THE colonies were now drawing together for a anion in defense of their liberties; their action was no longer local, but taken with reference to the common interests. When a special court of inquiry was established in Rhode Island in 1773, with power to send accused persons out of the colony for trial, the progressives in the Virginia House of Burgesses resolved to take steps to bring about a general Continental understanding. For the past few years the conservative and progressive factions had almost lost identity in the oneness of opposition to England, but with the close approach of the Revolution their differences again appeared. In March, 1773, during the session of the assembly, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Lightfoot Lee, with Dabney Carr and Thomas Jefferson, two promising young men of the party, thinking that the conservative leaders were insufficiently zealous to be left the initiative, hit on the plan of forming intercolonial committees of correspondence.<a href="#1" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
Henry's Patrick Henry, i, 160."> The measure easily passed the House of Burgesses; the committee appointed consisted of Speaker Randolph, Nicholas, Bland, Pendleton, Benjamin Harrison, Dudley Digges, and Archibald Cary, conservatives, and Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, Jefferson, and Carr, progressives. Thus while the radicals succeeded in inaugurating their policy, the older faction controlled the committee.
This first intercolonial intelligence bureau, owing its inception to the fertile brain of Richard Henry Lee, did much to bring the scattered American communities into a harmonious policy. The colonies were kept well informed and gave Massachusetts prompt and effective support in her troubles. When the news of the Boston Port Bill reached Williamsburg in the midst of a session of the assembly, the progressive leaders, Henry, the Lees, and Jefferson, summoned a caucus of their followers and again took the bit in their teeth.<a href="#1" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 2
Jefferson's Works (Memorial edition), i, 19."> They fixed up a plan for a day of fasting on the date when the Port Bill became effective, and induced Robert Carter Nicholas to introduce the resolution, reasoning that his weight and position would carry it through. Fast days were not much in the Virginia fashion, and Henry and Jefferson in proposing to celebrate one showed that they were conscious imitators of the Long Parliamentarians. In the excitement of the hour elderly conservatives stood hand in hand with the younger progressives and passed the fast resolution without opposition.
Dunmore, the governor, dissolved the assembly on May 25, 1774, which was all that a shocked governor could do. The Burgesses, as before, gravely accepted dissolution in form and forthwith retired from the official state house to the Williamsburg tavern, where in that so-called Apollo room, dedicated to colonial mirth and revel, they put Peyton Randolph in the chair and adopted another boycott association, besides taking the fateful step of deciding to propose a general congress of the colonies. Philadelphia was suggested as the place and September 5, 1774, as the date. The meeting also issued a call for the election of delegates from the counties to a convention of the colony at Williamsburg on August 1, 1774.
In this unofficial meeting in the tavern, where sentiments might be expressed without fear of interruption, the differences between conservatives and progressives again came to the surface. The radicals, led by Henry, Mason, and Richard Henry Lee, with Nicholas temporarily aiding them, made the sweeping proposal of stopping payment of British debts, ceasing both importation and exportation and closing the courts, measures of open rebellion. The conservatives, led by Paul Carrington, supported by Carter Braxton, Thomas Nelson, Jr., and Peyton Randolph, advocated payment of debts and continuance of exporting.<a href="#3" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
The colony responded to the association and the call for a meeting by electing delegates to the August Convention (who were for the most part members of the House of Burgesses) and appointing local committees to enforce the boycott. The first of these committees, so far as is known, were formed in the Virginia towns in May and June, 1774.<a href="#4" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
American Archives, I, 417."> Dunmore (afterwards Shenandoah) County also elected a committee on June 16, 1774, and Fairfax on June 18, at a meeting over which George Washington presided. Other counties followed, but in many of them the meetings did not elect committees, but remained content with approving the non-intercourse association and selecting delegates to the convention.
