From the beginning of the troubles with our
mother country, there was a considerable portion
of the people in these colonies â€“ in some
of them even a majority â€“ who were opposed to the
popular measures of resistance against the acts of the
British Parliament. These were commonly called
Tories, a term of reproach long used in England to
designate the upholders of the arbitrary acts of the
king and his ministers. It is said that the name was
first derived from the wild Irish troops whom James
II. enlisted into his army for the purpose of recovering
his English crown; and hence it came to be employed
to denote all those who approved and defended
the odious enactments of the royal government. For
themselves, in like manner, the patriot colonists
claimed the name of Whigs, originally another term
of ridicule given by the court party to the Scotch
Covenanters, whose favorite drink was said to have
been whigg, or sour whey, and afterward, like
another name of reproach, it was adopted as a term of
honor by the opposers of arbitrary government.
In the days of which we write, both these terms
had come to be freighted with the intensest signification.
The Tories were hated and denounced; they
were regarded as the vilest of men, ready for any
treacherous crime that would bring ruin upon their
country. They were often subjected to personal violence
and abuse. One of the most common methods
of doing this was by tarring and feathering â€“ a process
which Trumbull, in his satirical poem of McFingal,
thus describes: â€“
Forthwith the crowd proceed to deck
With haltered noose McFingal's neck,
While he, in peril of his soul,
Stood tied half dangling to the pole,
Then, lifting high the ponderous jar,
Poured o'er his head the smoking tar.
With less profusion once was spread
Oil on the Jewish monarch's head,
That down his beard and vestments ran,
And covered all his outward man.So from the high-raised urn the torrents
Spread down his sides their various currents.
His flowing wig, as next the brim,
First met and drank the sable stream;
Adown his visage, stern and grave,
Rolled and adhered the viscid wave.
With arms depending as he stood,
Each cuff capacious holds the flood.
From nose and chin's remotest end
The tarry icicles depend,
Till all o'erspread with colors gay,
He glittered to the western ray
Like sleet-bound trees in wintry skies,
Or Lapland idol carved in ice.
And now, the feather-bag displayed
Is waved in triumph o'er his head,
And clouds him o'er with feathers missive,
And down upon the tar adhesive.
Not Maia's son, with wings for ears,
Such plumage round his visage wears,
Nor Milton's six-winged angel gathers
Such superfluity of feathers.
Now all complete appears our squire,
Like Gorgon or Chimera dire,
Nor more could boast, on Plato's plan,
To rank among the race of man,
Or prove his claim to human nature,
As a 'two-legged, unfeathered creature'.
As the war went on, and the feelings of both parties
became more and more bitter, severe laws were
enacted against the tories. Persons suspected of being
such might be arrested under a magistrate's warrant,
and tried for their sentiments, and if convicted might
be banished and sent away to the enemy, under the
penalty of death if they should return. They who
absented themselves from their homes in the country,
or withdrew to British protection, were liable to the
confiscation of their estates. In Connecticut, the
offense of supplying provisions to the enemy, or
giving them information, or aiding in the enlistment
of troops, or harboring and countenancing those who
were engaged in such "treasonable practices," was
punished by fines, confiscation, and imprisonment.
Even to speak or write, or act in any way against the
doings of Congress, or the General Assembly, was to
incur disarming, disqualification for office, fines, and
imprisonment, according to the aggravation of the
offense. Even death itself was added to the other
penalties prescribed, and in some cases was actually
inflicted. A man named Dunbar, belonging to Northbury,
now Plymouth, Conn., who joined the British,
and received a captain's commission from the king,
was convicted of treason, and hanged in Hartford, in
1777, and the gallows, in a public place, was kept
standing for a long time, as a warning to others.
In many instances, doubtless, the tories suffered
great injustice. Mistaken as they were, and criminal
as they often became in their acts of hostility to the
country, there can be no question that not a few were
upright, and even patriotic, men. It may be interesting
to glance for a moment at some of the causes
which led them to sympathize with the British side.
Some of them thought that rebellion against a lawful
government was a sin. They could not believe
there was any deliberate design on the part of the
British ministry to infringe upon the chartered rights
of the colonists, or to destroy their liberties as Englishmen.
