Life of George Washington

The result of the correspondence between Washington and Mason was the draft
by the latter of a plan of association, the members of which were to pledge
themselves not to import or use any articles of British merchandise or
manufacture subject to duty. This paper Washington was to submit to the
consideration of the House of Burgesses, at the approaching session in the
month of May.

The Legislature of Virginia opened on this occasion with a brilliant
pageant. While military force was arrayed to overawe the republican
Puritans of the east, it was thought to dazzle the aristocratical
descendants of the cavaliers by the reflex of regal splendor. Lord
Botetourt, one of the king’s lords of the bedchamber, had recently come out
as governor of the province. Junius described him as “a cringing, bowing,
fawning, sword-bearing courtier.” Horace Walpole predicted that he would
turn the heads of the Virginians in one way or other. “If his graces do not
captivate them he will enrage them to fury; for I take all his
_douceur_ to be enamelled on iron.” [Footnote: Grenville papers, iv.,
note to p. 330.] The words of political satirists and court wits, however,
are always to be taken with great distrust. However his lordship may have
bowed in presence of royalty, he elsewhere conducted himself with dignity,
and won general favor by his endearing manners. He certainly showed
promptness of spirit in his reply to the king on being informed of his
appointment. “When will you be ready to go?” asked George III. “To-night,

He had come out, however, with a wrong idea of the Americans. They had been
represented to him as factious, immoral, and prone to sedition; but vain
and luxurious, and easily captivated by parade and splendor. The latter
foibles were aimed at in his appointment and fitting out. It was supposed
that his titled rank would have its effect. Then to prepare him for
occasions of ceremony, a coach of state was presented to him by the king.
He was allowed, moreover, the quantity of plate usually given to
ambassadors, whereupon the joke was circulated that he was going “plenipo
to the Cherokees.” [Footnote: Whately to Geo. Grenville. Grenville papers.]

His opening of the session was in the style of the royal opening of
Parliament. He proceeded in due parade from his dwelling to the capitol, in
his state coach, drawn by six milk-white horses. Having delivered his
speech according to royal form, he returned home with the same pomp and

The time had gone by, however, for such display to have the anticipated
effect. The Virginian legislators penetrated the intention of this pompous
ceremonial, and regarded it with a depreciating smile. Sterner matters
occupied their thoughts; they had come prepared to battle for their rights,
and their proceedings soon showed Lord Botetourt how much he had mistaken
them. Spirited resolutions were passed, denouncing the recent act of
Parliament imposing taxes; the power to do which, on the inhabitants of
this colony, “was legally and constitutionally vested in the House of
Burgesses, with consent of the council and of the king, or of his governor,
for the time being.” Copies of these resolutions were ordered to be
forwarded by the speaker to the Legislatures of the other colonies, with a
request for their concurrence.

Other proceedings of the Burgesses showed their sympathy with their
fellow-patriots of New England. A joint address of both Houses of
Parliament had recently been made to the king, assuring him of their
support in any further measures for the due execution of the laws in
Massachusetts, and beseeching him that all persons charged with treason, or
misprision of treason, committed within that colony since the 30th of
December, 1767, might be sent to Great Britain for trial.

As Massachusetts had no General Assembly at this time, having been
dissolved by government, the Legislature of Virginia generously took up the
cause. An address to the king was resolved on, stating, that all trials for
treason, or misprision of treason, or for any crime whatever committed by
any person residing in a colony, ought to be in and before his majesty’s
courts within said colony; and beseeching the king to avert from his loyal
subjects those dangers and miseries which would ensue from seizing and
carrying beyond sea any person residing in America suspected of any crime
whatever, thereby depriving them of the inestimable privilege of being
tried by a jury from the vicinage, as well as the liberty of producing
witnesses on such trial.

Disdaining any further application to Parliament, the House ordered the
speaker to transmit this address to the colonies’ agent in England, with
directions to cause it to be presented to the king, and afterwards to be
printed and published in the English papers.

