I SHALL make no apology for addressing myself to you, the Merchants of the city of New-York, upon the present unhappy and distressed state of our country. My subject will necessarily lead me to make some remarks on your past and present conduct, in this unnatural contention between our parent country and us. I am duly sensible of what importance you are to the community, and of the weight and influence you must have in the conduct of all our public affairs: I know that the characters of many of you are truly respectable, and I shall endeavour to express what I have to say to you, consistently with that decency and good manners which are due, not only to you, but to all mankind.
But you must not expect any undue complaisance from me.--You must be content with plain English, from a plain countryman; I must have the privilege of calling a fig,--a Fig; an egg,--an Egg. If, upon examination, your conduct shall, in any instances, appear to be weak, you must bear to be told of it:--if wrong, to be censured:--if selfish, to be exposed:--if ridiculous, to be laughed at:--Do not be offended if I omit to say, that if your conduct shall appear to be honourable, that it shall be commended. Honourable and virtuous actions want no commendation,--they speak for themselves: They affect not praise, but are rather disgusted with it,--instead of heightening, it tarnishes their lustre. If you have acted from honourable motives, from disinterested principles, from true patriotism,--if justice and prudence, and a love of your country have been the guides of your conduct, you need fear no attack, nor the strictest scrutiny of your actions.
Nor, upon the other hand, ought you to be displeased with the man, who shall point out your errors, supposing you have acted wrong. To err is common,--I wish it was uncommon to persist in error. But such is the pride of the human heart, that when we have once taken a wrong step, we think it an impeachment of our wisdom and prudence to retreat. A kind of sullen, sulky obstinacy takes possession of us; and though in the hour of calm reflection, our hearts should condemn us, we had rather run the risk of being condemned by the world too, than own the possibility of our having been mistaken. Preposterous pride! It defeats the end it aims at: It degrades instead of exalting our characters, and destroys that reputation which it seems so solicitous to establish. To become sensible of our errors, and to mend them,--to grow wiser by our own mistakes,--to learn prudence from our own misconduct,--to make every fall a means of rising higher in virtue,--are circumstances which raise the dignity of human nature the nearest to that perfection of conduct which has never erred.
Possibly, in many instances, I shall need your candour: In one particular I must bespeak it. I live at a distance from the city, and visit it but seldom. The opinion I have formed of your conduct, depends, a good deal, upon report, and the common newspapers.--I have, however, endeavoured to get the best information I could; and I have not the least inclination to put unfair constructions upon your actions; and should I, in any instance, misrepresent you, I will, upon good information, make all proper acknowledgments. Under these circumstances, and with this disposition, I think I have a right to expect, that you will read this Address without prejudice, and judge of it with impartiality, and such a regard to truth and right, as every reasonable man ought to make the basis of his opinion in all discussions, and the rule of his conduct in all his actions.
You, sometime ago, Gentlemen, joined with the other citizens of New-York, in sending Delegates to represent your city in the Congress at Philadelphia. Let me intreat you to reflect a little upon the motives on which you then acted.--Did you expect that the Congress would consult upon, and enter into some reasonable and probable scheme for accommodating our unhappy disputes with our mother country, and of securing and rendering permanent our own privileges and liberties? Did you expect that they would endeavour, upon the true principles of legislation, to mark out the bounds of parliamentary authority over the colonies; on the one side ascertaining and securing the liberties of the colonists, and on the other giving full weight and force to the supreme authority of the nation over all its dominions? which is the only mode of settling finally and permanently our disputes with Great-Britain.--Or did you expect that the Congress would throw all into confusion,--revile and trample on the authority of Parliament, and make our breach with the parent state a thousand times more irreparable than it was before?
To say that the Congress have not acted in this manner is to talk childishly, without either reason or good sense on your side. Look at the Suffolk Resolves, from Massachusetts, which they adopted, "approved and recommended." Look into their addresses to the people of Great-Britain, to the inhabitants of the colonies in general, and to those of Quebec in particular. They all tend, under cover of strong and lamentable cries about liberty, and the rights of Englishmen, to degrade and contravene the authority of the British Parliament over the British dominions; on which authority the rights of Englishmen are, in a great measure, founded; and on the due support of which authority, the liberty and property of the inhabitants, even of this country, must ultimately depend. They all tend to raise jealousies, to excite animosities, to foment discords between us and our mother country. Not a word of peace and reconciliation,--not even a soothing expression:--No concessions are offered on our part,--nor even a possibility of their treating with us left. The parliament must give up their whole authority,--repeal all the acts, in a lump, which the Congress have found fault with, and trust, for the future, to our humour, to pay them just so much submission as we shall think convenient.
To me, it is a difficult task to account for the conduct of those gentlemen who were delegated from your city. Their characters, their stations, their abilities, their knowledge of the rights of mankind, and of the laws and constitution of their country, all concurred to raise my expectations, that they would have been of principal advantage in the congress, by moderating and keeping within bounds the fiery intemperate zeal, which it was too apparent, many of the Delegates carried with them to that assembly. Cruelly was I disappointed, when the account was confirmed, that the congress had unanimously adopted the Suffolk Resolves. Chagrined and vexed, I waited impatiently for their whole proceedings. Their proceedings, at length appeared,--and unhappily, the names of every Delegate from this province, one only excepted, who, I have been since informed, was absent, appeared at the bottom of their ill-concerted association.
I must leave it to these gentlemen to account for their own conduct: But, at the same time, must observe, that if what is whispered abroad be true, they are highly concerned to vindicate their conduct to the public. I do not choose to make myself accountable for transient whisperings, and vague reports. It is said, however, that some matters were run upon them,--I use the very phrase that was made use of to me,--that they unfortunately agreed, before they proceeded to business, that neither dissent nor protest should appear on their minutes,--that by this agreement their hands were tied, and they were obliged, in honour, to sign the association, and give their vote in confirmation of all the proceedings.--Let these Gentlemen, however, remember, that though they might unfortunately, and imprudently have tied up their own hands, yet that their feet were at liberty; and that when they found the Congress were taking an undue advantage of them, and were driving matters to such a dreadful extremity, they ought, in justice to themselves and the public, to have walked off, and have left the Congress.
