The Bucks County Safety Committee Part II: Policing of the People

One of the Safety Committee’s responsibilities was to ensure that the county was protecting the cause of the Revolution by observing “the conduct of all persons”.  What does that do to a community to be measured against a standard for which many were not fully prepared?  How do neighbors start to act when they are suddenly in the middle of a military and political conflict where they don’t agree?

With 235 years of American history behind us, we have a tendency to think that the Revolution was split into easy black and white choices. One could be loyal to the thoughtless and remote King or you could choose freedom and democracy with a new government. For many, it was not an easy decision and they had to struggle with their religious convictions, familial obligations, long standing cultural connections and true fear what their choices might have on their futures and those of their families.

In Pennsylvania, there was a large and politically powerful group of Quakers who not only had allegiances to their non-violent beliefs, but also to their Society who was based in England.  By deciding to support the Revolution, Quakers were risking ex-communication from their church and cutting themselves off from family and friends. For others, there was the real fear that the Revolution would not succeed.  The Americans didn’t have a navy or a organized standing military in the traditional sense.  Their financial resources were questionable and there were no signed alliances with other countries that could be counted on to support them. What would the English government and soldiers do to the supporters of the Revolution if they didn’t win?  Others still felt a loyalty to England and to being “Englishmen”.  They still had hope that they hadn’t gone to far to repair the relationship and the King would eventually see reason.

So what did the Committee do with people who did not support the Revolution?  It appears that their responses depended on how actively the dissenters were in their opposition.

For those who were  “non-associators”,  but did neither overtly support the Revolution nor the English, the response was to receive higher taxes and to give up of their guns to the local militia.

There were others who voiced their dissension publicly. Members of the community could report these incidents to the Committee where they were investigated.  These could be true reports or chance to settle old scores.  Through the Bucks County Safety Committee minutes you can see examples of both.

At the July 21, 1775 meeting, it is reported that “ John Lacey represented that Thomas Smith, Upper Makesfield had uttered expressions derogatory to the continental Congress and inimitable to the Liberties of America.”  A sub-committee is formed to investigate and report back at the next meeting.  At the August 21st meeting, they report that their investigation have proof that Smith had been heard to say  “The the Measures of Congress had already enslaved America and done more damage than all the Act of Parliament ever intended to lay up us, that the whole was nothing but a scheme of a parcel of hot-headed Presbyterians and that he believed the Devil was at the Bottom of the whole; that the taking up Arms was the most scandalous thing a man could be guilty of and more heinous than an hundred of the grossest offenses agains the moral law.”  

The committee votes and resolves “the said Thomas Smith be considered as an Enemy to the Rights of British America, and that all persons break off every kind of dealing with him until he shall make propers satisfaction to this Committee for his misconduct.”  Later at the September 11th meeting, Thomas Smith appears and states “As I have been charged before the Committee for having uttered expressions derogatory to the Continental Congress, invidious to a particular Denomination of Christians, and tending to impede the opposition of our Countrymen to Ministerial Oppression, I do hereby declare myself heartily sorry for my imprudent expressions and do sincerely promise for the future to coincide with every measure prosecuted for the redress of American Grievances so far as is consistent with the religious principles of the society to which I belong. “ Nothing like peer pressure.

However,  lest you think that the Committee was without scruples and was acting like a kangaroo court, there are examples where they used restraint and did not let the Committee be used to resolve petty grievances. On November 23, 1775 the committee met and determined that having taken “the case of John Rogers into consideration, and having examined Mary Bogart, said to be the principal witness against him, are of the opinion that the offense as well as the offender are too insignificant to serve any further notice of this Committee.”

The Committee minutes end in July 1776 and there isn’t a record of what issues they dealt in the intervening years until the war’s close in 1783. It would be interesting to see if any of the non-associators decided to go back to England or immigrated to Canada.   And who decided that the chances of the revolutionaries had improved and they loved the country enough to give it a chance?  Another project to pursue!

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