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Governour' s Speech to the Council and House of Assembly


Tuesday, May 16, 1775.

The House met and adjourned till three P˙M.

The House met.

A Message from his Excellency by Mr˙ Deputy Secretary Pettit:


Mr˙ SPEAKER: His Excellency is in the Council Chamber, and requires the immediate attendance of the House.

Whereupon Mr˙ Speaker left the Chair, and, with the House, went to wait upon his Excellency; and being returned, Mr˙ Speaker resumed the chair, and reported that the House had waited on his Excellency, who was pleased to make a Speech to the Council and House of Assembly, of which Mr˙ Speaker said he had, to prevent mistakes, obtained a copy. And the same, by order of the House, was read, and is as follows, viz:

Gentlemen of the Council, and Gentlemen of the Assembly:

The sole occasion of my calling you together at this time, is to lay before you a Resolution of the House of Commons, wisely and humanely calculated to open a door for the restoration of that harmony between Great Britain and her American Colonies, on which their mutual welfare and happiness so greatly depend.

This Resolution having already appeared in the publick papers, and a great variety of interpretations put upon it, mostly according to the different views and dispositions by which men are actuated, and scarcely any having seen it in its proper light, I think I cannot, at this critical juncture, better answer the gracious purposes of His Majesty, nor do my Country more essential service, than to lay before you as full an explanation of the occasion, purport, and intent of it, as is in my power. By this means you, and the good people you represent, will be enabled to judge for yourselves, how far you ought or ought not to acquiesce with the plan it contains, and what steps it will be prudent for you to take on this very important occasion.

You will see in the King' s answer to the joint Address of both Houses of Parliament on the seventh of February, how much attention His Majesty was graciously pleased to give to the assurance held out in that Address, of the readiness of Parliament to afford every just and reasonable indulgence to the Colonies, whenever they should make a proper application on the ground of any real grievance they might have to complain of. This Address was accordingly soon after followed by the Resolution of the House of Commons, now laid before you, a circumstance which afforded His Majesty great satisfaction, as it gave room to hope for a happy effect, and would, at all events, ever remain an evidence of their justice and moderation, and manifest the temper which has accompanied their deliberations upon that question, which has been the source of so much disquiet to the King' s subjects in America.

His Majesty, ardently wishing to see a reconciliation of the unhappy differences by every means through which it may be obtained, without prejudice to the just authority of Parliament, which His Majesty will never suffer to be violated, has approved the Resolution of his faithful Commons, and has commanded it to be transmitted to the Governours of his Colonies, not doubting that this happy disposition to comply with every just and reasonable wish of the King' s subjects in America, will meet with such a return of duty and affection on their part, as will lead to a happy issue of the present dispute, and to a re-establishment of the publick tranquillity on those grounds of equity, justice, and moderation, which this Resolution holds forth.

What has given the King the greater satisfaction in this Resolution, and the greater confidence in the good effects of it, is, his having seen that, amidst all the intemperance into which a people, jealous of their liberties, have been unfortunately misled, they have nevertheless avowed the justice, the equity, and the propriety of subjects of the same State contributing, according to their abilities and situation, to the publick burdens; and this Resolution, it is thought, holds no proposition beyond that.

It would probably be deemed unjust to suppose that any of the King' s subjects in the Colonies can so far forget the


benefits they have received from the Parent State as not to acknowledge that it is to her support, held forth at the expense of her blood and treasure, that they principally owe that security which hath raised them to their present state of opulence and importance. In this situation, therefore, justice requires that they should, in return, contribute according to their respective abilities to the common defence; and their own welfare and interest demand that civil establishment should be supported with becoming dignity.

It has been the care, and it is the firm determination of Parliament to see that both these ends are answered, and their wisdom and moderation have suggested the propriety of leaving to each Colony to judge of the ways and means of making due provision for these purposes, reserving to themselves a discretionary power of approving or disapproving what shall be offered.

The Resolution neither points out what the civil establishment should be, nor demands any specifick sum in aid of the publick burdens. In both these respects it leaves full scope for that justice and liberality which may be expected from Colonies that, under all their prejudices, have never been wanting in expressions of an affectionate attachment to the mother Country, and a zealous regard for the general welfare of the British Empire; and therefore the King trusts that the provision they will engage to make for the support of civil government, will be adequate to the rank and station of every necessary officer, and that the sum to be given in contribution to the common defence will be offered on such terms, and proposed in such a way, as to increase or diminish according as the publick burdens of Great Britain are from time to time augmented or reduced, in so far as these burdens consist of taxes and duties which are not a security for the National Debt.

