Page images
PDF
EPUB

ftitution nor the colonists admit to be true, namely, that the parliament of Britain have a right to impose taxes, where the people have no representation, and that resistance to foreign laws is worthy of severe punishment.---That the parliament of Britain has a right to take away what it never had a right to give ; namely, a right for men to enjoy the possessions which they had purchased from the original proprietors of a country where Britain had no jurisdiction. The equity and justice which the speech superficially mentions, are only words without any meaning, unless that justice yaries with the climate, and equity changes with the longitude and latitude. For what he lo warmly recommends as just and equitable in Boston, would be accounted lawless tyranny in any part of Great Britain.

At this time the friends of the colonies in parliament were divided ; one party applauded the present measures as lenient and gentle ; others continued to stand upon their old ground, and maintained their constant principles. In the course of the debate in the progress of the bill, they feem to have been truer prophets than the minister, for almost all the events which they foretold have nearly come to pass, but not one word of his prophecies have been accomplished. Opposition to this bill encreased, during the time of the debates. Mr Bolan, agent for the council of Massachusett's-Bay, presented a petition, desiring to be heard for the said council, and in behalf of him. self and others, the inhabitants in the town of Boston. The house refused to hear the petition. It was said that the agent of the council was not agent for the corporation, and no agent could be received from a corporate body, except he were appointed by all the necessary constituent parts of that body. Besides the

council

It was

council was fluctuating, and the body by which he was appointed could not be then existing. This vote rejecting the petition was severely censured. certainly very inconsistent to receive a petition from the same person a few days before, and refuse his petition at this time for want of a qualification, they allowed him then to be possessed of. What made this reje&ting of the petition appear more extraordinary was that at that very time the house of peers was actually hearing Mr Bolan at their bar upon his petition, as a person duly qualified. The same objection might be made to all American agents, 'none of them were then qualified as the minister required, and thus all communication between the parliament and the colonies, was then cut off; at the same time they were making laws to oppress them. It will be difficult for a benevolent citizen of the world, in some future period of time, to believe that there were such measures carried on in a parliament of Great Britain, consisting of men professing the protestant religion, and bearing the Christian name. They will be ready to consider this

part of the history of Britain in the light of a fable or romance, contrived by some ingenious person to amuse the reader, without any intention of finding credit, or expecting to be accounted a true historian.

After some softening motions had been propofed and rejected, the minister brought in another bill, to which the Boston port act was only a prologue ; it was intitled, “A bill for the better regulating the government of the province of Massachusett's-Bay, This bill was intended to alter the constitution and government of this province, as it stood settled by the charter of King William, and to take all share of go. vernment out of the hands of the people, and to vest the nomination of counsellors, judges and magistrates

of

[ocr errors]

of all kinds, including sheriffs, in the crown, and in soine cases in the king's governor, and all to be removeable at the pleasure of the king. This was at at one stroke undermining the ancient government of the colony, and leaving the people no Phare in their own government at all. The supporters of this bill alledged, that the disorders of the province of Maffachusett's-Bay, not only distracted that province within itself, but set an ill example to all the colonies. An executive power was wanting. The force of the civil power, it was faid, consisted in the posse comitatus; but the posse are the very people who commit the riots. That there was a total defect in the constitutional power throughout. If the democratical part shew a contempt of the laws, how, is the governor to enforce them? Magistrates he cannot appoint; he cannot give an order without seven of the council afsenting; and let the military be never so numerous and active, they cannot move in support of the civil magistracy, when no civil magiltrate will call upon them for support. It is in vain, it was said, that you make laws and regulations here, when there are none found to execute them in that country. It is therefore become absolutely necessary to alter the whole frame of the Mafsuchusett's government, fo far as it relates to the executive and judical powers. . It was also affirmed, that the juries were injudiciously chosen, and that some immediate and permanent remedy ought to be adopted. The bill, which was at last formed into a law, will testify upon what principles it was founded. A vigorous, but ineffectual oppofi. tion was made to the passing of this arbitrary law ;* the court had a strong majority, which was fit to carry every point, and it does not appear that they would would have hesitated at any thing whatsoever.

The

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The minority, urged, that to take away 'the civil constitution of a whole people secured by charter, the validity of which was not fo much as questioned at law, upon mere loose allegations of delinquencies and defects, was a proceeding of a most arbitrary and dangerous nature. They said it was worse than the proceedings against the Americans, and English corporations, in the reign of King Charles and King James the second, which were, however, accounted the worst acts of those arbitrary reigns. At that time. the charge was regularly made; the colonies and cor. porations called to anfwer; time was given, and the rules of justice, at least in appearance, were observed. But here, they said, there was nothing of the kind, pot so much as a pretence to the colour of justice ; not one evidence had been examined at the bar, a thing done on the most trifling regulation, affecting the franchise of the subject. That the pretence of taking away the charter, in order to give strength to government, would never answer; for this was first doing evil, that good might follow. They asked the ministry, Whether the colonies, which are already regulated nearly upon the plan propofed, were more fubinissive to our right of taxation, than that of Maffachusett's-Bay ? If not, what would be gained by the bill, that can be fo very material to the authority of parliament, as to rijk all the credit of parliamentary justice, by so strong and irregular a proceeding? That the part of the act which affected juries, was made without so much as a single complaint of abufe pretended, They proceeded further, and affirmed, shat the case of the late Captain Preston, Mr Otis, and many others, shewed with what justice the juries in that colony acted. They denied that the juries were improperly chosen; that they were appointed by a

better

vernment.

better method than outs, by a sort of ballot in which no partiality could take place. But by the new regulation the sheriff is appointed, with out any qualification, by the governor, and to hold his office at şhis pleasure. This was a power, they said, given to the governor, greater than that given by the constitution to the crown itself.. This they infifted was a great abuse, instead of reformation; and tended to put the lives and properties of the people absolutely into the hands of the governors. It was further urged, that the disorder lay much deeper than the forms of go

That the people throughout the colonies were universally disatisfied, and that their uneasiness and resistance was no less in the royal government's than in others. That the remedy could only be in the removal of the cause of the distemper, and in quieting the minds of the people. That the act had a direct tendency to the contrary; and they feared, that instead of giving strength to government, it would destroy the small remains of English authority which was left in the colonies

Mr Bolan the agent of the Maffachusett's council, made another effort in behalf of his province, and attempted to petition for time to receive an answer from the province, to the account he had sent of the proceeding against themi: But the house refufed to receive the petition by a large majority. The same natives of America, who' petitioned against the Bofton Port-bill, again renewed their endeavours, by a petition against this. This petition was written with great spirit, and in a very warm stile. and composed with much judgment, it set forth the apprehensions of the petitioners, what would be the effects of this bill in the place where it iras intended to operate, and was a true prognosti

cation

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »