Chronicles of America 

The New Charter for Massachusetts

Though Andros's authority stretched over such an enormous territory, his actual government was confined to Massachusetts and the northern frontier. He paid very little attention to Connecticut, Plymouth, and Rhode Island. With but two or three exceptions, the meetings of his council were held in Boston; the laws passed affected the people of that colony; and the complaints against him were chiefly of Massachusetts origin. Massachusetts was his real enemy, and it was Massachusetts that finally overthrew him. Andros was a soldier who never forgot the main object of his mission, and it is hardly surprising that he showed neither tact nor patience in his dealings with a colony that did little else but check and thwart the plans that had been entrusted to him for execution. The people of Massachusetts charged him with tyranny and despotism. Their leaders, many of whom were members of his council, complained of the council proceedings, which, they said, were controlled by Andros and his favorites, so that debate was curtailed, objections were overruled, and the vote of the majority was ignored. There is much truth in the charge, for Andros was self-willed, imperious, and impatient of discussion. On the other hand the Puritan leaders inordinately loved controversy and debate. If Andros was peremptory, the Puritan councilors were obstructive.

A more legitimate charge was the absence of a representative assembly and the levying of taxes by the fiat of the council. But Andros had no choice in this matter: he was compelled to govern according to his instructions. Not only was his treasury usually empty, but he was always confronted with the heavy expense of fortification and of protecting the frontier. He does not appear to have been excessive in his demands, and in case of any unusual levies, as of duties and customs, lie referred the matter to the Crown for its consent. But, as Englishmen, the people preferred to levy their own taxes and considered any other method of imposition as contrary to their just rights. Andros consequently had a great deal of trouble in raising money. Even in the council, tax laws were passed with difficulty, and the people of Essex County, notably in town meetings at Topsfield and Ipswich, protested vigorously against the levying of a rate without the consent of an assembly. John Wise, the Ipswich minister, and others were arrested and thrown into jail, and on trial Wise, according to his own report of the matter, was told by Dudley, the chief-justice, "You have no more privileges left you than to be sold as slaves." Wise was fined and suspended from the ministry, and it is possible that his recollection of events was affected by the punishment imposed.

In the matter of property, land titles, quitrents, and fees, the colonists had warrant for their criticism and their displeasure. Many of those whom Andros associated with himself were New Yorkers who had served with considerable success in their former positions, but who had all the characteristics of typical royal officials. To the average English officeholder of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, office was considered not merely an opportunity for service but also an opportunity for profit. Hitherto Massachusetts had been free from men of this class, common enough elsewhere and destined to become more common as the royal colonies increased in number. Palmer, the judge, Graham, the attorney-general, and West, the secretary, hardly deserve the stigma of placemen, for they possessed ability and did their duty as they saw it, but their standards of duty were different from those held in Massachusetts. People in England did not at this time view public office as a public trust, which is a modern idea. Appointments under the Crown went by purchase or favor, and, once obtained, were a source of income, a form of investment. Massachusetts and other New England colonies were far ahead of their time in giving shape to the principle that a public official was the servant of those who elected him, but to such men as Randolph and West and the whole office-holding world of this period, such an idea was unthinkable. They served the King and for their service were to receive their reward, and such men in America looked on fees and grants of land as legitimate perquisites. In New York they had been able to gratify their needs, but in Massachusetts such a view of office ran counter to the traditions and customs of the place, and attempts to apply it caused resentment and indignation. The efforts of these men, among whom Randolph was the prince of beggars, to obtain grants of land, to destroy the validity of existing titles, to levy quitrents, and to exact heavy fees, were a menace to the prosperity of the colony; while the further attempt to destroy the political importance of the towns by prohibiting town meetings, except once a year, was an attack on one of the most fundamental parts of the whole New England system. Andros himself, though laboring to break the resisting power of the colony, never used his office for purposes of gain.


Engraving by P. Pelham, 1727, after his own drawing from life. The first mezzotint engraving made in America. Reproduced from a copy in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.

