The repeal of the Stamp Act
—Rockingham's Adminis-Tration continued.
on Tuesday, the fourth of February, the party of Bedford
and the old ministry of Grenville
coalesced with the friends of prerogative to exercise over the colonies the power, which it had just been resolved that parliament rightfully possessed.
The ministry desired to recommend to them to compensate the sufferers by the American
The opposition, by a vote of sixty-three to sixty, changed the recommendation into a parliamentary requisition.1
The new tory party already had a majority of votes in the House of Lords.
The next morning, Rockingham
; much irritated at this usage, went to court and proposed the removal from office of one or two of those who had appeared to be the most hostile; but the king, recently so eager to dismiss those who opposed him, refused his assent.2
On the night of the fifth of February, the same
question came up in the House of Commons, where Pitt
spoke at length, with tact and gentleness.
The coalition was, for the moment, thoroughly defeated; and at last the house, with considerable unanimity, contented itself with changing the proposition of the ministry into a resolution, declaratory of its opinion.3
It was known that the House of Lords would nevertheless persevere; and on Thursday, the sixth, it attracted the world4
to witness its proceedings.
To keep up appearances, Bute rose and declared ‘his most lively attachment to the person of the king, yet the interest of his country must weigh with him more than any other consideration; the king himself would not blame him or other lords for obeying the dictates of their conscience on important affairs of State.’5
Encouraged by this indirect promise of the king's good will, the new coalition, after a solemn debate, carried a majority of fifty-nine against fifty-four, in favor of executing the Stamp Act.
For the House of Lords now to consent to its repeal would in some sort be an abdication of its co-ordinate authority.
Once more, on the morning of the seventh, Rockingham
, forgetting alike the principles of the old whig party and of the British constitution, which forbid the interference of the king with the legislature, hurried to court, and this time asked and obtained leave to say, that the king was for the repeal of the Stamp Act; and he made haste to spread the intelligence.
The evening of that same day, Grenville
resolved to test the temper of the house, and made a motion
tending to enforce the execution of all acts, meaning
specially the Stamp Act.
With instant sagacity, Pitt
, who at the time was far too ill to be in the house and yet was impelled by a sense of duty to be present, seized the advantage thus unwisely offered, and called on the house not to order the enforcement of the Stamp Act, before they had decided the question of repeal.
The request was reasonable, was pressed by him with winning candor and strength of argument, and commended itself to the good sense and generous feeling of the independent members of the house.
‘I shudder at the motion,’ cried the aged General Howard
, while the crowded house listened as if awed into silence; ‘I hope it will not succeed, lest I should be ordered to execute it. Before I would imbrue my hands in the blood of my countrymen, who are contending for English liberty, I would, if ordered, draw my sword, but would sooner sheathe it in my own body.’
argued that giving way would infuse the spirit of resistance into the Irish.
, boasting that he had not yet declared as to whether he should vote for or against the repeal, seizing the safe opportunity of winning an advantage over Grenville
, praised the general purport of his proposal, and yet censured him vehemently for anticipating the decision of the house.
remained obdurate, and denounced curses on the ministers who should sacrifice the sovereignty of Great Britain
over her colonies.
He had expected great support.
had estimated the strength of the Bedfords at one hundred and thirty; their new allies had claimed to be eighty or ninety; and now, though Lord Granby, and all the Scotch and the king's friends, voted with
him, the motion was rejected, in a very full house, by
more than two to one.
The minority were astonished as well as overwhelmed with mortification.
Some of them ungenerously blamed Grenville
for his imprudence.
At the palace, the king, when informed of this great majority, was so affected, that those who saw him most frequently, had never found him more so, and believed he wished for nothing so much as to be able to change his administration.
His personal influence was therefore next invoked to arrest the repeal of the Stamp Act.
On Monday, the tenth of February, Lord Strange, Chancellor
of the Duchy of Lancaster
, went in to the king on the business of his office; when he came out, he declared to some of the king's servants that ‘his majesty had given him authority to say, that he was for a modification of the Stamp Act, but not for a repeal of it.’
Upon this the onset was renewed in the House of Commons.
Trecothick was, on the eleventh, under examination at the bar of the house.
‘Do you think,’ asked Lord Strange, ‘the Americans
will not rather submit to the Stamp Act than remain in the confusion they are in?’
But this question was voted improper.
