The War of the Regulation is one of the most sharply controverted events in the history of North Carolina. The controversy, however, does not so much concern the facts, as in the case of the "Mecklenburg Declaration," as it does the conclusions to be drawn from them. One group of historians sees in the Regulators a devoted band of patriots who at Alamance fired the opening gun to American Revolution; another sees only a mob, hating property and culture, delighting in violence and impatient of all legal restraints, whose success would have resulted not in the establishment of constitutional liberty but in the reign of anarchy. Neither view is correct; the former is based upon a misunderstanding of the American Revolution, the latter upon a misunderstanding of the Regulation.
The Regulation had its origin in the social and economic differences between the tidewater section and the "back country" of North Carolina. These differences were largely the results of racial and geological divergencies. In the East, as has already been pointed out, the people were almost entirely of English ancestry; in the West, Scotch-Irish and Germans predominated. In the East an aristocratic form of society prevailed, based upon large plantations and slave labor; in the West, plantations were small, slaves were few in number, and the forms and ideals of society were democratic. Between the two sections stretched a sparsely settled region of pine forest which formed a natural barrier to intercourse. The East looked to Virginia and the mother country for its social, intellectual, and political standards; for the West, Philadelphia was the principal center for the interchange of ideas, as well as of produce. With slight intercourse between them, the two sections felt but little sympathetic interest in each other. While the East had taken on many of the forms and luxuries of older societies, the West was still in the pioneer stage. Some old Regulators long afterwards declared that p303 at the time of the Regulation there was not among all their acquaintances one who could boast a cabin with a plank floor, or who possessed a feather bed, a riding carriage, or a side saddle.
There was, however, one set of people in the "back country" who aped the manners of the eastern aristocracy, and by their haughty bearings, selfish and mercenary spirit, and disregard of the sentiments if not the rights of the people, drew upon themselves an almost universal detestation and hatred. They were the public officials, who were sufficiently numerous and compact group to form a district class. The people had but little or no voice in the choice of these officials and therefore no control over them. The colonial government was highly centralized. Provincial affairs were administered by officials chosen by the Crown, local affairs by officials chosen by the governor. Upon the recommendation of the assemblymen from each county, the governor in Council appointed the county justices, who administered the local government. The county justices nominated to the governor three freeholders from whom he selected the sheriff. The governor also appointed the registers and the officers of the militia. There was a clerk of the pleas who farmed out the clerkships of the counties. Moreover these local officials controlled the Assembly. No law forbade multiple office-holding, and the assemblymen were also generally clerks, justices, and militia colonels, who formed what in modern political parlance we call "courthouse rings." Where these "rings" were composed of high-minded, patriotic men, as in most of the east counties, government was honestly administered; but in the "back country" such officials were rare, local government was usually inefficient, often corrupt, and generally oppressive.
It was this system of centralized office-holding that prevented the Regulator's receiving prompt and effective redress of their grievances. Their grievances were excessive taxes, dishonest officials, and extortionate fees. Taxes were excessive because they were levied only on the poll so that the rich and the poor paid equal amounts. The scarcity of money in the "back country" added to the hardships of the system, for it frequently gave burtal and corrupt sheriffs and their deputies an excuse to proceed by distraint, collect an extra fee for so doing, and sell the unhappy taxpayer's property at less than its real value to some friend of the sheriff. The Regulators charged that the officers and their friends made a regular p304 business of such proceedings. That the officers with rare exceptions were either dishonest or inefficient is indisputable. A large percentage of the taxes collected by them, estimated by Tryon in 1767 at fifty per cent, never found its way into the hands of the public treasurer. In 1770 the sheriffs were in arrears £49,000, some of which extended as far back as 1754. It was reported that at least half of this sum could not be collected from those officials. The arrears of the officers were greatest in Anson, Orange, Johnston, Rowan, Cumberland, and Dobbs counties. While much of it was due to inefficient methods of accounting, there is no question that the greater part of it can be charged to corruption in office. Sheriffs, clerks, registers, and lawyers were all paid in fees fixed by acts of the Assembly. But these fees were frequently unknown to the people, who were compelled to accept the officers' word for the proper amount. Officers too would generally manage to resolve a service for which a fee was attached into two or more services and collect a fee for each. That such practices were not always technically illegal or corrupt, and that popular rumor frequently exaggerated or misrepresented the facts in particular cases, is unquestionably true, but equally true it is that the people had ample ground for complaint which a government properly responsive to popular sentiment would have speedily removed.