This August Convention, patriotically perspiring in the midsummer heat, adopted a more extreme association, which bound subscribers not to import British manufactures and products and slaves after November 1, 1774, and to cease exporting tobacco after August 10, 1775, if England did not meantime come to terms. Furthermore, merchants were required to sign the association on pain of boycott, and subscribers, violating the association and detected by county committees, were to be publicly branded as "inimical" to America. This sweeping embargo shows all the way through the hand of Richard Bland, who earlier in the summer, at the meeting in his own county of Prince George, had outlined a non-intercourse scheme in almost the words used by the August Convention.<a href="#5" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
American Archives, i, 490.">
The August meeting of 1774 marks the actual beginning of the Revolution in Virginia. The members of the House of Burgesses, under the moderatorship of Peyton Randolph, quietly ignored the governor and proceeded to put into effect as a popular convention what they would otherwise have done as a legal assembly. Acting as direct representatives of the people, the convention, besides framing the association, elected Randolph, Bland, Pendleton, and Benjamin Harrison, conservatives, and Washington, Henry, Jefferson, and Richard Henry Lee, progressives, as delegates to the Continental Congress.
At the assembling of the Congress in September, 1774, the strong Virginia delegation made a deep impression, and Peyton Randolph, that portly gentleman whose destiny it was to head so many bodies, legal and treasonable, was elected president. The Virginia progressives led the Congress in proposing bold measures; indeed, Patrick Henry, in his fire-brand fashion, declared that government in America was dissolved, and that the colonies, being reduced to a state of nature, were (according to the doctrine of Rousseau) free to enter into a new system of political contract.<a href="#6" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
John Adams's Life and Work, ix, 366."> Richard Henry Lee, father of boycotts, advanced non-intercourse as the needed panacea to cure the inflamed British public mind, and Congress adopted a stringent Continental Association forbidding the importation of British goods and the exportation of American products to British territories after certain dates. County and town committees were to carry the association into effect and impose on offenders the penalty of being published in the newspapers as "enemies of America," the "undesirable citizens" of that place and period.
Congress, in passing such a resolution and the colonies in undertaking to enforce it, assumed a power to which they had no legal claim whatever. The Continental Congress, which represented the people of the colonies rather than governments, was a frankly revolutionary body, and the Association was economic war preceding bloodshed. The great boycott adopted by Congress was almost the same in detail as that drawn up by the August Convention in Virginia, and was shrewdly, one might almost say, cynically, calculated to intimidate the imperial government by striking at the Englishman's proverbially sensitive pocket nerve.
This lengthy and tedious document bound the colonies to refrain from importing British goods after December 1, 1774, - unless Pharaoh had in the mean time relented, and to cease exporting products after September 10, 1775. American manufactures were to be encouraged in every way known to an age before the birth of "infant industries " and paternal government. Goods brought in between December 1, 1774, and February 1, 1775, should be reshipped or delivered to local committees for disposal and invoices brought in after February 1, 1775, must be returned unopened. To enforce these laws, styled (with unconscious irony) "recommendations," Congress directed the appointment of committees in each town and county with inquisitorial and punitive powers. The punishment prescribed - publication of offenders in the newspapers - was much more serious than it sounds, because in the excited condition of public opinion it meant nothing less than a mild form of outlawry.
The Revolution began with the enforcement of the Continental Association, which was, in reality, rebellion. At this time the people of the colonies were overwhelmingly in favor of resistance; the Tory element was small. It was only when the failure of the commercial war became apparent and real war began that a genuinely loyalist party arose in the colonies; then the importance of the issue, dwarfing in the eyes of the colonists many grievances, brought over to the British side the merchant class, which found itself in danger of being ruined by the war, and also in some colonies a part of the planter interest. In Virginia, almost alone among the colonies, the planter classes were so united in sentiment and so all-powerful politically and socially that a Tory party had no chance of development, although there, as elsewhere, the rudiments of such a party existed, and might have grown under less adverse conditions.
The Continental Association was carried out in Virginia rigidly and with great effect owing to that strong local feeling which unified sentiment to a degree unknown to modern communities. Each Virginia county was a little world of its own, somewhat narrow and self-centered, but with a variety of social strata and at least a few individuals of education and public experience. A small group of prominent men, usually connected by family ties, organized the opinion of each community. It is true that democratic feeling was by no means absent, even in the oldest and most conservative counties, but leaders customarily obtained their position through wealth and social standing, although the numerous rivalries that existed made ability necessary as well. The representative from eastern Virginia in the Revolutionary period usually was a capable and patriotic man - no mere well-to-do landowner.
