The American War of Independence
Meanwhile the remonstrances of the American colonists had induced the ministry to give up all the new taxes, with the exception of that on tea, which it was determined to keep up, as an assertion of the right of Parliament to tax the colonies. In America, this remaining tax continued to excite as much discontent as the whole had formerly done, for it was the principle of a right to impose taxes which they found fault with, and not the amount of the tax itself. Their discontent with the mother country was found to affect trade considerably, and the British merchants were anxious to bring the dispute to a close. The government was then induced to grant such a drawback from the British duty on tea, as enabled the East India Company to offer the article in America at a lower rate than formerly, so that the American duty, which was only three pence per pound, did not affect the price. It was never doubted that this expedient would satisfy the colonists, and large shipments of tea were accordingly sent out from the British ports. The principle of the right to tax still lurked, however under the concession, and the result only showed how little the sentiments of the Americans were understood at home.
The approach of the tea cargoes excited them in a manner totally unlooked-for in Britain. At New York and Philadelphia, the cargoes were forbidden to land; in Charleston, where they were permitted to land, they were put into stores, and were prohibited from being sold. In Boston harbor, a ship-load was seized and tossed into the sea. This last act was resented by the passing of a bill in Parliament for interdicting all commercial intercourse with the port of Boston, and another for taking away the legislative assembly of the state of Massachusetts. The former measure was easily obviated by local arrangements; and in reference to the latter, a Congress of representatives from the various States met at Philadelphia, in September 1774, when it was asserted that the exclusive power of legislation, in all cases of taxation and internal policy, resided in the provincial legislatures. The same assembly denounced other grievances, which have not here been particularly adverted to, especially an act of the British legislature for trying Americans, for treasonable practices, in England. The Congress also framed a covenant of non-intercourse, by which the whole utility of the colonies to the mother country, as objects of trading speculation, was at once laid prostrate. The colonists still avowed a desire to be reconciled, on the condition of a repeal of the obnoxious statutes. But the government had now resolved to attempt the reduction of the colonists by force of arms. Henceforth, every proposal from America was treated with a haughty silence on the part of the British monarch and his advisers.
The war opened in the summer of 1775, by skirmishes between the British troops and armed provincials, for the possession of certain magazines. At the beginning there seemed no hope of the contest being protracted beyond one campaign. The population of the colonies was at this time under three millions, and they were greatly inferior in discipline and appointments to the British troops. They possessed, however, an indomitable zeal in the cause they had agreed to defend, and fought with the advantage of being in the country of their friends. At Bunker's Hill, near Boston (June 17, 1775), they had the superiority in a well-contested fight with the British troops, of whom between two and three hundred were killed. At the end of one year, the British government was surprised to find that no progress had been made towards a reduction of the Americans, and sent out an offer of pardon to the colonists, on condition that they would lay down their arms. This proposal only met with ridicule.
On the 4th of July 1776, the American Congress took the decisive step of a declaration of their independence, embodying their sentiment in a document remarkable for its pathos and solemnity. During the next two campaigns, the slender forces of the new republic were hardly able anywhere to face the large and well-appointed armies of Great Britain. Much misery was endured by this hardy people in resisting the British arms. Notwithstanding every disadvantage and many defeats, America remained unsubdued.
The first serious alarm for the success of the contest in America, was communicated in December 1777, by intelligence of the surrender of an army under General Burgoyne at Saratoga. In the House of Commons, the ministers acknowledged this defeat with marks of deep dejection, but still professed to entertain sanguine hopes from the vigor with which the large towns throughout Britain were now g raisin men at their own expense for the service of the government. Mr. Fox, the leader of the Opposition, made a motion for the discontinuance of the war, which was lost by 165 to 259,' a much narrower majority than any which the ministry had before reckoned in the Lower House.