But the government was not responsive to popular sentiment, and it only needed somebody to give voice and direction to the general discontent to set the whole countryside aflame. The three names most conspicuously connected with the agitation which led to the organization of the Regulation are Herman Husband, Rednap Howell, and James Hunter. Husband was a native of Maryland, Howell of New Jersey, and Hunter of Virginia. All three had been caught up in the stream of emigration which flowed from the middle colonies into North Carolina during the middle of eighteenth century, and had settled in Orange County. Husband was a Quaker and seems to have been endowed with those qualities of business shrewdness, industry, and thrift characteristic of adherents of that sect. Better educated than the people generally among whom he lived, he was fond of reading political tracts which he distributed rather extensively among his neighbors. He had some gift of expression which enabled him to set forth in simple and homely fashion the grievances of the people in pamphlets to which he gave a wide circulation. Thus he became pre-eminently the spokesman of p305 the people. Twice they elected him to represent them in the General Assembly. Essentially an agitator, he shrank from violence and when the quarrel he had done so much to bring on reached the point of appeal to arms, either from cowardice as his enemies charged, or from religious scruples as his apologists would have us believe, he abandoned his followers and rode hurriedly away from the scene of action. Husband had a counterpart in Howell. The former was serious, blunt, bitter; the latter, witty, pointed, and genial. Howell, who was an itinerant school teacher, is known as the bard of the Regulation. Endowed with a talent for versification, he celebrated the personal characteristics of the officers, their public conduct, and their rapid rise at the expense of the people from poverty to affluence, in "ambling epics and jingling ballads" that have not yet lost their lively interest. His keen sarcasm, his well-aimed wit, and his broad humor set the whole back country laughing and singing at the expense of the officers. Of the triumvirate mentioned, James Hunter seems to have been the man of action. He is known as the "general" of the Regulation. Early associating himself with the movement, upon finding petitions to the governor and appeals to the courts alike ineffective, he advocated resort to forcible measures. Asked to take command at Alamance, he gave a reply which in itself is expressive of the Regulators' own conception of their movement. "We are all free men," he said, "and every man must command himself." After Alamance, Husband, Howell, and Hunter were all outlawed and forced to flee from the province. Hunter alone returned. Later, in the contest with the mother country, he joined the Revolutionary party, and rendered good service in the cause of independence.
Except Governor Tryon, the most prominent leader of the opposing forces was Edmund Fanning. A native of New York, after graduating from Yale College in 1757, he studied law and, in 1761, came to Carolina and located at Hillsboro. Although he may not have been as poverty-stricken upon his arrival as Rednap Howell represents, there can be no doubt that he soon "laced his coat with gold." He was the personification of the office-holding class which has already been described, uniting in his own person the offices of assemblyman, register of deeds, judge of the Superior Court, and colonel of the militia. One need not think him deserving of all the infamy that has been heaped upon him to understand the sentiments of the people toward him. That he was a man of p306 culture and more than average ability there can be no dispute. To his equals he was kind, hospitable, considerate; to his inferiors, patronizing, supercilious, overbearing. He despised the "common people," and they cordially reciprocated the sentiment. They believed that he had acquired his wealth, which he displayed with great ostentation, "by his civil robberies." Although on the evidence he may be fairly acquitted of the charge of deliberate and positive dishonesty, he was unquestionably guilty of abusing his official power and influence for the purpose of perpetuating an oppressive system and obstructing all efforts at reform. He was, indeed, the progenitor of the race of carpetbaggers.
The Regulation was not an isolated event. It was in fact but the culmination of a spirit of restlessness and discontent at existing conditions that had long been abroad in the province. Evidence of it was seen in the outbreak of violence occasioned by the collection of taxes in Anson County and in the riots in the Granville District. In 1765 such riots also broke out among the squatters on the George Selwyn lands in Mecklenburg County when attempts by Selwyn's agents to survey these lands so that deeds might be issued and quit rents collected led to armed resistance in which John Frohock, Abraham Alexander, and others were severely beaten by angry settlers and Henry Eustace McCulloh, Selwyn's agent, was threatened with death. Similar conditions prevailed in Granville County. George Sims of Nutbush, Granville County, on June 6, 1765, issued his famous "Nutbush Address," in which he set forth in graphic language, "the most notorious and intolerable abuses" which had crept into the public service in that county. It was not, he said, the "form of Government, nor yet the body of our laws, that we are quarreling with, but with the malpractices of the Officers of our County Courts, and the abuses which we suffer by those empowered to manage our public affairs." Extortionate fees and oppressive methods of collecting fees and taxes formed the burden of his complaint. He called upon the people to meet for a discussion of reform, but the only result of his appeal was a petition to the Assembly for redress of grievances which was stillborn.
