Naboth’s Vineyard: oh, their Children would be bound to curse them!”1197 The orator called attention to the manner in which the Stuarts had lately treated the city of London, and in closing he drew a warning therefrom for the metropolis of New England. “Upon this pungent Speech, many of the Freemen fell into Tears; and there was a General Acclamation, ‘We thank you, Sire! We thank you, Sire!’” The question of sustaining the deputies in their refusal to surrender the Charter was then put to a vote, and carried nemine contradicente.1198 This action on the part of Boston, of course, was not without effect upon the country, as the pious son of the eloquent divine tells us in his Parentator. The deputies of Ipswich, for instance, were informed by their constituents that every freeman at the town-meeting voted to instruct them never to resign the liberties of Massachusetts.1199 These spirited resolutions of the towns, however, did not immediately save New England from the despotism of the Stuarts. The Charter was annulled in the King’s Court, and in 1687 the Council of Sir Edmund Andros prohibited the holding of all town-meetings save the annual freemen’s meeting for electing officers.1200 But as we have already seen, after the downfall of the Stuarts an interim government was set up by the authority of town mandates.
Another occasion when town mandates were employed in the struggle with the Crown was in the year 1728, when the House of Representatives and the Governor were at odds over the question of making a permanent settlement of the Governor’s salary. Under the leadership of the astute politician, Elisha Cooke, the House issued a circular letter to the towns, calling upon them for instructions as to future action in the conflict.1201 A town-meeting was immediately summoned in Boston, at which the Rev. Joseph Sewall offered prayer and Jonathan Belcher presided as moderator. After the freemen had listened to the speeches of the Governor’s opponents, they voted to resist the settlement of a permanent salary upon the King’s representative.1202 As soon as he was informed of the action of the Boston town-meeting, Governor Burnet sent a message to the General Court bitterly complaining of Boston’s “unnecessary forwardness,” which had set an “Example of doing the like to the Towns in the Country.”1203 And he arbitrarily adjourned the Court to meet a week later in Salem. The tragic death of the Governor in 1729 as the result of a fever which he contracted when his coach fell into the Charles River as he was passing from Cambridge to Boston, did not end the conflict. His successor Belcher also urged the grant of a permanent salary; and in the summer of 1731 the House sent another appeal to the towns for support.1204 In response, town-meetings were summoned throughout the colony and the deputies were again instructed to oppose the Governor.1205
X Publicity in Colonial New England
Publicity was not lacking even in the earliest colonial period when roads were few and wretchedly kept. In 1632, Governor Winthrop paid a visit to Governor Bradford. It took him two days to make the journey of forty-six miles, over unbridged streams and dangerous swamps between Boston and Plymouth.1206 Soon, however, each settlement had a highway of some sort leading to Boston or Plymouth. In certain seasons of the year, the freemen who lived in the inland towns were accustomed to haul their wheat or corn by wagon as far as Boston, stopping at the way-side inns when night overtook them on their journey to or from market. The Puritan farmers thus learned at first hand the gossip of the metropolis. Frequently the ministers and elders travelled to Boston for spiritual, fraternal or other reasons; and the deputies made the trip sometimes four times a year. After attending the sessions of the Great and General Court the deputies would return to their homes, bringing with them copies of the laws passed at the Court and the news of the province which they had gathered as they wined and dined at the good Ship Tavern on North Street, or as they attended with becoming reverence the weekly lecture at the First Church. It was only the remote and recently settled towns that elected deputies who were not inhabitants of their jurisdictions and who thus did not come back to their small constituencies at the adjournment of the legislature. John Hull, the coiner of the pinetree shilling, and the indulgent parent who is said to have dowered his daughter with the amount of her weight in silver, served seven years in the General Court as a deputy for Wenham, Westfield, Concord, and Salisbury at the same time that he was a resident of Boston.1207 But such representation was rare.
