Imágenes de páginas

in the history of the world as is the dominion acquired immediately after this war by the English in the East Indies,-it still remains the most important event for the history of mankind, that from that time forth the dominion of the Romance nations in other quarters of the world crumbled to pieces, while that of the Germanic stock, especially in America, marched irresistibly forward. Few then perceived what must be the inevitable result; nay, even now there are many who overlook the immeasurable importance of this development of human progress; and hence it is worthy of mention, that Vergennes,* the French minister for foreign affairs, foresaw, as early as the year 1775, the future independence of all the European colonies, and prophesied that in time to come the Germanic people would rule over South America likewise.




State of affairs after the War--Commerce and Duties--Right of Taxation--Stamp

Act-Resolutions in America-Effect in England, and Counsels there adopted-Views and Principles-Question of Right--State of Fact-Abolition of the Stamp Act—Hopes and Fears-New Taxes–Duty on Tea-Tea cast into the Sea-- Proceedings against Boston-New Movements—First Congress-Resolutions of the Congress—Parliament, Chatham-Lord North's Proposals—Burke's Proposals—Beginning of the War—Declaration of Independence-Reflections.

ENGLAND, during the seven years' war with France, had made very great exertions, borne an immense amount of taxation, suffered from the derangements of her trade, and plunged herself deeply into debt. It seemed absolutely necessary that her finances should be arranged, the public debt reduced, and the neglected laws of commerce again put in practice. And above all, it was considered that America should lend its assistance to these necessary and wholesome measures; since the whole war had been undertaken chiefly for its sake, and had been concluded with the gain of immense tracts of land to its almost exclusive advantage. The rejoicing and enthusiasm produced in America by this happy event were certainly very great, and its gratitude to England was natural and sincere. But this joy was partly produced by the consciousness to which the Americans had attained of the greatness of their own power and the value of their own exertions ;

Raumer's Beiträge, v. 216.

and to this they joined the observation, that after the destruction of the French power, English assistance for the future would seem to be no longer necessary. And, moreover, it appeared very questionable whether, during the great struggle, America had not done, suffered, and paid more in proportion than England.*

While such were the feelings naturally and unavoidably entertained, and while the colonies were daily increasing in weight and importance, the government of the mother-country should have exercised the greatest moderation and prudence, and should have adapted its measures and demands 10 the new relations which had sprung up. But instead of this, orders were issued in 1764 for a stricter enforcement of the English Navigation and Customs Acts, which were harshly executed by the public officers ; so much so, that many manufactures were directly prohibited in America, in order to secure the monopoly of them to the mother-country.t

Both before and after the war, the northern colonies in particular had carried on a considerable and profitable trade with Spanish America, receiving gold and silver in return for English manufactures. This was contrary to the letter, but not to the spirit of the English Navigation Act; although even then it seemed no longer adapted to the general state of things. It was wrong to discuss the mere theoretical question respecting the relation in which that trade stood to the old laws, without taking into account long custom, the advantages of the trade, the inclinations of the people, their own power of execution, &c. It is true, the prohibition of the trade was again removed, in consequence of the urgent complaints of the Americans; but it was at the same time burdened with such high duties, as to render it impossible to carry it on. Not only did new remonstrances on this turn of affairs, and on the increasing despotism of men in office, the assumptions of the military, &c. remain without effect, but England likewise imposed duties upon silk and woollen goods, sugar, coffee, wines, &c.; all, it was said, for the protection of America, although at this moment no danger threatened it. This Customs Act, which was already regarded as an innovation in America, was rendered doubly burdensome by a number of accessory regulations. Thus, for instance, the paper currency of the colonies was rejected, and payments ordered to be made in specie; while disputes on this head were to be decided, not by the common law and with the aid of juries, but by the courts of admiralty.

Formerly, all laws relative to commercial monopoly and the burdens connected therewith, had been regarded as general rules

* Burke, ii. 396. | See Ramsay's History, chap. ii. Kuhfahl, i. 7.


of trade, and not as custom laws in particular. The regulations above mentioned, as well as others connected with them, led, however, to a closer examination of the theory and practice of systems of taxation, and to a severe scrutiny into the relations of a mother country to its daughter states.

The prevalent feelings and tendencies were sufficiently manifested when Massachusetts, which was soon followed by the other states, declared, June, 1764, that where there is no representation, slavery reigns, and that the British Parliament had no right to tax unrepresented Americans. Thus the question relative to the right of taxation became the central point of all the disputes that broke forth. Both parties were agreed that America ought to contribute pro rata to the taxes occasioned by the last expensive

But while Great Britain maintained that its Parliament necessarily and naturally possessed the right to impose taxes on all parts of the kingdom, the Americans responded, that the Bri-. tish empire had grown to such an extent, and the interests of its various parts were so diverse, that it must have several representative assemblies. The American assemblies, said they, are for America, what the British are for Great Britain; and by adopting a contrary view, and one opposed to our charters, we should lose the right of taxing ourselves through our own representatives, we should be put without any reason lower than Englishmen, and be turned into subjects of subjects.