The failure of the movement in Granville was probably due to lack of organization. Organized opposition to the inequalities in the law and malpractices in its administration began in Orange County. At the August term, 1766, of the County Court at Hillsboro, a group of Sandy Creek men, inspired by the success of the Sons of Liberty in resisting the p307 Stamp Act, issued an address calling upon the people to send delegates to a meeting at Maddock's Mill to inquire "whether the free men of this county labor under any abuses of power or not." The address was read in open court and the officers present, acknowledging that it was reasonable, promised to attend the meeting. On October 10, twelve delegates appeared, but no officers. Apparently under the influence of Edmund Fanning, who denounced the meeting as an insurrection, they had repented of their promise and sent a messenger to say that they would not attend because the meeting claimed authority to call them to an account. The delegates, therefore, were compelled to content themselves with a proposal that the people hold such a meeting annually to discuss the qualifications of candidates for the Assembly, to inform their representatives of their wishes, and to investigate the official acts of public officers. But public office-holders in 1766 did not acknowledge their responsibility to the people. Accordingly they threw all of their personal and official influence against the proposal, and the Sandy Creek men, discouraged at the lack of popular interest and support, abandoned their project.
Though the agitation continued, no further organized opposition was attempted until the spring of 1768. Almost simultaneously a report reached Hillsboro that the Assembly had given the governor £15,000 for a "Palace" and the sheriff posted notices that he would receive taxes only at five specified places and if required to go elsewhere he would distrain at a cost of 2s. 8d. for each distress. The coincidence caused wide comment. The people declared they would not pay the tax for the Palace. They denounced the sheriff's purpose as a violation of the law and determined to resist it. Accordingly they organized themselves into an association, which they later called "The Regulation," in which they agreed: (1) to pay no more taxes until satisfied that they were according to law and lawfully applied; (2) to pay no fees greater than provided by law; (3) to attend meetings of the Regulators as often as possible; (4) to contribute, each man according to his ability, to the expenses of the organization; and (5) in all matters to abide by the will of the majority. They sent to the officers a notice in which they demanded a strict accounting and declared that "as the nature of an officer is a servant of the publick, we are determined to have the officers of this county under a better and honester regulation than they have been for some time past." This formidable pronunciamento was received by the officers with an outburst of indignation. p308 Fanning denounced the people for attempting to arraign the officers before "the bar of their shallow understanding" and charged them with desiring to set themselves up as the "sovereign arbiters of right and wrong."
The officers seem not to have appreciated the gravity of the situation; or else they desired to put the resolution of the Regulators to a test. No other explanation seems possible for their blunder, when the situation was acutest, in seizing a Regulator's horse, saddle, and bridle and selling them for taxes. A storm of popular fury greeted this challenge. The Regulators rode into Hillsboro, overawed the officers, rescued their comrade's property, and as evidence of their temper fired several shots into Fanning's house. When this affair was reported to Fanning, who was absent attending court at Halifax, he promptly ordered the arrest of William Butler, Peter Craven, and Ninian Bell Hamilton, called out seven companies of the Orange militia, and hurried to Hillsboro to take command. Immediately upon his arrival he reported the situation and his own actions to Tryon and asked for authority to call out the militia of other counties if it became necessary. The governor, who quite properly accepted his subordinate's report at its face value, acted with his accustomed vigor. He authorized Fanning to use the Orange militia to suppress the insurrection, ordered the militia of Bute, Halifax, Granville, Rowan, Mecklenburg, Anson, Cumberland, and Johnston counties to be in readiness to respond to Fanning's call, sent a proclamation to be read to the people, and offered to go himself to the scene of action if Fanning desired his presence. The Council, declaring the Regulators guilty of insurrection, approved these actions of the governor.
