Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty
on the Nature of
Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government,
and the Justice and Policy
of the War with America.
Preface to the Fifth Edition
The favourable reception which the following Tract has met with makes me abundant amends for the abuse it has brought upon me. I should be ill employed were I to take much notice of this abuse: but there is one circumstance attending it which I cannot help just mentioning. The principles on which I have argued form the foundation of every state as far as it is free, and are the same with those taught by Mr. Locke and all the writers on civil liberty who have been hitherto most admired in this country. But I find with concern that our governors chuse to decline trying by them their present measures. For, in a pamphlet[b] which has been circulated by government with great industry, these principles are pronounced to be 'unnatural and wild, incompatible with practice, and the offspring of the distempered imagination of a man who is biassed by party, and who writes to deceive'. I must take this opportunity to add that I love quiet too well to think of entering into a controversy with any writers, particularly nameless ones. Conscious of good intentions and unconnected with any party, I have endeavoured to plead the cause of general liberty and justice. And happy in knowing this, I shall, in silence, commit myself to that candour of the public of which I have had so much experience.
March 12th. 1776.
Our colonies in North America appear to be now determined to risk and suffer every thing under the persuasion that Great Britain is attempting to rob them of that liberty to which every member of society, and all civil communities, have a natural and unalienable title. The question, therefore, whether this is a right persuasion, is highly interesting and deserves the careful attention of every Englishman who values liberty and wishes to avoid staining himself with the guilt of invading it. But it is impossible to judge properly of this question without just ideas of liberty in general, and of the nature, limits, and principles of civil liberty in particular. The following observations on this subject appear to me of some importance, and I cannot make myself easy without offering them to the public at the present period, big with events of the last consequence to this kingdom. I do this with reluctance and pain urged by strong feelings, but at the same time checked by the consciousness that I am likely to deliver sentiments not favourable to the present measures of that government under which I live and to which I am a constant and zealous well-wisher. Such, however, are my present sentiments and views, that this is a consideration of inferior moment with me, and, as I hope never to go beyond the bounds of decent discussion and expostulation, I flatter myself, that I shall be able to avoid giving any person reason for offence.
The observations with which I shall begin are of a more general and abstract nature; but being necessary to introduce what I have principally in view, I hope they will be patiently read and considered.
In order to obtain a more distinct view of the nature of liberty as such it will be useful to consider it under the four following general divisions.
First, physical liberty; secondly, moral liberty; thirdly, religious liberty; and fourthly, civil liberty. These heads comprehend under them all the different kinds of liberty. And I have placed civil liberty last because I mean to apply to it all I shall say of the other kinds of liberty.
By physical liberty I mean that principle of spontaneity, or self-determination, which constitutes us agents, or which gives us a command over our actions, rendering them properly ours, and not effects of the operation of any foreign cause. Moral liberty is the power of following, in all circumstances, our sense of right and wrong, or of acting in conformity to our reflecting and moral principles, without being controuled by any contrary principles. Religious liberty signifies the power of exercising, without molestation, that mode of religion which we think best, or of making the decisions of our own consciences respecting religious truth, the rule of our conduct, and not any of the decisions of our fellow-men. In like manner civil liberty is the power of a civil society or state to govern itself by its own discretion or by laws of its own making, without being subject to the impositions of any power in appointing and directing which the collective body of the people have no concern and over which they have no controul.
It should be observed that, according to these definitions of the different kinds of liberty, there is one general idea that runs through them all; I mean the idea of self-direction, or self-government. Did our volitions originate not with ourselves, but with some cause over which we have no power; or were we under a necessity of always following some will different from our own, we should want physical liberty.
In like manner, he whose perceptions of moral obligation are controuled by his passions has lost his moral liberty, and the most common language applied to him is that he wants self-government.
He likewise who, in religion, cannot govern himself by his convictions of religious duty, but is obliged to receive formularies of faith, and to practise modes of worship imposed upon him by others, wants religious liberty. And the community also that is governed, not by itself, but by some will independent of it, wants civil liberty.
In all these cases there is a force which stands opposed to the agent's own will, and which, as far as it operates, produces servitude. In the first case, this force is incompatible with the very idea of voluntary motion; and the subject of it is a mere passive instrument which never acts, but is always acted upon. In the second case, this force is the influence of passion getting the better of reason, or the brute overpowering and conquering the will of the man. In the third case, it is human authority in religion requiring conformity to particular modes of faith and worship, and superseding private judgment. And in the last case, it is any will distinct from that of the majority of a community which claims a power in making laws for it and disposing of its property.
This it is, I think, that marks the limit between liberty and slavery. As far as, in any instance, the operation of any cause comes in to restrain the power of self-government, so far slavery is introduced. Nor do I think that a preciser idea than this of liberty and slavery can be formed.
I cannot help wishing I could here fix my reader's attention, and engage him to consider carefully the dignity of that blessing to which we give the name of liberty, according to the representation now made of it. There is not a word in the whole compass of language which expresses so much of what is important and excellent. It is, in every view of it, a blessing truly sacred and invaluable. Without physical liberty, man would be a machine acted upon by mechanical springs, having no principle of motion in himself, or command over events; and, therefore, incapable of all merit and demerit. Without moral liberty, he is a wicked and detestable being, subject to the tyranny of base lusts, and the sport of every vile appetite. And without religious and civil liberty, he is a poor and abject animal, without rights, without property, and without a conscience, bending his neck to the yoke, and crouching to the will of every silly creature who has the insolence to pretend to authority over him. Nothing, therefore, can be of much consequence to us as liberty. It is the foundation of all honour, and the chief privilege and glory of our natures.
In fixing our idea on the subject of liberty, it is of particular use to take such an enlarged view of it as I have now given. But the immediate object of the present enquiry being civil liberty, I will confine to it all the subsequent observations.
From what has been said it is obvious that all civil government, as far as it can be denominated free, is the creature of the people. It originates with them. It is conducted under their direction, and has in view nothing but their happiness. All its different forms are no more than so many different modes in which they chuse to direct their affairs, and to secure the quiet enjoyment of their rights. In every free state every man is his own Legislator. All taxes are free-gifts for public services. All laws are particular provisions or regulations established by common consent for gaining protection and safety. And all magistrates are trustees or deputies for carrying these regulations into execution.
Liberty, therefore, is too imperfectly denned when it is said to be 'a government by laws, and not by men'. If the laws are made by one man, or a junto of men in a state, and not by common consent, a government by them does not differ from slavery. In this case it would be a contradiction in terms to say that the state governs itself.
From hence it is obvious that civil liberty, in its most perfect degree, can be enjoyed only in small states where every independent agent is capable of giving his suffrage in person, and of being chosen into public offices. When a state becomes so numerous, or when the different parts of it are removed to such distances from one another as to render this impracticable, a diminution of liberty necessarily arises. There are, however, in these circumstances, methods by which such near approaches may be made to perfect liberty as shall answer all the purposes of government, and at the same time secure every right of human nature.
Tho' all the members of a state should not be capable of giving their suffrages on public measures, individually and personally, they may do this by the appointment of substitutes or representatives. They may entrust the powers of legislation, subject to such restrictions as they shall think necessary, with any number of delegates; and whatever can be done by such delegates within the limits of their trust, may be considered as done by the united voice and counsel of the community. In this method a free government may be established in the largest state, and it is conceivable that by regulations of this kind any number of states might be subjected to a scheme of government that would exclude the desolations of war, and produce universal peace and order.
Let us think here of what may be practicable in this way with respect to Europe in particular. While it continues divided, as it is at present, into a great number of independent kingdoms whose interests are continually clashing, it is impossible but that disputes will often arise which must end in war and carnage. It would be no remedy to this evil to make one of these states supreme over the rest, and to give it an absolute plenitude of power to superintend and controul them. This would be to subject all the states to the arbitrary discretion of one, and to establish an ignominious slavery not possible to be long endured. It would, therefore, be a remedy worse than the disease; nor is it possible it should be approved by any mind that has not lost every idea of civil liberty. On the contrary, let every state, with respect to all its internal concerns, be continued independent of all the rest, and let a general confederacy be formed by the appointment of a senate consisting of representatives from all the different states. Let this senate possess the power of managing all the common concerns of the united states, and of judging and deciding between them, as a common arbiter or umpire, in all disputes; having, at the same time, under its direction the common force of the states to support its decisions. In these circumstances, each separate state would be secure against the interference of sovereign power in its private concerns, and, therefore, would possess liberty, and at the same time it would be secure against all oppression and insult from every neighbouring state. Thus might the scattered force and abilities of a whole continent be gathered into one point, all litigations settled as they rose, universal peace preserved, and nation prevented from any more lifting up a sword against nation.
I have observed that tho' in a great state all the individuals that compose it cannot be admitted to an immediate participation in the powers of legislation and government, yet they may participate in these powers by a delegation of them to a body of representatives. In this case it is evident that the state will be still free or self-governed, and that it will be more or less so in proportion as it is more or less fairly and adequately represented. If the persons to whom the trust of government is committed hold their places for short terms, if they are chosen by the unbiassed voices of a majority of the state, and subject to their instructions, liberty will be enjoyed in its highest degree. But if they are chosen for long terms by a part only of the state, and if during that term they are subject to no controul from their constituents, the very idea of liberty will be lost and the power of chusing representatives becomes nothing but a power, lodged in a few, to chuse at certain periods a body of masters for themselves and for the rest of the community. And if a state is so sunk that the majority of its representatives are elected by a handful of the meanest persons in it, whose votes are always paid for, and if also there is a higher will on which even these mock representatives themselves depend, and that directs their voices: in these circumstances, it will be an abuse of language to say that the state possesses liberty. Private men, indeed, might be allowed the exercise of liberty, as they might also under the most despotic government; but it would be an indulgence or connivance derived from the spirit of the rimes, or from an accidental mildness in the administration. And, rather than be governed in such a manner, it would perhaps be better to be governed by the will of one man without any representation, for a representation so degenerated could answer no other end than to mislead and deceive, by disguising slavery, and keeping up a form of liberty when the reality was lost.
Within the limits now mentioned, liberty may be enjoyed in every possible degree, from that which is complete and perfect, to that which is merely nominal; according as the people have more or less of a share in government, and of a controuling power over the persons by whom it is administered.
In general, to be free is to be guided by one's own will; and to be guided by the will of another is the characteristic of servitude. This is particularly applicable to political liberty. That state, I have observed, is free which is guided by its own will, or (which comes to the same) by the will of an assembly of representatives appointed by itself and accountable to itself. And every state that is not so governed, or in which a body of men representing the people make not an essential part of the legislature, is in slavery. In order to form the most perfect constitution of government, there may be the best reasons for joining to such a body of representatives an hereditary council, consisting of men of the first rank in the state, with a supreme executive magistrate as the head of all. This will form useful checks in a legislature, and contribute to give it vigour, union, and dispatch, without infringing liberty; for, as long as that part of a government which represents the people is a fair representation, and also has a negative on all public measures, together with the sole power of imposing taxes and originating supplies, the essentials of liberty will be preserved. We make it our boast in this country that this is our own constitution. I will not say with how much reason.
Of such liberty as I have now described, it is impossible there should be an excess. Government is an institution for the benefit of the people governed, which they have the power to model as they please; and to say that they can have too much of this power, is to say that there ought to be a power in the state superior to that which gives it being, and from which all jurisdiction in it is derived. Licentiousness, which has been commonly mentioned, as an extreme of liberty, is indeed its opposite. It is government by the will of rapacious individuals in opposition to the will of the community made known and declared in the laws. A free state, at the same time that it is free itself, makes all its members free by excluding licentiousness, and guarding their persons and property and good name against insult. It is the end of all just government, at the same time that it secures the liberty of the public against foreign injury, to secure the liberty of the individual against private injury. I do not, therefore, think it strictly just to say that it belongs to the nature of government to entrench on private liberty. It ought never to do this, except as far as the exercise of private liberty encroaches on the liberties of others. That is, it is licentiousness it restrains and liberty itself only when used to destroy liberty.
