CHAPTER II. - MIDDLE COLONIES.
In Maryland the conservative character of the people, and the prosperity they had enjoyed during the colonial period, made the transition from English supremacy to independence gradual. There was no sudden wrenching away from the old government and assumption of complete control by revolutionary bodies. The Governor allowed the Assembly to die by repeated prorogations, and the provincial conventions, in succeeding sessions, slowly took up its powers. The Governor remained in the Province, an honored and respected officer, though with ever diminishing authority until the spring of 1776, when for the sake of the public peace and safety, the Convention courteously asked his withdrawal. Even then the royal government was acknowledged as the permanent and established form, and the Convention as occupying a place of power, only for the time. to lead the Colony through a temporary trouble. Not until the Declaration of Independence did Maryland realize that the old regime was dead and a new government for the State must be framed.
The Governor lost first his military power, for the Convention, while willing that he should perform his civil duties, took to itself the control of the Colonys militia. The Convention which met in July, 1775, pledged itself to repel force with force and to support the American opposition. All freemen were directed to enlist in the militia, forty companies of minute men were organized, and a Council of Safety was elected by the Convention to command them. 1
The Council was composed of sixteen members, eight from the Eastern and eight from the Western Shore. It was to direct and regulate the operations of the minute men and militia, and appoint and commission all officers. It might suspend any officer, or displace him after a full hearing and appoint and commission another in his stead. In the recess of the Convention it could call minute men into service in Maryland or the neighboring colonies, but the militia could only be ordered to serve within their own province. It was to draw for all expenses on the treasurer. A general power to carry out the orders of the Convention, and to strengthen and defend the Province in whatever way seemed best was added. The limit of its existence was set at the meeting of the next Convention to which it was to render an account of its proceedings. The members of the Council from either Shore might meet separately, and were enabled in such cases to grant commissions for court-martials, to hear and determine high and dangerous offenses, and in case of immediate and pressing danger to call out the militia or minute men. It was strongly recommended, however, that this latter power he used as infrequently as possible, and he left rather to the joint meetings. To prevent abuse of authority four members from either Shore were to be ineligible to the succeeding Council.
In January, 1776, a second Council was appointed with similar powers, to sit until the end of the session of the next Convention, thus retaining the Council as executive while the legislature was in session. The number was reduced from sixteen to seven. Its duties were enlarged to include the trial of suspects sent by the county committees. These it was to hold in custody till the next Convention or banish at once if it saw fit. It was further directed to provide the troops with tents, camp utensils, provisions, etc. Fourteen shillings a day were granted its members as compensation.
The following Convention in electing a new Council increased the number to nine, a precedent which was followed in subsequent appointments. 4
The Convention of June, 1776, and the Constitutional Convention of August of that year each chose Councils of Safety.
The first Assembly of the State of Maryland met in February, 1777, and with the inauguration of the Governor the last Council of Safety went out of existence. The Assembly, however, found it necessary to endow the Governor and his Council with the same powers that the Council of Safety bad enjoyed, and they continued to exercise them until the end of the March session of the legislature, 1778.
The same duties were given to each Council and nearly the same men were chosen to fill the position, the provision rendering part of the members ineligible being soon dropped. It was better, Maryland found, to have trained and efficient men in a place of such responsibility and take the risk of their assuming undue power, than to jeopardize the province by trusting undisciplined hands.
The duties of the Council, as has been seen, were similar to those given the Councils of Safety in other colonies, being largely military. They were under the control of the conventions and reported to them. While the Convention was in session, it frequently imposed particular tasks upon them, as the erection of a powder-mill, the fitting out of armed ships, or the enlistment of troops.
The movement toward independence in Maryland was slow, and there were always hopes in the hearts of her statesmen, until the last, that reconciliation might be possible. The war did not force itself at once upon her, as it did upon Massachusetts, and Maryland while enlisting and organizing her soldiers, did not feel the pressure of immediate occasion for their use. She sent troops to Virginia, to New York, and supplied her quota for the flying camp for the Middle Colonies, but her own soil was untouched during these years, and she had nothing worse to fear than the lack in part the energy and enterprise that characterized the executives of the more northern colonies, who were driven by necessity to extraordinary activity. One has further an impression in dealing with the Maryland Council of a lack of centralization and system. In the New England colonies, the central committees or councils have in their own hands the multifarious threads of the business of the military establishment and regulate and superintend the most minute details. In Maryland the Council did not seem to grasp and control the whole situation. The Province and its forces seem too large for it to handle and matters were often left at loose ends or given over to a great degree to others to care for.
