Reforms Of The Grenville Ministry
Economy and reform.—At the end of the French and Indian War, England was burdened with a staggering debt. To build up the resources of the empire, increase the revenues, and protect the dominions were the objects of the ministers of George III. In this program the colonies were expected to play their part. The Bute Ministry planned to enforce the navigation acts, to tax the colonies directly, and to use the colonial revenue to support an army in America. The powers of the admiralty courts were immediately enlarged and commanders of war vessels were authorized to act as customs officials. Soon after Grenville came into office (April, 1763), he ordered customs collectors who were lingering in England to proceed at once to their colonial stations and he instructed the governors to enforce the trade laws rigidly.
Trade encouragement during 1764-1765.—To encourage commerce several important provisions were made during 1764 and 1765. To stimulate the fur business the old duties were abolished and an import duty of only one pence a skin and an export duty of seven pence were levied. To stimulate hemp and flax production bounties were paid on those products shipped from the colonies to England. The bounty on indigo was somewhat reduced but was still sufficient to protect the planters. The duties on whale fins were repealed to the great benefit of Massachusetts. The rice business was stimulated by allowing Georgia and the Carolinas to ship without restrictions to the southward.
The Sugar Act.—Grenville's beneficial measures were more than offset by the Sugar, Colonial Currency, Stamp, and Quartering Acts. The Sugar Act "was a comprehensive measure, whose openly expressed aim was, in the first place to raise a colonial revenue, and in the second to reform the old colonial system both in its administrative and in its economic features." The act confirmed and modified the Molasses Act of 1733. The duty on sugar shipped to the British colonies was raised but that on molasses was lowered. To injure the French island trade, the importation of foreign rum or spirits and commerce with Miquelon and St. Pierre were forbidden. Oriental and French textiles, Portuguese and Spanish wines, and coffee, if brought directly to the British colonies, were taxed heavily, but if shipped from England the duty was low. To protect South Carolina a duty was imposed upon foreign indigo shipped to the colonies. With a few exceptions no drawbacks were henceforth to be allowed, and revenues derived from the Sugar Act were to be paid into the royal exchequer. They were to be kept separate from other moneys and were to be used only for the protection of the British colonies in America.
Stringent regulations were provided for the enforcement of the Sugar Act and other navigation laws. At the option of the informer or prosecutor, penalties for breach of the trade laws might be recovered in any court of record in the district where the offence was committed or in any admiralty court in America. The accused was required to give security for costs if he lost his suit, but if he won his case, he was not entitled to costs if the judge certified that the grounds of action seemed probable. Furthermore in the Molasses Act which was now confirmed, the burden of proof was placed upon the owner or claimant.
Every shipmaster was required to give a bond to land only enumerated goods at European ports north of Cape Finisterre and to possess a certificate from the customs collector at the point of loading. West Indian goods not properly certified were to be treated as foreign goods. Vessels cleared from British ports must contain only goods loaded in Great Britain. This, however, did not apply to salt and Irish linen. Breaches of these regulations subjected the law breaker to severe penalties.
Regulation of Colonial Currency.—Another important measure was the Colonial Currency Act. Lack of specie had compelled the issuance of colonial paper money, and though Massachusetts had retired such issues in 1749, most of the colonies were still suffering from depreciated and unstable currency. To protect the English merchant, parliament passed the Colonial Currency Act which prevented colonists from paying their debts to the home country in depreciated currency and stopped the issues of unsound money. The act caused a shortage of the medium of exchange at the time that the colonists were deprived of the West Indian commerce which had supplied them with specie to settle balances in London. The act produced embittered feeling which paved the way for greater opposition.
Colonial protests.—When it became known in the colonies that the Ministry intended to enforce a more rigid policy which included the levying of internal taxes by parliamentary enactment, vigorous protests were made. Memorials, resolutions, and addresses poured in upon the king, lords, commons, and Board of Trade, and numerous pamphlets appeared which presented the economic and constitutional viewpoint of the colonists.
The Massachusetts protest.—The Boston town meeting urged the assembly to use its influence to protect the rights of the colonies and in its instructions to the Boston representatives the principles were stated that there should be no taxation without representation and that colonials were entitled to full rights of Englishmen. It was also suggested that other injured colonies should be asked to coöperate in seeking redress. A committee of the assembly presented a memorial drafted by Otis which contained the additional principle that parliament had no right to alter the constitution. The memorial was sent to the Massachusetts agent in England with instructions to urge the repeal of the Sugar Act and to protest against the proposed Stamp Act. A committee of correspondence headed by Otis was authorized to inform the other colonies of the action of Massachusetts and to seek their coöperation. As the action had been taken by the assembly without the consent of the council, the governor was soon petitioned to call the general court. He complied and a petition was drawn which temperately protested.
The Rhode Island protest.—Before the Sugar Act was passed a remonstrance was prepared in Rhode Island, which was to be presented to the Board of Trade if three other colonial agents would coöperate. Committees of correspondence were also formed in various towns. After the passage of the act the committee of correspondence of which Governor Hopkins was a member sent out a circular letter protesting against the Sugar Act and the proposed Stamp Act, In November, 1764, the assembly sent a petition to the king in which the principle was stated that an essential privilege of Englishmen was that they should be governed by laws made by their own consent.
Connecticut protest.—In Connecticut Governor Fitch, at the suggestion of the assembly, prepared an address to parliament which protested against the proposed Stamp Act or any other bill for internal taxes. This and the governor's book of Reasons Why the British Colonies in America should not be Charged with Internal Taxes by Authority of Parliament were sent.
New York protest—In March, 1764, the New York merchants presented to the council a memorial against the renewal of the Molasses Act. In October the assembly appointed a committee of correspondence and sent statements of grievances to the king and the lords, and a petition to the commons. In the petition the significant statement was made that the loss of colonial rights was likely to shake the power of Great Britain.
Pennsylvania's protest.—The Pennsylvania assembly considered that parliament had no right to tax the colony. Jackson, the colonial agent, was instructed to remonstrate against the proposed Stamp Act and to endeavor to secure the repeal or modification of the Sugar Act. Franklin was sent over to assist Jackson.
Maryland and Virginia.—In Maryland the governor prevented the meeting of the assembly, but the Virginia council and burgesses prepared an address to the king, a memorial to the lords, and a remonstrance to the commons. The Virginians claimed the rights and privileges that their ancestors had had in England and laid down the fundamental principle of no taxation without representation.
The Carolinas.—North Carolina protested strongly and in South Carolina the assembly appointed a committee which instructed the colonial agent to complain of the laws of trade. The instructions also declared that a Stamp Act would violate the inherent right of every British subject to be taxed only by his own consent or by his representatives. The governor prorogued the assembly before a vote could be taken upon the committee's action, but the instructions, nevertheless, were sent.
The Stamp Act.—In spite of colonial protests Grenville pursued his policy, the appeals of the colonies being rejected under the rule that petitions against money bills should not be received, and in March, 1765, parliament passed the Stamp Act. By its provisions stamps were to be placed on commercial and legal documents, pamphlets, newspapers, almanacs, playing cards, and dice. The enforcement of the act was placed under the management of English commissioners who were empowered to appoint persons to attend in every court or public office in the colonies to see that the law was enforced. For infringements of the law there were heavy penalties which might be collected through the admiralty courts if the informer or prosecutor so elected. Certain cases of forging and counterfeiting were punishable by death. The revenue derived from the Stamp Act was to be paid into the exchequer to be used for colonial defence.
Quartering Act.—The ministry intended to establish an army of 10,000 men in the colonies and the annual Mutiny Act of 1765 authorized the sending of such troops as might be deemed necessary. This was followed by the Quartering Act As "the publick houses and barracks, in his Majesty's dominions in America, may not be sufficient to supply quarters for such forces: and whereas it is expedient and necessary that carriages and other conveniences, upon the march of troops ... should be supplied for that purpose," it was enacted that, if colonial barracks were insufficient, officers and troops were to be quartered in public hostelries. If more room were needed, vacant buildings were to be rented. Troops were to be supplied with fire, candles, vinegar, salt, bedding, cooking utensils, and small quantities of beer, cider, or rum. Persons giving houses for troops and furnishing supplies were to be reimbursed by the province. The colonies were to furnish conveyances at rates fixed by the act, but if the expense exceeded the rate, the province had to make up the deficit.
