Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

consequences now stated by the honorable gentleman was then given as a reason for shutting the door against all hope of such an alteration.

And so strong was the spirit for supporting the new taxes, that the session concluded with the following remarkable declaration. After stating the vigorous measures which had been pursued, the speech from the throne proceeds :

“ You have assured me of your firm support in the prosecution of them. Nothing, in my opinion, could be more likely to enable the well-disposed among my subjects in that part of the world effectually to discourage and defeat the designs of the factious and seditious than the hearty concurrence of every branch of the legislature in the resolution of maintaining the execution of the laws in every part of my dominions."

After this no man dreamt that a repeal under this ministry could possibly take place. The honorable gentleman knows as well as I, that the idea was utterly exploded by those who sway the House. This speech was made on the ninth day of May, 1769. Five days after this speech, that is, on the thirteenth of the same month, the public circular letter, a part of which I am going to read to you, was written by Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the Colonies. After reciting the substance of the king's speech, he goes on thus:61

upon me to assure you, notwithstanding insinuations to the contrary from men with factious and seditious views, that his Majesty's present administration have at no time entertained a design to propose to Parliament to lay any further taxes upon America, for the purpose of RAISING A REVENUE; and that it is at present their intention to prom

can take

pose, the next session of Parliament, to take off the duties upon glass, paper, and colors, upon consideration of such duties having been laid contrary to the true principles of commerce.

“ These have always been, and still are, the sentiments of his Majesty's present servants, and by which their conduct in respect to America has been governed. And his Majesty relies upon your prudence and fidelity for such an explanation of his measures as may tend to remove the prejudices which have been excited by the misrepresentations of those who are enemies to the peace and prosperity of Great Britain and her colonies, and to reëstablish that mutual confidence and affection upon which the glory and safety of the British empire depend.”

Here, Sir, is a canonical book of ministerial scrip ture: the general epistle to the Americans. What does the gentleman say to it? Here a repeal is promised, - promised without condition, - and while your authority was actually resisted. I pass by the public promise of a peer relative to the repeal of taxes by this House. I pass by the use of the king's name in a matter of supply, that sacred and reserved right of the Coinmons. I conceal the ridiculous figure of Parliament hurling its thunders at the gigantic rebellion of America, and then, five days after, prostrate at the feet of those assemblies we affected to despise, — begging them, by the intervention of our ministerial sureties, to receive our submission, and heartily promising amendment. These might have been serious matters formerly ; but we are grown wiser than our fathers. Passing, therefore, from the Constitutional consideration to the mere policy, does not this letter imply that the idea of taxing America

for the purpose of revenue is an abominable project, when the ministry suppose none but factious men, and with seditious views, could charge them with it? does not this letter adopt and sanctify the American distinction of taxing for a revenue? does it not formally reject all future taxation on that principle ? does it not state the ministerial rejection of such principle of taxation, not as the occasional, but the constant opinion of the king's servants ? does it not say, (I care not how consistently,) but does it not say, that their conduct with regard to America has been always governed by this policy? It goes a great deal further. These excellent and trusty servants of the king, justly fearful lest they themselves should have lost all credit with the world, bring out the image of their gracious sovereign from the inmost and most sacred shrine, and they pawn him as a security for their promises :-“ His Majesty relies on your prudence and fidelity for such an explanation of his measures." These sentiments of the minister and these measures of his Majesty can only relate to the principle and practice of taxing for a revenue; and accordingly Lord Botetourt, stating it as such, did, with great propriety, and in the exact spirit of his instructions, endeavor to remove the fears of the Virginian assembly lest the sentiments which it seems (unknown to the world) had always been those of the ministers, and by which their conduct in respect to America had been governed, should by some possible revolution, favorable to wicked American taxers, be hereafter counteracted. He addresses them in this

manner:

“ It may possibly be objected, that, as his Majesty's present administration are not immortal, their succes

;

sors may be inclined to attempt to undo what the present ministers shall have attempted to perforın ; and to that objection I can give but this answer: that it is my firm opinion, that the plan I have stated to you will certainly take place, and that it will never be departed from ; and so determined am I forever to abide by it, that I will be content to be declared infamous, if I do not, to the last hour of my life, at all times, in all places, and upon all occasions, exert every power with which I either am or ever shall be legally invested, in order to obtain and maintain for the continent of America that satisfaction which I have been authorized to promise this day by the confidential servants of our gracious sovereign, who to my certain knowledge rates his honor so high that he would rather part with his crown than preserve it by

deceit."*

The as

A glorious and true character! which (since we suffer his ministers with impunity to answer for his ideas of taxation) we ought to make it our business to enable his Majesty to preserve in all its lustre. Let him have character, since ours is no more! Let some part of government be kept in respect !

* A material point is omitted by Mr. Burke in this speech, viz. the manner in which the continent received this royal assurance. sembly of Virginia, in their address in answer to Lord Botetourt's speech, express themselves thus : “We will not suffer our pr hopes, arising from the pleasing prospect your Lordship hath so kindly opened and displayed to us, to be dashed by the bitter reflection that any future administration will entertain a wish to depart from that plan which affords the surest and most permanent foundation of public tranquillity and happiness. No, my Lord, we are sure our most gracious sovereign, under whatever changes may happen in his confidential servants, will remain immutable in the ways of truth and justice, and that he is incapable of deceiving his faithful subjects; and we esteem your Lordship’s information not only is warranted, but even sanctified by the royal word.

This epistle was not the letter of Lord Hillsborough solely, though he held the official pen. It was the letter of the noble lord upon the floor,* and of all the king's then ministers, who (with, I think, the exception of two only) are his ministers at this hour. The very first news that a British Parliament heard of what it was to do with the duties which it had given and granted to the king was by the publication of the votes of American assemblies. It was in America that your resolutions were pre-declared. It was from thence that we knew to a certainty how much exactly, and not a scruple more nor less, we were to repeal. We were unworthy to be let into the secret of our own conduct. The assemblies had confidential communications from his Majesty's confidential servants. We were nothing but instruments. Do you, after this, wonder that you have no weight and no respect in the colonies ? After this are you surprised that Parliament is every day and everywhere losing (I feel it with sorrow, I utter it with reluctance) that reverential affection which so endearing a name of authority ought ever to carry with it? that you are obeyed solely from respect to the bayonet ? and that this House, the ground and pillar of freedom, is itself held up only by the treacherous underpinning and clumsy buttresses of arbitrary power?

If this dignity, which is to stand in the place of just policy and common. sense, had been consulted, there was a time for preserving it, and for reconciling it with any concession. If in the session of 1768, that session of idle terror and empty menaces, you had, as you were often pressed to do, repealed these taxes, then your strong operations would have come

* Lord North.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »