Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v1.djvu/152
American Political Writing
out an armed vessel without the approval of the House; drafted a communication in which the governor was charged with "taking from the House their most darling privilege, the right of originating all taxes"; and late in 1762 published his first political pamphlet, A Vindication of the Conduct of the House of Representatives of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, in which, mixed with extreme praise of the King of Great Britain and denunciation of the King of France, and vague suggestions as to the nature of human rights, the privileges of the colonies under the British constitution were stoutly maintained. Neither historically nor legally was the argument beyond question, and the claim of right was a call to the future rather than an interpretation of the past. What was said, however, was said with vigour and incisiveness, and to Otis's provincial audience carried weight.
The treaty of Paris, ceding to Great Britain all the vast possessions of France on the mainland of North America, together with Florida and other Spanish territory east of the Mississippi, was concluded 10 February, 1763. On the 23d of that month, Charles Townshend became first lord of trade, with the oversight of colonial administration, in the short-lived ministry of Bute, and some far-reaching changes in the colonial system were presently announced. The salaries of governors and judges, hitherto paid by the colonial assemblies, were now to be paid by the crown, thus insuring, it was believed, a better enforcement of the trade laws and a proper revenue from customs; and a standing army of ten thousand men was to be maintained in America, in anticipation of an attempt by France to recover what it had lost, the expense of the troops to be met by parliamentary taxation of the colonies. Grenville, who became prime minister in June, supported the plan. In March, 1764, Grenville gave notice of his intention to impose stamp duties; laying the matter over for a year, however, in order that the colonies might be consulted. In April a Sugar Act imposed new colonial customs duties.
The prospect of direct taxation by Parliament aroused widespread apprehension in America, and called forth in July the ablest and best-known of Otis's pamphlets, The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved. With notable moderation and restraint, and in a tone pervadingly judicial rather than