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- The Eve of the Revolution, - 6/28 -

Proceeding thus leisurely, having taken so much pains to elicit reasonable objection and none being forthcoming, Grenville, quite sure of his ground, brought in from the Ways and Means Committee, in February, 1765, the fifty-five resolutions which required that stamped paper, printed by the government and sold by officers appointed for that purpose, be used for nearly all legal documents, for all customs papers, for appointments to all offices carrying a salary of 20 pounds except military and judicial offices, for all grants of privilege and franchises made by the colonial assemblies, for Licenses to retail liquors, for all pamphlets, advertisements, handbills, newspapers, almanacs, and calendars, and for the sale of packages containing playing cards and dice. The expediency of the act was now explained to the House, as it had been explained to the agents. That the act was legal, which few people in fact denied, Grenville, doing everything thoroughly and with system, proceeded to demonstrate also. The colonies claim, he said, "the privilege of all British subjects of being taxed only with their own consent." Well, for his part, he hoped they might always enjoy that privilege. "May this sacred pledge of liberty," cried the minister with unwonted eloquence, "be preserved inviolate to the utmost verge of our dominions and to the latest pages of our history." But Americans were clearly wrong in supposing the Stamp Act would deprive them of the rights of Englishmen, for, upon any ground on which it could be said that Englishmen were represented, it could be maintained, and he was free to assert, that Americans were represented, in Parliament, which was the common council of the whole Empire.

The measure was well received. Mr. Jackson supposed that Parliament had a right to tax America, but he much doubted the expediency of the present act. If it was necessary, as ministers claimed, to tax the colonies, the latter should be permitted to elect some part of the Parliament, "otherwise the liberties of America, I do not say will be lost, but will be in danger." The one notable event of this "slight day" was occasioned by a remark of Charles Townshend, who asked with some asperity whether "these American children, planted by our care, nourished up by our indulgence to a degree of strength and opulence, and protected by our arms," would now be so unfilial as to "grudge to contribute their mite to relieve us from the heavy burden under which we lie?" Upon which Colonel Isaac Barre sprang to his feet and delivered an impassioned, unpremeditated reply which stirred the dull House for perhaps three minutes

"They planted by YOUR care! No; your oppression planted them in America. They fled from your tyranny to a then uncultivated, inhospitable country, where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human nature is liable .... They nourished up by your indulgence! They grew 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.... They protected by your arms! They have nobly taken up arms in your defense; have exerted a valor amidst their constant and laborious industry, for the defense of a country whose frontier was drenched in blood, while its interior parts yielded all its little savings to your emolument."

A very warm speech, and a capital hit, too, thought the honorable members of the House, as they settled comfortably back again to endure the routine of a dull day. Towards midnight, after seven hours of languid debate, an adjournment was carried, as everyone foresaw it would be, by a great majority--205 to 49 in support of the ministry. On the 13th of February the Stamp Act bill was introduced and read for the first time, without debate. It passed the House on the 27th; on the 8th of March it was approved by the Lords without protest, amendment, debate, or division; and two weeks later, the King being then temporarily out of his mind, the bill received the royal assent by commission.

At a later day, when the fatal effects of the Act were but too apparent, it was made a charge against the ministers that they had persisted in passing the measure in the face of strong opposition. But it was not so. "As to the fact of a strenuous opposition to the Stamp Act," said Burke, in his famous speech on American taxation, "I sat as a stranger in your gallery when it was under consideration. Far from anything inflammatory, I never heard a more languid debate in this house.... In fact, the affair passed with so very, very little noise, that in town they scarcely knew the nature of what you were doing." So far as men concerned themselves with the doings of Parliament, the colonial measures of Grenville were greatly applauded; and that not alone by men who were ignorant of America. Thomas Pownall, once Governor of Massachusetts, well acquainted with the colonies and no bad friend of their liberties, published in April, 1764, a pamphlet on the "Administration of the Colonies" which he dedicated to George Grenville, "the great minister," who he desired might live to see the "power, prosperity, and honor that must be given to his country, by so great and important an event as the interweaving the administration of the colonies into the British administration."

CHAPTER III. The Rights Of A Nation

British subjects, by removing to America, cultivating a wilderness, extending the domain, and increasing the wealth, commerce, and power of the mother country, at the hazard of their lives and fortunes, ought not, and in fact do not thereby lose their native rights.--Benjamin Franklin.

