|This Week in History
September 27 - October 3, 1684
Increase Mather Battles the British Crown To Save the New England Republics
On Oct. 3, 1684, King Charles II of England revoked the Massachusetts Charter on the grounds that the colony would not tolerate the Church of England, and refused to enforce England's Navigation Acts. The degenerate King and his nobles and bankers were determined to bring all the American colonies under a centralized authority, the better to loot them, and the well-organized republican citizens of Massachusetts and Connecticut were the main obstacle to their plans.
The assault had begun more quietly in 1664, when the new King had sent commissioners to New England who were charged with "insinuating yourselves by all kind and dextrous carriage into the good opinion of the principal persons there, that so you may lead and dispose them to renew their Charters and to make such alterations as will appear necessary for their own benefit." The original charter of Massachusetts Bay had granted the settlers the right to govern their affairs in America, and not be subject to directives from London. Thus, the king at first was careful not to directly confront New England's independent status.
King Charles told his commissioners that their objective was "the general disposing that people to an entire submission and obedience to our government which is their own greatest security in respect of their neighbors and leading them to a desire to renew their Charters." This was indeed a difficult mission, since the Americans knew that the Royal Government had clandestinely encouraged the Indians to attack the settlers, and did nothing to defend them.
The objective of subjugating New England was so important that all looting had to be suspended for the moment, lest the sheer rapacity of the Royal minions alarm the colonists. "All designs of profit for the present seem unreasonable," said Charles, "and may possibly obstruct the more necessary design upon their obedience and loyalty." He continued that to the "sort of people which will be active in many projects for our profit and benefit, you must not be forwards too much, since most overtures of that kind are but airy imaginations, and cannot be put in practice by our own immediate power and authority, without manifest violation of their Charter."
By 1675, Charles had set up a new Privy Council committee which was called the Lords of Trade and Plantations, which would enforce the necessary looting policies. A Royal emissary, Edward Randolph, was sent to negotiate with the New Englanders. Randolph was also appointed as Collector of Customs, clearly demonstrating what his actual function was intended to be. He was rebuffed by the Massachusetts Bay Council, who treated him like a foreigner meddling in domestic affairs, and when Randolph demanded that Governor John Leverett answer the King's letter with all convenient speed, Leverett replied by asking "by what Order I made that demand." Randolph returned to London in high dudgeon and lobbied the Lords of Trade and Plantation for harsher measures against New England.
By 1682, the Crown brought a "quo warranto" against Massachusetts "for usurping to be a body Politick." When Randolph returned to Boston with the King's declaration, a Puritan minister named Increase Mather stepped to the forefront of the opposition to Royal rule. He issued a pamphlet entitled "Arguments against relinquishing the Charter," which was given to all the members of the General Court, (the Massachusetts Legislature) and also distributed to the general population. In it, Mather said that Massachusetts would "act neither the part of Good Christians nor of True Englishmen, if by any act of theirs they should be accessory to the Plot then managing to produce a General Shipwreck of Liberties."
King Charles finally revoked the Massachusetts charter in 1684, but died the following February. When his brother and successor, King James II, appointed Joseph Dudley as "President" of the Dominion of New England, Increase Mather and his allies continued to resist. Two years later, Mather was appointed President of Harvard College, and he and his republican circles succeeded in filling many offices under the new government. Edward Randolph, seeing that New England was still determined to resist Royal rule, now denounced Royal appointee Dudley as "a man of base servile, and anti-monarchical principle."
The monarchy's solution was to reveal the iron fist which wore the velvet glove it appointed the despised Sir Edmund Andros to bring New England to heel. It was Andros who, as former Royal Governor of New York, had tried to conquer half of Connecticut and attach it to New York. Andros was also the son of the man who had driven Increase Mather from his post as chaplain on the Isle of Guernsey when Charles II came to power.
Andros soon eliminated the Massachusetts town meeting, except for one ceremonial meeting a year. The republican system of law was overturned by ending the printing of statutes and putting the colony under the arbitrary will of the Crown. Under these repressive conditions, Increase Mather was secretly delegated to travel to London to plead the case of Massachusetts with the King. Word of this mission leaked out, and Edward Randolph had Mather arrested, but the jury let him go. Randolph tried again, but this time Mather, wearing a white cape, slipped by the Royal sentry watching his house and boarded a ship in Plymouth Harbor to sail for England.