In the meantime the officers, alarmed at the storm they had raised, offered to meet the Regulators and adjust their differences. To Fanning they explained their offer as a subterfuge to gain time. The Regulators on the contrary accepted it in good faith and immediately made preparations for the meeting. They appointed a committee to collect data relating to the taxes and fees and required its members to take an oath to do justice between the officers and the people to the best of their ability. Fanning was determined to prevent any such meeting. While the Regulators were making their preparations, he collected a band of armed men and swooping down upon Sandy Creek, arrested Butler and Husband on a charge of inciting to rebellion and hurried them off to prison at Hillsboro. At this high-handed act 700 men, many of whom were p309 not Regulators, seized their guns and marched on Hillsboro to rescue the prisoners. It was now the officers' turn to become frightened. They threw open the prison doors, released their captives, and hurried them off to turn back the mob. Along with them went Isaac Edwards, the governor's private secretary, who promised the people in the name of the governor that if they would peaceably disperse, go home quietly, and petition the governor in the proper manner, the governor would see that justice was done them. Since this promise was exactly in line with their own plans, which had been interrupted by the arrest of Husband and Butler, the Regulators accepted it gladly. In spite of Fanning's opposition, they appointed a committee which parted their case and laid it before the governor. But Tryon repudiated the promise of his secretary, saying Edwards had exceeded his authority, refused to deal with the Regulators as an organization, demanded that they immediately disband, and expressed his hearty approval of Fanning's course. At the same time he stated for the information of the people the amount of poll tax due for the year 1767, promised to issue a proclamation forbidding the officer's taking illegal fees, and ordered the attorney-general to prosecute any officer charged in due form with extortion.
In July, 1768, Tryon went to Hillsboro in the hopes that he might induce the people to submit to the laws. While he was there, the Regulators met to consider his reply to their petition. They told him that his proclamation forbidding the taking of illegal fees had had no effect, and they had decided to petition the Assembly in order to strengthen his hands. Other meetings were held and several communications, both verbal and written, passed between the governor and the Regulators. In one of them he told the Regulators that he was ever ready to do them justice and as evidence of it he had ordered the attorney-general to institute prosecutions against officers charged with extortion, one of whom was Colonel Fanning himself. In a letter written by the governor and approved by the Council, August 13, and sent to a meeting of the regulators, August 17, appears the key to the explanation of the differences between the governor and the Regulators. The latter, either from distrust of the courts or ignorance of the law, expected the governor to give evidence of his sincerity by summary proceedings against the offending officials; the governor on the contrary knew that he could move only through the courts and that every step must be in due legal form. "By your letter delivered to me the 5th instant p310 * * *" he wrote, "I have the mortification to find * * * the friendly aid I offered to correct the abuses in public offices (which it was my duty to tender) [is] considered by you insufficient. The force of the proclamation was to caution public officers against and to prevent as much as possible extortion: It is the province of the Courts of Law to Judge and punish the Extortioner." At the same time he took them to task for their unwillingness to wait upon legal process against those whom they charged with abusing their public trust.
One of Tryon's purposes in going to Hillsboro was to secure protection for the Superior Court when it met in September to try Husband and Butler. Such protection could be secured either by obtaining from the leaders of the Regulators a bond that no attempt at rescue would be made, or other insult offered the court; or by calling out the militia. Tryon preferred the first of these alternatives, since it would save the province a considerable expense, but the Regulators for very good reasons refused to give it. The governor, therefore, in the exercise of a wise precaution called out the militia. Some difficulty was encountered in enrolling a sufficient force since most of the people of the surrounding counties were tainted with Regulating principles, but Tryon tactfully won over the leading preachers of the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists and largely through their influence secured 195 men from Rowan, 310 from Mecklenburg, 126 from Granville, and 699 from Orange. Two small independent companies, an artillery company, and the general officers brought the force up to 1,461 men. It was one of the most remarkable organizations in military history. More than one-fifth of the entire force were commissioned officers. They included six lieutenant-generals, two major-generals, three adjutant-generals, seven colonels, five lieutenant-colonels, and many majors, captains, aids-de‑camp, and minor officers. Characteristically enough, Edmund Fanning, who was to be tried for extortion by the court which this imposing array was called out to protect, and Maurice Moore, who was to sit as an associate justice of the court, were both colonels in active command. Most of the high officers were councilmen, representatives, justices, or holders of other political offices. At a council of war held in Hillsboro, attended by no officer of lower rank than major, thirty-four members were present, of whom six were members of the Council, eighteen of the Assembly. "Thus," comments Dr. Bassett, "to guard the Superior Court a military force was called out which embraced, either as high officers or as p311 gentlemen volunteers, one-fourth of the members of that body [the Assembly] to which the Regulators had decided to appeal. The above contrast indicates how completely the forces of central and local government, both civil and military, were in the hands of a small office-holding class, which was distributed throughout the counties. As we contemporary such a state of affairs we are struck with the fact that nothing short of a popular upheaval could have brought redress to the Regulators."1
