History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution/Chapter II
The project of an American taxation might have been longer meditated, but the memorable era of the Stamp Act, in 1764, was the first innovation that gave a general alarm throughout the continent. By this extraordinary act, a certain duty was to be levied on all bonds, bills of lading, public papers, and writings of every kind, for the express purpose of raising a revenue to the crown. As soon as this intelligence was transmitted to America, a universal murmur succeeded; and while the judicious and penetrating through it time to make a resolute stand against the encroachments of power, the resentment of the lower classes broke out into such excesses of riot and tumult as prevented the operation of the favorite project.
Multitudes assembled in the principal towns and cities, and the popular torrent bore down all before it. The houses of some, who were the avowed abettors of the measure, and of others who were only suspected as inimical to the liberties of America, in Boston, in Newport, Connecticut, and many other places, were razed to the ground. The commissioners of the Stamp Office were everywhere compelled to renounce their employments and to enter into the most solemn engagements to make no further attempts to act in this obnoxious business. At New York the act was printed and cried about the streets under the title of "The folly of England, and the ruin of America." In Philadelphia the cannon were spiked up and the bells of the city, muffled, tolled from morning to evening, and every testimony of sincere mourning was displayed on the arrival of the stamp papers. Nor were any of the more southern colonies less opposed to the operation of this act; and the House of Burgesses, in Virginia, was the first who formally resolved against the encroachments of power and the unwarrantable designs of the British Parliament.
The novelty of their procedure and the boldness of spirit that marked the resolutions of that assembly at once astonished and disconcerted the officers of the crown and the supporters of the measures of administration. These resolves were ushered into the house May 30, 1765 by Patrick Henry, esquire, a young gentleman of the law, till then unknown in political life. He was a man possessed of strong powers, much professional knowledge, and of such abilities as qualified him for the exigencies of the day. Fearless of the cry of "treason," echoed against him from several quarters, he justified the measure and supported the resolves in a speech that did honor both to his understanding and his patriotism. The governor, to check the progress of such daring principles, immediately dissolved the assembly. (see Note 2 at the end of this chapter).
But the disposition of the people was discovered when on a new election those gentlemen were everywhere re-chosen who had shown the most firmness and zeal in opposition to the Stamp Act. Indeed, from New Hampshire to the Carolinas, a general aversion appeared against this experiment of administration. Nor was the flame confined to the continent. I had spread to the insular regions, whose inhabitants, constitutionally more sanguine than those born in colder climates, discovered stronger marks of resentment and prouder tokens of disobedience to ministerial authority. Thus several of the West India islands showed equal violence in the destruction of the stamp papers, disgust at the act, and indignation toward the officers who were bold enough to attempt its execution. Nor did they at this period appear less determined to resist the operation of all unconstitutional mandates, than the generous planters of the southern or the independent spirits of the northern colonies.
When the general assembly of the Massachusetts met this year, it appeared that most of the members of the house of representatives had instructions from their constituents to make every legal and spirited opposition to the distribution of the stamped papers, to the execution of the act in any form, and to every other parliamentary infringement on the rights of the people of the colonies. A specimen of the spirit of the times may be seen in a single instance of those instructions which were given to the representative of the town of Plymouth, the capital of the cold colony. Similar measures were adopted in most of the other provinces. In consequence of which, petitions from the respective assemblies, replete with the strongest expressions of loyalty and affection to the kind and a regard to the British nation were presented to his majesty through the hands of the colonial agents. (see Note 3 at the end of this chapter)
The ferment was however too general, and the spirits of the people to much agitated to wait patiently the result of their own applications. So universal was the resentment and discontent of the people that the more judicious and discrete characters were exceedingly apprehensive that the general clamor might terminate in extremes of anarchy Heavy duties had been laid on all goods imported from such of the West India islands as did not belong to Great Britain. These duties were to be paid into the exchequer and all penalties incurred were to be recovered in the courts of vice admiralty, by the determination of a single judge, without trial by jury, and the judge's salary was to be paid out of the fruits of the forfeiture.
All remonstrances against this innovating system had hitherto been without effect and in this period of suspense, apprehension and anxiety, a general congress of delegates from the several provinces was proposed by the honorable James Otis of Barnstable, Massachusetts. He was a gentleman of great probity, experience, and parliamentary abilities, whose religious adherence to the rights of his country had distinguished him through a long course of years, in which he had sustained some of the first offices in government. This proposal, from a man of his acknowledged judgment, discretion and firmness, was universally pleasing. The measure was communicated to some of the principal members of the two houses of assembly and immediately adopted, not only by Massachusetts, but very soon after by most of the other colonies. Thus originated the first congress ever convened in America by the united voice of the people in order to justify their claims to the rights of Englishmen and the privileges of the British constitution.
It has been observed that Virginia and Massachusetts made the first opposition to parliamentary measures on different grounds. The Virginians, in their resolves, came forward conscious of their own independence and at once asserted their rights as men. The Massachusetts generally founded their claims on the rights of British subjects and the privileges of their English ancestors; but the era was not far distant when the united colonies took the same ground, the claim of native independence, regardless of charters of foreign restrictions. At a period when the taste and opinions of Americans were comparatively pure and simple, while they possessed that independence and dignity of mind, which is lost only by a multiplicity of wants and interests, new scenes were opening, beyond the reach of human calculation. At this important crisis the delegates appointed from several of the colonies, to deliberate on the lowering aspect of political affairs, met at New York, on the first Tuesday of October, 1765.
The moderate demands of this body, and the short period of its existence discovered at once the affectionate attachment of its members to the parent state and their dread of a general rupture, which at that time universally prevailed. [Several of the colonies were prevented from sending delegates to the congress in New York by the royal governors, who would not permit the assemblies to meet.] They stated their claims as subjects to the crown of Great Britain, appointed agents to enforce them in the national councils, and agreed on petitions for the repeal of the Stamp Act, which had sown the seeds of discord throughout the colonies. The prayer of their constituents was in a spirited, yet respectful manner, offered through them to the king, lords, and commons of Great Britain. They then separated, to wait the event. [See their petition in the records of the congress at New York, in 1765.]. (see Note 4 at the end of this chapter)
A majority of the principal merchants of the city of London, the opulent West India proprietors, who resided in England, and most of the manufacturing towns, through the kingdom, accompanied with similar petitions, those offered by the congress convened at New York. In consequence of the general aversion to the Stamp Act, the British ministry were changed, in appearance, though the same men who had fabricated the American system, still retained their influence on the mind of the king, and in the councils of the nation. The parliamentary debates of the winter of 1766, evinced the important consequences expected from the decision of the question relative to an American taxation. Warm and spirited arguments in favor of the measure, energetic reasonings against it, with many sarcastic strokes on administration from some of the prime orators in parliament interested the hearers of every rank and description. Finally, in order to quiet the public mind, the execution of the Stamp Act was pronounced inexpedient by a majority of the house of commons, and a bill passed for its repeal on March 18, 1766. But a clause was inserted therein, holding up a parliamentary right to make laws binding on the colonies in all cases whatsoever; and a kind of condition was tacked to the repeal that compensation should be made to all who had suffered either in person or property by the late riotous proceedings.
A short-lived joy was diffused throughout America, even by this delusive appearance of lenity. The people of every description manifested the strongest desire that harmony might be re-established between Great Britain and the colonies. Bonfires, illuminations, and all the usual expressions of popular satisfaction were displayed on the joyful occasion. Yes, amidst the demonstrations of this lively gratitude, there were some who had sagacity enough to see that the British ministry was not so much instigated by principles of equity, as impelled by necessity. These deemed any relaxation in parliament an act of justice, rather than favor, and felt more resentment for the manner, than obligation for the design, of this partial repeal. Their opinion was fully justified by the subsequent conduct of administration.
When the assembly of Massachusetts met the succeeding winter, there seemed to prevail a general disposition for peace; the sense of injury was checked, and such a spirit of affection and loyalty appeared that the two houses agreed to a bill for compensation to all sufferers in the late times of confusion and riot. But they were careful not to recognize a right in parliament to make such a requisition. They ordered it to be entered on the journals of the house that "for the sake of internal peace, they waved all debate and controversy, though persuaded the delinquent sufferers had no just claim on the province: That, influenced by a loyal regard to his majesty's recommendation (not considering it as a requisition) and that, from a deference to the opinions of some illustrious patrons of America in the house of commons who had urged them to a compliance: They therefore acceded to the proposal, though at the same time they considered it a very reprehensible step in those who had suffered to apply for relief to the parliament of Britain, instead of submitting to the justice and clemency of their own legislature."
They made several other just and severe observations on the high-toned speech of the governor who had said, "that the requisition of the ministry was found on so much justice and humanity that it could not be controverted." They inquired if the authority with which he introduced the ministerial demand precluded all disputation about complying with it, what freedom of choice they had left in the case? They said, "With regard to the rest of your Excellency's speech, we are constrained to observe that the general air and style of it savors much more of an act of free grace and pardon than of a parliamentary address to the two houses of assembly; and we most sincerely with your excellency had been pleased to reserve it, if needful, for a proclamation."
