IMPERIAL UNITY AND PARLIAMENTARY SOVEREIGNTY: THE LOYALIST ALTERNATIVE TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. THE POLITICAL AND IDEOLOGICAL PERCEPTIONS OF WILLIAM SMITH, JR., JOSEPH GALLOWAY, AND THOMAS HUTCHINSON
[T]here is nothing more difficult to plan or more uncertain of success or more dangerous to carry out than an attempt to introduce new institutions.
— N. Machiavelli
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
— H.L. Mencken
The prominent 20th century American social commentator and journalist Henry Louis Mencken may not have been referring to the plight and the anxieties of the Loyalists during the American Revolution, but needless to say that they might have concurred with his words. The War for American Independence pitted not only Great Britain against her colonies in America but also produced deep rifts between the colonists themselves. Much as the Civil War more than eighty years later, the American Revolution was a conflict that divided neighbours, families, friends, and acquaintances over fundamental political and social issues. Unlike the Civil War, however, the altercations between the American colonists during the revolution were not exclusively based upon sectional and racial differences.
Scattered throughout the breadth of the American colonies, both Loyalists and Patriots differed in their perceptions of the British-American Empire. This was especially true concerning the role, influence, and responsibilities of King George III and the Parliament toward the colonies; in their ideas and thoughts concerning the new American society; and in their basic intellectual assumptions. Most historians admit that the radicals furnished a reasonable and thoughtful case to buttress their cause for political independence and republicanism. Loyalist political thought and ideology, however, unfortunately has not received the same careful consideration.
The ideology proposed by the revolutionaries was quite powerful and cogent since it rationalised the dramatic events of the 1760s and 1770s: the various British measures of this period were tied together by Loyalists to disclose an ominous and insidious scheme against the colonies’ freedom. What has been generally overlooked, however, was the astute way in which Loyalists wove together different events to fashion their own interpretations.
The history of the American Revolution, from the Loyalist perspective, was delineated in various works: particularly Peter Olivers’ Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion (1781) — a more detailed and lengthy account of his Address to the Soldiers (1776) — and Thomas Jones’ two-volume History of New York During the Revolutionary War and of the Leading Events of the other Colonies at the Period (1879). More general works also include Daniel Leonard’s Massachusettensis (1774-1775) letters and Thomas Hutchinson’s three-volume The History of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts-Bay (1765; 1828).
Although many leading Loyalists fervently denounced the revolutionary ideology of the Patriots, none did so with such emphasis and fortitude as William Smith, JR., Joseph Galloway, and Thomas Hutchinson. Whereas the vast majority of Loyalists seemed satisfied to simply condemn and denounce the objectives and actions of the radicals, the three protagonists believed that mere faultfinding was certainly not the solution to the dilemma menacing the colonies. Such action would only aggravate the political situation and could very well backfire on the Loyalist segment of the population.
Each perceived the need for a well-structured plan — a logical and innovative proposal — to counterbalance the populace’s strong fascination with the revolutionary leaders and reunite the colonies behind the Crown. In order to affect such a move, both the American colonies and the mother country had to acknowledge that change, on both parts, was an important prerequisite. Thus, the alternatives they offered revolved around the concept that the colonists and the British Crown should be willing to accept and establish certain political reforms. Because of their constructive criticisms and insightful ideas Smith, Galloway, and Hutchinson were perceived as the unofficial voices of the Loyalist community.
Revolutionary versus Loyalist Ideology
The Loyalists’ principal argument was quite simple but highly effective: the American Revolution originated with a conspiracy. This belief was shared by many, including Thomas Hutchinson. He contended that opposition to the government in the colony of Massachusetts began when James Otis, Sr. was refused a much awaited and hoped for judgeship. “From so small a spark,” Hutchinson wrote cynically of the incident, “a great fire seems to have kindled.” He added, furthermore, that the “present unhappy situation” was because the smugglers, “finding themselves too closely watched,” were quite determined to oppose the authority of the British government in the American colonies. All in all, Hutchinson surmised that opposition to the government was directed by “scheming men” whose interest it was to “keep alive the coals of sedition” in order to promote and further their own personal advancement and quench their thirst for power.
The radicals’ political resourcefulness was utilized with skillful aplomb on the populace whom they ingeniously manoeuvred to fulfill their self-interested objectives. According to Joseph Galloway, the rebels “applied themselves to work up the imagination, and to inflame the passions: for this work they possessed great talents. I will do justice to their ingenuity.” Galloway also added almost admiringly that “they were intimately acquainted with the feelings of man, and they knew all the avenues to the human heart.” With a mixture of contempt and admiration, Peter Oliver wrote of the revolutionary leader Samuel Adams, “He understood human Nature, in low life, so well, that he could turn the minds of the great Vulgar as well as the small into any Course that he might choose.”
