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stand, and therefore could not promote, those of Maine ; (2 and 3) the distance of the seat of government, and the consequent inconveniences ; (4) the expense of obtaining justice, since all the records of the Supreme Court were kept in Boston ; (5) the unjust and unequal operation of the regulations of trade, which depressed the price of lumber, the chief industry of Maine ; (6) the denial of representation in the House of Representatives to “a great part of the inhabitants in these counties ;1 (7, 8, and 9) an unjust system of taxation of polls and estates, an undue burden by reason of the excise and import acts, and the unequal incidence of the tax on deeds, on account of the smaller value of land conveyed and its more frequent conveyance. No definite estimate and comparison of the expense of a 'separate government seemed possible to the committee.
The convention ordered the report, signed by the president, to be sent to every town and plantation in the District, appointed another convention to be held on the first Wednesday in September, and sent a request to each town to choose delegates to the convention at the March meetings. The first convention having adjourned until September, and the second convention consisting of delegates chosen in March, met at the same time, and as many of the persons were members of both, they coalesced, and chose the same officers as the January convention. But they numbered only thirtyone in all. Four towns in York, eight in Cumberland, and ten in Lincoln were represented in this convention. The number of towns and plantations authorized to send delegates was more than ninety.
It was resolved by the convention that the people were suffering from the grievances enumerated by the former convention, except the fifth, relating to the operation of trade regulations. The phrasing of some of the paragraphs was slightly changed by a committee to which the subject was referred, with a request that any other grievances that occurred to them should be mentioned. As to the latter part of the duty the committee reported that there were such grievances, but they could not at that time “undertake to
1 No town having less than 150 ratable polls could send a representative, sav that any town incorporated before 1780 might elect a member. A large part of the population were in plantations and districts not organized.
enumerate the multiplicity of them.” A committee was appointed to prepare a memorial to the General Court asking for separation, and an address to the towns on the subject, requesting them to take a vote on the question and to return the numbers for and against the proposition. In order to secure a large vote it was resolved that the towns be informed that if they did not vote “they will be considered as acquiescing in the Doings of their brethren.” The convention then adjourned until the last Wednesday in January, 1787.
Williamson says that “the language of the address was courteous and well expressed.” A copy of the address is among the broadsides preserved by this Society, and unfortunately neither does its wording coincide with the version given by Williamson, nor is his description of its language quite accurate. The following are sentences extracted from the document, which is addressed “Friends and Brethren": “ The expediency of this measure has engaged the attention of the Public for a long time - it has been considered, as it undoubtedly ought to be, a subject of great importance. Two conventions have had it before them, and have carefully attended to the arguments which have been offered on both sides of the question. ... You feel yourselves distressed, and your distresses will increase until you legislate for yourselves. In this there is no great difficulty. Government is a very simple, easy thing. Mysteries in politicks are mere absurdities — invented intirely to gratify the ambition of princes and designing men — to aggrandize those who govern at the expense of those who are governed.”
The petition was really a calm and moderate statement of the position of the advocates of separation. They call attention to the fact that on the adoption of the present constitution “they either approved of, or submitted to, the same, and have paid due obedience to the laws thereof." Having concisely set forth the reasons for desiring a separation, they say:
“And while they are taking this peaceful measure to obtain a redress of their great political evils, by asking a separation from the other part of the Commonwealth, they do not entertain an idea of throwing off the weight of the publick debt, at this time laying on the Commonwealth at large, or to prevent the other part of the Commonwealth from having their just proportion of the unappropriated lands; but, like friends and brethren, most ardently wish to have all matters adjusted upon the broadest basis of equity and fair dealing."
1 History of Maine, vol. ii. p. 526.
2 In this case also Williamson has modified the language of the original document materially.
A question arose whether the petition should be presented at once to the General Court then in session. It was first voted “that as there has been a number of respectable towns in the Counties of York, Cumberland, and Lincoln that have not yet certified to this convention their determination of a separate State, and as the Commonwealth in general is at this time in a perplexed state, and this convention being unwilling to do anything that shall seem to lay a greater burthen on the General Court, therefore it is the opinion of this convention to postpone petitioning for a separation at present." Subsequently a long and acrimonious debate took place upon a motion to reconsider this vote, which was finally carried by 15 to 13, and a vote was passed to leave the petition with the committee, to be presented or not at its discretion. The committee exercised that discretion by withholding the petition until 1788, more than
It was offered in 1788 and referred to a committee which reported verbally on January 22, 1789, recommending that it lie on the table. A vote to that effect was adopted by the House of Representatives.
