Motion made that the Bill be committed, Debate

v6:192

Friday, December 5, 1775.

The Bill was, according to order, read a second time;

And a motion being made, and the question being put, that the Bill be committed;

Lord North said, if there was anything which carried an air of severity in the bill, it would be in the power of America herself to prevent its operation; for all that the people of any Colony had to do, was to own the legislative supremacy of Great Britain, as the parent and controlling State; or, if unwilling to accede to any general declaration of that kind, to contribute, of their own accord, towards the support of Government, as one of the parts of the empire entitled to the protection of the whole.

The Hon˙ Thomas Walpole. My sentiments have been so rarely delivered in this House, that some gentlemen consider me as one of those who have lately changed their opinions respecting America. Had I, indeed, formerly approved the measures of Government towards the Colonies, the ill success which has resulted, and which is likely to result, from them, would now convince me of the expediency of changing the system of our conduct. My sentiments, however, have been confirmed, not altered, by our late unsuccessful experiments in America, as I have constantly disapproved every act for imposing taxes on the Colonies.

Respecting the bill now under consideration, I must oppose it, because, of all our proceedings, this appears to me the most violent and impolitick. It begins with a formal, indiscriminate declaration of war against the inhabitants of thirteen Colonies; and after authorizing a general seizure and confiscation of their effects, it concludes with a fallacious, nugatory provision respecting the attainment of peace. Concerning the first of these objects, I must observe, that were it both justifiable and expedient to seize and confiscate the property of the Colonists, without discrimination, the time for doing it is past, and the measure becomes impracticable by that total suspension of commerce which has now taken place in America. Twelve months ago, indeed, an attempt of this kind might have succeeded; but its success would have been ruinous to multitudes of British merchants, who were either immediately or remotely interested in the cargoes of all American vessels, wherever dispersed, and especially of those laden with corn, which the Americana were honourably sending us in discharge of their debts, and which was necessary to preserve Europe from famine. The attempt was, therefore, wisely suspended, as indeed every other hostile measure ought to have been, since it is impossible for us to injure the Colonies without suffering by the distress which we may occasion them. But if it was expedient to delay the seizure of American ships while they were in our power, it must be absurd to attempt it when the measure is no longer practicable, or at least when our only captures will be privateers, which a knowledge of this act will provoke the Colonists to fit out, in order to distress our West-India trade, and make reprisals for those depredations which we are now going to authorize; unless, indeed, the severe penalties of this bill should, as I think they will, induce the Americans to open their ports to the ships of other maritime Powers, and invite foreigners to supply their wants — a proceeding which would compel us to seize the effects of the subjects of other States, and eventually involve us in a disastrous European war.

Respecting the concluding part of this bill, I cannot but think the provision which it makes for peace is very inadequate to the attainment of it; for the provision consists only of a power in certain circumstances, to grant particular pardons and exemptions from the penalties of this act. But will the offer of pardon satisfy men who acknowledge no crime, and who are conscious not of doing, but of suffering wrong? Or will the prospect of an exemption from commercial seizures, without the redress of any grievance, disarm those who have deliberately refused all commerce until their grievances shall be redressed? A noble Lord, who is now become the Minister for America, has indeed told us that nothing should be granted to the Colonists until they shall have laid down their arms and made an unconditional submission to our claims. Very little, however, must his Lordship know of human nature, or of the people annexed to his department, if he thinks the motives which have induced them to associate, arm, and fight, in the defence of their supposed rights, will not forever prevent the return of peace, unless more adequate and just provisions be made for obtaining it.

