The United Colonies of New England, 1643-90

By Harry M. Ward | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
The Constitutional Crises of 1653-5

New England awoke with mixed reactions to the news that a state of war existed between the United Provinces and Great Britain. To the Colony on the Sound, here was the opportunity to extend its trading empire, which in the past had been repeatedly frustrated by their Knickerbocker brethren. Connecticut and Plymouth, sharing in varying degrees the trading and territorial interests of New Haven and out of sheer desire to antagonize the Bay, acquiesced in the necessity of war; but Massachusetts, the most remote from the danger of war and upon whom the burden would be the greatest, stubbornly refused. The smaller colonies then, by invoking the Articles of Confederation, attempted to coerce the mighty Bay into joining them in an offensive war against the Dutch at New Amsterdam. The violent controversy which followed, with New Haven, representing the small colonies, pitted against Massachusetts, raised for the first time in American history the question whether the central authority or the individual states were supreme.

Because of the disappointment and distrust sown among the contracting parties during this first great constitutional debate in America, the Confederation was nearly ripped apart. Indeed, these debates formed the back-drop for the actual event that brought virtual collapse to the Confederacy. But, contrary to the analyses of historians in the past, who never delved deep into the Confederation, the debates of 1653-5 were not the event which brought down the Confederacy. The United Colonies, under the Articles of 1643, was on the road to survival from the scars of these debates, and even was emerging strengthened. But, alas! with its guard down, it was to falter unsuspectingly upon an incident of apparent triviality, but an incident which struck at the very heart of the Confederation, and by which the Confederation lost its ascendancy in colonial affairs.

In every year since the beginning of the Confederation the fear of an Indian uprising had been present, but in 1653 this

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