The Governor was unable to judge what would be the next step. The secretary had informed him in the hearing of the deputy secretary, that, if the Governor should refuse a pass, he would demand it himself, at the head of one hundred and fifty men, etc.; and he was not without apprehensions of a further application. But he was relieved from his suspense, the same evening, by intelligence from town of the total destruction of the tea.
It was not expected that the Governor would comply with the demand; and, before it was possible for the owner of the ship to return from the country with an answer, about fifty men had prepared themselves, and passed by the house where the people were assembled to the wharf where the vessels lay, being covered with blankets, and making the appearance of Indians. The body of the people remained until they had received the Governor's answer; and then, after it had been observed to them that, everything else in their power having been done, it now remained to proceed in the only way left, and that, the owner of the ship having behaved like a man of honor, no injury ought to be offered to his person or property, the meeting was declared to be dissolved, and the body of the people repaired to the wharf, and surrounded the immediate actors, as a guard and security, until they had finished their work. In two or three hours they hoisted out of the holes of the ships three hundred and forty-two chests of tea, and emptied them into the sea.
The Governor was unjustly censured by many people in the province, and much abused by the pamphlet and newspaper writers in England for refusing his pass, which, it was said, would have saved the property thus destroyed; but he would have been justly censured if he had granted it. He was bound, as all the king's governors were, by oath, faithfully to observe the acts of trade, and to do his endeavor that the statute of King William, which establishes a custom-house, and is particularly mentioned in the oath, be carried into execution. His granting a pass to a vessel which had not cleared at the custom-house would have, been a direct violation of his oath, by making himself an accessory in the breach of those laws which be had sworn to observe. It was out of his power to have prevented this mischief without the most imminent hazard of much greater mischief. The tea could have been secured in the town in no other way than by landing marines from the men of war, or bringing to town the regiment which was at the castle, to remove the guards from the ships, and to take their places. This would have brought on a greater convulsion than there was any danger of in 1770, and it would not have been possible, when two regiments were forced out of town, for so small a body of troops to have kept possession of the place. Such a measure the Governor had no reason to suppose would have been approved of in England. . . .
Notwithstanding the forlorn state he was in, he thought it necessary to keep up some show of authority, and caused a council to be summoned to meet at Boston the day after the destruction of the tea, and went to town himself to be present at it; but a quorum did not attend. The people had not fully recovered from the state of mind which they were in the preceding night. Great pains had been taken to persuade them that the obstruction they had met with, which finally brought on the loss of the tea, were owing to his influence; and, being urged to it by his friends, he left the town, and lodged that night at the castle, under pretense of a visit to his sons, who were confined there with the other consignees of the tea. Failing in an attempt for a council the next day at Milton, he met them, three days after, at Cambridge, where they were much divided in their opinion. One of them declared against any step whatever. The people, he said, had taken the powers of government into their hands,any attempt to restrain them would only enrage them, and render them more desperate; while another observed that, having done everything else in their power to prevent the tea from being landed, and all to no purpose, they had been driven to the necessity of destroying it, as a less evil than submission to the duty. So many of the actors and abetters were universally known that a proclamation, with a reward for discovery, would have been ridiculed. The attorney-general, therefore, was ordered to lay the matter before the grand jury, who, there was no room to expect, would ever find a bill for what they did not consider as an offense. This was the boldest stroke which had yet been struck in America.
1 From Hutchinson's "History of Massachusetts Bay." Hutchinson's position has awakened much sympathy. Altho Governor of the province, and thus under the necessity of enforcing orders received from England, he was a native of Boston and a graduate of Harvard. His "History" has been much read and admired for its fair and temperate spirit. Especially valuable are the portraits he gives of his con.temporaries, "the men who bore him down after the fiercest possible struggle."Return to text.