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Reign of George III. (Continued)


Commencement of the Troubles with America - Grenville's Stamp Act - Barre's Speech - Franklin's Letters - Ferment in America - House of Burgesses dissolved in Virginia - Patrick Henry - Dangerous Illness of George III. - Regency Bill - Insult to the Princess Dowager - Disturbances in Spitalfields - Attack on Bedford House - Pitt asked to form a Government - Declines - Again applied to - Declines a Second Time - Marquis of Rockingham minister - Parties in Ireland - Death of Duke of Cumberland - Tumults at Boston in America - Resistance to the Stamp Act - Petitions from Commercial Towns - Franklin examined at the Bar of the Commons - Repeal of the Stamp Act - Rejoicings in America- First Appearance of Edmund Burke - Ministers treat with Wilkes - Pitt Minister, and created Earl of Chatham - Murmurs against him - The Design of the Northern Alliance - Mismanagement of the East India Company - Chatham's Illness - New Taxes on America - Mutiny Tax - Grafton Minister - Nullum Tempus Bill - Wilkes Candidate for Westminster - Committed to Prison - Riots - War between Russia and Turkey - Jesuits expelled from Spain - Corsica taken by France - Death of Duke of Newcastle - Resignation of Chatham.
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If Grenville and his cabinet, in their ignorance of human nature, had made a gross mistake in their conduct towards Wilkes, they now made a more fatal one in regard to our American colonies. These colonies, as we have stated, in our progress of the nation at the close of our last volume, had now assumed an air of great importance, and were rapidly rising in population and wealth. The expulsion of the French from Canada, Nova Scotia, and Cape Breton, the settlement of Georgia by general Oglethorpe, the acquisition of Florida from Spain, had given a compactness and strength to these vast colonies, which promised a still more accelerated and prosperous growth. At this period the inhabitants are calculated to have amounted to two millions of Europeans, and half a million of coloured people, Indians and negroes. The trade was becoming more extensive and valuable to the mother country. The imports from England, chiefly of her manufactures, amounted to three million pounds annually in value. They carried on a great trade with our West Indian islands and the Spanish American colonies, and French and Dutch Wrest Indies, importing thence sugar, rum, molasses, coffee, ginger, pimento, &c., and carrying out in exchange flour, biscuits, pease, timber, pork, hams, bacon, cider, cheese, leather, &c. They also built ships for the French and Spaniards, in the West Indies. They had extensive iron and copper mines and works in different states. They manufactured great quantities of hats in New England. The fisheries of Massachusetts produced two hundred and thirty thousand quintals of dried fish, which they exported to Spain and Portugal, and other catholic countries of Europe. Carolina exported its rice to these countries as well as to England; and they exported great quantities of cured provisions, dye- woods, apples, wax, leather, tobacco from Virginia and Maryland, fifty thousand hogsheads annually to England alone, valued at three hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds; flax, furs, skins, hemp, linseed oil, sawn timber, shingles, cask staves, silk and indigo, from Georgia and Carolina, &c. &c. The masts from New England, sent over for our royal navy, were the largest in the world.

Such was the busy scene which these colonies were now presenting. Dutch, German, and Swedish emigrants were carrying their industry and handicrafts thither. But, instead of our merchants seeing what a mighty market was growing up for them there, their commercial jealousy was aroused at the sight of the trade which the colonists carried on with the Spanish, French, and other colonies, and even with Europe. They complained of the introduction of the American hats into Spain, Portugal, and the West Indies. The planters of the British West Indies complained of the American colonists taking their rum, sugar, coffee, &c., from the Dutch, French, and Spanish islands, in return for their raw produce, asserting that they had a monopoly for all their productions throughout the whole of the British dominions. Loud clamours were raised by these planters in the English parliament, demanding the prohibition of this trade; and, after repeated endeavours, in 1733 an act was passed to crush it, by granting a drawback on the re-exportation of West Indian sugar from England, and imposing duties on the importation of West Indian produce direct into the American colonies.

These were measures which must have greatly irritated the American colonists. They exhibited a disposition to curb and repress their growing energies betwixt the interests of English merchants and English West Indian planters. The prospect was far from encouraging; whilst, at the same time, the English ministers, crushing these energies with one hand, were contemplating drawing a revenue by taxation from them on the other. The whole process betrayed a profound ignorance of the science of colonisation. England contended that she sacrificed large amounts in building up colonies, and therefore had a right to expect a return for this expenditure. Such a return, had they had the sagacity to let them alone, was inevitable from the trade of the colonies in an ever-increasing ratio. But colonies, like children, demand, as a right of nature, support in their minority; and they cannot be made to return that care and cost, except as the free-will offering of men and states at their majority. Then, and in the spirit of mutual love and benefit, they will pay, and pay munificently.