It appears from hence that licentiousness and despotism are more nearly allied than is commonly imagined. They are both alike inconsistent with liberty and the true end of government; nor is there any other difference between them than that the one is the licentiousness of great men, and the other the licentiousness of little men; or that, by the one, the persons and property of a people are subject to outrage and invasion from a king or a lawless body of grandees; and that, by the other, they are subject to the like outrage from a lawless mob. In avoiding one of these evils, mankind have often run into the other. But all well constituted governments guard equally against both. Indeed of the two, the last is, on several accounts, the least to be dreaded and has done the least mischief. It may be truly said that if licentiousness has destroyed its thousands, despotism has destroyed its millions. The former, having little power and no system to support it, necessarily finds its own remedy; and a people soon get out of the tumult and anarchy attending it. But a despotism, wearing the form of government and being armed with its force, is an evil not to be conquered without dreadful struggles. It goes on from age to age, debasing the human faculties, levelling all distinctions, and preying on the rights and blessings of society. It deserves to be added that in a state disturbed by licentiousness, there is an animation which is favourable to the human mind and which puts it upon exerting its powers; but in a state habituated to a despotism, all is still and torpid. A dark and savage tyranny stifles every effort of genius, and the mind loses all its spirit and dignity.
Before I proceed to what I have farther in view, I will observe that the account now given of the principles of public liberty and the nature of an equal and free government shews what judgment we should form of that omnipotence, which, it has been said, must belong to every government as such. Great stress has been laid on this, but most unreasonably. Government, as has been before observed, is, in the very nature of it, a trust, and all its powers a delegation for gaining particular ends. This trust may be misapplied and abused. It may be employed to defeat the very ends for which it was instituted, and to subvert the very rights which it ought to protect. A parliament, for instance, consisting of a body of representatives, chosen for a limited period to make laws and to grant money for public services, would forfeit its authority by making itself perpetual, or even prolonging its own duration; by nominating its own members; by accepting bribes; or subjecting itself to any kind of foreign influence. This would convert a parliament into a conclave or junto of self-created tools; and a state that has lost its regard to its own rights, so far as to submit to such a breach of trust in its rulers, is enslaved. Nothing, therefore, can be more absurd than the doctrine which some have taught with respect to the omnipotence of parliaments. They possess no power beyond the limits of the trust for the execution of which they were formed. If they contradict this trust, they betray their constituents and dissolve themselves. All delegated power must be subordinate and limited. If omnipotence can, with any sense, be ascribed to a legislature, it must be lodged where all legislative authority originates; that is, in the people. For their sakes government is instituted, and theirs is the only real omnipotence.
I am sensible that all I have been saying would be very absurd, were the opinions just which some have maintained concerning the origin of government. According to these opinions, government is not the creature of the people, or the result of a convention between them and their rulers; but there are certain men who possess in themselves, independently of the will of the people, a right of governing them, which they derive from the Deity. This doctrine has been abundantly refuted by many excellent writers. It is a doctrine which avowedly subverts civil liberty and which represents mankind as a body of vassals, formed to descend like cattle from one set of owners to another, who have an absolute dominion over them. It is a wonder that those who view their species in a light so humiliating should ever be able to think of themselves without regret and shame. The intention of these observations is not to oppose such sentiments, but, taking for granted the reasonableness of civil liberty, to shew wherein it consists, and what distinguishes it from its contrary. And, in considering this subject, as it has been now treated, it is unavoidable to reflect on the excellency of a free government and its tendency to exalt the nature of man. Every member of a free state, having his property secure and knowing himself his own governor, possesses a consciousness of dignity in himself and feels incitements to emulation and improvement to which the miserable slaves of arbitrary power must be utter strangers. In such a state all the springs of action have room to operate and the mind is stimulated to the noblest exertions. But to be obliged from our birth to look up to a creature no better than ourselves as the master of our fortunes, and to receive his will as our law what can be more humiliating? What elevated ideas can enter a mind in such a situation? Agreeably to this remark, the subjects of free states have, in all ages, been most distinguished for genius and knowledge. Liberty is the soil where the arts and sciences have flourished and the more free a state has been, the more have the powers of the human mind been drawn forth into action, and the greater number of brave men has it produced. With what lustre do the antient free states of Greece shine in the annals of the world? How different is that country now, under the great Turk? The difference between a country inhabited by men and by brutes, is not greater.
These are reflexions which should be constantly present to every mind in this country. As moral liberty is the prime blessing of man in his private capacity, so is civil liberty in his public capacity. There is nothing that requires more to be watched than power. There is nothing that ought to be opposed with a more determined resolution than its encroachments. Sleep in a state, as Montesquieu says, is always followed by slavery.
The people of this kingdom were once warmed by such sentiments as these. Many a sycophant of power have they sacrificed. Often have they fought and bled in the cause of liberty. But that time seems to be going. The fair inheritance of liberty left us by our ancestors, many of us are willing to resign. An abandoned venality, the inseparable companion of dissipation and extravagance, has poisoned the springs of public virtue among us; and should any events ever arise that should render the same opposition necessary that took place in the times of King Charles the First and James the Second, I am afraid all that is valuable to us would be lost. The terror of the standing army, the danger of the public funds, and the all-corrupting influence of the treasury, would deaden all zeal and produce general acquiescence and servility.
From the nature and principles of civil liberty, as they have been now explained, it is an immediate and necessary inference that no one community can have any power over the property or legislation of another community which is not incorporated with it by a just and adequate representation. Then only, it has been shewn, is a state free when it is governed by its own will. But a country that is subject to the legislature of another country in which it has no voice, and over which it has no controul, cannot be said to be governed by its own will. Such a country, therefore, is in a state of slavery. And it deserves to be particularly considered that such a slavery is worse, on several accounts, than any slavery of private men to one another, or of kingdoms to despots within themselves. Between one state and another there is none of that fellow-feeling that takes place between persons in private life. Being detached bodies that never see one another, and residing perhaps in different quarters of the globe, the state that governs cannot be a witness to the sufferings occasioned by its oppressions; or a competent judge of the circumstances and abilities of the people who are governed. They must also have in a great degree separate interests; and the more the one is loaded the more the other may be eased. The infamy likewise of oppression, being in such circumstances shared among a multitude, is not likely to be much felt or regarded. On all these accounts there is, in the case of one country subjugated to another, little or nothing to check rapacity; and the most flagrant injustice and cruelty may be practised without remorse or pity. I will add that it is particularly difficult to shake off a tyranny of this kind. A single despot, if a people are unanimous and resolute, may be soon subdued. But a despotic state is not easily subdued, and a people subject to it cannot emancipate themselves without entering into a dreadful and, perhaps, very unequal contest.
I cannot help observing farther, that the slavery of a people to internal despots may be qualified and limited; but I don't see what can limit the authority of one state over another. The exercise of power in this case can have no other measure than discretion, and, therefore, must be indefinite and absolute.
Once more, it should be considered that the government of one country by another can only be opposed by a military force, and, without such a support must be destitute of all weight and efficiency.
This will be best explained by putting the following case. There is, let us suppose, in a province subject to the sovereignty of a distant state, a subordinate legislature consisting of an assembly chosen by the people; a council chosen by that assembly; and a governor appointed by the sovereign state, and paid by the province. There are, likewise, judges and other officers, appointed and paid in the same manner, for administering justice agreeably to the laws by the verdicts of juries fairly chosen.
This forms a constitution seemingly free, by giving the people a share in their own government and some check on their rulers. But, while there is a higher legislative power to the controul of which such a constitution is subject, it does not itself possess liberty, and therefore cannot be of any use as a security to liberty; nor is it possible that it should be of long duration. Laws offensive to the province will be enacted by the sovereign state. The legislature of the province will remonstrate against them. The magistrates will not execute them. Juries will not convict upon them, and, consequently, like the Pope's bulls which once governed Europe, they will become nothing but forms and empty sounds to which no regard will be shewn. In order to remedy this evil and to give efficiency to its government, the supreme state will naturally be led to withdraw the governor, the council, and the judges from the controul of the province by making them entirely dependent on itself for their pay and continuance in office, as well as for their appointment. It will also alter the mode of chusing juries on purpose to bring them more under its influence. And in some cases, under the pretence of the impossibility of gaining an impartial trial where government is resisted, it will perhaps ordain that offenders shall be removed from the province to be tried within its own territories. And it may even go so far in this kind of policy as to endeavour to prevent the effects of discontents by forbidding all meetings and associations of the people except at such times, and for such particular purposes, as shall be permitted them.
Thus will such a province be exactly in the same state that Britain would be in were our first executive magistrate, our House of Lords, and our judges, nothing but the instruments of a sovereign democratical power; were our juries nominated by that power; or were we liable to be transported to a distant country to be tried for offences committed here; and restrained from calling any meetings, consulting about any grievances, or associating for any purposes, except when leave should be given us by a Lord Lieutenant or Viceroy.
It is certain that this is a state of oppression which no country could endure, and to which it would be vain to expect, that any people should submit an hour without an armed force to compel them.
The late transactions in Massachusett's Bay are a perfect exemplification of what I have now said. The government of Great Britain in that province has gone on exactly in the train I have described; till at last it became necessary to station troops there not amenable to the civil power; and all terminated in a government by the sword. And such, if a people are not sunk below the character of men, will be the issue of all government in similar circumstances.
It may be asked, 'Are there not causes by which one state may acquire a rightful authority over another, though not consolidated by an adequate representation?' I answer that there are no such causes. All the causes to which such an effect can be ascribed are conquest, compact, or obligations conferred.
Much has been said of the right of conquest; and history contains little more than accounts of kingdoms reduced by it under the dominion of other kingdoms, and of the havock it has made among mankind. But the authority derived from hence, being founded on violence, is never rightful. The Roman Republic was nothing but a faction against the general liberties of the world; and had no more right to give law to the provinces subject to it than thieves have to the property they seize, or to the houses into which they break. Even in the case of a just war undertaken by one people to defend itself against the oppressions of another people, conquest gives only a right to an indemnification for the injury which occasioned the war and a reasonable security against future injury.
Neither can any state acquire such an authority over other states in virtue of any compacts or cessions. This is a case in which compacts are not binding. Civil liberty is, in this respect, on the same footing with religious liberty. As no people can lawfully surrender their religious liberty by giving up their right of judging for themselves in religion, or by allowing any human beings to prescribe to them what faith they shall embrace, or what mode of worship they shall practise, so neither can any civil societies lawfully surrender their civil liberty by giving up to any extraneous jurisdiction their power of legislating for themselves and disposing their property. Such a cession, being inconsistent with the unalienable rights of human nature, would either not bind at all, or bind only the individuals who made it. This is a blessing which no one generation of men can give up for another, and which, when lost, a people have always a right to resume. Had our ancestors in this country been so mad as to have subjected themselves to any foreign community, we could not have been under any obligation to continue in such a state. And all the nations now in the world who, in consequence of the tameness and folly of their predecessors, are subject to arbitrary power have a right to emancipate themselves as soon as they can.
If neither conquest nor compact can give such an authority, much less can any favours received or any services performed by one state for another. Let the favour received be what it will, liberty is too dear a price for it. A state that has been obliged is not, therefore, bound to be enslaved. It ought, if possible, to make an adequate return for the services done to it, but to suppose that it ought to give up the power of governing itself and the disposal of its property, would be to suppose, that, in order to show its gratitude, it ought to part with the power of ever afterwards exercising gratitude. How much has been done by this kingdom for Hanover? But no one will say that on this account we have a right to make the laws of Hanover; or even to draw a single penny from it without its own consent.
After what has been said, it will, I am afraid, be trifling to apply the preceding arguments to the case of different communities which are considered as different parts of the same empire. But there are reasons which render it necessary for me to be explicit in making the application.
What I mean here is just to point out the difference of situation between communities forming an empire; and particular bodies or classes of men forming different parts of a kingdom. Different communities forming an empire have no connexions which produce a necessary reciprocation of interests between them. They inhabit different districts and are governed by different legislatures. On the contrary, the different classes of men within a kingdom are all placed on the same ground. Their concerns and interests are the same, and what is done to one pan must affect all. These are situations totally different and a constitution of government that may be consistent with liberty in one of them may be entirely inconsistent with it in the other. It is, however, certain that, even in the last of these situations, no one part ought to govern the rest. In order to a fair and equal government, there ought to be a fair and equal representation of all that are governed; and as far as this is wanting in any government, it deviates from the principles of liberty, and becomes unjust and oppressive. But in the circumstances of different communities, all this holds with unspeakably more force. The government of a part in this case becomes complete tyranny, and subjection to it becomes complete slavery.
But ought there not, it is asked, to exist somewhere in an empire a supreme legislative authority over the whole, or a power to controul and bind all the different states of which it consists? This enquiry has been already answered. The truth is, that such a supreme controuling power ought to exist nowhere except in such a senate or body of delegates as that described in page 25; and that the authority or supremacy of even this senate ought to be limited to the common concerns of the Empire. I think I have proved that the fundamental principles of liberty necessarily require this.