‘Will the Americans
acquiesce, if this act is mitigated?’
‘No modification will reconcile them to it,’ answered Trecothick; ‘nor will any thing satisfy them less than its total repeal.’
‘What insolent rebels,’ cried the inflamed partisans of Grenville
; and they redoubled their zeal to create delay, in the expectation of receiving news from America
of the submission of one or more of the principal colonies to the Stamp Act.
But the Sons of Liberty, acting spontaneously, were steadily advancing
towards an organization, which should embrace
In February, those in Boston
, and in many towns in Massachusetts
, acceded to the association of Connecticut
; and joined in urging a continental union.
They of Portsmouth
in New Hampshire
pledged themselves equally to the same measures.6
, on the tenth of February, the patriots of Norwich
welcomed the plan; while, on the next day, a convention of almost all the towns of Litchfield county
resolved that the Stamp Act was unconstitutional, null, and void, and that business of all kinds should go on as usual.
Then, too, the hum of domestic industry was heard more and more: young women would get together, and merrily and emulously drive the spinning wheel from sunrise till dark; and every day the humor spread for being clad in homespun.7
Cheered by the zeal of New England
, the Sons of Liberty of New-York
, under the lead of Isaac Sears
and John Lamb
, sent circular letters as far as South Carolina
, inviting to the formation of a permanent continental union.8
But the summons was not waited for. The people of South Carolina
grew more and more hearty against the Act. ‘We are a very weak province,’ reasoned Christopher Gadsden,9
‘yet a rich growing one, and of as much importance to Great Britain
as any upon the continent; and a great part of our weakness, though at the same time 'tis part of our riches, consists in having such a number of slaves amongst
us; and we find, in our case, according to the general
perceptible workings of Providence
, where the crime most commonly, though slowly, yet surely, draws down a similar and suitable punishment, that slavery begets slavery.
and our West India islands
demonstrate this observation, which I hope will not be our case now, whatever might have been the consequence had the fatal attempt been delayed a few years longer, when we had drank deeper of the Circaean draught, and the measures of our iniquities were filled up. I am persuaded, with God's blessing, we shall not fall, or disgrace our sister colonies at this time.’
Still more bold, if that were possible, was the spirit in North Carolina
The associated freeholders and inhabitants of several of its counties, mutually and solemnly plighted their faith and honor, that they would, at any risk whatever, and whenever called upon, unite, and truly and faithfully assist each other to the best of their power in preventing entirely the operation of the Stamp Act.
In the Ancient Dominion
, men pledged themselves to one another for the same purpose, with equal ardor; and in case an attempt should be made to arrest an associate, they bound themselves at the utmost risk of their lives and fortunes, to restore such associate to liberty.10
The magistrates composing the court for Northampton
, unanimously decided that the Stamp Act did not bind or concern the inhabitants of Virginia
, and that no penalties would be in-11
curred by those who should proceed to execute their
Trecothick then answered rightly in the House of Commons, that nothing but the repeal of the Stamp Act would satisfy America
Yet the opponents of concession claimed for their side the name of the king, whose opinions they declared that Rockingham
The irritated chief summoned the author of the rumor to meet him at the palace.
There, on Wednesday, the twelfth of February, they went into the closet alternately,13
two or three times each, to reconcile the seeming contradiction.
For fear of mistakes, Rockingham
wrote with a pencil these words: ‘Lord Rockingham was authorized by his majesty, on Friday last, to say that his majesty was for the repeal.’
‘It is very true,’ said the king, as he read the paper; ‘but I must make an addition to it;’ upon which he took a pen, and wrote at the end of it, ‘the conversation having been only concerning that or enforcing.’
He added, ‘I desire you would tell Lord Strange, that I am now, and have been heretofore, for modification.14
’ So Rockingham
was disavowed, and the opposition declared more than ever that the ministers counterfeited as well as prostituted the sentiments of the king, whose unwritten word they would not trust,15
and whose written word convicted them of falsehood.
On the same day, Bedford
an interview with Bute, whom they had so hated and
It was a proud moment for Bute, to find his aid solicited by his bitterest personal enemies.
He desired that the past might be buried in oblivion, and that all honest men might unite; but he refused to enter upon any conference on the subject of a new administration, however much the other two wished to do so.16
interposed his offices, and bore to the king the Duke
's ‘readiness to receive the royal commands, should his majesty be inclined to pursue the modification, instead of the total repeal of the Stamp Act.’17
But the king, who was resolved not to receive Grenville
again as his chief minister, disregarded the offer.
