When Tryon took the oath of office April 3, 1765, the Stamp Act was the chief topic of discussion in the political circles of America. The new governor was a man of much greater force and ability than any of his predecessors. Courtly, versatile, tactful and resourceful, he knew how to win the favor of men and understood the secrets of leadership. If any man could have induced the people of North Carolina to accept the Stamp Act, he was the man. But those with whom he had to contend were men of equal ability and determination and had, moreover, far more at stake than he. Before his arrival they had already made up their minds what course they intended to pursue. At the October session, 1764, the Assembly in their reply to Governor Dobbs' address declared their opposition to the right of Parliament to impose internal taxes in colonies as being "against what we esteem our Inherent right and Exclusive privilege of imposing our own Taxes," and had united with Massachusetts and the other colonies in protesting against the proposed stamp duty. When Tryon asked John Ashe, speaker of the Assembly, what the attitude of the colony would be toward the Stamp Act, Ashe promptly replied with great confidence: "We will resist it to the death."
In this determination the representatives received loyal support from their constituents. Indeed, from the first, opposition to the Stamp Act in North Carolina was a popular movement, though directed and controlled by a few trusted leaders. At Cross Creek, New Bern, Edenton, and other places in the province, during the summer of 1765, public demonstrations were made against it. But for obvious reasons the Cape Fear, as the center of the colony's trade and the residence of the governor, became the chief scene of the resistance and its course determined the course of the province. At Wilmington large crowds gathered from the surrounding counties, drank "Liberty, Property and no Stamp Duty;" hanged Lord Bute p322 in effigy; compelled the stamp master, William Houston, to resign his office; and required Andrew Steuart, the printer, to issue the North Carolina Gazette on unstamped paper. Alarmed at these demonstrations, Tryon called into consultation a number of the leading merchants, assured them if they would not resist the Stamp Act, that he would urge the ministry to exempt North Carolina from its operation, and offered "as a future inducement to the reception of the small stamps" and as a pledge of his good faith, to pay himself the duties on all instruments whereon he was entitled to any fee. To this shrewd proposition the merchants replied that every view of the Stamp Act confirmed them in their opinion that it was destructive of those liberties which, as British subjects, they had a right to enjoy in common with their fellow subjects of Great Britain; that they could not consent to his paying for the small stamps as "an admission of part would put it out of our power to refuse with any propriety a submission to the whole;" that they thought, therefore, it "more consistent as well as securer conduct" to resist the execution of the act to the utmost of their power.
The issues were thus joined. But no occasion arose to put the resolution to people to a test until November 28th, when the sloop Diligence, Captain Constantine Phipps, with an assignment of stamps, cast anchor at Brunswick. Quickly spread the news of her arrival. Up and down the Cape Fear, and far into the country, men snatched their rifles and hurried to Brunswick. Under the command of Hugh Waddell and John Ashe, they presented a resolute front to the king's man-of‑war, and declared their purpose to resist by force if necessary any attempt to land the king's stamps. Captain Phipps prudently declined to test the sincerity of their threat and made no attempt to carry the stamps ashore. A month passed, and Governor Tryon wrote, "the Stamps still remain on board the said ship;" and after still another month, he added, "where they still continue." It is impossible now to realize fully just what such conduct meant, but we may be sure that Ashe and Waddell, and the men who followed them, knew what they dared when, with arms in their hands, they thus defied the king's officers. Treason it was, of course; but while the merchants and planters of the Cape Fear might have felt confident of escaping the penalties of treason they well knew they could not, if the situation remained long unchanged, escape the penalties of ruin. Vessels rocked idly at their anchorage and sails flapped lazily against their masts, for Wilmington and Brunswick p323 were closed ports. Ships bound for the Cape Fear passed by to other ports, and the merchants expected nothing less than the total destruction of their trade. Nevertheless, as Tryon wrote, they were "as assiduous in obstructing the reception of the Stamps as any of the inhabitants. No business," he continued, "is transacted in the Courts of Judicature * * * and all Civil Government is now at a stand. This stagnation of all public business and commerce, under the low circumstances of the inhabits, must be attended with fatal consequences to this colony if it subsists but for a few months longer." The situation in other parts of the colony was no better. "Tho' the people here," wrote the Rev. James Reed of New Bern, "are peaceable and quiet yet they seem very uneasy, discontented, and dejected. The Courts of Justice are in a great measure shut up and it is expected that in a few weeks there will be a total stagnation of trade."
