Week 8: The Coercive Acts
A View of the Controversy between Great Britain and Her Colonies in a Letter to the Author of a Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress
YOU have done me the honour “to bestow some notice upon” a little pamphlet which I lately published, entitled, Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress, in a Piece which you call, A full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, from the Calumnies of their Enemies. My present business shall be to examine your Vindication, and see whether it fully exculpates the measures of the Congress, from the charges brought against them by the friends of order and good government. This task I shall endeavour to perform, with all that freedom of thought and expression, which, as an Englishman I have a right to; and which never shall be wrested from me, either by yourself or the Congress.
I freely own, that I wrote and published the Free Thoughts with a design to “diminish the influence, and prevent the effects of the decisions” of the Congress. You speak of the impotence of such attempts; of the general indignation with which they are treated; you say “that no material ill consequences (i. e. to your party) can be dreaded from them.” Why then did you take the pains to write so long, so elaborate a pamphlet, to justify decisions against whose influence none but impotent attempts had been made?–to prevent ill consequences which were not to be dreaded?–You felt, Sir, the force of the stubborn facts exhibited to the view of the public in the Free Thoughts: You perceived the ground on which the decrees of the Congress were founded, to be hollow and ready to fall in: you was willing to prop it up at any rate. You knew, that at the bar of impartial reason, and common sense, the conduct of the Congress must be condemned. You was too much interested, too deeply engaged in party views and party heats, to bear this with patience. You had no remedy but artifice, sophistry, misrepresentation and abuse: These are your weapons, and these you wield like an old experienced practitioner.
Is this too heavy a charge? Can you lay your hand upon your heart, and upon your honour plead not guilty?–Was it then vanity that led you to combat ill consequences that were not to be dreaded? To prevent impotent efforts from succeeding, which, you knew, were not likely to succeed? to make that the object of general indignation, which already was so?–Was it purely to shine as a patriotic writer? To give a specimen of your abilities?–To shew us, in short, what you can do, that gave birth to the Vindication?–Probably, you had better have repressed these emotions: for though your pamphlet may please your party,–and I dare say, would have pleased them just as well with half its real merit,–though they may praise and extol it, as a matchless, inimitable performance; yet, Sir, in a literary way, good judges will consider it only as the effort of a genius that never can rise above mediocrity. If you seldom sink into meanness of diction, you never soar into that briliancy of thought; nor, even with the help of Johnson’s Dictionary, into that classical elegance of expression which is absolutely necessary for the arduous attempt of ridiculing wit.
I, who am a plain Farmer, though of some education, have no manner of inclination to dispute the prize of Wit and Ridicule, with the panegyrist of the late all-accomplished Congress. You, Sir, shall bear off the palm, unrivalled, unenvied by me.–
I, also, congratulate you on the discovery of “a seeming contradiction” in the Free Thoughts. I could point out to you a dozen more of its errors in diction and grammar; one of which you have quoted more than once, but you had two much generosity of temper to animadvert upon it. I wrote the Free Thoughts, as I write now, without much regard to stile, or grammatical accuracy. My business was not to please or amuse, but to convince my countrymen and fellow-subjects of the evil tendency of the measures of the Congress, and to give all the obstruction in my power to their being carried into execution. This I did from a principle of conscience, from a sense of duty, from a love of liberty, of order, of good government, and of America my native country: Nor have my endeavours been without success. The Free Thoughts have answered my utmost expectation: They have been rapidly purchased, and eagerly read; and notwithstanding the general indignation of which you speak, I have had the satisfaction of hearing them commended and approved by many, very many sensible people, in the city, as well as in the country: And I doubt not they will contribute, among other causes, to the restoration of that order and peace in this province, which is the earnest wish of every real friend to America. I cannot but hope, that the time of this event is fast approaching. I see the influence of the Congress daily diminishing. Few committees are chosen in the country to carry their decrees into execution. The committee of New-York has been obliged to recede from an exact compliance with their edicts, that even the appearance of a compliance might be preserved: Why else do they permit the owners of goods imported, and which were ordered to be sold for the benefit of the Boston poor, to bid for their own goods, and have them struck off at an under rate? [I hope the duty upon goods sold at public auction, will be demanded on these sales, because that would bring something into the provincial treasury.] Why are they obliged to permit the very best regulation the Congress did make, to be continually infringed, by the importation of Tea, Gin, &c. from Holland. These relaxations were necessary to cajole and take in the merchants, and therefore the committee complied: You thought it necessary to cajole and take in the Farmers, and therefore you wrote your pamphlet. But have a care, “sweet Sir,”—pray was you in the nursery where the whole conversation turned on sweeties and goodies, when you luckily hit on this expression? Or did you find it in Johnson’s Dictionary?–Have a care, I say, or we honest supporters of the laws and liberties of our country, shall finally get the better; reduce you and your party to peace and order, and make you good subjects in spite of your teeth. I, for my part, shall exert my little influence to accomplish so benevolent a purpose; and shall exercise my pen and hiccory cudgel in such a manner as I shall think most likely to effect it: And while I wield these weapons in defence of the laws of my country, and in such a way as they permit and will warrant, I fear neither your answers nor your threats. The first committee-man that comes to rob me of my Tea, or my wine, or molasses, shall feel the weight of my arm; and should you be the man, however lightly you may think of it, a stroke of my cudgel would make you reel, notwithstanding the thickness of your skull.
You begin your vindication with such an air of importance, and such pomposity of expression, as I scarce ever met with before.–“It was hardly to be expected that any man could be “so presumptuous, as openly to controvert the equity, wisdom “and authority of the measures adopted by the Congress: an “assembly truly respectable on every account!–whether we consider the characters of the men, who composed it; the number and dignity of their constituents, or the important ends for which they were appointed.”–Mere explosions of the wind of vanity! Three grains of consideration would have prevented such a sentence from ever seeing the light.
It has ever been esteemed the privilege of Englishmen to canvass freely, the proceedings of every branch of the legislature; to examine into all public measures; to point out the errors that are committed in the administration of the government, and to censure without fear the conduct of all persons in public stations, whose conduct shall appear to deserve it. The exercise of this right has always been considered as one of the grand pillars which support our present happy constitution. The liberty taken with the King, Lords and Commons in many late publications in England, must convince every man, that the English nation retains, unimpaired, this right of bringing the most respectable characters before the tribunal of the public: and is an incontestible proof that the nation is not enslaved. Nor is this privilege exercised with less freedom in America than England. Did not the Congress? Do not you yourself? Does not every pidler in politics, who calls himself a son of liberty, take the licence of censuring and condemning the conduct of the King, the Lords, and the Commons, the supreme sovereign authority of the whole British Empire? Blush then at your own effrontery, in endeavouring to intimidate your countrymen from exercising this Right with regard to the Congress.
The Congress, Sir, was founded in sedition; its decisions are supported by tyranny; and is it presumption to controvert its authority? In your opinion, they “are restless spirits,”–enemies to the natural rights of mankind” who shall dare to speak against the Congress, or attempt to diminish the influence of their decisions:” while they are friends to America, and to the natural rights of mankind, who shall traduce and slander the sovereign authority of the nation; contravene and trample under foot the laws of their country.
I have no inclination to scrutinize the characters of men, who composed the Congress. It is not the dignity of their private characters, but their public conduct as Delegates that comes under my examination. The manner in which they were chosen was subversive of all law, and of the very constitution of the province. After they had met they were only a popular assembly, without check or controul, and therefore unqualified to make laws, or to pass ordinances. Upon supposition that they had been chosen by all the people with one voice, they could be only the servants of the people; and every individual must have had a right to animadvert on their conduct, and to have censured it where he thought it wrong. We think, Sir, that we have a double right to do so, seeing they were chosen by a party only, and have endeavoured to tyrannize over the whole people.
You seem to think it very wrong that the Delegates should be called to any account, because “we did not, especially in this province, circumscribe them by any fixed boundary, and therefore as they cannot be said to have exceeded the limits of their authority, their act must be esteemed the act of their constituents.”–Above you had said that “their decrees are binding upon all, and demand a religious observance.” A little below you make them their own judges, whether they have done right or not. And you represent it as no small degree of arrogance and self-sufficiency for any individual to oppose his private sentiments to their united counsels.
I have looked at this paragraph at least ten times, and every time with astonishment. It is so superlatively arrogant and impudent, that I confess myself at a loss what to say to it. And here, least I should grow angry and forget it, I must observe once for all, that I verily believe the New-York Delegates were some of the very best who attended the Congress. I have been informed that they, for a long time, opposed the violent measures that were in agitation. I honour them for this opposition; and should almost have adored them, had they preserved their integrity to the end.–But evil communications corrupt good manners. Let no honest man hereafter trust himself at a Philadelphia Congress!
