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House of Commons


MONDAY, May 15, 1775.

Mr˙ Burke informed the House, that he had in his hand a paper of importance from the General Assembly of the Province of New-York; a Province which yielded to no part of his Majesty' s Dominions in its zeal for the prosperity and unity of the Empire, and which had ever contributed as much as any, in its proportion, to the defence and wealth of the whole. He observed, that it was a complaint, in the form of a Remonstrance, of several Acts of Parliament, some of which, as they affirmed, had established principles, and others had made regulations, subversive of the rights of English subjects. That he did not know whether the House would approve of every opinion contained in that paper; but, as nothing could be more decent and respectful than the whole tenour and language of the Remonstrance, a mere mistake in opinion upon any one point, ought not to hinder them from receiving it, and granting redress on such other matters as might be really grievous, and which were not necessarily connected with that erroneous opinion. He represented this direct application from America, and dutiful procedure of New-York, in the present critical juncture, as a most desirable, and even fortunate, circumstance; and strongly urged, that they never had before them so fair an opportunity of putting an end to the unhappy disputes with the Colonies as at present; and he conjured them, in the most earnest manner, not to let it escape, as, possibly, the like might never return. He thought this application from America, so very desirable to the House, that he could have made no sort of doubt of their entering heartily into his ideas, if the noble Lord (North) some days before, in opening the budget, had not gone out of his way, to pass a panegyrick on the last Parliament; and, in particular, to commend, as acts of lenity, and mercy, those very laws, which the Remonstrance considers as intolerable grievances. This circumstance, indeed, did somewhat abate the sanguine hopes of success which he had entertained for this dutiful procedure of the Colony of New-York. That he was so ill as not to be able to trouble them, if he were willing, with a long speech. He had several times in the session expressed his sentiments very fully upon every thing contained in that Remonstrance; as for the rest, it spoke so strongly for itself, that he did not see how people in their senses could refuse at least the consideration of so reasonable and decent an Address. He then moved, "That the Representation and Remonstrance of the General Assembly of the Colony of New-York be brought up."

Lord North moved that the entry in the Journals of the House of the 7th day of December, 1768, of the proceedings of the House, touching the Petition of the Representatives of Freemen in Assembly of Pennsylvania, then offered to be presented to the House, might be read. And the same was read accordingly.

Lord North also moved that an Act, made in the sixth year of the reign of his present Majesty, entituled, "An Act for the better securing the Dependency of his Majesty' s Dominions in America, upon the Crown and Parliament of Great Britain," might be read. And the same was read accordingly.

He then spoke greatly in favor of New-York, and said, that he would gladly do every thing in his power to shew his regard to the good behaviour of that Colony; but the honour of Parliament required, that no paper should be presented to that House, which tended to call in question the unlimited rights of Parliament. That they had already relaxed in very essential points; but could not so much as hear of any thing which tended to call in question their right of taxation. As to the Quebec Duties, by which the Province of New-York was affected, as he did not pretend to be infallible, he confessed they were not laid exactly as they ought to be, and he was willing to give satisfaction in that point immediately. This, however, was but a trifle to the general objects of the Remonstrance.

He then moved an amendment, which was an indirect, though effectual, negative upon the motion, by inserting after the word "Remonstrance" the words "in which the said Assembly claim to themselves rights derogatory to, and inconsistent with, the Legislative authority of Parliament, as declared by the said Act."


Mr˙ Cruger. No person can be less disposed to trouble the House than I am; but when a subject so important and interesting is before us, I am confident I shall be forgiven, though I intrude on your patience for a few minutes. Sir, I pant after peace between this country and its Colonies, and will gladly join my feeble voice to any proposal or overture that tends to an amicable settlement of the dispute. Any other mode of determining, must inevitably injure both. The strength and prosperity of Great Britain and America have a common foundation; they stand on the same basis, and one cannot be shaken without endangering the other. It is, therefore, the interest of both parties, to discover a disposition to be reconciled, not to be too severe in marking each others errours, to remember their old friendship, and calmly and dispassionately advance to a renewal of confidence for the future. The Assembly of New-York have pursued this path; they have endeavoured to put a truce to resentment and tumult; and, while the other Colonies (in the phrenzy of riot, commotion and despair) have nearly annihilated the powers of their Legislatures, and rush on to civil war, they dutifully submit their complaints to the clemency of the mother country.