Lord Botetourt was astonished and dismayed when he heard of these
high-toned proceedings. Repairing to the capitol on the following day at
noon, he summoned the speaker and members to the council chamber, and
addressed them in the following words: “Mr. Speaker, and gentlemen of the
House of Burgesses, I have heard of your resolves, and augur ill of their
effects. You have made it my duty to dissolve you, and you are dissolved

The spirit conjured up by the late decrees of Parliament was not so easily
allayed. The Burgesses adjourned to a private house. Peyton Randolph, their
late speaker, was elected moderator. Washington now brought forward a draft
of the articles of association, concerted between him and George Mason.
They formed the groundwork of an instrument signed by all present, pledging
themselves neither to import, nor use any goods, merchandise, or
manufactures taxed by Parliament to raise a revenue in America. This
instrument was sent throughout the country for signature, and the scheme of
non-importation, hitherto confined to a few northern colonies, was soon
universally adopted. For his own part, Washington adhered to it rigorously
throughout the year. The articles proscribed by it were never to be seen in
his house, and his agent in London was enjoined to ship nothing for him
while subject to taxation.

The popular ferment in Virginia was gradually allayed by the amiable and
conciliatory conduct of Lord Botetourt. His lordship soon became aware of
the erroneous notions with which he had entered upon office. His semi-royal
equipage and state were laid aside. He examined into public grievances;
became a strenuous advocate for the repeal of taxes; and, authorized by his
despatches from the ministry, assured the public that such repeal would
speedily take place. His assurance was received with implicit faith, and
for a while Virginia was quieted.



“The worst is past, and the spirit of sedition broken,” writes Hood to
Grenville, early in the spring of 1769. [Footnote: Grenville Papers, vol.
iii.] When the commodore wrote this, his ships were in the harbor, and
troops occupied the town, and he flattered himself that at length turbulent
Boston was quelled. But it only awaited its time to be seditious according
to rule; there was always an irresistible “method in its madness.”

In the month of May, the General Court, hitherto prorogued, met according
to charter. A committee immediately waited on the governor, stating it was
impossible to do business with dignity and freedom while the town was
invested by sea and land, and a military guard was stationed at the
state-house, with cannon pointed at the door; and they requested the
governor, as his majesty’s representative, to have such forces removed out
of the port and gates of the city during the session of the Assembly.

The governor replied that he had no authority over either the ships or
troops. The court persisted in refusing to transact business while so
circumstanced, and the governor was obliged to transfer the session to
Cambridge. There he addressed a message to that body in July, requiring
funds for the payment of the troops, and quarters for their accommodation.
The Assembly, after ample discussion of past grievances, resolved, that the
establishment of a standing army in the colony in a time of peace was an
invasion of natural rights; that a standing army was not known as a part of
the British constitution, and that the sending an armed force to aid the
civil authority was unprecedented, and highly dangerous to the people.

After waiting some days without receiving an answer to his message, the
governor sent to know whether the Assembly would, or would not, make
provision for the troops. In their reply, they followed the example of the
Legislature of New York, in commenting on the mutiny, or billeting act, and
ended by declining to furnish funds for the purposes specified, “being
incompatible with their own honor and interest, and their duty to their
constituents.” They were in consequence again prorogued, to meet in Boston
on the 10th of January.

So stood affairs in Massachusetts. In the mean time, the non-importation
associations, being generally observed throughout the colonies, produced
the effect on British commerce which Washington had anticipated, and
Parliament was incessantly importuned by petitions from British merchants,
imploring its intervention to save them from ruin.

Early in 1770, an important change took place in the British cabinet. The
Duke of Grafton suddenly resigned, and the reins of government passed into
the hands of Lord North. He was a man of limited capacity, but a favorite
of the king, and subservient to his narrow colonial policy. His
administration, so eventful to America, commenced with an error. In the
month of March, an act was passed, revoking all the duties laid in 1767,
_excepting that on tea_. This single tax was continued, as he
observed, “to maintain the parliamentary right of taxation,”–the very
right which was the grand object of contest. In this, however, he was in
fact yielding, against his better judgment, to the stubborn tenacity of the

He endeavored to reconcile the opposition, and perhaps himself, to the
measure, by plausible reasoning. An impost of threepence on the pound could
never, he alleged, be opposed by the colonists, unless they were determined
to rebel against Great Britain. Besides, a duty on that article, payable in
England, and amounting to nearly one shilling on the pound, was taken off
on its exportation to America, so that the inhabitants of the colonies
saved ninepence on the pound.

