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Chapter 20:

Parliament Learns that America has resisted– Rockingham's administration continued.

December, 1765—January, 166.

the Stamp Act, said George Grenville, when, ema-
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ciated, exhausted, and borne down by disappointment, he spoke in the House of Commons for the last time before sinking into the grave—‘the Stamp Act was not found impracticable. Had I continued in office, I would have forfeited a thousand lives, if the Act had been found impracticable.’1 ‘If the administration of this country had not been changed,’ Richard Rigby,2 the leader of the Bedford party, long persisted in asserting, ‘the stamp tax would have been collected in America with as much ease as the land-tax in Great Britain.’ The king had dismissed from power the only ministry bent resolutely on enforcing it; and, while America was united, his heart was divided between a morbid anxiety to execute the law, and his wish never again to employ Bedford and Grenville.

The opinion of England was as fluctuating as the mind of the king. The overbearing aristocracy desired [364] some reduction of the land tax at the expense of Ame-

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rica; and sordid politicians, accustomed to hold provincial offices by deputy, or to dispose of them to their friends, wished to increase the value of their patronage by maintaining this absolute supremacy at all hazards. The industrial classes were satisfied with the monopoly of her market. The maritime and manufacturing towns in the kingdom were alarmed at the interruption of trade, the injury to colonial credit, and the loud and distinct cry of encouragement to American industry; and letters concerted between the merchant Trecothick and Rockingham, were sent among them, to countenance applications to parliament.

The traditions of the public offices were equally at variance. Successive administrations had inquired for some system by which the revenues and expenditures in America could be determined by the central authority of the metropolis. They who wished to make thorough work of reducing the colonies, could name many ministers as having listened to schemes of coercion; but the friends of colonial freedom replied, that no minister before Grenville had consented to carry such projects into effect.

Each side confidently invoked the British constitution. Grenville declared the paramount authority of parliament throughout the British dominions to be the essence of the revolution of 1688; others insisted that that event had upheld and established principles, by which the liberty of the person was secured against arbitrary arrest, and the rights of property were recognised as sacred against every exaction without consent.

The two opinions were also represented in the [365] new ministry. Northington, the Lord Chancellor,

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and Charles Yorke, the Attorney-General, insisted on the right to tax America; while Grafton and Conway inclined to abdicate the pretended right, and the kind-hearted Rockingham declared himself ready to repeal a hundred Stamp Acts, rather than run the risk of such confusion as would be caused by enforcing one.

History, too, when questioned, answered ambiguously. Taxation had become in Great Britain and in the colonies, a part of the general legislative power, with some reserve in favor of the popular branch of the legislature; in the Middle Age, on the contrary, when feudal liberties flourished most, the sovereign had large discretion in declaring laws to regulate civil transactions; but the service which he could demand from his vassals was fixed by capitulations and compacts, and could neither be increased, nor commuted for money, except by agreement.

The one side, not yet abandoning the field, ventured to assert, that America was virtually represented in the British parliament as much as the great majority of the British people; and while America treated the pretext as senseless, a large and growing party in England demanded for all its inhabitants a share in the national council. Nor was the argument on which the Stamp Act rested, in harmony with the sentiments and convictions of reflecting Englishmen. Its real authors insisted that protection and obedience are correlative duties; that Great Britain protected America, and, therefore, America was bound to obedience. But this is the doctrine of absolute monarchy, not of the British Constitution. [366]

The colonists had a powerful ally in the public

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conscience and affections of the mother country. They could appeal against the acts of its government to the cherished opinions of the nation. The love of liberty was to the true Englishman a habit of mind, grafted upon a proud but generous nature. His attachment to freedom was stronger than the theory or the absolute power of a parliament, of which an oligarchy influenced the choice and controlled the deliberations. The British constitution was in its idea more popular than in its degenerate forms; it aimed at the perfection of carrying out ‘the genuine principles of liberty,’ by securing a free and unbiased ‘vote to every member of the community, however poor;’ but time and a loose state of national morals had tended to produce corruption. ‘The incurvations of practice,’ whether in England or the colonies, were becoming ‘more notorious by a comparison with the rectitude of the rule.’ ‘To elucidate the clearness of the spring conveyed the strongest satire on those who had polluted or disturbed it.’3 America divided English sympathies by appealing with steadfast confidence to the principles of English liberty in their ideal purity.