Such conduct, sir, cannot but meet the approbation of this House. The Legislature cannot but invite subjects thus peacefully to pursue every legal way of redress: on the contrary, should this application be attended with no success, the Colonies will be discouraged from such attempts, and the Assembly of New-York be driven into the common stream of opposition, to escape the charge of ineffectual and imprudent singularity. Although almost every other Colony on the Continent has transferred the business of petitioning from their own proper Legislature to a General Congress, the Province of New-York has ventured to be singular in reverence and obedience to her Colonial Constitution, and has resolutely adhered to her duty, uninfluenced by the example of her neighbours.

Policy and justice recommend the encouragement of such a spirit and conduct. It will induce others to copy their example; the citizens of New-York have, during the present unhappy dispute, distinguished themselves by their temperate conduct. If they meet the protection and patronage of Government, they will be animated to pursue the same path with greater alacrity and firmness. In their present Addresses to the Throne, and both Houses of Parliament, though they may have extended their claims and complaints a little too far, still let us make a generous allowance for the difficulty of their situation: they could not, at this particular crisis, wholly disregard the opinion of their sister Colonies, and, indeed, every lover of this liberal Constitution cannot but, at least, forgive the apprehension and disquietudes of freemen, under a claim which stamps them with the character of slaves. I mean the claim held up by this country of binding them, without the consent or security of their own Representatives, in all cases whatever — than which there cannot be a more complete description of the most ignominious servitude; and it is reserved to distinguish the Administration of this day — to assign as a reason for rejecting a Petition from British subjects, and in an English House of Commons, that they claimed a right of giving and granting their own money by their own Representatives.

And, sir, as a refutation of many unjust charges alleged against them, they particularly disclaim all intentions and desire of Independence. They confess the necessity of a superintending power in Parliament, and explicitly state their conviction of its utility and equity when exercised for the regulation of Trade. They look up to the Legislature for redress; they entreat the exertions of its wisdom and benevolence to propose and adopt some method to terminate the present destructive dispute, for the happiness, and to the satisfaction, of both countries. They gratefully acknowledge the blessing which they have derived from the parental state; they deeply lament the interruption of your affection, and hope to avert your indignation by remonstrance and prayer. What more humble would Englishmen ask from Englishmen and the sons of Englishmen? Permit me then, sir, to beseech the House not to turn a deaf ear to their requests; but to embrace the first favourable opportunity of bringing them back to their duty, and leading them on to higher acts of obedience by new instances, on our part, of mildness, remission, and friendship.


Mr˙ Cornwall said it was contrary to every idea of the supremacy of Parliament to receive a paper in which the Legislative rights of Parliament were denied; before such a paper could be brought up, the Declaratory Act ought to be repealed: but the paper was not of that magnitude; it was only from twenty-six individuals.

Mr˙ Jenkinson, on the same side, urged that the House had never received Petitions of this nature: but that here the name of a Petition was studiously avoided, lest any thing like an obedience to Parliament should be acknowledged. The opposition of the Colonies was not so much against the tax which gave rise to the present dispute, as to the whole Legislative authority of Parliament, and to any restrictions of their trade. He reprobated every part of the Remonstrance, and, therefore, was not for suffering so disrespectful a paper to be brought up.

Mr˙ Aubrey. After all the abilities that have been exerted this session, in behalf of the rights of America, it would be inexcusable in me, were I to presume to detain the House more than a few moments with any thing that I might have to offer upon the subject before us: but, as I have ventured to deliver my sentiments here upon some occasions, I am unwilling to give a silent vote upon this; because I think it a very critical, as well as a very important one. The Petitioners, ' tis true, who now apply to us, remonstrate against our right of internal taxation; but they acknowledge, with great decency and respect, the supreme government of this Legislature over the whole Empire, as well as its authority, to the utmost extent, to regulate the Trade and Commerce of the Colonies, and at the same time, they give us the strongest assurances, "that they are, as they ever have been, ready to bear their full proportion of Aids, whenever the Crown, with the consent and approbation of Parliament, may make such requisitions as the publick service shall call for." Sir, this Remonstrance may be in opposition to our Declaratory Act: but it is in defence of their customary and prescriptive exemption from British taxation; the loss of which exemption will put them into the condition of slaves, whose all will then depend only upon the justice or the generosity of their masters.

