1.9 Parliamentary Representation.

John Dunmore Lang


Section IX. — A Compromise Proposed and Considered —Parliamentary Representation for the Colonies.

Among the various expedients that were proposed by ingenious speculators, and rejected by both parties, during the American troubles, previous to the War of Independence, was that of Parliamentary Representation for the colonies. It has been suggested, also, in more recent times, in the House of Commons; and there have occasionally been colonists of talent and standing who have expressed themselves favourably in regard to it. The person who first suggested the idea appears to have been Oldmixon, an American annalist of the era of Queen Anne or George I. It was afterwards put forward with approbation by the celebrated Dr. Adam Smith, and advocated for a time, but afterwards rejected and strongly opposed, by Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was too keen ah observer of passing events, when sojourning in London as a delegate from the colony of Pennsylvania, not to perceive how utterly valueless for his constituents a seat in the House of Commons would be for the Representative of a colony. Only think how the Honourable Member for Botany Bay would be sneered at on the floor of the House, and what small eifect anything he could say would be likely to have on the affairs of the nation ! Besides, what possible interest can the people of New South Wales or South Australia have in one even out of every hundred of the questions that are brought before Parliament? It would decidedly be unconstitutional, and therefore wrong, for the people of England to allow a mere colonial member to vote on any question of British taxation or of internal administration ; and would it be accordant with the self-respect which the colonists owe themselves to allow their members to sit silent in the British House of Commons? We can learn from the public press, without the circuitous and expensive course of having a Parliamentary


Representative to report to us, how often the House is counted out every session on colonial questions, of whatever importance they may be to the colonies; and we all know already, without a Parliamentary Representative to guarantee the fact, the precise degree of indifference and disgust with which colonial questions are almost uniformly regarded in that House.

Besides, what are we to do for representation for the colonies in the House of Lords; for we are surely quite as much entitled to representation in that House as in the other? Are we to have colonial Peers of Parliament as well as colonial members of the Lower House — the Marquis of Parramatta, for instance. Lord Wollongong, and Viscount Curraducbidgee? We, colonists, are certainly not responsible for the ridiculousness of the thing — it is no proposal of ours.

Again, if we fell into the trap that is thus proposed to be set for us, by accepting Parliamentary Representation for the colonies, we should virtually declare that the British Parliament has a right to legislate for the colonies, just as it has for the people of England, and to precisely the same extent; and we should thereby be bartering away the liberties of our country for a thing of no value whatever. We have certainly no desire, as Australian colonists, to legislate for the people of England; and we deny that the people of England can have any right, by the law of nature, which is the ordinance of God, to legislate for us.

It may not be inexpedient, however, to ascertain what opinions were actually entertained and propounded on this subject by the American colonists; for if Parliamentary Representation was deemed unsuitable and undesirable for them, a fortiori it must be undesirable and unsuitable for us at the extremity of the globe.

"Our Representatives," says Smith, in his History of New York, "agreeably to the general sense of their constituents, are tenacious in the opinion that . . . the


session of Assemblies here is wisely substituted instead of a representation in Parliament, which, all things con-sidered, would at this remote distance be extremely inconvenient and dangerous."*

At a considerably later period than the one referred to by this historian, viz. in the year 1765, "there assembled in the town of New York a convention composed of twenty-eight delegates from the assemblies of nine of the colonies; one of their resolutions was as follows: viz. "That while all the British subjects are entitled to the privilege of being taxed only by their own representatives, the remote situation of the colonies rendered it impracticable that they should be represented except in their own subordinate legislatures."

The Assembly of Massachusetts, during the same year, resolved "That the citizens of Massachusetts never had been, and never could be, adequately represented in the British Parliament."

To the same effect Dr. Benjamin Franklin "declared his conviction, that the legislatures of Britain and America were and ought to be distinct from each other, and that the relation between the two countries was precisely analogous to that which had subsisted between England and Scotland previous to their Union."§

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