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Chapter 18:

Chatham Lays the foundation of peace.

January 20, 1775.

at the meeting of parliament after the holidays,
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Lord North, who had no plan of his own, presented papers relating to America. Burke complained of them as partial. Chatham, who alone among the public men of England had the sagacity and courage to propose what was necessary for conciliation, was reminded of the statesman who said to his son: ‘See with how little wisdom this world of ours is governed;’ and he pictured to himself Ximenes and Cortes discussing their merits in the shades.

The twentieth of January was the first day of the

Jan. 20.
session in the house of lords. It is not probable that even one of the peers had heard of the settlements beyond the Alleghanies, where the Watauga and the Forks of Holston flow to the Tennessee. Yet on the same day, the lords of that region, most of them Presbyterians of Scottish Irish descent, met in council near Abingdon. Their united congregations, having suffered from sabbaths too much profaned, or [195] wasted in melancholy silence at home, had called
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Charles Cummings to the pastoral charge of their precious and immortal souls. The men never went to public worship without being armed, or without their families. Their minister, on Sabbath morning, would ride to the service, armed with shot pouch and rifle. Their meeting-house, which was always filled, was a large cabin of unhewn logs; and when about twice in the year the bread and cup were distributed, the table was spread outside of the church in the neighboring grove. The news from congress reached them slowly; but on receiving an account of what had been done, they assembled in convention, and the spirit of freedom swept through their minds as naturally as the ceaseless forest wind sighs through the firs down the sides of the Black Mountains. They adhered unanimously to the association of congress, and named as their committee, Charles Cummings, their minister; Preston, Christian, Arthur Campbell, John Campbell, Evan Shelby, and others. They felt that they had a country; and adopting the delegates of Virginia as their representatives, they addressed them as men whose conduct would immortalize them in its annals. ‘We explored,’ said they, ‘our uncultivated wilderness, bordering on many nations of savages, and surrounded by mountains almost inaccessible to any but these savages. But even to these remote regions the hand of power hath pursued us, to strip us of that liberty and property, with which God, nature, and the rights of humanity have vested us. We are willing to contribute all in our power, if applied to constitutionally, but cannot think of submitting our liberty or property [196] to a venal British parliament, or a corrupt min-
Chap. XVIII.} 1775. Jan. 20.
istry. We are deliberately and resolutely determined never to surrender any of our inestimable privileges to any power upon earth, but at the expense of our lives. These are our real though unpolished sentiments of liberty and loyalty, and in them we are resolved to live and die.’

While they were publishing in the western forests this declaration of a purpose, which they were sure to make good, Chatham was attempting to rouse the ministry from its indifference. ‘Your presence at this day's debate,’ said he to Franklin, whom he met by appointment in the lobby of the house of lords, ‘ill be of more service to America than mine;’ and walking with him arm in arm, he would have introduced him near the throne among the sons and brothers of peers; but being reminded of the rule of the house, placed him below the bar, where he was still more conspicuous.

So soon as Dartmouth had laid the papers before the house, Chatham rose, and after inveighing bitterly against the dilatoriness of the communication, moved to address the king for ‘immediate orders to remove the forces from the town of Boston as soon as possible.’

‘My lords!’ he continued, with a crowd of Americans as his breathless listeners,

the way must be immediately opened for reconciliation; it will soon be too late; an hour now lost may produce years of calamity. This measure of recalling the troops from Boston, is preparatory to the restoration of your peace, and the establishment of your prosperity.

Resistance to your acts was necessary as it was [197] just; and your imperious doctrine of the omnipo-

Chap. XVIII.} 1775. Jan. 20.
tence of parliament and the necessity of submission, will be found equally impotent to convince or to enslave.

The means of enforcing thraldom are as weak in practice, as they are unjust in principle. General Gage and the troops under his command are penned up, pining in inglorious inactivity. You may call them an army of safety and of guard; but they are in truth an army of impotence; and to make the folly equal to the disgrace, they are an army of irritation. But this tameness, however contemptible, cannot be censured; for the first drop of blood, shed in civil and unnatural war, will make a wound that years, perhaps ages, may not heal. Their force would be most disproportionately exerted against a brave, generous, and united people, with arms in their hands, and courage in their hearts: three millions of people, the genuine descendants of a valiant and pious ancestry, driven to those deserts by the narrow maxims of a superstitious tyranny. And is the spirit of persecution never to be appeased? Are the brave sons of those brave forefathers to inherit their sufferings, as they have inherited their virtues? Are they to sustain the infliction of the most oppressive and unexampled severity? They have been condemned unheard. The indiscriminate hand of vengeance has lumped together innocent and guilty; with all the formalities of hostility, has blocked up the town of Boston, and reduced to beggary and famine thirty thousand inhabitants.

