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Second Petition from the Merchants


Mr˙ Alderman Hayley presented a second Petition from the Merchants, Traders, and others, of London, concerned in the commerce of North America, which was read, viz:

To the Honourable the Commons of GREAT BRITAIN, in Parliament assembled.

The humble Petition of the Merchants, Traders, and others, of the City of London, concerned in the commerce of North America, sheweth:

That your Petitioners did, on Monday, the 23d instant, present an humble Petition to this Honourable House, stating the nature and importance of the commerce between Great Britain and America; the repeated interruptions which of late years have happened therein; the alarming state to which that commerce is at present reduced, and the true cause, as your Petitioners apprehend, of the same. And relying on the justice of this Honourable House, to take the whole of the weighty matters so stated into their most serious consideration, did humbly pray, that this House would enter into a full and immediate examination of that system of commercial policy which had formerly been adopted and uniformly maintained, to the happiness and advantage of both countries, and would apply such healing remedies as can alone restore and establish the commerce between Great Britain and America on a permanent foundation.

Your Petitioners have ever conceived an opinion, resulting from education, and confirmed by reason and experience, that the connection between Great Britain and America, originally was, and ought to be, of a commercial kind; and that the benefits derived therefrom to the mother country are of the same nature. And observing the constant attention which the British Legislature had, for more than a century, given to these valuable objects, they have been taught to admire the regulations by which that connection had been preserved and those benefits secured, as the most effectual institution which human wisdom could have framed for those salutary purposes. Presuming, therefore, on this opinion, and supported by this observation, your Petitioners beg leave to represent to this Honourable House, that the fundamental policy of those laws of which they complain, and the propriety of enforcing, relaxing, or amending the same, are questions inseparably united with the commerce between Great Britain and America; and consequently, that the consideration of the one cannot be entered on without a full discussion of the other.

Your Petitioners observe by the votes of this Honourable House, that a Committee hath been appointed to take into consideration certain Papers presented to this House


by Lord North, on Thursday, the 19th instant; and by the titles and dates of said Papers, and in particular of Nos˙ 148 and 149 of the same, your Petitioners are warranted in presuming that the said Papers contain matters respecting the present situation of America, and essentially concerning the mutual interests of your Petitioners and that country.

Under all these circumstances, your Petitioners find reason sincerely to lament, that this Honourable House has thought fit to refer the consideration of their said Petition to any other Committee than that to which the said Papers had previously been referred; and your Petitioners conceive, that by the resolution to which this House hath come, respecting the reference of their said Petition, they are absolutely precluded from the benefit of such a hearing in support of their said Petition, as can alone procure them that relief which the importance and present deplorable state of their trade require.

Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray this Honourable House, that they will take the premises into their immediate consideration, and will direct that your Petitioners may be heard by themselves or their Agents, in support of their said former Petition; and that no resolution respecting America may be taken by this Honourable House, or by any Committee thereof, until your Petitioners shall have been fully heard in support of their said Petition.

Mr˙ Hayley moved that the Order made upon Monday last, for referring the Petition of the Merchants, Traders, and others, of the City of London, concerned in the commerce of North America to the consideration of the Whole House, might be read.

And the said Order being read accordingly,

Mr˙ Hayley then moved that the said Order be discharged.

He resented the indignity and mockery put on a great body of Merchants, in referring their business, which was the business of the Nation, and of the Empire, indeed, to a separate Committee, whose object was pretended to be no more than to form commercial regulations, which no Petition had required or asked; and which Committee had not a pretended concern in the great points of commercial policy, the ill-conduct of which threatened a most dangerous civil war. He expressed his fears that the rejection of the informations of the trading interest, and the precipitate hurry of resolutions in an uninformed Committee, or informed only so far as Ministry chose, must drive on a civil war with America.

Mr˙ Hotham contended that the Order should be discharged, and a new one made for hearing the Petitioners; that, on the ground of law, it was no more than what the Petitioners might claim as a judicial right; on the grounds of justice and reason, the claim was equally clear on the one side, equally proper to be granted on the other; and as to expediency, nothing could be more compatible with that than a hearing of the Petitioners, which, by affording information to the House, might guide their deliberations in the paths of wisdom.