By such a mode of contribution, the Colonies will have full security that they can never be required to tax themselves, without Parliament' s taxing the subjects in Great Britain in a far greater proportion; and it may be relied upon, that any proposition of this nature, made by any of the Colonies, and accompanied with such a state of their faculties and ability, as may evince the equity of the proposal, will be received with every possible indulgence; provided it be at the same time unaccompanied with any declarations, and unmixed with any claims which will make it impossible for the King, consistently with his own dignity, or for Parliament, consistently with their constitutional rights, to receive it. But it is not supposed that any of the Colonies will, after this example of the temper and moderation of Parliament, adopt such a conduct. On the contrary, the pleasing hope is cherished that the publick peace will be restored, and that the Colonies will enter into the consideration of the Resolution of the House of Commons with that calmness and deliberation which the importance of it demands, and with that good will and inclination to a reconciliation, which are due to the candour and justice with which Parliament has taken up this business, and at once declared to the Colonies what will be ultimately expected from them.

It has been already observed that the King entirely approves the Resolution of the House of Commons, and I have His Majesty' s commands to say, that a compliance therewith by the General Assembly will be most graciously considered by His Majesty, not only as a testimony of their reverence for Parliament, but also as a mark of their duty and attachment to their Sovereign, who has no object nearer to his heart than the peace and prosperity of his subjects in every part of his Dominions. At the same time I must tell you His Majesty considers himself as bound, by every tie, to exert those means the Constitution has placed in his hands for preserving that Constitution entire, and to resist, with firmness, every attempt to violate the rights of Parliament, to distress and obstruct the lawful commerce of his subjects, or to encourage in the Colonies ideas of independence inconsistent with their connexion with Great Britain.

Here, gentlemen, you have a full and candid state of the disposition and expectations of His Majesty and the Parliament. They require nothing of America but what the Colonies have repeatedly professed themselves ready and willing to perform. A late Assembly of this Province, in their Petition to the King in 1766, express themselves thus: As no danger can approach Britain without giving


us the most sensible alarm, so your Majesty may be assured, that with filial duty we shall ever be ready to afford all the assistance in our power, and stand or fall with that Kingdom from which we boast our descent, and to which we are attached by the strongest ties of duty, gratitude and affection." And in a subsequent Petition they say: "Very far it is from our intentions to deny our subordination to that august body, (the Parliament,) or our dependance on the Kingdom of Great Britain. In these connexions, and in the settlement of our liberties under the auspicious influence of your Royal House, we know our happiness consists; and, therefore, to confirm those connexions, and to strengthen this settlement, is at once our interest, duty, and delight."

Similar declarations have been repeatedly made in other Colonies. The following vote was passed in the Assembly of Pennsylvania, to wit: "The House, taking into consideration the many taxes their fellow-subjects in Great Britain are obliged to pay towards supporting the dignity of the Crown, and defraying the necessary and contingent charges of the Government, and willing to demonstrate the fidelity, loyalty, and affection of the inhabitants of this Province to our gracious Sovereign, by bearing a share of the burden of our fellow-subjects, proportionable to our circumstances, do, therefore, cheerfully and unanimously resolve that three thousand Pounds be paid for the use of the King, his heirs and successors, to be applied to such uses as he in his royal wisdom shall think fit to direct and appoint." And the said three thousand Pounds was afterwards paid into His Majesty' s Exchequer by the Agent of the Province accordingly.

Nor can I avoid mentioning what was done in the Convention of Committees from every County in Pennsylvania, who met in July last for the express purpose of giving instructions to their Representatives in Assembly on this very subject. Several of these instructions manifest such a candour and liberality of sentiment, such just ideas of the importance of our connexion with Great Britain, and point out so rational a method to be pursued for obtaining a redress for the supposed grievances, (previous to any attempts to distress the trade of that Kingdom,) that it is greatly to be regretted that the conduct of America, in a matter of such vast importance to its future welfare, had not been regulated by the principles and advice they suggested. In those instructions, speaking of the powers Parliament had claimed and lately exercised, the Convention say: "We are thoroughly convinced they will prove unfailing and plentiful sources of dissensions to our mother Country and these Colonies, unless some expedients can be adopted to render her secure of receiving from us every emolument that can, in justice, and reason, be expected; and us secure in our lives, properties, and an equitable share of commerce. Mournfully revolving in our minds the calamities that, arising from these dissensions, will most probably fall on us and our children, we will now lay before you the particular points we request of you to procure, if possible, to be finally decided, and the measures that appear to us most likely to produce such a desirable period of our distresses and dangers." Then, after enumerating the particular Acts of Parliament, which they consider as grievances, and desire to have repealed, they add: "In case of obtaining these terms, it is our opinion that it will be reasonable for the Colonies to engage their obedience to the Acts of Parliament, commonly called the Acts of Navigation, and to every other Act of Parliament declared to have force at this time in these Colonies, other than those above mentioned, and to confirm such Statutes by Acts of the several Assemblies. It is also our opinion that, taking example from our mother Country in abolishing the Courts of Wards and Liveries, tenures in capite, and by Knights' service and purveyance, it will be reasonable for the Colonies, in case of obtaining the terms before mentioned, to settle a certain annual revenue on His Majesty, his heirs and successors, subject to the control of Parliament, and to satisfy all damages done to the East-India Company. This our idea of settling a revenue, arises from a sense of duty to our Sovereign, and of esteem for our mother Country. We know and have felt the benefits of a subordinate connexion with her. We neither are so stupid as to be ignorant of them, nor so unjust as to deny them. We have also experienced the pleasures of gratitude and love, as well as


advantages from that connexion. The impressions are not erased. We consider her circumstances with tender concern. We have not been wanting, when constitutionally called upon, to assist her to the utmost of our abilities, insomuch that she has judged it reasonable to make us recompenses for our over-strained exertions: and we now think we ought to contribute more than we do to the alleviation of her burdens. Whatever may be said of these proposals on either side of the Atlantick, this is not a time either for timidity or rashness. We perfectly know that the great cause now agitated is to be conducted to a happy conclusion only by that well-tempered composition of counsels which firmness, prudence, loyalty to our Sovereign, respect to our Parent State, and affection to our native Country, united, must form." "In case of war, or in any emergency of distress, we shall also be ready and willing to contribute all aids within our power. And we solemnly declare, that on such occasions, if we, or our posterity, shall refuse, neglect, or decline thus to contribute, it will be a mean and manifest violation of a plain duty, and a weak and wicked desertion of the true interests of this Province, which ever have been, and must be, bound up in the prosperity of our Mother Country. Our union, founded on mutual compacts and mutual benefits, will be indissoluble; at least more firm than an union perpetually disturbed by disputed rights and retorted injuries." I could quote several more passages from these instructions, which are expressive of the same honest and generous sentiments with regard to Great Britain, but I shall only make one more extract, and that respecting the mode which they recommended to be pursued for the redress of grievances, viz: "But other considerations have weight with us. We wish every mark of respect to be paid to His Majesty' s administration. We have been taught, from our youth, to entertain tender and brotherly affections for our fellow-subjects at home. The interruption of our commerce must greatly distress great numbers of them. This we earnestly desire to avoid. We therefore request that the Deputies you shall appoint may be instructed to exert themselves at the Congress, to induce the Members of it to consent to make a full and precise state of grievances, and a decent, yet firm claim of redress, and to await the event before any other step is taken. It is our opinion that persons should be appointed and sent home to present this state and claim at the Court of Great Britain." After mentioning their confidence in the intended General Congress, and their resolution to abide their determinations for the sake of unanimity, they declare that it is "with a strong hope and trust that they will not draw this Province into any measure judged by us, who must be better acquainted with its state than strangers, highly inexpedient. Of this kind, we know any other stoppage of trade, but of that with Great Britain, will be. Even this step we should be extremely afflicted to see taken by the Congress, before the other mode, above pointed out, is tried."

Happy would it have been at this day, in all probability, if some such healing measure had been pursued. Some plan of union, or proposal of "a mutual compact" for "mutual benefit," was the grand object which every honest man in the Colonies had at heart. An imperfect one (if not too glaringly so) was better than none, as it would, if it had answered no other purpose, have laid a foundation for negotiation and treaty. It has been lately observed in Parliament, "That it does not appear the Colonies were seriously inclined to come into any reasonable terms of accommodation, as no body was authorized to make any proposals to that effect."

However, it can be of little avail now to animadvert on past transactions. Who has been most in the right or most in the wrong, can never be satisfactorily decided. Many things will ever happen in the course of a long continued dispute, which good men of both parties must reflect on with pain, and wish, to have buried in oblivion. In the present situation of affairs we should only look forward, and endeavour to fall on some expedient that may avert the impending danger. To effect this desirable purpose, a plan is now formed and recommended to you by His Majesty, containing terms greatly corresponding with the avowed, sentiments of many of the Colonies, and which, I think, can only want to be rightly understood in order to be generally adopted. It does not require from the people of this Country any formal acknowledgment of the right of taxation


in the Parliament. It waives all disputes on that head, and suspends the exercise of it forever, if so long the Colonies shall perform their part of the contract. It does not even require as a preliminary that the Non-Importation and Non-Exportation Agreements shall be abolished. It comes before you in the old accustomed manner, by way of requisition, being approved and adopted by the King, who has directed his several Governours to signify to the respective Assemblies his desire that they should grant such aids for the common defence, and the support of Government within the Colonies, as shall appear to them just and equitable, and proportionate to their abilities. His Majesty and the Parliament, ' tis true, are to judge whether the aids which each Colony may offer are worth acceptance, or adequate to their respective abilities, as they did during the course of the last war, very much to the satisfaction of those Colonies who exerted themselves; often making them a compensation according as their active vigour and strenuous efforts respectively appeared to merit." The necessity of some such supreme judge is evident from the very nature of the case, as otherwise some Colonies might not contribute their due proportion. During the last war I well remember it was ardently wished by some of the Colonies that others who were thought to be delinquent might be compelled, by Act of Parliament, to bear an equal share of the publick burdens. It appears, by the minutes of Assembly, in March and April, 1758, that, some of the neighbouring Colonies thought New-Jersey had not, at that time, contributed its due share towards the expenses of the war, and that President Reading (the then Commander-in-Chief of the Colony) was of the same opinion. And since my administration, when the Assembly, in 1764, was called upon to make provision for raising some Troops on account of the Indian war, they declined doing it for some time, but "on condition a majority of the Eastern Colonies, as far as to include Massachusetts-Bay, should come into His Majesty' s requisition on the occasion;" But as none of the Assemblies of the New-England Governments thought themselves nearly concerned, nothing was granted by them, and the whole burden of the expeditions then carried on fell upon Great Britain and three or four of the middle Colonies; with which this Colony was dissatisfied, and the Assembly complained of it in one of their Addresses to me on the occasion. But what fully evinces that there is no design of oppression or extortion in the proposed reservation in His Majesty and his Parliament of the right of approving the aids which may be offered by the Colonies, is His Majesty' s gracious assurance that the propositions on this head will be received with every possible indulgence. The moneys raised by the several Colonies as their proportion to the common defence, is made subject to the disposal of Parliament, as in justice it ought, as they furnish the whole sum which may be wanted for that necessary purpose, according to the estimates annually laid before them by the Crown, besides making provision for the civil list and National Debt, towards which the Colonies are not asked to contribute. The Army and Navy establishment, it is well known, is necessarily increased since the extension of the British Dominions in America. The whole American civil and military establishiment, as paid by Great Britain, after the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, was, it is said, only £70,000 sterling; but since the last peace, it amounts to upwards of £350,000. As this great additional expense was chiefly incurred on an American account, it cannot but be reasonable that America should pay some part of it. To remove every objection that other taxes may be raised upon America, under the colour of regulations. on commerce, the produce of all such duties is to be carried to the account of that Province where it is to be levied.

We have now, thank Heaven, a happy opportunity of getting entirely rid of this unnatural contest, by only complying with what I think has been fully proved, and acknowledged to be our indispensable duty. Wherever a people enjoy protection, and the other common benefits of the State, nothing can be more reasonable than that they should bear their share of the common burden.

It is much to be lamented that there is so much truth in the observation, that mankind generally act, not according to right, but according to the present interest, and most according to present passion. In the present case there are no difficulties but what may be easily surmounted, if men


come together sincerely disposed to serve their Country, unbiased by any sinister views or improper resentments. This, gentlemen, I trust will be found to be your disposition in this most alarming situation of publick affairs. Let me conjure you, however, not to come to any precipitate resolutions respecting the plan of accommodation now communicated to you. I have no objection to give you any time you may think necessary for the due consideration of it. It is, indeed, a concern of a more interesting nature than ever before came under, the consideration of an American Assembly. If it is adopted, all will yet be well. If it is totally rejected, or nothing similar to it proposed, or made the basis of a negotiation, it will necessarily induce a belief of what has been lately so often mentioned in publick, "That it is not a dispute about modes of taxation, but that the Americans have deeper views, and mean to throw off all dependance upon Great Britain, and to get rid of every control of their Legislature." Should such sentiments ever prevail, they cannot but have the most fatal effects to this Country. I am, however, fully convinced, that the body of the people in the Colonies do not even entertain a wish of the kind. Rather than lose the protection of Great Britain, America, were it ever so constitutionally and allowedly independent, would find it for its advantage to purchase that protection at an expense far beyond what Great Britain would ever think of requiring while we show her that regard and obedience to which she is justly entitled, and which our own interest and safety should prompt us to show, if there were no other considerations.

Taxation being the principal source of the present disorders, when that important point is once, settled, every other subject of complaint which has grown out of it will, no doubt, of course, be removed; for you may rely, gentlemen, that notwithstanding the many inimical and oppressive designs which the jealousies and suspicions of incensed people have attributed to Government, yet it is evident, from the whole tenour of the letters which I have had the honour to receive from the King' s Ministers, that His Majesty and they have nothing more at heart than to have these unhappy differences accommodated on some just and honourable plan, which shall at the same time secure the liberties of the people, without lessening the necessary power and dignity of Parliament.

God grant that the Colonies may manifest the same laudable disposition, and that a hearty reconciliation and harmony may take place of the present confusion and dissension.


Council Chamber, May 16, 1775.