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petition with one hand, and threw it out of the window with the other, was painted in strong colours. It was said, that the matter of that petition, was not merely the business of the merchants, nor even of this kingdom in particular; it was the business of the whole empire, every part of which was concerned in the event; yet this matter of such momentous concern, was referred to a committee, called up, nobody knew why, for the framing of commercial regulations, which were neither wanted, nor applied for; while this committee did not even pretend to have the remotest concern with those great points of commercial policy, which were the objects of the petition. That to complete this system, and render its wisdom equally conspicuous in all its parts, the committee, to whose consideration those objects were avowedly referred, to which the petition applied, were doomed to grope their way in the dark, without a single ray of information; the probable, and almost inevitable consequence of which, must be the involving us in a most destructive and ruinous civil war.
In further supporting the motion on the merchants petition, it was observed, that the reason given by those who sent the petition to that committee (which was described by various appellations of mockery and derision), for not referring them to that on American papers, was of a most extraordinary and unheard of nature; it was, that the resolutions of that committee were to be solely on the grounds of policy, and that the commercial examination would delay the measures necessary for the coercion of America. That this was to anti
cipate and predetermine the future proceedings in a committee, as a reason, for keeping information from it; how did it know what measures would be pursued there, and on what principles? Was there any instruction to the committee so to confine itself? Or was it that the ministry had already not only resolved what that committee was to do, but reckoned upon it so much as a certainty, and as a matter so justifiable, that they did not scruple to avow it, and to make it a ground of argument for what the House ought, or ought not to have brought before its committee. This proceeding was represented to be of a most alarming and unprecedented nature. It was further added, that if they meant hostility, the reason they gave for not hearing, was the strongest for it; that as their war must ever be dependent on their finances, and their finances must depend upon their commerce, the true state of that commerce was necessary to be known, especially as colonies and commerce are inseparably connected.
The arguments on the other side were partly personal; partly political. In either way they did not seem to furnish reasons against hearing the merchants; and from the nature of the measure which afterwards was adopted, it did not seem very material whether it passed a month earlier or later. It was said, that interested and factious people had induced the merchants to sign their petitions. That they came too late, and as the merchants had confided so long in par liament, they ought to do so still. That the American trade was destructive, unless the supremacy of [D] 3
parliament, and the rights of sovereignty, were vigorously asserted. That if in this attempt commerce should be suspended, the funds sustain a shock, and the landed property experience a diminution, such evils must be patiently submitted to, and the merchants must forego their interest, for the permanent advantages which they may expect when the Americans are subdued. It was also mentioned, that the merchants might be quieted, by passing a law to compel the several colonies to pay all the debts, which any individuals of those provinces owed bere.
All the debates on this subject of the petitions, were attended with an unusual degree of asperity, and even acrimony on the side of opposition. The charges of negligence, incapacity, and inconsistency, were rung in the ears of the minister. The acts of the last parliament were arraigned in the severest terms, and said to be framed on false information, conceived in weakness and ignorance, and executed with negligence. The ministers were told, that a bitter day of reckoning would come, when they would be convicted of such a chain of blunders and neglects, as would inevitably draw vengeance on their heads. A pathetic picture was drawn and deplored, of the miseries of that civil war, which must be incurred through their rashness and blind precipitation. Trade. destroyed-The revenue impoverished-The poor starving-Manufactures stagnating -The poor-rate running into the land-tax, and both devouring the
The conduct also of the late parliament was scrutinized without mercy in the course of these debates, and its memory was treated with
more than want of respect. A gentleman, who is remarkable for a sarcastic poignancy in his observation, in sketching a short history of that parliament, said, that they began their political life with a violation of the sacred right of election in the case of Middlesex; that they had died in the act of popery, when they established the Roman Catholic religion in Canada; and that they had left a rebellion in America, as a legacy.
In endeavouring to obviate some of the charges brought against him, the minister attributed the delay before the holidays, in the first place, to the want of necessary information, and in the second, to his having understood from several persons, who had means of being well informed, that a petition was on its way to the throne, from the meeting which the Americans called a continental congress, which was of so conciliatory a nature, as to make way for healing and lenient measures, and for reconciling all matters in an amicable manner. As to other charges upon the American subject, he said, that it was impossible for him to have foreseen the proceedings in America respecting the tea; that the duty had been quietly collected before; that the great quantity of teas in the warehouses of the East-India Company, as appeared by the report of the Secret Committee, made it necessary to do something for the benefit of the Company; that it was to serve them that nine-pence in the pound weight draw-back was allowed; that it was impossible for him to foretell that the Americans would resist at being able to drink their tea at nine-pence in the pound cheaper.
This defence called up a gentle man of great weight in the EastIndia Company, and who has been long celebrated for his knowledge in its affairs. He said, that he got up merely to speak to a matter of fact; that he could not sit still and hear the noble Lord plume himself on actions which, of all others, were the most reprehensibie in this tram of political absurdities; that it was unbecoming to allege that this dangerous measure had been adopted to serve the East-India Company, when it was notorious, that the Company had requested the repeal of the three-pence per pound in America, and felt and knew the absurdity of giving a draw-back here, and laying a duty there; a measure equally a solecism in commerce and politics. That the Company offered their consent, that government should retain 6d. in the pound on the exportation, if the 3d. was remitted in America. That the gentleman himself, then speaking, had, in his place, requested and intreated the noble Lord, to remove the cause of dispute; and that he then foretold to him the consequence of persevering in error.