It was well said of Grenville, that "he lost America because he read the colonial dispatches which some of his predecessors did." That is, he was looking out for new taxes, and, by paying attention to the rapid growth of these colonies, he was inspired with the design of drawing a revenue from them. And so he might, had he not attempted to force it from them by taxation without representation. The scheme had been suggested to Sir Robert Walpole, when his excise bill failed, by Sir William Keith, who had been governor of Pennsylvania; but Sir Robert had a far deeper insight into human nature than the shallow and obstinate Grenville. He replied, "I have already Old England set against me, and do you think I will have New England set against me too?" But the "Gentle Shepherd" was still looking round and asking, "Where? tell me where?" During the session of 1764 he imposed several duties on American articles of export, as well as those we have just mentioned, if imported direct from the French, Dutch, and Spanish West Indies. The Americans did not dispute the right of the mother country to impose such duties on the trade of the empire in any quarter; but these imposts, seeing the object of them, were not the less galling. But Grenville did not stop there; he stated, at the time of passing these duties, that it was probable that government would charge certain stamp duties in America. This was creating a sore place and immediately striking it. The infatuated minister was contemplating an act of the nature of which neither he nor his colleagues had any conception.

The news of these imposts, and of this intended stamp duty, flew across the Atlantic, and produced the most bitter excitement. It was true that Grenville had called together the agents of the several American colonies, and told them to write to their respective assemblies, and say that if any other duties would be more agreeable, he should be glad to consult their wishes. It was a choice of modes only where the radical evil was the same - a violation of the fundamental right of free people; and therefore the Americans made no reply on that head. Never, either, could these unwelcome news have reached the colonies at a more unpropitious moment. To the restrictions on their legitimate trade, they had been adding others on their illegitimate trade. Nearly all the American colonies lay on the seaboard, and were, therefore, naturally addicted to a free sort of trade, which these new duties made contraband. The English government had sent out a number of revenue ships and officers to cut off this trade, and capture and confiscate all vessels found practising it. The colonists met in various places, and passed very strong resolutions against these regulations. They declared that to cut off their trade with foreign West Indies and the Spanish main, was to crush them altogether. They complained that the English officers and crew were only solicitous to make prizes; that they understood little of maritime law, and set that little at defiance; that British officers, thus degraded to tide-waiters, knowing nothing of bonds, clearances, cockets, affidavits, stamps, registers, manifests, &c., confounded the legal and illegal traders together, and were knocking all commerce on the head.

To add to the bitterness of the American mind, the colonies were suffering frightfully from the inroads of the Indians. These savage tribes lay all along their frontiers, and the scattered populations exposed to them had come into a deadly conflict with them. The French, smarting under the loss of Canada, and their other North American possessions, Bent their agents amongst the Indians, with whom they had long cultivated friendly relations, and excited them to lay waste the British territories, and butcher the unprotected out-lying settlers. The colonies flew to arms to defend themselves, and retaliated with merciless vengeance on the offenders. The Indians, led on, as was supposed, by their French instigators, only planned a more extensive war. They came down on the whole length of the frontiers, whilst the settlers were busy in their harvest. They burnt the farms and villages, set fire to the corn, drove off the cattle, and murdered the inhabitants, till the whole of the back settlements lay a black and awful desert. In Canada they surprised some of the forts, and murdered the garrisons. Troops were dispatched to repel these insidious and murderous invaders; but they met them with a degree of discipline and address which showed that they were under European instruction. They defeated and killed captain Dalziel near Fort Detroit; they put to flight colonel Bouquet, as he was conveying provisions to Fort Pitt, seized them, and surprised an escort near Niagara, and killed eighty men with the officers. Fortunately, Sir William Johnstone, who had a wonderful influence with the Indians of the Six Nations, not only prevailed on them to refrain from the general onslaught, but to assist him against it.

Just breathing from this terrible infliction, it was no wonder that the colonists received the news of the impositions by the mother country, and the menace of more, with rage and resistance. The people of New England spread their views and resolves all over the colonies by means of the press. They refused to listen to any overtures of the British government on the subject. They claimed the right to grant, of their own free will, such contributions to the revenue of the empire as their own assemblies should deem just, and to submit to no compulsion where they had no voice. They called on all the colonists to refrain as much as possible from purchasing' any of the manufactures of England so long as she showed a disposition to oppress them, but to obtain their materials for clothing from other countries, or to begin to manufacture them themselves; and to cease also to use all luxuries on which the duties were laid.

