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St. James Chronicle


An authentick account of the Debate in the House of Commons, on General CONWAY' s Motion, the 22d of MAY, 1776.

General Conway first shortly explained the leading objects of his intended motion. He observed that Administration had, to the scandal of all good Government, suppressed everything relative to the true state of affairs in America. That the complaints of our Colonies were interrupted in their passage to the Throne and Parliament, as long as the Kind' s Ministers found their account in so doing. When a war was determined on, the conduct of Administration changed with their views; they first provoked the people to resist Government, and only produced to Parliament such part of the state of affairs in that country as promised to inflame and irritate Great Britain. That as soon as Great Britain had determined to assert her rights, Administration again resumed their wonted taciturnity, and from the very instant that America was declared in a state of rebellion, the present Parliament had been kept in the most profound ignorance of everything passing on the other side of the Atlantick.

He then moved, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, praying that his Majesty would be graciously pleased to communicate to this House so much of the Instructions given to Lord Viscount Howe and General Howe, his Majesty' s Commissioners, as relates to the conditions or terms proposed for making peace with, or receiving the submissions of, his Majesty' s American subjects now in arms in America."

After the motion, as near as we can recollect, he spoke for above an hour and a half. He said he would have made it sooner, but did not think, when he determined to make his motion, that any specifick time was fixed for the rising of the Parliament. That he waited impatiently to see if the Gazette would not give some information to the people, at least since Parliament were to be led blindfolded, or kept in the dark. He lamented, in the most pathetick terms, the manner Parliament had been misled and worked up by the arts of designing, interested men, to set their faces against all concessions from America, however reasonable and sincere, unless the people of that country consented to lay down their arms, like cowards, slaves and poltrons. He contended, in a strain that would have done honour to the most steady patriots of Greece and Home, that the honour of the British nation was betrayed, the dignity of Parliament sacrificed, and its dearest interests given up, to keep a set of men in power, the most unpopular, and the most unfit to direct the affairs of this country of any that the annals of Britain had known since the Revolution. How is it possible (says he) you can treat with this people, unless you know their terms? How is it possible, though you did know their terms, that you can have any expectation of peace, unless you know, at the same time, the conditions which Administration mean to hold out? What can America think of the British Parliament, or the British councils? This day no revenue, no tax is expected; to-morrow both are insisted on in the most peremptory terms. This day treaty, the next war, the third, a strange heterogeneous mixture of war and concession; and,


at length, all ends in darkness and confusion. Tour words and actions, your statutes and resolutions, are eternally at variance; you differ from your own resolutions before you leave the House, and from each other before you meet again; so that the nation, and every individual in it, is kept in a state of suspense and uncertainty. He next alluded to the letters said by Whitelocke to have been written by Charles I, and the closeting some of the Commissioners sent to him by Parliament; and feared that, in the further prosecution of this business, Parliament was meant to be employed as a mere engine of Government; in which, let the matter end as it might, either in war or conciliation, it was previously determined that Parliament should be disgraced. He could not help remarking, with some degree of indignation, on the language of Ministers: Rebels! and Rebellion! The affair of 1715 was rebellion; that in 1745 was a rebellion of the foulest and rankest kind; perhaps, if some men' s minds were searched, it would be found that neither of those flagitious attacks on the Constitution and liberties of this country were deemed so. Whether or not, he was fully convinced the present resistance of America was not rebellion. The former endeavoured to bring in a Pretender, known at once to be inimical to the civil and religious liberties of this country; the latter were only fighting like freemen for their lawful liberty and property, and everything they held dear and sacred as men, citizens, or Englishmen.

