Skip to comments.Samuel Adams to Dennys De Berdt
Posted on 04/25/2013 7:21:37 AM PDT by ProgressingAmerica
[Massachusetts State Papers, pp. 124-133; a text is in Prior Documents(1) pp. 167-175, and in the Boston Gazette, April 4, 1768.]
Since the last sitting of the General Court, divers acts of Parliament, relating to the colonies, have arrived here; and as the people of this province had no share in the framing those laws, in which they are so deeply interested, the House of Representatives, who are constitutionally entrusted by them, as the guardians of their rights and liberties, have thought it their indispensable duty, carefully to peruse them; and having so done, to point out such matters in them, as appear to be grievous to their constituents, and to seek redress.
The fundamental rules of the constitution are the grand security of all British subjects; and it is a security which they are all equally entitled to, in all parts of his Majesty's extended dominions. The supreme legislative, in every free state, derives its power from the constitution; by the fundamental rules of which, it is bounded and circumscribed. As a legislative power is essentially requisite, where any powers of government are exercised, it is conceived, the several legislative bodies in America were erected, because their existence, and the free exercise of their power, within their several limits, are essentially important and necessary, to preserve to his Majesty's subjects in America, the advantages of the fundamental laws of the constitution.
When we mention the rights of the subjects in America, and the interest we have in the British constitution, in common with all other British subjects, we cannot justly be suspected of the most distant thought of an independency on Great Britain. Some, we know, have imagined this of the colonists, and others may, perhaps, have industriously propagated it, to raise groundless and unreasonable jealousies of them; but it is so far from the truth, that we apprehend the colonies would refuse it if offered to them, and would even deem it the greatest misfortune to be obliged to accept it. They are far from being insensible of their happiness, in being connected with the mother country, and of the mutual benefits derived from it to both. It is, therefore, the indispensable duty of all, to cultivate and establish a mutual harmony, and to promote the intercourse of good offices between them; and while both have the free enjoyment of the rights of our happy constitution, there will be no grounds of envy and discontent in the one, nor of jealousy and mistrust in the other.
It is the glory of the British constitution, that it hath its foundation in the law of God and nature. It is an essential, natural right, that a man shall quietly enjoy, and have the sole disposal of his own property. This right is adopted into the constitution. This natural and constitutional right is so familiar to the American subjects, that it would be difficult, if possible, to convince them, that any necessity can render it just, equitable and reasonable, in the nature of things, that the Parliament should impose duties, subsidies, talliages, and taxes upon them, internal or external, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue. The reason is obvious; because, they cannot be represented, and therefore, their consent cannot be constitutionally had in Parliament.
When the Parliament, soon after the repeal of the stamp act(2), thought proper to pass another act, declaring the authority, power, and right of Parliament, to make laws that should be binding on the colonies, in all cases, whatever, it is probable that acts for levying taxes on the colonies, external and internal, were included; for the act made the last year(3), imposing duties on paper, glass, &c. as well as the sugar acts(4) and the stamp act, are, to all intents and purposes, in form, as well as in substance, as much revenue acts, as those for the land tax, customs and excises in England. The necessity of establishing a revenue in America, is expressly mentioned in the preambles; they were originated in the honorable House of Commons, as all other money and revenue bills are; and the property of the colonies, with the same form, ceremony and expressions of loyalty and duty, is thereby given and granted to his Majesty, as they usually give and grant their own. But we humbly conceive, that objections to acts of this kind, may be safely, if decently made, if they are of a dangerous tendency in point of commerce, policy, and the true and real interest of the whole empire. It may, and if it can, it ought to be made to appear, that such acts are grievous to the subject, burthensome to trade, ruinous to the nation, and tending on the whole to injure the revenue of the Crown. And surely, if such mighty inconveniencies, evils, and mischiefs, can be pointed out with decency and perspicuity, there will be the highest reason not only to hope for, but fully to expect redress.
It is observable, that though many have disregarded life, and contemned liberty, yet there are few men who do not agree that property is a valuable acquisition, which ought to be held sacred. Many have fought, and bled, and died for this, who have been insensible to all other obligations. Those who ridicule the ideas of right and justice, faith and truth among men, will put a high value upon money. Property is admitted to have an existence, even in the savage state of nature. The bow, the arrow, and the tomahawk; the hunting and the fishing ground, are species of property, as important to an American savage, as pearls, rubies, and diamonds are to the Mogul, or a Nabob in the East, or the lands, tenements, hereditaments, messuages, gold and silver of the Europeans. And if property is necessary for the support of savage life, it is by no means less so in civil society. The Utopian schemes of levelling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable, as those which vest all property in the Crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and in our government unconstitutional. Now, what property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent? This most certainly is the present case; for they were in no sense represented in Parliament, when this act for raising a revenue in America was made. The stamp act was grievously complained of by all the colonies ; and is there any real difference between this act and the stamp act? They were both designed to raise a revenue in America, and in the same manner, viz. by duties on certain commodities. The payment of the duties imposed by the stamp act, might have been eluded by a total disuse of the stamped paper; and so may the payment of these duties, by the total disuse of the articles on which they are laid; but in neither case, without difficulty. Therefore, the subjects here, are reduced to the hard alternative, either of being obliged totally to disuse articles of the greatest necessity, in common life, or to pay a tax without their consent.
The security of right and property, is the great end of government. Surely, then, such measures as tend to render right and property precarious, tend to destroy both property and government; for these must stand and fall together. It would be difficult, if possible, to show, that the present plan of taxing the colonies is more favorable to them, than that put in use here, before the revolution. It seems, by the event, that our ancestors were, in one respect, not in so melancholy a situation, as we, their posterity, are. In those times, the Crown, and the ministers of the Crown, without the intervention of Parliament, demolished charters, and levied taxes on the colonies, at pleasure. Governor Andross, in the time of James 11. declared, that wherever an Englishman sets his foot, all he hath is the King's ; and Dudley declared, at the Council Board, and even on the sacred seat of justice, that the privilege of Englishmen, not to be taxed without their consent, and the laws of England, would not follow them to the ends of the earth. It was, also, in those days, declared in Council, that the King's subjects in New England did not differ much from slaves; and that the only difference was, that they were not bought and sold. But there was, even in those times an excellent Attorney General, Sir William Jones(5), who was of another mind; and told King James, that he could no more grant a commission to levy money on his subjects in Jamaica, though a conquered island, without their consent, by an Assembly, than they could discharge themselves from their allegiance to the English Crown. But the misfortune of the colonists at present is, that they are taxed by Parliament, without their consent. This, while the Parliament continues to tax us, will ever render our case, in one respect, more deplorable and remediless, under the best of Kings, than that of our ancestors was, under the worst. They found relief by the interposition of Parliament. But by the intervention of that very power, we are taxed, and can appeal for relief, from their final decision, to no power on earth; for there is no power on earth above them.
The original contract between the King and the first planters here, was a royal promise in behalf of the nation, and which till very lately, it was never questioned but the King had a power to make ; namely, that if the adventurers would, at their own cost and charge and at the hazard of their lives and every thing dear to them, purchase a new world, subdue a wilderness, and thereby enlarge the King's dominions, they and their posterity should enjoy such rights and privileges as in their charters are expressed; which are, in general, all the rights, liberties and privileges of his Majesty's natural born subjects within the realm. The principal privilege implied, and in some of their charters expressed, is a freedom from all taxes, but such as they shall consent to in person, or by representatives of their own free choice and election. The late King James broke the original contract of the settlement and government of these colonies; but it proved happy for our ancestors in the end, that he had also broken the original compact with his three kingdoms. This left them some gleam of hope; this very thing, finally, was the cause of deliverance to the nation and the colonies, nearly at the same time; it was the Parliament, the supreme legislative and constitutional check on the supreme executive, that in time operated effects worthy of itself; the nation and her colonies have since been happy, and our princes patriot Kings. The law and reason teaches, that the King can do no wrong; and that neither King nor Parliament are otherwise inclined than to justice, equity and truth. But the law does not presume that the King may not be deceived, nor that the Parliament may not be misinformed. If, therefore, any thing is wrong, it must be imputed to such causes. How far such causes have taken place and operated against the colonies, is humbly submitted to the revision and reconsideration of all.
By the common law, the colonists are adjudged to be natural born subjects. So they are declared by royal charter; and they are so, by the spirit of the law of nature and nations. No jurist, who has the least regard to his reputation in the republic of letters, will deny that they are entitled to all the essential rights, liberties, privileges and immunities, of his Majesty's natural subjects, born within the realm. The children of his Majesty's natural born subjects, born passing and repassing the seas, have, by sundry acts of Parliament, from Edward the third to this time, been declared natural born subjects; and even foreigners, residing a certain time in the colonies, are, by acts of Parliament, entitled to all the rights and privileges of natural born subjects. And it is remarkable, that the Act of 13 Geo. II. chap. 7, presupposes that the colonists are natural born subjects; and that they are entitled to all the privileges of such; as appears by the preamble, which we shall now recite. "Whereas the increase of people is the means of advancing wealth and strength of any nation or country; and whereas many foreigners and strangers, from the lenity of our government and purity of our religion, the benefit of our laws, the advantages of our trade, and the security of our property, might be induced to come and settle in some of his Majesty's colonies in America, if they were made partakers of the advantages and privileges which natural born subjects of this realm do enjoy." Which plainly shows it to be the sense of the nation, that the colonies were entitled to, and did actually enjoy, the advantages and privileges of natural born subjects. But if it could be admitted as clearly consistent with the constitution, for the Parliament of Great Britain to tax the property of the colonies, we presume it can be made to appear to be utterly inconsistent with the rules of equity that they should, at least at present. It must be considered, that by acts of Parliament, the colonies are prohibited from importing commodities of the growth or manufacture of Europe, except from Great Britain, saving a few articles. This gives the advantage to Great Britain of raising the price of her commodities, and is equal to a tax. It is too obvious to be doubted, that by the extraordinary demands from the colonies of the manufactures of Britain, occasioned by this policy, she reaps an advantage of at least twenty per cent, in the price of them, beyond what the colonies might purchase them for at foreign markets. The loss, therefore, to the colonists, is equal to the gain which is made in Britain. This in reality is a tax, though not a direct one; and admitting that they take annually from Great Britain, manufactures to the value of two millions sterling, as is generally supposed, they then pay an annual tax of four hundred thousand pounds, besides the taxes which are directly paid on those manufactures in England. The same reasoning will hold good with respect to the many enumerated articles of their produce, which the colonies are restrained, by act of Parliament, from sending to any foreign port. By this restraint, the market is glutted, and consequently the produce sold, is cheaper; which is an advantage to Great Britain, and an equal loss to, or tax upon, the colonists. Is it reasonable, then, that the colonies should be taxed on the British commodities here? especially when it is considered, that the most of them settled a wilderness, and, till very lately, defended their settlements without a farthing's expense to the nation. They bore their full proportion of the charges of securing and maintaining his Majesty's rights in America, in every war from their first settlement, without any consideration; for the grants of Parliament in the last war were compensations for an overplus of expense on their part. Many of them, and this province in particular, have always maintained their own frontiers at their own expense; and have also frequently defended his Majesty's garrison at Annapolis, when it must otherwise have been unavoidably lost. The nation, in the late war, acquired lands equal in value to all the expense she had been at in America, from its settlement; while the trade of the colonies has been only "secured and restricted;" it has not been enlarged, though new avenues of beneficial commerce have been opened to the mother country. The colonies have reaped no share in the lands which they helped to conquer, while millions of acres of those very lands have been granted, and still are granting, to people who, in all probability, will never see, if they settle them.
