John Allen (fl. 1764–1774). For a time attributed to Isaac Skillman, but later identified by scholars as the work of Allen, An Oration went through seven printings and five editions within two years and became very popular in the four cities where it was reprinted. Its fiery author, called “that strange itinerant Baptist” by Bernard Bailyn and “New England’s Tom Paine” by scholars John M. Bumsted and Charles E. Clark (William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 21) is little known.
He first appears in 1764 as pastor of the Particular Baptist Church in Petticoat Lane, near Spitalfields, London. He lost this post around 1767 and was tried for and acquitted of forgery in 1769 (events that followed him to America). He then published The Spirit of Liberty (1770), pleading the case of John Wilkes, urging that he be restored to his seat in Parliament or that the unconstitutional house be dissolved for abridging English liberties. This work, published in England under the pseudonym Junius, Junior, had as its chief purpose to expound “upon the rights of the people, and more particularly upon the perfect law of liberty of those ancient people called Christians,” most especially of Baptists, to Allen the source of true religion’s historical tradition.
Allen next appears in America, where he delivers this thanksgiving sermon on December 3, 1772, in the pulpit of the Second Baptist Church in Boston. The Gaspee affair (a schooner burned in June 1772) was the political occasion. A strong admixture of political theory and theology had by then become customary for Boston congregations, but it was less usual in Baptist churches; by any standard Allen was radical for the time. An Oration—published along with another pamphlet by Allen (The American Alarm) that was also aimed at arbitrary power—urged readers to “Engrave the motto!—May it be thus: Liberty, Life, or Death!” Allen’s final appearance before lapsing back into obscurity came in 1774 with publication of The Watchman’s Alarm in Salem. He may have died in 1789.
- To the Right-Honourable
- the Earl of Dartmouth
When I view the original right, power and charter, confirm’d, sealed, and ratified to the province, or inhabitants of Rhode-Island, and its standing in full force, and unrepealed for more than an hundred years, which is as follows: “Be it enacted, that no freeman, shall be taken, or imprisoned, or deprived of his freehold, or liberty, or free custom, or be out-law’d, or exil’d, or otherwise destroy’d, nor shall be oppressed, judged or condemned, but by the law of this colony. And that no man of what state or condition soever, shall be put out of his lands or tenements, nor taken, nor imprisoned, nor disinherited, nor banished (observe this my Lord), nor any ways destroy’d, or molested, without being, for it, brought to answer, by a due course of law of this colony”: Methinks, that even your Lordship, will not blame them if they stand fast in the liberty wherein they were made free.
As a fly, or a worm, by the law of nature has as great a right to liberty, and freedom (according to their little sphere in life), as the most potent monarch upon the earth: And as there can be no other difference between your Lordship, and myself, but what is political, I therefore without any further apology, take leave to ask your Lordship, whether any one that fears God, loves his neighbour as himself (which is the true scripture-mark of a christian), will oppress his fellow-creatures? If they will, where are the beauties of Christianity? Not to be seen in this life, however they may be seen in the next.
I have seen what is said to be an authenticated copy of your Lordship’s letter to the governor of Rhode-Island, in which there are such dictations, directions, and possitive commands, to oppress, with tyranny, a free people, which is inconsistent with a good man, or a Christian to have any concern or agency therein. The law of God directs us to do unto others, as we would they should do unto us. And knowing that your Lordship is well acquainted with the divine oracles, having had the honour to dine at your Lordship’s seat, in Staffordshire, and was, when in England, personally acquainted with Mr. Wright, your Lordship’s steward, and with the good and pious character your Lordship bears, I therefore take this leave (as a fellow-christian, as one that loves, as the highest happiness of his existence, the beauties, spirit, and life of Christianity), to ask your Lordship, how your Lordship would like to have his birth-right, liberty and freedom, as an Englishman, taken away by his king, or by the ministry, or both? Would not your Lordship immediately say, it was tyranny, oppression and distruction, by a dispotic power? Would not your Lordship be ready to alarm the nation, and point out the state upon the brink of distruction?
Are not the liberties of the Americans as dear to them as those of Britons? Suppose your Lordship had broke the laws of his king, and country; would not your Lordship be willing to be try’d by a jury of your peers, according to the laws of the land? How would your Lordship like to be fetter’d with irons, and drag’d three thousand miles, in a hell upon earth? No! but in a hell upon water,* to take your trial? is not this contrary to the spirit of the law, and the rights of an Englishman? Yet thus you have given direction, as the king’s agent or the agent of the ministry to destroy the rights and laws of the Americans. How your Lordship can answer for this agency of injustice before God, and man, will be very difficult: However, if great men, and good men, and Christians can dare to do such things as these (when in power), heaven grant that I may have an acquaintance with them in this world; or if they have any power in heaven, not in the world to come; for I think, my Lord, that such men, who will take away the rights of any people, are neither fit for heaven; nor earth, neither fit for the land or the dunghil.
