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Massachusettensis XVI


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER XVI.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


OUR patriots exclaim, That humble and reasonable petitions from the representatives of the people have been frequently treated with contempt. This is as virulent a libel upon his Majesty’s government, as falshood and ingenuity combined could fabricate. Our humble and reasonable petitions have not only been ever graciously received, when the established mode of exhibiting them has been observed, but generally granted. Applications of a different kind have been treated with neglect, though not always with the contempt they deserved. These either originated in illegal assemblies, and could not be received without implicitly countenancing such enormities, or contained such matter, and were conceived in such terms, as to be at once an insult to his Majesty and a libel on his government. Instead of being decent remonstrances against real grievances, or prayers for their removal, they were insidious attempts to wrest from the crown, or the supreme legislature, their inherent, unalienable prerogatives or rights.


We have a recent instance of this kind of petition, in the application of the continental congress to the King, which starts with these words: ‘A standing army has been kept in these colonies ever since the conclusion of the late war, without the consent of our assemblies.’ This is a denial of the King’s authority to station his military forces in such parts of the empire, as his Majesty may judge expedient for the common safety. They might with equal propriety have advanced one step further, and denied its being a prerogative of the crown to declare war, or conclude a peace by which the colonies should be affected, without the consent of our assemblies. Such petitions carry the marks of death in their faces, as they cannot be granted but by surrendering some constitutional right at the same time; and therefore they afford grounds for suspicion at least, that they were never intended to be granted, but to irritate and provoke the power petitioned to. It is one thing to remonstrate the inexpediency or inconveniency of a particular act of the prerogative, and another to deny the existence of the prerogative. It is one thing to complain of the inutility or hardship of a particular act of parliament, and quite another to deny the authority of parliament to make any act. Had our patriots confined themselves to the former, they would have acted a part conformable to the character they assumed, and merited the encomiums they arrogate.


There is not one act of parliament that respects us, but would have been repealed upon the legislators being convinced that it was oppressive; and scarcely one, but would have shared the same fate, upon a representation of its being generally disgustful to America. But, by adhering to the latter, our politicians have ignorantly or wilfully betrayed their country. Even when Great-Britain has relaxed in her measures, or appeared to recede from her claims, instead of manifestations of gratitude, our politicians have risen in their demands, and sometimes to such a degree of insolence, as to lay the British government under a necessity of persevering in its measures to preserve its honor.


It was my intention, when I began these papers, to have minutely examined the proceedings of the continental congress; as the delegates appear to me to have given their country a deeper wound, than any of their predecessors had inflicted, and I pray God it may not prove an incurable one; but am in some measure anticipated by Grotius, Phileareine, and the many pamphlets that have been published, and shall therefore confine my observations to some of its most striking and characteristic features.

A congress or convention of committees from the several colonies, constitutionally appointed by the supreme authority of the state, or by the several provincial legislatures, amenable to and controlable by the power that convened them, would be salutary in many supposable cases: Such was the convention of 1754; but a congress, otherwise appointed, must be an unlawful assembly, wholly incompatible with the constitution, and dangerous in the extreme; more especially as such assemblies will ever chiefly consist of the most violent partizans. The Prince or Sovereign, as some writers call the supreme authority of a state, is sufficiently ample and extensive to provide a remedy for every wrong in all possible emergencies and contingencies; consequently, a power that is not derived from such authority, springing up in a state, must encroach upon it; and in proportion as the usurpation inlarges itself, the rightful prince must be diminished: indeed they cannot long subsist together, but must continually militate till one or the other be destroyed. Had the continental congress consisted of committees from the several houses of assembly, although destitute of the consent of the several governors, they would have had some appearance of authority; but many of them were appointed by other committees, as illegally constituted as themselves. However, at so critical and delicate a juncture, Great-Britain being alarmed with an apprehension that the colonies were aiming at independence on the one hand, and the colonies apprehensive of grievous impositions and exactions from Great-Britain on the other; many real patriots imagined that a congress might be eminently serviceable, as they might prevail on the Bostonians to make restitution to the East-India company, might still the commotions in this province, remove any ill-founded apprehensions respecting the colonies, and propose some plan for a cordial and permanent reconciliation, which might be adopted by the several assemblies, and make its way through them to the supreme legislature. Placed in this point of light, many good men viewed it with an indulgenteye; and tories, as well as whigs, bade the delegates God speed.