Upon the return of the deputy, it was customary to have the clerk read aloud in town-meeting the acts which had been passed by the General Court, while the deputies were called upon to explain any ambiguities in the laws or to make a report upon their efforts in carrying out the instructions of the town. In a later period, when transportation facilities had greatly increased, many of the towns 1208 carried on a correspondence with their deputies throughout the session of the Great and General Court.1209
In case the freemen of any town were suspicious as to the conduct of their deputy at Boston they had recourse, in the eighteenth century, to the printed Journals of the House of Representatives. The custom of publishing these journals began in the last days of the governorship of Joseph Dudley, the Massachusetts politician and courtier, of whom Thomas Hutchinson well said: “Ambition was his ruling passion, and perhaps, like Caesar, he had rather be the first man in New England than second in Old.” In 1715, a controversy between the Governor and the House of Representatives led the deputies to order the printing of their Journals for the purpose of vindicating themselves before their constituents. The precedent thus established was followed consistently until after the American Revolution.1210
Even before the beginning of the publication of the printed Journals of the House of Representatives, newspapers had appeared in Massachusetts. As early as 1704 the Boston News-Letter was established; and in 1719 a rival sheet called the Boston Gazette came out. Both of these papers began their existence at a time when the royal instructions of the Governors still contained a demand for the censorship of the press, and when no one in the province could legally print a book or a pamphlet without “license first obtained.”1211 Thus, both of the papers were cautious journals, without any political complexion; and both announced the fact that they were “Published by Authority.”1212 In 1721, the New England Courant began its career. The publisher was James Franklin, the elder brother of Benjamin Franklin who at this time served in his brother’s office as an apprentice. James Franklin was a radical. He attacked the theologians; and was consequently assigned by one worthy divine to the “Hell-Fire Club of Boston.” He also assailed the Governor and the House of Representatives. This impudence resulted in his arrest and imprisonment, but the failure of the House to secure a conviction against him for libel, greatly encouraged the freedom of the press throughout New England. The New England Weekly Journal followed in 1727; and in 1731 the Weekly Rehearsal was printed by John Draper, but in 1732 was transferred to Thomas Fleet, who in 1735 changed its name to the Boston Evening Post. Thus, soon a large array of newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides provided the freemen of the province with every variety of political information.1213 The inhabitants of the towns were not unaware of the importance of this literature as a political asset. In 1751, a writer declared that the Massachusetts freemen were jealous of the “Liberty of the Press” because it enabled them “to come to the Knowledge of what their Delegates are about.”1214
XI The Excise Bill of 1754
The growth of the means of publicity in New England was intimately connected with the practice of voting mandates to the deputies. We have already seen how the popular party in Massachusetts from time to time appealed to the towns in order to win support in the contest with the Governors. But it was not alone in the struggles with the British Crown that resort was had on a general scale to the town-meetings for instructions. Frequently when the contest between the sea-port towns and the country towns, or between the paper money party and the sound money party waxed hot, the representatives carried the disputed issue to the towns for local advice. An incident of this sort occurred in 1754, after William Shirley had persuaded the General Court to fall into line with the British imperial policy and to send another expedition against the French in Canada. More money was needed for the undertaking in hand, and the deputies from the agricultural regions proposed that the new tax should be a duty on wines and spirits, which, in their ignorance of economic laws, they believed would fall entirely upon the rich dwellers in the sea-port towns and upon the inn-keepers everywhere. The New England farmers always had a grudge against the dispensers of hospitality at the cross-roads; while the unpopularity of rich men has not been limited to colonial days.
The proposed Excise Bill contained a provision authorizing excisemen to search the cellars of inns and houses. This was a necessary, but very aggravating provision; and the deputies from the sea-port towns made the most of it to discredit the bill, taunting the country members with having proposed a measure which was inquisitorial and highly objectionable to the free people of Massachusetts. They moved that the bill should be printed and sent to the towns for their consideration. The country members could hardly refuse to accept this challenge; and accordingly the new tax was referred to the towns for their instructions.1215 The contest which followed was very close, and before it was ended the weakness of the Massachusetts system had been exposed in its most vulnerable point. For, what was there to prevent a member from quietly putting his instructions in his pocket and voting as he saw fit? When the Court convened after the recess, the commercial party believed that they had secured the larger number of instructions, and consequently they moved that the returns from the towns should be canvassed in a public sitting of the House.1216 This motion to lay the town votes before the General Court was not to the liking of the country members, and was voted down; while the Excise Bill was passed by a narrow majority.1217
The refusal of the country members to disclose their instructions was the occasion of much gossip. An opponent of the Excise Bill published a pamphlet in which he declared that the bill had been carried in the House against instructions from the majority of the towns.1218 Another writer in the Boston Gazette for December 31, 1754, maintained that a large number of the towns had failed to vote instructions, thereby leaving their deputies free to vote as they pleased. A war of pamphlets and broadsides ensued, which was ultimately checked when one particularly provoking scribbler penned a satire called The Monster of Monsters, and was summarily punished by the scandalized House of Representatives.1219
It may have been that upon this occasion a few deputies violated their instructions. As a rule, there were means whereby a constituency could test the faithfulness of its representative, namely, by an examination of the “printed journals.” The instructions which the deputies received as a result of a referendum were occasionally turned over to the Speaker or Secretary of the Commonwealth and preserved in the archives of the House of Representatives.1220 On the other hand, no official record was made of the instructions which had been received without a referendum having been ordered; and this sort of mandate was the greater in number. Notwithstanding the opportunities for disregarding the commands of the towns, I have failed to find another case of disobedience on the part of any deputy previous to the American Revolution. And in this later epoch, as we have already seen, the towns created their own remedy for disobedience by successfully reviving their claim of the right to recall their deputies.
