Abbildungen der Seite

interdict the use of the colonial paper currency. The regulations, taken together, were calculated at once to deprive the colonies of the means of trade, and to injure the commerce of both countries. The principal source of acquiring gold and silver, and of making remittances to Great Britain, was the trade which the colonies carried on with the French and Spanish West Indies. To these the carried timber, boards, and materials of almost every kind for building, staves and hoops for casks, horses, cattle, and all kinds of provisions. In return, they brought back indigo, cotton, sugar, cocoa, molasses, bills of exchange, and such sums in specie as they chose. The whole profit of this trade centred in Great Britain. The bills of exchange, and all other articles not wanted in the colonies, either for their own consumption or as means of trade, were sent to the mother country in exchange for her various manufactures. The foreign trade of the colonies was really her trade. If this trade was prohibited by the letter of the navigation laws of the empire, it was not inconsistent with the spirit of them. The advantages of it to the colonies, and especially to Great Britain, were very great. For this reason it had been winked at by those in power. But soon after the peace such regulations were adopted, as nearly annihilated this lucrative trade. The British men of war received a general order to prevent all smuggling, or as the ministerial phrase was, to “crush the monster.” Not only the men of war made prizes of French, Spanish, and English o employed in this trade, but armed cutters were fitted out for the same purpose, and to suppress every breach of the very letter of the laws of navigation. The commanders of these were obliged to take the usual custom-house oaths, and to act in the capacity of revenue officers. The sudden stoppage of a trade, which, like the vital fluid in the human body, gave life to business of every description, in the northern colonies, was productive of a general torpor in their commerce, and gave them a distressing blow. This general distress of the mercantile interest, and the heavy losses to which many of the colonists were subjected, soured their minds, created jealousies, and produced sentiments and designs altogether unfavourable to the mother country. These were further excited and inflamed by the arbitrary, unconstitutional, and cruel methods adopted for securing the §es. of the duties imposed for the purpose of raising a revenue. It was enacted by the Parliament, that whenever offences should be committed against the acts, which imposed them, the prosecutor might bring his action for the penalty, in the courts of admiralty, by which means the defendant was deprived of the privilege of a trial by a jury of the vicinage, and was subjected to a decision of his case by a single man, a creature of the crown, whose salary was to be paid out of those very forfeitures adjudged by himself. What rendered the case of the defendant still harder, was, that he was subjected to a course of law, by which the prosecutor was exempted from the trouble of proving his accusation, and he was obliged, either to prove his innocence or

to suffer. By these regulations, the colonists, when charged with violating the laws for raising a revenue in America, were deprived of every constitutional security of their property. All the guards which the constitution, and their ancestors of j countries had placed on property with respect to them, were utterly demolished. Beside, the maval officers employed in the execution of the orders of government, partly from ignorance, and partly from rapacity, were guilty of many acts of violence and injustice. These all united their influence to inflame the passions of the colonists and to alienate them from the parent country. That she should infringe her own constitution, and counteract her own commercial interests, to cramp the trade and check the growing propensity of her colonies, was a subject of general admiration and complaint. The Americans imagined that it was to be accounted for upon this supposition only, That the British ministry were jealous of their enterprising commercial spirit, increasing numbers and opulence, and were resolved on the means of obstructing them. They began to view Great Britain, not as they had formerly done, in the light of an affectionate mother, but of an illiberal, imperious and cruel step-dame. The trade indeed, between the British, and the French and Spanish colonies, on the 29th of September, 1764, was in a certain degree legalized ; but it was loaded with such enormous duties as amounted to a prohibition, and gave no relief to the colonists. In these circumstances, though their sufferings were great, yet their fears were greater. It is not strange, therefore, that they viewed and represented their mother country, in a very unfavourable point of light. It was designed that the stamp-act should succeed the acts which had already been so alarming, disgustful and distressing. The ministry waited only to be more particularly informed of the writs, deeds, licences and other instruments of that kind, used in the colonies, on which a duty might be charged; to know what the objections of the colonists would be against the duties in contemplation; and whether the Americans would not choose to tax themselves to such an amount, or, in some other way, make such permanent provision, for the augmentation of the national revenue, as might be equivalent to that, which was contemplated by the stampact. The governors of the several colonies, in obedience to the requisition of his Britannic Majesty, at an early period, transmitted to the ministry, for their assistance, in framing the said act, the forms of writs, deeds and the like, used in America, how opposite soever they were to the tax it was designed to impose. The Americans were well apprized of the designs of the British ministry, and big with the most anxious expectation. While the ministry paid an eager attention to the reception given to the regulations which they had already made respecting America, and were anxiously seeking every possible information from the most enlightened characters in the several colonies, that they might the more effectually carry their designs into execution, the alarm,

