Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 11) online

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ingenuous and noble roughness of these truly constitutional
materials. Above all things, I was resolved not to be guilty
of tampering, the odious vice of restless and unstable minds.
I put my foot in the tracks of our forefathers, where I can
neither wander nor stumble. Determining to fix articles
of peace, I was resolved not to be wise beyond what was
written ; I was resolved to use nothing else than the form
of sound words, to let others abound in their own sense,
and carefully to abstain from all expressions of my own.
What the law has said, I say. In all things else I am silent.
I have no organ but for her words. This, if it be not
ingenious, I am sure, is safe.


There are, indeed, words expressive of grievance in this
second resolution, which those who are resolved always to
be in the right will deny to contain matter of fact, as applied
to the present case, although parliament thought them true
with regard to the counties of Chester and Durham. They
will deny that the Americans were ever "touched and
grieved" with the taxes. If they considered nothing in
taxes but their weight as pecuniary impositions, there might
be some pretense for this denial. But men may be sorely
touched and deeply grieved in their privileges as well as in
their purses. Men may lose little in property by the act
w T hich takes away all their freedom. When a man is robbed
of a trifle on the highway, it is not the twopence lost that
constitutes the capital outrage. This is not confined to
privileges. Even ancient indulgences withdrawn, without
offense on the part of those who enjoy such favors, operate
as grievances. But were the Americans then not touched
and grieved by the taxes, in some measure merely as taxes?
If so, why were they almost all either wholly repealed or
exceedingly reduced? Were they not touched and grieved,
even by the regulating duties of the sixth of George II.?
Else why were the duties first reduced to one-third in 1764,
and afterward to a third of that third in the year 1766?
Were they not touched and grieved by the Stamp Act? I
shall say they WERE, until that tax is revived. Were they
not touched and grieved by the duties of 1767, which were
likewise repealed, and which Lord Hillsborough tells you,
for the ministry, were laid contrary to the true principle of
commerce? Is not the assurance given by that noble per-
son to the colonies of a resolution to lay no more taxes on
them, an admission that taxes would touch and grieve
them? Is not the resolution of the noble lord in the blue
ribbon, now standing on your journals, the strongest of all
proofs that parliamentary subsidies really touched and
grieved them? Else why all these changes, modifications,
repeals, assurances, and resolutions?

The next proposition is :

" That, from the distance of the said colonies, and from other cir-
cumstances, no method hath hitherto been devised for procuring a
representation in parliament for the said colonies."


This is an assertion of a fact. I go no further on the
paper; though in my private judgment a useful representa-
tion is impossible; I am sure it is not desired by them, nor
ought it, perhaps, by us, but I abstain from opinions.

The fourth resolution is :

" That each of the said colonies hath within itself a body chosen in
part or in the whole, by the freemen, freeholders, or other free inhab-
itants thereof, commonly called the general assembly, or general court,
with powers legally to raise, levy, and assess, according to the several
usages of such colonies, duties and taxes toward the defraying all sorts
of public services."

This competence in the colony assemblies is certain. It
is proved by the whole tenor of their acts of supply in all
the assemblies, in which the constant style of granting is,
"an aid to his majesty"; and acts granting to the crown
have regularly for near a century passed the public offices
without dispute. Those who have been pleased paradoxi-
cally to deny this right, holding that none but the British
parliament can grant to the crown, are wished to look to
what is done, not only in the colonies, but in Ireland, in
one uniform, unbroken tenor every session.

Sir, I am surprised that this doctrine should come from
some of the law servants of the crown. I say that if the
crown could be responsible, his majesty but certainly the
ministers, and even these law officers themselves, through
whose hands the acts pass biennially in Ireland, or annually
in the colonies, are in a habitual course of committing im-
peachable offenses. What habitual offenders have been all
presidents of the council, all secretaries of state, all first
lords of trade, all attorneys, and all solicitors-general ! How-
ever, they are safe, as no one impeaches them ; and there is
no ground of charge against them, except in their own
unfounded theories.

The fifth resolution is also a resolution of fact:

" That the said general assemblies, general courts, or other bodies
legally qualified as aforesaid, have at sundry times freely granted several
large subsidies and public aids for his majesty's service, according to
their abilities when required thereto by letter from one of his majesty's
principal secretaries of state. And that their right to grant the same,


and their cheerfulness and sufficiency in the said grants, have been at
sundry times acknowledged by parliament."

To say nothing of their great expenses in the Indian
wars; and not to take their exertion in foreign ones, so
high as the supplies in the year 1695, not to go back to
their public contributions in the year 1710, I shall begin to
travel only where the journals give me light ; resolving to
deal in nothing but fact authenticated by parliamentary
record, and to build myself wholly on that solid basis.

On the fourth of April, 1748, a committee of this house
came to the following resolution :

"Resolved, That it is the opinion of this committee, that it is just
and reasonable that the several provinces and colonies of Massachusetts
Bay, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, be reimbursed
the expenses they have been at in taking and securing to the Crown of
Great Britain the island of Cape Breton and its dependencies."

These expenses were immense for such colonies. They
were above ,200,000 sterling; money first raised and ad-
vanced on their public credit.

On the twenty-eighth of January, 1756, a message from
the king came to us to this effect:

" His majesty being sensible of the zeal and vigor with which his
faithful subjects of certain colonies in North America have exerted
themselves in defense of his majesty's just rights and possessions, rec-
ommends it to this house to take the same into their consideration, and
to enable his majesty to give them such assistance as may be a proper
reward and encouragement"

On the third of February, 1756, the house came to a
suitable resolution, expressed in words nearly the same as
those of the message; but with the further addition, that
the money then voted was an encouragement to the colonies
to exert themselves with vigor. It will not be necessary
to go through all the testimonies which your own records
have given to the truth of my resolutions. I will only refer
you to the places in the journals: Vol. xxvii., May 16
and 19, 1757; Vol. xxviii., June I, 1758 April 26 and 30,
1759 March 26 and 31, and April 28, 1760 January 9 and


20, 1761 ; Vol. xxix., January 22 and 26, 1762 March 14
and 17, 1763.

Sir, here is the repeated acknowledgment of parliament,
that the colonies not only gave, but gave to satiety. This
nation has formally acknowledged two things: first, that the
colonies have gone beyond their abilities, parliament having
thought it necessary to reimburse them; secondly, that
they had acted legally and laudably in their grants of
money, and their maintenance of troops, since the com-
pensation is expressly given as reward and encouragement.
Reward is not bestowed for acts that are unlawful; and
encouragement is not held out to things that deserve repre-
hension. My resolution, therefore, does nothing more than
collect into one proposition what is scattered through your
journals. I give you nothing but your own, and you can-
not refuse in the gross what you have so often acknowl-
edged in detail. The admission of this, which will be so
honorable to them and to you, will, indeed, be mortal to
all the miserable stories by which the passions of the mis-
guided people have been engaged in an unhappy system.
The people heard, indeed, from the beginning of these dis-
putes, one thing continually dinned in their ears, that reason
and justice demanded that the Americans, who paid no
taxes, should be compelled to contribute. How did that
fact of their paying nothing stand when the taxing system
began? When Mr. Grenville began to form his system of
American revenue, he stated in this house that the colonies
were then in debt two million six hundred thousand pounds
sterling money, and was of opinion they would discharge
that debt in four years. On this state, those untaxed peo-
ple were actually subject to the payment of taxes to the
amount of six hundred and fifty thousand a year. In fact,
however, Mr. Grenville was mistaken. The funds given for
sinking the debt did not prove quite so ample as both the
colonies and he expected. The calculation was too san-
guine: the reduction was not completed till some years
after, and at different times in different colonies. How-
ever, the taxes after the war continued too great to bear
any addition, with prudence or propriety; and when the
burdens imposed in consequence of former requisitions were
discharged, our tone became too high to resort again to


requisition. No colony, since that time, ever has had any
requisition whatsoever made to it.

We see the sense of the crown, and the sense of parlia-
ment, on the productive nature of a revenue by grant. Now
search the same journals for the produce of the revenue by
imposition. Where is it? Let us know the volume and the
page. What is the gross, what is the net produce? To
what service is it applied? How have you appropriated its
surplus? What, can none of the many skilful index-makers
that we are now employing find any trace of it? Well, let
them and that rest together. But are the journals, which
say nothing of the revenue, as silent on the discontent?
Oh, no! a child may find it. It is the melancholy burden
and blot of every page.

I think, then, I am, from those journals, justified in the
sixth and last resolution, which is:

" That it hath been found by experience that the manner of grant-
ing the said supplies and aids, by the said general assemblies, hath
been more agreeable to the said colonies, and more beneficial and con-
ducive to the public service, than the mode of giving and granting aids
in parliament, to be raised and paid in the said colonies."

This makes the whole of the fundamental part of the
plan. The conclusion is irresistible. You cannot say that
you were driven by any necessity to an exercise of the
utmost rights of legislature. You cannot assert that you
took on yourselves the task of imposing colony taxes, from
the want of another legal body, that is competent to the
purpose of supplying the exigencies of the state without
wounding the prejudices of the people. Neither is it true
that the body so qualified, and having that competence,
had neglected the duty.

The question now on all this accumulated matter is
whether you will choose to abide by a profitable experience
or a mischievous theory; whether you choose to build on
imagination or fact ; whether you prefer enjoyment or hope;
satisfaction in your subjects or discontent?

If these propositions are accepted, everything which has
been made to enforce a contrary system must, I take it
for granted, fall along with it. On that ground I have


drawn the following resolution, which, when it comes to be
moved, will naturally be divided in a proper manner :

" That it may be proper to repeal an act, made in the seventh year
of the reign of his present majesty, entitled, An act for granting certain
duties in the British colonies and plantations in America ; for allowing
a drawback of the duties of customs upon the exportation from this
kingdom of coffee and cocoanuts of the produce of the said colonies
or plantations ; for discontinuing the drawbacks payable on china
earthenware exported to America, and for more effectually preventing
the clandestine running of goods in the said colonies and plantations ;
and that it may be proper to repeal an act, made in the fourteenth year
of the reign of his present majesty, entitled, An act to discontinue, in
such manner, and for such time as are therein mentioned, the landing
and discharging, lading, or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandise,
at the town and within the harbor of Boston, in the province of Massa-
chusetts Bay, in North America ; and that it may be proper to repeal
an act made in the fourteenth year of the reign of his present majesty,
entitled, An act for the impartial administration of justice in the cases
of persons, questioned for any acts done by them in the execution of the
law, or for the suppression of riots and tumults in the province of Mas-
sachusetts Bay, in New England; and that it may be proper to repeal
an act, made in the fourteenth year of the reign of his present majesty,
entitled, An act for the better regulating the government of the province
of Massachusetts Bay, in New England ; and also, that it may be
proper to explain and amend an act, made in the thirty-fifth year of the
reign of King Henry the Eighth, entitled, An act for the trial of treasons
committed out of the king's dominions."

I wish, sir, to repeal the Boston Port Bill, because (inde-
pendently of the dangerous precedent of suspending the
rights of the subject during the king's pleasure) it was
passed, as I apprehend, with less regularity, and on more
partial principles, than it ought. The corporation of Boston
was not heard before it was condemned. Other towns, full
as guilty as she was, have not had their ports blocked up.
Even the restraining bill of the present session does not go
to the length of the Boston Port Act. The same ideas of
prudence which induced you not to extend equal punish-
ment to equal guilt, even when you were punishing, induce
me, who mean not to chastise, but to reconcile, to be satis-
fied with the punishment already partially inflicted.

Ideas of prudence, and accommodation to circumstances,


prevent you from taking away the charters of Connecticut
and Rhode Island, as you have taken away that of Massa-
chusetts Colony, though the crown has far less power in the
two former provinces than it enjoyed in the latter; and
though the abuses have been full as great and as flagrant
in the exempted as in the punished. The same reasons of
prudence and accommodation have weight with me in restor-
ing the charter of Massachusetts Bay. Besides, sir, the act
which changes the charter of Massachusetts is in many par-
ticulars so exceptionable, that if I did not wish absolutely
to repeal, I would by all means desire to alter it, as several
of its provisions tend to the subversion of all public and
private justice. Such, among others, is the power in the
governor to change the sheriff at his pleasure, and to make
a new returning officer for every special cause. It is shame-
ful to behold such a regulation standing among English

The act for bringing persons accused of committing mur-
der under the orders of government to England for trial, is
but temporary. That act has calculated the probable dura-
tion of our quarrel with the colonies, and is accommodated
to that supposed duration. I would hasten the happy
moment of reconciliation, and therefore must, on my prin-
ciple, get rid of that most justly obnoxious act.

The act of Henry VIII., for the trial of treasons, I do
not mean to take away, but to confine it to its proper
bounds and original intention; to make it expressly for trial
of treasons (and the greatest treasons may be committed) in
places where the jurisdiction of the crown does not extend.

Having guarded the privileges of local legislature, I
would next secure to the colonies a fair and unbiased judi-
cature; for which purpose, sir, I propose the following

" That, from the time when the general assembly or general court
of any colony or plantation in North America, shall have appointed by
act of assembly, duly confirmed, a settled salary to the offices of the
chief justice and other judges of the superior court, it may be proper
that the said chief justice and other judges of the superior courts of such
colony, shall hold his and their office and offices during their good be-
havior, and shall not be removed therefrom, but when the said removal
shall be adjudged by his majesty in council, upon a hearing on com-


plaint from the general assembly, or on a complaint from the governor,
or council, or the House of Representatives severally, of the colony in
which the said chief justice and other judges have exercised the said

The next resolution relates to the courts of admiralty.
It is this:

"That it may be proper to regulate the courts of admiralty, or vice-
admiralty, authorized by the I5th chapter of the fourth of George the
Third, in such a manner as to make the same more commodious to
those who sue, or are sued, in the said courts, and to provide for the
more decent maintenance of the judges in the same."

These courts I do not wish to take away. They are in
themselves proper establishments. This court is one of the
capital securities of the act of navigation. The extent of
its jurisdiction, indeed, has been increased; but this is alto-
gether as proper, and is, indeed, on many accounts, more
eligible, where new powers were wanted, than a court abso-
lutely new. But courts incommodiously situated, in effect,
deny justice; and a court, partaking in the fruits of its own
condemnation, is a robber. The Congress complain, and
complain justly, of this grievance.

These are the three consequential propositions. I have
thought of two or three more, but they come rather too
near detail, and to the province of executive government,
which I wish parliament always to superintend, never to
assume. If the first six are granted, congruity will carry
the latter three. If not, the things that remain unrepealed
will be, I hope, rather unseemly encumbrances on the build-
ing, than very materially detrimental to its strength and

Here, sir, I should close, but that I plainly perceive
some objections remain, which I ought, if possible, to
remove. The first will be, that, in resorting to the doc-
trine of our ancestors, as contained in the preamble to the
Chester act, I prove too much ; that the grievance from
a want of representation stated in that preamble goes to
the whole of legislation as well as to taxation. And that
the colonies, grounding themselves upon that doctrine, will
apply it to all parts of legislative authority.



