In the Light of History

IT is never safe to view current events and determine the character of a movement they represent, without the light that can be thrown upon them from history. “History repeats itself,” and “the things written aforetime, were written for our instruction and admonition.” To ignore the lessons of history is to invite the companionship of error and disaster.

The following passages from the history of the American Revolution, by Sir George Trevelyan, an English writer, are suggestive of the way in which history is repeating itself to-day. They present a parallel between what was then the cause of patriotism, and what is now declared to be only dishonor and treason:—

“The drop scene of the impending American drama as presented to British eyes, was a picture of the New England character daubed in colors which resembled the originals as little as they matched each other. The men of Massachusetts were sly and turbulent, puritans and scoundrels; pugnacious ruffians and arrant cowards. This was the constant theme of the newspapers and the favorite topic with those officers of the army of occupation whose letters had gone the rounds of clubs and country houses. The archives of the Secretary of State were full of trite calumnies and foolish prophecies. Bostonians, so Lord Dartmouth was informed, were not only the worst of subjects but the most immoral of men…. If they could maintain the state of independence they would be at war among themselves. (Italics ours.)

And the following expresses the views of the Tory refugees after the evacuation of Boston:—

“In their view congressmen in committeemen were a set of rascals, who only sought to feather their own nest and not to serve their country. According to the theory in the circles Otis started the agitation, which started everything, because his father missed a judgeship. Joseph Warren was a broken man who sought to mend his fortunes by upsetting those of others. John Hancock, too rich to want a place, suffer from wounded vanity, because compelled to walk behind his betters in the order of precedence. Richard Henry Lee had been balked of an appointment as distributor of stamps under the Act which then, and only then, he came forward to denounce. John Adams turned rebel because he was refused a commission of the peace, and Washington never forgive the British war office for having treated him with the neglect which was the natural portion of provincial military officers.”

Then there was much in appearance at that time to justify these views. The United States was then far from being this strong, compact Government which the world beholds to-day. Events were constantly happening which were suggestive of anarchy and approaching political dissolution. Life and property were nowhere safe under the law. Congress moved about from place to place to avoid the invasions of British troops, and if there were enemies of the patriot cause who were pleased to scoff at the American “portable government,” they dad facts upon which to base their ridicule. Even after victory had crowned the American arms, Congress, though nominally a body of 91 members, was rarely attended by a third of that number. “It degenerated to a mere debating club; was menaced by mutinous, unpaid troops, and forced to wander from town to town to find an abiding place. It possessed no national weight would ever.”

Those who had confidently asserted that the colonies, independent, would be at war among themselves—just as confidently as the like assertion is made with reference to another people to-day—soon found much to justify their prediction. Another authority says:—

“The various States, as soon as peace was made with England, were involved at once in territorial disputes, the most serious of which occurred between Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Both claimed the valley of the Wyoming, but the majority of the settlers were from Connecticut. The award was finally made to Pennsylvania, and no further trouble was apprehended. During the winter of 1784 snow was deep and remained well into spring; went off rapidly and flooded the smiling, fertile valley of the Wyoming, burying the farms under a blanket of pebbles and sand. The people were starving. President Dickenson urged the legislature to send prompt relief; but, incredible as it may seem, it refused to help the accursed Yankees; they deserved all they got for settling on Pennsylvania territory. ‘The flood was the hand of God punishing trespassers!’ A scheme was launched to drive out the starving settlers and apportion their lands among a clique of speculators, so instead of food and raiment being given, a company of militia was sent ostensibly to preserve and restore order. That body stole what it could find, insulted women and beat defenseless men. When the settlers resented such action the cry went up: ‘The troops are being resisted!’ Then Patterson, the militia captain, said dispatches to Dickinson accusing the farmers of sedition, and forthwith attacked the settlement, turned about 500 men, tender women and delicate children out of doors and set fire to their homes! They were driven in the wilderness at the bayonet’s point and told to find their way back to Connecticut: Many died from hunger and exhaustion. Of course this was going further than the Pennsylvania government desired; all Connecticut sprang to arms, and civil war was only averted by a meeting of the Pennsylvania censors who made tardy reparation to the despoiled settlers.”

“Consider that this was nearly three years after the surrender of Yorktown, which virtually ended the Revolutionary war. It seemed to Europe when this affair, other boundary disputes not so serious, and the commercial war which New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts were waging against each other, came to its notice that anarchy must surely come. Public opinion in England thought that what English arms had failed to do would be accomplished by the internecine strife of the colonies, and they would return one by one to their old allegiance.”

And yet all this represented the sacred cause of liberty and justice to human rights. Out of all this spring order, peace, and the freest and best government on the face of the earth. The colonists were right and their detractors were wrong. The cause of self-government was just, and that of foreign rule unjust. And the cause of self-government is no less just to-day.

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