The people not united.—Up to 1774 the majority of Americans were not united in opposition to British policy, but acts of violence and retaliation, the meeting of Congress, and the organization of revolutionary committees, brought about a rapid crystallization of public opinion. Loyalty to Great Britain was the normal state. The Whigs were the nullifiers and eventually the secessionists. That they were able to perfect an organization and carry on a successful rebellion has obscured the fact that they were in reality but an active minority. The masses were indifferent or were loyal supporters of Great Britain. It is impossible to estimate accurately the number of Loyalists; they varied with localities and fluctuated with the fortunes of war. Some historians estimate them as a third of the population, others as one-half.
The Tory element in the colonies.—The great Loyalist stronghold was New York. There the moderate Tories had controlled the situation for several years. They had favored the assembling of the First Continental Congress, but when that body adopted the Association, they opposed it. After the battle of Lexington the Whigs grew in power and succeeded in setting up a provincial congress. But several counties remained Loyalist, and until the occupation of New York City by British troops a state of civil war existed in the province. After that event the British lines furnished a refuge for Tories from all the colonies.
Next to New York Pennsylvania contained the largest Tory element. There the Quakers, the proprietary interests, and a large German population combined to oppose the Whig movement. In New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware, the Tory element was so numerous that only with the greatest difficulty did the Whigs obtain the support of those colonies for independence. In New England the Loyalists were not powerful. In Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island they formed an insignificant part of the population, but in the region which afterward became the state of Vermont and in Connecticut they were numerous enough to be a menace.
In the South, Virginia was dominated by the Whigs. The impolitic acts of Lord Dunmore had alienated all but a small element of the population. The Scotch merchants of Norfolk and many planters had supported the governor, but his reprisals on the coast, his proclamation offering freedom to negroes and indented servants who would enlist, and the burning of Norfolk destroyed the Tory power in the province. North Carolina, which had recently been torn by the War of the Regulators was probably about equally divided, and in South Carolina and Georgia the farmers and cattlemen of the interior were usually Loyalists; but the British naval demonstrations and the defeat of Tory bands did much to win converts to the Whig cause in the three southern colonies.
A classification of the Loyalists.—The Loyalists, or Tories as they were called in derision, have been classified by Professor Van Tyne as the office holders whose incomes depended upon the existing régime; those whose friends were among the official class or who depended upon that class for preferment; the majority of the Anglican clergy; the conservative people of all classes, especially the wealthy merchants, the aristocracy of culture, of dignified professions and callings, and of hereditary wealth, and those who held office by virtue of wise selection; the king worshipers, who were moved by theory of government rather than by concrete facts; the legality Tories who believed that parliament had a constitutional right to tax the colonies; the religious Tories whose dictum was fear God and honor the king; and the factional Tories who were influenced by family feuds and political animosities.
The religious division.—The religious factor was one of the most important causes of division. An Anglican bishopric for the colonies had long been contemplated and the dissenting churches believed that the ministry was about to urge its establishment. In New England where the Congregational church was in the ascendency and in those sections where the Presbyterians and Baptists were powerful, the establishment of an episcopate was especially feared. Already the Anglican church numbered three hundred parishes in America. Throughout the colonies it was the church of the official class and in the South it was the church of the aristocracy. The southern Episcopalians were divided on the paramount political questions, but in New York the religious and political parties coincided. New York politics for many years had been factional, the De Lanceys who were Episcopalians being leaders in invariable opposition to the Livingstons who were Presbyterians. Both in New York and Connecticut those of the Episcopal faith were almost invariably Loyalists.
The Tory argument.—The Tories believed in no taxation without representation, but they differed with the Whigs in their interpretation of the word representation. The Tories accepted the English meaning which was based upon the idea that a man enjoyed representation not by the fact that he had voted for a member of parliament but by his belonging to one of the three great estates of the nation, each estate being represented in parliament. They admitted that this was an imperfect type of representation, but it was the ancient constitutional type. They believed that the relationship of the colonies to the mother country should be defined more clearly, but they did not believe that the Whigs had a right to demand a fundamental change in the constitution of the British Empire.
Moses Coit Tyler has pointed out that the other Tory arguments were based upon questions of expediency, (1) Was it expedient to reject the taxing power of parliament? (2) Was separation from the empire expedient? The Whigs argued that parliamentary taxes might become confiscatory. The Tories replied that parliament recognized the principle that all parts of the empire should be taxed equitably and justly, and that a powerful minority, which counted among its members Fox and Burke, were bent upon protecting the colonies. The Tories could see no reason for separation. They pointed out that until the beginning of 1776 the Whigs had consistently disavowed the idea of independence. Why then this sudden change? The Tories believed that concessions were about to be made which would make separation unnecessary and undesirable.
Persecution of the Loyalists.—After Lexington the Loyalists became intolerable to the Whigs. They must show their allegiance to the patriot cause or suffer the consequences. The favorite method of persecution was tarring and feathering, but riding the Tory on the liberty pole or ducking occurred frequently. Under the direction of the revolutionary committees freedom of speech was suppressed and the liberty of the press was destroyed. Any one who opposed the Association was considered an enemy; he must agree or be persecuted. When the Loyalists attempted to form counter associations, they were met with stern methods of repression. Whig clergymen held conferences in Loyalist communities to try to convert them, and obdurate places were visited by armed bands. When the Tories attempted to arm, their leaders were seized.
Congress attempts to control the Loyalists.—The Loyalists were lacking in organization, and when the governors were driven from the colonies, they lost their natural leaders. When calls for aid came from the deposed officials, many Tories formed bands and attempted to coöperate with the British forces. So serious was the situation that Congress, as early as October, 1775, recommended to the revolutionary governments that they arrest every person who might endanger the colonies or "the liberties of America." On December 30 a congressional committee reported that the Tories of Tryon County, New York, had collected arms and munitions, and that several Loyalists had enlisted in British service. Orders were issued to General Schuyler to seize the stores, disarm the Tories, and apprehend their leaders.
Congress extends the olive branch.—Congress hoped to win over a large part of the Loyalists and on January 2, 1776, it passed a pacific resolution which stated that as certain honest, well-meaning, but uniformed people had been deceived by ministerial agents, it recommended to the various committees and friends of American liberty to treat such persons with kindness and attention, to view their errors as proceeding from want of information, to explain to them the true nature of the controversy, and to try to convince them of the justice of the American cause. The colonial governments were instructed to frustrate the machinations of enemies and restrain wicked practices. It was the opinion of Congress that the more dangerous ones should be placed in custody, and to accomplish this the local authorities were given the right to call to their aid the continental troops.
The Queen's County Tories.—Immediately afterward Congress learned that the Tories of Queen's County, New York, were especially troublesome. Congress accordingly decided that they should be put outside of the protection of the United Colonies, that all trade and intercourse with them should cease, and that none of them should be allowed to travel or reside outside of that county without a certificate from the revolutionary government of New York. Violators of this provision were to be imprisoned for three months and lawyers were forbidden to try causes for them. Troops were sent into the county.
Disarming of the Loyalists.—A congressional committee which had under consideration the defence of New York, on March 14 advised the disarming of the Loyalists on Staten Island. Congress immediately ordered that eight thousand men be sent to the defence of New York and recommendation was made to all the colonies to disarm all persons "notoriously disaffected to the cause of America," or who refused to associate to defend, by arms, the United Colonies. The confiscated arms were to be used in arming troops.
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