Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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further necessary, and not more necessary for the satisfac-
tion of the colonies, than for the dignity and consistency of
our own future proceedings.

I have taken a very incorrect measure of the disposition
of the House, if this proposal in itself would be received
with dislike. I think, sir, we have few American financiers.
But our misfortune is, we are too acute; we are too ex-
quisite in our conjectures of the future, for men oppressed
with such great and present evils. The more moderate
among the opposers of parliamentary concessions freely
confess that they hope no good from taxation; but they
apprehend the colonists have further views, and, if this
point were conceded, they would instantly attack the trade
laws. These gentlemen are convinced that this was the
intention from the beginning, and the quarrel of the Ameri-
cans with taxation was no more than a cloak and cover to
this design. Such has been the language even of a gentle-
man [Mr. Rice] of real moderation, and of a natural temper
well adjusted to fair and equal government. I am, how-
ever, sir, not a little surprised at this kind of discourse,
whenever I hear it, and I am the more surprised, on
account of the arguments which I constantly find in com-
pany with it, and which are often urged from the same
mouths and on the same day.

For instance, when we allege that it is against reason to
tax a people under so many restraints in trade as the Ameri-
cans, the noble lord in the blue ribbon shall tell you that
the restraints on trade are futile and useless ; of no advan-
tage to us, and of no burden to those on whom they are
imposed ; that the trade of America is not secured by the
acts of navigation, but by the natural and irresistible advan-
tage of a commercial preference.

Such is the merit of the trade laws in this posture of the
debate. But when strong internal circumstances are urged
against the taxes; when the scheme is dissected; when
experience and the nature of things are brought to prove,
and do prove, the utter impossibility of obtaining an effect-
ive revenue from the colonies; when these things are
pressed, or rather press themselves, so as to drive the advo-
cates of colony taxes to a clear admission of the futility of
the scheme ; then, sir, the sleeping trade laws revive from


their trance, and this useless taxation is to be kept sacred,
not for its own sake, but as a counterguard and security of
the laws of trade.

Then, sir, you keep up revenue laws which are mis-
chievous, in order to preserve trade laws that are useless.
Such is the wisdom of our plan in both its members. They
are separately given up as of no value, and yet one is always
to be defended for the sake of the other. But I cannot
agree with the noble lord, nor with the pamphlet from
whence he seems to have borrowed these ideas, concerning
the inutility of the trade laws ; for, without idolizing them,
I am sure they are still, in many ways, of great use to us;
and in former times they have been of the greatest. They
do confine, and they do greatly narrow the market for the
Americans; but my perfect conviction of this does not help
me in the least to discern how the revenue laws form any
security whatsoever to the commercial regulations, or that
these commercial regulations are the true ground of the
quarrel, or that the giving way in any one instance of
authority is to lose all that may remain unconceded.

One fact is clear and indisputable. The public and
avowed origin of this quarrel was on taxation. This quar-
rel has, indeed, brought on new disputes on new questions,
but certainly the least bitter, and the fewest of all, on the
trade laws. To judge which of the two be the real radical
cause of quarrel, we have to see whether the commercial
dispute did, in order of time, precede the dispute on tax-
ation. There is not a shadow of evidence for it. Next,
to enable us to judge whether at this moment a dislike to
the trade laws be the real cause of quarrel, it is absolutely
necessary to put the taxes out of the question by a repeal.
See how the Americans act in this position, and then you
will be able to discern correctly what is the true object of
the controversy, or whether any controversy at all will
remain. Unless you consent to remove this cause of differ-
ence, it is impossible, with decency, to assert that the dis-
pute is not upon what it is avowed to be. And I would,
sir, recommend to your serious consideration, whether it be
prudent to form a rule for punishing people, not on their
own acts, but on your conjectures. Surely it is preposter-
ous at the very best. It is not justifying your anger by


their misconduct, but it is converting your ill-will into their

But the colonies will go further. Alas ! alas ! when will
this speculating against fact and reason end? What will
quiet these panic fears which we entertain of the hostile
effect of a conciliatory conduct? Is it true that no case can
exist in which it is proper for the sovereign to accede to the
desires of his discontented subjects? Is there anything
peculiar in this case to make a rule for itself? Is all author-
ity of course lost, when it is not pushed to the extreme?
Is it a certain maxim, that the fewer causes of dissatisfac-
tion are left by government the more the subject will be
inclined to resist and rebel?

