Lord North' s motion for leave to bring in a Bill to prohibit all Trade and Intercourse with the American Colonies

v6:186

HOUSE OF COMMONS.

Monday, November 20, 1775.

The House was moved, That an Act, made in the fourteenth year of the reign of his present Majesty, intituled "An Act to discontinue, in such manner, and for such time, as are therein mentioned, the Landing and Discharging, Lading or Shipping, of Goods, Wares, and Merchandise, at the Town, and within the Harbour of Boston, in the Province of Massachusetts-Bay, in North-America," might be read.

And the same was read accordingly.

The House was also moved, That an Act, made in the, fifteenth year of the reign of his present Majesty, intituled "An Act to restrain the Trade and Commerce of the Provinces of Massachusetts-Bay and New-Hampshire, and Colonies of Connecticut and Rhode-Island and Providence Plantation, in North-America, to Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Islands in the West-Indies; and to prohibit such Provinces and Colonies from carrying on any Fishery on the Banks of Newfoundland, or other places therein mentioned, under certain conditions and limitations," might be read.

And the same was read accordingly.

The House was also moved, That another Act, made in the fifteenth year of the reign of his present Majesty, intituled "An Act to restrain the Trade and Commerce of the Colonies of New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and South-Carolina, to Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Islands in the West-Indies, under certain conditions and limitations," might be read.

And the same was read accordingly.

The House was also moved, That so much of his Majesty' s most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, as relates to giving authority to certain persons to grant general or particular Pardons and Indemnities in America, and to receive the submission of any Province or Colony, or to authorize the persons so commissioned to restore such Province or Colony to the free exercise of its Trade and Commerce, might be read.

And the same being read accordingly,

Lord North then moved, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit all Trade and Intercourse with the Colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, the three lower Counties on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, South-Carolina, and Georgia, during the continuance of the present Rebellion within the said Colonies respectively; for repealing an Act made in the fourteenth year of the reign of his present Majesty, to discontinue the Landing and Discharging, Lading or Shipping of Goods, Wares, and Merchandise, at the Town, and within the Harbour of Boston, in the Province of Massachusetts-Bay; and also two Acts, made in the last session of Parliament, for restraining the Trade and Commerce of the Colonies in the said Acts respectively mentioned; and to enable his Majesty to appoint Commissioners, and to issue Proclamations in the cases and for the purposes therein to be mentioned.

His Lordship explained the necessity of restraining the Americans from all trade during the present rebellion, and the justice there would be in immediately taking off the restraint from such Colony wherein it might cease; that the Boston Port Act, and the acts passed last year, being framed upon other grounds and for other purposes, would stand in the way of this operation; that the restraining bills were civil coercions against civil crimes; but we being now at war, the provisions were incapable, and other provisions were necessary. Those provisions he now proposed were such as would be made use of in case of war with any country in the world; but they were framed under such provisoes as might open the door of peace upon its first approach. That if we were ready also to repeal the Charter bills, yet he could not do it while they denied the right that we had to make them; that as to the bill for the administration of justice, there was no need to repeal that, because the country being in actual war, martial law took place, and there were no courts of justice in which it could operate; it was a temporary bill for three years, two of which are expired, and it would cease of itself. That he should also be ready to repeal the tea duty on the same grounds that he would suspend every exercise of the right of taxation, if the Colonies

