Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England

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HORACE WALPOLE, Memoirs of the Reign of George III, Vol. III, pp. 28–32; ed. by Sir Lewis le Marchant. World History

383.

Speech of Townshend in the House of Commons (May 13, 1767)

On the 13th of May came on at last the great American questions. Charles Townshend had already hinted, when he opened the budget, at new taxes which he proposed to lay on the colonies. He now opened them; and very inadequate indeed did they prove, even in calculation, to the loss of a shilling in the pound on land, part of which deficiency they were intended to supply. Being so inconsiderable, and estimated by himself as likely to produce but from £35,000 to £40,000 a year, the House too lightly adopted his plan before it had been well weighed, and the fatal consequences of which did not break out till six years after.

Massachusetts; Pennsylvania; New Jersey

A concurrent cause weighed with many, and added weight to the arguments of more, for inflicting a kind of punishment on the refractory colonies, some of which had stubbornly refused to comply with the late act enjoining them to make provision for the army, with other parliamentary injunctions. Massachusetts Bay had, as I have said, taken upon themselves to execute the act in their own names, and on their own sole authority. This deed Townshend said the Privy Council had advised his Majesty to annul. That colony contained a set of men disposed to inflame all the rest. He stated fully, clearly, and with both authority and moderation those several topics; and concluded, he said, that many would think he proposed too little, others too much. The Mutiny Bill had been opposed almost everywhere, but Pennsylvania and some few colonies had executed all our orders. He wished he could name any more instances. New Jersey had avoided the act by appointing commissioners, with injunctions to act according to the custom of the provinces.

New York

New York was so opulent that he thought they ought to be kept in dependence. General Gage, accordingly, was sending troops thither. Yet did the New Yorkists commend themselves and boast that they could not remember the time when they had refused aid to Britain. They had resolved that if they should grant the present demand it might exceed all their abilities. This was an extraordinary excuse. More contemptuously still, they promised aid on the requisition of the crown, but said nothing of parliament. Were these, he asked, the descendants of those men who had fled from prerogative to America? Yet even this gracious compliance they held themselves at liberty to refuse, if not in proportion to the other provinces, if unreasonable, — nay, if inconvenient. They would insist, too, on his Majesty’s repaying what they should furnish to his troops, when he should think proper. He would not read, he said, the letters to their governor, Sir Henry More, as too inflammatory. To comply, they alleged, would be very serious; yet desired Sir Henry to represent their obedience favourably.

Parliament must assert its sovereignty over the colonies

The Massachusetts termed our acts our ordinances, and asserted their own rights of taxation. Many they had discountenanced and frightened from their assembly. Governor Bernard, he believed, was a little heated against them; yet the facts which he charged on them were true. In general, it did not become parliament to engage in controversy with its colonies, but by one act to assert its sovereignty. He warned the House to beware lest the provinces engaged in a common cause. Our right of taxation was indubitable; yet himself had been for repealing the Stamp Act to prevent mischief. Should their disobedience return, the authority of parliament had been weakened, and, unless supported with spirit and dignity, must be destroyed. The salaries of governors and judges in that part of the world must be made independent of their assemblies; but he advised the House to confine their resolutions to the offending provinces. Pennsylvania was an answer to New York. New Jersey had limited the sum, but had not said it would not comply. He thought it would be prudent to inflict censure on New York alone; that some burthen ought to be lightened at home and imposed on America.

He had hinted at taxes; he would name some, though not as chancellor of the exchequer. They were duties on wine, oil, and fruits from Spain and Portugal as they come back; on china; and to take off the drawback on glass, paper, lead, and colours. A commissioner of the customs, too, would be necessary in America. Parliament ought to exercise its authority, but not contrary to the constitution of the provinces. He then moved a resolution that New York had disobeyed the act, and that, till they should comply, the governor should be restrained from passing any act of their assembly. This, he owned, some had said would be confounding the innocent and the guilty, and would dissolve their assembly. On the contrary, others had advised to block up harbours and quarter soldiers, but himself could bear to hear of nothing military. Some were for a local tax; but that would be to accept penalty in lieu of obedience.

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Chicago: "Speech of Townshend in the House of Commons (May 13, 1767)," Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England in Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, ed. Edward Potts Cheyney (1861-1947) (Boston: Ginn, 1935, 1922), 626–628. Original Sources, accessed June 19, 2024, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1JEN3668R9X774X.

MLA: . "Speech of Townshend in the House of Commons (May 13, 1767)." Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, in Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, edited by Edward Potts Cheyney (1861-1947), Boston, Ginn, 1935, 1922, pp. 626–628. Original Sources. 19 Jun. 2024. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1JEN3668R9X774X.

Harvard: , 'Speech of Townshend in the House of Commons (May 13, 1767)' in Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England. cited in 1922, Readings in English History Drawn from the Original Sources: Intended to Illustrate a Short History of England, ed. , Ginn, 1935, Boston, pp.626–628. Original Sources, retrieved 19 June 2024, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1JEN3668R9X774X.