top of page

Massachusettensis XV


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER XV.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


THE outlines of British commerce have been heretofore sketched; and the interests of each part in particular, and of the whole empire conjointly, have been shewn to be the principles by which the grand system is poized and balanced. Whoever will take upon himself the trouble of reading and comparing the several acts of trade which respect the colonies, will be convinced, that the cherishing their trade and promoting their interest have been the objects of parliamentary attention equally with those of Britain. He will see, that the great council of the empire has ever esteemed our prosperity as inseparable from the British; and if, in some instances, the colonies have been restricted to the emolument of other parts of the empire, they in their turn, not excepting England itself, have been also restricted sufficiently to restore the balance, if not to cause a preponderation in our favour.


Permit me to transcribe a page or two from a pamphlet, written in England, and lately republished here, wherein this matter is stated with great justice and accuracy.

‘The people of England and the American adventurers being so differently circumstanced, it required no great sagacity to discover, that as there were many commodities which America could supply on better terms than they could be raised in England, so must it be much more for the colonies’ advantage to take others from England, than attempt to make them themselves. The American lands were cheap, covered with woods, and abounded with native commodities. The first attention of the settlers was necessarily engaged in cutting down the timber, and clearing the ground for culture; for before they had supplied themselves with provisions, and had hands to spare from agriculture, it was impossible they could set about manufacturing. England, therefore, undertook to supply them with manufactures, and either purchased herself or found markets for the timber, the colonists cut down upon their lands, or the fish they caught upon their coasts. It was soon discovered that the tobacco plant was a native of, and flourished in, Virginia. It had been also planted in England, and was found to delight in the soil. The legislature however, wisely and equitably considering that England had variety of products, and Virginia had no other to buy her necessaries with, passed an act prohibiting the people of England from planting tobacco, and thereby giving the monopoly of that plant to the colonies. As the inhabitants increased, and the lands became more cultivated, further and new advantages were thrown in the way of the American colonies. All foreign markets, as well as Great-Britain, were open for their timber and provisions; and the British West-India islands were prohibited from purchasing those commodities from any other than them. And since England has found itself in danger of wanting a supply of timber, and it has been judged necessary to confine the export from America to Great-Britain and Ireland, full and ample indemnity has been given to the colonies for the loss of a choice of markets in Europe, by very large bounties paid out of the revenue of Great-Britain, upon the importation of American timber. And as a further encouragement and reward to them for clearing their lands, bounties are given upon tar and pitch, which are made from their decayed and useless trees; and the very ashes of their lops and branches are made of value by the late bounty on American potashes. The soil and climate of the northern colonies having been found well adapted to the culture of flax and hemp, bounties, equal to half the first cost of those commodities, have been granted by parliament, payable out of the British revenue, upon their importation into Great-Britain. The growth of rice in the southern colonies has been greatly encouraged, by prohibiting the importation of that grain into the British dominions from other parts, and allowing it to be transported from the colonies to the foreign territories in America, and even to the southern parts of Europe. Indigo has been nurtured in those colonies by great parliamentary bounties, which have been long paid upon the importation into Great-Britain, and of late are allowed to remain, even when it is carried out again to foreign markets. Silk and wine have also been objects of parliamentary munificence, and will one day probably become considerable American products, under that encouragement. In which of these instances, it may be demanded, has the legislature shewn itself partial to the people of England and unjust to the colonies? Or wherein have the colonies been injured? We hear much of the restraints under which the trade of the colonies is laid by acts of parliament for the advantage of Great-Britain, but the restraints under which the people of Great-Britain are laid by acts of parliament, for the advantage of the colonies, are carefully kept out of sight;---and yet, upon a comparison, the one will be found full as grievous as the other.---For is it a greater hardship on the colonies, to be confined in some instances to the markets of Great-Britain for the sale of their commodities, than it is on the people of Great-Britain to be obliged to buy the commodities from them only? If the island colonies are obliged to give the people of Great-Britain the pre-emption of their sugar and coffee; is it not a greater hardship on the people of Great-Britain to be restrained from purchasing sugar and coffee from other countries, where they could get them much cheaper than the colonies make them pay for them? Could not our manufacturers have indigo much better and cheaper from France and Spain than from Carolina? And yet is there not a duty imposed by acts of parliament on French and Spanish indigo, that it may come to our manufacturers at a dearer rate than Carolina indigo, though a bounty is also given out of the money of the people of England to the Carolina planter, to enable him to sell his indigo upon a par with the French and Spanish? But the instance which has been already taken notice of, the act which prohibits the culture of the tobacco plant in Great-Britain or Ireland, is still more in point, and a more striking proof of the justice and impartiality of the supreme legislature: for what restraints, let me ask, are the colonies laid under, which bear such strong marks of hardship, as prohibiting the farmers in Great-Britain and Ireland from raising, upon their own lands, a product which is become almost a necessary of life to them and their families? And this most extraordinary restraint is laid upon them, for the avowed and sole purpose of giving Virginia and Maryland a monopoly of that commodity, and obliging the people of Great-Britain and Ireland to buy all the tobacco they consume, from them, at the prices they think fit to sell it for. The annals of no country, that ever planted colonies, can produce such an instance as this of regard and kindness to their colonies, and of restraint upon the inhabitants of the mother-country for their advantage. Nor is there any restraint laid upon the inhabitants of the colonies in return, which carries in it such great appearance of hardship, although the people of Great-Britain and Ireland have, from their regard and affection to the colonies, submitted to it without a murmur for near a century.’ For a more particular inquiry, let me recommend the perusal of the pamphlet itself, and also of another pamphlet lately published, entitled, ‘the advantages which America derives from her commerce, connection and dependence on Great-Britain.’


