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Massachusettensis VI


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER VI.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


HAD a person, some fifteen years ago, undertaken to prove that the colonies were a part of the British empire or dominion, and, as such, subject to the authority of the British parliament; he would have acted as ridiculous a part, as to have undertaken to prove a self-evident proposition: Had any person denied it, he would have been called a fool or madman. At this wise period, individuals and bodies of men deny it, notwithstanding in doing it they subvert the fundamentals of government, deprive us of British liberties, and build up absolute monarchy in the colonies; for our charters suppose regal authority in the grantor. If that authority be derived from the British crown, it præ-supposes this territory to have been a part of the British dominion, and as such subject to the imperial sovereign. If that authority was vested in the person of the King, in a different capacity; the British constitution and laws are out of the question, and the King must be as absolute to us, as tho’ his prerogatives had never been circumscribed. Such must have been the sovereign authority of the several Kings, who have granted American charters, previous to the several grants: there is nothing to detract from it, at this time in those colonies that are destitute of charters; and the charter governments must then severally revert to absolute monarchy as their charters may happen to be forfeited by the grantees not fulfilling the conditions of them, for every charter contains an express or implied condition.


It is curious indeed to trace the denial and oppugnation to the supreme authority of the state. When the stampact was made, the authority of parliament to impose internal taxes was denied, but their right to impose external ones, or, in other words, to lay duties upon goods and merchandise, was admitted. When the act was made, imposing duties upon tea, &c. a new distinction was set up; that the parliament had a right to lay duties upon merchandise for the purpose of regulating trade, but not for the purpose of raising a revenue. That is, the parliament had good right and lawful authority to lay the former duty of a shilling on the pound, but had none to lay the present duty of three pence. Having got thus far safe, it was only taking one step more to extricate ourselves entirely from their fangs, and become independent states: That our patriots most heroically resolved upon, and flatly denied that parliament had a right to make any laws whatever, that should be binding upon the colonies. There is no possible medium between absolute independence and subjection to the authority of parliament. He must be blind indeed that cannot see our dearest interest in the latter, notwithstanding many pant after the former: misguided men! could they once overtake their wish, they would be convinced of the madness of the pursuit.


My dear countrymen, it is of the last importance that we settle this point clearly in our minds; it will serve as a sure test, certain criterion, and invariable standard, to distinguish the friends from the enemies of our country, patriotism from sedition, loyalty from rebellion. To deny the supreme authority of the state is a high misdemeanor, to say no worse of it; to oppose it by force is an overt act of treason, punishable by confiscation of estate and a most ignominious death. The realm of England is an appropriate term for the ancient realm of England, in contradistinction to Wales and other territories that have been annexed to it. These, as they have been severally annexed to the crown, whether by conquest or otherwise, became a part of the empire, and subject to the authority of parliament, whether they send members to parliament or not, and whether they have legislative powers of their own or not.


Thus Ireland, which has perhaps the greatest possible subordinate legislature, and sends no members to the British parliament, is bound by its acts, when expressly named. Guernsey and Jersey are no part of the realm of England, nor are they represented in parliament, but are subject to its authority: And, in the same predicament are the American colonies, and all the other dispersions of the empire. Permit me to request your attention to this subject a little longer: I assure you it is as interesting and important, as it is dry and unentertaining.


Let us now recur to the first charter of this province, and we shall find irresistable evidence, that our being part of the empire, subject to the supreme authority of the state, bound by its laws and entitled to its protection, were the terms and conditions by which our ancestors held their lands and settled the province. Our charter, like all other American charters, is under the great seal of England; the grants are made by the King, for his heirs and successors, the several tenures to be of the King, his heirs and successors: in like manner are the reservations. It is apparent, the King acted in his royal capacity, as King of England, which necessarily supposes the territory granted, to be a part of the English dominions, holden of the crown of England.


