While the Grenville ministry was making one mistake in coercing public opinion at home, it was making another in attempting to coerce the colonies in America. These colonies, since 1713, had made vast strides forward in wealth and commercial independence, and had shown themselves capable of intelligent self-government. In fact, in their method of governing themselves, they were far ahead of the mother country.
The war with France had so extended the national debt of Great Britain as to make necessary new plans for enlarging the revenue of the kingdom. Grenville therefore proposed, in 1763, to increase the customs revenue by enforcing the navigation acts, and to raise additional funds by other means. The navigation acts had been very lightly enforced for half a century, and the colonies had enjoyed what was really commercial equality with Great Britain. When, therefore, Grenville proposed to enforce the trade laws, particularly the law concerning trade with the West Indies (the Molasses Act), he was asking the colonies to assume again a position of commercial dependence on England.
More serious still was Grenville's proposal to raise money by directly taxing the colonies. In 1765 parliament passed the Stamp Act, requiring the colonists to put a stamp on their papers and legal documents, and thus created a new grievance. The colonists had never doubted the right of parliament to regulate trade, but they had denied the right of parliament to levy an internal tax upon them, claiming that such tax should be imposed only by their own assemblies. The Americans probably would not have objected to contributing a revenue to help pay the cost of the war and to support an army in America; but they did object to the way the revenue was to be raised. The more excitable of the colonial orators raised the cry of "no taxation without representation;” but it is hard to see what good could have been done by a few men elected in the colonies and sent three thousand miles to sit in a parliament that was thoroughly corrupt and represented no one except the men who bought the votes of the electors.
In 1765 George III dismissed Grenville from office, not because of the Stamp Act, which the king ardently supported, but because of the way in which the minister managed a bill, called the RegencyBill, providing for a regent during the illness of the king. George III appealed to Pitt, who represented the small group of Whigs favorably inclined to America, but the great commoner was unable to form a government. The king was then compelled, greatly against his will, to fall back on the other and larger section of the Whigs, and to give the government into the hands of Rockingham. The Rockinghamministry decided to repeal the Stamp Act, because the merchants declared that the Americans, by refusing to buy British goods, were causing a falling off of British trade. In 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed, but at the same time parliament passed a Declaratory Act, asserting its right to tax the colonies. It is not unlikely that Rockingham would have gone further and have modified the trade laws, had not the king and his friends succeeded in driving him from office. In February, 1766, Rockingham suffered defeat in parliament and resigned.
George III then requested Pitt, made earl of Chatham in July, 1766, to organize a ministry. Pitt, with Grafton as his colleague, succeeded in this task. But the day of Pitt's greatness had passed. He had sacrificed his popularity among the people and had lost his influence in the House of Commons by accepting a pension and a title; and owing to his increasing ill health, he no longer possessed the power to guide the policy of the ministry. Grafton became the nominal head of the government; but King George, taking advantage of the quarrels among the members of the ministry, was able to compel the latter to do very much as he pleased.
With astonishing disregard of public opinion in the colonies, Charles Townshend, the chancellor of the exchequer, pledged himself to find a revenue in America. Parliament, at his bidding, imposed new duties on glass, paper, red and white lead, painters' colors, and tea, imported thither. This act only increased the discontent in America, without bringing Great Britain any adequate return. The revenue obtained was trifling, and in the case of tea, the tax imposed was less by nine-pence than that paid in England. In other words, the Americans were asked to pay only half as much a pound for their tea as the English were paying for theirs. The scheme was so foolish in conception and so badly carried out that it cannot be defended from any point of view.
INTERNAL REVENUE STAMP DESIGNED FOR USE IN AMERICA.
It has been shown that the attempts made by the British ministers, from Grenville to Townshend, to raise a revenue actually cost more than was received in return, while Townshend's reckless tampering with the spirit of a proud and self-reliant people cost Great Britain her colonies. The question as to whether or not Great Britain had a right to tax the colonies need not be discussed here;' but certain is it that a policy which benefited nobody and which inaugurated a period of humiliation for the British people and government can only be condemned. True statesmanship at all times rises higher than the mere letter of the law.
Townshend died in September, 1767, and Lord North took his place as chancellor of the exchequer. All the new duties except that on tea were repealed ; but the retention of the tea tax counteracted whatever good results might have followed the repeal. One tax was as bad as a hundred, for the principle involved was the same. The colonists were taking a higher stand than before, and were asserting, not only that parliament could not tax them because they were unrepresented, but also that parliament could not legislate for them at all, in that they were the king's colonies and were, therefore, compelled to submit to no other authority than that of the crown. Parliament had had nothing to say in colonial matters until after the revolution of 1688, when it began to assume certain of the king's prerogatives; and this assumption the colonists refused to recognize. Grafton, in consequence of the discontent in the colonies and of the fierce hostility aroused at home by the efforts of parliament to keep Wilkes out of his seat, resigned on January 28, 1770, and Lord North became head of the ministry.