Page images


February 6, 1775


The favorable impression created by the repeal of the Stamp Act was largely destroyed by the passage soon after of the Declaratory Act in which Parliament laid no import or duty but asserted its right to tax America. This action was a colossal blunder, inasmuch as it ignored the fact that the Americans had not refused to furnish money to support the government but had denied this very right of taxation which now was expressly reaffirmed. Before the end of the year, also, King George III, who had no sympathy with the democratic aspirations of the colonists, induced Parliament to lay new duties on tea and other articles imported by the Americans.

Continued disorder in America and decreasing trade again brought about the repeal in March, 1770, of all these duties except that on tea. The latter duty the King determined to retain, it is said, from a desire to “try the question with America.” In the hope of making the tax more acceptable the duty was reduced to six cents a pound, which permitted tea to be sold in America at a cheaper price than in England. The colonists, however, who were seeking a democratic system of taxation rather than low taxes, refused to pay the decreased duty. A mob threw four ship loads of tea into Boston harbor. Incensed with their lack of respect for the royal authority, the King induced Parliament to take away the old charter of Massa. chusetts and to pass other acts of a drastic nature.

As these measures threatened to destroy English liberty in America, concerted action on the part of the colonists was demanded. On September 1, 1774, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and passed resolutions in which trade with England was boycotted. Nevertheless in a very calm and conciliating Petition to the King the Congress once more reaffirmed its loyalty to the Empire and asserted its willingness to pay all taxes justly levied in accordance with the English Constitution. Clashes between armed citizens and British troops, nevertheless, had already occurred more than once. On February 6, 1775, when John Wilkes rose in Parliament to speak it was clearly evident that America and the Mother Country were on the


of war.



I AM surprised that in a business of so much moment as this before the House, respecting the British colonies in America, a cause which comprehends almost every question relative to the common rights of mankind, almost every question of policy and legislation, it should be resolved to proceed with so little circumspection, or rather with so much precipitation and heedless imprudence. With what temerity are we assured that the same men who have been so often overwhelmed with praises for their attachment to this country, for their forwardness to grant it the necessary succors, for the valor they have signalized in its defense, have all at once so degenerated from their ancient manners as to merit the appellation of seditious, ungrateful, impious rebels! But if such a change has, indeed, been wrought in the minds of this most loyal people, it must at least be admitted that affections so extraordinary could only have been produced by some very powerful cause. But who is ignorant, who needs to be told of the new madness that infatuates our ministers? Who has not seen the tyrannical counsels they have pursued for the last ten years? They would now have us carry to the foot of the throne 2 a resolution stamped with rashness and injustice, fraught with blood, and a horrible futurity. But before this be allowed them, before the signal of civil war be given, before they are permitted to force Englishmen to sheathe their swords in the bowels of their fellow-subjects, I hope this House will consider the rights of humanity, the original ground and cause of the present dispute. Have we justice on our side? No; assuredly no. He must be altogether a stranger to the British Constitution who does not know that contributions are voluntary gifts of the people; and singularly blind not to perceive that the words“ Liberty and property

so grateful to English ears, are nothing better than mockery and insult to the Americans, if their property can be taken without their consent. And what motive can there exist for this new rigor, for these extraordinary measures? Have not the Americans always demonstrated the utmost zeal and liberality whenever their succors have been required by the Mother Country?

In the last two wars they gave you more than you asked for, and more than their facilities warranted; they were not only liberal toward you, but prodigal of their substance. They fought gallantly and victoriously by your side, with equal valor, against our and their enemy, the common enemy of the liberties of Europe and America, the ambitious and faithless French, whom we now fear and flatter. And even now at a moment when you are planning their destruction, when you are branding them with the odious appellation of rebels, what is their language, what their protestation? Read, in the name of heaven, the late petition of the Congress to the King, and you will find “they are ready and willing, as they have ever been, to demonstrate their loyalty by exerting their utmost efforts in granting supplies and raising forces when constitutionally required.” And yet we hear it vociferated by some inconsiderate individuals that the Americans wish to abolish the Navigation Act; that they intend to throw off the supremacy of Great Britain. But would to God those assertions were not rather a provocation than the truth! They ask nothing, for such are the words of their petition, but for peace, liberty, and safety. They wish not a diminution of the royal prerogative; they solicit not any new right. They are ready, on the contrary, to defend this prerogative, to maintain the royal authority, and to draw closer the bonds of their connection with Great Britain. But our ministers, perhaps to punish others for their own faults, are sedulously endeavoring, not only to relax those powerful ties, but to dissolve and sever them forever. Their address represents the Province of Massachusetts as in a state of actual rebellion. The other provinces are held out to our indignation, as aiding and abetting. Many arguments have been employed by some learned gentlemen among us to comprehend them all in the same offense, and to involve them all in the same proscription.

Whether their present state is that of rebellion, or of a fit and just resistance to unlawful acts of power, to our attempts to rob them of their property and liberties, as they imagine, I shall not declare. But I well know what will follow, nor, however strange and harsh ii may appear to some, shall I hesitate to announce it, thal I may not be accused hereafter of having failed in my duty to my country, on so grave an occasion, and at the approach of such direful calamities. Know, then, a successful resistance is a revolution, not a rebellion; rebellion, indeed, appears on the back of a flying enemy, but revolution flames on the breastplate of the victorious warrior. Who can tell whether in consequence of this day's violent and mad address to his majesty, the scabbard may not be thrown away by them, as well as by us; and whether in a few years the independent Americans may not celebrate the glorious era of the Revolution of 1775, as we do that of 1688? The generous effort of our forefathers for freedom, heaven crowned with success, or their noble blood had dyed our scaffolds, like that of Scottish traitors and rebels; and the period of our history which does us the most honor would have been deemed a rebellion against the lawful authority of the prince, not a resistance authorized by all the laws of God and man, not the expulsion of a detested tyrant.

I can no more comprehend the policy than acknowledge the justice of your deliberations. Where is your force, what are your armies, how are they to be recruited, and how supported? The single Province of Massachusetts has at this moment thirty thousand men, well trained and disciplined, and can bring in case of emergency ninety thousand into the field; and, doubt not they will do it, when all that is dear is at stake, when forced to defend their liberty and property against their cruel oppressors. The right honorable gentleman with the blue riband assures us that ten thousand of our troops and four Irish regiments will make their brains turn in the head a little, and strike them aghast with terror. But where does the author of this exquisite scheme propose to send his army? Boston, perhaps, you may lay in ashes, or it may be made a strong garrison; but the province will be lost to you. You will hold Boston as you hold Gibraltar, in the midst of a country which will not be yours; the whole Ameri

« PreviousContinue »