Your Lordship lets us know that the case of burning the Gaspee schooner has been laid before the law servants of the crown, and that they make the crime of a deeper die than piracy, namely, an act of high treason, and levying a war against the king.
Well my Lord, and supposing this to be the case, are not the Rhode-Islanders subjects to the king of Great-Britain? Has not the king his attorney, his courts of judicatory to decide matters between the king and the subjects? Why then must there be new courts of admiralty erected to appoint and order the inhabitants to be confin’d, and drag’d away three thousand miles, from their families, laws, rights and liberties, to be tried by their enemies? Do you think my Lord, this is right in the sight of God and man? I think if the Rhode-Islanders suffer this infringement of their liberties, granted them by their charter, from the king of England, any place out of hell is good enough for them, for was there ever such cruelty, injustice and barbarity ever united against free people before, and my Lord Dartmouth to have an hand in it, from whom we might rather have expected mildness, mercy, and the rights of the people supported.
Your Lordship’s letter frequently reminds us that this destructive authority (to destroy the lives and liberties of the people), is his majesty’s will and pleasure. How far his majesty may be influenc’d and dictated by his ministry I will not take upon me to say, but that it is his majesty’s will and pleasure of his own mind and consent, I will not believe a word of it, for his majesty is a person of more tenderness and understanding, than to attempt such tyranny, besides, his attempt to destroy the rights of the people—destroys his right as king to reign over them, for according to his coronation oath, he has no longer a right to the British crown or throne, than he maintains inviolable firm the laws and rights of the people. For violating the people’s rights, Charles Stewart, king of England, lost his head, and if another king, who is more solemnly bound than ever Charles Stewart, was, should tread in the same steps, what can he expect? I reverence and love my king, but I revere the rights of an Englishman before the authority of any king upon the earth. I distinguish greatly between a king and a tyrant, a king is the guardian and trustee of the rights and laws of the people, but a tyrant destroys them.
Besides my Lord, the inhabitants of America know as well
as the people of England, that the people are the right and foundation of power and authority, the original seat of majesty—the author of laws, and the creators of officers to execute them. And if at any time they shall find the power they have conferred abused by their trustees, their majesty violated by tyranny, or by usurpation, their authority prostituted to support violence, or skreen corruption, the laws grown pernicious through accidents unforeseen, or rendered ineffectual through the infidelity of the executors of them. Then it is their right, and what is their right is undoubtedly their priviledge and duty (as their essential power and majesty), to resume that delegated power and authority they intrusted them with, and call their trustees to an account; to resist the usurpation, and extirpate the tyranny; to restore their sullied majesty and their prostituted authority; to suspend, alter or abrogate those laws, and punish the unfaithful and corrupt officers. Nor is it the duty only of the united body, but every member of it ought, according to his respective rank, power and weight in the community, to concur in advancing those glorious designs . . . This is, my Lord, the happy constitution of England; the power, right and majesty of the people which has been frequently recognized and established. By which majesty, right and power, kings are made, and unmade by the choice of the people; and laws enacted, and annulled only by their own consent, in which none can be deprived of their property, abridged of their freedom, or forfeit their lives without an appeal to the laws, and the verdict of their peers or equals.
My Lord, as this is according to the laws of England, the liberty, priviledge and power of his majesty’s subjects in Great-Britain, why not then the priviledge of his majesty’s subjects in America? has his majesty (as it all seems to be laid upon him) two kind of laws, one for England and the other for America? a power to reign as king and guardian of his people’s rights at home, and a power to destroy the rights of the colonies abroad? I really don’t understand it my Lord, if he has no right to do it, why do you say he does? This is using his majesty cruel. However somebody does it, your Lordship says it is his majesty with his privy counsel, the latter I rather think. However, be it who it will, whether the king, ministry, or Parliament, they have no more right to do it, than they have to cut your Lordship’s throat. Has not your Lordship a right to oppose any power that may assault your Lordship’s person, right or priviledge, without its being deemed rebellion against the king and state? Yes, sure you have! Then surely my Lord an American has the same right to oppose every usurping power (let it be from whom it will), that assaults his person, or deprives him of his own law or liberty as an American. Has he offended? yes! Is he willing to be tried by his own laws? yes! Then, that man, that king, that minister of state, be who he will, is worse than a Nero tyrant that shall assume to drag him three thousand miles to be tried by his enemies.
