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Chapter 17:

He king Rejects the offers of congress.

December, 1774—January, 1775.

‘it will be easy to sow division among the delegates
Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
to the congress,’ said Rochford to Garnier, ‘they will do nothing but bring ridicule upon themselves by exposing their weakness.’ Their firmness, moderation, and unanimity took the ministry by surprise, when just before the adjournment of parliament their proceedings reached England. ‘It is not at all for the interests of France that our colonies should become independent,’ repeated Rochford. ‘The English minister,’ reasoned Garnier, ‘thinks, that after all they may set up for themselves.’

Franklin invited the colonial agents to unite in presenting the petition of congress, but he was joined only by those who were employed by Massachusetts. Dartmouth received it courteously, and laid it before the king, who promised that after the recess it should be communicated to parliament. Barrington, the military secretary, was the first to confess the weakness of his department and to remonstrate [187] against war. British industry made every

Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
able-bodied man of so much value, that considerable enlistments at home were out of the question; rank in the army was bestowed by favor, or sold for money, so that even boys at school sometimes held commissions; and under the corrupt system, not one general officer of that day had gained a great name. Aristocratic selfishness had unfitted England for war, unless under a minister who could inspirit the nation. Barrington, therefore, who had in advance advised, ‘that the seven regiments in Boston should be directed to leave a place where they could do no good, and without intention might do harm,’ and who was persuaded that the navy by itself was able to worry Massachusetts into ‘submission without shedding a drop of blood,’ once more pressed his opinions upon the government. ‘The contest,’ said he, ‘will cost more than we can gain by success. We have not strength to levy internal taxes on America; many amongst ourselves doubt their equity; all the troops in North America are not enough to subdue the Massachusetts; the most successful conquest must produce the horrors of civil war. Till the factious chiefs can be secured, judicial proceedings would confer the palm of martyrdom without the pain;’ and he urged an immediate withdrawal of the troops, the ‘abandonment of all ideas of internal taxation,’ and such ‘concessions’ as could be made ‘with dignity.’

Lord North was disquieted. He rejected the propositions of congress, which included the repeal of the act regulating Massachusetts, but he was ready to negotiate with the Americans for the right to tax [188] themselves. Franklin appeared as the great agent

Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
of the continent; and it was believed that his secret instructions authorized him to modify the conditions proposed for conciliation. Lord Howe undertook to ascertain the extent of his powers.

The name was dear to Americans. The elder Lord Howe had fallen on their soil, as their companion in arms, and Massachusetts raised to him a monument in Westminster Abbey. His brother, William Howe, who had served with Americans in America, was selected as the new colonial commander-in-chief; and his oldest surviving brother, now Lord Howe, also honored in America as a gallant and upright naval officer, was to be commissioned as a pacificator.

‘No man,’ said Lord Howe to Franklin at their first interview on Christmas-day evening, ‘can do more towards reconciling our differences than you. That you have been very ill-treated by the ministry, I hope will not be considered by you. I have a particular regard for New England, which has shown an endearing respect for my family. If you will indulge me with your ideas, I may be a means of bringing on a good understanding.’ At the unexpected prospect of restoring harmony, tears of joy wet Franklin's cheeks. He had remained in London at the peril of his liberty, perhaps of his life, to promote reconciliation, and the only moment for securing it was now come. With firmness, candor, and strict fidelity to congress, he explained the measures by which alone tranquillity could be restored; and they included the repeal of the regulating act for Massachusetts.

Lord Howe reported the result of the interview [189] to Dartmouth and North; but as they had no hope

Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
of inducing their colleagues, or the king, or parliament to concede so much, they trusted to the plan of commissioners who should repair to America and endeavor to agree with its leading people upon some means of composing all differences. Every prospect of preferment was opened to Franklin, if he would take part in such a commission. With exact truth and frankness, he pointed out, as the basis for a cordial union, the repeal of the acts complained of; the removal of the fleet and the troops from Boston; and a voluntary recall of some oppressive measures which the colonists had passed over in silence; leaving the questions, which related to aids, general commerce, and reparation to the India company, to be arranged with the next general congress.

The assembly of Jamaica at their session in December endeavored to interpose. They affirmed the rights of the colonies, enumerated their grievances, enforced their claims to redress, and entreated the king as a common parent to become the mediator between his European and American subjects, and to recognise the title of the Americans to the benefits of the English constitution as the bond of union between the colonists and Britain. At the same time they disclaimed the intention of joining the American confederacy; ‘for,’ said they, ‘weak and feeble as this colony is, from its very small number of white inhabitants, and its peculiar situation from the incumbrance of more than two hundred thousand slaves, it cannot be supposed that we now intend, or ever could have intended, resistance to Great Britain.’ The vast commercial importance of [190] the island gave them a claim to be heard; but their

Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
petition, though in due time received by the king and communicated to the house of commons, had no effect whatever.