The conduct of the New-England Delegates does not appear to me so hard to explain. It is well known that the province of Massachusetts-Bay, have carried their opposition to the British government, to the most daring heighth. They set the example to the other colonies, of destroying the property of their fellow subjects, the East-India Company, in open defiance of the laws of the empire, to which they owed subjection, of the laws of the province in which they lived, and of the general laws of humanity.--They have wrested the command of the militia from his Majesty's Governor,--they have proscribed the legal Treasurer of the province, and without any course of law, proclaimed him a "traitor to the state;"--they are forming and disciplining regiments, providing ammunition and trains of artillery, to oppose the King's troops;--they have shut up, and rendered useless the legal courts of justice;--they have, by mobs and riots obliged many officers of the crown to resign their employments;--and in a variety of other instances have behaved themselves in such a manner, as to deserve the epithet of rebellion. The extravagancy of their demands, and of their conduct, are such, that no person can attempt to vindicate them, without giving up all pretensions to common sense.
Nor does this behaviour of the people of the Massachusetts appear to be the effect of any sudden emergency, but of premeditated design:--The three-penny duty on tea, they complied with, and imported near two thousand chests, embarrassed with it. But finding uneasiness and complaints in this province, New-Jersey, and Pennsylvania, on account of that duty; and their Assembly being engaged with their Governor, in some political disputes, which awakened their republican principles; they seem to have thought it a proper time to try how far the other colonies could, by art, and management, be induced to take part with them. They knew, that while all remained in peace and quietness, they could do nothing. If the other colonies received their motions coolly, they could recede; if warmly, they could advance the farther.
The unlucky step that was taken at home, of sending Tea; belonging to the East-India company, to be sold here, increased our discontent, as it added the dread of a monopoly, to the hardship of which we already complained, of having threepence sterling exacted upon every pound of Tea imported into the colonies. This was a time not to be neglected by the Massachusetts people. Unhappily, the first ship, with the companies Tea arrived in their harbour. Instead of suffering the Tea to be landed and stored, and of shewing their patriotism in not buying and using it, they took the fatal resolution of destroying it. Having executed their rash purpose, they waited awhile to see what effect it would have in the other colonies. Finding themselves abetted and applauded by the more furious and fiery zealots among those people in the neighbouring governments, who have dignified themselves, and dishonoured the phrase, by stil-themselves [Appears thus in text.] SONS OF LIBERTY, they became more turpulent and unruly; and spurned all the advice of the more moderate and more worthy part among themselves, of offering to make restitution for the damage they had done.
Perceiving that the Tea-ships had been obliged to return from Philadelphia and New-York, without being suffered to enter their ports, and that the contagion of their ill example had spread as far as the latter city, and had, in a lawless riotous manner, brought destruction on the Tea, imported by Captain Chambers, they advanced a step further. They, at first hesitatingly, afterwards more openly, proposed a Congress of Delegates, to meet at Philadelphia, about the first of September. Many moderate people, who wished nothing so much as a hearty reconciliation, and firm union with Great-Britain, eagerly embraced and helped forward the design. The Sons of Liberty,--N. B. I use the phrase only through courtesy,--exulted and applauded the scheme in such extravagant terms, that it was enough to make one think, that they imagined, that God himself could save their liberties in no other way. All the wisdom of the continent was to be drawn together in a focus at Philadelphia, like the rays of light in a burning-glass. There a regular American constitution was to be settled, and our liberties and privileges fixed on a foundation so stable, that neither Lord North, nor Old Time himself, should ever make any impression on them.
Many people, however, expected no good from this proposed Congress. They foresaw that few, except the wrong-headed, blustering people among the sons of liberty, and the more sly favourers of an American Republic, would give themselves much trouble about the election of Delegates, unless it were the vain and pragmatical, of no political principles, who hoped to rise into some degree of consequence, from helping forward a project that had the popular cry in its favour. However ill-grounded these apprehensions were thought to be at that time, experience hath shewn that they were but too well founded.
Even in this province, many undue and unfair advantages were taken. I say nothing of the election in the city, for I know little about it. But when you had chosen your Delegates, the supervisors in the several counties were applied to by the committee of your city, if I understood the matter right, to call the people together, and to choose committees; which committees were to meet in one grand committee; and this grand committee of committees were to choose the Delegates for the county; or to declare their approbation of the New-York Delegates: And if any county or district did not meet and choose their committee, it was to be taken for granted, that they acquiesced in the New-York choice.
Here, Gentlemen, an unfair advantage was taken. You had no right to dictate to the counties in what manner they should proceed. You had no right to suppose that those districts, or those people who did not assemble, were in your favour. The contrary ought to have been supposed; and you ought to have considered those people and districts who did not assemble, as not choosing to have any Delegates in Congress at all. The people of your city can easily assemble; they have but a short walk to the city-hall or coffee-house. But it is not easy to assemble the people of a country-district. Besides, it is well known by all those, who know any thing of human nature, that those people who are fond of innovations in government, and of rendering themselves conspicuous in their neighbourhood, would be most likely to attend on such an occasion. And so it accordingly happened; for it is notorious that in some districts only three or four met and chose themselves to be a committee on this most important occasion. So that, taking the whole province together, I am confident, your Delegates had not the voice of an hundreth part of the people in their favour.
You may say that the people might have assembled; and if they did not, their silence was to be taken for their consent. Not so fast, gentlemen. That they might have assembled, I know; but had your committee, or their own supervisors, any right to call them together? Were they under any obligations to obey such notifications, as a superior's advertisement, founded on the authority of a New-York committee? You know they were not, and because they did not choose to obey it, must their rights and privileges be given up, to be torn, and mangled, and trampled on by an enthusiastic congress? Whatever you, gentlemen, may think of the matter, or whatever my fellow-countrymen may think of it, / disdain such abject submission to your committee, or your delegates, or congress. I will not hold my rights and privileges on so precarious a tenure.