Not a hundredth part of the people of this province, Sir, had any vote in sending the Delegates, and do you imagine that they would take the trouble to circumscribe them, when they did not chuse to have any thing to do with them? The juntos indeed who sent them, acted the same foolish part in not circumscribing them, that they did in chusing them. But supposing all the people in the province had joined in sending them uncircumscribed: Were the Delegates at liberty to do as they pleased? To pursue the most violent measures? To stop up every avenue of accommodation with Great-Britain? And render our state ten times worse than they found it? Must all the province religiously observe their wicked decrees? And take all their mad pranks upon themselves, whether they will or not? To be sure they must: The Delegates were their uncircumscribed representatives.–I have heard often that the privileges of our representatives, were the privileges of the people, but never till now that any absurd measures they might adopt were chargeable to their constituents.
Do you think, Sir, that because the Delegates were chosen by a party, that therefore they are accountable only to the party who chose them? You deceive yourself if you do. Every day will produce more Free Thoughts, and Canvassings, and Examinations, till their influence is totally destroyed, and their tyranny at an end.
The epithet of restless spirits you must take back to yourself and your party. The next time you write, bestow it where it is due;–on those who have wantonly employed themselves in fomenting disturbances in the colony, in creating and widening the disunion between the mother country and us, in order to advance their favorite republican plan.
I wish you had explicitly declared to the public your ideas of the natural rights of mankind. Man in a state of nature may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government: And then the weak must submit to the strong. From such a state, I confess, I have a violent aversion. I think the form of government we lately enjoyed a much more eligible state to live in: And cannot help regretting our having lost it, by the equity, wisdom, and authority of the Congress, who have introduced in the room of it, confusion and violence; where all must submit to the power of a mob.
You have taken some pains to prove what would readily have been granted you–that liberty is a very good thing, and slavery a very bad thing. But then I must think that liberty under a King, Lords and Commons is as good as liberty under a republican Congress: And that slavery under a republican Congress is as bad, at least, as slavery under a King, Lords and Commons: And upon the whole, that liberty under the supreme authority and protection of Great-Britain, is infinitely preferable to slavery under an American Congress. I will also agree with you, “that Americans are intitled to freedom.” I will go further: I will own and acknowledge that not only Americans, but Africans, Europeans, Asiaticks, all men, of all countries and degrees, of all sizes and complexions, have a right to as much freedom as is consistent with the security of civil society:
And I hope you will not think me an “enemy to the natural rights of mankind” because I cannot wish them more. We must however remember, that more liberty may, without inconvenience, be allowed to individuals in a small government, than can be admitted of in a large empire.
But when you assert that “since Americans have not by any act of theirs impowered the British parliament to make laws for them, it follows they can have no just authority to do it,” you advance a position subversive of that dependence which all colonies must, from their very nature, have on the mother country.—By the British parliament, I suppose you mean the supreme legislative authority, the King, Lords and Commons, because no other authority in England has a right to make laws to bind the kingdom, and consequently no authority to make laws to bind the colonies. In this sense I shall understand, and use the phrase British parliament.
Now the dependence of the colonies on the mother-country has ever been acknowledged. It is an impropriety of speech to talk of an independent colony. The words independency and colony, convey contradictory ideas: much like killing and sparing. As soon as a colony becomes independent on its parent state, it ceases to be any longer a colony; just as when you kill a sheep, you cease to spare him. The British colonies make a part of the British Empire. As parts of the body they must be subject to the general laws of the body. To talk of a colony independent of the mother-country, is no better sense than to talk of a limb independent of the body to which it belongs.
In every government there must be a supreme, absolute authority lodged somewhere. In arbitrary governments this power is in the monarch; in aristocratical governments, in the nobles; in democratical, in the people; or the deputies of their electing. Our own government being a mixture of all these kinds, the supreme authority is vested in the King, Nobles and People, i. e. the King, House of Lords, and House of Commons elected by the people. This supreme authority extends as far as the British dominions extend. To suppose a part of the British dominions which is not subject to the power of the British legislature, is no better sense than to suppose a country, at one and the same time, to be, and not to be a part of the British dominions. If therefore the colony of New-York be a part of the British dominions, the colony of New-York is subject, and dependent on the supreme legislative authority of Great-Britain.
Legislation is not an inherent right in the colonies. Many colonies have been established, and subsisted long without it. The Roman colonies had no legislative authority. It was not till the later period of their republic that the privileges of Roman citizens, among which that of voting in the assemblies of the people at Rome was a principal one, were extended to the inhabitants of Italy. All the laws of the empire were enacted at Rome. Neither their colonies, nor conquered countries had any thing to do with legislation.
The position that we are bound by no laws to which we have not consented, either by ourselves, or our representatives, is a novel position, unsupported by any authoratative record of the British constitution, ancient or modern. It is republican in its very nature, and tends to the utter subversion of the English monarchy.
This position has arisen from an artful change of terms. To say that an Englishman is not bound by any laws, but those to which the representatives of the nation have given their consent, is to say what is true: But to say that an Englishman is bound by no laws but those to which he hath consented in person, or by his representative, is saying what never was true, and never can be true. A great part of the people in England have no vote in the choice of representatives, and therefore are governed by laws to which they never consented either by themselves or by their representatives.
The right of colonists to exercise a legislative power, is no natural right. They derive it not from nature, but from the indulgence or grant of the parent state, whose subjects they were when the colony was settled, and by whose permission and assistance they made the settlement.
Upon supposition that every English colony enjoyed a legislative power independent of the parliament; and that the parliament has no just authority to make laws to bind them, this absurdity will follow–that there is no power in the British empire, which has authority to make laws for the whole empire; i. e. we have an empire, without government; or which amounts to the same thing, we have a government which has no supreme power. All our colonies are independent of each other: Suppose them independent of the British parliament,–what power do you leave to govern the whole? None at all. You split and divide the empire into a number of petty insignificant states. This is the direct, the necessary tendency of refusing submission to acts of parliament. Every man who can see one inch beyond his nose, must see this consequence. And every man who endeavours to accelerate the independency of the colonies on the British parliament, endeavours to accelerate the ruin of the British empire.
To talk of being liege subjects to King George, while we disavow the authority of parliament is another piece of whiggish nonsense. I love my King as well as any whig in America or England either, and am as ready to yield him all lawful submission: But while I submit to the King, I submit to the authority of the laws of the state, whose guardian the King is. The difference between a good and a bad subject, is only this, that the one obeys, the other transgresses the law. The difference between a loyal subject and a rebel, is, that the one yields obedience to, and faithfully supports the supreme authority of the state, and the other endeavours to overthrow it. If we obey the laws of the King, we obey the laws of the parliament. If we disown the authority of the parliament, we disown the authority of the King. There is no medium without ascribing powers to the King which the constitution knows nothing of:–without making him superior to the laws, and setting him above all restraint. These are some of the ridiculous absurdities of American whiggism.
I am utterly at a loss what ideas to annex to the phrases–dependence on Great-Britain;–subordination to the Parliament;–submission to the supreme legislative power;–unless they mean some degree of subjection to the British Parliament; some acknowledgment of its right to make laws to bind the colonies.
Give me leave, Sir, to transcribe for your perusal, an extract from a petition to the House of Commons, sent by the General Congress, who met at New-York the 19th of October 1765. Whether this Congress was equal in wisdom, dignity, and authority to that lately assembled at Philadelphia, you can determine for yourself: However that be, they express themselves thus;–“It is from and under the English constitution we derive all our civil and religious rites and liberties, we glory in being subjects of the best of Kings, and having been born under the most perfect form of government. We esteem our connections with, and dependence on Great-Britain as one of our greatest blessings, and apprehend the latter will appear to be sufficiently secure, when it is considered that the inhabitants in the colonies have the most unbounded affection for his Majesty’s person, family and government; and that their subordination to the Parliament is universally acknowledged.”
A still more respectable body, viz. the General Assembly of New-York, in the preamble to their resolutions of the i8th of December, 1765, declare;–“That they think it their indispensible duty to make a declaration of their faith and allegiance to his Majesty, King George the Third, and their submission to the supreme legislative power, and at the same time to shew, that the rights claimed by them are in no manner inconsistent with either.”
You have utterly failed in proving that “The clear voice of natural justice,” and “the fundamental principles of the English constitution,” set us free from the subordination here acknowledged. Let us see the success of your next attempt.
You appeal to “our charters, the express conditions on which our progenitors relinquished their native countries, and came to settle in this,” and our charters you say, “preclude every claim of ruling and taxing us without our assent.” Did you examine all the charters of the different colonies, before you made this bold assertion? I fear you did not read one of them.
I presume the province of New-York has no charter: at least I never heard of any. The claim then, of the Parliament, “of ruling and taxing us without our assent,” is not precluded by charter.