It is the glory of England, that the rightfulness of the Stamp Act was in England itself a subject of dispute. It could have been so nowhere else. The king of France taxed the French colonies as a matter of course; the king of Spain collected a revenue by his own will in Mexico and Peru, in Cuba and Porto Rico, and wherever he ruled. The States General or the Netherlands had no constitutional scruples about [367] imposing duties on their outlying possessions. To

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England, exclusively, belongs the honor, that between her and her colonies the question of right could arise; it is still more to her glory, as well as to her happiness and freedom, that in that contest her success was not possible. Her principles, her traditions, her liberty, her constitution, all forbade that arbitrary rule should become her characteristic. The shaft aimed at her new colonial policy was tipped with a feather from her own wing.

Had Cumberland remained alive, regiments, it was thought, would have been sent to America. The conqueror at Culloden was merciless towards those whom he deemed refractory, and willingly quenched rebellion in blood. During his lifetime, the ministry never avowed a readiness to yield to the claims of the colonists. But the night before the Stamp Act was to have gone into effect, the Duke, all weary of life, which for him had been without endearments, died suddenly, on his way to a cabinet council, and his influence, which had no foundation but in accident, perished with him.

Weakened by his death, and hopelessly divided in opinion, the ministry showed itself more and more unsettled in its policy. On the third of October they had agreed that the American question was too weighty for their decision, and required that parliament should be consulted, and yet they postponed its meeting for the transaction of business, till there had been time to see if the Stamp Act would indeed execute itself. To Franklin, who was unwearied in his efforts to promote its repeal, no hope was given of relief; and though the committee of merchants, who on the twelfth day [368] of December waited on Rockingham, Dowdeswell,

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Conway, and Dartmouth, were received with dispassionate calmness, it was announced that the right to tax Americans could never be given up; and that a suspension was ‘the most that could be expected.’4

The successive accounts from America grieved the king more and more. ‘Where this spirit will end,’ said he, ‘is not to be said. It is undoubtedly the most serious matter that ever came before parliament,’5 and he urged for it ‘deliberation, candor, and temper.’ He was highly provoked6 by the riots in New-York; and the surrender of the stamps to the municipality of the city seemed to him ‘greatly humiliating.’ He watched with extreme anxiety the preliminary meeting of the friends of the ministry; and when the day for opening parliament came, he was impatient to receive a minute report of all that should occur.7

The Earl of Hardwicke,8 himself opposed to the lenity of Rockingham,9 moved the address in the House of Lords, pledging the House ‘to bring to the consideration of the state of affairs in America, a resolution to do every thing which the exigency of the case might require.’ The Earl of Suffolk, a young man of five-and-twenty, proposed ‘to express indignation at the insurrections in North America, and concurrence in measures to enforce the legal obedience of the colonies, and their dependence on the sovereign authority of the kingdom.’ This amendment [369] prejudged the case, and, if it had been adopted,

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would have pledged parliament in advance to the policy of coercion.

Grafton opposed the amendment, purposely avoiding the merits of the question till the house should be properly possessed of it by the production of papers. Of these, Dartmouth added that the most important related to New-York, and had been received within four or five days. Rockingham was dumb. Shelburne alone, unsupported by a single peer, intimated plainly his inclination for a repeal of the law. ‘Before we resolve upon rash measures,’ said he, ‘we should consider first the expediency of the law, and next our power to enforce it. The wisest legislators have been mistaken. The laws of Carolina, though planned by Shaftesbury and Locke, were found impracticable, and are now grown obsolete. The Romans planted colonies to increase their power; we to extend our commerce. Let the regiments in America, at Halifax, or Pensacola, embark at once upon the same destination, and no intervening accident disappoint the expedition, what could be effected against colonies so populous, and of such magnitude and extent? The colonies may be ruined first, but the distress will end with ourselves’

But Halifax, Sandwich, Gower, even Temple, Lyttelton, and Bedford, firmly supported the amendment of Suffolk.

