« PreviousContinue »
servants may enter, may break locks, bars, and everything in their way; and whether they break through malice or revenge, no man, no court can inquire. Bare suspicion without oath is sufficient. This wanton exercise of this power is not a chimerical suggestion of a heated brain.
I will mention some facts. Mr. Pew had one of these writs, and when Mr. Ware succeeded him, he endorsed this writ over to Mr. Ware; so that these writs are negotiable from one officer to another, and so your honors have no opportunity of judging the persons to whom this vast power is delegated. Another instance is this: Mr. Justice Walley had called this same Mr. Ware before him, by a constable, to answer for a breach of the Sabbath Day Acts, or that of profane swearing. As soon as he had finished, Mr. Ware asked him if he had done. He replied: "Yes." "Well, then," said Mr. Ware, "I will show you a little of my power. I command you to permit me to search your house for uncustomed goods;" and went on to search the house from the garret to the cellar, and then served the constable in the same manner! But to show another absurdity in this writ, if it should be established, I insist upon it that every person, by the 14th of Charles II,5 has this power as well as the custom-house officers. The words are: It shall be lawful for any person or persons authorized,” etc. What a scene does this open! Every man prompted by revenge, ill humor, or wantonness, to inspect the inside of his neighbor's house, may get a writ of assistance. Others will ask it from self-defense; one arbitrary exertion will provoke another, until society be involved in tumult and in blood.
In a brief statement tell how British liberty, according to Otis, was threatened by the use of writs of assistance.
Discuss the principle “A man's house is his castle.” Has it any recognition in modern law?
Was Otis's opposition to writs of assistance based chiefly on financial, constitutional, moral, religious, or other reasons ?
Do you think that Otis was unnecessarily alarmed ?
Do you think that Otis was considered disloyal by most Englishmen of his time who were familiar with his speech ?
Do you think that Otis himself believed that he was acting the part of a loyal British subject when he delivered this speech?
Do you think that in 1761 Otis seriously considered American independence as a means of combating injustice such as sulted from the British use of writs of assistance ?
How did Otis come to occupy so prominent a place in the history of American independence ?
Discuss the persuasive value of Otis's detailed account of the operation of the writs.
January 14, 1766
The fact that the British government had found it difficult to collect revenue from the colonies even though writs of assistance were used did not deter George III and his ministers from continuing to attempt to obtain money from America. Increased taxes on new sources of revenue were a necessity for the Empire.
The Seven Years War had increased the national debt to $700,000,000 and it had become necessary to maintain a great navy and large standing armies in both Europe and America. Inasmuch as a considerable portion of the annual budget was used to support troops to overawe the Indians and maintain the conquest of Canada it was thought reasonable by Grenville, the chancellor of the exchequer, that the colonies should share in the expense. Accordingly he proposed the Stamp Act, a measure designed to raise sufficient money to pay one-third of the annual cost of maintaining the army in America.
After the colonists had been given a year in which to consider the details of the measure, he met their agents and expressed a desire to alter the bill if he could make it more agreeable to their wishes. Benjamin Franklin said that the old constitutional method of asking the assemblies to grant funds was preferable to the system of involuntary contribution embodied in the Stamp Act. Grenville replied that in the past when voluntary grants were in vogue the colonies had been unable to agree on the proportion of expense that each should bear, a fact that Franklin could not deny. The conference ended without material change in the proposed bill which was passed by the House of Commons with slight opposition in March 1765.
This act was planned to furnish a revenue of $300,000, all of which was to be applied toward the support of troops in America. The bill, however, was received by the colonists with great indignation. They were willing to contribute to the expenses of the Imperial government, if the King would ask the colonial assemblies to make grants; but they were unwilling to be taxed by Parliament so long as they were not represented in the House of Commons. Accordingly the Americans refused to use the stamped paper required by the law for nearly all commercial transactions. Business practically ceased. Rioting Occurred in many cities, and criticism of the policy of the British ministry became daily more bitter.
On January 14, 1766, when Parliament assembled, the King's speech again asserted the right to tax America. Pitt was present although he had but recently recovered from a severe illness. Unfamiliar with the calendar, because of his absence of nearly a year, he did not know that American taxation was to be considered; but when the subject was discussed, so impressed was he by the seriousness of the moment that he spoke extemporaneously with all the fire that had made his earlier speeches famous. Many years of Parliamentary service and continuous study of conditions in America, made his words authoritative. His speech produced an immediate change in the official attitude toward America ; and he was able within the next few weeks şo to organize the advocates and lovers of English liberty that on March 18, 1766, the obnoxious Stamp Act was repealed.
WILLIAM PITT, EARL OF CHATHAM
It is a long time, Mr. Speaker, since I have attended in Parliament. When the resolution was taken in this House to tax America, I was ill in bed. If I could have endured to be carried 1 in my bed—so great was the agitation of my mind for the consequences—I would have solicited some kind hand to have laid me down on this floor, to have borne my testimony against it! It is now an act that has passed. I would speak with decency of every act of this House; but I must beg the indulgence of the House to speak of it with freedom.
I hope a day may soon be appointed to consider the state of the nation with respect to America. I hope gentlemen will come to this debate with all the temper and impartiality that his majesty recommends, and the importance of the subject requires;' a subject of greater importance than ever engaged the attention of this House, that subject only excepted, when, near a century ago, it was the question whether you yourselves were to be bond or free.
I will only speak to one point-a point which seems not to have been generally understood, I mean to the right. Some gentlemen seem to have considered it as a point of honor. If gentlemen consider it in that light, they leave all measures of right and wrong to follow a delusion that may lead to destruction. It is my opinion that this kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies. At the same time, I assert the authority of this kingdom over