THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF PARLIAMENTARY POWER CONSIDERED, In some Remarks upon Mr. PITT's SPEECH in the House of Com­mons, previous to the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT. With an INTRODUCTION. Applicable to the present situation of the COLONIES, September, 1767.

If there be any one so credulous as not to ap­prehend the fatal consequences of this FORMIDABLE POWER, I cannot but wonder at that man's security. Demosthenes's 2d Philipic.

New York, re-Printed from the Pennsylvania Journal, by JOHN HOLT, at the Exchange, 1768.



ANY considerations upon the nature of our present political situation, will appear im­pertinent and ill-timed, while we have a writer so capable and so anxious to support the liberties of his country; but since information cannot be so effectually communicated, as by placing the same object in a variety of lights, the essay which you are now requested to convey to the world, through the channel of your press, may have its use. The patriot Farmer has, with great judgment and precision, applied his observations to those important particulars which have lately oc­cured. The author of the present performance has endeavoured to support the interests of the colonies, by reasons drawn from general princi­ples; and, if he can but be so happy as to co-ope­rate with his worthy predecessor in correcting the prejudiced, and informing the ignorant, he will have the satisfaction of thinking that he has dis­charged the duty of

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THE following piece was written but a short time before the repeal of the stamp-act; and as the subject of it was of the most general and important nature, the trifling altera­tion of circumstances which a few months have produced, cannot prevent it's being as applicable to the present state of our affairs, as to those disa­greeable controversies, in which we have been heretofore unhappily involved. The conciliating spirit which prevailed upon the first intelligence of the stamp-act's being repealed, prevented its pub­lication then; though the author was ever per­fectly convinced, the colonies would not long have any reason to flatter themselves, that the repeal of this act was a sacrifice to liberty; or that it pro­ceeded from any thing more than an apprehension of the ill consequences which our brethren of Britain must have felt from the oeconomical reso­lutions which we had formed. Upon examining the debates, previous to the repeal, if any one could have doubted the sense of the legislature, the act for securing the dependence of the colo­nies, would have reduced it to a sufficient degree of certainty. Indeed, if this act had been more equivocal, the billeting act was explicit enough to have pointed out clearly to every common under­standing, their generous meaning—A meaning evidenced by such measures as could not but ex­cite the most alarming apprehensions.

In mixt forms of government, where the deli­cacy of the constitution requires the strictest at­tention, [Page 4] to the movements of each distinct part, jealous fears frequently intervene, upon the slight­est appearance of irregularity. The history of England, alone, will furnish us with facts suffi­cient to support this assertion; since every man who possesses the smallest share of historical know­ledge, must certainly have observed, that before any measure of importance could obtain the ne­cessary approbation of the three estates of the kingdom, it first passed a severe and critical exami­nation; lest a superior address in either of the parties interested, should give themsome particu­lar advantage—lest a designing minister should extend the prerogative of the crown, or an artful commoner increase the liberty of the subject. A few thousands added to the military list, have a­larmed the whole nation; and a body of troops, not equal to those upon the American establish­ment, have with the most terrible apprehensions, been considered as a formidable army,—so averse have the people of England ever been, to trust their liberties, even with the best of men, that they have chosen to depend upon the precarious aid of subsidiary troops, rather than put arms into the hands of their own countrymen: while there was the least probability that those arms might be employed to the subversion of liberty. This conduct, I only mean to remark as consist­ent with the genius of liberty: and, though its policy, when critically examined, may not appear altogether unexceptionable, yet will the jealous caution which produced it, be ever considered as the grand bulwark of freedom. When I apply myself to consider the situation of the colonists, I cannot but observe that they labour under diffi­culties peculiar to themselves. They have not only to guard their libertles against the encroach­ments [Page 5] of the royal prerogative, but even to pro­tect their property against the invasions of their more powerful brethren. The people of England have only one single defence to make for the pre­servation of their freedom; and, if the system of venality and corruption, which now so generally prevails, does not gradually lead them into a state of slavery, no open violence can ever affect it. Far different is the situation of the divided Ame­ricans. Of them every distinct colony has hither­to been considered as a particular plantation of the crown, and been governed by such loose, dis­cretionary powers as were better calculated to sup­port the despositism of a minister than the liberties of the settlers. They are now considered as dan­gerous rivals, and their unprotected interests must fall a sacrifice to those of their jealous brethren. An artful, designing minister would naturally en­deavour to conciliate the affections of those who more immediately surround the throne, by re­moving any burthens from their shoulders, and sixing them upon those, by whose murmurs and complaints, he could not be so immediately af­fected. To gratify the desires of his selfish coun­trymen, and flatter them with the appearance of an unnatural superiority; he would willingly sub­scribe to any acts for the limiting our trade, and restraining our manufactures: But perfectly con­vinced that the Americans will neither be so stupid as not to perceive the iniquity of these measures, nor so passive as patiently to submit to their be­ing carried into execution, he prudently prepares to support them by means as infamous and op­pressive as those which are to be supported. Though our European neighbours are driven from the continent; and, though our savage enemies have long since laid down the hatchet, yet have [Page 6] our careful guardians left us with a very considera­ble body of troops, and are daily sending over fresh supplies—to protect us from any future dangers; when it cannot but be evident to every man of common knowledge, that in our present situation, we are both able and willing to defend our own frontiers, without putting the govern­ment to the trouble of transporting troops for that purpose, at such an immense expence. We have now sixteen regiments distributed through the different colonies—most of them instead of being a defence to our frontiers, are a burthen to our maritime cities; where they are, by virtue of an act of the British parliament, to be plentifully supplied with necessaries at the expence of the place where they may be quartered; and as the quartering them depends altogether upon the ar­bitrary will of the commanding officer, he is ab­solutely vested with a power of oppressing any sin­gle colony, which may have been so unfortunate as to have incurred the resentment of those who appointed him.

When the ministry, resolved to burthen us with so many troops, it was not thought proper to make the usual requisitions to the different assem­blies for the necessary supplies. The power of parliament had met with an unexpected opposition, in their first attempts to enforce the stamp act. Urged by a prudent attention to their own inte­rests, they had indeed determined to repeal this oppressive act; but lest this extraordinary conces­sion should be considered as an acknowledgment of right, they determined to exert their authority once more in a manner so explicit, as should leave us no room to doubt their meaning.