Besides my Lord, what is rebellion? if I understand it right, they are persons rising up with an assumed authority and power to act, dictate and rule in direct violation to the laws of the land—I believe my Lord, I am right here, for this reason, your G-ne-al F——c, and your G———r T——n, when in North-Carolina, thought so, and like cruel blood-thirsty savages, murdered mankind for thinking that they had a right to oppose any power that attempted to destroy their liberties. This was my Lord a cruel barbarous slaughter of mankind. However, if it was deemed rebellion in them, and they were treated as rebels, because they (as the ministry said) broke the laws of the government of the province; then surely it follows, that the k—g’s m——y, and P—t, must be rebels, to God, and mankind, in attempting to overthrow (by guns, by swords, and by the power of war), the laws, and government of Rhode-Island. Have not the Rhode-Islanders as much right to the privileges of their own laws, as the king of England has to his crown? sure they have! Then surely, that man must be a tyrant in his soul, that shall deem it rebellion in the Rhode-Islanders, supposing they should kill every man, that shall attempt to destroy their laws, rights and liberties.
It is true my Lord, the Gaspee schooner is destroyed, and thereby the laws of England are violated (as you apprehend), by Indians out of the woods, or by Rhode-Islanders, I cannot say who; but it is a query with me my Lord, whether there is any law broke in burning the Gaspee schooner; if it was done by the Indians (which is the current report) then there is no law broke; for the scripture says, “where there is no Law, there is no transgression.” And it is well known, that the Indians were never under any law to the English; did I say, they were never under any law to the English, heaven forgive me! I mean my Lord no other law than the sword and bayonet; the same law that some would fain bring the Americans under now. But suppose my Lord, that this deed was done by the Rhode-Islanders, the query is still with me—whether there is any transgression committed? the scripture says, where there is no Law, there is no transgression: Now, the question is, Do the Rhode-Islanders receive their laws from England? If so, there is a transgression committed against those laws, but if not, there is no transgression, says St. James. For my part, I cannot see how any man in America, can properly break the laws of England. The whole lies here, the laws of America only are broke, let the offender then be tried by the law he has broke, What can justice, I had almost said tyranny desire more: However my Lord, there is no other idea arises in my mind (and it is no wonder, for the Bostonians are very notional), which is, if there is any law broke, it is the king and the ministry who have broke it; for I would be glad to know my Lord, what right the king and ministry has to send an armed schooner to Rhode-Island, to take away the property of the people, any more than they have to send an armed schooner into Brest, and demand the property of France? Know this, that the king of England has no more right, according to the laws of God and nature, to claim the lands of America, than he has the lands of France—America, my Lord, in the native rights of the Americans, it is the blood-bought treasure of their forefathers; and they have the same essential right to their native laws, as they have to the air they breathe in, or to the light of the morning, when the sun rises; and therefore they who oppress the Americans must be as great enemies to the rights of the laws of nature, as they who would (if it were in their power) vail the light of the sun from the universe. Remember my Lord, the Americans have a priviledge to boast of above all the world. They never were in bondage to any man, and therefore it is more for them to give up their rights into the hands of the Turks; consider what English tyranny their forefathers fled from, what seas of distress they met with, what savages they fought with, what blood-bought treasures, as the dear inheritance of their lives, they have left to their children, and without any aid from the king of England; and yet after this, these free-born people must be counted rebels, if they will not loose every right of liberty, which their forefathers bought, with their blood, and submit again to English ministerial tyranny—O America! O America!
My Lord, I hope I need not remind your Lordship of the enquiry that the divine Messiah made to Peter, when they required a tax, or tribute, from him. Of whom, says Christ, to Peter, do they gather tax, or tribute, of the children, or of strangers? And Peter said of strangers. Then, says Christ, the children are free. Now, the Gaspee schooner, my Lord, was a stranger; and they should, if it was in their commission, have gathered tax from strangers: But instead of which, they would have gathered it from the children. They forgot that the children were free: Therefore, my Lord, must it certainly be, that the Gaspee schooner has committed the transgression, & broke the laws, of the freedom of this country. No doubt, my Lord, but they have a right to tax the strangers, that come to dwell in their country; but to tax the children, which are free in their own native country, this will not do! Nature forbids it; the law of God condemns it. And no law, but that of tyranny, can desire it.
And therefore it was, my Lord, that the children (who are by the law of God, and the law of nature free), looked upon the Gaspee-schooner as a stranger, as such they treated her; but when the stranger attempted to gather tax of the children who are free then they looked upon her, as a pirate, who took away their property without their consent, by violence, by arms, by guns, by oaths and damnations: This they thought looked so like piracy, that the children did not like it; and they thought their behavior as strangers, was very unpolite, that they could not so much as pass by these strangers, but the children must bow to them, and come to them; this, the children being free, did not like, and they thought it was best for the children, and the strangers, all to be free: And therefore, one night, my Lord, they went and set the strangers (who, by the way, were all prisoners), free—free upon the face of the whole earth; and then to preserve them free, they burnt their prison. Now, my Lord, would it not be hard to hang these poor men for it? However,
If there is any law broke, it is this, that the Gaspee schooner, by the power of the English ministry and admiralty, have broke the laws, and taken away the rights of the Americans. And yet the Americans must be punish’d for it, contrary to their own laws. O! Amazing! I would be glad to know my Lord, what right the king of England has to America? it cannot be an hereditary right, that lies in Hanover, it cannot be a parliamentary right that lies in Britain, not a victorious right, for the king of England never conquered America. Then he can have no more right to America, than what the people have, by compact, invested him with, which is only a power to protect them, and defend their rights civil and religious; and to sign, seal, and confirm, as their steward, such laws as the people of America shall consent to. If this be the case, my Lord, then judge whether the king of England and the ministry are not the trangressors in this affair, in sending armed schooners to America, to steal by power and sword the people’s property. And if any are to be try’d for law-breakers, it surely ought, in justice, to be them. But the people of America act my Lord very honest in the affair, they are willing to give and take, to give the English offenders the liberty to be try’d by their own laws, and to take the same liberty wherein they have offended to be tried by their own laws, as the king of England has to his crown, or that the natives of Britain has to the rights of an Englishman—consider then, my Lord, how cruel, how unjust, how unanswerable before God and man it must be, by any violence and power to destroy the rights of the Americans.