A calculation has lately been made both of the amount of the revenue arising from the duties with which our trade is at present charged, and of the bounties and encouragement paid out of the British revenue upon articles of American produce imported into England; and the latter is found to exceed the former more than four-fold. This does not look like a partiality to our disadvantage:—However, there is no surer method of determining whether the colonies have been oppressed by the laws of trade and revenue, than by observing their effects.


From what source has the wealth of the colonies flowed? Whence is it derived? Not from agriculture only. Exclusive of commerce, the colonists would this day have been a poor people, possessed of little more than the necessaries for supporting life; of course their numbers would be few; for population always keeps pace with the ability of maintaining a family: there would have been but little or no resort of strangers here; the arts and sciences would have made but small progress; the inhabitants would rather have degenerated into a state of ignorance and barbarity. Or had Great-Britain laid such restrictions upon our trade, as our patriots would induce us to believe, that is, had we been pouring the fruits of all our labour into the lap of our parent, and been enriching her by the sweat of our brow, without receiving an equivalent; the patrimony derived from our ancestors must have dwindled from little to less, till their posterity should have suffered a general bankruptcy.


But how different are the effects of our connection with, and subordination to Britain? They are too strongly marked to escape the most careless observer. Our merchants are opulent, and our yeomanry in easier circumstances than the noblesse of some states: Population is so rapid as to double the number of inhabitants in the short period of twenty-five years: Cities are springing up in the depths of the wilderness: Schools, colleges, and even universities, are interspersed through the continent: Our country abounds with foreign refinements, and flows with exotic luxuries. These are infallible marks, not only of opulence, but of freedom. The recluse may speculate—the envious repine—the disaffected calumniate;—all these may combine to create fears and jealousies in the minds of the multitude, and keep them in alarm from the beginning to the end of the year; but such evidence as this must for ever carry conviction with it to the minds of the dispassionate and judicious.


Where are the traces of slavery, that our patriots would terrify us with? The effects of slavery are as glaring and obvious in those countries that are cursed with its abode, as the effects of war, pestilence, or famine. Our land is not disgraced by the wooden shoes of France, or the uncombed hair of Poland: We have neither racks nor inquisitions, tortures nor assassinations: The mildness of our criminal jurisprudence is proverbial, ‘a man must have many friends to get hanged in New-England.’ Who has been arbitrarily imprisoned, disseized of his freehold, or despoiled of his goods? Each peasant, that is industrious, may acquire an estate, enjoy it in his life-time, and at his death transmit a fair inheritance to his posterity. The protestant religion is established, as far as human laws can establish it. My dear friends, let me ask each one, whether he has not enjoyed every blessing that is in the power of civil government to bestow? And yet the parliament has, from the earliest days of the colonies, claimed the lately controverted right both of legislation and taxation, and for more than a century has been in the exercise of it. There is no grievous exercise of that right at this day, unless the measures taken to prevent our revolting may be called grievances. Are we then to rebel, lest there should be grievances? Are we to take up arms and make war against our parent, lest that parent, contrary to the experience of a century and a half, contrary to her own genius, inclination, affection, and interest, should treat us or our posterity as bastards and not as sons, and instead of protecting should enslave us? The annals of the world have not yet been deformed with a single instance of so unnatural, so causeless, so wanton, so wicked, a rebellion.


There is but a step between you and ruin; and should our patriots succeed in their endeavours to urge you on to take that step, and hostilities actually commence, New-England will stand recorded a singular monument of human folly and wickedness. I beg leave to transcribe a little from the Farmer’s letters:—‘Good Heaven! Shall a total oblivion of former tendernesses and blessings be spread over the minds of a good and wise people, by the sordid arts of intriguing men, who, covering their selfish projects under pretences of public good, first enrage their country-men into a frenzy of passion which they themselves have excited?’ When cool dispassionate posterity shall consider the affectionate intercourse, the reciprocal benefits, and the unsuspecting confidence, that have subsisted between these colonies and their parent state for such a length of time; they will execrate, with the bitterest curses, the infamous memory of those men, whose ambition, unnecessarily, wantonly, cruelly, first opened the sources of civil discord.


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

March 20, 1775


2 views0 comments

Related Posts

bottom of page