« ZurückWeiter »
LORD MANSFIELD'S SPEECH,
IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS, FEBRUARY THE THIRD, 1766, ON
THE RIGHT OF TAXING AMERICA.
THE Rockingham administration were scarcely established in office, when the disturbances excited throughout the American dependencies, by the passage of the stamp act at the preceding session, were pressed on their attention. Discussions warm, ani. mated, and frequent, arose immediately after the meeting of parliament, between the late and presentministry upon the difficult question of the right, as well as the expediency of taxing the colonies.
In one of these debates the earl of Mansfield delivered his sentiments on the right of taxation separated entirely from the consideration of expediency. This speech we are authorized to state, was carefully corrected for the press by his lordship, and is therefore a genuine specimen of his eloquence. We are led to preserve it not less on that account, than as containing the most plausible and argumentative defence of the side of the question it adops, that it has ever received.
The ministry, it is known, pursued a middle course, expecting by it to be able to heal the wounded pride of the Americans, while they maintained the supremacy of the mother country. They repealed the obnoxious bill, but at the same time passed a declaratory act, asserting the right and power of Great
Britain to bind the colonies in all cases whatever, Their fine wrought project of conciliation succeeded for a few years. The colonists then discovered that though relieved of the actual burthen of taxation, the abstract right continued with the parent state, and from an apprehension of a future practical assertion of it became exceedingly discontented, till finally, the assembly of Massachussetts by a formal resolu. tion voted the declaratory act to be a grievance. This measure of the colonial legislature may be considered as among the primary links of the chain of events which terminated in the disunion of the British em. pire.
I SHALL speak to the question strictly as a matter of right; for, it is a proposition in its nature so perfectly distinct from the expediency of the tax, that it must necessarily be taken separate, if there is any true logick in the world; but of the expediency or inexpediency I will say nothing. It will be time enough to speak upon that subject when it comes to be a question.
I shall also speak to the distinctions which have been taken, without any real difference, as to the nature of the tax ; and I shall point out lastly the ne. cessity there will be of exerting the force of the superiour authority of government, if opposed by the subordinate part of it.
I am extremely sorry that the question has ever become necessary to be agitated, and that there should be a decision upon it. No one in this house will live long enough to see an end put to the mischief which will be the result of the doctrine which has been inculcated: but the arrow is shot, and the wound already given. I shall certainly avoid personal reflections : no one has had more cast upon him than myself; but I never was biassed by any consideration of applause from without, in the discharge of my publick duty;
and, in giving my sentiments according to what I thought law, I have relied upon my own consciousness. It is with great pleasure I have heard the noble lord, who moved for the resolution, express himself in so manly and sensible a way, when he recommend ed a dispassionate debate, while, at the same time, he urged the necessity of the house coming to such a resolution with great dignity and propriety of argument.
I shall endeavour to clear away from the question all that mass of dissertation and learning displayed in arguments which have been fetched from speculative men who have written upon the subject of government, or from ancient records, as being little to the purpose. I shall insist that these records are no proofs of our present constitution. A noble lord has taken up his
argument from the settlement of the constitution at the revolution : I shall take up my argument from the constitution as it now is. The constitution of this country has been always in a moving state, either gaining or losing something : and with respect to the modes of taxation, when we get beyond the reign of Edward the First, or of king John, we are all in doubt and obscurity. The history of those times is full of uncertainties. In regard to the writs upon record, they were issued some of them according to law, and some not according to law; and such were those concerning ship money, to call assemblies to tax themselves, or to compel benevolences. Other taxes were raised from escuage, fees for knights service, and by other means arising out of the feudal system. Benevolences are contrary to law; and it is well known how people resisted the demands of the crown in the case of ship money, and were persecuted by the court; and, if any set of men were to meet now to lend the king money, it would be contrary to law, and a breach of the rights of parliament. Í shall answer the noble lord particularly upon the cases he has quoted.
With respect to the Marches of Wales, who were the borderers, privileged for assisting the king in his
war against the Welsh in the mountains, their en: joying this privilege of taxing themselves was but of a short duration, and during the life of Edward the First, till the prince of Wales came to be the king; and then they were annexed to the crown, and became subject to taxes like the rest of the dominions of England, and from thence came the custom, though unnecessary, of naming Wales and the town of Monmouth in all proclamations and in acts of parliament. Henry the Eighth was the first who issued writs for it to return two members to parliament. The crown exercised this right ad libitum, from whence arises the inequality of representation in our constitution at this day. Henry VIII. issued a writ to Calais to send one burgess to parliament. One of the counties Palatine (I think he said Durham) was taxed fifty years to subsidies before it sent members to parliament. The clergy were at no time unrepresented in parliament. When they taxed themselves, it was done with the concurrence and consent of parliament, who permitted them to tax themselves upon their petition, the convocation sitting at the same time with the parliament: they had too their representatives always sitting in this house, bishops and abbots; and in the other house they were at no time without a right of voting singly for the election of members ; so that the argument, fetched from the case of the clergy, is not an argument of any force, because they were at no time unrepresented here.
The reasoning about the colonies of Great Britain, drawn from the colonies of antiquity, is a mere useless display of learning; for, the colonies of the Tyrians in Africa, and of the Greeks in Asia, were totally different from our system. No nation before ourselves formed any regular system of colonization ; but the Romans, and their system was a military one, and of garrisons placed in the principal towns of the conquered provinces. The states of Holland were not colonies of Spain; but they were states dependent upon the house of Austria in a feudal dependance. Nothing could be more different from our colonies