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Circumstantial Account of the Debates in the American Committee


A circumstantial account of the important Debates in the American Committee on Lord North' s motion of Monday, February 20,1775.

On Sunday evening February 19, a Treasury Letter, desiring an attendance in the House for the next day, was sent to the most active persons in opposition, as well as to all those who support Ministry, as Lord North had a motion of importance to make. It is unusual to send such letters to the Members who oppose. This message, therefore, occasioned much speculation. Early on Monday it was universally given out that Lord North intended to move a conciliatory proposition, which would have a tendency to quiet the troubles that unhappily distract the British Empire.

About four o' clock Sir Charles Whitworth took the chair in the American Committee, Lord North immediately rose, and having laid open his design in a speech of rather less than an hour, concluded with the following motion:


"That it is the opinion of this Committee that when the Governour, Council, and Assembly, or General Court of any of his Majesty' s Provinces or Colonies in America, shall propose to make provision, according to the conditions, circumstances, and situation of such Province or Colony, for contributing their proportion to the common defence, (such proportion to be raised under the authority of the General Court or General Assembly of such Province or Colony, and disposable by Parliament,) and shall engage to make provision (also for the support of the Civil Government and the administration of justice in the said Province or Colony: it will be proper, if such proposal shall be approved by his Majesty and the two Houses of Parliament,) and for so long as such provision shall be made accordingly, to forbear, in respect to such Province or Colony, to levy any Duty, Tax, or Assessment, or to impose any further Duty, Tax, or Assessment, except only such Duties as it may be expedient for the regulation of commerce. The nett produce of the Duties last mentioned to be carried to the account of such Province or Colony respectively."

The motion was supported by Governour Pownall, Mr˙ Jenkinson, Sir G˙ Elliot, Mr˙ Cornwall, and Mr˙ Wedderburne.

The principal arguments used by these gentlemen, and particularly by Lord North, in favour of the proposition, were the following:

That in the late Address of the two Houses, a promise was given to redress the grievances of the Americans. It was, indeed, impossible to define what Parliament ought to deem a real grievance among the many factious complaints of the Americans; but as there was one point upon which they and others were most particularly clamorous, the matter of taxation, it would be proper to come to a fair and indulgent explanation on that subject; and as many new restrictions on the trade of the Americans have been already proposed, and as many more were intended in that situation, the Colonies ought fairly to know what they are to expect, and what is expected from them.

Justice and policy, he said, required, that every person under any Government should be compelled to become contributory to that Government, according to his ability, and to the further support he derives from it. This principle ought to extend to the Colonies, and to all other dependencies of this Empire, just as much as to any part of Great Britain; and the slightest relaxation of any penal or restrictive Statutes now made or hereafter to be made, in consequence of their disobedience and contumacy, ought not to be so much as listened to, until they come to Parliament and offer such contributions as that sovereign judge and legislator should decide to be their just and fair proportion towards the common defence of the whole Empire; and that this offer must be understood as the condition upon which we are to accept their allegiance.

This proposition ought not to be settled by a Congress. Such a mode could only tend to promote factious combinations in the Colonies, who, as Colonies, have no sort of relation among themselves; they are all the Colonies of Great Britain, and it is through her alone that they have any relation to each other.

At present, the quota which each Colony ought to pay, cannot be settled; but the proportions (when the Americans come to make their offers) must be adjusted upon the following standard: The wealth and population of each Colony; its advantages relatively to the other Colonies; and its proportion to the wealth and other advantages taken together with her burthens and necessities of Great Britain.

There had been much talk of the restrictions on the Colonies; but when the Goods which they take from this country, only because they are the best and cheapest, shall be deducted from the account of restriction, the Americans will have but little ground for exemption on that account; and they will be found so much on a par with the inhabitants of Great Britain, in commercial advantages, that reason and justice require they should be put on a par with regard to their contributions; and to pay (after the above deduction) full as much in taxes as the people of Great Britain. Seventy millions of debt in the last war was incurred solely on their account; and in equity the Americans ought to bear at least their fair proportion of it. The Army and Navy of England are employed for their protection in common with the resf of the Empire; they ought therefore to contribute both to the Army and Navy; and when a Fleet is sent to the East Indies, the Colonies ought to pay their share of the charges, just as well as when it is stationed on the Coast of North America: for this force being for the common benefit, the Colonies are virtually included in the protection derived from it, wherever it is employed.

As to the mode of taxation, provided the substantial supply is obtained, it is our interest to indulge the Colonies in this particular as much as we can; partly, because we may not be as knowing in the detail as the American Assemblies, and we may oppress when we meant only to tax; and partly, because it has been found almost impossible for Parliament to lay taxes there, which would produce any thing in any degree adequate to their purposes.

Lord North confessed, that he rather imagined this proposition would not be to the taste of the Americans, and would not be complied with by several of the Colonies. However, if but one of them submitted, that one link of the chain would be broken; and if so, the whole would inevitably fall to pieces. This separation would restore our Empire; and divide et impera was a maxim never held unfair or unwise in Government. If this hope should be frustrated, and that the proposition should do no good in America, it will not, however, fail in England. First. It will stand as an eternal monument of the wisdom and clemency, of the humanity and justice of British government. Secondly. It will shew the Traders and Manufacturers of England, the temper and moderation of Parliament, and the obstinacy


and disaffection of the Americans; and will of course support them under the decay and loss of trade, and all the miseries of war. They will bear with patience all these temporary losses, when they are assured that they are incurred for the sake of a large Revenue, which is to ease them from the many and heavy taxes which at present oppress their industry. Thirdly. It will animate the Officers and Soldiers we send out to America to a vigorous and manly exertion of their native courage, without doubt or scruple, when they are assured they no longer fight for a phantom, and a vain, empty point of honour, but for a substantial benefit to their country, which is to relieve her in her greatest exigence.

That this is putting the quarrel upon a proper ground — a dispute for Revenue — a dispute to compel America to come to the relief of Great Britain. That it was no conceding proposition, but what true policy must suggest, if they had actually subdued America, and had her prostrate at their feet. That it is not to abandon the authority of Parliament, but to confirm it; it is to enforce it in the most effectual manner, and for the most essential objects — because the taxing power is, by this Resolution, in the hands of Parliament — and to be exercised merely, according to its discretion. All the vigorous measures, either by penal laws or by the military force, are to go on exactly as before, and no further relaxation whatsoever is intended. This is the ultimatum.

If it should seem to be abandoning the high ground taken in the Address, or to he contrary to the assurances so frequently given, "that no terms should be held out to America previous to its submission," this is nothing said Lord North, but what is common. The greatest Powers have done it. In the war of the succession, it was a fundamental point, that no Prince of the House of Bourbon should ever sit on the Throne of Spain. This was several times repeated, and in the most solemn manner — such politicks are necessary to gain, or to animate allies — yet all the Powers which composed this Confederacy yielded, and a Prince of the House of Bourbon did sit, and of the same House does now sit, on the Throne of Spain. In the Spanish war of 1739, we declared, that we would never treat with Spain until she had given up the point of search. Yet peace was made without her giving up this point, and the search continues. Lord North added to these several other instances, in which great Powers had abandoned their pretensions, and disappointed the hopes they had held out to their allies.