In the colonies the laws were received with consternation. To the American Protestants, the Quebec Act was the most offensive. That project they viewed not as an act of grace or of mercy but as a direct attempt to enlist French Canadians on the side of Great Britain. The British government did not grant religious toleration to Catholics either at home or in Ireland and the Americans could see no good motive in granting it in North America. The act was also offensive because Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Virginia had, under their charters, large claims in the territory thus annexed to Quebec.
To enforce these intolerable acts the military arm of the British government was brought into play. The commander-in-chief of the armed forces in America, General Gage, was appointed governor of Massachusetts. Reinforcements were brought to the colonies, for now King George was to give “the rebels,” as he called them, a taste of strong medicine. The majesty of his law was to be vindicated by force.
FROM REFORM TO REVOLUTION IN AMERICA
=The Doctrine of Natural Rights.=—The dissolution of assemblies, the destruction of charters, and the use of troops produced in the colonies a new phase in the struggle. In the early days of the contest with the British ministry, the Americans spoke of their “rights as Englishmen” and condemned the acts of Parliament as unlawful, as violating the principles of the English constitution under which they all lived. When they saw that such arguments had no effect on Parliament, they turned for support to their “natural rights.” The latter doctrine, in the form in which it was employed by the colonists, was as English as the constitutional argument. John Locke had used it with good effect in defense of the English revolution in the seventeenth century. American leaders, familiar with the writings of Locke, also took up his thesis in the hour of their distress. They openly declared that their rights did not rest after all upon the English constitution or a charter from the crown. “Old Magna Carta was not the beginning of all things,” retorted Otis when the constitutional argument failed. “A time may come when Parliament shall declare every American charter void, but the natural, inherent, and inseparable rights of the colonists as men and as citizens would remain and whatever became of charters can never be abolished until the general conflagration.” Of the same opinion was the young and impetuous Alexander Hamilton. “The sacred rights of mankind,” he exclaimed, “are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records. They are written as with a sunbeam in the whole volume of human destiny by the hand of divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”