I do not recollect the precise mode in which the delegates were generally chosen in the other colonies. If it was in a manner similar to that in which their election was conducted in this province, the same objections may be made to it. But here I expect an outcry of exultation and triumph. "The Delegates from several of the governments," cry the deep throated sons of liberty "were appointed by their ASSEMBLIES; " by the true and legal representatives of the people; and therefore "were the true and legal delegates of the people." I hear you, gentlemen; and while I hear you, I pity your ignorance, tho' I am astonished at your impudence. It would be much to your advantage if you would learn a little common sense, if you would furnish yourselves with some small degree of understanding, before you set up to manage the affairs of government, and to decide so very peremptorily upon the rights and liberties of your fellow-subjects. Learn to view things in their true light; to consider them according to their real natures, and to speak of them with propriety; and then you will be heard and attended to. But a misguided fancy, a heated imagination, will only hurry you into contempt. Noise and blustering may make you appear of some consequence in a tavern or ale-house: Loud cries of liberty may catch the ignorant, and beguile the unwary: Tar and feathers may silence the pusillanimous: But if you would rise into real dignity, and merit the esteem of your fellow subjects, in settling the present distracted state of our country, you must obtain a knowledge of the first principles at least, of civil government; from them you must deduce your reasonings; to them you must conform your conduct.
Consider now, and tell me, what right or power has any assembly on the continent to appoint delegates, to represent their province in such a congress as that which lately met at Philadelphia? The assemblies have but a delegated authority themselves. They are but the representatives of the people; they cannot therefore have even the shadow of right, to delegate that authority to three or four persons, even should these persons be of their own number, which were delegated by the people to their whole body conjunctively. Delegates, so appointed, are, at best, but delegates of delegates, but representatives of representatives. And whatever assembly hath acted in this manner, hath betrayed the rights and privileges of the people whom they represented. It has exercised a power which it never received from the people, but which it has usurped over them; and instead of commendations and applause, it deserves only censure and reproach. Besides,
The people are not bound by any act of their representatives, till it hath received the approbation of the other branches of the legislature. No delegates, therefore, can in any true sense be called the representatives of a province, unless they be appointed by the joint act of the whole legislature of the province. When, therefore, the delegates at Philadelphia, in the preamble to their Bill of rights, and in their letter to his Excellency General Gage, stiled their body "a full and free representation of--" "all the colonies from Nova-Scotia to Georgia," they were guilty of a piece of impudence which was never equalled since the world began, and never will be exceeded while it shall continue.
Nor is it clear to me, that the legislature of any province have a power of appointing delegates to such a congress as lately met at Philadelphia. I am certain no provincial legislature can give them such powers as were lately exercised at Philadelphia.
The legislative authority of any province cannot extend farther than the province extends. None of its acts are binding one inch beyond its limits. How then can it give authority to a few persons to meet other persons, from other provinces, to make rules and laws for the whole continent? In such a case, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and the four New-England colonies, might make laws to bind Philadelphia, New-Jersey and New-York: that is--they might make laws whose operation should extend further than the authority by which they were enacted, extended. Before such a mode of legislation can take place, the constitution of our colonies must be subverted, & their present independency on each other must be annihilated. And after it was accomplished, we should be in a situation a thousand times worse, than our present dependance on Great-Britain, should all the difficulties we complain of be real, and all the grievances some people affect to fear, fall upon us.
But it is time to attend upon the congress, and consider their proceedings. However chosen, or however appointed, on September the fifth, 1774, the delegates met in a Grand Continental Congress at Philadelphia, and became the object of Grand Continental Attention. For a considerable time, they affected the utmost secrecy. Their doors were shut, their whole proceedings were involved in privacy and darkness. Nothing transpired, nothing was heard; but that Mr. -----, I forgot his name, was continually posting from Boston to Philadelphia, and from Philadelphia to Boston. We pleased ourselves with the thoughts that all our grievances would now be decently and fairly represented, all our unhappy disputes with our mother-country adjusted and settled, and every possibility of future contention obviated, by the joint wisdom, prudence and moderation of all the colonies. Like the country people in the fable, we stood all attentive to the throes and pangs of the labouring mountain,--agape, with the expectation of some mighty matter to be produced at the birth. I would to God our expectations, like theirs, had ended in laughter and merriment;--But alas! the labour of the congress produced, not a silly mouse, to make us laugh, but a venomous brood of scorpions, to sting us to death.
During that mysterious period of silence, when they kept the whole continent in suspence, they seem to have been in the state of a man who is determined upon some hazardous enterprize, but not having courage enough to set about it cooly and deliberately, is obliged to wait till accident, or his own efforts have raised his passions to a proper degree of fury: Or, like the inhabitants of New-Zealand, before they attack their enemies, they found it necessary to animate themselves by singing their war song, exercising their lances, and brandishing their patoo-patoos, that they might work themselves up into such a state of frenzy, as should apparently lessen the danger of those desperate measures, which they were already determined to pursue.
The people of Boston seem attentively to have regulated their conduct in such a manner, as should have the greatest tendency to inflame the minds of the congress when it should meet. While the members of that assembly were drawing together at Philadelphia, a report was spread from Boston that the navy and army had attacked the town. Posts were dispatched with the most hasty speed, from town to town, till the dreadful tidings arrived at Philadelphia. In New-England, all was hurry and confusion, "the pulpit-drum ecclesiastic," spread the alarm through Connecticut. They flew to arms, and marched off to attack the troops of that King whose faithful and loyal subjects they have repeatedly declared themselves to be; those very troops, which were employed in the support of his government, and in the protection of his subjects.
This false alarm answered two purposes. It tried the temper of the other New-England colonies, and convinced the Boston people, that they were ready to join them in their most extravagant schemes,--to rush headlong with them down the precipice of rebellion. It served also to inflame the congress, and to prepare the way for another Boston manoeuvre.
