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Debate on a Motion for an Address to the King

Mr. Rice' s Motion


Mr˙ Rice then rose, and after remarking on the very critical situation of the whole Continent of North America, and enlarging on the imminent necessity there was for vindicating the controlling right of the British Legislature over the Colonies, moved, "That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, to return his Majesty the thanks of this House, for his Majesty' s most gracious Message, and for the communication his Majesty hath been graciously pleased to make to this House, of the several Papers relative to the present state of some of his Majesty' s Colonies in North America.

To assure his Majesty, that this House will, without delay, proceed to take into their most serious consideration his Majesty' s most gracious Message, together with the Papers accompanying the same; and will not fail to exert every means in their power, in effectually providing for objects so important to the general welfare, as maintaining the due execution of the laws, and securing the just dependence of his Majesty' s Colonies upon the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain."


Lord Clare Seconds the Motion

Lord Clare said, he agreed with the honorable gentleman, and hoped he should find this measure carried through with unanimity; he should therefore second the motion.

Mr. Dowdeswell

Mr˙ Dowdeswell. I would be very far from offering any thing on the present occasion, which might wear the most distant appearance of opposition, or a desire to impede measures of such high consideration. Nevertheless, I cannot consent to give my voice, by any means, for what I am convinced in my soul is wrong; and though I do not mean to divide the House on any particular opinion I may entertain on the subject, I wish to have it understood, that I do not approve of the present hasty, ill-digested mode of proceeding.

Governor Pownall

Governor Pownall. I think the motion for an Address extremely proper, as it can mean no more than to return thanks to his Majesty for the present communication.

Mr. Edmund Burke' s Motions

Mr˙ Edmund Burke then moved, that the entries in the Journal of the House, of the 8th day of November, 1768, of so much of his Majesty' s most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, and the Address of this House thereupon, as relates to the state of his Majesty' s Government in North America, might be read:

And the same was read accordingly.

Mr˙ Burke also moved, that the entry in the Journal of the House, of the 9th day of May, 1769, of so much of his Majesty' s most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, as relates to the state of his Majesty' s Colonies in North America, might be read:

And the same was read accordingly.

Mr˙ Burke also moved, that the entries in the Journal of the House, of the 9th day of January, 1770, of so much of his Majesty' s most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, and the Address of this House thereupon, as relates to the state of his Majesty' s Government in North America, might be read:

And the same was read accordingly.

Mr˙ Burke also moved, that the entries in the Journals of the House, of the 13th day of November, 1770, of so much of his Majesty' s most gracious Speech to both Houses of Parliament, and the Address of this House thereupon, as relates to the state of his Majesty' s Colonies in America, might be read:

And the same was read accordingly.

He next desired the Clerk to search for the supposed Resolutions that were entered into by the House, in obedience and conformity to this communication from the Throne; and none being to be found, he resumed his speech: Sir, (addressing himself to the Clerk,) I am thoroughly satisfied of your integrity and assiduity in the discharge of the station you now fill; but however high you


may stand in my estimation, I would much sooner suppose you guilty of some fatal negligence, which, now leaves us at a loss for those proceedings, than presume the House to have so far forgot its duty to its Sovereign, its country, and its constituents, as to omit what was so strongly recommended to its consideration from the Throne, as well as what was in its nature so essential to our most important interests. And even you, Sir, (to the Speaker,) I should not hesitate to charge as guilty of some improper conduct on this occasion, sooner than the House.

