Page images

every man in the West Indies, every one inhabitant of three unoffending provinces on the continent, every person coming from the East Indies, every gentleman who has travelled for his health or education, every mariner who has navigated the seas, is, for no other offence, under a temporary proscription. Let any of these facts (now become presumptions of guilt) be proved against him, and the bare suspicion of the Crown puts him out of the law. It is even by no means clear to me whether the negative proof does not lie upon the person apprehended on suspicion, to the subversion of all justice. I have not debated against this bill in its progress through the House, because it would have been vain to oppose, and impossible to correct it. It is some time since I lave been clearly convinced that, in the present state of things, all opposition to any measures proposed by Ministers, where the name of America appears, is vain and frivolous. You may be sure that I do not speak of my opposition, which in all circumstances must be so, but that of men of the greatest wisdom and authority in the nation. Every thing proposed against America is supposed of course to be in favour of Great Britain. Good and ill success are equally admitted as reasons for persevering in the present methods. Several very prudent and very wellintentioned persons were of opinion that, during the prevalence of such dispositions, all struggle rather inflamed than lessened the distemper of the public counsels. Finding such resistance to be considered as factious by most within doors and by very many without, I cannot conscientiously support what is against my opinion, nor prudently contend with what I know is irresistible. Preserving my principles unshaken, I reserve my activity for rational endeavours; and I hope that my past conduct has given sufficient evidence that, if I am a single day from my place, it is not owing to indolence or love of dissipation. The slightest hope of doing good is sufficient to recall me to what I quitted with regret. In declining for some time my usual strict attendance, I do not in the least condemn the spirit of those gentlemen who, with a just confidence in their abilities, (in which I claim a sort of share from my love and admiration of them,) were of opinion that their exertions in this desperate case might be of some service. They thought that by contracting the sphere of its application they might lessen the malignity of an evil principle. Perhaps they were in the right. But when my opinion was so very clearly to the contrary, for the reasons I have just stated, I am sure my attendance would have been ridiculous.”

9. In the Summer of 1776, the British had gained some important advantages I must add, in further explanation of my conduct, that, far from softening the features of such a principle, and thereby removing any part of the popular odium or natural terrors attending it, I should be sorry that any thing framed in contradiction to the spirit of our Constitution did not instantly produce, in fact, the grossest of the evils with which it was pregnant in its nature. It is by lying dormant a long time, or being at first very rarely exercised, that arbitrary power steals upon a people. On the next unconstitutional Act, all the fashionable world will be ready to say, “Your prophecies are ridiculous, your fears are vain; you see how little of the mischiefs which you formerly foreboded are come to pass.” Thus, by degrees, that artful softening of all arbitrary power, the alleged infrequency or narrow extent of its operation, will be received as a sort of aphorism; and Mr. Hume will not be singular in telling us that the felicity of mankind is no more disturbed by it than by earthquakes or thunder, or the other more unusual accidents of Nature.

The Act of which I speak is among the fruits of the American war, – a war in my humble opinion productive of many mischiefs, of a kind which distinguish it from all others. Not only our policy is deranged, and our empire distracted, but our laws and our legislative spirit appear to have been totally perverted by it. We have made war on our colonies, not by arms only, but by laws. As hostility and law are not very concordant ideas, every step we have taken in this business has been made by trampling on some maxim of justice or some capital principle of wise government. What precedents were established, and what principles overturned, (I will not say of English privilege, but of general justice,) in the Boston Port, the Massachusetts Charter, the Military Bill," and all that long array of

in the war, especially the victory on Long Island, and the possession of New York city. This turn of success rendered the British government and people more confident than ever of reducing the insurgent colonies to submission: moderation was cast off, the voice of conciliation was drowned in songs of triumph, and the tide of infatuation ran to the highest pitch. This naturally brought the opposition in Parliament to a point correspondingly low; insomuch that in the Fall and Winter following most of the Rockingham Whigs, Burke among them, carried out the plan of partial secession which they had for some time entertained. They attended during the hours of general business in the morning; but as soon as the special questions came up, they made their bows to the Speaker, and withdrew. Notwithstanding the reasons given in the text, the act was one of doubtful expediency, 1 Of these three bills, the first, hastily passed in 1774, was for closing the har. bour, and thereby squelching the commerce of Boston: it prohibited “the lading or unlading of all goods or merchandise at any place within the precincts of 1308ton,” mu. the colony Should be brought to entire Submission. The sec

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

hostile Acts of Parliament by which the war with America has been begun and supported l Had the principles of any of these Acts been first exerted on English ground, they would probably have expired as soon as they touched it. But, by being removed from our persons, they have rooted in our laws, and the latest posterity will taste the fruits of them. Nor is it the worst effect of this unnatural contention, that our laws are corrupted. Whilst manners remain entire, they will correct the vices of law, and soften it at length to their own temper. But we have to lament that in most of the late proceedings we see very few traces of that generosity, humanity, and dignity of mind, which formerly characterized this nation. War suspends the rules of moral obligation, and what is long suspended is in danger of being totally abrogated. Civil wars strike deepest of all into the manners of the people. They vitiate their politics; they corrupt their morals; they pervert even the natural taste and relish of equity and justice. By teaching us to consider our fellow-citizens in an hostile light, the whole body of our nation becomes gradually less dear to us. The very names of affection and kindred, which were the bond of charity whilst we agreed, become new incentives to hatred and rage when the communion of our country is dissolved. We may flatter ourselves that we shall not fall into this misfortune. But we have no charter of exemption, that I know of, from the ordinary frailties of our nature. What but that blindness of heart which arises from the frenzy of civil contention could have made any persons conceive the present situation of the British affairs as an object of triumph to themselves or of congratulation to their sovereign? Nothing, surely, could be more lamentable to those who remember the flourishing days of this kingdom, than to see the insane joy of several unhappy people, amidst the sad spectacle which our affairs and conduct exhibit to the scorn of Europe. We behold (and it seems some people rejoice in beholding) our native land, which used to sit the envied arbiter of all her neighbours, reduced to a servile dependence on their mercy, — acquiescing in assurances of friendship which she does not trust, — complaining of hostilities which she dares not resent, — o

