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Chap, the island gave them a claim to be heard; but their XVII. fe , ,'
petition, though in due time received by the king and communicated to the house of commons, had no effect whatever.
"It is plain enough," said Vergennes at Paris, "the king of England is puzzled between his desire of reducing the colonies, and his dread of driving them to a separation; so that nothing could be more interesting than the affairs of America." As the king of France might be called upon to render assistance to the insurgent colonies, the conduct of the English in their support of the Corsicans was cited as a precedent to the French embassy at London, and brought before the cabinet at Versailles. To Louis the Sixteenth Vergennes explained, that the proceedings of the continental congress contained the germ of a rebellion; that while the Americans really desired a reconciliation with the mother country, the ministry from their indifference would prevent its taking place; that Lord North, no longer confident of having America at his feet, was disconcerted by the unanimity and vigor of the colonies; and that France had nothing to fear but the return of Chatham to power.
The interests of Britain required Chatham's return; for he thoroughly understood the policy of the French as well as the disposition of the colonies. In his interview with Americans he said without reserve: "America under all her oppressions and provocations, holds out to us the most fair and just opening for restoring harmony and affectionate intercourse." No public body ever gained so full and unanimous a recognition of its integrity and its wisdoin, as the general congress of 1774. The policy Chap. which, its members proposed sprung so necessarily -—*— out of the relations of free countries to their colonies, "^c' that within a few years it was adopted even by their most malignant enemies among the British statesmen, for three quarters of a century regulated the colonial administration of every successive ministry, and finally gave way to a system of navigation, yet more liberal than the American congress had proposed.
The day after Franklin's first conversation with Lord Howe, Chatham received him at Hayes. "The congress," said he, "is the most honorable assembly of statesmen since those of the ancient Greeks and Romans in the most virtuous times." He thought the petition to the king "decent, manly, and propperly expressed." He questioned the assertion, that the keeping up an army in the colonies in time of peace, required their consent; with that exception he admired and honored the whole of the proceedings. "The army at Boston," said Franklin, who saw the imminent hazard of bloodshed, "cannot possibly answer any good purpose, and may be infinitely mischievous. No accommodation can be properly entered into by the Americans, while the bayonet is at their breasts. To have an agreement binding, all force should be withdrawn." The words sank deeply into the mind of Chatham, and he promised his utmost efforts to the American cause, as the last hope of liberty for England. "I shall be well prepared," said he, "to meet the ministry on the subject, for I think of nothing else both night and day."
Like Chatham, Camden desired the settlement
CTAP. of the dispute upon the conditions proposed by congress; and from the temper, coolness, and wisdom of most of the American assemblies, he augured the establishment of their rights on a durable agreement with the mother country.
To unite every branch of the opposition in one line of policy, Chatham desired a cordial junction with the Rockingham whigs. That party had only two friends who spoke in the house of lords, and in the house of commons was mouldering away. And yet Rockingham was impracticable. "I look back/5 he said, "with very real satisfaction and content, on the line which I, indeed, emphatically I, took in the year 1766; the stamp-act was repealed, and the doubt of the right of this country was fairly faced and resisted." Burke, like his patron, pursued Chatham implacably, and refused to come to an understanding with him on general politics. Neither did he perceive the imminence of the crisis; but believed that the Americans would not preserve their unanimity, so that the controversy would draw into great length, and derive its chief importance from its aspect on parties in England. At the very moment when Burke was still fondly supporting his theory of the omnipotence of parliament over the colonies, he blindly insisted, that Chatham himself was the best bower anchor of the ministry.
With far truer instincts, Chatham divined that peril was near, and that it could be averted only by a circumscription of the absolute power of parliament To further that end, the aged statesman paid a visit to Rockingham. At its opening, Chatham's countenance beamed with cordiality; but Rockingham had learned as little as the ministers, and with a per- Chap. verseness equal to theirs, insisted on maintaining the —^ declaratory act. "The Americans have not called 1jy^' for its repeal," was his reply to all objections; and he never could be made to comprehend the forbearance of congress. So nothing remained for Chatham but to rely on himself. The opposition, thus divided, excited no alarm.
The king was inflexible; and the majority of the cabinet, instead of respecting Lord North's scruples, were intriguing to get him turned out, and his place supplied by a thorough assertor of British supremacy. 1775. A cabinet council was held on the twelfth of January, and the current of its opinions drifted the minister into the war, which he wished to avoid. His col- ^ leagues refused to find in the proceedings of congress any honorable basis for conciliation. It was therefore resolved to interdict all commerce with the Americans; to protect the loyal, and to declare all others traitors and rebels. The vote was designed only to create division in the colonies, but it involved a civil war.
VOL. VII. 17
CHATHAM LAYS THE FOUNDATION OF PEACE.
Januaky 20, 1775.
Chap. At the meeting of parliament after the holidays, 31^; Lord North, who had no plan of his own, presented 1775. papers relating to America. Burke complained of them as partial. Chatham, who alone among the public men of England had the sagacity and courage to propose what was necessary for conciliation, was reminded of the statesman who said to his son: "See with how little wisdom this world of ours is governed ;" and he pictured to himself Ximenes and Cortes discussing their merits in the shades. Jan> The twentieth of January was the first day of the 20- session in the house of lords. It is not probable that even one of the peers had heard of the settlements beyond the Alleghanies, where the Watauga and the Forks of Holston flow to the Tennessee. Yet on the same day, the lords of that region, most of them Presbyterians of Scottish Irish descent, met in council near Abingdon. Their united congregations, having suffered from sabbaths too much profaned, or