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Bill Read the Third Time


WEDNESDAY, March 8, 1775.

Ordered, That the Order of the Day, for the third reading of the Bill now engrossed, to restrain the Trade and Commerce of the Provinces of Massachusetts Bay and New-Hampshire, and Colonies of Connecticut and Rhode-Island, and Providence Plantation, in North America, to Great Britain and Ireland, and the British Islands in the West Indies, and to prohibit such Provinces and Colonies from carrying on any Fishery on the banks of Newfoundland, or other places therein to be mentioned, under certain conditions, and for a time to be limited, be now read;

And the said Order being read accordingly;

The said Bill was read the third time.

Mr˙ Hartley moved to add the following engrossed clause to the Bill, by way of ryder:

"Provided always, and be it further enacted, That nothing in this Act contained, shall extend, or be construed to extend, to prohibit the importation into any or either of the said Colonies or Provinces, of Fuel, Corn, Meal, Flour, or other Victual brought coastwise from any part of America."

This clause, said he, cannot be objected to, even by the most vindictive spirit, against the four Provinces of New England, who are the objects of this Bill, as it is extracted from the Boston Port Bill of last year; the lenity or humanity of which was never so much as pretended, even by its advocates. There cannot be a reason why you should throw away this year the little share of humanity which you had the last; more especially as we are come to discover, and even to acknowledge, by the votes of this House, that we have proceeded hitherto, in this business with America, with rashness, misjudgment, and precipitation. The vote I allude to is passed but a few days since; which says, or pretends to say, that it would have been ‘proper’ (that is the term) to have proceeded in a way of asking a supply of the Americans, by the constitutional way of requisitions, before proceeding to compulsory or forcible methods. Having confessed ourselves wrong in the foundation, it is but equal justice to our fellow-subjects of America, to suppose that those riots and resistance would not have happened, if we had not begun with them confessedly in an unconstitutional way. Surely, then, it is not a time to add to the severity of our acts, in proportion as we find that we have been unjust in the outset, and that they have been less to blame. It is surely but a little matter to ask, that you would not be more cruel towards America, who have never been heard on their defence this year, than you were the last. Besides, what construction can the Town of Boston put upon your present measures, if you refuse the clause now offered? They will be besieged, as in actual war with any foreign enemy. General Gage has fortified the Neck which joins Boston to the Continent, by which he may intercept provisions; and by this Bill you proclaim the same intention by Sea. Do you expect that they will submit to be starved, in passive obedience? What resource have they left, but resistance; and, perhaps, to take advantage of the smallness of numbers of General Gage' s Troops, before they are reinforced; for this Act puts it out of all doubt that you mean to proceed to all extremities. I have been informed by those who know best the temper of the Americans, and I hope and believe that they will hold out their patience to the utmost, and that they will not strike the first blow; but what is the difference to them, whether you strike the first blow by the musket or the sword, or to equal effect, by famine? The refusal of this clause will be a declaration on your part, that you mean to bring famine upon them to the utmost of your power, and therefore a warning to them of the mercy which they are to expect at your hands. As to the Bill in general, it has been so ably debated, that I shall only add two remarks. This Bill, by destroying the North American Fishery, not


only destroys that nursery of Seamen, but will disable the Provinces under the prohibition, from the means of paying their debts to this country, who, therefore, will finally be the sufferers; and when the next year comes, and you find this consequence, you will then turn accusers of the North Americans for not paying their debts, and you will add, according to the usual falsehoods towards the Americans, that they never intended to pay their debts; and, by the distance of the place, and the falsehood of representations, you will impute those very effects which you have produced yourselves, as the justifying causes of resentment. This is the unjust way in which the Americans have been treated on all occasions. I myself asked the other day, why, on a particular occasion of a slight riot of not more than a few hours continuance, four Regiments and a train of Artillery were ordered to Boston? To justify this enormous intervention of the military, I was told in this House, that indeed the riots were trifling, but that the Americans had come to a resolution to arm the country. What, then, was the real fact, as testified by dates? The fact was, that the resolution to arm was not taken till the Troops were seen in the Offing. It was the sight of the Troops, upon so trivial an occasion, that gave them to understand what they were to expect; and by dates the fact is verified, that they did not take to arms till some months after the Troops were ordered; but it was upon their first notice of the Troops being to come, and the resolution to arm against the worst, was actually debated but a few hours before the Troops were landed. So it is that facts are misrepresented in America, and so let me put in my caution now, that the Americans do now actually pay their debts like honest men, to the utmost of their power, and let me be before-hand with this charge; if, when the natural consequences of these measures come next year, we should hear any false accusations of the Americans, as combining not to pay their debts. I shall make but one remark more, but which seems to me to be of the utmost importance to the whole commercial system of England, which is, that the Plantation-built bottoms are two-thirds, or three-quarters, or all the bottoms upon which the British Merchandise, to every quarter of the globe, is carried on. When we meditate a blow at the American trade, we should recollect at least that there is this one manufacture (if I may so call it) of Ship-building, upon the encouragement of which our very existence as a trading people depends. However we may think it our interest to suppress the rivalship of the Colonies with ourselves in other Manufactures, yet in this trade of Ship-building, they are our most material and essential support. This revengeful blow at the American Ship-building, will fall most immediately and fatally upon the Manufacturers and Merchants of every commercial article in this Kingdom. For these reasons I am against the whole principle of the Bill, and if we cannot prevail to have it rejected, I humbly move, at least, the admission of the clause which I have just offered.