But if there were, they held that it was
wrong to resist their encroachments by force. To
them the king was the anointed minister of Heaven,
ruling "by the grace of God," and his subjects were
under command by the highest of all authority to "honor the king," as
well as to "fear God." Armed
resistance to his government was treason and rebellion,
crimes justly punishable by all laws, human and
divine. Men of this class there have always been. In
the time of the Stuarts they were believers in the
"divine right of the king to do wrong," and denounced
Cromwell and the Puritans of 1640 as traitors
and regicides. In our own day they upheld the
Mexican war and the fugitive slave law, because they
were "constitutional," and pronounced the doctrine
of the "higher law" fanaticism. We will not condemn
these men. Many of them were honest and
conscientious, and in private life above reproach.
Nay, they have a valuable part to play in society.
Conservatism is the ballast which often keeps the ship
of state steady on her course, and enables her to bear
the propulsion of bolder principles and more energetic
purposes in safety.
Another class, no less honest in their views, were
those who were impressed with the hopelessness of resistance.
To such it seemed little short of madness in
these feeble colonies to think of contending against
the entire force of that empire, upon which, it has
been so proudly said,
the sun never sets, How
often had she humbled the proudest nations of Europe!
Many then living had seen the triumphs of
her victorious arms in Canada, when the "Grand
Monarque" of France had been compelled to cede his
provinces to her. Her armies were composed of veterans,
commanded by accomplished officers, and in the
highest state of discipline. They looked with contempt
on the raw Yankee militia, and were considered
by the latter to be in every respect their superiors.
The successes these had achieved at Lexington and
Bunker Hill and Ticonderoga, astonished themselves
as much as their enemies. On the sea, England had
confessedly no rival. Half a dozen little vessels and
a few privateers were all that the colonies could float
to match that imperial navy whose undisputed boast it
Britannia rules the waves. The sentiments
of the burlesque hero McFingal were scarcely a
caricature of those which extensively prevailed
among all classes:
Have you not roused his force to try on,
That grim old beast, the British Lion?
And know you not, that at a sup
He's large enough to eat you up?
Have you surveyed his jaws beneath,
Drawn inventories of his teeth?
Or have you weighed in even balance
His strength and magnitude of talons?
To rebel, therefore, against the mother country, and
that, too, on mere sentimental grounds, taxation without
representation, or a miserable three-pence a pound
on tea, seemed to them suicidal folly. And indeed, it
must be confessed, that, looking back upon the situation
from our day, this was by far the most rational
view to take. The success with which Providence
was pleased to crown our cause was due quite as much
to the blunders of the British Cabinet and Parliament,
as to the military skill and prowess of the colonies.
It must be remembered, too, that at the outset
nobody dreamed of separation from Great Britain.
The leading patriots of the time, Adams, Otis, Franklin,
Henry, Washington, and others, are often spoken
of as having deliberately planned the steps leading to
that separation, as if by some prophetic instinct they
foresaw the future greatness of this country as an
empire of powerful states. But nothing can be further
from the truth. They resisted to get rid of
wrongs then pressing upon them, and only advanced
to rebellion as they were pushed to it. England was,
in their regard, still the dear homeland, loved as such
and bound to them by all the associations of a common
faith and a glorious history. The highest boast of our
fathers was, that they were Englishmen, and their
constant plea, that they were only maintaining their
inalienable English liberties. What they wanted,
then, was not independence, but the equal enjoyment
of those liberties with their British brethren. Dr.
Franklin, just before the fight at Lexington, told the
Parliament committee that he had
more than once
traveled from one end of the continent to the other,
and had kept a variety of company, eating and drinking,
and conversing with them freely, and had never
heard in any conversation, from any person, drunk or
sober, the least expression of a wish for separation, or
a hint that such a thing would be advantageous to
America. And even John Adams declared afterward,
There was not
a moment during the Revolution
when I would not have given everything I possessed
for a restoration to the state of things before
the contest began, provided we could have had a sufficient
security for its continuance.
While such, then, had been the common sentiments
of all classes of the people, it is not to be wondered at
that so many still adhered to them, even after the war
broke out. The loyalists claimed that they simply
stood on the ground they had always occupied.
whigs says Sabine,
were willing to remain
provided they could have their rights secured to
them; the tories were contented thus to continue without such
security. Such, as it appeared to me,
was the only difference between the two parties prior
to hostilities. It was in such slight beginnings that
the separation between them originated, which, under
the progress of events, and the mutual provocations of
which both were guilty, at last ripened into the most
- The, "Liberty Pole,"so
called â€“ the flag-staff from which banners and other symbols of
liberty were often suspended.
- American Loyalists, p. 63, 1st ed.