Mr. Solicitor General

Mr˙ Solicitor General. The honorable gentleman over the way has endeavored to entertain us with an epigram, but it wants one of its most essential requisites, it seems rather too long. Foregoing therefore the wit, which here comes in somewhat unseasonably, I should imagine that the grand object we ought to labor to accomplish, on the present occasion, would be unanimity. The voice of this House should be that of one man. It is not what this Administration has done, what that has omitted, or the mixed errors of a third, that we are now to consider. It is not this man' s private opinion, or that man' s; the particular sentiments of this side of the House, or the other. We are arrived at a certain point, and the question now is, in what manner we shall think proper to act. The proposed Address by no means precludes us from giving our opinions freely, when the matter comes properly before us, accompanied by the necessary information. When this information is properly digested, let us proceed coolly and with deliberation. We cannot yet determine, whether the dependence insisted on in the Message, may be proper to be vindicated or asserted. We cannot even say but it maybe entirely relinquished. We do not pretend to judge what sort or degree of connection may be necessary to be kept up for our mutual benefit. It perhaps may be prudent to grant them other charters, to enlarge those they already have, or to enter into commercial regulations different from those which at present bind them.

Mr. Edmund Burke

Mr˙ Edmund Burke. The learned gentleman, who has now held forth with so much ingenuity, and so great an appearance of candor, has left his epigram liable to the same objection which he made to mine; it is not short enough. Besides, he forgets to enumerate one of the qualities which distinguish an epigram, and which mine had: it, I think, carried a sting with it. The learned gentleman suggests (and I presume he speaks from authority) that the several Governments in America may be new-modelled; that connections different from those already existing may be formed, and commercial regulations, planned on another scale, take place. But I will venture to inform him, that an English Government must be administered in the spirit of one, or it will that moment cease to exist. As soon, I say, as the civil Government of those Colonies shall depend for support on a military power, the former will that moment be at an end. The spirit of English legislation is uniform, permanent, and universal; it must execute itself, or no power under heaven will be able to effect it. — [Here Mr˙ Burke entered into an historical detail of the weakness and violence, the ill-timed severity and lenity, the irresolution at one time, and the invincible obstinacy at another, the arrogance and meanness of the several Administrations, relative to their conduct towards the Americans for the last seven years. He observed, with some degree of severity, on the act of political indemnity, proposed by the learned gentleman, and his endeavors to confound all parties, as equally involved in the cause of the present confusions now prevailing in that country, contending that all dissentions, occasioned by the attempt to levy a tax there, gave way to perfect tranquillity on the repeal of the Stamp Act.]

Lord George Germain

Lord George Germain. The honorable gentleman who spoke last has taken great pains to expose the conduct of different Administrations, and to extol those who advised the repeal of the Stamp Act. For my part, however great the abilities and good intention of those gentlemen might have been, I was of opinion, that it should not be repealed, and voted accordingly. It is now contended, that that measure produced the desired effect, and that on its passing every thing was peace and tranquillity. I know the contrary was the case, and we had evidence at your bar which proved, that the Americans were totally displeased, because in the preamble to the repeal, we asserted our right to enact


laws of sufficient force and authority to bind them. I am, on the whole, fully convinced, that the present situation of affairs in that country, would have never been, and that the People there must and would have returned to their obedience, if the Stamp Act had not been unfortunately repealed.

General Conway

General Conway. I by no means agree with the noble Lord in any one argument he has made, or conclusion he has drawn from them. I attribute the very disagreeable situation we are now in to the weakness of our counsels, and to a series of misconduct. The noble Lord attributes the present distracted state of that country to the repeal. I believe he has neither fully attended to the immediate effects of that measure, nor to those which have followed from a contrary conduct, or he could never have given such a judgment. The operation of both are known, and I leave the House to judge, which was the healing and which the distracting measure.

Colonel Barré

Colonel Barré. I shall agree with the motion for an Address as a mere matter of course, not holding myself engaged to a syllable of its contents. A right honorable gentleman near me, (Mr˙ Dowdeswell,) has very fully proved on a former occasion, that our present peace establishment is a ruinous one; and that it eats up that fund which should be appropriated towards relieving our burdens or preparing for a war. I have the most authentic information, however improbable it may appear, that the expense of our military at this moment, exceeds that of France. These may be matters well worthy of our consideration in the course of our proceedings. It may induce us to make a very considerable saving in that service.