That the Massachusetts people should oppose these attempts to alter the methods of government which had been in vogue for half a century was inevitable, though some of the means they employed were certainly disingenuous. Their leaders, both lay and clerical, were unsurpassed in genius for argument and at this time outdid themselves. When Palmer was able to show that, according to English law, their land-titles were in many cases defective, they fell back on an older title than that of the Crown and derived their right from God, "according to his Grand Charter to the Sons of Adam and Noah." More culpable was the revival of the unfortunate habit of misrepresentation and calumny which had too often characterized the treatment of the enemy in Boston, and the spreading of rumors that Andros, who spent a part of the winter of 1688-1689 in Maine taking measures for defense, was in league with the French and was furnishing the Indians with arms and ammunition for use against the English. Such reports represent perhaps merely the desperate and half-hysterical methods of a people who did not know where to turn for the protection of their institutions. A wiser and shrewder move was made in the spring of 1688, when a group of prominent men determined to appeal to England for relief and sent Increase Mather, the influential pastor of the old North Church, across the ocean to plead their cause with the Crown.

But relief was nearer than they expected. On November 5, 1688, William of Orange, summoned from Holland to uphold the constitutional liberties of Protestant England, landed at Torbay, and before the end of the year James II had fled to France. Rumors of the projected invasion had come to Boston as early as December, and reports of its success had reached the ears of the people there during the March following. Finally on April 4, John Winslow, arriving from Nevis, brought written copies of the Prince's declaration, issued from Holland, and two weeks later, on April 18, the leaders in the city, including many members of Andros's council, supported by the people of Boston and its neighborhood, rose in revolt, overthrew the government of Andros, and brought tumbling down the whole structure of the Dominion of New England, which had never from the beginning had any real or stable foundation. Having armed themselves, they seized Captain George, commander of the royal frigate, the Rose, lying in the harbor, as he came ashore to find out the cause of the noise and the tumult. Then they moved on to Fort Hill, where Andros, Randolph, and others had taken refuge. Here they defied the soldiers, who refused to fire, captured the fort, and carried their prisoners off to be lodged in private houses or the common jail. On the following day, they forced the Castle Island fort in the harbor to surrender and then imprisoned its commander; they demanded of the lieutenant in charge the delivery of the royal frigate and carried off the sails; and as nothing would satisfy the country people who came armed into the town in the afternoon but the closer confinement of Andros, they removed him from the private house where he had been lodged to the fort in the town. So excited was the populace and so serious the danger of injury to those in confinement, that West, Palmer, and Graham were sent to the fort on Castle Island for protection; Andros, after two futile attempts at escape, was lodged in the same quarters, while Randolph, as deserving of no consideration, was thrust ignominiously into jail. On the third day a council of safety, consisting of thirty-seven members, with the old Governor, Bradstreet, eighty-six years old, at its head, was organized to prepare the way for the reestablishment of the former Government. The council summoned a convention which, after hesitation and delay, authorized elections for a House of Representatives and the resumption of all the old forms and powers. On June 6, the assembly met, and to all appearances Massachusetts was once more governing herself as if the charter had never been annulled.

The other colonies followed the example of Massachusetts, and miniature revolutions took place in Plymouth, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, where the Andros commissions offered few obstacles to the renewal of the old forms. In a majority of cases the old officials were at hand, ready to take up their former duties. Plymouth, having no charter, simply returned to her old way of life, precarious and uncertain as it was; but Rhode Island and Connecticut took the position that as their charters had not been vacated by law, they were still valid and had not been impaired by the brief intermission in the governments provided by them. In this opinion the colonies were upheld by the law officers in England. Before the middle of the summer, practically all traces of the Andros régime had disappeared, except for the prisoners in confinement at Boston and the bitterness which still rankled in the hearts of the people of Massachusetts. There was no such intensity of feeling in the other colonies, where the loss of the assembly was the main grievance, though in Connecticut the resumption of authority by the old leaders roused the animosity of a small but energetic faction which said that the charter was dead and could not be revived, and demanded a closer dependence on the Crown. Henceforth, that colony had to reckon with a hostile group within its own borders, one that deemed the institutions and laws of the colony oppressive and unjust, and that for a time resisted the authority of what its leaders called a "pretended" government. During the years that followed, these men made many efforts to break down the independence of the corporate government, and to this extent the rule of Andros left a permanent mark upon the colony.

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