Dickinson: The King of Kings Bestows Rights, Not the State

They Were Believers, John Dickinson

To talk of your “charter” gentlemen, on this occasion, is but weakening the cause by relying on false aids. Your opinion on this head seems to be borrowed from the doctrine of the unhappy Stuarts. They thought, or pretended to think, all the liberties of the subject were mere favours granted by charters from the crown. Of consequence, all claims of liberties not expressly mentioned in those charters, were regarded as invasions of the prerogative, which according to them, was a power vested in the prince, they could not tell how, for no better purpose than to do as he pleased. But what said the nation? They asserted, that the royal charters were declarations but not gifts of liberties, made as occasions required, on those points in which they were most necessary, without enumerating the rest; and that the prerogative was a power vested in one for the benefit of all.

Kings or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness, as you confess those invaded by the Stamp Act to be. We claim them from a Higher source—from the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence, which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives. In short, they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice. It would be an insult on the divine Majesty to say, that he has given or allowed any man or body of men a right to make me miserable If no man or body of men has such a right, I have a right to be happy. If there can be no happiness without freedom, I have a right to be free. If I cannot enjoy freedom without security of property, I have a right to be thus secured. If my property cannot be secure, in case others over whom I have no kind of influence may take it from me by taxes, under pretense of the public good, and for enforcing their demands, may subject me to arbitrary, expensive, and remote jurisdictions, I have an exclusive right to lay taxes on my own property, either by myself or those I can trust; of necessity to judge in such instances of the public good; and to be exempt from such jurisdictions.—But no man can be secure in his property, who is “liable to impositions, that have Nothing BUT THE WILL OF THE IMPOSTERS to direct them in the measure;” and that make “JUSTICE TO CROUCH UNDER THEIR LOAD.”

Thus you prove, gentlemen, that the fatal act you allude to in these expressions, is destructive of our property, our freedom, our happiness: that it is inconsistent with reason and justice; and subversive of those sacred rights which GOD himself from the infinity of his benevolence has bestowed upon mankind.

Source: John Dickinson. “The Writings of John Dickinson: Political Writings, 1764-1774,” Volume 1, p. 260-264. Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Edited by Paul Leichester Ford 1895. Spelling has been modernized and corrected where necessary for easier reading.

They Were Believers are researched, compiled, edited (with occasional comments and explanatory notes) by Steve Farrell. Copyright © 2012 Steve Farrell.