Page images
PDF
EPUB

ever firmly rooted here and there, would of course be overpowered by a loyal and a large majority. Nor do I believe that the proposal of a new grant to the Crown, and the consequent necessity of increased taxation to the people, would have interposed any serious obstacle. The load of taxation on the Colonies was at this period light indeed. According to a calculation made by Lord North in that very year, each inhabitant of England paid in taxes upon an average not less than five and twenty shillings annually, but each inhabitant of British America no more than sixpence.* The experience of the closely following Revolutionary War proves how easily and readily when their feelings were involved the Americans could raise far greater supplies. And surely had Lord Chatham's scheme prevailed their feelings would have been involved. They would have been pleased and proud to show that their previous refusal to pay taxes sprung from principle and not from inability or disaffection, and that when once their views of principle had been complied with they could contribute with no sparing hand to the exigencies of their countrymen and to the service of their King.

The scheme of Lord Chatham, though rejected with so little ceremony by the Ministers, was not without its influence on the Ministers themselves. It may have left impervious Lord Sandwich or Lord Gower, but it seems to have convinced Lord North at least and Lord Dartmouth of the necessity of attempting a pacific overture. Only a few days afterwards Dr. Franklin to his great surprise received indirectly some communications of that nature from the Government. Some time before he had become acquainted with Mrs. Howe, a worthy maiden lady, with whom he used to play at chess. At her house and at her request he had several interviews with her brother, Admiral Lord Howe, the same who was afterwards appointed to the chief command in North America. Even already Lord Howe stood high in the confidence of the Cabinet. Another channel for discussion with Dr. Franklin was Mr. David Barclay, a friend of Lord Dartmouth and Lord Hyde. Much earnest conver

* Parl. Hist. vol. xviii. p. 222.

sation passed between them on a paper of "Hints" tending to an adjustment of the differences, which Franklin had drawn up. His main point, besides an absolute repeal of the obnoxious Statutes, was that in time of war, and on requisition from the King, each province should be bound to raise money for the public service through its own Assembly, and in proportion according to the rate of the land tax which might be imposed in England. But Franklin had added some other conditions, which even in Lord Chatham's judgment were wholly inadmissible, as that none of the King's troops should enter or quarter in any Colony but with the consent of its legislature. At last, notwithstanding the utmost zeal and pains both in Mr. Barclay and Lord Howe, it was found impossible to agree upon the terms desired; and on the 20th of February Lord North with little or no previous notice brought forward in the House of Commons a conciliatory scheme of his own.

This conciliatory scheme as it was called proved to be, however, no more than a Resolution of the House of Commons purporting: That if the Legislature of any of the American provinces should propose to make some provision for the common defence and also for the civil government of that province, and if such proposal should be approved of by the King and Parliament, it would be proper to forbear while such provision lasted from levying or imposing any tax, duty, or assessment within the said province. This conditional renunciation of the right of taxation, though still left dependent on the approval in each case of the King and Parliament, would have been of service in the earlier stages of the contest. But in the crisis to which matters had grown who could reasonably expect it to prevail? From the communications with Dr. Franklin and from some other circumstances there is reason to believe that in framing this scheme the Minister's first views had taken a wider range, and that he had agreed to curtail it in compliance to the Bedford section of his party. Even in its maimed or mutilated form his Resolution did not pass without some dread of these, not quite friendly, friends. Gibbon who had recently entered Parliament thus describes the scene: "Last Monday a conciliatory motion of allowing the Co"lonies to tax themselves was introduced by Lord North "in the midst of lives and fortunes, war and famine. "We went into the House in confusion, every moment "expecting that the Bedfords would fly into rebellion "against those measures. Lord North rose six times to "appease the storm, but all in vain; till at length Sir "Gilbert (Elliot) declared for administration, and the "troops all rallied under their proper standard." *