v6:187

themselves would point out any mode by which they would bear their share of the burden and give their aid to the common defence. The purport of the clause respecting the Commission, had been very well explained the other day by a noble Lord, [George Germaine,] that it meant, besides the granting of pardons, that they should inquire into any matter of change of circumstances in which the Colonies were now, from the time they were when the laws were made: if there were any matter of real grievance or oppression, that could be remedied to their benefit or to the common interests; that they were to have the power of judging whether any part or a whole Colony were returned to that state of obedience, that they might declare that Colony or part to be in peace, upon which the restrictions in the present bill were so formed as to cease. He found that what he said the other night, under a state of fatigue and indisposition, had led people to conceive he was so far tired out with this business, that his administration was drawing to a period; he therefore begged to repeat what he always had said — how happy he should be to decline the arduous task to which he might, perhaps, in point of abilities, be unequal; yet in point of good intentions, he had no other end in view, no not for a moment in any time, but the publick service; meaning at all times to conduct it with the least burden to the publick; on those occasions where severity was necessary, to alleviate that, as much as the common safety would permit; and to withhold it, whenever the publick safety did not absolutely require it. That there were two grounds, upon which every Minister ought to stand: the first was, that the King had an undoubted right of naming his own servants; the second, which formed the happiness of this country, that if the people by their representatives did really disapprove the measures of any Minister, to that degree that they would not go along with him, the King, however he might approve such Minister, could not carry on business by him, and must part with him. That this business of quarrel with the Colonies about taxation, was begun and prepared for him before he engaged in it as a Minister; that he took it up, not when it was a question whether it was right to tax the Colonies or not, but when they disputed our having any such right, and at a time when this country was determined not to give it up: as he engaged when this dispute was actually begun, he was bound to see it through; and if the Colonies, by appealing to arms, had made war the medium, although peace was the only point he ever retained in his view, he must pursue it through that medium. Being thus engaged, he did declare, that unless the King dismissed him, or a majority of the House, disapproving his conduct, desired his dismission, he would not give up the conduct of this business to anybody else. As to the means of conducting the war, he declared there never was any idea of raising or employing the negroes or the Indians, until the Americans themselves had first applied to them; that General Carleton did then apply to them; and even then, it was only for the defence of his own Province. As to the events of the war, things wore a much better aspect at present than a litttle while ago; that Halifax was now absolutely safe; that there were indeed two expeditions against Canada, but he did hope that Canada would not fall into the hands of the Rebels. He would almost venture to say that Quebeck was safe; but he begged the House would not understand him as promising that; his own opinion was, that it would not fall into the hands of the Rebels.

Mr˙ Fox said, that this proposition was cutting off and destroying all trade with America. If the noble Lord' s other measures had not done it this would effectually. Though they had not at present the manufacturers at their door, he prophesied they would have them next year. The true intention of this bill was, to break up the manufacturers, who, through want of subsistence, would be obliged to inlist, and thus the noble Lord thought he should recruit that army which would not otherwise be recruited. That as the noble Lord had now proposed repealing three oppressive acts, he begged to ask him, as a man of honour and a gentleman, whether he did not wish that he had adopted the opinion of the noble Duke, [of Grafton,] who was first Lord of the Treasury when the' repeal of the tea duty was moved in that House, and supported it? He repeated, there were differences of opinions amongst persons high in office at that time; and he asked the noble Lord [Lord

v6:188

North] whether he did not now wish he had been of opinion with those who were for repealing that duty, because they saw, and therefore wished to avoid, that chain of misfortunes which the continuance of it had drawn after it? He said the propositions of peace held forth in the proposed bill, like those of last year, were delusive, and were introduced with no other view than to mislead this country into vindictive measures, to gratify the diabolical dispositions of a set of Ministers who, by their oppressive measures, were held in abhorrence throughout America; that after having once attempted insidiously to divide the Colonies, it was the height of folly, and showed the weakness of a desperate junto, to renew a pitiful artifice which could have no other effect than to expose the abject state of this House, and to render the British Legislature contemptible in the sight of all Europe. The great success, he said, that is expected to follow from the offers of peace to fishing towns and hamlets, has already been laughed at by the body of American confederates; and the ruin with which the Colonies are threatened in case of resistance, they will hold in equal derision, because they know that, while they continue firm, those threats can never be carried into execution against them. The system of despotism formed by the junto will, by the proposed bill, be rendered incontrovertible: those among the Delegates who still entertain sentiments favourable to Government, will be struck dumb. The bill reduces the contest to this alternative, either submit implicitly to the mercy of your known and avowed enemies, or prepare yourselves for war. Will a powerful and brave people, the descendants of Englishmen, whose ancestors bled for liberty, hesitate a moment which to choose, submission or the sword? Is there a gentleman in this House, is there a Briton born, who, in like circumstances, would hesitate a moment which to choose? Why, then, irritate a spirited people to rise in arms against deliberate acts denouncing vengeance, tinselled over with the flimsy gilding of an insidious peace! Why continue to provoke your fellow-subjects by bill after bill, all uniformly tending to render them desperate, in order to furnish a handle for exercising the most cruel, arbitrary, and tyrannical acts against them? He concluded with observing, that no gentleman could give his sanction to this motion as it now stood, without being conscious of voting for a declaration of war; yet for the sake of his country, for the sake of America, and as a prelude to peace, he was willing to go so far with the noble Lord who proposed the motion, as the repeal of the three acts therein mentioned, and therefore moved the following amendment: To leave out from the word "Bill" to the words "for repealing," and to leave out from the words "respectively mentioned," to the end of the question.

Sir George Hay said, that the question was not now about a declaration of war, for war was already declared on the part of the rebellious Provinces; that the great consideration at present was, how best to terminate a war in which we have been involuntarily involved; that the bill proposed appeared to him to be the only possible means by which the obstinacy of the Americans could be overcome; that invitation being rejected, coercion became the necessary consequence; that it was unjust to charge the rebellion of the Americans to the measures of Administration, as no measures had been pursued but by the advice and concurrence of Parliament; that nothing could give colour to rebellion, or, if you will, to resistance, unless an unconstitutional power had been exerted, or a constitutional power in an arbitrary way; that a violation of the Constitution could not be pretended, nor any undue use made of lawful authority; that if any of the laws made for the government of the Colonies in their infancy were now become inapplicable and burdensome to them in their more advanced state, those laws might be revised, and if found oppressive, altered or repealed; but that could not possibly, he said, be attempted while the Colonies, with arms in their hands, defied the authority of the legislature by whom those laws were enacted. Even the acts of trade might be somewhat relaxed. If the monopoly of trade cannot be maintained or secured, the Colonies might be encouraged in all manufactures not injurious to this country, and they might be obliged or compelled to take from us our manufactures; but these were matters for a time of peace, not for the present, when we are engaged in a question of power; until that was settled, it was nonsense to talk of our making regulations,

v6:189

the right of making which was disputed, and the power of carrying them into execution opposed by arms. Either the Colonies must lay down their arms voluntarily, and acknowledge the supreme legislative authority of Great Britain, or they must be compelled so to do, before any negotiation can take place; for it would be the most humiliating disgrace to treat with Rebels on the footing of free States. He therefore gave his hearty concurrence to the motion; and hoped that every Briton would concur in opinion with him, first to reduce this formidable American confederacy to obedience, and then, after acknowledging their error in seeking redress by force of arms, to render them strict justice in regard to their complaints. His idea, therefore, was, that at present the Americans are in actual rebellion; but if other gentlemen are of opinion that they are in a state of resistance which they justify, they are called upon to take up their defence, not by speeches in this House, but by arms. Why do not they go and join them? That would be the true mode.

Lord Howe acknowledged the force of the honourable gentleman' s argument; but lamented the struggle which every British officer must feel whose lot it was to serve in such critical situations. When engaged in a foreign war, his Lordship observed, the glory of his country animated the breast of every British soldier, and warmed him with an ardour to glow for victory; but on the present occasion, though duty required him to obey command, and his honour was engaged to maintain his post, yet that alacrity for battle must be wanting by which British soldiers are distinguished from all others. He doubted not, he said, but that the difference had been felt by his worthy relation now entrusted with a most important command; he knew it would be felt by himself in like circumstances, yet were it the will of his Prince so to order, he should think it a dishonour to decline the service.

