Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

1763.

CHAP. II. rity by a law passed in 1696, declaring “ that all laws, by

laws, usages, and customs, which shall be in practice in any
of the plantations, repugnant to any law made, or to be made,
in this kingdom relative to the said plantations, shall be void
and of none effect.” And three years afterwards an act was
passed for the trial of pirates in America, in which is to be
found the following very extraordinary clause : “ Be it further
declared, that if

any
of the

governors, or any person or persons in authority there, shall refuse to yield obedience to this act, such refusal is hereby declared to be a forfeiture of all and every the charters granted for the government and propriety of such plantation.'

The English statute-book furnishes many instances in which the legislative power of Parliament over the colonies was exercised so as to make regulations completely internal; and in no instance that is recollected was their authority openly controverted.

In the middle and southern provinces no question respecting the supremacy of Parliament, in matters of general legislation, ever existed. The authority of such of their acts of internal regulation as were made for America, as well as of those for the regulation of commerce, even by the imposition of duties, provided those duties were imposed for the purposes of regulation, had been at all times admitted. But even these colonies, however they might acknowledge the supremacy of Parliament in other respects, denied the right of that body to tax them internally,

Their submission to the act for establishing a general postoffice, which was passed so early as the year 1710, and which raised a revenue on the carriage of letters, was thought no dereliction of this principle, because they never viewed it in the light of a tax, but rather as a compensation paid for a service rendered, of which every person was at liberty to avail himself or to decline it. And all the duties on trade were understood to be imposed rather with a view to prevent foreign commerce than to raise a revenue. Perhaps the legality of such acts was the less questioned because they were not rigorously executed, and their violation was sometimes designedly overlooked*. A scheme for taxing the colonies by authority of Parliament had been formed so early as the year 1739, and recommended to Government by a club of American merchants, at the head of whom was Sir William Keith, Governor of Pennsylvania. It was proposed to raise a body of regulars, to be stationed along the western frontier of the British settlements, for the protection of the Indian traders, the expense of

CHAP. II.

1763.

* Sir Robert Walpole, when prime minister of England, is said to have declared “ that it was necessary to pass over some irregularities in the trade of the colonies with Europe. For by encouraging them to an extensive growing foreign commerce, he was convinced, that if they should gain £.500,000, full £250,000 of their gains would, within two years, be brought into His Majesty's exchequer by the labour and produce of Great Britain consumed in America, a demand for which would increase with their wealth.” The same able statesman, when urged to establish a system of internal taxation in the colonies, replied with a smile, “ that he would leave that to some of his successors, who should have more courage, and less attachment to commerce, than himself.” Confining them to the use of British manufactures was, he thought, “ taxing them more agreeably to their own constitution and to that of Great Britain."

which

CHAP. II.

1763.

which establishment was to be paid with monies arising from
a duty on stamped paper and parchment in all the colonies,
to be imposed by Parliament. This plan, however, was not
countenanced by the then Minister ; and it seems never to have
been seriously taken up by the Government until the year
1754, when a war, in which every part of the empire was
deeply concerned, was about to commence. Some of the colo-
nies themselves appear then to have wished that a mode could
be adopted which should combine their exertions, and equitably
apportion their expenses in the common cause. The attention
of the Minister was then turned to a plan of taxation by autho-
rity of Parliament; and it will be recollected that a system
was devised and recommended by him, as a substitute for the
articles of union digested and agreed on by the Convention at
Albany. The temper and opinions of the colonists on this
subject, which means were used to ascertain; the impolicy of
irritating them at a crisis which required all the exertions they
were capable of making ; furnished motives sufficient to induce
a suspension, for the present, of a measure so delicate and dan-
gerous: but it seems not to have been totally abandoned. Of
the right of Parliament, as the supreme authority of the nation,
to tax as well as to govern the colonies, those who guided the
councils of Britain seem not to have entertained
and the language of men in power, on more than one occasion
through the war, indicated a disposition to put this right in
practice, when the termination of hostilities should render it
less dangerous to do so.

The conduct of some of the colonies, especially those in which a proprietary government was established, in failing to furnish in time the aids required of them, contributed to foster this disposition. This total opposition

of

a

doubt;

CHAP. II.

1763.

of opinion, on a subject the most interesting to the human heart, was now about to produce a system of measures which tore asunder all the bonds of relationship and affection which had for ages subsisted, and planted almost inextinguishable hatred in bosoms where the warmest friendship had so long been cultivated.

1764.

The unexampled expenses of the war rendered unavoidable a great addition to the regular and usual taxes of the nation. Considerable difficulty was found in searching out new sources of revenue,

and great opposition was made to every tax proposed. Thus embarrassed, the attention of Administration was directed to the American continent. The system which had been laid aside was renewed; and, on the motion of Mr. Grenville, the first commissioner of the treasury, a resolution passed without much debate, importing that it would be proper to impose certain stamp-duties in the colonies and plantations, Stamp Act. for the purpose of raising a revenue in America payable into the British exchequer. This resolution was not carried into immediate effect, and was only declaratory of an intention to be executed the ensuing year.

At the same time other resolutions passed, laying new duties on the trade of the colonies, which, being in the form of commercial regulations, were not generally contested on the ground of right, though they were imposed expressly for the purpose of raising revenue.

The colonies had been long in the habit of submitting to duties laid by Parliament on their trade, and had not gene

rally

1764.

CHAP. II. rally distinguished between those which were imposed for

the mere purpose of regulating commerce, and this, which being also designed to raise a revenue, was, in truth, to every purpose, a real tax.

It is therefore probable that this system, if unconnected with the act for raising a revenue internally, might have been carried into operation without exciting any general combination of the colonies against it. Great disgust, however, was occasioned by the increase of the duties, by the new regulations which were made, and by the manner in which those regulations were to be executed. The gainful commerce long clandestinely carried on with the French and Spanish colonies, in the progress of which an evasion of the duties imposed , by law had been overlooked by the Government, was now to be very rigorously suppressed by taxes amounting to a prohibition of

any fair trade, the exact collection of which was to be enforced by measures not much less offensive in themselves than on account of the object to be effected by them.

Completely to prevent smuggling, all the officers in the seaservice, who were on the American station, were converted into revenue-officers, and directed to take the custom-house oaths. Being unacquainted with the custom-house laws and usages, many

vexatious seizures were made, for which no redress could be obtained but in England. The penalties and forfeitures too accruing under the act, as if the usual authorities could not be trusted, were made recoverable in any court of vice-admiralty in the colonies. It will readily be conceived how much more odious a law made to effect an odious object must have been rendered by such provisions as these.

Whatever

« ZurückWeiter »