In a word, an empire is a collection of states or communities united by some common bond or tye. If these states have each of them free constitutions of government, and, with respect to taxation and internal legislation, are independent of the other states, but united by compacts, or alliances, or subjection to a great council, representing the whole, or to one monarch entrusted with the supreme executive power; in these circumstances the empire will be an empire of freemen. If, on the contrary, like the different provinces subject to the Grand Seignior, none of the states possess any independent legislative authority, but are all subject to an absolute monarch whose will is their law, then is the empire an empire of slaves. If one of the states is free, but governs by its will all the other states; then is the empire, like that of the Romans in the times of the Republic, an empire consisting of one state free, and the rest in slavery. Nor does it make any more difference in this case that the governing state is itself free than it does in the case of a kingdom subject to a despot that this despot is himself free. I have before observed that this only makes the slavery worse. There is, in the one case, a chance that in the quick succession of despots a good one will sometimes arise. But bodies of men continue the same and have generally proved the most unrelenting of all tyrants.
A great writer before quoted, observes of the Roman Empire, that while liberty was at the center, tyranny prevailed in the distant provinces; that such as were free under it were extremely so, while those who were slaves groaned under the extremity of slavery; and that the same events that destroyed the liberty of the former, gave liberty to the latter.
The liberty of the Romans, therefore, was only an additional calamity to the provinces governed by them; and though it might have been said of the citizens of Rome, that they were the 'freest members of any civil society in the known world', yet of the subjects of Rome, it must have been said that they were the completest slaves in the known world. How remarkable is it that this very people, once the freest of mankind, but at the same time the most proud and tyrannical, should become at last the most contemptible and abject slaves that ever existed?
In the foregoing disquisitions, I have, from one leading principle, deduced a number of consequences that seem to me incapable of being disputed. I have meant that they should be applied to the great question between this kingdom and the colonies which has occasioned the present war with them.
It is impossible but my readers must have been all along making this application; and if they still think that the claims of this kingdom are reconcileable to the principles of true liberty and legitimate government, I am afraid, that nothing I shall farther say will have any effect on their judgments. I wish, however, they would have the patience and candour to go with me and grant me a hearing some time longer.
Though clearly decided in my own judgment on this subject, I am inclined to make great allowances for the different judgments of others. We have been so used to speak of the colonies as our colonies, and to think of them as in a state of subordination to us, and as holding their existence in America only for our use, that it is no wonder the prejudices of many are alarmed when they find a different doctrine maintained. The meanest person among us is disposed to look upon himself as having a body of subjects in America, and to be offended at the denial of his right to make laws for them, though perhaps he does not know what colour they are of, or what language they talk. Such are the natural prejudices of this country. But the time is coming, I hope, when the unreasonableness of them will be seen, and more just sentiments prevail.
Before I proceed, I beg it may be attended to that I have chosen to try this question by the general principles of civil liberty; and not by the practice of former times; or by the charters granted the colonies. The arguments for them, drawn from these last topics, appear to me greatly to outweigh the arguments against them. But I wish to have this question brought to a higher test and surer issue. The question with all liberal enquirers ought to be, not what jurisdiction over them precedents, statutes and charters give, but what reason and equity, and the rights of humanity give. This is, in truth, a question which no kingdom has ever before had occasion to agitate. The case of a free country branching itself out in the manner Britain has done, and sending to a distant world colonies which have there, from small beginnings and under free legislatures of their own, increased and formed a body of powerful states, likely soon to become superior to the parent state. This is a case which is new in the history of mankind, and it is extremely improper to judge of it by the rules of any narrow and partial policy, or to consider it on any other ground than the general one of reason and justice. Those who will be candid enough to judge on this ground, and who can divest themselves of national prejudices, will not, I fancy, remain long unsatisfied. But alas! matters are gone too far. The dispute probably must be settled another way, and the sword alone, I am afraid, is now to determine what the rights of Britain and America are. Shocking situation! Detested be the measures which have brought us into it: and, if we are endeavouring to enforce injustice, cursed will be the war. A retreat, however, is not yet impracticable. The duty we owe our gracious sovereign obliges us to rely on his disposition to stay the sword, and to promote the happiness of all the different parts of the empire at the head of which he is placed. With some hopes, therefore, that it may not be too late to reason on this subject, I will, in the following sections, enquire what the war with America is in the following respects.
1. In respect of Justice.
2. The principles of the constitution.
3. In respect of policy and humanity.
4. The Honour of the Kingdom.
And, lastly, the probability of succeeding in it.
The enquiry, whether the war with the colonies is a just war, will be best determined by stating the power over them, which it is the end of the war to maintain: and this cannot be better done, than in the words of an act of parliament, made on purpose to define it. That act, it is well known, declares, 'That this kingdom has power, and of right ought to have power to make laws and statutes to bind the colonies, and people of America, in all cases whatever'.[c] Dreadful power indeed! I defy anyone to express slavery in stronger language. It is the same with declaring 'that we have a right to do with them what we please'. I will not waste my time by applying to such a claim any of the preceding arguments. If my reader does not feel more in this case, than words can express, all reasoning must be vain.
But, probably, most persons will be for using milder language; and for saying no more than that the united legislatures of England and Scotland have of right power to tax the colonies, and a supremacy of legislature over America. But this comes to the same. If it means anything, it means that the property and the legislations of the colonies are subject to the absolute discretion of Great Britain, and ought of right to be so. The nature of the thing admits of no limitation. The colonies can never be admitted to be judges how far the authority over them in these cases shall extend. This would be to destroy it entirely. If any part of their property is subject to our discretion, the whole must be so. If we have a right to interfere at all in their internal legislations, we have a right to interfere as far as we think proper. It is self-evident that this leaves them nothing they can call their own. And what is it that can give to any people such a supremacy over other people? I have already examined the principal answers which have been given to this enquiry. But it will not be amiss in this place to go over some of them again.
It has been urged, that such a right must be lodged somewhere, 'in order to preserve the unity of the British Empire'.
Pleas of this sort have, in all ages, been used to justify tyranny. They have in religion given rise to numberless oppressive claims and slavish hierarchies. And in the Romish communion, particularly, it is well known that the Pope claims the tide and powers of the supreme head on earth of the Christian church in order to preserve its unity. With respect to the British Empire nothing can be more preposterous than to endeavour to maintain its unity by setting up such a claim. This is a method of establishing unity which, like the similar method in religion, can produce nothing but discord and mischief. The truth is that a common relation to one supreme executive head, an exchange of kind offices, types of interest and affection, and compacts, are sufficient to give the British Empire all the unity that is necessary. But if not if in order to preserve its unity, one half of it must be entrusted to the other half, let it, in the name of God, want unity.
Much has been said of 'the superiority of the British state'. But what gives us our superiority? Is it our wealth? This never confers real dignity. On the contrary its effect is always to debase, intoxicate, and corrupt. Is it the number of our people? The colonies will soon be equal to us in number. Is it our knowledge and virtue? They are probably equally knowing and more virtuous. There are names among them that will not stoop to any names among the philosophers and politicians of this island.
But we are the parent state. These are the magic words which have fascinated and misled us. The English came from Germany. Does that give the German states a right to tax us? Children, having no property and being incapable of guiding themselves, the author of nature has committed the care of them to their parents, and subjected them to their absolute authority. But there is a period when having acquired property and a capacity of judging for themselves, they become independent agents; and when, for this reason, the authority of their parents ceases, and becomes nothing but the respect and influence due to benefactors. Supposing, therefore, that the order of nature in establishing the relation between parents and children ought to have been the rule of our conduct to the colonies, we should have been gradually relaxing our authority as they grew up. But, like mad parents, we have done the contrary; and, at the very time when our authority should have been most relaxed, we have carried it to the greatest extent and exercised it with the greatest rigour. No wonder then that they have turned upon us, and obliged us to remember that they are not children.
'But we have', it is said, 'protected them and run deeply in debt on their account.' The full answer to this has been already given, Will any one say that all we have done for them has not been more on our own account than on theirs? But suppose the contrary. Have they done nothing for us? Have they made no compensation for the protection they have received? Have they not helped us to pay our taxes, to support our poor, and to bear the burthen of our debts, by taking from us, at our own price, all the commodities with which we can supply them? Have they not, for our advantage, submitted to many restraints in acquiring property? Must they likewise resign to us the disposal of that property? Has not their exclusive trade with us been for many years one of the chief sources of our wealth and power? In all our wars have they not fought by our side, and contributed much to our success? In the last war, particularly, it is well known that they ran themselves deeply in debt; and that the Parliament thought it necessary to grant them considerable sums annually as compensations for going beyond their abilities in assisting us. And in this course would they have continued for many future years; perhaps, for ever. In short, were an accurate account stated, it is by no means certain which side would appear to be most indebted. When asked as freemen they have hitherto seldom discovered any reluctance in giving. But, in obedience to a demand and with the bayonet at their breasts, they will give us nothing but blood.
It is farther said, 'that the land on which they settled was ours'. But how came it to be ours? If sailing along a coast can give a right to a country, then might the people of Japan become, as soon as they please, the proprietors of Britain. Nothing can be more chimerical than property founded on such a reason. If the land on which the colonies first settled had any proprietors, they were the natives. The greatest part of it they bought of the natives. They have since cleared and cultivated it; and, without any help from us, converted a wilderness into fruitful and pleasant fields. It is, therefore, now on a double account their property, and no power on earth can have any right to disturb them in the possession of it, or to take from them, without their consent, any part of its produce.
But let it be granted that the land was ours. Did they not settle upon it under the faith of charters which promised them the enjoyment of all the rights of Englishmen, and allowed them to tax themselves, and to be governed by legislatures of their own, similar to ours? These charters were given them by an authority which at the time was thought competent; and they have been rendered sacred by an acquiescence on our part for near a century. Can it then be wondered at that the colonies should revolt when they found their charters violated, and an attempt made to force innovations upon them by famine and the sword? But I lay no stress on charters. They derive their rights from a higher source. It is inconsistent with common sense to imagine that any people would ever think of settling in a distant country, on any such condition, as that the people from whom they withdrew, should for ever be masters of their property, and have power to subject them to any modes of government they pleased. And had there been express stipulations to this purpose in all the charters of the colonies, they would, in my opinion, be no more bound by them, than if it had been stipulated with them, that they should go naked, or expose themselves to the incursions of wolves and tigers.
The defective state of the representation of this kingdom has been farther pleaded to prove our right to tax America. We submit to a parliament that does not represent us, and therefore they ought. How strange an argument is this? It is saying we want liberty, and, therefore, they ought to want it. Suppose it true, that they are indeed contending for a better constitution of government, and more liberty than we enjoy: ought this to make us angry? Who is there that does not see the danger to which this country is exposed? Is it generous, because we are in a sink, to endeavour to draw them into it? Ought we not rather to wish earnestly that there may at least be one free country left upon earth to which we may fly, when venality, luxury, and vice have completed the ruin of liberty here?
It is, however, by no means true that America has no more right to be exempted from taxation by the British Parliament, than Britain itself. Here, all freeholders and burgesses in boroughs are represented. There, not one freeholder or any other person is represented. Here the aids granted by the represented part of the kingdom must be proportionably paid by themselves; and the laws they make for others, they at the same time make for themselves. There, the aids they would grant would not be paid, but received, by themselves; and the laws they made would be made for others only. In short, the relation of one country to another country, whose representatives have the power of taxing it (and of appropriating the money raised by the taxes) is much the same with the relation of a country to a single despot, or a body of despots within itself, invested with the like power. In both cases, the people taxed and those who tax have separate interests, nor can there be any thing to check oppression, besides either the abilities of the people taxed, or the humanity of the taxers. But indeed I can never hope to convince that person of any thing, who does not see an essential difference between the two cases now mentioned; or between the circumstances of individuals, and classes of men, making parts of a community imperfectly represented in the legislature that governs it; and the circumstances of a whole community, in a distant world, not at all represented.
But enough has been said by others on this point; nor is it possible for me to throw any new light upon it. To finish, therefore, what I meant to offer under this head, I must beg that the following considerations may be particularly attended to.
The question now between us and the colonies is whether in respect of taxation and internal legislation, they are bound to be subject to the jurisdiction of this kingdom: or, in other words, whether the British Parliament has or has not of right a power to dispose of their property, and to model as it pleases their governments? To this supremacy over them, we say, we are entitled; and in order to maintain it, we have begun the present war. Let me here enquire,
First, whether, if we have now this supremacy, we shall not be equally entitled to it in any future time? They are now but little short of half our number. To this number they have grown from a small body of original settlers by a very rapid increase. The probability is that they will go on to increase, and that, in 50 or 60 years, they will be double our number and form a mighty empire, consisting of a variety of states, all equal or superior to ourselves in all the arts and accomplishments which give dignity and happiness to human life. In that period, will they be still bound to acknowledge that supremacy over them which we now claim? Can there be any person who will assert this, or whose mind does not revolt at the idea of a vast continent holding all that is valuable to it at the discretion of a handful of people on the other side of the Atlantic? But if, at that period, this would be unreasonable; what makes it otherwise now? Draw the line if you can. But there is a still greater difficulty.
Britain is now, I will suppose, the seat of liberty and virtue; and its legislature consists of a body of able and independent men who govern with wisdom and justice. The time may come when all will be reversed: when its excellent constitution of government will be subverted: when, pressed by debts and taxes, it will be greedy to draw to itself an increase of revenue from every distant province, in order to ease its own burdens. When the influence of the crown, strengthened by luxury and an universal profligacy of manners, will have tainted every heart, broken down every fence of liberty, and rendered us a nation of tame and contented vassals: when a general election will be nothing but a general auction of boroughs; and when the Parliament, the Grand Council of the nation and once the faithful guardian of the state and a terror to evil ministers, will be degenerated into a body of sycophants, dependent and venal, always ready to confirm any measures, and little more than a public court for registering royal edicts. Such, it is possible, may, some time or other, be the state of Great Britain. What will, at that period, be the duty of the colonies? Will they be still bound to unconditional submission? Must they always continue an appendage to our government and follow it implicitly through every change that can happen to it? Wretched condition, indeed, of millions of freemen as good as ourselves. Will you say that we now govern equitably, and that there is no danger of any such revolution? Would to God this were true. But will you not always say the same? Who shall judge whether we govern equitably or not? Can you give the colonies any security that such a period will never come? Once more, if we have indeed that power which we claim over the legislations, and internal rights of the Colonies, may we not, whenever we please, subject them to the arbitrary power of the crown? I do not mean that this would be a disadvantageous change, for I have before observed that if a people are to be subject to an external power over which they have no command, it is better that power should be lodged in the hands of one man than of a multitude. But many persons think otherwise and such ought to consider that, if this would be a calamity, the condition of the Colonies must be deplorable. 'A government by King, Lords, and Commons, (it has been said) is the perfection of government', and so it is when the Commons are a just representation of the people and when also it is not extended to any distant people or communities not represented. But if this is the best, a government by a king only must be the worst, and every claim implying a right to establish such a government among any people must be unjust and cruel. It is self-evident that by claiming a right to alter the constitutions of the Colonies, according to our discretion, we claim this power. And it is a power that we have thought fit to exercise in one of our Colonies and that we have attempted to exercise in another. Canada, according to the late extension of its limits, is a country almost as large as half Europe, and it may possibly come in time to be filled with British subjects. The Quebec Act[d] makes the king of Great Britain a despot over all that country. In the province of Massachuset's Bay the same thing had been attempted and begun.
The act for better regulating their government,[e] passed at the same time with the Quebec Act, gives the king the right of appointing, and removing at his pleasure, the members of one part of the legislature; alters the mode of chusing juries, on purpose to bring it more under the influence of the king; and takes away from the province the power of calling any meetings of the people without the king's consent. The judges, likewise, have been made dependent on the king for their nomination and pay and continuance in office. If all this is no more than we have a right to do, may we not go on to abolish the house of representatives, to destroy all trials by juries, and to give up the province absolutely and totally to the will of the king? May we not even establish Popery in the province, as has been lately done in Canada, leaving the support of Protestantism to the king's discretion? Can there be any Englishmen who, were it his own case, would not sooner lose his heart's blood than yield to claims so pregnant with evils and destructive to every thing that can distinguish a freeman from a slave?
I will take this opportunity to add that what I have now said suggests a consideration that demonstrates on how different a footing the Colonies are with respect to our government from particular bodies of men within the kingdom who happen not to be represented. Here, it is impossible that the represented part should subject the unrepresented part to arbitrary power without including themselves. But in the Colonies it is not impossible. We know that it has been done.
I have proposed, in the next place, to examine the war with the Colonies by the principles of the constitution. I know that it is common to say that we are now maintaining the constitution in America. If this means that we are endeavouring to establish our own constitution of government there, it is by no means true, nor, were it true, would it be right. They have chartered governments of their own, with which they are pleased and which, if any power on earth may change without their consent, that power may likewise, if it thinks proper, deliver them over to the Grand Seignior. Suppose the colonies of France had, by compacts, enjoyed for many years free governments open to all the world, under which they had grown and flourished; what should we think of that kingdom, were it to attempt to destroy their governments and to force upon them its own mode of government? Should we not applaud any zeal they discovered in repelling such an injury? But the truth is, in the present instance, that we are not maintaining but violating our own constitution in America. The essence of our constitution consists in its independency. There is in this case no difference between subjection and annihilation. Did, therefore, the Colonies possess governments perfectly the same with ours, the attempt to subject them to ours would be an attempt to ruin them. A free government loses its nature from the moment it becomes liable to be commanded or altered by any superior power.
But I intended here principally to make the following observation. The fundamental principle of our government is, 'the right of a people to give and grant their own money'. It is of no consequence, in this case, whether we enjoy this right in a proper manner or not. Most certainly we do not. It is, however, the principle on which our government, as a free government, is founded. The spirit of the constitution gives it us and, however imperfectly enjoyed, we glory in it as our first and greatest blessing. It was an attempt to encroach upon this right, in a trifling instance, that produced the civil war in the reign of Charles the First. Ought not our brethren in America to enjoy this right as well as ourselves? Do the principles of the constitution give it us, but deny it to them? Or can we, with any decency, pretend that when we give to the king their money, we give them our own? What difference does it make that in the time of Charles the First the attempt to take away this right was made by one man; but that, in the case of America it is made by a body of men?
In a word, this is a war undertaken not only against the principles of our own constitution, but on purpose to destroy other similar constitutions in America, and to substitute in their room a military force. It is, therefore, a gross and flagrant violation of the constitution.
In writing the present section, I enter upon a subject of the last importance, on which much has been said by other writers with great force, and in the ablest manner. But I am not willing to omit any topic which I think of great consequence, merely because it has already been discussed. And, with respect to this in particular, it will, I believe, be found that some of the observations on which I shall insist have not been sufficiently attended to.
The object of this war has been often enough declared to be 'maintaining the supremacy of this country over the colonies'. I have already enquired how far reason and justice, the principles of liberty, and the rights of humanity, entitle us to this supremacy. Setting aside, therefore, now all considerations of this kind, I would observe that this supremacy is to be maintained either merely for its own sake or for the sake of some public interest connected with it and dependent upon it. If for its own sake, the only object of the war is the extension of dominion, and its only motive is the lust of power. All government, even within a state, becomes tyrannical as far as it is a needless and wanton exercise of power, or is carried farther than is absolutely necessary to preserve the peace and to secure the safety of the state. This is what an excellent writer [Jonathan Shipley] calls 'governing too much'[f] and its effect must always be, weakening government by rendering it contemptible and odious. Nothing can be of more importance in governing distant provinces and adjusting the clashing interests of different societies than attention to this remark. In these circumstances it is particularly necessary to make a sparing use of power in order to preserve power. Happy would it have been for Great Britain, had this been remembered by those who have lately conducted its affairs. But our policy has been of another kind. At the period when our authority should have been most concealed, it has been brought most in view and by a progression of violent measures, every one of which has increased distress, we have given the world reason to conclude that we are acquainted with no other method of governing than by force. What a shocking mistake! If our object is power we should have known better how to use it, and our rulers should have considered that freemen will always revolt at the sight of a naked sword, and that the complicated affairs of a great kingdom, holding in subordination to it a multitude of distant communities, all jealous of their rights and warmed with spirits as high as our own, require not only the most skilful but the most cautious and tender management. The consequences of a different management we are now feeling. We see ourselves driven among rocks and in danger of being lost.
The following reasons make it too probable that the present contest with America is a contest for power only, abstracted from all the advantages connected with it.
First, there is a love of power inherent in human nature, and it cannot be uncharitable to suppose that the nation in general, and the cabinet in particular, are too likely to be influenced by it. What can be more flattering than to look across the Atlantic, and to see in the boundless continent of America increasing millions whom we have a right to order as we please, who hold their property at our disposal, and who have no other law than our will? With what complacency have we been used to talk of them as our subjects? Is it not the interruption they now give to this pleasure, is it not the opposition they make to our pride, and not any injury they have done us, that is the secret spring of our present animosity against them? I wish all in this kingdom would examine themselves carefully on this point. Perhaps they might find that they have not known what spirit they are of. Perhaps they would become sensible that it was a spirit of domination more than a regard to the true interest of this country that lately led so many of them, with such savage folly, to address the throne for the slaughter of their brethren in America if they will not submit to them and to make offers of their lives and fortunes for that purpose. Indeed, I am persuaded that, were pride and the lust of dominion exterminated from every heart among us and the humility of Christians infused in their room, this quarrel would be soon ended.
Secondly, another reason for believing that this is a contest for power only is that our ministers have frequently declared that their object is not to draw a revenue from America, and that many of those who are warmest for continuing it represent the American trade as of no great consequence.
But what deserves particular consideration here is that this is a contest from which no advantages can possibly be derived. Not a revenue, for the provinces of America, when desolated, will afford no revenue, or, if they should, the expence of subduing them and keeping them in subjection will much exceed that revenue. Not any of the advantages of trade, for it is a folly, next to insanity, to think trade can be promoted by impoverishing our customers and fixing in their minds an everlasting abhorrence of us. It remains, therefore, that this war can have no other object than the extension of power. Miserable reflection! To sheath our swords in the bowels of our brethren and spread misery and ruin among a happy people for no other end than to oblige them to acknowledge our supremacy. How horrid! This is the cursed ambition that led a Caesar and an Alexander, and many other mad conquerors, to attack peaceful communities and to lay waste the earth.
But a worse principle than even this influences some among us. Pride and the love of dominion are principles hateful enough, but blind resentment and the desire of revenge are infernal principles. And these, I am afraid, have no small share at present in guiding our public conduct. One cannot help indeed being astonished at the virulence with which some speak on the present occasion against the Colonies. For what have they done? Have they crossed the ocean and invaded us? Have they attempted to take from us the fruits of our labour and to overturn that form of government which we hold so sacred? This cannot be pretended. On the contrary, this is what we have done to them. We have transported ourselves to their peaceful retreats and employed our fleets and armies to stop up their ports, to destroy their commerce, to seize their effects, and to bum their towns. Would we but let them alone and suffer them to enjoy in security their property and governments, instead of disturbing us they would thank and bless us. And yet it is we who imagine ourselves ill-used. The truth is, we expected to find them a cowardly rabble who would lie quietly at our feet and they have disappointed us. They have risen in their own defence and repelled force by force. They deny the plenitude of our power over them and insist upon being treated as free communities. It is this that has provoked us and kindled our governors into rage.
I hope I shall not here be understood to intimate that all who promote this war are actuated by these principles. Some, I doubt not, are influenced by no other principle than a regard to what they think the just authority of this country over its colonies and to the unity and indivisibility of the British Empire. I wish such could be engaged to enter thoroughly into the enquiry which has been the subject of the first pan of this pamphlet and to consider particularly how different a thing maintaining the authority of government within a state is from maintaining the authority of one people over another already happy in the enjoyment of a government of their own. I wish farther they would consider that the desire of maintaining authority is warrantable only as far as it is the means of promoting some end and doing some good, and that, before we resolve to spread famine and fire through a country in order to make it acknowledge our authority, we ought to be assured that great advantages will arise not only to ourselves, but to the country we wish to conquer. That from the present contest no advantage to ourselves can arise has been already shewn, and will presently be shewn more at large. That no advantage to the Colonies can arise from it need not, I hope, be shewn. It has however been asserted that even their good is intended by this war. Many of us are persuaded that they will be much happier under our government than under any government of their own, and that their liberties will be safer when held for them by us than when trusted in their own hands. How kind is it thus to take upon us the trouble of judging for them what is most. for their happiness? Nothing can be kinder except the resolution we have formed to exterminate them if they will not submit to our judgment. What strange language have I sometimes heard? By an armed force we are now endeavouring to destroy the laws and governments of America, and yet I have heard it said that we are endeavouring to support law and government there. We are insisting upon our right to levy contributions upon them and to maintain this right we are bringing upon them all the miseries a people can endure, and yet it is asserted that we mean nothing but their security and happiness.
