« PreviousContinue »
From that extremity they had a territory extending southward, to Cape Florida in the Gulph of Mexico, in the latitude of 25° north: and consequently near 4000 miles long in a direct line; and to the westward, their boundaries reached to nations unknown even to the Indians of Canada.
Of the revolution that has since taken place, by which a great part of those territories have been separated from the British empire, and which has given a new face to the western world, an impartial narrative shall be attempted. It will, however, be difficult to avoid some errors; the accounts from which the historian must derive his information, partake too much of prejudice, and the fabrications of party; and they want that amelioration which time alone can give.
The state of the British colonies, at the conclusion of the war in 1763, was such, as attracted the attention of all the politicians in Europe. At that period their flourishing condition was remarkable, and striking. Their trade had prospered, and extended, notwithstanding the difficulties, and distresses of the war. Their population encreased; they abounded with spirited, and enterprising individuals, of all denominations; they were elated with the uncommon success that had attended their commercial, and military, transactions. Hence they were ready for every undertaking, and perceived no limits to their hopes and expectations. They entertained the highest opinion of their value and importance, and of the immense benefit that Britain derived from its connexion with them; their notions were equally high in their own favour. They deemed themselves entitled to every kindness and indulgence which the mother country could bestow. Although their pretensions did not amount to perfect equality of advantages and privileges, in matters of commerce, yet in those of government, they thought themselves fully competent to the task of conducting their domestic concerns, without any interference from the parent state.
Though willing to admit the supremacy of Great Britain, they viewed it with a suspicious eye, and eagerly solicitous to restrain it within its strict constitutional bounds. Their improvements in necessary and useful arts, did ttoneur to their industry and ingenuity. Though they did not live in the luxuries of Europe, they had all the solid, and substantial enjoyments of life, and were not unacquainted with many of its elegancies and refinements. Notwithstanding their peculiar addiction to those occupations, of which wealth is the sole object, they were duly attentive to promote the liberal sciences; and they have ever since their first foundation, been particularly careful to provide for the education of the rising generation.
Their vast augmentation of internal trade, and external commerce was not merely owing to their position and facility of communication with other parts; it arose also from their natural turn and temper: full of schemes and projects; ever aiming at new discoveries; and continually employed in the search of means to improve their condition. This carried them into every quarter, whence profit could be derived. There was scarcely any port of the American hemisphere, to which they had not extended their navigation. They were continually exploring new sources of trade.
To this extensive and continual application to commerce, they added an equal vigilance in the administration of their affairs at home. The same indefatigable industry was employed in cultivating the soil they possessed, and in the improvement of their domestic circumstances; that it may be truly said, that they made the most of nature's gifts.
In the midst of this solicitude and toil in matters of business, the affairs of government were conducted with a steadiness, prudence, and lenity, seldom experienced, and never exceeded, in the best regulated countries in Europe* Such was the situation of the British colonies, in general, throughout North America; and of the New England provinces in particular, at the close of the war in 1763.
In treating of the American revolution, the English writers ascribe that event to the successful intrigues of the French government; they appear willing to search for the origin in any other source than their own misconduct. It has therefore been repeatedly asserted, "that the French having long viewed with envy and apprehension, the flourishing state of the colonies which Britain had founded in America, began immediately after the peace of Paris, Jo VOL. II. X
carry into execution their design of separating the colonies from the mother country. Secret emissaries, it is said, were employed in spreading dissatisfaction among the colonists; and the effects produced by these machinating spirits, are described to have been a rapid diminution of that warm attachment which the inhabitants of North America had hitherto demonstrated for the mother country." That such emissaries were ever employed, is a fact unsupported by any document which the purity of historical truth can admit; and, although the effects here described, have certainly appeared, it must be remembered, that their appearance followed, but did not precede, the attempts of Bi itain upon the rights' iand liberties of America. i,'
That the French should succeed in the arts of intrigue, so far as to alienate the affection, of. the colonists from the mother country, and at the close of a war, in which their interests and feelings had been interwoven with more than usual strength and energy, was not in any sense probable. But if we trace these effects to another cause, to a love of liberty, and a quick sense of injury, their appearance will be natural and just; consistent with the American character, and corresponding with the conduct which was displayed in all the various changes that attended their opposition.