Colonial opposition.—To the colonies the Stamp Act, the Quartering Act, and the extension of admiralty jurisdiction were unconstitutional. Trials in the admiralty courts had always been looked upon with disfavor, as they violated the right of trial by jury. The new regulation allowing alleged violators of the trade laws to be taken to Halifax for trial was looked upon as a dangerous innovation. The Quartering Act was viewed as a violation of the constitutional principle that troops were not to be quartered upon the people. The provisions of the law were especially aggravating to New York which, because of the strategic position of the colony, would have to bear an undue part in the support and transportation of troops. But the Stamp Act aroused the greatest furor. All of the elements of discontent united against an act which encroached upon the right of the assemblies to control taxation. Indirect taxation was not looked upon as taxation. To the colonial economists the navigation acts were merely trade regulations and the right of parliament to regulate commerce was fully recognized. But a direct tax imposed by parliament to support an obnoxious soldiery set in motion the forces of discontent and produced a unity of opposition which surprised the ministers of George III.
The Virginia Resolutions.—Virginia took the lead in opposition. On May 29, 1765, the burgesses resolved themselves into a committee of the whole to consider the steps necessary to be taken in consequence of the Stamp Act. Patrick Henry, the "rustic and clownish youth of the terrible tongue," introduced a series of resolutions which boldly challenged the British government. The preamble stated that, as the House of Commons had raised the question of how far the general assembly had power to enact laws for laying taxes and imposing duties payable by the people of Virginia, the House of Burgesses, to settle and ascertain the same to all future time, resolved: (1) that the first adventurers and settlers of Virginia brought with them and transmitted to their posterity and to other English subjects who had come to five in the colony all the rights of the people of Great Britain; (2) that these were granted to them by two charters of James I; (3) that taxation of the people by themselves or by their representatives was a distinguishing characteristic of British freedom without which the ancient constitution could not exist; (4) that the people of Virginia had uninterruptedly enjoyed the right of being governed by their own assembly in matters of taxes and internal police, a right which had never been forfeited and had been constantly recognized by the kings and people of Great Britain. (5) Therefore it was resolved that the general assembly had the sole right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants of Virginia, and that every attempt to vest such power in any other person or persons had a tendency to destroy British as well as American freedom; (6) that the inhabitants of Virginia were not bound by any law or ordinance designed to impose any tax upon them other than those imposed by the general assembly; (7) and that any person who maintained that Virginians were bound to obey such laws not imposed by the assembly should be deemed an enemy of the colony.
The resolutions precipitated an acrimonious debate in which the democratic members of the western counties supported Henry against the aristocratic leaders. The committee of the whole appears to have adopted the resolutions, but on the following day the burgesses rejected the preamble and the last two resolutions, the other five being passed by a slender majority. Henry then left the assembly and the following morning the conservatives expunged from the record the fifth resolution. The manuscript of the entire series, except the third resolution which was omitted by error, was already on its way to the other colonies and was widely published. "Beyond question the Virginia resolves mark an important crisis in the impending revolution."
Resistance and violence.—In June the Massachusetts general court, at the suggestion of Otis, sent a circular letter to the other colonial assemblies asking them to send delegates to meet at New York in the following October to consider the danger from the Stamp Act. Before the delegates met fierce opposition appeared in nearly every colony. Remonstrances came from towns, counties, and assemblies. Newspapers and pamphlets inveighed against the act, and non-importation agreements were made in many localities. Associations called "Sons of Liberty" sprang up. At first they worked secretly, but they soon announced their committees of correspondence which worked to unify the opposition.
In Boston occurred riots of greater violence than in any other place. On August 14 the stamp distributor's effigy was hung on the "Liberty Tree," and after other demonstrations, that night a mob demolished a building which it was believed the collector was erecting for an office. On August 26 the houses of two of the customs officials were sacked and the house of Chief Justice Hutchinson was pillaged and destroyed. At Newport the stamp distributor and a sympathizer found it necessary to seek safety on a British man-of-war. Scenes of violence occurred in the other colonies and the stamp distributors resigned with more haste than dignity.
Next: Repeal Of The Stamp Act
Previous: The Background Of The Contest