THE CONTEST UNDER DUMMER AND BURNET.
Shute did not return to the province after his sudden departure in 1723. The representatives were correct in their conjecture that it was his intention to carry his complaints before the crown. It is not probable that he had any desire to renew the conflict on this side of the Atlantic. The responsibilities of the situation which he left behind him devolved upon the shoulders of Lieutenant-Governor Dummer, a man who thoroughly appreciated the difficulties with which he had to deal and who, while anxious to avoid conflict, was nevertheless desirous to carry out the royal instructions, under which the government was to be conducted. In the administration of affairs he found no relief either through the modification of these instructions or through any change of temper in the house. The representatives continued hotly to press their claims to control the disbursements made under the appropriations and were unwilling to pass any supply bill unless the same was so phrased that they could have a hand in auditing the accounts. In these contests they were accustomed to collate the various alleged misapplications of funds which they discovered in overhauling the accounts and publish them in the form of a series of what they termed "grievances."
In June of the year 1723, a resolve for the emission of twenty thousand pounds, so phrased as to cover the point above alluded to, was sent up to the council. The board passed the same but so amended as to restore the power of supervising disbursements to the governor and council. These amendments the house rejected unanimously, whereupon the council voted to adhere to them. The representatives then passed an order that the whole question should be postponed to the next session, to the end that they might have an opportunity to submit the whole matter together with their list of grievances to the people whom they represented. To this the board replied that the postponement of the consideration of the supply of the treasury at a time when they were actually at war could not fail to be prejudicial to the interests of the province. They expressed surprise at the action of the representatives, the tendency of which was to keep up the misunderstanding between the board and the house, to misrepresent the action of the board to the people of the province and to subvert the very foundations of the government. They thought some amicable method could be devised to settle the difficulty and suggested a conference.
The representatives in reply expressed a willingness to furnish the treasury with a supply of money and claimed that the proposed restrictions and limitations were founded in reason; that the grievances which they had submitted were occasioned by violations of the authority conferred in previous appropriations; that the restrictions which they had imposed were in conformity with the powers granted to the General Court by the charter; and that it would have been a violation of trust not to have imposed them. They resented the language used by the board, asserted that they were ever ready to cultivate harmony between the two houses and concluded the discussion by sending up a new resolve for supplying the treasury. This resolve being still obnoxious in form was amended by the council, and again the representatives unanimously rejected the amendments. In concluding the message announcing this disagreement, they stated that as they had done all that they could in consonance with security to the rights, privileges and estates of his Majesty's good subjects to procure an agreement on these points, and as there was no probability of its being accomplished, they were extremely desirous to have the court rise that day.
The board suggested that the house might at least make provision for what had already been spent under authority of that court, which could be done without leaving the disposition entirely under control of the governor and council and upon this basis, the representatives having carried their point, a resolve for the supply of the treasury was carried. In thus submitting, the lieutenant-governor and the council undoubtedly yielded what they regarded as prerogatives under the charter, rather than accept the perils which the representatives stood ready to incur in order to carry their point.
In 1727, the loans made under the £100,000 issue in 1716 matured. On the 1st of June, the lieutenant governor called attention to the fact that he was instructed to take care that these loans should be retired and that the bills should be destroyed by May, 1728. He was also instructed, he said, not to approve any act for creating a paper currency without his Majesty's express leave for that purpose. On the 16th of June he showed his solicitude with regard to the £100,000 issue for loans, by requesting the assembly to make provision for the destruction of the bills which had already been paid in to the commissioners under the provisions of the act. On the 28th he approved a resolve authorizing the emission of £16,000 already in the hands of the treasurer, to be applied for current expenses.
Meantime, a committee on the bills of public credit had been appointed and had reported on the 22nd of June. In consideration of the distressed condition of the inhabitants of the province and in consequence of the scarcity of the bills, they recommended an emission of £50,000. These were to be acquired by calling in the bills in the hands of the commissioners which Dummer had just urged them to cause to be destroyed, and what was wanting to make up the £50,000 was to be furnished by the treasurer. The amount thus obtained was to be distributed to the towns, to be loaned to the inhabitants, and the interest on the loans was to be applied in support of the government. After six years the principal was to be paid in five annual payments of one fifth each. Provision was also to be made for the payment of so much of the £100,000 issue for loans as still remained outstanding, in ten annual payments of one tenth each. This committee was requested to prepare proper resolves to carry out the recommendations of the report. Dummer's request that they should cause the bills in the hands of the commissioners to be destroyed was thus met by an attempt to put them in circulation. His statement that he was instructed to see that the loans were retired was in turn met by a proposition to extend the time for their payment. He, therefore, sent in a message on the 5th of July stating that he would sign such a bill if a clause were inserted that it should not take effect until approved by his Majesty. This was accepted by the house for just what it meant and their reply to it was a postponement on the next day of the consideration of the tax bill to the next session. This was followed by a discussion between the house and the lieutenant governor on the question of the instructions which was concluded by the passage on the part of the representatives of a resolve which they knew would be ineffectual, authorizing the commissioners of the £100,000 issue for loans to let out any part of it which was in their hands. The lieutenant governor was, perhaps, equally conscious that he was wasting his words when on the 18th of August he urged action towards bringing in these loans.
