House of Commons. Nov.1

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HOUSE OF COMMONS.

Wednesday, November 1, 1775.

Lord Barrington laid before the House the Army Estimates.

Colonel Barré desired to know the number, state and disposition of the troops in America, according to the last returns.

Lord Barrington could not satisfy the honourable gentleman; but before Monday he would consult some papers which would enable him to answer as much of those particulars as was prudent to be disclosed.

Colonel Barré. What the noble Lord has now said is in the true spirit of the Administration. Give information they will not; but they will call upon Parliament to vote fresh troops, without letting Parliament know the least of what they ought to know concerning those which are already employed. I shall therefore move:

"That there be laid before the House an account of the last Returns of the number of effective men in the several Regiments and Corps in his Majesty' s service, serving in North-America, together with a state of the number of sick and wounded; distinguishing the several places where the said troops are stationed."

Lord Barrington. Ever since I have been concerned in the Army, I know of no precedent similar to what is now called for. To call during the war for the return of an army, has, indeed, been attempted, but was always opposed, as a practice which might prove exceedingly inconvenient. In the present case. I do not know that any evils would flow from it, but if done by a resolution of the House, it will become a most dangerous precedent. As to the information which the gentleman wants, I can give it partly on my legs, in which way it will not be a precedent; and if I am not so correct, from the papers which I have accidentally about me, as might be expected, against to-morrow I will procure those which shall be more accurate.

Colonel Barré. The noble Lord gives me the strongest ground that the thing I demand will be of no evil consequence. Without entering into the matter of precedent, why not give the House an information which can do no harm, but may do much good? In these matters accuracy is to be wished for; and I see no reason, if the noble Lord lets us into the facts in general, why he should refuse the return itself, which is asked for in the motion. As to telling the facts to me, I want not to have a private curiosity gratified: I want not to be paid in private a publick debt. The information should be general. The Ministers and officers of the Crown have admitted that they were deceived — they have deceived Parliament; which would not have been the case, had information been laid before us. My motion

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demands only information, that before we vote more troops we may know something concerning those we have already. Let the noble Lord be explicit in his information. Let us know to what extent future estimates are to go, that when we have voted one number, supposing it to be the total, there may not be after demands. The House must proceed in the dark, as we have hitherto done, if we are not informed what the state of the Army in Boston is, and what the distribution is to be. The information I have had, which is that of the publick, is only that of the troops being besieged, a light-house burnt under the nose of the fleet, and the men sent to repair it carried off by the enemy. Let us know the truth, and we shall then be able to proceed with our eyes open.

Lord Barrington. The last return is that of July 19th, which was received here the 25th of October. By this it appears that the number of men in Boston, exclusive of three Regiments going over to join them, was 8,550, of which 1,482 were sick and wounded, and 354 missing, of which —

Mr˙ Welbore Ellis. I submit it to the noble Lord, whether it would not be also for the information of the House, to lay before us these particulars of the Rebel Army?

Colonel Barré. I give the right honourable gentleman credit for what he says; lay before the House the number and strength of the Provincial troops, that we may know whether you can fight them, that we may judge of your demands, and know if the troops you ask will be as competent to the service they are to perform as were those of last year. He expressed his surprise that Government had no returns of the army later than the 19th of July.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend. On the point of precedent, I can give the noble Lord one fully in point. I moved for the return of the regiments employed in the affair of St˙ Vincent' s, and it was laid before the House.

Lord Barrington. That return was not called for till the affair was over. In the present case the war continues, which makes the difference.

Denied by Mr˙ Townshend.

Mr˙ Fox. It is evident, from what has passed, that the plea of acting contrary to precedent will not avail the noble Lord. That point is satisfactorily cleared up. What, therefore, is the true reason for the Minister' s refusing to lay the information called for before the House? Merely, I assert, to keep Parliament in ignorance. Was the fair truth to be laid before the House, the demands of Ministers would be inconsistent with the facts they produced. This was the case last session, and they have kept back all information, and imposed upon the House in order to get the cry of the people before the extent of the evil was known. But they have taken care, to a degree of affectation, to inform you that it is the rights not of the Crown, but of Parliament, for which they are fighting, and yet, with an inconsistency worthy only of themselves, they will not allow Parliament the least information to know how to fight for those rights which they say are peculiarly its own. This is the conduct, sir, which has driven from them some of the most manly and respectable characters in the kingdom. They were deceived; they openly tell these men who call themselves Ministers, "You deceived us; you would not let us know the state either of America, or the force you had there to quell the disturbances; acting thus in the dark, we were led into error, but we will not persist in it; we know your intentional deceit, and we leave you." This, sir, is also the case of Parliament; and the only remedy is, for Parliament to imitate the conduct of those manly characters, by refusing to vote away the money of their constituents for measures about which they are absolutely in the dark.

