Did you know that on April 18, 1689, exactly 86 years before Paul Revere rode through the night crying "the British are coming!", colonists in Boston staged their first revolution? The colonists did not want to get rid of kings completely, but they did want to get rid of the governor appointed by James II, king of England. The people of two other English colonies, New York and Maryland, revolted too.
The colonists in Massachusetts and elsewhere revolted only after learning that people in England had staged their own revolution, which they called the "Bloodless" or "Glorious Revolution." English leaders in Parliament forced James II to leave the throne and invited the Dutch ruler William and his wife Mary to rule England. The Glorious Revolution made colonists proud to be English and helped keep them loyal to England's monarchs for the next 87 years. In this lesson we will learn how that happened by holding a debate over whether the Glorious Revolution in Massachusetts was legal or not.
To understand how the Glorious Revolution happened in Massachusetts, we need to learn a little about James II and why Englishmen and colonists came to dislike him so much. James had been Duke of York from 1660-1685, while his brother Charles was king. In 1664, Charles gave James a huge territory in America which became New York and New Jersey. Much of that land was settled by the Dutch, but that didn't bother James; he simply sent a military force that captured the colony for England.
When James became king after his brother's death in 1685, he decided to make some drastic changes in both England and America. James wanted very much to rule England without Parliament, the governing body that represented English nobility and landowners. He believed that God had given him the special right to rule as an "absolute monarch," who did not have to include any other government official or group to make laws or rule his people. He was also a Roman Catholic who wanted to change England from a Protestant to a Catholic country.
James also thought that the colonies of New England--Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire--were very poorly governed and much too independent of the king's control. So he sent Edmund Andros (pronounced Andrews) to unite the colonies under one royal government.
Things did not go well for James in England. During his short 3-year rule, he managed to make nearly everyone angry. Whigs, people who supported the power of Parliament to limit the king, opposed James's ideas of absolute rule. Even Tories, those who usually supported the king's authority, soon agreed that James was going too far, especially in his attempts to make England Catholic. In the autumn of 1688 Whigs and Tories joined together to force James off the throne. They invited his Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband William to rule in James's place.
To explain why they believed their revolution was legal, Parliament passed the English Bill of Rights early in 1689. The bill listed many things James II had done which Parliament believed were illegal. It also listed the rights that Englishmen believed they enjoyed under English law. William and Mary accepted the Bill of Rights at the time of their coronation, swearing to uphold these "ancient rights and liberties" of the English people.
While James was getting into deeper and deeper trouble in England, Adros was busy making his own enemies in America. He took over the colonial governments of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Plymouth, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York, and combined them all into one big government called the Dominion of New England. He made the colonists pay new taxes, arrested and fined people who opposed him, and allowed residents of towns only one meeting a year to take care of important business.
Colonists hated the Dominion. In the summer of 1688, they sent the Puritan minister and president of Harvard College, Increase Mather, to England to protest what Andros was doing. Mather had to sneak on board a ship and hide until the vessel was far away from America. By the time he reached England, the Glorious Revolution was under way there. It was about to happen in Boston, too.
News took several weeks to reach America, even on the fastest ships available. Governor Andros learned only in January, 1689 that his old boss, James II, was no longer king. Though he tried to keep the news from getting out, colonists in Boston soon heard about the Glorious Revolution from their own sources. That spring they rose up, arrested Andros, and sent him packing back to England. You can read more about this in the pages on Edmund Andros and Increase Mather.
The New England colonists still had some explaining to do in England. William and Mary had not expected an uprising in their colonies, and they were not pleased. After all, it had seemed perfectly legal for James II to govern the colonies as he saw fit, and the changes Andros made could have made colonial government more effective. Colonists eventually persuaded officials of William and Mary that Andros had tried to take away the very rights and liberties named in the English Bill of Rights--freedoms that the new king and queen had promised to protect.
After officials accepted the colonists' explanation, King William granted Increase Mather an audience, a chance to meet and ask for a favor. Mather swore to the king that no people were more loyal to him than the colonists of Massachusetts, and he asked William to restore the government they had enjoyed before Andros arrived in New England.
William gave Mather and Massachusetts colonists some of what they wanted, but not all. In 1691 He gave them a new charter, a document that defined the boundaries of their colony and outlined how it should be governed. The charter united the formerly separate colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts under a single government. It allowed the people to vote for their own representatives, just as the old charter had done. But unlike the old charter, the new one did not allow colonists to vote for their governor. From then on the king appointed governors for Massachusetts.
Most colonists were grateful for the new charter. Cotton Mather called it their Magna Carta, the document which would make sure Massachusetts colonists always enjoyed the freedoms guaranteed to them by the English Bill of Rights. And they enjoyed those freedoms for more than 80 years.