Historical Documents

of the United States of America

Mr. Hartley's Motion For Conciliation With America ~ 1775

Proposed 07 December 1775


     The Address To The King, more commonly known as the Olive Branch Petition which was composed and Approved on 08 July 1775, had been ignored by the Parliament and King when it had been first received in London. Richard Penn and Arthur Lee carried the Petition, along with other letters, to Great Britain, arriving there in mid-August. They were granted an audience with the King and Lord Dartmouth on 23 August, but then the King cancelled the audience. The two American emissaries were frustrated by the arrogance of the British legislators; the Petition was not accepted by Lord Dartmouth until 01 September.
      During the session of the House of Commons of Thursday, 07 December 1775, "Mr. [David] Hartley moved that the copy of the Petition to his Majesty from the General Congress in America, delivered to the Earl of Dartmouth, one of his Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, on the 1st of September, 1775, by Richard Penn and Arthur Lee, Esquires, which was presented to this House upon Friday last, might be read." This was the first of eight motions proposing reconciliation with the American Colonies that Mr. Hartley would lay before the House of Commons between 1775 and 1779. Each of the motions emphasized the concept that the British government was forcing tyranny upon her colonies. ...And each motion would be denied.


     The House having heard this most dutiful and affectionate Petition to the King from their fellow-subjects in America; humbly supplicating his Majesty to become the mediator of peace between them and their parent State, I hope that this, added to all the remembrance of our former friendships, to all the ties of consanguinity, and derivation from one common stock, by which we c1aim a joint inheritance and equal right to peace, liberty and safety, will carry some favourable influence upon the heart of this House; and, above all, I trust that a compassionate fellow-feeling for the distresses of our American brethren, surrounded by all the horrours of war and desolation, added to the gloomy consideration that these evils may not be far from our own gates, will dispose this House to seek, with a willing mind, the restoration of peace as the only means to prevent the further effusion of blood, and to avert those endless calamities and those ruinous convulsions which threaten every part of these dominions. In these circumstances, it should seem well becoming the magnanimity and moderation of Parliament to endeavour to point out some definite mode and terms of reconciliation, in compliance with the prayer of that Petition, pursuing the same spirit of peace which breathes through every line of it, and as a merited return for that confidential and respectful deference by which they refer implicitly to his Majesty's wisdom and justice the mode and terms of accommodation; declaring, in the most unreserved manner, that notwithstanding all their sufferings, they retain too tender a regard for the kingdom from which they derive their origin, to request such a reconciliation as might in any manner be inconsistent with her dignity or welfare; and that his Majesty will find his faithful subjects in America ready at all times, as they have ever been, with their lives and fortunes, to assert and maintain the rights and interests of his Majesty and of their mother country. These are the united words of North-America; and surely, sir, they contain every compliance and concession which can be demanded of them from this country.
     It is upon these grounds that the proposals which will be referred to your consideration to-day, are constructed. As I made a proposal last year for an accommodation of our unhappy disputes with America, upon the grounds on which they were then declared to stand by the noble Lord at the head of the Treasury, namely, that of raising a substantial revenue, I could wish to add a supplemental word, and to endeavour to meet the difficulties in which we are now declared to be involved, upon the new ground which the noble Lord has this year taken, by his declaration, that revenue is not the present object, and that we would now make peace with America, without any other consideration than a just and honourable reparation to our authority, for those affronts which it has sustained in the course of that resistance, to which the Colonies have been so imprudently driven. The noble Lord's words, at the beginning of the session, were to this effect: "Would to God that all things were in the same state in which they were in 1763." I will endeavour to join issue with him upon those terms; for, though I think that the Ministry of this country have been at all times the aggressors, yet, for the restoration of peace between the two nations, I think it not unreasonable to expect from America some concession to the national honour of this country. It must be acknowledged, in justice to the Americans, that they have offered beforehand, and of their own motion, to make any reasonable sacrifice to the national dignity. I shall take them at their word, and I think myself entitled, under their own declaration, to offer what I hope will appear to be no more than terms reasonable in themselves. This offer from them to make any reasonable concession to the national honour, is a full proof of their sincere desire for peace. The justice of this nation, on the other hand, I am sure, will not require of them any such concessions, for the sake of a treacherous peace, as may hereafter be inconsistent with their national liberty or safety.
     I should naturally proceed to state the proposition of accommodation, but I must trespass upon the House for a few preliminary words on the subject of revenue; for, notwithstanding the noble Lord's declaration in the beginning of the session, I find that a hankering after a revenue still lurks in our heart. You may have that revenue, if you will receive it in a constitutional way; otherwise than that, you never will, nor ever ought to have it. Even if you could make out your right to tax America, yet justice, which is above all rights, requires that you should abandon that supposed right. It is the prerogative of the Commons of England to give and grant by their own representatives. The Commons of Ireland possess the same prerogative. The Commons of America have ever enjoyed the same. Had everything been the direct contrary, that even the right of taxing unrepresented America, had been undisputed, and the exercise customary and notorious; I contend, that when the oppression and grievances of unrepresented taxation had been laid before Parliament, it would have been their bounden duty tb have rectified their Constitutions to our own model. If we boast that taxation by representation is the prerogative blessing of our own Constitution, reason and justice demand that we should have given the same to every part of the empire, and that we should measure out to others as we have measured out for ourselves; for reason and justice are above all human rights. That Government which maintains its own self-interested claims upon its own subjects, contrary to the laws of reason and justice, is no better than specious tyranny. America asks no more than the continuance of those privileges which they have always enjoyed. They offer to this country their lives and fortunes, when the requisition is laid before them in the constitutional way. The same offers are very particularly expressed by the several Colonies of New-York, New-Jersey, Philadelphia, and Virginia, in the course of their publick declarations during the last summer; therefore, the readiness of all America to contribute their proper proportions in a constitutional way, is beyond dispute. It is the greatest injustice and traduction of the Colonies to accuse them of backwardness to contribute, or not to give them the merit of their incessant offers for the future, whenever called upon in a constitutional way.