He then proceeded to arraign the conduct of Administration in the most pointed and severe terms, relative to the prosecution of the war. He said all Canada had been lost by their neglect, Quebeck excepted, and that too, probably, would fall before any succours could arrive; that Boston was a post injudiciously taken, or shamefully abandoned; that the foolish schemes and wild expeditions to the Southward succeeded no better; that if Boston was worth keeping, Administration were to the last degree censurable to let it be lost in the shameful manner it was, when it was in their power so easily to have relieved it; and that, in short, Providence had counteracted every scheme devised for the destruction of America and the annihilation of British liberty. But though (says he) you have hitherto miscarried, I fear one part of your plan will prove successful; the follies and corruptions of the people have rendered them fit for anything you may think proper to inflict on them. I trust, however, the day is not far off, when the names of the prime actors and promoters of this infamous business will be wiped away from the recollection of every honest man, but for the mere purpose of holding them in the utmost execration and contempt. But if you have no traces of justice left in your minds; if you feel not for your own honour, for God' s sake pay some little attention to your own individual interests, and the safety of the nation. Do you think, however credulous you may be, that France and Spain will lie by, silent and inactive, with their hands across? Is it French policy to do so? Or will the vindictive spirit of the Spaniard permit him to sleep, when so favourable an opportunity presents itself for avenging his real or ideal wrongs? I have good reason to be persuaded of the contrary. Spain is daily arming. France has a new Minister, who is fond of war, who is a man of enterprise and ability, and is well known not to be well disposed towards this country; and if any reliance ought at any time to be had on assurances given by Ministers, it must now vanish, as it is known to be a settled maxim in French politicks, that promises given by a Minister are no longer looked upon to be binding, either on his master or the nation, than he continues in office. When the Minister is changed, almost uniformly the system is changed; for it is always a change of measures, not of men, which brings about such arrangements in the French Court.

Lord John Cavendish seconded the motion. He said the nation had been led into a war with America imperceptibly; and, from a question of right, they had artfully worked it up into a trial of power; but as the nation had been wrought upon by the arts of delusion and misrepresentation, he trusted the people would at length be restored to their senses, and bring the authors to condign punishment. He reminded the House of the part he took immediately before the Christmas recess, 1774, when he informed Administration that if America was to be coerced, it would


never be by a peace military establishment, and a reduced peace naval establishment from twenty to sixteen thousand men; and when the petty augmentations took place, early in the ensuing spring, he again told them, that the force they were sending out would answer no other end but to disgrace the British arms. The event showed that his predictions were true; and at the commencement of the present session, he was once more under the necessity of telling them of their blunders, and incapacity of conducting the affairs of a great nation, either in war or peace; yet, even at this last period, he perceived that Administration were not to be taught by experience. They regimented an army on paper; twenty-five thousand men were to conquer America; three months were elapsed, yet half the number were not to be procured, though Great Britain and Ireland were ransacked and left defenceless; at length foreigners were applied to; foreigners were procured; more than one-half of them still remained in their country, the other half were now tossing about in the Bay of Biscay, and America was lost.

Lord North said he was against the motion, but not for the reason the honourable gentleman who moved it seemed about to apologize. It was, to be sure, partly late in the season; but if the nation could derive the least benefit from it, he had not the least objection to sit weeks or months; but to call for instructions given to Commissioners was a matter totally new to him, either as an official man or a member of that House. His Lordship observed, that in matters of negotiation, it was usual to give instructions, to let the treaty go on, to wait for the issue of it, and then form a judgment. If the treaty should miscarry, if no fruits should be produced from it, then it would be time enough to inquire into the tenour of the instructions, to see whether they were such as ought to have been given, and such as, from their professed objects, were likely to succeed. He said, in some situations, the business of a General was as much to negotiate as to fight. The knowledge of his own strength, as well as that of the enemy, led him into many important secrets, which frequently served as a basis of future accommodation. As to the original cause of the present disputes, he was not in office when they arose. He had his own opinion, and it was always the same, that you must couple the claim of this country with a tax framed in some shape or other; but nothing was farther from his thoughts than to press his opinion on any man. Some were for taxation, others were for adhering to the supremacy of this country; some again thought that the American Charters ought to be inviolably preserved, while others imputed all the present evils to that source; in all events, among such a variety of discordant opinions, he should always abide by the sense of that House; and finally, that the real intention of the Commission now sent out was not so much to agree upon any specifick terms, as to sound the real disposition of America, in order to learn what the people of that country were ultimately desirous to obtain.

