“THE CRADLE OF AMERICAN LIBERTY”
Andrew Faneuil was one of the Huguenots who fled from France as a result of the Edict of Nantes. By way of Holland he came to Boston. It is a matter of official record that on February 1, 1691, he was admitted by the Governor and Council of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Within a few years the refugee was looked upon as a leader both in the French church and in business. Copies of invoices of merchandise consigned to him show that he was a dealer in all kinds of supplies of food, household furnishings, and dress goods.
When he died, in 1738, the Boston News Letter said that ” 1,100 persons of all Ranks, beside the Mourners,” followed the body to the grave. ” And ’tis supposed that as the Gentleman’s fortune was the greatest of any among us, so his funeral was the most generous and expensive of any that has been known here.”
Peter Faneuil, the heir and successor to the fortune and business of his uncle, was a shrewd business man who knew how to make the most of his opportunities. But he took time to think and plan for his fellow-townsmen. He was disturbed because there was no adequate public market in Boston, and he was not discouraged by the fact that numerous attempts to establish such a convenience had been received with hostility by the people, especially the farmers, who felt that they would have a better chance to sell from house to house on any day than in a fixed place on a set day.
His proposition to provide the market by gift to the town stirred up a spirited controversy. At a town meeting called to consider the proposition, held on July 14, 1740, the attendance was so large that the company adjourned to the Braille Street Meeting House.
There the people set themselves to consider the proposition of Peter Faneuil, who ” hath been generously pleased to offer at his own cost and charge to erect and build a noble and complete structure or edifice to be improved for a market, for the sole use, benefit and advantage of the town, provided that the town of Boston would pass a vote for the purpose, and lay the same under such proper regulation as shall be thought necessary, and constantly support it for the said use.”
The gift had a narrow escape from the 727 voters who cast the ballots. The majority in favor of accepting the market was only seven !
The average giver would have been discouraged by such a reception; but Peter Faneuil, on the contrary, did more than he had proposed. When the selectmen were told in August, 1742seven months before Faneuil’s deaththat the building was ready, there was not only a market house, but above it ‘a hall for town meetings and other gatherings. By action of the meeting called to accept the building the hall over the market was named Faneuil Hall.
” I hope that what I have done will be of service to the whole country,” was the donor’s response to this graceful act.
At once the Hall became a Boston institution. The town offices were removed to the building, town meetings were held there, and a series of public concerts was given in it. The market, however, was not popular.
The fire of January 13, 1761, destroyed the interior of the building. The money for rebuilding was raised by a lottery.
Faneuil Hall began its career as a national institution on August 27, 1765, when the voters, in mass meeting, denounced the lawless acts of ” Persons unknown ” by which they had shown their hatred of the iniquitous Stamp Act. At a second meeting, held on September 12, the voters instructed their Representatives ” as to their conduct at this very alarming crisis.”
” The genuine Sons of Liberty ” gathered in the Hall March 18, 1767, that they might rejoice together be-cause of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The Boston Gazette reported that “a large company of the principal inhabitants crowded that spacious apartment, and with loud huzzas, andrepeated acclamations at each of the twenty-five toasts, saluted the glorious and memorable heroes of America, particularly those who distinguished themselves in the cause of Liberty, which was ever growing under the iron hand of oppression.”
What has been called ” perhaps the most dramatic scene in all history ” was staged in this Cradle of Liberty on the day after the Boston Massacre, March 6, 1770. The crowd was so large that it was necessary to adjourn to Old South before action could be taken requesting the governor to withdraw the troops whose presence had led to the massacre.
Then came the tea meetings. The first of these was held in the Hall on November 5, 1773. At this meeting committees were appointed to wait on the several per-sons to whom tea had been consigned by the East India Company, ” and in the name of the town to request them from a regard to their character, and to the peace and good order of the town, immediately to resign their trust.” The response made to these committees and to subsequent tea meetings was unsatisfactory, and on December 16 a number of disguised citizens gathered at the waterfront and held the ” Boston Tea Party.”
The occupation of Boston by the British interrupted the Faneuil Hall town meetings, but soon after the evacuation of the city the people turned their steps thither for public gatherings of many sorts. Fortunately the building had not been seriously injured. When Washington entered the city he spoke with feeling of the safety of the structure that had meant so much to the people.
It was fitting that, in the stirring days that preceded the War of 1812, meetings to protest against the acts of Great Britain should be held here. Historic gatherings followed during this war, as also during the War of 1861-65.
Three times Faneuil Hall has been rebuilt since its donor turned it over to his fellow-citizens. The first reconstruction came after the fire. In 1806 the building was enlarged and improved. Again in 1898 it was completely rebuilt and made fireproof, though, wherever possible, original materials were used. While it is much larger than in the early days, the general appearance is so similar that the structure would be recognized by such an ardent lover of the early structure as Lafayette, who, when he was in Boston in 1824, said :
” May Faneuil Hall ever stand, a monument to teach the world that resistance to oppression is a duty, and will under true republican institutions become a blessing.”