XII The American Revolution
On the eve of the American Revolution the practice of voting instructions in the town-meetings of New England was a century and a half old. As a means of arousing public opinion and as an instrument for voicing the will of the people, it was an institution whose usefulness had already been thoroughly tested. Accordingly, in the struggle for independence and the formation of the new State governments, instructions from the towns constituted one of the chief weapons of the patriots of the Revolution. Samuel Adams, the Man of the Town-Meeting and the Father of the American Revolution, pinned his faith to these votes of the towns. His ablest state papers were the mandates which he composed as chairman of the Boston committee on instructions in the years 1764 and 1765; and in a, letter to Arthur Lee he said: “It is a very common practice for this town to instruct their representatives; which among other good purposes serves to communicate their sentiments and spirit to the other towns, and may be looked upon as fresh appeals to the world.”1221 Another patriot, John Adams, then a young lawyer residing in Braintree, first came into public notice as a leader in the popular cause by pernning the instructions of his native town against the Stamp Act. The Braintree instructions of 1765 were adopted a few days after an enthusiastic meeting in Faneuil Hall had voted upon the instructions which Samuel Adams had drawn up for the guidance of the Boston deputies.1222 Both of these bold and eloquent documents were printed in the Boston newspapers; and within a month, a half hundred and more Massachusetts towns had called town-meetings and adopted instructions which were couched in the same words as those used by the Adamses.1223
Throughout the period of transition from colony to statehood the revolutionary leaders relied upon town mandates as the constitutional basis for their political action. In 1774, the towns of Massachusetts established the first Provincial Congress by means of their votes of instructions. The circumstances were as follows. General Gage had summoned the House of Representatives to meet at Salem on October 5. In September the town of Boston instructed its deputies to refuse to recognize the Mandamus Council, “and, as we have Reason to believe that a Conscientious Discharge of your Duty, will produce your Dissolution, as an House of Representatives — We do hereby impower & instruct you to join with the Members [from the other towns in forming a Provincial Congress].”1224 A considerable number of towns copied the action of Boston; and as a result the deputies, having met in Salem on October 5, withdrew to Concord and set up the First Provincial Congress of Massachusetts.
The constitutional struggle with the British Crown and Parliament, like the Revolution of 1689, quickened the civic life of the New England towns. The freemen vigorously exercised their right to instruct. The question of the adoption of a State constitution occasioned a deluge of town mandates. Moreover, the horizon of the New England towns was not limited by the boundaries of their respective States. They took under consideration all the problems of the Confederacy, and frequently instructed their deputies to move the State legislature to instruct its delegates in Congress to pursue certain policies. Thus the town of Mendon in 1784 demanded the repeal of the Impost Act.1225 And in 1781, when ugly rumors were afloat concerning the malfeasance of Silas Deane, Weymouth and Medway instructed their deputies to move the General Court to instruct the delegates in Congress “to demand of their foreign ministers, commissioners and agents a faithful account of their management and expense of public money, and that no character however great, be screen’d from public scrutiny.”1226 In the same year the town of Stoughton, after instructing its deputy to vote for the repeal of a Massachusetts currency act which was not consistent with the orders of Congress, admonished him: “And you are instructed to be very cautious in giving your vote . . . for any Law or Resolve, until you are well informed that they are not repugnant to the authority of Congress.”1227 In 1778 the Great and General Court ordered a referendum on the question of ratifying the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union.1228
Until a late day the town of Boston continued to play its role of leader. In 1781 the freemen in Faneuil Hall voted to instruct the deputies to move the General Court to urge upon Congress the necessity of including an article in the impending treaty of peace to secure American rights in the Newfoundland fisheries. The town, furthermore, ordered that a circular letter be sent to other Massachusetts towns urging them to take similar action.1229 As a result, many towns like Plymouth ordered their deputies to conform with the requirements of the Boston instructions.1230 In 1783, after the publication of the Treaty of Paris, Boston again led the way in eliciting a flood of instructions directed against the policy of leniency to the Loyalists.1231