The county of Suffolk, in the province of Massachusetts Bay, had, on the sixth and ninth of September, entered into a set of resolves, by which the authority of the government of Great-Britain was denied, the courts of justice shut up, his Majesty's counsellors, who did not resign their places by a day set them, viz. September 20th, were declared to be "obstinate and incorrigible enemies to their country." The command of the militia taken from the King, and lodged in the people; with several other positions and declarations equally seditious and rebellious. It was a matter of great consequence to the success of their schemes, to get these resolves ratified, and confirmed by authority of the congress. Now was the lucky time, the critical minute. Their passions were up, their reason disturbed, their judgment distorted; with the most inconsiderate rashness they took the fatal resolution of adopting "approving and recommending" the conduct of the Suffolk people, contained in their resolves of the 6th of September; thereby making those rebellious resolves, as far as in them lay, the act and deed of all his Majesty's faithful subjects, in all the colonies, from Nova Scotia to Georgia.
It is not my design to consider minutely this adopted brat of the congress--the Suffolk resolves.--Every person who wishes a reconciliation with Great-Britain; who desires to continue under her dominion and protection; who hopes to enjoy the security of law and good government, and to transmit our present free and happy constitution untainted and uncorrupted to his posterity; must condemn and abhor them. Nor will I enter on a particular examination of the other productions of the congress. To point out and animadvert on every thing in their addresses, &c. which deserved censure, would require a volume; nor would my patience hold out through so dirty a road, though I should find scarce any thing to impede my progress; but positive assertions, without proof; declamations, without argument; and railing, without modesty.
My business is to detect and expose the false, arbitrary, and tyrannical PRINCIPLES upon which the Congress acted, and to point out their fatal tendency to the interests and liberties of the colonies.
It was the general opinion and expectation of those people I conversed with, that the congress would form some reasonable and probable scheme of accommodating our unhappy disputes with the mother country, and of securing our own rights and liberties; and that in order to make our union with Great-Britain durable and permanent, they would endeavor to mark out the limits of parliamentary authority over the colonies; ascertaining, on the one hand, the liberties of the colonies, and on the other, giving full weight to the supreme authority of the nation over all its dominions. Had they attempted this, they would have done something towards accomplishing the important business on which they assembled. Though they might have executed it in an imperfect manner, it might probably have served for something to build upon; it would have been discussed here and at home; its errors pointed out; its advantages explained; its inconveniences obviated; and future improvements might have made it of real utility: At least, they would, by this conduct, have shewn their attention to the interests of the colonies, and would, even on that account, have deserved their regard; but they did nothing like this, on the contrary, they spent near, or quite, two months, in approving and commending the mad proceedings of the people of Boston, and writing inflammatory addresses to the people of Great-Britain, Quebec, and the other provinces; and in exercising an assumed power of legislation.
Should any person choose to controvert this last position, I appeal to the Association published by them, under the signature of their own names. Every article of this instrument was intended by them to have a force of the law. They have indeed used the soft, mild, insinuating term of recommending their laws to our observance, instead of the authoritative phrase of " Be it enacted, &c." because, their authority was not yet firmly settled. But they have solemnly bound themselves and their constituents--by whom they affect to mean every inhabitant of the colonies, from Nova-Scotia to Georgia--(happy Nova-Scotia! happy Georgians who are out of their jurisdiction--) to adhere firmly to their Association;--they have appointed their officers to carry it into execution,--they have ordained penalties upon those that shall presume to violate it. The appointments of those officers, the mode of their proceeding, the penalties to be inflicted, are contained in the eleventh article of the association.
Upon this article I beg leave to make some remarks.
"A committee" is ordered " to be chosen in every county, city, and town;" and to give the weight to those committees, and to make them appear as much as possible like LEGAL OFFICERS duly elected, they are ordered to be chosen only " by those who are qualified to vote for Representatives in the legislature." A strong circumstance to prove that the Congress intended to give the force of a law to their Association.
Their " business shall be attentively to observe the conduct " of all persons touching this Association; and when it shall " be made appear to the satisfaction of a majority of any such committee, that any person within the limits of their appointment has violated this Association, that such majority do forthwith cause the truth of the case to be published in the Gazette, to the end, that all such foes to the rights of British America may be publicly known, and universally contemned as the enemies of American liberty, and henceforth we respectively will break off all dealings with him or her."
Here, gentlemen, is a court established upon the same principles with the papish Inquisition. No proofs, no evidences are called for. The committee may judge from appearances if they please--for when it shall be made appear to a majority of any committee that the Association is violated, they may proceed to punishment, and appearances, you know, are easily made; nor is the offender's presence necessary. He may be condemned unseen, unheard--without even a possibility of making a defence. No jury is to be impannelled.--No check is appointed upon this court;--no appeal from its determination: Nor is it left accountable to any power on earth; so that if a majority of the committee should chance not to have the fear of GOD before their eyes--the Lord have mercy upon us all!
Next, look at the punishment to be inflicted upon any person, when it shall appear to a majority of any committee that he hath violated this Association:--The committee are to cause the truth of the case to be published in the Gazette.--Consider the matter gentlemen, fairly and cooly, without prejudice or partiality. Should committees be chosen, according to the purport of this eleventh article of the Association, in every county, city and town, from Nova-Scotia to Georgia--do you think that a majority of every such committee would consist of men of such exact honour and probity, as that we might in all cases expect the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, in their publications? Do we run no risk by committing such unbounded power into their hands? May they not sometimes wantonly abuse it? Especially 'as they are accountable to no superior tribunal;--without any other check on their conduct, than their own honour. Will their passions, their prejudices and prepossessions never warp them from realities, to judge by appearances only? They must be very extraordinary persons indeed.