The path of duty was too plain to be overlooked; but unfortunately some of the most influential of the members were the very persons, that had been the wilful cause of the evils they were expected to remedy. Fishing in troubled waters had long been their business and delight; and they deprecated nothing more than that the storm, they had blown up, should subside. They were old in intrigue, and would have figured in a conclave. The subtilty, hypocrisy, cunning and chicanery, habitual to such men, were practised with as much success in this, as they had been before in other popular assemblies.


Some of the members, of the first rate abilities and characters, endeavoured to confine the deliberations and resolves of the congress to the design of its institution, which was ‘to restore peace, harmony and mutual confidence,’ but were obliged to submit to the intemperate zeal of some, and at length were so circumvented and wrought upon by the artifice and duplicity of others, as to lend the sanction of their names to such measures as they condemned in their hearts. See a pamphlet published by one of the delegates intitled, A candid examination, &c.


The Congress could not be ignorant of what every body else knew, that their appointment was repugnant to, and inconsistent with, every idea of government, and therefore they wisely determined to destroy it. Their first essay that transpired, and which was matter of no less grief to the friends of our country than of triumph to its enemies, was the ever-memorable resolve approving and adopting the Suffolk resolves, thereby undertaking to give a continental fanction to a forcible opposition to acts of parliament, shutting up the courts of justice, and thereby abrogating all human laws, seizing the King’s provincial revenue, raising sorces in opposition to the King’s, and all the tumultoary violence, with which this unhappy province has been rent asunder.


This fixed the complexion and marked the character of the congress. We were therefore but little surprized when it was announced, that, as far as was in their power, they had dismembered the colonies from the parent-country. This they did by resolving, that ‘the colonists are entitled to an exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial legislatures.’ This stands in its full force, and is an absolute denial of the authority of parliament respecting the colonies.


Their subjoining that ‘from necessity they consent to the operation (not the authority) of such acts of the British parliament as are (not shall be) bonâ fide restrained to external commerce,’ is so far from weakening their first principle that it strengthens it, and extends to the acts of trade This resolve is a manifest revolt from the British empire —Consistent with it, is their overlooking the supreme legislature, and addressing the inhabitants of Great-Britain, in the style of a manifesto, in which they flatter, complain, coax, and threaten alternately: Their prohibiting all commercial intercourse between the two countries; with equal propriety and justice, the congress might have declared war against Great-Britain, and they intimate that they might justly do it, and actually shall, if the measures already taken prove ineffectual; for in the address to the colonies, after attempting to enrage their countrymen, by every colouring and heightening in the power of language, to the utmost pitch of frenzy, they say, ‘the state of these colonies would certainly justify other measures than we have advised; we were inclined to offer once more to his Majesty the petition of his faithful and oppressed subjects in America;’ and then they admonish the colonists to ‘extend their views to mournful events, and to be in all respects prepared for every contingency.’