XIII Town Mandates as Evidence of Political Capacity
After the American Revolution John Adams declared that town instructions had been one of the most important means by which the independence of the colonies was won. In his opinion, the birth of American liberty lay in the town-meetings where the freemen met “to deliberate upon the public affairs of the town, or to give instructions to then representatives in the legislature.” “The consequences of these institutions,” he went on to say, “have been, that the inhabitants, having acquired from their infancy the habit of discussing, of deliberating, and of judging of public affairs, it was in these assemblies of towns or districts that the sentiments of the people were formed in the first place, and their resolutions were taken from the beginning to the end of the disputes and the war with Great Britain.”1232 Adams always delighted to discourse on the beauties of the town-meeting government, where —
every man, high and low, every yeoman, tradesman, and even day-laborer, as well as every gentleman and public magistrate, had a right to vote, and to speak his sentiments upon public affairs, to propose measures and to instruct the representatives . . . This right was constantly used under the former government and is now much more frequently used under the new. The world has seen some hundreds of sets of instructions to representatives under the former government, wherein they enjoined an open opposition to judges, governors, acts of parliament, king, lords and commons of Great Britain.1233
John Adams was right. The town-meeting government of New England was a school for political thought and action. For a century and a half the Puritans and their descendants had received a political education such as few Englishmen could boast. The royal governors frequently complained of the democratic tendencies of the town-meetings; and the British Crown, acting upon this advice, more than once sought to suppress them. Sir Edmund Andros when he Issued the edict prohibiting all town-meetings save the annual election meeting, the British Parliament when it passed the Regulating Ordinance in 1774, and General Gage when he interdicted town-meetings, knew that they were striking at the essence of the New England democracy. It was in these bodies that the people dared to frame their instructions which the deputies carried with them to the General Court to the end that when the royal governor said: The King demands so and so, the representatives could reply: But our constituents demand thus and thus.
Our New England forefathers were more extensively initiated in the arts of self-government than were their fellow-countrymen in Old England. In 1729 Governor Burnet had informed the Duke of Newcastle that the people of Massachusetts were then aiming at independence.1234 And although this faithful representative of the Crown was in error when he made this judgment, yet it was true that the New England town-meeting system was eminently provocative of a hardy, stubborn and independent public opinion, and that the colonial assemblies were a stalwart political growth. The relationship between these two bodies — the towns and the assemblies — was a relationship more direct and more unimpaired than was that which existed between the English constituencies and the House of Commons. In New England’s representative system there were no rotten boroughs, no nomination seats, and no “brute votes.” And moreover, while the middle class in England was never fairly and fully represented in Parliament until the Electoral Reform of 1832, the middle class in the colonies was almost completely enfranchised. With rare exception every freeholder and every man with a small estate possessed the right to vote. And more than this: the greater part of the population were freeholders. In other words, the middle class was in the majority.1235 A landless class, it is true, had already appeared in Boston and in the sea-port towns. And large numbers of immigrants and wanderers were coming into the country towns, only to find that all the land was in the hands of the original proprietors or in the hands of their descendants who were too frequently unwilling to grant a share of the “common” to the newcomer. And year after year the selectmen were warning more poor and indigent wanderers out of the bounds of the townships. But after all, the landless and property-less class was small in comparison with this class in Old England. The man of small means, or of no means at all save health and enterprise, had the opportunity to join the proprietors of some new town in the west; and there by his industry and prudence it was possible for him to build up an estate as substantial as that of any other farmer in New England. Thus, while the Massachusetts Charter of 1691 limited the franchise to forty shilling freeholders, and while Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire had similar limitations of the right to vote, the economic equality of the citizens in the country towns — and in a large measure in the sea-port towns — removed the apparent unfairness of the qualifications for voting, while there is considerable evidence to show that in many towns the legal requirements for voting were consistently ignored and all able-bodied men gave their voice in town-meeting whether or not they were freemen in the eyes of the law.1236