When the Popish inquisition hath passed sentence of condemnation on any person, they have done their duty--the poor wretch is then delivered over to the secular power to be punished. In humble imitation of this humane and laudable practice, when the committorial inquisition has condemned any person, and published his sentence in the Gazette; they have done their duty; and then the poor culprit is to be delivered over to the power of the mob, for execution. He is to be considered as a foe to the rights of British America, and universally contemned as the enemy of American liberty, and thenceforth the parties of the Association respectively will break off all dealings with him or her.--Poor, unhappy wretch, how I pity thee! Cast out from civil society! Nobody to have any dealings with thee! None to sell thee a loaf of bread, or a pot of tea-water, but such miserable out-laws as thyself! Perhaps thou hast drank a dish of tea, or a glass of Madeira, or hast used an English pin, or eaten Irish potatoe, imported out of due time;--and hast had the truth of thy unhappy case published, by the inquisition, in the Gazette: And is there no relief! Must thou expect no mitigation of thy punishment? None, my friend; thou hast committed the unpardonable sin against the Congress; and the utmost vengeance that they can inflict awaits thee!--Comfort thyself however in this---that thou art in no worse state than a few honest people, of whom I have read, in an old neglected book, who were not allowed to buy or sell, because they had not the mark of the beast in their foreheads.
I beg your pardon, Gentlemen, for treating so serious a subject with ridicule. Look back, I beseech you, upon the conduct of the Congress--consider what a state they have brought you into--view well the difficulties that surround you. Perhaps you may be tempted to make light of them, and without much reflection, to say, that all will be well. But remember;--your liberties and properties are now at the mercy of a body of men unchecked, uncontrouled by the civil power. You have chosen your committee;--you are no longer your own masters:--you have subjected your business, your dealings, your mode of living, the conduct and regulation of your families, to their prudence and discretion. The public laws of the province are superseded by the laws of the Congress. The government of your city is, in a great measure, taken out of the hands of the magistrates; they cannot do their duty for the want of that support which all good men ought to give them:--Violence is done to private property, by riotous assemblies, and the rioters go unpunished; nay more;--are applauded for those very crimes which the laws of the government have forbidden, under severe penalities.
You seem to think yourselves perfectly safe and secure, because your committee consists of virtuous and honest men, and they will not hurt you. I have no inclination to detract from the virtue, or to impeach the honesty of the gentlemen of the committee. I hope their future conduct will justify your good opinion of them. It is best however to see the end of their committee-ship, before you give them the sanction of your approbation.--But is it then come to this?--Your committee will not hurt you. Are you content to have your liberty and property dependent on the Will of the committee? You that spurned at the thought of holding your rights on the precarious tenure of the will of a British ministry, as you have been pleased to speak; or of a British Parliament, can you submit to hold them on as precarious a tenure, the will of a New-York committee, of a continental congress?
You cannot, I think, want conviction, that your liberty and property are made subject to the laws of the Congress, and the will of the committee. If you do, look at the tenth article of the Association. Any goods or merchandize that may arrive on your account between the first day of December, and the first day of February next, though you should have ordered them before the Congress had a being, must be reshipped by your own direction; and this direction you must give, under the penalty of being gazetted;--or, they must be delivered up to the committee of the county or town wherein they shall be imported, to be stored at your own risk ',--or, they must be sold under the direction of the committee; and after you are reimbursed your first cost and charges, the profit is to be applied to the relieving such poor inhabitants of the town of Boston as are immediate sufferers by the Boston Port Bill.--Good God! That men who exclaim so violently for liberty and the rights of Englishmen, should ever voluntarily submit to such an abject state of slavery! That you, who refuse submission to the Parliament, should tamely give up your liberty and property to an illegal, tyrannical Congress: For shame, gentlemen, act more consistently. You have blustered, and bellowed, and swaggered, and bragged, that no British Parliament should dispose of a penny of your money without your leave, and now you suffer yourselves to be bullied by a Congress, and cowed by a COMMITTEE, and through fear of the Gazette, are obliged to hold open your pocket, and humbly intreat that the gentlemen of the committee would take out all the profits of a whole importation of goods, for the benefit of the Boston poor.
In God's name, are not the people of Boston able to relieve their own poor? Must they go begging from Dan to Beersheba; levying contributions, and exacting fines, from Nova Scotia to Georgia, to support a few poor people whom their perverseness and ill conduct have thrown into distress? If they are really under such violent concern for their poor, why don't they pay for the tea which they destroyed, and thereby qualify themselves to have their port opened?--this would effectually answer the purpose; and is only an act of bare justice which they ought to have done long ago:--They have made a great parade about employing their poor, in paving their streets, and repairing their wharves and docks;--are they unable to pay them for their labour? Can't they spare some small portion of that wealth, which is now pouring in upon them from the army and navy, for so good a purpose? Or will not the labour of the poor support them now, as well as formerly? Must they command the wealth of the continent, to ornament their town, and render it more commodious? Do they expect a literal completion of the promise, that the Saints shall inherit the earth? In my conscience, I believe they do. Nor can I, on this occasion, help recollecting the observation of a queer fellow some time ago. Discoursing with him on this very subject, he said, that the conduct of the Boston people seemed to him to indicate an opinion "that God had made Boston for himself, and all the rest of the world for Boston."
For Heaven's sake, gentlemen, have you no poor of your own to relieve? Are you sure that your non-importation, non-exportation, non-consumption schemes, will not draw the resentment of the British parliament on you, as well as on Boston?
I pretend not to a right of dictating to you; you have my free consent to dispose of your money as you please. If the people of Boston are unable to relieve their poor, they have an undoubted right to beg for them. And whether they are able or not, you have a right to give as much, and as often as you please. But what right had the Congress to give what did not belong to them? to give your money,--the profits arising from the sale of your goods,--without your consent?--But I forget myself,--they first proclaimed themselves your representatives, and then of course they had an undoubted, legal, constitutional right to all your substance. For you know, gentlemen, that representation and taxation go together. God and nature hath joined them.--But how, on this principle, you will keep your money out of the harpy-claws of the congress, I cannot conceive. They have shewn you already what they can do: And power is apt to be encroaching: the next congress may go farther: they have taxed you but lightly now; only the profits arising from goods imported in two months. But the same power that now takes the profits, may next take the goods too. I know not how you will help yourselves, unless you have prudence enough to recur to the first principles of government: And then you will find that Legislation and Taxation go together; and that no government ever yet had a being where they were divided. It is true, in the British government, for the greater security of the subject, all money-bills must take their rise in the House of Commons; nor will the commons, suffer the Lords or the King to amend or alter a money-bill: Notwithstanding which, it has no more force than an old almanack, and will raise no more money, till it has passed the House of Lords, and received the Royal Assent: That is, till it has received the sanction of the whole legislature, and become one of the Laws of the Kingdom.
