Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Old trou

bles extended.

CHAPTER I.

PROVOCATIONS.

THE old troubles between the mother country and the colonies remained. They were now extended. To enforce the commercial rule of Great Britain, her fleet upon the American coast was turned into a revenue squadron. To keep up the military rule, the colonies were organized in divisions, with British commander-in-chief, British officers, and British troops, in short, a standing army. To maintain the whole system, commercial and military, the authorities of the mother country soon lent themselves to graver measures.

Parties in the mother country.

The great majority of the British people regarded the American colonists as countrymen, who could not suffer without their suffering, or prosper without their prospering. But the majority of the people was powerless, or comparatively so. The dominion over the mother country, as well as over her colonies, was with the aristocracy, with men who, whether liberal or not, - according to the phrase, whether whig or tory, were of almost one and the same mind in regarding the colonists as their subjects. So thought the king, at this time the head of the aristocracy rather than the sovereign of the nation. So thought the Parliament, at this time the representative assembly of the aristocracy rather than of the nation. So thought the successive ministries, the common representatives of the king and of the Parliament, to whom

attached the credit or the discredit of any general course or of any particular measure that might be adopted in the councils of Great Britain. Thus it was but a portion of and this the smaller, although the more pow

the nation

erful portion the colonies.

Views

of the colonies.

Parties in the colonies.

which was prepared to deal rigorously with

Even

So the colonies perceived. If they had thanks to offer for occasional acts of liberality, they gave them to the nation, knowing that in any liberal measures the nation must be united. But if there were complaints to make, if there were outcries of indignation and agony to utter, the object of them was not the nation. The colonies knew that the nation, as a whole, was on their side, and that it was the king, the Parliament, or the ministry who alone, as a general rule, deserved reproach. Hence the emphasis upon the word ministerial in relation to the system upheld in Britain, and opposed in America. The colonies themselves were not a unit. the old thirteen, with which we are concerned, presented by no means an unbroken front. The very number of their inhabitants near two millions (1763) -implied differences and separations. A considerable part consisted of slaves and of servants scattered in varying proportions amongst the various colonies. Of the freemen themselves, a very considerable proportion was more accustomed to subjection than to independence. There were certainly many who were wholly unfit to defend their liberty, many more who were wholly unfit to raise it to a position of security. Happily there was a large and an increasing body of men, women, and children, whose natures and whose principles were of a higher stamp. On these the colonies relied as much against the weaknesses that were within, as against the oppressions that were without. The same class was prominent in the pre

ceding period; here, more than ever, is it in the foreground.

The two

Thus, then, in the story of the provocations dividsides. ing the mother country and the colonies, we have not England, not Great Britain, pitted against America, but the ruling class in the mother country opposed to the better class in the colonies. The distinction is important. Nothing else could explain the amount of blundering on one side, or the amount of wisdom, comparatively speaking, on the other. Nor could any thing else so clearly indicate the difference between the principles at stake—the principles of an old aristocracy on the one hand, and on the other those of a young commonalty, all fervent with vigor and with hope.

Ministries

period.

The ministers representing the British side may of the be noted in this place. The Earl of Bute, prime minister at the beginning of the period, (1763,) was succeeded by George Grenville in the same year; then by the Marquis of Rockingham, (1765;) then by William Pitt, made Earl of Chatham, (1766;) then by the Duke of Grafton, (1768;) and then by Lord North, (1770.) The Rockingham and Chatham ministries alone were comparatively liberal, not even these being liberal in the true sense of the term.

Point

tion.

England was laboring under the increased debts. of taxa- occasioned by the late war with France. It was not her part, argued the aristocracy, to bear them. alone; they had been incurred, in a great degree, on account of the colonies, and the colonies should bear their share. The argument proceeded upon a strange forgetfulness of the fact that the colonies were already bearing their share, and more than their share, of debts and difficulties in consequence of the war. Not the less determined to increase the burdens of America, the authorities

in England cast about for the means of accomplishing their purpose. There was but one, and this taxation. Now, taxation of a certain sort was nothing new to the colonies. They had long borne with taxes for the so-called regulation of trade. But the ministry and their supporters, not content with the old taxes, were for raising new ones taxes for revenue as well as for regulation of trade. Substantially, there was no difference; taxes were taxes, whether laid upon imports or upon any thing else; but the colonies were persuaded at the time, and for some time after, that there was a difference, and a vital one.

Discussion.

When, therefore, Parliament voted, in the beginning of the year, (1764,) that it had "a right to tax the colonies," implying in any way whatever, the colonies took alarm. The Massachusetts House of Representatives ordered a committee of correspondence with the other colonies. James Otis, in a pamphlet on the Rights of the British Colonies, exclaimed, "that by this [the British] constitution, every man in the dominions is a free man; that no part of his majesty's dominions can be taxed without their consent." "The book," said Lord Mansfield, chief justice of the King's Bench, "is full of wildness.” But it did not satisfy many of the colonists, and wilder still, as the chief justice would have said, became their assertions of independence. It was not long before the right of Parliament to lay any taxes whatsoever was discussed and denied.

Sugar act.

But for the moment, the colonies were willing to bear with taxation under one name, provided it was not levied under another. The ministry, however, adopted the very style which the colonies disliked, and passed an act laying duties upon sugar and other articles of colonial import, with the expressed understanding that "it is just and necessary that a revenue be raised in America for defray

ing the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same." In other words, both the commercial and the military sway over the colonies was to be supported and carried out by a course of taxation. Thus decided George Grenville and his party by the sugar act of 1764. It was a momentous decision.

Stamp

The earnest remonstrances of the colonies, esact. pecially of New York and Rhode Island, produced no effect, except to precipitate measures in England. Ten months after the sugar act, a series of acts far more decisive was passed. A stamp act, proposed some time before, was enacted without any other serious opposition than that of English merchants in the American trade. By this act, all business papers and certificates, as well as newspapers, required a stamp, similar to that already used in Great Britain. At the same time, the jurisdiction of the Admiralty Court was extended, to the exclusion, therefore, of juries in many cases previously brought before them. Together with these new burdens upon the colonies, an old one was revived in the quartering act, by which quarters and various supplies were demanded from the colonies for the British troops amongst them. But neither the provisions for the troops nor those for the admiralty had any significance to be compared with the stamp duties, so unwonted and so unbearable, (1765.)

Resistance.

They roused the colonies with a general start. "This unconstitutional method of taxation," was the comment of George Washington, who, for the last six years, had been a burgess of Virginia. "That parliamentary procedure," was the subsequent language of Jonathan Mayhew, of Boston, "which threatened us and our posterity with perpetual bondage and slavery." Virginia was the first to speak out, as a colony, in resolutions proposed by Patrick Henry. "Those Virginians," responded Oxen

« AnteriorContinuar »