My Lord, the close of your Lordship’s letter, is such that it is enough to make the blood of every vein stand stagnated as a testimony against ministerial bloody power. It not only gives a right to every American to be angry, but to be incensed against your lordship, wherein you tell the governor of Rhode-Island, that it is his majesty’s pleasure, that General Gage, hold the troops in readiness to assist this assumed court of admiralty, to destroy the rights of the people. What my Lord, is bloody Bonner’s days so near America! O America! O America! What, the blood-power of the sword and death to aid civil magistrates to destroy the people’s rights? Stop a little my Lord, give a little breathing time—for it is a solemn thing to die. I wonder your Lordship’s knees did not smite together, when as the king’s, or ministerial agent, you wrote this authority, how a good man, a christian, and one that fears God, can be an agent not only to destroy the rights of a people, but to oppress them; with the military power of blood and death, is enough to make the earth to reel, and all heaven to stand aghast! Be astonish’d O ye heavens at this! I hope, my Lord, you do not intend to renew that bloody, barbarous assassination in America which I saw the Scotch barbarian troops thro’ the orders of Lord B——n and Lord W———h spread in St. George’s fields, remember the blood of young Allen cries to heaven for vengeance in their face, and a louder voice than Abel’s blood, which cry’d to heaven for vengeance, is still heard in Boston streets, against a bloody military power, and tho’ the murderers escaped by a scene well known to some, but too dark to explain—yet the God of truth and justice stands at the door. Supposing my Lord, that the Rhode-Islanders, for the sake of blood bought liberties of their forefathers, for the sake of the birthrights of their children, should shew a spirit of resentment against a tyrannical arbitrary power that attempts to destroy their lives, liberties and property, would it not be unsufferable, cruel, for this (which the law of nature and nations teaches them to do) to be butchered, assassinated and slaughtered in their own streets by their king? Consider, my Lord, that we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and that it would be a cold cordial for your Lordship, at the bar of God, to have thousands of Americans rise up in judgment against you. Yet I would rather this was the case, tho’ I suffer’d death with them, than they should lose their essential rights as Americans.
But it may be meet to let your Lordship know, that if the Americans unite (as there seems a good prospect of it) to stand as a band of brethren for their liberties, they have a right, by the law of God, of nature, and of nations, to reluct at, and even to resist any military and marine force, surely they must be intended in readiness for the French, and not for Americans, for can it ever enter into the heart of a mother to murder her children? of a king to kill his subjects? of an agent to destroy the rights of the colonies he represents? But suppose my Lord, that this should be the bloody intent of the ministry, to make the Americans subject to their slavery, then let blood for blood, life for life, and death for death decide the contention. This bloody scene can never be executed but at the expence of the destruction of England, and you will find, my Lord, that the Americans will not submit to be slaves, they know the use of the gun, and the military art, as well as any of his majesty’s troops at St. James’s, and where his majesty has one soldier, who art in general the refuse of the earth, America can produce fifty, free men, and all volunteers, and raise a more potent army of men in three weeks, than England can in three years. But God forbid that I should be thought to aim at rouzing the Americans to arms, without their rights, liberties and oppression call for it. For they are unwilling to beat to arms, they are loyal subjects; they love their king; they love their mother-country; they call it their home; and with nothing more than the prosperity of Britain, and the glory of their king: But they will not give up their rights; they will not be slaves to any power upon earth. Therefore, my Lord, as a peace-maker; as their agent; as their friend; lay their grievances before their king. Let the Americans enjoy their birthright blessings, and Britain her prosperity, let there be a mutual union between the mother and her children, in all the blessings of life, trade and happiness; then, my Lord, both Britons, and Americans, will call you blessed.
Wishing, from my heart, the inviolable preservation of the rights and liberties of the Americans, and the growing happiness of England:
I am, my Lord
his Majesty’s loyal subject,
and your Lordship’s
A British Bostonian
That they may do evil with both hands, earnestly, the Prince asketh, and the Judge asketh for a Reward; and the great Man he uttereth his mischievous desire: So they wrap it up.