‘It is plain enough,’ thus reasoned Vergennes, ‘the king of England is puzzled between his desire of reducing the colonies, and his dread of driving them to a separation; so that nothing could be more interesting than the affairs of America.’ As the king of France might be called upon to render assistance to the insurgent colonies, the conduct of the English in their support of the Corsicans was cited as a precedent to the French embassy at London, and brought before the cabinet at Versailles. To Louis the Sixteenth Vergennes explained, that the proceedings of the continental congress contained the germ of a rebellion; that while the Americans really desired a reconciliation with the mother country, the ministry from their indifference would prevent its taking place; that Lord North, no longer confident of having America at his feet, was disconcerted by the unanimity and vigor of the colonies; and that France had nothing to fear but the return of Chatham to power.

The interests of Britain required Chatham's return; for he thoroughly understood the policy of the French as well as the disposition of the colonies. In his interview with Americans he said without reserve: ‘America under all her oppressions and provocations, holds out to us the most fair and just opening for restoring harmony and affectionate intercourse.’ No public body ever gained so full and unanimous a recognition of its integrity and its wisdom, [191] as the general congress of 1774. The policy

Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
which its members proposed sprung so necessarily out of the relations of free countries to their colonies, that within a few years it was adopted even by their most malignant enemies among the British statesmen, for three quarters of a century regulated the colonial administration of every successive ministry, and finally gave way to a system of navigation, yet more liberal than the American congress had proposed.

The day after Franklin's first conversation with Lord Howe, Chatham received him at Hayes. ‘The congress,’ said he, ‘is the most honorable assembly of statesmen since those of the ancient Greeks and Romans in the most virtuous times.’ He thought the petition to the king ‘decent, manly, and propperly expressed.’ He questioned the assertion, that the keeping up an army in the colonies in time of peace, required their consent; with that exception he admired and honored the whole of the proceedings. ‘The army at Boston,’ said Franklin, who saw the imminent hazard of bloodshed, ‘cannot possibly answer any good purpose, and may be infinitely mischievous. No accommodation can be properly entered into by the Americans, while the bayonet is at their breasts. To have an agreement binding, all force should be withdrawn.’ The words sank deeply into the mind of Chatham, and he promised his utmost efforts to the American cause, as the last hope of liberty for England. ‘I shall be well prepared,’ said he, ‘to meet the ministry on the subject, for I think of nothing else both night and day.’

Like Chatham, Camden desired the settlement [192] of the dispute upon the conditions proposed by con-

Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
gress; and from the temper, coolness, and wisdom of most of the American assemblies, he augured the establishment of their rights on a durable agreement with the mother country.

To unite every branch of the opposition in one line of policy, Chatham desired a cordial junction with the Rockingham whigs. That party had only two friends who spoke in the house of lords, and in the house of commons was mouldering away. And yet Rockingham was impracticable. ‘I look back,’ he said, ‘with very real satisfaction and content, on the line which I, indeed, emphatically I, took in the year 1766; the stamp-act was repealed, and the doubt of the right of this country was fairly faced and resisted.’ Burke, like his patron, pursued Chatham implacably, and refused to come to an understanding with him on general politics. Neither did he perceive the imminence of the crisis; but believed that the Americans would not preserve their unanimity, so that the controversy would draw into great length, and derive its chief importance from its aspect on parties in England. At the very moment when Burke was still fondly supporting his theory of the omnipotence of parliament over the colonies, he blindly insisted, that Chatham himself was the best bower anchor of the ministry.

With far truer instincts, Chatham divined that peril was near, and that it could be averted only by a circumscription of the absolute power of parliament. To further that end, the aged statesman paid a visit to Rockingham. At its opening, Chatham's countenance beamed with cordiality; but Rockingham had [193] learned as little as the ministers, and with a per-

Chap. XVII.} 1774. Dec.
verseness equal to theirs, insisted on maintaining the declaratory act. ‘The Americans have not called for its repeal,’ was his reply to all objections; and he never could be made to comprehend the forbearance of congress. So nothing remained for Chatham but to rely on himself. The opposition, thus divided, excited no alarm.

The king was inflexible; and the majority of the cabinet, instead of respecting Lord North's scruples, were intriguing to get him turned out, and his place supplied by a thorough assertor of British supremacy.

1775. Jan.
A cabinet council was held on the twelfth of January, and the current of its opinions drifted the minister into the war, which he wished to avoid. His col-
leagues refused to find in the proceedings of congress any honorable basis for conciliation. It was therefore resolved to interdict all commerce with the Americans; to protect the loyal, and to declare all others traitors and rebels. The vote was designed only to create division in the colonies, but it involved a civil war.

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