One act is passed to declare the dependence of the colonies upon the imperial crown and parlia­ment [Page 7] of Great-Britain; and that dependence is immediately proved by a law for billeting soldiers in America, and for obliging those places, in which the commanding officer may think proper to quarter them, to grant certain very ample sup­plies of necessaries. Upon application to the go­vernment of New-York, the general assembly of that province shewed their readiness to comply with every thing that might be required for the accommodation of those troops which had con­tributed to the valuable acquisitions in America. They framed a law for the purpose, and granted a sufficiency of such articles as they conceived most useful and necessary for the soldiers: They did not indeed comply with every particular contained in the act of parliament—perhaps it might not be in their power. If any thing was to be given by the colonists for the accommodation of the soldiery, surely they were the best judges, of their own abilities, as well as of those articles which they could most conveniently procure. If the parliament had thought proper to have ordered porter instead of small beer, and gin instead of rum, they would scarcely have procured a suffici­ent quantity, had they even sought it with fixt bayonets. Although the inhabitants could not but be alarmed at a requisition supported by the whole legislative authority, yet did they prudently decline taken notice of such an extraordinary pro­cedure, and very modestly resolved to comply with the design of the act without any immediate reference to the act itself. Some triffling alterati­ons were indeed made in the stipulated allowances; but so inconsiderable were they that I believe the soldiery complained but little of the alteration; and I cannot think that the greatest enemy to A­merica ever imagined that the freemen of New-York, [Page 8] when they used a discretionary power in granting a share of their own private property, for the use of the army, and were hardy enough to deviate, in some minute particulars, from the directions of the British parliament, would ever have excited so violent—so unjustifiable a re­sentment. A resentment expressed by a proceed­ing the most unreasonable and unconstitutional—such a proceeding as must prove, beyond all possi­bility of contradiction, that whatever concessions we may receive from a prudent attachment to their own interest, we can expect nothing from a generous attention to the spirit of their own hap­py constitution, or from an honest reluctance to invade the natural rights of their fellow-subjects.

Sed comprime motus
Nec tibi quid liceat, sed quid fecissae decebit
Occurrat, mentemque domet respectus honeste.

MR. PITT, has frequently declared that the freemen of Great-Britain have no right to take money out of our pockets, without first ob­taining our consent; and yet their representatives in parliament have resolved, without deigning to consult us, that we shall pay a certain sum for furnishing the soldiery with particular necessaries. Unwilling to revive a contest, which had just be­fore been settled so much to our satisfaction, we declined renewing the dispute with regard to the legality of the act. We were contented to receive it as a reasonable requisition, though not as a bind­ing law; and, consulting our own abilities and conveniency, we granted such articles as we thought would answer the design of the act. In this conduct. so remarkably temperate, we have incurred the highest displeasure of the British par­liament, [Page 9] and are exposed, as a punishment due to our offences, to one of the most general, and se­verest penalties which the hand of power could in­flict. An act has passed to strip us of our legisla­tive power, and render us unable to provide for ourselves in a situation of the most imminent dan­ger; because we have outrageously refused to subscribe to our own ruin. We have modestly a­voided controverting a point of the highest impor­tance, lest we should draw upon ourselves a charge of obstinacy and malevolence. We have complied with the meaning, though not with the letter of the act. We have evidenced the most grateful and complying disposition, and are nevertheless doomed to receive the punishment of the most re­bellious opposition. If our every act is thus liable to be misconstrued, and we are patiently to receive such severe chastisement, we must at once renounce the name of free-men, and accommodate our­selves to a state of abject vassallage.

We may not perhaps, just now feel any imme­diate ill consequences from this restraint upon our legislation; but when we are to determine upon the purity or justice of any particular act, we are to consider all the effects which it may probably, or even possibly produce. Suppose (for instance) that our savage neighbours should once more wantonly invade our frontiers—to what a hor­rid situation should we be reduced! Our lives and fortunes exposed to the attacks of a barbarous enemy, without our being able to raise either men or money for our protection. Can the greatest enemy to America think of our being reduced to a situation so truly distressful, without accusing of the most unnatural severity, those who arro­gate to themselves an absolute power of directing and restraining our every action, in such a man­ner [Page 10] as may best answer their own partial purposes? In this amazing exertion of parliamentary power, the single colony of New-York is not alone con­cerned. It may hereafter be the fate of every o­ther province, unless they now cordially unite in such an application as may confirm their liberty, or establish their subordination upon some regular principles.

I am no favourer of violent measures. I would endeavour to support our pretensions by force of reasoning, not by force of arms; but yet I would anxiously wish that nothing may intimidate us in­to an acquiescence with the measures of oppression. We may be compelled to submit, but never to relin­quish our claim to the privileges of the free-men.

When we complain of the violent proceedings in the late administrations, let us consider the al­terations which a century has produced in our constitution. We have now a standing army of one hundred and twenty regiments. Scarce a fa­mily of rank but what has some military connec­tions; and even in the house of commons there are too many gentlemen of the sword. No won­der then, that we are alarmed with such spirited resolves—that execution is to preceed judgment; and that the inhabitants of a colony are regarded as dependent vassals, by those who have been ac­customed to consider a legion of free subject, as a band of absolute slaves—points of honour now take place of points in law, and Magna Char­ta itself must give way to that furor militaris which so universally prevails. The hand which bestows a truncheon can never be guilty of oppression, and the will of an artful minister, will become the law of a whole nation.

I am no enemy to the present military establish­ment, but as I conceive it may influence and en­danger [Page 11] our liberties; nor have I any resentment against the inhabitants of that country, which gave birth to my ancestors, but when I consider them as exerting their superior power to reduce their fellow subjects to a state of subordination in­consistent with their natural rights, and not to be reconciled to the spirit of their own constitution. I admire and revere the well regulated government of Great-Britain, and only wish to have our own system established by so excellent a standard.

