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Massachusettensis X


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER X.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


I Offered to your consideration, last week, a few extracts from the law-books, to enable those, that have been but little conversant with the law of the land, to form a judgment, and determine for themselves, whether any have been so far beguiled and seduced from their allegiance, as to commit the most aggravated offence against society,—high-treason. The whigs reply, riots and insurrections are frequent in England, the land from which we sprang; we are bone of their bone, and flesh of their flesh:—Granted; but at the same time be it remembered, that in England the executive power is commonly able and willing to suppress insurrections, the judiciary to distribute impartial justice, and the legislative to aid and strengthen the two former if necessary; and whenever these have proved ineffectual to allay intestine commotions, war, with its concomitant horrors, have passed through the land, marking their rout with blood: The bigger part of Britain has at some period or other, within the reach of history, been forfeited to the crown, by the rebellion of its proprietors.


Let us now take a view of American grievances, and try, by the sure touchstone of reason and the constitution, whether there be any act or acts, on the part of the King or parliament, that will justify the whigs even in foro conscientiæ, in thus forcibly opposing their government. Will the alteration of the mode of appointing one branch of our provincial legislature furnish so much as an excuse for it, considering that our politicians, by their intrigues and machinations, had rendered the assembly incapable of answering the purpose of government, which is protection, and our charter was become as inefficacious as an old ballad? Or can a plea of justification be founded on the parliament’s giving us an exact transcript of English laws for returning jurors, when our own were insufficient to afford compensation to the injured, to suppress seditions, or even to restrain rebellion? It has been heretofore observed, that each member of the community is entitled to protection; for this he pays taxes, for this he relinquishes his natural right of revenging injuries and redressing wrongs, and for this the sword of justice is placed in the hands of the magistrate. It is notorious that the whigs had usurped the power of the province in a great measure, and exercised it by revenging themselves on their opponents, or in compelling them to inlist under their banners. Recollect the frequency of mobs and riots, the invasions and demolitions of dwelling-houses and other property, the personal abuse and frequent necessity of persons abandoning their habitations, the taking sanctuary on board men of war, or at the castle, previous to the regulating bill. Consider that these sufferers were loyal subjects, violators of no law, that many of them were crown officers, and were thus persecuted for no other offence than that of executing the King’s law. Consider, further, that if any of the sufferers sought redress in a court of law, he had the whole whig interest to combat: they gathered like a cloud and hovered like harpies round the seat of justice, until the suitor was either condemned to pay costs to his antagonist, or recovered so small damages, as that they were swallowed up in his own. Consider further, that these riots were not the accidental or spontaneous risings of the populace, but the result of the deliberations and mature councils of the whigs, and were sometimes headed and led to action by their principals. Consider further, that the general assembly lent no aid to the executive power. Weigh these things, my friends, and doubt if you can, whether the act for regulating our government did not flow from the parental tenderness of the British councils, to enable us to recover from anarchy, without Britain being driven to the necessity of inflicting punishment, which is her strange work. Having taken this cursory view of the convulsed state of the province, let us advert to our charter-form of government, and we shall find its distributions of power to have been so preposterous as to render it next to impossible for the province to recover by its own strength. The council was elective annually by the house, liable to the negative of the chair; and the chair was restrained from acting even in the executive department, without the concurrence of the board. The political struggle is often between the governor and the house; and it is a maxim with politicians, that he that is not for us is against us: Accordingly, when party runs high, if a councillor adhered to the governor, the house refused to elect him the next year; if he adhered to the house, the governor negatived him; if he trimmed his bark, so as to steer a middle course between Scylla and Charybdis, he was in danger of suffering more by the neglect of both parties, than of being wrecked but on one.


