The Commonwealth in England went to pieces at the death of Oliver Cromwell, its founder. The Stuart dynasty came back, but, alas! unimproved. Charles II. was a much meaner man than his father, and James II. was more detestable still. The rule of such kings was destined to work sad changes in the hitherto free condition of Massachusetts. This colony had sympathized with the Commonwealth more heartily than any of the others. Hither had fled for refuge Goffe and Whalley, two of the accomplices in the death of Charles I. Congregational church polity was here established by law, to the exclusion of all others, even of episcopacy, for whose sake Charles was harrying poor Covenanters to death on every hillside in Scotland. Nor would his lawyers let the King forget Charles I.'s attack on the Massachusetts charter, begun so early as 1635, or the grounds therefor, such as the unwarranted transfer of it to Boston, or the likelihood that but for the outbreak of the Civil War it would have been annulled by the Long Parliament itself. Obviously Massachusetts could not hope to be let alone by the home government which had just come in.
At first the king, graciously responding to the colony's humble petition, confirmed the charter granted by his father; but no sooner had he done so than the hot royalists about him began plotting to overthrow the same, and their purpose never slumbered till it was accomplished. Massachusetts was too prosperous and too visibly destined for great power in America to be suffered longer to go its independent way as hitherto.
The province--as yet, of course, excluding Plymouth with its twelve towns and five thousand inhabitants--contained at this time, 1660, about twenty-five thousand souls, living in fifty-two towns. These were nearly all on the coast; Dedham, Concord, Brookfield, Lancaster, Marlborough, and the Connecticut Valley hamlets of Springfield, Hadley, and Northampton being the most noteworthy exceptions. Though agriculture was the principal business, fishing was a staple industry, its product going to France, Spain, and the Straits. Pipe-staves, fir-boards, much material for ships, as masts, pitch and tar, also pork and beef, horses and corn, were shipped from this colony to Virginia, in return for tobacco and sugar either for home consumption or for export to England.
Some iron was manufactured. The province enjoyed great prosperity. Boston stood forth as a lively and growing centre, and an English traveller about this time declared some of its merchants to be "damnable rich."
As their most precious possession the colonists prized their liberties, which they claimed in virtue of their original patent. In a paper which it put forth on June 10, 1661, the General Court asserted for the colony the right to elect and empower its own officers, both high and low, to make its laws, to execute the same without appeal so long as they were not repugnant to those of England, and to defend itself by force and arms when necessary, against every infringement of its rights, even from acts of Parliament or of the king, if prejudicial to the country or contrary to just colonial legislation. In a word Massachusetts, even so early, regarded itself to all intents and purposes an independent State, and would have proclaimed accordingly had it felt sufficiently strong.