As a colonist, my most ambitious views extend no further than the rights of a British subject. I cannot comprehend how my being born in Ame­rica should divest me of these; nor can I conceive why the liberty and property of a free born Ame­rican should not be protected from every invasion with the same caution, which has ever been exert­ed to guard the privileges of an Englishman. If we are entitled to the liberties of British subjects we ought to enjoy them unlimitted and unrestrained. If our pretensions to these are without any foundation, why are we left unacquainted with the cause and nature of our subordination? In acts of the greatest solemni­ty and notoriety, we have been flattered with the title of British subjects—we have received with the blood of our ancestors, the spirit of liberty, and our hearts naturally retain an utter abhor­rence of slavery. We have carefully examined those glorious charters, granted to the virtuous re­solution of our brave fore-fathers; and the result of our examination cannot but inform us—that liberty is only to be supported by a steady op­position to the first advances of arbitrary power. The conduct of the colonists has been most mali­ciously misrepresented, and they have been stigma­tized as riotous and rebellious, when those who are un-influenced by prejudice, cannot but discover [Page 12] that their warmest wishes rise no higher than to a connection, founded upon natural right; and that their present resentment could only be excited by the horrid apprehensions of being reduced to a state of slavish dependence.

I am not so great a stickler for the indepen­dence of the colonies, but I am ready to acknow­ledge the necessity of lodging in some part of the community a restraining power, for the regulating and limiting the trade and manufactures of each particular county or colony, in such a manner as might most effectually promote the good of the whole; and I should not obstinately object to the vesting this power in the parliament of Great-Britain, if the violent measures which have lately been carried into execution, did not afford me too much reason to believe, that every concession which might at this time be made from a principle of necessity, and a regard to the public utility, would be immediately considered as an acknow­ledgment of such a subordination, as is totally in­consistent with the nature of our constitution. If a laudable motive of moderation, and a generous attention to the welfare and tranquility of the whole community, should induce a ready submis­sion to every regulation which the British parlia­ment may think necessary to frame, the ill conse­quences which may possibly attend such a tempe­rate conduct, may draw upon us, a charge of un­pardonable negligence. In a system so complicated as ours, where one power is continually encroach­ing upon the other, and where the general ba­lance is so fluctuating and precarious; a spirit of compliance and moderation in the present age, may lay a foundation for the slavery and depen­dence of future generations; who will have the greatest reason to charge us with having basely [Page 13] betrayed their liberties, by carelesly relaxing from the rigid scrutiny which ever ought to be made into matters of national concern.

Vos dormitis, nec udhuc mihi videmini intelligere quam nos pateamus Cal. ad Cic.

In the pursuit of all political measures, if we are not cautious in preserving the appearance of liberty, we may insensibly lose the reality itself. As men attentive to our own particular interests, we cannot but discover the many advantages which the colonists would necessarily have over their brethren of Britain, in the course of a free unin­terrupted commerce; but, as men of reason and integrity, we do not indulge a wish to enjoy these advantages at the expence of our fellow subjects. We shall ever readily subscribe to such commerci­al regulations as may enable the inhabitants of Great-Britain, and Ireland, to meet us at all fo­reign markets upon an equal footing; but where the authority by which these restrictions are to be framed, can with most safety and propriety be lodged, is now the subject of our inquiries.

The boldest advocates for the power of parlia­ment, cannot, at this day, without blushing, as­sert, that it is sovereign and supreme in every re­spect whatsoever. That great man, who is, be­yond all contradiction, the best acquainted with the constitution of his own country, and the most sincerely attached to her true interest, never wished to extend the legislative power of Britain, any further than might be essential to her own preservation; by establishing such regulations as were indispensably necessary to prevent her falling a prey to her rising colonies. As there was an immediate necessity of placing this power some­where, the parliament of Great-Britain could [Page 14] urge a claim founded in an appearance of reason, and supported by a superiority of strength; and yet reasonable as this claim appeared to be, it could never be maintained, upon the principles of their own government. The commons of Britain might indeed with great propriety propose regulations for the trade, and restrictions for the manufactures of those by whom they were ap­pointed; but how they can, with any face of equity, resolve to extend these regulations and restrictions to those from whom they have received no delegated power, is what I cannot easily com­prehend. Would they but admit to their gene­ral council a certain number of deputies, proper­ly authorized from every colony, to support the interests of their constituents, to explain the na­ture of their situation, and remonstrate against any acts of oppression, then indeed whatever com­mercial regulations they might think proper to form, would be fixed upon a constitutional basis, and their authority remain for ever undisputed; as I can never be supposed to mean that it should extend to any other than such matters which im­mediately relate to commerce; while the internal policy of each colony should still be regulated by its proper representatives, in conjunction with the deputy of the crown; and their liberty should only be restrained and their property fairly dispo­sed of by those who are legally vested with that au­thority. I am very sensible, that to fix a repre­sentation in parliament for the purposes of com­merce only, would be attended with many incon­veniencies; but every man who has the cause of liberty, and the interest of his country at heart, would rather accept such a partial, disadvantage­ous establishment as might immediately be obtain­ed, than submit to such an unnatural state of sub­ordination, [Page 15] as must continually keep alive the spirit of contention, and finally involve us in in­evitable ruin.

The friends of parliamentary power lose them­selves in contemplating the idol they have raised; and to confirm the veneration which they have entertained, they annex to it the idea of omnipo­tence and infallibility. It is a received maxim of the law—"that the king can do no wrong;" and yet our brave forefathers were not so deluded by this royal dogma as to suffer themselves to be stripped of their invaluable rights and privileges by the arbitrary fiat of a wicked prince; and if they were justifiable in their resolute opposition to the unwarrantable encroachments of a power which had been considered as sacred. by a long hereditary succession; how very reasonably may we conceive that our conduct will be strictly de­fensible when we unanimously oppose the violent proceedings of a body which we may be said, from day to day, to have fashioned with our own hands. As the original design of delegating power, was, that it might be exercised for the good of the whole community, there cannot be a greater absur­dity in polities, than to suppose, that those whom we have vested with a reasonable and necessary authority, are not accountable to us if they should by any consideration, be led weakly and wanton­ly to abuse it. The doctrine of non-resistance and passive obedience to the tyrannic will of a wicked prince has long since been exploded, and those who have endeavoured to inculcate these slavish principles, have deservedly been treated with the utmost rigour of the law.(a) If liberty be the object which we pursue, and slavery the [Page 16] misfortune which we most cautiously avoid, we have as much to apprehend from a corrupt par­liament, as from an ambitious King; and he who would patiently submit to the usurpations of the one, and resolutely oppose the despotism of the other, only declares, by his conduct, that he would rather be ruled by five hundred tyrants than by one.

The natural right which every man possesses, to restrain, by every possible method, the progress of arbitrary, lawless government, is not at this day to be controverted; and though it may be in­sinuated, that the too warmly and too frequently pressing this doctrine, may excite a spirit of licenti­ousness; yet in answer to this, I must beg leave to remark, that the cause of liberty cannot be too care­fully cultivated, & that those principles by which it is best supported, cannot be too often or too strongly inculcated. Should the parliament of Britain, by an act of power, atempt to strip their consti­tuents of some important, unalienable right; would they not meet with as certain and violent opposition, as if the crown, by an exertion of its prerogative, should endeavour to divest them of some established privilege? The King of Great-Britain is vested with an extensive, but not an un­limitted authority; and is himself bound by those laws with the execution of which he is entrusted. The representatives of the nation, in parliament assembled, with justice arrogate to themselves many great and useful powers. They are trustees lawfully appointed for the freemen of Great-Bri­tain—nequid detrimenti capiat respublica is the tenure of their appointment; and if they should from any principle of venality or corruption, be­tray their important trust, no man can doubt but that they are very reasonably accountable to their [Page 17] constituents for every part of their misconduct. Should an act of the British legislature invade the rights of those who clothed the law-makers with their legislative power, it could only be considered as a breach of trust; but if the same authority should be exerted to deprive us of our most inesti­mable liberties, we must very properly regard it as an act of violence and oppression. Such violence has lately been offered to the legislature of New-York in particular, and such oppression will with great reason be complained of by the colonies in general, when they more clearly discover the ill ten­dency of those statutes, which have lately been framed under a pretence of regulating our com­merce. I cannot think it necessary to enter into a minute examination of every particular statute. The nature and importance of those duties which have been imposed upon such articles as we are un­der a necessity of importing from Great-Britain only, have been very clearly and accurately ex­plained by a late judicious writer.(a) For my part I have only laboured to impress the princi­ples of liberty upon the minds of my country­men; and to draw from those principles such clear an forcible conclusions as might carry with them conviction even to the most prejudiced. I have left the arrangement and consideration of particu­lar facts to those who have more leisure and a­bility; but if this loose undigested essay, should, in the most trifling, degree, promote the interest of my country, I shall, at any time hereafter, must willingly devote my head, my heart, and my hand to the same glorious purpose.

Te propter colimus leges, animosque ferarum
Exuimus; nitidis quisquis te sensibus hausit
Irruit intrepidus flammis, hiberna secabit
Aequora, consortus hostes superabit inermis.
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Those laws therefore that I call scriptae Leges or such as are usually called statute laws, which are originally reduced into writing, before they are enacted, or receive any bind­ing power; every such law being formally made, is at it were, an INDENTURE TRI­PARTITE, between the King, the Lords, and the Commons; for without the concurrent consent of all these three parts no such law is or can be made. HALE's Hist. of the Common Law.

IT seems to me the distinguishing cha­racteristic of the English constitution, that no free man shall be restrained in the exercise of his natural liberty, or, in the use of his acquired property but by those regulations to which he has really or virtually sub­scribed. Laws which are the result of such a ra­tional and well-digested compact, may bear hard upon some, but they cannot, with propriety, be [Page 19] complained of by any; since every precaution which the wit of man could devise, was necessari­ly employed for the benefit of the whole united body, after a due attention to the separate interest of each.

The Lords and Commons with the approba­tion of the Crown, agree to regulate their trade by well placed restrictions, and settle the establish­ment of their manufactures in such a manner as shall be most conducive to the public good. In all these disposing and restraining laws, the interest of the whole community is consulted, and the spirit of the constitution preserved inviolate.

But when the Lords and Commons of England, by formal compact with the Crown, attempt to bind those, who can by no means be considered as par­ties to their agreement, they discard those noble principles to which they owe the enjoyment of all that is valuable in life, and introduce power in the place of reason to support a system which has its foundation in partial, not in universal good. For, can any thing be more evidently partial, or more inconsistent with the principles of common justice, than that the Lords and Commons of England should(a) give and grant to his Majesty any sum which they may think proper, to be levied, by any mode which they may be pleased to devise, upon his American subjects—perhaps for the payment of a subsidy to some Prince of the Empire for the defence of his Majesty's electoral dominion? If the absurdity and injustice of such a procedure is to be discovered by every eye, we shall not be long before we clearly perceive, through all the mists [Page 20] of ingenious sophistry, that, upon the indispen­sible principles of their own constitution, the Lords and Commons of England can no more cove­nant with the Crown for the limitting and restrain­ing our natural liberty, than they can agree to give and grant the most valuable of our property to be disposed of for their own private purposes.

The more I consider this maxim, which I have taken from my Lord Chief Justice Hale, the more sensible am I of its weight and importance. To perceive its full force, it will be necessary to look back to the first dawn of freedom, when the good people of England, would no longer submit to have their liberty and property arbitrarily disposed of by the royal fiat. Conscious of their own im­portance, they, at first, only claimed a privilege of recommending by petition, such measures as they might conceive necessary for the public good. In this humble form did the spirit of liberty first appear, while the power of the crown continued for ages almost unlimitted in its extent, and un­controuled in its opperation. But, when an atten­tion to the true interests of the nation, establish­ed their manufactures and extended their com­merce, the common people readily shook off their servile dependence upon their Lords, and gladly embraced an opportunity of acquiring that afflu­ence of riches which was the firmest foundation of their future liberty. Those, whose situation had lately been that of the most abject vassallage, now suddenly found themselves raised, by their own industry, to the possession of wealth and in­dependence. Proud of such valuable and impor­tant acquisitions, they only waited for that infor­mation, which was the child of time and experi­ence, to direct their steps in the pursuit of measures which were to establish the most solid security [Page 21] for that liberty and property which they had so lately acquired.

Before science extended her happy influence over this rising nation, their progress in the paths of liberty was but slow and irregular—interrupted by events which they were too short sighted to foresee, and obstructed by revolutions which no human prudence could prevent. But, when their acquisition of knowledge, from a care­ful examination of the past, enabled them not on­ly to regulate the present, but even to penetrate into the remote regions of future contingency, every revolving year furnished them with some opportunity to improve and enlarge their system of liberty. With every assistance which human wisdom could bestow, supported by the experi­ence of ages, they have at last fixed the founda­tion of their freedom upon such principles as will forever stand the test of the most critical exami­nation. Careful to guard those blessings for which they had so industriously laboured, they established this as a fundamental maxim—that no new regulation could be framed, nor any old law abrogated but by the general consent of the nation. Such a consent as must be evidenced by a majority of votes in the different estates of the kingdom—the Lords in their proper persons assenting, while the sense of the common people is known from the voices of their representatives. Can any thing less than infinite wisdom elaborate a system more perfect than that which so effectual­ly secures the happiness of every individual—which admits no law as obligatory but upon those who are expressly parties, or have actually sub­scribed to the obligation?

If these be, as they certainly are, the well di­gested principles of the English constitution, with [Page 22] what appearance of reason can the warmest zealot for the superiority of Great-Britain assert, that the legislative power of parliament is sovereign and supreme?

Shall the freemen of New-York be reduced to a state of subordination, and deprived of those invaluable privileges enjoyed by the inhabitants of that city which has given a name to their pro­vince, because they are unfortunately placed a thousand leagues further from the presence of their sovereign; and instead of prefering their petitions immediately to the royal ear, can only apply to his deputy for a redress of their grievan­ces, and for the framing such regulations as the infant state of the colony may require? This would be heightening the misfortune of their situation by the most flagrant injustice.

When the emigrants from Great-Britain crossed the Atlantic to settle the deserts of America, they bro't with them the spirit of the English govern­ment. They brought with them the same duties to their sovereign, which the freemen of England at that time acknowledged; and they very natu­rally supposed, that, under his direction, they should be allowed to make such regulations as might answer the purposes of their emigration. Ever mindful of their duty and allegiance to their Prince, they cannot easily conceive that they left their brethren the freemen of England, vested with a sovereign, supreme power to restrain their(a) natural liberty, or to dispose of their acqui­red [Page 23] property. Removed at an immense distance from the seat of government, they could no lon­ger join the national council; but, as the very spirit of the English constitution required it, they naturally applied to their Prince for such protec­tion and assistance as might raise them to an equali­ty with their brethren of England; from whom they only requested their friendly patronage, during the weakness of their infant state.

The formula of their government once settled in some measure to their satisfaction, with the concurrence of those officers appointed by the crown, the inhabitants of these new settlements, ever faithfully preserving in their memory the principles of that happy government which they had just quitted, totally disclaim all(b) subordina­tion to, and dependence upon, the two inferior [Page 24] estates of their mother country. Without the power, without the inclination to disturb the tran­quility of those to whom they stand so nearly related, they wish to promote an amicable intercourse, founded upon reciprocal interest; without allowing or submitting to any laws but those which they them­selves have made, by regular agreement with the de­puty of the Crown, properly authorized for that purpose. To suppose the British parliament to be vested with a sovereign and supreme legislative power over the colonies, is advancing a supposi­tion inconsistent with the principles of their own constitution; and to assert the necessity of subor­dination from the nature of our situation, with­out attempting to prove that necessity, is really treating an affair of the utmost importance with too little(c) attention. Those who may proba­bly be most seriously affected by this doctrine, very naturally require something stronger than general assertions to support it, although those assertions may be advanced by the best and wisest men of the nation.

Perhaps it may not be such an irreconcileable paradox in policy, to assert, that the freemen set­tled in America may preserve themselves absolute­ly independent of their fellow subjects who more immediately surround the throne, and yet dis­charge, with the strictest fidelity, all their duties to their sovereign. They may not only be loyal and valuable subjects to their Prince, but useful and necessary neighbours to their brethren of Britain.

The colonies may, with no great impropriety, be considered as so many different counties of the [Page 25] same kingdom, the nature of whose situation pre­vents their joining in the general council, and re­duces them to a necessity of applying to their Prince for the establishment of such a partial po­licy as may be the best adapted to their particular circumstances, and, at the same time, the most conducive to the general good. That this partial policy, settled for every distinct part, may not interfere with the general welfare of the whole, the restraining power lodged in the Crown will always be able to insure; since we cannot suppose that a wise and just Prince would ever consent to sacrifice the interest and happiness of any one part to the selfish views of another.

As a commerical people, while blessed with the same advantages which the inhabitants of Great-Britain enjoy, our interest may sometimes clash with theirs. This is an inconvenience which may, at some future period happen, in the extent of our trade: But shall this possible inconvenience be a suffici­ent authority for stripping us of all the most valuable privileges in society? shall we be reduced to the most abject state of dependence, because we may pos­sibly become formidable rivals to our jealous bre­thren if we are allowed to maintain that equality which we have received from nature, and which we find so firmly supported by the laws of our mo­ther country?

Nostri autem magistratus, imperatores que ex hac una re maximam laudem capere stutebant, SI PROVINCIAS, SI SOCIOS EQUITATE ET FIDE DEFENDERENT. CIC. de Off.

THERE is no reasoning against those preju­dices which are the support of particular interest, or I would ask why my being born in the island of Great-Britain should vest me with a power to tie the hands of my American neigh­bour, [Page 26] and then justify me in picking his pocket; altho' this same American should be a loyal sub­ject of the same Prince, and formerly declared to be possessed of all the liberties and privileges of a British subject? How absurd and unmeaning must this specious declaration appear to one who sees and feels the force of the present violent struggles for reducing us to a state of infamous vassallage.

