Jonathan Belcher

Jonathan Belcher: Colonial Governor

Michael C. Batinski
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 230
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    Jonathan Belcher
    Book Description:

    As early as the eighteenth century, New England's ministers were decrying public morality. Evangelical leaders such as Jonathan Edwards called for rulers to become spiritual as well as political leaders who would renew the people's covenant with God. The prosperous merchant Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757) self-consciously strove to become such a leader, an American Nehemiah. As governor of three royal colonies and early patron of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), Belcher became an important but controversial figure in colonial America.

    In this first biography of the colonial governor, Michael C. Batinski depicts a man unusually riddled with contradictions. While governor of Massachusetts, Belcher deftly maneuvered longstanding rivals toward a political settlement; yet as chief executive of New Hampshire, he plunged into bitter factional disputes that destroyed his administration. The quintessential Puritan, Belcher learned to thrive in London's cosmopolitan world and in the whiggish realm of the marketplace. He was at once the courtier and the country patriot.

    An insightful blend of social and political history, this biography demands that Belcher be recognized as the embodiment of the Nehemiah, perhaps as important in his own realm as Cotton Mather was in religious circles. Grappling with the contradictions of Belcher's actions, the author explains much about the complexities of the world in which Belcher lived and wielded influence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6202-7
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. 1 The Puritan in a Whiggish Age
    (pp. 1-27)

    On the morning of August 10, 1730, Jonathan Belcher stood on deck the HMSBlandfordsurveying the familiar sights of his native Boston and clutching in his hand the commissions that made him the king’s governor of Massachusetts. For the past two days, he had been waiting anxiously aboard ship in the harbor so that his arrival might not disturb the Sabbath and that his fellow townspeople might have time to prepare for his reception. As he took his seat in the long boat, he could hear the town’s church bells peeling in celebration and the batteries of Castle William...

  5. 2 The Perils of Public Life
    (pp. 28-53)

    Jonathan Belcher returned home to find his father in declining health. Nearly seventy, afflicted with gout and the general infirmities of age, Andrew Belcher found it increasingly difficult to take his seat at the Council table. A generation was passing from the scene. The former governor, Joseph Dudley, also nearly seventy, lived in quiet retirement in the country. His long-time adversary Elisha Cooke, Sr., had died in 1715. Of the twenty-eight members of the governor’s Council who were elected in 1716, eight had begun service before the turn of the century. Three—Samuel Sewall, Wait Winthrop, and Elisha Hutchinson—had...

  6. 3 Interpreting the Role of Governor
    (pp. 54-89)

    During the summer of 1734, Governor Belcher received the first copies of his official portrait from London (see frontispiece illustration). The mezzotint engraving, done from a painting he had commissioned during his last mission to England, was meant for public distribution in New England. It portrayed the governor according to the latest fashion with an elegant powdered wig and a velvet waistcoat trimmed in gold brocade and the finest lace. Holding his commissions in one hand, he stood before Boston Harbor with an English naval vessel firing its salute. The seal of King George was placed prominently in a lower...

  7. 4 The Art of Politics
    (pp. 90-105)

    In 1730, when Governor Belcher took office, Massachusetts seemed to be teetering on the brink of grave crisis. The salary controversy, interrupted temporarily by the death of Governor Burnet, remained unresolved. Memories of the recent charter crisis haunted speculation about the new administration. In his first message to the General Court, Belcher explained the gravity of the moment by drawing analogy to the last days of the Roman Republic, when Cato stood at the walls of Utica defiantly awaiting Caesar’s triumphant entry. Cato’s “Stand for the Liberties of his Country” had become a model of heroic virtue for later generations....

  8. 5 The Soul of Politics
    (pp. 106-124)

    In contrast to his leadership in Massachusetts, as governor of New Hampshire Jonathan Belcher revealed himself to be vindictive, petty, domineering, and factious. He forgot the virtues of “prudence and patience” and acted on impulses that he dared not display in Boston. Impulsive in his relationships with the province’s political leaders, he repaid every slight, imagined or real, without calculating the consequences. If support was offered, it was scorned. Allies were not courted but provoked. Enemies, once made, were bullied, humiliated, taunted, and punished. Belcher’s friends were appalled and warned that his behavior would work his downfall. But he ignored...

  9. 6 Servant to the King and People
    (pp. 125-148)

    During the autumn of 1739, Governor Belcher congratulated himself: “How happy is it ... That my administration is Extending itself to ten years.”¹ He loved to boast of his achievement, and he seized every opportunity to explain that his endurance rested on the justice and righteousness of his government. He had fulfilled the promises he had made when taking office: as a native son he could restore peace among his people and reconcile them to the king. These were the twin pillars of his government—king and people. He liked to pose as the faithful servant of both king and...

  10. 7 Exile and Fulfillment
    (pp. 149-172)

    Belcher assured his friends that he was “abundantly satisfy’d in Retirement.” No longer hounded by his malignant enemies, he had found peace in the solitude of “Milton cottage,” where he spent his days cultivating his garden, reading the works of evangelicals, and improving his soul. In a letter to Isaac Watts requesting a collection of the English minister’s sermons, he reflected on his removal “from the tip top of honour, & power, in this part of the world, from crowding Courtships, and from every Gay Scene of Life.” He had endured a “great & sudden transition,” but he had resigned...

  11. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 173-173)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 174-199)
  13. Sources
    (pp. 200-206)
  14. Index
    (pp. 207-212)