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DURING the last session of the last Parliament, on the 19th of April, 1774, Mr. Rose Fuller, member for Rye, made the following motion :
“ That an act made in the seventh year of the reign of his present Majesty, intituled, 'An act for granting certain duties in the British colonies and plantations in America ; for allowing a drawback of the duties of customs upon the exportation from this kingdom of coffee and cocoa-nuts, of the produce of the said colonies or plantations; for discontinning the drawbacks payable on china earthenware exported to America; and for more effectually preventing the clandestine running of goods in the said colonies and plantations,' might be read.”
And the same being read accordingly, he moved, –
“ That this House will, upon this day sevennight, resolve itself into a committee of the whole House, to take into consideration the duty of three-pence per pound weight upon tea, payable in all his Majesty's dominions in America, imposed by the said act; and also the appropriation of the said duty."
On this latter motion a warm and interesting debate arose, in which Mr. Burke spoke as follows.
IR, - I agree with the honorable gentleman * who
spoke last, that this subject is not new in this House. Very disagreeably to this House, very unfortunately to this nation, and to the peace and prosperity of this whole empire, no topic has been more familiar to us. For nine long years, session after session, we have been lashed round and round this miserable circle of occasional arguments and temporary expedients. I am sure our heads must turn and our stomachs nauseate with them. We have had them in every shape; we have looked at them in every point of view. Invention is exhausted; reason is fatigued; experience has given judgment; but obstinacy is not yet conquered.
* Charles Wolfran Cornwall, Esq., lately appointed one of the Lords of the Treasury.
The honorable gentleman has made one endeavor more to diversify the form of this disgusting argument. He has thrown out a speech composed almost entirely of challenges. Challenges are serious things; and as he is a man of prudence as well as resolution, I dare say he has very well weighed those challenges before he delivered them. I had long the happiness to sit at the same side of the House, and to agree with the honorable gentleman on all the American questions. My sentiments, I am sure, are well known to him; and I thought I had been perfectly acquainted with his. Though I find myself mistaken, he will still permit me to use the privilege of an old friendship; he will permit me to apply myself to the House under the sanction of his authority, and, on the various grounds he has measured out, to submit to you the poor opinions which I have formed upon a matter of importance enough to demand the fullest consideration I could bestow upon it.
He has stated to the House two grounds of deliburation: one narrow and simple, and merely confined to the question on your paper; the other more large and more complicated, - comprehending the whole series of the Parliamentary proceedings with regard to America, their causes, and their consequences. With regard to the latter ground, he states it as useless, and thinks it may be even dangerous, to enter into so extensive a field of inquiry. Yet, to my surprise, he had hardly laid down this restrictive proposition, to which his authority would have given so much weight, when directly, and with the same authority, he condemns it, and declares it absolutely necessary to enter into the most ample historical detail. His zeal has thrown him a little out of his usual accuracy. In this perplexity, what shall we do, Sir, who are willing to submit to the law he gives us ? He has reprobated in one part of his speech the rule he had laid down for debate in the other, and, after narrowing the ground for all those who are to speak after him, he takes an excursion, himself, as unbounded as the subject and the extent of his great abilities.
Sir, when I cannot obey all his laws, I will do the best I can. I will endeavor to obey such of them as have the sanction of his example, and to stick to that rule which, though not consistent with the other, is the most rational. He was certainly in the right, when he took the matter largely. I cannot prevail on myself to agree with him in his censure of his own conduct. It is not, he will give me leave to say, either useless or dangerous. He asserts, that retrospect is not wise; and the proper, the only proper subject of inquiry, is “not how we got into this difficulty, but how we are to get out of it.” In other words, we are, according to him, to consult our invention, and to reject our experience. The mode of deliberation he recommends is diametrically opposite to every rule of reason and every principle of good sense established amongst mankind. For that sense and that reason I have always understood absolutely to prescribe, whenever we are involved in difficulties from the measures we have pursued, that we should take a strict review of those measures, in order to correct our errors, if they should be corrigible, - or at least to avoid a dull uniformity in mischief, and the unpitied calamity of being repeatedly caught in the same snare.
Sir, I will freely follow the honorable gentleman in his historical discussion, without the least management for men or measures, further than as they shall seem to me to deserve it. But before I go into that large consideration, because I would omit nothing that can give the House satisfaction, I wish to tread the narrow ground to which alone the honorable gentleman, in one part of his speech, has so strictly confined us.
He desires to know, whether, if we were to repeal this tax, agreeably to the proposition of the honorable gentleman who made the motion, the Americans would not take post on this concession, in order to make a new attack on the next body of taxes; and whether they would not call for a repeal of the duty on wine as loudly as they do now for the repeal of the duty on tea. Sir, I can give no security on this subject. But I will do all that I can, and all that can be fairly demanded. To the experience which the honorable gentleman reprobates in one instant and reverts to in the next, to that experience, without the least wavering or hesitation on my part, I steadily appeal : and would to God there was no other arbiter to decide on the vote with which the House is to conclude this day!
When Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in the year 1766, I affirm, first, that the Americans did not in consequence of this measure call upon you to give up the former Parliamentary revenue which subsisted in that country, or even any one of the articles which compose it. I affirm also, that, when, departing from the maxims of that repeal, you revived the scheme of taxation, and thereby filled the minds of the colonists with new jealousy and all sorts of apprehensions, then it was that they quarrelled with the old taxes as well as the new; then it was, and not till then, that they questioned all the parts of your legislative power, and by the battery of such questions have shaken the solid structure of this empire to its deepest foundations.
Of those two propositions I shall, before I have done, give such convincing, such damning proof, that, however the contrary may be whispered in circles or bawled in newspapers, they never more will dare to raise their voices in this House. I speak with great confidence. I have reason for it. The ministers are
They at least are convinced that the repeal of the Stamp Act had not, and that no repeal can have, the consequences which the honorable gentleman who defends their measures is so much alarmed at. To their conduct I refer him for a conclusive answer to his objection. I carry my proof irresistibly into the very body of both Ministry and Parliament: not on any general reasoning growing out of collateral matter, but on the conduct of the honorable gentleman's ministerial friends on the new revenuo itself.
The act of 1767, which grants this tea-duty, sets forth in its preamble, that it was expedient to raiso a