Lord North said, as the Bill not only meant to restrain the Colonies of New England from trade, so long as they would not trade with us, but also to let them feel the inconveniences which they must be exposed to while they deny the authority of Parliament, he could not, until their conduct gave Parliament some grounds for it, agree in opinion that Parliament should relax from the coercion which this Bill meant to execute. He thought it was right that they should feel some of those distresses which the power of this country could bring upon them, while they dared to set their power in opposition to it. But even in the exertion of force, nay of arms, if it should become necessary, he never should wish measures which were cruel. The case of the Boston Port Bill was quite different. The Town of Boston had obstructed our trade, and had committed an act of outrage against it; it was proper, therefore, to prevent that Town from being a place of trade, until they had made recompense; but as they had not then formally arrayed themselves against the power as well as authority of this country, further restraints, such as were in the present Bill, were not then necessary, and the permitting Provisions and Fuel to go up to the Town by water, was inserted in that Bill. The further restraints which a more violent conduct had now rendered necessary, were inserted in the Bill, and instead of relaxations from these, more severe ones must follow, if their conduct made such further necessary.


Mr˙ Burke was warm against the Bill. It was not, he said, sanguinary, it did not mean to shed blood, but, to suit some gentleman' s humanity, it only meant to starve five hundred thousand people, men, women, and children at the breast. Some gentlemen had even expressed their approbation of famine, in preference to fire and sword. This Bill not only had taken from these people the means of subsisting themselves by their own labour, but, rejecting the clause now proposed, took from them the means of being subsisted by the charity of their friends. You had reduced the poor people to beggary, and now you take the beggar' s scrip from them. You even dash from the mouth of hunger the morsel which the hand of charity would stretch out to it. On the subject of famine he was fine and pathetick.

Lord Clare said he would not enter the list with the honourable gentleman who spoke last; it would be the waging an unequal war; but he had in his hand a friend who was a match for him; my old friend, Sir Joshua Ghee, a great friend to America, though no patriot; a man who has written better on trade than any other man living, and who knew more of America. Now, sir, my friend, Joshua Ghee, with a kind of prophetick spirit, says, if ever the people of New England should aim to set up for themselves, what must we do? Do, sir, why the very things which are now doing. Joshua Ghee says you must restrain their trade, and prohibit them from the Fishery, and you will soon bring them to their senses. I hope Joshua Ghee will be a prophet there too. But here are his words. [He here read a long passage from the book, and then commented on it.] Now, sir, nobody that ever read this passage, thought this conduct, as here proposed, to be cruel, but necessary and wise, sir. But since we have got a language in this House that is fitter for the turbulent harangues of an American Congress, than for a British Parliament, every thing which would restrain American independency, is unjust and cruel. But if so, sir, how come gentlemen not to oppose the augmentation of the Army and Navy for these purposes. They retired from that question; some never looked to it; others retired sturdily like Ajax; they did not turn their backs, but, sir, they retired.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend. If the augmentation of the Navy and Army had been proposed as a force with which to make war on America, I would, sir, have been as sturdy as Ajax, not retiring, but attacking; I would have set my face against it; I would have used every power I had to oppose it; I would have carried my opposition to turbulency, since the noble Lord will so describe it. The reason why I did not oppose it, I will avow; it is a fair one. I knew that it was determined that a great part of the force which we then Lad was to be sent to America. I trembled for the safety of this Realm, thus stripped of the strength intended originally for its defence; I was glad when I heard an additional defence was to be proposed for it. I would not oppose this necessary measure, though I would not in any thing mix myself with the measures of Ministry. He then went into the argument on the subject of famine and starving.

