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1775. REPLY OP LORD SANDWICH. 29
magnitude as to require to be fully considered, and he therefore hoped the Noble Earl did not expect their Lordships to decide upon it by an immediate vote, but was willingit should lie upon the Table for deliberation. Lord Chatham answered readily that he expected nothing more. But unhappily those friends of the Duke of Bedford who had joined the administration continued to be animated, as his Grace had been, by a special and keen hostility to the pretensions of America. Of that section in the Government the chief was the Earl of Sandwich. He rose with much heat to protest against the Bill, which he said he could never believe to be the production of any British Peer, but which seemed to him rather the work of some American; and here he looked full at Dr. Franklin who was leaning on the Bar. He concluded with the motion that the Bill should be at once rejected. Several Peers, as Shelburne and Camden, argued for the measure as it stood; others, as Lyttleton and Temple, objected to some points in it, as that theQuebecBill should be included among the Acts to be repealed, but on the whole were willing to adopt it as the basis of a final settlement. The contumelious and, as Lord Temple termed it, the unprecedented motion of Lord Sandwich was eagerly supported by another of the Bedfords, Lord Gower. Thus did the First Lord of the Admiralty and the President of the Council stand forth against their own colleague the Secretary of State. But as the debate proceeded an Opposition Peer having complimented Lord Dartmouth on his superior candour, Lord Dartmouth rose again in much embarrassment and said that he could not accept the praise offered for a candour of which he was now ashamed; that he had changed his mind, and should give his vote for rejecting the Bill immediately. So much of violence in some of the Ministry, so much of vacillation in others, afforded grounds for a fierce philippic against them which Chatham poured forth in his reply: "Such," — he cried addressing them, — " such are your well-known characters and "abilities that surel am that any plan of reconciliation, how"ever moderate, wise, and feasible, must fail in your hands.
"Who then can wonder that you should put a negative on "any measure which must annihilate your power, deprive "you of your emoluments, and at once reduce you to that "state of insignificance for which God and nature designed "you?"
When at last on this memorable night the House divided a much increased minority of 32 appeared in favour of at least considering theBill,but a phalanx of 61 decided its rejection. The rejected Bill was immediately printed and circulated by Lord Chatham as an appeal to the public judgment.
It may be proper, or at least pardonable, here to pause for an inquiry, what probable issue might have attended an opposite decision in theBritishParliament? If the Ministers had been defeated on this Bill, — if in consequence they had resigned , and it in other hands been carried through, — would the Americans have accepted the measure cheerfully and readily, — would it for a long time to come have closed the breach and cemented the union with the mother country? From all the facts and testimonies then or since made public I answer without hesitation that it would. The sword was then slumbering in its scabbard. On both sides there were injuries to redress, but not as yet bloodshed to avenge. It was only a quarrel; it was not as yet a war. Even the boldest leaders of that war in after years, whether in council or the field, were still in January 1775 the firm friends of Colonial subordination. Washington himself — (and he at least was no dissembler; from him at least there never came any promise or assurance that did not deserve the most implicit credit;) — had only a few months before presided at a meeting of Fairfax County in Virginia. That meeting, while claiming relief of grievances, had also at his instance adopted the following Resolve: "That it is our greatest wish and inclina"tion, as well as interest, to continue our connexion with, "and dependence upon, the British Government."* But further still, although the first Congress was praised by Chatham
* Washington's Writings as edited by Sparks , vol. 11. Appendix,. 1775.
Chatham's Bill Rejected.
for its moderate counsels, and although the calmer voice of History has ratified the praise, we learn that these moderate counsels did not lag behind, but rather exceeded and outran, the prevailing sentiment in many of the Colonies. To this fact we find an unimpeachable testimony in the letters of President Reed, who, writing to a friend in strict confidence, laments that "the proceedings of Congress have been pitched "on too high a key for some of these middle provinces."* With such feelings how gladly, how gratefully, would they have welcomed the hand of reconciliation stretched out by the Parliament of England! It may be true indeed that such feelings as these did not prevail in all, or nearly all, the Colonies. It may be true especially that no amount of good government, of forbearance, or of kindness would have won back Massachusetts. But herein lay, as I think, the especial force and efficacy of Lord Chatham's scheme, that it did not refer the questions of Parliamentary supremacy and Colonial taxation to the decision of any one province, but, as the Americans themselves desired, to the decision ofa Congress composed from all the provinces, so that disaffection, however 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 in
* To Mr. DeBerdt, Feb. 13. 1775. Life and Correspondence, vol. i, p. 96.
** ParL.Hlet. vol. xviii. p. 222.
volved. 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 LordNorth at least andLordDartmouth 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 LordHyde. Much earnest conversation 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. ButFranklin 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 LordNorth 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 Colonies 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 Bed"fords 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 ad"ministration, 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
• To Mr. Holroyd, February 25. 1775. Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works. Idahon, History. VI. 3