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Causes of the American Discontents before 1768,
The waves never rise but when the winds blow.
SIR, AS the cause of the present ill humour in America, and of the resolutions taken there to purchase less of our manufactures, does not seem to be generally understood, it may afford some satisfaction to your readers, if you give them the following short historical state of facts.
From the time that the colonies were first considered as capable of granting aids to the crown, down to the end of the last war, it is said, that the constant mode
* This letter first appeared in a London paper, January 7, 1768, and was afterwards reprinted as a postscript to The true Sentiments of America, printed for Almon, 1768. B. V. VOL. III. 2
of obtaining those aids was, by requisition made from the crown, through its governors, to the several assemblies, in circular letters from the secretary of state, in his majesty's name, setting forth the occasion, requiring them to take the matter into consideration, and expressing a reliance on their prudence, duty, and affection to his majesty's government, that they would grant such sums, or raise such numbers of men, as were suitable to their respective circumstances.
The colonies, being accustomed to this method, have from time to time granted money to the crown, or raised troops for its service, in proportion to their abilities, and, during all the last war, beyond their abilities; so that considerable sums were returned them yearly by parliament, as they had exceeded their proportion.
Had this happy method of requisition been continued (a method that left the king's subjects in those remote countries the pleasure of showing their zeal and loyalty, and of imagining that they recommended themselves to their sovereign by the liberality of their voluntary grants) there is no doubt, but all the money that could reasonably be expected to be raised from them in any manner, might have been obtained, without the least heart-burning, offence, or breach of the harmony of affections and interests, that so long subsisted between the two countries.
It has been thought wisdom in a government exercising sovereignty over different kinds of people, to have some regard to prevailing and established opinions among the people to be governed, wherever such opinions might in their effects obstruct or promote public mea
sures. If they tend' to obstruct public service, they are to be changed, if possible, before we attempt to act against them; and they can only be changed by reason and persuasion. But if public business can be carried on without thwarting those opinions, if they can be, on the contrary, made subservient to it; they are not unnecessarily to be thwarted, how absurd such popular opinions may
be in their nature. This had been the wisdom of our government with respect to raising money in the colonies. It was well known, that the colonists universally were of opinion, that no money could be levied from English subjects but by their own consent, given by themselves or their chosen representatives; that therefore whatever money was to be raised from the people in the colonies must first be granted by their assemblies, as the money raised in Britain is first to be granted by the house of commons; that this right of granting their own money was essential to English liberty; and that if any man, or body of men in which they had no representative of their choosing, could tax them at pleasure, they could not be said to have any property, any thing they could call their own. But as these opinions did not hinder their granting money voluntarily and amply, whenever the crown, by its servants, came into their assemblies (as it does into its parliaments of Britain or Ireland) and demanded aids; therefore that method was chosen, rather than the hateful one of arbitrary taxes.
I do not undertake here to support these opinions of the Americans; they have been refuted by a late act of parliament, declaring its own power; which very parliament, however, showed wisely so much tender regard to those inveterate prejudices, as to repeal a tax that had militated against them. And those prejudices are
still still so'fixed and rooted in the Americans, that it has been supposed, not a single man among them has been convinced of his error, even by that act of parliament.
The person then, who first projected to lay aside the accustomed method of requisition, and to raise money on America by stamps, seems not to have acted wisely, in deviating from that method (which the colonists looked upon as constitutional) and thwarting unnecessarily the fixed prejudices of so great a number of the king's subjects. It was not, however, for want of knowledge, that what he was about to do would give them offence; he appears to have been very sensible of this, and apprehensive that it might occasion some disorders; to prevent or suppress which, he projected another bill, that was brought in the same session with the stamp act, whereby it was to be made lawful for military officers in the colonies to quarter their soldiers in private houses. This seemed intended to awe the peeple into a compliance with the other act. Great opposition however being raised here against the bill by the agents from the colonies and the merchants trading thither (the colonists declaring, that under such a power in the army, no one could look on his house as his
own, or think he had a home, when soldiers might be thrust into it and mixed with his family at the pleasure of an officer) that part of the bill was dropped; but there still remained a clause, when it passed into a law, to oblige the several assemblies to provide quarters for the soldiers, furnishing them with firing, bedding, candles, small beer or rum, and sundry other articles, at the expence of the several provinces. And this act continued in force when the stamp act was repealed ; though, if obligatory on the assemblies, it equally militated against the American principle above mentioned, that money is not to be raised on English subjects without their consent.
The colonies, nevertheless, being put into high good humour by the repeal of the stamp act, chose to avoid a fresh dispute upon the other, it being temporary and soon to expire, never, as they hoped, to revive again; and in the mean time they., by various ways, in different colonies, provided for the quartering of the troops, either by acts of their own assemblies, without taking notice of the act of parliament, or by some variety or small diminution, as of salt and vinegar, in the supplies required by the act; that, what they did might appear a voluntary act of their own, and not done in due obedience to an act of parliament, which, according to their ideas of their rights, they thoughư hard to obey.
It might have been well if the matter had then passed without notice; but a governor having written home an angry and aggravating letter upon this conduct in the assembly of his province, the outed [proposer.*] of the stamp act and his adherents (then in the oppositioni) raised such a clamour against America, as being in rebellion, and against those who had been for the repeal of the stamp act, as having thereby been encouragers of this supposed rebellion; that it was thought necessary to enforce the quartering act by another act of parliament, tak ing away from the province of New York (which had been the most explicit in its refusal) all the powers of legislation, till it should have complied with that act. The news of which greatly alarmed the people every where in America, as the language of such an act