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The colonies had been long in the habit of chap. II. submitting to duties laid by parliament on their 1764. trade, and had not generally distinguished between those which were imposed for the mere purpose of regulating commerce, and this, which being also designed to raise a revenue, was, in truth, to every purpose, a real tax. It is therefore probable that this system, if unconnected with the act for raising a revenue internally, might have been carried into operation without exciting any general combination of the colonies against it. Great disgust, however, was occasioned by the increase of the duties, by the new regulations which were made, and by the manner in which those regulations were to be executed. The gainful commerce so long clandestinely carried on with the French and Spanish colonies, in the progress of which an evasion of the duties imposed by law had been overlooked by the government, was now to be very rigorously suppressed by taxes amounting to a prohibition of any fair trade, the exact collection of which was to be enforced by measures not much less offensive in themselves, than on account of the object to be effected by them.
Completely to prevent smuggling, all the officers in the sea service, who were on the American station, were converted into revenue officers, and directed to take the custom house oaths. Being unacquainted with the custom
CHAP. Ir. house laws and usages, many vexatious seizures 1764. were made, for which no redress could be
obtained but in England. The penalties and forfeitures too, accruing under the act, as if the usual authorities could not be trusted, were made recoverable in any court of vice admiralty in the colonies. It will readily be conceived, how much more odious a law, made to effect an odious object, must have been rendered by such provisions as these.
Whatever might have been the fate of the commercial regulations, the resolution concerning the duties on stamps excited a great and general ferment in America. The right of parliament to impose taxes on the colonies, for the
purpose of raising a revenue, became the subject of universal conversation, and was almost universally denied. Petitions to the king, and memorials to both houses of parliament, against the measure, were transmitted by several of the provincial assemblies to the board of trade in England, to be presented immediately to his majesty; and to parliament, when that body should again be convened. * The house of representatives of Massachussetts instructed their agent to use his utmost endeavours to obtain a repeal of the late act respecting CHAP. II. duties, and to prevent the passage of the stamp 1764. act, or any other act levying taxes or imposi. tions of any kind on the American provinces. A committee was appointed to act in the recess of the general court, with instructions to cor. respond with the legislatures of the respective colonies, to communicate to them the instructions given to their agent, and, to solicit their concurrence in similar measures. These legislative proceedings were in many places seconded by associations, entered into by individuals, for diminishing the use of British manufactures.
* These petitions, as well as one from the merchants trading to America, were not received by parliament, it being alleged to be contrary to order to receive petitions against money-bills.
Perceiving the opposition to be encountered by adhering to the vote of the last session, the administration informed the agents of the colonies in London, that, if they would propose any other mode of raising the sum required, * their proposition would be accepted, and the stamp duty laid aside. The agents replied, that they were not authorized to propose any substitute, but were ordered to oppose the bill, when it should be brought into the house, by petitions questioning the right claimed by parliament to tax the colonies. The controversy was now placed on ground which seemed to admit of no compromise.
CHAP. IL The right of taxation was as peremptorily 1765. denied by one party, as it was asserted by the
other. Determined to persevere in the system he had adopted, and believing successful resistance to be absolutely impossible, mr. Grenville brought into parliament his celebrated act for imposing stamp duties in America, and it passed both houses by very great majorities, but not without animated debate. So little weight does the human mind allow to arguments the most conclusive, when directed against the existence of power in ourselves, that general Conway stood alone, in denying the right claimed by the British legislature. He alone* had the courage to stem the torrent of public opinion, and with magnanimous firmness to protest against their right to give away the money of those, who were not represented in that body."
The arguments of the minority, on this interesting occasion, were unusually ardent. The claim of England was declared “to be diametrically opposite to the letter and spirit of their constitution, which has established as a fundamental axiom, that taxation and repre. sentation are inseparable from each other; and,
* Mr. Pitt was not in the house ; and mr. Ingersoll in his letter states that alderman Beckford joined general Conway.
that as the colonies were not, and from local CHAP. II. and political obstacles could not be, repre. 1765. sented in the British parliament, it would be the very essence of tyranny to attempt to exercise an authority over them, which from its nature must inevitably lead to gross abuse. For when Great Britain should be in full possession of the power now contended for, could it be imagined that parliament would not rather vote away the money of the colonists, than of themselves and their own constituents ?»
The measure was treated, not only as tyrannical, but as unnecessary also. America, it was said, “had never been deficient in contributing her full proportion towards the expenses of the wars, in which, conjointly with England, she had been involved; and that, in the course of the last memorable contest, large sums had been repeatedly voted, as an indemnification to the colonies, for exertions allowed to be disproportionate to their means and resources.”* Mr. Grenville had concluded a long argument in favour of the bill with saying “these children of our own planting, nourished by our
Parliament had granted at different times to the American colonies, by way of reimbursement for their extraordinary expenses in the course of the last war, the sum of 1,031,666l. 138. 4d. sterling. And the colonists are said to have lost in the course of the war nearly thirty thousand of their young men.