In the bill for compensation by the assembly of Massachusetts was added a very offensive clause. A general pardon and oblivion was granted to all offenders in the late confusion, tumults and riots. An exact detail of these proceedings was transmitted to England. The king and council disallowed the act as comprising in it a bill of indemnity to the Boston rioters and ordered compensation made to the late sufferers, without any supplementary conditions. No notice was taken of this order, nor any alteration made in the act. The money was drawn from the treasury of the province to satisfy the claimants for compensation, and no farther inquiries were made relative to the authors of the late tumultuary proceedings of the times, when the minds of men had been wrought up to a ferment, beyond the reach of all legal restraint.
The year 1766 had passed over without any other remarkable political events. All colonial measures agitated in England were regularly transmitted by the minister for the American department to the several plantation governors, who on every communication endeavored to enforce the operation of parliamentary authority by the most sanguine injunctions of their own and a magnificent display of royal resentment, on the smallest token of disobedience to ministerial requisitions. But it will appear that through a long series of resolves and messages, letters and petitions, which passed between the parties previous to the commencement of hostilities, the watchful guardians of American freedom never lost sight of the intrigues of their enemies or the mischievous designs of such as were under the influence of the crown on either side of the Atlantic.
It may be observed that the tranquility of the provinces had for some time been interrupted by the innovating spirit of the British ministry, instigated by a few prostitutes of power, nurtured in the lap of American and bound by every tie of honor and gratitude to be faithful to the interests of their country. The social enjoyments of life had long been disturbed, the mind fretted, and the people rendered suspicious when they saw some of their fellow citizens who did not hesitate at a junction with the accumulated swarms of hirelings sent from Great Britain to ravish from the colonies the rights they claimed both by nature and by compact. That the hard hearted judges of admiralty and the crowd of revenue officers that hovered bout the custom houses should seldom be actuated by the principles of justice is not strange. Peculation was generally the prime object of this class, and the oaths they administered and the habits they encouraged were favorable to every species of bribery and corruption. The rapacity which instigated these descriptions of men had little check, while they saw themselves upheld even by some governors of provinces. In this grade, which ought ever to be the protectors of the rights of the people, there were some who were total strangers to all ideas of equity, freedom, or urbanity. It was observed at this time in a speech before the house of commons by Colonel Barre that "to his certain knowledge, some were promoted to the highest seats of honor in America who were glad to fly to a foreign country, to escape being brought to the bar of justice in their own." [Parliamentary debates for 1766.]
However injudicious the appointments to American departments might be, the darling point of an American revenue was an object too consequential to be relinquished either by the court at St. James's, the plantation governors, or their mercenary adherents dispersed through the continent. Besides these, there were several classes in America who were at first exceedingly opposed to measures that militated with the designs of administration — some impressed by long connection were intimidated by her power and attached by affection to Britain. Others, the true disciples of passive obedience, had real scruples of conscience with regard to any resistance to the power that be. These, whether actuated by affection or fear, by principle or interested, formed a close combination with the colonial governors, custom-house officers, and all in subordinate departments who hung on the court for subsistence. By the tenor of the writings of some of these and the insolent behavior of others, they became equally obnoxious in the eyes of the people, with the officers of the crown and the danglers for place, who, disappointed of their prey by the repeal of the Stamp Act and restless for some new project that might enable them to rise into importance on the spoils of America, were continually whispering malicious insinuations into the ears of the financiers and ministers of colonial departments.
They represented the mercantile body in America as a set of smugglers, forever breaking over the laws of trade and of society; the people in general as factious, turbulent, and aiming at independence; the legislatures in the several provinces as marked with the same spirit and government everywhere in so lax a state that the civil authority was insufficient to prevent the fatal effects of popular discontent. It is indeed true that resentment had in several instances arisen to outrage and that the most unwarrantable excesses had been committed on some occasions, which gave grounds for unfavorable representations. Yet it must be acknowledged that the voice of the people seldom breathes universal murmur, but when the insolence or the oppression of their rulers extorts the bitter complaint. On the contrary, there is a certain supineness which generally overspreads the multitude and disposes mankind to submit quietly to any form of government, rather than to be the expense and hazard of resistance. They become attached to ancient modes by habits of obedience, though the reins of authority are sometimes held by the most rigorous hand. Thus we have seen in all ages the many become the slaves of the few; preferring the wretched tranquility of inglorious ease, they patiently yield to despotic masters, until awakened by multiplied wrongs to the feelings of human nature; which when once aroused to a consciousness of the native freedom and equal rights of man, every revolts at the idea of servitude.