That right honourable and worthy gentleman who exerted his extensive influence to ward off from the devoted colonies that blow which would have effected their immediate ruin, has been pleas­ed to make these declarations in our favour.—They are the subjects of this kingdom, equally entitled with ourselves to all the natural rights of mankind, and the peculiar privileges of Englishmen, equally bound by the laws, and equally participating of its constitu­tion. The Americans are the sons, not the bastards of England.—And yet, in the same speech he asserts the authority of Great-Britain over the colonies to be sovereign and supreme in every cir­cumstance of government and legislation whatso­ever. If the latter part of this declaration be by any means reconcileable with the former, I must forfeit all pretensions to reason; since, after the most careful disquisition which I am capable of making, I cannot discover how any inhabitant of the colonies can be said to enjoy the peculiar pri­vileges of Englishmen, when all that he holds valu­able in life must lie at the mercy of that unlimit­ed power, which is so repeatedly said to be sove­reign and supreme. An authority established upon partial principles, and such as must be supported by the force(a) of arms more than the force of [Page 27] reason, if it is to survive to any distant period.

I have the highest veneration for the character and abilities of Mr. Pitt, and scarcely dare in­dulge myself in a train of reasoning, which evi­dently points out to me the most striking incon­sistency in the sense of his speech in January, up­on American affairs. From the best evidence which I am capable of receiving, I cannot but be clearly convinced that our liberty must be only ideal, and our privileges chimerical, while the omnipotence of parliament can ‘bind our trade, confine our manufactures, and exercise every power whatever except that of taking money out of our pockets without our consent.’ If this sovereign power, which they so warmly assert, should be once tamely conceded, to what trifling purpose have we exerted ourselves in our glorious opposition to the Stamp-act. At best we have but put the evil day a far off.—We have not combated the reality, but the mode of oppression, we have only gained a temporary reprieve, 'till some future minis­ter, with as little virtue and more abilities than Mr. G—, shall think proper to employ this un­bounded legislative power for the horrid purpose of reducing three millions of people to a state of abject slavery.

If our sovereign lords, the commons of England, have been led, by their absurd jealously and envious partiality, under the direction of a rash and impoli­tic minister, to strike so bold a stroke at both our liberty and property, what danger may we not ap­prehend from the same selfish principles, when they may be influenced by the deep laid schemes of some able statesman? Under such pernicious influence the chains of America may be forged and rivited on, while her incautious sons are lul­led in a state of security. The power of taxation [Page 28] given up to their spirited opposition, the excess of their joy will not suffer them to indulge any gloomy reflections upon that dangerous reserve of legisla­tion. The present evil averted, the warmth of their sanguine dispositions will not allow them to think that oppression may return at any other time, or in any other form. Their very gratitude and humility prevent their enquiring into a cause of the last importance. In the highest exultation of heart at a concession scarcely expected, they re­ceive as a matter of favour what they demanded as a matter of right, and, to avoid an appearance of arrogance in urging any new demands, they neglect the discharge of the most essential duties to themselves and their posterity. Perhaps they will scarcely thank the man who shall endeavour to convince them, that the simple power of legis­lation may as effectually ruin the colonies as that of taxation.

Let us borrow and improve upon a thought of our greatest enemy. Mr. G—tells us that in­ternal and external taxes are the same in effect, and differ but in name. Mr. Pitt has indeed treated this opinion with so little attention, that he has only answered it by a general assertion, that there is a plain distinction between taxes levied for the purpose of raising a revenue, and duties imposed for the regulation of trade.

Plain as this distinction is, my most industrious enquiries have not yet led me to it; and I can­not but think with Mr. G—, that they are the same in effect.—The one is precisely determined, while the other is more uncertain and eventual; but, in proportion to the sum raised, the effect will be exactly the same. It is taken for granted that the collection of a stamp duty would drain [Page 29] us of all the specie which we receive as a balance in our West-India trade. If any exorbitant duty laid upon sugar and molasses produces the same effect, in what does the difference consist? By either means the treasury of England will be en­riched with the whole profit of our labour, and we ourselves shall be reduced to that deplorable state of poverty, of which we have, at this very moment, a most affecting instance. General as the calamity is now become, there are few so un­informed as not to know that the power of legisla­tion has done all this mischief, without any assist­ance from that of taxation. The severe restric­tions imposed upon our trade, have made it im­practicable for us to answer every foreign demand, and, at the same time reserve a sufficient stock to keep up that circulation of property so necessary to the well being of society.

Involved in heavy debts, without any prospect of discharging them—in want of the necessaries of life, without the means of acquiring them, the very politic Mr. G—has furnished us with the most interesting facts to prove the truth of his doctrine. As great an enemy as he may be to the colonies, he has at least kindly bestowed upon them the most irrefragable proof that internal and external taxes are the same in effect; and that they may be as effectually ruined by the powers of le­gislation as by those of taxation.

When the parliament of Great-Britain arrogate to themselves this sovereign jurisdiction over the colonies, I should be glad to know on what prin­ciples they found their claim. Do they ground their pretensions on the excellent principles of their own constitution, or is this suprema­cy a power virtually inherent in the name of [Page 30] parliament? A name which should remind them of their original state of humility, when the distinguishing power which they boasted was priviledge of speaking their mind and remon­strating their grievances. The Lords indeed may, with some appearance of reason, assert a supreme jurisdiction over the whole body of the nation, as the highest court of judicature: But when an aspiring member of the Commons House confi­dently declares that he has a power to bind our trade, and restrain our manufactures, I should be glad to know whether he derived this power from the honest freemen his constituents, or whether he acquired it by virtue of his office? From his constituents he could receive no more power than they naturally possessed; and, from his office he cannot reasonably be supposed vested with any other authority, than that of deciding upon the formalities, and punctilios annexed to it.

To grasp at a jurisdiction so infinitely extensive, and so little capable of limitation, is expressly de­claring, that, from the antiquity of their esta­blishment, they are become sovereigns of the new-discovered world. Upon such arbitrary principles must they ground their unreasonable pretensions; since no man in his senses will assert that an inhabitant of Birmingham or Manchester has a natural right, after having obtained the con­sent of the Crown, to restrain, and prevent an industrious settler of the colonies from engaging in those particular manufactures which may inter­fere with the business of his own profession. Ab­surd as this assertion is, either this must be main­tained, or one full as pregnant with absurdity; since one may with as much reason suppose this natural superiority in the freemen of Great-Britain, [Page 31] as this acquired sovereignty in the collective body of their representatives. Whatever reasons they may devise to support this extraordinary claim, the motives to their usurpation are clearly evinced in that part of Mr. Pitt's speech, where he says—‘if the legislative power of Great-Britain over America ceases to be sovereign and supreme, I would advise every gentleman to sell his lands and embark for that country.’ A jealous fear, that, from the many natural advantages which we possess, we may, in some future age, rival our envious brethren in strength and riches, has urg­ed them to exercise a piece of Ottoman policy, by strangling us in our infancy. When we exa­mine into the nature of those fears which have already proved so fatal to our interest, the slightest examination shews them as contemptible and ill-grounded as were ever entertained by the most selfish of mankind.