After all, there is something, to me, very mysterious in the conduct of the congress on this point; and if I should not express myself clearly on it, I must be forgiven; and if I am not, I don't care much about it.--The congress seem to me, to oblige a man to give the profits of his goods to the Boston poor, whether he will or not; and at the same time to oblige him to be willing to do so, even against his will.--They seem to oblige him to reship his goods, or deliver them up to be stored or sold, whether he be willing or unwilling; at the same time they oblige him to be so far willing, as to direct it to be done, even against his will. This is too much like that divinity which obliges a man, even against his will, to be willing to be damned, before it allows him a chance for escaping. I don't understand this having two wills, a willing will, and an unwilling will. I don't see how a man can act freely upon compulsion. The goods are to be reshipped at the direction of the owner. Suppose he should be unwilling. Unwilling or not, he must be willing,--or the dread of the GAZETTE shall make him so. So that should any importer be so unfortunate as to have the arrival of his goods delayed, by any accident, till the beginning of December, he will be in the state of a man, who being condemned to be hanged, by a law made after his pretended crime was committed, was yet so cruelly treated by his judge, as to be obliged to hang himself; or at least, obliged, freely and willingly to give directions to somebody else to perform the friendly office for him. This is too much like the story of poor Jack's hanging bout, in the history of John Bull; and smells most confoundedly strong of passive obedience and non-resistance. You may embrace the doctrine, gentlemen, and act upon it too, if you please; but really it is too much for me. I cannot swallow it; and if I could, I am sure my stomach would never digest it.
I hope, Gentlemen, that you want no more proof, that the regulations of the congress have, and were intended to have, the force of laws:--nor that your liberty and property are now at the mercy of your committee. Say that it is not so, and we will put the matter on TTITS footing:--There is not one of you that will dare to act contrary to the laws of the congress:--not one of you will run the risk of opposing the committee in the execution of the office lately established by their High Mightinesses the Delegates.--I am very certain that you do not ALL approve of these non-importation, non-exportation, and non-consumption schemes. Some of you must have too much sense and understanding not to perceive their fatal tendency. But not one of you will have courage enough to avow your sentiments, and oppose them. The first of you, whose goods shall arrive after the first of December, will, with unwilling steps, march willingly to the committee, your new masters, and give Directions to have them disposed of, just as they shall please to order. So you will act, and I know the reason you will assign for it,--You'll say, your honour is engaged,--that you consented to send Delegates to the congress,--and that you promised to abide by, and observe all their determinations and laws.--This indeed was unfortunate: It was much the same conduct with his, who swore to etceteras. But let us examine how far your honour is really engaged by such a promise.
Government was intended for the security of those who live under it;--to protect the weak against the strong;--the good against the bad;--to preserve order and decency among men, preventing every one from injuring his neighbour. Every person, then, owes obedience to the laws of the government under which he lives, and is obliged in honour and duty to support them. Because, if one has a right to disregard the laws of the society to which he belongs, all have the same right; and then government is at an end. Your honour was therefore previously engaged to the government under which you live, before you promised to abide by the determinations of the congress. You had no right to make a promise implicitly to obey all their regulations, before you knew what they were, and whether they would interfere with the public laws of the government, or not. And you are so far from being bound in honour to obey any determinations of the congress, which interfere with the laws of the government, that you are really bound in honour to oppose them. Now, a little consideration will render it evident, that there is no such thing as carrying the regulations of the congress into execution, without transgressing the known laws, and contravening the legal authority of the government:--without injuring and oppressing your neighbours, who have as good a right to the protection of the laws, as you have.
Let it also be considered, that as no man has a legal right to do what the laws forbid, so every man has a legal right to do what they permit.
Now, by enforcing an observance of the determinations of the congress, in this province, you abrogate, or suspend, several of its laws, some of them essential to the peace and order of the government: You contravene its authority: You take the government of the province out of the hands of the governor, council and assembly, and the government of the city, out of the hands of the legal magistrates, and place them in a CONGRESS, a body utterly unknown in any legal sense! You introduce a foreign power, and make it an instrument of injustice and oppression.
The laws of this government forbid all riots, all instances of violence to others, either in abusing their persons, or depriving them of their property:--They forbid us to disturb or hinder any person in the prosecution of his lawful business;--that is, in doing what the law permits to be done.
Now, what law has forbidden the exportation of sheep? No law of the province. The farmer is permitted to sell them, and the buyer to carry them off, if he pleases.--But you have introduced a law of the congress, making that unlawful and impracticable which the laws of the province permit. And in carrying this regulation of the congress into execution, on a late occasion, a public law, which forbids all riots, was notoriously trampled upon, and a flagrant and oppressive act of injustice done to several of his Majesties subjects.
Can it be supposed, that your honour obliges you to perpetrate, or abet such actions? If not, it does not oblige you to conform to the regulations of the congress, or carry them into execution.
There is no honour, but what is founded in Justice and Virtue. Take these away, and what is called so is a mere name; it may be whim, it may be caprice, it may be pride, it may be selfishness: But HONOUR it can not be.
