Life of George Washington

On the following morning, while the Burgesses were engaged in animated
debate, they were summoned to attend Lord Dunmore in the council chamber,
where he made them the following laconic speech: “Mr. Speaker, and
Gentlemen of the House of Burgesses: I have in my hand a paper, published
by order of your House, conceived in such terms, as reflect highly upon his
majesty, and the Parliament of Great Britain, which makes it necessary for
me to dissolve you, and you are dissolved accordingly.”

As on a former occasion, the Assembly, though dissolved, was not dispersed.
The members adjourned to the long room of the old Raleigh tavern, and
passed resolutions, denouncing the Boston port bill as a most dangerous
attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty and rights of all North
America; recommending their countrymen to desist from the use, not merely
of tea, but of all kinds of East Indian commodities: pronouncing an attack
on one of the colonies, to enforce arbitrary taxes, an attack on all; and
ordering the committee of correspondence to communicate with the other
corresponding committees, on the expediency of appointing deputies from the
several colonies of British America, to meet annually in GENERAL CONGRESS,
at such place as might be deemed expedient, to deliberate on such measures
as the united interests of the colonies might require.

This was the first recommendation of a General Congress by any public
assembly, though it had been previously proposed in town meetings at New
York and Boston. A resolution to the same effect was passed in the Assembly
of Massachusetts before it was aware of the proceedings of the Virginia
Legislature. The measure recommended met with prompt and general
concurrence throughout the colonies, and the fifth day of September next
ensuing was fixed upon for the meeting of the first Congress, which was to
be held at Philadelphia.

Notwithstanding Lord Dunmore’s abrupt dissolution of the House of
Burgesses, the members still continued on courteous terms with him, and the
ball which they had decreed early in the session in honor of Lady Dunmore,
was celebrated on the 27th with unwavering gallantry.

As to Washington, widely as he differed from Lord Dunmore on important
points of policy, his intimacy with him remained uninterrupted. By
memorandums in his diary it appears that he dined and passed the evening at
his lordship’s on the 25th, the very day of the meeting at the Raleigh
tavern. That he rode out with him to his farm, and breakfasted there with
him on the 26th, and on the evening of the 27th attended the ball given to
her ladyship. Such was the well-bred decorum that seemed to quiet the
turbulence of popular excitement, without checking the full and firm
expression of popular opinion.

On the 29th, two days after the ball, letters arrived from Boston giving
the proceedings of a town meeting, recommending that a general league
should be formed throughout the colonies suspending all trade with Great
Britain. But twenty-five members of the late House of Burgesses, including
Washington, were at that time remaining in Williamsburg. They held a
meeting on the following day, at which Peyton Randolph presided as
moderator. After some discussion it was determined to issue a printed
circular, bearing their signatures, and calling a meeting of all the
members of the late House of Burgesses, on the 1st of August, to take into
consideration this measure of a general league. The circular recommended
them, also, to collect, in the mean time, the sense of their respective

Washington was still at Williamsburg on the 1st of June, the day when the
port bill was to be enforced at Boston. It was ushered in by the tolling of
bells, and observed by all true patriots as a day of fasting and
humiliation. Washington notes in his diary that he fasted rigidly, and
attended the services appointed in the church. Still his friendly
intercourse with the Dunmore family was continued during the remainder of
his sojourn in Williamsburg, where he was detained by business until the
20th, when he set out on his return to Mount Vernon.

In the mean time the Boston port bill had been carried into effect. On the
1st of June the harbor of Boston was closed at noon, and all business
ceased. The two other parliamentary acts altering the charter of
Massachusetts were to be enforced. No public meetings, excepting the annual
town meetings in March and May, were to be held without permission of the

General Thomas Gage had recently been appointed to the military command of
Massachusetts, and the carrying out of these offensive acts. He was the
same officer who, as lieutenant-colonel, had led the advance guard on the
field of Braddock’s defeat. Fortune had since gone well with him. Rising in
the service, he had been governor of Montreal, and had succeeded Amherst in
the command of the British forces on this continent. He was linked to the
country also by domestic ties, having married into one of the most
respectable families of New Jersey. In the various situations in which he
had hitherto been placed he had won esteem, and rendered himself popular.
Not much was expected from him in his present post by those who knew him
well. William Smith, the historian, speaking of him to Adams, “Gage,” said
he, “was a good-natured, peaceable, sociable man while here (in New York),
but altogether unfit for a governor of Massachusetts. He will lose all the
character he has acquired as a man, a gentleman, and a general, and dwindle
down into a mere scribbling governor–a mere Bernard or Hutchinson.”

