페이지 이미지

in vain had to parchment authorities, made at a distant time, when neither the grantors nor grantees of American territory had in contemplation any thing like the present state of the two countries.

Great and flourishing Colonies, daily increasing in numbers, and already grown to the magnitude of a nation, planted at an immense distance, and governed by constitutions resembling that of the country from which they sprung, were novelties in the history of the world. To combine Colonies, so circumstanced, in one uniform, system of government with the Parent State, required a great knowledge of mankind, and an extensive comprehension of things. It was an arduous business, far beyond the grasp of ordinary statesmen, whose minds were narrowed by the formalities of laws, or the trammels of office. An original genius, unfettered with precedents, and exalted with just ideas of the rights of human nature, and the obligations of universal benevolence, might have struck out a middle line, which would have secured as much liberty to the Colonies, and as great a degree of supremacy to the Parent State, as their common good required: But the helm of Great Britain was not in such hands. The spirit of the British constitution on the one hand revolted at the idea, that the British Parliament should exercise the same unlimited authority over the unrepresented Colonies, which it exercised over the inhabitants of Great Britain. The Colonists on the other hand did not claim a total exemption from its authority They in general 'allowed the Mother Country a certain undefined prerogative over them, and acquiesced in the right of Parliament to make many acts, binding them in many subjects of internal policy, and regulating their trade. Where parliamentary supremacy ended, and at what point colonial independency began, was not ascertained. Happy would it have been had the question never been agitated, but much more so, had it been compromised by an amicable compact, without the horrors of a civil war.

The English Colonies were originally established, not for the sake of revenue, but on the principles of a commercial monopoly. While England pursued trade and forgot revenue, her commerce increased at least fourfold. The Colonies took off the manufactures of Great Britain, and paid for them with provisions or raw materials. They united their arras in war, their commerce and their councils in peace, without nicely investigating the terms on which the connection of the two countries depended.

A perfect calm in the political world is not long to be expected. The reciprocal happiness, both of Great Britain and of the Colonies, was loo great to be of long duration, The calamities of the war of 17 s 5 had

3 J 2 scarcely scarcely ended, when the germ of another war was planted, which soon grew up and produced deadly fruit.

At that time (1764) sundry resolutions passed the British Parliament relative to the imposition of a stamp duty in America, which gave a general alarm. By them the right, the equity, the policy, and even the necessity of taxing the Colonies was formally avowed. These resolutions being considered as the preface of a system of American revenue, were deemed an introduction to evils of much greater magnitude. They opened a prospect of oppression, boundless in extent, and endless in duration. They were, nevertheless not immediately followed by any legislative act. Time and an invitation were given to the Americans to suggest any other mode of taxation that might be equivalent in its produce to the stamp act: but they objected, not only to the mode, but the principle, and several of their assemblies, though in vain, petitioned against it. An American revenue was in England a very popular measure. The cry in favour of it was so strong, as to confound and silence the voice of petitions to the contrary. The equity of compelling the Americans to contribute to the common expences of the empire satisfied1 many, who, without enquiring into the policy or justice of taxing tte unrepresented fellow-subjects, readily assented to the measures adoptedhj the Parliament for this purpose. The prospect of earing their own burdens, at the expence of the Colonists, dazzled the eyes of gentlemen of landed interest, so as to keep out of their view the probable consequences of the innovation.

The omnipotence of Parliament was so familiar a phrase on both fides of the Atlantic, that few in America, and still fewer in Great Britain, were impressed in the first instance, with any idea of the illegality of taxing the Colonies.

The illumination on that subject was gradual. The resolutions in favour of an American stamp act, which passed in March 1764, met with no opposition. In the course of the year which intervened between these resolutions, and the passing of a law grounded upon them, the subject was better understood, and constitutional objections against the measure were urged by several both in Great Britain and America, This astonished and chagrined the British ministry; but as the principle of ta'xing America had been lor some time determined upon, thsy were unwilling to give it up. Impelled by a partiality for a long cherished idea, Mr. Jrenville brought into the House of Commons his long expected bill, for laying a stamp duty in America. March, 1765. Bf this, after passing through the usual forms, it was enacted, that the in* struments of writing which are in daily use among a commercial people,

should be null and void, unless they were executed on stamped paper or parchment, charged with a duty imposed by the British Parliament.

