Page images
PDF

1765. IRRITATION OF THE COLONIES. 87

loss of the large and general though illicit gains which had for a considerable period accrued to North America both from our West Indies and from the Spanish settlements. But as this grievance could not be so plausibly pleaded, other lesser, though no doubt real and galling, grievances were actively put forward. It was exclaimed that His Majesty's naval officers were disgraced and degraded by their new employment. It was urged that, however brave and expert in their own profession, they were wholly unskilled in that of tide-waiters and excisemen. They must needs be bewildered by the long and intricate array of forms which our lawgivers have so wisely devised — bonds, clearances, cockets, affidavits, stamps, certificates, registers, and manifests! From their inexperience in these it was alleged that they made many wrongful seizures and acted in many cases with illegal violence, while the American traders had no right of appeal except to the Lords of the Admiralty or Treasury in England, – a process so tedious and difficult as to leave them in fact with no means of redress at all. The new duties also on their foreign trade, which had been not only announced but enacted during the Session of 1764, proved most galling to them. It is true that by the terms of the Act all the money arising from these duties was to be reserved to defray the charges of protecting the Colonies on which it was levied. It is true, moreover, that these duties were accompanied by several laws to increase and encourage their commercial intercourse with the mother country, such as a bill granting a bounty on the importation of their hemp and their rough and undressed flax into England. These, however, when weighed against the oppression of the new commercial duties, seemed but a feather in the scale. The Americans did not, indeed, deny the right of the mother country to impose such duties; they distinguished between foreign and home taxation, between the custom-house and the stamp-office or excise; the former they owned as of imperial, the latter they claimed as of local jurisdiction. But though they did not deny the right, they felt the burthen, and that burthen they determined by every Constitutional effort to remove. It was computed at the time, perhaps with some exaggeration, that these Colonies consumed British produce and manufactures to the value annually of 3,000,000l. * The Americans now resolved, as a measure of retaliation, to buy no clothing nor other commodities of our manufacture that they could possibly dispense with; they began to form associations for that object, and they strove to promote as far as possible every manufacture of their own. With so much loss inflicted, so much irritation rankling, the Americans were but little inclined to accept the overtures of Grenville. In none of the Colonies would they either agree to the Tax on Stamps, nor suggest any other. They took their stand on the broad principle that as men of British blood and with British rights they were not liable to be taxed by the House of Commons, unless they were represented in that body. They demanded that, as in former cases, a letter from the Secretary of State written in the King's name, and requiring them to contribute to His Majesty's service, should be laid before their respective Assemblies, in which case they declared that they would always, as heretofore, manifest their loyalty and zeal by liberal grants. These views, enforced by Resolutions in several of their Assemblies, they instructed their agents to lay before the Government of England. For this object also the ablest among them, well known to and justly esteemed by all men of science in Europe, Dr. Franklin, hastened back to his post in London, as agent for the important province of Pennsylvania. Grenville took little heed of these representations, however strenuously or ably urged. Early in the Session of 1765 he brought in a Bill laying on America nearly the same Stamp Duties as were already established in England. The expected amount was but small; I find it estimated by a member of the government at less than one shilling a head * Annual Register, 1764, part i. p. 24.

