« ZurückWeiter »
rebellion, it may not be amiss now to give it the public, as it shows in detail the rise and progress of those differences which are about to break the empire in pieces. I am, sir, yours, 8cc. A. P.
It is a bad temper of mind that takes a delight in opposition, and is ever ready to censure ministry in the gross, without-discrimination. Charity should be willing to believe that we never had an administration so bad, but there might be some good and some wise men in it; and that even such is our case at present. The scripture saith, By their works shall ye know them. By their conduct, then, in their respective departments, and not by their company or their party connexions should they be distinctly and separately judged.
One of the most serious affairs to this nation, that has of late required the attention of government, is our misunderstanding with the colonies. They are in the department of Lord Hillsborough, and from a prevailing opinion of his abilities, have been left by the other ministers very much to his management. If then our American business has been conducted with prudence, to him chiefly will be due the reputation of it.
Soon after the late war, it became an object with the ministers of this country to draw a revenue from America. The first attempt was by a stamp act. It soon appeared that this step had not been well considered; that the rights, the ability, the opinions and temper of that great people had not been sufficiently attended to. They complained that the tax was unnecessary, because their assemblies had ever been ready to make voluntary grants to the crown in proportion to their abilities, when duly required so to do; and unjust, hocause they had no representative in the British Parliament, but had oarliauicnts of their own, wherein their consent was given as it ought to be, in grants of their own money. I do not mean to enter into this question. The parliament repealed the acts as inexpedient, but in another act asserted a right of taxing America; and in the following year laid duties on the manufactures of this country exported thither. On the repeal of the stamp act, the Americans had returned to their wonted good humor and commerce with Britain; but this new act for laying duties renewed their uneasiness. They were long since forbidden by the navigation act to purchase manufactures from Britain, or make the same themselves.
In this situation were affairs when my Lord H. entered on the American administration. Much was expected from his supposed abilities, application, and knowledge of business in that department. The newspapers were filled with his panegyrics, and expectations raised perhaps inconveniently.
The Americans determined to petition their sovereign, praying his gracious interposition in their favor with his parliament, that the imposition of these duties, which they considered as an infringement of their rights, might be repealed. The assembly of the Massachusetts Bay had voted that it should be proposed to the other colonies to concur in that measure. This, for what reason I do not easily conceive, gave great offence to his lordship; and one of his first steps was to prevent these concurring petitions. To this end, he sent a mandate to that assembly (the parliament of that country) requiring them to Rescind that vote, and desist from the measure, threatening them with dissolution in case of disobedience. The governor communicated to them the instructions he received to that purpose. They refused to obey, and were dissolved! Similar orders were sent at the same time to the governors of the other colonies, to dissolve their respective parliaments if they presumed to accede to the Boston proposition of petitioning his majesty, and several of them were accordingly dissolved.
Bad ministers have ever been averse to the right subjects claim of petitioning and remonstrating to their sovereign: for through that channel the prince may be apprised of the mal-administration of his servants; they may sometimes be thereby brought into danger, at least such petitions afford a handle to their adversaries whereby to give them trouble. But as the measure to be complained of was not his lordship's, it is rather extraordinary that he should thus set his face against the intended complaints. In his angry letters to America, he called the proposal of these petitions "a measure of most dangerous -and factious tendency, calculated to inflame- the minds of his majesty's subjects in the colonies, to promote an unwarrantable combination, and to excite and encourage an open opposition to, and denial of the authority of the parliament, and, to subvert the true spirit of the constitution;" and directed the governors immediately on the receipt of these orders, to exert their utmost influence to defeat this Flagitious attempt.
Without entering into the particular motives to this piece of his lordship's conduct, let us consider a little the wisdom of it. When subjects conceive themselves oppressed or injured, laying their complaints before the sovereign or the governing powers, is a kind of vent to griefs that gives some ease to their minds; the receiving with at least an appearance of regard their petitions, and taking them into consideration, gives present hope, and affords time for the cooling of resentment; so that even the refusal, when decently expressed and accompanied with reasons, is made less unpleasant by the manner, is half approved, and the rest submitted to with patience. But when this vent to popular disconteuts is denied, and the subjects are thereby driven to desperation, infinite mischiefs follow. Many princes have lost part, and some the whole of their dominions, and some their lives by this very conduct of their servants. The secretary for .America, therefore, seems in this instance not to have judged rightly for the service of his excellent master.
But supposing the measure of discouraging and preventing petitions a right one, were the means of effecting this end judiciously chosen? I mean, the threatening with dissolution and the actual dissolving of the American parliaments. His lordship probably took up the idea from what he knows of the state of things in England and Ireland, where, to be rechosen upon a dissolution, often gives a candidate great trouble, and sometimes costs him a great deal of money. A dissolution may therefore be both fine and punishment to the members, if they desire to be again returned. But in most of the colonies there is no such thing as stauding candidate for election. There is neither treating nor bribing. No man even expresses the least inclination to be chosen. Instead of humble advertisements intreating votes and interest, you see before every new election, requests of former members, acknowledging the honor done them by preceding elections, but setting forth their long service and attendance on the public business in that station, and praying that in, consideration thereof, some other person may be chosen in their room. Where this is the case, where the same representatives may be and generally are, after a dissolution, chosen, without asking a vote or giving even a glass of cyder to an elector, is it likely that such a threat could contribute in the least to answer the end proposed? The experience of former governors might have instructed his lordship that this was a vain expedient. Several of them, misled by their English ideas, had tried this practice to make assemblies
submissive to their measures, but never with success. By the influence of his power in granting offices, a governor naturally has a number of friends in an assembly; these, if suffered to continue, though a minority, might frequently serve his purposes, by promoting what he wishes, or obstructing what he dislikes. But if, to punish the majority, he in a pet dissolves the house, and orders a new election, he is sure not to see a single friend in the new assembly. The people are put into an ill-humor by the trouble given them, they resent the dissolution as an affront, and leave out every man suspected of having the least regard for the governor. This was the very effect of my lord's dissolutions in America, and the new assemblies were all found more untractable than the old ones.
But besides the imprudence of this measure, was it constitutional? The crown has doubtless the prerogative of dissolving parliaments, a prerogative lodged in its hands for the public good, which may in various instances require the use of it. But should a king of Great Britain demand of his parliament the rescision of any vote they had passed, or forbid them to petition the throne, on pain of dissolution, and actually dissolve them accordingly, I humbly conceive the minister who advised it would run some hazard of censure at least, for thus using the prerogative to the violation of common right, and breach of the constitution. The American assembly have no means of impeaching such a minister; but there is an assembly, the parliament of England, that have that power, and in a former instance exercised it well, by impeaching a great man (Lord Clarendon) for having (though in one instance only) endeavored to introduce arbitrary government into the colonies.
The effect this operation of the American secretary had in America, was not a prevention of those petitions as he