With the opening of the New Year the struggle reached its climax. Two vessels arrived at Brunswick, the Dobbs from Philadelphia, and the Patience from St. Christopher, neither of which had stamps on her clearance papers. Although each vessel presented to the collector, William Dry, a statement signed by the collectors at Philadelphia and St. Christopher that no stamps were to be had at either place, nevertheless Captain Jacob Lobb, of the cruiser Viper, declared both vessels outlaws and seized them in the name of the king. Later a third vessel, the Ruby, shared a like fate. Captain Lobb delivered their papers to Collector Dry that proceedings might be instituted against them in the Admiralty Court. Thereupon Dry consulted the attorney-general, submitting to him three queries: first, whether failure to obtain clearances on stamped papers justified the seizures; second, whether judgment ought to be given against the vessels "upon proof being made that it was impossible to obtain clearances" on stamped paper; third, whether the proceedings should be instituted in the Admiralty Court at Halifax, Nova Scotia, rather than at Cape Fear.
The passions of the people were profoundly stirred by these proceedings, but while the attorney-general was preparing his answer, they were admirably suppressed. When the answer was finally given, it was an affirmative to each of the collector's questions. Instantly the smothered flames flared into open conflagration. The people generally entered into an association that "We the subscribers * * * mutually and solemnly plight Our Faith and Honour that We Will at any Risque p324 whatever, and whenever called upon, Unite and Truly and Faithfully Assist each other, to the best of Our Power, in preventing entirely the Operation of the Stamp Act." Wilmington peremptorily refused the usual provisions to the king's vessels, the angry people seized the boats sent ashore for supplies and threw their crews into the common jail. Forty of the leading men of the Cape Fear section joined in a letter to William Dry warning him against the course advised by the attorney-general. A party of unknown men entered the collector's house, broke open his desk, and seized the ships' papers. The people of the surrounding counties snatched their guns, hurried to Wilmington, organized an armed association composed of "the principal gentlemen, freeholders and other inhabitants of several counties," took an oath to resist the Stamp Act to the death, and marched to Brunswick to rescue the outlawed vessels.
It was late in the afternoon of February 19th, when they entered the little village before which lay the king's cruiser and near which the king's governor dwelt. Hearing at Brunswick that Captain Lobb was concealing himself in the governor's house, the "inhabitants in arms," as Tryon always called them, turned their steps in that direction. Though fully determined to seize Lobb and force him to surrender the vessels, the leaders were equally determined to protect the governor from insult. Accordingly, Cornelius Harnett and George Moore waited on him in advance of their followers and offered him a guard. But they had misjudged their man. Whatever else he may have been, William Tryon was not a coward. He haughtily commanded that no guard be sent to give its protection where it was neither necessary nor desired, and with this rebuff, Moore and Harnett retired. Immediately a band of armed men surrounded the house and demanded the surrender of Captain Lobb. But Tryon stood firm, and peremptorily refused to communicate any information to the "inhabitants in arms," saying that as they had arms in their hands they might break open his locks, force his doors, and search his house if they chose to do so. But the leaders, having no quarrel with Tryon, were not ready for such violent measures; and learning in some other way that Captain Lobb was not there, they detailed a small guard to watch the governor's house and withdrew to Brunswick for the night.
