Debate

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HOUSE OF COMMONS.

Tuesday, February 20, 1776.

Mr˙ Fox said, he should not trespass on the patience and good sense of the House, by recapitulating the cause of the present unhappy disputes with America. He should not develope that system, whence the measures now carrying on were supposed to originate. He should forbear to

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animadvert upon a system that, in its principles, complexion, and every constituent part, gave the fullest and most unequivocal proofs that its ultimate design was the total destruction of the Constitution of this free form of Government. These were assertions that might be disputed. People who had, or perhaps had not, the best opinion of the abilities of those in power, might have a confidence that they intended nothing ill. Others, though they disapproved of their general conduct, might rather think them the dupes of their secret supporters; and even such as thought the most indifferently of them would be disposed to look upon them rather as tools, than arraign them as principals in so unnatural and horrid a conspiracy against the liberties of their country. But what might be the secret designs of a junto, or the venal alacrity of the despicable cyphers they employed to effect their traitorous purposes, was, he said, to be no part of the subject of inquiry this day. He did not mean to teaze or insult the House with idle surmises, with floating vague suspicions, leading to partial deductions or speculative charges, conceived and spun out of his own brain; but wished to draw their attention to certain well-known, indisputable, incontrovertible facts. His proposed inquiry would not be directed to ascertain the rights of Great Britain, or the subordinate claims of America; to explain the constitutional connection between taxation and representation; what was rebellion, or what legal resistance; whether all America ought to have been punished and proscribed for the intemperate zeal or disobedience of a Boston mob. He did not even mean to dispute or controvert the expediency, nor, in short, a single Ministerial ground, on which the present measures respecting America were taken up, pursued, and defended. Those were all, for this day at least, to be absolutely laid aside. For argument sake, he would allow that Administration had acted perfectly right; but while he granted this, he would take up the matter from the very instant Administration had agreed upon a plan of coercion. This era he fixed at the time the Minister first proposed certain resolutions to the House in February 1774, as a ground of complaint, and followed it with the famous Boston Port Bill. He then entered into a historical detail of the means employed to carry this plan of coercion into effect; in which he painted in the strongest colours, and held to view in the most striking lights, such a scene of folly in the Cabinet, servile acquiescence in Parliament, and misconduct and ignorance in office and the field, as never before, he said, disgraced this nation, or indeed any other. He added, that our Ministers wanted both wisdom and integrity, our Parliaments publick spirit and discernment; and that our commanders, by sea and land, were either deficient in abilities, or, (which was the most probable,) had acted under orders that prevented them from executing the great objects of their command. No man could say but there had been mismanagement and misconduct somewhere. It was the chief object of his intended motion, to gain that species of information which might be the means of discovering the true causes of both. Publick justice demanded such an inquiry. The individuals on whom the obloquy rested, were entitled to be heard in their own defence. To withhold the information necessary to their justification, would be an insult to the nation, as well as an act of private injustice. None but the guilty could wish to evade it. No man, as a soldier or sailor, be his rank ever so high, was sure of his honour a single minute, if he was to be buried under publick disgrace, in order to shield, protect, or palliate the blunders and incapacity of others. If the Ministers had planned with wisdom, and proportioned the force to the service; if the great officers in the several efficient departments had done all that depended on them, ably and faithfully; then it was plain, that the whole of the miscarriages that had happened might be deservedly imputed to our naval and military commanders. If, on the other hand, the latter acquitted themselves according to their instructions, and carried on their operations in proportion to the force, it was no less plain, that the cause of all the disgraces the British arms had suffered arose from ignorance in those who planned, and incapacity and want of integrity in those to whom the carrying them into execution was in the first instance entrusted. He then recapitulated a variety of circumstances to prove his general allegations, and entered into the conduct of Administration respecting Canada, and repeated several arguments used at the time of passing the Quebeck

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Act, predicting what has since literally happened. He concluded by making the following motion:

"That it be referred to a Committee, to inquire into the causes of the ill success of his Majesty' s arms in North-America, as also into the causes of the defection of the people of the Province of Quebeck."

Lord Ossory seconded the motion, and said, he could not perceive how any member in the House, who was unconnected with the Ministry, and at the same time wished success to the American war, could be against it.