The colonists were facile prey, the Loyalists argued, because the road to their emotions selected by the revolutionaries was so effective. The Patriots focused upon the deep-seated fears of oppression ignited by British actions in the years before Independence. They unabashedly brandished the threat of imminent enslavement and deviously worked their way into public confidence by posing as the saviours of their country’s freedom. The “Insurgents” hid behind the “mask of patriotism” and utilized civil liberty as the net that was flung “out to catch the Populace at large, & engage them in the Rebellion.” Hutchinson claimed that the merchants who accumulated large inventories stood to benefit by the non-importation plans, and they hypocritically masked their “selfish designs” by “mouthing it for Liberty.”
As the threat of armed conflict and revolution against the parent country increased and finally materialized, Loyalist spokesmen attempted to provide a coherent and logical explanation of the origins of the War for American Independence. Ironically, they matched the Patriots’ accounts of the British design against colonial freedom with their own conspiracy theory of a colonial-based scheme against their liberty. Whereas the villains in the republican interpretation were Loyalists and their confederates in the British government, the conspirators in the Loyalist version were self-interested revolutionary leaders who manipulated the people by playing upon fears of oppression to undermine popular support for the status quo. The British-American conflict fostered fears about persecution and furnished the rebels an excellent chance to set their strategies in motion. The aim of the conspirators, according to the Loyalist interpretation of the American Revolution, was t he same as the objectives of the plotters in the revolutionary perspective of events: to oppress and defeat the American colonists.
Many Loyalists were fundamentally convinced that the settlement of the antagonism between Great Britain and the American colonies had to involve important and far-reaching changes in the imperial relationship. They were neither blind to most of the colonial complaints concerning the imperial status quo nor in complete agreement with the British perception of the Empire. This fact is easy to overlook since many in the Loyalist community supported the Crown’s position on numerous issues, most importantly parliamentary supremacy.
Furthermore, when the rebels were painting an unflattering portrait of the mother country and her position toward the American colonies, Loyalists were obliged to respond with an equally unfactual and romanticised perception of Great Britain. Mixed with their praise for the Crown, the Constitution, and the Empire, however, were criticisms of Parliament’s policy and conduct. Focusing on what most Loyalists thought was deficient with the Empire assists in fully comprehending the exact nature and substance of the modifications they wished and worked for.
William Smith, Jr.: The Continental Parliament
Not all Loyalists accepted unflinchingly the various measures imposed by the mother country. Some unabashedly criticized specific laws adopted by the Crown in the decade before Independence. Isaac Wilkins denounced the Stamp Act as being both “impolitic and Oppressive.” According to the Episcopal clergyman Samuel Seabury, sending the East India tea to the American colonies was an injudicious decision which “increased our discontent” because added to their opposition to the three-penny duty — was the colonists’ “dread of monopoly.” William Smith, Jr. spoke of the “mistaken system of taxation” and cried out against the “palpable Blundering” of the government which sought ultimately to tighten the imperial system through “unexceptionable Taxations, and an imbarrassed [sic], partial Commerce.”
What is especially noteworthy and highly revealing is the accuracy of Smith’s arguments, demonstrating that he was indeed an incisive critic of the imperial status quo. William Smith, Jr., Yale university graduate, lawyer, New York jurist, historian, and later chief justice of Quebec between 1786 and 1793 — who hoped until the bitter end for a reconciliation between the Crown and the American colonies — blamed the harmful and inadequate British taxation policies on the Prime Minister’s flagrant need of “Knowledge concerning the Nature and State of our Trade.” British politicians were desperately myopic. They perceived only the colonies’ prosperity and their apparent ability to furnish financial assistance to the mother country, contemptuously brushing aside the numerous economic benefits derived from trade with the colonies.
Still one more troublesome issue was the belief that the British resolutely pursued their own self-oriented needs, often at the expense of the well being of the American colonies. This was more than obvious, Smith opined, in the Crown’s support for the concept of virtual representation. The plan, he argued, was “manifestly defective, because it does not provide for the Safety of the Colonies; it discovers an overweaning Attachment to their own Interest.” Thus, England’s ignorance of colonial conditions and lack of concern for American interests were important limitations which had to be overcome if the Empire was ever to survive and prosper.