The greater activity of the enlightened classes in eastern Virginia was largely due to the fact that the Revolution in the South was not of economic origin. This statement may seem heretical in the eyes of modern history students, accustomed to find one explanation for every phenomenon of human nature: nevertheless, the evidence points irresistibly to such a conclusion. Only with difficulty and great straining can economic causes for the Revolution in Virginia be adduced, and when examined they do not appear convincing. The fact that the movement began in Virginia with the adoption of measures designed to put economic pressure on England might appear to give weight to such a theory, but the truth is that these weapons were resorted to for purely political purposes and to obviate the necessity of armed conflict. The Revolution in New England was primarily economic and the lower classes led it: the revenue policy of the British government threatened local industries. But apart from the Stamp Act, which would have proved burdensome alike to all the colonies, the colonial policy of the ministry was not oppressive to Virginia. Nor did the Navigation Acts interfere greatly with the welfare of the colony, which found as good markets in England as there were elsewhere and which had grown greatly in the eighteenth century. And it is difficult to believe that the king's plan to form new colonies west of the Alleghanies forced the land-hungry Virginians, as has been asserted, to go into the Revolutionary movement: land in the wilderness at that time was too cheap to fight about. The real economist, seeking the most plausible motive, would pronounce the Revolution in Virginia another Catalinarian conspiracy to obtain relief for a debt-burdened community by declaring tabula rasa. The Virginia planters were indeed heavily in debt to English merchants, just as the Southern planters of 1860 were largely a debtor class - though this fact is not used to explain secession. Furthermore, Washington, Mason, and many other fervent patriots were not among the debtors, nor were the westerners who so ardently supported the revolt.
In truth, the Revolution in Virginia was almost entirely political in origin. It was the effort of a community singularly tenacious of its rights and jealous of the broadening shadow of the British Empire across the world to secure certain positions for its own safety; it was the determination of a proud, easy-going, liberty-loving community, conscious of its importance in America and of its small importance in English eyes, to maintain its old independence and increase it. Chafing even during the Frenchand-Indian War at any exertion of royal authority, the Virginians were not prepared to admit the Parliamentary claims put forth in 1764 Patrick Henry had appealed to this colonial jealousy and sense of difference, this vague and subconscious feeling of nationalism, in 1765, and the feeling once aroused never died out. The people of Virginia believed that the home government had determined in the Stamp Act to bring them to "chains and slavery," and thought that acquiescence in any tax whatever would mean the concession of a principle which would end in colonial exploitation for the benefit of England. Accustomed to self-government and to a freedom we cannot understand to-day, the planters were prepared to take the risks of resistance rather than to submit to any curtailment of their rights or any check to their development. They began the war reluctantly and without thought of separation from England, but to secure their former freedom; separation was a measure reluctantly adopted only when it became apparent that it was inevitable. And indeed, in the closing weeks of 1774, when the Virginians began their active resistance, they had no great expectation of going to war at all. It should not be overlooked that the Continental Association, while an active war measure, was intended to secure a peaceful settlement of the difficulties between colonies and ministry. The Association was an attempt to bulldoze Britain into another such concession as followed the Stamp Act agitation, the provincials judging that if they could make their displeasure expensive enough to British commercial interests they would gain their point. The plan succeeded so far that it brought the British traders to clamor for an understanding with the colonies, but it failed to affect the government, which this time stood firm. War ensued and was to some extent the result of a mutual miscalculation. The Association, intended really as a peace policy, was a conservative much more than a progressive scheme. Its leading advocate was not Henry or Jefferson, but Bland, whose outline Congress adopted. The bolder minds among the progressives seem to have understood that war was inevitable; and Patrick Henry was ready for it early in 1775, before the first shot had been fired at Lexington and while the conservatives were still sanguine of a peaceful settlement. But Henry was the most far-sighted man of his generation.
With prompt enthusiasm the conservatives proceeded to obey the recommendations of the Continental Association, forming committees through all eastern Virginia. Like the August Convention, the committees had no legal existence: nevertheless, the convention had wielded more than the powers of the House of Burgesses, because untrammeled by hostile governor and council, and the committees also exerted very great actual authority. The old constitution quietly expired in the least violent of revolutions. This lack of jar was due to the fact that the class in control of affairs wrought the change; no social upheaval attended the overthrow of British sovereignty. Members of the House of Burgesses simply became delegates to the Virginia Convention of 1774, which inaugurated the Revolution; and in the same way, justices, vestrymen, and other prominent persons formed the new county committees. Thus the old government was eliminated from Virginia, while all the time the governor sat in his residence at Williamsburg, "the Palace," imagining that everything would come right again.
