Lord Chatham





Parliament reassembled on the 20th January, 1775. The rumor had gone abroad that Chatham would appear in Lord North's place. It was vehemently asserted by the court party that he would not be there; that he had washed his hands of American affairs, and would never more appear as their advocate. This assertion disturbed Lady Chatham, who was in London. She had informed her husband of the day appointed for the assembling of Parliament, but she feared there might be some trick by which Lord Chatham would be prevented from being present at the opening, as he desired to be. In a letter to him she expressed some doubts about the propriety of her appearing at court, while the rumors of his remaining at Hayes were so rife. He wrote to her, most earnestly, saying: "For God's sake, sweet life, don't disquiet yourself about the impertinent and ridiculous lie of the hour. The plot does not lie very deep. It is only a pitiful device of fear, court fear, and faction fear. If gout does not put in a veto, which I trust in Heaven it will not, I will be in the House of Lords on Friday, then and there to make a motion relative to America. Be of good cheer, noble love.

"Yes, I am proud--I must be proud to see Men not afraid of God, afraid of me."

To Lord Stanhope he wrote: "I greatly wish Dr. Franklin may be in the House."

His lordship communicated this wish to Franklin, and offered to lend him assistance in gaining admission. On the morning of the 20th, Lord Stanhope sent another message to Franklin, letting him know that if he should be in the lobby of the House at two o'clock that day, Chatham would be there and introduce him himself. Franklin was there. On mentioning to the great orator what Stanhope had said, Chatham replied: "Certainly, and I shall do it with the more pleasure, as I am sure your presence at this day's debate will be of more service to America than mine." He then took Franklin by the arm and was leading him along the passage to the door that entered near the throne, when one of the doorkeepers followed and acquainted Pitt, that, by the order, none were to be carried in at that door but the eldest sons and brothers of peers. Pitt limped back with Franklin to the door near the bar, where were standing a number of gentlemen waiting for the peers who were to introduce them, and some peers waiting for friends they expected to introduce. There Chatham delivered Franklin to the doorkeepers, saying aloud: "This is Dr. Franklin, whom I would have admitted into the House;" which was accordingly done. "As it had not been publicly known that there was any communication between his lordship and myself," Franklin wrote, "this, I found, occasioned some speculation. His appearance in the House, I observed, caused a kind of bustle among the officers, who were busied in sending messengers for members--I suppose those in connection with the ministry, something of importance being expected when the great man appears, it being but seldom that his infirmities permit his attendance."

Chatham was in his place at the appointed hour. For what purpose? That question was soon answered, when, rising to his feet with a little help, he leaned upon a crutch, and , with a clear voice, proposed an address to the king, asking him to immediately dispatch to General Gage an order to remove his forces from Boston as soon as the rigors of the season would permit. "I wish, my lords," said Chatham, in the presence of a crowd of anxious listeners, "not to lose a day in this urgent, pressing crisis. An hour now lost may produce years of calamity. For my part, I will not desert, for a single moment, the conduct of this weighty business. Unless nailed to my bed by extremity of sickness, I will give it my unremitted attention. I will knock at the door of the sleeping and confounded ministry, and will rouse them to a sense of their impending danger. When I state the importance of the colonies to this country, and the magnitude of danger from the present plan of misadministration practised against them, I desire not to be understood to argue for a reciprocity of indulgence between England and America. I contend not for indulgence, but justice to America; and I shall ever contend that the Americans owe obedience to us in a limited degree." Then stating the foundations upon which the supremacy of Great Britain over her colonies rested, he continued: "Resistance to your acts was necessary as it was just; and your vain declarations of the omnipotence of Parliament, and your imperious doctrines of the necessity of submission, will be found equally incompetent to convince or to enslave your fellow-subjects in America, who feel that tyranny, whether ambitioned by an individual part of the legislature or the bodies who compose it, is equally intolerable to British subjects." He then pictured in a pathetic manner, Gage's troops in Boston suffering in winter, insulted by the inhabitants, wasting with sickness, and pining for action; and then he wittily compared Gage to the great General Conde, who, upon being asked on one occasion why he did not take Marshal Turenne prisoner, being so very near him, replied: "Upon my word, I am afraid Turenne will take me." "This spirit of independence," continued Chatham, "animating the nation of America is not new among them; it is, and has ever been, their confirmed persuasion. When the repeal of the stamp-act was in agitation, a person of undoubted respect and authenticity on that subject assured me that these were the prevalent and steady principles of America--that you might destroy their towns, and cut them off from the superfluities, perhaps the conveniences of life, but that they were prepared to despise your power, and would not lament their loss while they have--what, my lords?--their woods and their liberty. Oppress not these millions for the fault of forty or fifty individuals. Such severity of injustice must irritate your colonies to unappeasable rancor. What though you march from town to town, and from province to province? How shall you be able to secure the obedience of the country you leave behind you, in your progress to grasp eighteen hundred miles of continent?. The spirit which now resists your taxation in America, is the same which formerly opposed wars, benevolence, and ship-money in England; the same which, by the bill of rights, vindicated the English constitution; the same which established the essential maxim of your liberties, that no subject of England shall be taxed but by his own consent."

Chatham then alluded to the late Congress; the wisdom of its course, and the support which its measures received from the whole people. "When your lordships look at the papers transmitted to us from America," he said,--"when you consider the decency, firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must avow, that in all my reading--and I have read Thucydides and have studied and admired the master-states of the world--for solidity of reasons, force of reasons, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, under a complication of difficult circumstances, no nation, or body of men, can stand in preference to the General Congress at Philadelphia. The histories of Greece and Rome give us nothing equal to it; and all attempts to impose servitude upon such a mighty continental nation, must be vain--must be fatal. We shall be forced ultimately to retreat; let us retreat while we can, not when we must. These violent acts must be repealed; you will repeal them; I pledge myself for it. I stake my reputation on it. You will in the end repeal them. Avoid, then, this humiliating necessity. With a dignity becoming your exalted situation, make the first advances to concord, peace, and happiness, for that is your true dignity. Concession comes with better grace from superior power, and establishes solid confidence in the foundations of affection and gratitude. Be the first to spare: throw down the weapons in your hands. To conclude, my lords, if the ministers thus persevere in misadvising and misleading the king, I will not say that they can alienate the affection of his subjects from his crown, but I will affirm that they will make the crown not worth his wearing. I will not say that the king is betrayed, but I will pronounce that the kingdom is undone."

This great speech--this noble plea for justice--made the king very angry. He regarded Chatham's independence as ingratitude, and he openly expressed a desire for the arrival of the day "when decrepitude or old age should put an end to him as a trumpet of sedition." The lords immediately censured Chatham's speech by a vote of sixty-eight to eighteen, against his proposition. Not discouraged, he immediately presented a bill which provided for the renunciation of the power of taxation, demanding an acknowledgment from the Americans of the supreme authority of Great Britain, and inviting them to contribute voluntarily a specified sum annually to be employed as interest on the national debt. It also provided for an immediate repeal of all the objectionable acts of Parliament (ten in number), passed during the administration of the reigning monarch.





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