After some severe reflections, he shewed, that the Company had thus, presented the happiest opportunity which could have offered, for removing with credit the cause of difference with America. The supporting the authority of parliament was the only cause assigned by the minister himself, for retaining the duty on tea; at the same time, that he acknowledged it to be as anti-commercial a tax, as any of those which he had repealed upon that principle. Here, then, sprung the happiest occasion of doing right,
without interfering on the claims on either side. The East-India Company ask; their situation required the relief. It could not be alleged that it was done at the instance of American discontent. But the golden bridge was refused. New contrivances were set on foot to introduce the tea into America. That various intrigues, solicitations, and counter-solicitations, were used to induce the Chairman, and Deputy Chairman of the Company, to undertake this rash and foolish business; that it had been protested against, as contrary to the principles of their monopoly: yet the power of ministry prevailed, and they would, notwithstanding, cover all those facts, which are ready, from their consequences, to convulse the whole empire, under a pretence of the purest intentions in the world, merely of serving the East-India Company.
These facts were considered as incontrovertible, as none of them were denied at that time or af
terwards. The question was rejected upon a Jan. 26th. division by a very great majority, there appearing in support of the motion, for rescinding the former resolution relative to the merchants petition, only 89, to 250 who opposed that measure.
Though it was then late, a petition was offered from Mr. Bollan, Dr. Franklin, and Mr. Lee, three American agents, stating, that they were authorized by the American continental congress, to present a petition from the congress to the King, which petition his Majesty had referred to that House; that they were enabled to throw great light upon the subject, and prayed to be heard at the bar, in support [D] 4
of the said petition. On this a violent debate arose, partly on the same grounds with the former, partly on different.-The ministry alleged that the congress was no legal body, and none could be heard in reference to their proceedings, without giving that illegal body some degree of countenance; that they could only hear the colonies through their legal assemblies, and their agents properly authorized by them, and properly admitted here; that to do otherwise, would lead to inextricable confusion, and destroy the whole order of colony governinent.
To these arguments it was answered, that regular colony government was in effect destroyed already in some places by act of parliament; in others, by dissolution of assemblies by governors; in some by popular violence. The question now was, how to restore order? That this congress, however illegal to other purposes, was sufficiently legal for presenting a petition. It was signed by the names of all the persons who com posed it, and might be received as from individuals. That it was their business rather to find every plausible reason for receiving petitions, than to invent pretences for rejecting them. That the rejection of petitions was one principal cause, if not the most powerful cause, of the present troubles. That this mode of constantly rejecting their petitions, and refusing to hear their agents, would infallibly end in universal rebellion; and not unnaturally, as those seem to give up the right to government who refuse to hear the complaints of the subject. This petition was reject
ed upon a division by a majority of 218 to 68.
The London merchants, however, did not submit patiently to the indignity with which they thought themselves now treated. The spirit which had at all times distinguished that great commercial body was not lost; nor was the rank and consideration, which they ever held in the affairs of this country, forgotten. The day following ing the rejection of their second pe tition, being that on which the committee of oblivion was to hold its first meeting, and their business of course the first to come before it, a gentleman, one of their body, deputed by the committee of merchants, in their name represented at the bar of the House, " that merchants revealing at that bar the state of their affairs, was a measure which all would wish to avoid, unless upon such great occasions as the present, where the public weal is evidently at stake, when their duty as good subjects requires it of them; but when the mode of examination is such as totally precludes them from answering the great public object, which in their opinion is clearly the case at present, they beg leave humbly to signify, that they wave appearing before the committee which has been appointed; and that the merchants are not under any apprehensions respecting their American debts, unless the means of remittance should be cut off by measures that may be adopted in Great-Britain."
During this war of the petitions, one had been sent from Birming ham, and presented, entitled, a pe tition from the inhabitants of that town and neighbourhood, in which
they set forth, that any relaxation in the execution of the laws, respecting the colonies, would greatly injure the commerce of Birming ham; and strongly urging, that the House would exert its utmost endeavours to support the authority of the laws. No other petition or address had then appeared in favour of strong measures against America; and it was suspected, that this had been procured by indirect practice, as most of those who had signed the paper, were persons no ways concerned in the staple manufactures of the place; at least, such as were, did not export any considerable quantity to America. Another petition to a contrary effect, was signed and presented by those who dealt most largely in that branch. A leading gentleman in the minority observed, that the ministry had frequently reproached the opposition with unfair methods in procuring these petitions; that now, one place having spoken such different languages, they had an opportunity of discovering the truth of that matter, and of effectually discouraging such matters for the future; he therefore moved, that it should be an instruction to the committee to enquire into the manner of procuring and signing both petitions; and also, how far the persons, severally signing them, are concerned in the trade to North-America.
The motion, as usual, was overruled.
In this manner the parties tried their several forces in parliament and in the nation, previous to the bringing in the grand measure, on which the ministry rested their hope of finally breaking the spirit which gave them so much trouble in America. It was evident, that their failure in their former plans had not in the least abated the readiness shewn by both Houses of Parliament to adopt any others which administration should propose; and it was confidently believed and asserted, that when the merchants and manufacturers were deprived of all hopes of preventing the operation of force, it would then become their interest to give all possible effect to it. They would thus become, by degrees, a principal support of that cause, which they now so eagerly opposed. When once every thing was made to depend on war, nothing but the success of that war could give the trading body any hopes of recovering their debts and renewing their commerce: therefore, not only this opinion, of the efficacy of such a mode of proceeding in America, but the hopes of. compelling a great body at home to concurrence, made the ministers more and more resolved to go through, and complete the coercive plan they had begun with.