At first, indeed, the Revolutionary movement followed time-honored precedents. On court-days in November and December, 1774, the farmers of eastern Virginia met as usual and, crowded on the court-house green, heard the orators they had always listened to hold forth on the iniquities of the British ministry and the endangered liberties of America. As might have been expected, they ended by appointing these same leading citizens as local committeemen to secure the "observation of the Association." It was the local gentry, not demagogues, who fanned the flame of revolution in the tidewater. It was they, as we are told, who turned balls and parties into patriotic festivities, putting heads together over tables, after the immemorial custom of revolutionists, and drunkenly roaring out liberty songs.' A critical and unfriendly observer at a mass meeting to hang Lord North in effigy wrote that the great body of the crowd present remained looking quietly on at the scene, while a few cheering and swearing gentlemen supplied all the enthusiasm.<a href="#7" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
American Archives, i, 970."> That violent leader, Archibald Cary, put up a large pole at Williamsburg decorated with a bag of feathers and bucket of tar as a little hint to any who might be found wanting in patriotism or dissection.<a href="#8" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
Magazine of history (1906), 3, 156."> The leaders of the conservative party were conspicuous in the formation of county committees. Edmund Pendleton, the chief who afterwards succeeded Peyton Randolph, was elected chairman of the Caroline Committee on December 8, 1774; Paul Carrington, chairman of the Charlotte Committee; Archibald Cary, of the Chesterfield Committee; Robert Carter Nicholas, of the James City; Joseph Jones, of the King George; Peyton Randolph, of the Williamsburg Committee, on which Nicholas and George Wythe also served; Richard Bland, of the Prince George; Landon Carter, of the Richmond; Benjamin Harrison, of the Charles City.<a href="#9" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 9
William and Mary Quarterly, v, 101-06, and 245-55."> The county committee system in the east was completely dominated by the old leaders, to whom is largely due its extraordinary efficiency as an instrument to secure uniformity of sentiment by means of encouragement on the one hand and repression on the other.
The first local committees, modeled on the colonial committees of correspondence, began to be formed in the summer of 1774 after the appointment of the Baltimore Committee of Correspondence. Alexandria, on May 28, 1774, elected a committee to correspond with the Maryland metropolis, and three days later, on May 31, Dumfries <a href="#10" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 10
Calendar of Virginia State Papers, viii, 51"> also appointed a committee. Fredericksburg came next, on June 1, 1774.<a href="#11" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 11
Ibid., viii, 54."> After the May meeting of the assembly, when an association was adopted, the local committees of correspondence enlarged their activities to include the enforcement of the boycott, thereby anticipating the committees formed in the fall at the instance of Congress. The Dumfries public meeting, on June 6, 1774, instructed its committee of correspondence to take up the new duties;<a href="#12" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 12
American Archives, i, 388. "> in other places where committees existed they probably assumed them as a matter of course. A meeting at Woodstock, in Dunmore County, on June 18, 1774, elected a committee both to correspond and to enforce the association,<a href="#13" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 13
Ibid., i, 417."> and at some time in June a similar committee came into being in Norfolk. Fairfax, Stafford, and Frederick elected committees in July, and other bodies were doubtless formed in other places about this time.
At the end of 1774 the Continental Association impelled the formation of committees in the eastern counties generally. The central, southern, and western counties followed a little later, until by the middle of 1775 probably every one of the sixty counties had complied. A committee "for seeing the Association duly executed" existed in Westmoreland prior to November 8, 1774, for we find it sitting in a case on that date. After this, the next committee elected under Continental regulations, so far as we know, was that of Renrico, on November 17, 1774. Hampton and Elizabeth City followed on November 21; Warwick, on November 23; James City and Chesterfield, on November 25; Richmond County, on December 5. This last committee was the second appointed for the county. Then in rapid succession came Princess Anne, Essex, Caroline, Prince William, King and Queen, Northampton, Charles City, Orange, Accomac, King George, Isle of Wight, and Williamsburg, all appointed in December, 1774. Many other counties selected their bodies early in 1775.