So the measures of the ministry proceeded.
Such were the auspices, when on Thursday, the thirteenth day of February, Benjamin Franklin
was summoned to the bar of the House of Commons.
The occasion found him full of hope and courage, having for his interrogators, Grenville
and Charles Townshend
, as well as the friends of the administration; and the House of Commons for intent listeners.18 Choiseul
, too, was sure to learn and to weigh all that Franklin
In answer to questions, Franklin
declared that America
could not pay the Stamp Tax
, for want of gold
, and from want of post-roads and means of sending stamps back into the country; that there were in North America
about three hundred thousand white men, from sixteen to sixty years of age; that the inhabitants of all the provinces together,
taken at a medium, doubled in about twenty-five
years; that their demand for British manufactures increased much faster; that in 1723, the whole importation from Britain to Pennsylvania
was but about fifteen thousand Founds sterling, and had already become near half a million; that the exports from the province to Britain could not exceed forty thousand pounds; that the balance was paid from remittances to England
for American produce, carried to our own islands, or to the French
, Spaniards, Danes, and Dutch
in the West Indies
, or to other colonies in North America
, or to different parts of Europe
, as Spain
, and Italy
; that these remittances were greatly interrupted by new regulations, and by the English men-of-war and cutters stationed all along the coast in America
; that the last war was really a British war, commenced for the defence of a purely British trade and of territories of the crown, and yet the colonies contributed to its expenses beyond their proportion, the House of Commons itself being the judge; that they were now imposing on themselves many and very heavy taxes, in part to discharge the debts and mortgages on all their taxes and estates then contracted; that if, among them all, Maryland
, a single province, had not contributed its proportion, it was the fault of its government alone; that they had never refused giving money for the purposes of the act; that they were always willing and ready to do what could reasonably be expected from them; that the Americans
, before 1763, were of the best temper in the world towards Great Britain
, and were governed at the expense only of a little pen, ink, and paper; they allowed the authority of parliament in laws, except such as should lay internal duties, and never disputed it in
laying duties to regulate commerce; and considered
that body as the great bulwark and security of their liberties and privileges; but that now their temper was much altered, and their respect for it lessened: and if the act is not repealed, the consequence would be a total loss of the respect and affection they bore to this country, and of all the commerce that depended on that respect and affection.
Such was the form under which Franklin
presented the subject to the consideration of the house.
The questions of greatest interest asked of him related to the possibility of carrying the Stamp Act into effect, and to the difference laid down by so many of the Americans
, and adopted by Pitt
, in the House of Commons, and by Camden
in the House of Lords,—between internal taxes and taxes laid as regulations of commerce.
and his friends, and Charles Townshend
, who had carefully considered the decisive resolutions that marked the entrance of Samuel Adams
into public life, were his most earnest questioners.
‘Do you think it right,’ asked Grenville
, ‘that America
should be protected by this country, and pay no part of the expense?’
‘That is not the case,’ answered Franklin
; ‘the colonies raised, clothed, and paid during the last war twenty-five thousand men, and spent many millions.’
‘Were you not reimbursed by parliament?’
‘Only what, in your opinion,’ answered Franklin
, ‘we had advanced beyond our proportion; and it was a very small part of what we spent.
, in particular, disbursed about five hundred thousand pounds, and the reimbursements, in the whole, did not exceed sixty thousand pounds.’
‘Do you think the people of America
mit to pay the Stamp Duty
if it was moderated?’
They will never submit to it.’
And when the subject was brought up a second and a third time, and one of Grenville
's ministry asked, ‘May not a military force carry the Stamp Act into execution?’
answered, ‘Suppose a military force sent into America
; they will find nobody in arms; what are they then to do?
They cannot force a man to take stamps who chooses to do without them.
They will not find a rebellion: they may, indeed, make one.’
‘How would the Americans
receive a future tax, imposed on the same principle with that of the Stamp Act?’
‘Just as they do this; they would not pay it,’ was the answer.
‘What will be the opinion of the Americans
on the resolutions of this house and the House of Lords asserting the right of parliament to tax the people there?’
‘They will think the resolutions unconstitutional and unjust.’