Tryon's precautions were wisely taken. The Regulators assembled to the number of 3,700, but, overawed by the governor's display of force, made no attempt to interfere with the proceedings of the court. Husband was tried and acquitted; Butler and two other Regulators were convicted and sentenced to fines and imprisonment. None of them, however, was punished, for Tryon, having vindicated the authority of government, adopted a policy of leniency. He released the prisoners and suspended the payment of their fines, and later, upon the advice of the king, pardoned them. Fanning was tried for extortion and found guilty on five counts, but the judges, upon a motion in arrest of judgment, held their judgment in reserve, and so far as the records show no further action was ever taken on the case. Fanning promptly resigned his office as register. The Regulators pointed to the result as justifying their distrust of the courts. In this instance, however, their distrust was not well-founded for from any point of view, Fanning was guilty of nothing worse than a misconstruction of the law. It seems clear that he was not even guilty of that. He was charged with taking 6s. for registering a deed when, it was alleged, he was entitled to only 2s. 8d. Yet before entering upon his office he was advised by the county court that he was entitled to 6s. and odd pence, while the attorney-general of the colony had advised him that he was entitled to 8s. 7d. on any deed. After his conviction the case was referred to the attorney-general of England and to John Morgan of the Inner Temple, London, both of whom were of opinion that not only was Fanning entitled to more than he took, but that under no aspect of the case could he be guilty of extortion, since his action in seeking advice from the county court clearly disproved any intention to commit p312 a fraud.2 But the Regulators were in no frame of mind to appreciate these fine points; all they could see was that Fanning, although found guilty of extortion, had escaped punishment, and they bitterly resented the outcome.
In the meantime the Regulating spirit had spread to other counties. In some of them it found expression in acts of violence. A band of about thirty men from Edgecombe County attempted unsuccessfully to rescue an insurgent leader who had been imprisoned in the Halifax jail. In Johnston County a mob attacked the county court. In Anson a hundred armed men entered the courthouse, broke up the sitting of the county court, drove the justices off the bench, and then entered into an oath-bound association to assist each other in resisting all efforts of the sheriff to collect taxes. Later, however, apparently upon the advice of the Orange County Regulators, the Anson Regulators abandoned violent methods and sought a redress of their grievances through a petition to the governor, from whom they received the same promise that had been given to the Regulators of Orange. In Rowan County, also, an organization existed which attempted to prosecute the officers for extortion, but failed because the grand jury refused to return true bills.
The courts failing them, the Regulators decided to appeal to the Assembly. In the summer of 1769, the governor dissolved the old Assembly and ordered the election of a new one. In Orange, Anson, Granville, and Halifax counties the Regulators returned their entire delegations while they made their influence felt in Rowan and other counties. When the Assembly met, several petitions were presented setting forth the grievances of the Regulators together with their suggestions for reform. The Assembly certainly was not unsympathetic with their appeal, but because of some resolutions which it p313 had adopted on the questions at issue between the colonies and the British ministry, it suffered a sudden and unexpected dissolution before it could take up the measures necessary to redress the Regulators' grievances. It showed its attitude toward their petitions, however, by resolving just before dissolution, "that if any public officer shall exact illegal fees, or otherwise under colour of his office unduly oppress the people, such officer so acting shall on conviction thereof receive the highest censure and punishment this House can inflict upon him." The men who composed the Assembly appeared to be so ready to listen to the complaints of the Regulators that James Iredell declared a majority of them were themselves of Regulating principles.
It seems clear that legal remedies would have been provided for their grievances had the Regulators been willing to wait upon the slow process of lawmaking. That the laws needed amendment was not denied, but the Assembly from its very nature as a legislative body could not move with the speed which the impatience of the Regulators demanded. The reformer is naturally a radical, the lawmaker is, or ought to be, a conservative, and when he does not move fast enough for the reformer, the latter frequently becomes impatient and runs into excesses in words or deeds. So it was with the Regulators. Impatience at what they considered the indifference of all branches of the colonial government to their grievances led them into excesses which no government entitled to the name could think of condoning. For, to break into courts of justice, driving the judges from the bench, to "tear down justice from her tribunal," and contemptuously to set up mock courts filling the records with billingsgate and profanity; to drag unoffending attorneys through the streets at the peril of their lives, and wantonly to assault peaceable citizens for refusing to sympathize with lawlessness — these surely are not proper methods of redressing grievances, however oppressive, in a civilized community under a government based upon the will of the people.