v6:193

The only benefit which has resulted from our unhappy contest with America is, that by it we have been led to revert to the first principles of civil polity. After numerous struggles between the powers and opinions of contending parties, we all now agree in this fundamental truth, that civil government was instituted to benefit the many who are governed, and not the few who govern; or, in other words, that its proper end is, the preservation of life, freedom, and property; and of these, the latter has, under our Constitution, been the object of peculiar care. Indeed, the very nature of property, as it is constantly defined, requires that the proprietor alone should have a right to dispose of his property; and therefore it is that, by the most solemn provisions of our Government, the consent of those from whom money is wanted for national services is made indispensably necessary. I have, attentively considered the peculiar rights of this House respecting the imposition of taxes, and also, the usual words, forms, and circumstances, of our pecuniary grants, which of themselves sufficiently prove that a right of granting away the property of our constituents is totally distinct and different from a right of making laws to govern them. We are the only branch of the Legislature that represents the people and property of Great Britain, (the Peers sitting by titles derived from the Crown,) and therefore a grant of this House, in its representative capacity, necessarily precedes the imposition of any tax on the people. This appears from the tenour of all the acts for raising supplies, which begin with reciting that "the Commons" alone, separately and distinctly, have first granted the rates, duties, and impositions, intended to be levied, and afterwards proceed to enact, by the joint authority of King, Lords, and Commons, that the sums which have been thus distinctly granted by the latter, shall be collected according to the intention of their several grants. And in the very same manner, the legislative assent of Parliament was always required to authorize a collection of the subsidies formerly granted by the clergy in convocation; though yet, without a previous grant from the clergy, no taxes were collected from them by authority of Parliament, until the reign of Charles, II, when they obtained a share in the national representation. And, excepting the perplexity which late sophistical fallacies may have occasioned on this subject, no privilege of our Constitution was ever better ascertained, more generally understood, or more confidently believed, than the privilege which Englishmen, for a long succession of ages, have enjoyed, of being taxed only with their own consent, or that of their representatives. In virtue of this privilege it was, that the unrepresented people of America refused to pay the taxes we have lately imposed on them — a refusal which has been followed by a series of intemperate and violent acts on our part, and by a loss of our former dominion over thirteen of the Colonies on that continent. To recover the affection, the commerce, and the allegiance of the people of these Colonies, should be the end of all our endeavours. The measures which we have hitherto pursued for this end have produced none but the most pernicious consequences; it is time, therefore, to profit by experience, to grow wise by misfortunes, and to try the effects of a different system of conduct. Enough, and I fear too much, has been already attempted by irritation, by menace, and by violence. Let these give way to milder proceedings. Let us seek for peace; not by carrying war and desolation over the countries we would govern; not by destroying the sources of that commerce we would regain; not by exciting irreconcilable hatred in those whose affections we should reconciliate; but by pursuing the dictates of reason, humanity, and justice, which are all repugnant to every part of the bill under consideration.

Mr˙ Cornwall did not see how the dispute with America would be productive of a war with any European Power. He imagined the reverse; because Spain in particular, feeling a similarity of situation and interest, instead of encouraging America in acts of disobedience to the parent State, would rather contribute everything in her power to suppress a revolt, which, in example, might be fatal to her own interests in the new world. He observed that great stress, he foresaw, would be laid on that part of the bill which subjected all ships, merchandise, &c˙, which belonged to the people of America, or any persons whatever, found trading to that country, to forfeiture and confiscation; but if the present state of that country were only considered for an

v6:194

instant, the propriety of that part of the bill must be self-evident; for as the non-exportation and non-importation agreement had unconditionally taken place the 10th of September last, the inevitable consequence would be, that all trade being at an end between both countries, a communication would be open between America and the several maritime and commercial nations of Europe — particularly France and the United Provinces. He said, in the present state of things, however great our native strength and resources might be, such was the nature of a land war, to be carried on in that distant part of the world, that we could never expect to succeed: therefore the present bill was necessary, as, by restraining their maritime intercourse with other nations, it would completely cut off all their resources, and give Great Britain the advantage of exerting her strength on that element where she never found an equal. He concluded with asserting, that the government of this empire was placed in the British Parliament; that of course whatever the British Parliament, in its wisdom and justice, decreed, was, to all intents, constructions, and purposes, binding upon every other part of the whole empire.

Mr˙ Dunning said, that whatever doubts prevailed on the first day of the session, whether the speech from the Throne predicted war or peace, no one could now be at a loss to know its genuine import. He was one who looked upon it, from the very beginning, to be a formal declaration of war against all America. He was every day more and more satisfied that his suspicions were well-founded; but now ho had nothing to prevent him from pronouncing with certainty that he was fully justified in his opinion that war, and a war of the most unrelenting and bloody complexion, was meant to be made on those devoted people. He was tolerably versed in history, nor was he ignorant of the laws of his country; but never, within the compass of his reading or knowledge, did he hear of such a rebellion as the present. Who, said he, are the Rebels? What are the principles they controvert? Who is the Prince to whom they profess obedience?, But, turning from those matters, which are only a fit subject for ridicule, do not the consequences promise to be serious? Let us think only for a minute of the manner we have been treated. How is it possible we can proceed an inch, with any propriety, without the necessary information? This, it is possible, may be a good bill; it may be the only measure left us to adopt, which may be the means of bringing that country back to a proper sense of her duty; but is there one gentleman in this House, even one honourable member on the Treasury bench, who will rise and tell me that his support to the present bill arises from his information, or will take upon himself to stake his general support of the bill upon information had, but not proper to be communicated to this House? I am certain, bold and enterprising as many of them are, there is not one. The Americans have prayed for redress of grievances. The language of the House is, subdue them first, and then hear and consider their complaints; if they dare to resist, starve them, destroy their trade, seize their shipping, waste their lands, block up their ports, and prohibit their fisheries; let them have no means of subsistence either upon earth or sea. Will men, inheriting the free spirit of ancestors who relinquished the sweets of civil society in their native country, when oppression and tyranny was predominant, to breathe the pure air of freedom in a wilderness, bear all this? Is it not, in so many words, calling upon them, Ye cowards of America, relinquish your claims to the rights of mankind, or we will crush you as a people? Are these the words of a wise, a just, a lenient Administration? or are they not rather the bloody declarations of an exasperated, unrelenting faction, who, disappointed in their views of arbitrary power, are for pouring vengeance on those who have the fortitude to oppose their measures? And who are they that are to crush these cowards? Not Englishmen. Earth and seas are ransacked for foreign mercenaries, to cut the throats of natural-born loyal subjects.

I cannot sit down without saying a word or two relative to the manifest partiality Administration has lately shown to a neighbouring kingdom, (Ireland,) which used not to be in very high esteem. No longer tyrannized over and oppressed, she has suddenly become a favourite; she has been lately told by the Minister there that she might have

v6:195

Hessians or Brunswickers, or she might have none; and that they should be paid by this country on the present occasion. This sure is a happy change. Ireland may have foreigners; she may have them for nothing; and she is fairly told, she shall not have one without the consent of Parliament; and, even if she should consent, she shall not pay a single shilling towards their maintenance or support. Great Britain shall have foreigners, whether she will or not; Ireland may have them if she pleases; but even then Great Britain shall pay them.

The Hon˙ Mr˙ Fitzpatrick complained of the conduct of Administration, in keeping everything secret; it was very probable, if Administration could have kept it a secret that the King' s troops were defeated at Lexington in April, or that they suffered worse than a defeat at Bunker' s Hill, we should have never heard of those two very mortifying occurrences; nor that an army of ten thousand men, with a most formidable train of artillery, and commanded by four Generals of reputation, have been blocked up during the whole summer by a body of people who have been described in this House, ever since their names have been first mentioned, as a mere cowardly rabble. He could easily discern that the bill breathed nothing but war, and that not of an ordinary nature; for it was not a war that might be stifled or compromised by a mixture of assertion or concession, but made upon a principle of ruin to one of the parties, if not to both; in short, it was a war of mere revenge, not of justice.

Mr˙ Fox presaged no good from the bill proposed; if no terms are to be accepted, he said, but unconditional submission, nothing could expose the folly of Administration more than to expect it. From the commencement of the present contest, every step has marked the Ministerial measures with weakness or absurdity; with arrogance at one time and meanness at another. At first setting out, the cry was, tax America; and, if she complains, tax her more. When this would not go down, the tone was lowered: acknowledge the right of taxation, and we will forego the exercise. This, too, was rejected. Tax yourselves in a certain proportion, and raise the revenue as you please. That, too, refused. Then comes, Acknowledge, ye slaves, unlimited obedience to the British Parliament, or the indignation of the State shall be roused against you, and the whole weight of Great Britain fall heavy upon you. Now the terrible day is arrived; the British Lion roars, and the forests quake. Neighbouring nations wait with impatience to see the event, and Britons to be enriched with the spoils. "Parturiunt monies, et nascitur ridiculus mus. "

Mr˙ Attorney-General [Thurlow] wished, if taking up arms against the State is not rebellion, that his learned friend would define what it is. Our ancestors, he said, opposed the encroachments of one branch of the Legislature upon the constitutional rights of the other two. The Americans rise in arms against the legal acts of the whole Legislature, King, Lords, and Commons, in their full plenitude of uncontrollable authority; and set at defiance the Executive powers of the State, as incapable of carrying those legal acts into execution. The distinction, he believed, was obvious. He insisted that no troops had been offered to Ireland, as asserted by his learned friend, who, he feared, laid too much stress upon newspaper information. Even if the fact were so, this was not the proper time to debate it, nor could he perceive what kind of relation there was between the supposed offer made to Ireland and the bill under consideration.

Mr˙ Burke reprobated the bill as unprecedented in the annals of history. It was a bill, in every light it could be viewed, diabolically constructed; for it inflicted punishment for acts thought innocent at the time they were committed, and legalized others which were acts of atrocious plunder and robbery. Our Saviour sent his Apostles to teach and proclaim peace to all nations; but the political Apostles to be sent out by this bill would be the harbingers of civil war, in all its most horrid and hideous forms, accompanied by fire, sword and famine.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend was severe on the ostensible Minister, who was but a mere shadow of authority, all real power being lodged in the person of the honourable gentleman who sat next him, [Mr˙ Jenkinson.]

Mr˙ Jenkinson said, he did not understand what such insinuations led to, if not to mislead the House; that he had

v6:196

always acted conformably to the spirit of the Constitution, and defied his accusers to point out a single instance to the contrary.

Lord George Cavendish said, the manufactures were daily declining in almost every part of the kingdom, and the consequences of this bill must be dreadful, as he supposed, before the end of the year, it would throw above forty thousand hands out of employment.

Lord Stanley could not contradict the noble Lord' s general information, but he could venture to affirm, it was not the case in Lancashire.

Mr˙ Temple Luttrell. When the noble Lord at the head of the Treasury first gave notice of this bill, he told us it was his intention to repeal the three acts restrictive on the trade of New-England, and certain other Colonies, as insufficient to the purpose he had in view. Now, if I have comprehended the noble Lord aright, he has at different times professed to have in view two very distinct and contradictory purposes: the one to accelerate a peace, the other to continue the war with energy, and a profuse effusion of blood. If the noble Lord would repeal these iniquitous acts, and suspend all other hostile proceedings for the present, he may probably lay the groundwork of peace; but if he proceeds to a more diffuse and rigorous severity, he will put an end to every ray of hope that could be entertained of sincere or effectual conciliation. One hope, sir, I will, however, still entertain, and which I am neither afraid nor ashamed to avow; it is, that the Americans may prove successful in the maintenance of their just rights. Sir, I heartily wish them success, for their sakes, who have been grossly injured; and I wish it for our own. We have now before us a dreadful alternative; if the Colonists gain the victory, we bid farewell to the most valuable branch of the commerce of Great Britain, and we no longer hold that pre-eminent distinction which the triumphs of the last war, and our superior form of Government, gave us a just title to among the Powers of Europe. If, on the other hand, the Ministerial Army should come off with conquest, to judge by your northern addresses; by the accommodating temper of the miltary, (so different from former times;) and, above all, to judge by the complexion of our present rulers, the liberties of England must inevitably fall a sacrifice on the American continent. But, sir, I trust the eyes of Great Britain will open ere it be too late, and that she will discover the dangerous precipice, on the brink of which she at this day stands. Sir, I venture to foretell, that if these violent measures of coercion be further persevered in, you will involve every district of the British dominions throughout the four quarters of the globe in the various calamities and horrours of your unnatural civil war. Surely, sir, the country gentlemen, who are so frequently called upon from all sides of the House, now they are retiring into the country, must ponder during the Christmas recess, on the mischiefs they have been accessary to, and will return to Parliament with sentiments of contrition, and such sentiments as have usually actuated that valuable body of Englishmen. Neither will I despair of seeing this Parliament, which has borrowed the name of the memorable Coventry Parliament, and copied so many of its misdeeds, take from it the only good precedent it can afford. The Coventry Parliament, in the fifth of Henry IV, (about the month of January,) having granted to the Crown very exorbitant and unjustifiable taxes, a very few weeks after caused the record containing that grant to be committed to the flames, hoping, by such expedient, to prevent their offence from being discovered to future generations. Let us, sir, follow that bright example, and have all the American acts passed since 1763, whether relative to unlimited sovereignty, to famine, or to taxation, selected from your rolls, and put into the fire; and when you send Commissioners over to Boston, with the olive-branch of peace in one hand, I would have them, instead of the exterminating sword of war, carry in the other a cinerary vase, filled with the ashes of those defunct parchments, to be a sacrifice at the tree of liberty, where they should be hurried, and with them our mutual animosities, and every idea that might hereafter grow up to malice, reproach, or mistrust. Such a legation, and such credentials, would be worthy the wisdom and justice of the British Legislature, and restore your empire to its former splendour and prosperity; but if the character of herald be to predominate in this Commission, there is not one leaf of the olive-branch will be accepted of in America