On the 25th of August, 1727, a contention began between the board and the house concerning the neglect of the house to make provision for calling in the issues of 1723-24. The board insisted that the promises then made should be redeemed and that it was the duty of the house to effect at once the legislation necessary for the purpose. Whereupon the representatives sent a message to the lieutenant governor that having no business to transact they were ready to adjourn. To this, the lieutenant governor replied next day that they had not passed a tax bill and that it was not for the honor of the province that they should adjourn. On the 28th the house replied to the message. They denied any knowledge of or responsibility for the engagements of a previous house. If all such were made under the supposition that they were for the benefit of the province and this house found that it would be detrimental to carry them out it was their duty to break such engagements. They then went on to say: "And whereas it seems to be the opinion of your Honours that the drawing in the bills at the time proposed is the only foundation of their credit, we cannot but be surprised thereat, since not one person of a thousand that takes one of them knows when it will be called in, and yet very eagerly grasps all he can of them because he knows they will answer on all his private business and commerce, and also in all public payments as the Bill itself assures him, and that we take to be the reason of their credit and currency and not the promise of the Government when they are to be called in.
On the 30th of August the board took up the question of the necessity for legislation to redeem the promises made in 1723-24 when the issues of that date were made. They referred to the gross mistakes and misapprehensions of the house. They asserted that the board had justly and properly declared the engagements then made to be the "solemn promises of the General Court" and then said, "'tis, nevertheless, most true and will admit of no dispute that such as understand themselves and their interests in respect to these bills, do and must always value them in proportion to the punctuality that is observed by the government in calling them in at the times prefixed." The house made no answer to this, but sent a message to the lieutenant-governor that having no business they desired to rise.
On the 15th of December the opinion of the house was taken as to what it was their duty to do in the premises. Bills of credit had grown scarce and silver was sent to Great Britain, so that the funds for supplying the treasury in former emissions of bills of credit could not be answered and discharged by a public tax. Considering this condition of affairs, was it not the indispensable duty of the court to pass acts in conformity with the charter for the emission of enough bills to pay public dues without oppression to the tax payers ? Would not the emission of a greater amount than was necessary to discharge the debts of the government greatly tend to the public good? If this were not done would not the inhabitants be reduced almost to ruin ? To all of these questions the house voted an affirmative reply.
On the 16th the board requested the house not to print the foregoing in their journal. They (the council) would take the matter up in a few days when they hoped there would be a fuller attendance of the members which seemed desirable for the proper consideration of the subject. This reply of the council was on the 18th referred to a committee by the house. On the 19th, the board non-concurred in the vote of the house on the foregoing questions, but stated that they were ready to join the house in issues of bills of credit which should be made in accordance with the charter and so framed that their value might be ascertained and properly secured. Before this proposition reached the house, the speaker in behalf of the committee to whom the request of the council that the house should not permit their action on the 15th to be incorporated in the published journal of their proceedings, had already reported. The house, this committee said, wanted to know whether the legislature would make more emissions. If the board should say no, then consideration of the matter was fruitless. As to the publication of what they had done, the house had no better way of showing the people whom they represented that they had been faithful in the performance of their duties. The message from the council was received by the house before this report was acted on but did not affect the result. The house being of opinion that the action proposed by the board was not of such a character as to alter their conclusions, adopted the report and sent it up to the council.
On the 10th of January, 1727, 28, the lieutenant governor urged the representatives to take action on the appropriations. They replied that they had already passed resolves for the supply of bills of credit which had not been concurred in. There was no probability of an agreement being obtained so far as they could see and they, therefore, asked the lieutenant-governor to adjourn the court.
In order to secure relief from the supposed stringency of public bills and to reduce the complaints of the scarcity of money, a scheme was devised for fortifying a number of coast towns. The bills requisite for the purpose were to be issued and lent to the towns where the fortifications were to be constructed. Hutchinson calls attention to the fact that even Truro on the Cape was included in the list.(1) After repeated disagreements between the board and the house the bill, authorizing emissions for this purpose, was finally passed on the 26th of January, 1727, 28. On the 26th the lieutenant governor asked the council whether it was consistent with his instructions that he should sign the bill without a clause requiring its submission to his Majesty. The answer was in the negative.
