The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XV. Colonial and Revolutionary Literature; Early National Literature, Part I.

VIII. American Political Writing, 1760–1789

§ 8. The Loyalists

No history of the American Revolution, or of the political literature to which it gave birth, would be complete without consideration of the loyalists. That independence was in fact the work of a minority, and that the methods by which the loyal majority was overawed and, in part, expelled were as high-handed and cruel as they were active and vigorous, must be freely conceded. Weighty as was the colonial argument, force and violence were freely employed to give effect to it. But the great loyalist party, numbering among its leaders many of the ablest, most devoted, and wealthiest men in colonial life, was not crushed without a struggle; and the arguments with which its adherents defended their cause and sought to defeat that of their opponents were not less ably put or trenchantly phrased than those of the patriots themselves.

Soon after the “Association” agreement of the Continental Congress was adopted (October, 1774), there was published in New York the first of four pamphlets by a “Westchester Farmer.” The author was the Rev. Samuel Seabury, then and for some time rector of St. Peter’s Church, Westchester, and later, by time’s curious working, first bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The four pamphlets, entitled respectively Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress, The Congress Canvassed, A View of the Controversy between Great-Britain and her Colonies, and An Alarm to the Legislature of the Province of New York, were a powerful attack upon the aims and policy of the Congress and the patriot leaders, and a plea for such adjustment as would assure to the colonies local self-government, on the one hand with full recognition of parliamentary authority on the other. For writing the pamphlets Seabury was mobbed, imprisoned, and hounded until in 1776 he took refuge within the British lines.

It was in reply to the first of Seabury’s pamphlets that Alexander Hamilton, then a college student of seventeen, made anonymously his first essay in authorship with A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies (1774) and A Farmer Refuted (1775). None of the pamphleteers of the Revolutionary period excels Hamilton in the logical acumen and expository power which he here displays, and none approached him in his clear discernment of the theatre and character of the war, if war must be. Yet even Hamilton, with all his precocious intellectual power, failed to point out beyond peradventure how union with the Empire under allegiance to the king comported with a denial of the legislative power of Parliament. The only outcome for the colonies was independence, and independence was the word which, as yet, most colonial leaders appeared anxious to avoid.

Before the attacks of the “Westchester Farmer” had ceased, Daniel Leonard, a Boston lawyer of social prominence, began the publication in a loyalist newspaper, over the pen-name of “Massachusettensis,” of a series of seventeen letters, To the Inhabitants of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay (1774–75). Seabury had emphasized the impracticability and political unwisdom of the recommendations of the Congress. Leonard assailed the unconstitutional arguments of the patriots, and the revolutionary character of their attacks upon parliamentary enactments and crown officers.

The task of combating the influence of “Massachusettensis” was undertaken by John Adams, who, early in 1775, published in the Boston Gazette, over the signature of “Novanglus,” a series of letters traversing Leonard’s argument. Twelve articles had appeared when the battle of Lexington (19 April, 1775) intervened. Adams did not lack legal knowledge or logical proficiency, but he was no match for Leonard in debate, nor could he keep to the point; and although the republication of the letters in London, and a reprint many years later in the United States, gave some vogue to the name “Novanglus,” the essays won no permanent distinction either for themselves or for their author. It was as a hard-working member of the Continental Congress, and not as a writer or political philosopher, that Adams made his worthiest contribution to the American cause.

To a different class belong the numerous writings of Joseph Galloway, a delegate from Pennsylvania to the first Continental Congress. Already prominent in the politics of his colony, Galloway submitted to the Congress a Plan of a Proposed Union between Great Britain and the Colonies. Read in the light of the present day, the scheme seems like a suggestive anticipation of later British colonial policy; but the Congress, after debating it at length, and rejecting it by the narrow majority of a single vote, trampled it under foot, and ordered all reference to it expunged from the printed journal. Galloway later published the plan in A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of Great Britain and the Colonies (New York, 1775). In 1778, after two years spent with the British forces, Galloway went to England, where he was thought sufficiently important to be examined before the House of Commons, and where he continued to publish pamphlets on America until the end of the war.

Another New York loyalist, President Myles Cooper of King’s College (now Columbia), gifted with wit and sarcasm above most of his fellows, entered the lists in 1774 with two anonymous pamphlets—The American Querist: or, Some Questions Proposed relative to the Present Disputes between Great Britain and her American Colonies, and A Friendly Address to all Reasonable Americans. In August, 1775, a mob stripped and mutilated him, but he contrived to escape to a British ship-of-war, and thence to England, where he obtained ecclesiastical preferment. Charles Lee, soon to be numbered among the renegades and traitors, but at the moment in the enjoyment of a repute as a military expert which he had done little to earn, replied to Cooper with some cleverness in Strictures on a Pamphlet, entitled a ‘Friendly Address to all Reasonable American’ (1775)—the only contribution of Lee’s to the patriot cause for which he may be appreciatively remembered.

Although not published until 1797, by which time the author had been for more than twenty years resident in England, Jonathan Boucher’s A View of the Causes and Consequences of the American Revolution may perhaps be included in our enumeration of loyalist writings. From 1762 to 1775 Boucher was rector of parishes in Maryland and Virginia, finding time, however, to take an active part in colonial politics. The volume referred to, dedicated to Washington and prefaced by an extended introduction, consists of thirteen sermons preached to his American congregations, and forms as a whole the best presentation of the loyalist cause as embraced and championed by an Anglican minister. For his boldness, however, his parishioners drove him into exile, in common with many another clergyman who held similar views.