If even any well grounded hopes of peace could have proceeded from this Resolution when separately viewed, those hopes would have disappeared on considering the other measures with which it came attended. Already had Lord North proposed, and there was then passing through both Houses, a Bill for restraining the commerce of the New England provinces with Great Britain, Ireland, and the West Indies, and prohibiting them for a limited time from any share in the fishery on the banks of Newfoundland, with certain exceptions to be made by the Governors in favour of their friends and partisans. This measure was framed in retaliation of the Non Importation and Exportation agreement, in which the New England provinces had taken the lead; the argument being that since they refused to continue their trade with this country, we had a right to prevent their trade with any other. This measure, according to a phrase current at the time, was in fact an extension of the Boston Port Bill; an extension of its penalties from one city to four provinces. This measure, I need scarcely say, or still less show, was calculated in no slight degree to heap fresh fuel on the flames already burning in America. With such a measure which another Act of this same Session extended to other provinces besides New England) any project of conciliation, according to the judgment passed upon it on the other side of the Atlantic, would be little better than a mockery.—A far more suitable accompaniment to that measure was afforded in the votes taken at this time for increasing the sea forces by 2,000, and the land forces by 4,300 men.

A few weeks afterwards the eloquence of Chatham

* To Mr. Holroyd, February 25 1775. Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works.

(not perhaps his political courage or sagacity) was rivalled in the other House. On the 22d of March Mr. Burke moved certain Resolutions as the basis of conciliation with America. Though pointing in the same direction as Lord Chatham, these Resolutions were of far less bold and comprehensive character. Omitting all mention of the Congress, they declared in general terms the propriety of repealing several of the recent Acts, — of appointing the Judges during good behaviour,—of improving the Admiralty Courts,—and of leaving to the Provincial Assemblies the right of taxation. A long debate ensued, but finally these Resolutions were negatived by a large majority—270 votes against 78. Burke's own speech on this occasion, as shortly afterwards reported and published by himself, may deserve to be ranked among the master-pieces of oratory from whatever age or whatever country derived. In this justly celebrated composition, and amidst its galaxy of beauties, no passage perhaps is entitled to higher admiration than the one portraying the friend in early days of Pope and Swift, — the father of Lord Chancellor Apsley, — the still surviving veteran Earl Bathurst. The growth of our commercial and colonial prosperity, said Burke, has happened within the short period of the life of man. There are those alive — Lord Bathurst for example — whose memory might touch the two extremes. "Sup"pose then that in 1704,"—thus did Burke continue,— "Suppose, Sir, that the angel of this auspicious youth, "foreseeing the many virtues which made him one of "the most amiable as he is one of the most fortunate "men of his age, had opened to him in vision that when "in the fourth generation the third prince of the House of "Brunswick had sat twelve years on the throne of that "nation, which by the happy issue of moderate and heal"ing councils was to be made Great Britain, he should "see his son, Lord Chancellor of England, turn back the "current of hereditary dignity to its fountain, and raise "him to a higher rank of peerage, whilst he enriched "the family with a new one, — if amidst these bright "and happy scenes of domestic honour and prosperity "that angel should have drawn up the curtain and un"folded the rising glories of his country, and whilst he

VOL. VI. D

"was gazing with admiration on the then commercial "grandeur of England the Genius should point out to "him a little speck, scarce visible in the mass of the na"tional interest, a small seminal principle rather than a "formed body, and should tell him: 'Young man, there "' is America, which at this day serves for little more "' than to amuse you with stories of savage men and "' uncouth manners, yet shall before you taste of death "' show itself equal to the whole of that commerce which "' now attracts the envy of the world. Whatever Eng"' land has been growing to by a progressive increase of "' improvement, brought in by varieties of people, by "' succession of civilizing conquests and civilizing set"' tlements in a series of seventeen hundred years, you "' shall see as much added to her by America in the "' course of a single life,'— If this state of his country "had been foretold to him, would it not require all the "sanguine credulity of youth, and all the fervid glow of "enthusiasm, to make him believe it? Fortunate man, "he has lived to see it! Fortunate indeed if he lives to "see nothing that shall vary the prospect and cloud the "setting of his day!" *

* Speech of Burke, March 22. 1775. On the 16th of September following, and at ninety-one years of age Lord Bathurst died.

« PreviousContinue »