Lord Clare quoted the speech from the Throne. He insisted that it was orthodox, and ought not to be questioned, particularly as nothing material had since happened which could induce the House to alter its opinion. He insisted that the measure respecting the Hanover troops was perfectly justifiable, and that the plea of necessity was never better founded than on that occasion. His Lordship moved the previous question.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend said, that the present motion would be a test of what might hereafter be expected from Ministers; for if they opposed it, it would fairly prove that, in smothering the inquiry, they intended to cover themselves from publick disgrace by a vote of that House.

Lord Mulgrave defended the naval operations. He contended, that the war was just and constitutional; that it was well conducted, and predicted that it would be happily and gloriously terminated.

Mr˙ Fitzpatrick replied to his Lordship, and remarked, though everything he said were well founded, the conclusions he drew by no means followed. He insisted, that the whole of the American business, from the very beginning, had been planned in absurdity, accompanied by negligence, and executed in a manner which evidenced the very excess of ignorance, incapacity, and misconduct. That the House were called upon by the whole nation, and in vindication of their own honour, to exact an account from the servants of the Crown of the causes of mismanagement of the American, and to bring the authors to condign punishment, or at least to dismiss them, as unworthy of discharging the high and important trusts delegated to them.

Sir Gilbert Elliot said, that the troubles now subsisting in America are of a much longer standing, though they had not assumed the present form, than the honourable gentlemen who spoke on the other side supposed, for they commenced ten years ago. He insisted, that if such an inquiry were at all proper, this was not the time. Several persons who would be the subject of it, as well as those whom it would be proper to examine in order to procure information, were at present on their proper stations in America; and others not employed are not yet returned home. Taking it either way, then, if no inquiry ought to be gone into, there was an end of the motion. If there ought to be an inquiry, the present motion was premature, neither the parties charged, nor those that could properly give the necessary information, being on the spot.

Mr˙ Dempster was sorry to see such a disposition in Administration to stifle all inquiry. It looked as if they wanted to conceal something they were both afraid and ashamed should be brought to light. He therefore, if Ministry were not determined to confirm all the suspicions that had been entertained of them both within and without doors, thought it was their interest, as it was their duty, to do all in their power to exculpate themselves, for he could assure them, however sure they might be of a majority, some of their best friends began to doubt the truth of their assurances, and the possibility of carrying their plans into execution. He then took a short view of the Quebeck Bill, and concluded by solemnly averring, that, in his opinion, no Turkish Emperor ever sent a more arbitrary and oppressive mandate, by a favourite Bashaw, to a distant Province, than that bill was, with the instructions to the Governour which accompanied it.

Mr˙ Welbore Ellis said, that gentle moderate measures were unhappily pursued, when the situation of America called for the most strong and decisive. Thank God, said he, this mistaken system is now at an end: a powerful fleet and army are now going out, and I have not the slightest doubt that they will be sufficient to crush the rebellious Americans, and bring them back to a proper sense of their duty.

Mr˙ Adam said there had been very shameful neglect

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somewhere; and for that reason, he should be willing to go into the inquiry and trace it to its source. That either we knew America was preparing, and failed to make the necessary preparations, or were guilty of very criminal negligence, in not procuring proper information. This he instanced in the want of convoys for the transports which sailed early in the autumn.

Mr˙ Hey, (Chief Justice of Quebeck,) went into a defence of the Quebeck Bill; gave an historical account of the place and people, their manners, customs, and disposition; said he knew them well, as he had lived among them for upwards of seven years; and by all he could learn, the people of Canada never wished nor expected that the Parliament should control or superintend the King' s Government of that country. He then made an encomium on General Carleton; who, he said, had not been properly supported from hence.

Governour Johnstone observed, that some gentlemen on the other side had insisted, if an inquiry was at all proper, it would be at the end of a war, not the beginning; for his part, he was of opinion the earlier the better; nay, indeed, the first moment the situation of affairs called for it; and he could not avoid being for it, though no other motive operated on him but the extreme reluctance shown by several gentlemen; for where there was no guilt or conscious incapacity, no fears could arise. He said, if no inquiries had been set on foot, both in the beginning and middle (if wars, probably the two last would not have ended so successfully. This he showed in the instances of Lestock, Matthews, Byng, &c. It was true, Ministers always trembled at inquiries; they were usually fatal to their power. So it happened at both the periods alluded to; and that was another reason why he was for the motion; for he was sure the present Ministry were as unequal to the task of making war, as they were incapable of procuring good terms of peace or conciliation; the undertaking was too ponderous and unwieldy for them. He mentioned Lord North' s attempt to negotiate with the American Congress, and the contempt with which his offer was treated; stating the fact from the Journal of the Congress, published by their own authority.

