William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, was an extraordinary British leader. As Secretary of State and Prime Minister, Pitt essentially masterminded British strategy in the Seven Years' War. He was known as a friend of the American colonies. In the following broadside of a Pitt speech to Parliament, what arguments does Pitt make concerning Britain's relations with its North American colonies? How do Pitt's views of the colonies differ from those of others in the British government?
Most Illustrious Lords,
THE unfavourable state of health, under which I have long laboured, could not prevent me from laying before your Lordships my thoughts on the Bill now before you; and on the American affairs in general.
If we take a transient view of those motives which induced the ancestors of our fellow-subjects, in America, to leave their native country to encounter the innumerable difficulties of the unexplored regions of the western world, our astonishment at the present conduct of their descendants will naturally subside. There was no corner of the world into which men of their free and enterprizing turn would not fly, with alacrity, rather than submit to the slavish and tyrannical principles which prevailed, at that period, in their native country. And shall we wonder, my Lords, if the descendants of such illustrious characters spurn, with contempt, the hand of unconstitutional power, that would snatch from them such dear bought privileges as they now contend for? Had the British colonies been planted by any other kingdoms than our own, the inhabitants would have carried with them the chains of slavery, and the spirit of despotism; but as they are, they ought to be remembered as great influences to instruct the world, to what a stretch of liberty mankind will naturally attain, when they are left to the free exercise of themselves. And, my Lords, notwithstanding my intention to give my hearty negative to the question now before you, I cannot help condemning, in the severe? manner, the late turbulent and unwarrantable conduct of the Americans in general, and the riots in Boston, in particular. But, my Lords, the mode which has been pursued to bring them back to a sense of their duty in the parent state, has been so diametrically opposite to the fundamental principles of sound policy, that individuals, possess'd of common understanding, must be astonished at such proceedings. By blocking up the harbour of Boston, you have involved the innocent. Trader in the same punishment with the guilty Prosligates who destroyed your merchandize; and instead of making a well concerned effort to secure the Real offenders, you clap a naval and military extinguisher over their harbour; and punish the sin of a few lawless Raparees, and their abettors, upon the whole body of the inhabitants.
My Lords, this country is little obliged to the Framers and Promoters of this Tea-tax; the Americans had almost forgot, in their excess of gratitude for the repeal of the Stamp act, any interest but that of the Mother Country; there seemed an emulation among the different provinces, who should be most dutiful and forward in their expressions of loyalty to their Royal Benefactor; as you will readily perceive by the following extract of a letter from governor Bernard to a noble Lord them in office.
"The House of Representatives, (says he) from the time of opening the session avoid all disputes with me; every thing having passed with as much good humour as I could desire. They have acted, in all things, with temper and moderation; they have avoided same subjects of dispute, and have laid a foundation for removing some causes of former altercation."
This, my Lords, was the temper of the Americans; and would have continued so, had it not been interrupted by your fruitless endeavours to tax them without their consent; but the moment they perceived your intention was renewed to tax them, through the sides of the East India Company, their resentment got the ascendant of their duty, and hurried them into actions contrary to all laws of policy, civilization, and humanity, which, in their cooler hours, they would have thought on with horror; for I seriously believe, the destroying of the Tea was much more the effect of despair, than that of design.
But, my Lords, from the complexion of the whole of the proceedings, I am apt to think,
that Administration has purposely irritated them into those late violent acts for which
they now so severely smart; purposely to be revenged on them for the victory they gained
by the repeal of the Stamp-act, a measure to which they seemingly acquiesced, but at the
bottom they were its real enemies. For what other motive could induce them to dress
Taxation, that father of American sedition, in the robes of an East India director, but to
break in upon that mutual peace and harmony which then so happily subsisted between them
and the Mother country? My Lords, I am an old man, and will advise the noble Lords now in
office, to adopt a more gentle mode of governing America; for the day is not far distant,
when America may vie with these kingdoms, not only in arms, but in arts also. It is an
established fact that the principal towns in America are learned and polite, and
understand the constitution of the British empire as well as the noble Lords who guide the
springs of government; and consequently, they will have a watchful eye over their
liberties, to prevent the least encroachment of an Arbitrary Administration on their
hereditary rights and privileges.