The next morning a delegation from the "inhabitants in arms" went aboard the Viper and demanded the release of the Ruby and the Patience. The Dobbs, having given proper p325 security, had already been released. Afraid to refuse and unwilling to comply, Lobb begged a respite till the afternoon. In the meantime he held a conference with the governor and other officials to whom he declared his purpose to release the Ruby, at the same time expressing his unalterable determination to hold fast to the Patience. Half a loaf to the people and half to the government, he thought ought to satisfy both. It did satisfy Tryon who expressed his approval of the division. At the same time he urged Lobb not to consider him, his family or his property as he was only "solicitous for the honor of the government and his Majesty's interest in the present exigency." With this understanding the conference was brought to a close. But the other party was not so easily satisfied. When the delegation from the "inhabitants in arms" returned to the Viper they dissented so vigorously, that Captain Lobb was forced to surrender to them both their half and the government's half also. He based his compliance on the ground that he did not think "it proper to detain the sloop Ruby any longer," and had suddenly discovered there were "perishable commodities on board the sloop Patience." But such transparent excuses could not deceive the governor. Tryon was utterly astonished when he learned that Lobb had surrendered completely to the people, but his astonishment was turned to disgust and contempt upon hearing that Lobb in a fit of fright had directed the commanding officer at Fort Johnston to spike his guns lest they be captured and turned on the king's ships by "the inhabitants in arms." His reprimand was severe and contemptuous. The detention of the Patience, Tryon declared, was "a point that concerned the honor of the government," Lobb's surrender of the vessel he considered a breach of faith for it made his situation "very unpleasant, as most of the people by going up to Wilmington in the sloops would remain satisfied and report through the province they had obtained every point they came to redress," while Lobb's excuses for the order to Captain Dalrymple, commander at Fort Johnston, the governor denounced as "totally contrary to every sentiment I entertained."
But Tryon himself was not to be exempt from similar treatment. It is true the people had obtained every point they came to redress, but their work was not finished until they had made sure no other points would arise that would require redressing. There could be no assurance of this, so long as there remained in the province any royal official with authority to sell stamps and seize vessels who was at liberty to exercise his authority. Accordingly the leaders made up their minds to take the same p326 precaution against this as they had taken in the case of Houston. During the afternoon of February 20th, wrote Tryon, "Mr. Pennington, his Majesty's Comptroller, came to let me know there had been a search after him, and as he guessed they wanted him to do some act that would be inconsistent with the duty of his office, he came to acquaint me with this enquiry and search." The governor offered the comptroller bed for the night and the protection of his roof, both of which the frightened official gratefully accepted. Early the next morning the "inhabitants in arms" sent Colonel James Moore to demand that they be permitted to speak with Pennington. To this demand Tryon replied: "Mr. Pennington being employed by his Excellency on dispatches for his Majesty's service, any gentleman that has business with him may see him at the Governor's house."
About ten o'clock Tryon observed "a body of men in arms from four to five hundred," moving toward his house. Three hundred yards away they drew up in line and sent a detachment of sixty men down the avenue to the door. The leader and spokesman of this detachment was Cornelius Harnett. Then followed the most dramatic scene of the struggle over the Stamp Act, a brief but intense contest between William Tryon, representative of the king's government, and Cornelius Harnett, representative of the people's will, for possession of one of the king's officers. Two better representatives of their respective causes could not have been found. Each was acute, determined and resourceful, and each sincere in believing his the better cause. Tryon, the ablest of the colonial governors and one of the most forceful Englishmen ever sent in an official capacity to America, "could accomplish more," we are told, "by the forcefulness of his personality and the awe inspired by his mere presence than other rulers could do by edicts and armies."1 Cornelius Harnett "could be wary and circumspect, or decided and daring as exigency dictated or emergency required."2 In the interview that followed, Tryon had no forcefulness of personality or awe of presence which he could afford to hold in reserve; and Harnett was compelled to be both wary and decided, both circumspect and daring.
Harnett opened the interview by demanding that Pennington be permitted to accompany him. Tryon replied that the p327 comptroller had come into his house seeking refuge, that he was an officer of the Crown, and as such should receive all the protection the governor's roof and dignity of character could afford him. Harnett insisted. "The people," he said, "are determined to take him out of the house if he is longer detained, an insult," he added quickly, "which they wish to avoid offering to your Excellency." "An insult," retorted Tryon, "that will not tend to any consequences, since they have already offered every insult in their power, by investing my house and making me in effect a prisoner before any grievance or oppression has been first represented to me." During this conversation Pennington "grew very uneasy," and said "he would choose to go with the gentlemen," and the governor again repeated his offer of protection. But Pennington was doubtful of the governor's power to make good his offer, however excellent his intentions might be, and he decided to go with Harnett. To the governor, however, he declared that whatever oaths might be required of him, he would consider as acts of compulsion and not of free will; adding that he would rather resign his office than do anything inconsistent with his duty. "If that is your determination," replied the disgusted governor, "you had better resign before you leave here." Harnett quickly interposed his objection to this course, but Tryon insisted and Pennington agreed with him. Paper and ink were accordingly brought and the resignation was written and accepted. "Now, sir," said Tryon bitterly, "you may go;" and Harnett led the ex-comptroller out of the house to his followers who were waiting outside.