Had not this refined policy of our British Ma­chiavel interfered, and roused us to attention, we should, in all human probability, have continued for many centuries the faithful drudges of our indulgent mother; and Great-Britain would have increased in strength and riches in proportion to the population of her colonies. While our com­merce continued unrestrained we should industri­ously have cultivated every branch of it, that we might be enabled to pay punctually to Great-Britain, that balance which would every year increase; since our attention to the settling an immeasura­ble extent of country, would effectually prevent our establishing such manufactories as would fur­nish us with the necessaries of life.

Had I sufficient information to enter into a minute detail of facts, I believe it would be no [Page 32] difficult matter to prove, that, in the course of our most successful commerce, Great-Britain receives nine-tenths of the profit, whilst we are humbly contented with being well fed and clothed as the wages of our labour.

If this inferiority be the consequence of a rea­sonable connection, why would they wish to re­duce us to a state of abject dependence? Or, if with the advantages which they already possess, a fair unlimited trade would bring into their hands all the specie which we could draw from the West-Indies, why would they wantonly use such detest­able measures as they have lately pursued, to ef­fect the same purpose?

If the present severe system of politics be the result of unreasonable jealousy; I will venture to assert that this very policy will counteract its own intention. Their distresses first led the colo­nists into enquiries concerning the nature of their political situation, and the justice of the treatment which they had received. That ignorance which has kept them in a state of peaceable submis­sion, fled before their eager researches after that information which was so essentially necessary to the preservation of their liberty. Enraged to find, that, while they had been amused with the specious title of fellow subjects, and flattered with the rights of British freemen, they were in reality treated as infants in policy, whose every motion was to be directed by the arbitrary will of their jealous parent; when every such direction evi­dently tended to reduce the one to an abject state of dependence, and to raise the other to the most exalted superiority. That both these purposes could easily have been obtained, by measures art­fully managed, is not to be doubted, since no­thing [Page 33] but the most violent oppression could have roused us from our state of stupefaction to a pro­per degree of attention. But when our sensibili­ty was excited by the most pointed injustice, rage instantly succeeded that tranquility which had been nourished by our imaginary security. Warmed with a sense of the injuries which we suffered, neither our gratitude nor our fear, could prevent our asserting those rights the possession of which can alone determine us freemen; and, though we could not but see that superiority of power which could "crush us to atoms" yet could we have found even in the modern history of Europe so many examples for our encouragement, that we should not have despaired of assistance sufficient to preserve us from the worst of evils.

Quam vos facillime agitis, quam estis maxime po­tentes, dites, fortunati, nobiles, tam maxime vos aequo animo aeque noscere oportet, si vos vul­tis perbiberi probos. Terent. Adelph

THE advocates for the sovereignty of Great-Britain enumerate amongst the other obli­gations by which we are bound, the favours which she has constantly conferred. If we could rea­sonably suppose a whole political body actuated by the same passions which may influence an indi­vidual, then, indeed there would be some foun­dation for our grateful acknowledgements; but when we plainly perceive that the bounties which Great-Britain is said so lavishly to have bestowed upon us, are meted out in the common political measure, with an evident intention finally to pro­mote her own particular benefit, we can only say that her actions are the result of good policy, not of great generosity. As for the support which [Page 34] they have given us in times of danger, if it did not immediately arise from the same motive which has produced their other favours, I am still ama­zed that it should even be mentioned by those who have lavished so much blood and treasure, for the maintenance of an imaginary balance, or in de­fending those who never thanked them for their defence.

The most superficial examination must serve to convince us that the battles of Great-Britain could no where have been fought with so much advan­tage as in the woods of America; where her troops could be supplied with all the necessaries of life upon the easiest terms, and, from whence all the money which they expended immediately re­turned in immense payments for the extraordi­nary importations of her manufacture which the exigencies of the war required. Thus were the whole expences of the American war very far from lessening the strength or riches of the na­tion; while her forces, which were not sufficient to make a considerable impression upon the body of her natural enemy, were enabled to lop off one of its limbs. In affecting this glorious purpose, I will venture to mention the assistance which they received from the provincial troops, as an aid of more importance than is generally allowed. I will even take the liberty to assert, that the colo­nists, in proportion to their real ability, did more for the general cause than could reasonably have been expected, if not more than Great-Britain herself. This assertion I fancy will gain more eredit now than it would have gained some time ago; since the eyes of the world are at last open, and they must if they are not wilfully blind, plainly discover, that the estimates of our wealth which have been received from ignorant or prejudiced [Page 35] persons, are, in every calculation, grosly errone­ous. These misrepresentations, which have been so industriously propagated, are very possibly the offspring of political invention, as they form the best apology for imposing upon us burthens to which we are altogether unequal. The easy faith which every absurd information obtained, and the preci­pitate measures, which were the consequence of this unreasonable credulity, must sufficiently con­vince us, that while we are within the reach of parliamentary power, we shall not be suffered to riot in a superfluity of wealth, or to acquire any dangerous degree of strength. Whatever advan­tages may hereafter present themselves, from an increased population or more extended trade, we shall never be able to cultivate them to any valua­ble purpose; for, how much soever we may pos­sess the ability of acquiring wealth and indepen­dence, the partial views of our selfish brethren, supported by the sovereignty of parliament, will most effectually prevent our enjoying such invalu­able acquisitions.

If any alternation in our system of agriculture should furnish us with a sufficiency of the neces­sary articles for the establishment of the most valuable manufactories, and an increase of popu­lation should enable us to carry them to the great­est advantage; the manufacturers of Great-Britain, jealous of such a formidable encroachment, would easily obtain the interposition of our sovereign directors; who would very naturally ordain, that we should export our unwrought materials to be laboured by our more skilful brethren, and dis­patch our superfluous inhabitants in search of a­nother vacant world: And, if the extent of our commerce should draw into our hands the [Page 36] wealth of the Indies, the same unlimitted autho­rity would always carefully provide ways and means for conveying the whole into the treasury of England. Perhaps some future G—lle, refi­ning upon the system of his predecessor, may make the powers of legislation answer the purposes of oppression as effectually as the severest taxation.

