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The philosopher went as invited, and some preliminary conversation ensued. Next Sunday morning the Earl returned the visit in Craven Street, bringing with him his plan of conciliation ready written out for Dr. Franklin to keep awhile and consider carefully.
6 I am come, said Chatham," to set my judgment by yours as men set “their watches by a regulator.” — " His Lordship," adds Franklin, stayed with me near two hours, his “ equipage waiting at the door; and being there while
people were coming from Church it was much taken “ notice of and talked of, as at that time was every little “ circumstance that men thought might possibly any way “ affect American affairs. Such a visit from so great a man on so important a business flattered not a little my vanity; and the honour of it gave me the more pleasure, as it happened on (the 29th of January) the
very day twelvemonth that the Ministry had taken so “much pains to disgrace me before the Privy Council.”
On the Tuesday following (for time was precious since Chatham intended to make his motion on the Wednesday) Franklin once more repaired to Hayes with the Draft Bill and some notes of his own upon it.
near four hours, but his Lordship in the manner of, I think, all eloquent persons was so full and “ diffuse in supporting every particular I questioned that “ there was not time to go through half my memoranda, “ He is not easily interrupted, and I had such pleasure
in hearing him that I found little inclination to inter
rupt him. Therefore considering that neither of us “had much expectation that the plan would be adopted
entirely as it stood, and that in the course of its con“sideration if it should be received proper alterations might be introduced,
I therefore ceased my querying. And though afterwards many people were
pleased to do me the honour of supposing I had a con“siderable share in composing it ; I assure you that the 6 addition of a single word only was made at my instance,
namely, CONSTITUTIONS after CHARTERS ; for my filling up at his request a blank with the titles of Acts proper
to be repealed, which I took from the proceedings of “ the Congress, was no more than might have been done by any copying clerk.”
Franklin perhaps was not
“ I stayed,”
sorry to have thus avoided committing himself as to any one of the details, and might rather choose to ascertain and to be guided by the prevailing opinion in America.
On Wednesday the 1st of February, as already determined, Chatham again appeared in the House of Lords, and after a preliminary speech, a most excellent “ speech,” says Franklin, — laid his Bill upon the Table. The scheme which it unfolded was a large and comprehensive one.
In the first place it declared in the most explicit terms the dependency of the Colonies upon the British Crown, and their subordination to the British Parliament in all matters touching the general weal of the whole empire, and above all in the regulation of trade. On the other hand it proposed to enact no less explicitly that no tax or tallage or other charge for the revenue should be levied from any body of British freemen in America without the consent of its own representative assembly. It declared that delegates from the several Colonies lately assembled at Philadelphia should, as they desired, meet at the same town and hold another Congress on the 9th of May ensuing; then to consider, in the first place, the making due recognition of the supreme legislative authority of Parliament, and next, over and above the usual charges for the support of civil government in the respective Colonies, the making a free grant to the King of a certain perpetual revenue towards the alleviation of the national debt. “ No doubt,” it was added, “ being had but this just free aid will be in such “ honourable proportion as may seem meet and becoming “ from great and flourishing Colonies towards a parent “ country labouring under the heaviest burthens, which “ in no inconsiderable part have been willingly taken
upon ourselves and our posterity for the defence, ex
tension, and prosperity of the Colonies ; . . . . always “ understood that the free grant of an aid as heretofore
required and expected from the Colonies is not to be “ considered as a condition of redress, but as a just tes
timony of their affection.” But although the new grant was thus left to the spontaneous choice of Congress, it was stipulated that the other provisions relinquishing the right of taxation to the American Assemblies should not take effect unless the Congress as an indispensable con
dition first duly recognized the supreme legislative authority of Parliament. Another clause provided, in conformity with the prayer of the last Congress, that the powers of the Admiralty and Vice Admiralty Courts in America should be restrained within their ancient limits, and that it should not in future be lawful to send persons indicted for murder in any province of America to another Colony or to Great Britain for trial. The Acts of Parliament relating to America since 1764, and above all the Acts of the last Session, were wholly repealed. Judges in America as in England were henceforth to hold their offices during their good behaviour, and not merely during the pleasure of the Crown. The Charters and Constitutions of the several provinces were not again to be invaded or resumed unless on some legal grounds of forfeiture.