Perhaps the story of political revolution never exhibited a more general enthusiasm in the cause of liberty, than that which for several years pervaded all ranks in America and brought forward events little expected by the most sanguine spirits in the beginning of the controversy. A contest now pushed with so much bigotry, that the intelligent yeomanry of the country, as well as those educated in the higher walks, became convinced that nothing less than a systematical plan of slavery was designed against them. They viewed the chains as already forged to manacle the unborn millions; and though everyone seemed to dread any new interruption of public tranquility, the impetuosity of some led them into excesses which could not be restrained by those of more cool and discreet deportment. To the most moderate and judicious, it soon became apparent that unless a timely and bold resistance prevented, the colonists must in a few years sink into the same wretched thralldom that marks the miserable Asiatic.
Few of the executive officers employed by the kind of Great Britain and fewer of their adherents were qualified either by education, principle, or inclination to allay the ferment of the times, or to eradicate the suspicions of men who, from an hereditary love of freedom, were tenderly touched by the smallest attempt to undermine the invaluable possession. Yet, perhaps a few of the colonies at this period suffered equal embarrassments with Massachusetts. The inhabitants of that province were considered as the prime leaders of faction, the disturbers of public tranquility, and Boston the seat of sedition. Vengeance was continually denounced against that capital, and indeed the whole province, through the letters, messages, and speeches of their first magistrate.
Unhappily for both parties, Governor Bernard was very illy calculated to promote the interest of the people, or support the honor of his master. He was a man of little genius, but some learning. He was by education strongly impressed with high ideas of canon and feudal law, and fond of a system of government that had been long obsolete in England and had never had an existence in America. His disposition was choleric and sanguine, obstinate and designing, yet too open and frank to disguise his intrigues, and too precipitant to bring them to maturity. A revision of colony charters, a resumption of former privileges, and an American revenue were the constant topics of his letters to administration. [See his pamphlet on law and polity and his letters to the British ministry, while he resided in Massachusetts.] To prove the necessity of these measures, the most trivial disturbance was magnified to a riot; and to give a pretext to these wicked insinuations, it was thought by many that tumults were frequently excited by the indiscretion or malignancy of his own partisans.
The declaratory bill still hung suspended over the heads of the Americans, nor was it suffered to remain long without trying its operative effects. The clause holding up a right to tax American at pleasure and "to bind them in all cases whatsoever" was comprehensive and alarming. Yet it was not generally expected that the ministry would soon endeavor to avail themselves of the dangerous experiment; but, in this, the public were mistaken.
It was already been observed that the arbitrary disposition of George III, the absurd system of policy adopted in conformity to his principles, and a parliamentary majority at the command of the ministry rendered it not difficult to enforce any measures that might tend to an accession to the powers of the crown. It was a just sentiment of an elegant writer that "almost all the vices of royalty have been principally occasioned by a slavish adulation in the language of their subjects; and to the shame of the English it must be said that none of the enslaved nations in the world have addressed the throne in a more fulsome and hyperbolical style." [Mrs. Macauley's letter to Earl Stanhope.]
The dignity of the crown, the supremacy of parliament, and the disloyalty of the colonies were the theme of the court, the echo of its creatures, and of the British nation in general. Nor was it thought good policy to let the high claims of government lie long in a dormant state. Accordingly, not many months after the repeal of the Stamp Act, the chancellor of the exchequer, Charles Townshend, Esquire, came forward and pawned his character on the success of a new attempt to tax the American colonies. He was a gentleman of conspicuous abilities and much professional knowledge. Endowed with more boldness than discretion, he had "the talent of bringing together at once all that was necessary to establish, to illustrate, and to decorate the side of the question he was on." [A writer has more recently observed that Charles Townshend was a man of rising parliamentary reputation and brilliant talents; but capricious, insincere, intriguing, and wholly destitute of discretion or solidity. Belsham on the reign of George III.]
He introduced several bills in support of his sanguinary designs, which without much difficulty obtained the sanction of parliament and the royal assent. The purport of this new project for revenue was to levy certain duties on paper, glass, painters' colors, and several other articles usually imported into America. It was also directed that the duties on India teas, which had been a productive source of revenue in England, should be taken off there, and three pence per pound levied on all kinds that should in future be purchased in the colonies.