The action of the convention by a narrow majority is a revelation of the temper of those who were most urgent for the separation. It cannot be fully understood without a consideration of the origin and growth of the movement as a popular movement. All accounts agree that at the beginning separation was a project that appealed to the fancy of the people rather as one that would add to the prominence, importance, and independence of the community than as an escape from oppression and other evils. When the agitation started, in 1784, we have the authority of Davis for saying and he was a member of the September convention of 1786 and was acquainted with all the actors in the movement - that “ clergymen, physicians, lawyers, and farmers seemed engaged in accelerating the event' and in pointing out the benefits that would ensue from separation. Apparently there was little opposition, or that which
existed did not make itself evident. But when the conventions were held, we have the same authority for the statement that " there was also a respectable number of opposers of the measure.” They were men in trade who feared that the change would be detrimental to their business, and particularly those who held office under Massachusetts who apprehended that they would lose their positions. Davis admits frankly that self-interest controlled the members of both factions. He does not intimate on which side of the question he should be ranged. My best conjecture is that at that time he favored separation, but that he was for a conservative course. At all events, he was evidently glad at the time he prepared his paper (1795) that the movement failed.
The year 1786 was the year of Shays's Rebellion. At the very time the second convention was held the General Court of Massachusetts was in session, summoned by Governor Bowdoin, to take steps to overcome the rising rebellion in the western counties. The causes of disorder were real, and the grievances were genuine, although it was beyond the power the government to afford relief without injustice. It could transfer but not remove the evils of the day. The people of Maine were suffering as greatly from the hard circumstances of the time as those who rose in insurrection. They were in a sullen mood. The impulse to adopt any remedy for evils which they felt, and which, as commonly happens, they ascribed to the government under which they lived, bad possession of them. They would,” says Davis,“ have thrown off the yoke of any government without remorse." In the debate on the presentation of the petition some of them employed “ the language of genuine insurgents.” Like the more active insurgents in the western counties, they wished for paper money, and for tender acts to relieve the scarcity of money. While, therefore, the conservatives urged forbearance toward the Commonwealth at a time when it was about to cope with armed enemies, the radicals urged action, on the theory that in the state of civil war already begun Massachusetts would not dare to refuse the demand for separation.
It is not improbable, as is ingeniously suggested by Davis, that the success of the radicals saved Massachusetts from a second insurrection. He thinks that the hope of the concession which the convention demanded satisfied the malcontents. They could not ask respectfully for a dismissal, and begin to fight for it before there had been time to act on the request. Massachusetts was too busy with Shays to attend to the desires of Maine, even if the petition had been presented; and before the next session of the General Court began the rebellion had been suppressed and the opportunity to frighten the Commonwealth into a concession of its own dismemberment had passed.
It is interesting at this point to speculate upon what would have been the status of Maine if an act of separation had been passed at that time. The States were under the Articles of Confederation, but each of them was an independent, sovereign State. Massachusetts could have consented to the separation of Maine, and the act would have required no confirmation by any other power. But could the new State have deinanded admission into the confederation? The articles provided that Canada might be admitted as of right, but no other colony without the vote of nine States. It is a nice question whether as a former part of the confederation it would have been entitled to admission as of right, or would have come under the rule of being another colony." But in any event it would have been in the power of Maine to assert its absolute independence, and to repudiate all control by Congress.
The convention, having adopted the address to the people and the petition to the General Court, adjourned until the last Wednesday of January, 1787. At that time it met again and received the votes of the towns on the question of separation. There were then ninety-three towns and plantations. Thirtytwo only made returns of votes, which aggregated 618 for separation, 352 against it. Another adjournment was had to the 5th of September, when it was again resolved to " collect the sentiments” of the people, but no action in that direction was taken. There were five or six other adjournments, but the later meetings were attended by a steadily decreasing number of delegates. At the last meeting there were but three persons present, all from Portland. One of them w chosen president pro tempore, another as secretary, and the third moved that the convention adjourn. There was no one to second the motion, and so, says Davis, "the convention expired, not only without a groan, but without a single mourner to weep over its remains.'