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This Day in History: Britain's half-hearted attempt to reconcile

On this day in 1775, Congress rejects a plan of reconciliation that had been offered by the British. But did the British Prime Minister doom his own plan from the beginning?

Lord North was Prime Minister of Britain throughout many of the revolutionary years. He advocated for the Intolerable Acts and some of the other measures that Americans found so distasteful. Now North wanted to reconcile, and he convinced Parliament to approve such an attempt. But North offered to reconcile with each of the colonies, individually. No offer was made to the Continental Congress or to the colonies, as a whole.

Was he really trying to reconcile with Americans? Or did he hope to prompt disunion and discord among the colonies?

If he was hoping to start a round of bickering among the colonies, he failed. New Jersey and Pennsylvania refused to act alone. They knew that their action would affect the entire country. Similarly, a resolution from Virginia stated: “We consider ourselves as bound in Honor as well as Interest to share one general Fate with our Sister Colonies, and should hold ourselves base Deserters of that Union, to which we have acceded, were we to agree on any Measures distinct and apart from them.”

Some colonies forwarded the proposal to the Continental Congress, but Congress was apparently unimpressed. Lord North thought that the colonies could tax themselves for some purposes (provided that they raised enough revenue), but Britain would retain authority to tax for certain regulatory purposes. Nearly two months later, Congress finally got around to appointing a committee to address the issue: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Richard Henry Lee all sat on the committee.

Congress approved the committee report on July 31. North’s proposal, it decided, was “unreasonable and insidious.” But perhaps Benjamin Franklin described the proposal best. He wrote:

“I cannot conceive that any Colony will undertake to grant a Revenue, to a Government that holds a Sword over their Heads, with a Threat to strike the moment they cease to give or do not give so much as it is pleas’d to expect. In such a Situation, where is the Right of giving our own Property freely? or the Right to judge of our own Ability to give? It seems to me the Language of a Highwayman, who with a Pistol in your Face says, Give me your Purse, and then I will not put my Hand into your Pocket. But give me all your Money or I’ll shoot you thro’ the Head.”

The Continental Congress was NOT going to submit to that Highwayman!

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