Such were the methods which lost the Regulators the sympathy of the Assembly and compelled both the king's governor and the people's representatives to look less to the redress of grievances than to the suppression of anarchy. When the Superior Court, Judge Richard Henderson presiding, met at Hillsboro, in September, 1770, a mob of 150 Regulators, led by Herman Husband, James Hunter, Rednap Howell, and William Butler, armed with sticks and switches, broke into p314 the courthouse, attempted to strike the judge, and compelled him to leave the bench. They next assaulted and severely whipped John Williams, whose only offense was that he was a practicing attorney. William Hooper was "dragged and paraded through the streets, and treated with every mark of contempt and insult." Turning next to Edmund Fanning, the mob pulled him out of the courthouse by his heels, dragged him through the street, and gave him a burtal whipping. Breaking into his house, they burned his papers, destroyed his furniture, and demolished the building. Alexander Martin, Michael Holt, Thomas Hart, "and many others," were whipped. Rioting through the streets of the town, the Regulators amused themselves in typical mob-fashion by smashing the windows of private residences and terrorizing the inhabitants. Unable to enforce order Judge Henderson adjourned court and escaped from the town under cover of darkness. The next day the Regulators assembled in the courtroom, set up a mock court, secured the docket, and entered upon it their own judgments and comments upon the several cases. In McMund vs. Courtney the comment was "Damn'd Rogues;" in Wilson vs. Harris, "All Harris's are Rogues;" in Brumfield vs. Ferrel,º "Nonsense let them agree for Ferrellº has gone Hellward;" in Brown vs. Lewis, wherein judgment was entered by default, it was "The Man was sick. It tis damned roguery;" in Fanning vs. Smith, "Fanning pays cost but loses nothing;" in Hogan vs. Husbands, "Hogan pays & be damned;" in Richardson vs. York, "Plaintiff pays all and gets his body scourged for Blasphemy;" while in Humphries vs. Jackson the entry is "Judgment by default the money must come to the officers."
These outrages threw the colonial officials into a panic. The Orange County officials loudly demanded a special session of the Assembly. The governor hastily summoned the Council to give their advice as to "the properest measures to be taken in the exigency." The Council urged that the militia be immediately called into active service. The air was full of rumors. First came news of the burning by incendiaries of Judge Henderson's dwelling and stables in Granville County. Hard upon this report, followed rumors that the Regulators were gathering in force for a descent upon New Bern to overawe the Assembly. In the midst of the excitement the Assembly met, December 5th. "Born as it was in terror," says Dr. Bassett, "it is not surprising that it should have passed away in blood." For a time the members kept their heads p315 admirably. In their reply to the governor's message they declared that the conduct of public officers in some parts of the colony had "given just cause of complaint" which was due chiefly to "an inconsistent and oppressive fee Bill," and promised to remedy the evils as far as possible. Acts were accordingly passed relating to the appointment of sheriffs and their duties, ascertaining attorneys' fees, more strictly regulating officers' fees, providing for the more speedy collection of small debts, placing the chief justice on a salary, and erecting the counties of Wake, Guilford, Chatham, and Surry, all lying in the region embraced within the Regulation. All these laws were in line with the demands of the Regulators. But while the House was considering them, a report was received that the Regulators had assembled at Cross Creek preparatory for their march on New Bern. Reformatory measures were hastily side-tracked and punitive measures given the right of way. The Assembly had already in its message to the governor denounced the "daring and insolent attack" of the Regulators on the court at Hillsboro; declared that their "dissolute principles and licentious spirit" rendered them too formidable for the ordinary processes of law; and recommended the adoption of "measures at once spirited and decisive." The measure adopted was introduced by Samuel Johnston and is generally known as the "Johnston Act." It provided that the attorney-general might prosecute charges of riot in any Superior Court in the province, declared outlaws all those who avoided the summons of the court for sixty days, allowed such outlaws to be killed with impunity, and authorized the governor to employ the militia to enforce the law. Like most laws passed in passion and fear its very severity largely defeated its purpose. As Haywood truly remarks, it is doubtful if so drastic a measure ever passed another American assembly; but the Assembly felt, as James Iredell expressed it, that "desperate diseases must have desperate remedies."
