Jared Ingersoll letter to Governor Thomas Fitch
February 11, 1765
In this Jared Ingersoll letter to Thomas Fitch,
Ingersoll relates the debate in Parliament about the forthcoming Stamp Act.
Ingersoll was in London on business and was contracted by the government of Connecticut
to do certain official business for the colony while there. Thomas Fitch
was the governor of Connecticut. This letter gained attention because in it Ingersoll
reports on a famous exchange between Parliament members Charles Townsend
and Colonel Isaac Barré in which Barré defends the colonists,
making him a hero in the eyes of American patriots. Barré first uses the phrase "Sons
of Liberty" in referring to the colonists, a term the colonists began to apply to their own
resistance groups after hearing of it. Ingersoll was later appointed Connecticut's official
stamp distributor, but was forced by a mob to give up his appointment and renounce the
Stamp Act. Read the complete Jared Ingersoll letter to Governor Thomas Fitch below.
Jared Ingersoll letter to Governor Thomas Fitch
London 11th Feb: 1765
Since my last to you, I have been honoured with yours of the 7th of December, in which you inform me that the Genl Assembly have been pleased to desire my Assistance while here in any Matters that may concern the Colony. Be so good, Sr, in return as to Assure the Assembly that I have not only a Due Sense of the honour they have done me by placing this Confidence in me, but that I have ever since my arrival here, from Motives of Inclination, as well as Duty, done every thing in my Power to promote the Colony's Interests.
The principal Attention has been to the Stamp bill that has been preparing to Lay before Parliament for taxing America. The Point of the Authority of Parliament to impose such Tax I found on my Arrival here was so fully and Universally yielded, that there was not the least hopes of making any impressions that way. Indeed it has appeared since that the House would not suffer to be brought in, nor would any one Member Undertake to Offer to the House, any Petition from the Colonies that held forth ye Contrary of that Doctrine. I own I advised the Agents if possible to get that point Canvassed that so the Americans might at least have the Satisfaction of having the point Decided upon a full Debate, but I found it could not be done, and here before I proceed to acquaint you with the Steps that have been taken, in this Matter, I beg leave to give you a Summary of the Arguments which are made Use of in favour of such Authority.
The House of Commons, say they, is a branch of the supreme legislature of the Nation, & which in its Nature is supposed to represent, or rather to stand in the place of, the Commons, that is, of the great body of the people, who are below the dignity of peers; that this house of Commons Consists of a certain number of Men Chosen by certain people of certain places, which Electors, by the Way, they Insist, are not a tenth part of the people, and that the Laws, rules and Methods by which their number is ascertained have arose by degrees & from various Causes & Occasions, and that this house of Commons, therefore, is now fixt and ascertained & is a part of the Supreme unlimited power of the Nation, as in every State there must be some unlimited Power and Authority; and that when it is said they represent the Commons of England, it cannot mean that they do so because those Commons choose them, for in fact by far the greater part do not, but because by their Constitution they must themselves be Commoners, and not Peers, and so the Equals, or of the same Class of Subjects, with the Commons of the Kingdom. They further urge, that the only reason why America has not been heretofore taxed in the fullest Manner, has been merely on Account of their Infancy and Inability; that there have been, however, not wanting Instances of the Exercise of this Power, in the various regulations of the American trade, the Establishment of the post Office &c, and they deny any Distinction between what is called an internal & external Tax as to the point of the Authority imposing such taxes. And as to the Charters in the few provinces where there are any, they say, in the first place, the King cannot grant any that shall exempt them from the Authority of one of the branches of the great body of Legislation, and in the second place say the King has not done, or attempted to do it. In that of Pensilvania the Authority of Parliament to impose taxes is expressly mentioned & reserved; in ours tis said, our powers are generally such as are According to the Course of other Corporations in England (both which Instances by way of Sample were mentioned & referred to by Mr. Grenville in the House); in short they say a Power to tax is a necessary Part of every Supreme Legislative Authority, and that if they have not that Power over America, they have none, & then America is at once a Kingdom of itself.