The detachment then rejoined the main body of the "inhabitants in arms," and the whole withdrew to the town. There they drew up in a large circle, placed the comptroller and the customs-house officials in the center, and administered to them all an oath "that they would not, directly or indirectly, by themselves, or any other person employed under them, sign or execute in their several Offices, any stampt Papers, until the Stamp Act should be accepted by the province." The clerk of the court and other public officials, and all the lawyers, were sworn to the same effect; and as each took the pledge the cheers of the crowd bore the news to the enraged and baffled governor as he sat in his room keenly conscious of his defeat. The letter in which he described these events to his superiors in England, it has been truly siad, "contained the most humiliating acknowledgment of baffled pride and irredeemable p328 failure that Tryon was ever called upon to pen."3 Their work finished, the "inhabitants in arms" dispersed quietly and quickly to their homes.
"It is well worthy of observation," as North Carolina Gazette boasted, "that few instances can be produced of such a number of men being together so long and behaving so well; not the least noise or disturbance, nor any person seen disguised with liquor, during the whole of their stay in Brunswick; neither was any injury offered to any person, but the whole affair was conducted with decency and spirit, worthy the imitation of all the Sons of Liberty throughout the continent." This splendid record was due to the high character and lofty purposes of the men who led and who composed that body of men to whom Tryon always refers as "the inhabitants in arms." "The mayor and corporation of Wilmington," he wrote, "and most of the gentlemen and planters of the counties of Brunswick, New Hanover, Duplin, and Bladen, with some masters of vessels, composed this corps."
Throughout the contest Harnett and the other leaders received loyal support from the people. They were in the midst of it upon the day set by the governor's writ for the election of representatives to the Assembly. Wilmington manifested its approval of Harnett's course by electing him without opposition, and New Hanover County unanimously elected John Ashe and James Moore. But the Assembly was not to meet any time soon. Tryon was too prudent a politician to convene a session while the people were in such a rebellious mood. He foresaw that Parliament would likely repeal the Stamp Act and hoped by announcing that fact when the Assembly met to insure the good humor of the lower house. It was not until November, therefore, that he ventured to face the people's representatives. He opened the session with a conciliatory message. But the members, irritated at his delay in calling them together, replied with such asperity and show of temper, that the Council denounced their message as "altogether indecent, without foundation and unmerited." The reply cut the governor to the quick, but he kept his temper and met the strictures of the Assembly with admirable moderation and dignity.
Whatever one may think of Tryon, there can be but one just opinion of his bearing throughout these trying ordeals. He bore himself on every occasion with dignity, courage, and p329 fidelity to his trust. His dispatches even when acknowledging defeat are conspicuous for their good temper. We search in vain for the ill-tempered invectives and impassioned superlatives that characterize the dispatches both of Dobbs, his predecessor, and of Martin, his successor. Closing his letter to Secretary Conway, he says: "Thus, sir, I have endeavored to lay before you the first springs of this disturbance as well as the particular conduct of the individual parties concerned in it and I have done this as much as I possibly could without prejudice or passion, favor or affection." The impartial reader will pronounce that in this endeavor he reached a remarkable degree of success. Nor was his courage less marked than his dignity. When shielding Lobb on the evening of February 19 and when standing between Pennington and the "inhabitants in arms" on the morning of the 21st, one feels sure that he would have seen his house go down in ruins or up in smoke before he would have yielded one inch to the besiegers. In this courage straight from his heart originated his unfeigned and unconcealed contempt for the conduct of Captain Lobb. We feel assured that William Tryon would have buried himself, his crew and his enemies in the bottom of the Cape Fear River beneath the wrecks of the Viper, the Diligence, the Dobbs, the Patience, and the Ruby, all, before he would have broken his engagement and embarrassed his superior officer. His sympathies were with the people in their struggle, and the duty imposed upon him a disagreeable one, but he faced it like a man and performed it faithfully. The king had entrusted him with the execution of the laws in North Carolina and that trust he regarded, rightly or wrongly, as superior to any obligations he owed to the people of the province. He was not their governor; he was the king's vice-regent, and his first duty was to obey the commands of his master.