The first charter granted by the crown of England, for the purpose of colonization, is that of King James the first to the two Virginia companies. This, as it is explained and enlarged by another charter, dated only three years after, has the following clauses:–That the Governor and other magistrates and officers to be appointed by a Council residing in London, are vested with full and absolute power and authority to correct, punish and pardon, govern and rule all such the subjects of us, our heirs and successors, as shall from time to time adventure themselves in any voyage thither, or that shall at any time inhabit the precincts and territories of the said colony as aforesaid, according to such orders, ordinances, constitutions, directions, and instructions as by our said Council as aforesaid shall be established; and in default thereof, in case of necessity, according to the good discretion of the said Governor and officers, respectively; as well in cases capital as civil, both maritime and others; so always as the said statutes, ordinances and proceedings as near as conveniently may be, be agreeable to the laws, statutes, government and policy of this our realm of England. The treasurer and company are exempted from the payment of all duties and taxes for seven years: But a duty of two and a half per cent, is laid by the King upon all merchandize bought or sold within the precinct of the colony, by English subjects not of the colony, and an additional duty of two and an half per cent, more is laid upon all merchandize bought or sold therein by aliens or foreigners: and the revenue to arise from these duties is thus appropriated by the King, all which sums of money or benefit, as aforesaid, for and during the space of twenty-one years next ensuing the date hereof, shall be wholly employed to the use, benefit and behoof of the said several plantations where such traffic shall be made: and after the said twenty-one years, the same shall be taken to the use of us, our heirs and successors, by such officers and ministers as by us, our heirs and successors shall be thereunto appointed. In a clause of the second charter this duty is doubled, but it is explained to mean a duty of five per cent, upon goods imported, and five per cent, on goods exported by English subjects not of the colony, or allowed by the company, and ten per cent, to be paid by aliens, over and above such subsidy and custom as the said company is, or hereafter shall be, to pay.
The territory granted by these charters to the two Virginia companies, extended from the latitude 34 to the latitude 45, which includes the whole country from the south boundary of Virginia to the frontiers of Nova-Scotia: and the first settlers in that part of the territory, now called New-England, settled under those very charters, having purchased the right so to do from one of these companies.
We find, also, that the New-England company’s having levied money on the inhabitants, which their charter gave them no right to do, was one of the principal acts of delinquency alledged in the writ of fieri facias, issued against their charter in the 36th year of Charles the second, and upon which judgment was given in the Court of King’s-Bench against the Governor and company of that colony, and their charter, thereon, taken away. And in their new charter granted by King William and Queen Mary, the power to levy taxes is restrained to provincial and local purposes only, and to be exercised over such only as are inhabitants and proprietors of the said province.
The Charters of Connecticut and Rhode-Island are simply matters of incorporation, viz. That they the said John Winthrope, &c. and all others as now, or hereafter shall be admitted and made free of the Company and Society of our Colony of Connecticut, in America (the same words are used in the charter of Rhode-Island) shall from this time and for ever after, be one body corporate and politic, in act and name, by the name of Governor and Company of the English colony of Connecticut, in New-England, in America; and that by the same they and their successors shall and may have perpetual succession, and shall and may be persons able and capable in law to plead and be impleaded, to answer and be answered unto, and to defend, and to be defended in all and singular suits, causes, quarrels, matters, actions and things, of what kind or nature soever. And also to have, take, possess, acquire, and purchase lands, tenements or hereditaments, or any goods or chattels, and the same to lease, grant, demise, alien, bargain, sell and dispose of, as other our liege people of this our realm of England, or any other corporation or body politic within the same.
The charter of Pennsylvania contains the following clause: And further our pleasure is, and for these presents, for us, our heirs, and successors, we do covenant and grant to, and with the said William Penn, &c. That we, our heirs and successors, shall at no time hereafter set or make, or cause to set any imposition, custom, or other taxation or rate, or contribution whatsoever, in and upon the dwellers and inhabitants of the aforesaid province, or their lands, tenements, goods or chattels, within the said province, or to be laden or unladen within the ports or harbours of the said province, unless the same be with the consent of the Proprietors or chief Governor or Assembly, or by act of Parliament in England.
These extracts abundantly prove that the colony charters by no means imply an independence on the supreme legislative authority of Great-Britain: they prove also, that you, Sir, was too hasty when you asserted, that “our charters precluded every “claim of ruling and taxing us without our assent.” Great-Britain still retains the power of binding the colonies by such laws as she shall think necessary to secure and preserve the dependence of the colonies on the mother country;–to promote their particular welfare, or the welfare of the whole empire collectively.
That you will perceive the force of this reasoning, I pretend not to say. A person diseased with the jaundice sees no colour but yellow. Party heat, the fever of liberty, may for any thing I know, vitiate the mind, as much as the jaundice does the eyes. I flatter myself, however, that all reasonable Americans will feel its force; and will not be led by positive assertions without proof, nor declamatory harangues without argument, into rebellion against the supreme authority of the nation: Nor be beguiled of their present free and happy government, by the loud clamours of unrestrained licentiousness, under the specious name of liberty. Tyranny and slavery must be the consequence of the present system of conduct. If we wantonly throw off that subordination to the British Parliament, which our present state requires, we shall inevitably fall under the dominion of some foreign tyrant, or the more intolerable despotism of a few American demagogues.
If it be said, that admitting the foregoing reasoning and authorities, yet the right of taxation will not follow, let it be considered, that in every government, legislation and taxation, or the right of raising a revenue, must be conjoined. If you divide them, you weaken, and finally destroy the government; for no government can long subsist without power to raise the supplies necessary for its defence and administration. It has been proved, that the supreme authority of the British empire extends over all the dominions that compose the empire. The power, or right of the British Parliament to raise such a revenue as is necessary for the defence and support of the British government, in all parts of the British dominions, is therefore incontestable. For if no government can subsist without a power to raise the revenues necessary for its support, then, in fact, no government can extend any further than its power of raising such a revenue extends. If therefore the British Parliament has no power to raise a revenue in the colonies, it has no government over the colonies, i. e. no government can support itself. The burthen of supporting its government over the colonies must lie upon the other parts of the empire. But this is unreasonable. Government implies, not only a power of making and enforcing laws, but defence and protection. Now protection implies tribute. Those that share in the protection of any government, are in reason and duty, bound to maintain and support the government that protects them: Otherwise they destroy their own protection; or else they throw an unjust burthen on their fellow-subjects, which they ought to bear in common with them. While therefore the colonies are under the British government, and share in its protection, the British government has a right to raise, and they are in reason and duty bound to pay, a reasonable and proportionable part of the expence of its administration.
The authority of the British Parliament, that is, of the supreme sovereign authority of the British empire, over the colonies, and its right to raise a proportional part of its revenue, for the support of its government, in the colonies, being established; it is to be considered, what is the most reasonable and equitable method of doing it.
Notwithstanding the large landed estate possessed by the British subjects in the different parts of the world, they must be considered as a commercial, manufacturing people. The welfare, perhaps the existence of Great-Britain as an independent or sovereign state, depends upon her manufactures and trade: and many people in America think, that her manufactories and commerce depend in a great measure on her intercourse with her colonies; insomuch that if this should be neglected, her commerce would decline and die away; her wealth would cease, and her maritime power be at an end. If these observations be just, they establish the right of the British parliament to regulate the commerce of the whole empire, beyond possibility of contradiction, a denial of it would be a denial of a right in the British empire to preserve itself. They prove also that all parts of the British empire must be subject to the British parliament, for otherwise the trade of the whole cannot be regulated. They point out also the best mode of raising such a revenue as is necessary for the support and defence of the government, viz. by duties on imports and exports; because these are attended with the least inconveniency to the subject, and may be so managed as to raise a revenue, and regulate the trade at the same time.
Good policy will require, that the heavier duties be laid upon articles of luxury, especially foreign ones: and that as little as possible be laid upon the raw materials for manufactures, and upon our own exports.
The right of the British parliament to regulate the trade of the whole empire has been fully acknowledged by some of the warmest advocates for American liberty. The Pennsylvania Farmer, in his second letter, expresses himself fully to the point. “The parliament unquestionably possesses a legal authority to regulate the trade of Great Britain, and all her colonies. Such an authority is essential to the relation between “a mother country and her colonies, and necessary for the common good of all. He who considers these provinces, as States distinct from, the British empire, has very slender notions of justice, or of their interests: We are but parts of a whole, and therefore there must exist a power somewhere, to preside, and preserve the connection in due order: This power is lodged in the parliament.” In the same letter, he says, that “we, the colonies, may be legally bound by act of parliament, to pay any general duties relative to the regulation of trade, is granted.”
When it is considered, that Great Britain is a maritime power; that the present flourishing state of her trade, and of the trade of her colonies, depends in a great measure, upon the protection which they receive from her navy; that her own security depends upon her navy; and that it is principally a naval protection that we receive from her, there will appear a peculiar propriety in laying the chief burden of supporting her navy upon her commerce, and in requesting us to bear a part of the expence, proportional to our ability, and to that protection and security which we receive from it.
There are but two objections that can reasonably be made to what has been said upon this subject. The first is, that if the British parliament has a right to make laws to bind the whole empire, our assemblies become useless. But a little consideration will remove this difficulty.
Our assemblies, from the very nature of things, can have but a legated, subordinate, and local authority of legislation. Their power of making laws in conjunction with the other branches of the legislature, cannot extend beyond the limits of the province to which they belong. Their authority must be subordinate to the supreme sovereign authority of the nation, or there is imperium in imperio: two sovereign authorities in the same state; which is a contradiction. Every thing that relates to the internal policy and government of the province which they represent comes properly before them, whether they be matters of law or revenue. But all laws relative to the empire in general, or to all the colonies conjunctively, or which regulates the trade of any particular colony, in order to make it compatible with the general good of the whole empire, must be left to the parliament. There is no other authority which has a right to make such regulations, or weight sufficient to carry them into execution.