But I have wandered a little from the point I intended principally to insist upon in this section, which is, 'the folly, in respect of policy, of the measures which have brought on this contest, and its pernicious and fatal tendency'.
The following observations will, I believe, abundantly prove this.
First, there are points which are likely always to suffer by discussion. Of this kind are most points of authority and prerogative and the best policy is to avoid, as much as possible, giving any occasion for calling them in question.
The Colonies were at the beginning of this reign in the habit of acknowledging our authority and of allowing us as much power over them as our interest required and more, in some instances, than we could reasonably claim. This habit they would have retained, and had we, instead of imposing new burdens upon them and increasing their restraints, studied to promote their commerce and to grant them new indulgences, they would have been always growing more attached to us. Luxury and, together with it, their dependence upon us, and our influence in their assemblies, would have increased till in time perhaps they would have become as corrupt as ourselves; and we might have succeeded to our wishes in establishing our authority over them. But, happily for them, we have chosen a different course. By exertions of authority which have alarmed them they have been put upon examining into the grounds of all our claims and forced to give up their luxuries and to seek all their resources within themselves. And the issue is likely to prove the loss of all our authority over them and of all the advantages connected with it. So little do men in power sometimes know how to preserve power and so remarkably does the desire of extending dominion sometimes destroy it. Mankind are naturally disposed to continue in subjection to that mode of government, be it what it will, under which they have been born and educated. Nothing rouses them into resistance but gross abuse or some particular oppressions out of the road to which they have been used. And he who will examine the history of the world will find there has generally been more reason for complaining that they have been too patient than that they have been turbulent and rebellious.
Our governors, ever since I can remember, have been jealous that the Colonies, some time or other, would throw off their dependence. This jealousy was not founded on any of their acts or declarations. They have always, while at peace with us, disclaimed any such design, and they have continued to disclaim it since they have been at war with us. I have reason, indeed, to believe that independency is, even at this moment, generally dreaded among them as a calamity to which they are in danger of being driven in order to avoid a greater. The jealousy, I have mentioned, was, however, natural and betrayed a secret opinion that the subjection in which they were held was more than we could expect them always to endure. In such circumstances, all possible care should have been taken to give them no reason for discontent and to preserve them in subjection by keeping in that line of conduct to which custom had reconciled them, or, at least, never deviating from it except with great caution, and, particularly, by avoiding all direct attacks on their property and legislations. Had we done this, the different interests of so many states scattered over a vast continent, joined to our own prudence and moderation, would have enabled us to maintain them in dependence for ages to come. But instead of this, how have we acted? It is in truth too evident that our whole conduct, instead of being directed by that sound policy and foresight which in such circumstances were absolutely necessary, has been nothing (to say the best of it) but a series of the blindest rigour followed by retraction, of violence followed by concession, of mistake, weakness and inconsistency. A recital of a few facts within every body's recollection, will fully prove this.
In the 6th of George the Second, an act was passed for imposing certain duties on all foreign spirits, molasses and sugars imported into the plantations.[g] In this act the duties imposed are said to be given and granted by the Parliament to the King, and this is the first American act in which these words have been used. But notwithstanding this, as the act had the appearance of being only a regulation of trade, the Colonies submitted to it and a small direct revenue was drawn by it from them. In the 4th of the present reign, many alterations were made in this act, with the declared purpose of making provision for raising a revenue in America.[h] This alarmed the Colonies and produced discontents and remonstrances which might have convinced our rulers this was tender ground on which it became them to tread very gently. There is, however, no reason to doubt but in time they would have sunk into a quiet submission to this revenue act as being at worst only the exercise of a power which then they seem not to have thought much of contesting, I mean, the power of taxing them externally. But before they had time to cool, a worse provocation was given them and the Stamp Act[i] was passed. This being an attempt to tax them internally, and a direct attack on their property by a power which would not suffer itself to be questioned, which eased itself by loading them, and to which it was impossible to fix any bounds, they were thrown at once, from one end of the continent to the other, into resistance and rage. Government, dreading the consequences, gave way and the Parliament (upon a change of ministry) repealed the Stamp Act without requiring from them any recognition of its authority, or doing any more to preserve its dignity than asserting, by the declaratory law, that it was possessed of full power and authority to make laws to bind them in all cases whatever. Upon this, peace was restored, and, had no farther attempts of the same kind been made, they would undoubtedly have suffered us (as the people of Ireland have done) to enjoy quietly our declaratory law. They would have recovered their former habits of subjection, and our connexion with them might have continued an increasing source of our wealth and glory. But the spirit of despotism and avarice, always blind and restless, soon broke forth again. The scheme for drawing a revenue from America, by parliamentary taxation, was resumed and in a little more than a year after the repeal of the Stamp Act, when all was peace, a third act was passed, imposing duties payable in America on tea, paper, glass, painters' colours, etc.[j] This, as might have been expected, revived all the former heats and the Empire was a second time threatened with the most dangerous commotions. Government receded again and the Parliament (under another change of ministry) repealed all the obnoxious duties except that upon tea. This exception was made in order to maintain a shew of dignity. But it was, in reality, sacrificing safety to pride and leaving a splinter in the wound to produce a gangrene. For some time, however, this relaxation answered its intended purposes. Our commercial intercourse with the Colonies was again recovered and they avoided nothing but that tea which we had excepted in our repeal. In this state would things have remained, and even tea would perhaps in time have been gradually admitted, had not the evil genius of Britain stepped forth once more to embroil the Empire.
The East India Company having fallen under difficulties, partly in consequence of the loss of the American market for tea, a scheme was formed for assisting them by an attempt to recover that market. With this view an act was passed to enable them to export their tea to America free of all duties here, and subject only to 3d per pound duty payable in America. It was to be offered at a low price and it was expected the consequence would prove that the Colonies would be tempted to buy it, a precedent gained for taxing them, and at the same time the company relieved. Ships were, therefore, fitted out and large cargoes sent. The snare was too gross to escape the notice of the Colonies. They saw it and spurned at it. They refused to admit the tea and at Boston some persons in disguise threw it into the sea. Had our governors in this case satisfied themselves with requiring a compensation from the province for the damage done, there is no doubt but it would have been granted. Or had they proceeded no farther in the infliction of punishment than stopping up the port and destroying the trade of Boston till compensation was made, the province might possibly have submitted and a sufficient saving would have been gained for the honour of the nation. But having hitherto proceeded without wisdom they observed now no bounds in their resentment. To the Boston Port Bill[k] was added a bill[l] which destroyed the chartered government of the province, a bill[m] which withdrew from the jurisdiction of the province persons who in particular cases should commit murder, and the Quebec Bill. At the same time a strong body of troops was stationed at Boston to enforce obedience to their bills.
All who knew any thing of the temper of the Colonies saw that the effect of this sudden accumulation of vengeance would probably be not intimidating but exasperating them and driving them into a general revolt. But our ministers had different apprehensions. They believed that the malecontents in the Colony of Massachusett's were a small party, headed by a few factious men, that the majority of the people would take the side of government as soon as they saw a force among them capable of supporting them, that, at worst, the Colonies in general would never make a common cause with this province, and that the issue would prove, in a few months, order, tranquility and submission. Every one of these apprehensions was falsified by the events that followed.
When the bills I have mentioned came to be carried into execution, the whole province was thrown into confusion. Their courts of justice were shut up, and all government was dissolved. The commander in chief found it necessary to fortify himself in Boston, and the other Colonies immediately resolved to make a common cause with this Colony.
Disappointed by these consequences, our ministers took fright. Once more they made an effort to retreat, but indeed the most ungracious one that can well be imagined. A proposal was sent to the Colonies called Conciliatory, and the substance of which was, that if any of them would raise such sums as should be demanded of them by taxing themselves, the Parliament would forbear to tax them. It will be scarcely believed, hereafter, that such a proposal would be thought conciliatory. It was only telling them, 'If you will tax yourselves by our order, we will save ourselves the trouble of taxing you.' They received the proposal as an insult, and rejected it with disdain.
At the time this concession was transmitted to America, open hostilities were not begun. In the sword our ministers thought they had still a resource which would immediately settle all disputes. They considered the people of New-England as nothing but a mob, who would be soon routed and forced into obedience. It was even believed that a few thousands of our army might march through all America, and make all quiet wherever they went. Under this conviction our ministers did not dread urging the Province of Massachusett's Bay into rebellion, by ordering the army to seize their stores and to take up some of their leading men. The attempt was made. The people fled immediately to arms and repelled the attack. A considerable part of the flower of the British army has been destroyed. Some of our best generals and the bravest of our troops are now disgracefully and miserably imprisoned at Boston. A horrid civil war is commenced and the Empire is distracted and convulsed.
Can it be possible to think with patience of the policy that has brought us into these circumstances? Did ever Heaven punish the vices of a people more severely by darkening their counsels? How great would be our happiness could we now recall former times and return to the policy of the last reign? But those times are gone. I will, however, beg leave for a few moments to look back to them and to compare the ground we have left with that on which we find ourselves. This must be done with deep regret, but it forms a necessary part of my present design.
In those times our Colonies, foregoing every advantage which they might derive from trading with foreign nations, consented to send only to us whatever it was for our interest to receive from them and to receive only from us whatever it was for our interest to send to them. They gave up the power of making sumptuary laws and exposed themselves to all the evils of an increasing and wasteful luxury, because we were benefited by vending among them the materials of it. The iron with which providence had blessed their country, they were required by laws, in which they acquiesced, to transport hither that our people might be maintained by working it for them into nails, ploughs, axes, etc. And, in several instances, even one Colony was not allowed to supply any neighbouring Colonies with commodities which could be conveyed to them from hence. But they yielded much farther. They consented that we should have the appointment of one branch of their legislature. By recognizing as their King, a King resident among us and under our influence, they gave us a negative on all their laws. By allowing an appeal to us in their civil disputes, they gave us likewise the ultimate determination of all civil causes among them. In short, they allowed us every power we could desire, except that of taxing them, and interfering in their internal legislations. And they had admitted precedents which, even in these instances, gave us no inconsiderable authority over them. By purchasing our goods they paid our taxes, and by allowing us to regulate their trade in any manner we thought most for our advantage they enriched our merchants and helped us to bear our growing burdens. They fought our battles with us. They gloried in their relation to us. All their gains centered among us and they always spoke of this country and looked to it as their home.
Such was the state of things. What is it now?
Not contented with a degree of power sufficient to satisfy any reasonable ambition, we have attempted to extend it. Not contented with drawing from them a large revenue indirectly, we have endeavoured to procure one directly by an authoritative seizure, and in order to gain a pepper-corn in this way have chosen to hazard millions, acquired by the peaceable intercourse of trade. Vile policy! What a scourge is government so conducted? Had we never deserted our old ground, had we nourished and favoured America with a view to commerce instead of considering it as a country to be governed, had we, like a liberal and wise people, rejoiced to see a multitude of free states branched forth from ourselves, all enjoying independent legislatures similar to our own, had we aimed at binding them to us only by the tyes of affection and interest, and contented ourselves with a moderate power rendered durable by being lenient and friendly, an umpire in their differences, an aid to them in improving their own free governments, and their common bulwark against the assaults of foreign enemies, had this, I say, been our policy and temper, there is nothing so great or happy that we might not have expected. With their increase our strength would have increased. A growing surplus in the revenue might have been gained which, invariably applied to the gradual discharge of the national debt, would have delivered us from the ruin with which it threatens us. The liberty of America might have preserved our liberty, and, under the direction of a patriot king or wise minister, proved the means of restoring to us our almost lost constitution. Perhaps, in time, we might also have been brought to see the necessity of carefully watching and restricting our paper-credit. And thus we might have regained safety and, in union with our Colonies, have been more than a match for every enemy and risen to a situation of honour and dignity never before known amongst mankind. But I am forgetting myself. Our Colonies are likely to be lost for ever. Their love is turned into hatred and their respect for our government into resentment and abhorrence. We shall see more distinctly what a calamity this is, and the observations I have now made will be confirmed by attending to the following facts.
