In December, 1686, the Hartford authorities were called upon to measure their strength again with their old antagonist. Andros had landed at Boston, commissioned as governor of all New England, and bent on abrogating the charters. Following Dudley's lead, he wrote to Treat, suggesting that by this time the trial of the writs had certainly gone against the colony; and that the authorities would do much to commend the colony to his majesty's good pleasure by entering a formal surrender of the charter. The colony authorities were possibly as well versed in the law of the case as Andros, and they took good care to do nothing of the sort; and, as the event showed, they thus saved the charter.
The assembly met as usual in October, 1687; but their records show that, they were in profound doubt and distress. Andros was with them, accompanied by some sixty regular soldiers, to enforce his demand for the charter. It is certain that he did not get it, tho the records, as usual, are cautious enough to give no reason why. Tradition is responsible for the story of the charter oak. The assembly had met the royal governor in the meeting-house; the demand for the charter had been made; and the assembly had exhausted the resources of language to show to Andros how dear it was to them, and how impossible it was to give it up. Andros was immovable; he had watched that charter with longing eyes from the banks of the Hudson, and he had no intention of giving up his object now that the king had put him in power on the banks of the Connecticut.
Toward evening the case had become desperate. The little democracy was at last driven into a corner, where its old policy seemed no longer available; it must resist openly, or make a formal surrender of its charter. Just as the lights were lighted, the legal authorities yielded so far as to order the precious document to be brought in and laid on the table before the eyes of Andros. Then came a little more debate. Suddenly the lights were blown out; Captain Wadsworth, of Hartford, carried off the charter, and hid it in a hollow oaktree on the estate of the Wyllyses, just across the "riveret;" and when the lights were relighted the colony was no longer able to comply with Andros's demand for a surrender.
Altho the account of the affair is traditional, it is difficult to see any good grounds for impeaching it on that account. It supplies, in the simplest and most natural manner, a blank in the Hartford proceedings of Andros which would otherwise be quite unaccountable. His plain purpose was to force Connecticut into a position where she must either surrender the charter or resist openly. He failed: the charter never was in his possession, and the official records assign no reason for his failure. The colony was too prudent, and Andros too proud to put the true reason on record. Tradition supplies the gap with an exactness which proves itself.
Having done all that men could do, Treat and his associates bowed for the time to superior force. Andros was allowed to read his commission, and Treat, Fitz-John and Wait Winthrop, and John Allyn received appointments as members of his council for New England. John Allyn made what the governor doubtless considered to be the closing record for all time. But it is noteworthy that the record was so written as to flatter Andros's vanity, while it really put in terms a declaration of overpowering force, on which the commonwealth finally succeeded in saving her charter from invalidation. It is as follows:
"At a General Court at Hartford, October 31st, 1687, his excellency, Sir Edmund Andross, knight and Captain General and Governor of His Majesty's territories and dominions in New England, by order of His Majesty James the Second, King of England, Scotland, France, and Ireland, the 31st of October, 1687, took into his hands the government of the colony of Connecticut, it being by His Majesty annexed to Massachusetts and other colonies under his excellency's government.
The government was destined to last far longer than either the governor or his government. But, while it lasted, Andros's government was bitterly hated, and with good reason. The reasons are more peculiarly appropriate to the history of Massachusetts, where they were felt more keenly than in Connecticut; but even in Connecticut, poor as was the field for plunder, and distant as it was from the "ring" which surrounded Andros, the exactions of the new system were wellnigh intolerable to a people whose annual expense of government had been carefully kept down to the lowest limits, so that, says Bancroft, they "did not exceed four thousand dollars; and the wages of the chief justice were ten shillings a day while on service" ...
April, 1689, came at last. The people of Boston, at the first news of the English Revolution, clapped Andros into custody. May 9, the old Connecticut authorities quietly resumed their functions, and called the assembly together for the following month. William and Mary were proclaimed with great favor. Not a word was said about the disappearance or reapeparance of the charter; but the charter government was put into full effect again, as if Andros had never interrupted it. An address was sent to the king, asking that the charter be no further interfered with; but operations under it went on as before. No decided action was taken by the home government for some years, except that its appointment of the New York governor, Fletcher, to the command of the Connecticut militia, implied a decision that the Connecticut charter had been superseded.
Late in 1693 Fitz-John Winthrop was sent to England as agent to obtain a confirmation of the charter. He secured an emphatic legal opinion from Attorney General Somers, backed by those of Treby and Ward, that the charter was entirely valid, Treby's concurrent opinion taking this shape: "I am of the same opinion, and, as this matter is stated, there is no ground of doubt." The basis of the opinion was that the charter had been granted under the great seal; that it had not been surrendered under the common seal of the colony, nor had any judgment of record been entered against it; that its operation had merely been interfered with by overpowering force; that the charter therefore remained valid; and that the peaceable submission of the colony to Andros was merely an illegal suspension of lawful authority. In other words, the passive attitude of the colonial government had disarmed Andros so far as to stop the legal proceedings necessary to forfeit the charter; and then prompt action, at the critical moment, secured all that could be secured under the circumstances. William was willing enough to retain all possible fruits of James's tyranny, as he showed by enforcing the forfeiture of the Massachusetts charter; but the law in this case was too plain, and he ratified the lawyers' opinion in April, 1694. The charter had escaped its enemies at last, and its escape is a monument of one of the advantages of a real democracy.
1From Johnston's "History of Connecticut," By permission of, and by arrangement with, the authorized publishers, Houghton, Mifflin Co. Copyright, 1887, by Alexander Johnston.