Lord North disavowed it; and declared he had never, directly nor indirectly, communicated, or caused to be communicated, any letter or paper to the Congress. He admitted the paper published in the Journal of the Congress contained his sentiments, but that was all.

General Burgoyne defended the operations of war in America.

Mr˙ Cruger. The honourable gentleman who opened this debate has spoken so fully and eloquently to every part of the question, that anything further in support of this motion may appear unnecessary. But, sir, when a subject of so much importance is before the House, it behooves every man to lay aside the reserve of diffidence, and express his sentiments with freedom and candour. If there is any point in which the different interests of this House should unite, it must be in a conviction of the necessity and expediency of inquiring into the causes of the present alarming state of publick affairs. By discovering what has proved ruinous in the past, we may learn at least to avoid the same pernicious steps for the future. If their measures have been conducted with justice and prudence, it is a duty which Administration owe to their characters, to disarm, by a free examination, that censure on their conduct which may possibly arise from ignorance. But if they love darkness rather than light, "because their deeds are evil," it becomes the guardians of the nation to drag their miscarriages into open day, and expose them, with all their deformities, to publick investigation.

If such an inquiry was ever necessary, the present time demands it. If we look to the past, one uniform train of disappointments and misfortunes crowd the view; if to the future, a gloomy prospect of increasing miseries, from a continuance of the same left-handed policy and ill-projected measures. We are involved in a war, in which success itself will be ruinous. The Colonies, as if animated with one soul, are determined to perish or be free. We are told they must be subdued. We shall soon be called upon to make new exertions by force. Everything wears the face of hostile preparations; and, as if disappointment could create confidence, we are urged to pursue the same fatal measures, by arguments drawn from their miscarriage:

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nothing, it is now said, will satisfy America but independence; that the people of that country have almost universally taken up arms; they act not only on the defensive, but have endeavoured to deprive you of all Canada; an inquiry, they say, would produce a fatal procrastination; the urgency and necessity of the case demand and justify immediate vigour and execution. These must be pursued, or the government of the Colonies surrendered to an ambitious Congress.

Such are the reasons advanced to preclude inquiry, and to procure a hasty acquiescence in schemes of policy, on which the fate of the empire so materially depends. By such arguments as these our jealousy is excited, and our resentment inflamed against a people who, after the most earnest endeavours to preserve their liberties from invasion by petition and remonstrance; after having repeatedly submitted their complaints, without effect, to the justice of Parliament, and laid them humbly at the foot of the Throne; after beholding the most formidable preparations to divest them of their rights by the sword; after finding hostilities already commenced and fresh violences threatened, — have taken up arms in their own defence, and endeavoured to repel destructive, force by force.

The complexion and character of their present opposition (whether unjust or honourable) rests not on their present measures, but arises from, and must be weighed by, the causes which have made such a conduct and such measures necessary. A free and impartial inquiry, therefore, into the leading and primary causes, is indispensably necessary to a just decision of the case. If their claims of exemption from Parliamentary taxation are founded in equity and the principles of the Constitution; if they have been driven by a wanton, cruel, and impolitick attack on their privileges to their present desperate defence; then the whole guilt and censure is chargeable on those, and those alone, whose ambition and ill-directed measures have forced them to these extremities. Thus, also, if a form of Government is introduced into Canada, breathing little of the spirit of English liberty, and intending to link the Canadians to the chain of Ministerial influence; if they scrupled not to make a religion which has so often deluged Europe with blood, an engine of their despotism to crush the Protestant Colonies; if every artifice was used to seduce and employ a servile, bigoted people to subvert the liberties of America, — can we wonder, can we complain, if the Colonists wisely diverted the storm, and secured a country to their own alliance, the strength and arms of which were avowedly to be directed to their destruction?