When the bill was brought in, Mr. Charles Townscnd concluded a speech in its favour, with words to the following effect, " And now will these Americans, children planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence, till they are grown to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by our arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy weight of that burden which we lie under?" To which Colonel Barre replied, "They planted by your care? No, your oppressions planted them in America. They fled from tyranny to a then uncultivated and inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable; and, among others, to the cruelty of a savage foe the most subtle, and I will take upon me to say, the most formidable of any people upon the face 9s the earth; and yet, actuated by principles of true English libers)', theymet all hardships with pleasure compared with those they suffered in their own country, from the hands of those that should have beep their friends—They nourished up by your indulgence? They grew up by your neglect of them. As soon as you began to care about them, that care was exercised in sending persons to rule them in one department and another, who were, perhaps, the deputies of deputies to some members of this House, sent to spy out their liberties, to misrepresent their actions, and to prey upon them.—Men whose behaviour on many occasions, has caused the blood of these sons of liberty to recoil within them.—Men promoted to the highest feats of justice, some, who to my. knowledge, were glad, by going to a foreign country, to escape being brought to the bar of a court of justice in their own.—They protected by your arms; They have nobly taken up arms in your defence, have; exerted a valour, amidst their constant and laborious industry, for the defence of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood, while ifs. interior parts yielded all its little savings to your emolument. And believe me, remember I this day told you so, that fame spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first will accompany them still; but prudence forbids me to explain myself farther. God knows, I do not at this time speak from any motives of party heat; what I deliver are the genuine sentiments of roy heart. However superior to me in general knowledge and experience the respectable body of this House may be, yet I claim to know more of America than most of you, having seen and been conversant in that country. The people, I believe, are as truly

loyal loyal as any subjects the King has, but a people jealous of their liberties, and who will vindicate them, if ever they should be violated: but the subject is too delicate—I will fay no more."

During the debate on the bill, the supporters of it insisted much on the Colonies being virtually represented in the same manner as Leeds, Halifax, and some other towns were. A recurrence to this plea was a virtual acknowledgement, that there ought not to be taxation without representation. It was replied, that the connexion between the electors and non-electors, of Parliament in Great Britain was so interwoven, from both being equally liable to pay the same common tax, as to give some security of property to the latter; but with respect to taxes laid by the British Parliament, and paid by the Americans, the situation of the parties was reversed. Instead of both parties bearing a proportionable share of the same common burden, what was laid on the one, was exactly so much taken off from the other,

The bill met with no opposition in the House of Lords, and on the 22d of March, 11765, it received the royal assent. The night after it passed, Dr. Franklin, wrote to Mr. Charles Thomson, " The sun of liberty is set, you must light up the candles of industry and economy." Mr. Thomson answered, "He was apprehensive that other lights woiH be the consequence," and foretold the opposition that shortly took plact, On its being suggested from authority, that the stamp officers would not be sent from Great Britain; but selected from among the Americans, the Colony agents were desired to point out proper persons for the purpose. They generally nominated their friends, which affords a presumptive proof, that they supposed the act would have gone down. In this opinion they were far from being singular. That the Colonists would be ultimately obliged to submit to the stamp act, was at first commonly believed, both in England and America. The frarners of it, in particular, flattered themselves that the confusion which would arise upon the disuse of writings, and the insecurity of property, which would result from using any other than that required by law, would compel the Colonies, however reluctant, to use the stamp paper, and consequently to pay the taxes imposed thereon: they therefore boasted that it was a law which would execute itself. By the terms of the stamp act, it was not to take effect till the first day of November, a period of more than seven months after its passing. This gave the Colonists an opportunity sot leisurely canvassing the new subject, and examining it fully on every side, In the first part of this interval, struck with astonishment, they lay in silent consternation, and could not determine what course to pursue. By


degrees they recovered their recollection. Virginia led the way in opposition to the stamp act. Mr. Patrick Henry brought into the House of Burgesses of that Colony, the following resolutions, which were substantially adopted:

Resolved, That the first adventurers, settlers of this his Majesty's Colony and dominion of Virginia, brought with them and transmitted to their posterity, and all other his Majesty's subjects, since inhabiting in this his Majesty's said Colony, all the liberties, privileges, and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.

Resolved, That by two royal charters, granted by King James the First, the Colonies aforesaid are declared, and entitled to all liberties, privileges, and immunities of denizens, and natural subjects, to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding, and born within the realm of England.

Resolved, That his Majesty's liege people, of this his ancient colony, have enjoyed the rights of being thus governed by their own assembly, in the article of taxes, and internal police, and that the fame have never been forfeited, or yielded up, but have been constantly recognized by the king and people of Britain.

Resolved, therefore, That the general assembly of this Colony, together with his Majesty, or his substitutes, have, in their representative capacity, the only exclusive right and power, to lay taxes and imposts upon the inhabitants of this Colony, and that every attempt to vest such power in any other person or persons whatsoever, than the general assembly aforesaid, is illegal, and unconstitutional, and unjust, and hath a manifest tendency to destroy British, as well as American liberty.

Resolved, That his Majesty's liege people, the inhabitants of this Colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatever, designed to impose any taxation whatever upon them, other than the laws or ordinances of the general assembly aforesaid.

Resolved, That any person, who (hall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain, that any person or persons, other than the general assembly of this Colony, have any right or power to impose, or lay any taxation on the people here, shall be deemed an enemy to this his Majesty's Colony.

Upon reading these resolutions, the boldness and noveky of them affected one of the members to such a degree, that he cried out, "Treason! Treason!" They were, nevertheless, well received by the people, and immediately forwarded to the other provinces. They circulated

« 이전계속 »