All these objections being, in fact, no more than sus-
picions, conjectures, divinations, formed in defiance of fact
and experience, they did not, sir, discourage me from enter-
taining the idea of a conciliatory concession, founded on the
principles which I have just stated.

In forming a plan for this purpose, I endeavored to put
myself in that frame of mind which was the most natural
and the most reasonable, and which was certainly the most
probable means of securing me from all error. I set out
with a perfect distrust of my own abilities; a total renunci-
ation of every speculation of my own ; and with a profound
reverence for the wisdom of our ancestors, who have left us
the inheritance of so happy a constitution and so flourishing
an empire, and, what is a thousand times more valuable,
the treasury of the maxims and principles which formed the
one and obtained the other.

During the reigns of the kings of Spain of the Austrian
family, whenever they were at a loss in the Spanish coun-
cils, it was common for their statesmen to say that they
ought to consult the genius of Philip II. The genius of
Philip II. might mislead them; and the issue of their affairs
showed that they had not chosen the most perfect standard.
But, sir, I am sure that I shall not be misled when, in a case
of constitutional difficulty, I consult the genius of the Eng-
lish Constitution. Consulting at that oracle (it was with
all due humility and piety), I found four capital examples
in a similar case before me : those of Ireland, Wales, Ches-
ter, and Durham.


Ireland, before the English conquest, though never gov-
erned by a despotic power, had no parliament. How far
the English parliament itself was at that time modeled
according to the present form, is disputed among anti-
quarians. But we have all the reason in the world to be
assured that a form of parliament, such as England then
enjoyed, she instantly communicated to Ireland ; and we
are equally sure that almost every successive improvement
in constitutional liberty, as fast as it was made here, was
transmitted thither. The feudal baronage and the feudal
knighthood, the roots of our primitive constitution, were
early transplanted into that soil, and grew and flourished
there. Magna charta, if it did not give us originally the
House of Commons, gave us, at least, a House of Commons
of weight and consequence. But your ancestors did not
churlishly sit down alone to the feast of magna charta.
Ireland was made immediately a partaker. This benefit of
English laws and liberties, I confess, was not at first con-
ceded to all Ireland. Mark the consequence. English
authority and English liberty had exactly the same bounda-
ries. Your standard could never be advanced an inch
before your privileges. Sir John Davis shows beyond a
doubt that the refusal of a general communication of these
rights was the true cause why Ireland was five hundred
years in subduing; and after the vain projects of a military
government, attempted in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it
was soon discovered that nothing could make that country
English, in civility and allegiance, but your laws and your
forms of legislature. It was not English arms, but the
English Constitution, that conquered Ireland. From that
time, Ireland has ever had a general parliament, as she had
before a partial parliament. You changed the people; you
altered the religion ; but you never touched the form or the
vital substance of free government in that kingdom. You
deposed kings; you restored them; you altered the succes-
sion to theirs, as well as to your own crown ; but you never
altered their Constitution ; the principle of which was re-
spected by usurpation ; restored with the restoration of
monarchy, and established, I trust, forever, by the glorious
revolution. This has made Ireland the great and flourish-
ing kingdom that it is ; and from a disgrace and a burden


intolerable to this nation, has rendered her a principal part
of our strength and ornament. This country cannot be
said to have ever formally taxed her. The irregular things
done in the confusion of mighty troubles, and on the hinge
of great revolutions, even if all were done that is said to
have been done, form no example. If they have any effect
in argument, they make an exception to prove the rule.
None of your own liberties could stand a moment if the
casual deviations from them, at such times, were suffered
to be used as proofs of their nullity. By the lucrative
amount of such casual breaches in the Constitution, judge
what the stated and fixed rule of supply has been in that
kingdom. Your Irish pensioners would starve, if they had
no other fund to live on than taxes granted by English
authority. Turn your eyes to those popular grants from
which all your great supplies are come, and learn to respect
that only source of public wealth in the British empire.

My next example is Wales. This country was said to
be reduced by Henry III. It was said more truly to be
so by Edward I. But though then conquered, it was not
looked upon as any part of the realm of England. Its
old constitution, whatever that might have been, was de-
stroyed, and no good one was substituted in its place.
The care of that tract was put into the hands of lords
marchers a form of government of a very singular kind ;
a strange heterogeneous monster, something between hos-
tility and government; perhaps it has a sort of resem-
blance, according to the modes of those times, to that of
commander-in-chief at present, to whom all civil power is
granted as secondary. The manners of the Welsh nation
followed the genius of the government. The people were
ferocious, restive, savage, and uncultivated ; sometimes
composed, never pacified. Wales, within itself, was in
perpetual disorder, and it kept the frontier of England in
perpetual alarm. Benefits from it to the state there were
none. Wales was only known to England by incursion
and invasion.

Sir, during that state of things, parliament was not idle.
They attempted to subdue the fierce spirit of the Welsh by
all sorts of rigorous laws. They prohibited by statute the
sending all sorts of arms into Wales, as you prohibit by


proclamation (with something more of doubt on the legal-
ity) the sending arms to America. They disarmed the
Welsh by statute, as you attempted (but still with more
question on the legality) to disarm New England by an
instruction. They made an act to drag offenders from
Wales into England for trial, as you have done (but with
more hardship) with regard to America. By another act,
where one of the parties was an Englishman, they ordained
that his trial should be always by English. They made
acts to restrain trade, as you do ; and they prevented the
Welsh from the use of fairs and markets, as you do the
Americans from fisheries and foreign ports. In short, when
the statute book was not quite so much swelled as it is now,
you find no less than fifteen acts of penal regulation on the
subject of Wales.

Here we rub our hands a fine body of precedents for
the authority of parliament and the use of it I admit it
fully; and pray add likewise to these precedents, that all
the while Wales rid this kingdom like an incubus ; that it
was an unprofitable and oppressive burden ; and that an
Englishman traveling in that country could not go six yards
from the high-road without being murdered.

The march of the human mind is slow. Sir, it was not
until after two hundred years discovered that, by an eternal
law, Providence had decreed vexation to violence, and
poverty to rapine. Your ancestors did, however, at length
open their eyes to the ill husbandry of injustice. They
found that the tyranny of a free people could of all tyran-
nies the least be endured, and that laws made against a
whole nation were not the most effectual methods for secur-
ing its obedience. Accordingly, in the twenty-seventh year
of Henry VIII., the course was entirely altered. With a
preamble stating the entire and perfect rights of the crown
of England it gave to the Welsh all the rights and priv-
ileges of English subjects. A political order was estab-
lished; the military power gave way to the civil; the
marches were turned into counties. But that a nation
should have a right to English liberties, and yet no share
at all in the fundamental security of these liberties, the
grant of their own property, seemed a thing so incongru-
ous, that, eight years after, that is, in the thirty-fifth of


that reign, a complete and not ill-proportioned representa-
tion by counties and boroughs was bestowed upon Wales
by act of parliament. From that moment, as by a charm,
the tumults subsided ; obedience was restored ; peace, order,
and civilization followed in the train of liberty. When the
day-star of the English Constitution had arisen in their
hearts, all was harmony within and without.

"Simul alba nautis
Stella refulsit,

Defluit saxis agitatus humor :
Concidunt venti, fugiuntque nubes ;
Et minax (quod sic voluere) ponto
Unda recumbit."

The very same year the county palatine of Chester re-
ceived the same relief from its oppressions and the same
remedy to its disorders. Before this time Chester was little
less distempered than Wales. The inhabitants, without
rights themselves, were the fittest to destroy the rights of
others; and from thence Richard II. drew the standing
army of archers with which for a time he oppressed England.
The people of Chester applied to parliament in a petition
penned as I shall read to you :

" To the king our sovereign lord, in most humble wise shown unto
your excellent majesty, the inhabitants of your grace's county palatine
of Chester ; that where the said county palatine of Chester is and hath
been always hitherto exempt, excluded, and separated out and from
your high court of parliament, to have any knights and burgesses
within the said court ; by reason whereof the said inhabitants have
hitherto sustained manifold disherisons, losses, and damages, as well in
their lands, goods, and bodies, as in the good, civil, and politic gov-
ernance and maintenance of the Commonwealth of their said country.
(2) And, forasmuch as the said inhabitants have always hitherto been
bound by the acts and statutes made and ordained by your said high-
ness and your most noble progenitors, by authority of the said court,
as far forth as other counties, cities, and boroughs have been, that have
had their knights and burgesses within your said court of parliament,
and yet have had neither knight nor burgess there for the said county
palatine ; the said inhabitants, for lack thereof, have been oftentimes
touched and grieved with acts and statutes made within the said court,
as well derogatory unto the most ancient jurisdictions, liberties, and
privileges of your said county palatine, as prejudicial unto the Com-


monwealth, quietness, rest, and peace of your grace's most bounden
subjects inhabiting within the same."

What did parliament with this audacious address? Re-
ject it as a libel? Treat it as an affront to the government?
Spurn it as a derogation from the rights of legislature?
Did they toss it over the table? Did they burn it by the
hands of the common hangman? They took the petition
of grievance, all rugged as it was, without softening or tem-
perament, unpurged of the original bitterness and indigna-
tion of complaint ; they made it the very preamble to their
act of redress, and consecrated its principle to all ages in
the sanctuary of legislation.

Here is my third example. It was attended with the
success of the two former. Chester, civilized as well as
Wales, has demonstrated that freedom, and not servitude,
is the cure of anarchy; as religion, and not atheism, is the
true remedy for superstition. Sir, this pattern of Chester
was followed, in the reign of Charles II., with regard to the
county palatine of Durham, which is my fourth example.
This county had long lain out of the pale of free legislation.
So scrupulously was the example of Chester followed, that
the style of the preamble is nearly the same with that of
the Chester act; and without affecting the abstract extent
of the authority of parliament, it recognizes the equity of
not suffering any considerable district in which the British
subjects may act as a body to be taxed without their own
voice in the grant.

Now if the doctrines of policy contained in these pre-
ambles, and the force of these examples in the acts of par-
liament, avail anything, what can be said against applying
them with regard to America? Are not the people of
America as much Englishmen as the Welsh? The preamble
of the act of Henry VIII. says, the Welsh speak a language
no way resembling that of his majesty's English subjects.
Are the Americans not as numerous? If we may trust the
learned and accurate Judge Barrington's account of North
Wales, and take that as a standard to measure the rest,
there is no comparison. The people cannot amount to
above two hundred thousand ; not a tenth part of the num-
ber in the colonies. Is America in rebellion? Wales was


hardly ever free from it. Have you attempted to govern
America by penal statutes? You made fifteen for Wales.
But your legislative authority is perfect with regard to
America. Was it less perfect in Wales, Chester, and Dur-
ham? But America is virtually represented. What ! Does
the electric force of virtual representation more easily pass
over the Atlantic than pervade Wales, which lies in your
neighborhood ; or than Chester and Durham, surrounded
by abundance of representation that is actual and palpable?
But, sir, your ancestors thought this sort of virtual repre-
sentation, however ample, to be totally insufficient for the
freedom of the inhabitants of territories that are so near,
and comparatively so inconsiderable. How, then, can I
think it sufficient for those which are infinitely greater and
infinitely more remote?