Suppose one of your fellow-citizens should have a parcel of goods arrive after the first day of December, and should refuse to deliver them up to the disposal of the committee: Are you in honour bound to compel him? In importing the goods he has transgressed no law of God, of nature, nor of the province. On the contrary, the laws of God, of nature, and of the province, forbid you to molest him in the prosecution of his business. But you are introducing a regulation of the congress superior to the laws of God, of nature, and of the province:--A regulation that supersedes and vacates them all. Remember, gentlemen, that honour and duty are always consistent. Honour can never oblige a man to do that which his duty forbids him to do. Your duty requires you to obey the laws of the government in which you live, and to support their authority: But this honour you talk of, requires you to disobey the laws of the government, and to disannul their authority. It is therefore false and not true honour which obliges you to adhere to the regulations of the congress, and to endeavour to carry them into execution; for it obliges you to act in direct opposition to your duty, to the laws of the government, to the rights and privileges of your fellow-citizens, and to the general good of the whole province; nay, of all the provinces, from Nova-Scotia to Georgia.
Some carry the matter still further; they plead the necessity of the times, and pronounce boldly, that when any people are struggling for liberty, the operation of the laws must, of course, cease, and the authority of government subside: And in support of this position, they alledge the instance of that memorable revolution in England, which placed the great King William on the throne. However necessary that revolution may have been to secure the rights and liberties of the English nation, no man, I am persuaded, who really loves his country, would wish to see it again torn by such violent convulsions as it then endured. People who talk so very feelingly, and with so much pleasure about revolutions, and who are ever ready to justify the most violent, and the most needless opposition to government, by the example of the great revolution in England, seem to me to be too fond of revolutions to be good subjects of any government on earth. However, let us examine a little how far the necessary struggles for liberty will justify that violence, which puts an end to the operation of the laws, and introduces anarchy, riots, and brutal force, in their stead.
The operation of the laws certainly ought not to cease any farther than the necessary struggles for liberty require. A small struggle will not justify a total subversion of law and good government. A struggle for liberty, however necessary it may be, which can be carried on consistently with the laws, and in due subordination to government, will never justify the breach of any one law, nor opposition to government in any instance.--To speak directly to our own case.
Had you, gentlemen, suffered the Tea belonging to the East India Company, to have been landed and stored, you would have been under no obligations to have bought it, or to have used it. It might have lain till doomsday, and would never have hurt you or your posterity. Your dispute with the mother-country, about the three-penny duty, would have been conducted consistently with the laws of the government, and no injury would have been done to any mortal. But this peaceable conduct comported not with the intemperate, fiery zeal of the Sons of Liberty. The cry then was, that there was not virtue enough in the city to prevent the Tea from being bought and used.--A strange alteration has happened in a short time.--You have now virtue enough to prevent, not only Tea from being bought and used, but all commodities from Great-Britain and Ireland, &c. from being imported. If you go on, gentlemen, your improvements in virtue will soon put you upon an exact equality with the New-England people, whom a late celebrated writer of your city stiled, the most virtuous people on earth! Instead of this peaceable conduct, every violent measure has been pursued; all means that tended to promote a reconciliation with Great-Britain, and to maintain the peace and order of the government in which we live, have been neglected. And to complete the folly of your conduct, you now resolve to adhere to the determinations of the congress, thereby precluding all possibility of accommodation with the mother-country, except upon our own terms, which never can be complied with, consistently with the dignity of the nation: You thereby also introduce a new authority into the province, highly derogatory from, and subversive of the power of the legislature: You establish a court of Inquisition, to decide, in the most arbitrary, tyrannical and unheard-of manner, upon the liberties and properties of your fellow-subjects, over whom you have no just or legal power: You lay an embargo upon all the produce of the farmers, and will thereby be enabled to purchase it at your own price: You have monopolized, into your own hands many of the necessaries and comforts of life, and you prevent any more from being imported; by which means you will command the purses of the good people of the province, and may extort what sums you please from them in payment for your goods: And lastly, you promote and encourage riots, mobs and tumults, and make them the means of carrying into execution that abominable system of oppression which the congress have devised for the future government of the continent.
All the hardships which you complain of, all the evils which you say, you fear, from the weight of parliamentary power, endured for a Century, would not injure this province so much as this mode of conduct continued only for a twelvemonth.
Where, I beseech you, was the necessity for all this so glaring, so violent an infringement of the laws of society, and of the rights of your fellow subjects? In truth, there never was, nor is there now, any other necessity than what you yourselves have made. Had you permitted the Tea to have been stored, and only refrained from purchasing it, you might have waited for the meeting of the assembly, without any manner of danger to your rights and privileges: and then you might have had the grievances you complain of, considered by the true and legal representations of the people: If they were found to be just, they would have been represented, and a remedy sought, in a legal constitutional way; without the subversion of the laws, without the oppression of individuals, and without detriment to the province.
Instead of this reasonable and manly mode of proceeding, you have, by your rash and precipitate conduct, cast a very undeserved odium on your representatives, and involved the province in confusion and danger.----Have your representatives neglected your interests?--Have they given up your liberties?--Have they betrayed your rights?--Have they shewn any disposition to do these things?--If not, why are they neglected? Why are they treated as though they were not worthy to be trusted.
Let it also be considered, that the assembly are a body known and acknowledged by the laws of the empire. Their representations would be considered, their petitions or remonstrances attended to. The supreme authority of the nation could treat with them without descending from its dignity. But the congress are a body unknown to the government. In a legal sense, they are no body at all. You cannot then expect, that their petitions, should they have made any, will be attended to, or their remonstrances regarded.
Let those, who are fond of pleading the necessities of the times, in excuse of the subversion of the laws, consider,--that violent and illegal measures, even in the most necessary struggles for liberty, can never be justified, till all legal and moderate ones have failed.--Supposing therefore, that all the complaints we make against the British Parliament and Ministry are founded in truth; and that all the evils which we foresee and foretel are really coming on us. We have no right to precede to such violent means of redress as the congress have directed, and you are executing, till the legal and constitutional applications of our Assembly have failed.
Let me now request of you, gentlemen, to look back, and consider the whole of the matter, and then determine for yourselves, whether you are bound by the principles of honour, of duty, or of conscience, to adhere to, or carry into execution, the regulations of the Congress, to the subversion of the laws, the disturbance of the peace, the oppression of the inhabitants, and the destruction of the property of the province in which you live?
