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Chapter 20:

Parliament Declares Massachusetts in rebellion.

January 23—February 9, 1775.

the confidence of the ministry reposed more and
Chap. XX.} 1775. Jan.
more on the central provinces, and Dartmouth took for granted the peaceful settlement of every question; yet six sloops of war and two frigates were under orders for America, and it was ostentatiously heralded that seven hundred marines from England, and three regiments of infantry with one of light horse from Ireland, making a reinforcement of two thousand four hundred and eighteen men, were to be prepared for embarkation; ‘less to act hostilely against the Americans, than to encourage the friends of government.’

In the house of commons, the various petitions in behalf of America, including those from London and Bristol, were consigned to a committee of oblivion, and ridiculed as already ‘dead in law.’ Hayley, of London, rebuked the levity of the house. ‘The rejection of the petitions of the trading interests,’ said he, on the twenty-sixth of January, ‘must drive on a [218] civil war with America.’ ‘The Americans,’ argued

Chap. XX.} 1775. Jan.
Jenkinson, ‘ought to submit to every act of the English legislature.’ ‘England,’ said Burke, ‘is like the archer that saw his own child in the hands of the adversary, against whom he was going to draw his bow.’ Fox charged upon North, that “the country was on the point of being involved in a civil war by his incapacity.” North complained: ‘The gentleman blames all my administration; yet he defended and supported much of it; nor do I know how I have deserved his reproaches.’ ‘I can tell the noble lord how,’ cried Fox; ‘by every species of falsehood and treachery.’ Sir George Savile asked that Franklin might be heard at the bar in support of the address of the American continental congress to the king; and after a violent debate, the house, by the usual majority, refused even to receive Franklin's petition.

The ministry were self-willed and strangely confident. The demand of Gage for twenty thousand men was put aside with scorn. ‘The violences committed by those who have taken up arms in Massachusetts Bay,’ wrote Dartmouth, in the king's name, ‘have appeared to me as the acts of a rude rabble, without plan, without concert, and without conduct; and therefore I think that a smaller force now, if put to the test, would be able to encounter them. The first and essential step to be taken towards reestab-lishing government, would be to arrest and imprison the principal actors and abettors in the provincial congress, whose proceedings appear in every light to be treason and rebellion. If means be devised to keep the measure secret until the moment of execution, it can hardly fail of success. Even if it cannot [219] be accomplished without bloodshed, and should be a

Chap XX.} 1775. Feb.
signal for hostilities, I must again repeat, that any efforts of the people, unprepared to encounter with a regular force, cannot be very formidable. The imprisonment of those who shall be made prisoners will prevent their doing any further mischief. The charter for the province of Massachusetts Bay empowers the governor to use and exercise the law martial in time of rebellion. The attorney and solicitor-general report that the facts stated in the papers you have transmitted, are the history of an actual and open rebellion in that province, and therefore the exercise of that power upon your own discretion is strictly justifiable.’

‘The minister must recede,’ wrote Garnier to Vergennes, ‘or lose America forever.’ ‘Your chief dependence,’ such were Franklin's words to Massachusetts, ‘must be on your own virtue and unanimity, which, under God, will bring you through all difficulties.’

There was no hope in England but from Chatham, who lost not a moment in his endeavor to prevent a civil war before it should be inevitably fixed; saying, ‘God's will be done, end let the old and new world be my judge.’ On the first day of February, he presented his plan for ‘true reconcilement and national accord.’ It was founded substantially on the proposal of the American congress; parliament was to repeal the statutes complained of, and to renounce the power of taxation; America in turn was to recognise its right of regulating the commerce of the whole empire, and by the free grants of her own assemblies, was to defray the expenses of [220] her governments. This was the true meaning of his

Chap. XX.} 1775. Feb.
motion, though clauses were added to make it less unpalatable to the pride of the British legislature. Franklin was persuaded that he sincerely wished to satisfy the Americans; Jefferson, on reading the bill, hoped that it might bring on a reconciliation; but Samuel Adams saw danger lurking under even a conditional recognition of the supremacy of parliament. ‘Let us take care,’ said he, ‘lest, instead of a thorn in the foot, we have a dagger in the heart.’

No sooner had Chatham concisely invited the assistance of the house in adapting his crude materials to the great end of an honorable and permanent adjustment, than Dartmouth spoke of the magnitude of the subject, and asked his consent that the bill should lie on the table for consideration. ‘I expect nothing more,’ was the ready answer. At this concession Sandwich, speaking for the majority in the cabinet, grew petulant. ‘The proposed measure,’ he said, ‘deserves only contempt, and ought to be immediately rejected. I can never believe it to be the production of any British peer. It appears to me rather the work of some American;’ and turning his face towards Franklin, who stood leaning on the bar, ‘I fancy,’ he continued, ‘I have in my eye the person who drew it up, one of the bitterest and most mischievous enemies this country has ever known.’

The peers turned towards the American, when Chatham retorted: ‘The plan is entirely my own; but if I were the first minister, and had the care of settling this momentous business, I should not be ashamed of publicly calling to my assistance a person [221] so perfectly acquainted with the whole of American

Chap. XX.} 1775. Feb.
affairs, one whom all Europe ranks with our Boyles and Newtons, as an honor not to the English nation only, but to human nature.’

Overawed by the temper of the house, Dartmouth, with his wonted weakness, which made him execute the worst measures even when he seemed inclined to the best, turned round against his own candor, and declared for rejecting the plan immediately. This even Grafton advised; and Gower demanded.

Perceiving the fixed purpose of the ministry, Chatham poured upon them a torrent of invective. ‘This bill,’ said he, ‘though rejected here, will make its way to the public, to the nation, to the remotest wilds of America; and however faulty or defective, it will at least manifest how zealous I have been to avert those storms which seem ready to burst on my country. Yet I am not surprised, that men who hate liberty, should detest those that prize it; or that those who want virtue themselves should persecute those who possess it. The whole of your political conduct has been one continued series of weakness and temerity, despotism and the most notorious servility, incapacity and corruption. I must allow you one merit, a strict attention to your own interests: in that view, who can wonder that you should put a negative on any measure which must deprive you of your places, and reduce you to that insignificance, for which God and nature designed you.’

Lord Chatham's bill, though on so important a subject, offered by so great a statesman, and supported by most able and learned speakers, was resisted [222] by ignorance, prejudice and passion, by mis-

Chap. XX.} 1775. Feb.
conceptions and wilful perversion of plain truth, and was rejected on the first reading by a vote of sixtyone to thirty-two.

‘Hereditary legislators!’ thought Franklin. ‘There would be more propriety, in having hereditary professors of mathematics! But the elected house of commons is no better, nor ever will be while the electors receive money for their votes, and pay money wherewith ministers may bribe their representatives when chosen.’ Yet the wilfulness of the lords was happy for America; for Chatham's proposition contained clauses, to which it never could safely have assented, and yet breathed a spirit which must have calmed its resentment, distracted its councils, and palsied its will. It had now no choice left but between submission and independence.

The number and weight of the minority should have led the ministers to pause; but they rushed on with headlong indiscretion, thinking not to involve the empire in civil war, but to subdue the Americans by fear. The first step towards inspiring terror was, to declare Massachusetts in a state of rebellion, and to pledge the parliament and the whole force of Great Britain to its reduction; the next, by prohibiting the American fisheries, to starve New England; the next, to call out the savages on the rear of the colonies; the next, to excite a servile insurrection. Accordingly, Lord North on the day after Chatham's defeat, proposed to the commons a joint address to the king to declare that a rebellion existed in Massachusetts, and to pledge their lives and properties to its suppression. [223]

‘The colonies are not in a state of rebellion,’

Chap XX.} 1775. Feb.
said Dunning; ‘but resisting the attempt to establish despotism in America, as a prelude to the same system in the mother country. Opposition to arbitrary measures is warranted by the constitution, and established by precedent.’ ‘Nothing but the display of vigor,’ said Thurlow, ‘will prevent the American colonies becoming independent states.’

Grant, the same officer, who had been scandalously beaten at Pittsburg, and had made himself so offensive in South Carolina, asserted amidst the loudest cheering, that he knew the Americans very well, and was certain they would not fight; ‘that they were not soldiers and never could be made so, being naturally pusillanimous and incapable of discipline; that a very slight force would be more than sufficient for their complete reduction;’ and he fortified his statement by repeating their peculiar expressions, and ridiculing their religious enthusiasm, manners, and ways of living, greatly to the entertainment of the house.

At this stage of the debate, Fox, displaying for the first time the full extent of his abilities, which made him for more than a quarter of a century the leading debater on the side of the liberal party in England, in a speech of an hour and twenty minutes, entered into the history of the dispute with great force and temper, and stated truly, that ‘the reason why the colonies objected to taxes for revenue was, that such revenue in the hands of government took out of the hands of the people that were to be governed, that control which every Englishman thinks he ought to have over the government to which his [224] rights and interests are intrusted.’ The defence of

Chap. XX.} 1775. Feb.
the ministry rested chiefly on Wedderburn. Gibbon had prepared himself to speak, but neither he nor Lord George Germain could find room for a single word.