     However, I shall not enlarge upon the doctrine of requisition, in contrast with compulsory taxation, but I shall leave that upon the footing on which I endeavoured to state it on the draft of a letter of requisition, in our debates of the last year; only remarking, that the introduction of requisitions in the time of peace is novel, and therefore must be expected to be attended with many consequential alterations in the constitutional connection of the Colonies with this country; I mean, upon the restrictions of their trade, which have hitherto been always accepted as an equivalent to pecuniary contributions. If we should put the Colonies upon a new footing of money contribution, in the time of peace, there can be no doubt, but that this country will think them entitled to relaxations in trade, in proportion as they contribute. I have no doubt but that in future times we shall come to be convinced of the narrowness of that policy which thinks to cherish trade by restrictiom.We shall see many of these poor expedients in the same light as we now view the little policy of Queen Elizabeth's reign, about corporations, apprentices, poor laws, &c. Therefore, though I might not have been the first proposer of this new system of contribution to peace ~ requisitions, yet I think it promises to open a more liberal system than what we are attached to now. The intercourse of one common cause, in the common defence of the whole empire, may form a new and salutary connection between Great Britain and her Colonies, instead of that connection by grievous restraints, which will become more galling, and appear more absurd every day. We shall have at least the choice of two modes of receiving their assistance, which we may exercise according to the discretion of the case ~ sometimes through the channel of trade, sometimes through supply; the option may easily be adjusted, without either strangulating the hand of industry, or closing the hand of contribution. Ireland, besides providing for its own internal establishment, provides annually for the common defence a considerable number of men in the land service. America may contribute to our naval supply, being that part of the common concern which forms the common bond of connection between us. Seamen, ships, or naval stores, may be the contribution of America.
     Having said thus much upon the subject of requisition, in addition to what I offered last year, I will now come to the main object of the motion, which I shall have the honour of offering to the House this day, of drawing out some line of accommodation, by which satisfaction can be made to the honour of this country, and the Colonies restored to their condition in 1763, according to the noble Lord's own proposal. If there be, on the part of Administration, any sincere desire of peace, I will endeavour to join issue with the noble Lord, and offer terms of accommodation, by which, if the Ministry will consent to replace America to their state in 1763, I shall, on the other part, propose that America shall give full satisfaction to the point of honour; and I think myself authorized to engage for everything that can in reason be required from the Americans, under that declaration in their Petition to the King, that they do not even wish for reconciliation, notwithstanding all their distresses, upon terms inconsistent with the dignity of Great Britain. Taking my ground from this declaration, I shall propose a recognition, not in words, but in fact, which shall effectually replace the authority of this country (be it more or less, without any invidious line drawn) where it was in 1763. The test which I shall propose will be the registering some act of Parliament by the Assembly of each Province, supposing the act of Parliament in view, to be formed upon principles of justice, and such as the Colonies would have received with a silent and thankful compliance in 1763. All recognitions in words being unavoidably both invidious and insidious, a test bringing no line of authority or obedience into question, would be the only safe proposition. The Americans shall be as they were in 1763, if they will likewise admit an act of test, such as they would not have had the least scruple to have admitted in 1763. Let us throw a veil over all the theoretical disputes of the rights of subjects, either as Colonists or as men at large; let us not discuss the rights reserved, or. supposed to be reserved, at their emigration, whether tacitly or explicitly; let mutual concessions on both sides bring the two parties together; let the Americans be replaced where they were in 1763, if they will admit and register in their Assemblies such an act of Parliament as they themselves shall confess that they would have admitted in 1763. It is not an unreasonable request to make to America, that they should treat an act of Parliament, flowing from principles of general humanity and justice, with a different reception to what has been given to acts of grievance.
     It is certainly dangerous to disturb questions of the rights and extent of empire or obedience, because, after that, even acts of acquiescence may be construed to involve hazardous concessions, supposed to be included in the principles which have been brought under contest. But in the state of human affairs, we must not always be too scrupulous. Something must be given up for peace. A civil war never comes too late. Let the Americans take their situation as it was in 1763, for better and for worse. In the present miserable prospect of things, that is a fair and equitable bargain. The object of the act of Parliament to be proposed to America may be perhaps in the event the abolition, but at present can only be considered as the first step to correct a vice, which has spread through the continent of North-America, contrary to tbe laws of God and man, and to the fundamental principles of the British Constitution. That vice is slavery. It would be infinitely absurd to send over to America an act to abolish slavery at one word, because, however repugnant the practice may be to the laws of morality or policy, yet to expel an evil which has spread so far, and which has been suffered far such a length of time, requires information of facts and circumstances, and the greatest discretion to root it out; and, moreover, the necessary length of settling such a point would defeat the end of its being proposed as an act of compromise to settle the present troubles; therefore, the act to be proposed to America as an auspicious beginning to lay the first stone of universal liberty to mankind, should be what no American could hesitate an instant to comply with, viz: That every slave in North-America shauld be entitled to his trial by jury in all criminal cases. America cannot refuse to accept and to enroll such an act as this, and thereby to re-establish peace and harmony with the parent State. Let us all be reunited in this, as a foundation to extirpate slavery from the face of the earth. Let those who seek justice and liberty for themselves, give that justice and liberty to their fellow-creatures. With respect to the idea of putting a final period to slavery in North-America, it should seem best, that when this country had led the way by the act for jury, that each Colony, knowing their own peculiar circumstances, should undertake the work in the most practicable way, and that they should endeavour to establish some system, by which slavery should be in a certain term of years abolished. Let the only contention henceforward between Great Britain and America be, which shall exceed the other in zeal for establishing the fundamental rights of liberty to all mankind.