When what was dearer to them than their lives — their liberties, were at stake; when their opposition to Government reached no higher than petition and resolves, then they were stigmatized with want of courage. Every method was taken to irritate them. Insults on their character as a people were added to encroachments on their rights as citizens. The pencil of confident oppression described them as a herd of pusillanimous wretches, whom the appearance of martial array would terrify into submission. How unjust, how impolitick, to reduce men to the miserable alternative of being branded with the epithet of cowards, or of taking up arms to vindicate their injured honour and liberties; first to compel them to resistance, and then derive arguments of their guilt from their vigour, courage, and success. How contemptible the cause which pleads the misfortunes it has occasioned as reasons for its support!

The arguments of Administration, stripped of their false colourings, with all humility, I conceive to be these: "We have plunged Great Britain into a most expensive and ruinous contest with her Colonies; we have opened the door for endless animosities, by reviving disputed questions and claims which shake the foundation of empire; the measures we have pursued have increased the storm, and multiplied the common misfortunes; we have joined all America in a firm league against you; your trade has been impaired, your ships insulted and taken; we have lost for you every place of strength or importance in the Colonies, and have left you an army broken by sickness, fatigue, and want, and now perishing under all the mortifications, ignominy, and miseries of an inglorious imprisonment. These are our pleas for support; these are the recommendations of our Councils, We lay before you the miscarriages and evils which our past measures have produced, to persuade

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you to place new confidence in our wisdom, and to give more liberal aid to our judicious schemes for the future."

These, however, are not the only blushing honours which deck the temples of Administration. They have lately displayed the happy art of drawing arguments in their favour from the misfortunes of their friends, as well as from the success of their enemies, and prove that they are as incapable of gratitude as of justice. When gentlemen in this House (influenced by motives of humanity) recommended an exception of the friends of Government in the Colonies from the rigours of the late Prohibitory Bill, Administration suddenly changed its voice; and they who just before had boasted that a majority of the Americans were friendly to their cause, and only waited an opportunity to declare it with safety, now pronounced, that no distinction could be made, for that they had preserved at best "a shameful neutrality," and deserved to be subject to the common calamity of their country. This was the liberal reward bestowed on men who espoused their cause from principle, and maintained it, undaunted and unsupported, through obloquy and the most imminent danger to their fortunes, families, and live.

I will not at present trespass on the patience of the House by entering into particulars; but I cannot forbear saying, the friends of peace and good order in the Province of New-York did not deserve to be reproached with a shameful neutrality; they stood forth, and opposed, as long as they were able, the increasing current of tumult and disorder, and exposed themselves, by their endeavours to preserve their Colonial Constitution, to the resentment and vengeance of their incensed neighbours. In a dutiful manner they submitted their grievances to the clemency of this House, and the justice of their Sovereign. I need not insist on the consequence. I shall not dwell on the contempt with which their zealous advances to a reconciliation were rejected. But I must desire all those who declaim on their ignominious neutrality, to remember that Administration not only neglected to aid them with a force sufficient to maintain their opposition against the zealots in their own Province, and the united powers of the adjacent Colonies, but withdrew to Boston the few troops under the command of General Haldimand, which might have assisted in preserving order, and the freedom and impartiality of publick proceedings. By such means the Colony was laid open to incursions; many were obliged to secure their persons from danger, by forsaking their friends and country, and leaving their property at the discretion of their enemies, whilst a greater number waited, with silent patience, under every affliction, for the vigorous protection of Great Britain.

Their zealous and firm adherence to their principles crown them with honour. That they have not been successful, that they were borne down by the superior force of their opponents, that they are left to share in the common distress and common punishments of their unfortunate countrymen, beams no lustre, however, on the characters of those by whom they were neglected, betrayed, and sacrificed. By this impolicy, the command and management of the key and mainspring of America has been lost to this country; a speedy and effectual security of which might have saved us from the present gloomy prospect of intestine carnage and accumulating misery. Surely, the representative body of the nation are bound, in duty to their constituents, to examine the reasons of such neglect and misconduct; and they, in particular, who are the asserters of Parliamentary supremacy, are concerned to inquire why so effectual a method of weakening the opposition in America, and supporting their own adherents, has been totally omitted. But there is no necessity of dwelling on this circumstance to prove the obligations this country is under to Ministers; disappointment and disgrace have marked all their measures, and, as if miracles had been wrought to strike conviction on this House, they have not once even blundered into success. It may, therefore, reasonably be hoped, that before we blindly follow any farther, we may not only contemplate our present situation, and the ground we have already passed, but pay particular attention to that which lies before us.

