TO BENJAMIN FRANKLIN.1
June 29, 1771.
Your letter of the 5th of February2 has been laid before the House:
The contents are important and claim our fixed attention.
We cannot think the doctrine of the right of Parliament to tax us is given up, while an act remains in force for that purpose, and is daily put in execution; and the longer it remains the more danger there is of the people’s becoming so accustomed to arbitrary and unconstitutional taxes, as to pay them without discontent; and then, as you justly observe, no Minister will ever think of taking them off, but will rather be encouraged to add others. – If ever the provincial assemblies should be voluntarily silent, on the Parliament’s taking upon themselves a power thus to violate our constitutional and Charter Rights, it might be considered as an approbation of it, or at least a tacit consent, that such a power should be exercised at any future time. It is therefore our duty to declare our Rights and our determined Resolution at all times to maintain them: The time we know will come, when they must be acknowledged, established and secured to us and our posterity.
We severely feel the effects, not of a revenue raised, but a tribute extorted, without our free consent or control. Pensioners and Placemen are daily multiplying; and fleets and standing armies posted in North America, for no other apparent or real purpose, than to protect the exactors and collectors of the tribute; for which they are to be maintained, & many of them in pomp & pride to triumph over and insult an injured people, and suppress if possible, even their murmurs. And there is reason to expect, that the continual increase of their numbers will lead to a proportionate increase of a tribute to support them. What would be the consequence? Either on the one hand, an abject slavery in the people, which is ever to be deprecated; or, a determined resolution, openly to assert and maintain their rights, liberties and privileges. The effects of such a resolution may for some time be retarded by flattering hopes and prospects; and while it is the duty of all persons of influence here to inculcate the sentiments of moderation, it will in our opinion, be equally the wisdom of the British administration, to consider the danger of forcing a free people by oppressive measures into a state of desperation. We have reason to believe that the American Colonies, however they may have disagreed among themselves in one mode of opposition to arbitrary measures, are still united in the main principles of constitutional & natural liberty; and that they will not give up one single point in contest of any importance, tho’ they may take no violent measures to obtain them. – The taxing their property without their consent, and thus appropriating it to the purposes of their slavery and destruction, is justly considered, as contrary to and subversive of their original social compact, and their intention in uniting under it: They cannot therefore readily think themselves obliged to renounce those forms of government, to which alone for the advantages employed or resulting, they were willing to submit. We are sensible, as you observe, that the design of our enemies in England, as well as those who reside here, is to render us odious as well as contemptible, and to prevent all concern for us in the friends of liberty in England; and perhaps to detach our Sister Colonies from us, and prevent their aid and influence in our behalf, when the projects of oppressing us further and depriving us of our Rights by various violent measures, should be carried into execution. In this however, we flatter ourselves they have failed: But should all the other Colonies become weary of their liberties, after the example of the Hebrews, this Province we trust, will never submit to the authority of an absolute government.
We are now led to take notice of another fatal consequence, which we are under strong apprehensions will follow from these parliamentary revenue laws; and that is, the making the governors of the colonies, and other officers, independent of the people for their support. You tell us there is no doubt of such intention, and that it will be persisted in, if the American revenue is found sufficient. We are the more inclined to believe it, not only because the governor of the province of New-York has openly declared it with regard to himself, to the assembly there; but because the present governor of this province has repeatedly refused to accept of the usual grant for his support, tho’ he has not been so explicit as to assign a reason for it. The charter of this province recognizes the natural Right of all men to dispose of their property: And the governor here, like all other governors, kings and potentates, is to be supported by the free grants of the Representatives of the people. Every one sees the necessity of this to preserve the balance of power and the freedom of any state: A power without a check, is subversive of all freedom: If therefore the governor, who is appointed by the crown, shall be totally independent of the free grants of the people for his support, where is the check upon his power? He becomes absolute and may act as he pleases: He may make use of his power, not for the good of those who are under it, but for his own private separate advantage, or any other purpose to which he may be inclined, or instructed by him upon whom alone he depends. Such an independency threatens the very being of a free constitution; and if it takes effect, will produce and firmly establish a tyranny upon its ruin. The act of parliament of the 7 Geo. 3.3 entitled, “An act for granting certain duties in the Colonies, &c.” declares That it is expedient that a revenue should be raised in his Majesty’s dominions in America, for making more certain and adequate provision for the defraying the charge of the administration of justice, and the support of civil government in such colonies where it shall be found necessary; and, towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting and securing the said dominions. – These are the very purposes for which this government by the Charter is empowered to grant taxes: So that by the act aforementioned, the Charter is in effect made void. Agreeable to the design of that act, the governor it seems is first to be made independent; and in pursuance of the plan of despotism, the judges of the land, and all other important civil officers, successively: Next follows an independent military power, to complete the ruin of our civil liberties. – Let us then consider the power the Governor already has, and his Majesty’s negative on all our acts, and judge whether the purposes of tyranny will not be amply answered! Can it be expected that any law will pass here, but such as will promote the favorite design? And the laws already made, as they will be executed by officers altogether dependent on the crown, will undoubtedly be perverted to the worst purposes. The governor of the province, and