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early embraced the idea “ of a general union of the British empire, in which every part of its wide dominions should be represented under one equal and uniform direction, and system of laws;” and though the congress of New York drew from him a tardy concession that an American representation was impossible, yet his heart still turned to his original opinion, and, in his prevailing mood, he shrunk from the thought of independence. The ruling passion of Samuel Adams, on the contrary, was the preservation of the distinctive character and institutions of New England. He understood the tendency of the measures adopted by parliament; approved of making the appeal to Heaven, since freedom could not otherwise be preserved; and valued the liberties of his country more than its temporal prosperity, more than his own life, more than the lives of all. His theory, on which the colonies were to rest their defence of their separate rights till the dawn of better days, as a small but gallant army waits for aid within well-chosen lines, he imbodied in the form of a letter from the assembly of the province to their agent. On the sixth of January, and for the evening and morning of many succeeding days, the paper was under severe examination in the house. Seven times it was revised : every word was weighed ;
every sentence considered; and each seemingly harsh expression tempered and refined. At last, on the
twelfth of January, the letter was adopted, to be sent to the agent, communicated to the British ministry, and published to the world.
Disclaiming the most distant thought of independence of the mother country, provided they could have the free enjoyment of their rights, the house affirmed that “the British constitution hath its foundation in the law of God and nature; that, in every free state, the supreme legislature derives its power from the constitution,” and is bounded and circumscribed “by its fundamental rules."
That the right to property exists by a law of nature, they upheld, on the one side, against “Utopian schemes of a community of goods ;” on the other, against all acts of the British parliament taxing the colonists.
“ In the time of James II.,” they continued, “ the crown and its ministers, without the intervention of parliament, demolished charters and levied taxes in the colonies at pleasure. Our case is more deplorable and remediless. Our ancestors found relief by the interposition of parliament; but by the intervention of that very power we are taxed, and can appeal from their decision to no power on earth.”
They further set forth the original contract between the king and the first planters, as the royal promise in behalf of the English nation; their title by the common law and by statute law to all the liberties and privileges of natural born subjects of the realm ; and the want of equity in taxing colonies whose manufactures were prohibited and whose trade was restrained.
Still more, they objected to the appropriation of the revenues from the new duties to the support of American civil officers and an American army, as introducing an absolute government. The judges in the colonies held their commissions at the pleasure of the crown; if their salaries were to be independent, a corrupt governor might employ men who would “ deprive a bench of justice of its glory, and the people of their security.” Nor need the money be applied by parliament to protect the colonists; they were never backward in defending themselves, and, when treated as free subjects, they always granted aids of their own accord, to the extent of their ability, and even beyond it. Nor could a standing army among them secure their dependence; they had towards the mother country an English affection, which would for ever keep them connected with her, unless it should be erased by repeated
They objected to the establishment of commissioners of the customs, as an expense needless in itself, and dangerous to their liberties from the increase of crown officers. Still more, they expressed alarm at the act conditionally suspending the powers of the assembly of New York, and thus annihilating its legislative authority.
“King James and his successors,” thus they proceeded,
“ broke the copartnership of the supreme legislative with the supreme executive, and the latter could not exist without the former. In these remote dominions, there should be a free legislative; otherwise, strange effects are to be apprehended, for the laws of God and nature are invariable.”
To Shelburne, Chatham, Rockingham, Conway, Camden, the treasury board, at which sat Grafton, Lord North, and Jenkinson, the house of representatives next addressed letters which especially enforced the impracticability of an American representation in the British parliament. But no memorial was sent to the lords; no petition to the house of commons. The colonial legislature joined issue with the British parliament, and, adopting the draft of Samuel Adams, approached the king with their petition.
To him, in beautifully simple language, they recounted the story of the colonization of Massachusetts; the forfeiture of their first charter; and the confirmation to them, on the revolution, of their most essential rights and liberties; the principal of which was that most sacred right of being taxed only by representatives of their own free election. They complained that the acts of parliament, “imposing taxes in America, with the express purpose of raising a revenue, left them only the name of free subjects.”
Relief by an American representation in parliament they declare to be “utterly impracticable;” and they referred the consideration of their present circumstances to the wisdom and clemency of the king.
In the several papers which, after a fortnight's
anxious deliberation, were adopted by the assembly, not one line betrays haste or hesitation. It remained for the house “to inform the other governments with its proceedings against the late acts, that, if they thought fit, they might join therein.” But this, it was said in a house of eighty-two members, would be considered, in England, as appointing a second congress; and the negative prevailed by a vote of two to one.
At this appearance of indecision, Bernard conceived “great hopes ;” but the hesitancy in the assembly had proceeded not from timidity, but caution. The members
spoke with one another in private, till they more clearly perceived the imminence and extent of the public danger. Then, on the fourth day of February, a motion was made to reconsider the vote against writing to the other colonies. The house was counted; eighty-two were again found to be present; the question was carried by a large majority, and the former vote erased from the journals.
On the same day, the house after debate appointed a committee to inform each house of representatives or burgesses on the continent of the measure which it had taken ; and on the eleventh they accepted, almost unanimously, a masterly circular letter which Samuel Adams had drafted.
Expressing a firm confidence that the united supplications of the distressed Americans would meet with the favorable acceptance of the king, they set forth the importance that proper constitutional measures respecting the acts of parliament imposing taxes on the colonies should be adopted; and that the representatives of the several assemblies upon so delicate a point should harmonize with each other. They made known their “ disposition freely to communicate their mind to a sister colony, upon a common concern.”
They then imbodied the substance of all their representations to the ministry: that the legislative power of parliament is circumscribed by the constitution, and is selfdestroyed whenever it overleaps its bounds; that allegiance, as well as sovereignty, is limited ; that the right to property is an essential, unalterable one, engrafted into the British system, and to be asserted, exclusive of any consideration of charters; that taxation of the colonies by the British parliament, in which they are not represented, is an in. fringement of their natural and constitutional rights; that an equal representation of the American people in parliament is for ever impracticable; that their partial representation would be worse even than taxation without their consent. They further enumerated as grievous the independent civil list for crown officers; the billeting act; and the large powers of the resident commissioners of the customs.
“ Your assembly” they continued, “ is too generous and
liberal in sentiment to believe that this letter proceeds from an ambition of taking the lead, or dictat
ing to the other assemblies. They freely submit their opinions to the judgment of others, and shall take it kind in you to point out to them any thing further that may
be thought necessary.”
A fair copy of this circular was transmitted to England, to be produced in proof of its true spirit and design; they drew their system of conduct from reason itself, and despised concealment.