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Colonel Isaac Barré
On the other hand those who oppose the bill say, it is true the Parliament have a supreme unlimited Authority over every Part & Branch of the Kings dominions and as well over Ireland as any other place, yet we believe a British parliament will never think it prudent to tax Ireland. Tis true they say, that the Commons of England & of the British Empire are all represented in and by the house of Commons, but this representation is confessedly on all hands by Construction & Virtually only as to those who have no hand in choosing the representatives, and that the Effects of this implied Representation here & in America must be infinitely different in the Article of Taxation. Here in England the Member of Parliament is equally known to the Neighbour who elects & to him who does not; the Friendships, the Connections, the Influences are spread through the whole. If by any Mistake an Act of Parliament is made that prove injurious and hard the Member of Parliament here sees with his own Eyes and is moreover very accessible to the people, not only so, but the taxes are laid equally by one Rule and fall as well on the Member himself as on the people. But as to America, from the great distance in point of Situation, from the almost total unacquaintedness, Especially in the more norther.n Colonies, with the Members of Parliament, and they with them, or with the particular Ability & Circumstances of one another, from the Nature of this very tax laid upon others not Equally & in Common with ourselves, but with express purpose to Ease ourselves, we think, say they, that it will be only to lay a foundation of great Jealousy and Continual Uneasiness, and that to no purpose, as we already by the Regulations upon their trade draw from the Americans all that they can spare, at least they say this Step should not take place untill or unless the Americans are allowed to send Members to Parliament; for who of you, said Coll Barré Nobly in his Speech in the house upon this Occasion, who of you reasoning upon this Subject feels warmly from the Heart (putting his hand to his own breast) for the Americans as they would for themselves or as you would for the people of your own native Country? and to this point Mr. Jackson produced Copies of two Acts of Parliament granting the priviledge of having Members to the County Palitine of Chester & the Bishoprick of Durham upon Petitions preferred for that purpose in the Reign of King Henry the Eighth and Charles the first, the preamble of which Statutes counts upon the Petitions from those places as setting forth that being in their general Civil Jurisdiction Exempted from the Common Law Courts &c, yet being Subject to the general Authority of Parliament, were taxed in Common with the rest of ye Kingdom, which taxes by reason of their having no Members in Parliament to represent their Affairs, often proved hard and injurious &c and upon that ground they had the priviledge of sending Members granted them - & if this, say they, could be a reason in the case of Chester and Durham, how much more so in the case of America.
Thus I have given you, I think, the Substance of the Arguments on both sides of that great and important Question of the right & also of the Expediency of taxing America by Authority of Parliament. I cannot, however, Content myself without giving you a Sketch of what the aforementioned Mr. Barré said in Answer to some remarks made by Mr. Ch. Townsend in a Speech of his upon this Subject. I ought here to tell you that the Debate upon the American Stamp bill came on before the house for the first time last Wednesday, when the same was open'd by Mr. Grenville the Chanceller of the Exchequer, in a pretty lengthy Speech, & in a very able and I think in a very candid manner he opened the Nature of the Tax, Urged the Necessity of it, Endeavoured to obviate all Objections to it - and took Occasion to desire the House to give ye bill a most Serious and Cool Consideration & not suffer themselves to be influenced by any resentments which might have been kindled from any thing they might have heard out of doors - alluding I suppose to the N. York and Boston Assemblys' Speeches & Votes - that this was a matter of revenue which was of all things the most interesting to ye Subject &c. The Argument was taken up by several who opposed the bill (viz) by Alderman Beckford, who, and who only, seemed to deny ye Authority of Parliament, by Col. Barré, Mr. Jackson, Sr William Meredith and some others. Mr. Barré, who by the way I think, & I find I am not alone in my Opinion, is one of the finest Speakers that the House can boast of, having been some time in America as an Officer in the Army, & having while there, as I had known before, contracted many Friendships with American Gentlemen, & I believe Entertained much more favourable Opinions of them than some of his profession have done, Delivered a very handsome & moving Speech upon the bill & against the same, Concluding by saying that he was very sure that Most who Should hold up their hands to the Bill must be under a Necessity of acting very much in the dark, but added, perhaps as well in the Dark as any way.
