« ZurückWeiter »
CHAP. II. 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 over those in Britain.
" It is the glory of the British constitution CHAP. II. 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
CHAP. II. 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 to 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 them. selves in support of their own rights, had but little weight, when used to disprove the exist. ence of their authority over others. The deep and solemn tone of conviction, however, conveyed in all these letters, ought to have protluced a certainty that the principles assumed
in them, had made a strong impression, and CHAP. II. would not lightly be abandoned. It ought to 1768. have been foreseen that with such a people, so determined, the conflict must be stern and hazardous; and even if ultimate success might be counted on, it was well worth the estimate, whether the object would compensate the means used in obtaining it. A petition to the king was also agreed on, Petition to
", the king. replete with professions of loyalty and attach. ment to his person and family, but stating in very explicit terms, the sense they entertained of the acts against which they petitioned.
After the petition to the king had been Twenty-first voted, a day was appointed to take under consi. deration, the propriety of addressing their sister colonies, on a subject equally interesting to all. After long and earnest debate, the motion for the address was lost, in a house consisting of eighty-two members:* but on a motion for reconsidering the resolution which was made on a subsequent day, in a house consisting of February 4. the same number of members, it was carried in the affirmative by a great majority; and by an immediate subsequent resolve the first resolution was erased.
A circular letter to the assemblies of the Eleventh. respective colonies, stating the proceedings of
* The whole number of members was then one hundred and ten.
Circular letters to the colonial assemblies.
CHAP. II. the house of representatives of Massachussetts 1768. was then agreed to; one copy of which was
presented to their governor, and another copy, to prevent its being misrepresented, was transmitted to their agent in London. *
To avoid what might give to these measures, taken in defence of rights believed to be the most clear and the most sacred, the appearance of systematic opposition to the British government, the house, soon after concluding their circular letter, called up a requisition of the governor to make a further provision for one of the king's garrisons within the province; which without acknowledging the obligations of the mutiny act, they of their free accord, instantly complied with. Soon afterwards, the governor prorogued the general court. This measure was accompanied by an angry speech, but little calculated to diminish the resentments of the house directed personally against him; resentments occasioned as well by the haughti. ness of his manners, and a persuasion that he had misrepresented, in his letters to ministers, their conduct and opinions, as by the unpopular course his station at present required him to pursue.
The circular letter of the house of represen. tatives of Massachussetts was extremely well
* See Note, No. VI. at the end of the volume.