Mr˙ Burke was very severe on Administration. He contended that the House had a right to know what powers were delegated to the Commissioners; for as it was a Parliamentary affair, Parliament ought to be made acquainted with every material step taken. He said he wished to know in what manner the Commissioners were instructed to treat with the two persons (Hancock and Adams) excepted out of General Gage' s famous Proclamation, offering a pardon and indemnity to all America, or with General Lee; whether unconditional submission, in the language of a noble Lord [Lord George Germaine] over the way, was intended to be the ultimatum. He said that the noble Lord who spoke last talked much of the necessity of supporting Government and Administration, as if they were synonymous terms. For his part, he looked upon them to be extremely different; and a stronger proof need not be given than that, though Administration were swept away, Government would nevertheless remain the same. If the noble Lord had not asserted it himself, he could hardly have imagined a commission was granted, and instructions given, without any specifick directions whatever, further than to sound the disposition of America, or, in other words, to feel its pulse.

Lord North said a few words by way of explanation. He observed,


that if we were in doubt whether we should be able to maintain our right, it was at least our duty to try and exert every means in our power. The stake we played for was a great and important one, and we should exert every nerve to obtain it. It was the wish of Administration to avoid the effusion of blood as much as possible; but nothing specifick could he done till the claims of America were known: then it would be time enough to acquaint Parliament, who would be enabled to judge whether they were such as would accord with the dignity and interests of this country.

Mr˙ Fox was uncommonly violent. He doubted much if the Commissioners were at all empowered to treat, or even to sound; but were rather instructed to carry fire, sword, and devastation, wherever they were to go. He dwelt a considerable time on the wanton cruelties exercised in the course of our naval operations; such as burning the towns of Norfolk, in Virginia, and of Falmouth. He said it was a barbarous disposition to do mischief for mischiefs sake; it was unmanly, base, and would forever remain a disgrace to the British arms. He spoke much of a certain pamphlet, (Dr˙ Price' s,) and observed that it had opened the eyes of the people, who saw plainly that this country was brought to the brink of ruin and destruction, and that the first great event would probably be an account of General Howe' s total defeat, followed by a national bankruptcy; and concluded with observing, that one general system of power had of late years been adopted, which was uniformly directed to annihilate and overturn the liberties of this country; that this plan had been unremittingly pursued by the Minister; that slavery was the ultimate object of all his measures; and that it mattered very little who was the deviser of this unnatural conspiracy, for it was plain that the Minister, by the whole tenour of his conduct, had made himself responsible to the nation: he pursued with ardour, and without remorse, whatever desperate scheme his traitorous and concealed employers chalked out for him.

Mr˙ Adam disapproved of the motion, because it was unusual to call for instructions till something had been done in the business; and that, however, he formed little or no expectation from the Commission which was the subject of the present motion. He believed it would meet with a similar fate to that of the noble Lord' s conciliatory proposition: that was, in his opinion, surrendering the dignity of Parliament to answer no purpose. He begged that such gentlemen as did him the honour to remember anything he said, would recollect that he foretold the fate of that proposition the very instant it was made; and he was inclined to think that the commission and instructions would meet with the same fate. He was always of opinion that no middle path could be struck out; that either America must be abandoned, or the legislative control of this country be maintained without diminution; for as soon as the authority of this country came to be a conditional authority, unless the conditions were prescribed by Great Britain, we should from that instant cease to have substantial or beneficial authority over America at all.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend observed, that Parliament had talked in a high strain against America; but what Parliament thought or resolved, one way or the other, was of very little consequence, for Administration would act just as they liked. Parliament, instead of taking the lead, was at length degraded into a mere engine of Government — one day to bully, another to conciliate, and the next, he foresaw, would be to sue for terms to America. Such was the case a few years back, in the case of Lord Hillsborough' s circulatory letter to the Colonies. While Parliament was asserting the supremacy of this country, and the unlimited, unconditional right of taxation over America, this letter contained the most specifick declaration that no tax whatever should be ever laid on that country. He said, however, that that letter was productive of much worse consequences than barely contradicting the sense of Parliament. A British Administration was no longer to be relied on; for the solemn engagement made for his Majesty to three millions of his subjects, was no sooner made than it was shamefully violated. What dependance, then, could America have on any future promise? How could she trust to the sincerity of our professions, when all Administrations had to do