You will now, sir, perhaps imagine that I am on the
point of proposing to you a scheme for representation of
the colonies in parliament. Perhaps I might be inclined to
entertain some such thought, but a great flood stops me in
my course. Opposuit natura. I cannot remove the eternal
barriers of the creation. The thing in that mode I do not
know to be possible. As I meddle with no theory, I do
not absolutely assert the impracticability of such a repre-
sentation; but I do not see my way to it; and those who
have been more confident have not been more successful.
However, the arm of public benevolence is not shortened,
and there are often several means to the same end. What
nature has disjointed in one way wisdom may unite in
another. When we cannot give the benefit as we would
wish, let us not refuse it altogether. If we cannot give
the principal, let us find a substitute. But how? Where?
What substitute?

Fortunately I am not obliged for the ways and means
of this substitute to tax my own unproductive invention.
I am not even obliged to go to the rich treasury of the
fertile framers of imaginary commonwealths: not to the
Republic of Plato, not to the Utopia of More, not to the
Oceana of Harrington. It is before me. It is at my feet.

" And the dull swain
Treads daily on it with his clouted shoon."


I only wish you to recognize, for the theory, the ancient
constitutional policy of this kingdom with regard to repre-
sentation, as that policy has been declared in acts of parlia-
ment; and, as to the practise, to return to that mode which
a uniform experience has marked out to you as best, and in
which you walked with security, advantage, and honor,
until the year 1763.

My resolutions, therefore, mean to establish the equity
and justice of a taxation of America, by grant and not by
imposition. To mark the legal competency of the colony
assemblies for the support of their government in peace,
and for public aids in time of war. To acknowledge that
this legal competency has had a dutiful and beneficial exer-
cise ; and that experience has shown the benefit of their
grants, and the futility of parliamentary taxation as a
method of supply.

These solid truths compose six fundamental propo-
sitions. There are three more resolutions corollary to
these. If you admit the first set, you can hardly reject the
others. But if you admit the first, I shall be far from
solicitous whether you accept or refuse the last. I think
these six massive pillars will be of strength sufficient to
support the temple of British concord. I have no more
doubt than I entertain of my existence, that, if you ad-
mitted these, you would command an immediate peace;
and, with but tolerable future management, a lasting obedi-
ence in America. I am not arrogant in this confident assur-
ance. The propositions are all mere matters of fact ; and
if they are such facts as draw irresistible conclusions, even
in the stating, this is the power of truth, and not any man-
agement of mine.

Sir, I shall open the whole plan to you, together with
such observations on the motions as may tend to illustrate
them where they may want explanation. The first is a
resolution :

" That the colonies and plantations of Great Britain in North
America, consisting of fourteen separate governments, and containing
two millions and upward of free inhabitants, have not had the liberty
and privilege of electing and sending any knights and burgesses or
others to represent them in the high court of parliament."


This is a plain matter of fact, necessary to be laid down,
and (excepting the description) it is laid down in the lan-
guage of the Constitution ; it is taken nearly verbatim from
acts of parliament.

The second is like unto the first:

" That the said colonies and plantations have been liable to and
bounden by several subsidies, payments, rates, and taxes given and
granted by parliament, though the said colonies and plantations have
not their knights and burgesses in the said nigh court of parliament, of
their own election, to represent the condition of their country ; by lack
whereof they have been oftentimes touched and grieved by subsidies
given, granted, and assented to, in said court, in a manner prejudicial
to the commonwealth, quietness, rest, and peace of the subjects inhabit-
ing within the same."

Is this description too hot or too cold, too strong or too
weak? Does it arrogate too much to the supreme legisla-
ture? Does it lean too much to the claims of the people?
If it runs into any of these errors, the fault is not mine. It
is the language of your own ancient acts of parliament.

"Nee meus hie sermo est sed quas praecepit Ofellus
Rusticus, abnormis sapiens."

It is the genuine produce of the ancient, rustic, manly,
home-bred sense of this country. I did not dare to rub off
a particle of the venerable rust that rather adorns and pre-
serves than destroys the metal. It would be a profanation
to touch with a tool the stones which construct the sacred
altar of peace. I would not violate with modern polish the

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 39 of 43)