Here was the stumbling-block at the threshold of Lord North’s
administration. In vain the members of the opposition urged that this
single exception, while it would produce no revenue, would keep alive the
whole cause of contention; that so long as a single external duty was
enforced, the colonies would consider their rights invaded, and would
remain unappeased. Lord North was not to be convinced; or rather, he knew
the royal will was inflexible, and he complied with its behests. “The
properest time to exert our right of taxation,” said he, “is when the right
is refused. To temporize is to yield; and the authority of the mother
country, if it is now unsupported, will be relinquished for ever: _a
total repeal cannot be thought of, till America is prostrate at our
feet_.” [Footnote: Holmes’s Amer. Annals, vol. ii., p. 173.]

On the very day in which this ominous bill was passed in Parliament, a
sinister occurrence took place in Boston. Some of the young men of the
place insulted the military while under arms; the latter resented it; the
young men, after a scuffle, were put to flight, and pursued. The alarm
bells rang,–a mob assembled; the custom-house was threatened; the troops,
in protecting it, were assailed with clubs and stones, and obliged to use
their fire-arms, before the tumult could be quelled. Four of the populace
were killed, and several wounded. The troops were now removed from the
town, which remained in the highest state of exasperation; and this
untoward occurrence received the opprobrious, and somewhat extravagant name
of “the Boston massacre.”

The colonists, as a matter of convenience, resumed the consumption of those
articles on which the duties had been repealed; but continued, on
principle, the rigorous disuse of tea, excepting such as had been smuggled
in. New England was particularly earnest in the matter; many of the
inhabitants, in the spirit of their Puritan progenitors, made a covenant to
drink no more of the forbidden beverage, until the duty on tea should be

In Virginia the public discontents, which had been allayed by the
conciliatory conduct of Lord Botetourt, and by his assurances, made on the
strength of letters received from the ministry, that the grievances
complained of would be speedily redressed, now broke out with more violence
than ever. The Virginians spurned the mock-remedy which left the real cause
of complaint untouched. His lordship also felt deeply wounded by the
disingenuousness of ministers which had led him into such a predicament,
and wrote home demanding his discharge. Before it arrived, an attack of
bilious fever, acting upon a delicate and sensitive frame, enfeebled by
anxiety and chagrin, laid him in his grave. He left behind him a name
endeared to the Virginians by his amiable manners, his liberal patronage of
the arts, and, above all, by his zealous intercession for their rights.
Washington himself testifies that he was inclined “to render every just and
reasonable service to the people whom he governed.” A statue to his memory
was decreed by the House of Burgesses, to be erected in the area of the
capitol. It is still to be seen, though in a mutilated condition, in
Williamsburg, the old seat of government, and a county in Virginia
continues to bear his honored name.



In the midst of these popular turmoils, Washington was induced, by public
as well as private considerations, to make another expedition to the Ohio.
He was one of the Virginia Board of Commissioners, appointed, at the close
of the late war, to settle the military accounts of the colony. Among the
claims which came before the board, were those of the officers and soldiers
who had engaged to serve until peace, under the proclamation of Governor
Dinwiddie, holding forth a bounty of two hundred thousand acres of land, to
be apportioned among them according to rank. Those claims were yet
unsatisfied, for governments, like individuals, are slow to pay off in
peaceful times the debts incurred while in the fighting mood. Washington
became the champion of those claims, and an opportunity now presented
itself for their liquidation. The Six Nations, by a treaty in 1768, had
ceded to the British crown, in consideration of a sum of money, all the
lands possessed by them south of the Ohio. Land offices would soon be
opened for the sale of them. Squatters and speculators were already
preparing to swarm in, set up their marks on the choicest spots, and
establish what were called pre-emption rights. Washington determined at
once to visit the lands thus ceded; affix his mark on such tracts as he
should select, and apply for a grant from government in behalf of the
“soldier’s claim.”

The expedition would be attended with some degree of danger. The frontier
was yet in an uneasy state. It is true some time had elapsed since the war
of Pontiac, but some of the Indian tribes were almost ready to resume the
hatchet. The Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes, complained that the Six
Nations had not given them their full share of the consideration money of
the late sale, and they talked of exacting the deficiency from the white
men who came to settle in what had been their hunting-grounds. Traders,
squatters, and other adventurers into the wilderness, were occasionally
murdered, and further troubles were apprehended.

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