After him Mr. Charles Townsend spoke in favour of the Bill - took Notice of several things Mr. Barré had said, and concluded with the following or like Words: And now will these Americans, Children planted by our Care, nourished up by our Indulgence untill they are grown to a Degree of Strength & Opulence, and protected by our Arms, will they grudge to contribute their mite to releive us from the heavy weight of that burden which we lie under? When he had done, Mr. Barré rose and having explained something which he had before said & which Mr. Townsend had been remarking upon, he then took up the beforementioned Concluding words of Mr. Townsend, and in a most spirited & I thought an almost inimitable manner, said -
"They planted by your Care? No! your Oppressions planted em in America. They fled from your Tyranny to a then uncultivated and unhospitable Country - where they exposed themselves to almost all the hardships to which human Nature is liable, and among others to the Cruelties of a Savage foe, the most subtle and I take upon me to say the most formidable of any People upon the face of Gods Earth. And yet, actuated by Principles of true english Lyberty, they met all these hardships with pleasure, compared with those they suffered in their own Country, from the hands of those who should have been their Friends.
"They nourished by your indulgence? they grew by your neglect of Em: - as soon as you began to care about Em, that Care was Excercised in sending persons to rule over Em, in one Department and another, who were perhaps the Deputies of Deputies to some Member of this house - sent to Spy out their Lyberty, to misrepresent their Actions & to prey upon Em; men whose behaviour on many Occasions has caused the Blood of those Sons of Liberty* to recoil within them; men promoted to the highest Seats of Justice, some, who to my knowledge were glad by going to a foreign Country to Escape being brought to the Bar of a Court of Justice in their own.
* [Note added by Jared Ingersoll when he published this letter in 1766. - I believe I may claim the Honour of having been the Author of this Title (Sons of Liberty), however little personal Good I got by it, having been the only Person, by what I can discover, who transmitted Mr. Barré's Speech to America.]
"They protected by your Arms? they have nobly taken up Arms in your defence, have Exerted a Valour amidst their constant & Laborious industry for the defence of a Country, whose frontier, while drench'd in blood, its interior Parts have yielded all its little Savings to your Emolument. And beleive me, remember I this Day told you so, that same Spirit of freedom which actuated that people at first, will accompany them still. - But prudence forbids me to explain myself further. God knows I do not at this Time speak from motives of party Heat, what I deliver are the genuine Sentiments of my heart; however superiour tome in general knowledge and Experience the reputable body of this house may be, yet I claim to know more of America than most of you, having seen and been conversant in that Country. The People I beleive are as truly Loyal as any Subjects the King has, but a people Jealous of their Lyberties and who will vindicate them, if ever they should be violated - but the Subject is too delicate & I will say no more."
These sentiments were thrown out so intirely without premeditation, so forceably and so firmly, and the breaking off so beautifully abrupt, that the whole house sat awhile as Amazed, intently Looking and without answering a Word.
I own I felt Emotions that I never felt before & went the next Morning & thank'd Coll Barré in behalf of my Country for his noble and spirited Speech.
However, Sr after all that was said, upon a Division of the house upon the Question, there was about 250 to about 50 in favour of the Bill.
The truth is I beleive some who inclined rather against the Bill voted for it, partly because they are loth to break the Measures of the Ministry, and partly because they dont undertake to inform themselves in the fullest manner upon the Subject. The Bill comes on to a second Reading tomorrow, when ours and the Massachusetts Petitions will be presented & perhaps they may be some further Debate upon the Subject, but to no purpose I am very sure, as to the Stopping or preventing the Act taking Place.