In England many were at first enraged to think that the colonies should refuse to yield obedience to Britons, the conquerors of the world, or to acknowledge the omnipotence of Parliament, and help to diminish, in compliance with its decree, the great burdens resting upon the mother-country. The declaration, said they, that Americans ought to enjoy the privileges of British subjects, does not contravene the right of the British Parliament to impose taxes. To such taxation every Briton, without exception, is subjected, and the American charters were intended merely as a protection against a partial levying of taxes by the king. Liverpool, Manchester, and other English towns, which send no representatives to Parliament, could not be taxed by it according to the American views; but they, like America, are virtually represented, and pay without offering any opposition, in which respect the Americans would do well to imitate them.

The defects of the English constitution, the Americans replied, should not be held up to us for imitation. It must not be forgotten, that the interests of a distant and essentially different part of the world cannot be virtually represented like those of an English town, which lies close at hand. Newly arisen relations of time and place are to be attended to, and the early necessitous state of colonies furnishes no rule for their treatment after they are become powerful and have reached their maturity. But the intention seems to be, not to extend their rights in a natural manner with their increasing power and importance, nor even to maintain them unimpaired; but, from a perverse management or a selfish jealousy, to impose upon them still heavier restrictions.*

It is certain that, even at this early period, nothing but the greatest sagacity, circumspection, and moderation, without violence, could have suggested the right course of action ; but the heads of the English government were wanting in those qualities. Fearful that America might become weary of her fetters, they ventured on the dangerous experiment of loading her with yet more galling ones.

In fact, there were but three practical courses to be pursued; and these were, either that the colonies should become independent, or that they should retain their legislative assemblies, or that their representatives should be received into the British Parliament. The fourth expedient, that of taxing America without any representation and without participation in the legislative power, was wholly repugnant to the spirit of the British constitution. Walpole, as we have seen, had totally rejected propositions founded on this principle; and there was as little propriety in appealing respecting America to some former attempts, which perhaps had been successful, as there would have been in citing to Eng. lishmen the proceedings of the Star-Chamber in the time of Charles I., or the dispensing power claimed by James II.

Some few, indeed, may have already entertained the idea of America's complete independence of England: but it had not yet descended to the mass of the people; and it essentially depended on the wisdom of the measures next to be adopted, whether this idea should rapidly spring up, or still be repressed for a long while to come. At that time England could not and would not accustom herself to the thought of different legislative assemblies, in connexion with one executive power; and the reception of even a small number of transatlantic representatives into Parliament seemed to Englishmen as too great a favor, supposing it to be practicable; while the Americans pointed out that they would still be worse off than Englishmen, inasmuch as Americanmembers and their votes would be excluded from the House of Lords.

Such was the state of things, when Lord Grenville, in March, 1765, brought forward a Stamp Act, which was to be no less binding on America than on England. Its simplicity, although it comprised a countless number of topics, was extolled; and an attempt was made to weaken the opposition offered to it on the score of the sparse population and scattered dwellings in Ame

* Adolphus, i. 162. † Grahame, iv. 200. Grahame, iv. 195. Adolphus, i. 203.

[ocr errors]

rica. Charles Townshend, the chancellor of the exchequer, said on this occasion: “ The Americans, planted by our care, fostered into strength and opulence by our indulgence, and protected by our arms, will not grudge to contribute their mite to relieve the mothercountry from her heavy burdens." In vain was it remarked that a stamp duty for thinly peopled America was injudicious,* for the simple reason that the attendant expenses would ten times exceed the amount of the tax; while supervision, examination, and the punishment of delinquencies would be almost impossible. In vain were pressing remonstrances presented by American agents; they were laid aside unnoticed : for first of all the colonies must acknowledge the unconditional right of taxation possessed by Parliament, and must submit to the rule, according to which no petition against a pending money-bill could be admitted.t

In just indignation at this frivolous and pedantic mode of thinking and acting, Colonel Barré exclaimed in parliament in reply to Townshend, “ It is not the care of England, but her intolerance and tyranny that planted the colonies; they have grown in strength by your neglect, by your interference their progress is impeded, while they have driven back enemies of every kind by their own exertions. The people are true to the king, but also jealous of their freedom; let every one be careful not to violate it !"

Notwithstanding these remonstrances, there were but about forty votes in the lower, and none in the upper House, against the Stamp Bill. To the majority it seemed perfectly natural, and at the same time but of little consequence. On the 22d of March, 1765, it received the royal assent; and scarcely any one in England doubted but that it would also go into effect in America without opposition. But the distribution of the stamps being postponed until the 1st of November, the Americans soon recovered from their first alarm; political clubs were formed, and in numerous publications the existing state of affairs was discussed from many points of view, and in a vehement manner. As early as May, 1765, the legislative assembly of Virginia convened, and resolved-on the motion of Patrick Henry-not to obey. They even denounced as enemies every one who maintained, that any but the provincial assemblies could impose taxes on the colonies. “Cæsar and Charles the First,” said Henry, "met their destruction, let George the Third beware.” While many applauded, and others blamed this boldness, the governor dissolved the assembly; but he could not prevent the knowledge of what had taken place from spreading abroad and inciting to imitation. In many places, as Boston, Newport, New York, Portsmouth,

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

* Belsham, v., 181.

† Hinton, i. 272.

« AnteriorContinuar »