The appropriation of the monies, to arise by these duties, is an objection of great weight. It is, in the first place, to be applied for the payment of the necessary charges of the administration of justice, and the support of civil government, in such colonies where it shall be judged necessary. This House apprehends it would be grievous, and of dangerous tendency, if the Crown should not only appoint Governors over the several colonies, but allow them such stipends as it shall judge proper, at the expense of the people, and without their consent. Such a power, under a corrupt administration, it is to be feared, would introduce an absolute government in America; at best, it would leave the people in a state of utter uncertainty of their security, which is far from being a state of civil liberty. The Judges in the several colonies do not hold their commissions during good behavior. If then they are to have salaries independent of the people, how easy will it be for a corrupt Governor to have a set of Judges to his mind, to deprive a bench of justice of its glory, and the people of their security. If the Judges of England have independent livings, it must be remembered, that the tenure of their commission is during good behavior, which is a safeguard for the people. And besides, they are near the throne, the fountain of right and justice; whereas American Judges, as well as Governors, are at a distance from it. Moreover, it is worth particular notice, that in all disputes between power and liberty in America, there is danger that the greatest credit will always be given to the officers of the Crown, who are the men in power. This we have sometimes found by experience; and it is much to be feared, that the nation will fall into some dangerous mistake, if she has not already, by too great attention to the representations of particular persons, and a disregard to others.
But the residue of these monies is to be applied by Parliament, from time to time, for defending, protecting and securing the colonies. If the government at home is apprehensive that the colonists will be backward in defending themselves and securing his Majesty's territories in America, it must have been egregiously misinformed. We need look back no farther than the last war, for evidence of a contrary disposition. They always discovered the most cheerful compliance with his Majesty's requisitions of men and money for this purpose. They were then treated as free British subjects, and never failed to grant aid to his Majesty of their own free accord, to the extent of their ability, and even beyond it; of which the Parliament were then so sensible, that they made them grants, from year to year, by way of compensation for extra services. It is not at all to be doubted, but if they are still considered upon the footing of subjects, they will always discover the same disposition to exert themselves for his Majesty's service and their own defense; which renders a standing army in the colonies a needless expense. Or, if it be admitted that there may be some necessity for them in the conquered province of Canada, where the exercise of the Romish religion, so destructive to civil society, is allowed, surely there can be no need of them in the bowels of the old colonies, and even in cities, where there is not the least danger of a foreign enemy, and where the inhabitants are as strongly attached to his Majesty's person, family and government, as in Great Britain itself. There is an English affection in the colonists towards the mother country, which will forever keep them connected with her, to every valuable purpose, unless it shall be erased by repeated unkind usage on her part. As Englishmen, as well as British subjects, they have an aversion to an unnecessary standing army, which they look upon as dangerous to their civil liberties; and considering the examples of ancient times, it seems a little surprising, that a mother state should trust large bodies of mercenary troops in her colonies, at so great a distance from her, lest, in process of time, when the spirits of the people shall be depressed by the military power, another Caesar should arise and usurp the authority of his master.
The act enabling his Majesty to appoint Commissioners of the Customs to reside in America, has also been read in the House.(6) It declares an intention to facilitate the trade of America, of which we cannot have any great hopes, from the tenor of the commission. In general, innovations are dangerous; the unnecessary increase of Crown Officers is most certainly so. These gentlemen are authorized to appoint as many as they shall think proper, without limitation. This will probably be attended with undesirable effects. An host of pensioners, by the arts they may use, may in time become as dangerous to the liberties of the people as an army of soldiers; for there is a way of subduing a people by art, as well as by arms. We are happy and safe under his present Majesty's mild and gracious administration; but the time may come, when the united body of pensioners and soldiers may ruin the liberties of America. The trade of the colonies, we apprehend, may be as easily carried on, and the acts of trade as duly enforced, without this commission; and, if so, it must be a very needless expense, at the time when the nation and her colonies are groaning under debts contracted in the late war, and how far distant another may be, God only knows.
