Debate — General Conway

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HOUSE OF COMMONS.

Wednesday, May 22, 1776.

General Conway. I am to apologize to the House for the introduction of a motion at this late period of the session; but the alarming and dreadful situation of this country compels me to trouble you. The House knows I am not professedly a motion-maker, but content myself with that line of humble duty in which my abilities, situation, and temper, necessarily limit my conduct. What shall I say, sir? There is but one moment between this great country and destruction! I wish to seize it; the urgencies of this crisis will be my apology to the House. I am no partisan, nor indiscriminate opposer of Government, except in this point.

The Gazette informs me that Commissioners (Lord Howe and his brother) are to be delegated with powers to treat with America for peace. I am not to learn that, with enemies in general, the King is the sole arbiter of peace and war; but with our fellow-subjects, where privileges are to be granted or concessions made, I doubt whether it can be done without the previous consent of Parliament.

It may be objected that the King may treat and you afterwards ratify what is done; but are you certain that America will trust you? Why not adopt the surer road? Specify the terms upon which you will treat; if they are fair and constitutional, and the Americans refuse to accommodate differences, you will thereby dissolve every legal combination, by putting yourselves in the right. Besides, methinks there is somewhat due to this House, some information, some attention usual in those cases.

Will you give up taxation entirely? One noble Lord in the Cabinet says yes; another, no. Is this House agreed upon it? If you are, specify it fairly and openly; if not, if you cannot agree upon that fundamental point, in God' s name, how can Lord Howe treat upon that essential point, where, from the disunion of Ministers, and differences of opinion in this House, nothing certain can be offered? Why, sir, was not the Earl of Hillsborough' s letter a solemn renunciation of the right of taxation? Was not his Majesty' s name pledged for the performance? Yes. Was it ratified on their part? Did not all the Governours of America, did not Lord Botetourt say that the Ministers were not immortal, but that, to his dying day he should consider Great Britain as pledged to relinquish it? And this to the; Assembly of Virginia; and the same language held also to all the other Assemblies in America?

I know it has been said that those who spoke and wrote against taxation in America were a faction, consisting of such persons as were disaffected to Government; but I have sufficient reason to convince me that they gave the sentiments of the people of America in general. I remember particularly to have seen, about that time, a manuscript written by the late Governour of Massachusetts-Bay, Governour Hutchinson I mean, who, I believe, will not be suspected of being unfriendly to Government, containing very sensible and unanswerable arguments against passing the Stamp Act, and which showed, to his honour, that he was a friend to his country as well as to Government.