Our Assemblies are also the true, proper, legal guardians of our rights, privileges and liberties. If any laws of the British Parliament are thought oppressive; or if, in the administration of the British government, any unnecessary or unreasonable burthen be laid upon us, they are the proper persons to seek for redress: And they are the most likely to succeed. They have the legal and constitutional means in their hands. They are the real not the pretended representatives of the people. They are bodies known, and acknowledged by the public laws of the empire. Their representations will be attended to, and their remonstrances heard.
To the honour of the Assemblies of this province, as far back as I am able to judge, be it spoken,–they have always discharged this duty with fidelity, prudence and firmness; and with such success, as ought to encourage us to rely upon their wisdom and good conduct, to deliver us from our present embarrassed state with our mother country; and from that abject slavery and cruel oppression which the tyranny of the late Congress has brought upon us.
Considered in this light they are a body, of real dignity, and of the utmost importance: And whoever attempts to lessen their influence, or disparage their authority, ought to be considered as an enemy to the liberties of his country. Had our present contests with Great-Britain been left to their management, I would not have said a word. But their authority is contravened and superseded by a power from without the province. Virginia and Massachusetts madmen, met at Philadelphia, have made laws for the province of New-York, and have rendered our Assembly useless; and unless they exert their proper authority with a spirit becoming their own dignity, insignificant.–Virginia and Massachusetts madmen? You’ll exclaim! Aye, madmen,–mad beyond all doubt;–so mad, that an acre of Hellebore a piece will not cure them. Why do you fret, Sir!–They talked like madmen: They acted like madmen: They raved like madmen: They did every thing like madmen:–Then why not call them madmen?–Why not? Why! they were the representatives of the people. And very fit representatives too. It could not be expected that mad people would send any other than mad representatives;–and mad work they made when they got together.
You, Sir, affect to consider the Gentlemen that went from this province to the Congress as the representatives of the province. You know in your conscience that they were not chosen by a hundredth part of the people. You know also, that their appointment was in a way unsupported by any law, usage, or custom of the province. You know also, that the people of this province had already delegated their power to the members of their Assembly, and therefore had no right to choose Delegates, to contravene the authority of the Assembly, by introducing a foreign power of legislation. Yet you consider those Delegates, in a point of light equal to our legal representatives; for you say, that “our representatives in General Assembly “cannot take any wiser or better course to settle our differences, “than our representatives in the Continental Congress have “taken.”–Then I affirm, that our representatives ought to go to school for seven years, before they are returned to serve again. No wiser or better course? Then they must take just the course that the Congress have taken;–for a worse, or more foolish, they cannot take, should they try: If they act any way different from the Congress, they must act better and wiser.–But more of this by and by.
The other objection to what has been said upon the legislative authority of the British Parliament, is this: That if the Parliament have authority to make laws to bind the whole empire;–to regulate the trade of the whole empire;–and to raise a revenue upon the whole empire; then we have nothing that we can call our own:–By the same authority that they can take a penny, they can take a pound, or all we have got.
Let it be considered, that no scheme of human policy can be so contrived and guarded, but that something must be left to the integrity, prudence, and wisdom of those who govern. We are apt to think, and I believe justly, that the British constitution is the best scheme of government now subsisting: The rights and liberties of the people are better secured by it, than by any other system now subsisting. And yet we find that the rights and liberties of Englishmen may be infringed by wicked and ambitious men. This will ever be the case, even after human sagacity has exerted its utmost ability. This is, however, not argument, that we should not secure ourselves as well as we can. It is rather an argument, that we should use our utmost endeavour to guard against the attempts of ambition or avarice.
A great part of the people in England, a considerable number of people in this province, are bound by laws, and taxed without their consent, or the consent of their representatives: for representatives they have none, unless the absurd position of a virtual representation be admitted. These people may object to the present mode of government. They may say, that they have nothing that they can call their own. That if they may be taxed a penny without their consent, they may be taxed a pound; and so on. You will think it a sufficient security to these people, that the representatives of the nation or province cannot hurt them, without hurting themselves; because, they cannot tax them, without taxing themselves. This security however may not be so effectual as at first may be imagined. The rich are never taxed so much in proportion to their estates as the poor: And even an equal proportion of that tax which a rich man can easily pay, may be a heavy burthen to a poor man. But the same security that these people have against being ruined by the representatives of the nation, or province where they live; the same security have we against “being ruined by the British parliament. They cannot hurt us without hurting themselves. The principal profits of our trade center in England. If they lay unnecessary or oppressive burthens on it; or any ways restrain it, so as to injure us, they will soon feel the effect, and very readily remove the cause. If this security is thought insufficient, let us endeavour to obtain a more effectual one. Let it however be remembered, that this security has been thought, and found sufficient till within a short period; and very probably, a prudent management, and a temperate conduct on our part, would have made it permanently effectual.
But the colonies have become so considerable by the increase of their inhabitants and commerce, and by the improvement of their lands, that they seem incapable of being governed in the same lax and precarious manner as formerly. They are arrived to that mature state of manhood which requires a different, and more exact policy of ruling, than was necessary in their infancy and childhood. They want, and are entitled to, a fixed determinate constitution of their own. A constitution which shall unite them firmly with Great-Britain, and with one another;–which shall mark out the line of British supremacy, and colonial dependence, giving on the one hand full force to the supreme authority of the nation over all its dominions, and on the other, securing effectually the rights, liberty, and property of the colonists.–This is an event devoutly to be wished, by all good men; and which all ought to labour to obtain by all prudent, and probable means. Without obtaining this, it is idle to talk of obtaining a redress of the grievances complained of. They naturally, they necessarily result from the relation which we at present stand in to Great-Britain.
You, Sir, argue through your whole pamphlet, upon an assumed point, viz: That the British government–the King, Lords and Commons, have laid a regular plan to enslave America; and that they are now deliberately putting it in execution. This point has never been proved, though it has been asserted over, and over, and over again. If you say, that they have declared their right of making laws, to bind us in all cases whatsoever’. I answer; that the declarative act here referred to. means no more than to assert the supreme authority of Great-Britain over all her dominions.–If you say, that they have exercised this power in a wanton, oppressive manner;–it is a point, that I am not enough acquainted with the minatiae [sic] of government to determine. It may be true. The colonies are undoubtedly alarmed on account of their liberties. Artful men have availed themselves of the opportunity, and have excited such scenes of contention between the parent state and the colonies, as afford none but dreadful prospects. Republicans smile at the confusion that they themselves have, in a great measure made, and are exerting all their influence, by sedition and rebellion, to shake the British empire to its very basis, that they may have an opportunity of erecting their beloved common wealth on its ruins. If greater security to our rights and liberties be necessary than the present form and administration of the government can give us, let us endeavour to obtain it; but let our endeavours be regulated by prudence and probability of success. In this attempt all good men will join, both in England and America: All, who love their country, and with the prosperity of the British empire, will be glad to see it accomplished.
Before we set out to obtain this security we should have had prudence enough to settle one point among ourselves. We should have considered what security it was we wanted;–what concessions, on the part of Great-Britain would have been sufficient to have fixed our rights and liberties on a firm and permanent foundation. This was the proper business of our assemblies, and to them we ought to have applied; and why we did not apply to them, no one tolerable reason can be assigned:—A business which our assembly, at least, is equal to, whether we consider their abilities as men, or their authority as representatives of the province; and a business, which, I doubt not, they would have executed with prudence, firmness and success.–I say nothing of the other assemblies on the continent, for I know little of them; only, that they were the proper persons to have managed this affair.
But we ran headlong to work, without ever considering the point we aimed at, or determining what the concessions were, with which we would be satisfied. Nor is this, indeed, so much to be wondered at. The present commotions were first excited, not by patriotism, but the selfishness of those merchants who had engrossed the tea-trade with Holland. All was quiet till they were alarmed by the design of sending the tea belonging to the East-India company, to be sold in the colonies. Then began the cry of liberty, which hath since been so loudly echoed, and re-echoed through the continent.
Nor have the steps we have since taken, been a whit more prudent, than the manner in which we set out.
Every man who wishes well, either to America or Great-Britain, must wish to see a hearty and firm union subsisting between them, and between every part of the British empire. The first object of his desire will be to heal the unnatural breach that now subsists, and to accomplish a speedy reconciliation. All parties declare the utmost willingness to live in union with Great-Britain. They profess the utmost loyalty to the King; the warmest affection to their fellow-subjects in England, Ireland, and the West-Indies, and their readiness to do every thing to promote their welfare, that can reasonably be expected from them. Even those republicans, who with the destruction of every species and appearance of monarchy in the world, find it necessary to put on a fair face, and make the same declaration.