The Council obtained arms and ammunition for the militia by contracting with manufacturers and by trading with the French West Indies. The county committees assisted by collecting whatever public arms were in the Province, repairing and caring for them and delivering them at the Councils order. The arms manufactured were not always satisfactory and the work was slow. The West India trade was hazardous and subject to losses. The Council never obtained ammunition enough. The companies that had been enlisted were for this reason retarded in marching and sometimes rendered wholly useless. When the troops for the flying camp were being prepared the Council was reduced to the necessity of borrowing arms from the militia that remained in order to furnish those that were to go. The step was unpopular as the counties feared to be left defenseless. The soldiers parted with their arms unwillingly and many were not afraid to interpose an absolute refusal until they saw the Councils money in exchange.
Lack of forethought in providing for the maintenance of the troops after they were once organized is noticeable. No efficient and uniform system prevailed of supplying food, shelter and clothing. Sometimes the captains were directed by the Council to take charge of these matters, sometimes the county committees, again the Council undertook it itself.
No one was directly or wholly responsible and the result was that the men were often poorly supplied and ill cared for. Captain Beall writes from Drumpoint: "I looked upon it when I came, everything must be provided for one part of my company It is a fact there is not house room for twenty men, can it be expected the men can encamp out among the pines without blankets or tents. Upon the whole I must say this company has been greatly neglected The arms that were sent to Drumpoint are vile trash not eight out of twenty can make any use of." Captain Kent writes in a similar strain, "we find there is no provision made for camp equippage, such as cooking utensils, etc. That no person is authorized to pay the men their wages, nor any provision made for getting back when relieved Many of the poor young men are barefooted and I am obliged to advance the money or leave them behind." Other complaints of a like nature often enough filled the ears of the Council. In the latter part of its administration the duty of providing for the troops was given more and more into the hands of special agents.
With the Council rested the supreme command of the troops, save that the Convention alone was able to order the militia out of the Colony. No occasion arose, however, to test in any way its ability to deal with an invading army. Occasionally British ships sailed up the bay on marauding expeditions, and to any point which was threatened the Council sent companies of militia to repel any attempt to land. In case of sudden attack, when it was impossible for the officers to consult with the Council, that body allowed the Brigadier-General, or if it was not possible to apply to him, the other field officers to direct the troops, stipulating, however, to be informed at the earliest possible moment, of their proceedings. In Kent County where no field officers had been appointed the County Committee of Observation was given this power.
Much reliance was placed on these local committees. They were elected in accordance with resolutions of the Provincial Convention and were in close relation with the central government. The Council was in constant communication with them, directing them to collect arms, to provide clothing, to give an account of the state of their militia, of the approach of the enemy, and so forth. They were the means oft bringing the different portions of the Province and its needs into touch with the Council, which trusted largely to their suggestions and recommendations. "You will acquaint us, it wrote the Baltimore Committee, "as soon as you can with any measures you may think necessary for your defense that may be in our power, and we will forward them with all expedition." The local committees reported to the Council the situations which they considered most advantageous for the county troops to occupy, and the troops were accordingly ordered to those places. Every respect was paid to these suggestions. "We think," the Council write to Saint Marys Committee, "that Leonard Town is the proper station. Should you think otherwise, we should be glad to know your reasons that we may concur with you."
The local committees were often more enterprising than the central Council. This was especially true of the Baltimore Committee. On the occasion of an alarm. without waiting for authority or direction from the Council, it at once threw up breastworks and began to equip a schooner. Powder and lead were collected in a safe place, and put under guard and the Committee appointed a commissary of military stores to care for and to distribute them.
More practical than the Council it saw the impossibility of collecting arms through the county without paying for them, and did not even attempt it. Instead it distributed to its agents a few hundred pounds as the most effective arguments of which they could make use. Mr. Lux, one of the members said of the Committee: "I believe they mean to do right but its quite necessary to keep them within bounds because their zeal will sometimes outstrip their prudence."
In Maryland, as in Pennsylvania, the Council of Safety, because it represented the conservative and moderate elements, had to deal not only with the Tories as opponents, but with the more radical of the revolutionary party. In Pennsylvania the extremists were strong enough to gain the government, in Maryland they were less numerous and did not attempt to control the central authority but rather defied it with acts of lawlessness.
In dealing with these offenders the Council showed a culpable leniency and indifference. When insubordination arose among the troops of Queen Annes county and the militia refused to acknowledge the officers appointed and commissioned by the Convention and Council and acted under others of their own election, neither Convention nor Council stepped forward to maintain discipline.