To make their determination known in England, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Georgia appointed the celebrated Benjamin Franklin their agent in London. Franklin, as is well known to most readers, had raised himself by his industry, sagäcity, and science, from the humble position of the son of a tallow-chandler of Boston, New England, following the occupation of a journeyman printer, to that of an able statesman and a natural philosopher of great eminence. His discoveries in electricity had made him known throughout the whole world. He had, by means of a "kite, identified that active and all-pervading imponderable with the lightning, and thus led to still more important developments of science. He had been some years in England, working as a journeyman printer, and, whilst thus engaged, had been one of the very first apostles of temperance. He was accustomed to urge its benefits, both personal and pecuniary, on his drinking fellow-workmen, showing them that, whilst they had to borrow money frequently of him, in anticipation of their wages, he retained his own, and he challenged them to trials of strength when they had drunk their beer, and he had fortified himself with a penny roll and a glass of water. This shrewd, moderate, and observant man, his countrymen now dispatched to England, with orders to oppose with uncompromising firmness, not only the stamp act, but every other act which the parliament of England should attempt to impose without the consent of the American people.

Parliament met on the 10th of January, 1765. The resentment of the Americans had reached the ears of the ministry and the king, yet both continued determined to proceed. Grenville was far from firm in his position. During the latter end of 1764 there had been fresh overtures made to Pitt and Newcastle through the duke of Beaufort; but Pitt had declined them, and the opposition predicted that the Grenville cabinet could not survive Christmas Yet here it was not only braving the people of England, but of America.

Franklin, who was destined to sign the Declaration of the Independence of the States of America, stood amongst the spectators in the House of Lords, and heard the king, in his speech, refer to the discontents across the Atlantic, but only to recommend their being silenced by force. "The experience I have had," said the unapprehensive monarch, "of your former conduct, makes me rely on your wisdom and firmness in promoting that obedience to the laws, and respect to the legislative authority of the kingdom, which is essentially necessary for the safety of the whole." Not an idea crossed the imagination of either king or parliament that it was much more conducive to safety to consult the will of the people instead of endeavouring to force their submission to arbitrary taxation.

It was a moment of unhappy measures. Along with this fatal recommendation, George announced the intended marriage of his youngest sister, Caroline Matilda, with the king of Denmark - an event as miserable in the princess's personal fortunes as the taxing of America was to the empire at large.

In the interviews which Franklin and the other agents had with the ministers, Grenville begged them to point any other tax that would be more agreeable to the colonists than the stamp-duty; but they replied that no duty, or tax of any kind, would be submitted to by the Americans which was imposed without their own assent. They claimed the right, like any other British subjects, to be represented in any assembly which assumed to tax them; and they earnestly recommended them to continue the established practice of sending a letter, in the king's name, to each house of assembly, recommending contributions to the public service, and they were confident that they would be liberally complied with. And Franklin long afterwards declared, that "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 expected to obtain from his stamps." All that he did expect to obtain was but a shilling a head from the North Americans, which, according to the estimate of two millions of European population, would have produced only one hundred thousand pounds a-year.

Grenville paid no attention to these reasonable representations - he was destined to establish a great principle of colonial government by the loss of a continent. Fifty-five resolutions, prepared by a committee of ways and means, were laid by him on the table of the House of Commons at an early day of the session, imposing on America nearly the same stamp-duties as were already in practical operation in England. These resolutions being adopted, were embodied in a bill; and when it was introduced to the house, it was received with an apathy which betrayed on all hands the profoundest ignorance of its importance. No ordinary turnpike act ever went through it with half the indifference. Horace Walpole, in his private correspondence on all the topics of parliament, never alludes to it but once, and that is to say that on the 7th of February " there was a slight day od the American taxes." Walpole confessed his utter ignorance of American affairs, and almost every other member of parliament might have done the same. This stolid apathy is only equalled by that of our own times which attached to East Indian affairs. In vain did gentlemen out of doors, and in-doors, too - well acquainted with the ruinouä and wicked policy in progress in India - warn and expostulate. They awoke no feelings but impatience and disgust till the tempest burst upon us in all its horrors. So, then, all was apathy and stolid unconsciousness. Burke, who was a spectator of the debates in both houses, in a speech some years afterwards, stated that he never heard a more languid debate than that in the commons. Only two or three persons spoke against the measure, and that with great composure. 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 lords, he said, there was, to the best of his recollection, neither division nor debate! With such ease are empires thrown away, whilst a question of contemptible party interest will convulse parliament and nation.

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Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued)

Benjamin Franklin
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William Pitt
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The Princess Amelia
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Lord Clive
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John Wilkes
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Wilkes triumphal entry into the city
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Town and Harbour of Boston
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