Sunday, March 6, 2011

Maximum Massachusetts 15: The Devil You Don't Know

Boston, Massachusetts
4 August 1713

The Reverend Dr. Cotton Mather was with the Governor's Council at their weekly meeting when Sgt. Collins knocked at the door of the Council Chamber.

"Yes, Sergeant," said Governor Dudley, "what is it?"

"Sir," said Collins, "there's a man here who claims to be an emissary from your son Paul."

"Bring him in, Sergeant."

After leading an army to conquer Quebec in 1706, Dudley had appointed his son Paul Deputy-Governor of Canada. Paul had managed to rule the conquered province for seven years without provoking the French into rising up and overthrowing him, which was three years longer than his father had managed as Deputy-Governor of Massachusetts in the 1680s. Mather supposed that this served as a sort of testimonial to the son's virtues as an administrator.

Mather immediately revised his opinion of Paul's capability when Sgt. Collins escorted in the boy's "emissary." It was Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d'Iberville.

Le Moyne, for his part, smiled when his eyes met those of his former captive. D'Iberville was getting on in years (as were they all, alas), and the hair beneath his wig had gone from black with gray streaks to gray with white streaks. He still seemed fit, though (unfairly, Mather felt, since he himself had never been fit, even as a youth). Although d'Iberville had certainly taken ship from Quebec, Mather didn't doubt that the man could hike overland from Quebec to Boston in the dead of winter if he wished. The Canadian greeted Mather with, "Ah, Monsieur Arrateek, it seems that fate has allowed our paths to cross yet again."

"That's Doctor Heretic to you, d'Iberville," Mather responded.

"But of course," d'Iberville chuckled, "how could I forget your so-greatly-deserved honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the renowned University of Glasgow?"

"If I might interrupt this joyous reunion," said Dudley acidly, "I believe you mentioned a message from my son."

"Yes, my Governor, there is official business to be conducted. I fear the Good Doctor and I must postpone our celebration until later. To business, then.

"I carry on my person, Monsieur le Governor, a letter to you from your son outlining a proposal from Capitaine Denys de la Ronde of Quebec. I must confess before you all that when I first learned of your intention of declaring yourselves independent of Great Britain lest you be compelled to return New France to her rightful sovereign, I was overcome with anger. I felt that we of Quebec must rise up against you and fight to regain our rightful place under the beneficent gaze of His Christian Majesty Louis XIV. However, when I spoke to the good Capitaine of my desire, he was able to dissuade me by setting forth his own proposal. Monsieur Denys de la Ronde, in brief, proposes an alliance between the Kingdom of France and your Commonwealth of New-England, said alliance to be contingent upon your agreeing to restore Canada to French rule. In return for the restoration of Canada, His Christian Majesty will grant official recognition to your republic, and agree to a military alliance between our two states in the event of war with Great Britain."

"This is preposterous!" exlaimed Elisha Cooke. "The whole point of our revolution was to prevent the return of Canada to France. Why in God's name should we then turn around and do the very thing we are trying to avoid?"

Although Mather agreed with Cooke, the argumentarian within him compelled him to find an opposing rationale to offer. "The point of our revolution," he said, "was to prevent the alienation of a dependent territory of our colony without our consent. It is quite another matter if we ourselves choose to make such an alteration of its status. In addition, the Crown proposed to transform Canada from a subject territory into an enemy territory, thus effecting the re-creation of a former threat to our colony's existence. In the proposal now under consideration, Canada is to be transformed from a subject territory into an allied territory, thus effecting the creation of a friendly power where none existed previously."

"Are you saying that you approve of this outlandish notion?" said Cooke.

"Not at all," said Mather. "I was simply pointing out that the idea is not as preposterous as you make it out to be. I might also point out that in the light of my recent unsuccessful venture in New York, it is clear that our fledgeling Commonwealth is currently notably lacking in potential allies, and sooner or later the Crown is bound to take notice of our present unfilial behavior and attempt a resort to arms to remedy the situation."

"A fair assessment," said Dudley, "if verbosely expressed. The Commonwealth of New-England now stands alone against the might of an empire. We need help, and there are precious few places from which help might come. I know it will seem strange to seek that help from France of all places, but we must try to remember that our interests as a soveriegn state differ from our interests as a British colony. Our original aim was to keep Canada friendly, and d'Iberville's proposal allows us to do so. Our current aim is to ensure the survival of our Commonwealth, and d'Iberville's proposal allows us to do that as well. Gentlemen, I am inclined to accept. What say you?"

"I still say it is preposterous," said Cooke. "I say nay."

"Madness," Dr. Thomas Oakes echoed. "I say nay as well."

"I think the proposal offers us hope, and without it we have none," said Andrew Belcher, an old ally of Dudley's. "I say aye."

Arthur Lawson, another ally of Dudley's simply said, "Aye."

One by one, the members of the Council made their thoughts known, until the vote stood at six and six. At last, all those present were looking at Dr. Mather, who had remained silent throughout.

Mather himself had eyes only for his old nemesis d'Iberville. The Canadian's expression was gleeful, as well it might be. Whether you win or lose, his eyes said to Mather, we will be free of you.

"What say you, Dr. Mather?" said Dudley.

Mather considered for a moment. Should they keep France in the familiar role of enemy, or permit her the unfamiliar role of ally?

"In this case, I think, better the Devil you don't know," he answered. "I say aye."

(Proceed to part 16 - The Rich White Guy Insurrection)

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