Our American Colonies, particularly the northern ones, have been for some time in the happiest state of society or in that middle state of civilization, between its first rude and its last refined and corrupt state. Old countries consist, generally, of three classes of people, a gentry; a yeomanry; and a peasantry. The Colonies consist only of a body of yeomanry supported by agriculture, and all independent and nearly upon a level; in consequence of which, joined to a boundless extent of country, the means of subsistence are procured without difficulty and the temptations to wickedness are so inconsiderable that executions are seldom known among them. From hence arises an encouragement to population so great that in some of the colonies they double their own number in fifteen years, in others in eighteen years, and in all, taken one with another, in twenty-five years. Such an increase was, I believe, never before known. It demonstrates that they must live at their ease and be free from those cares, oppressions, and diseases which depopulate and ravage luxurious states.
With the population of the Colonies has increased their trade; but much faster, on account of the gradual introduction of luxury among them. In 1723 the exports to Pensylvania were £16,000. In 1742 they were £75,295. In 1757 they were increased to £268,426, and in 1773 to half a million.
The exports to all the Colonies in 1744 were £640,114. In 1758 they were increased to £1,832,948 and in 1773 to three millions. And the probability is that, had it not been for the discontents among the Colonies since the year 1764, our trade with them would have been this year double to what it was in 1773, and that in a few years more, it would not have been possible for the whole kingdom, though consisting only of manufacturers, to supply the American demand.
This trade, it should be considered, was not only thus an increasing trade, but it was a trade in which we had no rivals, a trade certain, constant, and uninterrupted, and which, by the shipping employed in it, and the naval stores supplied by it, contributed greatly to the support of that navy which is our chief national strength. Viewed in these lights it was an object unspeakably important. But it will appear still more so if we view it in its connexions and dependencies. It is well known that our trade with Africa and the West-Indies cannot easily subsist without it. And, upon the whole, it is undeniable that it has been one of the main springs of our opulence and splendour and that we have, in a great measure, been indebted to it for our ability to bear a debt so much heavier than that which, fifty years ago, the wisest men thought would necessarily sink us.
This inestimable prize and all the advantages connected with America, we are now throwing away. Experience alone can shew what calamities must follow. It will indeed be astonishing if this kingdom can bear such a loss without dreadful consequences. These consequences have been amply represented by others and it is needless to enter into any account of them. At the time we shall be feeling them: the Empire dismembered, the blood of thousands shed in an unrighteous quarrel, our strength exhausted, our merchants breaking, our manufacturers starving, our debts increasing, the revenues sinking, the funds tottering, and all the miseries of a public bankruptcy impending. At such a crisis should our natural enemies, eager for our ruin, seize the opportunity. The apprehension is too distressing. Let us view this subject in another light.
On this occasion, particular attention should be given to the present singular situation of this kingdom. This is a circumstance of the utmost importance and, as I am afraid it is not much considered, I will beg leave to give a distinct account of it.
At the Revolution, the specie of the kingdom amounted, according to Davenant's account, to eighteen millions and a half. From the accession to the year 1772 there were coined at the mint near 29 millions of gold; and in ten years only of this time or from January 1759 to January 1769 there were coined eight millions and a half. But it has appeared lately that the gold specie now left in the kingdom is no more than about twelve millions and a half. Not so much as half a million of silver specie has been coined these sixty years, and it cannot be supposed that the quantity of it now in circulation exceeds two or three millions. The whole specie of the kingdom, therefore, is probably at this time about fifteen millions. Of this some millions must be hoarded at the Bank. Our circulating specie, therefore, appears to be decreased. But our wealth, or the quantity of money in the kingdom, is greatly increased. This is paper to a vast amount, issued in almost every comer of the kingdom, and, particularly, by the Bank of England. While this paper maintains its credit it answers all the purposes of specie, and is in all respects the same with money.
Specie represents some real value in goods or commodities. On the contrary, paper represents immediately nothing but specie. It is a promise or obligation which the emitter brings himself under to pay a given sum in coin, and it owes its currency to the credit of the emitter, or to an opinion that he is able to make good his engagement, and that the sum specified may be received upon being demanded. Paper, therefore, represents coin, and coin represents real value. That is, the one is a sign of wealth. The other is the sign of that sign. But farther, coin is an universal sign of wealth, and will procure it every where. It will bear any alarm, and stand any shock. On the contrary, paper, owing its currency to opinion, has only a local and imaginary value. It can stand no shock. It is destroyed by the approach of danger or even the suspicion of danger.
In short, coin is the basis of our paper credit, and were it either all destroyed, or were only the quantity of it reduced beyond a certain limit, the paper circulation of the kingdom would sink at once. But, were our paper destroyed, the coin would not only remain but rise in value in proportion to the quantity of paper destroyed.
From this account it follows that as far as, in any circumstances, specie is not to be procured in exchange for paper, it represents nothing, and is worth nothing. The specie of this kingdom is inconsiderable compared with the amount of the paper circulating in it. This is generally believed and, therefore, it is natural to enquire how its currency is supported. The answer is easy. It is supported in the same manner with all other bubbles. Were all to demand specie in exchange for their notes payment could not be made, but at the same time that this is known every one trusts that no alarm producing such a demand will happen, while he holds the paper he is possessed of, and that if it should happen, he will stand a chance for being first paid, and this makes him easy. But let any events happen which threaten danger and every one will become diffident. A run will take place and a bankruptcy follow.
This is an account of what has often happened in private credit. And it is also an account of what will (if no change of measures takes place) happen some time or other in public credit. The description I have given of our paper-circulation implies that nothing can be more delicate or hazardous. It is an immense fabrick with its head in the clouds that is continually trembling with every adverse blast and every fluctuation of trade and which, like the baseless fabrick of a vision, may in a moment vanish, and leave no wreck behind. The destruction of a few books at the Bank, an improvement in the art of forgery, the landing of a body of French troops on our coasts, insurrections threatening a revolution in government, or any events that should produce a general panic, however groundless, would at once annihilate it and leave us without any other medium of traffic than a quantity of specie not much more than the money now drawn from the public by the taxes. It would, therefore, become impossible to pay the taxes. The revenue would fail. Near a hundred and forty millions of property would be destroyed. The whole frame of government would fall to pieces, and a state of nature would take place. What a dreadful situation? It has never had a parallel among mankind, except at one time in France after the establishment of the Royal Mississippi Bank. In 1720 this bank broke and, after involving for some time the whole kingdom in a golden dream, spread through it in one day desolation and ruin. The distress attending such an event in this free country would be greater than it was in France. Happily for that kingdom they have shot this gulph. Paper-credit has never since recovered itself there and their circulating cash consists now all of solid coin amounting, according to the lowest account, to no less a sum than 1500 millions of livres, or near 67 millions of pounds sterling. This gives them unspeakable advantages and, joined to that quick reduction of their debts which is inseparable from their nature, places them on a ground of safety which we have reason to admire and envy.
These are subjects on which I should have chosen to be silent, did I not think it necessary that this country should be apprized and warned of the danger which threatens it. This danger is created chiefly by the national debt. High taxes are necessary to support a great public debt and a large supply of cash is necessary to support high taxes. This cash we owe to our paper and, in proportion to our paper, must be the productiveness of our taxes. King William's wars drained the kingdom of its specie. This sunk the revenue and distressed government. In 1694 the Bank was established and the kingdom was provided with a substitute for specie. The taxes became again productive. The revenue rose and government was relieved. Ever since that period our paper and taxes have been increasing together and supporting one another; and one reason, undoubtedly, of the late increase in the productiveness of our taxes has been the increase of our paper.
Was there no public debt, there would be no occasion for half the present taxes. Our paper circulation might be reduced. The balance of trade would turn in our favour. Specie would flow in upon us. The quantity of property destroyed by a failure of paper-credit (should it in such circumstances happen) would be 140 millions less, and, therefore, the shock attending it would be tolerable. But in the present state of things whenever any calamity or panic shall produce such a failure, the shock attending it will be intolerable. May heaven soon raise up for us some great statesman who shall see these things and enter into effectual measures, if not now too late, for extricating and preserving us.
Public banks are, undoubtedly, attended with great conveniencies. But they also do great harm, and, if their emissions are not restrained and conducted with great wisdom, they may prove the most pernicious of all institutions, not only by substituting fictitious for real wealth, by increasing luxury, by raising the prices of provisions, by concealing an unfavourable balance of trade, and by rendering a kingdom incapable of bearing any internal tumults or external attacks without the danger of a dreadful convulsion, but, particularly, by becoming instruments in the hands of ministers of state to increase their influence, to lessen their dependence on the people, and to keep up a delusive shew of public prosperity, when perhaps ruin may be near. There is, in truth, nothing that a government may not do with such a mine at its command as a public bank while it can maintain its credit, nor, therefore, is there any thing more likely to be improperly and dangerously used. But to return to what may be more applicable to our own state at present.
Among the causes that may produce a failure of paper-credit there are two which the present quarrel with America calls upon us particularly to consider. The first is 'an unfavourable balance of trade'. This, in proportion to the degree in which it takes place, must turn the course of foreign exchange against us, raise the price of bullion, and carry off our specie. The danger to which this would expose us is obvious, and it has been much increased by the new coinage of the gold specie which begun in 1773. Before this coinage, the greatest part of our gold coin being light, but the same in currency as if it had been heavy, always remained in the kingdom. But, being now nearly of full weight, whenever a wrong balance of foreign trade alters the course of exchange, and gold in coin becomes of less value than in bullion, there is reason to fear that it will be melted down in such great quantities and exported so fast as in a little time to leave none behind. The consequence of which must prove that the whole superstructure of paper-credit, now supported by it, will break down. The only remedy, in such circumstances, is an increase of coinage at the mint. But this will operate too slowly, and, by raising the price of bullion, will only increase the evil. It is the Bank that at such a time must be the immediate sufferer, for it is from thence that those who want coin for any purpose will always draw it.
For many years before 1773 the price of gold in bullion had been from 2 or 3 or 4 per cent higher than in coin. This was a temptation to melt down and export the coin which could not be resisted. Hence arose a demand for it on the Bank, and, consequently, the necessity of purchasing bullion at a loss for a new coinage. But the more coin the Bank procured in this way, the lower its price became in comparison with that of bullion, and the faster it vanished, and, consequently, the more necessary it became to coin again, and the greater loss fell upon the Bank. Had things continued much longer in this train, the consequences might have proved very serious. I am by no means sufficiently informed to be able to assign the causes which have produced the change that happened in 1772. But, without doubt, the state of things that took place before that year must be expected to return. The fluctuations of trade, in its best state, render this unavoidable. But the contest with our Colonies has a tendency to bring it on soon and to increase unspeakably the distress attending it. All know that the balance of trade with them is greatly in our favour, and that this balance is paid partly by direct remittances of bullion and partly by circuitous remittances through Spain, Portugal, Italy, etc. which diminish the balance against us with these countries. During the last year they have been employed in paying their debts without adding to them, and their exportations and remittances for that purpose have contributed to render the general balance of trade more favourable to us, and also (in conjunction with the late operations of the Bank) to keep up our funds. These remittances are now ceased and a few years will determine, if this contest goes on, how far we can sustain such a loss without suffering the consequences I have described.
The second event, ruinous to our paper circulation, which may arise from our rupture with America, is a deficiency in the revenue. As a failure of our paper would destroy the revenue, so a failure of the revenue, or any considerable diminution of it, would destroy our paper. The Bank is the support of our paper and the support of the Bank is the credit of government. Its principal securities are a capital of eleven millions lent to government and money continually advanced to a vast amount on the land-tax and malt-tax, sinking fund, exchequer bills, navy bills, etc. Should, therefore, deficiencies in the revenue bring government under any difficulties, all these securities would lose their value, and the Bank and Government, and all private and public credit, would fail together. Let any one here imagine what would probably follow were it but suspected by the public in general that the taxes were so fallen as not to produce enough to pay the interest of the public debts, besides bearing the ordinary expences of the nation, and that, in order to supply the deficiency and to hide the calamity, it had been necessary in any one year to anticipate the taxes and to borrow of the Bank. In such circumstances I can scarcely doubt but an alarm would spread of the most dangerous tendency. The next foreign war, should it prove half as expensive as the last, will probably occasion such a deficiency and bring our affairs to that crisis towards which they have been long tending. But the war with America has a greater tendency to do this, and the reason is that it affects our resources more and is attended more with the danger of internal disturbances.
