While the paper which formed the subject for prosecution was still before the courts of justice it was condemned by the House of Commons as a " false, scandalous, and seditious libel." The House of Lords at the same time voted a pamphlet found among Wilkes's papers to be blasphemous, and advised a prosecution. Wilkes fled to France, and was in 1764 expelled from the House of Commons. But the assumption of an arbitrary judicial power by both Houses, and the system of terror which Grenville put in force against the Press by issuing two hundred injunctions against different journals, roused a storm of indignation throughout the country. Every street resounded with cries of " Wilkes and Liberty." It was soon clear that opinion had been embittered rather than silenced by the blow at Wilkes; and six years later, the failure of the prosecution directed against an anonymous journalist named "Junius" for his Letter to the King established the right of the Press to criticize the conduct not of ministers or Parliament only, but of the sovereign himself.
The same narrowness of view, the same honesty of purpose, the same obstinacy of temper, were shown by Grenville in a yet more important struggle, a struggle with the American Colonies. Pitt had waged war with characteristic profusion, and he had defrayed the cost of the war by enormous loans. At the time of the Peace of Paris the public debt stood at a hundred and forty millions. The first need therefore which met Bute after the conclusion of the Peace was that of making provision for the new burthens which the nation had incurred, and as these had been partly incurred in the defence of the American Colonies it was the general opinion of Englishmen that the Colonies should bear a share of them. In this opinion Bute and the King concurred. But their plans went further than mere taxation. The new minister declared himself resolved on a rigorous execution of the Navigation laws, laws by which a monopoly of American trade was secured to the mother-country, on the raising of a revenue within the Colonies for the discharge of the debt, and above all on impressing upon the colonists a sense of their dependence upon Britain. The direct trade between America and the French or Spanish West Indian islands had hitherto been fettered by prohibitory duties, but these had been easily evaded by a general system of smuggling.
The duties were now reduced, but the reduced duties were rigorously exacted, and a considerable naval force was despatched to the American coast with a view of suppressing the clandestine trade with the foreigner. The revenue which was expected from this measure was to be supplemented by an internal Stamp Tax, a tax on all legal documents issued within the Colonies. The plans of Bute had fallen to the ground on his retirement from office. But Grenville had fully concurred in the financial part at least of Bute's designs; and, now that he found himself at the head of a strong administration, he proceeded to carry out the plans which had been devised for the purpose of raising both an external and an internal revenue from America. One of his first steps was to suppress, by a rigid enforcement of the Navigation laws, the contraband trade which had grown up between American ports and the adjacent Spanish islands. Harsh and unwise as these measures seemed, the colonists owned their legality; and their resentment only showed itself in a pledge to use no British manufactures till the restrictions were relaxed.
But the next scheme of the Minister - his proposal to introduce internal taxation within the bounds of the Colonies themselves by reviving the project of an excise or stamp duty, which Walpole's good sense had rejected - was of another order from his schemes for suppressing the contraband traffic. Unlike the system of the Navigation Acts, it was a gigantic change in the whole actual relations of England and its Colonies. They met it therefore in another spirit. Taxation and representation, they asserted, went hand in hand. America had no representatives in the British Parliament. The representatives of the colonists met in their own colonial assemblies, and all save the Pennsylvanians protested strongly against the interference of Parliament with their right of self-taxation. Massachusetts marked accurately the position she took. "Prohibitions of trade are neither equitable nor just; but the power of taxing is the grand barrier of British liberty. If that is once broken down, all is lost." The distinction was accepted by the assembly of every colony; and it was with their protest that they despatched Benjamin Franklin, who had risen from his position of a working printer in Philadelphia to high repute among scientific discoverers, as their agent to England. In England however Franklin found few who recognized the distinction which the colonists had drawn.
Grenville had no mind to change his plans without an assurance, which Franklin could not give, of a union of the Colonies to tax themselves; and the Stamp Act was passed through both Houses with less opposition than a turnpike bill.
The Stamp Act was hardly passed when an insult offered to the Princess Dowager, by the exclusion of her name from a Regency Act, brought to a head the quarrel which had long been growing between the ministry and the King. George again offered power to William Pitt. But Pitt stood absolutely alone. The one friend who remained to him, his brother-in-law, Lord Temple, refused to aid in an attempt to construct a Cabinet; and he felt himself too weak, when thus deserted, to hold his ground in any ministerial combination with the Whigs. The King turned for help to the main body of the Whigs, now headed by the Marquis of Rockingham. The weakness of the ministry which Rockingham formed in July, 1765, was seen in its slowness to deal with American affairs. Franklin had seen no other course for the Colonies, when the obnoxious Acts were passed, but that of submission. But submission was the last thing the colonists dreamed of. Everywheie through New England riots broke out on the news of the arrival of the stamped paper; and the frightened collectors resigned their posts. Northern and Southern States were drawn together by the new danger.