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British Ministry call upon the people of Great Britain for voluntary contributions
Parliament meet January 20th, 1778—Ministers propose a plan of reconciliation on the 17th of February—this plan contained in three bills—purport of the bills-sent to America before they had passed-Governor Tryon, to whom they are entrusted, sends them to general Washington and to the governors of some of the states General Washington transmits them to congress--Are referred to a committee--Report made against them-Answer of governor Trumbull to the letter of Tryon—Treaties with France arrive in May, 1778–Are immediately ratified and published-Congress prepare an address to the people of the United States British commissioners arrive in America to offer terms of reconciliation-Dr. Franklin secretly consulted as to terms, before the commissioners left England-David Hartley and others go to France to sound him on the subject of terms of reconciliation-Propose that America should yield certain advantages in trade, on condition of peace-British commissioners arrive in America—Propose to congress certain conciliatory propositions -Congress refuse to listen to any terms short of independence and the withdrawing of the fleets and armies—Reply of the British commissioners-Governor Johnston, one of the commissioners, sends letters to several members of congress, and through a lady makes certain offers to Mr. Reed--Congress declare this an attempt to bribe one of their body and refuse all further intercourse with him—British commissioners present an address or manifesto to the people of the states making the same offers they had sent to congress—The people refuse the offers--Congress issue a counter manifesto.
It is now time to recur to the proceedings in Great Britain with respect to America, in the winter of 1778. Parliament again met, on the 20th of January, the time to which they had adjourned. During the recess, the ministry were engaged in devising means to supply the loss of the army under general Burgoyne. For this purpose, they appealed to the patriotism and loyalty of the people in every part of Great Britain ; nor did they appeal in vain. Large subscriptions in money were obtained from individuals, and some of the wealthy cities furnished a regiment of men, at their own expense.
The ministry, at the same time, were preparing a plan of reconciliation and concession to be proposed to the people of the United States, agreeably to the declaration of lord North, at the fcime of adjournment.
Waiting, however, for the result of their appeal to the patriotism of individuals, this plan was not submitted to parliament, until the 17th of February, 1778, ten days after the American commissioners had completed their treaties with France.*
Three bills were presented by the ministry, which soon became laws, containing their plan of reconciliation. The first was, “An act for removing all doubts and apprehensions concerning taration by the parliament of Great Britain, in any of the colonies, provinces and plantations in North America, and the West Indies,” and for repealing the act for laying a duty on tea, imported into the colonies. The second act restored the charter of Massachusetts; and the third authorized the king, “to appoin commissioners, with sufficient power to treat, consult, and agree upon the means of quieting the disorders now subsisting in certain of the colonies, plantations and provinces in North America."
It was declared and enacted, by the first, that “the king and parliament of Great Britain, would not impose any duty, tax, or assessment whatever, payable in any of his majesty's colonies, provinces, and plantations, in North America, or the West Indies, except only such duties, as it might be expedient to impose for the regulation of commerce; the net produce of such duties to be always paid and applied to, and for the use of the colony, province, or plantation, in which the same should be respectively levied, in such manner, as other duties collected by the authority of the respective general courts or general assemblies of such colonies, provinces, or plantations, are ordinarily paid or applied.” After restoring the ancient charter of Massachusetts, without which the ministry well knew, no reconciliation was possible ; parliament authorized the commissioners to be appointed by the king, "to treat, consult, and agree with such body or bodies politic and corporate, or with such assembly or assemblies of men, or any person or persons whatsoever, of and concerning any grievances, or complaints of grievances existing or supposed to exist, in the government of any of the said colonies, provinces, or plantations respectively, or in the laws and statutes of this realm respecting
* David Hartley's Letters to his Constituents in England, October, 1778.
the same ; and of and concerning any aid or contribution to be furnished by all, or any of the colonies, provinces, or plantations respectively, for the common defense of this realm, and the dominions therewith belonging ; and of and concerning any other regulations, provisions, matters, and things, necessary or convenient for the honor of his majesty and his parliament, and for the common good of all his subjects." No agreement, however, made by these commissioners was to be ultimately binding, unless confirmed by parliament.
