OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Reign of George III. (Continued) page 4

Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Just at this time, too, he lost the only relative on whom he appeared to rely for counsel - the duke of Cumberland. This once and most justly unpopular prince appeared by the sufferings of his later years to have been softened and much improved. He lived quietly, and certainly gave the harassed king, his nephew, the best and most earnest assistance that he could. The people, who used in former years to abhor him, had also much softened towards him, and had grown to respect him. The duke died suddenly. On the 30th of October he was playing at piquet, when he grew confused, and mistook the cards. The next morning, however, he appeared at court, but returned to dine, and after dinner died in his chair.

Whilst these changes had been passing at home, the effervescence in America had grown most riotous and alarming. Boston took the lead in tumultuous fury. In August, the house of Mr. Oliver, the newly-appointed stamp-distributor, was attacked and ransacked; his effigy was hung upon a tree, thenceforward honoured by the name of the Liberty Tree. It was then taken down, paraded about the streets, and committed to the flames. The colonel of the militia was applied to, but sent an evasive answer, showing that there were others above the mob who enjoyed what the mob were doing. With this encouragement they broke out afresh, crying, "Liberty and Property!" which, said a colonial authority, was their cry when they meant to plunder and pull down a house. This time they gutted and partly demolished the houses of the registrar-deputy of the admiralty, the comptroller of the customs, and the lieutenant-governor, destroying a great quantity of important papers. The streets were found the next morning scattered with plate, money, and jewels, and other valuable articles, and the inhabitants, now become alarmed for their own dwellings, roused themselves to self- defence. News now arrived of the change of ministry, and the Bostonians voted thanks to Colonel Barre and General Conway for their speeches in behalf of the colonies, ordered their portraits to be placed in the town-hall, and waited events.

In New York, delegates assembled from nine different colonial assemblies. The governor forbade them to meet, declaring their meetings unprecedented and unlawful, but he took no active measures to prevent their deliberations. The congress met in October, and sat for three weeks. They appointed Mr. Timothy Ruggles, from Massachusetts, their chairman, and passed fourteen resolutions denying the right of the mother country to tax them without their own consent; and they drew up petitions to the king and parliament. The whole passed off with the utmost order and decorum, but not the less did far-seeing men behold in this confederate body the foreshadowing of a greater and more significant union.

It was imagined that the agitation would have been most visible in New England, but it extended all over the colonies, except to those of Canada and Nova Scotia, which quietly submitted. Strange enough, apparently, those which had so lately been taken possession of, and where the bulk of the inhabitants were not English, were the only ones which made no resistance. This, in fact, however, might result from the French not being accustomed to our ideas of liberty, and from there being a stronger force maintained there. In Virginia, as we have seen, the voice of Patrick Henry created the most ominous ferment; and even in the peaceful city of Philadelphia the people rose and spiked the guns on the ramparts. Everywhere associations were entered into to resist the importation of English manufactures after the 1st of January next, which, it was agreed, should dissolve themselves as soon as the stamp tax was abolished. But it is well known, from letters addressed to Franklin at this time, that the republican element was already widely spread through the colonies, and this very first opportunity was seized on by its advocates to encourage the idea of throwing off the allegiance to England without further delay.

As the 1st of November approached, the day on which the stamp act was to take effect, the excitement became intense. Furious crowds assembled in the ports to prevent the landing of the stamped paper from the ships which brought it. The appointed distributors were compelled to resign their posts. At New York the stamped paper was landed, but such was the commotion that it had to be put into the custody of the city magistrates, and be kept under guard in the city hall. It was utterly impossible to put the paper into use, and, after some interruption, business and the courts of law were allowed to proceed without it, on the plea that the stamps could not be obtained.