‘How would they receive an internal regulation, connected with a tax?’
‘It would be objected to. When aids to the crown are wanted they are, according to the old established usage to be asked of the assemblies, who will, as they always have done, grant them freely.
They think it extremely hard, that a body in which they have no representatives should make a merit of giving and granting what is not its own, but theirs; and deprive them of a right which is the security of all their other rights.’
‘The post-office,’ interposed Grenville
, the deputy postmaster for America
, ‘is not the post-office, which they have long received, a tax as well as a regulation?’
and Charles Townshend
repeated the question.
, ‘the money paid for the postage of letters
is merely a remuneration for a service done.’
‘But if the legislature should think fit to ascertain its right to lay taxes, by any act laying a small tax, contrary to their opinion, would they submit to pay the tax?’
‘An internal tax, how small soever, laid by the legislature here, on the people there, will never be submitted to. They will oppose it to the last.’
‘The people,’ he answered again to the same question under many forms, ‘the people will pay no internal tax by parliament.’
‘Is there any kind of difference,’ continued Grenville
's ministry, ‘between external and internal taxes to the colony on which they may be laid?’
‘The people,’ argued Franklin
, ‘may refuse commodities, of which the duty makes a part of the price; but an internal tax is forced from them without their consent.
The Stamp Act says, we shall have no commerce, make no exchange of property with each other, neither purchase, nor grant, nor recover debts; nor marry, nor make our wills, unless we pay such and such sums; and thus it is intended to extort our money from us, or ruin us by the consequences of refusing to pay it.’
‘But suppose the external duty to be laid on the necessaries of life?’
amazed them by his true answer: ‘I do not know a single article imported into the Northern
colonies, but what they can either do without, or make themselves.
The people will spin and work for themselves, in their own houses.
In three years there may be wool and manufactures enough.’
‘Does the distinction between internal and external taxes exist in the charter of Pennsylvania
asked a friend of Grenville
‘No,’ said Franklin
‘I believe not.’—‘Then,’ continued the interrogator, with Charles Townshend
for a listener, ‘may they not, by the same interpretation of their common rights, as Englishmen, as declared by Magna Charta
and the Petition of Right, object to the parliament's light of external taxation?’—And Franklin
answered instantly; ‘They never have hitherto.
Many arguments have been lately used here to show them that there is no difference, and that, if you have no right to tax them internally, you have none to tax them externally, or make any other law to bind them.
At present they do not reason so; but in time they may be convinced by these arguments.’
On the twentieth of February—while the newspapers of New-York
were that very morning19
reiterating the resolves of the Sons of Liberty, that they would venture their lives and fortunes to prevent the Stamp Act from taking place, that the safety of the colonies depended on a firm union of the whole,— the ministers at a private meeting of their supporters, settled the resolutions of repeal which even Charles Townshend
was present to accept, and which, as Burke
believed, he intended to support by a speech.
Early the next day, every seat in the House of Commons had been taken; between four and five hundred members attended.
was ill, but his zeal was above disease.
‘I must get up to the house as I can,’ said he; ‘when in my place, I feel I am tolerably able to remain through the debate, and cry aye to the repeal with no sickly voice;’ and he hobbled into the house on crutches, swathed in flannels;
huzzaed as he passed through the lobby, by almost all
the persons there.
moved for leave to bring in a bill for the repeal of the American
It had interrupted British commerce; jeoparded debts to British merchants; stopped one-third of the manufactures of Manchester
; increased the rates on land, by throwing thousands of poor out of employment.
The act too breathed oppression.
It annihilated juries; and gave vast power to the admiralty courts.
The lawyers might decide in favor of the right to tax; but the conflict would ruin both countries.
In three thousand miles of territory, the English
had but five thousand troops, the Americans
one hundred and fifty thousand fighting men. If they did not repeal the act, France
would declare war, and protect the Americans
The colonies, too, would set up manufactories of their own. Why then risk the whole for so trifling an object as this act modified?
, on the other side, moved, instead of the repeal, a modification of the Stamp Act; insisting that the total repeal, demanded as it was with menaces of resistance, would be the overthrow of British authority in America
In reply to Jenkinson
, Edmund Burke
spoke in a manner unusual in the house; fresh, as from a full mind, connecting the argument for repeal with a new kind of political philosophy.
