Page images

CHAP. II. Not long afterwards, the legislature of New 1763. York, probably with a view only to the authority

claimed by the governor, and not to that of the mother country, passed an act similar to that of Massachussetts, in which its own supremacy, not only in matters of taxation, but of general legislation, is expressly asserted. Both these acts, however, were disapproved in 'England, and the parliament asserted its authority by a law passed in 1696, declaring “that all laws, bye-laws, usages, and customs, which shall be in practice in any of the plantations repugnant to any law made or to be made in this kingdom relative to the said plantations, shall be void and of none effect.” And three years afterwards, an act was passed for the trial of pirates in America, in which is to be found the following very extraordinary clause. "Be it further declared, that if any of the governors, or any person or persons in authority there, shall refuse to yield obedience to this act, such refusal' is hereby declared to be a forfeiture of all and every the charters granted for the government and propriety of such plantations."

The English statute book furnishes many instances in which the legislative power of parliament over the colonies was exercised so as to make regulations completely internal; and in no instance, that is recollected, was their authority openly controverted. .

In the middle and southern provinces, no question respecting the supremacy of parliament

in matters of general legislation, ever existed. CHAP. II. The authority of such of their acts of internal 1763. regulation, as were made for America, as well as of those for the regulation of commerce, even by the imposition of duties, provided those duties were imposed for the purposes of regulation, had been at all times admitted. But even these colonies, however they might acknowledge the supremacy of parliament in other respects, denied the right of that body to tax them internally.

Their submission to the act for establishing a general post office, which was passed so early as the year 1710, and which raised a revenue on the carriage of letters, was thought no dereliction of this principle, because they never viewed it in the light of a tax, but rather as a compensa. tion paid for a service rendered, of which every person was at liberty to avail himself, or to decline. And all the duties on trade were understood to be imposed rather with a view to prevent foreign commerce, than to raise a revenue. Perhaps the legality of such acts was the less questioned, because they were not rigorously executed, and their violation was sometimes designedly overlooked.* A

* Sir Robert Walpole, when prime minister of England, is said to have declared “ that it was necessary to pass over some irregularities in the trade of the colonies with Europe. For by encouraging them to an extensive

CHAP. II. scheme for taxing the colonies by authority of 1763. parliament had been formed so early as the

year 1739, and recommended to government by a club of American merchants, at the head of whom was sir William Keith, governor of Pennsylvania. It was proposed to raise a body of regulars, to be stationed along the western frontier of the British settlements, for the protection of the Indian traders; the expense of which establishment was to be paid with monies arising from a duty on stamped paper and parchment in all the colonies, to be imposed by parliament. This plan, however, was not countenanced by the then minister, and it seems never to have been seriously taken up by the government until the year 1754, when a war, in which every part of the empire was deeply concerned, was about to commence. Some of the colonies themselves, appear then


growing foreign commerce, he was convinced, that if they should gain 1,500,000, full 1,250,000 of their gains would, within two years, be brought into his majesty's exchequer by the labour and produce of Great Britain consumed in America, a demand for which would increase with their wealth.” The same able statesman, when urged to establish a system of internal taxation in the colonies, replied with a smile, “ that he would leave that to some of his successors, who should have more courage, and less attachment to commerce than himself.” Confining them to the use of British manufactures was, he thought, “ taxing them more agreeably to their own constitution and to that of Great Britain."

to have wished, that a mode could be adopted CHAP. II. which should combine their exertions, and 1763. equitably apportion their expenses in the common cause. The attention of the minister was then turned to a plan of taxation by authority of parliament; and it will be recollected that a system was devised and recommended by him, as a substitute for the articles of union digested and agreed on by the convention at Albany. The temper and opinions of the colonists on this subject, which means were used to ascertain ;..., the impolicy of irritating them at a crisis which required all the exertions they were capable of making; furnished motives sufficient to induce a suspension, for the present, of a measure so delicate and dan. gerous; but it seems not to have been totally abandoned. · Of the right of parliament, as the supreme authority of the nation, to tax as well as govern the colonies, those who guided the councils of Britain seem not to have enter, tained a doubt; and the language of men in power, on more than one occasion through the war, indicated a disposition to put this right in practice, when the termination of hostilities should render it less dangerous to do so. The conduct of some of the colonies, especially those in which a proprietary government was established, in failing to furnish in time the aids required of them, contributed to foster this disposition. This total opposition of opinion,

March 10.

CHAP. II. on a subject the most interesting to the human 1763. heart, was now about to produce a system of

measures which tore asunder all the bonds of relationship and affection which had for ages subsisted, and planted almost inextinguishable hatred in bosoms where the warmest friendship

had so long been cultivated. 1764. The unexampled expenses of the war rendered

- unavoidable a great addition to the regular and usual taxes of the nation. Considerable difficulty was found in searching out new sources of revenue, and great opposition was made to every tax proposed. Thus embarrassed, the attention of administration was directed to the American continent. The system which had been laid aside was renewed, and on the motion of mr. Grenville, the first commissioner of the treasury, a resolution passed without much

debate, importing that it would be proper to Stamp act. impose certain stamp duties in the colonies and

plantations, for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, payable into the British exchequer. This resolution was not carried into immediate effect, and was only declaratory of an intention to be executed the ensuing year.

At the same time other resolutions passed, laying new duties on the trade of the colonies, which being in the form of commercial régulations were not generally contested on the ground of right, though they were imposed expressly for the purpose of raising revenue.

« PreviousContinue »