Admitting, however, sir, that a force sufficient to subdue them can be sent out; admitting that this country will patiently bear the enormous weight of accumulated taxes, which so distant and unequal a war will require; admitting that foreign Powers (the natural enemies of Britain) will, with composure and self-denial, neglect so favourable an

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opportunity of distressing their rivals; admitting that your fleets, unopposed, level with the ground those cities which rose by your protection, were the pillars of your commerce, and your nation' s boast; admitting that foreign mercenaries spread desolation, that thousands fall before them, and that, humbled under the combined woes of poverty, anarchy, want, and defeat, the exhausted Colonies fall suppliant at the feet of your conquerors; admitting all this will be the case, (which cannot well be expected from the past,) here necessarily follows a most momentous question: What are the solid advantages which Great Britain is to receive in exchange for the blessings of peace and a lucrative commerce? for the affections, for the prosperity, for the lives of so many of its useful subjects sacrificed? Will the bare acknowledgment of a right in Parliament to tax them compensate for the millions expended, the danger incurred, the miseries entailed, the destruction of human happiness and life that must ensue from a war with our Colonies, united as they are in one common cause, and fired to desperate enthusiasm by apprehensions of impending slavery? Or can we be so absurd as to imagine concessions, extorted in a time of danger and urgent misery, will form a bond of lasting union? Impoverished and undone by their exertions and the calamities of war, instead of being able to repay the expenses of this country, or supply a revenue, they will stand in need of your earliest assistance to revive depressed and almost extinguished commerce, as well as to renew and uphold their necessary civil establishments.

I am well aware that it is said we must maintain the dignity of Parliament. Let me ask, what dignity is that which will not descend to make millions happy; which will sacrifice the treasures and best blood of the nation to extort submissions, fruitless submissions, that will be disavowed and disregarded the moment the procuring oppressive force is removed? What dignity is that which, to enforce a disputed mode of obtaining a revenue, will destroy commerce, spread poverty and desolation, and dry up every source from which revenue or any real substantial benefit can be expected? Is it not high time, then, to examine the full extent of our danger, to pause and mark the paths which have deceived us, and the wretched, bewildered guides, who have led us into our present difficulties? Let us find the destroying angel, and stop his course, while we have yet anything valuable to preserve. The breach is not yet irreparable; and permit me, with all deference, to say, I have not a doubt but that liberal and explicit terms of reconciliation, with a full and firm security against an oppressive exercise of Parliamentary taxation, if held out to the Colonies before the war takes a wider and more destructive course, will lead instantly to a settlement, and recall the former years of peace, when the affections and interests of Great Britain and America were one. But if, on the contrary, we are to plunge deeper in this scene of blood; if we are to sacrifice the means and materials of revenue for idle distinctions about modes of raising it; if the laurels we can gain, and the dignity of Parliament we are to establish, can be purchased only by the miseries of fellow-subjects, whose losses are our own; if the event is precarious, the cause alien to the spirit and humanity of Englishmen; if the injury is certain, and the object of success unsubstantial and insecure, — how little soever the influence my poor opinion may have on this House, I shall free my conscience, by having explicitly condemned all such unprofitable, inadequate, injudicious measures, and by giving my hearty concurrence to the motion.

Mr˙ Burke showed, from the records of Parliament and from history, that nothing was more frequent than inquiries of the kind now proposed; and observed, at no time within the course of his reading, did he ever recollect a period at which such a proceeding was more absolutely necessary than the present.

Mr˙ Graves wished to wait for the event of another campaign before the House should go into an inquiry; and as for what had already passed, justice required that the parties should be in a situation to answer for themselves.

Mr˙ Solicitor-General defended Administration throughout, not only what they had already done, but every action of theirs, and every consequence arising from their conduct. He insisted that the war was just, proper, and expedient, that the Ministers abounded in wisdom, and the Army and Navy in military prowess.