The charter, after reciting several grants of the territory to Sir Henry Roswell and others, proceeds to incorporation in these words: ‘And for as much as the good and prosperous success of the plantations of the said parts of New-England aforesaid intended by the said Sir Henry Roswell and others, to be speedily set upon, cannot but chiefly depend, next under the blessing of almighty God and the support of our royal authority, upon the good government of the same, to the end that the affairs of business, which from time to time shall happen and arise concerning the said lands and the plantations of the same may be the better managed and ordered, we have further hereby, of our special grace, certain knowledge and meer motion, given, granted and confirmed, and for us, our heirs and successors, do give, grant and confirm unto our said trusty and well beloved subjects, Sir Henry Roswell, &c. and all such others as shall hereafter be admitted and made free of the company and society hereafter mentioned, shall from time to time and at all times, forever hereafter, be, by virtue of these presents, one body corporate, politic in fact and name, by the name of the Governor and company of the Massachusetts-Bay, in New-England; and them by the name of the Governor and company of the Massachusetts-Bay, in New-England, one body politic and corporate in deed, fact and name. We do for us, our heirs and successors make, ordain, constitute and confirm by these presents, and that by that name they shall have perpetual succession, and that by that name they and their successors shall be capable and enabled as well to implead and to be impleaded, and to prosecute, demand and answer and be answered unto all and singular suits, causes, quarrels and actions of what kind or nature soever; and also to have, take, possess, acquire and purchase, any lands, tenements and hereditaments, or any goods or chattles, the same to lease, grant, demise, aliene, bargain, sell and dispose of, as our liege people of this our realm of England, or any other corporation or body politic of the same, may do.’ I would beg leave to ask one simple question, whether this looks like a distinct state or independent empire. Provision is then made for electing a governor, deputy governor and eighteen assistants. After which is this clause: ‘We do for us, our heirs and successors, give and grant to the said governor and company and their successors, that the governor, or in his absence the deputy-governor, of the said company for the time being, and such of the assistants or freemen of the said company as shall be present, or the greater number of them so assembled, whereof the governor or deputy-governor and six of the assistants, at the least to be seven, shall have full power and authority to choose, nominate and appoint such and so many others, as they shall think fit, and shall be willing to accept the same to be free of the said company and body, and them into the same to admit and to elect and constitute such officers as they shall think fit and requisite for the ordering, managing and dispatching of the affairs of the said governor and company and their successors, and to make laws and ordinances for the good and welfare of the said company, and for the government and ordering of the said lands and plantations and the people inhabiting and to inhabit the same, as to them from time to time shall be thought meet: So as such laws and ordinances be not contrary or repugnant to the laws and statutes of this our realm of England.


Another clause is this; ‘And for their further encouragement, of our especial grace and favour, we do by these presents, for us, our heirs, and successors, yield and grant to the said governor and company and their successors, and every one of them, their factors and assigns, that they and every of them shall be free and quit from all taxes, subsidies and customs in New-England for the space of seven years, and from all taxes and impositions for the space of twenty-one years, upon all goods and merchandize, at any time or times hereafter, either upon importation thither, or exportation from thence into our realm of England, or into other of our dominions, by the said governor and company and their successors, their deputies, factors and assigns, &c.’


The exemption from taxes for seven years in one case, and twenty one years in the other, plainly indicates that, after their expiration, this province would be liable to taxation. Now I would ask, by what authority those taxes were to be imposed? It could not be by the governor and company, for no such power was delegated or granted to them; and besides it would have been absurd and nugatory to exempt them from their own taxation, supposing them to have had the power, for they might have exempted themselves.—It must therefore be by the King or parliament: it could not be by the King alone, for as King of England, the political capacity in which he granted the charter, he had no such power, exclusive of the lords and commons, consequently it must have been by the parliament. This clause in the charter is as evident a recognition of the authority of the parliament over this province, as if the words, “acts of parliament,” had been inserted, as they were in the Pennsylvania charter. There was no session of parliament after the grant of our charter until the year 1640.—In 1642 the house of commons passed a resolve, ‘that, for the better advancement of the plantations in New-England, and the encouragement of the planters to proceed in their undertaking, their exports and imports should be freed and discharged from all customs, subsidies, taxations and duties, until the further order of the house.’ Which was gratefully received and recorded in the archives of our predecessors.—This transaction shews very clearly in what sense our connection with England was then understood. It is true that, in some arbitrary reigns, attempts were made by the servants of the crown to exclude the two houses of parliament, from any share of the authority over the colonies; they also attempted to render the King absolute in England: but the parliament always rescued the colonies, as well as England, from such attempts.