When the people of Massachusetts adopted their first State constitution they looked upon the right to instruct representatives as one of the liberties reserved to freemen. The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of 1780 contained the following article: “The people have a right, in an orderly and peaceable manner, to assemble to consult upon the common good; give instructions to their representatives, and to request of the legislative body, by way of addresses, petitions, or remonstrances, redress of the wrongs done them, and of the grievances they suffer.” Massachusetts, however, was not the first State to include this guarantee in its constitution. On September 28, 1776, the General Convention of Pennsylvania adopted a Constitution and Declaration of Rights, the sixteenth article of which read: “That the people have a right to assemble together, to consult for their common good, to instruct their Representatives, and to apply to the Legislature for redress of grievances, by address, petition, or remonstrance.”1237 In the following December, the Provincial Congress of North Carolina adopted a similar guarantee in its Declaration of Rights.1238 It is not remarkable that these States which did not have the town-meeting form of local government should have inserted in their constitutions these provisions upon the right of the people to instruct then representatives. In the Revolutionary epoch, New England’s methods for collecting public opinion were widely copied throughout the colonies. In the southern and middle colonies, the counties, parishes, and towns very generally began the practice of voting instructions for their representatives. It may have been, however, that the inclusion of a guarantee of the “right to instruct” in the constitution of Pennsylvania was due to the suggestion of Samuel Adams, who appears to have had a hand in the making of this constitution.1239 There is less reason for belief that John Adams was responsible for the guarantee in the North Carolina constitution, although he gave the people of that colony some “thoughts” on how to draft a new constitution.1240
As we have already seen, in 1780 the people of Massachusetts adopted an article safe-guarding the “right to instruct” in their Bill of Rights. Other States copied this provision in their constitutions. In all, twenty-one States have adopted a constitutional guarantee of this right; besides those already mentioned, New Hampshire in 1784, Vermont in 1786, Tennessee in 1796, Ohio in 1802, Indiana in 1816, Illinois in 1818, Maine in 1820, Michigan in 1835, Arkansas in 1836, California in 1849, Kansas in 1855, Oregon in 1857, Nevada in 1864, Florida in 1868, West Virginia in 1872, and Idaho in 1889.1241 A glance through this list will show that few southern States made provision for the “right to instruct,” and that in the West it was chiefly those States settled by the New England migration that made provision in their constitutions for this right. In this connection it is necessary to note the fact that in the South, shortly after the Revolutionary War, there was a marked tendency to break the chains which held a representative bound to serve the dictates of his constituency. This tendency was instanced in the refusal of the Maryland Senate in 1786 to pass a paper money bill at the mandate of the majority of the constituencies of the legislature.1242 On this occasion Samuel Chase, whose violent partizanship as a Justice of the federal Supreme Court resulted in his impeachment in 1805, entered into a newspaper controversy with Judge Alexander Contee Hanson for the purpose of upholding the “right to instruct” and the corresponding “obligation of obedience” on the part of the representative.1243 In the battle of wits, Judge Hanson easily carried off the honors.
In later years, the “right to instruct,” or the Doctrine of Instructions as it was then called, became one of the chief principles of the State Rights faction of the southern Democracy. The doctrine was applied mainly to the relationship between the Senators of the United States and the State Legislature which elected them; and, in accord with this doctrine, William C. Rives resigned from the United States Senate when the Virginia Legislature in 1834 instructed him to vote for Clay’s resolution of censure upon President Jackson.1244 Rives was a Democrat, and the Virginia Legislature at this time was in the hands of the Whigs. Two years later, John Tyler also resigned when instructed by the Virginia Legislature to vote against his convictions.1245 Throughout the history of the State Rights party, the Doctrine of Instructions occupied an important place. But it is sufficient to point out here that this doctrine was not historically related to the New England town mandate.