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Colonel Barré was extremely severe on several of the positions laid down by the last honourable gentleman; he compared him to the Abbé Polignac, whom he described as a pert, affected, little, political prater; with some personal allusions to the talents, manner, and disposition of the man, which created some mirth. But in a serious manner he charged the gentlemen opposite to him [Messrs˙ Elliot, Ellis, Wedderburn, &c˙] with the loss of America. With an emphasis he said, Give us back our Colonies! You have lost America! It is your ignorance, blunders, cowardice, which have lost America. He had heard the noble Lord [George Germaine] called "the Pitt of the day." He saw no great sense in the words. They conveyed to him that there had been a Mr˙ Pitt, a great man, but he did not see how the noble Lord was like him. He said, that the troops, from an aversion to the service, misbehaved at Bunker' s Hill on the 17th of June. He condemned Administration in the strongest terms, and told them, that their shiftings and evasions would not protect them, though they should be changed every day, and made to shift places at the pleasure, and sometimes, too, for the sport, of their secret directors. He observed, that the late appointment of a new Secretary of State was a proof that some weak, and perhaps foul proceedings had happened, which made such an arrangement necessary; but though changes might happen every day, he was well convinced measures never would, till the whole fabrick of despotism fell at once, and buried in its ruins the architects, with all those employed under them. He reminded the House how often, in the course of the last two years, he had foretold almost every matter that has happened. He begged once more to assure them, that America would never submit to be taxed, though half Germany were to be transported beyond the Atlantick to effect it.

General Burgoyne rose with warmth, and contradicted the last honourable member in the flattest manner. He allowed that the troops gave way a little at one time, because they were flanked by the fire out of the houses, &c˙, at Charlestown; but they soon rallied and advanced; and no men on earth ever behaved with more spirit, firmness, and perseverance, till they forced the enemy out of their intrenchments.

Colonel Barré observed, that the honourable gentleman had contradicted him in a very extraordinary and unbecoming manner, and maintained his first assertion, that the troops misbehaved.

General Burgoyne apologized, and confessed he had spoken in harsher terms than he would have done had he not been off his guard. He admitted that the troops gave way a little; but that they were rallied, and returned to the charge with great spirit. He was an eye-witness of the whole affair.

Lord Howe said it was impossible to go into the proposed inquiry with propriety, though the House were ever so well inclined. He defended the conduct of the commanding officers, and said that the whole of what had happened last year proceeded from our not being acquainted with the designs of the Provincials.

Lord North declared he had no objection to an inquiry at a proper season; but agreed with his right honourable friend, [Sir Gilbert Elliot,] that this was not the time. As America had changed, so had Britain, in consequence of that change. The question was now totally altered, and what in one situation would have been acting a wise part, would now be supineness, negligence, or something worse. It was therefore a very unfair way of arguing, to state objections against the conduct of Administration in the early stages of this business, which were only applicable to a state of hostility and open rebellion. The ground was changed, so would the measures of course. He appealed to the candour and recollection of the House, if anything had been done in a corner; but openly, and according to their repeated judgment. As to the measures which had been taken before he came into office, he was not answerable for them, but was ready now, if the House thought proper, or at any time, to stand the most rigid inquiry and examination into his own conduct. If miscarriages had happened, it was no more than what was common. It was impossible to foresee all the consequences, or to provide against every accident which might arise. He protested he did not seek for his office, and was at any time ready and willing to resign it, whenever a person more capable or fonder of power, was found

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to succeed him. He observed, that an honourable gentleman, early in the debate, had charged Administration with wickedness, ignorance, and neglect. He was certain he was mistaken in the first, and the two others yet remained to be proved.

Mr˙ Fox replied to the arguments urged against his motion. Then the previous question being proposed, That that question be now put;

The House was moved, That the Resolution, which, upon the 6th day of February, in the last session of Parliament, was reported from the Committee of the Whole House, to whom it was referred to consider further of the several Papers which were presented to the House by the Lord North, upon the 19th and 31st days of January, and the 1st day of February, 1775, by his Majesty' s command, might be read.

And the same was read accordingly.

Then the previous question being put, That the said first proposed question be now put,

The House divided. The noes went forth.

Tellers for the yeas,
Mr˙ Fox,
Sir James Lowther,
104

Tellers for the noes,
The Lord Mulgrave,
Mr˙ Charles Townshend,
240

So it passed in the negative.