Mr˙ Fox rose to fix his Lordship to the point. He said, gentlemen of rank in the army were averse to the service; by their unwillingness to act, they bore testimony to the justice of the American cause, and showed their disapprobation of the measures pursuing against them.

Lord Howe rose to explain. He should certainly decline to serve from the sense he had of the right and importance of such a trust; the service was not such as he should wish to solicit; but if he were commanded upon it, he most certainly should think it his duty to obey, and he could not refuse to serve.

Lord Frederick Campbell was clearly for maintaining the sovereignty of the British Legislature at whatever risk; said it was the sense of the nation, not only now, but at all times heretofore; and wondered that a point of such notoriety should meet with one dissenting voice. When those gentlemen who repealed the Stamp Act came into that measure, they did not venture to do it without bringing in the Declaratory Bill, to mark the sovereignty of this country, and to show that they did not give it up. No man or party now in the kingdom dared to repeal the Declaratory Act; even a great Minister, whose measure the repeal was, when he quoted Prior

"Be to her faults a little blind,
Be to her virtues very kind;"

everybody knows the next line, which he did not quote:

"Let all her ways be unconfined."

If that great Minister did not venture to hold that language, I may assert no other man in this country would.

General Conway, thinking, as he did, that the interests of this country depended upon an union with America, and that the union would remain so long as that interest was rightly pursued, did not see the necessity of the Declaratory law: he thought it right that the supremacy of this country should be established to all points which were necessary, but not to taxation. He had flattered himself that the idea of taxation had been wholly given up by everybody; but since a noble Lord had come into office, it seemed as if the dispute on that question was revived. He thought the fire had been smothered, but since that noble Lord came into office, he had uncovered the ashes and blown the flame afresh. Our supremacy over the Colonies is of the essence of our relation to them. But may I not make an exception? — there is no law without an exception. The House of Lords and Commons have each of them their rights, which are generally understood; but if we were to go into disputes, with all the

v6:190

prejudices of each House respecting power, we could do no business, and there would be an end of Parliament. For argument' s sake, therefore, I may allow, that our right of taxation is a clear and distinct right, which in my conscience I believe to be no right; yet, would it be for the interest and good of this country to go to war about exerting it? As to the forces of the two countries: speaking of our own, however high our discipline might be supposed to be, yet compared with many other countries, it would be found very inferior; but yet that the courage and spirit of our people supplied that defect. That the forces of America, though certainly inferior to ours in discipline, were already much beyond anything we had any idea of, and would, in the course of war, be trained, and as well disciplined as ours. In point of courage, he could make no distinction wherever a Briton dwelt; but this everybody must remark, that there was a certain spring and zeal, which an animation for liberty always gave, beyond any other cause. Supposing each party to have an army of fifty thousand men, he thought the Americans would prove a match for the British troops, as they contended upon principle for liberty, which he thought would render them superior to our advantage from discipline. As to that part of the proposed bill which related to the Commissioners, he could say but little, as nothing had been explained; only that, so far as his opinion and vote went, he would never trust any power to any Commissioners whatsoever, without a distinct and direct line laid down in Parliament. The subject of military obedience having been started, it might, in the eyes of some, look like an unworthy shrinking from the question, if he did not say a few words to it. He did not imagine there could be any struggle in the mind of a military man so dreadful as any doubts of this kind. There was a great difference between a foreign war, where the whole community was involved, and a domestick war on points of civil contention, wherein the community was divided. In the first case, no officer ought to call in question the justice of his country; in the latter, a military man, before he drew his sword against his fellow-subjects, ought to ask himself whether the cause was just or not. He quoted the story of the massacre of St˙ Bartholomew, and the answer of the Count De Torden, and concluded with saying, that if he thought of this case as De Torden did of that, all emoluments, nay, the sacrifice of what people in his situation held dearest, their honour, all this would be nothing in the scale with his conscience: he never could draw his sword in the cause.