Some have made the proportion of our trade depending on North America to be near one half. A moderate computation makes it a third. Let it, however, be supposed to be only a fourth. I will venture to say this is a proportion of our foreign trade the loss of which, when it comes to be felt, will be found insupportable. In the article of tobacco alone it will cause a deduction from the customs of at least £300,000 per ann., including the duties paid on foreign commodities purchased by the exportation of tobacco. Let the whole deduction from the revenue be supposed to be only half a million. This alone is more than the kingdom can at present bear, without having recourse to lotteries and the land-tax at 4 shillings in order to defray the common and necessary expences of peace. But to this must be added a deduction from the produce of the excises in consequence of the increase of the poor, of the difficulties of our merchants and manufacturers, of less national wealth, and a retrenchment of luxury. There is no possibility of knowing to what these deductions may amount. When the evils producing them begin, they will proceed rapidly and they may end in a general wreck before we are aware of any danger.
In order to give a clearer view of the subject, I will in an Appendix, state particularly the national expenditure and income for eleven years, from 1764 to 1774. From that account it will appear that the money drawn every year from the public by the taxes does not fall greatly short of a sum equal to the whole specie of the kingdom, and that, notwithstanding the late increase in the productiveness of the taxes, the whole surplus of the national income has not exceeded £338,759 per ann. This is a surplus so inconsiderable as to be scarcely sufficient to guard against the deficiencies arising from the common fluctuations of foreign trade and of home consumption. It is nothing when considered as the only fund we have for paying off a debt near 140 millions. Had we continued in a state of profound peace, it could not have admitted of any diminution. What then must follow, when one of the most profitable branches of our trade is destroyed, when a third of the Empire is lost, when an addition of many millions is made to the public debt, and when, at the same time perhaps some millions are taken away from the revenue? I shudder at this prospect. A kingdom on an edge so perilous should think of nothing but a retreat.
One of the pleas for continuing the contest with America is, 'that our honour is engaged, and that we cannot now recede without the most humiliating concessions'.
With respect to this it is proper to observe that a distinction should be made between the nation and its rulers. It is melancholy that there should be ever any reason for making such a distinction. A government is, or ought to be, nothing but an institution for collecting and carrying into execution the will of the people. But so far is this from being in general the fact that the measures of government and the sense of the people are sometimes in direct opposition to one another; nor does it often happen that any certain conclusion can be drawn from the one to the other. I will not pretend to determine whether, in the present instance, the dishonour attending a retreat would belong to the nation at large or only to the persons in power who guide its affairs. Be this as it will, no good argument can be drawn from it against receding. The disgrace which may be implied in making concessions is nothing to that of being the aggressors in an unrighteous quarrel, and dignity, in such circumstances, consists in retracting freely and speedily. For (to adopt, on this occasion, words which I have heard applied to this very purpose, in a great assembly, by a peer to whom this kingdom has often looked as its deliverer, and whose ill state of health at this awful moment of public danger every friend to Britain must deplore) to adopt, I say, the words of this great man, 'Rectitude is dignity, oppression only is meanness, and justice, honour.'
I will add that prudence, no less than true honour, requires us to retract. For the time may come when, if it is not done voluntarily, we may be obliged to do it and find ourselves under a necessity of granting that to our distresses which we now deny to equity and humanity and the prayers of America. The possibility of this appears plainly from the preceding pages; and should it happen, it will bring upon us disgrace indeed, disgrace greater than the worst rancour can wish to see accumulated on a kingdom already too much dishonoured. Let the reader think here what we are doing. A nation, once the protector of liberty in distant countries and the scourge of tyranny, exchanged into an enemy to liberty, engaged in endeavouring to reduce to servitude its own brethren. A great and enlightened nation, not content with a controuling power over millions of people which gave it every reasonable advantage, insisting upon such a supremacy over them as would leave them nothing they could call their own, and carrying desolation and death among them for disputing it. What can be more ignominious? How have we felt for the brave Corsicans in their struggle with the Genoese, and afterwards with the French government? Did Genoa or France want more than an absolute command over their property and legislations or the power of binding them in all cases whatsoever? The Genoese, finding it difficult to keep them in subjection, ceded them to the French. All such cessions of one people by another are disgraceful to human nature. But if our claims are just, may not we also, if we please, cede the Colonies to France? There is, in truth, no other difference between these two cases than that the Corsicans were not descended from the people who governed them but that the Americans are.
There are some who seem to be sensible that the authority of one country over another cannot be distinguished from the servitude of one country to another, and that unless different communities, as well as different parts of the same community, are united by an equal representation, all such authority is inconsistent with the principles of civil liberty. But they except the case of the Colonies and Great Britain because the Colonies are communities which have branched forth from, and which therefore, as they think, belong to Britain. Had the colonies been communities of foreigners, over whom we wanted to acquire dominion or even to extend a dominion before acquired, they are ready to admit that their resistance would have been just. In my opinion this is the same with saying that the Colonies ought to be worse off than the rest of mankind because they are our own brethren.
Again, the United Provinces of Holland were once subject to the Spanish monarchy; but, provoked by a violation of their charters, by levies of money without their consent, by the introduction of Spanish troops among them, by innovations in their antient modes of government, and the rejection of their petitions they were driven to that resistance which we and all the world have ever since admired, and which has given birth to one of the greatest and happiest republics that ever existed. Let any one read also the history of the war which the Athenians, from a thirst of empire, made on the Syracusans in Sicily, a people derived from the same origin with them, and let him, if he can, avoid rejoicing in the defeat of the Athenians.
Let him, likewise, read the account of the social war among the Romans. The allied states of Italy had fought the battles of Rome, and contributed by their valour and treasure to its conquests and grandeur. They claimed, therefore, the rights of Roman citizens, and a share with them in legislation. The Romans, disdaining to make those their fellow-citizens whom they had always looked upon as their subjects, would not comply and a war followed, the most horrible in the annals of mankind, which ended in the ruin of the Roman Republic. The feelings of every Briton in this case must force him to approve the conduct of the Allies and to condemn the proud and ungrateful Romans.
But not only is the present contest with America thus disgraceful to us, because inconsistent with our own feelings in similar cases, but also because condemned by our own practice in former times. The Colonies are persuaded that they are fighting for liberty. We see them sacrificing to this persuasion every private advantage. If mistaken, and though guilty of irregularities, they should be pardoned by a people whose ancestors have given them so many examples of similar conduct, England should venerate the attachment to liberty amidst all its excesses, and, instead of indignation or scorn, it would be most becoming them, in the present instance, to declare their applause and to say to the Colonies, 'We excuse your mistakes. We admire your spirit. It is the spirit that has more than once saved ourselves. We aspire to no dominion over you. We understand the rights of men too well to think of taking from you the inestimable privilege of governing yourselves, and, instead of employing our power for any such purpose, we offer it to you as a friendly and guardian power to be a mediator in your quarrels, a protection against your enemies, and an aid to you in establishing a plan of liberty that shall make you great and happy. In return, we ask nothing but your gratitude and your commerce.'
This would be a language worthy of a brave and enlightened nation. But alas! it often happens in the political world as it does in religion, that the people who cry out most vehemently for liberty to themselves are the most unwilling to grant it to others.
But farther, this war is disgraceful on account of the persuasion which led to it and under which it has been undertaken. The general cry was last winter that the people of New-England were a body of cowards who would at once be reduced to submission by a hostile look from our troops. In this light were they held up to public derision in both Houses of Parliament, and it was this persuasion that, probably, induced a Nobleman of the first weight in the state to recommend at the passing of the Boston Port Bill, coercive measures, hinting, at the same time, that the appearance of hostilities would be sufficient, and that all would soon be over, sine clade. Indeed no one can doubt but that had it been believed some time ago that the people of America were brave, more care would have been taken not to provoke them.
Again, the manner in which this war has been hitherto conducted renders it still more disgraceful. English valour being thought insufficient to subdue the Colonies, the laws and religion of France were established in Canada on purpose to obtain the power of bringing upon them from thence an army of French Papists. The wild Indians and their own slaves have been instigated to attack them, and attempts have been made to gain the assistance of a large body of Russians. With like views, German troops have been hired and the defence of our forts and garrisons trusted in their hands.
These are measures which need no comment. The last of them, in particular, having been carried into execution without the consent of parliament, threatens us with imminent danger and shews that we are in the way to lose even the forms of the constitution. If, indeed, our ministers can at any time, without leave, not only send away the national troops, but introduce foreign troops in their room, we lie entirely at mercy and we have everything to dread.
Let us next consider how far there is a probability of succeeding in the present war.
Our own people, being unwilling to enlist, and the attempts to procure armies of Russians, Indians, and Canadians having miscarried, the utmost force we can employ, including foreigners, does not exceed, if I am rightly informed, 40,000 effective men. This is the force that is to conquer half a million at least, of determined men fighting on their own ground, within sight of their houses and families, and for that sacred blessing of liberty, without which man is a beast and government a curse. All history proves that in such a situation, a handful is a match for millions.
In the Netherlands a few states, thus circumstanced, withstood, for a long course of years the whole force of the Spanish monarchy when at its zenith; and at last humbled its pride and emancipated themselves from its tyranny. The citizens of Syracuse also, thus circumstanced, withstood the whole power of the Athenians and almost ruined them. The same happened in the contest between the house of Austria, and the cantons of Switzerland. There is in this case an infinite difference between attacking and being attacked, between fighting to destroy and fighting to preserve or acquire liberty. Were we, therefore, capable of employing a land force against America equal to its own there would be little probability of success. But to think of conquering that whole continent with 30,000 or 40,000 men to be transported across the Atlantic and fed from hence and incapable of being recruited after any defeat. This is indeed a folly so great that language does not afford a name for it.
With respect to our naval force, could it sail at land as it does at sea, much might be done with it, but as that is impossible, little or nothing can be done with it which will not hurt ourselves more than the colonists. Such of their maritime towns as they cannot guard against our fleets and have not been already destroyed, they are determined either to give up to our resentment or destroy themselves. The consequence of which will be that these towns will be rebuilt in safer situations, and that we shall lose some of the principal pledges by which we have hitherto held them in subjection. As to their trade, having all the necessaries and chief conveniencies of life within themselves they have no dependence upon it, and the loss of it will do them unspeakable good, by preserving them from the evils of luxury and the temptations of wealth and keeping them in that state of virtuous simplicity which is the greatest happiness. I know that I am now speaking the sense of some of the wisest men in America. It has long been their wish that Britain would shut up all their ports. They will rejoice, particularly, in the last restraining act.[n] It might have happened that the people would have grown weary of their agreements not to export or import. But this act will oblige them to keep these agreements and confirm their unanimity and zeal. It will also furnish them with a reason for confiscating the estates of all the friends of our government among them and for employing their sailors, who would have been otherwise idle, in making reprisals on British property. Their ships, before useless, and consisting of many hundreds, will be turned into ships of war and that attention, which they have hitherto confined to trade, will be employed in fitting out a naval force for their own defence and thus the way will be prepared for their becoming, much sooner than they would otherwise have been, a great maritime power. This act of parliament, therefore, crowns the folly of all our late measures. None who know me can believe me to be disposed to superstition. Perhaps, however, I am not in the present instance free from this weakness. I fancy I see in these measures something that cannot be accounted for merely by human ignorance. I am inclined to think that the hand of Providence is in them working to bring about some great ends. But this leads me to one consideration more which I cannot help offering to the public and which appears to me in the highest degree important.
In this hour of tremendous danger it would become us to turn our thoughts to Heaven. This is what our brethren in the Colonies are doing. From one end of North-America to the other they are fasting and praying. But what are we doing? We are ridiculing them as fanatics, and scoffing at religion, We are running wild after pleasure and forgetting every thing serious and decent at masquerades. We are trafficking for boroughs, perjuring ourselves at elections, and selling ourselves for places. Which side then is Providence likely to favour?
In America we see a number of rising states in the vigour of youth, inspired by the noblest of all passions, the passion for being free, and animated by piety. Here we see an old state, great indeed, but inflated and irreligious, enervated by luxury, encumbered with debts, and hanging by a thread. Can any one look without pain to the issue? May we not expect calamities that shall recover to reflection (perhaps to devotion) our libertines and atheists?