To say this of Tryon is not to deprecate the honor and the glory that belong to his opponents. To Harnett and Ashe and Moore and Waddell and the men who followed them, North Carolinians owe their liberty, and no true American anywhere will deny to them the credit that belongs to those who see the right and fearlessly pursue it. Throughout the contest the "inhabitants in arms" carried every point at issue. But the most remarkable feature of the struggle was its absolute openness and orderliness. No attempt at concealment, no effort at disguise betrayed a doubt in the minds of the people that they were engaged in a righteous cause. The resistance was made by men on terms of familiarity with the governor, under the p330 guns of the king's ships, and in the broad open light of day. Conscious of the rectitude of their purpose, the moral if not the legal right of their conduct, they felt that any attempt at concealment would be an admission, at least, of a doubt in their minds of the propriety of their course, and this they scorned to make.
The Americans of course had not been left to fight their battle alone. They had sympathizers among every class of Englishmen. In Parliament itself an incomparable group of orators and statesmen, led by such men as Pitt, Burke, Barré, and Conway in the Commons, and Camden and Rockingham in the Lords, supported their petitions and remonstrances with an earnestness and ability which could have been born of nothing less than a firm conviction that they were fighting the battle of English as well as American freedom. The king and ministry were finally forced to yield. The Stamp Act was repealed and the news was received throughout America with an outburst of joy and loyalty in which a wise ruler would have read a lesson of warning as well as of encouragement. North Carolina joined heartily in the rejoicing. New Bern celebrated the event with a public banquet and ball. The mayor and "Gentlemen of Wilmington," most of whom had recently been in arms against the governor, joined in a sincere address of congratulations to him. They assured him of their kindly sentiments toward him personally, explained that their recent opposition had been based solely upon the conviction that "Moderation ceases to be a Virtue when the Liberty of British Subjects is in danger," expressed appreciation of the "honor and justice of the British Parliament, whose prudent resolutions have relieved us from the Melancholy Dilemma to which we were almost reduced," and acknowledged the repeal as a mark of the king's "attention to the Distresses of his American Subjects." The colony as a whole had no voice in these rejoicings because Tryon had refused to convene the Assembly, but when the Assembly did meet in November the members complained bitterly of the governor's action which had deprived them of the opportunity "to concur with our Sister Colonies" in expressing their gratitude for "the tender and paternal care of our most Gracious Sovereign, and the wisdom and justice of the British Parliament. * * * But it is the peculiar misfortune of North Carolina," they continued, "to be deprived of those means which the other provinces peaceably enjoy (and to which this has also an unquestionable right) of making known such their dutiful dispositions; and p331 if we are wanting in the general suffrage, we hope the censure will fall on those only whose indiscretions are the cause of it."
During the fight against the Stamp Act the Massachusetts Legislature issued a circular letter inviting all the colonies to send delegates to a congress to be held at New York to concert measures of resistance. Nine colonies responded. In North Carolina Governor Tryon refused to convene the Assembly in tine for the election of delegates, and North Carolina, together with New Hampshire, Virginia, and Georgia, was not represented. The sentiment in these colonies, however, was in perfect harmony with the sentiment expressed by the Stamp Act Congress. From the struggle over the Stamp Act, therefore, was born a sentiment for the union of the colonies that contained the germs of nationality, and the development of this sentiment in the contests with the mother country from 1765 to 1775 gives to the events of that decade their chief significance. The Declaratory Act, which accompanied the repeal of the Stamp Act, asserted the right of Parliament to legate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever." The Townshend Acts passed in June 1767, attempted to put this assertion into practice. Under a pretense of regulating commerce, Parliament levied duties on certain commodities, principally tea, imported into the colonies, and directed that the revenues derived therefrom be used to pay the salaries of colonial officials, thus rendering them independent of the colonial assemblies. This scheme gave a new impulse to the union sentiment. Massachusetts led the way with the famous circular letter of 1768 inviting the co-operation of the other colonies in concerting measures of resistance in order that their remonstrances and petitions to the king "should harmonize with each other." But unity of action on the part of the colonies was the last thing the king and ministry desired, and they saw in this letter nothing less than an effort "to promote unwarrantable combinations and to excite and encourage an open opposition to and denial of the authority of Parliament." Accordingly they commanded the Assembly of Massachusetts to rescind the letter and the assemblies of the other colonies to treat it with contempt on pains of "an immediate prorogation or dissolution." But Massachusetts refused to rescind, and the other colonies applauded her spirit and imitated her action.