In the first months of activity the town and county committees worked as independent organizations, without reference to any central authority. They enforced the nonimportation and exportation directions of the Association, mercilessly repressed antipatriotic opinion, encouraged Revolutionary sentiment, and prepared the colony for armed resistance to England. A surprisingly small amount of mob violence accompanied the repressive measures. A crowd from Williamsburg, in May, 1774, boarded a ship containing tea, destroyed the prohibited freight, and attempted to burn the vessel but without success. In general, the local machines ran too smoothly to need violence. The courts had put up shutters and the usual county administration was completely suspended, but justices and other local officials, under the title of committeemen, continued to exercise their powers, greatly enlarged; they assumed an inquisitorial authority over the life of the community. As a loyalist sadly lamented: "Everything is managed by committee, setting and pricing goods, imprinting books, forcing some to sign scandalous concessions and by such bullying conduct they expect to bring Government to their own terms."1<a href="#1" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
Henry's Patrick Henry, i, 160.">
History was rapidly made in the spring of 1775. The House of Burgesses, acting again as a convention, without governor or council, met in March, 1775, in the village of Richmond, where it could deliberate with more freedom than in Williamsburg under the governor's shadow. The tension in Boston, almost at breaking-point, made the meeting of even more than ordinary importance, since, in view of the evident failure of the Continental Associa-
Magazine of History (1900), 3, 157. tion to coerce the British ministry, war had passed from the region of possibility to that of immediate probability.
The strong men of the colony mustered in force. They were flushed with excitement and conscious of great impending events, and they broke out into a violent party disagreement as to the course to pursue. The conservatives, despite the fruitlessness of their commercial policy, still hoped for an understanding with England; the progressives were prepared for immediate war and revolution.
The struggle in the convention was precipitated over a pacificatory declaration "that it is the most ardent wish of this colony (and they are persuaded of the whole continent of North America) to see a speedy return of those halcyon days, when we lived a free and happy people."<a href="#15" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 15
William Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, 116."> Immediately after the adoption of this useless, if pious, prayer, Patrick Henry rose to move that the colony be at once put in a state of defense. This bold challenge was accepted by the conservative leaders, Bland, Pendleton, Nicholas, Benjamin Harrison, and Willis Riddick, who feared lest the sympathy of the Whig Party in England and Parliament, upon which the conservatives now hung their hopes, might be alienated by the threat of force. They still dreamed that the manufacturing interests of England would succeed in moving the government and averting war, much as the Confederates fondled the delusion that the stoppage of the cotton supply would force Europe to intervene in the war between North and South. Furthermore, they pointed out that the colony was in no condition to go to war with the first military and naval power in the world. Henry answered them in the most famous of his speeches. Scouting the idea of a peaceful accommodation, the great agitator pleaded for military preparation and ended his appeal with that world-thrilling sentence: "Give me liberty or give me death."<a href="#16" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 16
William Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, 120-23."> It was a speech that stirred the patriot party in all the colonies, and, naturally, excited the disgust of Tories, who wrote home that the orator had denounced "the king as a tyrant, a fool and puppet and Englishmen and Scots as a set of wretches sunk in luxury who were unable to look the brave Americans in the face."<a href="#17" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 17
Magazine of History (1906), 3, 158.">
Henry's arming resolutions, which were supported by Washington, Jefferson, and Richard Henry Lee, and aided by all his own matchless eloquence, barely passed the convention by a vote of 65 to 60,<a href="#18" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 18
Ibid., 3, 158; not exactly reported."> showing the strength of the conservative opposition. The committee appointed to prepare a plan of defense was, however, predominantly progressive. Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Andrew Lewis, William Christian, Thomas Jefferson, and Isaac Zane were of this faction, while the conservatives were represented by Robert Carter Nicholas, Harrison, Pendleton, and Riddick.<a href="#19" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 19
Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, 124."> The personnel of the committee, largely agitators and western fighting men, appeared to guarantee vigorous military action, but party strife prevented it.<a href="#20" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 20
Magazine of History (1906), 3, 155."> It seems apparent that the raising of a military force was only the first part of Henry's plan, which, we are informed, intended nothing less than complete revolution and the assumption of government by the convention, including the appointment of magistrates under new commissions and the levying of taxes. His bold and direct mind saw little wisdom in the efforts of conservatives to maintain a show of respect for the royal representative at Williamsburg while preparing at Richmond for open rebellion. But the conservatives, in their loyalty to the constitution and their shrinking from war with England, preferred to be inconsistent rather than revolutionary: although they sat in a convention without legal authority, considering war measures against England, they were nevertheless ready to come together again at the governor's call as the legitimate assembly of the colony. Henry sought to rend asunder this benighted constitutionalism, which had no meaning now, and gain the advantages that come from taking a firm initiative, but the conservatives, who clung instinctively to the connection with the crown, succeeded in putting off the catastrophe a little longer. Nicholas, Harrison, Bland, and Riddick worked together strenuously to this end.
