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Massachusettensis XVII


 

Massachusettensis

 

LETTER XVII.

 

To the Inhabitants of the Province of Massachusetts-Bay.


THE advocates for the opposition to parliament, often remind us of the rights of the people, repeat the Latin adage, vox populi vox Dei, and tell us, that government, in the dernier resort, is in the people:—they chime away melodiously, and, to render their music more ravishing, tell us, that these are revolution principles. I hold the rights of the people to be sacred, and revere the principles that have established the succession to the imperial crown of Great-Britain in the line of the illustrious house of Brunswick; but the difficulty lies in applying them to the cause of the whigs, hic labor, hoc opus est; for admitting, that the collective body of the people, that are subject to the British empire, have an inherent right to change their form of government, or race of Kings; it does not follow, that the inhabitants of a single province or of a number of provinces, or any given part under a majority of the whole empire, have such a right. By admitting that the less may rule or sequester themselves from the greater, we unhinge all government. Novanglus has accused me of traducing the people of this province: I deny the charge. Popular demagogues always call themselves the people, and, when their own measures are censured, cry out, the people, the people are abused and insulted. He says, that I once entertained different sentiments from those now advanced: I did not write to exculpate myself: If through ignorance, or inadvertency, I have heretofore contributed, in any degree, to the forming that destructive system of politics that is now in vogue, I was under the greater obligation thus publicly to expose its errors, and point out its pernicious tendency. He suggests, that I write from sordid motives: I despise the imputation. I have written my real sentiments, not to serve a party (for as he justly observes, I have sometimes quarrelled with my friends) but to serve the public; nor would I injure my country to inherit all the treasures that avarice and ambition sigh for. Fully convinced that our calamities were chiefly created by the leading whigs, and that a perserving in the same measures, that gave rise to our troubles, would complete our ruin; I have written freely. It is painful to me to give offence to an individual, but I have not spared the ruinous policy of my brother or my friend,—they are both far advanced.—Truth from its own energy will finally prevail, but, to have speedy effect, it must sometimes be accompanied with severity. The terms whig and tory have been adopted according to the arbitrary use of them in this province, but they rather ought to be reversed; an American tory is a supporter of our excellent constitution, and an American whig is a subverter of it.


Novanglus abuses me for saying, that the whigs aim at independence. The writer from Hampshire county is my advocate: He frankly asserts the independency of the colonies without any reserve, and is the only consistent writer I have met with on that side of the question; for, by separating us from the King as well as the parliament, he is under no necessity of contradicting himself. Novanglus strives to hide the inconsistences of his hypothesis, under a huge pile of learning. Surely he is not to learn, that arguments drawn from obsolete maxims, raked out of the ruins of the feudal system, or from principles of absolute monarchy, will not conclude to the present constitution of government: When he has finished his essays, he may expect some particular remarks upon them. I should not have taken the trouble of writing these letters, had I not been satisfied that real and permanent good would accrue to this province, and indeed to all the colonies, from a speedy change of measures. Public justice and generosity are no less characteristic of the English, than their private honesty and hospitality. The total repeal of the stamp-act, and the partial repeal of the act imposing duties on paper, &c. may convince us, that the nation has no disposition to injure us. We are blessed with a King that reflects honor upon a crown: He is so far from being avaricious, that he has relinquished a part of his revenue; and so far from being tyrannical, that he has generously surrendered part of his prerogative for the sake of freedom. His court is so far from being tinctured with dissipation, that the palace is rather an academy of the literati; and the royal pair are as exemplary in every private virtue, as they are exalted in their stations. We have only to cease contending with the supreme legislature respecting its authority, with the King respecting his prerogatives, and with Great-Britain respecting our subordination; to dismiss our illegal committees, disband our forces, despise the thraldom of arrogant congresses, and submit to constitutional government; to be happy.


Many appear to consider themselves as procul à Jove à fulmine procul, and, because we never have experienced any severity from Great-Britain, think it impossible that we should. The English nation will bear much from its friends, but whoever has read its history must know, that there is a line that cannot be passed with impunity: It is not the fault of our patriots if that line be not already passed: They have demanded of Great-Britain more than she can grant consistent with her honor, her interest, or our own, and are now brandishing the sword of defiance.


Do you expect to conquer in war? War is no longer a simple but an intricate science, not to be learned from books, or two or three campaigns, but from long experience. You need not be told, that his Majesty’s Generals, Gage and Haldimand, are possessed of every talent requisite to great commanders, matured by long experience in many parts of the world, an stand high in military fame; that many of the officers have been bred to arms from their infancy, and a large proportion of the army, now here, have already reaped immortal honors in the iron harvest of the field.—Alas! My friends, you have nothing to oppose to this force, but a militia unused to service, impatient of command, and destitute of resources. Can your officers depend upon the privates, or the privates upon the officers? Your war can be but little more than mere tumultuary rage: And besides, there is an awful disparity between troops that fight the battles of their Sovereign, and those that follow the standard of rebellion. These reflections may arrest you in an hour that you think not of, and come too late to serve you. Nothing short of a miracle could gain you one battle; but could you destroy all the British troops that are now here, and burn the men of war that command our coast, it would be but the beginning of sorrow; and yet, without a decisive battle, one campaign would ruin you. This province does not produce its necessary provision, when the husbandman can pursue his calling without molestation: What then must be your condition, when the demand shall be increased and the resource in a manner cut off?—Figure to yourselves, what must be your distress should your wives and children be driven from such places, as the King’s troops shall occupy, into the interior parts of the province, and they, as well as you, be destitute of support. I take no pleasure in painting these scenes of distress. The whigs affect to divert you from them by ridicule;—but should war commence, you can expect nothing but its severities. Might I hazard an opinion, but few of your leaders ever intended to engage in hostilities; but they may have rendered inevitable what they intended for intimidation. Those that unsheath the sword of rebellion may throw away the scabbard; they cannot be treated with while in arms; and if they lay them down, they are in no other predicament than conquered rebels. The conquered in other wars do not forfeit the rights of men, nor all the rights of citizens, even their bravery is rewarded by a generous victor; far different is the case of a routed rebel host. My dear countrymen, you have before you, at your election, peace or war, happiness or misery. May the God of our forefathers direct you in the way that leads to peace and happiness, before your feet stumble on the dark mountains,—before the evil days come, wherein you shall say, We have no pleasure in them.


MASSACHUSETTENSIS.

April 3, 1775


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