When the Assembly of North Carolina met, Speaker John Harvey laid the Massachusetts letter before the House. Greatly to the disgust of the more aggressive leaders, the House, though it did not treat it with the contempt which the p332 king required, declined to take any formal notice of it and contented itself with merely giving the speaker verbal directions to answer it. It then resolved to send to the king "an humble, dutiful and loyal address," praying a repeal of the several acts of Parliament imposing duties on goods imported into America, appointed a committee consisting of John Harvey, Joseph Montfort, Samuel Johnston, Joseph Hewes, and Edward Vail to prepare it, and instructed the colony's agent, Henry Eustace McCulloh, to present it. Thus the Assembly missed the real significance of the proposal of Massachusetts, viz., unity of action, and by its conduct, according to Lord Hillsborough, secretary of state for the colonies, gave "great satisfaction to the king." Union was the great bugbear of the king and ministry; they did not doubt of their ability to bring the colonies to terms if they could keep them from co-operating with each other, and accordingly fought desperately against every step on the part of the Americans toward union. Samuel Johnston and Joseph Hewes were so disgusted at the "pusillanimity" of the Assembly that they declined to serve on the committee, but the other members, under the leadership of Harvey, acted more wisely. They assumed that the Assembly intended for them to act in concert with the committees of the other colonies, and thus improved on their verbal instructions. Their action saved North Carolina from the odium which a failure to support the common cause would have brought upon the colony and paved the way for the more spirited co-operation of the future.
The committee's address to the king was an able state paper and rang true to the American doctrine of "no taxation without representation." They reminded the king that in the past whenever it had been "found necessary to levy supplies within this Colony requisitions have been made by your Majesty or your Royal Predecessors and conformable to the rights of this people, and by them chearfully and liberally complied with," and while promising a like compliance in the future, maintained that "their Representatives in the Assembly alone can be the proper Judges, not only of what sums they are able to pay, but likewise of the most eligible method of collecting the same. Our Ancestors at their first settling, amidst the horrors of a long and bloody war with the Savages, which nothing could possibly render supportable but the prospects of enjoying here that freedom which Britons can never purpose at so [too] dear a rate, brought with them inherent in their persons, and transmitted down to their posterity, all the rights and liberties of your Majesty's natural born subjects p333 within the parent State, and have ever since enjoyed as Britons the priviledges of an exemption from any Taxation but such as have been imposed on them by themselves or their Representatives, and this Priviledge we esteem so invaluable that we are fully convinced no other can possibly exist without it. It is therefore with the utmost anxiety and concern we observe duties have lately been imposed upon us by Parliament for the sole and express purpose of raising a Revenue. This is a Taxation which we are fully persuaded the acknowledged Principles of the British Constitution ought to protect us from. Free men cannot be legally taxed but by themselves or their Representatives, and that your Majesty's Subjects within this Province are represented in Parliament we cannot allow, and are convinced that from our situation we never can be."
Along with this address went instructions to McCulloh of whom they required "a Spirited Co-operation with the Agents of our Sister Colonies and Those who may be disposed to Serve us in Obtaining a Repeal of the Late Act Imposing Internal Taxes on Americans without Their Consent and the Which is Justly Dreaded by Them to be Nothing more than an Introduction to other acts of the same Injurious Tendency and fatal Consequences." In the same spirit of unity Harvey declared in his letter to the Massachusetts Assembly that the North Carolina Assembly will "ever be ready, firmly to unite with their sister colonies, in pursuing every constitutional measure for redress of the grievances so justly complained of. This House is desirous to cultivate the strictest harmony and friendship with the assemblies of the colonies in general, and with your House in particular." When this letter was received in Boston the Boston Evening Post triumphantly declared: "The colonies no longer disconnected, form one body; a common sensation possesses the whole; the circulation is complete, and the vital fluid returns from whence it was sent out."
