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Chapter 22:

Has New England a right in the Newfoundland fisheries?

February, 1775.

on the tenth of February, after the speaker reported
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to the house of commons the answer to their address, Lord North presented a message from the king, asking the required ‘augmentation to his forces.’ The minister, who still clung to the hope of reducing Massachusetts by the terrors of legislation, next proposed to restrain the commerce of New England and exclude its fishermen from the Banks of Newfoundland. The best shipbuilders in the world were at Boston, and their yards had been closed; the New England fishermen were now to be restrained from a toil in which they excelled the world. Thus the joint right to the fisheries was made a part of the great American struggle.

‘God and nature,’ said Johnston, ‘have given that fishery to New England and not to Old.’ Dunning defended the right of the Americans to fish on the Banks. ‘If rebellion is resistance to government,’ said Sir George Savile, ‘it must sometimes be [240] justifiable. May not a people, taxed without their

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
consent, and their petitions against such taxation rejected, their charters taken away without hearing, and an army let loose upon them without a possibility of obtaining justice, be said to be in justifiable rebellion?’ But the ministerial measure, which, by keeping the New England fishermen at home provoked discontent and provided recruits for an insurgent army, was carried through all its stages by great majorities. Bishop Newton, in the lords, reasoned ‘that rebellion is the sin of witchcraft, and that one so unnatural as that of New England, could be ascribed to nothing less than diabolical infatuation.’

The minister of France took the occasion to request the most rigorous and precise orders to all British naval officers not to annoy the commerce of the French colonies. ‘Such orders,’ answered Rochford, ‘have been given; and we have the greatest desire to live with you on the best understanding and the most perfect friendship.’ A letter from Lord Stormont, the British ambassador at Paris, was also cited in the house of lords to prove that France equally wished a continuance of peace. ‘It signifies nothing,’ said Richmond; ‘you can put no trust in Gallic faith, except so long as it shall be their interest to keep their word.’ With this Rochford, the secretary of state, readily agreed; proving, however, from Raynal's History of the two Indies, that it was not for the interest of France that the English colonies should throw off the yoke. The next courier took to the king of France the report, that neither the opposition nor the British minister put faith in his sincerity; and the inference seemed justified that they themselves were insincere. [241]

The English mind was in the process of change.

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
The destruction of the tea at Boston had been condemned as a lawless riot, for which the pride of the nation demanded an indemnity. But the proposal to enter upon a civil war with a view to enforce for parliament a power of taxation which it could never render effective, or a mutilation of a charter to which the public was indifferent, was received by merchants, tradesmen, and the majority of the people with abhorrence. Lord North himself leaned far towards the Americans, and would gladly have escaped from his embarrassments by concession or resigning office; but George the Third, who liked his pliant minister too well to give him up, yielded just enough to his advice to retain him in his place and yet to baffle his design. ‘I am a friend to holding out the olive branch,’ wrote the king, ‘yet I believe that when once vigorous measures appear to be the only means, the colonies will submit. I shall never look to the right or to the left, but steadily pursue that track which my conscience dictates to be the right one.’ The preparations for war were, therefore, to proceed; but he consented, that the commanders of the naval and military forces might be invested with commissions for the restoration of peace according to a measure to be proposed by Lord North. From Franklin, whose aid in the scheme was earnestly desired, the minister once more sought to learn the least amount of concession that could be accepted.

No sooner was Franklin consulted, than he expressed his approbation of the proposed commission, and of Lord Howe as one of its members; and to smooth the way to conciliation, he offered at once the [242] payment of an indemnity to the India company, pro-