the principal fortress in it, are probably already thus supported. These are the first fruits of the system: If the rest should follow, it would be only in a greater degree, a violation of our essential, natural rights. For what purpose then will it be to preserve the old forms without the substance? In such a state, and with such prospects, can Britain expect anything but a gloomy discontent in the Colonies? Let our fellow-subjects there recollect, what would have been their fate long ago, if their ancestors had submitted to the unreasonable and uncharitable usurpations, exactions and impositions of the See of Rome, in the reign of Henry the VIII. Soon would they have sunk into a state of abject slavery to that haughty power, which exalteth itself above all that is called God: But they had the true spirit of liberty, and by exerting it, they saved themselves and their posterity; The act of parliament passed in the 25th of that reign,4 is so much to our present purpose, that we cannot omit transcribing a part of it, and refer you to the statute at large. In the preamble it is declared, that “the realm of England hath been and is free from subjection to any man’s law but only to such as have been devised, made and ordained within the realm for the wealth of the same.” And further, “it standeth therefore with natural equity and good reason, that in every such law humane made within this realm by the said sufferance, consents and customs, your Royal Majesty and your Lords spiritual and temporal and Commons representing the whole state of your realm in this your Majesty’s high court of parliament, hath full power and authority, not only to dispense, but also to authorize some elect person or persons to be sent to dispense with those and all other humane laws in this your realm, and with every one of them, as the quality of the persons and matter may require. And also the said laws and every one of them to abrogate, annul, amplify or diminish, as it shall seem to your Majesty and the Nobles and Commons of your realm present in parliament meet and convenient for the wealth of your realm. And because that it is now in these days present seen, that the state, dignity and superiority, reputation and authority of the said imperial crown of this realm, by the long sufferance of the said unreasonable and uncharitable usurpation and exaction is much and sore decayed, and the people of this realm thereby much impoverished.” It is then enacted, that “no person or persons of the realm, or of any other his Majesty’s dominions, shall from henceforth pay any pensions, censes, portions, peter pence, or any other impositions to the use of the said Bishop of the See of Rome; but that all such pensions, &c. which the said Bishop or Pope hath heretofore taken – shall clearly surcease, and never more be levied or paid to any person or persons in any manner or wise.” – Nothing short of the slavery and ruin of the nation would have been the consequence of their submitting to those exactions: And the same will be the fate of America, if the present revenue laws remain, and the natural effect of them, the making governors independent, takes place.
It is therefore with entire approbation that we observe your purpose freely to declare our Rights, and to remonstrate against the least infringement of them. The capital complaint of all North-America, hath been, is now and will be until relieved, a subjugation to as arbitrary a tribute as ever the Romans laid upon the Jews, or their other colonies: The repealing these duties in part is not considered by this house as a renunciation of the measure: It has rather the appearance of a design to sooth us into security in the midst of danger: Any species of tribute unrepealed, will stand as a precedent, to be made use of hereafter as circumstances and opportunity may admit: If the Colonies acquiesce in a single instance, it will in effect be yielding up the whole matter and controversy. We therefore desire it may be universally understood, that altho’ the tribute is paid, it is not paid freely: It is extorted and torn from us against our will: We bear the insult and the injury for the present, grievous as it is, with great impatience; hoping that the wisdom and prudence of the nation will at length dictate measures consistent with natural justice and equity: For what shall happen in future, We are not answerable: Your observation is just, that it was certainly as bad policy, when they attempted to heal our differences, by repealing part of the duties only, as it is bad Surgery to leave splinters in a wound which must prevent its healing, or in time occasion it to open afresh.
The doctrine, that no agent ought to be received or attended to by government, who is not appointed by an act of the general court, to which the governor has given his assent, if established, must be attended with very ill consequences; for, besides the just remarks you made upon it, if whatever is to be transacted between the assemblies of the Colonies and the government, is to be done by agents appointed by and under the direction of the three branches, it will be utterly impracticable for an assembly ever to lay before the Sovereign their complaints of grievances occasioned by the corrupt and arbitrary administration of a governor. This doctrine, we have reason to think, was first advanced by governor Bernard, at a time when he became the principal agent in involving the nation and the Colonies in controversy and confusion: Very probably, it now becomes a subject of instruction to governor Hutchinson5 who refuses to confirm the grants of the Assembly to the Agents for the respective houses. In this he carries the point beyond Governor Bernard who assented to grants made in general terms for services performed, without holding up the name of agent: But governor Hutchinson declines his assent even in that form; so that we are reduced to a choice of difficulties, either to have no agent at all, but such as shall be under the influence of the minister; or to find some other way to support an agent than by grants of the general assembly. – But we are fallen into times, when governors of colonies seem to think themselves bound to conform to instructions, without any regard to the civil constitution, or even the public safety.
CANDIDUS (Samuel Adams)
Footnotes: 1 Page 46, note, applies also to the authorship of this letter. 2 J. Bigelow, Complete Works of Benjamin Franklin, vol. iv., p. 378. 3 Chap. 46. 4 Chap. 21. The quotation from the statute is inexact. 5 Since the writing of this letter an Instruction of this kind is arrived, which has been communicated by the Governor to his Majesty’s Council; and is recorded in their Journal 1
Source: Boston Gazette, July 29, 1771; a text from the Bowdoin MS. is in Proceedings of Massachusetts Historical Society, Ser. I., vol. viii., pp. 468-473. This was a communication from the Massachusetts House authored by Samuel Adams.
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