‘Protection, without dependence and obedience,’ they joined in saying,

is a solecism in politics. The connection between Great Britain and her colonies is that of parent and child. For the parent not to correct the undutiful child would argue weakness. The duty to enforce obedience cannot be given up, because the [370] relation cannot be destroyed. The king cannot sepa-

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rate his colonies any more than any other part of his dominions from the mother-country, nor render them independent of the British legislature. The laws and constitution of the country are prior and superior to charters, many of which were issued improvident]y, and ought to be looked into.

The colonies wish to be supported by all the military power of the country without paying for it. They have been for some time endeavoring to shake off their dependence. Pennsylvania, in 1756, refused to assist government, though the enemy was at their gates; and afterwards, in their manner of granting aid, they encroached on the king's prerogative. The next attempt of the colonies will be to rid themselves of the Navigation Act, the great bulwark of this country; and because they can thus obtain their commodities twenty-five per cent. cheaper, they will buy of the French and Dutch, rather than of their fellow subjects. They do not condescend to enter into explanations upon the Stamp Act, but object to its principle, and the power of making it; yet the law was passed very deliberately, with no opposition in this house, and very little in the other. The tax, moreover, is light, and is paid only by the rich, in proportion to their dealings. The objections for want of representation are absurd. Who are affected by the duties on hardware but the people of Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds? And how are they represented?

But suppose the act liable to exceptions, is this a time to discuss them? When the Pretender was at Derby, did you then enter upon a tame consideration of grievances? What occasion is there for papers? The present rebellion is more unnatural, and not less [371] notorious, than that of 1745. The king's governors

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have been hanged in effigy, his forts and generals besieged, and the civil power annulled or suspended. Will you remain inactive till the king's governors are hanged in person? Is the legislature always to be dictated to in riot and tumult? The weavers were at your doors last year, and this year the Americans are up in arms, because they do not like what you have passed.

Why was not parliament called sooner? Why are we now called to do nothing? The house is on fire, and ministers, from unskilfulness, or want of will, use no endeavors to stay the flames. Shall we wait till it is burned down before we interpose? No matter whence the spark; the combustible nature of the matter creates the danger. Resist at the threshold. First repress the rebellion, and then inquire into grievances.

Concessions are talked of, and even a repeal of the law hinted. And are not concessions always dangerous? In the struggles between the senate and people of Rome, what did the senate get by treating with the people, but a master to both? What did Charles gain by giving way to exorbitant demands and not persisting when in the right, as he sometimes was, but the loss of his crown and life? It has been said that America was conquered in Germany; but give up the law, and Great Britain will be conquered in America. It is said, though we do repeal the law, yet we will pass some declaratory act asserting our rights. But when the Americans are possessed of the substance, what regard will they pay to your paper protestations? Ministers may be afraid of going too far on their own authority; but will they refuse [372] assistance when it is offered them? We serve the

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crown by strengthening its hands.

Northington, the Chancellor, argued from the statute book, that, as a question of law, the dependence of the colonies had been fully declared in the reign of William III.; and he ‘lustily roared,’ that ‘America must submit.’

Lord Mansfield denied the power of the crown to emancipate the colonies from the jurisdiction of the British legislature. He cited Pennsylvania as having of all the colonies, the least pretension to the claim, since its charter expressly recognised impositions and customs by act of parliament. And he endeavored to bring the House to unanimity by recommending the ministry to assent to the amendment; ‘for,’ said he, ‘the question is most serious, and not one of the ordinary matters agitated between the persons in and out of office.’