What steps, Sir, I beseech you, has the Congress taken to accomplish these good purposes? Have they fixed any determined point for us to aim at? they have, and the point marked out by them, is, absolute independence on Great-Britain;–a perfect discharge from all subordination to the supreme authority of the British empire.–Have they proposed any method of cementing our union with the mother country? Yes, but a queer one, viz. to break off all dealings and intercourse with her.–Have they done any thing to shew their love and affection to their fellow-subjects in England, Ireland, and the West-Indies?–Undoubtedly they have,–they have endeavoured to starve them all to death.–Is this “Equity?” Is this “Wisdom?”–Then murder is equity, and folly, wisdom.
I will here, Sir, venture to deliver my sentiments upon the line that ought to be drawn between the supremacy of Great-Britain, and the dependency of the Colonies. And I shall do it with the more boldness, because, I know it to be agreeable to the opinions of many of the warmest advocates for America, both in England and in the colonies, in the time of the stamp-act.–I imagine that if all internal taxation be vested in our own legislatures, and the right of regulating trade by duties, bounties, &c. be left in the power of the Parliament; and also the right of enacting all general laws for the good of all the colonies, that we shall have all the security for our rights, liberties and property, which human policy can give us: The dependence of the colonies on the mother country will be fixed on a firm foundation; the sovereign authority of Parliament, over all the dominions of the empire will be established, and the mother-country and all her colonies will be knit together, in ONE GRAND, FIRM, AND COMPACT BODY.
I do not think my sentiments of so much weight, as to wish to obtrude them on the public. There are some reasons, however, in favour of the above scheme, which I beg leave to mention.
It seems to me to be agreeable to the sentiments delivered by the best friends of America, in the debates in the House of Lords, and House of Commons, upon the bill for repealing the stamp act. I have not these debates by me; but I remember particularly that though the present Earl of Chatham argued against the propriety of raising internal taxes in America, by virtue of an act of Parliament, yet he openly avowed the right of Parliament to regulate the trade of the colonies.
This is a scheme which we shall probably succeed in, if we attempt it with proper prudence and temper. It appears to me so reasonable in itself, that I am persuaded the justice of the nation will not refuse it, when applied for in a constitutional way. We shall also probably have many warm, and sensible advocates both among the Lords and Commons, to support our application.
If we grasp at too much, we shall lose every thing. The Parliament will never give up the right of regulating the trade of the colonies. If they meet with ever so much opposition from us, it will only make them the more sensible of the necessity of retaining and supporting their power. By insisting upon their relinquishing this right, we shall disoblige and lose our best friends in England. The people of this province thought themselves under so great obligations to Mr. Pitt, now Earl of Chatham, for the pains he took in getting the stamp-act repealed, that they erected his statue in New-York, to perpetuate their gratitude. Yet, if I remember right, he expresses himself, in his celebrated speech upon that occasion, in words that ought to make the deepest impression on us, at this time, I cannot pretend to quote exactly from memory. The expression I allude to, is to this purpose: “confine their trade and their manufactures; exercise every power over them, except that of taking money out of their pockets.” Another sentiment of his with regard to the colonies, is to this purpose; “if Great Britain has no sovereign, supreme, legislative authority over America, I would advise every landed gentleman among us, to sell his estate, and go to that country.” Can we expect that the Earl of Chatham will expose himself to ridicule and contempt, by supporting us in demands directly repugnant to his sentiments, delivered in the House of Commons? The misfortune is, that we have risen in our demands since that time, and now require so much, that no honest man in England, can abet or support us, in them.
This scheme will secure us from slavery, and too abject a dependence on our fellow-subjects in England. The Parliament can hurt us in no way but by an internal tax on our estates, without injuring the nation in an equal degree. If they lay unnecessary, or oppressive duties on trade, they will immediately feel the effect; and as soon as the cause is pointed out, they will, for their own sakes, remove it.
If we should succeed in depriving Great Britain of the power, of regulating our trade, the colonies will probably be soon at variance with each other. Their commercial interests will interfere; there will be no supreme power to interpose, and discord and animosity must ensue.
And upon the whole–if the Parliament can regulate our trade, so as to make it conduce to the general good of the whole empire, as well as to our particular profit; if they can protect us in the secure enjoyment of an extensive and lucrative commerce, and at the same time can raise a part of the revenue necessary to support their naval power, without which our commerce cannot be safe, every reasonable man, I should imagine, would think it best to let them enjoy it in peace; without descending to the mean, paltry, narrow, stupid design of the Congress, to have them all sworn, King, Lords and Commons, upon the Holy Evangelists of Almighty God, that all the duties by them laid, are bona fide, intended as regulations of trade, and not to raise one single brass farthing, by way of revenue. Disdainful thought! You, Sir, may, if you please, pride yourself in this suspicious, jealous, parsimonious, stingy, contracted disposition of the Congress; you may call it equity, wisdom, dignity: Be it my glory to have contributed, even in the smallest degree, to the honour, splendor, and majesty of the British empire. My ancestors were among the first Englishmen who settled in America. I have no interest but in America. I have not a relation out of it that I know of. Yet, let me die! but I had rather be reduced to the last shilling, than that the imperial dignity of Great Britain should sink, or be controlled by any people or power on earth.
But whatever mode may be thought proper to attempt the settlement of an American constitution in, and to heal the breach between the mother country and the colonies, the one adopted by the Congress is certainly deficient, both in point of prudence and efficacy. In the commotions occasioned by the stamp-act, we recurred to petitions, and remonstrances; our grievances were point-out, and redress solicited, with temper and decency. They were heard; they were attended to, and the disagreeable act repealed. The same mode of application succeeded with regard to the duties laid upon glass, painters colours, &c. You, say, indeed that our addresses on this occasion were “treated with contempt and neglect.” But I beseech you, were not our addresses received, read, and debated upon? and was not the repeal of those acts the consequence? The fact, you know, is as I state it. If these acts were not only disagreeable to the Americans, but were also “found to militate against the commercial interests of Great-Britain,” it proves what I have asserted above, that duties which injure our trade, will soon be felt in England, and then there will be no difficulty in getting them repealed.
Your next instance to prove the inefficacy of remonstrances and petitions, is taken from the application of the Boston assembly, against their governor; this, you say, “was treated with “the greatest indignity, and stigmatized as a seditious, vexatious, “and scandalous libel.” And yet, in truth, this petition was treated with all the regard that possibly could be paid to it. It was received by the King: the Governor, against whom the complaint was made, was called to a public tryal, before the only court where the cause was cognizable, the King in council.
The Boston assembly could not support their charge; and the Governor was acquitted. This you call stigmatizing their petition, as a seditious, vexatious, and scandalous libel. If it was so, why should not the court stigmatize it as such? If it was not so, why did not that assembly support their charge? They could as easily have sent a state of the facts upon which they grounded their complaint, and the evidence to support them, to England, as they sent the complaint: And if they did not do it, it is more than probable, that they had none to send.
Some people have got a strange way of complaining, petitioning, and remonstrating, in a manner that they know must fail, and then they make a great noise about the disregard with which their applications are treated. I wish I could see the petition of the late congress to the King. I will lay a pound to a penny, that it is exactly of this stamp.
There is also this reason why we should, at least, have tried the mode of petition and remonstrance, to obtain a removal of the grievances we complain of. The friends of America, in England, have strongly recommended it, as the most decent and probable means of succeeding. It would have given them a fair opportunity of becoming advocates in our cause, and of supporting us in all our just and reasonable demands. But by the hasty resolves and violent proceedings of the Congress, we have effectually prevented them from appearing in our behalf: and if the information from England be true, we have, by our haughty demands of independency on the supreme legislature of the nation, detached most of them from our interest, and forced them to take part against us.
It was to this circumstance I adverted, when, in the Free Thoughts I said in general terms, that the proceedings of the Congress would alienate the affections of the people in Great-Britain, and of friends, make them our enemies. You make light of this, and seem so confident of having the people of England at your devotion, that you imagine, as soon as your redoubtable Congress gives the word, they will spurn all the restraints of law and government, fly upon the parliament and ministry, and on them “revenge the evils they may feel,”–a little time, Sir, will determine whether you, or I, judge right in this particular.
You talk much of the justice, vigour, policy, and probable success of the measures adopted by the Congress. I have shewn, and shall shew more fully, that it is highly improbable that they will succeed; and that they are not founded in good policy, but in arrant folly. Their vigour I must confess: But the misfortune is, they will be most vigorous to our own hurt. If a man puts a pistol to his breast and draws the trigger, the pistol will fire just as vigorously as if he turned the muzzle the other way, but the consequence will be very different.
The landed and trading interests of this country both depend principally upon our exports. If our exports should cease only for a year, not only the produce of our lands, but the lands themselves would sink amazingly in value. A great number of people would be out of employ, and stroling through the country, would become the wretched objects both of pity and dread. Thieves, robbers, and highwaymen would render life and property very precarious. We should then taste the sweets of natural liberty, and see the natural rights of mankind exemplified in dreadful instances. We should then have reason and leisure enough to repent of our folly, and lament that infatuation, which tempted us to grasp at the mere shadow of civil freedom, while we lost its real substance.
