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THE

HISTORY OF ENGLAND

ROM

THE PEACE OF UTRECHT.

CHAPTER LI.

While thus for very different reasons and with very different results both Franklin and Fox were dismissed from office, tidings of no common importance had reached England from North America. Throughout that country the appearance of the tea-ships, as planned by Lord North, and as freighted by the East India Company, had provoked not only resentment but resistance. It was believed, or at least it was asserted, that this was only the first step in a course of intended tyranny; that England desired nothing so much as the oppression of her Colonies; that if the local duty on the Teas should be quietly paid, other more odious imposts,—a window-tax, a hearth-tax, a land-tax, and a poll-tax,—were in contemplation, and were sure to be enacted. Even before any one of the tea-ships came in sight mobs had risen in several places, and violently threatened the consignees of the expected cargo. At Philadelphia handbills were dispersed warning the pilots on the Delaware not to bring any of these vessels into harbour, since they had been sent out on purpose to enslave and to poison the Americans! At New York other printed papers declared that the coming ships were

VOL. VI. B

laden in semblance only with tea, but in truth with fetters which had been forged for them in England!

Notwithstanding the excitement produced by such exaggerations, the Colonists generally speaking did not overstep the bounds of law. In most places the consignees were so far wrought upon by terror or by shame as to renounce their functions, and enter into a public engagement to send back the cargoes without landing. At Charleston the inhabitants allowed the chests of tea to be brought on shore, but insisted that they should be withheld from sale and stored in cellars, where at last they perished from damp. Such measures, though certainly sufficient for their object, were much too tame and moderate for the prevailing taste at Boston. Three ships freighted with tea having arrived at that port, the captains observing the state of the public feeling were not only willing but anxious to depart with their cargoes. But since they had already entangled themselves with some technical forms of entry, there were difficulties in the way of their return; difficulties in obtaining either a clearance from the Custom House, or a permit from Castle William. Concession on these points was, perhaps unwisely, declined by the Governor, while the compromise adopted elsewhere of allowing the Teas to be landed and placed in store was indignantly rejected by the people. A shorter and simpler expedient was preferred. On the evening of the 16th of December 1773 a great number of persons disguised and painted as Mohawk Indians * boarded the tea-ships, broke open the chests, and flung the contents into the sea, to the value it was computed of 18,000/. After this feat they quietly dispersed, neither inflicting nor yet suffering any other injury. Yet certainly no slight degree of rancorous spirit was rife among the people. Mr. John Adams, who was upon the spot, has noted in his Private Diary: "Many persons wish "that as many dead carcases were floating in the har"bour as there are chests of tea." f

* The readers of the Spectator (now I believe many fewer than there used to be) will recollect the midnight orgies in the streets of London of another race of Mohawks. (No. 324. and 347., March 12. and April 8. 1712.)

f Works, vol. ii. p. 323. ed. 1850.

The news of this attack upon the tea-ships produced great irritation not only in the British Ministry but also in the British Parliament and people. To understand their feelings at this juncture we must remember, besides the final outrage, the long succession of angry struggles and of studied insults which ever since the passing of the Stamp Act they, their officers, and their adherents had encountered from Boston. The event of the 16th of December therefore was only the last drop in their cup of wrath; the last drop which made the waters of bitterness overflow. On the 7th of March a Royal Message was delivered communicating the principal despatches or other documents received, and recommending the whole matter to the most serious consideration of both Houses. On the 14th of the same month Lord North brought in the measure commonly known by the name of the Boston Port Bill. The preamble declared that in the present condition of the town and harbour of Boston the commerce of His Majesty's subjects could not be safely carried on, nor the customs be duly collected; and the clauses proposed to enact that from and after the 1st of June in this year it should not be lawful for any person to lade or unlade, to ship or unship, any goods from any quay or wharf within the aforesaid harbour. It was in fact intended to transfer the commerce and customs of Boston for a time to Salem, another town and port on the coast of Massachusetts. But a power was reserved to the King in Council, when peace and order should be established at Boston, and after full compensation had been made to the East India Company for the value of the Teas destroyed, to replace the trade of the town as it stood at first.

In supporting this measure Lord North relied in part upon the ground of precedents. "It may be objected," said he, "that the innocent may suffer on this occasion "with the guilty; but where the authority of a town has "been as it were asleep and inactive, it is no new thing "for the whole town to be fined lor such neglect. Thus "with the City of London in King Charles the Second's "time, when Dr. Lamb was killed by unknown persons, "the City was fined. Such was also the case with "Edinburgh in Captain Porteous's affair, when a fine was n 2

"set upon the whole. Thus likewise at Glasgow, when "the house of Mr. Campbell was pulled down, part of "the revenue of that town was sequestered to make good "the damage."—But no doubt the main argument of Lord North and with his hearers lay in the many scenes of turbulence, — the tarrings and the featherings, the riotings and burnings,—which ever since the passing of the Stamp Act had distinguished the town of Boston far beyond any other in America. "Do you ask," cried Lord North in one of the debates of this time, "what the people "of Boston have done? I will tell you then. They have "tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your "merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to "your laws and authority. Yet so clement and long"forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent "on us now to take a different course. Whatever may "be the consequence, we must risk something; if we do "not, all is over! "*

Resistance to this Bill, after some doubt and hesitation, was offered by several men of note, as Dowdeswell, Burke, and Charles Fox, who now for the first time appeared in the ranks of Opposition. Colonel Barre, General Conway, and Lord John Cavendish on the whole approved it. In none of its stages, and in neither House, did its opponents venture on dividing; and only a fortnight elapsed between its first proposal and its passing. By the public in general the measure was by no means looked upon as unduly harsh or severe. The more violent party indeed contended that Boston was not bound to make any compensation for the loss of the Tea. But on the contrary the temperate friends of freedom in both countries censured the Boston Port Bill mainly on this ground, that it preceded instead of following the demand for that just compensation. I cannot but observe with pleasure how precisely in accordance on this subject was the opinion of the two greatest men of that age in their respective

* Parl. Hist. vol. xvii. p. 1164. and 1279. In the meagre report preserved of this last speech Lord North is made to speak in general terms of " the Americans." But from the context, and still more from the nature of the Bill discussed which had no reference to any other Colony, it is plain that his expressions were confined to the people of Boston or at most of Massachusetts.

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