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It commonly happens, in the discussion of doubtful claims between States, that the ground of the original dispute insensibly changes. When the mind is employed in investigating one subject, others, associated with it, naturally present themselves. In the course of inquiries on the subject of parliamentary taxation, the restriction on the trade of the colonists, and the necessity that was imposed on them to purchase British and other manufactures, loaded with their full proportion of all taxes, paid by those who made or sold them, became more generally known. While American writers were vindicating their country from the charge of contributing nothing to the common expenses of the empire, they were led to set off, to their credit, the disadvantage of their being confined exclusively to purchase manufactures in Britain. They instituted calculations, by which they demonstrated, that the monopoly of their trade drew from them greater sums, for the support of government, than were usually paid by an equal number of their fellow-citizens of Great Britain ; and that taxation, superadded to such a monopoly, would leave them in a state of perfect uncompensated slavery. The investigation of these subjects brought matters into view which the friends of union ought to have kept out of sight. These circumstances, together with the extensive population of the Eastern States, and their adventurous spirit of commerce, suggested to some bold spirits, that not only British taxation, but British navigation laws, were unfriendly to the interests of America.
What, more than anything else, had prevented a speedier realization of the inherent injustice of the metes and bounds set up by Parliament to limit the trade and industry of the colonies, was that mental habit which makes anything which has long existed seem appropriate and necessary. Edmund Burke, in his famous speech in the House of Commons on “American Taxation,” April 19, 1774, laid much stress on this point, saying:
Sir, they who are friends to the schemes of American revenue say that the commercial restraint is full as hard a law for America to live under. I think so, too. I think it, if uncompensated, to be a condition of as rigorous servitude as men can be subject to. But America bore it from the fundamental Act of Navigation until 1764. Why? Because men do bear the inevitable constitution of their original nature with all its infirmities. The Act of Navigation attended the colonies from their infancy, grew with their growth, and strengthened with their strength. They were confirmed in obedience, even more by usage than by law. They scarcely had remembered a time when they were not subject to such restraint.
But when the colonies had much increased in population, resources, and importance, and when additional and more stringent requirements, by which the power of self-direction was still further abridged, had sharpened the perceptions which custom had dulled, it began to be discerned that commercial and industrial servitude was no proper mate for civil liberty. The instinctive sense of justice, to be found in every human breast, was shocked and tormented by appreciating what was signified, in the last analysis, by tame obedience to such prohibitions as that which stopped the sale of homemade hats from province to province, or as that which constituted it a nuisance to make or use certain machinery essential to the splitting of iron for the manufacture of wrought nails. Men, who for generations had been accustomed to the atmosphere of political freedom, recoiled at view of the ultimate consequences of an unquestioning submission to such requisitions, even though imposed by the British Parliament—requisitions which could not be satisfied without putting native industry in a strait-jacket, so to speak, for the selfish advantage of the mother country; without acknowledging Great Britain's authority to stint and dwarf the productive forces in her American possessions, solely to aggrandize her own greatness; and without setting dangerous precedents to encourage more radical encroachments upon colonial rights. In time, these augmenting and multiplying restrictions came to be regarded as gross indignities which ought to be resented by self-respect, and as so many degrading marks of bondage to the parent kingdom. So soon as this conviction had become seated in the brains and hearts of the people, every attempt to enforce the restraints engendered nothing but discontent, disorder, disobedience. A decisive crisis arrived in this long train of events when, in 1764, George Grenville was made Prime Minister of Great Britain. He found the public treasury drained empty by the vampire appetite of war, and his first care was to devise means to replenish the exhausted coffers. Perceiving the capacity of the Americans to pay a tax, if levied, he turned his attention to a project for obtaining revenue by establishing new duties upon all foreign goods imported into the colonies. These were already submitting to the taxes, in the shape of duties, which the Navigation Act and the Sugar Act imposed; and when this new scheme was proposed to Parliament, the people were at once aroused to a sense of their danger; they saw clearly the design of the British Ministry to impose tax upon tax, as long as forbearance would permit the wrong. Action on the subject was taken in the colonial assemblies, where one sentiment prevailed—a denial of the right claimed by Great Britain to tax her colonies without their consent. The fundamental principle of a free government, that “taxation and equitable representation are inseparable,” was boldly proclaimed, and petitions and remonstrances from the colonies were transmitted to the King and Parliament. But the King, instead of heeding these appeals, reasserted in his speech from the throne in January, 1765, his right to tax the colonies, and ‘recommended the adoption of Grenville's measures. Emboldened by this emphatic encouragement, the Minister proposed his famous Stamp Act in February, and in March it became a law, receiving the royal signature. This further attempt to raise a revenue in America, which arbitrarily extended the claim of Parliamentary authority so as to levy internal no less than external taxes upon the colonists, fully aroused these unrepresented and victimized British subjects to an appreciation of the startling danger of enslavement by the mother country, and awakened the first notes of universal alarm which led to a general union of the American commonwealths in defense of their imperiled rights, at length resulting in the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The ferment which this act immediately produced in America, even months before the date when it was to go into effect, and the violent opposition which it met with from Pitt and other leading minds in Parliament, caused its repeal in March, 1766. But the Repeal Act was accompanied by a Declaratory Act, which contained the germ of other usurpations and oppressions. It affirmed that Parliament had power “to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever.” Thus, by an apparent retraction which deceitfully amounted to a reassertion, was the seminal principle of all the encroachments upon the liberties of the colonies set forth as an inalienable prerogative of the British government. Out of these circumstances of opposition arose that long controversy between the colonies and the mother country about the nature and extent of the latter's power over the former, settled only by revolution and independence—a heated controversy which burned into the memories of the American people the signification of certain words and phrases, connected with taxation and commerce, and employed by the framers of the Constitution in formulating the powers of Congress to raise revenue and to protect home industry. An abiding sense of being deeply wronged; a settled conviction that liberty itself was in danger; a strong belief that resistant action was essential to preserve the integrity of menaced rights; a diligent search for adequate means of obtaining redress—these considerations, growing more vital and more urgent with the lapse of every new year, concentrated the rays of intelligence in all America at one focus of patriotic endeavor, and poured the intensity of their combined light upon the great subjects of controversy, until an illumination of knowledge was shed upon whatever had been obscure, or uncertain, or perplexing. In this way, the minds of the people were familiarized with the salient points in dispute, and with the verbiage in which these were stated, so that it became impossible to be mistaken about the meaning of certain words and phrases, when employed in the discussions of the day, or to misinterpret what was intended when the same words and phrases were inserted in the Constitution, to embody the transfer to Congress of particular powers theretofore possessed by the several States. It is not to be supposed that the members of the Federal Convention, in framing a new organic law for the Union, designed to give to some special formulas of expression a signification different from that which they had borne in State papers, in the proceedings of