Failing to prevent a division, Mansfield went away without giving a vote. The opposition was thought to have shown a great deal of ability, and to have expressed the prevailing opinion in the House of Lords, as well as the sentiments of the king. But the king's friends, unwilling to open a breach through which Bedford and Grenville could take the cabinet by storm, divided against the amendment with the ministry.

In the House of Commons the new ministers were absent; for accepting office implies a resignation of a seat in the representative body, and sends a, member to his constituents as a candidate for re-election; yet Grenville, enraged at seeing authority set at naught with impunity, in reference to an act of his ministry, moved to consider North America as ‘resisting the [373] laws by open and rebellious force,’ and complained of

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the king's lenity. ‘What would have been thought,’ said he, ‘in 1745, if any person had called the rebellion of that day an important matter only?’ Cooke, the member from Middlesex, justified the colonies, and showed the cruelty of fixing the name of rebels on all. Charles Townshend asserted with vehemence his approbation of the Stamp Act, and leaned towards the opinion of Grenville. ‘Sooner,’ said he, ‘than make our colonies our allies, I should wish to see them returned to their primitive deserts.’10 But he sat down, determined to vote against Grenville's amendment. Gilbert Elliot did the same; and Wedderburn displayed the basest subserviency. Norton dwelt much on the legislative authority of parliament to tax all the world under British dominion. ‘See,’ said Beckford, ‘how completely my prophecy about America is accomplished.’ Some one said that Great Britain had long arms. ‘Yes,’ it was answered, ‘but three thousand miles is a long way to extend them.’

Especially it is observable that Lord George Sackville, just rescued from disgrace by Rockingham, manifested his desire to enforce the Stamp Act.11

The amendment was withdrawn, but when three days later Grenville divided the house on a question of adjourning to the ninth instead of the fourteenth of January, he had only thirty-five votes against seventy-seven. Baker, in the debate, called his motion ‘insolent,’ and chid him as the author of all the trouble in America; but he threw the blame from himself upon the parliament. Out of doors there was a great deal of clamor, [374] that repealing the Stamp Act would be a surrender

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of sovereignty; and that the question was, shall the Americans, submit to us, or we to them? But others held the attempt at coercion to be the ruinous side of the dilemma.

While England was still in this condition of unformed opinion, the colonies were proceeding with their system of resistance. ‘If they do not repeal the Stamp Act,’ said Otis, who, nine months before had counselled submission, and who now shared and led the most excited opposition, ‘if they do not repeal it, we will repeal it ourselves.’ The first American ship that ventured to sea with a rich cargo, and without stamped papers, was owned by the Boston merchant, John Hancock. At the south, in the Savannah river, a few British ships took stamped clearances, but this continued only till a vigilant people had time to understand one another, and to interfere. In South Carolina, the Lieutenant Governor, pleading the necessity of the case, himself sanctioned opening the port of Charleston.

At New-York, the head quarters of the army, an attempt was made by the men of war to detain vessels ready for sea. The people rose in anger, and the naval commander, becoming alarmed by the danger of riots, left the road from New-York to the ocean once more free, as it was from every other harbor in the thirteen colonies.

It was next attempted to open the executive courts. In Rhode Island, all public officers, judges among the rest, continued to transact business. In New-York, the judges would willingly have held their [375] terms, but were restrained by a menace of dismissal

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from office.

In Boston, this question was agitated with determined zeal; but first the people dealt with Andrew Oliver, who had received his commission as stampman. On the very day, and almost at the hour when the King was proceeding in state to the House of Lords to open parliament, the ‘true-born Sons of Liberty,’ deaf to all entreaties, placed Oliver at the head of a long procession, with Mackintosh, a leader in the August riots, at his side, and with great numbers following, on the cold wet morning, escorted him to Liberty Tree, to stand in the rain under the very bough on which he had swung in effigy. There, in the presence of two thousand men, he declared in a written paper, to which he publicly set his name, that he would never directly or indirectly take any measures to enforce the Stamp Act, and with the whole multitude for witnesses, he, upon absolute requisition, made oath to this pledge before Richard Dana, a justice of the peace. At this, the crowd gave three cheers; and when Oliver, who was the third officer in the province, with bitterest revenge in his heart, spoke to them with a smile, they gave three cheers more.12