     Sir, before I make my motions I will just give you a breviate of them in the order in which I shall offer them to the House. They speak for themselves. The first is for a suspension of arms during the treaty of pacification; for how can men deliberate with the bayonet at the breast? How can they treat with freedom while their towns are sacked, when daily instances of injustice and oppression disturb the slower operations of reason?
     The second is, to restore the right of electing an Assembly and Council to the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay, whose charter you have confiscated. As I wish to act the part of a mediator, to soften matters between irritated parties, and not to require any concessions that might even be thought too humiliating, I have been very cautious in this second motion. Thinking, as I do, that this country (I should say the Ministry of this country) has been the aggressor in everything, I might move for a total repeal of the Charter Act; but instead of that, I simply ask for no more than is absolutely necessary to proceed by mutual concessions, by putting the proscribed Colony into a capacity of reconciliation. Give them an Assembly and Council, and when they have registered the act for jury to slaves, let not only the Charter Act be ipso facto repealed, but all other acts since 1763.
     These are my third and fourth motions. Let there be no ambiguity; let everything be definite. When your authority is replaced as it was in 1763, let the Colonies likewise be replaced as they were in 1763, without equivocation or abatement.
     I propose to you fair and equitable terms, as a dispassionate mediator. If I required of you to repeal and rescind every act unconditionally, I might be thought a partisan, and not a mediator; but in everything that is consistent with justice I would wish most scrupulously to consult the dignity of this country. The part of a mediatar between a parent State and its Colonies, is to offord to one an honourable occasion of exerting its justice and generosity, and to restore to the other the wished-for opportunity of evincing the sincerity of their professions by every testimony of devotion becoming the most dutiful subjects and the most affectionate Colonists. Could I but hope that you would allow a plan of mutual concession and pacification to proceed thus far, who would not run foremost in an act of oblivion? It would be the blessed olive-branch of peace, and a festival of commemoration to our latest posterity.
     As to my last motion, for requisitions, it is to the same intent with the draft of a letter of requisition which I had the honour of offering to the House last year, and which, if they had accepted, (instead of the noble Lord's compulsary proposition,) all might have been peace now; for the Americans have again assured his Majesty, in their Petition which is now before you, that whenever requisitions are made in the accustomed and constitutional way, they will be ready and willing, as they ever have been, with their lives and fortunes, to assert and maintain the interests of his Majesty and of their mother country. 1 have put it in order, as the last resolution, to take away every idea of constraint, and to reinstate the Commons of America in the inestimable privilege of freely giving and granting their own property, as the Commons of Great Britain and of Ireland do, and as the Americans have always hitherto done. They never have been reluctant to contribute their full proportion to the common defence in a constitutional way. This, sir, is the substance of my propositions. I hope the plan may be thought definite, satisfactory, and practicable. It will be a test of sincerity to both sides. The objects of the plan are, to support the dignity of Great Britain as the parent State, to afford redress of grievances to America, to restore peace to this distracted empire, and to reunite its common interests and exertions into one common cause.
     He moved ~ "That an Address be presented to his Majesty, humbly setting forth, that his Majesty's subjects in North-America, having, in the most dutiful manner, laid their grievances before his Majesty, and having humbly besought the gracious interposition of his Royal authority and influence to procure them relief from their afflicting fears and jealousies, and having, in the most earnest terms, declared their attachment to his person, family, and Government, with all the devotion that principle and affection can inspire; and having solemnly assured his Majesty that, connected with Great Britain by the strongest ties that can unite societies, and deploring every event that tends in any degree to weaken them, they not only most ardently desire that the former harmony may be restored between them, but that a concord may be established upon so firm a basis as to perpetuate its blessings, uninterrupted by any future dissensions, to succeeding generations in both countries; and having further assured his Majesty that, notwithstanding their sufferings during the course of the present controversy, their breasts retain too tender a regard for the kingdom from which they derive their origin, to request such a reconciliation as might in any manner be inconsistent with her dignity or her welfare; and that the apprehensions which now oppress their hearts with unspeakable grief being once removed, his Majesty will find his faithful subjects in America ready and willing at all times, as they ever have been, with their lives and fortunes, to assert and maintain the rights and interests of his Majesty, and of their mother country; and having, with all humility, submitted to his Majesty's wise consideration, whether it may not be expedient that his Majesty be pleased to direct some mode by which the united application of his Colonists may be improved into a happy and permanent reconciliation, his faithful Commons humbly beg leave to represent, that however well disposed his Majesty's subjects in America may be, according to their most earnest professions, to return to their former obedience and constitutional dependance, yet that the horrours of war and bloodshed raging in their country must drive them to distraction and despair; and further, his faithful Commons beg leave to recommend it to his Majesty's parental consideration, that a return to their duty, of their own free mind and voluntary compliance, would insure a more cordial and permanent reconciliation than any reluctant submission, which, through much bloodshed of his Majesty's subjects, could be enforced by the sword; therefore his faithful Commons most humbly beseech his Majesty that he will be graciously pleased to give orders for putting a stop to the further prosecution of hostilities in America, thereby to prevent the further destruction of the lives of his Majesty's subjects, and to afford the wished-for opportunity to his Colonists of evincing the sincerity of their professions, by every testimony of devotion becoming the most dutiful subjects, and the most affectionate Colonists."
From American Archives, Fourth Series, Volume VI, 1837, Published by M. St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, Pages 248-255.