As a result of the united and determined conservative opposition, <a href="#21" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 21
Magazine of History (1906), 3, 158."> the March Convention bore little fruit and the Revolution did not formally begin in Virginia before the battle of Lexington, as would have been the case if Patrick Henry had had his way. The history of the Revolution in Virginia throughout 1775 is a repetition of the clash in the March Convention, the conservatives time and again postponing decisive action in their efforts to prevent war and secure a peaceful settlement according to their ideas of the colonial constitution. This anomalous condition of a country in actual but unrecognized rebellion continued until late in the summer. The courts were closed, militia companies drilled at every court-house, and the county committees busied themselves in hunting out and suppressing British sentiment wherever it appeared: Dunmore, however, remained undisturbed in his "Palace" at Williamsburg. Seldom has history presented a more illogical picture.
Yet, in spite of the conservative fear and distrust of Henry's radicalism, the two wings of the patriot party worked together in some respects. The progressive wing, led by Henry, Jefferson, Mason, and the Lees, made concessions to the older, English-loving faction, which genuinely dreaded revolution though hostile to the British policy. The conservatives, in turn, cooperated with the radicals in necessary undertakings, such as the crushing of the individual Tories scattered through the colony. These, if left to themselves, might have combined to form a party: obedience to the Continental Association was demanded and dissent was repressed effectively. The chief concession made by the progressives to the conservatives was non-interference with Dunmore, whom the older men continued to regard : as the legitimate head of the state. Undisturbed as he was, the one policy left Dunmore was masterly inactivity: he had no military force at his disposal and such authority as he still possessed was by grace alone.
Dunmore, however, mistaking the forbearance of the Virginians for timidity, determined to overawe them by a sudden and audacious stroke. On the night of April 20, 1775, a squad of marines from the king's ship Magdalen, lying in the James River near by, carried a quantity of powder from the colony powder-house in Williamsburg on board the ship. The next morning, when the townsfolk learned that their magazine had been rifled, they appeared in the streets in arms, only to quiet down finally under the representation of the town officials that the powder would be restored. The council respectfully requested the governor to return the colony's property and were met with the transparent excuse that it had been removed for fear of a slave rising and would be sent back when needed. Peyton Randolph and Robert Carter Nicholas played a great part in making this evasion palatable to the Williamsburgers, who, respecters of persons and dignitaries as they were, could become riotous on occasions. A wild rumor sent them to arms a second time a day or two later, but their excitement at last subsided and the incident seemed closed.
The inland people were not so easily calmed as the tractable population of the capital. The news of the powder seizure spread through the colony and created great excitement. Some hundreds of volunteers from northern and western Virginia met at Fredericksburg, ready to descend on Dunmore, while at other muster-places the militia gathered in considerable numbers.<a href="#22" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 22
C. R. Lingley's Transition in Virginia from Colony to Commonwealth, 67. An excellent study of this period. "> But Peyton Randolph, working to quiet the agitation, wrote around in the name of the town corporation that the governor had pledged himself to return the powder and advised strongly against violence. The musters, therefore, melted quickly away and left the victory seemingly with Dunmore. His lordship, nevertheless, had been sufficiently alarmed by the stir to issue, on May 3, 1775, a proclamation repeating the slave-insurrection bugaboo. As might have been expected, the county committees which then ruled Virginia received with contempt this bungling essay in fiction; still, they were for the most part conservative enough in temper to accept the explanations of the patriot leaders at Williamsburg as satisfactory.
