History of the United States of America, from the Discovery of the Continent - Vol. 6

By George Bancroft | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXVI.
THE CRISIS.

FEBRUARY–MAY 1774.

THE ministry, overruling the lingering scruples of Dartmonth and Lord North, decided that there existed a rebellion which required coercion. Inquiries were made, with the object of enabling the king to proceed in “England against the ringleaders,” and inflict on them immediate and exemplary punishment But, after laborious examinations before the privy council, and the close attention of Thurlow and Wedderburn, it appeared that British law and the British constitution set bounds to the anger of the government, which gave the first evidence of its weakness by acknowledging a want of power to wreak its will.

During the delay attending an appeal to parliament, the secretary of state would speak with the French minister of nothing but harmony; and he said to the representative of Spain: “Never was the union between Versailles, Madrid, and London so solid; I see nothing that can shake it.” Yet the old distrust lurked under the pretended confidence.

One day in February 1774, while the government feared no formidable opposition, Charles James Fox, then of the treasury board, censured Lord North for want of decision and courage. “Greatly incensed at his presumption,” the king wrote: “That young man has so thoroughly cast off every principle of common honor and honesty that he must become as contemptible as he is odious.” Dismissed from office, and connected with no party, he was left free to follow his own generous impulses, and “to discover powers for regular debate, which neither his friends had hoped nor his enemies foreboded.” Disinterested

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