1774-05-27 - William Pitt (Lord Chatam)
MY LORDS,--The unfavorable state of health under which I have long labored, could not prevent me from laying before your Lordships my thoughts on the bill now upon the table, and on the American affairs in general.
If we take a transient view of those motives which induced the ancestors of our fellow-subjects in America to leave their native country, to encounter the innumerable difficulties of the unexplored regions of the Western World, our astonishment at the present conduct of their descendants will naturally subside. There was no corner of the world into which men of their free and enterprising spirit would not fly with alacrity, rather than submit to the slavish and tyrannical principles which prevailed at that period in their native country. And shall we wonder, my Lords, if the descendants of such illustrious characters spurn with contempt the hand of unconstitutional power, that would snatch from them such dear-bought privileges as they now contend for? Had the British colonies been planted by any other kingdom than our own, the inhabitants would have carried with them the chains of slavery and spirit of despotism; but as they are, they ought to be remembered as great instances to instruct the world what great exertions mankind will naturally make, when they are left to the free exercise of their own powers. And, my Lords, notwithstanding my intention to give my hearty negative to the question now before you, I can not help condemning in the severest manner the late turbulent and unwarrantable conduct of the Americans in some instances, particularly in the late riots of Boston. But, my Lords, the mode which has been pursued to bring them back to a sense of their duty to their parent state, has been so diametrically opposite to the fundamental principles of sound policy, that individuals possessed of common understanding must be astonished at such proceedings. By blocking up the harbor of Boston, you have involved the innocent trader in the same punishment with the guilty profligates who destroyed your merchandise; and instead of making a well-concerted effort to secure the real offenders, you clap a naval and military extinguisher over their harbor, and visit the crime of a few lawless depredators and their abettors upon the whole body of the inhabitants.
My Lords, this country is little obliged to the framers and promoters of this tea tax. The Americans had almost forgot, in their excess of gratitude for the repeal of the Stamp Act, any interest but that of the mother country; there seemed an emulation among the different provinces who should be most dutiful and forward in their expressions of loyalty to their real benefactor, as you will readily perceive by the following letter from Governor Bernard to a noble Lord then in office.
"The House of Representatives," says he, "from the time of opening the session to this day, has shown a disposition to avoid all dispute with me, every thing having passed with as much good humor as l could desire. They have acted in all things with temper and moderation; they have avoided some subjects of dispute, and have laid a foundation for removing some causes of former altercation."
This, my Lords, was the temper of the Americans, and would have continued so, had it not been interrupted by your fruitless endeavors to tax them without their consent. But the moment they perceived your intention was renewed to tax them, under a pretense of serving the East India Company, their resentment got the ascendant of their moderation, and hurried them into actions contrary to law, which, in their cooler hours, they would have thought on with horror; for I sincerely believe the destroying of the tea was the effect of despair.
But, my Lords, from the complexion of the whole of the proceedings, I think that administration has purposely irritated them into those late violent acts, for which they now so severely smart, purposely to be revenged on them for the victory they gained by the repeal of the Stamp Act; a measure in which they seemingly acquiesced, but at the bottom they were its real enemies. For what other motive could induce them to dress taxation, that father of American sedition, in the robes of an East India director, but to break in upon that mutual peace and harmony which then so happily subsisted between them and the mother country?
My Lords, I am an old man, and would advise the noble Lords in office to adopt a more gentle mode of governing America; for the day is not far distant when America may vie with these kingdoms, not only in arms, but in arts also. It is an established fact that the principal towns in America are learned and polite, and understand the Constitution of the empire as well as the noble Lords who are now in office; and, consequently, they will have a watchful eye over their liberties, to prevent the least encroachment on their hereditary right..
This observation is so recently exemplified in an excellent pamphlet, which comes from the pen of an American gentleman, that I shall take the liberty of reading to your Lordships his thoughts on the competency of the British Parliament to tax America, which, in my opinion, puts this interesting matter in the clearest view.
"The high court of Parliament," says he, "is the supreme legislative power over the whole empire; in all free states the Constitution is fixed; and as the supreme Legislature derives its power and authority from the Constitution, it can not overleap the bounds of it without destroying its own foundation. The Constitution ascertains and limits both sovereignty and allegiance; and therefore his Majesty's American subjects, who acknowledged themselves bound by the ties of allegiance, have an equitable claim to the full enjoyment of the fundamental rules of the English Constitution; and that it is an essential, unalterable right in nature, ingrafted into the British Constitution as a fundamental law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable by the subjects within this realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own; which he may freely give, but which can not be taken from him without his consent."
This, my Lords, though no new doctrine, has always been my received and unalterable opinion, and I will carry it to my grave, that this country had no right under heaven to tax America. It is contrary to all the principles of justice and civil polity, which neither the exigencies of the state, nor even an acquiescence in the taxes, could justify upon any occasion whatever. Such proceedings will never meet their wished-for success. Instead of adding to their miseries, as the bill now before you most undoubtedly does, adopt some lenient measures, which may lure them to their duty. Proceed like a kind and affectionate parent over a child whom he tenderly loves, and, instead of those harsh and severe proceedings, pass an amnesty on all their youthful errors, clasp them once more in your fond and affectionate arms, and I will venture to affirm you will find them children worthy of their sire. But, should their turbulence exist after your proffered terms of forgiveness, which I hope and expect this House will immediately adopt, I will be among the first of your Lordships to move for such measures as will effectually prevent a future relapse, and make them feel what it is to provoke a fond and forgiving parent! a parent, my Lords, whose welfare has ever been my greatest and most pleasing consolation. This declaration may seem unnecessary; but I will venture to declare, the period is not far distant when she will want the assistance of her most distant friends; but should the all-disposing hand of Providence prevent me from affording her my poor assistance, my prayers shall be ever for her welfare--Length of days be in her right hand, and in her left riches and honor; may her ways be the ways of pleasantness, and all her paths be peace!