As a part of the proceedings through which the passage of the fortification bill in the council had been secured, a resolve for the enforcement of the terms of the mortgages given to the commissioners of the £100,000 for loans was simultaneously passed. If the mortgage loans were not paid in installments covering a three years extension of the loan they were to be foreclosed. This concession had been made by the representatives in the belief that it would secure the assent of the governor to the fortification bill. The refusal of the council to advise him that he could consistently sign it prevented this consummation from being attained. On the other hand they did advise him that he could consistently with his instructions assent to the method of bringing to an end the £100,000 loan. This produced great feeling in the house. Meantime the lieutenant governor as well as several of the council were dependent upon their salaries, and as no provision had as yet been made in this direction, he on the 28th of January called for the passage of the salary act. He had approved every act, he said, except the fortification bill. The question of bills of credit was involved in that, he would have signed it but the council were of opinion that this was not consistent with his instructions. On the 29th the house expressed "an Universal Surprizing Concern" that the bill for whose birth the lieutenant-governor was himself responsible should have met with non-acceptance at his hands. They claimed that the instructions did not stand in the way of the passage of the bill and referred to the precedent in Governor Shute's time. "We cannot," they said, "but please ourselves, had a more general and proper question been put" to the council, that "they had given their advice to Your Honor to sign the bill." In consequence of this act of the lieutenant-governor's they felt obliged to refer other matters of consideration to the next session when, perhaps, something might be accomplished to relieve the people. If they should act now they would not be true to the trust reposed in them.
On the 30th the lieutenant-governor replied that he did not wish to protract the session and that they had done him injustice in suppressing in their published journal his answer wherein he had told them that he would adjourn the court whenever they should provide for the support of the government.
A temporary recess was then taken and on the 14th of February when the court was again convened, a committee was appointed to prepare a bill for the issue of a suitable sum of bills of credit. On the 15th an act was introduced for the emission of £60,000. This was so phrased as to avoid the obstacle placed by the instructions in the way of its approval. The house then made a formal reply to the lieutenant-governor's message of the 30th ult. They rehearsed the various resolves which they had passed to supply the government with funds and the resolve with reference to the fortifications to which they had agreed, all of which had proved ineffectual. They made an historical review of the various emissions of bills which had taken place and argued that under the charter the power was given them to pass such acts. They claimed that if the lieutenant-governor had taken into due consideration the language of the charter and the powers given him in his commission, in connection with the instructions, he might have signed the bill. They reviewed what had taken place and claimed that they were not open to censure.
The bill for the emission of £60,000 was then put through, but the lieutenant-governor on the 20th of February announced that he regretted that he could not sign it. He had asked the advice of the council but they had not thought proper to give him any more advice. He had the satisfaction of knowing that he had done his duty to his Majesty, at the same time that he had a sincere desire to have answered the earnest expectation of the house.
The house at once replied that the council which now refused to advise the lieutenant governor had on the 26th of January been free with their advice and they now requested the board to reconsider their action. This had the desired effect. A reconsideration was had by the council and a qualified approval of the bill given, sufficiently strong to serve as a defence for the lieutenant governor in case he should be called to account for signing the bill. Dummer signed the bill February 21, 1727-28, and reported fully to the Lords of Trade what had taken place, saying that he conceived himself to be in a difficult and dangerous place.(2) The £60,000 emitted by this act were distributed among the towns in the same way as were the £50,000 emitted in 1721. The rate of interest on the loan was fixed at six per cent. which was to be paid to trustees. Two-thirds of the interest collected by the trustees was to be remitted to the province treasury--the balance was for the benefit of the towns. The bills were to be called in by taxes to be laid in the years 1734-38 inclusive.
In the spring of 1728, Governor Burnet arrived in the province. He was a son of Bishop Burnet and had been governor of New York and New Jersey. He was an alert, quick-witted man, prompt to decide and quick to act. He was armed with the usual instructions as to salary, and was keen enough to convert the pompous demonstrations on his arrival into an argument that the province could afford to settle a suitable compensation upon the governor. There was much to hope for in the welcome with which he was received and had he been a man of different temperament it is quite possible that he might for a time at least have had a peaceful administration. His views as to the powers of the crown and the dependency of the colonies were, how ever, inconsistent with any such result and the arrogant manner in which he bore himself served to intensify the conflict and to widen the breach between the assembly and the royal governors.
During his entire administration, he was engaged in a controversy with the house and among the topics on which they differed the currency was one. On the 20th of August, 1728, he communicated to them the fifteenth instruction which had been given him. It was that "you do not give assent to or pass any Act in our Province of the Massachusetts Bay under your government whereby bills of credit may be struck or issued in lieu of money unless a clause be inserted in said Act directing that the same shall not take effect until the said Act shall have been approved and confirmed by us." September 17th in a message he accused the house of having used their power of withholding supplies "to compel the Lieutenant Governor unto a compliance." The fall of the bills of credit he attributed to the lack of a sufficient check on the part of the other branches of the government. To this the house replied on the 19th that the true reason of the decline of the bills was that they "were not made a tender in all payments whatsoever." As to the coercion of the lieutenant-governor they thought the council had upon deliberation changed their minds. On the 24th Burnet told the house that to extend the legal tender attribute of the bills would make them fall lower. "Liberty is the life of credit," said he, "and force its greatest enemy."
Burnet had from the outset been anxious to enforce that part of his instructions in which he was urged to secure for the governor a fixed salary instead of an annual appropriation for services. He had recommended to the Board of Trade that the £60,000 loan be permitted to stand, provided the interest should be appropriated for the salary of the governor, and on the first of October he announced to the house that there was reason to apprehend that the bill would be disallowed. This was one of the last moves taken by the governor in the animated discussion concerning the fixing of his salary. He had already without effect advised them to take care that their proceedings did not bring the charter into danger. In this instance, the house had but little to fear from a disapproval. The bills had already been issued and there was no practical method in which a disallowance of the bill on the part of the crown could be enforced. On the 23rd of October the house declined to carry out his suggestion and on the 24th he adjourned the court to meet at Salem on the 31st where, as he said, "prejudice"--referring to the stand upon the salary question taken by the Boston Town Meeting-- "had not taken root and where, of consequence, his Majesty's service would be better answered."(3)
He had expressed the opinion that the house had undertaken "to compel" Lieutenant-Governor Dummer "unto a compliance," and he soon found himself in a position where he could exercise powers of the same sort. No appropriation could become effective until he should sign it; the representatives therefore could not get their own pay except by his consent. April 18,
1729, when the court was dissolved, he said to the house, "You may be desirous to know why I have not yet signed an order upon the treasury for your pay, but if you consider that near a third part of the time of the sitting of the general assembly since my arrival has been rendered useless by your refusing to do the business of the province, it may justly appear doubtful whether the towns ought to bear an expense, the sole end of which was defeated for so long a time by that refusal, though I confess this does not relate to those members who were of another opinion."
At the next session of the court, a resolve was passed on the 4th of July, 1729, appropriating £20,000, the form used being the same as had been customary. This the governor disallowed, saying that he did not think it proper to consent to any form for the supply of the treasury but what was practiced before 1721, thus reviving the old contest of the days of Shute. The house replied that this question had been the source of many disputes between the two houses which had been prejudicial to the welfare of the province; that the form had been determined upon after many solemn debates and had been consented to by the commander-in-chief; and further they believed it to be conformable to the practice of parliament. At the next session an unsuccessful attempt was made by the house to put through a similar resolve in the same form but this time the council took up the battle and amended it, which resulted in its failure.
Burnet's death in September put a stop to the quarrel. Notwithstanding his persistent efforts to carry out his instructions to the letter and the uninterrupted hostility of his relations with the house of representatives, he was honored and respected by them and the ceremonies of his burial were as pompous as those of his reception by the province.
After his death Dummer again assumed control of the government. The contest over the questions which Burnet had raised were still possessed of much vitality but Dummer was more compliant in his nature and the conflict between the lieutenant-governor and the General Court was not so violent.
During the period which we are now considering the hard-money men began a struggle for the resumption of specie payments which shows itself in the records of tile legislative proceedings of the province from 1728 to 1739 inclusive. The culmination of the struggle in 1738 and 1739 was characterized by defeat under circumstances which must have made it particularly hard for them to bear, because it is evident that they were hopeful of success. The details connected with the attempt at this later date will be considered in their chronological order in the narrative. Mention of the affair is made here simply because in the vague and shadowy outline which we obtain of certain events which took place in 1728 and 1729 we can trace the beginning of a movement which at a later date can be followed to the minutest detail of performance.