It was the misfortune of Grenville that this "interweaving," as Pownall described it, should have been undertaken at a most inopportune time, when the very conditions which made Englishmen conscious of the burden of empire were giving to Americans a new and highly stimulating sense of power and independence. The marvelous growth of the colonies in population and wealth, much commented upon by all observers and asserted by ministers as one principal reason why Americans should pay taxes, was indeed well worth some consideration. A million and a half of people spread over the Atlantic seaboard might be thought no great number; but it was a new thing in the world, well worth noting--which had in fact been carefully noted by Benjamin Franklin in a pamphlet on "The Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc."--that within three-quarters of a century the population of the continental colonies had doubled every twenty-five years, whereas the population of Old England during a hundred years past had not doubled once and now stood at only some six and a half millions. If this should go on--and, considering the immense stretches of free land beyond the mountains, no one could suppose that the present rate of increase would soon fall off--it was not unlikely that in another century the center of empire, following the course of the sun, would come to rest in the New World. With these facts in mind, one might indeed say that a people with so much vitality and expansive power was abundantly able to pay taxes; but perhaps it was also a fair inference, if any one was disposed to press the matter, that, unless it was so minded, such a people was already, or assuredly soon would be, equally able not to pay them.

People in new countries, being called provincial, being often told in effect that having made their bed they may lie in it, easily maintain their self-respect if they are able to say that the bed is indeed a very comfortable one. If, therefore, Americans had been given to boasting, their growing wealth was not, any more than their increasing numbers, a thing to be passed over in silence. In every colony the "starving time," even if it had ever existed, was now no more than an ancient tradition. "Every man of industry has it in his power to live well," according to William Smith of New York, "and many are the instances of persons who came here distressed in their poverty who now enjoy easy and plentiful fortunes." If Americans were not always aware that they were rich men individually, they were at all events well instructed, by old-world visitors who came to observe them with a certain air of condescension, that collectively at least their material prosperity was a thing to be envied even by more advanced and more civilized peoples. Therefore any man called upon to pay a penny tax and finding his pocket bare might take a decent pride in the fact, which none need doubt since foreigners like Peter Kalm found it so, that "the English colonies in this part of the world have increased so much in...their riches, that they almost vie with old England."

That the colonies might possibly "vie with old England," was a notion which good Americans could contemplate with much equanimity; and even if the Swedish traveler, according to a habit of travelers, had stretched the facts a point or two, it was still abundantly clear that the continental colonies were thought to be, even by Englishmen themselves, of far greater importance to the mother country than they had formerly been. Very old men could remember the time when English statesmen and economists, viewing colonies as providentially designed to promote the increase of trade, had regarded the northern colonies as little better than heavy incumbrances on the Empire, and their commerce scarcely worth the cost of protection. It was no longer so; it could no longer be said that two-thirds of colonial commerce was with the tobacco and sugar plantations, or that Jamaica took off more English exports than the middle and northern colonies combined; but it could be said, and was now being loudly proclaimed--when it was a point of debate whether to keep Canada or Guadeloupe--that the northern colonies had already outstripped the islands as consumers of English commodities.

Of this fact Americans themselves were well aware. The question whether it was for the interest of England to keep Canada or Guadeloupe, which was much discussed in 1760, called forth the notable pamphlet from Franklin, entitled "The Interest of Great Britain Considered," in which he arranged in convenient form for the benefit of Englishmen certain statistics of trade. From these statistics it appeared that, whereas in 1748 English exports to the northern colonies and to the West Indies stood at some 830,000 pounds and 730,000 pounds respectively, ten years later the exports to the West Indies were still no more than 877,571 pounds while those to the northern colonies had advanced to nearly two millions. Nor was it likely that this rate of increase would fall off in the future. "The trade to our northern colonies," said Franklin, "is not only greater but yearly increasing with the increase of the people .... The occasion for English goods in North America, and the inclination to have and use them, is and must be for ages to come, much greater than the ability of the people to buy them." For English merchants the prospect was therefore an inviting one; and if Canada rather than Guadeloupe was kept at the close of the war, it was because statesmen and economists were coming to estimate the value of colonies in terms of what they could buy, and not merely, as of

The Eve of the Revolution, - 6/28

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