In the midst of the hot debate in Parliament, in 1775, on the New England
Lord North astonished the King
, the ministry and the nation by himself bringing forward a conciliatory proposition, not unlike that offered by Chatham
just before (Feb. 1), which required the colonists to acknowledge the supremacy and superintending power of Parliament, but provided that no tax should ever be levied except by the consent of the
It also contained a provision for a congress of the colonies to vote, at the time of making this acknowledgment, a free grant to the King
of a certain perpetual revenue, to be placed at the disposal of Parliament.
All the assemblies rejected the proposition.
A committee of the Continental Congress, to which the proposition had been referred, made a report (July 31, 1775), in which the generally unsatisfactory character and the unsafe vagueness of the ministerial offer were fully exposed.
The Congress accepted the report and published it to the world.
When Parliament reassembled after the Christmas holidays (January, 1778), the opposition exposed the losses, expenses, and hopelessness of the war with the colonists; and, to the surprise and disgust of some of his most ardent supporters, Lord North presented a second plan for reconciliation (Feb. 17), and declared he had always been in favor of peace, and opposed to taxing the Americans
He introduced two bills: one renouncing, on the part of the British Parliament, any intention to levy taxes in America
—conceding, in substance, the whole original ground of dispute; the other authorizing the appointment of five commissioners, the commanders of the naval and military forces to be two, with ample powers to treat for the re-establishment of royal authority.
Meanwhile David Hartley
, an opponent of the war, was sent to Paris
to open negotiations with the American
The war had already (1775-78) cost Great Britain
more than 20,000 men, $100,000,000 of public expenditure, and 550 British vessels, chiefly in the merchant service, captured by American cruisers, worth about $12,000,000, besides a loss of trade with America
, suspension of American debts, and the confiscation of the property of American loyalists.
Added to all was the danger of a war with France
Copies of these conciliatory bills arrived in America
in the middle of April (1778), and the Congress
took immediate action upon them, for the partisans of the crown were very active in circulating them among the people.
A committee of that body criticised these bills very keenly, showing their deceptiveness.
Fearing the effect of the bills upon the people, they were ordered to be printed in the newspapers, together with the report of the committee, which concluded with a resolution, unanimously adopted, denouncing as open and avowed enemies all who should attempt a separate treaty, and declaring that no conference should be held by any commissioners until the British
armies should be first withdrawn, or the independence of the United States
The commissioners appointed under the act, after fair and unfair efforts to accomplish their ends, were completely discomfited, and before leaving for England
issued an angry and threatening manifesto (Oct. 3), addressed not to Congress only, but to the State
legislatures and the people, charging upon Congress the responsibility of continuing the war; offering to the assemblies separately the terms already proposed to Congress; reminding the soldiers that Great Britain
had already conceded all points originally in dispute; suggesting to the clergy that the French
were papists; appealing to all lovers of peace not to suffer a few ambitious men to subject the country to the miseries of unnecessary warfare; allowing forty days for submission, and threatening, if this offer should be rejected, the desolation of the country as a future leading object of the war. This manifesto Congress had printed, with a counter-manifesto by that body, and other comments calculated to neutralize the proclamation of the commissioners.