Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

66

parliament of Great Britain had neither directly nor indirectly ever attempted to derive a dollar of revenue from Ainerica ; although various acts had from time to time been passed, regulating the trade and commerce of the colonies, yet none of these were designed or regarded, either in Britain or America, as revenue laws.

But in an inauspicious moment, the British ministry conceived the idea of taxing the colonies, under the pretence of providing for their protection, but in reality to relieve the nation from the immense debt, the weight of which hung heavily upon it. This iniquitous scheme, originating with the cabinet, was easily introduced into parliament, and in March, 1764, as a prelude to the memorable Stamp Act, the house of commons resolved, That towards further defraying the necessary expenses of protecting the colonies, it may be necessary to charge certain stamp duties upon them;", and this resolution was followed by what was.commonly called the Sugar Act, passed on the 5th of April, and introduced by the following truly alarming preamble "Whereas it is just and necessary that a revenue be raised in America, for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting and securing the same ; we, the commons, &c. towards raising the same, give and grant unto your majesty, after the 29th day of September, 1764, on clayed sugar, indigo and coffee, of foreign produce, [and various other articles] the sum of,”' &c. This was the first act adopted by parliament, for the avowed object of raising a revenue in the colonies. The justice of this measure, which appeared so clear to the British parliament, was regarded in America as oppression and tyranny, and occasioned great excitement and alarm. The deceptive pretension, that the revenue was to be raised for the purpose of protecting the colonies, was only adding insult to injustice ; as the colonies supposed that they were capable of protecting themselves, and they apprebended that the object was rather under the pretence of affording them protection, to maintain a military force in America, for the purpose of dragooning them into submission, and enforcing an unconstitutional system of taxation; thereby rendering thein the instruments of forging their own chains. This act was rendered more disgusting, by a provision that the money raised by it must be paid in specie, and anoiber, that those charged with having violated the revenue laws, inight be prosecuted in the courts of admiralty ; whereby they were deprived of the privilege of trial by a jury, and were liable to be condemned by a single officer of the crown, whose salary was to be paid from the very forfeitures decreed by himself. And this was not all, or even the worst; as the trial was conducted on such principles, that the accused, contrary to the well known maxims of the common law, and repugnant to every idea of justice, was obliged to prove himself innocent, or suffer the penalties of the law. These iniquitous proceedings destroyed all security of property, and left every one at the mercy of the minions of the British crown. Their pernicious influence was soon felt extensively in the colonies ; they no longer regarded Great Britain as an affectionate inother, but viewed her in the

light of a selfish, cruel and imperious ster-mother. The designs of the ministry were penetrated, and occasioned great alarm, which spread wider and wider, until it became universal. The press, that great engine of truth and liberty, was called into requisition ; the subject was ably and elaborately discussed ; and the more it was discussed, and the better it was understood, the more strong and determined the opposition became. All the colonies petitioned and remonstrated against these obnoxious measures, and most of them appointed agents to present their memorials to parliament, or the king.

But notwithstanding the excitement and opposition in America, and the remonstrances of the colonies, Mr. Grenville, who was at the head of the treasury, prepared the Stamp-Bill, and introduced it into parliament in February, 1765 ; and although oppposed with all the powers of eloquence, by Alderman Beckford, Mr. Jackson, Colonel Barre, Sir William Meredith and others, it was adopted by a great majority ; fifty only voting in opposition, out of about three hundred members, who were present. On the second reading of the bill, various petitions, not only from the colonies, but from the London merchants interested in the American trade, were presented; but the petitions were not even received, being refused, on the plea that no memorial could be received on a money bill. Having passed both houses of parliament, on the 22d of March, the Stamp-Act received the royal assent. Dr. Franklin, then in England, as agent for Pennsylvania, wrote to Charles Thompson, afterwards secretary of congress-“ The sun of liberty is set ; you must light up the lamps of industry and economy.” Mr. Thompson, in a spirited reply, observed, “ That he thought other lights would be lighted up to resist these unconstitutional measures.” It is unnecessary to add, that this prediction was soon fulfilled.