would be to get Parliament to overrule them, or remove the Minister under whose immediate directions the faith of the nation had been pledged? This was precisely the case with the letter in question. America rested satisfied with the assurances it contained; and when the system was to be changed, the Minister was removed, and his engagement on the part of this nation set at naught, as a mere unauthorized act of office.

Lord George Germaine said the Commissioners had no power to enter into any treaty whatever with our rebellious subjects in America, further than to receive the submissions of such as were disposed to return to their duty, and acknowledge the authority of the British Government; and as the Parliament had agreed to send Commissioners, he had no doubt but those named by his Majesty wore the fittest for effecting the objects of the commission. It was proper to make the experiment; none of the operations on sea or land would be suspended; and though the matter should not be brought to maturity, nor the objects of the commission succeed, it was necessary that the intentions of Parliament should be complied with.

Colonel Barré took notice that the noble Lord in the blue ribbon had confessed that the Commissioners were sent out not to treat, but to sound. He said it was a happy, and, he believed, very proper expression. It might be every way descriptive of the fate of the errand; and it was not very improbable that both the noble Commissioner and his brother would be employed in sounding the coasts of America, [A loud laugh on the Opposition side of the House.] He said he knew both the gentlemen extremely well; they were men of integrity and high honour, and of eminent skill in their respective professions. He had served with one of them in America, during the late war, and was personally acquainted with the other; but at the same time he did not think that Administration could have picked out two men more unqualified for the effectuating so abstruse, difficult, and arduous a business, as that committed to their charge by the commission. He was extremely severe on the conduct of Administration; said the armaments, both by sea and land, were shamefully delayed; that neither were the troops nor transports ready; part of the Hessians had not yet left Germany, though the 22d of May was arrived. Surely Ministers, ignorant as they were, could not imagine that troops still in Germany would arrive early enough in America, this season, to carry on the operations of an offensive war, a war of conquest. He then took a general view of the state of the whole empire, and its several parts of Ireland and the East and West-Indies. He said the Parliament of Ireland, from its obsequiousness to the Minister, had rendered that country totally defenceless, by stripping it of its troops; that the East-Indies was in a state of internal confusion and external imbecility; that the West-Indies was on the eve of famine, and that North-America was forever lost; so that, without any attempt from a foreign enemy, the consequences to be expected were dreadful to think on; but if France should take an advantage of such a state of things, one or all of them must fall a prey to the ambitious designs of that restless power.

Governour Johnstone closed the debate, and was personally severe on the Minister. He expatiated greatly on the numerous infamous jobs that were every day going on, and enumerated the various methods there were devised for creating corrupt majorities in that House. He spoke of the licenses granted by the Admiralty Board, and remarked a curious fact which had come out in the papers laid before the House, which was a contract of Sir James Cockburn and James Bogle French, for ten thousand gallons of rum, at four shillings per gallon, though it was well known that the contract might be executed at two shillings a gallon, No wonder that the people were plundered and the nation undone. No wonder that there were decisive majorities in that House, and numerous addresses from every part of the kingdom. No wonder that the American war was become a favourite war with the majority of that House, though hated and disapproved of by every man in the kingdom, who had not a personal interest in its continuance. — St˙ James' s Chronicle.