Every man of common sense must laugh at your scheme of clothing ourselves with our own manufactures. The folly of it is too glaring to escape observation.–Continue the non-importation; and the first winter after our English goods are consumed, we shall be starving with cold.–Kill your sheep ever so sparingly, keep every weather, as well as ewe, to increase the number, and improve the breed of sheep; make every other mode of farming subservient to the raising of sheep, and the requisite quantity of wool to cloth the inhabitants of this continent, will not be obtained in twenty years: If they increase only as they have done, not in fifty.
The cotton you speak of, must come from the southern colonies. Should Great-Britain block up our ports, how are we to get it? Bring it by land? The expence I fear would be too great, at least for the poor.
Besides: who is to manufacture this wool and cotton after we have got it. The country people manufacture as much cloth as they can already; and you will find that it requires full as much legerdemain to convert an American sailor or ship-wright into a spinster or weaver, as to convert an English clothier into a blacksmith. The people of England, Sir, have this advantage over us, should our non-importation distress their manufacturers.–Every man may apply himself to labour on a farm, and would become expert enough at it, to get his bread. The price of grain would be much advanced in France, Spain, and in the Mediterranean, as soon as the supply from America was cut off. They could therefore have the greatest encouragement to raise, and export grain to foreign markets. But our people would not be employed in this way; for when our exports are stopped, our grain would become of little worth: And I imagine that our sailors, &c. will make no better physicians, parsons, lawyers, “philosophers, poets, painters, and musicians,” than the English mechanics.
Let it also be considered that notwithstanding the present high cultivation of the lands in England, that kingdom is still capable of being improved by agriculture and commerce, so as to maintain double the number of people, that it does at present. Probably the emigrations to America and the East-Indies, have been the principal cause of preventing it hitherto.
With regard to the north part of Britain,–the ancient kingdom of Scotland, the improvements that have been made in it, particularly within the last thirty years, are amazing. The enter-prizing spirit, and the persevering efforts of the people have opened an easy intercourse between all parts of the country, by means of the noblest roads and canals. A taste for the liberal arts and sciences has been a long time characteristic of the nation. And commerce hath enriched them to that degree, that I have heard it confidently asserted, that the single province of Virginia, owes the single city of Glasgow, at this very time, no less than two hundred thousand pounds sterling. To get rid of their enormous debt, at a stroke, may be the grand reason why the Virginians are so ready to embrace any scheme that promises exemption from the British government.–Such an attempt may raise the indignation of the Scots against the Virginians, but not against the government. They have too long tasted the sweets of peace, order, agriculture, and a flourishing commerce: They have ever been attached to monarchy: They have got over those difficulties which a warm affection for a particular family involved them in, and for courage, abilities and loyalty are surpassed by no subjects of the British dominions.
To return: We once tried this manufacturing scheme in this province. All orders and degrees of people became enthusiastically fond of home-spun clothes. Our sheep and lambs were killed as sparingly as possible. The best encouragement was given to the artificers. How it succeeded the managers can inform you.
I mentioned the injustice and cruelty of one measure of the Congress, which I thought indicated a disposition to distress the people of Great-Britain, Ireland and the West-Indies, who had done us no injury. You, Sir, avow this design, and justify it in a way that does no honour, either to your head or your heart. You represent them as being politically criminal, because they have not endeavoured to prevent the injuries which, you say, the British Parliament has brought upon us, and are therefore to “be regarded, in some measure, as accomplices.”–There is about as much propriety, justice and truth in this reasoning, as there would be in arguing your right to starve your neighbour, because he did not prevent your falling into a fever, though you would live after your own way, and never asked his assistance at all.
Are the Irish and West-Indians accountable for our mad freaks? Do you expect to extend the tyranny of the Congress over the whole British empire, by the mere legerdemain of calling it American freedom? Do you think that the Irish and West-Indians are, in duty bound, to enter into our non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreement, till all our grievances and complaints, real and pretended, are removed? and that they deserve to be starved if they do not? Enjoy your folly and malevolence if you can.
You say, that “it is impossible to exculpate a people that “suffers its rulers to abuse and tyrannize over others.” You will allow I presume, that the abettors and supporters of the present measures in America, are a numerous people: How will you exculpate them, who suffer their rulers, the Congress and Committees, rulers whom they themselves have appointed, “to abuse and tyrannize over others,” in the most unwarrantable, illegal, and unheard of manner. All this, I suppose, is right. The tyranny of a mob, is the freedom of America: but if the people of England, Ireland, and the West-Indies, will not, at your command, rise and tear their rulers in pieces, they are perfect slaves: they cannot be exculpated: they deserve to be starved.
In Page 22, you disdain the imputation, on the Congress, of endeavouring “to threaten, bully, or frighten any person into a compliance with” your “demands,” by exciting clamours and riots in England. Yet in the 14th page you openly declare, “that the design of the Congress in their proceedings was, to influence the ministry to give up their enterprize; or otherwise, to rouse the inhabitants of Great Britain, Ireland, and the West-Indies, from their state of neutrality, and engage them to unite with us in opposing the lawless hand of tyranny.” And in page 21st, you give this reason why the non-exportation was put off to a distant period, viz. “The prospect of its taking place, and of the evils attendant upon it, will be a prevailing motive with the ministry to abandon their maglignant schemes.”–This, I think, is something like endeavouring to bully and frighten the ministry into a compliance with your demands, and implies something more than a seeming contradiction. To reconcile it may be a proper employment for your hours of leisure: At present please to attend me a little further.
There appears to me to be an error in your vindication, which is common to all the writers of your party. You over-rate the importance of these colonies to the British empire. You seem to think that it depends entirely on our trade, whether it shall or shall not exist.
That as soon as we stop our imports, England will have no vent for her woolens, Ireland for her linens, nor the West-Indies for their sugars: that as soon as our non-importation takes place, Ireland will be without flax-seed, and the West-Indies without flour or lumber. The exportation of British manufactures to America is but small, compared with that to other parts of the world. The ships that trade to those colonies that are engaged in the present, unnatural dispute with their mother-country, however numerous they may appear in your eyes, bear but a small proportion to those which navigate the Thames, the Severn, &c. Ask any one capable of informing you, and you will soon be convinced, that but a small proportion of the Yorkshire cloth comes to this country. The estimate may easily be made by comparing the number of ships that sail from Hull, &c. to these colonies, with those that sail to the Baltic, and other parts of Europe.
Besides; the American market hath hitherto had the preference in England. They looked out for no vent for those articles which we wanted. Should their trade with us fail, very small concessions to Portugal, Russia, Turkey, &c. would open a vent for all they could send. I have no inclination to lessen our importance to the British empire. I acknowledge it to be considerable: but if we estimate it so high as to suppose that Great Britain could not subsist without us, or could not subsist in a happy and flourishing state, we deceive ourselves with fancied notions of our own consequence. Nor, Sir, did I ever attempt to declaim upon the “omnipotency and all-sufficiency of Great Britain.” These are your not my expressions. Great Britain may be a flourishing and powerful state, without being omnipotent. She may be happy, and prosperous, and have great resources, without being all sufficient. Whenever I attempt to declaim, as I know my abilities to be but moderate, I shall take care to choose a copious subject, and one that is founded in “truth and reality;” and the omnipotency and all-sufficiency of the late Grand Continental Congress shall by my theme, in preference to every other one. However, I believe it will be most prudent for me, to leave the field of declamation to you. Your genius seems exactly fitted for making excurtions round its flowery borders; there you may select nosegays of the most odorous perfumes, and wear chaplets of never failing colours, to refresh and adorn, the patriotic heroes that lately met at Philadelphia.
Let us now pay a short visit to poor Ireland, another victim, devoted by the Congress to the infernal Gods, to render them propitious to sedition and rebellion. Where will Ireland find purchasers for her linens, so numerous and wealthy as we are? This is a question which you think will surpass the “profound sagacity of Mr. A. W. Farmer,” to answer. In truth, Sir, Mr. A. W. Farmer has sagacity enough to perceive that he is under no obligation to answer it at all. He knows, however, that the Irish can do just as well with their linens, upon their hands, as we can with our flax-seed upon ours. He knows also that we should suffer as much for the want of their linens, as they would for the want of our flax-seed. He knows also that there was a time when Ireland subsisted as many inhabitants as she does now, without any linen manufactury at all; and he knows that what has been done, may be done again. He knows, moreover, that these provinces used formerly to take all their linens from Holland and Germany. He knows that all the Dutchmen and Germans are not starved to death since that trade failed them. He knows that the Irish have as good a country to live in as either the Dutch or Germans. He knows that they are as capable of any science, or of any business, agriculture, commerce, navigation, manufactures, as any of their neighbours. He knows that they are a generous, hospitable, gallant-spirited, loyal people: and he knows that the Americans can neither force them into rebellion, nor starve them to death. “The profound sagacity of Mr. A. W. Farmer,” Sir, can “explore” so much knowledge as this. Nay, he knows a little more.