The Attorney-General [Mr˙ Thurlow.] Let the honourable gentleman justify his conscience to himself, but not hold it out as a point of doctrine to be taken up in a certain quarter and line of service, where his opinions might be supposed to have very great influence; for if those opinions were once established as matter of doctrine, they must necessarily go to a dissolution of all Government. Turning to Mr˙ Burke' s late proposition, he said, however amusing and ingenious it was, it drew to no conclusion, and though called a proposition, ended in no proposition at all: it talked of conciliation and union between Great Britain and her Colonies, without stating, in any one instance, the relation in which they do or ought to stand. He gave an account of what he called the general spirit of Opposition, in which the Opposition having got beyond all line of reasoning, they did nothing but scold at arguments which they could not refute. He now clearly understood Lord North' s proposition, and approved of it, because it retained the habitual exercise of taxation, and left an opening to America, of a permission to raise her share of the supply towards the common defence, by granting it in her own Assemblies, and giving it in her own way. On this ground he was willing to coincide, not only in a plan, but in anything that might give a ground for a conciliation with America; yet he thought the only sure and permanent ground would be to define the relation between the mother country and her Colonies. He added, that, as Attorney-General, he had a right, by writ of scire facias, to set aside every charter in America; but that, in our present situation, such a process would be justly the object of ridicule, for the conduct of America was not a matter for judicial, but Parliamentary animadversion.

Mr˙ Burke. The plan of this year is to enforce the conciliatory motion of last year by military execution. To the charge of not having defined the relation between Great Britain and her Colonies, he replied, that the silly, wicked

v6:191

attempt to define it, had been the first and continued cause of their present disunion. He predicted that, as the motion of last year was received by the Americans with neglect, the attempt of the present year, to press it down by force, would be opposed with resentment.

General Conway rose to explain. He very seldom recollected the words he had used in the heat of argument, and could not, therefore, recollect what might have been his words on this occasion; it was a peculiar part of his character, upon any point in which he was warm and interested, as he always was on this business of America. He might probably use strong expressions, which went beyond the line of his deliberate opinion; if he said anything which carried a sense, such as that which had been imputed to him by the Attorney-General, he did not mean it; what he meant to say was, that if he thought the cause positively and directly unjust, it ought so to press upon the conscience of a military man, that no consideration in the world should prevail upon him to take a part in it.

Governour Johnstone would make no apology to the House for the late hour of the night; for let the hour be what it would, the subject was of that importance no hour could be too late for the mature and deliberate consideration of it. I will now tell you as a sailor, that you will destroy the West-India trade by this barring up of the ports of North-America; and if you should not do that, you will at least double the insurance on that commerce and navigation; you will starve the Islands, and, uniting them in the same cause with North-America, drive them to revolt also.

In answer to Sir George Hay, he said, that Administration had both used unlawful power, and lawful power arbitrarily. Great Britain is the only Government in the world which has found out the art of carrying power to the distant parts of the empire, by satisfying the people that they are in security against oppression. You cannot govern the Colonies without carrying this power to the spot; instead of sending it with the necessary and constitutional checks, you are going to send out a Commission to exercise, not the constitutional, but the dictatorial power of the Crown.

The House divided.

The yeas went forth:

Tellers for the yeas,
The Lord Lisburne,
The Lord Cranborne,
192

Tellers for the noes,
Lord Richard Cavendish,
Mr˙ Frederick Montagu,
64

So it was resolved in the affirmative.

And the question being put, That the words last proposed to be left out, stand part of the question;

It was resolved in the affirmative.

Then the main question being put,

Ordered, That leave be given to bring in the Bill; and that the Lord North, Lord George Germaine, Mr˙ Charles Townshend, the Lord Beauchamp, Mr˙ Cornwall, Mr˙ Attorney-General, Mr˙ Solicitor-General, Sir Grey Cooper, and Mr˙ Robinson, do prepare and bring in the same.