Such were the news which greeted the new ministr} towards the close of the year. Many of them were averse to the act altogether, but they were not the less aware of the difficulty and danger of retracing steps of such moment when once taken. They delayed the meeting of parliament as long as possible, but events compelled them to this at last; for, owing to changes in office, new appointments, and deaths, there were forty new writs to fill up. Parliament was therefore summoned for the 17th of December, and the ministers endeavoured to escape from the great question a little longer by referring to the disturbances in America in the king's speech as demanding serious attention after the Christmas recess. Grenville, however, furious with indignation at the treatment which his mischievous measure had received, so completely fulfilling the warnings of Barre and Conway, moved an amendment on the address, expressing the utmost abhorrence of the insurrectionary conduct of the Americans, and calling on government to enforce the laws and punish the offenders. As there were no ministers in the house except one or two who had retained their posts, no answer could be given to opposite arguments by them, and he was prevailed on to withdraw his motion.

On the 14th of January, 1766, the king opened parliament with a second speech, rendered necessary by the change of ministry and the affairs of America. He informed the two houses that no time had been lost in issuing orders to all the governors of provinces and commanders of the forces there ty exert themselves for the enforcement of law and the preservation of order; that he had commanded all the necessary papers to be laid before them, and that he commended the whole of the subject to their best wisdom. The debate which ensued upon the address was one of the most remarkable in our annals. The ministers were evidently confounded by the newness and the greatness of the circumstances. It was not for a man like Rockingham, nor for the feebleness of Newcastle, to cope with such startling facts. To go forward or to go backward appeared equally hazardous. Never was the "sed revocare gradus" seen in a more perilous point of view. All eyes were therefore turned in anxious silence towards the only great pilot who, it was believed, could weather the storm which the narrow and obstinate spirit of Grenville had conjured up.

And there was the great arbiter of England's destinies. No fit of gout now detained him from the breathless and expectant assembly. He came from his solitude in Somersetshire, where he had pondered over these gloomy events, and yet had let no single whisper of his conclusions upon them escape him. He entered, wrapped, as it were, in a mantle of mystery, charged with the thunder which must fall destroyingly on the late ministers or on the Americans. He was pale and solemn, but evidently, though lame, much freer from his habitual torments of gout than usual. All eyes followed him, all hearts waited in deep suspense for his words. Two or three members had followed the mover and seconder of the address, before he rose from his seat. A youg Irishman, destined to become one of the greatest orators who had ever started on the public eye in that arena, was, amid the impatience for the opinions of Pitt, awaking the wonder of the commons by his fervid eloquence, and condemning the policy which had thus embroiled us with our brethren across the Atlantic. As Edmund Burke sat down, Pitt rose and pronounced his warm congratulations on the new genius which thus sprung into existence, on the admirable speech of "that young member," of "that very able advocate," and he then turned himself to the mighty topic of the evening.

He took care to tell the house that he stood alone and unconnected. He had lately been declaring that that should be his future policy. That he came quite uninformed of the contents of his majesty's speech, and, contrary to all precedent, begged to have it read a second time. These were clearly only those arts by which an orator seeks to raise the wonder of his eloquence, by making it appear that he speaks without preparation. But Pitt knew well in his solitude what had been passing in America, and had undoubtedly settled the course he would take on this occasion. Turning to Grenville, he bluntly declared that everything that the late ministry had done was wrong. As for the present ministry (turning towards general Conway), he declared that he had no objections to them: their characters were fair; he had never been sacrified by any of them, still he could not give them his confidence. "Pardon me, gentlemen," he said, bowing, "confidence is a plant of a slow growth in an aged bosom; youth alone is the season of credulity!"

He then declared that he felt there had been an influence at work in the late disastrous affairs; and denouncing all national prejudices, declaring that he cared not whether a man was born on this or the other side of the Tweed, that he had been the first to draw the intrepid mountaineers of Scotland into the public service, and that they had nobly justified his policy; he added, "it was not the country of the man, but the man of that country, who had wanted wisdom, and held principles incompatible with freedom."