Mather spent four years in England, from 1688 to 1692, and his initiatives on multiple fronts helped to develop a further basis for the future United States. He began negotiations with King James II on the Massachusetts charter the day after he arrived, for Mather was regarded as a person of consequence, and the king agreed to see him immediately. But within months, James was deposed by William of Orange, who invaded England with 15,000 Dutch troops in the so-called "Glorious Revolution." James was allowed to escape to France because he was the father of William's wife, Mary. The fact that Mary was next in line for the throne provided the rationale for William to be named King.
Mather worked with many in England who were favorable to the rights of the colonists. One of these was William Penn, whose colony of Pennsylvania would one day be the home of Mather's protégé Benjamin Franklin. Another was the Scottish Countess of Sutherland, a favorite of Queen Mary, who enabled Mather to speak directly to the Queen and ask for her help. Twenty years later, republican leader Jonathan Swift would obtain help for both England and the American colonies from Mary's younger sister, the future Queen Anne.
Although the rapacious and degenerate "Venetian Party" supported King William, the king was still too uncertain on his illegally-obtained throne to dismiss the support of the colonies. He met directly with Mather, and agreed to Mather's list of persons who should be appointed to Royal offices in Massachusetts. Although there was no way to avoid a charter which made Massachusetts a Royal Colony, Mather conducted a massive pamphlet campaign in England which argued for a large amount of self-rule. He succeeded in having the new charter guarantee the existence of the General Court, elected by the people and their representatives, and with the sole power to tax. The Royal Governor could use no funds except by the consent of the delegates.
But the new charter was only one of Mather's accomplishments in England. Writing of the year 1683 in Massachusetts, Mather said that "I promoted a design for a private philosophical society in Boston, which I hope may have laid the foundation for that which will be for future edification." His son Cotton called it "a Philosophical Society of Agreeable Gentlemen, who met once a Fortnight for a Conference upon Improvements in Philosophy and Additions to the Stores of Natural History." The society corresponded with scientists in Europe, including the English Royal Society, the French Academy of Science, Dutch scientists, and the circles of Gottfried Leibniz in Leipsig. It provided one of the models for Franklin's American Philosophical Society.
Increase Mather followed scientific developments closely, and when he reached London he met with his English correspondents. He spent many afternoons at the home of Robert Boyle, and the multifaceted scientist Robert Hooke, who was both Secretary of the Royal Society and an assistant to Boyle, would have been of special interest. Mather had used Hooke's work on the Comet of 1677 as a guide in his investigation of the visit of Halley's Comet in 1682. During Mather's time in London, Christiaan Huygens of the French Academy of Science and an associate of Gottfried Leibniz, visited London and met with many of the same members of the Royal Society that Mather was seeing almost weekly.
Mather had carefully read Hooke, Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler, and agreed with Robert Hooke that if exact observations of a comet's parallax could be obtained, the return of a comet could be accurately predicted. Mather pointed to the need of precise astronomical observations from several points of the earth, and wrote that comets move "in an higher Sphere" than the planets. Such European-American scientific cooperation would come to fruition in the next century when the Transit of Venus was tracked on both sides of the Atlantic, and one of the participating American scientists was Professor John Winthrop.
Also while in England, Mather said that he "procured in Donations to the Province and the College at least Nine Hundred Pounds more than all the expenses of my Agency came to." Conversations with his friend Thomas Hollis resulted in a large donation to Harvard College to establish, following Mather's suggestion, the Hollis Professorship of Mathematics and of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. The chair was filled by Professor John Winthrop, a protégé of Cotton Mather, whose research in electricity inspired Benjamin Franklin to study the subject. Winthrop's Harvard course taught classical scientific method, and included hydrostatics, optics, conic sections, spherical trigonometry, "with the general principles of Astronomy and Geography, viz. the doctrine of the Sphere." Winthrop's students included three leaders of the American Revolution John Adams, Samuel Adams and John Hancock.