Motion Agreed To

The motion for the Address was then agreed to.

Ordered, That the Address be presented to his Majesty by such members of this House as are of his Majesty' s most honorable Privy Council.



* The presentment of the Papers was accompanied with a comment upon them, and particularly those that related to the transactions at Boston, in which the conduct of the Governor was described and applauded; and that of the prevailing fiction represented in the most atrocious light. It was said that he had taken every measure which prudence could suggest, or good policy justify, for the security of the East India Company' s property, the safety of the consignees, and the preserving of order and quiet in the town. Every civil precaution to prevent the mischief that followed had been used in vain. His Majesty' s Council, the Militia, and the corps of Cadets, had been all separately applied to, for their assistance in the preservation of the public peace, and the support of the laws, but all without effect: they refused or declined doing their duty. The Sheriff read a Proclamation to the faction, at their town meeting, by which they were commanded to break up their Assembly; but the Proclamation was treated with the greatest contempt, and the Sheriff insulted in the grossest manner.

That he had it undoubtedly in his power, by calling in the assistance of the naval force which was in the harbor, to have prevented the destruction of the Tea; but that as the loading men in Boston had always made great complaints of the interposition, of the army and navy, and charged all disturbances of every sort to their account, he with great prudence and temperance, determined from the beginning to decline a measure which would have been so irritating to the minds of the People; and might well have hoped, that by this confidence in their conduct, and trust reposed in the civil power, he should have calmed their turbulence, and preserved the public tranquillity.

Thus, said the Ministers, the People of Boston were fairly tried. — They were left to their own conduct, and to the exercise of their judgments, and the result has given the lie to all their former professions. They are now without an excuse, and all the powers of Government in that Province, are found insufficient to prevent the most violent outrages. The loyal and peaceable People of a mercantile town, (as they affect to be peculiarly considered,) have given a notable proof to the world of their justice, moderation, loyally, and affection, for the Mother Country, by wantonly committing to the waves a valuable commodity, the property of another loyal mercantile body of subjects, without the pretence of necessity, even supposing that their opposition to the payment of the duties could justify such a plea; as they had nothing to do but to adhere to their own Resolutions, of non-consumption, effectually to evade the revenue laws.

It was concluded upon the whole, that by an impartial review of the Papers now before them, it would manifestly appear, that nothing could be done, by either civil, military, or naval officers, to effectuate the re-establishment of tranquillity and order in that Province, without additional Parliamentary powers to give efficacy to their proceedings. That no person employed by Government, could in any act, however common or legal, fulfil the duties of his office or station, without its being immediately exclaimed against by the licentious, as an infringement of their liberties. That it was the settled opinion of some of the wisest men, both in England and America, and the best acquainted with the affairs of the Colonies, that in their present state of Government, no measures whatsoever could be pursued that would, in any degree, remedy those glaring evils, which were every day growing to a more enormous and dangerous height. That Parliament, and Parliament only, were capable of re-establishing tranquillity among those turbulent People, and of bringing order out of confusion. And that it was therefore incumbent on every member to weigh and consider with an intention suitable to the great importance of the subject, the purport of the Papers before them, and totally laying all prejudices aside, to form his opinion upon the measures most eligible to be pursued, for supporting the supreme legislative authority, the dignity of Parliament, and the great interests of the British Empire.

This is the substance of what was urged by the Ministry upon the subject when they presented the Papers; but, as things were to be brought to a crisis with the Colonies, and very strong measures were resolved upon, it was apprehended that the merchants would he affected, and make some opposition. To prevent this, all the public papers were systematically filled with writings on this subject, painting the misconduct of the Colonies in the strongest colours, and in particular, urging the impossibility of the future existence of any trade to America, if this flagrant outrage on commerce should go unpunished.

These, with many other endeavours to the same end, were not without an effect. The spirit raised against the Americans became as high and as strong as could be desired, both within and without the House. In this temper a motion was made for an Address to the Throne. — Ann˙ Regis.