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latures in America subordinate to the Legislature of Great Britain, one might conceive, I think, a power in the superior Legislature to forbid the inferior Legislatures making particular laws; but to enjoin it to make a particular law contrary to its own judgment, seems improper; an Assembly or Parliament not being an executive officer of Government, whose duty it is, in law-making, to obey orders, but a deliberative body, who are to consider what comes before them, its propriety, practicability, or possibility, and to determine accordingly: The very nature of a Parliament seems to be destroyed, by supposing it may be bound, and compelled by a law of a superior Parliament, to make a law contrary to its own judgment. Indeed, the act of Parliament in question has not, as in other acts, when a duty is enjoined, directed a penalty on neglect or refusal, and a mode of recovering that penalty. It seems, therefore, to the people in America as a mere requisition, which they are at liberty to comply with or not, as it may suit or not suit the different circumstances of different provinces. Pennsylvania has therefore voluntarily complied. New York, as I said before, has refused. The Ministry that made the act, and all their adherents, call for vengeance. The present Ministry are perplext, and the measures they will finally take on the occasion, are yet unknown. But sure I am, that, if Force is used, great mischief will ensue; the affections of the people of America to this country will be alienated; your commerce will be diminished; and a total separation of interests be the final consequence. It is a common, but mistaken notion here, that the Colonies were planted at the expence of Parliament, and that therefore the Parliament has a right to tax them, &c. The truth is, they were planted at the expence of private adventurers, who went over there to settle, with leave of the King, given by charter. On receiving this leave, and those charters, the adventurers voluntarily engaged to remain the King's subjects, though in a foreign country; a country which had not been conquered by either King or Parliament, but was possessed by a free people. When our planters arrived, they purchased the lands of the natives, without putting King or Parliament to any expence. Parliament had no hand in their settlement, was never so much as consulted about their constitution, and took no kind of notice of them, till many years after they were established. I except only the two modern Colonies, or rather attempts to make Colonies, (for they succeed but poorly, and as yet hardly deserve the name of Colonies), I mean Georgia and Nova Scotia, which have hitherto been little better than Parliamentary jobs. Thus all the colonies acknowledge the King as their sovereign; his Governors there represent his person: Laws are made by their Assemblies or little Parliaments, with the Governor's assent, subject still to the King's pleasure to confirm or annul them : Suits arising in the Colonies, and differences between Colony and Colony, are determined by the King in Council. In this view, they seem so many separate little states, subject to the same Prince. The sovereignty of the King is therefore easily understood. But nothing is more common here than to talk of the sovereignty of PARLIAMENT, and the sovereignty of THIS NATION over the Colonies; a kind of sovereignty, the idea of which is not so clear, nor does it clearly appear on what foundation it is established. On the other hand, it seems necessary for the common good of the empire, that a power be lodged somewhere, to regulate its general commerce: this can be placed nowhere so properly as in the Parliament of Great Britain; and therefore, though that power has in some instances been executed with great partiality to Britain, and prejudice to the Colonies, they have nevertheless always submitted to it. Custom-houses are established in all of them, by virtue of laws made here, and the duties constantly paid, except by a few smugglers, such as are here and in all countries; but internal taxes laid on them by Parliament, are still and ever will be objected to, for the reasons that you will see in the mentioned Examination. Upon the whole, I have lived so great a part of my life in Britain, and have formed so many friendships in it, that I love it, and sincerely wish it prosperity; and therefore wish to see that Union, on which alone I think it can be secured and established. As to America, the advantages of such a union to her are not so apparent. She may suffer at present under the arbitrary power of this country; she may suffer for a while in a separation from it; but these are temporary evils that she will outgrow. Scotland and Ireland are differently circumstanced. Confined by the sea, they can scarcely increase in numbers, wealth and strength, so as to overbalance England. But America, an immense territory, favoured by Nature with all advantages of climate, soil, great navigable rivers, and lakes, &c. must become a great country, populous and mighty; and will, in a less time than is generally conceived, be able to shake off any shackles that may be imposed on her, and perhaps place them on the imposers. In the mean time, every act of oppression will sour their tempers, lessen greatly, if not annihilate the profits of your commerce with them, and hasten their final revolt; for the seeds of liberty are universally found there, and nothing can eradicate them. And yet, there remains among that people, so much respect, veneration and affection for Britain, that, if cultivated prudently, with kind usage, and tenderness for their privileges, they might be easily governed still for ages, without force, or any considerable expence. But I do not see here a sufficient quantity of the wisdom, that is necessary to produce such a conduct, and I lament the want of it. I borrowed at Millar's the new edition of your Principles of Equity, and have read with great pleasure the preliminary discourse on the Principles of Morality. I have never before met with any thing so satisfactory on the subject. While reading it, I made a few remarks as I went along. They are not of much importance, but I send you the paper. I know the lady you mention; having, when in England before, met her once or twice at Lord Bath's. I remember I then entertained the same opinion of her that you express. On the strength of your kind recommendation, I purpose soon to wait on her. This is unexpectedly grown a long letter. The visit to Scotland, and the Art of Virtue, we will talk of hereafter. It is now time to say, that I am, with increasing esteem and affection, my dear friend, yours ever,” B. FRANKLIN. 1 Mrs. Montagu. — ED. * “This excellent letter, as appears by a subsequent one, from the same hand, was in all probability intercepted, as it was not received by Lord Kames in the regular course of communication. Dr. Franklin, however, having preserved a copy, transmitted it two years afterwards to his correspondent. The opinions it conveyed were thus probably well known to the persons at the head of administration. It had been happy, if they had paid them that attention, which the wisdom of the counsels they contained deserved.”
— Tytler’s “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the Honourable Henry Home of Kames,” Vol. II, pp. 99, 112. – Ed.
428. TO JOHN ROSS'
London, April 11, 1767. DEAR SIR,
I received your favour of December 8th and February 22d, and thank you for the particular accounts you send me of affairs on your side the water, which are very agreeable to me to read.
Here public affairs are in great disorder; a strong opposition against the ministry, which, at the same time, is thought not to be well united; and daily apprehensions of new changes make it extremely difficult to get forward with business. We must use patience. This satisfaction we have, that there is scarce a man of weight, in or out of the ministry, that has not now a favourable opinion of the proposed change of government in the Proprietary colonies; but during the present violent heats, occasioned by some conduct of the Assemblies of New York and Boston, and which the opposition aggravate highly in order to distress the friends of America in the present ministry, nothing so little interesting to them as our application can get forward.
Your messages on the Circuit-Bill are not yet arrived. I much want to see them.
I send you a little essay of an inscription to the memory of my departed, amiable young friend, whose loss I deplore with you most sincerely. If it has been long coming to your hand, I hope that has occasioned your being furnished with another and a better. The style is simple and plain, and more proper for such things than affected ornamental expression.
* From “Life and Correspondence of George Read, by William Thompson Read,” Phila., 1870, p. 47. – ED.