As a warning to the other colonies the ministry selected Massachusetts for punishment. Persons suspected of encouraging resistance to Parliament were to be arrested and sent to England for trial; town-meetings were to be suppressed; and two regiments were ordered to Boston to overawe that town. The blow was aimed at Massachusetts alone, but the other colonies promptly rallied to her support and raised the cry that Massachusetts was suffering in the common cause. Virginia acted first. Her Assembly denounced the government's action in a series of spirited resolutions, and sent them to the other assemblies "requesting their concurrence therein." In consequence they suffered dissolution, but the burgesses p334 promptly met as a convention, agreed on a "Non-Importation Association," and circulated it throughout the colonies.
On November 2, 1769, John Harvey laid the Virginia resolutions before the North Carolina Assembly. The House, without a dissenting voice, adopted them almost verbatim, agreed on a second protest to the king, and instructed their agent, after presenting it to have it printed in the British papers. Convinced that the king was deaf to their prayers, they now began to appeal to their British brethren. They again denied the right of Parliament to levy taxes in America, affirmed the right of the colonies to unite in protests to the throne, and denounced as "highly derogatory to the rights of British Subjects" the carrying of any American to England for trial, "as thereby the inestimable priviledge of being tried by a jury from the Vicinage, as well as the liberty of summoning and producing witnesses on such Tryal, will be taken away from the party accused." "We can not without horror," they declared, "think of the new, unusual, and permit us withall humbly to add, unconstitutional and illegal mode recommended to your Majesty of seizing and carrying beyond sea the Inhabitants of America suspected of any crime, [and] of trying such person in any other manner than by the Ancient and long established course of proceeding." "Truly alarmed at the fatal tendency of these pernicious Councils," [sic], they earnestly prayed the king to interpose his protection against "such dangerous invasions" of their dearest privileges. These proceedings, when reported to the governor, sealed the fate of that Assembly. Sending in haste for the House, he censured them for their action, declared that it "sapped the foundations of confidence and gratitude," and made it his "indispensable duty to put an end to this Session."
This sudden turn of affairs caught the Assembly unprepared for dissolution. Much important business, especially the adoption of the "Non-Importation Association," remained unfinished. Everybody realized that the effectiveness of non-importation as a weapon for fighting the Townshend duties depended entirely upon the extent to which it was adopted, and the fidelity with which it was observed. Any one colony therefore could easily defeat the whole scheme. When the North Carolina Assembly met in October, 1769, the association had been pretty generally adopted by the other colonies; consequently, the action of North Carolina was awaited with some concern. The leaders of the Assembly realized the situation fully, and were by no means ready to go home until they had taken the necessary action to bring the colony in line with the p335 continental movement. Accordingly, immediately upon their dissolution, following the example of Virginia, they called the members together in convention to "take measures for preserving the true and essential interests of the province." Sixty-four of the seventy-seven members immediately repaired to the courthouse and re-organized as a convention independent of the governor. John Harvey was unanimously chosen moderator. After discussing the situation fully through a session of two days, the convention came to a series of resolutions which of course affirmed "invincible attachment and unshaken fidelity" to the king, but protested with great vigor against the acts of Parliament levying internal taxes in the colonies and depriving them of their constitutional right of trial by jury as having a "tendency to disturb the peace and good order of this government, which," the members boldly asserted, "we are willing, at the risque of our lives and fortunes, to maintain and defend." The resolutions set forth a complete non-importation program. They pledged the subscribers to a course of economy, industry, and thrift; to "encourage and promote the use of North American manufactures in general, and those of this province in particular;" neither to import themselves, nor to purchase from others, any goods, except paper, "which are or shall hereafter be taxed by act of Parliament for the purpose of raising a revenue in America;" and to look upon "every subscriber who shall not strictly and literally adhere to his agreement, according to the true intent and meaning thereof, * * * with the utmost contempt." This association was signed by sixty-four of "the late representatives of the people * * * being all that were then present," and by them recommended to their constituents in order to show their "readiness to join heartily with the other colonies in every legal method which may most probably tend to procure a redress" of grievances.