This was shifting the burden of the mischief really from Grenville to Bute. He then excused his not having been present to oppose the attempt to tax America, by his illness, protesting that, could he have been even carried in his bed to the house, he would have done it. He then went on in his loftiest tone of eloquence: "This kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies. On this point I could not be silent, nor repress the ardour of my soul, smote as it is with indignation at the very thought of taxing America internally without a requisite voice of consent.

"Taxation is no part of the governing or legislative power. Taxes are the voluntary gift and grant of the commons alone. At the same time, on every real point of legislation, I believe the authority to be fixed as the pole- star - fixed for the reciprocal benefit of the mother country and her infant colonies. They are the subjects of this kingdom, equally entitled with yourselves to all the rights of mankind and the peculiar privileges of Englishmen, and equally bound by its laws. The Americans are the sons, not the bastards of England.

"The distinction between legislation and taxation is essential to liberty. The crown, the peers, are equally legislative powers with the commons. If taxation be a part of simple legislation, the crown, the peers, have rights in taxation as well as yourselves - rights which they will claim whenever the principle can be supported by might

"There is an idea in some that the colonies are virtually represented in this house. I would fain know by whom an American is represented here! Is he represented by any knight of the shire in any county in the kingdom? Would to God that respectable representatives was augmented to a greater number! Or will you tell him he is represented by any representative of a borough? - a borough which, perhaps, its own representative never saw 1 This is what is called 'the rotten part of the constitution.' It cannot continue a century. If; it does not drop, it must be amputated. The idea of a virtual representation of America in this house is the most contemptible idea that ever entered into the head of man; it does not deserve a serious refutation."

A deep and long silence fell on the house at the close of this speech, which general Conway at length broke by saying that he agreed to almost every word of it, and should be most happy to see the right honourable gentleman in the ministry instead of himself. But he energetically repudiated the charge of influence. " I see nothing of it, I feel nothing of it," he exclaimed. "I disclaim it for myself, and, so far as my discernment can reach, for all the rest of his majesty's ministers."

This appeared now to be the truth; but the idea of Bute was so deeply ingrained in the public mind that nobody believed it.

Grenville then rose and defended the stamp act. He denied that the right of taxation depended on representation. He complained justly, that when he proposed to tax America, there was little opposition in that house. He contended that protection and obedience were reciprocal. "Great Britain." he said, "protects America; America is bound to just obedience. If not, tell me when the Americans were emancipated? When they want the protection of this kingdom, they are always ready to ask it: that protection has always been afforded them, in the most full and ample manner. The nation has run itself into an immense debt to give them protection; and now they are called upon to contribute a small share to the public expense - an expense arising from themselves - they renounce your authority, insult your officers, and break out, I might almost say, into open rebellion. Sir, the seditious spirit of the colonies owes its birth to the factions in this house. Gentlemen are careless of the consequences of what they say, provided it answers the purposes of opposition."

There was much justice in these remarks. The stamp act had been suffered to pass with wondrous apathy: it was true that the colonies were always ready enough to ask protection, and were bound to show obedience so far as it was according to constitutional principles. But Grenville had gone beyond that, and attempted to exact an obedience to legislation, which must, if submitted to, have degenerated into slavery. It was a legislation which violated magna charta, and every principle of our bill of rights; it was true that such speeches as those of Barre and Pitt marvellously encouraged the most daring of the colonists, and unquestionably accelerated the catastrophe of separation as much or more than the American repugnance and the American arms. The colonists had the enthusiastic sanction of the greatest minds and statesmen of England, and that was enough to carry them beyond all restraint. The words of Grenville, so pointedly directed against him, immediately called up Pitt again. He had spoken; it was contrary to all rule, but the lion of parliament broke recklessly through the meshes of its regulations, and the members supported him when called to order, by cries of "Go on! go on!" He went on severely castigating Grenville, for complaining of the liberty of speech in that house; and dropping in his indignation the terms of courtesy towards the late minister of "honourable" or "right honourable," said simply -

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Pictures for Reign of George III. (Continued) page 4

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About