This inconsiderable duty on teas finally became an object of high importance and altercation. It was not the sum, but the principle that was contested. It manifestly appeared that this was only a financiering expedient to raise a revenue from the colonies by imperceptible taxes. The defenders of the privileges and the freedom of the colonies, denied all parliamentary right to tax them in any way whatever. They asserted that if the collection of this duty was permitted, it would establish a precedent, and strengthen the claim parliament had assumed to tax them at pleasure. To do it by the secret modes of imposts and excises would ruin their trade, corrupt the morals of the people, and was more abhorrent in their eyes than a direct demand. The most judicious and intelligent Americans at this time considered all imperceptible taxes fraught with evils that tended to enslave any country plunged in the boundless chaos of fiscal demands that this practice introduces.
In consequence of the new system, a board of customs was instituted and commissioners appointed to set in Boston to collect the duties which were besides other purposes to supply a fund for the payment of the large salaries annexed to their office. A civil list was soon after established and the governors of Massachusetts, judges of the superior court, and such other officers as had heretofore depended on the free grants of the representative body, were to be paid out of the revenue chest.
Thus rendered wholly independent of the general assembly, there was no check left on the wanton exercise of power in the crown officers, however disposed they might be to abuse their trust. The distance from the throne, it was said, must delay, if not wholly prevent, all relief under any oppressions the people might suffer from the servants of government.; and to crown the long list of grievances, specified by the patriots of the day, the extension of the courts of vice-admiralty was none of the least. They were vested with certain powers that dispensed with the mode of trial by jury, annihilated the privileges of Englishmen, and placed the liberty of every man in the hand of a petty officer of the customers. By warrant of a writ of assistance from the governor or lieutenant governor, any officer of the revenue was authorized to enter the dwelling of the most respectable inhabitant on the smallest suspicion of a concealment of contraband goods and to insult, search, or seize with impunity.
An attorney at law [Jonathan Sewall, a native of the province, whose pen had been employed to vindicate the measures of administration and the conduct of Governor Bernard, under the signature of Philalethes, Massachusettensis, etc., etc.] , of some professional abilities and ingenuity, but without either property or principle, was, by the instigation of Mr. Bernard, appointed sole judge of admiralty in Massachusetts. The dangerous aspect of this court, particularly when aided by writs of assistance, was opposed with peculiar energy and strength of argument, by James Otis, Esquire of Boston, who, by the exertion of is talents and sacrifice of interest, may justly claim the honor of laying the foundation of a revolution which has been productive of the happiest effects to the civil and political interests of mankind.
He was the first champion of American freedom, who had the courage to put his signature to the contest between Great Britain and the colonies. He had in a clear, concise, and nervous manner, stated and vindicated the rights of the American colonies, and published his observations in Boston, while the Stamp Act hung suspended. This tract was written with such a spirit of liberality loyalty, and impartiality, that though at the time some were ready to pronounce it treasonable, yet, when opposition run higher, many of the most judicious partisans of the crown were willing to admit it as a just criterion of political truth. [See Mr. Otis's pamphlet, entitle, "The rights of the colonies stated and vindicated."] But the author was abused and vilified by the scribblers of the court, and threatened with an arrest from the crown, for the boldness of his opinions. Yet he continued to advocate the rights of the people, and in the course of his argument against the iniquitous consequences of writs of assistance, he observed that "his engaging in this cause had raised the resentment of its abettors; but that he argued it from principle and with peculiar pleasure, as it was in favor of British liberty, and in opposition t the exercise of a power that in former periods of English history had cost one king of England his head and another his crown." He added, "I can sincerely declare that I submit myself to every opprobrious name for conscience sake, and despise all those, whom guilt, folly, or malice have made my foes."