I shall recite but one more clause of this charter, which is this, ‘And further our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby for us, our heirs and successors, ordain, declare and grant to the said govenor and company, and their successors, that all and every of the subjects of us, our heirs and successors, which shall go to and inhabit within the said land and premises hereby mentioned to be granted, and every of their children, which shall happen to be born there, or on the seas in going thither, or returning from thence, shall have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects, within any of the dominions of us, our heirs or successors, to all intents, constructions and purposes whatsoever, as if they and every of them were born within the realm of England.’ It is upon this or a similar clause in the charter of William and Mary, that our patriots have built up the stupendous fabric of American independence. They argue from it a total exemption from parliamentary authority, because we are not represented in parliament.


I have already shewn, that the supposition of our being exempt from the authority of parliament, is pregnant with the grossest absurdities. Let us now consider this clause in connection with the other parts of the charter. It is a rule of law, founded in reason and common sense, to construe each part of an instrument, so as the whole may hang together, and be consistent with itself. If we suppose this clause to exempt us from the authority of parliament, we must throw away all the rest of the charter; for every other part indicates the contrary, as plainly as words can do it, and, what is still worse, this clause becomes felo de se, and destroys itself; for if we are not annexed to the crown, we are aliens, and no charter, grant or other act of the crown, can naturalize us or entitle us to the liberties and immunities of Englishmen. It can be done only by act of parliament. An alien is one born in a strange country, out of the allegiance of the King, and is under many disabilities though residing in the realm. As Wales, Jersey, Guernsey, Ireland, the foreign plantations, &c. were severally annexed to the crown, they became parts of one and the same empire, the natives of which are equally free as though they had been born in that territory, which was the antient realm. As our patriots depend upon this clause, detached from the charter, let us view it in that light. If a person, born in England, remove to Ireland, and settle there, he is then no longer represented in the British parliament; but he and his posterity are and will ever be subject to the authority of the British parliament: If he remove to Jersey, Guernsey, or any other parts of the British dominions that send no members to parliament, he will still be in the same predicament. So that the inhabitants of the American colonies do in fact enjoy all the liberties and immunities of natural-born subjects. We are entitled to no greater privileges than those, that are born within the realm; and they can enjoy no other than we do, when they reside out of it. Thus, it is evident, that this clause amounts to no more than the royal assurance, that we are a part of the British empire, are not aliens, but natural-born subjects, and, as such, bound to obey the supreme power of the state, and entitled to protection from it. To avoid prolixity, I shall not remark particularly upon other parts of this charter, but observe in general, that whoever reads it with attention will meet with irresistable evidence in every part of it, that our being a part of the English dominions, subject to the English crown, and within the jurisdiction of parliament, were the terms upon which our ancestors settled this colony, and the very tenures by which they held their estates.


No lands within the British dominions are perfectly allodial; they are held mediately or immediately of the King, and, upon forfeiture, revert to the crown. My dear countrymen, you have many of you been most falsly and wickedly told, by our patriots, that Great-Britain was meditating a land tax, and seeking to deprive us of our inheritance; but had all the malice and subtilty of men and devils been united, a readier method to effect it could not have been devised, than the late denials of the authority of parliament, and forcible oppositions to its acts: Yet, this has been planned and executed chiefly by persons of desperate fortunes.


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

January 16, 1775


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