On the evening of the next day, as John Adams sat ruminating in his humble mansion at Quincy, on the interruption of his career as a lawyer, a message came, that Boston, at the instance of a committee of which Samuel Adams was the chief, had joined him with Gridley and Otis, to sustain their memorial to the Governor and Council for opening the courts; and [376] he resolved to exert the utmost of his abilities in the

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cause. It fell to him, on the evening of the twentieth, to begin the argument before the governor and council. ‘The Stamp Act,’ he reasoned, ‘is invalid; it is not in any sense our act; we never consented to it. A parliament in which we are not represented, had no legal authority to impose it; and, therefore, it ought to be waived by the judges as against natural equity and the constitution.’ Otis reasoned with great learning and zeal on the duties and obligations of judges. Gridley dwelt on the inconveniences that would ensue on the interruption of justice.

‘Many of the arguments,’ said Bernard, in reply, ‘are very good ones to be used before the judges, but there is no precedent for the interference of the governor and council. In England the judges would scorn directions from the king on points of law.’

On Saturday, the town voted the answer unsatisfactory. Ever fertile in resources, Otis instantly proposed to invite the governor to call a convention of the members of both houses of the legislature; if the governor should refuse, then to call one themselves, by requesting all the members to meet; and John Adams came round to this opinion.

‘The king,’ thus the young lawyer reasoned, on returning to his own fireside, ‘the king is the fountain of justice. Protection and allegiance are reciprocal. If we are out of the king's protection, we are discharged from our allegiance. The ligaments of government are dissolved, the throne abdicated.’ Otis, quoting Grotius and the English lawyers, of 1688, assured the public, that ‘If a king lets the affairs of a state run into disorder and confusion, his conduct is a real abdication;’ that unless business should proceed as [377] usual, there ‘would be a release of subjects from their

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If patient entreaty was to be of no avail, America must unite and prepare for resistance. In New-York, on Christmas day, the lovers of liberty pledged themselves ‘to march with all dispatch, at their own costs and expense, on the first proper notice, with their whole force, if required, to the relief of those who should, or might be, in danger from the Stamp Act or its abettors.’ Before the year was up, Mott, one of the New-York Committee of Correspondence, arrived with others at New London, bringing a letter from Isaac Sears, and charged to ascertain how far New England would adopt the same covenant.

‘If the great men are determined to enforce the Act,’ said John Adams, on New Year's day, on some

1766 Jan
vague news from New-York, ‘they will find it a more obstinate war than the conquest of Canada and Louisiana.’ ‘Great Sir,’ said Edes and Gill through their newspaper to the king, printing the message in large letters, ‘Great Sir, Retreat or you are ruined.’

‘None,’ said the press of Philadelphia, in words widely diffused, ‘none in this day of liberty will say, that duty binds us to yield obedience to any man or body of men, forming part of the British constitution, when they exceed the limits prescribed by that constitution. The Stamp Act is unconstitutional, and no more obligatory than a decree of the Divan of Turkey.’

Encouraged by public opinion, the Sons of Liberty of New-York held regular meetings, and on the seventh of January, they resolved that ‘there was safety for the colonies only in the firm union of the whole;’ that they themselves ‘would go to the last extremity, [378] and venture their lives and fortunes, effectually to

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prevent the Stamp Act.’ On the following night the ship which arrived from London with ten more packages of stamps for New-York and Connecticut, was searched from stem to stern, and the packages were seized and carried in boats up the river to the shipyards, where, by the aid of tar barrels, they were thoroughly consumed in a bonfire.

