To the Inhabitants of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay.
WHEN a people, by what means soever, are reduced to such a situation, that every thing they hold dear, as men and citizens, is at stake, it is not only excusable, but even praiseworthy, for an individual to offer to the public any thing, that he may think has a tendency to ward off the impending danger; nor should he be restrained from an apprehension that what he may offer will be unpopular, any more than a physician should be restrained from prescribing a salutary medicine, through fear it might be unpalatable to his patient.
The press, when open to all parties and influenced by none, is a salutary engine in a free state, perhaps a necessary one to preserve the freedom of that state; but, when a party has gained the ascendency so far as to become the licensers of the press, either by an act of government, or by playing off the resentment of the populace against printers and authors; the press itself becomes an engine of oppression or licentiousness, and is as pernicious to society as otherwise it would be beneficial. It is too true to be denied, that, ever since the origin of our controversy with Great Britain, the press, in this town, has been much devoted to the partizans of liberty: they have been indulged in publishing what they pleased, fas vel nefas, while little has been published on the part of government. The effect this must have had upon the minds of the people in general is obvious; they must have formed their opinion upon a partial view of the subject, and of course it must have been in some degree erroneous: In short, the changes have been rung so often upon oppression, tyranny and slavery, that, whether sleeping or waking, they are continually vibrating in our ears; and it is now high time to ask ourselves, whether we have not been deluded by found only.
My dear countrymen, let us divest ourselves of prejudice, take a view of our present wretched situation, contrast it with our former happy one, carefully investigate the cause, and industriously seek some means to escape the evils we now feel, and prevent those that we have reason to expect.
We have been so long advancing to our present state, and by such gradations, that perhaps many of us are insensible of our true state and real danger. Should you be told, that acts of high treason are flagrant through the country, that a great part of the province is in actual rebellion; would you believe it true? Should you not deem the person asserting it an enemy to the province? Nay, should you not spurn him from you with indignation? Be calm, my friends, it is necessary to know the worst of a disease, to enable us to provide an effectual remedy. Are not the bands of society cut asunder, and the sanctions, that hold man to man, trampled upon? Can any of us recover a debt, or obtain compensation for an injury, by law? Are not many persons, whom once we respected and revered, driven from their homes and families, and forced to sly to the army for protection, for no other reason but their having accepted commissions under our king? Is not civil government dissolved? Some have been made to believe, that nothing short of attempting the life of the king, or fighting his troops, can amount to high treason or rebellion. If, reader, you are one of those, apply to an honest lawyer (if such an one can be found), and enquire what kind of offence it is, for a number of men to assemble armed, and forceably to obstruct the course of justice, even to prevent the king’s courts from being held at their stated terms; for a body of people to seize upon the king’s provincial revenue, I mean the monies collected by virtue of grants made to his Majesty for the support of his government within this province; for a body of men to assemble without being called by authority, and to pass governmental acts; or for a number of people to take the militia out of the hands of the king’s representative; or to form a new militia, or to raise men and appoint officers for a public purpose, without the order or permission of the king or his representative; or for a number of men to take to their arms, and march with a professed design of opposing the king’s troops: ask, reader, of such a lawyer, what is the crime, and what the punishment; and if per chance thou art one that hast been active in these things, and art not insensibility itself, his answer will harrow up thy soul.
I assure you, my friends, I would not that this conduct should be told beyond the borders of this province; I wish it were consigned to perpetual oblivion; but, alas, it is too notorious to be concealed: our news-papers have already published it to the world, and we can neither prevent nor conceal it. The shaft is already sped, and the utmost exertion is necessary to prevent the blow. We already feel the effects of anarchy: mutual confidence, affection and tranquillity, those sweeteners of human life, are succeeded by distrust, hatred and wild uproar; the useful arts of agriculture and commerce are neglected for cabaling, mobbing this or the other man, because he acts, speaks, or is suspected of thinking different from the prevailing sentiment of the times, in purchasing arms and forming a militia, O height of madness! with a professed design of opposing Great-Britain. I suspect many of us have been induced to join in these measures, or but faintly to oppose them, from an apprehension that Great-Britain would not or could not exert herself sufficiently to subdue America. Let us consider this matter: However closely we may hug ourselves in the opinion that the parliament has no right to tax or legislate for us, the people of England hold the contrary opinion as firmly: they tell us we are a part of the British empire; that every state from the nature of government must have a supreme uncontroulable power coëxtensive with the empire itself; and that, that power is vested in parliament. It is as absurd to deny this doctrine in Great-Britain, as it is to assert it in the colonies; so there is but little probability of serving ourselves at this day by our ingenious distinctions between a right of legislature for one purpose and not for another. We have bid them defiance, and the longest sword must carry it, unless we change our measures. Mankind are the same in all parts of the world; the same fondness for dominion that presides in the breast of an American, actuates the breast of an European. If the colonies are not a part of the British empire already, and subject to the supreme authority of the state, Great-Britain will make them so. Had we been prudent enough to confine our opposition within certain limits, we might have stood some chance of succeeding once more; but alas we have passed the Rubicon. It is now universally said and believed, in England, that if this opportunity of reclaiming the colonies, and reducing them to a sense of their duty is lost, they in truth will be dismembered from the empire, and become as distinct a state from Great-Britain as Hanover; that is, although they may continue their allegiance to the person of the King, they will own none to the imperial crown of Great-Britain, nor yield obedience to any of her laws but such as they shall think