When the policy of non-importation was tried in opposition to the Stamp Act it was not successful, and the Loyalists ridiculed the attempt of Virginia to revive it as a weapon against the Townshend Acts. But a new element had now entered into the situation: the union sentiment had developed into a reality, and the opponents of the government, taking advantage of this fact, pushed the movement with vigor and success. Colony after colony joined the movement, and when North Carolina came in, the whig papers declared with great satisfaction: "This completes the chain of union through the continent for the measure of non-importation and economy."
p336 But it was a simpler matter to adopt an association than to enforce it. The Tories, of course, opposed the whole scheme, and would gladly have welcomed an opportunity to defeat it. Their chance seemed to come when in April, 1770, Parliament repealed all the duties except the one on tea. The Tories hoped and the Whigs feared that this concession would break up the non-importation associations. While the former applauded the magnanimity of Parliament for yielding so much, the latter denounced the ministry for yielding no more, and regarding the partial repeal merely as a trap, redoubled their efforts to keep the association intact.
In North Carolina the merchants of the Cape Fear were the largest importers of British goods, and everybody recognized that their action would determine the matter. No non-importation association could be made effective without their co-operation. Fortunately, Cornelius Harnett, one of the chief merchants of the province, was also chairman of the Sons of Liberty, and his influence went far toward determining the course of the Cape Fear merchants. As soon as information of Parliament's action reached Wilmington, he called a meeting of the Sons of Liberty in the Wilmington District to take proper action. A large number of "the principal inhabitants" attended at Wilmington, June 2, and "unanimously agreed to keep strictly to the non-importation agreement," and to co-operate with the other colonies "in every legal measure for obtaining ample redress of the grievances so justly complained of." In order to make their resolution more effective, they chose a committee to consult upon such measures as would best evince their "patriotism and loyalty" to the common cause, and "manifest their unanimity with the rest of the colonies." The committee was composed of thirty members representing all the Cape Fear counties and the towns of Wilmington and Brunswick. Among its members were Cornelius Harnett, who was chosen chairman, James Moore, Samuel Ashe, Robert Quince, and Farquard Campbell, the most prominent merchants and planters of the Cape Fear section. They declared their intention to enforce strictly the non-importation association; denounced the merchants of Rhode Island "who contrary to their solemn and voluntary contract, have violated their faith pledged to the other colonies, and thereby shamefully deserted the common cause of American liberty;" declared that they would have no dealings with any merchant who imported goods "contrary to the spirit and intention" of the non-importation association; and constituted themselves a special committee to inspect all goods brought into the Cape p337 Fear and to keep the public informed of any that were imported in violation of the association. They then ordered their resolves to be "immediately transmitted to all the trading towns in this colony;" and in the spirit of co-operation, Cornelius Harnett wrote to the Sons of Liberty of South Carolina to inform them of their action. In this letter he said:
"We beg leave to assure you that the inhabitants of those six counties and we doubt not of every county in this province, are convinced of the necessity of adhering to their former resolutions, and you may depend, they are tenacious of their just rights as any of their brethren on the continent and firmly resolved to stand or fall with them in support of the common cause of American liberty. Worthless men * * * are the production of every country, and we are also unhappy as to have a few among us 'who have not virtue enough to resist the allurement of present gain.' Yet we can venture to assert, that the people in general of this colony, will be spirited and steady in support of their rights as English subjects, and will not tamely submit to the yoke of oppression. 'But if by the iron hand of power,' they are at last crushed; it is however their fixed resolution, either to fall with the same dignity and spirit you so justly mention, or transmit to their posterity entire, the inestimable blessings of our free Constitution. The disinterested and public spirited behaviour of the merchants and other inhabitants of your colony justly merits the applause of every lover of liberty on the continent. The people of any colony who have not virtue enough to follow so glorious examples must be lost to every sense of freedom and consequently deserve to be slaves."
The interchange of such views and opinions among the several colonies greatly strengthened the union sentiment; while the practical operation of the non-importation associations revealed to both the Americans and the ministry the power that lay in a united America.
1 Smith, C. A.: "Our Debt to Cornelius Harnett," University of North Carolina Magazine, May, 1907, p383.
2 Hooper, A. M.: "Cornelius Harnett," University of North Carolina Magazine, Vol. IX, pp334‑335.
3 Smith: University of North Carolina Magazine, May, 1907, p384.
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