XV Decline and Disappearance of the New England Town Mandate
With the rise of the American nationality came the decline of many New England provincialisms. Some of these provincialisms have been eminently persistent, including, of course, the essential features of the town-meeting government in the small towns. The practice of voting instructions to deputies, however, disappeared in the early part of the nineteenth century. This did not occur without a struggle. In 1794, the Anti-Federalists at a Boston town-meeting attempted to instruct the representative of Boston’s district in the United States Congress.1246 And a few years later the towns of Berlin and Belfast in Maine actually voted positive mandates to their congressional Representatives.1247 The town of Wells at the same time undertook to discipline a member of Congress by a vote of censure.1248
While the extreme particularism of the New England towns failed to establish the custom of instructing Representatives in Congress, the exaggerated ego of these little democracies died hard. The New England towns which, as John Adams naïvely said, had made war upon the British “kings, lords, commons, governors, councils, representatives, judges, and whole armies,” could not easily shake off their excessive individuality. And in the early days of our federal history we find them solemnly engaged in carrying on a correspondence with the chief magistrate of the nation. Many of them made bold to address the President of the United States in rather haughty tones; and, as a result of this supreme confidence in local autonomy, the curious visitor may read to-day preserved in the archives of several New England villages the autograph letters of our first Presidents answering in painstaking manner the protests of some persistent town-meeting against the policies of the national government or explaining in tactful phrases the gravest matters of state.1249
Boston, in particular, was loathe to abandon the exalted position which the town had occupied in the American Revolution, when the Bostonians had led Massachusetts, and Massachusetts had led the other States in the contest with George III. The town made several attempts in the first decades of our federal history to revive this leadership; notably in 1808, when it invoked a uniform voting of memorials to President Jefferson against the Embargo; and again in 1812 by an address to the other towns of the Commonwealth for the purpose of securing a strong public opinion back of the movement in the General Court to oppose the war with England.1250 The response in the latter case was not so general as in the year 1808. Pittsfield, for instance, passed a resolution to this effect: “That it will conduce much to the quiet of the state, if the inhabitants of the town of Boston would attend more to their own concerns, and cease to harass the good people of the commonwealth with their impracticable ‘notions’ and their ambitious and illusory projects.”1251
On all sides nationalism was triumphing over particularism. The American people were even beginning to think in terms of empire. It is true that sectionalism in America has always produced demands that the representative should faithfully reflect the opinions of his constituents. But the new era brought repeated assertions of the principle that freedom of action should be vested in the representatives of a great and prosperous people.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century the custom of voting instructions to the members of the State legislatures was on the decline. Town-meetings still continued to vote occasional mandates to their representatives; but these instructions were largely limited to local business. For example, the town of Goshen in 1811 instructed its representatives to prevent a proposed division of the county of Hampshire.1252 And Pelham in 1821 instructed its representatives to oppose the setting off the East Parish as a separate town.1253 Boston had long since outgrown the town-meeting system. There were ten times as many freemen as could crowd into Faneuil Hall if all should make up their minds to attend a particular town-meeting. But Boston traditions are stubborn traditions; and it took a long hard fight on the part of the progressives to beat the antiquarians and change the old town-government into a modern city. This was finally accomplished in 1822.1254
Josiah Quincy, whose father had been one of the foremost opponents of the movement for a reform in the Boston government, has left us a vivid picture of the town-meeting in its last days in Boston:
When a town meeting was held on any exciting subject in Faneuil Hall, those only who could obtain places near the moderator could even hear the discussion. A few busy or interested individuals easily obtained the management of the most important affairs, in an assembly in which the greater number could have neither voice or hearing. When the subject was not generally exciting, town meetings were usually composed of the selectmen, the town officers, and thirty or forty inhabitants. Those who thus came were, for the most part, drawn from some official duty or private interest, which, when performed or attained, they generally troubled themselves but little, or not at all, about the other business of the meeting.1255
The absurdity of the situation was illustrated when the lamp-lighters of Boston were in the majority at a certain town-meeting and carried a vote to raise their own wages!1256
The venerators of tradition, however, were reluctant to obliterate one of the instrumentalities by the means of which the American Revolution had been won. Said one:
We earnestly hope . . . that the Bostonians may never destroy the Temple of Democracy, in which was kindled the flame of the revolution of 1776, the nursery of genius, and the bulwark of liberty. It was in the town meetings of that town we so often witnessed the triumph of plebian genius over purse proud dulness, and the pedantry of the schools.1257
On the other hand, the opponents of reform felt that the abandonment of the town-meeting government would deprive the people of a means to express then demands in authoritative tones to their representatives in the General Court and in Congress. A writer in the Boston Patriot under the nom de guerre of “A Native Bostonian” extolled the town-meeting as the instrument of the people to control officials, instruct representatives, and generally in a legal way to express the wishes of the people. A town-meeting in Faneuil Hall was the “organized capacity of the town” whereby the people possessed not only the means of expressing their opinions but also of enforcing them.1258
In reply to the arguments of the “Native Bostonian,” the advocates of reform assured the good people of Boston that the incorporation of their town would not put an end to the public meetings of protest for which Faneuil Hall had been so justly famous.1259 The doors of Faneuil Hall would always remain open for the aggrieved to assemble there and exercise their ancient privilege of declaring their wrongs and demanding their rights.