It was on this occasion that Mr. Otis resigned the office of judge advocate and renounced all employment under so corrupt an administration, boldly declaring in the face of the supreme court at this dangerous crisis that "the only principle of public conduct worthy a gentleman or a man was the sacrifice of health, ease, applause, estate, or even life, to the sacred calls of his country; that these manly sentiments in private life made the good citizen, in public, the patriot, and the hero." Thus was verified in his conduct the observation of a writer of merit and celebrity that "it was as difficult for Great Britain to frighten as to cheat Americans into servitude; that she ought to leave them in the peaceable possession of that liberty which they received at their birth, and were resolved to retain to their death." [Mr. Dickenson, author of the much admired "Farmer's Letters," the first copy of which he enclosed to his friend, Mr. Otis, and observed to him, that "the examples of public spirits in the cold regions of the north had roused the languid latitudes of the south to a proper vindication of their rights." (see Note 5 at the end of this chapter)
When the new parliamentary regulations reached America, all the colonies in their several departments petitioned in the most strenuous manner against any American taxation, and all other recent innovations relative to the government of the British provinces. These petitions were, when received by the ministry, treated by them with the utmost contempt. But they were supported by a respectable party in the parliament of Britain, who did not neglect to warm the administration of the danger of precipitating measures that might require before the termination of a contest thus hurried on "more virtue and abilities than the ministry possessed." By some steps taken by administration previous to the present period, there was reason to suppose that they were themselves apprehensive, that their system for governing the colonies in a more arbitrary manner would give great offense, and create disturbances of so alarming a nature that perhaps the aid of military power might become necessary to enforce the completion of their designs. Doubtless it was with a view of facilitating the new projects that an extraordinary bill had been passed in parliament, making it lawful for the officers of the British army to quarter their troops in private houses through the colonies. Thus while mixed in every family, it might become more easy to awe the people into submission, and compel them by military terrors to the basest compliances. But the colony agents residing in London and the merchants concerned in the American trade remonstrated so warmly against the injustice and cruelty of such a procedure that a part of the bill was dropped. Yet it was too important a point wholly to relinquish; of consequence a clause was left, obliging the several legislative assemblies to provide quarters for the king's marching regiments and furnish a number of specified articles at the expense of the province, wherever they might be stationed.
The act continued in full force after the Stamp Act was repealed though it equally militated with part of the British constitution which provides that no moneys should be raised on the subject without his consent. Yet rather than enter on a new dispute, the colonists in general chose to evade it for the present and without many observations thereon had occasionally made some voluntary provisions for the support the king's troops. It was hoped the act might be only a temporary expedient to hold up the authority of parliament and that in a short time the claim might die of itself without any attempt to revive such an unreasonable demand. But New York, more explicit in her refusal to obey, was suspended from all powers of legislation until the Quartering Act should be complied with in the fullest extent. By this unprecedented treatment of one of the colonies, and innumerable exactions and restrictions on all, a general apprehension prevailed, that nothing but a firm, vigorous and united resistance could shield from the attacks that threatened the total extinction of civil liberty through the continent.
Virginia Resolves. On May 29, 1765, the House of Burgesses of Virginia came to the following resolutions: "Whereas the honorable House of Commons in England have late drawn into question how far the general assembly of this colony has power to enact laws for laying taxes and imposing duties payable to the pope of this his majesty's most ancient colony — For settling and ascertaining the same to all future times, the House of Burgesses of this present general assembly have come to the several following resolutions:
Resolved, That the first adventurers and settlers of this his majesty's colony and dominion of Virginia brought with them and transmitted to their posterity and all others, his majesty's subjects since inhabiting in this is majesty's colony, all the privileges and immunities that have at any time been held, enjoyed, and possessed by the people of Great Britain.
Resolved, That by the two royal charters granted by King James the First, the colonists aforesaid are declared entitled to all privileges of faithful, liege, and natural born subjects, to all intents and purposes, as if they had been abiding and born within the realm of England.
Resolved, That his majesty's liege people of this his most ancient colony have enjoyed the right being thus governed by their own assembly, in the article of taxes and internal police; and that the same have never been forfeited or any other way yielded up, but have been constantly recognized by the kind and people of Great Britain.
Resolved therefore, That the general assembly of the colony, together with his majesty or his substitute have in their representative capacity the only exclusive right and power to levy taxes and impositions on the inhabitants of this colony and that every attempt to vest such a power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the general assembly aforesaid is illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust, and has a manifest tendency to destroy British, as well as American freedom.
The following resolves were not passed, though drawn up by the committee. They are inserted as a specimen of the first and early energies of the Old Dominion, as Virginia is usually called.
Resolved, That his majesty's liege people, the inhabitants of this colony, are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance whatsoever designed to impose any taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the laws and ordinances of the general assembly aforesaid.
Resolved, That any person who shall by speaking or writing maintain that any person or persons other than the general assembly of this colony have any right or power to impose or lay any taxation whatsoever on the people here shall be deemed an enemy to this his majesty's colony.