There is another act, which, this House apprehends, must be alarming to all the colonies; which is the act for suspending the legislative power of the Assembly of New York on a certain condition.(7) A legislative body, without the free exercise of the powers of legislation, is to us incomprehensible. There can be no material difference between such a legislative and none at all. It cannot be said, that the Assembly of New York hath the free exercise of legislative power, while their very existence is suspended upon their acting in conformity to the will of another body. Such a restriction throughout the colonies, would be a short and easy method of annihilating the legislative powers in America, and by consequence of depriving the people of a fundamental right of the constitution, namely, that every man shall be present in the body which legislates for him.
It may not be amiss to consider the tendency of a suspension of colony legislation for a non compliance with acts of Parliament, requiring a Provincial Assembly to give and grant away their own and their constituents money for the support of a standing army. We cannot but think it hard enough to have our property granted away without our consent, without being ordered to deal it out ourselves, as in the case of the mutiny act. It must be sufficiently humiliating to part with our property in either of those ways, much more in both; whereby, as loyal subjects as any under his Majesty's government, and as true lovers of their country as any people whatever, are deprived of the honor and merit of voluntarily contributing to the service of both. What is the plain language of such a suspension? We can discover no more nor less in it than this: If the American assemblies refuse to grant as much of their own and their constituents money, as shall from time to time be enjoined and prescribed by the Parliament, besides what the Parliament directly taxes them, they shall no longer have any legislative authority; but if they comply with what is prescribed, they may still be allowed to legislate under their charter restrictions. Does not political death and annihilation stare us in the face as strongly on one supposition as the other? Equally, in case of compliance as of non compliance.
But let us suppose, for a moment, a series of events taking place, the most favorable in the opinion of those who are so fond of these new regulations; that all difficulties and scruples of conscience were removed, and that every Representative in America should acknowledge a just and equitable right in the Commons of Great Britain, to make an unlimited grant of his and his constituents property; that they have a clear right to invest the Crown with all the lands in the colonies, as effectually as if they had been forfeited. Would it be possible for them to conciliate their constituents to such measures? Would not the attempt suddenly cut asunder all confidence and communication between the representative body and the people? What, then, would be the consequence? Could anything be reasonably expected but discontent, despair and rage, against their representatives, on the side of the people, and on the part of the government, the rigorous exertion of civil and military power? The confusion and misery, after such a fatal crisis, cannot be conceived, much less described.
The present regulations and proceedings, with respect to the colonies, we apprehend to be opposite to every principle of good and sound policy. A standing army, in time of profound peace, is naturally productive of uneasiness and discontent among the people; and yet the colonies, by the mutiny act, are ordered and directed to provide certain enumerated articles; and the pains and penalties, in case of non compliance, are evident, in the precedent of New York. It also appears, that revenue officers are multiplying in the colonies, with vast powers. The Board of Commissioners, lately appointed to reside here, have ample discretionary powers given them, to make what appointments they please, and to pay the appointees what sums they please. The establishment of a Protestant Episcopate, in America, is also very zealously contended for;(8) and it is very alarming to a people, whose fathers, from the hardships they suffered, under such an establishment, were obliged to fly their native country into a wilderness, in order peaceably to enjoy their privileges, civil and religious. Their being threatened with the loss of both at once, must throw them into a disagreeable situation. We hope in God such an establishment will never take place in America, and we desire you would strenuously oppose it. The revenue raised in America, for ought we can tell, may be constitutionally applied towards the support of prelacy, as of soldiers and pensioners. If the property of the subject is taken from him, without his consent, it is