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A Brief State of the Claim of the Colonies by Thomas Hutchinson

A Brief State of the Claim of the Colonies and the Interest of the Nation with Respect to Them


By Thomas Hutchinson


[11–23 July 1764] Sir, The Oftner I read your remarks upon the rights of the Colonists & the late proceedings in parliament with respect to them the more I am pleased with your Candor as well as good Sense and if I carry some points a little further in their favour than you do perhaps it is owing to an insensible bias which I am under from being a Colonist myself. Before I enter upon the Subject give me leave to observe to you that the Colonists like all the rest of his Majesties subjects ^the human race^ are of different Spirits & dispositions some more calm & moderate others more violent & extravagant, and if now & then some rude & indecent things are thrown out in print in one place & another I hope such things will not be considered as coming from the Colonists in general but from particular persons warmed by the ^intemperate^ zeal shall I say of Englishmen in support of what upon a sudden appears to them to be their rights. I intirely agree with you & I think the body of the people in the several Colonies do so likewise. That it is reasonable British Colonies should ever remain subject to the controul of Britain & consequently must be bound by the determinations of the supreme authority there the British parliament. You allow that it is possible for such a parliament to pass Acts which may abridge British Subjects of what are generally called natural rights and I am willing to go farther & will suppose that in some cases it is reasonable & necessary even though such rights should have been strengthned & confirmed by the most solemn Sanctions & engagements. The rights of parts & individuals must be given up when the safety of the whole ^shall^ depen[d upon] it. If the Kentish privileges of Gavelkind shall be found prejudicial to th[e pub]lick the parliament may very justly take them away and shall I go too far [if I all]ow that even the Charter of London may be vacated or which is ^supposed to be^ still far[ther] that any Article of the union with Scotland may be repealed not for sm[all re]asons but for the sake of the publick safety. On the other hand such is the [wis]dom & justice of a British Parliament that in all Acts a tender rega[rd w]ill be had to all rights natural & acquired of every Subject. Now I sub[mit i]t to your Consideration whether the Case of the Colonists is not somewh[at sim]ilar to that of the Inhabitants of Scotland. The Scotch would not agr[ee to] the Union without certain Stipulations one of which was that they [shou]ld be taxed ever after in such manner & such proportion as was agree[d and n]o other; the Colonists would not leave their native Country unt[il it] was stipulated & agreed either by Charter or Commissions for I consi[der] them both as a perpetual rule of Government for the respective Colo[nie]s that they should have Assemblies of their own chusing to ma[ke] laws for their government to raise monies by taxes &c besides this [gen]eral Clause in all Charters &Commissions that the Inhabitants should enjoy all the privileges ^&^ immunities of free & natural Subjects. I do not say that the proportion of Taxes which Scotland shall pay shall never be altered, nor that the parliament shall never tax the ^Inhabitants of the^ Colonies but I think they never will do the one or the other without some manifest special Reason which did not subsist nor was foreseen at the time of the respective Stipulations. If it should occurr to you that the agreement with Scotland was by the parliament that with the Colonists by the prince only I have no idea of an Act of parliament which it will not be in the power of a subsequent parliament to alter or repeal & if the agreement made by the prince was no more than what he had a right to make the parliament will always be equally tender of violating such agreement as they would the Acts of any former parliaments. Now I conceive these engagements made by the Prince were no more than what by his prerogative as it was then understood he had good right to make & that the Subject has just the same security from it as he would have from an Act of parlt. The right to new acquired Countreys according to the Constitution of England two hundred years ago for the Constitution alters, ^I take it^ was allowed to be in the Crown, & how far can that proof be ^If it should be said that this^ is a Subject perhaps ^which^ has never been fully discussed & I am not anxious ^do not know^ that it ever should be ^has been however^ it seems enough for my purpose that the Crown from time to time disposed of these Countries not only to their own Subjects but to foreign princes particularly Acadie & Nova Scotia began to be settled by British Subjects were ceded to France although France had no better claim to them than to New England, & Surinam was sold to or exchanged with the Dutch. The agreements made with the Subjects who went into the Colonies were known to all the world, the parliament from time to time instead of discouraging have shewn all countenance to the proceeding & at the Revolution the House of Commons resolved that the prosecution of quo warrantos against the Colonies & the surrender of their Charters to the violation of their ancient Rights & Privileges grievances. Will it not be then accounted an unfair proceeding with the Colonists after above an hundred years more than tacit approbation of such Contracts to call in question the right of the Crown to make itself a party to them—Let us then consider what this Privilege is which the Colonists claim & how far it is reasonable it should be continued to them. They claim a power of making Law & a privilege of exemption from taxes except by their