Mr˙ Hans Stanley could not help persuading himself that interested and factious persons had induced the Merchants to sign these Petitions. He argued, with respect to the impropriety of discharging the Order and hearing the Petitioners, substantially thus: the only end which can be proposed in hearing the Petitioners at the bar, is information. What information could they lay before the House? Were they to allege, that whilst the disputes between Great Britain and America subsisted, their trade would undergo a temporary stagnation? This was to say nothing but what was already known; it was known that a stoppage of trade would be occasioned by the American disputes; there was no question but the stockholders and landed interest would be greatly affected by these disputes; but what of that? Unless the supremacy of Parliament and the rights of sovereignty were vigorously asserted by Great Britain, the American traffick could not subsist. To support the sovereignty was therefore to support the trade of Great Britain; and if, in attempting this arduous task, our commerce should be suspended, our funds should sustain a shock, and the landed property of individuals should experience a diminution, yet all these were evils gentlemen should patiently endure with firmness and magnanimity;


the Merchants should forego their own interests for the sake of those permanent advantages which they would undoubtedly reap when the Americans were subdued, if, peradventure, a subduction, obtained by force, should be found expedient.

Mr˙ Hayley said that a Committee of three capital Merchants had attended the signing of the Petition, to prevent inconsiderable or improper persons from putting their names to it. He affirmed that no undue means were used to procure persons to sign it; on the contrary, the greatest caution was taken: many more would have signed it, but were prevented, either from not being known to be concerned in the American trade, or from being deemed too inconsiderable.

Mr˙ T˙ Townshend replied to Mr˙ Stanley with irony, accepting his acknowledgment of the distress that must fall on the commerce, the landholder, and the stockholder; but the place-holder, said he, will batten in the sunshine of his country' s ruin; no distress of the publick can affect him; he may talk at ease of the patience with which others are to endure ruin. The contractors of every kind may pant for a civil war; but the event of violent councils must shake to its very foundation the publick credit, on which every thing depends.

Mr˙ Lewis said he had a speech of an honourable gentleman (meaning Mr˙ Burke) in his hand, wherein the eloquent declaimer had asserted, that during nine long years we had been lashed round the circle of miserable argumentation, without coming to any conclusion on the subject. The American Merchants, he thought, came too late; that they ought not to have been silent so long; and that having so long confided in Parliament, they ought to continue that confidence. He spoke of the relation of parent and child that subsisted between the countries; he supposed ingratitude in the child, and wished for its chastisement.

Mr˙ Jenkinson said that Parliament had a right to regulate the internal concerns of America. He instanced an Act for regulating their paper currency; and from their submission to that, he concluded they ought to submit to every act of English Legislature. He entertained no doubt that some resolutions for preserving the supremacy would answer every end of the Merchants' Petition, and restore trade.

Mr˙ Edmund Burke treated the talk of paper currency with very little respect, and said that Mr˙ Jenkinson' s discourse had not the most remote tendency to prove this, or any other point. For what argument (said he) can be drawn from the instance of an Act to prevent paper currencies, to prove that the Merchants of London ought not to be heard in the American Committee? The most depreciated paper currency ever issued by Rhode-Island, in its worst times, was not more different from good money than this talk from sound argument. The other gentleman (Mr˙ Lewis) was sitting Member last Parliament. I thought he had a good right to his seat. I lamented that the publick had, for seven years, been deprived of the benefit of his talents; but suppose this had been the same Parliament whose acts he defends, and of whose injustice he was the proto-martyr, and that he had till the last session been silent, and that his modesty had persuaded him to defraud the House of the benefit of his talents to the last hour, would that septennial silence of his argue that he ought not to be heard at the end of the seven years, when he at last chose to interfere in the debates? Then we should have heard, him patiently and calmly; nay, if his argument had required an answer, we should have answered him. He then turned to Sir Gilbert Elliot, who, in the former debate, had argued that the House was already perfectly acquainted, in general, with the trade and its importance, and admitted, in its full extent, whatever the Merchants could allege. He said that this gentleman was rather too ready to take the measure of mankind from himself; and because he was so very knowing, did not sufficiently condescend to, the ignorance of others. But whatever the knowledge of any individual in the House might be, there was a great difference between knowing and feeling. That the honourable gentleman could easily abstract and generalize his ideas even to the genus generalissimum; but the nature of mankind was such that general observation affected their minds in a slight and indistinct manner, when the detail