The principal Loyalist alternative solution to the political sovereignty of the American colonies was designed by the mid-1760s in Smith’s essay entitled Thoughts upon the Dispute between Great Britain and her Colonies. He set forth the notion of creating an American-based parliament as a method of improving the Empire. Adamant that the British-American disagreement demonstrated the complete inability of the Crown to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the constantly growing and maturing American colonies, Smith wished to establish a new Constitution which would bind “Great Britain and her Colonies together, by the most indissoluble Ties.”
The major building blocks of his plan was a continental parliament, to be composed of a crown-appointed Lord Lieutenant, a council, and a House of Commons; whose deputies would be chosen by the colonial assemblies. One advantage of Smith’s blueprint was the fact that parliamentary supremacy would be reconciled with colonial self-rule, especially concerning the contentious issue of taxation. The Crown would duly requisition the American parliament for taxes and the latter, in turn, would establish the contribution to be made by each colony. The colonial governments would then decide as to the best means of raising these taxes and would have control of local matters and taxation for internal purposes.
Smith’s plan was three-fold: the continental parliament would gradually unify the colonies, it would promote British-American understanding, and it would provide the American colonies with a role in directing the Empire. One difficulty with the latter objective, Smith contended with some measure of defeatism, was that “our Assemblies are unequal to the Task of entering into Views of so wise, and so great a Nation as Great Britain is.” Assemblymen, he argued, often represented small “obscure Counties,” lacked independent means, and were too easily influenced by their constituents. Because they were parochial in their outlook and self-oriented in their basic objectives, politics in the American colonies all too often degenerated in factual infighting in which the common interest was lost to “private Piques or Partial aims.” In the continental parliament, however, representatives would be selected by the assemblies rather than elected directly and would therefore be less vulnerable to popular pressures and demands.
Smith fervently and somewhat naively believed that the “Wisdom of the Whole Continent” would be found in this body, whose members would be more worldly, capable, principled, and possibly able to evade trivial internecine quibbling and dedicate themselves to promoting the general welfare of the British Empire. He perceived the parliament as a strong stabilizing influence, which would foster order and unity in the American colonies. Moreover, because of its dignified nature, it was hoped the institution would be respected in England rather than made the subject of cynical remarks.
Thus, communication and understanding between the two would be greatly improved and the colonies would have greater influence in imperial decision-making. The principal advantage of the plan was that it would restore mutual trust and esteem and provide for the kind of input from the American colonies allowing the Crown to effectively “regulate and improve this vast, dependent, growing Territory, as to unite every Branch of the Empire, by the Cords of Love and Interest, and give Peace, Health and Vigor to the whole.”
When the War for American Independence finally erupted, Smith maintained the distinction clearly in his mind. Parliament did not possess the right to tax the American colonies; and they, in turn, had the right to reject the legislative supremacy of Parliament. Resistance to parliamentary taxation was indeed justifiable but political independence was not. It was an obvious distinction to make, but one which most of his contemporaries could not acknowledge. The House of Commons contributed to the confusion by insisting on its power to tax. Many prominent Englishmen, amongst them successive military commanders, opposed the idea of taxing the colonies and were therefore inclined to sympathize with the insurrectionists.
Smith’s ultimate hope was to transcend this confusion of thought and to separate — in the minds of men — these two distinct powers. Give the American colonists, he contended, a continental assembly to enable them to tax themselves for the benefit of the Empire. From the first he considered Congress a body competent enough to negotiate with the mother country. The American colonists usually called upon their representatives in times of crisis, and it did not seem to him to be an assembly composed solely of malcontents and irresponsible individuals with no legal standing whatsoever.
As the American colonies trudged off to war against the mother country in 1776, Smith tried to keep a clear distinction between powers that were ceasing to have any relevance to the situation. As the conflict worsened, he grew increasingly convinced of the injustice of parliamentary taxation at the same time as he believed independence to be both politically unwise and militarily impossible. The American Revolution could only bring death and destruction to the colonies, and he desperately wished for a rapid termination of the conflict at the expense of supporting strong British measures.
Joseph Galloway: A “new balance” Within the Anglo-American Union
Proposals made prior to the 1770s to reform and unite the British Empire set the stage for Loyalist ideas on the subject. Loyalist spokesmen, as earlier British writers, advocated tightening up the Empire and defining more precisely its power structure, a basic principle of which was the supreme authority of Parliament to legislate for the whole. Yet Loyalists also realized that a restructured Empire would necessarily have to take into account colonial priorities and anxieties concerning the imperial framework. They were fully cognizant of the premium the American colonists placed on local self-government, considered synonymous with the autonomy of colonial legislatures, and they were sensitive to American grievances about British taxation.