own Representatives. This power & privilege they say is granted in express Terms in the Commissions & Charters & it is implied in the general term the privileges of natural born English Subjects. Here I readily acknowledge that in the very nature of a Colony they are ^it is^ to remain the Appendage of the Mother State, any Laws therefore of the Colonies that should ^may^ have a tendency to break off this Connection it cannot be supposed should have any force, but it is highly reasonable that by the Laws of the mother Country a restraint should be laid as from time to time shall be necessary, nor it cannot besupposed that a Colony should be tolerated either in any branch of Trade or in any other matter or thing which shall cause advantage to a foreign State & prejudice to the mother Country & although this restraint deprives them of privileges which their fellow Subjects in the mother Country enjoy yet as you very justly observe it is no more than is reasonable to part with in return for the protection received against foreign Enemies. I am therefore far from imagining the Colonists to be independent of the parliament but I consider the parliament as suspending the exercise of certain powers over the Colonists which would ha[ve] been in constant exercise if they had remained in the mother Count[ry.] I am mistaken if Rome did not treat her Colonies in this manner. You know the Territories dependent on ancient Rome were distinguished by Provinciæ Municipiæ & Coloniæ. The first being conquered Countries were subject to such Magistrates & such Regulations as the Senate thought fit to appoint & determine. Such were Sicily Sardinia &c. From these whilst the Lands were suffered to remain to the Conquered arose the vestigalia the Genus of which there were many Species as Stipendium Tribatum Decuma, Scriptura Portorium &c. The Municipiæ are said to be Cities not originally part of the Roman State but such as had voluntarily or otherwise been annexed to it & were allowed to use their old form of Magistracy & to be governed by their own Laws unless the Inhabitants were admitted to a Suffrage at Rome & then they were obliged wholly to submit to Roman Laws & renounce their own. The Coloniæ which are to my purpose were formed out of Roman Citizens or inhabitants of Latium & led forth to take possession of & inhabit Countries acquired by the Roman People & one reason given for settling Colonies was to increase the Roman [blank space in MS]. Those that were not too remote from the City retained the Privileges of Citizens to all intents & purposes. Cicero was a native of Appinium & that part of Gaul had a voice in Elections appears from one of his Epistles to Atticus Quoniam videtur in Suffragiis multum posse Gallia. The distant Colonies could not exercise the Privileges of Citizens in Rome. They were therefore allowed them within themselves, they retained the same form of Government a Colony was called the Effigies Parva of the mother State. The Duumviratus was a magistracy with much the same power as that of the Consuls or perhaps with both Consular & prætorian power for it is said Prætors are not mentioned by ancient Authors among Colony Officers. The Decuriones were the Senators & every Colony had an Assembly of the people. They had Censors Ædiles & Questors of their own electing. Indeed When Cæsar deprived Rome itself of her Liberties no wonder he did her Colonies also. I remember mention of his appointing an Officer in one of the Colonies, somewhere in Ciceros Epistles. Not only the Coloniæ when first planted but also the provinciæ when changed into Coloniæ as was sometimes the case were freed from the vestigal of every sort. The Campanian fields paid large tribute to Rome and Rullus attempted a popular measure to turn them into a Colony but was prevented by Cicero. A passage in his Oration against Rullus setts this matter in aclear light. I know Plutarch says that before the time of the Grachi the Colonies contributed to the support of the State & that Livius Drusus a Tribune of the people decreed the planting twelve Colonies to consist of 3000 ^men^ to be free from all payments, & that this was contrary to what before had been the practice, and this seems to have been reasonable in the early days of Rome when the inhabitants of the Colonies retained all the Privileges of Citizens not being remote from the City. By the removal of their Persons & Estates there was a deficiency in the census & yet they received protection in common with the Inhabitants of Rome. The deficiency therefore was made good by a pension from the Colony to which they removed; but all Authors agree that in after times when Colonies were sent to a greater distance and supported a magistracy & government within themselves they were free from every kind of tribute. It can be to no purpose to mention the modern Colonies. The French Spaniards & Danes are content with their Chains they use to wear them at home & are not intitled to greater privileges abroad. The Dutch & Genoese some may say are free States & yet they govern their Colonies as arbitrarily as the French or Spaniards. The Subjects of the States in Europe under the name of a Commonwealth & of Genoa under that of an Aristocracy are perhaps as great Slaves as those of France or Spain. If I must have an absolute master I had rather have but one especially if he be a wise one than a great number. A Dutchman therefore is as content to have his Life & Liberty at the mercy of a Governor at Surinam or Curasoe as of Deputies & Burg[o]masters in Holland for he has no more concern in the Election or rem[ova]l of one than of the other. The Inhabitants of Britain only are free in Europe & the Inhabitants of Bri[tish] Colonies only feel the loss of freedom, they feel it the more sensibly because they never expected it they thought it doubly secured as their natural rights & by virtue of the most solemn engagements. I will only add that it does not seem to be an unreasonable proposition, that the inhabitants of Colony are intitled to all the privileges they enjoyed in their mother Country which will consist with their dependance upon it. I expect you are ready to ask me what I am afraid of. The Parliament you will say as I acknowledge have a right to regulate & restrain the trade of the Colonies & even absolutely to prohibit certain branches by laing Duties then surely you have less reason to complain than if you were altogether restrained from trading in such Articles upon which the Duties are laid. When the Parliament touches your interior parts by excises Stamp Duties poll taxes & it may be quitrents you will have some reason to complain. I cannot help wondering at this distinction which I have often heard made by men every way superior to myself. Is it for the sake of regulating trade or to raise money from the Colonies that the Duties are laid by the late Act of Parliament? If the former why should not the money arising by such duties be paid into the Treasuries of the Colonies respectively where it is raised rather than into the Exchequer besides what need was there of any Regulation of the Trade to Madera or the Western Islands? It must therefore be for the sake of the money arising from the Duties &if so how are the privileges of the people less affected than by an internal tax. Is it any difference to me whether I pay three pounds ten shillings duty for a pipe of wine to an officer of Impost or whether I pay the same Sum by an excise of ninepence per Gall to an excise Officer or would an old Roman have thought his Privileges less affected by the Portorium than by the Stipendium or Decumæ. However if there appears to the parliament to be an esssential difference & it be a favour to us that we have no interior taxes laid I acquiesce & if I can not have all I would am willing to obtain as much of it as may be. ^But are we sure of Retaining even this.^ You have sufficiently answered the objection made to our claim of freedom from taxes unless represented in parliament vizt. that the people of England cannot be said one tenth part of them to be represented as no greater proportion have a Voice in Elections & therefore the Colonies can have no claim to it, but besides your observation that every man of property in England has his influence in Elections & may have his voice if he will. I begg leave to add that Acts of Parliament do not generally respect individuals. I am ^either^ a landed man in trade of this or that part of the Kingdom, whatever my interest is it is represented & the concern of particular Members or set of Members in Parliament but what Member can be said to be the representative of the Colonies more than all the rest. Are not the Colonies considered as detached & having a distinct interest from the Interest of the Nation. Is not the Parliament Party & Judge. Is it not a general question what can be done to make the Colonies further beneficial to the Nation? Nobody adds consistent with their Rights. In short do you not consider us as your property to improve in the best way you can for your Advantage. One of my Neighbours a poor man in the Country has ten or twelve Sons, as soon as they came to be capable of Labour he seemed to have less Affection for them than he had for his Cattle, some he sent upon Wages to Sea some he sold as Soldiers to relieve men who had been impressed. I asked him how he could be so unnatural to his own flesh & Blood he replied the boys had been a Charge to him until they were eight or ten years Old & he thought it reasonable they should reimburse what they had cost him. I could not help thinking of the Nation & her Colonies & they were in danger of being treated in the same manner but without the same reason most of them having been settled without any expence to the Mother Country. [I h]ave not forgot the Concession I made that whatever opinion we have of our Rights the parliament must be the final Judges & it is possible that it may be determined that the natural right of a Colonist is not the same with the natural right of an Inhabitant of Britain & that the Colonists have no sufficient Plea from their Charters or Commissions for exemption from parliamentary taxes &c the Authority of Parliament not being liable to controul from such Charters or Commissions. I would humbly hope notwithstanding that we shall be considered in equity & if we have not ^strictly^ a claim of right we have of favour. I know of none of the Colonies except the two last settled Georgia & Halifax which occasioned any Charge to the Crown or Kingdom in the Settlement of them. Virginia indeed was along time burdensome to particular undertakers & great Sums of money were expended for there was no Spirit for Colonizing, everybody who could do it chose to stay at home. Sir Ferdinando Gorges who was a principal adventurer in settling Colonies in the beginning of the last Century says in a History of some of the Colonies published by his grandson after his death that he could not get people for money to reside there. A new Cause arose or else you would have had no Colonies at this day. Arbitrary measures in the reigns of King James & King Charles drove such as were & who expected an entire change of the Constitution in England to seek an Asylum in America. The people of the Massachusetts were the first who fled for the sake of civil & Religious Liberty, from them all the other Colonies in New England Sprang. This was about the year 1630 & between that & 1640 multides left England & flocked over to America but with this expectation & assur^depend^ance that what^ever^ changes ^should^ come upon England their Liberties should be safe. After 1640 we hear of no great Embarkations from England for America. The bare charge of transporting themselves Families Stock of Cattle & necessary houshold stuff amounted to Two hundred thousand pounds Sterling. They had most of them Estates in England which they Sold & laid out the produce of them in improving the Lands in America which were of no value without, & they & their posterity for 130 years together have been continually spending their strength & their Acquisitions of every sort in rendering the Country more & more valuable. They have enjoyed their civil & Religious ^Liberties^ to their content which has caused them with greater chearfulness to endure all the hardships of settling new Countries. No ill use has been made of these privileges unless now & then a mistaken apprehension of their Rights soon corrected may be called such. Some of the Colonies have been engaged in wars for their defence against the natives & the neighbouring French in which for an hundred years together they received no Assistance from England. The New England Colonies unhappily undertook an expedition against Cape Breton & succeeded & you know of what importance it was at the peace of Aix la Chapelle, but still I say unhappily for the Colonies because it made them the object of French resentment and caused a great national Expence in the last war which is now given as a reason for new measures with respect to them. Give me leave to ask whether it is not equitable when such an amazing addition is made to the Dominion & wealth of Britain that the persons who procured & have been the Instruments of it & their posterity should continue in the enjoyment of as great Liberties & privileges as if they had continued themselves in Britain? As great I say but still with this reserve as far as will consist with their dependance upon Britain and we desire no greater. Give us an equivalent for all this Labour & expence & remove us where our Ancestors came from & we shall think ourselves very happy. Settle such Inhabitants in America & under such Government as you think proper. Surely the Services we have rendered the Nation have not subjected us to any forfeitures. If it should be said the Lands we are upon belonged to the Crown or ifyou will to the Nation, I answer the Crown had granted them to particular Subjects of whom the Colonists many of them at least purchased before they left England & afterwards purchased them again of the Indian princes who had the best if not the sole right to them besides it is well known American Lands in their natural State are of no value there is not any Colony which has not cost more to make it capable of rendering profit than it is now worth. If America was now a wilderness & an offer was to be made of the best tracts of Lands we would stay at home & it might remain a wilderness forever. I know it is said the Colonies are a charge to the Nation & it is reasonable they should contribute to their own defence & protection. It must be allowed that great part of the Charge of the last war was for the defence of the Colonies & a dispute about boundaries was the Occasion of the war. But it must be remembred that during the war the Colonies annually contributed to the charge of it & some of them so largely that the parliament was convinced that the burden would be insupportable & from year to year made them compensations notwithstanding which they shall remain in Debt & must continue so some of them many years. It is certain several of the Colonies raised a greater number of men for several years together in proportion to their Inhabitants then were in the pay of the Nation in proportion to its Inhabitants although Land & Sea Service both be considered as well in Europe as in America. In the trading Towns in some of the Colonies one fourth part of the profit of the trade was annually paid to the support of the War & other publick charges. In the Country Towns a farm which would not Rent for twenty pounds a year paid ten pounds taxes. I must observe to you that but few farms in the Colonies are in the hands of Tenants & the owner being the occupier by estimating the whole produce of the farm or what you call the three Rents in England pleases himself that he pays only between three & four shillings in the pound when you would call it ten. If we add the impost & excises so large a proportion of the Estates of the Inhabitants of some of the Colonies has been annually paid during the war that if the Inhabitants of Britain had paid in the same proportion there would have been no great increase of the national Debt. But let me ask whether it was from a parental Affection to the Colonists & to save them from french Vassalage that Britain was at this Expence or was it from fear of losing that advantageous trade she had so long carried on with her Colonies? And pray will the Nation or will the Colonies reap the benefit of the successes obtained by this expence. I know of no advantage which can arise to the northern Colonies. If you should tell me their fishery will be increased I am not sure of that but I am sure if it should Britain will reap the benefit & any extraordinary profit will center there for an extraordinary purchase of her Manufactures & I may say the same of any other extraordinary profit in trade if any such should be. An additional Country has been acquired and our Inhabitants among others are permitted to settle there. Why this will damage to us that remain & in fact the improved Lands of most of the Colonies have sunk 25 per Ct. in their from the advance upon Labour whereas every newfarm makes a new demand for British Manufactures. But a further charge will be necessary for our protection & it will be reasonable we should contribute to that. I am very sensible that if in any future wars any Nation in Europe should make the Colonies their object a British Navy must protect or they will become a prey and in case of such a war I cannot doubt the Colonies would contribute as liberally to their own protection as they have done in the last. But when there is peace in Europe what occasion is there for any national expence in America. For one hundred years together the New England Colonies were from time to time engaged in war with the Indians encouraged & assisted by the French & yet received no aid f[rom] Britain nor from the neighbouring Colonies. New York, Pensilvania, Maryland Virginia and the Carolinas are as able to defend their respect[tive] frontiers as the New England Colonies were to defend theirs & if they [had] no aid from the Crown, they would do it. The Indians may har[rass] them for a Short time but as soon as the Inhabitants have learned to [hunt] the Indians as the New England Men did in their own territories [and] lay waste their Corn fields & break up their Settlements they will grow tired & sue for peace. And as the Governments who have been molested heretofore have born the charge of their own defence it seems reasonable that those Governments who are now molested should bear their Charges and no doubt they had rather do the whole of it by a tax of their own raising than pay their proportion in any other way. If a Garrison is necessary to keep the new acquired Subjects of Canada to their duty they are a Conquered people & cannot complain of the charge if it is laid upon them. If a cover be necessary for new Settlers in the new Countries moderate quitrents will bear the expence of it. It may after all be the determination of Parliament that the Colonists have neither a legal nor equitable claim to exemption from parliamentary Taxes but if it should they have another Argument in their favour vizt. that it cannot be good policy & must be prejudicial to the national interest to impose such taxes. The Advantages proposed by an increase of the revenue are fallacious & delusive you will lose more than you will gain. And here I shall observe what I might have done with propriety when I was considering the equity of claim made by the Colonists, vizt. that Britain reaps the profit of all their Trade and of the increase of their Substance for they are enabled thereby to take off so much more of British manufactures. And experience must have shewn to the nation that in proportion to the increase of the numbers & Estates of the Colonists in like proportion the exports from Britian have continually increased. How have your own writers boasted & with how much reason of the amazing wealth arising from the trade with the Colonies? Every trading Colonist is perpetually contriving to make every branch of his trade produce him Silver & Gold or some commodity that will serve for returns to discharge the debt always due to Britain. Is this the Case with most other Branches of your trade? Is not the balance of ^with^ most other Countries against you? and the Specie you receive from your Colonies going from you to discharge it? Are not the other commercialStates able to afford their manufactures cheaper than you can? Does not France every day pour in their woollen goods among the Spaniards your old Customers & do not your Supplies decrease in proportion. The prospect is that in a short time you will have only your Colonies with whom you can carry on any advantageous commerce. That indeed will be enough if you encourage them to increase the consumption of your manufactures for fifty years to come as they have done for fifty years past and with no more than reasonable encouragement they infallibly will do it & in much greater proportion. For your own sake therefore as well as out of regard to the Colonists let me give you a little Sketch of their present turn of mind & leave you to judge whether it is a wise measure to check or change it & whether by humouring & cherishing it you will not serve your own interest to a much greater degree than by your present Schemes. In all the Colonies upon the Continent but the northermost more especially the Inhabitants are generally freeholders where there is one farm in the hands of a Tenant. I suppose there are fifty occupied by him who has the fee of it. [Th]is is the ruling passion to be a Freeholder. Most men as soon as their [Sons] grow up endeavour to procure tracts in some new Townships where [all e]xcept the eldest go out one after another with a wife a yoke of Oxen [a ho]rse a Cow or two & maybe a few Goats & husbandry Tools [a sm]all hut is built the man & his family fare hard for a few

AC (Massachusetts Archives, SC1/series 45X, 26:90–96); in EH’s hand with some corrections in TH’s hand; untitled; the MS has deteriorated badly over the years, and on one page a strip of paper approximately an inch wide and five inches long has been lost; before this large tear occurred, Bernhard Knollenberg secured a photocopy of the MS, although it was not found in his papers at Yale University; Malcolm Freiberg had a photocopy of the partially torn MS, presumably made shortly after Knollenberg’s; Edmund S. Morgan’s work on the essay apparently relied on a slightly later photocopy of the document, made after the MS had been torn, a rendition of which he published in NEQ 21 (December 1948): 480–92; Knollenberg made a few corrections to Morgan’s work in the following issue, NEQ 22 (March 1949): 98. To produce the current text, the editors relied on Freiberg’s photocopy, compared it to Morgan’s published essay (which is substantially the same, barring some differences in punctuation, capitalization, and editorial style), and accepted Knollenberg’s corrections, the latter of which have been indicated by footnotes if the editors could not confirm them in a review of the now-incomplete MS in the Massachusetts Archives.





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Mark Shubert
Mark Shubert
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Great Document!

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