In February, 1727-1728, a committee was appointed to receive and consider, in the recess of the court, any scheme for retrieving the value of the bills of credit or for making a suitable provision for a medium of trade, and this committee was authorized to take subscriptions of any persons for the fulfillment of such scheme or schemes, and make report thereon.(4)
December 20, 1729, a bill which had been introduced some days before, entitled "An Act for retrieving and ascertaining the value of the Bills of Credit on this Province" was read a second time, and it was ordered that the bill should be printed with the amendments then made, and that the further consideration thereof be referred to the next session of the court and that in the meantime a committee should take subscriptions of such gentlemen as were willing to subscribe as undertakers in that affair and report to the court thereon. The pages of the house journal do not indicate the nature of these subscriptions, but in 1736 a pamphlet was published in which a scheme was propounded for the emission of bills, the value of which should be expressed in a fixed rate of silver, which bills were to be loaned to merchants, the borrowers to repay their loans in silver.(5)
In this pamphlet the author states that the scheme which is therein advocated had already been submitted several times to the consideration of the assembly. As if to help us in determining the actual character of these two attempts to secure subscriptions for the purpose of retrieving the value of the bills of credit, we find the name of Thomas Hutchinson, the father of the governor, on each of the committees appointed to receive subscriptions. It is not perhaps assuming too much to say that the schemes advocated by Thomas Hutchinson, senior, which were submitted in 1738 and the spring of 1739, for securing a return to specie payments, through loans to merchants, of bills valued at a fixed rate in silver, which loans were to be repaid in coin, probably represents what was attempted in 1728 and 1729.(6) The discussion after 1741 was mainly devoted to questions relating to the currency. In 1743, there was a notable contribution to it in the form of an inquiry into the state of the bills of credit, which was written by some person thoroughly familiar with the subject.(7) The pamphlet contains much valuable information not otherwise accessible.
The inclusion of Massachusetts and Connecticut in the denunciations against Rhode Island led a writer to enter upon the discussion in 1744 for the purpose of protesting against it.(8) His pamphlet has but little value. These publications did not entirely cease even after the adoption of the plan for resuming specie payments.(9)
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1. History of Massachusetts, [ed. 1795] vol. 2, p. 296.
2. Acts and Res. Prov. Mass. Bay, vol. 2, p. 470.
3. Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts, [ed. 1795] vol. 2. p. 316.
4. Mass. Court Rec., vol. 14, pp. 47, 48.
5. A letter to a member of the honourable house of representatives, etc., etc., 1736. There is good reason to attribute the authorship of this pamphlet to Governor Hutchinson. See my paper entitled A search for a pamphlet by Governor Hutchinson, read before the Mass. Historical Society, February, 1899.
6. The first trace that we get of legislative action in this direction is in 1728, but it will be remembered perhaps that in 1720 a pamphleteer propounded a scheme for bringing in silver to the Treasury through loans which should be paid in coin. A project for the emission of an hundred thousand pounds of province bills, etc., etc. [Boston, 1720.]
7. An enquiry into the state of the bills of credit of the province of the Massachusetts Bay in New England in a letter from a gentleman in Boston to a merchant in London. Printed in the year 1743. There is reason to believe that a title which appears in some of our catalogues, Thoughts upon the state of the paper currency in New England, does not in fact refer to a separate publication, but is merely an alternative title for An enquiry, etc.
8. A letter from a gentleman in Boston to his friend in Connecticut, Boston, 1744. While the pamphlet has but little value it puts us upon the track of a publication entitled Heads proposed for an act of parliament, to regulate and finally suppress paper currencies in the provinces and colonies of Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island, in New England in North America and to ascertain their currencies in all times coming, which was obviously from the pen of Dr. Douglass.
9. A writer who was opposed to this plan but had one of his own, disclosed it in 1748 in A word in season to all true lovers of their liberty and their country; both of which are now in the utmost danger of being forever lost. By Mylo Freeman, &c., Boston, 1748. Another, in 1749, reviewed the situation in A brief account of the rise, progress and present state of the paper currency of New England, etc., etc., Boston, 1749. A third proposed to apply £100,000 in silver to the reduction of the currency, and leave £800,000 O. T. for currency.--Some observations relating to the present circumstances of the province of the Massachusetts Bay; humbly offered to the consideration of the general assembly, Boston, 1750. Another would retain what silver was left in the province treasury. He would pay current expenses of the government in coin and to meet the emergency would levy the taxes in silver. He proposed that a bounty should be granted to every young couple who should lawfully marry and settle in the province and that a reward of twenty pounds should be paid to them on the day after their first male child was christened. He did not object to the circulation of the bills of the neighboring governments if at a discount.--Massachusetts in agony: or, important hints to the inhabitants of the province: calling aloud for justice to be done to the oppressed; and avert the impending wrath over the oppressors. By Vincent Centinel, Boston, 1750.