proper to adopt. Can you indulge the thought one moment, that Great-Britain will consent to this? For what has she protected and defended the colonies against the maritime powers of Europe, from their first British settlement to this day? For what did she purchase New-York of the Dutch? For what was she so lavish of her best blood and treasure in the conquest of Canada, and other territories in America? Was it to raise up a rival state, or to enlarge her own empire? Or, if the consideration of empire was out of the question, what security can she have of our trade, when once she has lost our obedience? I mention these things, my friends, that you may know how people reason upon the subject in England; and to convince you that you are much deceived, if you imagine that Great-Britain will accede to the claims of the colonies: she will as soon conquer New-England as Ireland or Canada, if either of them revolted; and by arms, if the milder influences of government prove ineffectual. Perhaps you are as fatally mistaken in another respect, I mean as to the power of Great-Britain to conquer; but can any of you, that think soberly upon the matter, be so deluded as to believe that Great-Britain, who so lately carried her arms with success to every part of the globe, triumphed over the united powers of France and Spain, and whose fleets give law to the ocean, is unable to conquer us? Should the colonies unite in a war with Great-Britain (which by the way is not a supposable case) the colonies south of Pennsylvania would be unable to furnish any men; they have not more than is necessary to govern their numerous slaves, and to defend themselves against the Indians. I will suppose that the northern colonies can furnish as many, and indeed more men than can be used to advantage; but have you arms fit for a campaign? If you have arms, have you military stores, or can you procure them? When this war is proclaimed, all supplies from foreign parts will be cut off. Have you money to maintain the war? Or had you all those things, some others are still wanting, which are absolutely necessary to encounter regular troops, that is discipline, and that subordination whereby each can command all below him from a general officer to the lowest subaltern: these you neither have nor can have in such a war. It is well known that the provincials in the late war were never brought to a proper discipline, though they had the example of the regular troops to encourage, and the martial law to enforce it. We all know, notwithstanding the province law for regulating the militia, it was under but little more command than what the officers could obtain from treating and humouring the common soldiers: what then can be expected from such an army as you will bring into the field, if you bring any, each one a politician, puffed up with his own opinion, and feeling himself second to none? Can any of you command ten thousand such men? Can you punish the disobedient? Can all your wisdom direct their strength, courage and activity to any given point? Would not the least disappointment or unfavourable aspect cause a general dereliction of the service? Your new-fangled militia have already given us a specimen of their future conduct. In some of their companies, they have already chosen two, in others three sets of officers, and are as dissatisfied with the last choice as the first. I do not doubt the natural bravery of my countrymen: all men would act the same part in the same situation. Such is the army, with which you are to oppose the most powerful nation upon the globe. An experienced officer would rather take his chance with five thousand British troops, than with fifty thousand such militia. I have hitherto confined my observations to the war within the interior parts of the colonies; let us now turn our eyes to our extensive sea coast, and that we find wholly at the mercy of Great-Britain; our trade, fishery, navigation and maritime towns taken from us, the very day that war is proclaimed. Inconceivably shocking the scene, if we turn our views to the wilderness; our back settlements a prey to our ancient enemy, the Canadians, whose wounds received from us in the late war will bleed afresh at the prospect of revenge, and to the numerous tribes of savages, whose tender mercies are cruelties: thus with the British navy in the front, Canadians and savages in the rear, a regular army in the midst, we must be certain that, when ever the sword of civil war is unsheathed, devastation will pass through our land like a whirlwind, our houses be burnt to ashes, our fair possessions laid waste, and he that falls by the sword will be happy in escaping a more ignominious death.
I have hitherto gone upon a supposition that all the colonies from Nova-Scotia to Georgia would unite in the war against Great-Britain; but I believe if we consider coolly upon the matter, we shall find no reason to expect any assistance out of New-England: if so, there will be no arm stretched out to save us, New-England, or perhaps this self-devoted province will fall alone the unpitied victim of its own folly, and furnish the world with one more instance of the fatal consequences of rebellion.
I have as yet said nothing of the difference in sentiment among ourselves: upon a superficial view we might imagine, that this province was nearly unanimous, but the case is far different. A very considerable part of the men of property in this province are at this day firmly attached to the cause of government; bodies of men compelling persons to disavow their sentiments, to resign commissions, or to subscribe leagues and covenants, have wrought no change in their sentiments: it has only attached them more closely to government, and caused them to wish more fervently, and to pray more devoutly for its restoration: these and thousands beside, if they fight at all, will fight under the banners of loyalty. I can assure you that associations are now forming in several parts of this province for the support of his Majesty’s government and mutual defence; and let me tell you, when ever the royal standard shall be set up, there will be such a flocking to it, as will astonish the most obdurate. And now, in God’s name, what is it that has brought us to this brink of destruction? Has not the government of Great-Britain been as mild and equitable in the colonies as in any part of her extensive dominions? Has not she been a nursing mother to us from the days of our infancy to this time? Has she not been indulgent almost to a fault? Might not each one of us at this day have sat quietly under his own vine and fig-tree, and there have been none to make us afraid, were it not for our own folly? Will nor posterity be amazed, when they are told that the present distraction took its rise from a three-penny duty on tea, and call it a more unaccountable frenzy, and more disgraceful to the annals of America than that of the witchcraft.
I will attempt in the next paper to retrace the steps and mark the progressions that led us to this state. I promise to do it with fidelity, and, if any thing should look like reflecting on individuals or bodies of men, it must be set down to my impartiality, and not to a fondness for censuring.
December 12, 1774