immaterial whether it be done by one man, or five hundred; or whether it be applied for the support of ecclesiastic or military power, or both. It may be well worth the consideration of the best politician in Great Britain or America, what the natural tendency is of a vigorous pursuit of these measures. We are not insensible that some eminent men, on both sides the water, are less friendly to American charters and assemblies, than could be wished. It seems to be growing fashionable to treat them, in common conversation, as well as in popular publications, with contempt. But if we look back a few reigns, we shall find that even the august assembly, the Parliament, was, in every respect, the object of a courtier's reproach. It was even an aphorism with King James the First, that the Lords and Commons were two very bad copartners with a Monarch; and he and his successors broke the copartnership as fast as possible. It is certainly unnatural for a British politician to expect, that ever the supreme executive of the nation can long exist, after the supreme legislative shall be depressed and destroyed, which may God forbid. If the supreme executive cannot exist long in Britain, without the support of the supreme legislative, it should seem very reasonable, in order to support the same supreme executive, at the distance of a thousand transmarine leagues from the metropolis, there should be, in so remote dominions, a free legislative, within their charter limitations, as well as an entirely free representative of the supreme executive of his Majesty, in the persons of Governors, Judges, Justices, and other executive officers; otherwise strange effects are to be apprehended; for the laws of God and nature are invariable. A politician may apply or misapply these to a multiplicity of purposes, good or bad; but these laws were never made for politicians to alter. Should the time ever come, when the legislative assemblies of North America shall be dissolved and annihilated, no more to exist again, a strange political phenomenon will probably appear. All laws, both of police and revenue, must then be made by a legislative, at such a distance, that without immediate inspiration, the local and other circumstances of the governed, cannot possibly be known to those who give and grant to the Crown, what part of the property of their fellow subjects they please. There will then be no Assemblies to support the execution of such laws; and, indeed, while existing, by what rule of law or reason, are the members of the Colony Assemblies executive officers? They have, as Representatives, no commission but from their constituents; and it must be difficult to show, why they are more obliged to execute acts of Parliament, than such of their constituents as hold no commissions from the Crown. The most that can be expected from either, is submission to acts of Parliament; or to aid the officers, as individual, or part of the posse comitatus, if required. It would seem strange to call on the Representatives, in any other way, to execute laws against their constituents and themselves, which both have been so far from consenting to, that neither were consulted in framing them. Yet it was objected by some, to the American Assemblies, that they neglected to execute the stamp act; and that their resolves tended to raise commotions ; which certainly was not the case here. For all the disorders in Boston, in which any damage was done to property, happened long before the resolves of the House of Representatives here were passed.
We have reason to believe, that the nation has been grossly misinformed with respect to the temper and behavior of the colonists; and |it is to be feared that some men will not cease to sow the seeds of jealousy and discord, till they shall have done irreparable mischief. You will do a singular service to both countries, if possible, in detecting them. In the mean time, we desire you would make known to his Majesty's ministers the sentiments of this House, contained in this letter, and implore a favorable consideration of America.
(1) Under this usual title will be cited "A Collection of Interesting, Authentic Papers . . . from 1764 to 1775." London, printed for J. Almon, 1777.
(2) 6 Geo. III., chap. 12.
(3) 7 Geo. III., chap. 46.
(4) 4 Geo. III., chap. 15.
(5) 1631-1682; solicitor-general, 1673-1675; appointed attorney-general, June 25, 1675; resigned, November, 1679; see below, page 158.
(6) 7 Geo. III., chap. 41
(7) 7 Geo. III., chap. 59.
(8) Cf. The Anglican Episcopal and the American Colonies, by A. L. Cross, 1902.
“Independency,” you say? Naw, never crossed our minds. Not a chance. Don’t worry your little heads, you Johnbulls. Nothing to see here,fellas. Just us loyal little British subjects here, with our thinking caps on. Move along now.
I’m just here cuz i thought Denny’s was getting a liquor license.