The Agents of the Colonies have had several Meetings, at one of which they were pleased to desire Mr. Franklin & myself as having lately Come from America & knowing more Intimately the Sentiments of the people, to wait on Mr. Grenville, together with Mr. Jackson & Mr. Garth who being Agents are also Members of Parliament, to remonstrate against the Stamp Bill, & to propose in Case any Tax must be laid upon America, that the several Colonies might be permitted to lay the Tax themselves. This we did Saturday before last. Mr. Grenville gave us a full hearing - told us he took no pleasure in giving the Americans so much uneasiness as he found he did - that it was the Duty of his Office to manage the revenue - that he really was made to beleive that considering ye whole of the Circumstances of the Mother Country & the Colonies, the later could and ought to pay something, & that he knew of no better way than that now pursuing to lay such Tax, but that if we could tell of a better he would adopt it. We then urged the Method first mentioned as being a Method the people had been used to - that it would at least seem to be their own Act & prevent that uneasiness & Jealousy which otherwise we found would take place - that they could raise the Money best by their own Officers &c &c
Mr. Jackson told him plainly that he foresaw by the Measure now pursuing, by enabling the Crown to keep up an armed Force of its own in America & to pay the Governours in the Kings Governments & all with the Americans own Money, the Assembles in the Colonys would be subverted - that the Govs would have no Occasion, as for any Ends of their own or of the Crown, to call 'Em & that they never would be called together in the Kings Governments. Mr. Grenville warmly rejected the thought, said no such thing was intended nor would he beleived take place. Indeed I understand since, there is a Clause added to the Bill Applying the monies that shall be raised to the protecting & Defending America only. Mr. Grenville asked us if we could agree upon the several proportions Each Colony should raise. We told him no. He said he did not think any body here was furnished with Materials for that purpose; not only so but there would be no Certainty that every Colony would raise the Sum enjoined & to be obliged to be at the Expence of making Stamps, to compel some one or two provinces to do their Duty & that perhaps for one year only, would be very inconvenient; not only so, but the Colonies by their constant increase will be Constantly varying in their proportions of Numbers & ability & which a Stamp bill will always keep pace with &c &c
Upon the whole he said he had pledged his Word for Offering the Stamp Bill to the house, that the house would hear all our Objections & would do as they thought best; he said, he wished we would preserve a Coolness and Moderation in America; that he had no need to tell us, that resentments indecently & unbecomingly Express'd on one Side the Water would naturally produce resentments on tother Side, & that we could not hope to get any good by a Controversy with the Mother Country; that their Ears will always be open to any remonstrances from the Americans with respect to this bill both before it takes Effect & after, if it shall take Effect, which shall be exprest in a becoming manner, that is, as becomes Subjects of the same common Prince.
I acquainted you in my last that Mr. Whately, one of the Secretaries of the Treasury, and who had under his Care and Direction the business of preparing the Stamp Bill, had often conferred with me on the Subject. He wanted, I know, information of the several methods of transfer, Law process &c made Use of in the Colony, & I believe has been also very willing to hear all Objections that could be made to the Bill or any part of it. This task I was glad to undertake, as I very well knew the information I must give would operate strongly in our favour, as the number of our Law Suits, Deeds, Tavern Licences & in short almost all the Objects of the intended taxation & Dutys are so very numerous in the Colony that the knowledge of them would tend to the imposing a Duty so much the Lower as the Objects were more in Number. This Effect I flatter myself it has had in some measure. Mr. Whately to be sure tells me I may fairly claim the Honour of having occasioned the Duty's being much lower than was intended, & three particular things that were intended to be taxed, I gave him no peace till he dropt; these were Licences for marriage - a Duty that would be odious in a new Country where every Encouragement ought to be given to Matrimony & where there was little portion; Commissions of the Justices of peace, which Office was generally speaking not profitable & yet necessary for the good Order and Government of the people; and Notes of hand which with us were given & taken so very often for very small Sums.
After all I beleive the people in America will think the Sums that will be raised will be quite Enough, & I wish they may'nt find it more Distressing than the people in power here are aware of.
The Merchants in London are alarmed at these things; they have had a meeting with the Agents & are about to petition Parliament upon the Acts that respect the trade of North America.
What the Event of these things will be I dont know, but am pretty certain that wisdom will be proper & even very necessary, as well as prudence & good Discretion to direct the Councils of America.
I shall hope to see you the beginning of Summer at farthest
Yr Most Obedient
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