1765. THE STAMP ACT. 89

on the North American people—-less therefore than 100,000l. a year. * Dr. Franklin long afterwards observed: “Had Mr. “Grenville instead of his Stamp Act applied to the King in “Council for requisitional letters, I am sure he would have “obtained more money from the Colonies by their voluntary “grants than he himself expected from his Stamps. But he “chose compulsion rather than persuasion.”**— Grenville himself with great imprudence termed his measure only an experiment towards further aid from the Americans”—thus of course provoking full as much resistance from them as a heavier impost might have done. Fifty-five Resolutions laying Stamp Duties on America were now brought into the House of Commons, and afterwards embodied in an Act of Parliament. The House, since they viewed it as a Money-Bill, refused to receive four Petitions against it from the agents of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Carolina, besides one from the merchants of Jamaica. Within doors the scheme was opposed with little vigour. Pitt was ill in bed at Hayes, and only a few of his friends, as Colonel Barré and Alderman Baker, spoke or voted against it. Nine years afterwards, and in the presence no doubt of many men who had witnessed these discussions, Mr. Burke described them in the following terms: “Far from anything inflammatory, I never heard a “more languid debate in this House. No more than two or “three gentlemen as I remember spoke against the Act, and “that with great reserve and remarkable temper. There was “but one division in the whole progress of the Bill and the “minority did not reach to more than thirty-nine or forty. “In the House of Lords I do not recollect that there was any “debate or division at all.”-f * Mr. Nugent's Speech on the Address, January 14, 1766. ** Letter to Mr. William Alexander, dated Passy, March 12, 1778, and printed in Mr. Jared Sparks's Life. *** Lord Orford's Memoirs of George III., vol. ii. p. 71. + Speech on American Taxation, April 19, 1774. It is very remarkable, and strongly in corroboration of Burke's statement, that Horace Walpole There is extant, nevertheless, an eloquent and well known burst of oratory, which is ascribed to Colonel Barré, on one of these occasions. Mr. Grenville having spoken of the Americans as children of our own, planted by our care and nourished by our indulgence, Colonel Barré exclaimed: “Children planted by your care! No, your oppression “planted them in America, they fled from your tyranny into “a then uncultivated land;” — and there follows a fine philippic against the misgovernment of the mother country. These words are not recorded in the contemporary Debates of Debrett, and at first sight there seemed to me, as to an earlier historian, the strongest reason to doubt whether they were really uttered at the time, or whether at a later period they might not be supplied by the pen of Barré. It now appears, however, that Mr. Jared Ingersoll, joint agent for Connecticut, was sitting in the gallery, heard the speech of Barré, and made a report of it, which report was transmitted to his friends, and within three months printed in one of the Connecticut papers. *

in his close correspondence at this time, both with the Earl of Hertford at Paris and with Sir Horace Mann, at Florence, giving minute and frequent accounts of the state of parties and the proceedings of Parliament, never even mentions the Stamp Act, and only once adverts to the preparatory Resolutions as “a slight day on the American Taxes.” (Feb. 12. 1765.) * See Mr. Bancroft's History, second series, vol. ii. p. 275., as published in 1852. The doubts upon this point are judiciously stated by Mr. Adolphus even in the first edition of History. Note to vol. i. p. 190. After all, besides the wholly irreconcilable statement of Burke, it is not easy to explain by the Parliamentary History names Grenville as the person to whom Barré was replying, while Jared Ingersoll names Charles Townshend, How could either be mistaken on this point? (1853.)

It is remarkable that when the Stamp Bill had passed both Houses, and received the Royal Assent, Dr. Franklin entertained no other idea concerning it but acquiescence,and alleviating its burthen by patient industry. There seemed to him no prospect that the Americans could or should any further oppose it. He consented at Grenville's request, as did also the other agents, each for his own province, to nominate a person, whom he thought most likely to be acceptable, as the Stamp Distributor in Pennsylvania. To one of his confidential friends he wrote that he had found it impossible to prevent the passing of this Act. “We might as

1765. POPUI, AR FERMENT TN AMERICA. 91

“well have hindered the sun's setting. That we could not “do. But since it is down, my friend, and it may be long “before it rises again, let us make as good a night of it as we “can. We may still light candles. Frugality and industry “will go a great way towards indemnifying us.”* The Americans were by no means inclined to follow these prudent — perhaps they may have termed them pusillanimous — counsels. They received the news of the Royal Assent to the Stamp Act with less of dejection than of anger. It was reprinted with a death's head affixed, instead of the King's Arms, and was hawked in the streets of New York by the title of “The Folly of England and the Ruin of Ame“rica.”* At Boston the colours of the shipping were hoisted half-mast high, while the church bells were muffled, and tolled a funeral knell. By the terms of the Act, it was not to come into operation until the lst of November, before which time it was intended that stamped papers ready for distribution, and required for use, should be sent from England. But during the interval the provincial Assemblies did not remain inactive. Of all the Colonies, the first to stir was Virginia, and of all men in Virginia the first was Patrick Henry. It was mainly through his eloquence and energy that the House of Burgesses of his province was induced to pass a series of Resolutions, and a petition to the King denying in strong terms the right of the mother country to tax them without their own consent, and claiming a repeal of the obnoxious Statute. Startled at these bold proceedings, the Governor of the province dissolved the Assembly, but too late; the blow had been already struck, the example already set. The other Colonies looked to the remonstrance of Virginia as a noble and inspiriting precedent to follow, and in most of their Assemblies carried similar Resolutions of their own. * Letter to Mr. Charles Thomson, July 11, 1765, as printed in Mr. Jared Sparks's Biography, p. 294. Mr. Thomson says in his answer, “I much “fear, instead of the candles you mentioned being lighted, you will hear of

“the works of darkness : **
** Holmes, American Annals, vol. ii. p. 137. ed. 1829.

« PreviousContinue »