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   Chapter 30 No.30

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3396

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Public feeling in England.]

The British government had taken a false step by its legislation of 1770, but the colonies had now put themselves in the wrong by these repeated acts of violence. There seemed left but two alternatives,-to withdraw the Tea Act, and thus to remove the plea that Parliament was taxing without representation; or to continue the execution of the Revenue Act firmly, but by the usual course of law. It was not in the temper of the English people, and still less like the king, to withdraw offensive acts in the face of such daring resistance. The failure to secure the prosecution of the destroyers of the "Gaspee" caused the British government to distrust American courts as well as American juries. One political writer, Dean Tucker, declared that the American colonies in their defiant state had ceased to be of advantage to England, and that they had better be allowed quietly to separate. Pitt denied the right to tax, but declared that if the colonies meant to separate, he would be the first to enforce the authority of the mother-country.

[Sidenote: Coercive statutes.]

[Sidenote: Quebec Act.]

Neither orderly enforcement, conciliation, nor peaceful separation was the policy selected. England committed the fatal and irremediable mistake of passing illegal statutes as a punishment for the illegal action of the colonists. Five bills were introduced and hastily pushed through Parliament. The first was meant as a punishment for the Tea-party. It enacted that no further commerce was to be permitted with the port of Boston till that town should make its submission. Burke objected to a bill "which punishes the innocent with the guilty, and

condemns without the possibility of defence." The second act was intended to punish the whole commonwealth of Massachusetts, by declaring void certain provisions of the charter granted by William III. in 1692. Of all the grievances which led to the Revolution this was the most serious, for it set up the doctrine that charters proceeding from the Crown could be altered by statute. Thenceforward Parliament was to be omnipotent in colonial matters. The third act directed that "Persons questioned for any Acts in Execution of the Law" should be sent to England for trial. It was not intended to apply to persons guilty of acts of violence, but to officers or soldiers who, in resisting riots, might have made themselves amenable to the civil law. The fourth act was a new measure providing for the quartering of soldiers upon the inhabitants, and was intended to facilitate the establishment of a temporary military government in Massachusetts. The fifth act had no direct reference to Massachusetts, but was later seized upon as one of the grievances which justified the Revolution. This was the Quebec Act, providing for the government of the region ceded by France in 1763. It gave to the French settlers the right to have their disputes decided under the principles of the old French civil law; it guaranteed them the right of exercising their own religion; and it annexed to Quebec the whole territory between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and the Great Lakes. The purpose of this act was undoubtedly to remove the danger of disaffection or insurrection in Canada, and at the same time to extinguish all claims of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Virginia to the region west of Pennsylvania.

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