But his Majesty is advised that the union in America cannot last! I pronounce it a union, solid, [198] permanent, and effectual. Its real stamina are to be

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looked for among the cultivators of the land; in their simplicity of life is found the integrity and courage of freedom. These true sons of the earth are invincible.

This spirit of independence, animating the nation of America, is not new among them; it is, and has ever been, their confirmed persuasion. When the repeal of the stamp act was in agitation, a person of undoubted respect and authenticity on that subject, assured me that these were the prevalent and steady principles of America; that you might destroy their towns, and cut them off from the superfluities, perhaps the conveniences of life; but that they were prepared to despise your power, and would not lament their loss, whilst they have—what, my lords?—their woods and their liberty.

If illegal violences have been committed in America, prepare the way for acknowledgment and satisfaction; but cease your indiscriminate inflictions; amerce not thirty thousand; oppress not three millions for the fault of forty or fifty individuals. Such severity of injustice must irritate your colonies to unappeasable rancor. What though you march from town to town, and from province to province? How shall you be able to secure the obedience of the country you leave behind you in your progress, to grasp the dominion of eighteen hundred miles of continent?

This resistance to your arbitrary system of taxation might have been foreseen from the nature of things and of mankind; above all from the whiggish spirit flourishing in that country. The spirit [199] which now resists your taxation in America, is the

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same which formerly opposed loans, benevolences and ship money in England; the same which, by the bill of rights, vindicated the English constitution; 20. the same which established the essential maxim of your liberties, that no subject of England shall be taxed but by his own consent.

This glorious spirit of whiggism animates three millions in America, aided by every whig in England, to the amount, I hope, of double the American numbers. Ireland they have to a man. Let this distinction then remain forever ascertained; taxation is theirs, commercial regulation is ours. They say you have no right to tax them without their consent; they say truly. I recognise to the Americans their supreme, unalienable right in their property; a right which they are justified in the defence of to the last extremity. To maintain this principle is the great common cause of the whigs on the other side of the Atlantic, and on this.

Tis liberty to liberty engaged;

the alliance of God and nature; immutable and eternal.

To such united force, what force shall be opposed? What, my lords? A few regiments in America, and seventeen or eighteen thousand men at home! The idea is too ridiculous to take up a moment of your lordships' time. Unless the fatal acts are done away, the hour of danger must arrive in all its horrors, and then these boastful ministers, spite of all their confidence, shall be forced to abandon principles which they avow, but cannot defend; measures [200] which they presume to attempt, but cannot hope to

Chap. XVIII.} 1775. Jan. 20.

It is not repealing a piece of parchment, that can restore America to our bosom: you must repeal her fears and her resentments; and you may then hope for her love and gratitude. Insulted with an armed force posted at Boston, irritated with a hostile array before her eyes, her concessions, if you could force them, would be insecure. But it is more than evident, that united as they are, you cannot force them to your unworthy terms of submission.

When your lordships look at the papers transmitted us from America, when you consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must avow, that in all my reading,—and I have read Thucydides and have studied and admired the master-states of the world,—for solidity of reason, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion under a complication of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the general congress at Philadelphia. The histories of Greece and Rome give us nothing equal to it, and all attempts to impose servitude upon such a mighty continental nation, must be vain. We shall be forced ultimately to retract; let us retract while we can, not when we must. These violent acts must be repealed; you will repeal them; I pledge myself for it, I stake my reputation on it, that you will in the end repeal them. Avoid, then, this humiliating necessity. With a dignity becoming your exalted situation, make the first advances to concord, peace, and happiness, for that is your true dignity. Concession [201] comes with better grace from superior power;

Chap. XVIII.} 1775. Jan. 20.
and establishes solid confidence on the foundations of affection and gratitude. Be the first to spare; throw down the weapons in your hand. 20.