Micah VII 3.
The faithfulness of the prophet Micah; the fidelity of his heart, and the zeal of his soul for the liberties of the people, was remarkable. His faithfulness when tyranny reigned by authority; when the laws, rights and liberties of the people were at the dispose of the arbitrary power of the wicked king Ahaz, as it is written 2 Chron. 28. 1.
And Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem, but he did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord; like David his father, Ver. 19. For the Lord brought Judah low, because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the Lord, ver. 22 And in the time of this distress did he trespass yet more and more against the Lord—this is that king Ahaz.
And therefore this faithful prophet lays the matter to heart, as one that rever’d the liberties and happiness of the people above the authority of the king, and the power of his senates. And therefore says, in the verse preceeding the text, “The good man is perished out of the earth, and there is none upright among men; they all lie in wait for blood, they hunt every man his brother with a net.” And is not this the case at this day? for what is the ministry hunting after now? is not every one hunting for their brother, with the net of admiralty-courts and tyranny? if they can but once get their American brethren in this net, they may kick and flirt as long as they will, they’ll never get out any more. It is indeed said, “In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird” and that “he has made us wiser than the fowls of the air,” but wherein will the Americans appear to be wiser than the fowls of the air, if they suffer themselves to be taken in this ministerial net?
Observe, that it was a dark time with the nation, a dark time with the church of the living God, and a very distressing time respecting the people, when Micah appeared cotemporary with Isaiah, as a prophet of the Lord, and a son of liberty, therefore he tells the oppressors of the people, “The best of them is a brier, and the most upright of them sharper than a thorn hedge—the day of the watchmen, and thy visitation cometh, now shall be their perplexity.” And is not this the case? Is not the day of the watchmen of America come, who watch for the rights of the people, as the centinels of the land, to defend them from every invasion of power and destruction? Now their visitation in Providence is come—try the watchmen whether they will stand for God, and the people, or not. Now shall be their perplexity of the ministry, who lie in wait for blood and hunt every man his brother with a net, who utter their mischievous desire, and so they wrap it up. For this faithfulness, in King Ahaz, and Hezekiah’s days, the prophet Micah’s name has a singular honor in the annals of heaven above the rest of the prophets in Israel—Jer. 17, 18, 19. because he said—“hear this I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment and pervert all equity.”
Therefore, these sayings of that pious prelate of the church of England, bishop Burnet, in his history of his own time, are noble, valuable and great; especially where he says, “there is not any thing more certain than this: That kings are made for the people, and not the people for them.” Was not David made a king for the people? Was not Saul? Was not Solomon? Then let not kings think too highly of themselves; for the God of heaven never intended they should be any more than the servants of the people; therefore the bishop adds, “that, perhaps, there is no nation under heaven more sensible of this than the English nation; so that, if the prince does not govern, by this maxim, the people will soon grow very unkind to him.” If this be the case, the king of England may immediately see the reason of all his people’s hard speeches, and unkindness to him: It is because he has departed, either by inclination, or persuasion, from this royal standard. Therefore he adds, “the interest, and essential rule for a king is to study the interest of the nation; to be ever in it; to be always pursuing it:” This will lay such a degree of confidence in him, that he will ever be safe in the people, while they feel they are safe in him; and not a moment longer. So that if the king of England is not happy let him thank himself for it: It is not his people’s fault—it is his own. For that king is not worthy to reign, that does not make the rights of his people the rule of his actions: Knowing this, that he receives all his power, and majesty, from them; and how can he think that he has any right to rule over them, unless he rules in their hearts by inviolable maintaining their rights? For as the ministers of the gospel (when in their proper place) are no otherwise than the people’s servants; so the king is no more than the servant of the people: And when at any time, he is unfaithful, as the people’s servant, they have a right to say to him, “give an account of thy stewardship, that thou mayest be no longer steward.” For what can he judge, when a free and affectionate people, lay their grievances, with tears, at his feet, praying, for years past, for redress? and yet he will not hear them!!! Or if he does, he answers them like Rehoboam—roughly: What can he expect, but Rehoboam’s revolution? “What part have we in David? Or what portion have we in the son of Jesse? Every man to thy tent, O Israel.” And there, the pious bishop further observes, “that a prince that would command the affections, and praise of the nation, should not study to stretch his prerogative”; here I think the pious bishop missed it, for it is not his prerogative but the people’s; and this is what makes it so unsufferable, and unbearable, that the king should make use of their power and prerogative, to destroy their rights: This Charles Stewart did, and he fell into the hands of wicked men, and they cut off his head for it.
But to proceed to the words of the text. “That they may do evil with both hands earnestly; the prince asketh, and the judge asketh for a reward, and the great man he uttereth his mischievous desire: So they wrap it up.”
Observation the first.
