Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy: 1740- 1776

By Theodore Thayer | Go to book overview

XIII
TRIUMPH OF THE RADICALS. 1776

A S THE YEAR 1775 drew to a close, it was apparent to the most observing that the possibilities of ever achieving a reconciliation with Great Britain were indeed small. Every overture of the colonies for working out an understanding was met by the English government with new measures which were considered coercion and oppression. In August, 1775, Britain proclaimed America to be in a state of rebellion and called upon all loyal subjects to aid in quelling it. Before the year was over, American towns had been burned and pitched battles fought. But the leading Whigs in Pennsylvania persisted in the hope that a solution other than independence could yet be found.

When in September, 1775, a report was circulated that the military associators of Chester County were agitating for independence, the Chester Committee of Safety, with Anthony Wayne chairman, declared the rumor to be utterly false.1 The very thought of independence was abhorrent to the Whigs of Chester County, the Committee maintained. In August, Jasper Yeates, a leading patriot of Lancaster, thought that union with Great Britain was absolutely necessary for the safety and well-being of America. "Our present glorious Struggle," he declared, "is for the Preservation of our Privileges, not for an Independence."2

Although the leading Whigs in Pennsylvania denounced the very thought of independence in 1775, many lesser known Radicals were already anxiously awaiting the time when they could start a campaign for it. When the Assembly in November, 1775, instructed the Pennsylvania delegation to work for reconciliation, the disgust of many Whigs was all too apparent. "The Honorable House -- seems desperately afraid of independency," wrote one critic who thought that the delegates should have been given the liberty to vote for independence if Britain did not have an immediate change of heart.3 Another writer bitterly attacked Dickinson, the author of the instructions, who no longer had any standing among the Radicals.4

Sentiment for independence mounted rapidly during the early weeks of 1776, as a result of an accumulated hatred engendered by actual war,

____________________
1
Pa. Packet, Oct. 2, 1775.
2
Jasper Yeates to Edward Burd, Aug. 2, 1775, Papers of Edward Shippen Burd. HSP.
3
Pa. Journal, Nov. 29, 1775.
4
Ibid., Dec. 6, 1775.

-175-

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