among the colonists, became greater and greater, and spread wider and wider. The best heads and pens among them were employed against the regulations which had been adopted and the act which was in contemplation. Eloquence and the press every where aided the opposition. The more the people thought and reasoned, the more they were awakened to a sense of their danger ; in proportion to their time and opportunities they increased their union, and roused each other to oppose the regulations already made and the act which was pending. They viewed the parliamentary resolutions as the sad preface to a system of American revenue, which would divest them of the rights of English subjects, not only enslave but empov-z. ish themselves and their posterity, and prove a melancholy introduction to a complication of evils of the greatest magnitude. The imagined they saw before them a prospect of oppression, unlimite in its extent and endless in its duration. Several of the colonies petitioned and remonstrated against the acts; and committees were generally appointed by the respective assemblies to represent their objections against a parliamentary taxation of the colonies, and particularly against the Stamp-Act. In Virginia, the Council and House of Burgesses petitioned his majesty, presented a memorial to the House of Lords, and a remonstrance to the House of Commons. Massachusetts, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, and New-York preferred petitions.” We here insert as a fair specimen of these petitions,

“The Memorial of the Council and Burgesses of Wirginia, now met in General Assembly,”—to the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament, “HUMBLY REPRESENTS, “That your memorialists hope an application to your lordships, the fixed and hereditary guardians of British liberty, will not be thought improper at this time, when measures are proposed, subversive, as they conceives of that freedom, which all men, especially those who derive, their constitution from Britain, have a right to enjoy ; and they flatter themselves that your lordships will not look upon them as objects so unworthy your attention, as to regard any impropriety in the form or manner of their application, for your lordships' protection, of their just and undoubted rights as Britons. “it cannot be présumption in your memorialists to call themselves by this distinguished name, since they are descended from Britons, who left, their native country to extend its territory and dominion, and who, happily for Britain, and as your memorialists once thought, for themselves too, effected this purpose. As our ancestors brought with them every right and privilege they could with justice claim in their mother kingdom, their descendants may conclude, they cannot be deprived of those rights without injustice. - ... * Your memorialists conceive it to be a fundamental principle of the British constitution, without which freedom can no where exist, that the people are not subject to any taxes but such as are laid on them by their own consent, or by those who are legally appointed to represent them : property must become too precarious for the genius of a free people, which can be taken from them at the will of others, who cannot know what taxes such people can bear.or the easiest mode of raising them; and who are not underibat restraint, which

is the greatest security against a burthensome taxation, when the represe tives themselves must be affected by every tax imposed on the people. “Your memorialists are therefore led into an humble confidence, that y lordships will not think any reason sufficient to support such a power, in British Parliament, where the colonies cannot be represented : a power me before constitutionally assumed, and which if they have a right to exercise any occasion, must necessarily establish this melancholy truth, that the inh. itants of the colonies are the slaves of Britons, from whom they are descende and from whom they might expect every indulgence that the obligations interest and affection can entitle them to. “Your memorialists have been invested with the right of taxing their ow people from the first establishment of a regular government in the colony, al requisitions have been constantly made to them by their sovereigns, on a occasions when the assistance of the colony was thought necessary to preserv the British interest in America; from whence they must conclude, they canno now be deprived of a right they have so long enjoyed, and which they hav never forfeited. “The expenses incurred during the last war, in compliance with the de mands on this colony by our late and present most gracious sovereigns, have involved us in a debt of near half a million, a debt not likely to decrease under the continued expense we are at, in providing for the security of the people against the incursions of our savage neighbours; at a time when the low state of our staple commodity, the total want of specie, and the late restrictions upon the trade of the colonies, render the circumstances of the eople extremely distressful; and which, if taxes are accumulated upon them I. the British Parliament, will make them truly deplorable. “Your memorialists cannot suggest to themselves any reason why they should not still be trusted with the property of their people, with whose abilities, and the least burthensome mode of taxing, (with great deference to the superior wisdom of Parliament,) they must be best acquainted. “Your memorialists hope they shall not be suspected of being actuated, on this occasion, by any principles but those of the purest loyalty and affection, as they always endeavoured by their conduct to demonstrate, that they consider their connexion with Great Britain, the seat of liberty, as their greatest happiness. “The duty they owe to themselves and their posterity, lays your memorialists under the necessity of endeavouring to establish their constitution upon its proper foundation ; and they do most humbly pray your lordships to take , this subject into your consideration, with the attention that is due to the well. . being of the colonies, o, which the prosperity of Great Britain does, in a