Regardless of the merits of the controversy in its entire aspect, the modern student must admit that there was much truth in the contention of the “Native Bostonian.” The act of incorporation destroyed the “organized capacity of the town in Faneuil Hall assembled.” Hitherto the pronouncements of these assemblies had been clothed with the peculiar effectiveness conferred by the corporate nature of the town-meeting. But thereafter the meetings of inhabitants in Faneuil Hall assumed the character of mere mass-meetings of citizens. The Cradle of American Liberty gave dignity and historic adornment to such occasions; but the resolutions debated and adopted in these meetings were hereafter no more authoritative than similar action taken by a mass-meeting of citizens in New York City or a gathering of farmers in some prairie church on the banks of the Mississippi.
Other large towns in Massachusetts followed Boston’s example and secured charters of incorporation from the General Court. But the majority of the towns, in fact all of the small towns, made no change in their form of government. They have retained to this very day the ancient town-meeting system, a system which is peculiarly well adapted to the needs of a small community. In these minor towns the annual election of officers is customarily followed by the general town-meeting at which the selectmen give their report and receive their instructions. But no longer are instructions voted to the members of the House of Representatives. The growth of political parties and the attendant loyalty to party organization, the rapid development of legislative business which has obscured the individual legislator in a maze of committees and rules and precedents, the appearance of a new economic and social system following upon the industrial revolution in America, and finally, the redistricting of the constituencies of the General Court in 1857, have drawn the towns more and more away from the old relationship with the General Court which was so eminently characteristic of the Massachusetts system in the eighteenth century.1260 And to-day the representative in Massachusetts is quite as independent of the vote of a town-meeting as the representative in any other State is independent of the resolutions passed by any assemblage of citizens within his district. Both of these votes are expressions of public opinion, but neither of them imposes an obligation of obedience upon the representative.
Mr. Julius H. Tuttle made the following remarks:
It is interesting when a tradition relating to an event can be verified;1261 and the more so when after nearly two centuries and a half of wandering the much desired information about it drifts back to the vicinity of its source and final resting place. An entry from a diary authenticating such a tradition is found pasted into a scrap-book which has recently come into the possession of the Dedham Historical Society. This tradition which has persisted in the Fisher family of Dedham relates to Lydia Fisher (1652–1737), who was said to have waited upon the Regicides Goffe and Whalley for a time while they were in hiding at Hadley.
The entry in question is from the Diary of the Rev. Jonathan Townsend, and runs as follows:
Needham. July.17.1737. This Day died here Mrs Lydia Chickering in the Eighty Sixth Year of her Age. She was born at Dedham in New-England on July 14th 1652, and about the Year 1671 went up thence to Hadley where, for the space of about a Year, she waited upon Col: Whalley, and Col. Goffe (two of King Charles Ists Judges) who had fled thither from the men who sought their life. She was the Daughter of Capt: Daniel Fisher of Dedham, one of the Magistrates of this Colony under the Old Charter. Having lived a virtuous life, she died universally respected, and came to her grave in a full age as a shock of corn cometh in in his season.1262
Lydia Fisher was married at Dedham on December 3, 1674, to Nathaniel Chickering, and for twenty years they lived on Dedham Island. In 1694, they removed to that part of Dedham which is now Dover, where he died on October 21 of that year, leaving her with six children. She later moved across Charles River into that part of Dedham which became the town of Needham in 1711. In 1720, the Rev. Jonathan Townsend (H. C. 1716) was settled there as the first minister of the church, and counted Lydia Chickering as one of his parishioners. His statement of the fact of her service to the Regicides, kept as her long secret, was without doubt given by her word of mouth to him, and is not only of local interest, but of wider historical significance.
The reasons for her undertaking such a perilous mission from Dedham to Hadley in 1670 or 1671 can only be surmised. Hadley was then a frontier town but recently settled, with the Rev. John Russell (H. C. 1645) as its first minister, in whose house the Regicides were secreted. It so happened then that her brother, Sergeant Daniel Fisher, was making journeys to the Pocumtuck region about twelve miles north of Hadley. He was one of the Dedham proprietors of lands there, and went to aid in the laying out of the new grant of eight thousand acres at Pocumtuck to the town of Dedham in place of that part of her home plantation which the General Court had set apart for the Natick Indian township. On one of these occasions Lydia Fisher, then only nineteen years of age, may have gone to Hadley with her brother Daniel; and then later have returned with him to her home in Dedham.
There is another tradition about Lydia Fisher and the Regicides: that her father, Captain Daniel Fisher, “concealed the Regicides near his house in Dedham for a time, and that Lydia here ministered to them and rode behind one of them on a pillion to Hadley.” Nothing has yet been found to substantiate this statement. Her probable going with Daniel may have led to the confusion in the matter.
It was in May, 1660, that Charles II took steps to avenge the execution of his father in 1649, which was ordered by the High Court of Justice. Of the judges of this court who escaped from England, Goffe, Whalley, and Dixwell reached Boston in July, 1660, and on February 26, 1661, they began their nine days’ journey through Dedham to New Haven. If Captain Daniel Fisher secreted them as stated, and was interested in protecting them during their sojourn in the Colony, there might appear to be some reason to influence Lydia Fisher ten years later, when Goffe and Whalley had gone to Hadley to live, to go there on her mission.
The scrap-book, the medium through which this valuable entry from the Townsend Diary comes to our hands, was originally an account book of “Family Expenses,” from August 10, 1784, to October 12, 1798, kept at Halifax by Gregory Townsend, the youngest child and son of the Rev. Jonathan and Mary (Sugars) Townsend, of Needham. Gregory, who was born on November 28, 1732, and died at Halifax on October 22, 1798, left Boston with the loyalist refugees in 1776, and was proscribed in 1778. At the time of his death Horatio Townsend, of Dedham, his nephew, went to Halifax, and probably brought the book back with him. This book was used by Horatio’s daughter, Mary, who married John B. Derby, from about 1818 to 1841, for the purpose of pasting in cuttings of newspapers, letters, and a few pieces of the diary of her great-grandfather, the Rev. Jonathan Townsend. In this way the cutting about Lydia Fisher happened to be saved. Recent correspondence with a bookseller in Atchison, Kansas, who wanted to sell the book and who had written to me to learn whether the book was wanted here as it had some Dedham, Needham, and Medfield items in it, sent the book for examination. The discovery of the item in question quickly brought the book into the possession of the Dedham Historical Society. It was previously owned by Dr. F. D. Morse, of Lawrence, Kansas, who received it from his grandfather, Andrew Morse, a native of Sherborn, who probably obtained it from the Derby family.
Lydia Fisher deserves to be remembered for her courageous and it may be timely service; and no one can now fully tell its importance in behalf of the Bay Colony.
Another passage in the same diary is of interest in connection with Mr. Matthews’s recent paper1263 on Early Sunday Schools in Boston. The extracts there quoted show that New England pastors catechized the children of their parishes during the seventeenth century. Under date of April 4, 1737, the Rev. Jonathan Townsend wrote:
I began again to Catechize the Children after it had been discontinued for some time: I propose to repair to several parts of the Town that the Children may attend it wth the more ease, & conveniency: about six or seven places may be sufficient; I begin with a short prayer, then preceed to Catechize, afterwards read part of Mr Vincent’s Explanation of ye Assembly’s Catechism,1264 (or some other instructive Book) and then make a somewhat longer prayer, & so conclude. I design to attend it about once a month, more or less. I made my application to the Selectmen for ye Year 1736, desiring ’em to tell me which they judg’d were the most convenient places, & they nam’d to me Six Houses, viz: The Meeting House, Jona Smith’s, Capt: Fisher’s, Samuel Parker’s, Samuel Smith’s, & John Goodenow’s.
Mr. Henry H. Edes read copies of the two following receipts, dated 26 and 30 April, 1776, showing that the record books and papers of the Middlesex Registry of Deeds had been lodged for safekeeping at the house of John Reed of Bedford:
Cambridge April 26: 1776
John Reed of Bedford Esq.
Please deliver into the hands of Thaddeus Mason Clerk of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas for the County of Middlesex for his safekeeping at your House Those Chests containing the Record Books for ye County of Middlesex and you’l oblige your very H’ble Servt
engraved for the colonial society of massachusetts from the original in the possession of charles william jenks. esq.
Bedford April 30 1776.
Reed. into my custody the chests above mentioned containing the Record books of the Registry of Deeds & Papers as now lodged in the House of the above named John Reed Esq.
Att. Thad Mason
Clerk of the Common Pleas.