He knows that you are very much mistaken when you say, that the Irish cannot get a sufficient supply of flax-seed, except from these colonies. You seem to think that Ireland, at present buys up all the flax-seed that all the world can spare, and all the flax raised in the countries bordering on the Baltic. I have enquired of very good judges, they all assure me that a very considerable supply may be obtained from Holland, and from the Baltic; that Canada will probably attend to the cultivation of flax, especially if we should excite her to do it, by yielding up the Irish market; and then she would furnish a large quantity of seed. At worst, the Irish can give up the making of very fine linens, and then they can raise a sufficiency at home.
You think it probable that the Dutch will with-hold their seed, in order to advance their own manufactures; i. e. you wish the Dutch would join with you in distressing Ireland. What, I pray you, have the Irish done, that you are unwilling they should get a supply of flax-seed sufficient for their purpose, from any part of the world? What must they do to obtain your favour? Shall they dethrone the King, kill Lord North, and blow up the parliament?–Will this satisfy you? May they, upon these terms, get a little seed from Holland?–I believe they need not solicit your permission. You never yet knew a Hollander, who would withold any thing that would fetch him a good price.
Your malice against the West-Indians is little inferior to that against the Irish. Give me leave, Sir, to translate a paragraph in your 19th page, into plain English.–The West-Indians have no food but just from hand to mouth. Their lands are so valuable that they cannot afford to raise the necessaries of life: So rich, that nothing but sugar-canes will grow upon them: Not a grain of Indian corn; not a yam; nor a plantain: Not a pig, nor a fowl, can live upon them:–They can get no supply from Canada: The Canadians are an indolent, lazy, stupid, popish pack; they mind nothing but saying their prayers: The wheat they can spare, would not furnish a dozen West-Indians with bread: The West-India Islands swarm with souls: An hundred at least, to every two hundred acres of land: These souls will devour an immense quantity of food: If the Canadians would turn good protestant republicans, join the Congress; and rebel against the King, in ten or fifteen years they might do something;–“but in the mean time the West Indians might have “the satisfaction of starving:”–And to see them starve, I presume, would be a particular satisfaction to you.
But, as I love to disappoint malice, I have the particular satisfaction of informing you, that 350,000 bushels of wheat were exported from Quebeck the last year; and that above 50,000 bushels remained on hand, for want of ships to carry it off; and that the quantity raised this year, greatly exceeds that of the last.–This is a sure indication of the indolence of the Canadians:–A manifest proof that they “have not improved their “country as they ought to have done.”–They, it seems, have been raising wheat, when they ought to have been raising rebellion.–Indolent, stupid puppies!
Now, Sir, I imagine, that 400,000 bushels of wheat a year, would do something towards supplying our West-India islands with bread; and though it would be popish wheat, and probably not quite so good as that which the West-Indians used to get from the protestant fields of Pennsylvania and New-York, yet probably they may be prevailed upon to eat a little of it, rather than give you the satisfaction of seeing them starve.
I have also the pleasure of informing you, that there is now, more lumber annually shipped from Quebec, than from any colony on the continent. This, with what would come from the Mississippi, the Floridas, and what the Islands themselves afford, would be more than sufficient for all their purposes.–Horses they cannot want, while Canada abounds in such numbers.
Upon the whole then, I must abide by my first opinion, viz. that our schemes of non-importation, &c. will not distress England, Ireland, or the West-Indies, so far as to oblige them to join their clamours with ours, to get the acts, we complain of, repealed.
It has been several times objected against the present violent mode of proceeding in America, that it cuts off all prospect of a peaceable accommodation with our mother country. You get rid of this objection, by informing us, that the Congress “have “petitioned his Majesty for the redress of grievances.”
Do you remember, Sir, how much pains you have taken, to prove that petitioning would do no good: That our petitions ever had been treated with contempt and neglect, even when presented “in the most loyal and respectful manner, in a legislative capacity.”–And yet now, after you have entered into the most hostile combinations against the British state: endeavoured, by distressing and starving the Irish and the West-Indians, to make them take part in your rebellion; attempted to excite tumults and seditions in Great-Britain and Quebec by inflammatory addresses to the people; disavowed your dependence on, and submission to the authority of the supreme legislature of the nation,–you think a petition from an illegal, unknown Congress which may probably do every thing you want to have done.–Under these circumstances, to present a petition to his Majesty, is offering a petition to him with one hand, while you hold a sword to his breast, with the other. And yet you ask–“Can a pretext be wanting, in this case, to preserve the dignity of the parent state, and yet remove the complaints of the colonies? How easy would it be to overlook our particular agreements, and grant us redress in consequence of our petitions? It is easy to perceive there would be “no difficulty in this respect.”–If you have any modesty left, hold down your head, Sir, and blush.
After this instance of your consummate assurance, I can no longer wonder at your effrontery in calling it “the grossest “infatuation of madness itself”–“frantic extravagance”–should Great-Britain attempt to support her authority over the colonists by the sword.
It has been the constant practice of your party to preach up the improbability of Great-Britain’s attempting to reduce the colonies to obedience, by force, But suppose Great-Britain should estimate the colonies as highly as you do, and should consider them as being absolutely necessary to her very existence, as an independent, flourishing state. As soon as the proceedings of the Congress are known to her, she must perceive that there is no way to bring the colonies back to their obedience, but force. Had a proper representation been made;–and the proper persons to have done this were our Assemblies,–the supreme authority of Great-Britain acknowledged; and upon that footing a repeal of the acts complained of solicited; Great-Britain, I doubt not, would have attended to us, and would have done what she thought just and reasonable. She might have been induced to have made some concessions for peace-sake, even though there had been some hectoring and bullying, and schemes of non-importation, &c. among the people. This was just the case in the time of the stamp-act, and yet the disorders and confusions, and non-importations of that period never drew the resentment of the nation upon us. Is this the reason why you think it improbable that Great-Britain will now recur to force?–Consider the case is altered. The grand Congress, the piddling Committees through the continent, have all disclaimed their subjection to the sovereign authority of the empire: They deny the authority of Parliament to make any laws to bind them, all. They claim an absolute independency.
Now what concessions, can Great-Britain make, that would satisfy you and your party? She has it not in her power to make any–were she even desirous of doing it, and willing to sacrifice her own honour and dignity, to gratify your humours. She has no choice but to declare the colonies independent states, or to try the force of arms, in order to bring them to a sense of their duty. This is the wretched state to which your adored Congress have reduced us: and for which they deserve the curse of every inhabitant of America. No alternative is left us, but either to renounce their measures, or to plunge headlong into rebellion and civil war.
The true reason why the Congress did not petition the two Houses of Parliament was,–I know it as well as if I had been one of the Delegates–because they denied, and were determined to persist in denying, the authority of the Parliament: And petitioning would be owning of it. You, Sir, gave a false reason. You cannot name an instance of any petition to either House of Parliament from any legal body of men in America, ever having been “treated with contempt or neglect;” unless you construe “the not granting a petition, a contempt of it.”
You affect on every occasion to display “the omnipotency and “all-sufficiency” of those colonies which have entered into the solemn league and covenant against Great-Britain. You mention the considerable numbers of their men–400,000, I think your Generalissimo rates them at–their valour, and bloody disposition in the cause of liberty. I wish you had told us what resources the colonies have, to pay, cloath, arm, feed these considerable numbers:–who are to levy the taxes necessary to defray the expence of these articles? Whether that is to be the business of the next congress.
On the other hand you always speak of Great-Britain, as of some pitiful state just sinking into obscurity.–You mention the small number of her troops in America;–the decay of her commerce;–the decrease of her revenue;–her luxury,–national debt, &c.–the danger lest the neighbouring states should all fall upon her, should she venture in a military way to send across the Atlantic.–And then–“Ruin like a deluge, would pour,”–pour! a deluge pour!–A tea-pot can do as much as that–would wheel, and boil, and foam, and thunder “in from every quarter.”
Do you think, Sir, that Great-Britain is like an old, wrinkled, withered, worn-out hag, whom every jackanapes that truants along the streets may insult with impunity?–You will find her a vigorous matron, just approaching a green old age; and with spirit and strength sufficient to chastise her undutiful and rebellious children. Your measures have as yet produced none of the effects you looked for: Great Britain is not as yet intimidated: She has already a considerable fleet and army in America: More ships and troops are expected in the spring: Every appearance indicates a design in her to support her claim with vigour. You may call it infatuation, madness, frantic extravagance, to hazard so small a number of troops as she can spare, against the thousands of New England. Should the dreadful contest once begin–But God forbid! Save, heavenly Father! O save my country from perdition!
Consider, Sir, is it right to risk the valuable blessings of property, liberty and life, to the single chance of war? Of the worst kind of war–a civil war? a civil war founded on rebellion? Without ever attempting the peaceable mode of accomodation? Without ever asking a redress of our complaints, from the only power on earth who can redress them? When disputes happen between nations independent of each other, they first attempt to settle them by their ambassadors; they seldom run hastily to war, till they have tried what can be done by treaty and mediation. I would make many more concessions to a parent, than were justly due to him, rather than engage with him in a duel. But we are rushing into a war with our parent state, without offering the least concession; without even deigning to propose an accomodation. You, Sir, have employed your pen, and exerted your abilities, in vindicating and recommending measures which you know must, if persisted in, have a direct tendency to produce and accelerate this dreadful event. The congress also foresaw the horrid tragedy that must be acted in America, should their measures be generally adopted, why else did they advise us–“to extend our views to mournful “events, and be in all respects prepared for every contingency?” May God forgive them, but may he confound their devices: and may he give you repentance and a better mind!