great measure, depend.”

Pamphlets were also published, containing the reasons and pleas of the colonies against the acts. These were sent over to their agents and put into the hands of the ministry. In these, it was pleaded, That by the constitution and common law of England, the English were a free people ; that their freedom consisted in this general privilege—that no laws could be made or abrogated without ..." their consent, by their representatives in Parliament: That no priv. o ilege, included in the general rights of the free subjects of Great '...' Britain, was more essential to their freedom, more approved and ..." fixed than this, that no taa:, loan, or benevolence can be imposed on o them but by their consent, by their representatives in Parliament: o * That this was a privilege of ancient date, and that there was none o of which they had been more jealous; none which they had more ". expressly claimed, or for which they had more vigorously contended,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

as essential to the preservation of the liberty, property and safety of the subject. It was insisted that the colonists were as much British subjects as those who had been born and lived in Great Britain, and had a right to the same essential privileges: That these had been stipulated and confirmed by royal charters, acknowledged by the people of Great Britain, and enjoyed by the colonies for more than a century: That the colonists could not be represented in Parliament, nor give their consent, directly or indirectly, to laws made, or taxes imposed, by its authority ; and therefore that charging stamp duties, or other internal taxes, on the American colonies, would be inconsistent with the British constitution, and an infringement on their natural and essential rights. It was urged, that if the taxations in contemplation should take place, and the principles on which they were founded be adopted and acted upon, the colonies would enjoy no more than the show of legislation, and the king's subjects, in them, the shadow of English liberty only : That the same principles, which would warrant a tax of this kind on one article, would upon every article, and a tax of a pound, as well as of a penny, or of a thousand pounds, and so on, without limitation, as Parliament might judge convenient. It was affirmed, that the law was no less the rule and measure of the king's government and power, than of the allegiance of his subjects ; and that while it asserted and maintained the royal powers and prerogatives, it equally asserted and maintained their rights and liberties. Further, it was pleaded, that the taxes were impolitic, as well as an infringement of the rights of the subject: That the colonies were a great interest, and of high importance to Great Britain: That the increase of their numbers, commerce and riches, was in reality the increase of her strength, commerce and opulence: That the profits of their industry, spirit of enterprise, and circuitous trade all centre in Great Britain, and that the revenue of the crown, no less than the wealth of the nation, was greatly increased, at the expense of the colonies: That the measures in contemplation, by depriving them of their powers and privileges, and rendering both liberty and property insecure, would cause the colonies to languish, and be an essential injury to the mother country: and that by continuing their governments, and treating their privileges as too sacred to be violated, the people would be invigorated, their spirit of industry and enterprise would be kept up, and they would become more able and zealous to advance the national interest. The manner in which most of the colonies were settled, and the special services which they had performed, were also pleaded as objections againstall internal taxations. It was affirmed that the colonists had purchased the right of pre-emption of their lands of the king, or his patentees, and that they had been obliged to purchase a great part of them again of the native proprietors” of the country: That

“Man,” says Chalmers, “having a right to the world from the gift of the beneficent £reator, must possess and Hse the general estate according to the grant, which cow

« ZurückWeiter »