At this juncture, however, the agitator who appeared at every crisis, who had stirred the colony in the "Parsons' Cause" in 1763 and again in the Stamp Act debate in 1765, seized the Heaven-born opportunity for vigorous action. Rousing the Hanover Committee by his fiery words, Patrick Henry marched on Williamsburg at the head of the county volunteer company. The act was less rash than it seemed: not only could Henry count on a large and devoted following throughout Virginia, but the movement was so well timed that it completely unnerved Dunmore, who had no troops behind him. When the orator, with the ever-growing mob of armed men that hastened to him from all sides, drew near Williamsburg, the governor sent him a message apparently offering payment for the powder. In any event, Henry received from a royal officer a sum of money for the powder and thereupon turned his men homeward. He professed satisfaction with the result, but, in reality, he had been checkmated in the greatest effort of his career. There can be little doubt that he marched on Williamsburg prepared to take advantage of Dunmore's folly by seizing the government and inaugurating the Revolution without further delay; but the conservative leaders in Williamsburg, who strove almost frantically to stave off the crisis,<a href="#23" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 23
Magazine of History (1906), 3, 159."> brought such strong pressure to bear on him that he abandoned his plan in the interests of harmony. The governor continued to hold his place after the gunpowder incident solely because of the rather ill-judged procrastination of the conservatives and their excessive tenderness for constituted authority.
Dunmore now gave another and supreme illustration of his weak and unstable character, which oscillated between timidity and temerity according as pressure was applied or withdrawn. England has been fortunate for the most part in her choice of official representatives in her colonies and vassal nations; they have usually been men of ability, and occasionally of insight and feeling. (Was there ever an administrator who surpassed Raffles of Java?) But the British government had not acted with its accustomed discrimination in selecting the Scots Earl of Dunmore as governor of Virginia at a critical time like 1771. He succeeded two able and popular men, Fauquier and Botetourt, who had done everything possible to reconcile colony with mother country. Dunmore, also, in his rather flaunting way, had courted popularity with some degree of success, although his plan to prevent revolutionary activity by proroguing the assembly, whenever the House of Burgesses became seditious, had wearied the Virginians without interfering with their programme.
The governor was mad enough, as soon as Henry's back was turned and his force dispersed, to issue a proclamation branding him an outlaw and warning the people against aiding and abetting him. As Henry was the idol of the hour - the leader of the colony as no other Virginian had ever been - and as Dunmore had no military force whatever, such a fiery pronunciamento, coming on the heels of an abject backdown, was worse than foolish. Whatever his reason, Henry calmly ignored the proclamation, which would have served him as an excellent pretext for attacking Dunmore in earnest. Consideration for the conservatives probably kept him from acting, but he may have decided that it was higher wisdom to allow the inevitable to occur without his personal interference.
Owing to this reluctance of the conservatives to precipitate action, their hopeless crying of peace when there was no peace, the curious situation in Virginia continued for a month longer. Dunmore even called a meeting of the assembly for June 1, 1775, to secure the reopening of the courts and consideration of Lord North's compromise proposals. It is likely that he at last realized that his policy of embarrassing the colony by refusing to convene the legislature had merely resulted in his own practical elimination from affairs. The Revolutionary movement, far from halting in the vacation of the assembly, had in fact progressed faster, because unhampered. The Burgesses were too experienced a breed of politicians to be checkmated by so obvious a ruse as prorogation. Dunmore was finally able to perceive this.
The Virginians of that day were either Englishmen and lacking in a sense of humor, or they had become Americans and had acquired it in a high degree. For, with war in full blast in the North and the colony in arms, the Revolutionary Convention of March, 1775, including Henry, actually met at the governor's order on June 1, 1775, as the House of Burgesses. The House as the constitutional lower body of the assembly gravely considered the acts it had performed in its other role of rebellious convention and duly pronounced them good.<a href="#24" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 24
Lingley's Transition in Virginia from Colony to Commonwealth, 71."> It did not, however, gratify the governor by reopening the courts. The schedule of fees to be charged in judicial proceedings had to be regularly reenacted; and in the absence of such authority no fees could be charged or business transacted<a href="#25" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 25
Ibid., 70."> an ingenious constitutional device to secure the subserviency of the courts to the House of Burgesses. The Burgesses rejected North's conciliatory offer to accept the assurances of the colonies that they would contribute to the defense of the British Empire; the Revolution had gone too far to be stopped by anything short of a complete renunciation of the right of taxation by Parliament. Even the conservatives, anxious as they were to preserve peace, demanded this much.