So,”—these words form part of the concluding sentence of the Bill, — “so shall true reconcilement avert im
The Bill having thus been propounded by its author, Lord Dartmouth as Secretary for the Colonies next rose. He said that the Bill contained matter of so much weight and magnitude as to require to be fully considered, and he therefore hoped the Noble Earl did not expect their Lordships to decide upon it by an immediate vote, but was willing it should lie upon the Table for deliberation. Lord Chatham answered readily that he expected nothing more. But unhappily those friends of the Duke of Bedford who had joined the administration continued to be animated, as his Grace had been, by a special and keen hostility to the pretensions of America. Of that section in the Government the chief was the Earl of Sandwich. He rose with much heat to protest against the Bill, which he said he could never believe to be the production of any British Peer, but which seemed to him rather the work of some American ; and here he looked full at Dr. Franklin who was leaning on the Bar. He concluded with the motion that the Bill should be at once rejected. Several Peers, as Shelburne and Camden, argued for the measure as it stood; others, as Lyttleton and Temple, objected to some points in it, as that the Quebec Bill should be included among the Acts to be repealed, but on the whole were willing to adopt it as
the basis of a final settlement. The contumelious and, as Lord Temple termed it, the unprecedented motion of Lord Sandwich was eagerly supported by another of the Bedfords, Lord Gower. Thus did the First Lord of the Admiralty and the President of the Council stand forth against their own colleague the Secretary of State. But as the debate proceeded an Opposition Peer having complimented Lord Dartmouth on his superior candour, Lord Dartmouth rose again in much embarrassment and said that he could not accept the praise offered for a candour of which he was now ashamed; that he had changed his mind, and should give his vote for rejecting the Bill immediately. So much of violence in some of the Ministry, so much of vacillation in others, afforded grounds for a fierce philippic against them which Chatham poured forth in his reply : “ Such,” — he cried addressing them,
“such are your well-known characters and abilities “ that sure I am that any plan of reconciliation, however “ moderate, wise, and feasible, must fail in your hands. “ Who then can wonder that you should put a negative
any measure which must annihilate your power, deprive you of your emoluments, and at once reduce
you to that state of insignificance for which God and “ nature designed you?”
When at last on this memorable night the House divided a much increased minority of 32 appeared in favour of at least considering the Bill, but a phalanx of 61 decided its rejection. The rejected Bill was immediately printed and circulated by Lord Chatham as an appeal to the public judgment.
It may be proper, or at least pardonable, here to pause for an inquiry, what probable issue might have attended an opposite decision in the British Parliament ? If the Ministers had been defeated on this Bill, — if in consequence they had resigned, and it in other hands been carried through, would the Americans have accepted the measure cheerfully and readily, — would it for a long time to come have closed the breach and cemented the union with the mother country ? From all the facts and testimonies then or since made public I answer without hesitation that it would. The sword was then slumbering in its scabbard. On both sides there were injuries to redress, but not as yet bloodshed to avenge. It was only a quarrel; it was not as yet a war. Even the boldest leaders of that war in after years, whether in council or the field, were still in January 1775 the firm friends of Colonial subordination. Washington himself
—(and he at least was no dissembler; from him at least there never came any promise or assurance that did not deserve the most implicit credit;) — had only a few months before presided at a meeting of Fairfax County in Virginia. That meeting, while claiming relief of grievances, had also at his instance adopted the following Resolve: “ That it is our greatest wish and inclination, “ as well as interest, to continue our connection with, and
dependence upon, the British Government.” * But further still, although the first Congress was praised by Chatham for its moderate counsels, and although the calmer voice of History has ratified the praise, we learn that these moderate counsels did not lag behind, but rather exceeded and outran, the prevailing sentiment in many of the Colonies. To this fact we find an unimpeachable testimony in the letters of President Reed, who, writing to a friend in strict confidence, laments that “ the proceedings of Congress have been pitched on too “high a key for some of these middle provinces.” † With such feelings how gladly, how gratefully, would they have welcomed the hand of reconciliation stretched out by the Parliament of England! It may be true indeed that such feelings as these did not prevail in all, or nearly all, the Colonies. It may be true especially that no amount of good government, of forbearance, or of kindness would have won back Massachusetts. But herein lay, as I think, the especial force and efficacy of Lord Chatham's scheme, that it did not refer the questions of Parliamentary supremacy and Colonial taxation to the decision of any one province, but, as the Americans themselves desired, to the decision of a Congress composed from all the provinces, so that disaffection, how
* Washington's Writings as edited by Sparks, vol. ii. Appendix,
† To Mr. De Berdt, Feb. 13. 1775. Life and Correspondence, vol. i. p. 96.