The Regulators met the Assembly's "desperate remedies" with defiance. Husband having been expelled from the Assembly and imprisoned at New Bern for a libel on Maurice Moore, the Regulators were prevented from releasing him by force only by the grand jury's failure to return a true bill against him. Determined to extend and strengthen their organization, they dispatched emissaries into Bute, Edgecombe, and Northampton to stimulate and organize disaffection in those counties. In Rowan they denounced the Assembly for passing p316 a "riotous act," swore they would pay no fees, resolved that no judge or king's attorney should hold any court in Rowan, threatened death to all clerks and lawyers who came among them, and declared Edmund Fanning an outlaw whom any Regulator might kill on sight. Rednap Howell, writing from Halifax to James Hunter, February 16, 1771, said: "I give out here that the Regulators are determined to whip every one who goes to Law or will not pay his just debts; * * * that they will choose Representatives but not send them to be put in jail; in short to stand in defiance and as to thieves to drive them out of the Country." When Tryon appointed a term of Superior Court to be held at Hillsboro in March, 1771, the judges filed with the Council a formal protest saying that under the conditions existing in that part of the province which were "rather increasing than declining," they could not hold such a court with any hopes of dispatching business or any prospect of personal safety to themselves; and the Council, thinking that the time had come for law to take a stand against anarchy, advised the governor to call out the militia and march against the Regulators "with all expedition." This advice was hailed with relief by the law-abiding people of the colony, who were worn out with the reign of violence, lawlessness, and terrorism which the Regulators had set up.
Tryon lost no time in getting his military preparations under way. He ordered General Hugh Waddell with the Cape Fear militia to proceed at once to Salisbury to overawe the Rowan Regulators, raise the western militia, and march on Hillsboro from the west. Tryon himself in command of the eastern militia was to march from New Bern and unite with Waddell at Hillsboro. On March 19th, he ordered the colonels of the several counties to hold militia musters and secure 2,550 volunteers. In the counties affected by the influence of the Regulators difficulties in raising men arose, and in none of the counties were the quotas secured. Altogether Tryon raised a force of 1,068 men, of whom 151 were commissioned officers, while Waddell raised 284 men, of whom 48 were commissioned officers. Among these officers were Robert Howe, Alexander Lillington, James Moore, John Ashe, Richard Caswell, Francis Nash, and Griffith Rutherford, all of whom subsequently won military distinction in the war of the Revolution, and Abner Nash, John Baptista Ashe, and Willie Jones, who attained high civil positions during and after the Revolution. Tryon reached Hillsboro May 9 without meeting any opposition, p317 but Waddell had been checked by a superior force of Regulators and because his men would not fire on them was compelled to fall back on Salisbury. Consequently he did not join Tryon until after the battle of Alamance.
On May 14, Tryon encamped on Great Alamance Creek, a few miles west of Hillsboro. Two days later he formed his line of battle and marched forward to meet the enemy who had gathered about 2,000 strong. The Regulators were numerically superior to the militia, but the latter enjoyed every other advantage. Neither side really wanted to bring on a battle. Tryon still hoped that the Regulators upon his display of force would submit and disperse, while the Regulators had not lost hope of securing a peaceable adjustment of their quarrel. Accordingly while the two forces lay on their arms facing each other, each reluctant to bring matters to final test, they sent a petition to the governor requesting to be permitted to lay their grievances before him. To this petition Tryon very properly replied that as long as they remained under arms in "a state of War and Rebellion," he could hold no negotiations with them, and demanded that they disperse and submit to the laws of their country. He gave them one hour to come to a decision. The infatuated people treated his reply with contempt and foolishly declared that a fight was all they wanted. At the expiration of the hour, Tryon sent an officer to receive their reply. The officer told them that unless they dispersed the governor would fire upon them. "Fire and be damned!" was their answer. Thereupon the governor gave the order. His men hesitated. Rising in his stirrups he cried out, "Fire! Fire on them or on me!" The militia obeyed, the Regulators replied, and the action became general. Organization and discipline as usual won the day. After two hours of fighting the undisciplined mob was driven in confusion from the field. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this remarkable battle was the poor marksmanship on both sides. Tryon's casualties were nine killed, sixty-one wounded, the Regulators' casualties were nine killed and a large unascertained number wounded. Fifteen Regulators were captured, one of whom, James Few, who had previously been outlawed, was summarily executed in compliance with the insistence of the militia, who demanded an example.
After his victory, Tryon's course was marked by good judgment and leniency. He had the wounded Regulators cared for by his own surgeons. The next day he issued a proclamation offering pardon to those, with a few exceptions, p318 who would submit to the government and take the oath of allegiance. Fourteen of the prisoners taken in the battle were tried at a special term of the Superior Court, twelve of whom were convicted of high treason and sentenced to death. Six of the number were hanged, the others at Tryon's request were pardoned by the king.
Alamance was the climax of Tryon's administration in North Carolina. He had already received notice of his appointment as governor of New York, and a few days after his victory he bade his army farewell and set out for his new province. He was soon followed by Edmund Fanning.