Although few Loyalists went so far as to admit that the taxation issue was unconstitutional, many did recognize it as a serious difficulty. Daniel Leonard admitted that the taxing powers of Parliament might indeed be a legitimate source of uneasiness to many colonists, and he hoped that a constitutional arrangement could be worked out “whereby the constitutional authority of the supreme legislature, might be preserved entire, and America be guaranteed in every right and exemption consistent with her subordination and dependence.”
Some Loyalists equated this type of constitutional change with writing an American constitution which, as Daniel Leonard claimed, had to be “agreed to and fixed by both sides.” What they hoped for was a restructured Empire, which guaranteed to the American colonies control over internal taxation and local matters, with Parliament keeping its sovereign power to legislate in imperial issues. The benefits associated with this kind of reform were quite similar to those proposed by earlier spokesmen: American fears about potentially oppressive taxes would be quelled, and future disputes about the exact bounds of Parliament’s authority would be prevented.
Support for the American colonies’ control of local matters and taxation did not necessarily signify that Loyalists expected a devolution of imperial powers. Just the opposite, they favoured the further integration of the two branches of the British Empire through some form of constitutional union. Isaac Wilkins hoped that Americans would “secure to ourselves a free Constitution” where a “line of government was stretched out and ascertained.” The end result would be the “closest and most intimate union” between the American colonies and England.
The basic premise behind any form of constitutional union, opined an anonymous Loyalist, was the possibility of representing American ideas in Parliament so the colonists could benefit from the “blessings of the British constitution, so far as their local circumstances would permit.” This could be achieved, he believed, if the “same relation” existed “between the House of Commons and the colonies as between the House of Commons and [the] inhabitants of Great Britain.” Despite outward signs of optimism, it is quite apparent by his writings that he was very much in doubt.
A more detailed proposal was Joseph Galloway’s Plan of Union presented to the first Continental Congress. Galloway found the imperial arrangement unsatisfactory. For Galloway, the nature of the provincial governments constituted the most striking defects, improperly structured these polities fostered repugnant traits which tore at the fabric of the colonial society. He did agree, however, with the grievances of the Patriots that the Crown did not respect the colonists’ rights as Englishmen. He recognized a need for parliamentary legislation because of that body’s sovereign nature and because of the financial needs of the union. He also acknowledged the illegitimacy of a legislative body acting on behalf of the unrepresented colonists. Without any serious and structured reforms, he conceded, the colonies could possibly be the victims of a tyrannical imperial power.
Galloway’s first primary objective in the early period of the War for American Independence was merely to prevent civil disorder. According to him, violence would seriously weaken the social bonds and destroy the ruling oligarchy within the colonies. Man, acting from his selfish desire for personal gain, would naturally attempt to profit to the utmost from the unruly situation, but ultimately he would need security. This would lead him to adopt any form of government, which promised to prevent violence and civil disobedience. Therefore, although he urged reform and called for an end to those imperial features — which made British rule highly objectionable — he was concerned deeply that the American colonists’ demands for redress be made in a legal and constitutional fashion.
Galloway adamantly refused to join those who participated in economic boycotts and mob violence on the streets. Only petitions of elected colonial assemblies, whether national or provincial, were lawful in order to claim repeal of Parliamentary legislation and pressing for reform. Foremost for Galloway was the desire that a strong imperial union be maintained which would not threaten the liberties of the American colonists. Colonial reform, he strongly believed, offered the greatest hope (if not the only one) for stability and order, and presented the best chance for the maintenance of human rights. Loyalty to the Crown also provided the best hope for the protection of the American colonies’ economic and defence priorities.
The principal aspect of Galloway’s Plan of Union was an American-based parliament, composed of a “President General,” appointed by the Crown, and a “Grand Council,” whose members were to be selected periodically by the assemblies every three years. Much as other Loyalist-inspired plans, Galloway’s blueprint tried to secure some control over local issues and taxation. Providing the American parliament with some measure of power to tax and legislate in local matters would, Galloway opined, calm American fears and anxieties.
In order to protect the American colonists and give them a say in administering the British Empire, Galloway’s parliament was to be an “inferior and distinct Branch of the British Legislature united and incorporated with it.” This meant that laws affecting the colonies would be initiated by either the colonies or the British Parliament, but would require the consent of both legislative bodies. Parliament would keep its prerogative to rule on imperial issues, colonial self-government would be preserved and the American colonists, it was hoped, would have more leverage to influence imperial decision-making.