With all Gage’s experience in America, he had formed a most erroneous
opinion of the character of the people. “The Americans,” said he to the
king, “will be lions only as long as the English are lambs;” and he
engaged, with five regiments, to keep Boston quiet!

The manner in which his attempts to enforce the recent acts of Parliament
were resented, showed how egregiously he was in error. At the suggestion of
the Assembly, a paper was circulated through the province by the committee
of correspondence, entitled “a solemn league and covenant,” the subscribers
to which bound themselves to break off all intercourse with Great Britain
from the 1st of August, until the colony should be restored to the
enjoyment of its chartered rights; and to renounce all dealings with those
who should refuse to enter into this compact.

The very title of league and covenant had an ominous sound, and startled
General Gage. He issued a proclamation, denouncing it as illegal and
traitorous. Furthermore, he encamped a force of infantry and artillery on
Boston Common, as if prepared to enact the lion. An alarm spread through
the adjacent country. “Boston is to be blockaded! Boston is to be reduced
to obedience by force or famine!” The spirit of the yeomanry was aroused.
They sent in word to the inhabitants promising to come to their aid if
necessary; and urging them to stand fast to the faith. Affairs were coming
to a crisis. It was predicted that the new acts of Parliament would bring
on “a most important and decisive trial.”




Shortly after Washington’s return to Mount Vernon, in the latter part of
June, he presided as moderator at a meeting of the inhabitants of Fairfax
County, wherein, after the recent acts of Parliament had been discussed, a
committee was appointed, with himself as chairman, to draw up resolutions
expressive of the sentiments of the present meeting, and to report the same
at a general meeting of the county, to be held in the court-house on the
18th of July.

The course that public measures were taking shocked the loyal feelings of
Washington’s valued friend, Bryan Fairfax, of Tarlston Hall, a younger
brother of George William, who was absent in England. He was a man of
liberal sentiments, but attached to the ancient rule; and, in a letter to
Washington, advised a petition to the throne, which would give Parliament
an opportunity to repeal the offensive acts.

“I would heartily join you in your political sentiments,” writes Washington
in reply, “as far as relates to a humble and dutiful petition to the
throne, provided there was the most distant hope of success. But have we
not tried this already? Have we not addressed the lords, and remonstrated
to the commons? And to what end? Does it not appear as clear as the sun in
its meridian brightness that there is a regular, systematic plan to fix the
right and practice of taxation upon us? … Is not the attack upon the
liberty and property of the people of Boston, before restitution of the
loss to the India Company was demanded, a plain and self-evident proof of
what they are aiming at? Do not the subsequent bills for depriving the
Massachusetts Bay of its charter, and for transporting offenders to other
colonies or to Great Britain for trial, where it is impossible, from the
nature of things, that justice can be obtained, convince us that the
administration is determined to stick at nothing to carry its point? Ought
we not, then, to put our virtue and fortitude to the severest tests?”

The committee met according to appointment, with Washington as chairman.
The resolutions framed at the meeting insisted, as usual, on the right of
self-government, and the principle that taxation and representation were in
their nature inseparable. That the various acts of Parliament for raising
revenue; taking away trials by jury; ordering that persons might be tried
in a different country from that in which the cause of accusation
originated; closing the port of Boston; abrogating the charter of
Massachusetts Bay, &c., &c.,–were all part of a premeditated design and
system to introduce arbitrary government into the colonies. That the sudden
and repeated dissolutions of Assemblies whenever they presumed to examine
the illegality of ministerial mandates, or deliberated on the violated
rights of their constituents, were part of the same system, and calculated
and intended to drive the people of the colonies to a state of desperation,
and to dissolve the compact by which their ancestors bound themselves and
their posterity to remain dependent on the British crown. The resolutions,
furthermore, recommended the most perfect union and co-operation among the
colonies; solemn covenants with respect to non-importation and
non-intercourse, and a renunciation of all dealings with any colony, town,
or province, that should refuse to agree to the plan adopted by the General

They also recommended a dutiful petition and remonstrance from the Congress
to the king, asserting their constitutional rights and privileges;
lamenting the necessity of entering into measures that might be
displeasing; declaring their attachment to his person, family, and
government, and their desire to continue in dependence upon Great Britain;
beseeching him not to reduce his faithful subjects of America to
desperation, and to reflect, that _from our sovereign there can be but
one appeal._

These resolutions are the more worthy of note, as expressive of the
opinions and feelings of Washington at this eventful time, if not being
entirely dictated by him. The last sentence is of awful import, suggesting
the possibility of being driven to an appeal to arms.

