The Sentiments of a British American
from “Pamphlets of the American Revolution,” ed. by Bernard Bailyn
I — SENTIMENTS of a British American
IT WELL becomes the wisdom of a great nation, having been highly successful in their foreign wars and added a large extent of country to their dominions, to consider with a critical attention their internal state lest their prosperity should destroy them.
Great Britain at this day is arrived to an heighth of glory and wealth which no European nation hath ever reached since the decline of the Roman Empire. Everybody knows that it is not indebted to itself alone for this envied power: that its colonies, placed in a distant quarter of the earth, have had their share of efficiency in its late successes, as indeed they have also contributed to the advancing and increasing its grandeur from their very first beginnings.
In the forming and settling, therefore, the internal polity of the kingdom, these have reason to expect that their interest should be considered and attended to, that their rights, if they have any, should be preserved to them, and that they should have no reason to complain that they have been lavish of their blood and treasure in the late war only to bind the shackles of slavery on themselves and their children. No people have been more wisely jealous of their liberties and privileges than the British nation. It is observed by Vattel that “their present happy condition hath cost them seas of blood; but they have not purchased it too dear.”
The colonies, making a part of this great empire, having the same British rights inherent in them as the inhabitants of the island itself, they cannot be disfranchised or wounded in their privileges but the whole body politic must in the end feel with them.
The writer of this, being a native of an English colony, will take it for granted that the colonies are not the mere property of the mother state; that they have the same rights as other British subjects. He will also suppose that no design is formed to enslave them, and that the justice of the British Parliament will finally do right to every part of their dominions.
These things presupposed, he intends to consider the late act made in the fourth year of his present Majesty entitled An Act for Granting Certain Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America, etc., to show the real subjects of grievance therein to the colonists, and that the interest of Great Britain itself may finally be greatly affected thereby. There is the more reason that this freedom should be indulged after the act is passed inasmuch as the colonies, though greatly interested therein, had no opportunity of being heard while it was pending.
[1.] The first objection is that a tax is thereby laid on several commodities, to be raised and levied in the plantations, and to be remitted home to England. This is esteemed a grievance inasmuch as the same are laid without the consent of the representatives of the colonists. It is esteemed an essential British right that no person shall be subject to any tax but what in person or by his representative he hath a voice in laying. The British Parliament have many times vindicated this right against the attempts of Kings to invade it. And though perhaps it may be said that the House of Commons, in a large sense, are the representatives of the colonies as well as of the people of Great Britain, yet it is certain that these have no voice in their election. Nor can it be any alleviation of their unhappiness that if this right is taken from them, it is taken by that body who have been the great patrons and defenders of it in the people of Great Britain.
Besides, the colonies have ever supported a subordinate government among themselves. Being placed at such a distance from the capital, it is absolutely impossible they should continue a part of the kingdom in the same sense as the corporations there are. For this reason, from their beginning there hath been a subordinate legislature among them subject to the control of the mother state; and from the necessity of the case there must have been such, their circumstances and situation being in many respects so different from that of the parent state they could not have subsisted without this. Now the colonies have always been taxed by their own representatives and in their respective legislatures, and have supported an entire domestic government among themselves. Is it just, then, they should be doubly taxed? That they should be obliged to bear the whole charges of their domestic government, and should be as subject to the taxes of the British Parliament as those who have no domestic government to support ?
The reason given for this extraordinary taxation? namely, that this war was undertaken for the security of the colonies, and that they ought therefore to be taxed to pay the charge thereby incurred, it is humbly apprehended is without foundation. For
(I) It was of no less consequence to Great Britain than it was to the colonies that these should not be overrun and conquered by the French. Suppose they had prevailed and gotten all the English colonies into their possession: how long would Great Britain have survived their fate! Put the case that the town of Portsmouth or any other seaport had been besieged and the like sums expended in its defense, could any have thought that town ought to be charged with the expense?