Galloway’s compromise and reform plan would have acknowledged British hegemony, yet it extended a share of those powers to the subjects inhabiting the American colonies. Both the imperial and colonial governments would be duly reconstituted. The local governments would be renovated and transformed into royal colonies, a reform Galloway believed would establish — at least at the parochial level — a bulwark against those destructive and weakening tendencies which had adversely affected the old regimes and made the Revolution almost unavoidable.
In addition, the creation of the American-based parliament, he opined, would hopefully revitalize the British Empire. Most republicans and Loyalists shared the belief that a balanced polity provided the best chances for honest and efficient government. Galloway wished that his proposal might establish a “new balance” with the Anglo-American union. The House of Lords and the House of Commons, he assumed, would continue to reflect the English point of view; the “third branch” would protect the outlook of the American colonies, and the King would be the union’s impartial arbiter. Thus, as the mixed government ideal provided safeguards against arbitrary class rule, Galloway’s balanced union was to protect minorities against arbitrary majorities.
No other Loyalist provided such a complete and cogent solution to the imperial crisis. Many Loyalists merely suggested that the American colonists petition the Crown and simply rely on its good will. Some wanted no alterations in the imperial structure and would have been satisfied to see the colonial dissenters silenced by British military might. Aside for Galloway’s plan, the most systematic Loyalist alternative in preventing the American Revolution by restructuring the Empire was proposed by William Smith, Jr.
Smith’s proposals, unlike Galloway’s, were never presented to a colonial legislative body, although they were discussed with British officials. His plan anticipated far less reconstruction than Galloway wanted. Although Smith called for the creation of an American congress, he did not perceive the legislature wielding autonomous powers in matters of imperial taxation. Imperial sovereignty, under the Smith proposals, would have been lodged in a parliament in which the colonists remained unrepresented. The purpose of the American congress was merely to implement policy decided upon by the Crown. Furthermore, the Smith plan furnished no serious attempt to balance conflicting imperial interests and, consequently, the American colonies were given no legal means to adequately restrain London’s arbitrariness.
Like many Loyalists — especially amongst the colonial merchant class — Galloway’s apprehensions and mistrust of the people, combined with his persistent disbelief that the colonies were prepared to stand alone, motivated him to resist the American separatist movement. Moreover, Galloway and most Loyalists continued to support the traditional concept of imperial nationalism. The main differences between Galloway and many Loyalists was that he acted resolutely throughout the crisis while most vacillated or remained basically inactive until events overwhelmed them and negated their contributions.
Thomas Hutchinson: The Supremacy of the British Parliament
A number of key concepts in John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690) — written during the reign of Charles II — significantly influenced 18th century political thought. Locke opposed the ideas that rulers are absolute in their power. According to the preface of the published edition, appearing after the Glorious Revolution, the treatises were written “to center to the world the people of England, whose love of their just and natural rights, with their resolution to preserve them, saved the nation when it was on the brink of slavery and ruin.”
Thus, was popularized the idea of government by compact. Sovereigns had a duty to protect the rights (life, liberty, and property) of their subjects, and if rulers abrogated this trust, subjects could legitimately withdraw their allegiance and unite to form a new government. Still one more idea, which originated with classical writers, was that of mixed government. Since the simple forms of government — monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy — would inevitably degenerate into tyranny, oligarchy, and monarchy respectively, the best polity was one that combined all three simple forms: the resulting counterpoise would assure freedom as well as stability.
According to the British Constitution the King represented monarchy, the House of Commons democracy, and the House of Lords aristocracy. As long as there was equilibrium between the three branches liberty and political stability could be preserved. Locke also reconciled adroitly the separation of powers and the theory of checks and balances implicit in the ideas of mixed government. Since the two main powers of government were in different hands, Parliament exercising the legislative function and the Crown the executive one, there was indeed a partial separation of powers.
Unlike James Harrington, however, who advocated the pure separation of powers, with each branch of government independent of the other and checked by the people, Locke was more conservative and had the branches of government check and balance each other. Despite the fact that the King was the supreme executive figure, he shared in the executive function and the legislative supervised the executive. Locke’s perspective on legislative supremacy was in fact quite modern. Since “making law” was the most important trust of the government, the legislature was by far the “soul that gives Form, Life, and Unity to the Commonwealth,” and the legislative function was the key power in government. Such an arrangement was a departure from the medieval notion that Parliament found and declared law, but seldom made it. This, then was the reservoir of basic concepts with 18th century theorists tapped to support a wide variety of political ideologies.
