Week 7: The Late 1760s

Thomas Hutchinson, A Dialogue between an American and a European Englishman

A Dialogue between an American and a European Englishman (excerpt)

Thomas Hutchinson




I cannot think that the people under any government can be obliged to submit to what is in its nature unjust. (Let us reassume the argument from which we digressed.) All government is or ought to have been instituted for the {good} {sake}of the people. There are certain natural rights which as men we are entitled to and which we can never be supposed to give up to any authority whatsoever. There are certain fundamental principles of the English constitution, and to any act contrary to those fundamentals the people are not obliged to submit. I think every man has a natural right to dispose of his own property. It is a fundamental of the English constitution, a part of Magna Charta, that all supplies be made by the Commons, in other words by the people. The very term [“] give and grant [“] must intend that it comes from the owner. These fundamentals set bounds to Parliamentary power, and the great oracle of the English law, Lord Coke, says in his Reports that acts made against the fundamental principles of the constitution are void. If void, certainly there is no obligation to submit to them. Nay, by the constitution it may well be questioned whether the Parliament of England can be considered as the Parliament for the colonies. We know the sense the Parliament itself has had of itself. In a statute of 1 of King James the First a Parliament is said to be when all the whole body of the realm and every particular member thereof either in person or by representation upon their own free election are by the laws of the realm deemed to be personally present in Parliament. You have not given me a sufficient response on these points, bit if you had been able to do it I have a farther argument. Admitting the power, which I never shall do, yet it has not been thought equitable to exercise it for more than a century past, and there is no more pretence from equity now than there has been in any former time.



I am willing to consider every point as fully as you please and we will now take them in the order you have advanced them {and no longer ramble from one thing to another. I agree with you that government is to be considered as instituted for the sake of the people, but that every individual has a right to judge when the acts of government are just and unjust and to submit or not submit accordingly I can’t so readily concede. Only think a little and you must be convinced that this is a doctrine repugnant to {the very idea of} government. In a state of nature {no one man has a right to} I am in no case subject to the controul {the actions}of any other person except to address or repel a wrong done or intended to be done him. {In a} {By entering into} [a] state of government I subject myself to a power constituted over a society of which I become a member. It is immaterial in whom this power is lodged. Such power must be lodged somewhere or there is no government. You say accordingly, he is free, as far, such submission must be intended only in matters that are just. I say, this is no submission at all, for if every man is at liberty to judge what is just and what is unjust and submit or not submit accordingly, he is free, as far as he pleases, from that power to which he professes himself to be a subject, which is a contradiction in terms. Just the same may be said of those natural rights which you say every man retains notwithstanding his being in a state of government. If I am at liberty to judge what is my natural right, which I have thus reserved, and what not, I may exempt myself from every act of government, for every act lays me under some restraint which I have a natural right to be free from. But pray tell me {what are those} {which of our}natural rights in a state of government must be supposed to be reserved? ***



. . . I am willing to carry my principles of submission as far as the great Mr. Locke did his {and no farther. He says,} “The supreme power cannot take from any man part of his property without his own consent .” ***



I reverence Mr. Locke as much as you can. I think I have advanced nothing which is not supported by his authority.


Political Science 601: Political Theory of the American Revolution Copyright © 2017 by John Zumbrunnen. All Rights Reserved.

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