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
vided the Massachusetts acts should be repealed. ‘Without the entire repeal,’ said he, ‘the language of the proposal is, try on your fetters first, and then if you don't like them, we will consider.’ On the eighteenth of February, Franklin, by appointment, once more saw Lord Howe. ‘Consent,’ said he, ‘to accompany me, and co-operate with me in the great work of reconciliation:’ and he coupled his request with a promise of ample appointments and subsequent rewards. ‘Accepting favors,’ said the American, ‘would destroy the influence you propose to use; but let me see the propositions, and if I approve of them, I will hold myself ready to accompany you at an hour's warning.’ His opinions, which he had purposely reduced to writing and signed with his own hand, were communicated to Lord Howe, and through him to Lord North, as his last words; and they were these: ‘The Massachusetts must suffer all the hazards and mischiefs of war, rather than admit the alteration of their charter and laws by parliament. They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’

The minister was disheartened; he stood almost alone, helpless for the want of a vigorous will, dreading the conflict with America, yet feebly and vainly resisting the impetuosity of his colleagues. Franklin was informed on the twentieth, that his principles and those of parliament were as yet too wide from each other for discussion; and on the same day, Lord North, armed with the king's consent in writing, proposed in the house of commons a plan of conciliation. [243] ‘Now,’ said Vergennes, as he heard of it,

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
‘now more than ever is the time for us to keep our eyes wide open.’

The proposal was formed on the principle, that parliament, if the colonies would tax themselves to its satisfaction, would impose on them no duties except for the regulation of commerce. A wild opposition ensued. Lord North could not quell the storm, and for two hours he seemed in a considerable minority, more from the knowledge of his disposition to relent, than for the substance of his measure. ‘The plan should have been signed by John Hancock and Otis,’ said Rigby, in his inconsiderate zeal to con-

demn the minister. Welbore Ellis, and others, particularly young Acland, angry at his manifest repugnance to cruelty, declared against him loudly and roughly. ‘Whether any colony will come in on these terms I know not,’ said Lord North; ‘but it is just and humane to give them the option. If one consents, a link of the great chain is broken. If not, it will convince men of justice and humanity at home, that in America they mean to throw off all dependence.’ Jenkinson reminded the house, that Lord North stood on ground chosen by Grenville; but the Bedford party none the less threatened to vote against the minister, till Sir Gilbert Elliot, the well known friend of the king, brought to his aid the royal influence, and secured for the motion a large majority.

Lord North must have fallen, but for the active interposition of the king. Yet the conciliation which he offered, could not lead to an agreement, for no confidence could be placed in its author, who was the [244] feeble head of an adverse ministry. ‘Chatham,’

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
wrote the French minister, ‘can say like Scanderbeg, I give my scimitar, but not the arm to wield it.’ The two systems, moreover, were essentially in contrast with each other. Chatham denied the right of parliament to tax; North asserted it; Chatham asked free grants from deliberative assemblies in the full exercise of the right to judge of their own ability to give; North put chains on the colonies, and invited them one by one to make a bid, each for its separate ransom; Chatham proposed to repeal the Massachusetts acts; North was silent about them. Yet even this semblance of humanity was grudged. To recover his lost ground with the extreme supporters of authority, North was obliged to join with Suffolk and Rochford in publishing ‘a paper declaring his intention to make no concessions.’

The army in Boston was to be raised to ten thousand men, and the general to be superseded on account of his incapacity to direct such a force. ‘If fifty thousand men and twenty millions of money,’ said David Hume, ‘were intrusted to such a lukewarm coward as Gage, they never could produce any effect.’ Amherst declined the service, unless the army should be raised to twenty thousand men; the appointment of William Howe was therefore made public. He possessed no one quality of a great general, and he was selected for his name. On receiving the offer of the command, ‘Is it a proposition?’ he asked, ‘or an order from the king?’ and when told an order, he replied, it was his duty to obey it. ‘You should have refused to go against this people,’ cried the voters of Nottingham, with whom he had broken [245] faith. ‘Your brother died there in the cause of

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
freedom; they have shown their gratitude to your name and family by erecting a monument to him.’ ‘If you go,’ said many of them, ‘we hope you may fall.’ ‘We cannot wish success to the undertaking,’ said many more. ‘My going thither,’ wrote Howe in apology, ‘is not my seeking. I was ordered, and could not refuse. Private feelings ought to give way to the service of the public. There are many loyal and peaceable subjects in America; the insurgents are very few in comparison. When they find they are not supported in their frantic ideas by the more moderate, they will, from fear of punishment, subside to the laws. This country must now fix the foundation of its stability with America, by procuring a lasting obedience.’

At the same time, Lord Howe, the admiral, was announced as commander of the naval forces and pacificator; for it was pretended that the olive branch and the sword were to be sent together.

Of the two major generals who attended Howe, the first in rank was Sir Henry Clinton, son of a former governor in New York, related to the families of Newcastle and Bedford, and connected by party with the ministry. The other was John Burgoyne. A bastard son of one peer, he had made a runaway match with the daughter of another. In the last war he served in Portugal with spirit, and was brave even to rashness. His talent for description made him respectable as a man of letters; as a dramatic writer, his place is not among the worst. He was also a ready speaker in the house of commons, inclining to the liberal side in politics; yet [246] ready to risk life and political principles for the dar

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
ling object of effacing the shame of his birth, by winning military glory with rank and fortune.

His service in America was preceded by a public parade of his principles. ‘I am confident,’ said the new devotee in the house of commons, ‘there is not an officer or soldier in the king's service who does not think the parliamentary right of Great Britain a cause to fight for, to bleed and die for.’ The assertion was extravagant; many of the best would not willingly bear arms against their kindred in America.

In reply to Burgoyne, Henry Temple Luttrell, whom curiosity once led to travel many hundreds of miles along the flourishing and hospitable provinces of the continent, bore testimony to their temperance, urbanity, and spirit, and predicted that, if set to the proof, they would evince the magnanimity of republican Rome. He saw in the aspect of infant America, features which at maturer years denoted a most colossal force. ‘Switzerland and the Netherlands,’ he reminded the house, ‘demonstrate what extraordinary obstacles a small band of insurgents may surmount in the cause of liberty.’

While providing for a reinforcement to its army, England enjoined the strictest watchfulness on its consuls and agents in every part of Europe, to intercept all munitions of war destined for the colonies. To check the formation of magazines on the Dutch island of St. Eustatius, which was the resort of New England mariners, the British envoy, with dictatorial menaces, required the States General of Holland to forbid their subjects from so much as transporting military stores to the West Indies, beyond the abso [247] lute wants of their own colonies. Of the French

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
government, preventive measures were requested in the most courteous words.

Meantime, an English vessel had set sail immediately to convey to the colonies news of Lord North's proposal, in the confident belief that, under the mediation of a numerous army, provinces which neither had the materials for war, nor the means of obtaining them; would be divided by the mere hint of giving up the point of taxation. ‘The plan,’ said Chatham, ‘will be spurned; and every thing but justice and reason, prove vain to men like the Americans.’ ‘It is impossible,’ said Fox, ‘to use the same resolution to make the Americans believe their government will give up the right of taxing, and the mother country that it will be maintained.’

Franklin sent advice to Massachusetts by no means to begin war without the advice of the continental congress, unless on a sudden emergency; ‘but New England alone,’ said he, ‘can hold out for ages against this country, and if they are firm and united, in seven years will win the day.’ ‘By wisdom and courage, the colonies will find friends everywhere;’ thus he wrote to James Bowdoin of Boston, as if predicting a French alliance. ‘The eyes of all Christendom are now upon us, and our honor as a people is become a matter of the utmost consequence. If we tamely give up our rights in this contest, a century to come will not restore us, in the opinion of the world; we shall be stamped with the character of dastards, poltroons, and fools; and be despised and trampled upon, not by this haughty, insolent nation only, but by all mankind. Present [248] inconveniences are, therefore, to be borne with forti-

Chap. XXII.} 1775. Feb.
tude, and better times expected.’

‘Every negotiation which shall proceed from the present administration,’ wrote Garnier to Vergennes, ‘will be without success in the colonies. Will the king of England lose America rather than change his ministry? Time must solve the problem; if I am well informed, the submission of the Americans is not to be expected.’

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