I come now, Sir, to consider your address to the farmers; and I very much suspect that you wish I would take as little notice of it as possible. Indeed I shall not keep you much longer under correction, for I believe you are pretty sore.
You begin your address as though you was confoundedly afraid the farmer would not believe you. You judged right. They will scarce believe any thing you have said to them, except, that you are no farmer: and that you had no need to have said; your address proclaims it. You make violent protestations of your love and regard to truth. You do right; the farmers else would have thought that you had no regard to truth at all. Almost every paragraph contains half a dozen fibs. Let me try the first, as it is most handy. You say, that you “love “to speak the truth:” One,–that you scorn to “prejudice” the farmers “in favour of what you have to say:” two; “by taking “upon you a fictitious character:” three;–for you subscribe yourself a friend to America:–that I am not in reality a “farmer:” four;–but “some ministerial emissary:” five;–“that has assumed the name to deceive:” six;–the very next words contain another, but I will stop, or I shall betray my inability to enumerate more than nine figures.
You give me a hint about swearing: I have profited by it, and intend never to swear more. I wish you would take a hint about fibbing: It is rather a meaner quality than that of rapping out a little now and then. What got into you to insinuate that the people in England paid four shillings in the pound upon the value of their farms?–That they give a tenth part of the yearly products of their lands to the clergy?–That they pay 10s. sterling per annum for every waggon wheel? A shilling or two for every pane of glass? and two or three shillings for every hearth? Did you expect that all this vile falsehood, and dirty misrepresentation would pass off without examination? If you know any thing about the matter, (and if you do not, you should have said nothing about it,) that the land tax in England is not laid upon the value of the estate, but upon the rent: and that the rent is now estimated as it was in king William’s reign; so that though the tax is sometimes nominally four shillings in the pound on the rent, yet it really is not half that sum.–And if the people in England give a tenth part of the yearly product of their lands to the clergy, what is that to you? They, I suppose may give without asking your leave.–A tax is laid in England, upon wheel-carriages that are kept for pleasure, such as coaches, chariots &c. but no tax on farmers carts, waggons, &c. There is also a tax on window lights and hearths; because that was thought the most equitable method of laying an even tax on houses: but you know in your conscience that it does not amount to any thing like the sum you have mentioned.
Your next attempt is upon the imaginations of the farmers. You endeavour to fright them from obeying the parliament, by representing to them the danger of having taxes laid upon their tables, and chairs, and platters, and dishes, and knives and forks, and every thing else–and “even every kiss their daughters received from their sweet-hearts,” and that, you say, would soon ruin them. No reflections, Sir, upon farmers daughters: they love kissing, ’tis true, and so did your mother, or you would scarce have made your appearance among us.
But I have a scheme worth all this table, and chair, and kiss taxing. I thought of it last night, and I have a violent inclination to write to Lord North about it, by the very next packet. It pleases me hugely, and I think, must please his Lordship, as it would infallibly enable him to pay the annual interest of the national debt, and I believe, to sink principal and all in fourteen years. It is no more than a moderate tax of four pence a hundred, upon all the fibs, falsehoods and misrepresentations of you and your party, in England arid America.
You next endeavour to exculpate the town of Boston with respect to the East-India company’s tea that was destroyed there; and to throw an odium on the parliament for interfering in the matter. But on this subject you have my free consent to declaim till you are weary. If we except the worshippers of the congress, the universal opinion is, that the destroying of the tea at Boston, was a flagrant act of injustice, and deserving of correction: and that the refusal of the town to pay for it, is foolish and unjustifiable.
From Boston you skip to Canada, and there open another battery against the parliament. In Canada, every thing is worse than bad, as you say. French laws, popery, arbitrary power are all joined together by your magical pen, and form a most cerberian appearance. But, Sir, I can read an act of parliament, at least, as well as you can; and I affirm that the Romish faith is not established in the province of Quebec. The Canadians are only indulged in that exercise of their religion which they stipulated for, when they surrendered their country to his Majesty’s General, the church of England is the established religion; and a better provision is made for her, than in any other colony to the north of Maryland. The French laws are only to be in use till the inhabitants are better reconciled to the laws of England. These last will be gradually introduced by their own legislature. Their own legislature have also the power of introducing trials by a jury, and the habeas corpus act, whenever they think they can be introduced with advantage. [A. W. begs leave to recommend a pamphlet, entitled, the justice and equity of the Quebec Bill, &c.]
You say that “it is a false assertion, that the merchants have “imported more than usual this year.” I have the very best authority to support me in affirming that they have imported this season double the quantity that they did last autumn. I affirm also, that many of them would have imported more than they have done, could they have got credit: but their correspondents were fearful of trusting their property in America under its present circumstances. The merchants, Sir, have in a general way, imported all that they could import: and they will sell, all that they can sell: and they will get by their sales, all that they can get. And had they not countenanced this non-importation scheme with a view to their own private gain, I would not have blamed them.
According to your opinion the merchants and tradesmen “are the people that would be hurt most, by putting a stop to commerce.” With regard to merchants, Sir, a non-importation once in ten years, would be highly beneficial to them. It would enable them to get rid of all their old moth-eaten, rat-eaten, worm-eaten, goods, at a high price; and would procure a quick sale for the next importation.
But you encourage the farmers, and address yourself to them in these smooth words of deceit, “within eighteen months, the goods we have among us will be consumed;”–O how I shudder with the thoughts of the next winter!–“and then the “materials for making cloaths must be had from you. Manufactures must be promoted with vigour, and a high price will be given for your wool, flax and hemp.”–How, Sir! I thought the congress had prohibited the asking of a high price for home-made manufactures; how then shall we get a high price for the materials of which those manufactures are made? But you go on, urging us to kill our sheep sparingly;–“you can “apply more of your land,” say you to us, “to raising flax and hemp, and less of it to wheat, rye,” &c. And in direct opposition to the decree of the congress, you promise us “a great deal higher price” for these articles than usual. But, Sir, we sow already as much flax as we can conveniently manage. Besides: flax will not succeed well on every piece of land: It requires a rich, free soil; nor will the same ground, in this country, produce flax a second time, till after an interval of five or six years.—-If the measures of the congress should be carried into full effect, I confess we may, in a year or two, want a large quantity of hemp for the use of the executioner. But I fear we must import it. It exhausts the soil too much to be cultivated in the old settled parts of the province.
You also endeavour to persuade us, that the price of provisions will rise, as soon as the exportation ceases:–this may be good logic, as you great scholars call it, but it is horridly bad reasoning. The price of provisions is sinking already. Our pork this year will not pay for the Indian corn consumed in the fatting of it. And when all navigation is at an end, it will fetch still less. But probably the Congress intended to keep the provisions in the country, to feed that same army of 400,000 men who are to fight the King’s troops.
You give us the security of your word that “no violence can, or will be used to shut up the courts of justice.”–You are a man of great consequence, Sir I lately dubbed a committee-man, I presume, from the airs of importance you give your self. But let us see how the matter is to be managed.–“If the next congress should think any regulations concerning the courts of justice requisite, THEY WILL MAKE THEM; and proper persons will be appointed to carry them into execution, and to see, that no individual deviates from them.”–So, now the mask is off: now the cloven foot is thrust out into open light. In May next the grand American republic is to be licked into shape, and fitted to govern the colonies. The congress have already usurped the authority of legislation over all the colonies: they dispose of the militia, direct our commerce, levy taxes for the support of the poor saints of Boston, regulate our diversions, direct what we shall eat, drink, wear, speak and think, and in May next, are to take the management of the courts of justice.
You disclaim the thought of erecting a common-wealth in America. Why, Sir, by your own account the affair will be completed in May next. Then our whole constitution is to be finally destroyed; our trials by juries taken away; our courts of justice shut; our legislature rendered useless; our laws overturned;–in order to make room for an American republic, on a true democratical plan: and then you will laugh at those simple people who believed you ever intended to do otherwise.
Now we are on this subject of a common wealth, pray let me ask you, whether you have never heard it whispered about, that it was seriously proposed in the late congress, to throw off all connection with Great Britain, and to erect two republics, one in the eastern, the other in the southern colonies; or something equivalent? Whether, when the New-York delegates opposed some violent measures, a gentleman from the eastward did not remark, that the backward conduct of the York delegates was easily accounted for, because they knew that the old charter of Massachusetts-Bay covered all this province? And whether some minutes of the proceedings of the congress were not cut out of the book, a little before they broke up? Let the gentlemen tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and then we shall know what we have to trust to. These are questions that I have a right to ask; and the public has a right to be informed, whether there is any truth in the report that have occasioned them.
A. W. Farmer.
December 24, 1774.