v6:197

till you have riveted fetters on the last hand that has nerves able to resist you. I know, sir, that for a subject to resist the Executive power of the Government over that society of which he is a member, must be deemed an act of rebellion, unless such Executive power shall have committed a prior act of rebellion against its creators — the people; for then it virtually lays itself under an interdict; and resistance is not only pardonable, but praiseworthy — it becomes the duty of every good citizen; therefore the glorious founders of the Revolution in 1688 were patriots, not rebels; and the foreign Princes they brought over, and seated on the throne of England, in preference to all hereditary claims of succession, were legal sovereigns, and not usurpers. Sir, I shall repeatedly affirm, that the administrators of Government in this country were guilty of a heinous act of rebellion, when they sent fleets on fleets, and armies on armies, to America, to compel the Colonists to admit of taxation. Three millions of people, three thousand miles distant, without one delegate in your legislative body, and so eccentral with respect to this Island as not to be possibly comprehended in virtual representation, occupying a territory of such magnitude that were you to take from the map of it the extent of the British Isles, the defect would scarcely be visible to the most accurate eye; — I say, sir, this was rebellion against the fundamental Constitution of Great Britain, established on reason and the natural rights of mankind, from the earliest ages, confirmed century after century and reign after reign; it was rebellion in the fullest sense of the word against the inalienable rights of such an imperial mass of British freemen. Such is my law; such I hold to be the law of common sense, and such I understand to be the efficient law of the land. Sir, I shall certainly give my vote to reject this bill. I abominate every principle on which it is founded.

Mr˙ Bayley said he must tell those vociferous gentlemen, who were calling out in such a hurry for the question, that he must first call on the noble Lord [North] for his estate, which was going to be taken from him by this bill. He said if all trade and intercourse were stopped between the West-Indies and North-America, the plantations were at once ruined, as it was impossible to make either sugar or rum, or send it to this country, without American supplies. That as soon as it was made lawful to take American vessels, he did not doubt but all the sugar ships would be made prizes of; for as they were obliged to come home by the coast of America, it would be easy for a petty officer of a man-of-war to say those ships were found hovering upon that coast, and that they had arms and gunpowder on board, (which no merchant-ship is without,) and were going to supply the Rebels with them; this pretence is sufficient to condemn them; so that every planter' s property would be confiscated and shared amongst the favourites of the Minister. Proof had been given to the House that the annual exports to North-America, before this fatal war broke out, amounted to three millions and a half, of which more than three-fourths were of our own manufactures; and that we got great profit from the other fourth; but that the whole of this exportation was lost, as also six hundred thousand pounds exported in the same manner from Scotland. That the West-Indies took more than one million one hundred thousand pounds annually of British manufactory, and four hundred and seventy thousand pounds worth of goods were annually exported to Africa, to carry on the West-India trade; all this added together, amounted to the amazing sum of nearly six millions sterling; and if this bill passed, the whole of this immense export would be stopped, and thereby so great a national benefit would be lost, besides the infinite advantages we reaped on our trade and imports from thence, and a million of net money annually paid into the Exchequer. Therefore, he implored gentlemen would consider whether it was not madness to risk so great a loss, and put the nation to so immense an expense of blood and treasure, in order to establish an arbitrary and unjust right in America, as taxing them without their own consent, and which the Minister confessed he never meant to make use of. Besides this, he would advise gentlemen to reflect, whether, as soon as commissions were given to one cruiser to take and make prizes of all vessels which were found on the coast of America with arms and ammunition on board, if this would not inevitably involve us in a war with France and Spain, as their ships and gallions all came home from

v6:198

their American Colonies by the coast of America, and were well provided with arms and ammunition, which would give just the same pretence for seizing them as our own vessels. Even the stopping and searching may as reasonably be supposed to give as much offence to them as the Spaniards gave to us, when the war before the last was actually declared against the Spaniards, for no other reason than stopping and searching our vessels in the West-Indies.

The House then divided. The yeas went forth:

Tellers for the yeas,
The Lord Stanley,
Sir George Osborne,
207

Tellers for the noes,
Mr˙ Hussey,
Mr˙ Johnstone,
55

So it was resolved in the affirmative.

Resolved, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

A motion was made, and the question being proposed, That this House will, upon Tuesday next, resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House upon the said Bill;

Upon this, several gentlemen begged Lord North to postpone it for a few days, to give the West-India merchants and planters, who had advertised a meeting of their body on this Bill for the 6th, an opportunity of laying before the House any information they might judge necessary. For this purpose, an amendment was proposed to be made to the question, by leaving out the word "next," and inserting the word "sevennight," instead thereof.

And the question being put, That the word "next" stand part of the question;

It was resolved in the affirmative.

Then the main question being put, That this House will, upon Tuesday next, resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole House, upon the said Bill;

The House divided. The yeas went forth:

Tellers for the yeas.
Mr˙ Morton,
Mr˙ John St˙ John,
153

Tellers for the noes,
Mr˙ Hartley,
Mr˙ Morant,
24

So it was resolved in the affirmative.

Tuesday, December 5, 1775.