A History of Nova Scotia Page

Book #2: Settlement, Revolution & War. TOC
Part 2, "Revolution And The 14th Colony" TOC
Ch. 7 - The Right Mix for Revolution

"All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter. ... Man acts from motives relative to his interests; and not on metaphysical speculations."
(Burke, "On the Causes of the Present Discontents," 1770.)
The Stamp Act, as we have seen in the previous chapter was repealed within the year of it having cleared the legislative chambers in London. Still, there was the war debt to be paid.
"The earlier tax on houses, windows, and lights in Great Britain was therefore extended to include even the humblest dwellings, which heretofore had been exempt. Additional duties were placed on imported spirits, a public lottery was authorized, and the fund for the sinking of the public debt was drawn upon. Thus, at the very time burdens upon the colonists were becoming lighter, those in England were very visibly increasing. Unpopular on this account, and lacking the good will of the King and those who preferred the leadership of Pitt, the Rockingham ministry, after only thirteen months in office, began to disintegrate."1
These acts which extended the earlier established taxes were known as the Townshend Acts. Specifically there was to be duties levied upon glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea.2 It was not expected that these duties would bring much in, about £40,000 a year, "small change."3 In retrospect one might wonder, why, in light of the rancor that the abortive Stamp Act caused, the powers that controlled parliament would have even bothered. These duties upset British merchants, and, as we will see, "unwittingly lighted a train of gun powder" in the colonies.

The Townshend Acts effected all British American colonies. Duties were levied upon glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea. These acts were named after the English Statesman, Charles Townshend, who at the age of 22 in 1747 had entered parliament. In 1763, he was appointed First Lord of Trade and the Plantations. In 1766 he became chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the lower house. Townshend was described as a brilliant speaker and had little trouble getting the house to follow his lead. He was, however, as described by Earl Russell, "a man utterly without principle."4 On September 4th, 1767, Townshend, who was just then on the verge of the premiership, and but only 42 years of age, unexpectedly, died. This brought Lord North to stage centre. North was to become the prime minister in 1770, a position which he was to maintain through the next twelve critical years. Lord North was a man of some administrative ability, however, he was never to give due regard to public opinion. North was of an easy and indolent temper such that he yielded, often against his better judgment, to the stubborn doggedness of the king, George the Third. Bagehot was to write: "The minister [North] carried on a war which he disapproved and hated, because it was a war which his sovereign approved and liked."5 Upon North becoming the Prime Minister, in 1770, the taxation regime as was represented by the Townshend Acts was gutted, but there was left in place a continuing tax on tea, which, as a tax, was retained more as a symbolic right of parliament than as a big money raiser.

In an earlier chapter of this part we dealt with the new politics as was expressed in the writings of such theorists as Voltaire, Locke, and Rousseau. It is not difficult to grasp the theory of the social contract, however, for a man to do so it is necessary that he knows how to read and that he has the leisure to read. Fishermen and farmers are practical men and rarely do they spend time on metaphysical speculation. Given a large enough population, such men do show up who have the education, the interest, the libraries and the leisure to study the subject as how man might best organize himself in society. Such men have existed since the times of Plato. As a general proposition, such men did not exist in Nova Scotia. They did, in surprising numbers, exist in the English colonies to the south.
"If the world has seldom witnessed a train of events of a more novel and interesting character, than those which led to the declaration of American independence, it has, perhaps, never seen a body of men, placed in a more difficult and responsible situation, than were the signers of that instrument [The Declaration of Independence]. And certainly, the world has never witnessed a more brilliant exhibition of political wisdom, or a brighter example of firmness and courage."6
I will touch but on a few of these brilliant lights who forged a new country in America. There was Patrick Henry (1736-99) of Virginia. Henry was a lawyer and was to become a living symbol of the American struggle for liberty and self-government; he was a leader in every protest against British tyranny and in every movement for colonial rights. There was John Hancock (1737-1793) of Massachusetts. Hancock was educated at Harvard, there to receive a liberal education and from which he graduated in 1754. Samuel Adams (1722-1803) also attended Harvard "where he was distinguished for an uncommon attention to all his collegiate exercises, and for his classical and scientific attainments." "On taking the degree of master, in 1743, he [Adams] proposed the following question, 'Whether it be lawful to resist the supreme magistrate, if the commonwealth cannot be otherwise preserved?' He maintained the affirmative ..." Then there was Benjamin Franklin (1706-90), though born in Massachusetts, signed on for Pennsylvania. We read: "His fondness for books had, from an early age, been singularly great. He read every thing within his reach. His father's library was itself scanty, being confined to a few such works as Defoe's Essay upon Projects, Mather's Essay on doing Good, and the Lives of Plutarch." Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was born in Virginia. Jefferson was another example of one of the leaders of the revolution who received a classical education, and, early in life, became imbued with a love of letters and science.7

