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Remarks on Governor Johnstone' s Speech in the House of Commons


To the Printer of the NORFOLK INTELLIGENCER.
Remarks on Governor Johnstone' s Speech in the House of Commons.

SIR: — Political debates, from the misguided rage of the Speakers, often rise to an enormous height; indeed, it requires a long course of experience to determine the real interest of the State in every important point that occurs. The loudest cavillers against the measures of Government after running their splendid career, become lordly effigies of State, and exhibit a striking portrait of the complexion of the times. In the British, annals, the transformation of violent zealots for public liberty into its most inveterate enemies, clearly proves that the gilded top for which ambition pants, has an irresistible attraction;


but the douceurs of the Court have been dealt with so cautious a hand of late, and so accurate an inspection into the merits of the candidates, that many officious pretenders have retired into the vale of discontent, dispirited, unbefriended, and defeated; common observers do not readily trace the various transactions and refinements which the patriotic character undergoes before it can be ripened into modern maturity; a retrospect into certain promotions will confirm the truth of this assertion, and it is as demonstrable to the full, that the twinges of the political gout are as severe and incurable as the corporal.

I shall now, Sir, with steady attention garble those passages in the honorable gentleman' s speech, which never would have attracted my notice, but for the influence it seems to have had over the minds of some very narrow connoisseurs hero. It is with the strictest deference to the sage politicians in this part of the world, that I offer a few remarks. I will then first warn those who entertain so high an opinion of it, to weigh maturely the arguments it contains; they will then find other doctrines blended with those they so warmly adopt, rather unfavorable to the sticklers for a commonwealth. The elegant modesty of his exordium would have merited applause, had we not discerned its excessive decline through the whole course of the debate. He is not unacquainted with the elaborate logic of the ancients, nor insensible that eloquence on all subjects, has strong pretensions to literary esteem, for he aims at profound sagacity in developing the principles of moral philosophy.

"I now venture to predict to this House, that the effect of the present Bill must be productive of a General Confederacy to resist the power of this county. It is irritating, tempting, nay! inviting men to those deeds by ineffectual expedients, the abortions of an undecisive mind, incapable of comprehending the chain of consequences which must result from such a law. I am not one of those, who believe that distant Provinces can be retained in their duty, by preaching or enchantments; I believe that force or power, conducted with wisdom, are the means of securing regular obedience under every establishment; but that such force should never be applied to any degree of rigour, unless it shall carry the general approbation of mankind in the execution."

If the melancholy prospect of affairs, heightened by alarms from the Indians on the frontiers, presents to our view, evident symptoms of commercial decline here, which is the greatest mart for trade in the Colony; I cannot imagine, that thinking men would be so mad, as to form a general revolt. If courts of justice agree to annihilate themselves, it must be wholly, cannot be conditionally. Can this consist with the loyalty and good manners we profess for the Prince, or that virtuous fortitude which combines society in an indissoluble union? Can acts of injustice obtain the sanction of unanimous consent? How abstracted and refined is the gentleman' s reasoning, to anticipate the general approbation of mankind, as if in an ingenious combination of speculative sentiments, could destroy that dispensing power which is the master-wheel, or that discerning policy which is interwoven in the frame of all Governments. He goes on —

"But after the highest characters in the State had declared against the right of this country, to impose taxes on America for the purpose of raising a revenue; after the general voice of the Senate had concurred in repealing the Stamp Act, upon that principle, after those men who had, maintained these doctrines had been promoted by his Majesty, to the first stations in the administration of civil and judicial affairs; there is much mitigation to be pleaded in favour of the Americans from those circumstances, (allowing them in an error at present,) that every man must feel the height of cruelty by enforcing


maxims with any degree of severity at first, before due warning is given."

When men grow adepts in the theory of rebellion, and form schemes to emancipate themselves from the control of the laws; when they consider all requisitions from Britain, as unjust, all acts of Parliament as tyrannical, the mode of punishment must be extraordinary; the levy of one pound irritates as much as one thousand; and as to the conduct of certain members in the House of Commons, I cannot think their principles impeachable, who advise the promotion of the patriotic zealots, if their preferment could restore the peace and harmony of the State. I do not mean to impeach the member' s knowledge of agriculture; yet, I think the comparison relative to sewing wheat boars a very far-fetched analogy to the Bostonians punishment. Most of the remarks relative to the event of the Act, are too vague to afford any insight to the most prying observer. How are the People to cloth and support themselves during the execution of his Quixotte schemes? He is confounded in his own ingenious doubts, and leaves the arduous task of unravelling all to the good natured world. But what gleams of consolation do they derive from the following assertions: "If the Government of this country is resisted in America, my opinion is, instead of removing the seat of Government in the Colony, and forcing the elements to bend to our will, (which is impossible,) that an effectual force should be carried to the heart of the Colony resisting, to crush rebellion in the bud, before a General Confederacy can be formed." So that you see this great man is not an invincible proselyte to moderate measures, but would chastise in cases of urgent necessity.

Can tumultuous meetings remedy the defects of law? Is there not a discretionary power in the civil police to summon the posse comitatus? Has it not been deemed strictly legal in Britain, to strengthen that body by military aid, on great emergencies? But when men, in high offices of civil trust, connived at the base resolves of an immaculate body of select citizens; the Governor could not consistently with his duty interfere, without infringing those rights they pretended they met to secure; had he taken any steps at all, he must have suppressed the whole meeting; and their heartfelt groans for expiring liberty would have re-echoed to the inmost recess of his palace. His interposition would not have been official, and they never would have allowed the greatness of the emergency to supersede the force of their chartered rights. His reasons for repealing the Tea Duty, are exceedingly futile; he thinks it cannot be vindicated; a dogmatical assertion, of a similar stamp and spirit with the rest. His remarks upon inherent privileges are ridiculous. Can any charter grant destroy the fabric of that Government which gave it birth; at any rate, the precedent would be far more ignominious for Great Britain to yield to America, than America to testify her allegiance to Britain. The disputes and litigations which the Bostonians have brought upon themselves, they must abide by the consequences of. They have baffled the expediency of the wisest laws; such crimes are heinous, and richly deserve capital punishment. If the People of Boston act with discretion, they may receive continual improvements in trade; let them comply in time, and earnestly seize this grand criterion, to distinguish their real, from their pretended friends, and the happy consequence resulting from such a timely avowal of their allegiance, and cemented by the constant practice of virtue and good manners, will discover a firm zeal for their Prince, a virtuous fortitude in themselves, and be an eternal memorial of that discerning policy which is the essential characteristic of a free and loyal People.

Norfolk Borough, June 30th, 1774.