J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2022

“Men in that kind of situation are not very prone to a change of government.”

As Parliament’s 31 Oct 1776 debate over the American War went on, the next speaker was Sir Herbert Mackworth, recently made a baronet.

The Parliamentary Register described his speech this way:
Sir Herbert Mackworth professed himself to be one of the independent country gentlemen, and declared, he feared that matters were much misrepresented; that he did not like to hear gentlemen so ready to find a plea for the Americans on every occasion, and even when they were beat, to hunt after a reason to shew that they could not avoid it, and that some particular circumstances occasioned it.

He said, he was ever most clearly against that House attempting to tax America, as America was not represented in that House; but he thought it highly necessary to maintain the right; and that it was but reasonable America should contribute something in return for the millions she had cost this country. He spoke highly in favour of some of the gentlemen in opposition, but applauded the ministry; finally declaring, that as an antient Briton, he felt for the honour of his country, and therefore wished her success; not but he would be glad that a proper treaty for reconciliation was on foot, and he owned he cared not whether it was with rebels in arms or without them.
If you’re unsure about how Sir Herbert came down on the issues at hand, the recorder took pains to clarify: “He was against the amendment.” In other words, for how to respond to the king’s speech, he supported Lord North’s government.

Thomas Townshend, a Whig, made several points about the king’s speech, among them:
There is, I think, one part of the speech which mentions a discovery of the original designs of the leaders of the Americans. In God’s name, who made them leaders? How came they to be so? If you force men together by oppression, they will form into bodies, and chuse leaders. Mr. [John] Hancock was a merchant of credit and opulence when this unhappy business first broke out. Men in that kind of situation are not very prone to a change of government.
In his wide-ranging speech, Townshend at one point noted that the prime minister had left the chamber.

Lord North returned and spoke at length—the first government supporter to get more than a paragraph in this Parliamentary Register. He started by expressing surprise at Townshend trying to make something of how he had left the chamber for “ten minutes, on a pressing business.” Among the minister’s other responses:
It has been more than once objected this night, that I have, since the commencement of the present troubles, held back such information as became necessary for you to know, in order the better to be able to decide upon measures proper to be pursued, relative to America.

Nothing can be more unjust and ill-founded than this charge. I have been ready at all times to communicate to this House every possible information that could be given with safety. I repeat with safety, because the very bad and mischievous consequences of disclosing the full contents of letters, with the writers’ names, has been already severely proved, and would, in the present situation of affairs, not only be impolitic, but might be to the last degree dangerous, if not fatal, to the persons immediately concerned.
He might have been referring to the leaks of letters from Gov. Francis Bernard, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, and other royal officials in America.

Col. Isaac Barré, who had coined the term “Sons of Liberty” back in 1765, responded by stating that he believed Lord North was assiduous in attending debates. But he demanded to know “What powers were General [William] and Lord [Richard] Howe invested with as his Majesty’s Commissioners to treat with America?”

Lord North replied that the Howes’ commission had been published for everyone to see in the London Gazette, the government organ. Barré then pulled out a copy of the 5 Aug New-York Gazette and read a lengthy report of the Howes’ interactions with Gen. George Washington, suggesting more was going on.

Barré and North had another exchange over the threat of war with France and Spain, and whether certain warships were “nearly manned” or “partly manned.”

The Parliamentary Register quoted Barré saying, “Recall, therefore, your fleets and armies from America, and leave the brave colonists to the enjoyment of their liberty.”
This created a louder laugh than the former among the occupiers of the several official benches; which irritated the Colonel so much, that he reprehended the treasury-bench in terms of great asperity; he arraigned them with a want of manners, and declared, he thought professed courtiers had been better bred.
Barré wound up by suggesting Adm. Augustus Keppel be put in charge of the fleet. Keppel himself then made some remarks about the European powers’ naval readiness. (He wasn’t given an active command until 1778.)

Lord George Germain, secretary of state for North America (shown above), spoke to several points the opposition had raised, including:
As to the propositions which General Howe made to General Washington, they prove clearly, as the Americans themselves state the matter, that General Howe was eager for the means of peace and conciliation; but Washington against them. However, General Howe will doubtless be able to put New-York at the mercy of the King; after which the legislature will be restored, and an opportunity will thereby be given for the well affected to declare themselves, who are ready to make proper submission.
Germain was in no mood for compromise.

TOMORROW: Concluding remarks and the vote.

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