It is then plain that a craving, absolute prince, is a great distress to a people.
The prince asketh! What does he ask for? Why the tall pine trees, for masts for his great ships; well, let him have them, not as his right, no, but as your gift to him. Well, but the prince asketh? Well, what does he ask now? Why, that the British streets may be paved with American gold; well do not make a word about that? let him have it, but let it be in the fair way of trade, and commerce, not by taxation, and oppression. The essence of money, lies, in what money buys. This England can furnish you with.
But the prince asketh? Well what is it? will he never have done asking? What does he ask now? Have patience, and you shall hear, well what is it? Why it is the favour of the government of Rhode Island, to hold a court of admiralty to authorize them to confine suspected persons (guilty or not guilty), and drag them away three thousand miles, to take their trial by a jury of strangers, if not enemies. But the granting of this, in some measure, depends upon the consent of the governor. But all governors (who are worthy the name) are such as the scripture describes Judges 5. 9. “My heart, says one, nay every American will say the same, is towards the governours who offer themselves willingly among the people,” to rule by their laws, to defend the rights of the people, to protect their persons, to secure their liberties. And this is (we hear) the happiness, power and bulwark of Rhode Island government. For its safety lies in this, that the governor of the province, and the judges of the superior court, the representatives of the people, and general assembly, are solemnly bound by oath, to rule, govern and decide, and determine only by their own laws; if so, they have a right to tell the prince, that though he asketh yet he will ask in vain.
But the prince asketh, what now does he ask? Will he never have done asking? Well, but what does he ask? Why he asketh, the women, the wives upon the government of Rhode Island, to spare their husbands from their beds, from their bosoms, from their arms, and from their children; to be confin’d in the horrid kingdom of a man of war’s crew; to be transported back again to tyranny their forfathers fled from, to a land of snares, and the shadow of death. This may be thought to be harsh language, and by the ministry, a hard saying who can bear it? But it is not a hair’s breadth more in meaning, than the intended power and tyranny of this new court of admiralty. And will you not submit to it? No! that is right; I am glad of it, but perhaps, it may be thought rather hard, when a prince asketh, not to grant so small a favour.
But the text likewise says—The Judge asketh for a reward. The judges have the key of the laws, the hearts of the lawyers, and the power of juries, too much in their own hands. The lives of the people, the rights of the subject, and the disposal of their property, was originally intended to be determined by juries only. But as the judges have assumed by custom, a power of dictating to lawyers even at the bar, and a direction to the jury; it highly becomes them more than ever, to be men fearing God and hating covetousness. Therefore it is an ill sound to hear that the judge asketh for a reward, what can it be for? sure it cannot be for freeing the King street murderers, or pleading that it was only manslaughter; if he k—w that it was wilful murder. No doubt but this act of kindness will be rewarded, if not at the judgment seat of Christ, which some despise; yet at the bar of God, when, he shall say, arise ye dead and come to judgment: Then there will be no setting aside a witness in Mr. P——ms case, nor no other.
Again the text saith,
The Judge asketh for a reward! Well, what reward is it, a reward from the crown of Britain? if so, not to let him have it, by no means: For if once the judges of the courts of judicatory of this province become dependent for their support, or salaries, upon the favour of the crown, or ministry at home, you become a nation of slaves to ministerial power; for thereby you submit the key of all your essential rights as Americans, to be in the hands of your enemies: For if you suffer the judges to become dependent for their pay upon the ministry of England, what are they but the ministry’s servants. If so, you may naturally suppose, they must do as the ministry directs them; if not, they will be unfaithful servants; and if faithful to the ministry, where then are your rights? Where is the security of your lives, or your property. For a more bolder, daring innovation upon your right of power, decision and determination by your own laws, respecting your right and property between man and man, between the crown of England, and the rights of America, cannot possibly be made, or attempted to be made, than to make your judges dependent upon the British ministry; it is in effect, giving up your right to all you have, to all that you, or your children can ever possess. As the possession of a person’s right, whether hereditary, or by purchase, depends much upon the determination of the judges. And if the judges are wholly to be dependent upon the crown of England, for nomination and support, then you may easily judge whose servants and slaves you are to be. For it is well known that the judges, or general courts, or some body, has for these hundred years, and more, distressed their brethren in their estates, and in their consciences, by imposing payment for ministers, and for a worship of God contrary to the people’s consciences; and if they have done these things in the green tree, what may you not expect in the dry.
But as the text says, The Judge asketh for a reward. If it be for his fidelity in his high office, for his honourable support, according to the dignity of his character, you are bound in duty, in affection, and in obedience to let him have it. Shew your affection, readiness and gratitude, to reward your judges, as the guardians of your rights; as those who from their hearts, should protect and hand forth the liberties of their brethren to them. This is the way to become a band of brethren from the governor, to the meanest subject. Perhaps, the whole of your complaint in this respect, is owing for want of your taking an earlier opportunity, to settle such salaries, as their merit, labour and expence deserves.