To this objection, with all possible deference and humil-
ity, and wishing as little as any man living to impair the
smallest particle of our supreme authority, I answer, that
the words are the words of parliament, and not mine; and
that all false and inconclusive inferences drawn from them
are not mine, for I heartily disclaim any such inference. 1
have chosen the words of an act of parliament, which Mr.
Grenville, surely a tolerably zealous and very judicious
advocate for the sovereignty of parliament, formerly moved
to have read at your table, in confirmation of his tenets.
It is true that Lord Chatham considered these preambles as
declaring strongly in favor of his opinions. He was a no
less powerful advocate for the privileges of the Americans.
Ought I not from hence to presume that these preambles
are as favorable as possible to both, when properly under-
stood; favorable both to the rights of parliament, and to
the privilege of the dependencies of this crown? But, sir,
the object of grievance in my resolution I have not taken
from the Chester, but from the Durham act, which confines
the hardship of want of representation to the case of sub-
sidies, and which, therefore, falls in exactly with the case
of the colonies. But whether the unrepresented counties
were de jure or de facto bound, the preambles do not accu-
rately distinguish ; nor indeed was it necessary; for, whether
de jure or de facto, the legislature thought the exercise of
the power of taxing, as of right, or as of fact without right,
equally a grievance and equally oppressive.

I do not know that the colonies have, in any general
way, or in any cool hour, gone much beyond the demand
of immunity in relation to taxes. It is not fair to judge of
the temper or dispositions of any man, or any set of men,
when they are composed and at rest, from their conduct or
their expressions in a state of disturbance and irritation.
It is, besides, a very great mistake to imagine that mankind
follow up practically any speculative principle, either of
government or of freedom, as far as it will go in argument
and logical illation. We Englishmen stop very short of the
principles upon which we support any given part of our
Constitution, or even the whole of it together. I could
easily, if I had not already tired you, give you very striking
and convincing instances of it. This is nothing but what is


natural and proper. All government, indeed every human
benefit and enjoyment, every virtue and every prudent act,
is founded on compromise and barter. We balance incon-
veniences; we give and take; we remit some rights that we
may enjoy others ; and we choose rather to be happy citi-
zens than subtle disputants. As we must give away some
natural liberty to enjoy civil advantages, so we must sacri-
fice some civil liberties for the advantages to be derived
from the communion and fellowship of a great empire.
But, in all fair dealings, the thing bought must bear some
proportion to the purchase paid. None will barter away
"the immediate jewel of his soul." Though a great house
is apt to make slaves haughty, yet it is purchasing a part of
the artificial importance of a great empire too dear to pay
for it all essential rights and all the intrinsic dignity of
human nature. None of us who would not risk his life
rather than fall under a government purely arbitrary. But,
although there are some among us who think our Constitu-
tion wants many improvements to make it a complete sys-
tem of liberty, perhaps none who are of that opinion would
think it right to aim at such improvement by disturbing his
country, and risking everything that is dear to him. In
every arduous enterprise we consider what we are to lose
as well as what we are to gain ; and the more and better
stake of liberty every people possess, the less they will
hazard in a vain attempt to make it more. These are " the
cords of man." Man acts from adequate motive relative to
his interest, and not on metaphysical speculations. Aris-
totle, the great master of reasoning, cautions us, and with
great weight and propriety, against this species of delusive
geometrical accuracy in moral arguments as the most falla-
cious of all sophistry.

The Americans will have no interest contrary to the
grandeur and glory of England, when they are not op-
pressed by the weight of it ; and they will rather be inclined
to respect the acts of a superintending legislature, when
they see them the acts of that power which is itself the
security, not the rival, of their secondary importance. In
this assurance my mind most perfectly acquiesces, and I
confess I feel not the least alarm from the discontents which
are to arise from putting people at their ease; nor do I


apprehend the destruction of this empire from giving, by
an act of free grace and indulgence, to two millions of my
fellow citizens, some share of those rights upon which I have
always been taught to value myself.

It is said, indeed, that this power of granting, vested in
American assemblies, would dissolve the unity of the em-
pire, which was preserved entire, although Wales, and
Chester, and Durham were added to it. Truly, Mr.
Speaker, I do not know what this unity means, nor has it
ever been heard of, that I know, in the constitutional policy

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 11) → online text (page 40 of 43)