To enable the commissioners to carry these general powers into effect, the king might authorize them to proclaim a cessation of hostilities, on the part of his majesty, both by sea and land, for any time, and under any conditions or restrictions—to suspend the operation and effect of the act of parliament, passed in December, 1775, prohibiting all trade and intercourse with the colonies, and also, to suspend in any places and for any times, the operations and effects of any act or acts of parliament, or any clause of the same, passed since the 10th day of February, 1763, relating to any of the colonies. They, also, had power, on certain conditions, to grant pardons, and in case of a vacancy in the office of a governor in any colony, or in his absence, to nominate a successor. This act was to remain in force, until the first of June, 1779.
That the British ministry should have paid so little attention to the movements of France, during the winter of 1778, and should have placed such confidence in assurances of a pacific disposition, on the part of the courts both of France and Spain, has been a subject of no little surprise. When warned by their opponents in parliament, that unless a reconciliation with the colonists was soon effected, France would unite in supporting them; they declared that France and Spain would be governed by their interest, and that this interest was manifestly opposed to the independence of such powerful colonies, in the neighborhood of their
From this, or some other cause, the ministers had paid so little attention, to what was passing at the court of France, that even during the debates on their conciliatory bills, some of them,
if their declarations are to receive credit, were ignorant of the completion of the treaties between France and America; though Mr. Fox, in the house of commons, and the duke of Grafton in the house of lords, openly declared their knowledge of the fact. The king and ministry, however, were soon officially informed of this important event by the French minister in England, de Noailles, who, on the 13th of March, presented the following declaration to the court of London:
“ The United States of North America, who are in full possession of independence, as pronounced by them, on the 4th of July, 1776, having proposed to the king, to consolidate, by a formal convention, the connection begun to be established between the two nations, the respective plenipotentiaries have signed a treaty of friendship and commerce, designed to serve as a foundation for their mutual good correspondence.” In making this communication, the French minister was persuaded, he said, that the court of London would find new proofs of a constant and sincere disposition for peace, on the part of the French court; and that his Britannic majesty would take effectual measures, to prevent any interruption of the commerce between France and the United States; and intimated, that for the purpose of affording effectual protection to such commerce, his master, in connection with the United States, had taken eventual measures.
On the receipt of this note, the king of Great Britain immediately recalled his minister from Paris ; and on the 17th sent a message to parliament, with a copy of the above note, declaring the conduct of France, an unjust and unprovoked aggression on the honor of his crown, and the essential interests of his kingdom, contrary to the most solemn assurances, subversive of the law of nations, and injurious to the rights of every sovereign power in Europe ; and that he was determined to be prepared, to exert all the force and resources of his kingdom, if necessary, to repel every insult and attack.
The answers of both houses gave assurances of the most zealous support and assistance, in measures necessary to vindicate the honor of the crown, and to protect the just rights and essential interests of the empire.
These answers did not pass without warm and animated debates. Those who were usually opposed to the ministry, were divided as to the course of policy proper to be pursued, in the critical situation in which the nation was placed. The duke of Richmond, the marquis of Rockingham, and others, were in favor of an immediate acknowledgment of the independence of America; while the earl of Chatham, the earl of Shelburne, and their friends, were strongly opposed to a dismemberment of the British empire.
France having now become a party in the war, for the support of American independence, the political affairs of the United States assumed a new aspect.
To counteract, and if possible, to prevent the effects of the new connection between the United States and the ancient enemy of Great Britain, was the first object of the British ministers, after being assured of this important event. They had sent to America copies of their conciliatory bills, even before they became laws, to be there distributed. Governor Tryon, to whom they were entrusted, received them about the middle of April, and immediately transmitted them to general Washington, and to the governors some of the states. The general sent them to congress, and expressed his fears of their ill effects on the public mind, unless measures to counteract them were taken. Congress referred the subject to a committee, consisting of Governeur Morris, Mr. Drayton, and Mr. Dana. On the 22d of April, this committee made a report, which was, at once, unanimously accepted, and with the bills themselves, ordered to be published.
At that period of the contest, congress were not disposed to accept of terms, to which, in its commencement, they might have gladly listened. After severe animadversions on the bills themselves, the committee concluded their report by saying—“From all which, it appears evident, that the said bills are intended to operate on the hopes and fears of the good people of these states, so as to create divisions among them, and a defection from the common cause, now by the blessing of God, drawing near to a favorable issue ; that they are the sequel of that insidious plan, Vol. II.