Is our cause such as gives us reason to ask God to bless it? Can we in the face of Heaven declare, 'that we are not the aggressors in this war; and that we mean by it, not to acquire or even preserve dominion for its own sake, not conquest, or empire, or the gratification of resentment, but solely to deliver ourselves from oppression, to gain reparation for injury; and to defend ourselves against men who would plunder or kill us?' Remember, reader, whoever thou an, that there are no other just causes of war and that blood spilled with any other views must some time or other be accounted for. But not to expose myself by saying more in this way, I will now beg leave to recapitulate some of the arguments I have used and to deliver the feelings of my heart in a brief but earnest address to my countrymen.
I am hearing it continually urged, 'Are they not our subjects?' The plain answer is that they are not your subjects. The people of America are no more the subjects of the people of Britain than the people of Yorkshire are the subjects of the people of Middlesex. They are your fellow-subjects.
'But we are taxed, and why should they not be taxed?' You are taxed by yourselves. They insist on the same privilege. They are taxed to support their own governments and they help also to pay your taxes by purchasing your manufactures and giving you a monopoly of their trade. Must they maintain two governments? Must they submit to be triple taxed? Has your moderation in taxing yourselves been such as encourages them to trust you with the power of taxing them?
'But they will not obey the Parliament and the laws.' Say rather, they will not obey your parliament and your laws. Their reason is, they have no voice in your parliament. They have no share in making your laws. 'Neither have most of us.' Then you so far want liberty and your language is, 'We are not free, 'Why should they be free?' But many of you have a voice in parliament. None of them have. All your freehold land is represented. But not a foot of their land is represented. At worst, therefore, you are only enslaved partially. Were they to submit they would be enslaved totally. They are governed by parliaments chosen by themselves and by legislatures similar to yours. Why will you disturb them in the enjoyment of a blessing so invaluable? Is it reasonable to insist that your discretion alone shall be their law, that they shall have no constitutions of government, except such as you shall be pleased to give them, and no property except such as your parliament shall be pleased to leave them? What is your parliament? Is there not a growing intercourse between it and the court? Does it awe ministers of state as it once did? Instead of contending for a controuling power over the government of America, should you not think more of watching and reforming your own? Suppose the worst. Suppose, in opposition to all their own declarations that the colonists are now aiming at independence. 'If they can subsist without you', is it to be wondered at? Did there ever exist a community, or even an individual, that would not do the same? 'If they cannot subsist without you', let them alone. They will soon come back. 'If you cannot subsist without them', reclaim them by kindness; engage them by moderation and equity. It is madness to resolve to butcher them. This will make them detest and avoid you for ever. Freemen are not to be governed by force, or dragooned into compliance. If capable of bearing to be so ill treated, it is a disgrace to be connected with them.
'If they can subsist without you and also you without them', the attempt to subjugate them by confiscating their effects, burning their towns, and ravaging their territories, is a wanton exertion of cruel ambition which, however common it has been among mankind, deserves to be called by harder names than I chuse to apply to it. Suppose such an attempt was to be succeeded. Would it not be a fatal preparation for subduing yourselves? Would not the disposal of American places and the distribution of an American revenue render that influence of the crown irresistible which has already stabbed your liberties?
Turn your eyes to India. There more has been done than is now attempted in America. There Englishmen, actuated by the love of plunder and the spirit of conquest, have depopulated whole kingdoms and ruined millions of innocent people by the most infamous oppression and rapacity. The justice of the nation has slept over these enormities. Will the justice of heaven sleep? Are we not now execrated on both sides of the globe?
With respect to the Colonists, it would be folly to pretend they are faultless. They were running fast into our vices. But this quarrel gives them a salutary check and it may be permitted on purpose to favour them, and in them the rest of mankind; by making way for establishing, in an extensive country possessed of every advantage, a plan of government and a growing power that will astonish the world and under which every subject of human enquiry shall be open to free discussion, and the friends of liberty in every quarter of the globe find a safe retreat from civil and spiritual tyranny. I hope, therefore, our brethren in America will forgive their oppressors. It is certain they know not what they are doing.
Having said so much of the war with America, and particularly of the danger with which it threatens us, it may be expected that I should propose some method of escaping from this danger, and of restoring this once happy Empire to a state of peace and security. Various plans of pacification have been proposed and some of them by persons so distinguished by their rank and merit as to be above my applause. But till there is more of a disposition to attend to such plans they cannot, I am afraid, be of any great service. And there is too much reason to apprehend that nothing but calamity will bring us to repentance and wisdom. In order, however, to complete my design in these observations, I will take the liberty to lay before the public the following sketch of one of the plans just referred to, as it was opened before the holidays to the house of Lords by the Earl of Shelburne, who while he held the seals of the Southern Department, with the business of the colonies annexed, possessed their confidence, without ever compromising the authority of this country, a confidence which discovered itself by peace among themselves, and duty and submission to the mother-country. I hope I shall not take an unwarranted liberty if, on this occasion, I use his Lordship's own words as nearly as I have been able to collect them.[o]
Meet the Colonies on their own ground, in the last petition from Congress to the king. The surest as well as the most dignified mode of proceeding for this country Suspend all hostilities. Repeal the acts which immediately distress America, namely, the last restraining act, the charter act, the act for the more impartial administration of justice, and the Quebec act. All the other acts (the custom house act, the post office act, etc.) leave to a temperate revisal. There will be found much matter which both countries may wish repealed. Some which can never be given up, the principle being that regulation of trade for the common good of the Empire, which forms our palladium. Other matter which is fair subject of mutual accommodation. Prescribe[p] me most explicit acknowledgement of your right of regulating commerce in its most extensive sense if the petition and other public acts of the Colonies have not already by their declaration and acknowledgements left it upon a sufficiently secure foundation. Besides the power of regulating the general commerce of the Empire, something further might be expected, provided a due and tender regard were had to the means and abilities of the several provinces, as well as to those fundamental, unalienable rights of Englishmen, which no father can surrender on the part of his son, no representative on the part of his elector, no generation on the part of the succeeding one: the right of judging not only of the mode of raising, but the quantum, and the appropriation of such aids as they shall grant. To be more explicit, the debt of England, without entering into invidious distinctions how it came to be contracted, might be acknowledged, the debt of every individual part of the whole Empire, Asia, as well as America, included. Provided, that full security were held forth to them that such free aids, together with the Sinking Fund (Great Britain contributing her superior share), should not be left as the privy purse of the minister, but be unalienably appropriated to the original intention of that fund, the discharge of the debt, and that by an honest application of the whole fund, the taxes might in time be lessened, and the price of our manufactures consequently reduced, so that every contributory part might feel the returning benefit always supposing the laws of trade duly observed and enforced. The time was, I am confident, and perhaps is, when these points might be obtained upon me easy, the constitutional, and, therefore, the indispensible terms of an exemption from parliamentary taxation, and an admission of the sacredness of their charters instead of sacrificing their good humour, their affection, their effectual aids, and the act of Navigation itself (which you are now in the direct road to do) for a commercial quit-rent, or a barren metaphysical chimaera. How long these ends may continue attainable, no man can tell. But if no words are to be relied on except such as make against the Colonies, if nothing is acceptable, except what is attainable by force, it only remains to apply, what has been so often remarked of unhappy periods, Quos deus vult, etc.
These are sentiments and proposals of the last importance and I am very happy in being able to give them to the public from so respectable an authority as that of the distinguished peer I have mentioned, to whom, I know, this kingdom, as well as America, is much indebted for his zeal to promote those grand public points on which the preservation of liberty among us depends, and for the firm opposition, which, jointly with many others (noblemen and commoners of the first character and abilities) he has made to the present measures.
Had such a plan as that now proposed been adopted a few months ago, I have little doubt that a pacification would have taken place on terms highly advantageous to this kingdom. In particular, it is probable that the Colonies would have consented to grant an annual supply, which, increased by a saving of the money now spent in maintaining troops among them and by contributions which might have been gained from other parts of the Empire, would have formed a fund considerable enough, if unalienably applied, to redeem the public debt; in consequence of which, agreeably to Lord Shelburne's ideas, some of our worst taxes might be taken off, and the Colonies would receive our manufactures cheaper, our paper-currency might be restrained, our whole force would be free to meet at any time foreign danger, the influence of the Crown would be reduced, our Parliament would become less dependent, and the kingdom might, perhaps, be restored to a situation of permanent safety and prosperity.
To conclude. An important revolution in the affairs of this kingdom seems to be approaching. If ruin is not to be our lot, all that has been lately done must be undone and new measures adopted. At that period, an opportunity (never perhaps to be recovered, if lost) will offer itself for serving essentially this country, as well as America, by putting the national debt into a fixed course of payment, by subjecting to new regulations the administration of the finances, and by establishing measures for exterminating corruption and restoring the constitution. For my own part, if this is not to be the consequence of any future changes in the ministry, and the system of corruption, lately so much improved, is to go on, I think it totally indifferent to the kingdom who are in, or who are out of power.
The following fact is of so much importance that I cannot satisfy myself without laying it before the public. In a Committee of the American Congress, in June 1775, a declaration was drawn up containing an offer to Great Britain, 'that the Colonies would not only continue to grant extraordinary aids in time of war, but also, if allowed a free commerce, pay into the Sinking-Fund such a sum annually for one hundred years, as should be more than sufficient in that time, if faithfully applied, to extinguish all the present debts of Britain. Or, provided this was not accepted, that, to remove the groundless jealousy of Britain that the Colonies aimed at Independence and an abolition of the Navigation Act, which, in truth, they had never intended, and also, to avoid all future disputes about the right of making that and other acts for regulating their commerce for the general benefit, they would enter into a covenant with Britain that she should fully possess and exercise that right for one hundred years to come'.
At the end of the preceding tract I have had the honour of laying before the public the Earl of Shelburne's plan of pacification with the Colonies. In that plan it is particularly proposed that the Colonies should grant an annual supply to be carried to the Sinking Fund and unalienably appropriated to the discharge of the public debt. It must give this excellent peer great pleasure to learn, from this resolution, that even this part of his plan, as well as all the other parts, would, most probably, have been accepted by the Colonies. For though the resolution only offers the alternative of either a free trade with extraordinary aids and an annual supply, or an exclusive trade confirmed and extended, yet there can be little reason to doubt but that to avoid the calamities of the present contest, both would have been consented to, particularly, if, on our part, such a revisal of the laws of trade had been offered as was proposed in Lord Shelburne's plan.
The preceding resolution was, I have said, drawn up in a Committee of the Congress. But it was not entered in their minutes, a severe act of Parliament happening to arrive at that time,[q] which determined them not to give the sum proposed in it.
2. In Great Britain, consisting of near six millions of inhabitants, 5,723 persons, most of them the lowest of the people, elect one half of the House of Commons, and 364 chuse a ninth part. This may be seen distinctly made out in [James Burgh], Political Disquisitions, [3 vols., London, 1774-5] vol. 1, Bk. 2, ch. 4, [pp. 39-54] a work of important and useful instruction. [Burgh's claim, repeated by Price, that 254 members were chosen by 5,723 votes, was misleading. What Burgh did was to compute for each constituency a bare majority of those entitled to vote. Then he added these numbers for 254 constituencies to give, not the number of those who had actually voted for sitting members at any one election, but the lowest number that could conceivably have secured their election. Price's use of these figures is misleading in another respect. What Burgh's computation established was not that half the members of the House of Commons, but half the greatest number known to have been present at a debate at any one time, could have been elected by 5,723 votes. At this time there were 558 members of the Commons; the greatest number known to have been present at any one time at a debate was 502, and that in 1741. Price's assertion that a ninth part of the members for Great Britain were chosen by 364 votes is also inaccurate. What Burgh claimed was that a ninth part of the members for England were chosen by 364 votes.]
3. Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws, vol. I, bk II, ch. xix. [The English translation of De I'esprit des lois by Thomas Nugent was published under the title The Spirit of the Laws in London in 1750].
4. Except the negroes in the southern Colonies, who probably will now either soon become extinct, or have their condition changed into that of freemen. It is not the fault of the Colonies that they have among them so many of these unhappy people. They have made laws to prohibit the importation of them, but these laws have always had a negative put upon them here because of their tendency to hurt our Negro trade.
5. 'I have no other notion of slavery, but being bound by a law to which I do not consent.' See the case of Ireland's being bound by acts of Parliament in England, stated by William Molyneux,... [William Molyneux, The Case of Ireland's being bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated (Dublin, 1698; London, 1770)]. In arguing against the authority of Communities, and all people not incorporated, over one another; I have confined my views to taxation and internal legislation. Mr. Molyneux carried his views much farther, and denied the right of England to make any laws, even to regulate the trade of Ireland.
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