     After discussion on the proposals by Mr. Hartley, the vote was taken, with the results being only 21 for passage of the bill, and 123 against it. Mr. Hartley did not want to give up on the idea of reconciliation. He therefore submitted the motions transcribed below.


     Mr. Hartley then moved, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay to elect an Assembly and Council, in the manner directed by the Charter granted to the Inhabitants of that Province by their Majesties King William and Queen Mary, bearing date the seventh day of October, in the third year of their reign.
     It passed in the negative.
     Mr. Hartley then moved, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish the right of Trial by Jury, in all Criminal cases, to all Slaves in North-America, and to annul all Laws of any Province repugnant thereto, and to require the registering of the same by the respective Assemblies of each Colony in North-America.
     It passed in the negative.
     Mr. Hartley then moved, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a permanent Reconciliation between Great Britain and its Dependencies in North-America, and to restore his Majesty's subjects in North-America to that happy and free condition, and to that peace and prosperity, which they enjoyed in their constitutional dependance on Great Britain before the present unhappy troubles.
     It passed in the negative.
     Mr. Hartley then moved, That leave be given to bring in a Bill for a free Pardon, Indemnity, and Oblivion.
     It passed in the negative.
     Mr. Hartley then moved, That an humble Address be presented to his Majesty, to lay the opinion of this House before his Majesty, that it may be proper when the present unhappy disputes in North-America shall be brought to an amicable termination, that his Majesty should be graciously pleased to give orders that letters of requisition be written in the accustomed manner to the several Provinces of his Majesty's Colonies and Plantations in America, to make provision for the purpose of protecting, defending, and securing, the said Colonies and Plantations.
     It passed in the negative.
From American Archives, Fourth Series, Volume VI, 1837, Published by M. St. Clair Clarke and Peter Force, Page 255.