Sir Gilbert Elliot. Whether or not the precedent be for or against the information, I shall be equally against the motion. It would make a precedent of the most mischievous tendency. What is the return of an army? Why, every particular concerning it, given with the utmost accuracy, and perfectly authentick. Can it ever be proper to publish such a statement while your enemy is in the field? Would it not be giving him intelligence of the most advantageous nature? Could any Ministers carry on the business of the publick, if any gentleman in this House had a right to call for such an account? It would be impossible. If Ministers act badly, they should be turned out of their places; but the publick service can never be advanced by calling for accounts which destroy your confidence in them.

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Mr˙ Burke. So, sir, it is now laid down as a maxim not only to refuse the information, but to take care that such information shall never be given; and this is to be the case, because Parliament, instead of calling for information, should give confidence to Ministers. This, sir, is not only telling us that we must bear our ignorance, but perpetuating it; and making a Minister' s having forfeited a right to all confidence, the greatest plea for placing the more in him for the future. This is a mode of reasoning I never heard of before. As to the importance of the information now called for, and the danger of producing it, it makes one smile. Can you imagine that this army return of July last, can be conveyed to America and become better intelligence than General Washington has already? I will not have so poor an opinion of his abilities, who could write that excellent letter, we have all read, to General Gage, but suppose him and the Generals Lee and Putnam, to be more assiduous and attentive. These men know much more of your army than your return can give them. They coop it up, besiege it, destroy it, crush it. Your officers are swept off by the rifles, if they show their noses.

Lord North said, that before the year 1763 the authority of the British Legislature was not denied in America. He said, the repealing thirteen acts of Parliament would not, consequently, place us in the same situation in which we then were. He wished as ardently as any person to stop the effusion of blood on both sides; but thought it could only be effected by sending over a formidable army early in the spring, and appointing proper persons on the spot to give pardons, as mentioned in the speech. These were the only methods, he said, which could, in his opinion, restore matters to that desired footing; and when that period should arrive, he did not doubt but his conciliatory plan would give permanency to the reconciliation, by our accepting a quantum, annually, in lieu of taxes. He was against the motion, as it would ground a precedent for future abuses. The case of the Caribbs was very different from the present; in that the Minister was accused of sending too many men to an unwholesome climate; and, besides, there was no great danger of the Caribbs reading our accounts.

Colonel Barré observed, that the conduct of the Minister in withholding every proper information, put him in mind of a King, who, perceiving one end of a Lutheran Church exceedingly ruinous and all the rest of it very good and elegant, proposed to rebuild that part for them; which he did in a very magnificent manner; but when they came to assemble there, they found that lie had taken away all the light; upon which they waited on his Majesty, thanked him for his favours, and also acquainted him with their misfortune, in not being able to see at church; upon which his Majesty replied, it was perfectly right it should be so; for it was written in the Scriptures, "Blessed are they that believe, and do not see."

The House then divided. The yeas went forth;

Tellers for the yeas,
Mr˙ Thomas Townshend,
Mr˙ Marsham,
63

Tellers for the noes,
Mr˙ D' Oyley,
Sir Grey Cooper,
176

So it passed in the negative.

Colonel Barré moved, That there be laid before this House, an account of the Artillery, Arms, Ordnance, and Military Stores, issued from the Office of Ordnance, sent to America, from the 1st of September, 1773, to the 1st of September, 1775.

It passed in the negative.

Colonel Barré then moved, That there be laid before this House an account of the Transports taken up, or contracted for since September, 1773, to September, 1775; describing the tonnage, and what has been paid, or contracted to be paid for the same.

It passed in the affirmative.