Feeling against Dunmore rose to such a height in the House of Burgesses that, according to report, Richard Bland, the erstwhile conservative, actually suggested hanging him and was warmly supported in this extraordinary proposal.<a href="#26" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 26
Magazine of History (1906), 3, 160."> What was more alarming than these outbursts, a force of riflemen, known as "shirtmen" from their long hunting-frocks, so different from the conventional European garb of the tidewater, had reached Williamsburg from the piedmont counties, and Dunmore fled with his family on board the Fowey at Yorktown. Still attempting to play the governor from his floating headquarters. he sent demands to the assembly from time to time. On June 21, 1775, the disgruntled Burgesses, who were almost morbidly anxious to preserve constitutional forms without regard to circumstances, forwarded to the governor a last protest against his absenteeism and concluded their work without him,<a href="#27" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 27
Lingley's Transition, etc., 74."> adjourning to meet again on October 21, 1775. The constitutional figment was now worn threadbare; since the acts passed by the assembly were not legal without Dunmore's approval, it was evident that Virginia, in spite of her conservatism, had come to the point of undisguised revolution. The colonial assembly never met again. On October 21, and at two subsequent dates, there came together a handful of Burgesses, too few to make a quorum.<a href="#28" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 28
Ibid., 75."> The House of Burgesses, in its role of convention, assumed both the executive and legislative functions.
Yet so strong was the force of legal practice and constitutional principles in Virginia, so deep-rooted the attachment of the older conservatives to England, that one more effort was made to legalize the proceedings of the convention. As late as January, 1776, when Dunmore was a defeated fugitive and the Committee of Safety ruled in his stead, the governor wrote Richard Corbin, president of the council, - himself somewhat of a Tory, - expressing a wish to act as mediator between the colony and England.<a href="#29" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 29
Virginia Gazette (Alexander Purdie), March 1, 1776."> Corbin sent this letter to the Committee of Safety, which declined to consider Dunmore's offer, but referred it to the next meeting of the House of Burgesses. Corbin then went to Williamsburg in February, 1776, to consult the Committee of Safety, and, with its consent, visited Dunmore on board his ship for the purpose of inducing him to commission the president of the convention as acting governor for the adjourned meeting of the assembly. Dunmore refused to grant the commission, thus frustrating the last effort of the conservative leaders to continue the government under the colonial constitution.
The convention that met on July 17, 1775, disregarded the fugitive governor, now become an active enemy, and at once proceeded to put the colony on a war-footing. It directed the enlistment of two regiments of troops and attempted to provide an efficient militia system. Furthermore, it filled an imperative need by creating a revolutionary executive, that junta known as the Committee of Safety.
In the absence of several of the most noted leaders, sent as delegates to Congress, Peyton Randolph, Harrison, Henry, Jefferson, Wythe, and Richard Henry Lee, the highest vote for committeeman was given Edmund Pendleton, who thereby became chairman. He, with Richard Bland, who declined to go to Congress, Paul Carrington, Dudley Digges, Carter Braxton, John Page, and John Tabb, conservatives, and George Mason, Thomas Ludwell Lee, William Cabell, and James Mercer, progressives, composed the Committee of Safety. The election was a conservative triumph, owing partly to the absence of Richard Henry Lee and Jefferson, both of whom were in Philadelphia, and, even more, to the loss of Patrick Henry, who aspired to military glory as colonel of one of the Virginia regiments. Since Mason, the one strong progressive member of the committee, was absent from most of its meetings, direction of affairs fell into the hands of the conservatives under the leadership of Edmund Pendleton, the chairman. This transfer of power from progressives to conservatives, with some of the aspects of a coup d'etat, led to the postponement of hostilities with Dunmore for some months. Indeed, the year might have expired peacefully but for the headiness of the ex-governor, who left the Committee no choice but war. With the progressive leaders out of the way, at the election of the Committee of Safety the conservative faction succeeded in getting the executive power in its own hands and so deferred the final step in the breach with England; they doubtless hoped for some eleventh-hour victory of peace to satisfy colonial demands and yet leave the British Empire intact. The conservatives never realized, as Henry and Jefferson did, that such a dream was the one impossible thing.