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Debate on the Petition of William Bollan, Agent for Massachusetts Bay

Petition of William Bollan Presented


THURSDAY, April 28, 1774.

The order of the day, for receiving the Report was read; and

A Petition of William Bollan, Esq˙, styling himself Agent for the Council of his Majesty' s Province of Massachusetts Bay, in New-England, being offered to be presented to the House, by Mr˙ Dowdeswell, which Petitioner, he said, desired that the Bill for regulating the Civil Government, and the Bill for the more Impartial Administration of Justice, might not pass into a law, until he should have time to receive an answer from the above Province to letters he had sent.

Mr. Dowdeswell

Mr˙ Dowdeswell said, after the part I have taken in the progress of these affairs, and the direct manner in which I have expressed myself on former occasions, I shall have the less to trouble the House with on tins occasion. The petition I have now brought up is, in the matter of its request so reasonable, that I cannot persuade myself the House will reject it. I should wish the affair might be seriously considered. What is the present stage of your progress? You are carrying through an Act that is to work a total change in the chartered constitution of a free country, in order to prevent riots and an improper conduct in the mob of that country; — and lest in carrying that Act into execution, you meet with a resistance that you expect, (and in that very expectation prove that they may resist without the imputation of an unexpected crime,) you bring in another to regulate the trial of offenders, by which you


destroy the trial by jury, and drag the People across the Atlantic to give evidence in Westminster Hall: regulations, the flagrancy of which has been sufficiently exposed, and branded in the manner they deserve. The Agent of the Province, alarmed at so weighty a resentment, and so cruel a punishment on the constitution and liberty of his country, for the evil actions of the scum of the People, presents a petition to you. What is the purport of it? Only to pray you to suspend your judgment until he can receive instructions from his constituents; — that is, he begs a whole country may not be condemned without a single person authorized by it to appear in its defence. Now, Sir, I think the prayer of this petition so perfectly reasonable, that it appears impossible to be rejected out of the Court of Inquisition. It is no inquiry whether your measure is just or not; — we may admit it to be, in our opinions, just, proper, and political; and yet assert the necessity of hearing the Province before you condemn it to a severe punishment. I will not say it is wrong to act thus — I say it is impossible — common justice — the feelings of mankind, condemn it.

Sir George Savile

Sir George Savile spoke ably on the same side of the question, as did Mr˙ Burke, Mr˙ T˙ Townshend, &c˙, who all urged how highly cruel it was to pass a law against any body of People, without hearing either them, or their Agent, in their defence.

Lord North

To the arguments of the above gentlemen, Lord North, made the following reply:

I do not rise with a design to attempt answering every objection that ingenuity can frame against the measure. The most ingenious man will never be able to sketch a plan, however simple, to which objections may not be started. The only point at present before us is, should we delay passing these Acts, in order to hear what the town of Boston can say, in defence of themselves. Is there or is there not propriety in such a delay? I reply, that it would be absurd; the fact of their crimes is authenticated; we want no fresh proofs; no gentleman has expressed any doubts; we should therefore wait to hear how they might exculpate themselves (that is, the Council and Assembly) and lay the blame on the mob possibly; we should suspend our measures, to know what recompense they would make; we should stop to hear their concessions. Are the friends of these acts every moment to recal to the minds of their opposers, the sentiments they were full of at the opening of the business? "Go to the bottom of the evil, or let it alone; no more palliatives." So, Sir, if the town of Boston makes concessions and recompenses, our business is done, and our purpose answered. Very far from it — these Bills are not brought in for one or the other: they are to prevent such horrid evils in future; to regulate the constitution on the plan of other Colonies, that flourish under their constitution as much as Boston with its anarchy, and to indemnify the legal executors of your decrees. View the affair in this light, and all you objections fall. Let the whole Colony appear at your bar, and every argument they can use, every concession they can make, will all be relative to the past, not to the future. These Bills Sir, have much more useful and more necessary destination, the prevention of future evils. Should we now delay the progress of this important business, in order to go back into our old system of palliatives, under the pretence of hearing what arguments may be used in defence of the most atrocious actions?

Motion Denied

The motion was also very strongly opposed by Mr˙ Wedderburne, Mr˙ Dyson, &c.

The House was moved, that the Proceedings of the House, of the 14th day of March last, on receiving the Petition of William Bollan, Esquire, Agent for the Council of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England, might be read:

And the same were read accordingly.

And the question being but, that the Petition be brought up?

The House divided; Yeas, 32; Nays, 95.

So it passed in the Negative.