(2) The colonies contributed their full proportion to those conquests which adorn and dignify the late and present reign. One of them in particular raised in one year seven thousand men to be commanded by His Majesty's general, besides maintaining many guards and garrisons on their own frontiers. All of them by their expenses and exertions in the late war have incurred heavy debts, which it will take them many years to pay.
(3) The colonies are no particular gainers by these acquisitions. None of the conquered territory is annexed to them. All are acquisitions accruing to the crown. On account of their commerce, they are no gainers: the northern colonies are even sufferers by these cessions. [I desire this may not be misunderstood. In this view I suppose them sufferers, namely that as the West Indies were not large enough to take off the produce the northern colonies could export to them before the conquest of Canada, now [that] that country is added it makes the disproportional much greate]. It is true they have more security from having their throats cut by the French while the peace lasts; but so have also all His Majesty's subjects.
(4) Great Britain gaineth immensely by these acquisitions. The command of the whole American fur trade and the increased demand for their woolen manufactures from their numerous new subjects in a country too cold to keep sheep: these are such immense gains as in a commercial light would refund the kingdom, if every farthing of the expense of reducing Canada were paid out of the exchequer. But to say the truth, it is not only by the taxation itself that the colonists deem themselves aggrieved by the act we are considering. For—
II. The power therein given to courts of admiralty alarms them greatly. The common law is the birthright of every subject, and trial by jury a most de planted. Many struggles had they with courts of admiralty, which, like the element they take theirarling privilege. So deemed our ancestors in ancient times, long before the colonies were begun to be planted . Many struggles had they with their copurts of admiralty, which, like the element they take their name from, have divers times attempted to innundate the land. Hence the statutes of Richard II, of Henry IV, and divers other public acts. Hence the watchful eye the reverend sages of the common law have kept over these courts. —Now by the act we are considering, the colonists are deprived of these privileges: of the common law, for these judges are supposed to be connusant only of the civil law; of juries, for all here is put in the breast of one man. He judges both law and fact, and his decree is final; at least it cannot be reversed on this side the Atlantic. In this particular the colonists are put under a quite different law from all the rest of the King's subjects: jurisdiction is nowhere else given to courts of admiralty of matters so foreign from their connusance. In some things the colonists have been long subject to this cruel yoke, and have indeed fully experienced its galling nature. Loud complaints have been long made by them of the oppressions of these courts, their exhorbitant fees, and the little justice the subject may expect from them in cases of seizures. Let me mention one thing that is notorious: these courts have assumed (I know not by what law) a commission of five per cent to the judge on all seizures condemned. What chance does the subject stand for his right upon the best claim when the judge, condemning, is to have an hundred or perhaps five hundred pounds, and acquitting, less than twenty shillings? If the colonists should be thought partial witnesses in this case, let those of the inhabitants of Great Britain who have had the misfortune to be suitors or to have any business in these dreadful courts be inquired of.
There have been times when the legislature of Great Britain appeared to be as sensible of the bad conduct of these courts as we are now. I Mean when the statute of 6 Anne c. 37 and some later ones to the same purpose were made, wherein the remedy they have given is as extraordinary as the power given those courts. For in those statutes the judge of admiralty is subjected to a penalty of five hundred pounds, to be recovered by the aggrieved suitor at common law. These only refer to cases of prizes, and give no remedy in cases of seizures, where their power is not only decisive but in many respects uncontrollable. Meantime, can the colonists help wondering and grieving that the British legislature should vest with such high powers over them courts in whom they appear to have so little confidence?
But in the act we are considering, the power of these courts is even much enlarged and made still more grievous. For it is thereby enacted that the seizor may inform in any court of admiralty for the particular colony, or in any court of admiralty to be appointed over all America, at his pleasure. Thus a malicious seizor may take the goods of any man, ever so lawfully and duly imported, and carry the trial of the cause to a thousand miles distance, where for mere want of ability to follow, the claimer shall be incapable of defending his right. At the same time an hardship is laid upon the claimer; his claim is not to be admitted] or heard until he find sureties to prosecute, who are to be of known ability in the place where security is given. And he, being unknown in a place so distance from home, whatever be his estate, shall be incapable of producing such sureties.
