British Parliament in History

The elections for members of Parliament in the autumn of 1774, satisfied the ministry that they were strong in the affections of the people. The king was jubilant because of the result, and the government was not in a frame of mind to receive with complacency the state-papers put forth by the Continental Congress, especially the petition to the king. In September Gage had written to Dartmouth a truthful statement of the condition of affairs in the colonies, and especially in Massachusetts. It was a letter that gave that minister great concern. Gage declared that the act of Parliament for regulating the government of Massachusetts could not be carried into effect until the New England colonies were subdued by military conquest; that Massachusetts had warm friends and abettors in all the other colonies; that the people of the Carolinas were as crazy as those in Boston; that all over New England the rural population were actually preparing for war by military exercises and by the gathering of arms and ammunition, and that the civil officers of the crown could find no protection in Boston. The governor suggested that it might be well to discard the colonies--cut them loose from the empire, and leave them to suffer anarchy, and so bring about repentance; having grown rich by their connection with Great Britain, they would speedily become poor in their helplessness. Thoroughly wearied, Gage also suggested, in a private letter to Dartmouth, that it might be well to suspend the operations of the obnoxious acts for a season. When these statements and propositions were laid before the king, he said, with emphasis and bitter scorn, "The New England governments are now in a state of rebellion. Blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country, or to be independent." This was King George's ultimatum, to which he obstinately adhered; and Lord North, to whom the words of the monarch were addressed, acted accordingly in the Parliament which assembled at about that time. Joseph Warren, in a letter addressed to Josiah Quincy, Jr. (who had gone to England to seek restoration of health by a sea voyage and to watch the drift of public opinion there concerning American affairs), gave the ultimatum of the Americans in these words:

"It is the united voice of America to preserve their freedom, or lose their lives in defence of it. Their resolutions are not the effects of inconsiderate rashness, but the sound result of sober inquiry and deliberation. The true spirit of liberty was never so universally diffused through all ranks and order of people in any country on the face of the earth, as it now is through all North America. If the late acts of Parliament are not to be repealed, the wisest step for both countries is to separate, and not to spend their blood and treasure in destroying each other. It is barely possible that Great Britain may depopulate North America; she never can conquer the inhabitants."

Such was the attitude of the king and his American subjects when the new Parliament assembled on the 30th of November, 1774, the old one having been dissolved in September. At that time Dr. Franklin, who had been disgraced early in the year, so far as the ribald tongue of a dishonest solicitor-general, and an ill-mannered Privy Council could disgrace him, had become an object of deep concern by men of all parties. The king hated him for his sturdy republicanism and inflexible political honesty. Hutchinson, then in England, hated him for Franklin's exposure of his perfidy, and he pursued him relentlessly; and, at one time, there were intimations that if the agent remained in England, it would be at the peril of his life. On the other hand, the friends of the government regarded him as a bulwark of political wisdom, and a match in the field of diplomacy for the whole British ministry. It was believed by all that he was the depositary of the secret intentions of the colonists, toward Great Britain, in the measures they had adopted. He was solicited to promulgate the extent of the demands of the Americans; and so urgent were the calls for this knowledge, that without waiting for the reception of a record of the proceedings of the Continental Congress, he prepared a paper entitled "Hints for Conversation upon the subject of Terms that may probably produce a Durable Union between Britain and the Colonies," in seventeen propositions. The upshot of the whole was that the colonies should be reinstated in the position which they held in relation to the imperial government before the obnoxious acts then complained of became laws, by a repeal--by a destruction of the whole brood of offensive enactments in reference to America, hatched since the accession of George the Third. In a word, he proposed that English subjects in America should enjoy all the essential rights and privileges claimed as the birthright of English subjects in England. This paper found its way to the ministry, and possibly to the king; and had the prime minister been allowed to follow the bent of his inclination and of his clear judgment, it might have been the basis of a compromise that would have preserved the unity of the British realm.

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