The fact that Locke could be cited to buttress both radical and conservative political positions was shown graphically in an unpublished document by Thomas Hutchinson entitled A Dialogue between an American and a European Englishman written eight years before the outbreak of the American Revolution. The great-great-grandson of the heretic and antinomian Anne Hutchinson was not only a politician of long experience but also a student of political thought, law, and history. Hutchinson was by temperament as well as by political conviction a conservative. The maintenance of the British Empire — including the American colonies within it — was first and foremost in his mind. He wished to preserve the existing order against what he understood to be the attacks of demagogues and the ominous threats of continuous public disorder.
Hutchinson was not, however, a blind reactionary. Though he never seriously questioned the Crown’s prerogative to impose taxes on the colonies as well as to legislate for the American colonies, he was opposed firmly to the exercise of that right. Following the line of thought of the English statesman Edmund Burke, Hutchinson believed in the need for a wise restraint on the mother country’s part. He argued the heart-felt belief that while Britain’s sovereign authority in point of law and logic was absolute, the old and successful relationship of the colonies to the parent state should not in any way be handicapped.
Hutchinson hoped England would have the sense and the decency, as Edmund Burke would forcefully and consistently argue in his Speech on American Taxation (1774), to “leave Americans as they anciently stoodÖ.Be content to bind America by laws of trade; you have always done it. Let this be your reason for binding their trade. Do not burthen them by taxes; you were not used to do so from the beginning. Let this be your reason for not taxing.” As for the colonists, Hutchinson pleaded with them not to claim exemption from taxation in principle; sovereignty was either whole or absolute or it was nothing, and to create one exemption was to imply all others. An absolute limitation of authority of any kind would inexorably lead to independence; and independence, for the disorderly, weak, and primarily defenceless and under-protected American colonies, Hutchinson feared, would lead first to political and economic ruin, and then to foreign and military take -overs.
Instead of demanding formal, constitutional limitations concerning England’s sovereignty — which were quite simply nonsensical and fundamentally impractical according to Hutchinson — the colonists, he contended, should work to keep on a pragmatic basis the equilibrium of real interests that had served them so well in the past. They should not claim any freedom from taxation on the principle that they were not represented in Parliament. Many counties in England were not directly represented in this august assembly either, and in the brutal and heartless world of politics there necessarily had to be some measure of political quid pro quo. Distance from the home country made an abridgement of the full panoply of English liberties inescapable; representation in any direct, “actual,” sense was simply not feasible.
On the other hand, the American colonies had all the benefits of British law, British military protection, and a wide array of commercial advantages. Let those benefits suffice. For the parent country, it was quite sufficient that the “ancient relationship” with the American colonies had created a vast source of materials and an enormous market for British goods. Let England avoid all unusual and antagonistic innovations — such as taxation — in a system that had been so manifestly successful.
In attempting to convince the world of the validity of his perceptions, Hutchinson was acting very much in the spirit of the revolutionary debate involving political principles that had erupted as the Writs of Assistance case in 1761. This continued ever since in innumerable sermons, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and discussions in public forums. In 1764, Hutchinson had engaged directly in the first discussion of the theoretical issues involved in parliamentary taxation. He had dominated the deliberations in the Massachusetts Assembly that had produced that colony’s protest against Prime Minister George Grenville’s revenue-producing Sugar and Stamp Acts. A protest that had conceded, on Hutchinson’s insistence, Parliament’s claim to complete authority, arguing simply the inexpedience of the British enactments.
Since that time Hutchinson, with Francis Bernard, the Massachusetts governor, became the prime targets of the opposition’s anger and wrath. Threatened physically — his property vandalised by a Boston mob on 26 August, 1765 — and denigrated endlessly and mercilessly in the newspapers, Hutchinson seemed to attract upon himself the worst difficulties. He simply could not ignore, however, the arguments for resistance that were widely circulating everywhere in the colonies. He felt impelled to reply and expose what he considered to be the loquacious and deceiving logic that was becoming so rapidly fashionable. Rigorous in argument, he reviewed constantly in his own mind the theoretical weaknesses of the arguments for resistance as they developed around him and watched with mounting apprehension and concern the social and political disturbances which seemed to flow from them.
In Hutchinson’s A Dialogue Between an American and a European Englishman, the American protagonist followed the radical position that “no people under any government can be obliged to submit to what is in its nature unjust.” As well as having certain inalienable natural rights that no government can violate, British subjects had the protection afforded by “certain fundamental principles of the English constitution,” so that “to any act contrary to those fundamentals the people are not obliged to submit.” Specifically, this meant the right to dispose of property, which taxation involved, was both a natural right and a “fundamental of the English constitution.” Therefore, Parliament’s power to dispose of the subject’s property (that is, to tax) was indeed limited by these two basic principles. There was also the further consideration that “by constitution it may well be questioned whether the Parliament of England can be considered as the Parliament for the colonies,” since the American colonists were not represented in it. The American rested his case with two quotes from Locke, one upholding the idea that taxation required the consent of the subject, and the other defining consent as the “consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves or their representatives chosen by them.” To tax under any circumstances would, according to Locke, invade “the fundamental law of property” and subvert thereby “the end of government.”