of particulars, and the actual substance of things, made a most forcible impression. He illustrated this by a story of a learned Prince, who was of the same part of the Island to which we owe the honourable gentleman; James the First, who, as Osborne tells the story, having ordered a present of 20,000 Pounds for one of his favourites, his Treasurer, a wary and prudent Minister, well read in human nature, and knowing how little the general expression of things operates, and that the words 20,000 Pounds were as easily pronounced as 20,000 Farthings, contrived to place the whole sum in a vast heap before the King' s eyes as he passed to his levee, in good Jacobuses; when the King was taken out of his generals, and saw the money itself spread out before his eyes, he was frightened at what he was about, and threw himself, in great agony, on the mass of gold, and scrambling up a handful or two, there, said he, "ge' en that, that' s enough." Now, said he, if we are to be generous in sacrificing our trade to our dignity, let us know what the value of the sacrifice is that we make; let us not be generous in the dark; true generosity is to give and see, and know whatever we give. Let us, then, see this thing, this trade we are to give up for our dignity. Your dignity may be worth it all, but let us be informed by the Merchants what all really is. To be generous, without knowing what we give, is not liberality, but negligence; and fearlessness, arising from ignorance, is not courage, but insensibility. He said that the reason given by those who sent the Petitions to the Coventry Committee, for not referring them to that on American Papers, was of a most extraordinary and unheard of nature: it was, that the resolutions of that Committee were to be solely on the grounds of policy, and that the commercial examination would delay the measures necessary for the coercion of America. This was to anticipate and predetermine the future proceedings in a Committee, as a reason for keeping information from it. How did they know what measures would be pursued there, and on what principles? Was there any instruction to the Committee so to confine itself? Or was it that the Ministry had already not only solved what that Committee was to do, but reckoned upon it so much as a certainty, and as a matter so justifiable, that they did not scruple to avow it, and to make it a ground of argument for what the House ought, or ought not to have brought before its Committee. This proceeding he thought no less alarming than unprecedented. If they meant hostility, the reason they gave for not hearing was the strongest for it. But as their war ever must be dependent upon their finances, and their finances must depend upon their commerce, the true state of that commerce was necessary to be known, especially as Colonies and commerce are inseparably connected.

Having thus pleaded for the necessity of hearing the Petitioners, Mr˙ Burke proceeded to lament the national calamities about to befall this devoted Kingdom. Besides the horrours of a civil war, besides the slaughtered innocents who are to be victimated to the counsels of a Ministry precipitate to dye the Rivers of America with the blood of her inhabitants; besides these disasters, an impoverished Revenue; famished millions; the stagnation of Manufactures; the total overthrow of Commerce; the increase of the Poor' s Rate; the accumulation of Taxes; innumerable Bankruptcies; and other shocks which may make the fabrick of publick credit totter to its basis: these were all depicted in the strongest colours by Mr˙ Burke. He professedly reserved himself, however, for that day when, if properly supported by the people, he vowed by all that was dear to him here and hereafter, he would pursue to condign punishment the advisers of measures fraught with every destructive consequence to the Constitution, the commerce, the rights and liberties of this country.

Mr˙ Burke concluded his animated harangue by quoting an instance, related in history, of an archer about to direct an arrow to the heart of his enemy, but found that in his adversary' s arms was enfolded his own child. This singular incident he recommended with cautionary admonition to those statesmen who had in contemplation the destruction of America, unmindful that they could not accomplish so baneful a purpose, without, at the same time, plunging a dagger into the vitals of Great Britain. Let your commerce, said Mr˙ Burke, come before you, — see whether it be not your child that America has in its arms,


see of what value that child is — examine whether you ought to shoot; and if you must shoot, shoot so as to avoid wounding what is dearest to you in the world. Without examining your trade you cannot do this.

Mr˙ Charles Fox spoke on the same side. He arraigned, in the severest terms, the Acts of the last Parliament, as framed on false information, conceived in weakness and ignorance, and executed with negligence. We were promised that on the very appearance of Troops, all was to be tranquility at Boston, yet so far from subduing the spirit of that people, these Troops were, by neglect of those who sent them, reduced to the most shameful situation, and dishonourably intrenched within the lines of circumvallation, which a necessary precaution for their own safety obliged them to form. That the contrary effect of what the Minister had promised, was foretold; but that the Minister, forsooth, in his usual negligence, avowed that when he was pursuing a measure of the last degree of importance, though it were treasonable in him, (the strength of the words he afterwards disavowed) yet he thought it would be blameable in him so much as to inquire what the effects were to be of his measures. He believed it was the first time any Minister dared to avow that he thought it his duty not to inquire into the effects of his measures; but it was suitable to the whole of the noble Lord' s conduct, who had no system or plan of conduct, no knowledge of business; that he had often declared his unfitness for his station, and he agreed that his conduct justified his declaration; and that the country was incensed, and on the point of being involved in a civil war by his incapacity. He pledged himself to join Mr˙ Burke in pursuing him, and bringing him to answer the mischiefs occasioned by his negligence, his inconsistency, and his incapacity: he said not this from resentment, but from a conviction of the destructive proceedings of a bad Minister.