On October 21, the freeholders and other inhabitants of the town of Plymouth had a meeting and unanimously agreed on instructions to Thomas Foster, Esquire, their representative in the general assembly of Massachusetts Bay. In which, after expressing the highest esteem for the British constitution, showing how far the people of America have exerted themselves in support thereof, and detailing their grievances, they proceed as follows:
"You, sir, represent a people who are not only descended from the first settlers of this country, but inhabit the very spot they first possessed. Here was first laid the foundation of the British empire in this part of America, which from a very small beginning has increased and spread in a manner very surprising and almost incredible; especially when we consider that all this has been effected without the aid of assistance of any power on earth; that we have defended, protected, and secured ourselves, against the invasions and cruelty of savages, and the subtlety and inhumanity of our inveterate and natural enemies the French: and all this without the appropriation of any tax by stamps or stamp acts laid upon our fellow subjects in any part of the king's dominions, for defraying the expenses thereof. This place, sir, was at first the asylum of liberty, and we hope will ever be preserved sacred to it; thought it was then no more than a forlorn wilderness, inhabited only by savage men and beasts. To this place our fathers, (whose memories be revere!) possessed of the principles of liberty in their purity, disdaining slavery, fled, to enjoy those privileges which they had an undoubted right to, but were deprived of by the hands of violence and oppression in their native country. WE, sir, their posterity, the freeholders and other inhabitants of this town, legally assembled for that purpose, possessed of the same sentiments and retaining the same ardor for liberty, think it our indispensable duty on this occasion to express to you these our sentiments of the Stamp Act and its fatal consequences to this country, and to enjoin upon you, as you regard not only the welfare, but the very being of this people, that you (consistent with our allegiance to the king, and relation to the government of Great Britain) disregarding all proposals for that purpose, exert all your power and influence in relation to the Stamp Act, at least until we hear the success of our petitions for relief. We likewise, to avoid disgracing the memories of our ancestors, as well as the reproaches of our own consciences, and the curses of posterity, recommend it to you to obtain, if possible, in the honorable house of representatives of this province, a full and explicit assertion of our rights, and to have the same entered on their public records — that all generations yet to come may be convinced that we have not only a just sense of our rights and liberties, but that we never (with submission to Divine Providence) will be slaves to any power on earth. And as we have at all times an abhorrence of tumults and disorders, we think ourselves happy in being at present under no apprehensions of any, and in having good and wholesome laws, sufficient to preserve the peace of the province in all future times, unless provoked by some imprudent measure; so we think it by no means advisable for you to interest yourself in the protection of stamp papers and stamp officers. "The only thing we have further to recommend to you at this time is to observe on all occasions a suitable frugality and economy in the public expenses; and that you consent to no unnecessary or unusual grant at this time of distress, when the people are groaning under the burden of heavy taxes; and that you use your endeavors to inquire into and bear testimony against any past, and prevent any future, unconstitutional draughts on the public treasury."
Names of the gentlemen delegated to meet at New York, in 1765, on the occasion of the Stamp Act, with the resolves of this first American congress.
From the province of Massachusetts Bay. James Otis, Oliver Partridge, Timothy Ruggles, Esquires
From the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Metcalf Bowler, Henry Ward, Esquires
From the colony of Connecticut. Eliphalet Dyer, David Rowland, William Samuel Johnson, Esquires
From the colony of New York. Robert R. Livingston, John Cruger, William Bayard, Leonard Lispenard, Esquires
From the colony of New Jersey. Robert Ogden, Hendrick Fisher, Joseph Borden, Esquires
From the province of Pennsylvania. John Dickenson, John Morton, George Bryan, Esquires
From the government of the counties of Newcastle, Kent and Sussex, on Delaware. Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, Esquires
From the province of Maryland. William Murdock, Edward Tilghman, Thomas Ringold, Esquires
From the province of South Carolina. Thomas Lynch, Christopher Gadsden, John Rutledge, Esquires
Saturday, A.M., October 19, 1765.
The congress met according to adjournment, and resumed etc. as yesterday, and upon mature deliberation, agreed to the following declarations of the rights and grievances of the colonists in America, which were ordered to be inserted in their journals.
The members of this congress sincerely devoted with the warmest sentiments of affection and duty to his majesty's person and government, inviolably attached to the present happy establishment of the protestant succession, and with minds deeply impressed by a sense of the present and impending misfortunes of the British colonies on this continent, having considered as maturely as time will permit the circumstances of the said colonies, esteem it our indispensable duty to make the following declarations of our humble opinion, respecting the most essential rights and liberties of the colonists, and of the grievances under which they labor, by reason of several late acts of parliament.
- That his majesty's subjects in these colonies owe the same allegiance to the crown of Great Britain that is owing from his subjects born within the realm, and all due subordination to the august body, the parliament of Great Britain.