About eleven, Pitt
With suavity of manner he conciliated the wavering by allowing good ground for their apprehensions; but calmly, and with consummate and persuasive address,20
he argued for the repeal, with eloquence which expressed conviction, and which yet could not have offended even the sensitive
self-love of the warmest friends of the act. He ac-
knowledged his perplexity in making an option between two ineligible alternatives, pronounced, however, for repeal, as due to the liberty of unrepresented subjects, and in gratitude to their having supported England
through three wars.
‘The total repeal,’ replied Grenville
, ‘will persuade the colonies that Great Britain
confesses itself without the right to impose taxes on them, and is reduced to make this confession by their menaces.
Do the merchants insist that debts to the amount of three millions will be lost, and all fresh orders be countermanded?
Do not injure yourselves from fear of injury; do not die from the fear of dying;21
the merchants may sustain a temporary loss, but they and all England
would suffer much more from the weakness of parliament, and the impunity of the Americans
With a little fairness, it will be easy to compel the colonists to obedience.
The last advices announce that a spirit of submission is taking the place of the spirit of revolt.
America must learn that prayers are not to be brought to Caesar
through riot and sedition.’22
Between one and two o'clock on the morning of the twenty-second of February, the division took place.
Only a few days before, Bedford
had confidently predicted the defeat of the ministry.
The king, the queen, the princess dowager, the Duke
, Lord Bute desired it. The scanty remains of the old tories; all the followers of Bedford
; the king's friends; every Scottish member, except Sir Alexander
and George Dempster
; Lord George Sack
ville, whom this ministry had restored, and brought into office; Oswald
's colleague as vicetrea-surer for Ireland
, the paymaster of the navy, were all known to be in the opposition.
were crammed with upwards of three hundred men, representing the trading interests of the nation, trembling and anxious, and waiting almost till the winter morning's return of light, to learn their fate from the resolution of the house.
Presently it was announced that two hundred and seventy five had voted for the repeal of the act, against one hundred and sixty-seven for softening and enforcing it. The roof of St. Stephens rung with the loud shouts and long cheering of the victorious majority.
When the doors were thrown open, and Conway
went forth, there was an involuntary burst of gratitude from the grave multitude, which beset the avenues; they stopped him; they gathered round him as children round a parent, as captives round a deliverer.
The pure-minded man enjoyed the triumph, and while they thanked him, Edmund Burke
, who stood near him, declares, that ‘his face was as if it had been the face of an angel.’
moved along, swelling with rage and mortification, they pressed on him with hisses.24
But when Pitt
appeared, the whole crowd reverently pulled off their hats; and the applauding joy uttered around him, touched him with tender and lively delight.
Many followed his chair home with benedictions.
He felt no illness after his immense fatigue.
seemed as if what he saw and what he heard, the gratitude of a rescued people, and the gladness of thousands, now become his own, had restored him to health.
But his heartfelt and solid delight was not perfect till he found himself in his own house, with the wife whom he loved, and the children, for whom his fondness knew no restraint or bounds, and who all partook of the overflowing pride of their mother.
This was the first great political lesson received by his second son, then not quite seven years old, the eager and impetuous William, who, flushed with patriotic feeling, rejoiced that he was not the eldest-born, but could serve his country in the House of Commons, like his father.
At the palace, the king treated with great coolness all his servants who voted for the repeal.
‘We have been beaten,’ said Bedford
to the French
minister, ‘but we have made a gallant fight of it.’
If the Scottish members, elected as they then were by a dependent tenantry, or in the boroughs by close corporations, voted to enforce the tax, the mind of Scotland
was as much at variance with its pretended representatives in parliament, as the intelligence of France
was in antagonism to the monarchy of Louis XV.
, the reforming moralist of the north, had, as we have seen, declared as an axiom in ethics, the right of colonies to be independent when able to take care of themselves; David Hume
confessed himself at heart a republican; Adam Smith
, at Glasgow
, was teaching the youth of Scotland
the natural right of industry to freedom; Reid
was constructing a system of philosophy, based upon the development and freedom of the active powers of man;
and now, at the relenting ‘of the House of Com
mons concerning the Stamp Act,’ ‘I rejoice,’ said Robertson
, the illustrious historian, ‘I rejoice, from my love of the human species, that a million of men in America
have some chance of running the same great career which other free people have held before them.
I do not apprehend revolution or independence sooner than these must and should come.’