Besides, are you sure, that while you are supporting the authority of the congress, and exalting it over your own legislature, that you are not nourishing and bringing to maturity, a grand American Republic, which shall, after a while, rise to power and grandeur, upon the ruins of our present constitution? To me the danger appears more than possible. The out-lines of it seem already to be drawn. We have had a grand Continental Congress at Philadelphia. Another is to meet in May next. There has been a Provincial Congress held in Boston government. And as all the colonies seem fond of imitating the Boston politics, it is very probable that the scheme will spread and increase; and in a little time, the Common-Wealth be completely formed.
You may think this a chimera, a creature of my own brain, and may laugh at it. But when you consider circumstances with a more minute attention, possibly some foundation for my suspicions may appear. That a majority of the people of the Massachusetts-Bay have it in meditation to throw off their subjection to Great-Britain, as soon as a favourable season presents, can scarce admit of a doubt. The independency of that province on the British Parliament, has been declared in express terms. As yet they acknowledge King George the Third for their King and liege Lord;--how long they will abide by this acknowledgment is very uncertain. They are daily encroaching on the prerogatives of his crown, and the legal rights of his throne. They have wrested the militia from the command of his Governor, and are disciplining it to fight against his own troops, whom they have called military executioners, and enemies to their state. They have obliged his servants to resign their employments. They have shut up his courts of justice, dissolved his government, and are erecting one of their own modeling in its room.
They boast of the number and valour of their men, and have given plain intimations, in the Suffolk Resolves, that they will not always act on the defensive. I could enumerate more circumstances in support of my suspicions, but these are sufficient.
Only now suppose it possible that they should succeed, and become a state independent on Great-Britain. The probable consequence would be, that the other New-England colonies would join them, and together with them, form one Republic. When once they had arrived at this height of power, How long do you suppose they would remain in peace with this government? Certainly only till a fair opportunity offered to attack it with advantage. The New-England people have ever cast a wishful eye on the lands of this province. Connecticut, Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, have all in their turns encroached upon them; and their encroachments have not only been very troublesome, but also very difficult to remove. A state of continual war with New-England, would be the inevitable fate of this province, till submission on our part, or conquest on their part, put a period to the dispute. The consequences of such an event to the landed interest of this colony, need no enumeration.
Whenever the fatal period shall arrive, in which the American colonies shall become independent on Great-Britain, a horrid scene of war and bloodshed will immediately commence. The interests, the commerce of the different provinces will interfere: disputes about boundaries and limits will arise. There will be no supreme power to interpose; but the sword and bayonet must decide the dispute. We, indeed, in words, disclaim every thought and wish of separating our interests from hers: But in deed and fact, all the colonies from Nova-Scotia to Georgia, have run headlong into such measures, as must, if they prove successful, finally break intirely our connection with her, or reduce her to the disagreeable necessity of establishing her dominion over us, in conquest.
To talk of subjection to the King of Great-Britain, while we disclaim submission to the Parliament of Great-Britain, is idle and ridiculous. It is a distinction made by the American Republicans to serve their own rebellious purposes,--a gilding with which they have enclosed the pill of sedition, to entice the unwary colonists to swallow it the more readily down.--The King of Great-Britain was placed on the throne by virtue of an act of Parliament: And he is King of America, by virtue of being King of Great-Britain. He is therefore King of America by act of Parliament. And if we disclaim that authority of Parliament which made him our King, we, in fact, reject him from being our King; for we disclaim that authority by which he is a King at all.
Let us not, Gentlemen, be led away from our duty and allegiance, by such fantastical distinctions. They are too nice and subtil for practice; and fit only for Utopian schemes of government. We have so long paid attention to sophistical declamations about liberty and property, the power of government, and the rights of the people, the force of laws and the benefit of the constitution, that we have very little of any of them left among us: And if we continue to support and imitate the mad schemes of our eastern neighbours, in the manner we have done, in a very short time, we shall have none at all.
We have hitherto proceeded from bad to worse. It is time to consider and correct our conduct. As yet it has done us no good: If persisted in too far, it will bring ruin upon us. It is our duty to make some proposals of accomodation with our parent country: And they ought to be reasonable ones--such as might be made with safety on our part, and accepted with dignity on hers. But if we expect to oblige her to propose a reconciliation,--to ask and intreat us to accept of such and such terms, to force her to concede every thing, while we will concede nothing:--If we are determined to proceed as we have done,--continually rising in our demands and increasing our opposition, I dread to think of the consequence. The authority of Great-Britain over the colonies must cease; or the force of arms must finally decide the dispute. Many Americans are hardy enough to suppose, that, in such a contest, we should come off victorious: But horrid indeed would be the consequence of our success! We should presently turn our arms on one another;--province against province,--and destruction and carnage would dessolate the land. Probably it would cost the blood of a great part of the inhabitants to determine, what kind of government we should have--whether a Monarchy or a Republic. Another effusion of blood would be necessary to fix a Monarch, or to establish the common wealth.
But it is much more probable, that the power of the British arms would prevail: And then, after the most dreadful scenes of violence and slaughter--CONFISCATIONS and EXECUTIONS must close the HORRID TRAGEDY.
A. W. FARMER.
November 28, 1774.
FARMER A. W. has seen a pamphlet, entitled, "A full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress, &c." He is neither frighted nor disconcerted by it; nor does he find any thing in it to make him change his sentiments, as expressed in the Free Thoughts: If the author of the Vindication has any teeth left, here is another file at his service. A. W. would be well pleased with an opportunity of vindicating both his publications at the same time, and he will wait ten days for this Friend to America's Remarks upon the Examination into the Conduct of the Delegates, which he supposes will be full time enough for so very accomplished a writer to ridicule all the wit contained in it. A. W. begs the author of the Vindication to consult Johnson's Dictionary, and see whether the expression, "and his wit ridiculed," be classical or not. He is persuaded that had the Vindicator possessed the least spark of genuine wit, he would have felt both the impropriety of the expression, and the impracticability of the attempt. Dec. 16, 1774.