III. The empowering commanders of the King's ships to seize and implead, as is done in this act and a former act and by special commission from the commissioners of the customs, is another great hardship on the colonies. The knowledge of all the statutes relating to the customs, of all the prohibitions on exports and imports, and of various intricate cases arising on them, requires a good lawyer. How can this science ever be expected from men educated in a totally different way, brought up upon the boisterous element and knowing no law aboard their ships but their own will? Here perhaps it will be said, this is not peculiar to the colonies. The power to these commanders is given in all parts of the dominions as well as in the colonies: why should they complain of being under the same law as the other subject.? I answer, There is this great essential difference between the cases: in Great Britain no jurisdiction is given to any other than the common law courts; there too the subjects are near the throne, where, when they are oppressed, their complaints may soon be heard and redressed; but with respect to the colonies, far different is the case! Here it is their own courts that try the cause! Here the subject is far distant from the throne! His complaints cannot soon be heard and redressed. The boisterous commander may take for his motto,
Procul a Jove, a fulmine procul.
The present decree, however unjust, deprives him even of the means of seeking redress. The judge with his troop and the proud captain have divided his wealth; and he hath nothing to do but to hang himself or to go a-begging in a country of beggars.
There is yet another very great objection the colonists make to this act, of no less weight than the other three. It is this:
IV. Whereas it is good law that all officers seizing goods seize at their peril, and if the goods they seize are not liable to forfeiture they must pay the claimant his cost, and are liable to his action besides, which two things have been looked upon as proper checks of exorbitant wanton power in the officer: both these checks are taken off. They, the officers, may charge the revenue with the cost, with the consent of four of the commissioners of the customs. And if the judge of admiralty will certify that there was probable cause of seizure, no action shall be maintained by the claimant though his goods on trial appear to be ever so duly imported and liable to no sort of forfeiture, and he hath been forced to expend ever so much in the defense of them. This last regulation is in the act peculiarly confined to America.
Much more might be said on these subjects, but I aim at brevity.
Let it now be observed that the interest of Great Britain is finally greatly affected by these new regulations. We will not here insist on the parental tenderness due from Great Britain to us and suggest she must suffer from sympathy with her children, who have been guilty of no undutiful behavior towards her but on the contrary have greatly increased her wealth and grandeur and in the last war have impoverished themselves in fighting her battles. We will suppose her for this little moment to have forgot the bowels of a mother.
Neither will we dwell long on the importance of the precedent. The consideration of a million and half of British subjects disfranchised or put under regulations alien from our happy constitution: what pretense it may afford to after ministers to treat the inhabitants of the island itself after the same manner. We will suppose for the present that at a thousand leagues distance, across the water, the inhabitants of the capital will not be endangered by a conflagration of all the colonies.
Nor will we mention any possible danger from the alienation of the affections of the colonies from their mother country in case of a new war. We will suppose them to have that reverence for the English name they are allowed to retain that they will be as lavish of what blood and treasure remains to them now they are cut off from all these privileges as when they could please themselves with the surest hope of holding them inviolable.
What we are now considering is how the mere present self-interest of Great Britain is affected by these new regulations.
Now everybody knows that the greatest part of the trade of Great Britain is with her colonies. This she enjoyeth, exclusive of any other European country, and hath entirely at her own command. Further, it may be made out that the greatest part of the profits of the trade of the colonies, at least on the continent, centers in Great Britain. The colonists, settled in a wide and sparse manner, are perpetually demanding the linen, woolen and other manufactures of Great Britain. They are not yet settled in so contiguous a manner as to be able to manufacture sufficient for their own supplies. And while they can pay for those of Great Britain with any proper remittances, their demands will be perpetually increasing. Great Britain, besides, is the mart which supplieth the colonies with all the produce of the other countries in Europe which the colonies use.