- That his majesty's liege subjects in these colonies are entitled to all the inherent rights and liberties of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.
- That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people and the undoubted right of Englishmen that no taxes be imposed on them but with their own consent, given personally or by their representatives.
- That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot, be represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain.
- That the only representatives of the people of these colonies are people chosen by themselves, and that no taxes ever have been or can be constitutionally imposed on them but by their respective legislatures.
- That all supplies to the crown being free gifts of the people, it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British constitution for the people of Great Britain to grant to his majesty the property of the colonists.
- That trial by jury is the inherent and invaluable right of every British subject in these colonies.
- That the late act of parliament entitle "An act for granting and applying certain stamp duties and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in American etc." by imposing taxes on the inhabitants of these colonies and the same act and several other acts by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty beyond its ancient limits, have a manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists.
- That the duties imposed by several late acts of the British parliament, from the peculiar circumstances of these colonies will be extremely burdensome and grievous, and from the scarcity of specie, the payment of them absolutely impracticable.
- That as the profits of the trade of these colonies ultimately center in Great Britain, to pay for the manufactures which they are obliged to take from thence, they eventually contribute very largely to all supplies granted there to the crown.
- That the restrictions imposed by several late acts of parliament on the trade of these colonies, will render them unable to purchase the manufactures of Great Britain.
- That the increase, prosperity, and happiness of these colonies, depend on the full and free enjoyment of their rights and liberties, and an intercourse with Great Britain, mutually affectionate and advantageous.
- That it is the right of the British subjects in the colonies to petition the king or either house of parliament.
LASTLY. That it is the indispensable duty of these colonies, to the best of sovereigns, to the mother country, and to themselves, to endeavor by a loyal and dutiful address to his majesty, and humble applications to both houses of parliament, to procure the repeal of the act for granting and applying certain stamp-duties; of all clauses of any other acts of parliament whereby the jurisdiction of the admiralty is extended as aforesaid; and of the other late acts for the restriction of American commerce.
After these resolves, they chose Thomas Lynch, James Otis, and Thomas McKean, Esquires, to prepare a petition to the house of commons. An address to the king and to the house of lords was also prepared and forwarded.
Copy from Mr. Dickenson's original letter to Mr. Otis, accompanying the celebrated "Farmer's Letter." Philadelphia, Dec. 5, 1767
Dear Sir, The liberties of our common country appear to me to be at this moment exposed to the most imminent danger; and this apprehension has engaged me to lay my sentiments before the public in letters, of which I send you a copy;. Only one has yet published; and what their effect may be cannot yet be known. But whenever the cause of American freedom is to be vindicated, I look toward the prince of Massachusetts Bay. She must, as she has hitherto done, first kindle the sacred flame, that on such occasions must warm and illuminate this continent. Words are wanting to express my sense of the vigilance, perseverance, spirit, prudence, resolution, and firmness, with which your colony has distinguished herself, in our unhappy times. May God ever grant her noble labors the same successful issue which was obtained by the repeal of the Stamp Act. In my gratitude to your province in general, I do not forget the obligation which all Americans are under to you in particular, for the indefatigable zeal and undaunted courage you have shown in defending their rights. My opinion of your love for your country induces me to commit to your hands the enclosed letters, to be disposed of as you think proper, not intending to give out any other copy. I have shown them to three men of learning here, who are my friends. They think with me that the most destructive consequences must follow if these colonies do not instantly, vigorously, and unanimously unite themselves in the same manner they did against the Stamp Act. Perhaps they and I are mistaken; I therefore send the piece containing the reasons for this opinion, to you, who I know can determine its true worth; and if you can discover no other merit in it, permit me at least to claim the merit of having wrote it with the most ardent affection for the British colonies the purest intentions to promote their welfare, an honest desire to assert their rights, and with deep sense of their impending misfortunes. Our cause is a cause of the highest dignity: it is nothing less than to maintain the liberty with which Heaven itself "hath made us free." I hope it will not be disgraced in any colony by a single rash step. We have constitutional methods of seeking redress, and they are the best methods. This subject lead me to inform you with pleasure, because I think it must give you pleasure, that the moderation of your conduct in composing the minds of your fellow-citizens, has done you the highest credit with us. You may be assured I feel a great satisfaction in hearing your praises; for every thing that advances your reputation or interest, will always afford sincere joy to, dear sir, Your most affectionate and
Most humble servant,
To Honorable James Otis, Junior, Esquire __________________________