The measures which have already been pursued, almost give to conjecture the force of conviction; since no man can have been so inattentive to the most interesting facts as not to know, that the power of parliament exerted in the single instance or restraining our trade, has already reduced us to inconceiveable distress. Denied the means of acquiring specie sufficient for the purposes of a general circulation, and limitted in the emission of our paper currency, men of considerable real estates become unable to answer the most trifling demands; and, when urged by creditors, per­haps as much perplexed as themselves, their lands are sold by execution for less than half their for­mer value. This, as one of the most striking in­conveniences, attending the late unseasonable exertion of parliamentary power. I have selected for observation, from a very extensive catalogue of grievances which it has already produced, and of which we are at this moment most severely sensible. I am led to a choice of this particular fact, from a consideration of the fatal conse­quence by which it may possibly be attended, should the merchants of England immediately demand a rigid payment of the general balance due to them. It is not an easy matter to conceive how much our property may be affected by so un­seasonable a demand; since the calamity would by a regular connection, extend from the lowest to [Page 37] the highest member of society. But as it was ne­ver my intention to enter into a minute detail of facts, I shall content myself with offering such loose, desultory observations as may serve to direct others in their researches after more particular in­formation upon this most interesting subject. In the further pursuit of this design, I shall just take the liberty to observe upon the resolves of the Commons, of February 1766, that the severe cen­sures which they so liberally bestow upon us, are evidently inconsistent with the principles upon which they are supposed to have voted the repeal of the stamp-act.

From these resolves we may very reasonably sup­pose, that the repeal is more immediately found­ed upon the inexpediency of the act, than upon a conviction that they had exerted an unconstituti­onal power. Had they been willing to allow this act as invasive of an indisputable right, they would not so severely have censured us for our daring opposition, and lavished such praises upon those whose selfish views or slavish principles made them so readily subscribe to the infallibility and omni­potence of parliament.—A peaceable submis­sion to the first attacks of encroaching power, is altogether incompatible with the genius of liber­ty! nor could it reasonably be expected, that in such a sudden and dangerous invasion of our most inestimable rights, the form of opposition could be perfectly model'd by the hand of prudence. Violent and precipitate as our measures were, they wanted nothing but success to sanctify them; since the most superficial observer cannot but have dis­covered, that in the political world, right and wrong are merely arbitrary modes, totally depen­dent upon the rise and fall of contending parties.

The people of England very justly dissatisfied [Page 38] with the tyrannic conduct of a weak prince, made the boldest struggles for the support of their languishing liberty, in their first ill directed ef­forts under the unfortunate Monmouth. The justice of their cause could not save them from the pains and penalties of open rebellion: But when a prince of military abilities gave them his powerful assist­ance, they suddenly effected the preservation of their freedom, and distinguished so important an event by the title of a glorious revolution; so much influence has success, in rating the merit of our political conduct.

When the committee of the house resolve in the most general and expressive terms, that the authority of parliament over the colonies is so­vereign and supreme in every respect whatever, there is no reasoning against so formidable a reso­lution, supported by the power of the whole king­dom. We can only remark that the same house heretofore resolved to take under their own par­ticular direction, the rights of the people, the privileges of the lords, and the sovereignty of the crown; and, for a long time maintained this un­natural usurpation.

If they did not suffer the passions of the man to influence the judgment of the Senator, they would never treat that as a point of honour which should only be considered as a matter of right.

If, upon a cool, dispassionate enquiry, it may ap­pear, that the Commons of Great-Britain have no natural or acquired superiority over the free­men of America, they will certainly do us the jus­tice to acknowledge this very reasonable indepen­dence, and not wickedly endeavour to enslave millions to promote the honour and dignity of a few ambitious individuals.

In supporting this doctrine of independence, I [Page 39] have established as an incontrovertible truth, this very accurate definition of my Lord C. J. Hale—That every act of parliament is a tripartite in­denture of agreement between the three estates of the kingdom. If this maxim be not disputable I very humbly conceive, that every consequence which I have drawn from it, is fairly and logically deduced; for it cannot, but with the most glaring absurdity, be supposed, that the parties to these political agreements may legally bind those who are not in any wise privy to them.

The very spirit of the English constitution requires, that general regulations framed for the government of society, must have the sanction of general approbation; and, that no man shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, but by the force of those laws to which he has voluntarily subscribed. These principles once acknowledged as the foundation of English liberty, how can the colonists be said to possess the natural rights of mankind, or the peculiar privileges of Englishmen, while they are every day liable to receive laws framed by persons ignorant of their abilities—unacquainted with their necessities, and evidently influenced by partial motives? If my zeal for the good of my country has not greatly clouded my judgment, I still dare so far depend upon the prin­ciples which I have established, as to assert, that, while the power of the British parliament is ac­knowledged sovereign and supreme in every re­spect whatsoever, the liberty of America is no more than a flattering dream, and her privileges delu­sive shadows.

While I relate matters of fact, from the best evidence which I am capable of receiving, if I have misrepresented them, I lie open to contra­diction; [Page 40] and, when I recapitulate the principles from which I have drawn my train of reasoning, I am not so obstinately attached to my own opinion as to be proof against conviction. If I am guilty of any errors in the course of this unconnected performance, they must be attributed to my not having received sufficient information, or to my want of ability in using the materials which I had acquired. I have never wilfully misrepresented a fact, nor designedly drawn from it a falacious consequence. I have not laboured to establish any favourite system, and, with the vanity of a pro­jector, supported it at the expence of my veracity.

But however trifling this performance my ap­pear, both my head and my heart have co-ope­rated in its production, and I really sat down ‘to write what I thought, not to think what I should write’

Ardeo; mihi credite—incredibili quodam amore patriae—quod volent denique homines ozisti­ment; nemini ego possum esse bene de republica merenti non amicus. CICERO.

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