Colonel Barre began with a short and spirited history of the late Parliament, who, he said, commenced their political life with a violation of the sacred right of election in the case of Middlesex; they had died in the act of Popery, when they established the Roman Catholick religion in Canada; and they had left a rebellion in America as a legacy. He asserted, in favour of the Americans, that they drew a just and reasonable line, which had been a line of peace, and would be so again, if we had sense enough to return to it. The Americans, he insisted on it, required no more; and they had too much justice on their side to be satisfied with less. He flatly denied that they had objected to the Declaratory Act; and for proof he referred to Mr˙ Dickinson' s Pamphlet, entitled "A New Essay," &c˙, on which he passed the strongest eulogium. He concluded with a story which his friend Mr˙ Burke' s archer had put him in mind of; than which nothing could be more apposite. There was another story, he said, of the famous William Tell, who, being ordered to shoot an apple off his child' s head, effectually did it, and the tyrant who had given the inhuman command, seeing him draw out another arrow, said to him, "What, another arrow?" "Oui, dit-il, il y a une autre; et c' est pour toi, tyran, destinee." Yes, tyrant, another arrow, and it is destined for thee!

Mr˙ Solicitor General Wedderburn went upon a proposition of quieting the Merchants, by passing a law obliging the several Provinces in America to pay the respective debts due by the inhabitants of the said Provinces to the Merchants of this country.

Lord North said the question had been so fully discussed, that it would be presumption in him to rise at that late hour of the night to trespass on the indulgence of the House, he should therefore decline it; but he thought it nevertheless incumbent on him to say a word in answer to some insinuations, and some general charges made against him by two honourable gentlemen (Messrs˙ Burke and Fox.) He observed that those gentlemen constantly made a point, not even of attacking, but threatening him. As to general charges, he could only answer them in general terms; and when that black, bitter, trying day should come, which had been prophecied by one of those gentlemen, and that he should bring any particular charge against him, he trusted he should be able to give it a particular answer. As to the other, who found so many causes of censure, and who disclaimed all resentment, he was sure, though he now discovered in him so much incapacity and


negligence, there was a time when he approved of at least some part of his conduct.

Lord George Germaine began with a justification of the last Parliament; and insisted that in their proceedings towards America, they had gone upon sufficient information. He made a strong declamation on dignity. His Lordship mentioned the Declaratory Act, professing not to address himself to those who denied our right to tax America, but to those who favoured that Act; they, his Lordship insisted, were bound to support the idea of subduing America; the confession of the right implied the propriety and necessity of exercising it. If the Americans, pointing the late Acts out as a grievance, would petition for their repeal, he would stretch forth the first hand to present it; but, on the contrary, if they claimed such repeal as a right, thereby disputing the authority of the mother country, which no reasonable man ever called in question, he wished the said Acts might be enforced with a Roman severity.

Mr˙ Fox, in reply to Lord North, said: That my private resentments have not affected my publick conduct will be readily believed, when I might have long since justly charged the noble Lord with the most unexampled treachery and falsehood. Here Mr˙ Fox was called to order, and the House grew clamorous. He sat down twice or thrice, and on rising each time, repeated the same words; but at length, assuring the House he would abstain from every thing personal, he was permitted to proceed. He then repeated his former charges of negligence, incapacity, and inconsistency; and added, that though he at one time approved of part of the noble Lord' s conduct, he never approved of it all; of which a stronger proof could not be given, than that he differed from him. He charged all the present disputes with America, to his negligence and incapacity, and instanced his inconsistency in the case of the Middlesex election. It was true, he said, the noble Lord had often confessed his incapacity, and from a consciousness of it, pretended a willingness to resign; but the event had proved that whatever his consciousness might have been, his love of the emoluments of office had completely conquered it.

Lord North replied, that the high post he now occupied was not of his own seeking, but was submitted to, because he thought it his duty to obey the commands laid on him; that whatever interpretation might be put by the honourable gentleman, he well knew that it was no desire of his to retain his present situation; that that honourable gentleman was no stranger to how he had been tried on many critical occasions, particularly when we were threatened with a Spanish war, in the affairs of the East India Company, &c.

Mr˙ Burke rose to explain, but the clamour and call to order was so great that he was obliged to sit down unheard; to use his own words, in a "torrent of candour and a storm of moderation."

The question was then taken, and the House divided — Yeas 89, Noes 250.

So it passed in the Negative.

Ordered, That the Petition of the Merchants, Traders, and others, of the City of London, concerned in the commerce of North America, this day presented to the House, do lie upon the table.