Yet let not this lead us from the observation, which was, that, an asking, craving, absolute prince, is a great distress to a people. Was not this the case of the people in King Ahaz, and in King Ahab’s day, when he crav’d Naboth’s vineyard? Likewise in Jeroboam’s days, who deprived the people of their religious liberties, in worshipping the God of Israel, in his temple at Jerusalem? who set up his golden calves at Dan and Bethel, of whom it is said, this is Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who taught Israel to sin. Was not this the case in Zedekiah’s days, though he was warned by the word of the Lord, and by the prophet of the God of Israel? Yet he was, notwithstanding, absolute and craving, though he was told, it would end in the destruction of himself, and his people. Was not this the case of almost all the distress, deaths, and bloodshed, that have ever happened in England since the conquest of Julius Cæsar? their king’s ruling and reigning, by a dispotic power, which they assumed, contrary to the laws and rights of the people. Were not the Britons obliged by the love of liberty, to obtain their royal Magna Charta, sword in hand, from King John? Was not this the case in the reign of Charles the first, when the people and parliament took up arms, to maintain the rights and laws of the people; and when it required either the head of the king, or the loss of their liberties? they soon decided the matter; they soon let the king know that they rever’d their rights and liberties, above his life, power, and prerogative. In Charles the second’s reign, there was much the same absolute power over the rights of the people, both civil and religious: But he had a peculiar politeness of temper in pleasing even his very enemies. In James the second’s reign, dispotic power was too evident, and distressing for the people to bear; therefore a revolution, both of king, and state, by the spirit, power, and arms, of the people, was soon accomplished.
The second observation is,
That when the king, judges, and senates, unite to destroy the rights of the people by a dispotic power, or as the text expresses it, that they may do evil with both hands, then the prosperity of the nation totters; the crown shakes; and the destruction of the people’s rights is near at hand. For the rights of the people, which is the supreme glory of the crown and kingdom of Britain, is the Magna Charta of the king as well as of the people; it is as much his previledge, as it is his glory, to maintain their rights; and he is as much under a law (I mean the law of the rights of the people), as the people are under the oath of allegiance to him. And therefore whatever power destroys their rights, destroys at the same time, his right to reign, or any right to his kingdom, crown, or glory; nay, his right to the name of a king among the people. Was not this the case in Rehoboam’s days, when the people were distressed with large and heavy taxations, and oppressions? they petitioned the king to relieve them from such oppressions, but would he hearken to them, according to the advice of his father’s counsellors? No! but according to the advice of his young counsel, he answered them like an arbitrary prince, in the speech of his dispotic ministry, roughly, My father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions: But, would the people bear this oppression? No! What part, said they, have we in David? Or what portion in the son of Jesse? To thy tents, Oh Israel. Was not this the case in Zedekiah’s reign? And was not this lately the case in Sweeden, when the king with a few of his senates, and ministry, about him, destroyed the rights of the people, by the power of the sword, and established his despotic will as the law of the land, by the tyranny of death?
Observation the third,
This shews, that an arbitrary dispotic power in a prince, is the ruin of a nation, of the king, of the crown, and of the subjects; therefore it is to be feared, abhorred, detested and destroyed, because the happiness of the king, and the prosperity of the people are hereby, not only in danger, but upon the brink of destruction. Every age and every history furnishes us with proofs, as clear as the light of the morning, of the truth of this.
But it is the singular happiness of the Americans, according to their own laws, not to be in bondage to any power upon the earth. The king of England, has no power to enact, or put in force any law that may oppress them, his very attempting to do it, at once destroys his right to reign over them. For the brightest gem which the king of England wears, in the british crown, is that majesty, trust, and confidence, which the Americans invest him with as the king and guardian of their rights, and liberties.
The Parliament of England cannot justly make any laws to oppress, or defend the Americans, for they are not the representatives of America, and therefore they have no legislative power either for them or against them.
The house of Lords cannot do it, for they are peers of England, not of America; and, if neither king, lords, nor commons, have any right to oppress, or destroy, the liberties of the Americans, why is it then, that the Americans, do not stand upon their own strength, and shew their power, and importance, when the life of life, and every liberty that is dear to them and their children is in danger?
Therefore, let me address you with all the power of affection, with all the pathos of soul, as one who esteems the full possession of the rights of the Americans, as the highest blessing of this life—to stand alarm’d! See your danger, death is near, destruction is at the door—need I speak? Are not your harbours blockaded from you? Your castle secured by captives—your lives destroyed—revenues imposed upon you—taxation laid—military power oppressing—your charter violated—your g——r’s heart not right—your constitution is declining—your liberties departing, and not content with this, they now attack the life, the soul, and capitol of all your liberties—to chuse your judges, and make them independent upon you for office or support, and erect new courts of admiralty to take away by violence, the husband from his family, his wife, his home, his friends, and his all, through a scene, less joyful than Pluto’s horrid kingdom. To be confin’d, and tried for his life by the accusation of a negro.