Considering the vast numbers supported by these manufactures vended in the colonies, and by the articles of foreign trade brought into the kingdom and thence exported and consumed in the plantations, doubtless even the luxury of the colonists is the gain of Great Britain. So thought wise ministers in the late reign: on which ground they repealed two or three sumptuary laws made in the colonies for restraining that luxury.
Now as the colonies have no gold or silver mines in them, it is certain that all their remittances they make must be from their trade. And it is obvious that when the sources of their remittances are cut off, the demands for these goods, by which so many thousands are supported, must cease. And whoever considereth with any degree of attention the new regulations and is acquainted with the state of the colonies must see that the evident tendency of them is to cut off all these sources and to destroy altogether the trade of the colonists.
One grand source of these remittances is the fishery, which by the duty of three pence a gallon on molasses must entirely be at an end. That branch can never bear the high duties imposed, nor subsist with- out the molasses which the trade to the foreign islands furnisheth. Not only by their connection with this but by the mere effect of the new regulations, all the other trade of the colonists must be at an end. These regulations must break and subdue the hearts of the traders here. TRADE is a nice and delicate lady; she must be courted and won by soft and fair addresses. She will not bear the rude hand of a ravisher. Penalties increased, heavy taxes laid on, the checks of oppression and violence removed; these things must drive her from her present abode.
Hence, one or other of these consequences will follow: either (1) the colonies will universally go into such manufactures as they are capable of doing within themselves, or (2) they will do without them, and being reduced to mere necessaries, will be clothed like their predecessors the Indians with the skins of beasts, and sink into like barbarism. They must then adopt Jack Straw's verses.
When Adam delved, and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? [I imagine many sanguine readers on the British side the water will think this is all exaggeration. Such may be informed that even now these things begin to appear. For two or three years past, exchange from the Massachusetts to England has been above par, and bills earnestly bought up. Now the bills the government have to dispose of, though set at a less exchange than the last year and though certain advice is received that the money is in the bank, cannot vend.]
Now, either of these events taking place, how will it affect the island of Great Britain? The answer is obvious. The exports to the colonies wholly stopped or greatly diminished, the demands for those manufactures in Great Britain must be in proportion lessened. The substance of those manufacturers, merchants, and traders whom this demand supports is then gone. They who live from supplying these manufacturers, etc., must decay and die with them. Lastly, as trade may be compared to a grand chain made up of innumerable links, it is doubtful whether the British trade, great as it is, can bear the striking out so many without greatly endangering the whole.
What now is the equivalent for all this to the nation? A tenth part of one year's tax, at the extent two years' tax upon the colonies (for after that time all their money will be gone) to be lodged in the exchequer and thence issued as the Parliament shall direct. Doth not this resemble the conduct of the good wife in the fable who killed her hen that every day laid her a golden egg?
THESE are the sentiments of a British American, which he ventures to expose to the public with an honest well meant freedom. Born in one of the colonies and descended from ancestors who were among the first planters of that colony, he is not ashamed to avow a love to the country that gave him birth; yet he hath ever exulted in the name of Briton. He hath ever thought all the inhabitants in the remotest dominions of Great Britain interested in the wealth, the prosperity, and the glory of the capital. And he desireth ever to retain these filial sentiments.
If the objections he proposeth are of any weight, he trusts the meanness and distance of the proposer shall not diminish that weight that those great minds who can comprehend the whole vast machine in one view will not deem it below them to inspect a single small wheel that is out of order.
He concludes all with his most ardent wishes that the happy island of Great Britain may grow in wealth, in power, and glory to yet greater degrees; that the conquests it makes over foreign enemies may serve the more to protect the internal liberties of its subjects; that her colonies now happily extended may grow in filial affection and dutiful submission to her their mother; and that she in return may never forget her parental affections. That the whole English empire, united by the strongest bands of love and interest, formidable to the tyrants and oppressors of the earth, may retain its own virtue, and happily possess immortality.