Though I am ready, sir, to declare in the words of the greatest Minister this country knows, that I think "we have no right under Heaven to tax the Americans without their consent;" yet, for the sake of argument, I will admit that such a right, if we reason strictly and logically, may be made out partly from the words of some of their Charters, and partly upon the nature of sovereignty itself: but, whatever the right may be, every one knows that, till of late, it was never exercised, and was, therefore, grown, at best, obsolete, if a thing never practised, can properly be called so. Now, a right that is become obsolete, is very near akin to no right at all; and when revived, is as offensive as if it had never previously existed. Among the oppressive measures of Charles the First, it was none of the least that he revived obsolete claims. Indeed, some of our modern historians (and those I allude to are at present most in fashion) have reduced the whole of his oppressions to this denomination: but, sir, this Nation was incensed, and the greater part rose in arms against him for this practice. And do we wonder that the Americans are so little disposed to claims that had laid dormant so long, and which few of them, if any, had ever so much as heard of? After looking backward to the origin of this right, let us now look forward to its consequences. And here the Americans seem equally excusable for not admitting a principle which may be abused to their ruin, and which is not unlikely to be so abused. Whenever a Minister wants money for bad purposes, and finds the Nation clamorous against his raising it at home, what so natural for him as to supply his wants by the plunder of another Nation, whose clamours either do not reach him, or, from their distance, are too weak to disturb his repose. The temptation, sir, is as great as the necessities of Ministers are frequent; and both together will easily overcome their scruples. I cannot, therefore, think that the Americans can be too tenacious of that customary privilege of taxing themselves, which is their only security against being reduced to beggary and famine. And I shall only farther add, that as long as Government persists in attempting to tax the Americans without their consent, so long shall I think myself justified in taking every


opportunity of voting on the side of that oppressed, perhaps I might say, devoted people.

Mr˙ Fox said, the right of Parliament to tax America was not simply denied in the Remonstrance, but as coupled with the exercise of it. The exercise was the thing complained of, not the right itself. When the Declaratory Act was passed, asserting the right in the fullest extent, there were no tumults in America, no opposition to Government in any part of that country; but when the right came to be exercised, in the manner we have seen, the whole country was alarmed, and there was an unanimous determination to oppose it. The right, simply, is not regarded; it is the exercise of it that is the object of opposition. It is this exercise that has irritated, and made almost desperate, several of the Colonies; but the noble Lord (North) chooses to be consistent; he is determined to make them all mad alike. The only Province that was moderate, and in which England had some friends, he now treats with contempt. What will be the consequence, when the people of this moderate Province are informed of this treatment? That Representation which the cool and candid of this moderate Province had framed, with deliberation and caution, is rejected; is not suffered to be presented — no, not even to be read by the Clerk. When they hear this, they will be inflamed; and, hereafter, be as distinguished by their violence, as they have, hitherto, been by their moderation. It is the only method they can take to regain the esteem and confidence of their brethren in the other Colonies, who have been offended at their moderation, Those who refused to send Deputies to the Congress, and trusted to Parliament, will appear ridiculous in the eyes of all America; it will be proved, that those who distrusted and defied Parliament had made a right judgement; and those who relied upon its moderation and clemency, had been mistaken and duped. The consequence of this must be, that every friend the Ministers have in America, must either abandon them, or lose all credit and means of serving them in future.

The noble Lord (North) acknowledges the Quebec. Duties are not laid exactly as they ought to be. This matter is not introduced in the Remonstrance on account of its being a grievance; but to shew how extremely ignorant the present Ministers are of the proper mode of American taxation. What is there to hinder the people of New-York from trading with the interiour country as before? Every thing is just the same; there are no Troops tq hinder them passing and repassing as usual. Is there so much as an Officer to receive that Duty which is directed to be paid? It is mentioned to convince you of your ignorance in taxing America. You make an Act of Parliament, to raise a revenue in that country, and you not only make a capital blunder in it, but stumble at the threshold of collecting it.

Governour Johnstone observed, that when Mr˙ Wilkes had formerly presented a Petition, full of matter which the House did not think fit to enter into, they did not prevent the Petition being brought up; but separated the matter which they thought improper, from that which they thought ought to be heard. The House might make use of the same selection here. Ministers have long declared, they wished for a dutiful application from one of the Colonies, and now it is come they treat it with scorn and indignity. He was severe on Mr˙ Cornwall' s saying it came only from twenty-six individuals. These twenty-six are the whole Assembly. When the question to adopt the measures recommended by the Congress, was negatived by a majority of one only, in this Assembly of twenty-six individuals, the Ministers were in high spirits; and these individuals were then represented as all America.

During the Debate, the question was frequently called for, and being, at length, put upon Lord North' s amendment, the House divided: Yeas, 186; Noes, 67.

So it was resolved in the Affirmative.

Then the main question, so amended, being put, "That, the said Representation and Remonstrance, in which the said Assembly claim to themselves rights derogatory to, and inconsistent with, the Legislative authority of Parliament, as declared by the said Act, be brought up:"

It passed in the Negative.