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Massachusettensis XI


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER XI.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


IT would be an endless task to remark minutely upon each of the fancied grievances, that swarm and cluster, fill and deform, the American chronicles. An adeptness at discovering grievances, has lately been one of the principal recommendations to public notice and popular applause. We have had geniuses selected for that purpose, called committees upon grievances; a sagacious set they were, and discovered a multitude before it was known, that they themselves were the greatest grievances that the country was infested with. The case is shortly this; the whigs suppose the colonies to be separate or distinct states: having fixed this opinion in their minds, they are at no loss for grievances. Could I agree with them in their first principle, I should acquiesce in many of their deductions; for in that case every act of parliament extending to the colonies, and every movement of the crown to carry them into execution, would be really grievances, however wise and salutary they might be in themselves; as they would be exertions of a power that we were not constitutionally subject to, and would deserve the name of usurpation and tyranny. But deprived of this, their corner stone, the terrible fabric of grievances vanishes like castles raised by enchantment, and leaves the wondering spectator amazed and confounded at the deception. He suspects himself to have but just awoke from sleep, or recovered from a trance, and that the formidable spectre that had frozen him with horror, was no more than the creature of a vision, or the delusion of a dream.


Upon this point, whether the colonies are distinct states or not, our patriots have rashly tendered Great Britain an issue, against every principle of law and constitution, against reason and common prudence. There is no arbiter between us but the sword; and that the decision of that tribunal will be against us, reason foresees, as plainly as it can discover any event that lies in the womb of futurity. No person, unless actuated by ambition, pride, malice, envy, or a malignant combination of the whole that verges towards madness, and hurries the man away from himself, would wage war upon such unequal terms. No honest man would engage himself, much less plunge his country into the calamities of a war upon equal terms, without first settling with his conscience, in the retired moments of reflection, the important question respecting the justice of his cause. To do this, we must hear and weigh every thing that is fairly adduced, on either side of the question, with equal attention and care: a disposition to drink in with avidity, what favours our hypothesis, and to reject with disgust whatever contravenes, is an infallible mark of a narrow, selfish mind. In matters of small moment such obstinacy is weakness and folly, in important ones, fatal madness. There are many among us, who have devoted themselves to the slavish dominion of prejudice; indeed the more liberal have seldom had an opportunity of bringing the question to a fair examination. The eloquence of the bar, the pulpit, and the senate, the charms of poetry, the expressions of painting, sculpture and statuary, have conspired to fix and rivet ideas of independence upon the mind of the colonists. The overwhelming torrent, supplied from so many fountains, rolled on with increasing rapidity and violence, till it became superior to all restraint. It was the reign of passion; the small, still voice of reason was refused audience. I have observed that the press was heretofore open to but one side of the question, which has given offence to a writer in Edes and Gill’s paper, under the signature of Novanglus, to whom I have many things to say. I would at present ask him, if the convention of committees for the county of Worcester in recommending to the inhabitants of that county not to take news papers, published by two of the printers in this town, and two at New-York, have not affected to be licensers of the press? And whether, by proscribing these printers, and endeavouring to deprive them of a livelihood, they have not manifested an illiberal, bigotted, arbitrary, malevolent disposition? And whether, by thus attempting to destroy the liberty of the press, they have not betrayed a consciousness of the badness of their cause?


Our warriors tell us, that the parliament shall be permitted to legislate for the purposes of regulating trade, but the parliament hath most unrighteously asserted, that it “had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies in all cases whatsoever;” that this claim, being without any qualification or restriction, is an innovation, and inconsistent with liberty. Let us candidly enquire into these three observations, upon the statute declaratory of the authority of parliament. As to its universality, it is true there are no exceptions expressed; but there is no general rule without exceptions, expressed or implied.


The implied ones in this case are obvious. It is evident that the intent and meaning of this act, was to assert the supremacy of parliament in the colonies, that is, that its constitutional authority to make laws and statutes binding upon the colonies, is, and ever had been, as ample, as it is to make laws binding upon the realm. No one that reads the declaratory statute, not even prejudice itself, can suppose that the parliament meant to assert thereby a right or power to deprive the colonists of their lives, to enslave them, or to make any law respecting the colonies, that would not be constitutional, were it made respecting Great Britain. By an act of parliament passed in the year 1650, it was declared concerning the colonies and plantations in America, that they had “ever since the planting thereof been and ought to be subject to such laws, orders and regulations, as are or shall be made by the parliament of England.” This declaration, though differing in expression, is the same in substance with the other. Our House of representatives, in their dispute with Governor Hutchinson, concerning the supremacy of parliament, say, “It is difficult, if possible, to draw a line of distinction between the universal authority of parliament over the colonies and no authority at all.”


The declaratory statute was intended more especially to assert the right of parliament, to make laws and statutes for raising a revenue in America, lest the repeal of the stamp-act might be urged as a disclaimer of the right. Let us now enquire, whether a power to raise a revenue be not the inherent, unalienable right of the supreme legislature of every well-regulated state, where the hereditary revenue of the crown, or established revenues of the state are insufficient of themselves; and whether that power be not necessarily coëxtensive with the power of legislation, or rather necessarily implied in it.


The end or design of government, as has been already observed, is the security of the people from internal violence and rapacity, and from foreign invasion. The supreme power of a state must necessarily be so extensive and ample as to answer those purposes; otherwise it is constituted in vain, and degenerates into empty parade and mere ostentatatious pageantry. These purposes cannot be answered, without a power to raise a revenue; for without it neither the laws can be executed nor the state defended. This revenue ought, in national concerns, to be apportioned throughout the whole empire according to the abilities of the several parts; as the claim of each to protection is equal: a refusal to yield the former is as unjust as the withholding the latter. Were any part of an empire exempt from contributing their proportionable part of the revenue necessary for the whole, such exemption would be manifest injustice to the rest of the empire; as it must of course bear more than its proportion of the public burden, and it would amount to an additional tax. If the proportion of each part was to be determined only by itself in a separate legislature; it would not only involve it in the absurdity of imperium in imperio, but the perpetual contention arising from the predominant principle of self-interest in each, without having any common arbiter between them, would render the disjointed, discordant, torn and dismembered state incapable of collecting or conducting its force and energy, for the preservation of the whole, as emergencies might require. A government thus constituted would contain the seeds of dissolution in its first principles, and must soon destroy itself.


I have already shewn that, by your first charter, this province was to be subject to taxation after the lapse of twenty-one years, and that the authority of parliament to impose such taxes was claimed so early as the year 1642.


In the patent for Pennsylvania, which is now in force, there is this clause, “And further our pleasure is, and by “these presents, for us, &c. we do covenant and agree to and with the said William Penn, &c. that we, &c. shall at no time hereafter set or make, or cause to be set, any imposition, custom or other taxation, or rate or contribution whatsoever, in and upon the dwellers and inhabitants of the aforesaid province, for their lands, tenements, goods or chattels within the said province, or in and upon any goods or merchandise within the said province, to be laden or unladen within the ports or harbours of the said province, unless the same be with the consent of the proprietors, chief governor or assembly, or by act of parliament.


These are stubborn facts: they are incapable of being winked out of existence, how much soever we may be disposed to shut our eyes upon them. They prove that the claim of a right to raise a revenue in the colonies, exclusive of the grants of their own assemblies, is coëval with the colonies themselves. I shall next shew, that there has been an actual, uninterrupted exercise of that right by the parliament, time immemorial.


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

February 20, 1775


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