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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 9

This note contained in document ADMS-06-09-02-0012
9. The issue raised by Jenings here and in his dialogue between Charles Yorke and William Pitt, 1st earl of Chatham, is an important one. A belief in Parliament's inability to alienate British sovereignty over the colonies was central to every effort at reconciliation short of independence, from Chatham's proposal of Feb. 1775 to Gen. Henry Seymour Conway's proposal of 5 May 1780 (Parliamentary Hist., 18:198–216; 21:570–591; JA to Edmé Jacques Genet, 17 May, and note 2, below). Jenings states in a letter of 2 May (below) that the full dialogue, presumably with passages attributed to William Cavendish, 4th duke of Devonshire, was published by a friend in London, but whether as a newspaper piece or a pamphlet is unknown. The absence of the complete, published dialogue makes any effort to clarify Jenings' reference to the deaths of the three men (all in DNB) purely conjectural and any comments upon the substance of the enclosed extract very tentative. Chatham's final speech in the House of Lords on 7 April 1778 could be seen as establishing, or at least reaffirming, the principle that Parliament could not relinquish sovereignty over a portion of the realm. Chatham had been very consistent on this point, writing on 18 Dec. 1777 to Lord Shelburne that he would “as soon subscribe to Transubstantiation as to Sovereignty (by right), in the Colonies,” and declaring in his final speech that he had come to speak “against the dismemberment of this ancient and most noble monarchy” and would “never consent to deprive the royal offspring of the House of Brunswick, the heirs of the princess Sophia, of their fairest inheritance” (Lord Fitzmaurice, Life of William Earl of Shelburne, 2 vols., 2d edn., London, 1912, 2:10; Parliamentary Hist., 19:1022–1023). In view of Chatham's position on independence and in the absence of the full dialogue, Jenings' meaning in the passages ascribed to Chatham remains unclear, but see JA's analysis of the principle of “constitutional impossibility” and Chatham's possible motives for supporting it in his reply to Jenings of 12 March (below).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2018.