This unjust and impolitic act was the first great cause which led to the American revolution ; indeed it was substantially the first scene in the bloody drama of that revolution. It was passed in parliament, on the 7th of February, 1765, under the ministry of Lord Grenville, and was repealed on the 18th of March, 1766, from the influence of Mr. Pitt. This period of thirteen months was the most eventful and tumultuous of any which had hitherto occurred; the apprehensions of the people were roused to the highest pitch, and the most determined spirit of opposition prevailed throughout the colonies. The Americans had not believed that the act would be passed, and on receiving the intelligence, every one was struck with astonishment and filled with consternation ; they looked at each other with amazement, and for a short interval, besitated what course to pursue ; but soon recovering from their consternation they determined not to submit to such a flagrant outrage on their rights. In Boston, the ships in the harbor, in token of the deepest mourning, suspended their colours half-mast high ; the bells were rung muffled ; and the obnoxious act, with a death's head in front of it, with the motto-" THE FOLLY OF ENGLAND AND THE RUIN OF AMERICA

و

was carried in solemn procession about the streets. The discontents soon spread throughout the colonies, and the opposition became general and determined ; the spirit of the people gave a tone to the colonial assemblies, and bold and decided resolutions were adopted against the iniquitous scheme of parliamentary taxation. Virginia took the lead, and on the 28th of May, 1765, Patric Henry introduced bis celebrated resolutions into the house of burgesses, which declared that the inhabitants of that colony were entitled to, and had possessed and enjoyed all the rights, liberties and privileges of the people of Great Britain ; that the general assembly of the colony had always exercised and alone possessed the power to levy taxes and imposts on the inhabitants of the colony, and that they were not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatsoever, designed to impose any taxation whatever upon them other than the law and ordinances of the general assembly.” So bold and unexpected were these resolutions, that whilst they were reading, one of the members cried out treason ! treason !"

These resolutions were communicated to all the colonies, and the spirit they breathed spread from one legislature to another, and their sentiments were reiterated in resolutions adopted by the legislatures and the freemen in public meetings. Committees were appointed, by the assemblies of the colonies, to correspond with each other, and to meet for consultation ; the object of which was to secure harmony of feeling and concert of action. These measures had a very happy effect ; in the mean time, the press teemed with constant publications, vindicating the rights of the colonies ; and many of them were of a highly inflammatory character, calculated to raise the public mind to the highest pitch. The pulpit also, particularly in New-England, labored in the same cause with great zeal and effect; the flame of liberty kindled from breast to breast, and spread from province to province, until the conflagration became general. The spirit of opposition ran so high as to break out into acts of tumult and disorder. In Boston the effigy of Mr. Oliver, the stamp-master, was burnt, and his house assailed, partly demolished, and his furniture destroyed ; and soon after, the house of William Storer, deputy-register of the court of admiralty, was attacked, and the books and files of the court destroyed; and the house of Benjamin Hallowell, comptroller of the customs, shared the same fate. These outrages were followed by a more bold and daring attack upon the dwelling of Mr. Hutchinson, lieutenant-governor of the province ; he was obliged to flee to save his life, and his house was entirely demolished, except the walls, and every thing in it destroyed or carried off. Similar outrages were committed in other places. 1. Connecticut, Mr. Ingersoll, the stamp-officer, was burnt in effigy in many towns ; and whilst be was proceeding from New-Haven to Hartford, where the assembly was in session, he was pursued and overtaken by a large concourse of people, some from more than thirty miles, and compelled to resign bis viice, which was followed by three hearty cheers of liberty vind property. This took place at Wethersfield, from whence

the people, who were headed by militia officers, proceeded to | Hariford, where Mr. Ingersoll was compelled to read bis resig

nation in the hearing of the assembly, which was succeeded by loud acclamations of liberty and property. In New-York the stamp officer was compelled to resign, and Lieutenant-Governor Colden was burnt in effigy, with a stamp-bill in his hand, sus. pended from his own coach, and the whole was consumed together.

In the southern colonies, the public feeling did not lead to the same excesses; but in all of them, means were found to compel the stamp officers to resign ; and in all the colonies the assemblies adopted resolutions in opposition to the stamp-act, although in many of them the royal governors prorogued and attempted to stop their proceedings. The members of the colonial assemblies were animated and encouraged by the people, who, in most of the towns, instructed them to oppose the stamp-act. But the most important measure to unite the colonies and give energy and effect to their opposition, was convening a continental congress, consisting of deputies appointed by each colony. This measure was first proposed by the assembly of Massachusetts. The meeting was appointed to be holden in New York, in October, 1765. All the colonies, except New-Hampshire, Virginia, North-Carolina, and Georgia, sent deputies ; the tbree last of these colonies were prevented by their governors, and the first excused itself on account of its peculiar situation. The congress, after mature deliberation, adopted a declaration of rights, and a statement of the grievances of the colonies, and asserted, in the strongest terms, their exemption from all taxes not imposed by their own representatives. It also prepared a petition to the house of commons.

As the first of November, the time when the stamp-act was to go into operation, approached, public feeling became still stronger and was exerted to the utmost to prevent the execution of the law. In New-York, ten boxes of stamps, which had arrived there for Connecticut, were seized by the populace and burned ; and in other ports, the masters of vessels, which brought out stamps, were compelled to return with their detestable cargoes or deliver them up to the people to be destroyed. 1o Boston, and inany of the principal towns, the first of November was kept as a day of mourning and deep distress : all the shops were shut, the bells were tolled muffled, and the effigies of the authors and abettors of the act were carried in procession through the streets, and then torn to pieces and consumed by the flames.

The lawyers of the supreme court in New-Jersey resolved that they would not purchase the stamps in their professional business, and that they would relinquish their practice as a sacrifice to the public good ; and the principal merchants in the colonies, and great numbers of other classes of the inhabitants, entered into soleinn engagements not only to refuse to use the stamps, but also not to import any more goods from Great Britain until the stampact should be repealed. Associations were formed, called the "Sons of Liberty,” the object of which was, to assist and protect with force, if necessary, every one who might be in danger from his resistance or opposition to the stamp-act. . This bold association originated in New-York, and prevailed throughout New-England, and, had not the act been repealed, must have led to civil war. The restrictive measures produced distress and tumults in England ; large numbers of the manufacturers being thrown out of employment, and more than forty thousand, with black flags, appeared in the streets in London, and surrounded the royal palace and parliament house. Fortunately a change of ministry took place, in consequence of what was called the regency bill, and Lord Grenville was succeeded by the Marquis of Rockingham, as first lord of the treasury, and the Duke of Grafton and General Conway were appointed secretaries of state. In January the parliament met , the affairs of America occupied the principal attention, and the first talents of the house were engaged in the discussion. Mr. Pitt, who had been confined to his bed by sickness, when the stamp-act was passed, now came forward as the great champion of the rights of the Americans, and with his manly and all-powerful eloquence, opposed the unjust, unconstitutional and dangerous measure ; he even justified the Americans in their resistance of an act of tyranny and oppression. After a long and animated discussion, the act was repealed, accompanied, however, with a declaration, “ that the king and parliament had, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force to bind the colonies, and his majesty's subjects in them, in all cases whatsoever.” An act of indemnity was also passed.

The repeal of the obnoxious act occasioned universal joy, both in Great Britain and America; the ships in the Thames display. ed their colours, and the whole city of London was illuminated ; and in the colonies, notwithstanding the declaratory act, asserting the principle of taxation, the joy and rejoicings were universal; the non-importation resolutions were rescinded ; animosities, illtreatment, and every thing past, were forgotten, and commercial intercourse with Great Britain was resumed with greater activity than ever before had been witnessed. The colonies hoped and believed, that harmony would now be restored, and did every thing in their power to promote this desirable object. But the officers of the crown, the minions of power, and the expectants of place, kept up a correspondence with the officers of the British government at home, and attempted to promote their own selfish views by misrepresenting their countrymen. Governor Bernard, of Massachusetts, was the head of this party, which contributed so much to breed difficulties and bring matters to a crisis. Notwithstanding that the declaratory act still hung over the heads of the colonies, like a portentous cloud, it was not generally expect ed that the British government would very soon make another so dangerous an experiment. But these reasonable expectations, however, soon proved to be fallacious, and all reliance on the justice or liberality of Britain, were found to be deceptive and dangerous. Notwithstanding the distraction into which the colonies had been thrown), by the stamp-act, within a few months after its repeal, and before the wounds it had occasioned had

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »