Disorders in the colonies

The disorders in the colonies do not seem to have been caused by the defects in the forms or constitutions of government. They have not prevailed in proportion as one has been under a more popular form of government than another. They must be attributed to a cause, common to all the colonies,—a loose, false, and absurd notion of the nature of government, spread by designing, artful men, setting bounds to the supreme authority, and admitting parts of the community, and even individuals, to judge when those bounds are exceeded, and to obey or disobey accordingly. These principles prevailing, there can be no interior force exerted, and disorder and confusion must be the effect; and when there is no apprehension of force from the supreme authority, the effect is the same in the distinct parts as in the whole. Under these circumstances, measures for reforming the constitution of any people will probably be ineffectual, and tend to increase their disorders. The colonies were under these circumstances when he wrote his first private letter. There was a general opinion prevailing that they could distress the kingdom by withdrawing their commerce from it, and that there was not the least danger of any compulsory measures. In this colony there was room to hope for a change of circumstances, but it was uncertain, and probably at a distance. They had just felt the shock of that most fortunate stroke which freed the Castle from any dependence upon the people, and kept the harbour and town of Boston under the command of the King’s ships; but the effects did not appear. He was striving for a just decision in the case of the soldiers, and not without hope, but far from being certain of success. There was a prospect of the dissolution of the confederacies against importation, though several of the colonies appeared to be more resolute. There was also an expectation of a rupture between Great Britain and France or Spain, or both, which would tend to show the people their dependence on the kingdom, and the reasonableness of their submission to the supreme authority. He was not insensible of the peculiar defects in the constitution of this province, and he has complained of the Council as being under undue influence, and casting their weight into that scale which had much too great proportion before; but was doubtful himself, and there were others doubtful also, whether, while the body of the people continued in the state they were then in, councillors appointed by the Crown would dare to undertake the trust, or, if they should do it, whether the people in general would not refuse to submit to their authority; and he feared the consequences of either would more than countervail the advantages to arise merely from an alteration in the constitution. To this must be attributed the want of determination which appeared in his private letters, and not to any unwillingness to trust his Lordship with his real sentiments.

The change in the temper of the people has been brought about sooner, and to a greater degree, than anybody could expect; and they seem now to be as well prepared to receive such a change in the constitution as at any future time; or, if it should be deferred, they will probably remain in tolerably good order until such time as may be judged convenient, provided something is done in the meantime to discover the resentment of the kingdom against their avowed principles and practices, which shall give them cause to imagine that further measures are to be taken with them. Such resentment has been everywhere expected. If omitted, they will go back to their former disorders. That wise step of changing the garrison at the Castle began their cure. In the height of this confusion a citadel upon Fort Hill seemed also to be necessary. Now thinks the same end is answered without it. It may, however, be proper for the King to have the actual possession of the spot, either by erecting a warehouse or magazine, or by making some kind of enclosure to restrain encroachments, and yet not prevent the inhabitants from using the place to walk and air themselves in, as they now frequently do. There is a vote of the town for selling it. Will watch their motions, and, if anything further is attempted, will take public notice of it. If no further advances are made for securing good behaviour, there certainly will be no receding. To depart suddenly from what has been done at the Castle, &c. would be very dangerous. Every Act of Parliament carried into execution in the colonies tends to strengthen Government there. A firm persuasion that Parliament is determined at all events to maintain the supreme authority is all they want; few or none are so weak as to question the power to do it. If Acts were passed more or less to control them every Session, they would soon be familiarized to them; their erroneous opinions would die away, and peace and order would revive. An Act to enable the King to alter the bounds of the province by his commission, the charter notwithstanding, by making the province of Main, and country east of it, a distinct and separate province, and to annex or not, as His Majesty should think fit, New Hampshire to the Massachusetts, or to separate the country east of Penobscot and annex it to Nova Scotia, might either be kept as a rod over them, or, if executed immediately, would show a just resentment against the province for countenancing the intrusions in the eastern country, whereby the King’s timber is exposed to waste and havoc, and would be a striking instance of the power and authority of Parliament. Gives his reasons for thinking that the Act would be executed. Suggests that whenever the charter and case of the province comes under consideration, instead of expressly declaring that the power of electing councillors by the Assembly shall determine, the King should be enabled by his Royal order of declaration to determine it, and to appoint a Council instead, as he shall think proper. The late Act permitting the issue of bills of credit at New York was extremely well adapted to maintain the authority of Parliament.

“George III: January 1771.” Calendar of Home Office Papers (George III): 1770-2. Ed. Richard Arthur Roberts. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1881. 182-200. British History Online. Web. 2 April 2020. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/home-office-geo3/1770-2/pp182-200.