صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني



[CHAP. II. settling the troubles in America, and asserting the supreme legislative authority of Great Britain over the colonies. This supremacy he broadly asserted; but, as to taxes, he proposed that none should be levied in America, except with the consent of the provincial assemblies.

The bill legalized the Congress proposed to be held in May, both for recognising the supreme authority of Parliament over the colonies, and for making to the king a free grant of a certain and perpetual revenue, subject to the disposition of Parliament,' and applicable to the lessening of the national debt. It also restrained the powers of the admiralty courts within their ancient limits, and secured to the colonies their privileges and immunities.

This bill, which would have fallen far short of giving general satisfaction in America, was very warmly assailed by most of the friends of the ministry, and was supported by its mover with the vigor and eloquence of his early days; but, after a very diffuse and protracted debate, it was rejected by sixty-one votes to thirty-two.

The next day the minister, Lord North, disclosed his plan of procedure towards America, which was to send a greater force thither; to interdict the Newfoundland fishery to the other colonies of New England; and to restrict their foreign trade solely to Great Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies.

An address to the king was then moved in the House of Commons, which was a sort of manifesto of the principles by which the ministry had been, and would be governed in their course towards America, and which declared that a rebellion then existed in the province of Massachusetts. In the course of the debate on this

1 Annual Register for 1775, page 59.



address some of the members treated resistance by the Americans with contempt, averring that "they were neither soldiers, nor ever could be made so; being naturally of a pusillanimous disposition, and utterly incapable of any sort of order or discipline;" and a general officer had the presumptuous folly to declare that, "at the head of five regiments of infantry, he would undertake to traverse the whole country, and drive the inhabitants from one end of the continent to the other." The address was carried by a large majority, as was the bill which interdicted the fisheries and all foreign trade to the New England colonies.

While these bills were under discussion, the minister excited no little surprise on both sides of the House, by offering a resolution which contained a conciliatory proposition not widely different from that of Lord Chatham's bill. It declared that, whenever the legislature of any province proposed to contribute its proportion to the common defence, such proportion to be raised by the provincial legislature and disposable by Parliamentand also engaged to provide for the support of the civil government and the administration of justice, if such proposal should be approved by the king in Parliament, it would not be proper to levy any tax or duty on such province, except for the regulation of commerce; the net produce of which last duty was to be carried to the account of the said province.

He maintained that this proposition was in conformity with the late address made by Parliament to the king. He said that it would be an infallible touchstone to try the sincerity of the Americans. If their professions were real, and the grounds of their opposition such as they assert, they must agree to this proposition; but if they were actuated by sinister motives, their refusal of




the terms now offered would expose those motives to the world.

The resolution was at first vehemently opposed by the friends of the administration; but it was shown by one of its supporters that the dispute was now narrowed down to the question of "revenue or no revenue;" and the minister himself admitted that he had not expected his proposition would be generally well received by the Americans, but that he intended by it to separate the grain from the chaff.' If it did no good in America, it would do good in England; as it united England, it would disunite America. Whatever province came first to make a dutiful offer would be kindly treated; and if but one province accepted the offer, the whole confederacy would be broken; and that union, which alone rendered them formidable, would be dissolved: from which consideration, as well as an unwillingness to afford a temporary triumph to the opposition, the resolution was carried by a vote of two hundred and seventy-four to eighty-eight."

A bill was also passed for imposing the same restraints on the trade of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina, as had been imposed on that of New England.

At this session Edmund Burke brought forward his plan of conciliation, contained in thirteen resolutions, in which, leaving the question of the right of taxation undecided, he proposed that it should be exclusively exercised by the colonial legislatures, and that the Boston port bill, and other obnoxious acts, should be repealed. He supported his propositions in one of those masterly speeches3 1 Annual Register for 1775, page 96. ? Ibid. page 98.

3 In Prior's Life of Burke, page 172, is an analysis of this speech, made by Burke himself.






which, though little heeded by those to whom they were addressed, have been admired by the world as unrivalled exhibitions of philosophy, statesmanship, and eloquence. His plan of conciliation shared the fate of that of Lord Chatham, as did also one brought in by Mr. Hartley a few days after the rejection of Mr. Burke's, and which was a modification of Lord North's. But what could argument or oratory avail with a king and Parliament bent on bringing a distant country to their feet, or with a people aiming to lighten their own burdens by shifting them off on defenceless colonies?


Meanwhile the course of events in America was hastening that result, to which the public measures in England evidently tended.

[ocr errors]

It was not to be expected that peace would long continue between those who were regarded as rebellious subjects on one side, and as lawless oppressors on the other, when the opposite parties were placed side by side within the narrow limits of Boston. Indeed, with the contempt of the colonists entertained by most Englishmen at that day, for their want of military knowledge, and even of personal courage, the ministry would have already resorted to measures of coercion, but for the fear of public opinion in England, especially in London, and from the desire they felt to put their adversaries in the wrong. They, moreover, as well as the English people, were now rendered more sensible than ever of the value of the colonial trade to the commerce and manufactures of England; and that the ruinous losses to the colonists consequent on a civil war would be also severely felt by themselves. The colonists, on their part, exasperated as they were by their sufferings and

[blocks in formation]



[CHAP. II. their wrongs, besides wishing to secure a unanimity at home, and not to lessen the number of their friends in England, were not desirous of provoking hostilities which would expose them to power and resources so superior to their own. These circumstances were sufficient to delay a collision, which, however, they could not prevent.

A detachment having been sent in February by General Gage to take possession of some brass cannon, which the provincials had at Salem, was refused the use of a drawbridge over which they wished to pass; and when the officer commanding was about to overcome by force the resistance he encountered, he was diverted from his purpose by the interposition and remonstrances of a clergyman, who, at the same time, prevailed on his countrymen to let down the bridge, and thus put an end to the contest. But this open opposition to authority by the colonists was irritating to military pride, and the mutual ill-will of the soldiers and the Bostonians was obviously increased by this trifling collision.

General Gage having learned that there was a considerable deposit of provisions and military stores at Concord, where the provincial Congress sat, sent off in the night a detachment of eight or nine hundred men under Colonel Smith, to destroy them. But the regulars soon discovered, from the ringing of bells and the firing of guns, that the people had taken the alarm, and when they reached Lexington, six miles from Concord, before sunrise, they there found assembled the minutemen of the town (about a hundred), who were ordered to lay down their arms and disperse. But the order not being obeyed, the soldiers fired, killed eight men, and wounded several.

The detachment then marched to Concord, where they proceeded to destroy some gun-carriages, and to throw

« السابقةمتابعة »