In moderate times this province has been happy under our charter-form of government; but, when the political storm arose, its original defect became apparent: We have sometimes seen half a dozen sail of tory navigation unable, on an election day, to pass the bar formed by the flux and reflux of the tides at the entrance of the harbour, and as many whiggish ones stranded the next morning on Governor’s Island. The whigs took the lead in this game; and therefore I think the blame ought to rest upon them, though the tables were turned upon them in the sequel. A slender acquaintance with human nature will inform us, and experience has evinced, that a body of men, thus constituted, are not to be depended upon to act that vigorous, intrepid and decisive part, which the emergency of the late times required, and which might have proved the salvation of the province. In short, the board, which was intended to moderate between the governor and the house, or perhaps rather to support the former, was incapable of doing either by its original constitution. By the regulating act the members of the board are appointed by the King in council, and are not liable even to the suspension of the governor; their commissions are durante bene placito, and they are therefore far from independence. The infant state of the colonies does not admit of a peerage, nor perhaps of any third branch of legislature wholly independent. In most of the colonies the council is appointed by mandamus, and the members are moreover liable to be suspended by the governor; by which means they are more dependent than those appointed according to the regulating act, but no inconvenience arises from that mode of appointment. Long experience has evinced its utility. By this statute, extraordinary powers are devolved upon the chair, to enable the governor to maintain his authority, and to oppose with vigour the daring spirit of independence, so manifest in the whigs. Town-meetings are restrained to prevent their passing traiterous resolves. Had these, and many other innovations contained in this act, been made in moderate times, when due reverence was yielded to the magistrate, and obedience to the law, they might have been called grievances; but we have no reason to think, that, had the situation of the province been such, this statute would ever have had an existence—nor have we any reason to doubt, but that it will be repealed, in whole or in part, should our present form of government be found by experience to be productive of rapine or oppression. It is impossible, that the King, lords or commons could have any sinister views in regulating the government of this province. Sometimes we are told that charters are sacred: However sacred, they are forfeited through negligence or abuse of their franchises, in which cases the law judges, that the body politic has broken the condition upon which it was incorporated.


There are many instances of the negligence and abuse which work the forfeiture of charters delineated in law books. They also tell us, that all charters may be vacated by act of parliament. Had the form of our provincial legislature been established by act of parliament, that act might have been constitutionally and equitably repealed, when it was found to be incapable of answering the end of its institution. Stronger still is the present case, where the form of government was established by one branch of the legislature only, viz. the King, and all three join in the revocation. This act was however a fatal stroke to the ambitious views of our republican patriots. The monarchical-part of the constitution was so guarded by it, as to be no longer vulnerable by their shafts; and all their fancied greatness vanished like the baseless fabric of a vision. Many, who had been long striving to attain a seat at the board, with their faces thitherward, beheld, with infinite regret, their competitors advanced to the honors they aspired to themselves. These disappointed, ambitious and envious men instil the poison of disaffection into the minds of the lower classes, and as soon as they are properly impregnated, exclaim, the people never will submit to it. They now would urge them into certain ruin, to prevent the execution of an act of parliament, designed and calculated to restore peace and harmony to the province, and to recal that happy state, when year rolled round on year, in a continual increase of our felicity.


The Quebec bill is another capital grievance, because the Canadians are tolerated in the enjoyment of their religion, which they were entitled to, by an article of capitulation, when they submitted to the British arms. This toleration is not an exclusion of the protestant religion, which is established in every part of the empire, as firmly as civil polity can establish it. It is a strange kind of reasoning to argue, from the French inhabitants of the conquered province of Quebec, being tolerated in the enjoyment of the Roman Catholic religion in which they were educated, and in which alone they repose their hope of eternal salvation, that therefore government intends to deprive us of the enjoyment of the protestant religion in which alone we believe; especially as the political interests of Britain depend upon protestant connexions, and the King’s being a protestant himself is an indispensable condition of his wearing the crown. This circumstance, however, served admirably for a fresh stimulus, and was eagerly grasped by the disaffected of all orders. It added pathos to pulpit oratory. We often see resolves and seditious letters interspersed with popery here and there in Italics. If any of the clergy have endeavoured, from this circumstance, to alarm their too credulous audiences, with an apprehension that their religious privileges were in danger, thereby to excite them to take up arms; we must lament the depravity of the best of men: but human nature stands appalled when we reflect upon the aggravated guilt of prostituting our holy religion to the accursed purposes of treason and rebellion. As to our lay politicians, I have long since ceased to wonder at any thing in them; but it may be observed, that there is no surer mark of a bad cause than for its advocates to recur to such pitiful shifts to support it. This instance plainly indicates, that their sole dependence is in preventing the passions subsiding, and cool reason resuming its seat. It is a mark of their shrewdness however, for whenever reason shall resume its seat, the political cheat will be detected, stand confest in its native turpitude, and the political knave be branded with marks of infamy, adequate, if possible, to the enormity of his crimes.


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

February 13, 1775


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