ond, passed the same session, revoked and annulled the royal charter of Massachusetts Bay, in pursuance of which the public affairs of the colony had been conducted more than eighty years; the Act took the appointment of all judicial and municipal officers away from the colonists, and vested it in the Crown. The third, also passed the same session, was for quartering IBritish troops upon the inhabitants of Boston; thus compelling them to support the instruments of their own oppression. All conceived in the spirit of a most insane policy; utterly impotent, too, save to exasperate and inflame.

deficient to her allies, lofty to her subjects, and submissive to her enemies;”— whilst the liberal government of this free nation is supported by the hireling sword of German boors and vassals, and three millions of the subjects of Great Britain are seeking for protection to English privileges in the arms of France | These circumstances appear to me more like shocking prodigies than natural changes in human affairs. Men of firmer minds may see them without staggering or astonishment. Some may think them matters of congratulation and complimentary addresses; but I trust your candour will be so indulgent to my weakness as not to have the worse opinion of me for my declining to participate in this joy, and my rejecting all share whatsoever in such a triumph. I am too old, too stiff in my inveterate partialities, to be ready at all the fashionable evolutions of opinion. I scarcely know how to adapt my mind to the feelings with which the Court Gazettes mean to impress the people. It is not instantly that I can be brought to rejoice, when I hear of the slaughter and captivity of long lists of those names which have been familiar to my ears from my infancy, and to rejoice that they have fallen under the sword of strangers, whose barbarous appellations I scarcely know how to pronounce. The glory acquired at the White Plains by Colonel Rahl has no charms for me, and I fairly acknowledge that I have not yet learned to delight in finding Fort Kniphausen in the heart of the British dominions.” It might be some consolation for the loss of our old regards, if our reason were enlightened in proportion as our honest prejudices are removed. Wanting feelings for the honour of our country, we might then in cold blood be brought to think a little of our interests as individual citizens and our private conscience as moral agents. Indeed, our affairs are in a bad condition. I do assure those gentlemen who have prayed for war, and obtained the blessing they have sought, that they are at this instant in very great straits. The abused wealth of this country continues a little longer to feed its distemper. As yet they, and their German

2 The special allusion here is to the negotiations, then in progress, which resulted in an alliance between France and the colonies. The British government were aware of those proceedings, but had to ignore them, through fear of provoking France to an early championship of the American cause.

3 General Kniphausen was a commander of the German troops serving under General IIowe. After the capture of Fort Washington, which stood on the Hudson not far above New York city, Colonel Rhal, or Rall, who was under Rniphausen, and was the hero of that exploit, changed the name to Fort Knip. hausen.

allies of twenty hireling States, have contended only with the unprepared strength of our own infant colonies. But Anierica is not subdued. Not one unattacked village which was originally adverse throughout that vast continent has yet submitted from love or terror. You have the ground you encamp on, and you have no more. The cantonments of your troops and your dominions are exactly of the same extent. You spread devastation, but you do not enlarge the sphere of authority. The events of this war are of so much greater magnitude than those who either wished or feared it ever looked for, that this alone ought to fill every considerate mind with anxiety and diffidence. Wise men often tremble at the very things which fill the thoughtless with security. For many reasons I do not choose to expose to public view all the particulars of the state in which you stood with regard to foreign powers during the whole course of the last year. Whether you are yet wholly out of danger from them is more than I know, or than your rulers can divine. But even if I were certain of my safety, I could not easily forgive those who had brought me into the most dreadful perils, because by accidents, unforeseen by them or me, I have escaped. Believe me, Gentlemen, the way still before you is intricate, dark, and full of perplexed and treacherous mazes. Those who think they have the clew may lead us out of this labyrinth. We may trust them as amply as we think proper; but as they have most certainly a call for all the reason which their stock can furnish, why should we think it proper to disturb its operation by inflaming their passions? I may be unable to lend a helping hand to those who direct the State; but I should be ashamed to make myself one of a noisy multitude to halloo and hearten them into doubtful and dangerous courses. A conscientious man would be cautious how he dealt in blood. He would feel some apprehension at being called to a tremendous account for engaging in so deep a play without any sort of knowledge of the game. It is no excuse for presumptuous ignorance, that it is directed by insolent passion. The poorest being that crawls on earth, contending to save itself from injustice and oppression, is an object respectable in the eyes of God and man. *But I cannot conceive any existence under Heaven (which in the depths of its wisdom tolerates all sorts of things) that is more truly odious and disgusting than an impotent, helpless creature, without civil wisdom or military skill, without a consciousness of any other qualification for power but his servility to it, bloated with pride and arrogance, calling for battles which he is not to fight, contending for a violent dominion which he can never exercise, and satisfied to be himself

« PreviousContinue »