« PreviousContinue »
THE SPEECH OF WILLIAM PITT, THE
IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS, JANUARY 16, 1766, ON THE ADÓ
DRESS TO THE THRONE, IN WHICH THE RIGHT OF TAXING AMERICA IS DISCUSSED.
In the preceding speech of Earl Mansfield, we have seen the right of taxing the colonies maintained with all the cogency of reasoning, and dexterity of argu. ment, which he eminently possessed. To exhibit a view of the grounds taken on the opposite side, and the manner of their defence, we introduce a speech of the elder Pitt, delivered in the debate on the usual address to the throne, at the opening of parliament.
We have remarked, in another place, that prior to the year 1770, no authentick example of Mr. Pitt's eloquence had been preserved. The discovery of the present speech persuades us that we were, at least as relates to it, deceived. There can be little doubt of its genuineness. The peculiarities of his style are conspicuously displayed in it. We have, moreover, learnt from a source in which we can confide, that it was reported by the Earl of Charlemont, an accomplished scholar, and an adroit stenographer, that he might communicate to the people of Ireland, who were deeply interested in the subject, the sentiments of Mr. Pitt, on the right of taxing America.
It was in this memorable debate that Edmund Burke, for the first time, spoke in parliament. His speech was complimented by Earl Chatham in terms peculiarly grateful to the ambition of a young man. After descanting on its general merits, he with perfect
truth observed, “ that, Mr. Burke was the only per: son since the age of Cicero, who has united the talent of speaking and writing with irresistible force and ele
SPEECH, &c. MR. SPEAKER,
I CAME to town but to day. I was a stranger to the tenour of his majesty's speech, and the proposed address, till I heard them read in this house. Un.. connected and unconsulted I have not the means of information. I am fearful of offending through mis. take, and therefore beg to be indulged with a second reading of the proposed address. * I commend the king's speech, and approve of the address in answer; as it decides nothing, every gentleman being left at perfect liberty to take such a part concerning America, as he might afterwards see fit. One word only I cannot approve of, an early, is a word that does not belong to the notice the ministry have given to parliament of the troubles in America. In a matter of such importance, the communication ought to have been immediate. I speak not with respect to parties
. I stand up in this place single and independent. As to the late ministry,t every capital measure they have taken, has been entirely wrong!
As to the present gentlemen, to those at least whom I have in my eye, I have no objection. I have never been made a sacrifice by any of them. Their characters are fair ; and I am always glad when men of fair character engage in his majesty's service. them did me the honour to ask my opinion before they would engage.
These will now do me the justice to own, I advised them to do it; but, notwithstanding, to be explicit, I cannot give them
* The address being read, Mr. Pitt went on.
† Turning himself to Mr. Grenville, who sat within one of him.
Looking at the bench where Mr. Conway sat with the lords of the treasury.
my confidence. Pardon me, gentlemen,* confidence is a plant of slow growth in an aged bosom. Youth is the season of credulity. By comparing events with each other, reasoning from effects to causes, methinks I plainly discover the traces of an over. ruling influence.
There is a clause in the act of settlement to oblige every minister to sign his name to the advice which he gives to his sovereign. Would it were observed !-I have had the honour to serve the crown, and if I could have submitted to influence, I might have still continued to serve: but I would not be responsible for others. I have no local attachments. It is indifferent to me whether a man was rocked in his cradle on this side or that side of the Tweed. I sought for merit wherever it was to be found. It is my boast, that I was the first minister who looked for it, and I found it in the mountains of the North. I called it forth, and drew it into your service, a hardy and intrepid race of men! men, who, when left by your jealousy, became a prey to the artifices of your enemies, and had gone nigh to have overturned the state in the war before the last. These men, in the last war, were brought to combat on your side; they served with fidelity, as they fought with valour, and conquered for you in every part of the world. Detested be the national re . flections against them! They are unjust, groundless, illiberal, unmanly. When I ceased to serve his majesty as a minister, it was not the country of the man by which I was moved—but the man of that country wanted wisdom, and held principles incompatible with freedom.t
It is a long time, Mr. Speaker, since I have attended in parliament. When the resolution was taken in this house to tax America, I was ill in bed. If I could have endured to have been carried in my bed, so great was the agitation of my mind for the consequences, I would have solicited some kind hand to have laid me down on this floor, to have born my
* Bowing to the ministry.
+ Alluding to Lord Bute.
testimony against it! It is now an act that has passed. I would speak with decency of every act of this house : but I must beg the indulgence of the house to speak of it with freedom.
I hope a day may be soon appointed to consider the state of the nation with respect to America. I hope gentlemen will come to this debate with all the temper and impartiality that his majesty recommends and the importance of the subject requires. A subject of greater importance than ever engaged the attention of this house! that subject only excepted, when, near a century ago, it was the question, whether you your. selves were to be bound or free. In the mean time, as I cannot depend upon my health for any future day, such is the nature of my infirmities, I will beg to say a few words at present, leaving the justice, the equity, the policy, the expediency of the act, to another time. I will only speak to one point, a point which seems not to have been generally understood. I mean to the right. Some gentlemen seem to have considered it as a point of honour. If gentlemen consider it in that light, they leave all measures of right and wrong, to follow a delusion that may lead to destruction. It is my opinion, that this kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies. At the same time, I assert the authority of this kingdom over the colonies, to be sovereign and supreme, in every circumstance of government and legislation whatsoever. They are the subjects of this kingdom, equally entitled with yourselves to all the natural rights of mankind and the peculiar privileges of Englishmen. Equally bo by its laws, and equally participating of the constitution of this free country. The Americans are the sons, not the bastards of England. Taxation is no part of the governing or legislative power. The taxes are a voluntary gift and grant of the commons alone. In legislation the three estates of the realm are alike concerned, but the concurrence of the peers and the crown to a tax, is only necessary to close with the form of a law. The gift and grant is of the commons alone. In ancient days, the crown, the barons, and
the clergy, possessed the lands. In those days, the barons and the clergy gave and granted to the crown. They gave and granted what was their own. At present, since the discovery of America, and other circumstances permitting, the commons are become the proprietors of the land. The church, God bless it, has but a pittance. The property of the lords, compared with that of the commons, is as a drop of water in the ocean; and this house represents those commons, the proprietors of the lands; and those proprietors virtually represent the rest of the inhabitants, When, therefore, in this house we give and grant, we give and grant what is our own. But in an American tax, what do we do? We your majesty's commons for Great Britain give and grant to your majesty, what? Our own property? No. We give and grant to your majesty, the property of your majesty's commons of America. It is an absurdity in terms,
The distinction between legislation and taxation is essentially necessary to liberty. The crown, the peers, are equally legislative powers with the commons. If taxation be a part of simple legislation, the crown, the peers have rights in taxation as well as yourselves ; rights which they will claim, which they will exercise, whenever the principle can be supported by power.
There is an idea in some, that the colonies are virtually represented in the house. I would fain know by whom an American is represented here? Is he represented by any knight of the shire, in any county in this kingdom? Would to God that respectable representation was augmented to a greater number! Or will you tell him that he is represented by any representative of a borough-a borough which, perhaps, its own representatives never saw. This is what is called the rotten part of the constitution. It cannot continue a century. If it does not drop, it must be amputated. The idea of a virtual representation of America in this house is the most contemptible idea that ever entered into the head of a man. It does not deserve a serious refutation.