In March, 1764, a bill was passed in the British parliament, by which, heavy duties were laid on goods imported by the colonists from such West India islands as did not belong to Great Britain; and that these duties were to be paid into the exchequer, in specie; and in the same session another bill was framed, to restrain the currency of paper money in the colonies. Not only the principle of taxation, but the mode of collection was considered as an unconstitutional and oppressive innovation, as the penalties incurred by an infraction of the acts of parliament, were to be recovered in the courts of admiralty, before a single judge (whose salary was to be the fruit of the forfeitures jie should decry).
These acts threw the whole continent into a ferment. Vehement remonstrances were made to the ministry, and every argument made use of that reason or ingenuity could suggest, but without any good effect; their reasonHi;* however, convinced a great number of people in Britain; and thus, the American cause came to be considered as the cause of liberty.
The Americans finding that all their remonstrances were fruitless, at last united in an agreement not to import! any more of the British manufactures, but to encourage to the utmost of their power, every useful manufacture among themselves. Thus the British manufacturers became a party against the ministry, and expressed their resentment in strong terms; but the ministry were not to be easily daunted; and therefore proceeded to the last step of their intended plan, which was to lay on stamp duties throughout the continent. Previous to this, several regulations wem mads in favour of the commerce of the colonies; but they had imbibed such unfavourable impressions of the British ministry, that they paid very little regard to any thing pretended to be done in their favour; or, if these acts had made any favourable impressions, the stamp act at once obliterated every sentiment of that nature.
The reason given for this act, so exceedingly obnoxious, Was, that a sum might be raised sufficient for the defence of the colonies against a foreign enemy; but this pretence was so far from giving satisfaction to the Americans, that it excited their indignation to the utmost. They not only asserted that they were abundantly able to defend themselves, but denied the right of the British Parliament to tax them at all.
To enter into the arguments of the contending parties upon this occasion, Would be superfluous. It was manifest that the matter was not to be decided but by force of arms; and the British ministry, confident of the authority and power of that country, were disposed to carry on matters with a high hand, to terrify the colonists into submission, or compel them by force.
The Stamp act, after a violent opposition in parliament", was passed, and its reception in America was such as mighi have been expected. The news and the act itself, first arrived at Boston, where the bells were muffled, and rung a funeral peal. The act was first hawked about the streets, with a death's head affixed to it, and styled " The folly of England,and the ruin of America." It was afterwards publicly burnt by the enraged populace; the stamps were sei
zed and destroyed, unless brought on board of men of war, '•r kept in fortified places. Those who were to receive the stamp duties were compelled to resign their offices; and such of the Americans as favoured the government on this occasion, had their houses plundered and burned.
Though these outrages were committed by the multitude, they were connived at by those of superior rank, who afterwards openly patronized them; and the doctrine became general and openly avowed, that Britain had no right to tax the colonies without their own consent. The ministry now found it absolutely necessary, either to yield to the Americans, by repealing the obnoxious laws, or to enforce .them by arms.
The ferment had become general through the colonies. Virginia first, and afterwards all the rest of the provinces declared against the right of Britain to tax America ; and, that every attempt to vest others with this power, besides the king, or the governor of the province, and his general assembly, was illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust. Nonimportation agreements were every where entered into; and it was resolved, to prevent the sale of any more British goods after the present year. American manufactures, though dearer, as also inferior in quality to the British, were universally preferred. An association was also entered into againsteating of lamb,in order to promote the growth of wool; and the ladies agreed to renounce the use of every kind of ornament imported from Great Britain.
Such a general and alarming confederacy determined the Ministry to repeal some of the most obnoxious Acts ; and to this they were the more inclined by a petition from the first American Congress, held at New-York in 1765.
The stamp act was therefore repealed, to the universal joy of the Americans, as well as to the general satisfaction of the English, whose manufactures had began to suffer in consequence of American associations against them. The disputes on the subject however, were by no means silenced; every one continued to argue the case as violently as ever. Dr. Benjamin Franklin was on this occasion examined before the house of Commons; and his opinion was in substance as follows: "That the tax in question was impracticable and ruinous. The very attempt had so far alienated the affection of the colonies,