Mr˙ Charles Fox. I think, sir, you have now, by refusing this proposition, completed the system of your folly. You had some friends yet left in New England. You yourselves made a parade of the number you had there. But you have not treated them like friends! Rather than not make the ruin of that devoted country complete, your friends are to be involved in one common famine! How must they feel, what must they think, when the people against whom they have stood out in support of your measures, say to them, "You see now what friends in England you have depended upon; they separated you from your real friends there, while they hoped to ruin us by it; but since they cannot destroy us without mixing you in the common carnage, your merits to them will not now save you; you are to be butchered and starved indiscriminately with us. What have you to look to for support but resistance? You are treated in common with us as Rebels, whether you rebel or not. Your loyalty has ruined you. Rebellion alone — if resistance is rebellion, can save you from famine and ruin." When these things are said to them, what can they answer? What part have they to take? They must resist in common with those with whom you have united them in ruin. I thought your measures were intended to divide the people. But when you mean to destroy you unite all, because you wish to destroy


all. Thus much I thought it right to say, that I might mark the spirit of your measures.

Governour Pownall having now, after two days debate, heard so much about the starving principles of this Bill, and of the famine which was to be the effect of it in New England, rose to say a few words, in order, by stating the fact, to wipe off from the Bill an imputation, which not only the oratory of those who opposed it, but the indiscretion of some who had defended it, brought upon it; the foul stain of hard heartedness and cruelty; as also to calm any apprehensions which gentlemen, by their oratory, working on a fact taken for granted, had endeavoured to raise in the breasts of the humane. As to the starving and famine, supposed as an effect which might follow from the operations of this Bill, it was a supposition too idle to combat. The Colonies of New England were provision Colonies; they were great grazing settlements; they had not, indeed, been equally attentive to tillage as the farmers of the middle Colonies had been, but they raised sufficient Corn, Rye, and Barley, for their subsistence; that although they imported some Flour and Biscuit from Philadelphia and New-York, yet the first was chiefly for the luxury of the rich, and the latter for fitting out their Shipping. If it became necessary to restrain their trade, the latter would not be wanted; and if people will go to war, they must expect to give up the former. If the Bill proceeded upon any such principles of hard-heartedness, or if he could see any such cruel effects in it as had been stated, he would have opposed it instead of acquiescing in it; instead of any such mischievous effect on the Colonies, we should have need to watch that it did not produce a contrary effect, namely, that of turning their thoughts more seriously to tillage; if it should, might it not have the effect fabled in the story of Antaeus, that the moment in which they touch the ground, from that moment they should derive strength. He concluded by saying that he considered this Bill simply as a commercial regulation; as a temporary withholding of those indulgences which particular laws and connivance had given, in relaxation of the general laws on which the Plantation trade had been originally established; as withholding these indulgences so long as the Colonies should think fit to prohibit the trade of Great Britain; it was from seeing and considering it in this light alone, that he acquiesced in it.

Mr˙ Henry Dundas, (Solicitor General of Scotland.) In what I said in a late debate, I did not say that I approved of measures of starving a whole people; but that, if matters between us and the Americans were come to that issue, that we must at last use force, and perhaps the sword; surely those measure which would prevent them from being able to resist, might prevent us from coming to the harsher measures of the sword and bloodshed, I thought these measures would bring them to their senses, and would therefore, in the end, prove mercy to them. This I hoped would be the true operation and effect of this Bill; and, therefore, approving that operation, I must disapprove this motion.

On the question, that the said clause be read a second time? The House divided: Yeas, 58; Noes, 188.

So it passed in the Negative.

Resolved, That the Bill do Pass; and that the Title be, An Act to restrain the Trade and Commerce of the Provinces of Massachusetts Bay and New-Hampshire, and the Colonies of Connecticut and Rhode-Island, and Providence Plantation, in North America, to Great Britain, Ireland, and the British Islands in the West Indies; and to prohibit such Provinces and Colonies from carrying on any Fishery on the banks of Newfoundland, or other places therein mentioned, under certain conditions and limitations.

Ordered, That Mr˙ Cooper do carry the Bill to the Lords, and desire their concurrence.