In Baltimore this radical element was strong. Robert Christie, a sheriff, who, although holding a commission under the old system, had peaceably occupied his office under the protection of the new government, had been invited by the authorities to read the Declaration of Independence to the people, and had refused as he was still loyal to the King. This displeased some of the more hot-headed patriots, who served him with a notice to leave the State at once under peril of death. He was refused permission to remain till morning but obliged to take horse at eleven oclock at night. Christie reported the matter to the Council, with the names of the chief offenders, some of whom were militia officers. No attempt was made by the Council to reinstate or to compensate him. A letter was written the Baltimore Committee asking it to point out any person disobeying the laws of the State in a way to endanger it, but no further steps were taken.
Similar illegal notices were served on suspected inhabitants of Annapolis, and so fearless were the law breakers that the name of one of their leaders was signed on the cards, and they were distributed in person by another. If any authority was to be preserved to the government, if the lives of innocent citizens were not to depend on the selfish caprice of a mob, the offenders should have been dealt with at once and firmly. The signer of the cards and his assistant were arrested by order of the Council, brought before it and confessed their guilt. Instead of receiving any punishment or even being put under bonds to keep the peace, they were dismissed without reprimand on a mere verbal promise to keep the law in future. If the quick severity which the situation demanded had been exercised and the violators of the law made to feel that license was no more tolerable under the new government than the old, the excesses of the Whig Club and its imitators would never have disturbed the Province and its Assembly in the following months.
The treatment of the Tories by the Council was as mild as their treatment of the radicals, but more justifiable, as the former never seriously threatened the existence and authority of the government. The county committees were apt to hastily seize upon men whose only fault was disloyal words, or a known sympathy with the English, and send them to the Council for trial. It was wiser not to rouse, by undue harshness, a quiet disaffection into armed opposition, and the Council again and again dismissed these suspects on their giving security for future good behavior. The conservative attitude of the new government, the loyalty and respect which Governor Eden commanded, and the remoteness of the enemy made the Tory problem in Maryland comparatively unimportant. The Councils treatment of Governor Eden, when suspicions were thrown upon him, is characteristic of its position.
General Lee came into possession of letters directed to Governor Eden, which praised him for his loyalty and carried the Kings wish that he should co-operate with the British fleet. Lee sent the letters, not as he should have done, to the Maryland Council of Safety, but to the Baltimore Committee of Observation with the suggestion that Eden be at once seized. The letters were forwarded by this Committee to the Continental Congress together with an anonymous letter written by Purviance, the Chairman, in which the Council of Safety was charged with timidity, inactivity and want of spirit. Purviance then, without consulting his Committee, prepared to seize the Governor. The Continental Congress read the letters, and passed a resolution recommending the Council of Safety to follow Lees suggestion. This the Council refused to do, holding that over a purely internal matter the Congress had no control. Instead, a deputation was sent to Eden to ask for his parole not to leave the Province. The Governor refused, on the ground that he could not consent to make himself a prisoner while acting in any degree as executive of the Province. He, however, assured the Council that he had no intention of leaving the Colony, and with this assurance it was content.
The plot of Purviance to seize Eden failed, but the Council came to a knowledge of the attempt and of the letter which he had sent to Congress. Its indignation was thoroughly aroused. "We consider," it wrote its delegates in Congress, "the authority of the whole province trampled upon and insulted." Purviance was called before it and examined for the "high and dangerous offense" of assuming the supreme executive power. The Council did not wish to pronounce final sentence on account of the magnitude of the case, and he was therefore bound over to appear before the next Convention. That body, while approving the conduct of the Council, laid the blame rather on Lee than Purviance, and in consideration of the latters previous service in the cause dismissed him with a reprimand. Public policy demanded, however, that the Governor should leave the Province. The Convention therefore signified to him that he was at full liberty to depart, and Eden accepted the hint.
There is no doubt that the Council adopted the wiser policy in relation to the Governor. He was still nominally the chief executive, the civil officers held their commissions from him, and a majority in the Colony looked to him as their permanent head. His relations with the new provincial government had been of a friendly character, and he had labored steadily for conciliation. To have seized and displaced him would have been a betrayal of confidence, an unnecessary outrage to those who respected and loved him, and would have brought needless confusion into the affairs of the Province. As it was he took his leave after an affectionate farewell to the Council of Safety, attended to his barge with every mark of affection and respect. Few other governors in that troubled time could testify to a similar experience.
William Eddis, one of the royal officials in Maryland, speaks repeatedly of the wisdom and moderation with which the Council of Safety conducted itself. The self restraint which enabled men endowed with such extensive powers to keep their bands free from tyranny and from petty cruelty is worthy of admiration.
Chancellor Hanson writing from personal knowledge of the period and of the Council. said: "Such an administration, the immediate offspring of necessity, might have been reasonably expected to he subversive of that liberty which it was intended to secure. But in the course of more than two years during which it was cheerfully submitted to by all except the advocates for British usurpation, not a single person fell a victim to the oppression of their irregular government."
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