Every motive of justice and policy, of dignity and of prudence, urges you to allay the ferment in America by a removal of your troops from Boston, by a repeal of your acts of parliament, and by demonstrating amicable dispositions towards your colonies. On the other hand, to deter you from perseverance in your present ruinous measures, every danger and every hazard impend; foreign war hanging over you by a thread; France and Spain watching your conduct, and waiting for the maturity of your errors.

If the ministers persevere in thus misadvising and misleading the king, I will not say that the king is betrayed, but I will pronounce that the kingdom is undone; I will not say, that they can alienate the affections of his subjects from his crown, but I will affirm, that, the American jewel out of it, they will make the crown not worth his wearing.

The words of Chatham, when reported to the king, recalled his last interview with George Grenville, and stung him to the heart. He raved at the wise counsels of the greatest statesman of his dominions, as the words of an abandoned politician; classed him with Temple and Grenville as ‘void of gratitude;’ and months afterwards was still looking for the time, ‘when decrepitude or age should put an end to him as the trumpet of sedition.’

With a whining delivery, of which the bad effect was heightened by its vehemence, Suffolk assured [202] the house, that in spite of Lord Chatham's prophecy,

Chap. XVIII.} 1775. Jan. 20.
the government was resolved to repeal not one of the acts but to use all possible means to bring the Americans to obedience. After declaiming against their conduct with a violence that was almost madness, he boasted of ‘having been one of the first to advise coercive measures.’

Shelburne gave his adhesion to the sentiments of Chatham, not from personal engagements, but solely on account of his conviction of their wisdom, justice, and propriety. Camden, who in the discussion surpassed every one but Chatham, returned to his old ground. ‘This,’ he declared, ‘I will say, not only as a statesman, politician, and philosopher, but as a common lawyer; my lords, you have no right to tax America; the natural rights of man, and the immutable laws of nature, are all with that people. King, lords, and commons, are fine sounding names; but king, lords, and commons may become tyrants as well as others; it is as lawful to resist the tyranny of many as of one. Somebody once asked the great Selden in what book you might find the law for resisting tyranny. ‘It has always been the custom of England,’ answered Selden, ‘and the custom of England is the law of the land.’’

‘My lords,’ said Lord Gower with contemptuous sneers, ‘let the Americans talk about their natural and divine rights! their rights as men and citizens! their rights from God and nature! I am for enforcing these measures.’ Rochford held Lord Chatham, jointly with the Americans, responsible in his own person for disagreeable consequences. Lyttelton reproached Chatham with spreading the fire [203] of sedition, and the Americans with designing to

Chap. XVIII.} 1775. Jan. 20.
emancipate themselves from the act of navigation.

Chatham closed the debate as he had opened it, by insisting on the right of Great Britain to regulate the commerce of the whole empire; but as to the right of the Americans to exemption from taxation, except by their implied or express assent, they derived it from God, nature, and the British constitution. Franklin with rapt admiration listened to the man, who on that day had united the highest wisdom and eloquence. ‘His speech,’ said the young William Pitt, ‘was the most forcible that can be imagined; in matter and manner far beyond what I can express; it must have an infinite effect without doors, the bar being crowded with Americans.’

The statesmanship of Chatham and the close reasoning of Camden, ‘availed no more than the whistling of the winds;’ the motion was rejected by a vote of sixty-eight against eighteen; but the duke of Cumberland, one of the king's own brothers, was found in the minority. The king, triumphing in ‘the very handsome majority,’ was sure ‘nothing could be more calculated to bring the Americans to submission;’ but the debate of that day, notwithstanding that Rockingham had expressed his adherence to his old opinion of the propriety of the declaratory act, went forth to the colonies as an assurance that the inevitable war would be a war with a ministry, not with the British people. It took from the contest the character of internecine hatred, to be transmitted from generation to generation, and showed that the true spirit of England, which had grown great by freedom, was on the side of America. Its [204] independence was foreshadowed, and three of Chat-

Chap. XVIII.} 1775. Jan. 20.
ham's hearers on that day, Franklin, Shelburne, and his own son, William Pitt, never ceased in exertions, till their joint efforts established peace and international good will.

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