Has not the voice of your father’s blood cry’d yet loud enough in your ears, in your hearts “ye sons of America scorn to be slaves”? Have you not heard the voice of blood in your own streets, louder than that which reached to heaven, that cry’d for vengeance, that was, saith the Lord to Cain, the voice of thy brother’s blood, of only one, but this of many brethren. Therefore, if there be any vein, any nerve, any soul, any life or spirit of liberty in the sons of America, show your love for it; guard your freedom, prevent your chains; stand up as one man for your liberty; for none but those, who set a just value upon this blessing, are worthy the enjoyment of it.
Which leads me to the fifth [sic] observation, which is,
That it is not rebellion, I declare it before God, the congregation, and all the world, and I would be glad if it reached the ears of every Briton, and every American; That it is no rebellion to oppose any king, ministry, or governor, that destroys by any violence or authority whatever, the rights of the people. Shall a man be deem’d a rebel that supports his own rights? it is the first law of nature, and he must be a rebel to God, to the laws of nature, and his own conscience, who will not do it. A right to the blessing of freedom we do not receive from kings, but from heaven, as the breath of life, and essence of our existence; and shall we not preserve it, as the beauty of our being? Do not the birds of the air expand their wings? the fish of the sea their fins? and the worm of the earth turn again when it is trod upon? And shall it be deem’d rebellion? Heaven forbid it! Shall Naboth’s disputing with King Ahab, respecting his vineyard, be deemed rebellion? Or the people sending home their governor in irons some years ago, be deemed rebellion? It is no more rebellion, than it is to breathe.
Sixthly, to observe,
That when the rights and liberties of the people are destroyed, it is commonly by the mischievous design of some great man. The text says, the great man uttereth his mischievous desire: But who this great man is, we do not certainly know, but may shrewdly guess; but whether Lord Bute, duke of Grafton; or Lord Hillsborough, is not material, but the mischievous design, is what we fear, is what we feel, if they instill in the king’s mind a divine right of authority to command his subjects, this is mischievous. King Charles found it so, Rehoboam found it so, and so will our present king, if he hearkens to such advice.
If they make the name of the king sacred, I hope they mean a political sacredness: If so, he is no more sacred than the people have made him, by investing him with the sacred trust of their rights. If any great man, or the whole ministry makes use of the king’s name, or his authority, to enforce their arbitrary will, as a law to the subjects, that the subjects must obey, and passively submit, because, say they, it is his majesty’s will and pleasure: This is a mischievous design—mischievous to the dignity of the crown—to his majesty’s person—to his security—to his family—and their safety. It is likewise mischievous to his majesty’s subjects, as it spreads discord, disunion and disaffection to the king, to his authority, and power, which is a mournful consideration, and is the bane of all our national distress. The people in England, and the people in America, would fain love their king, and obey him with reverence, and affection, and make him the most happy prince upon the earth, if he would but prevent this mischievous design of the ruin of their essential rights and liberties.
But the text says, “The great man uttereth his mischievous desire”—and indeed we believe he does, in the closet, in the cabinet, and in the ears of the king. Oh! it is a mischievous design, too deep for us to fathom, or come to the bottom of, it carries in it the plain aspect of distress to the king, and distruction to the people. Oh! kind heaven, prevent what king and people have too much cause to fear; however, at best, it is a mischievous design to alienate (by any direction, or dictation) the affections of his majesty’s good subjects; as it destroys the bonds, and ties, of national blessings; their rights, their liberties; their lives; their properties: And if this is not a mischievous design there can scarce be one found out of the deeps of the dark mansions.
But to return to you, my dear Americans, you think hard to pay duties for teas, imports, clearances, entries, &c. &c. But what will you farmers and landholders think, of paying a fixed tax for every acre of land you enjoy? for every apple tree you rear? for every barrel of cyder you make, for every pound of candles you burn? for every pound of soap you use, for every pair of shoes you wear, for the light of the morning, and the sun, that a kind heaven gives you; what do you think of paying a continual tax for all these? this is contain’d in the mischievous design. Stand alarm’d, O ye Americans. But I close with the last remark from the text. So they wrap it up. It will do, it will do say they. The king, say they, has a right to appoint judges, courts of admiralty, impose revenues, lay taxes, send military forces, block up their harbours, command them—compel them by arms—pay their judges—get the key of their laws, rights and liberties into our hands, this will do! and so they wrap it up, as fine and smooth as can be: But I think it is better to unwrap it again. What do you think, my dear Americans? But I add no more—but advise you, as it is a day of public thanksgiving, to bless God for the liberties and mercies we do enjoy; not for those you are deprived of. My second advice is, love your king, pray for him, pray for your governor, pray for your judges, that all their reign may be easy to themselves, and happy for the people.
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