The resolutions of New-York were carried swiftly to Connecticut. The town of Wallingford voted a fine of twenty shillings on any of its inhabitants ‘that should use or improve any stamped vellum or paper;’ and the Sons of Liberty of that place, adopting the words of their brethren of New-York, were ready ‘to oppose the unconstitutional Stamp Act to the last extremity, even to take the field.’ The people of the county of New London, meeting at Lyme, declared ‘the general safety and privileges of all the colonies to depend on a firm union.’ They were ‘ready on all occasions to assist the neighboring provinces to repel all violent attempts to subvert their common liberties;’ and they appointed Major John Durkee to correspond with the Sons of Liberty in the adjoining colonies. Israel Putnam, the brave patriot of Pomfret,—whose people had declared, that their connection with England was derived only from a compact, their freedom from God and nature, and to be maintained with their lives,—rode from town to town through the eastern part of Connecticut, to see what number of men could be depended upon, and gave out that he could lead forth ten thousand.

Massachusetts spoke through its House of Representatives, which convened in the middle of January. They called on impartial history to record the strong [379] testimonies given by the people of the continent of

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their loyalty, and the equal testimony which they had given of their love of liberty, by a glorious stand even against an act of parliament. They proudly called to mind, that the union of all the colonies was upon a motion made in their house. And insisting that ‘the courts of justice must be open,—open immediately,’ they voted, sixty-six against four, that the shutting of them was not only ‘a very great grievance, requiring immediate redress,’ but ‘dangerous to his majesty's crown.’

Bernard, who consulted in secret a ‘select council,’ unknown to the law, in which the principal advisers were Hutchinson and Oliver, wished that the system of Grenville, which brought money into the British exchequer without advantage to the officers of the crown, might be abandoned for his favorite plan of the establishment of a colonial civil list by parliament; but he opposed all concession. Tranquillity, he assured the Secretary of State, could not be restored by ‘lenient methods.’ ‘There will be no submission,’ said he, ‘until there is a subjection. The persons who originated the mischief, and preside over and direct the opposition to Great Britain, are wicked and desperate; and the common people, whom they have poisoned, are mad and infatuated. The people here occasionally talk very high of their power to resist Great Britain; but it is all talk. They talk of revolting from Great Britain in the most familiar wanner, and declare that though the British forces should possess themselves of the coast and maritime towns, they never will subdue the inland. But nothing,’ Bernard continued, ‘can be more idle. New-York and Boston would both be defenceless to [380] a royal fleet; and they being possessed by the king's

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forces, no other town or place could stand out. A forcible subjection is unavoidable, let it cost what it will. The forces, when they come, should be respectable enough not to encourage resistance; that when the people are taught they have a superior, they may know it effectually. I hope that New-York, as well upon account of its superior rank and greater professsions of resistance, and of its being the head quarters, will have the honor of being subdued first.’ For Bernard gave the palm to New-York, much beyond Boston, as the source of ‘the system of politics’ which represented the colonies, as ‘no otherwise related to Great Britain than by having the same king.’13

1 Cavendish Debates, i. 551.

2 Force: Am. Archives, i. 76.

3 Blackstone's Commentaries, b. i., c. II

4 Letter from London of 14 Dec. 1765, in Boston Gazette, 24 Feb. 1766. Compare T. Pownall to Hutchinson, 3 Dec. 1765, and a letter of Franklin of 6 Jan. 1766.

5 Geo. III. to Conway, 6 Dec.

6 Conway to Gage, 15 Dec.

7 Geo. III. to Conway, 7 Dec.

8 Hugh Hammersley to Lieut. Gov. Sharpe, Dec. 1765, gives a very good report of the debate. Compare Philimore's Lyttelton, II. 687.

9 Albemarle, i. 284.

10 Hammersley.

11 Letter from London of Dec. 22 and 24, 1765, in Boston Gaz. 17 Feb. 1766. Chatham Corr. II. 352.

12 A. Oliver to Bernard, 17 Dec. Same to same, 19 Dec. Boston Gaz. J. Adams's Diary.

13 Bernard to Conway, 19 Jan. and 22 Jan. 1766.

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