The English protagonist responded by quoting Locke to support his more conservative perception of the rights and obligations of a subject. While agreeing that the government was “instituted for the sake of the people,” the Englishman denied that this meant that “every individual has a right to judge when the acts of government are just and unjust and to submit or not submit accordingly.” The latter doctrine he considered “repugnant to the very idea of government.” Locke was recruited to strengthen the fact that in moving from a state of nature to live under government, individuals gave up the supreme authority powers they possessed in their natural state. They contracted in the philosopher’s words, “to submit to the determination of the majority and to be concluded by it.”
On the other hand, again according to Locke, if an individual in “civil society” was exempted from its laws, he would be “perfectly still in the state of nature and so can be no part or member of that civil society.” The Englishmen challenged his adversary’s basic premise. The protagonist argued that “if you take the whole of Mr. Locke’s work together,” the philosopher condoned the right of a people as a body — not as individuals —
Hutchinson was not alone in outlining a conservative interpretation of Locke. The author of a pamphlet published serially in the Boston Chronicle in 1769 attributed the idea that Parliament represented not necessarily individuals but the nation as a whole, which included all those who furnished “tacit consent” to the Commonwealth. “[T]acit consent” was defined extremely broadly to include any individual that “hath any possession or enjoyment of any part of the dominions of any government.” Although it was a very liberal doctoring of Locke, the principle that all laws must be obeyed until government was dissolved was still one more example of the legitimate use of Locke to support a conservative perspective of the duties of a respectful subject.
Smith’s A Dialogue depicts a penetrating and inquisitive mind, searching to find convincing ground to protect the world as it existed against the forceful and persuasive propositions of the American protagonist. In the end Hutchinson contends that only anarchy and injustice can result from destroying law — which is the civilizing agency in British life — in the name of some abstract good. Law is not a moral code, the relation between law and morality being subtle and fluid, and that there can be no compromising of absolute principle. All the theoretical compromises will ultimately unwind under the pressure of events but that within the realm of practical politics mutually agreeable limitations of action can be worked out pragmatically, so long as they represent true interests and not false theories. A purist and realist in the realm of ideas, Hutchinson was also a clever and experienced manipulative politician, convinced that “we don’t live in Plato’s Commonwe alth, and when we can’t have perfection we ought to comply with the measure that is at least remote from it.”
A Dialogue not only portrays Hutchinson’s political perceptions and beliefs but also depicts his innermost thought processes. The study reveals a mind capable of understanding the boundaries and inner structures of traditional thought but totally reluctant to transcend that thought. Repeatedly, Hutchinson approaches — but does not perceive — the importance of the role of the courts in judging the validity of law. He could not disengage himself from the traditional notions that the constitution in its nature was unfixed and indistinguishable from law and that the courts were executive bodies without special status as arbiters of fundamental issues. He was simply unable to see beyond the idea of a benevolent parliamentary absolutism to the necessity for establishing principles of law superior to government that would protect the individual against the misuse of power.
Paramount to the Loyalist Anglo-American perception, then, was the deep and earnest belief in the indivisibility of the British Empire and a profound conviction that imperial unity depended upon the supremacy of Parliament to legislate for the entire Empire. William Smith’s proposed American-based parliament was designed in part to lessen the influence of local assemblies. The councillors were to be like life peers. Moreover, “to preserve their Independence,” they were to be “Men of Fortune” who were to be appointed by the Crown for life, and “some honourable Distinctions” were to be given to their families “as a Lure to prevent the Office from Falling into Contempt.”
Although Joseph Galloway’s 1774 Plan of Union did not provide for an “Upper House,” his later plan did. In his 1779 outline, for instance, representatives in the American-based parliament were to be appointed by the Crown for life and were to have “some degree of Rank and Dignity above the Commons.” Galloway stated explicitly his philosophy and perception: “An entire Democracy without the checks of Aristocracy and Monarchy would be dangerous to the State.” Governor Hutchinson could very well have been speaking for virtually all Loyalists when he wrote in July 1774: “I have never had but one plan for the government of America. The supremacy of Parliament must never be given up. This part of the plan has lost by popularity, and brought upon me all the trouble and danger which I have laboured under for eight or nine years.”