Nova Scotia did not have the necessary population base, the numbers, such as seems is necessary, not only to give the mass required but to throw up the intellectual leaders which are needed in a popular revolution. In 1763, there was but 8,200 people; by 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution there was approximately 18,000 of which 1,800 were at Halifax8; the increase due to a very significant extent to immigrating New Englanders.9 Thus, Nova Scotia was not populated to any great extent, and, it had, certainly proportionally, greater numbers of military personal especially when taking into account the navel dockyard at Halifax.10 By this time, in the thirteen English colonies, there was to be better than two million productive people working the lands to the east of the Alleghenies.11 In America, except during the course of the The Seven Years War, there never was much of a British army presence; the British navy was for the most part, not around at all, except for the occasional seasonal visits to New England ports.

This lack of intellectual leadership in and amongst the Nova Scotian population was recognized to be a problem at the time. We see where Colonel Alexander McNutt, no stranger to Nova Scotia, approached the Continental Congress and suggested that it was possible to swing the population in Nova Scotia over to the cause, but only if they were better read. What was needed, according to McNutt, was to collect the pamphlets and papers that were then circulating in New England in respect to liberty and democratic government, and, to get this enlightening literature into the hands of the potential revolutionaries that resided in Nova Scotia. After making reference to these suggestions of McNutt; Rawlyk and Stewart, in their work, A People Highly Favoured of God then add that the "farmers and fishermen of Nova Scotia had no opportunity and little time to examine books, on law, government and religion ..."12 Well, neither did the farmers and fishermen of New England, which, I suppose, constituted the larger part of the population. It is just that New England, unlike Nova Scotia, had a significant number of educated men, native to their provinces, employing themselves in trade. By and large the only educated men, not many, that were to be found in Nova Scotia, were those that came from England, or, in some cases, from New England; but all the educated men in Nova Scotia, almost without exception, very much dependent on the largesse of the British authorities for their income.

The reason that there was few demonstrations in Nova Scotia (and none that were sustained) in support of the American Revolution, is likely -- never mind that Nova Scotians were "ideologically incapable of organizing sustained movements of political protest" -- simply because there were inadequate numbers to get behind the movement. It was not, incidently, in these days of the world when there were few roads and many sailing ships, because Nova Scotia was any more isolated from, say, Massachusetts than Massachusetts was isolated from the more southern colonies. Indeed, Nova Scotia was very much attached to certain of the northern colonies because of family connections. Thousands of New Englanders had come up to Nova Scotia to settle in the 1760s and for the next few decades the younger members of the families were to pay seasonal visits that lasted for weeks, months; so too the more senior male members of the family operated their seagoing sailing vessels in pursuit of trading opportunities, which pursuits also involved family connections in New England.13

It remains in this chapter to run us up to the time when the first blood was spilt at Boston in 1770. In April of 1768, the Massachusetts assembly sent an indignant address to the king and his ministers and "at the same time sent a circular letter to the other colonial governments informing them of its protest against the acts [the Townshend Acts] and requesting their cooperation." This gave rise to orders being sent to General Gage to concentrate a body of troops in the neighbourhood of Boston.14 In keeping with these orders, on September 28th: "H.M.S. Launcetown, 40; Mermaid, 28; Glasgow, 20; Beaver, 14; Senegal, 14; Bonetta, 10; and two armed schooners, with the 14th regt., Lt. Col. Dalrymple, and the 29th regt., Lt. Col. Carr, (in all 1,000 men), arrived at Boston, from Halifax."15 Halifax in these days, as it seems it was since it was founded in 1749 through to the middle of the 19th century, owed its continuing existence to the servicing of British ships; it was a safe harbour with a well equipped dockyard for repair; it had too the additional advantage of being a port where the men could be allowed to go ashore without running to great a risk of losing them through desertion.16 We see where Murdoch writes that there are, during of August of 1769, in Halifax Harbour, the king's ships: Romney, Launcester, Foy, Viper, Martin, Dealcastle, Mermaid, Glasgow and Bonetta.17

It seems plain, that, at least at Boston, when men were picked up by English soldiers for refusing obedience or allegiance to the crown, Gage's people could not get a Massachusetts court to convict; so, a scheme was hit upon that in the more serious cases the offender would be shipped back to England for a little British justice. It is seen that by December of 1768 a provision was brought forward in England to revive an old statute passed under Henry the Eighth whereby "mutinous colonists were to be sent to England for trial."18

[NEXT: Pt. 2, Ch. 8 - "Tumult of Passions."]

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