Lord North again shrunk from measures against which his nature revolted; and Franklin, whose mediation was once more solicited, received a paper containing the results of ministerial conferences on ‘the hints’ which he had written. ‘We desire nothing but what is necessary to our security and well-being,’ said Franklin to the friendly agents who came to him. In reply they declared with authority, that the repeal of the tea-act and the Boston port-act would be conceded; the Quebec act might be amended by reducing the province to its ancient limits; but the Massachusetts acts must be continued, both ‘as real amendments’ of the constitution of that province, and ‘as a standing example of the power of parliament.’ Franklin's reply was brief: ‘While parliament claims the right of altering American constitutions at pleasure, there can be no agreement, for we are rendered unsafe in every privilege.’ ‘An agreement is necessary for America,’ it was answered; ‘it is so easy for Britain to burn all your seaport towns.’ ‘My little property,’ rejoined Franklin, ‘consists of houses in those towns; you may make bonfires of them whenever you please; the fear of losing them will never alter my resolution to resist to the last the claim of parliament.’

The plan of intimidation proceeded. When on the sixth of February the address was reported to the house, Lord John Cavendish earnestly ‘deprecated [225] civil war, necessarily involving a foreign one

Chap. XX.} 1775. Feb. 7.
also.’ ‘A fit and proper resistance,’ said Wilkes, ‘is a revolution, not a rebellion. Who can tell, whether in consequence of this day's violent and 7. mad address, the scabbard may not be thrown away by the Americans as well as by us, and should success attend them, whether, in a few years, the Americans may not celebrate the glorious era of the revolution of 1775 as we do that of 1688? Success crowned the generous effort of our forefathers for freedom; else they had died on the scaffold as traitors and rebels, and the period of our history which does us the most honor, would have been deemed a rebellion against lawful authority, not the expulsion of a tyrant.’

During the debate, which lasted till half past 2 in the morning, Lord North threw off the responsibility of the tax on tea, in order to prepare the way for offering the repeal of that tax as the basis for conciliation. It was too late, for a new question of the power of parliament over charters and laws had intervened. The disavowal offended his colleagues, and in itself was not honest; his vote had decided the measure in the cabinet, and it was unworthy of a minister of the crown to intimate that he had obsequiously followed a chief like Grafton, or yielded his judgment to the king.

Lord George Germain was fitly selected to deliver the message of the commons at the bar of the lords. ‘There is in the address one paragraph which I totally disclaim;’ said Rockingham; ‘I openly delare, I will risk neither life nor fortune in support of the measures recommended. Four-fifths of the [226] nation are opposed to this address; for myself, I shall

Chap. XX.} 1775. Feb. 7.
not tread in the steps of my noble but ill-fated ancestor, Lord Strafford, who first courted popular favor, and then deserted the cause he had embarked in; as I have set out by supporting the cause of the people, so I shall never, for any temptation whatsoever, desert or betray them.’

Mansfield, as if in concert with North, took the occasion to deny having advised the tea tax; which he condemned as the most absurd measure that could be imagined. ‘The original cause of the dispute,’ said Camden, ‘is the duty on tea,’ and he too disclaimed having had the least hand in that measure. ‘It is mean,’ said Grafton, ‘for him at this time to screen himself, and shift the blame off his own shoulders, to lay it on those of others. The measure was consented to in the cabinet. He acquiesced in it; he presided in the house of lords when it passed through its several stages; and he should equally share its censure or its merit.’

A passionate debate ensued, during which Mansfield, in reply to Richmond, praised the Boston port act and its attendant measures, including the regulating act for Massachusetts, as worthy to be gloried in for their wisdom, policy, and equity; but he denied that they were in any degree the fruit of his influence. Now they were founded on the legal opinions and speeches of Mansfield, and he had often in the house of lords been the mouth-piece of Hutchinson, whose opinions reached him through Mauduit. Shelburne insinuated that Mansfield's disclaimer was in substance not correct. Mansfield retorted by charging Shelburne with uttering gross falsehoods; [227] and Shelburne in a rejoinder gave the illustrious

Chap. XX.} 1775. Feb. 9.
jurist the lie.

On Thursday, the ninth day of February, the lord chancellor, the speaker, and a majority of the lords and commons went in state to the palace, and in the presence of the representatives of the great powers of Europe, presented to George the Third the sanguinary address which the two houses of parliament had jointly adopted, and which, in the judgment of Rockingham and his friends, ‘amounted to a declaration of war.’ The king, in his reply, pledged himself speedily and effectually to enforce ‘obedience to the laws and the authority of the supreme legislature.’ His heart was hardened. Having just heard of the seizure of ammunition at the fort in New Hampshire, he intended that his language should ‘open the eyes of the deluded Americans.’ ‘If it does not,’ said he to his faltering minister, ‘it must set every delicate man at liberty to avow the propriety of the most coercive measures.’

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