The Regulation was at an end. Its leaders were dead, fugitives, or in concealment, its members scattered and disheartened. James Few had been executed on the battlefield. Benjamin Merrill and James Pugh, convicted of treason, had paid the penalty for their crime, Husband, Howell, and Hunter had sought safety in flight. Hamilton, Butler, and others were in hiding. After Tryon's departure some of these leaders, who had been excepted from his offer of general amnesty, applied to his successor, Governor Josiah Martin, for pardon which, however, was not then granted. The Regulators generally availed themselves of Tryon's offer of pardon. Within six weeks after the battle of Alamance, 6,409 had submitted to the government and taken the oath of allegiance. The British government advised the General Assembly to pass a general amnesty act, but the two houses could not agree on its terms and the proposed act failed of passage. The course of events, however, favored the cause of the Regulators. In 1775, when the men who had followed Tryon at Alamance were themselves organizing committees, congresses, and armies for rebellion, the old Regulators manifested such a "favorable disposition" toward the royal government that the king sent to his governor in North Carolina "a Power, under the Great Seal, to pardon all those who were concerned in the Rebellious Insurrections in 1770, Herman Husband only excepted." About the same time the Provincial Congress sitting at Hillsboro and presided over by the author of the Johnston Act, resolved that the former Regulators "ought to be protected from every attempt to punish them by any Means whatever." Thus the despised and feared "banditti" of the back country, courted by king and revolutionists alike, found safety in the quarrels of their former enemies, and had they been asked to express their view of the situation they would probably p319 have quoted the old adage that when thieves fall out, honest men get their dues.
In any discussion of the Regulation the question arises, Did the Regulators begin the Revolution and at Alamance shed the first blood in the cause of independence? Upon the answer to this question must depend our judgment of the historical importance of the Regulation. The Regulators made no such claim for themselves: on the contrary when an opportunity was offered to fight for independence a great majority of them arrayed themselves against it. The oath which Tryon compelled them to take after the battle of Alamance is often urged as a sufficient justification of their course during the revolution; but every American who pleaded the cause or fought the battles of independence had repeatedly taken a similar oath. There is a fundamental difference, which Dr. Bassett points out, between the Regulation and the Revolution. The Regulators were not contending for a great constitutional principle lying at the very foundation of human government such as inspired the men who fought the Revolution. Every grievance of which the former complained could have been removed by their own representatives in an assembly chosen by the people; the American people sent no representatives to the British Parliament. The former, therefore, resisted oppressive methods of administering laws passed by their own representatives; the latter, it need scarcely be said, revolted against taxation without representation. The one was an insurrection, the other a revolution. The distinction is plain and goes to the root of the whole matter. A revolution involves a change of principles in government and is constitutional in its significance; an insurrection is an uprising of individuals to prevent the execution of laws and aims at a change of agents who administer, or the manner of administering affairs under forms or principles that remain intact. There is of course all the difference in the world between the two. It is this difference, for instance, that raises the resistance to the Stamp Act on the Cape Fear far above the revolt of the Regulators in dignity and significance, and elevates the former but not the latter above the level of a riot. The Americans denied the validity of the Stamp Act because in passing it Parliament, as they believed, assumed to itself an authority which it did not rightfully possess, and thus undermined their constitutional liberties. The Regulators did not dispute the constitutional right of the Assembly to enact the laws of which they complained; they merely objected to the improper execution p320 of those laws. Then, too, there is no continuity between the Regulation and the Revolution. The principles of the revolt against the Stamp Act did not die with the repeal of the act, but became the living issues in the great Revolution. The movement of the Regulators expended itself at Alamance and died out with the removal of causes and persons which gave rise to it. However just their cause may have been, it did not involve a vital principle of political freedom, and it seems clear that it is a total misconception of the real significance of the American Revolution as well as of the Regulation to call Alamance the first battle in the cause of independence.
1 "The Regulators of North Carolina," p178 of the Annual Report of the American Historical Association, 1894.
2 The whole trouble lay in the differences between the popular and the legal construction of the law. For registering a deed the law allowed a fee of 2s. 8d. Fanning was accused of extortion because in registering Deed 13 he had charged 6s. Besides the deed itself, there were three endorsements which required to be registered. To the people, deed and endorsements formed a single instrument for which the register could collect one fee; to Fanning they formed four instruments on each of which he was entitled to a fee. Fanning's construction was upheld by the attorney-general of North Carolina, the attorney-general of England, and John Morgan of the Inner Temple. Morgan gave it as his opinion that Fanning was entitled to four fees, viz.: (1) For the deed; (2) for the certificate of the examination of the feme covert; (3) for the certificate of the persons examining; (4) for the oath of execution and order to register.
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