Abbildungen der Seite

. Chap, a English liberty; and earnestly exhorting the

1767. people of America to take measures which would defeat its operation. The effect of these essays was gradual, but certain; and the public judgment seemed at length convinced that the same principle which had before been successfully opposed was again approaching under a different garb.

The general court of Massachussetts met in December, and very early in the session, took

1768. under their consideration several acts of par

January. t B

liament, which during the recess, had been

transmitted to the colony. They perceived plainly that the claim to tax America was revived, and they determined to oppose it with all the means in their power.

iiieassembiy \ verv elaborate letter was addressed to

of M.tssa-

'Dennis de Bert, agent for the house of representatives, in which are detailed, at great length, and with much weight of argument, England. a\\ tf\e objections to be made to the late acts of parliament. Letters signed by the speaker were also addressed to the earl of Shelburne and general Conway, secretaries of state; to the marquis of Rockingham, lord Camden, the earl of Chatham, and the lords commisioners of the treasury. These letters, while they breathe a spirit of ardent attachment to the British constitution and the British nation, manifest a perfect conviction that their complaints were just: a conviction founded on an entire under

address letters to sever ;il members of the administration in

standing of the soundest political principles, Chap. H. which ought to have arrested the mad course 1768, now recommenced.

"Conscious of their own disposition," say they to general Conway, "they rely upon that candour which is a distinguished mark of your character. And however they may have been represented to his majesty's ministers as undutiful, turbulent, and factious, your sentiments are too generous to impute expressions of uneasiness under the operation of any particular acts of the British parliament to a peevish, or discontented habit, much less to the want of a due veneration for that august assembly.

** This house is at all times ready to recognise his majesty's high court of parliament, the supreme legislative power over the whole empire. Its superintending authority, in all cases consistent with the fundamental rules of the constitution, is as clearly admitted by his majesty's subjects in this province as by those within the realm. Since the constitution of the state, as it ought to be, is fixed; it is humbly presumed that the subjects in every part of the empire, however remote, have an equitable claim to all the advantages of it." d

To the earl of Shelburne, after stating the hardships encountered by their fathers, and

*' Prior documents. VOI.. Jit P

Chap. H. their attachment to the mother country, they 1768. insist that the common law, as well as their charter, gives them all the rights and liberties of British subjects.

"The spirit of the law of nature and nations" they proceed to say; "supposes that all the free subjects of any kingdom, are entitled equally to all the rights of the constitution; for it appears unnatural and unreasonable to affirm, that local, or any other circumstances, can justly deprive any part of the subjects of the same prince, of the full enjoyment of the rights of that constitution, upon which the government itself is formed, and by which sovereignty and allegiance are ascertained and limited.

"There are, my lord, fundamental rules of the constitution which it is humbly presumed neither the supreme legislative nor the supreme executive can alter. In all free states the constitution is fixed. It is from thence the legislative derives its authority. Therefore it cannot change the constitution without destroying its own foundation. If then the constitution of Great Britain is the common right of all British subjects, it is humbly referred to your lordship's judgment, whether the supreme legislative of the empire may rightly leap the bounds of it, in the exercise of power over the subjects in America, any more, than oyer those in Britain.

"It is the glory of the British constitution Chap. H. that it has its foundation in the laws of God 1768. and nature. It is essentially a right that a man shall quietly enjoy, and have the disposal of his own property. This right is ingrafted into the British constitution, and is familiar to the American subjects; and your lordship will judge whether any necessity can render it just and equitable in the nature of things, that the supreme legislative of the empire should impose duties, subsidies, talliages, and taxes, internal or external, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue upon subjects that are not, and cannot considering their local circumstances, by any possibility be equally represented; and consequently whose consent cannot be had in parliament.

"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 • or fall together. Property is admitted to have existence in the savage state of nature: and if it is necessary for the support of savage life, it becomes by no means less so in civil society. The house entreats your lordship to consider whether a colonist can be conceived to have any property which he may call his own, if it may be granted away by any other body without his consent: and they submit to your

[ocr errors]

Chap. n. lordship's judgment * whether this was not 1768. actually done, when the act for granting to his majesty certain duties on paper, glass, and other articles, for the sole and express purpose of raising a revenue in America, was made/'

They conclude a very able course of reasoning on the question of the constitutional right to tax America, with saying, "It is by no means, my lord, a disposition in the house fo dispute the just authority of the supreme legislative of the nation, that induces them thus to address your lordship; but a warm sense of loyalty to their prince, and, they humbly apprehend, a just concern for their natural and constitutional rights. They beg your lordship would excuse their trespassing on your time and attention to the great affairs of state; they apply to you as a friend to the rights of mankind, and of British subjects. As Americans, they implore your lordship's patronage, and beseech you to represent their grievances to the king our sovereign, and employ your happy influence for their relief."

Arguments which would have appeared so conclusive to Englishmen, if urged by themselves in support of their own rights, had but little weight, when used to disprove the existence of their authority over others. The deep and solemn tone of conviction, however, conveyed in all these letters, ought to have produced a certainty that the principles assumed

« ZurückWeiter »