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Massachusettensis XIII


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER XIII.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


NOVANGLUS and all others have an indisputable right to publish their sentiments and opinions to the world, provided they conform to truth, decency and the municipal laws of the society of which they are members. He has wrote with a professed design of exposing the errors and sophistry, which he supposes are frequent in my publications: His design is so far laudable; and I intend to correct them wherever he convinces me there is an instance of either. I have no objection to the minutest disquisition: contradiction and disputation, like the collision of flint and steel, often strike out new light. The bare opinions of either of us, accompanied by the grounds and reasons upon which they were formed, must be considered only as propositions made to the reader for him to adopt or reject, as his own reason may judge, or feelings dictate. A large proportion of the labours of Novanglus consist in denials of my allegations in matters of such public notoriety, as that no reply is necessary: He has alledged many things destitute of foundation. Those that affect the main object of our pursuit but remotely, if at all, I shall pass by without particular remark; others, of a more interesting nature, I shall review minutely. After some general observations upon Massachusettensis, he slides into a most virulent attack upon particular persons, by names, with such incomparable ease, that shews him to be a great proficient in the modern art of detraction and calumny. He accuses the late Governor Shirley, Governor Hutchinson, the late Lieutenant Governor Oliver, the late Judge Russell, Mr Paxton, and Brigadier Ruggles, of a conspiracy to enslave their country. The charge is high coloured: if it be just, they merit the epithets, dealt about so indiscriminately, of enemies to their country; if it be groundless, Novanglus has acted the part of an assassin, in thus attempting to destroy the reputation of the living, and of something worse than an assassin, in entering those hallowed mansions, where the wicked commonly cease from troubling and the weary are at rest, to disturb the repose of the dead. That the charge is groundless respecting Governor Bernard, Governor Hutchinson, and the late Lieutenant Governor, I dare assert; because they have been acquitted of it in such a manner as every good citizen must acquiesce in. Our house of representatives, acting as the grand inquest of the province, presented them before the King in council; and after a full hearing they were acquitted with honor, and the several impeachments dismissed, as groundless, vexatious and scandalous. The accusation of the house was similar to this of Novanglus; the court, they chose to institute their suit in, was of competent and high jurisdiction, and its decision final. This is a sufficient answer to the state charges made by this writer, so far as they respect the Governors Bernard, Hutchinson and Oliver, whom he accuses as principals; and it is a general rule, that, if the principal be innocent, the accessary cannot be guilty. A determination of a constitutional arbiter ought to seal up the lips of even prejudice itself in silence; otherwise litigation must be endless. This calumniator nevertheless has the effrontery to renew the charge in a public news-paper, although thereby he arraigns our most gracious Sovereign and the lords of the privy council, as well as the gentlemen he has named. Not content with wounding the honor of judges, counsellors and governors, with missile weapons, darted from an obscure corner, he now aims a blow at Majesty itself. Any one may accuse, but accusation unsupported by proof recoils upon the head of the accuser. It is entertaining enough to consider the crimes and misdemeanors alledged, and then examine the evidence he adduces, stript of the false glare he has thrown upon it.


The crimes are these; the persons named by him conspired together to enslave their country, in consequence of a plan, the outlines of which have been drawn by Sir Edmund Andross and others, and handed down by tradition to the present times. He tells us that Governor Shirley, in 1754, communicated the profound secret, the great design of taxing the colonies by act of parliament, to the sagacious gentleman, eminent philosopher, and distinguished patriot, Dr. Franklin. The profound secret is this; after the commencement of hostilities between the English and French colonies in the last war, a convention of committees from several provinces were called by the King to agree upon some general plan of defence: The principal difficulty they met with was in divising means, whereby each colony might be obliged to contribute its proportionable part. General Shirley proposed, that application should be made to parliament to impower the committees of the several colonies to tax the whole according to their several proportions. This plan was adopted by the convention, and approved of by the assembly in New-York, who passed a resolve in these words: ‘That the scheme proposed by Governor Shirley, for the defence of the British colonies in North-America, is well concerted, and that this colony joins therein.’ This however did not succeed, and he proposed another, viz. for the parliament to assess each one’s proportion, and, in case of failure to raise it on their part, that it should be done by parliament. This is the profound secret. His assiduity, in endeavouring to have some effectual plan of general defence established, is, by the false colouring of this writer, represented as an attempt to aggrandize himself, family and friends; and that gentleman, under whose administration the several parties in the province were as much united and the whole province rendered as happy as it ever was, for so long a time together, is called a ‘crafty, busy, ambitious, intriguing, enterprizing man.’ This attempt of Governor Shirley, for a parliamentary taxation, is however a circumstance strongly militating with this writer’s hypothesis; for the approbation shewn to the Governor’s proposal by the convention, which consisted of persons from the several colonies, not inferior in point of discernment, integrity, knowledge or patriotism to the members of our late grand Congress, and the vote of the New-York assembly, furnish pretty strong evidence that the authority of parliament, even in point of taxation, was not doubted in that day.—Even Dr. Franklin, in the letter alluded to, does not deny the right.—His objections go to the inexpediency of the measure.—He supposes it would create uneasiness in the minds of the colonists, should they be thus taxed; unless they were previously allowed to send representatives to parliament. If Dr. Franklin really supposes, that the Parliament has no constitutional right to raise a revenue in America, I must confess myself at a loss to reconcile his conduct in accepting the office of post-master, and his assiduity in increasing the revenue in that department, to the patriotism predicated of him by Novanglus, especially as this unfortunately happens to be an internal tax. This writer tells us, that the plan was interrupted by the war, and afterwards by Governor Pownall’s administration. That Messieurs Hutchinson and Oliver, stung with envy at Governor Pownall’s favourites, propagated slanders respecting him to render him uneasy in his seat. My answer is this, that he that publishes such falshoods as these in a public news-paper, with an air of seriousness, insults the understanding of the public, more than he injures the individuals he defames. In the next place we are told, that Governor Bernard was the proper man for this purpose; and he was employed by the junto to suggest to the ministry the project of taxing the colonies by act of parliament. Sometimes Governor Bernard is the arch enemy of America, the source of all our troubles; now, only a tool in the hands of others. I wish Novanglus’s memory had served him better; his tale might have been consistent with itself, however contrary to truth. After making these assertions with equal gravity and assurance, he tells, us he does not advance this without evidence. I had been looking out for evidence a long time, and was all attention when it was promised; but my disappointment was equal to the expectation he had raised, when I found the evidence amounted to nothing more than Governor Bernard’s letters and principles of law and polity, wherein he asserts the supremacy of parliament over the colonies both as to legislation and taxation. Where this writer got his logic, I do not know. Reduced to a syllogism, his argument stands thus: Governor Bernard, in 1764, wrote and transmitted to England certain letters and principles of law and polity, wherein he asserts the right of parliament to tax the colonies. Messieurs Hutchinson and Oliver were in unison with him in all his measures: therefore, Messieurs Hutchinson and Oliveremployed Governor Bernard to suggest to the ministry the project of taxing the colonies by act of parliament. The letters and principles are the whole of the evidence; and this is all the appearance of argument contained in his publication. Let us examine the premises. That Governor Bernard asserted the right of parliament to tax the colonies in 1764, is true. So did Mr. Otis, in a pamphlet he published the self-same year; from which I have already taken an extract. In a pamphlet published in 1765, Mr. Otis tells us, ‘it is certain that the parliament of Great-Britain hath a just, clear, equitable and constitutional right, power and authority to bind the colonies by all acts wherein they are named. Every lawyer, nay every tyro, knows this; no less certain is it that the parliament of Great-Britain has a just and equitable right, power and authority, to impose taxes on the colonies internal and external, on lands, as well as on trade.’ But does it follow from Governor Bernard’s transmitting his principles of polity to four persons in England, or from Mr. Otis’s publishing to the whole world similar principles, that either the one or the other suggested to the ministry the project of taxing the colonies by act of parliament? Hardly, supposing the transmission and publication had been prior to the resolution of parliament to that purpose; but very unfortunately for our reasoner, they were both subsequent to it, and were the effect, and not the cause.


The history of the stamp-act is this: At the close of the last war, which was a native of America, and increased the national debt upwards of sixty millions, it was thought by parliament to be but equitable, that an additional revenue should be raised in America, towards defraying the necessary charges of keeping it in a state of defence: A resolve of this nature was passed, and the colonies made acquainted with it through their agents, in 1764, that their assemblies might make the necessary provision if they would. The assemblies neglected doing any thing, and the parliament passed the stamp-act. There is not so much as a colourable pretence, that any American had a hand in the matter. Had Governor Bernard, Governor Hutchinson, or the late Lieutenant-Governor been any way instrumental in obtaining the stamp-act, it is very strange that not a glimpse of evidence should ever have appeared, especially when we consider that their private correspondence has been published, letters which were written in the full confidence of unsuspecting friendship. The evidence, as Novanglus calls it, is wretchedly deficient as to fixing the charge upon Governor Bernard; but even admitting that Governor Bernard suggested to the ministry the design of taxing, there is no kind of evidence to prove that the junto, as this elegant writer calls the others, approved of it, much less that they employed him to do it. But, says he, no one can doubt but that Messieurs Hutchinson and Oliver were in unison with Governor Bernard, in all his measures: This is not a fact; Mr. Hutchinson dissented from him respecting the alteration of our charter, and wrote to his friends in England to prevent it. Whether Governor Bernard wrote in favour of the stamp-act being repealed or not, I cannot say, but I know that Governor Hutchinson did, and have reason to think his letters had great weight in turning the scale, which hung doubtful a long time, in favour of the repeal. These facts are known to many in the province, whigs as well as tories; yet such was the infatuation that prevailed, that the mob destroyed his house upon supposition that he was the patron of the stamp-act. Even in the letters wrote to the late Mr. Whately, we find him advising a total repeal of the tea-act. It cannot be fairly inferred from persons intimacy or mutual confidence, that they always approve of each others plans. Messieurs Otis, Cushing, Hancock and Adams were confidential friends, and made common cause equally with the other gentlemen.—May we thence infer, that the three latter hold that the parliament has a just and equitable right to impose taxes on the colonies? Or, that ‘the time may come, when the real interest of the whole may require an act of parliament to annihilate all our charters?’ For these also are Mr. Otis’s words. Or may we lay it down as a principle to reason from, that these gentlemen never disagree respecting measures? We know they do often, and very materially too. This writer is unlucky both in his principles and inferences: But where is the evidence respecting Brigadier Ruggles, Mr Paxton, and the late Judge Russel? He does not produce even the shadow of a shade. He does not even pretend, that they were inunison with Governor Bernard in all his measures. In matters of small moment a man may be allowed to amuse with ingenious fiction; but in personal accusation, in matters so interesting both to the individual and to the public, reason and candour require something more than assertion without proof, declamation without argument, and censure without dignity or moderation: This, however, is characteristic of Novanglus. It is the stale trick of the whig writers feloniously to stab reputations, when their antagonists are invulnerable in their public conduct.


These gentlemen were all of them, and the survivors still continue to be, friends of the English constitution, equally tenacious of the privileges of the people and of the prerogative of the crown, zealous advocates for the colonies continuing their constitutional dependence upon Great-Britain, as they think it no less the interest than the duty of the colonists, averse to tyranny and oppression in all their forms, and always ready to exert themselves for the relief of the oppressed, though they differ materially from the whigs in the mode of obtaining it. They discharged the duties of the several important departments they were called to fill, with equal faithfulness and ability; their public services gained them the confidence of the people; real merit drew after it popularity; and their principles, firmness and popularity rendered them obnoxious to certain persons amongst us, who have long been indulging themselves, in the hope of rearing up an American common-wealth upon the ruins of the British constitution. This republican party is of long standing: they lay however, in a great measure, dormant for several years. The distrust, jealousy and ferment, raised by the stamp-act, afforded scope for action. At first they wore the garb of hypocrisy; they professed to be friends to the British constitution in general, but claimed some exemptions from their local circumstances; at length they threw off their disguise, and now stand confessed to the world in their true characters, American republicans.—These republicans knew, that it would be impossible for them to succeed in their darling projects, without first destroying the influence of these adherents to the constitution: Their only method to accomplish it, was by publications charged with falshood and scurrility. Notwithstanding the favourable opportunity the stamp-act gave of imposing upon the ignorant and credulous, I have sometimes been amazed to see, with how little hesitation, some slovenly baits were swallowed. Sometimes the adherents to the constitution were called ministerial tools; at others, king, lords and commons, were the tools of them: for almost every act of parliament that has been made respecting America, in the present reign, we are told was draughted in Boston, or its environs, and only sent to England to run through the forms of parliament. Such stories, however improbable, gained credit; even the fictitious bill, for restraining marriages and murdering bastard children, met with some simple enough to think it real. He, that readily imbibes such absurdities, may claim affinity with the person, mentioned by Mr. Addison, who made it his practice to swallow a chimera every morning for breastfast. To be more serious; I pity the weakness of those that are capable of being thus duped, almost as much as I despise the wretch that would avail himself of it, to destroy private characters and the public tranquillity. By such infamous methods, many of the antient, trusty and skilful pilots, who had steered the community safely in the most perilous times, were driven from the helm, and their places occupied by different persons; some of whom, bankrupts in fortune, business and fame, are now striving to run the ship on the rocks, that they may have an opportunity of plundering the wreck. The gentlemen, named by Novanglus, have nevertheless persevered, with unshaken constancy and firmness, in their patriotic principles and conduct, through a variety of fortune; and have, at present, the mournful consolation of reflecting, that, had their admonitions and counsels been timely attended to, their country would never have been involved in its present calamity.


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

March 6, 1775


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