What Hutchinson said of himself was poignant, unfortunate, and relevant to Loyalists in general; their commitment to imperial unity and parliamentary sovereignty proved to be their downfall. Parliamentary supremacy was the issue — more than any other — that irreconcilably divided them from the Patriots and led to the War for American Independence.
1. Thomas Jones’ study was written during a three year confinement at Fort Neck between 1776 and 1779 and published posthumously a century later by Edward F. de Lancey. Bernard Bailyn, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, Cambridge, 1964, pp. 94-143. Massachusettensis was Daniel Leonard’s pseudonym for the Seventeen articles published in the Massachusetts Gazette between 12 December 1774 and 3 April 1775. 2. Bernard Bailyn, pp. 83-85; Leonard Labaree, Conservatism in Early American History, New York, 1948, pp. 101-102. 3. Gordon Wood, “Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style: Causality and Deceit in the Eighteenth Century,” William and Mary Quarterly 39 (1982): 420, 423.
4. Ibid., p. 432; Bernard Bailyn, pp. 157, 158.
5. GordonWood, pp. 429-430.
6. Leonard Labaree, “The Nature of American Loyalism,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 54 (April 1944): 22; Robert M. Calhoon, “William Smith’s Alternative to the American Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly 22 (1965): 112; Leonard Labaree, “The Nature of American Loyalism,” p. 25.
8. Robert M. Calhoon, pp. 112, 114. See also Rusticus who complained about the “ignorance or Inattention of a weak or corrupt ministry” in William H. Nelson, The Amateur Tory (Oxford, 1961), p. 137. William Smith, who delayed his ultimate decision to remain loyal until the Declaration of Independence, devoted all of his efforts toward reconciliation.
9. Robert M. Calhoon, p. 114.
10. Ibid., p. 115.
12. Ibid., pp. 115-116.
13. L.F.S. Upton, The Loyal Whig: William Smith of New York and Quebec (Toronto, 1969), pp. 40, 42. 14. Claude H. Van Tyne, Loyalists and the American Revolution (New York, 1970), pp. 57, 73, 69. 15. L.F.S. Upton, p. 87; Ernest H. Baldwin, “Joseph Galloway, the Loyalist Politician,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 26 (1902): 440.
16. Claude H. Van Tyne, p. 123.
17. Ibid., pp. 124-125.
18. Julian P. Boyd, Anglo-American Union: Joseph Galloway’s Plan to Preserve the British Empire, 1774-1787 (Philadelphia, 1941), p. 114. Joseph Galoway’s views on loyalism are explained in detail in his three books: A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of Great Britain and the Colonies (1775); Letters to a nobleman, on the conduct of the war in the Middle Colonies (1779); and, The Claim of the American Loyalists, Reviewed and maintained upon Incontrovertible principles of Law and Justice (1788).
19. Ernest H. Baldwin, p. 442; Julian P. Boyd, pp. 120, 121.
20. Ibid., p. 118.
21. John Ferling, pp. 81-100.
22. Julian P. Boyd, pp. 59-61.
23. Ernest H. Baldwin, pp. 423-425; John Ferling, pp. 103, 104, 105.
24. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government in Peter Laslett, ed., A Critical Edition with an Introduction and Apparatus Criticus by Peter Laslett (Cambridge, 1964), p. 212. 25. Jeffrey M. Nelson, “Ideology in Search of a Context: Eighteenth Century Political Thought and the Loyalists of the American Revolution,” The Historical Journal 20 (1977): 742.
26. Bernard Bailyn, Chapters 1, 3, 4.
27. Elliot R. Barkin, ed., Edmund Burke on the American Revolution: Selected Speeches and Letters (New York, 1966), p. 65.
28. Bernard Bailyn, p. 180.
31. Ibid., pp. 101, 102; Jeffrey M. Nelson, pp. 742, 743.
32. BernardBailyn, pp. 101, 103, 105.
33. Jeffrey M. Nelson, p. 744.
34. L.F.S. Upton, “The Dilemma of the Loyalist Pamphleteers,” Studies in Burke and His Times 18 (1977): 74.
35. Bernard Bailyn, p. 17.
36. Robert M. Calhoon, p. 115.
37. Joseph Galloway, “Two Plans of the Union: Set Forth in a letter from Joseph Galloway to Lord George Germain, March 18, 1779,” in Julian P. Boyd, pp. 117, 121; James K. Hosmer, Life of Thomas Hutchinson (Boston, 1896), pp. 188-189.
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