This is treating Great-Britain as an alien-enemy; and if Great-Britain be such, it is justifiable by the law of nations: but their attempt to alienate the affections of the inhabitants of the new conquered province of Quebec from his majesty’s government, is altogether unjustifiable, even upon that principle. In the truly jesuitical address to the Canadians, the congress endeavour to seduce them from their allegiance, and to prevail on them to join the confederacy. After insinuating that they had been tricked, duped, oppressed and enslaved by the Quebec bill, the congress exclaim, ‘Why this degrading distinction? Have not Canadians sense enough to attend to any other public affairs than gathering stones at one place and piling them up in another? Unhappy people! who are not only injured, but insulted.’ ‘Such a treacherous ingenuity has been exerted in drawing up the code lately offered you, that every sentence, beginning with a benevolent pretension, concludes with a destructive power; and the substance of the whole, divested of its smooth words, is, that the crown and its ministers shall be as absolute throughout your extended province, as the despots of Asia or Africa. We defy you, casting your view upon every side, to discover a single circumstance promising, from any quarter, the faintest hope of liberty to you or your posterity, but from an entire adoption into the union of these colonies.’ The treachery of the congress in this address is the more flagrant, by the Quebec bill’s having been adapted to the genius and manners of the Canadians, formed upon their own petition, and received with every testimonial of gratitude. The public tranquillity has been often disturbed by treasonable plots and conspiracies. Great Britain has been repeatedly deluged by the blood of its slaughtered citizens, and shaken to its centre by rebellion.—To offer such aggravated insult to British government, was reserved for the grand continental congress. None but ideots or madmen, could suppose such measures had a tendency to restore ‘union and harmony between Great-Britain and the colonies:’ Nay! The very demands of the congress evince, that that was not in their intention.—Instead of confining themselves to those acts, which occasioned the misunderstanding, they demand a repeal of fourteen, and bind the colonies by a law not to trade with Great-Britain until that shall be done. Then, and not before, the colonists are to treat Great-Britain as an alien friend, and in no other light is the parent-country ever after to be viewed; for the parliament is to surcease enacting laws to respect us for ever. These demands are such as cannot be complied with, consistent with either the honor or interest of the empire, and are therefore insuperable obstacles to a union by means of the congress.


The delegates erecting themselves into the States-General or supreme legislature of all the colonies from Nova-Scotia to Georgia, do not leave a doubt respecting their aiming, in good earnest, at independency: This they did by enacting laws.—Although they recognize the authority of the several provincial legislatures, yet they consider their own authority as paramount or supreme; otherwise they would not have acted decisively, but submitted their plans to the final determination of the assemblies. Sometimes indeed they use the terms request and recommend; at others they speak in the style of authority.—Such is the resolve of the 27th of September: ‘Resolved, from and after the first day of December next, there be no importation into British America from Great-Britain or Ireland of any goods, wares, or merchandize whatsoever, or from any other place of any such goods, wares or merchandize as shall have been exported from Great-Britain or Ireland, and that no such goods, wares or merchandize, imported after the said first day of December next, be used or purchased.’ October 15, the congress resumed the consideration of the plan for carrying into effect, the non-importation, &c. October 20, the plan is compleated, determined upon, and ordered to be subscribed by all the members: They call it an association, but it has all the constituent parts of a law. They begin,—‘We his Majesty’s most loyal subjects, the delegates of the several colonies of, &c. deputed to represent them in a continental congress,’ and agree for themselves and the inhabitants of the several colonies whom they represent, not to import, export, or consume, &c. as also to observe several sumptuary regulations under certain penalties and forfeitures, and that a committee be chosen in every county, city, and town, by those who are qualified to vote as representatives in the legislature, to see that the association be observed and kept, and to punish the violaters of it; and, afterwards, ‘recommended it to the provincial conventions, and to the committees in the respective colonies, to establish such further regulations as they may think proper, for carrying into execution the association.’ Here we find the congress enacting laws,—that is, establishing, as the representatives of the people, certain rules of conduct to be observed and kept by all the inhabitants of these colonies, under certain pains and penalties,—such as masters of vessels being dismissed from their employment;—goods to be seized and sold at auction, and the first cost only returned to the proprietor, a different appropriation made of the overplus;—persons being stigmatized in the gazette, as enemies to their country, and excluded the benefits of society, &c.


The congress seem to have been apprehensive, that some squeamish people might be startled at their assuming the powers of legislation, and therefore, in the former part of their association, say, they bind themselves and constituents under the sacred ties of virtue, honor, and love to their country, afterwards establish penalties and forfeitures, and conclude by solemnly binding themselves and constituents under the ties aforesaid, which include them all.—This looks like artifice:—But they might have spared themselves that trouble, for every law is or ought to be made under the sacred ties of virtue, honor, and a love to the country, expressed or implied, though the penal sanction be also necessary. In short, were the colonies distinct states, and the powers of legislation vested in delegates thus appointed, their association would be as good a form of enacting laws as could be devised.


By their assuming the powers of legislation, the congress have not only superseded our provincial legislatures, but have excluded every idea of monarchy; and, not content with the havock already made in our constitution, in the plenitude of their power, they have appointed another congress to be held in May.


Those that have attempted to establish new systems have generally taken care to be consistent with themselves. Let us compare the several parts of the continental proceedings with each other.


The delegates call themselves and constituents, ‘his Majesty’s most loyal subjects;’ his Majesty’s most faithful subjects affirm, that the colonists are entitled ‘to all the immunities and privileges granted and confirmed to them by royal charters,’ declare that they ‘wish not a diminution of the prerogative, nor solicit the grant of any new right or favour,’ and that they ‘shall always carefully and zealously endeavour to support his royal authority, and our connection with Great-Britain;’—yet they deny the King’s prerogative to station troops in the colonies, disown him in the capacity in which he granted the provincial charters; disclaim the authority of the King in parliament; and undertake to enact and execute laws, without any authority derived from the crown. This is dissolving all connection between the colonies and the crown, and giving us a new King, altogether incomprehensible, not indeed from the infinity of his attributes, but from a privation of every royal prerogative, and not leaving even the semblance of a connection with Great-Britain.


They declare, that the colonists ‘are entitled to all the rights, liberties and immunities of free and natural born subjects within the realm of England,’ and ‘all the benefits secured to the subject by the English constitution,’ but disclaim all obedience to British government; — in other words, they claim the protection, and disclaim the allegiance. They remonstrate as a grievance, that ‘both houses of parliament have resolved, that the colonists may be tried in England for offences alledged to have been committed in America, by virtue of a statute passed in the thirty-fifth year of Henry the eighth;’—and yet resolve, that they are entitled to the benefit of such English statutes as existed at the time of their colonization, and are applicable to their several local and other circumstances. They resolve that the colonists are entitled to a free and exclusive power of legislation in their several provincial assemblies;—yet undertake to legislate in congress.


The immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and our several charters, are the basis upon which they pretend to found themselves, and complain more especially of being deprived of trials by juries;—but establish ordinances incompatible with either the laws of nature, the English constitution, or our charter;—and appoint committees to punish the violaters of them, not only without a jury, but even without a form of trial.


They repeatedly complain of the Roman Catholic religion being established in Canada, and, in their address to the Canadians, ask, ‘if liberty of conscience be offered them in their religion by the Quebec bill,’ and answer, no; God gave it to you, and the temporal powers, with which you have been and are connected, firmly stipulated for your enjoyment of it. If laws divine and human could secure it against the despotic caprices of wicked men, it was secured before.’


They say to the people of Great-Britain, ‘place us in the same situation that we were in at the close of the last war, and our harmony will be restored’ Yet some of the principal grievances, which are to be redressed, existed long before that æra, viz. the King’s keeping a standing army in the colonies;—judges of admiralty receiving their fees, &c. from the effects condemned by themselves;—councillors holding commissions during pleasure; exercising legislative authority;—and the capital grievance of all, the parliament claiming and exercising over the colonies a right of taxation. However, the wisdom of the grand continental congress may reconcile these seeming inconsistences.


Had the delegates been appointed to devise means to irritate and enrage the inhabitants of the two countries, against each other, beyond a possibility of reconciliation, to abolish our equal system of jurisprudence, and establish a judicatory as arbitrary as the Roman inquisition, to perpetuate animosities among ourselves, to reduce thousands from affluence to poverty and indigence—to injure Great-Britain, Ireland, the West-Indies and these colonies—to attempt a revolt from the authority of the empire—and finally to draw down upon the colonies the whole vengeance of Great-Britain;—more promising means to effect the whole could not have been devised than those the congress have adopted.—Any deviation from their plan would have been treachery to their constituents, and an abuse of the trust and confidence reposed in them. Some idolaters have attributed to the congress the collected wisdom of the continent. It is nearer the truth to say, that every particle of disaffection, petulance, ingratitude and disloyalty, that for ten years past have been scattered through the continent, were united and consolidated in them. Are these thy Gods, O Israel!


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

March 27, 1775


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