Bryan Fairfax, who was aware of their purport, addressed a long letter to
Washington, on the 17th of July, the day preceding that in which they were
to be reported by the committee, stating his objections to several of them,
and requesting that his letter might be publicly read. The letter was not
received until after the committee had gone to the court-house on the 18th,
with the resolutions revised, corrected, and ready to be reported.
Washington glanced over the letter hastily, and handed it round to several
of the gentlemen present. They, with one exception, advised that it should
not be publicly read, as it was not likely to make any converts, and was
repugnant, as some thought, to every principle they were contending for.
Washington forbore, therefore, to give it any further publicity.

The resolutions reported by the committee were adopted, and Washington was
chosen a delegate to represent the county at the General Convention of the
province, to be held at Williamsburg on the 1st of August. After the
meeting had adjourned, he felt doubtful whether Fairfax might not be
dissatisfied that his letter had not been read, as he requested, to the
county at large; he wrote to him, therefore, explaining the circumstances
which prevented it; at the same time replying to some of the objections
which Fairfax had made to certain of the resolutions. He reiterated his
belief that an appeal would be ineffectual. “What is it we are contending
against?” asked he; “Is it against paying the duty of threepence per pound
on tea because burdensome? No, it is the right only, that we have all along
disputed; and to this end, we have already petitioned his majesty in as
humble and dutiful a manner as subjects could do. Nay, more, we applied to
the House of Lords and House of Commons in their different legislative
capacities, setting forth that, as Englishmen, we could not be deprived of
this essential and valuable part of our constitution. …

“The conduct of the Boston people could not justify the rigor of their
measures, unless there had been a requisition of payment, and refusal of
it; nor did that conduct require an act to deprive the government of
Massachusetts Bay of their charter, or to exempt offenders from trial in
the places where offences were committed, as there was not, nor could there
be, a single instance produced to manifest the necessity of it. Are not all
these things evident proofs of a fixed and uniform plan to tax us? If we
want further proofs, do not all the debates in the House of Commons serve
to confirm this? And has not General Gage’s conduct since his arrival, in
stopping the address of his council, and publishing a proclamation, more
becoming a Turkish bashaw than an English governor, declaring it treason to
associate in any manner by which the commerce of Great Britain is to be
affected,–has not this exhibited an unexampled testimony of the most
despotic system of tyranny that ever was practised in a free government?”

The popular measure on which Washington laid the greatest stress as a means
of obtaining redress from government, was the non-importation scheme; “for
I am convinced,” said he, “as much as of my existence, that there is no
relief for us but in their distress; and I think–at least I hope–that
there is public virtue enough left among us to deny ourselves every thing
but the bare necessaries of life to accomplish this end.” At the same time,
he forcibly condemned a suggestion that remittances to England should be
withheld. “While we are accusing others of injustice,” said he, “we should
be just ourselves; and how this can be whilst we owe a considerable debt,
and refuse payment of it to Great Britain is to me inconceivable: nothing
but the last extremity can justify it.”

On the 1st of August, the convention of representatives from all parts of
Virginia assembled at Williamsburg. Washington appeared on behalf of
Fairfax County, and presented the resolutions, already cited, as the sense
of his constituents. He is said, by one who was present, to have spoken in
support of them in a strain of uncommon eloquence, which shows how his
latent ardor had been excited on the occasion, as eloquence was not in
general among his attributes. It is evident, however, that he was roused to
an unusual pitch of enthusiasm, for he is said to have declared that he was
ready to raise one thousand men, subsist them at his own expense, and march
at their head to the relief of Boston. [Footnote: See information given to
the elder Adams, by Mr. Lynch of South Carolina.–_Adams’s Diary_.]

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