Page images
PDF
EPUB

1767.

an indemnity to the sufferers by the stamp act; and New Jersey, which had evaded the billeting act, but had yet furnished the king's troops with every essential thing to their perfect satisfaction. Against these colonies it was not necessary to institute severe proceedings. But New York, in the month of June last, beside appointing its own commissary, had limited its supplies to two regiments, and to those articles only which were provided in the rest of the king's dominions; and, in December, had refused to do more. Here was such clear evidence of a direct denial of the authority of parliament, and such overt acts of disobedience to one of its laws, that an immediate interposition was most strongly called for, as well to secure the just dependence of the province as to maintain the majesty and authority of government.

It became parliament not to engage in controversy with its colonies, but to assert its sovereignty, without uniting them in a common cause.

For this end, he pro

May. posed to proceed against New York, and against New York alone. To levy a local tax would be to accept a penalty in lieu of obedience. He should therefore move that New York, having disobeyed parliament, should be restrained from any legislative act of its own, till it should comply.

He then brought forward the establishment of a board of commissioners of the customs, to be stationed in America.

“ Our right of taxation," he continued, “is indubitable; yet, to prevent mischief, I was myself in favor of repealing the stamp act. But there can be no objections to port duties on wine, oil, and fruits, if allowed to be carried to America directly from Spain and Portugal; on glass, paper, lead, and colors; and especially on tea. Owing to the high charges in England, America has supplied itself with tea by smuggling it from the Dutch possessions; to remedy this, duties hitherto levied upon it in England are to be given up, and a specific duty collected in America itself. A duty on china can be obtained by repealing the drawback. On salt it was at first intended to lay an impost; but this is abandoned, from the difficulty of adjusting the drawback to be allowed

on exports of cured fish and provisions, and on salt for the fisheries."

The American revenue, it was further explained, was to be placed at the disposal of the king for the payment of his civil officers. To each governor, an annual salary was to be assigned of two thousand pounds sterling; to each chief justice, of five hundred pounds.

The minister was to have the irresponsible power of establishing by sign manual a general civil list in every American province, and at his pleasure to grant salaries and pensions, limited only by the amount of the American revenue; the national exchequer was to receive no more than the crumbs that fell from his table. The proposition bore on its face the mark of owing its parentage to the holders and patrons of American offices; and yet it was received in the house with general favor. Richard Jackson was not regarded, when he spoke against the duties themselves, and foretold the mischiefs that would ensue.

Grenville heard with malignant joy one of the repealers of his stamp act propose a revenue from port duties. are deceived,” said he; “ I tell you, you are deceived. The Americans will laugh at you for your distinctions." He spoke against legalizing a direct trade between Portugal and America. As to taxes, he demanded more; all that

were promised were trifles. “I," said he will tell the honorable gentleman of a revenue that will produce

something valuable in America : issue paper bearing interest upon loan there, and apply the interest as you think proper."

Townshend, perceiving that the suggestion pleased the house, stood up again, and said that that was a proposition of his own; the bill for it was already prepared.

The debate would not have continued long, if there had not been a division of opinion as to the mode of coercing New York. Edmund Burke, approving a local tax on importations into that province, opposed the general system. “ You will never see a single shilling from America," said he, prophetically; " it is not by votes and angry resolutions of this house, but by a slow and steady conduct that the Amer

6. You

1767. May.

icans are to be reconciled to us." Dowdeswell described the new plan as worse than to have softened and enforced the stamp-tax. “Do like the best of physicians," said Beckford, who alone seemed to understand the subject, and whom nobody minded; "heal the disease by doing nothing.”

Others thought there should be an amendment to the billeting act itself, directing the civil magistrates to quarter upon private houses, where the assemblies of America did not fulfil the present requirements. Grenville advised to invest the governor and council of each colony with power to draw on the colonial treasurer, who, in case of refusal to answer such bills out of the first aids in his hands, howsoever appropriated, should be judged guilty of a capital crime and be tried and punished in England. And, since the colonies persisted in the denial of the parliamentary right of taxation, he offered for consideration that every American, before entering into office, should subscribe a political test nearly in the words of the declaratory act, acknowledging the unlimited sovereignty of Great Britain.

These several points were discussed till one in the morning, when a question was so framed by Gren

May. ville that the Rockinghams could join him in the division; but their united voices were no more than ninety-eight against one hundred and eighty.

“ The new measures for the colonies,” observed Choiseul, “ meet with opposition in both houses of parliament; but their execution will encounter still more considerable resistance in America."

On the fifteenth, Townshend reported his resolutions to the house, when a strenuous effort was made to have them recommitted; the friends of Rockingham pretending to wish a more lenient measure, yet joining with Grenville, who spoke for one more severe, effective, and general. But Townshend, by surpassing eloquence, brought the house back to his first resolutions, which were adopted without a division.

Grenville then moved that many of the colonies denied and oppugned the sovereignty of Great Britain ; in other words, were in a state of open rebellion ; and wished that they

1767.

might be reduced to submission by force ; but a large majority was against him. In the midst of one of his speeches, the implacable man stopped short, and, looking up to the gallery, said: “I hope there are no American agents present; I must hold such language as I would not have them hear.” “I have expressly ordered the sergeant to admit none,” said the speaker, “and you may be assured there are none present." Yet Johnson, of Connecticut, had braved the danger of an arrest, and sat in the gallery to record the incidents of the evening for the warning of his countrymen. Grenville next moved his test for America ; but the house dreaded to reproduce a union of the colonies. “At least, then,” renewed Grenville, “take some notice of those in America who have suffered for their loyal support of your sovereignty;” and, naming Ingersoll, Hutchinson, Oliver, Howard, and others, he moved an address in their favor; and this, being seconded by Lord North, passed without dissent.

After ordering the bill to disfranchise New York, as well as sanctioning the new system of colonial revenue and administration, the house rose; unconscious that it had taken steps which pride would not allow to be recalled, and which, if not retracted, would unite the colonies for independence.

The bitterness against America grew with its indulMay. .

gence. On the twenty-first, news came that Georgia had refused compliance with the billeting act; and this, from a colony that had been established at the public expense, was held to be “unexampled insolence."

The secretary at war, therefore, as if to insure confusion, introduced a bill, extending the obnoxious law a year beyond the time when it would have expired by its own limitation.

The moment was inviting to the opposition. Raising some trivial questions on the form in which the amnesty act of Massachusetts had been disallowed, the united factions of Rockingham, Bedford, and Temple on one division left the ministry a majority of but six, and on another of but three.

On both these occasions, the king made two of his broth

1767.

ers vote with the ministry. He wished to enforce the absolute authority of parliament in America, and to consummate his victory over the aristocracy in England. For the one, he needed to dismiss Shelburne; for the other, to employ the name of Chatham. Grafton readily adopted a plan to lead the aristocracy into disputes among them. selves; and then, separating the Bedfords from the rest, to introduce a part of them to power. Keen observers predicted a “mosaic” ministry.

To proceed securely, Grafton required some understanding with Chatham; but Chatham refused to see him, pleading his disability. The king himself, in a letter framed with cool adroitness, but which seemed an effusion of confidence and affection, charged the earl, who had given in the house of lords defiance to the whole nobility, by his “duty, affection, and honor,” not to “truckle” now, when the “hydra” was at the height of its power; for success, nothing was wanted but that he should have “ five minutes' conversation” with Grafton.

Chatham yielded to such persuasion, though suffering from a universal tremor, which application to business visibly increased. Grafton was filled with grief at “the sight of his great mind bowed down and thus weakened by disorder ; " but he obtained from him the declaration that “he would not retire except by his majesty's command.”

At a second interview in June, Grafton, at the wish of the king, urged that Shelburne « could not be allowed to continue in his office.” Chatham summoned spirit to vindicate his friend, and to advise the dismission of Townshend. He was with great difficulty led to believe that a junction was necessary with either the Bedfords or the Rockinghams; but, of the two, Grafton thought him inclined to prefer the former. The interview lasted two full hours, and the ministers parted with the most cordial professions of mutual attachment.

Grafton was left in the position of prime minister; but, from this time, the king controlled the cabinet and managed affairs. His influence was adverse to liberty, which,

1767. June.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »