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Letter IV, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies in America



Philadelphia, June 15, 1774.

BRETHREN: The intelligence received since the preceding letter was written, seems to render needless every attempt to prove from former transactions, my first intention, if health had permitted, that a regular plan has been invariably pursued to enslave these Colonies, and that the Act of Parliament for the blocking up the port of Boston is a part of the plan. However unprecedented and cruel that measure is, yet some persons among us might have flattered themselves that the resentment of the Parliament is directed solely against the town. The last advices mention two Bills to be passing in Parliament, one changing the chartered Constitution of the Province of Massachusetts Bay into a Military Government; and another empowering Administration to send for and try persons in England for actions committed in that Colony.

By these instances we perceive that Administration has not only renounced all respect, and all appearance of respect for the rights of these Colonies, but even the plainest principles of justice and humanity. Were the Representatives of the people of Massachusetts Bay called upon to make satisfaction for the damage done to private property in any late tumult there? No. Yet it was known that those Representatives had made ample reparation for the injuries committed on occasion of the Stamp Act. It was known that the like reparation had been made by the Assemblies of New-York and Rhode-Island. In short, it was known, that notwithstanding the incessant pains taken by many Ministers to tease the Colonies by oppressions and insults into madness, yet they have, with difficulty, excited only a few tumults, for which the popular branch of the Legislature in the several Colonies has ever been ready to atone, upon requisitions from the Crown.

Great clamour has been raised at home against Massachusetts Bay, on account of resolutions at some of their own town meetings, and other writings published in that Colony; and better it were that many of them had been suppressed. The truth is, that people, animated by an ardent and generous love of liberty, saw, and peculiarly felt, the projects against the freedom and happiness of America. I know them well; and if ever a State deserved the character, they are a moral, religious, quiet, and loyal people, affectionately attached to the welfare and honour of Great Britain, and dearly valuing their dependence on her. Observant and sensible as they were of the present and approaching evils, some of them adopted a very imprudent, but what appeared to them a very peaceable and justifiable method, of discouraging Administration from proceeding in such alarming and dangerous measures — that of speaking in a high tone. Words were opposed to injuries; and menaces, never designed for execution, to insults intolerable. What could they do? Their humble petitions were haughtily and contemptuously rejected. The more they supplicated the more they were abused. By their tears, and Heaven knows many they have shed, their persecutions flourished as trees by water poured on their roots. Their very virtue and passionate fondness for concord for their mother country, occasioned this objected errour. "Surely," says Solomon, "oppression maketh a wise man mad." A silly man may disregard it. In playing the fool they showed their wisdom. This is the true history of those futile pieces that produced so much solid eloquence in Great Britain.


Riots and weak publications, by a small number of individuals; are sufficient reasons with Parliament to ruin many thousand inhabitants of a truly respectable town, to dissolve charters, to abolish the benefits of the writ of habeas corpus, and extirpate American liberty — for the principle reaches all. But in England the Press groans with publications, seditious, treasonable, and even blasphemous. The discontented swarm over the Kingdom proclaiming their resentments. Many enormous riots have disturbed the public peace. The Sovereign has been insulted in passing from his Palace to the Parliament House, on the business of the Nation. Is it to be concluded from the facts, that the body of the people is seditious and traitorous? Can his Majesty believe that he is thought by his English subjects in general to be such a Prince as some of them have represented him? Will the two Houses of Parliament acknowledge what has been spoken and written and acted against them in England, expresses the sentiments of the Kingdom? Or will they say the people of England have forfeited their liberty, because some of them have run into licentiousness? Let a judgment be formed in both cases by the same rule. Let them condemn those or acquit us.

Pretences and reasons are totally different. The provocation said to be given by our sister Colony, are but the pretences for the exorbitant severity exercised against her. The reasons are these — the policy, despicable and detestable as it is, of suppressing the freedom of America, by a military force, to be supported by money taken out of our own pockets, and the supposed conveniency of opportunity for attaining this end. These reasons are evident from the Minister' s speech. The system is formed with art, but the art is discoverable. Indeed, I do not believe it was expected we should have such early and exact intelligence of the schemes agitated against us as we have received. Any person who examines the multitude of invectives published in pamphlets and newspapers in Great Britain, or the speeches made in either House of Parliament, will find them directed against the Colonies in general The people in that Kingdom have been, with great cunning and labour, inflamed against the Colonies in general. They are deluded into a belief that we are in a state of rebellion, and aiming directly at a state of independency; though the first is a noxious weed that never grew in our climates, and the latter is universally regarded with the deepest execrations by us — a poison we never can be compelled to touch, but as an antidote to a worse, if a worse can be — a curse that if any Colony on this Continent should be so mad as to aim at reaching, the rest of the body would have virtue and wisdom enough to draw their swords, and hew the traitors into submission, if not into loyalty. It would be our interest and our duty thus to guarantee the public peace. The Minister, addressing the House of Commons, uses several expressions relating to all the Colonies, and calls the stoppage of the port of Boston "a punishment inflicted on those who have disobeyed your authority."

Is it not extremely remarkable, after such a variety of charges affecting all the Colonies, that the statue of vengeance should be levelled against a single Colony? New-York,


Philadelphia, and Charlestown have denied freedom of trade to ships sailing under the protection of Acts of Parliament. Will not the House of Commons think the inhabitants of these places "have disobeyed their authority," and that a punishment should be inflicted on them?" Why do we not hear of some measure pursued against those cities? Are they immaculate in the eyes of Administration and Parliament? Has not each of these places done real damage to the East India Company? Has there been even a requisition of compensation for that damage from any of them? Why is there such a profound silence observed with respect to them? Because they are judged by Administration and Parliament more innocent than the Colony of Massachusetts Bay? No. Because Administration and Parliament do us Americans the honour to think we are such idiots that we shall not believe ourselves interested in the fate of Boston, but that one Colony may be attacked and humbled after another, without showing the sense or spirit of beasts themselves, many of which unite against common danger.

Why were the states of Greece broken down into the tamest submission, by Philip of Macedon, and afterwards by the Romans? Because they contended for freedom separately. Why were the States of Spain subdued by the Carthagenians, and afterwards by the Romans? Because they contended for freedom separately. Why were the ancient inhabitants of the Kingdom, that now harasses us; conquered by their invaders? Tacitus will inform us. "Nec aliud adversus validissimas gentes pro nobis utilius, quam yuod in commune non consultunt. Rarus ad propulsandum commune periculum conventus. Ita dum singuli pugnant omnes vincuntur. Why did the little Swiss Cantons and seven small Provinces of the Low Countries so successfully oppose the tyrants, that, not contented with an Empire, founded in humanity and mutual advantages, unnecessarily and arrogantly strove to "lay" the faithful and affectionate wretches at their feet?" Because they wisely regarded the interest of each as the interest of all.

Our own experience furnishes a mournful additional proof of an observation made by a great and good man, Lord President Forbes. "It is a certain truth," says he, that all States and Kingdoms, in proportion as they grow great, wealthy, and powerful, grow wanton, wicked, and oppressive; and the history of all ages give evidence of the fatal catastrophe of all such States and Kingdoms, when the cup of their iniquity is full." Another "truth," as "certain," is, that such "States and Kingdoms" never have been, and never will be, checked in the career of their "wantonness, wickedness, and oppression," by a people in any way dependent upon them, but by the prudent, virtuous, and steady unanimity of that people. To employ more words to elucidate a point so manifest, would be the idle attempt of gilding gold.

Surely you cannot doubt at this time, my countrymen, but that the people of Massachusetts Bay are suffering in a cause common to us all; and, therefore, that we ought immediately to concert the most prudent measures for their relief and our own safety.

Our interest depending on the present controversy is unspeakably valuable. We have not the least prospect of human assistance. The passion of despotism, raging like a plague for about seven years past; has spread with unusual malignity through Europe; Corsica, Poland, and Sweden, have sunk beneath it. The remaining spirit of freedom that lingered and languished in the Parliament of France, has lately expired. What Kingdom or State interposed for the relief of their distressed fellow-creatures? The contagion has at length readied Great Britain. Her statesmen emulate the Nimrods of the Earth,


and wish to become "mighty hunters" in the woods of America. What Kingdom or State will interpose for our relief? The preservation of our freedom, and of every attendant blessing, must be wrought out, under Providence, by ourselves. Let not this consideration discourage us. We cannot be false to each other, without being false to ourselves. We have the firmest foundation of union and fidelity — that we wish to attain the same things — to avoid the same things. The friendship of others might be precarious, suspected, deceitful.

The infinitely great, wise, and good Being, who gave us our existence, certainly formed us for a state of society. He certainly designed us for such a state of society as would be productive of happiness. Liberty is essential to the happiness of a society, and therefore is our right. The Father of Mercies never intended men to hold unlimited authority over men. Craft and cruelty have indeed triumphed over simplicity and innocence, in disobedience to his holy laws. The Father of Mercies never intended us for the slaves of Britons. Craft and cruelty, indeed, are striving to brand us with marks infamously denoting us to be their property as absolutely as their cattle. Their pretensions to a right of such power, not only oppose constitutional principles, but even partake of impiety. The sentence of bondage against us is only issued by the frail omnipotence of Parliament.

"Non sic inflectere sensus
"Humanos edicta, valent."

We cannot question the justice of our cause. This consideration will afford comfort and encouragement to our minds. Let us, therefore, in the first place, humbling ourselves before our gracious Creator, devoutly beseech his


divine protection of us his afflicted servants, most unreasonably and cruelly oppressed. Let us seriously reflect on our manifold transgressions, and by a sincere repentance, and an entire amendment of our lives, strive to recommend ourselves to divine favour.

In the next place, let us cherish and cultivate sentiments of brotherly love and tenderness among us. To whom, under the cope of Heaven, can we look for help in these days of "darkness and trouble," but one to another. O my countrymen! Have pity one on another. Have pity on yourselves and your children. Let us, by every tender tie, implore you; let us mutually excuse and forgive each other our weakness and prejudices, (for who is free from weakness and prejudices?) and utterly abolishing all former dissensions and distinctions, wisely and kindly unite in one firm band, in one common cause.

If there are any men, or any bodies of men, on this Continent, who think that an accommodation between us and Great Britain, or that their own particular interest may be advanced by withdrawing themselves from the counsels of their countrymen, I would wish them most deliberately to consider the consequences that may attend such a conduct. What step can possibly be taken more directly tending to prevent an accommodation between us and Great Britain than supplying Administration with proofs of our intestine divisions? What do our enemies so ardently wish for as for these divisions? Has not the expectation of these events encouraged the Ministry to treat us with such unexampled contempt and barbarity? Will not the certainty of these events excite resolution in them to press us, to take every advantage of a people so industriously studying and labouring to weaken and destroy themselves? Then a Minister may with reason call upon the House of Commons, "Now is our time to stand out — to defy them — to proceed with firmness and without fear — to produce a conviction to all America that we are now in earnest, and that we will proceed with firmness and vigour until she shall be laid at our feet."

I appeal to every man of common sense, whether any measure will be so likely to induce Administration to think of an accommodation with us, as our unanimity. Must not, therefore, every measure impeaching the credit and weight of this unanimity, in the same degree obstruct all accommodation? Will not every such measure naturally produce haughtiness, perseverance and fresh rigour in our oppressors? Will not these still more enrage us, and place us farther from an accommodation? If the protection and peace we wish to derive from our unanimity be taken from us by the imprudence of our brethren who break that unanimity, or destroy all respect for it in Great Britain, and thereby encourage her to seize what she will certainly think the lucky opportunity for pursuing her blows, what must be the consequence. We held up a shield for our defence. If our brethren have pierced it through, and rendered it useless, their imprudence will, according to the usual course of human affairs, compel us to change the mode of defence, and drive us into all the evils of civil discords.

What advantages can they gain that can compensate to men of any understanding or virtue, for the miseries occasioned by their bad policy. Their numbers will be too small in any manner whatever to controul the sentiments or measures of America. Their conduct never can prevent the exertions of these Colonies in vindication of their liberty. It may by provocations render those exertions more rash and imprudent; but their numbers will be so extravagantly exaggerated, as all facts have been against us, on the other side of the Atlantic, that Great Britain may be deceived, and emboldened into measures destructive to herself and to us. We are now strenuously endeavouring, in a peaceable manner, by this single power, the force of our unanimity, to preserve our freedom. Those who lessen that unanimity detract from its force, will prevent its effect, and must be, therefore, justly chargeable with all the dreadful consequences to these Colonies.

The third important consideration I beg leave to recommend to my countrymen is, to draw such reflections from their situation as will confirm their minds in that manly noble fortitude so absolutely necessary for the maintenance


of those inestimable privileges for which they are now contending. The man who fears difficulties arising from the defence of freedom, is unworthy of freedom. God has given the right and the means of asserting it. We may reasonably expect his gracious assistance in the reasonable employment of those means. To look for miracles while we abusively neglect the powers afforded us by divine goodness, is not only stupid, but criminal. We are yet free — let us think like freemen.

In the last place, I beg to offer some observations concerning the measures that may be most expedient in the present emergency. Other Nations have contended in blood for their liberty, and have judged the jewel worth the price that was paid for it. These Colonies are not reduced to the dreadful necessity. So dependent is Great Britain on us for supplies that Heaven seems to have placed in our hands means of an effectual, yet peaceable resistance, if we have sense and integrity to make a proper use of them. A general agreement between these Colonies of non-importation and non-exportation, faithfully observed, would certainly be attended with success. But is it now proper to enter into such an agreement? Let us consider that we are contending with our ancient, venerable and beloved parent country. Let us treat her with all possible respect and reverence. Though the rulers there have had no compassion upon us, let us have compassion on the people of that Kingdom. And if, to give weight to our supplications, and to obtain relief for our suffering brethren, it shall be judged necessary to lay ourselves under some restrictions with regard to our imports and exports, let it be done with tenderness, so as to convince our brethren in Great Britain of the importance of a connection and harmony between them and us, and the danger of driving us into despair. Their true interests, and our own, are the same; nor would we admit any notion of a distinction till we know their resolution to be unalterably hostile.

In the mean time, let us pursue the most proper methods for collecting the sentiments of all the British Colonies in North America on the present situation of affairs, the first point, it is apprehended, to which attention should be paid. This may be effected various ways. The Assemblies that may have opportunity of meeting, may appoint Deputies to attend a general Congress, at such time and place as shall be agreed on. Where Assemblies cannot meet, such of the people as are qualified by law to vote in election of Representatives, may meet and appoint, or may request their Representatives to meet and appoint.

When the inhabitants of this extended Continent observe that regular measures are prosecuted for re-establishing harmony between Great Britain and these Colonies, their minds will grow more calm. Prospects of accommodation, it is hoped, will engage them patiently and peaceably to attend the result of the public Councils, and such applications as, by the joint sense of America, may be judged proper to be made to his Majesty and both Houses of Parliament.

"Better is a little with righteousness, than great revenues without right."



* By the first of these Bills the Governour is to be invested with the power of a Justice of the Peace, to call out the military to effect, though the Minister says in his speech: "I shall always consider that a military power, acting under the authority and controul of a Civil Magistrate, is a part of the Constitution." By the second, Americans are to be seized, confined, and carried to England, to be tried, that is, hanged on charges for an act done in a Colony. This is not all. Soldiers and others, who shall commit any offence, such as murdering the Colonists, under the pretence of supporting the authority of Parliament, shall be carried to England to be tried — that is — acquitted. Of the habeas corpus and trial by peers, "stat nominis umbra."

"That the absolute power, claimed and exercised in a neighbouring Nation, is more tolerable than that of the Eastern Empires, is in a great measure owing to their having united the Judicial power in their Parliaments, a body separate and distinct from both the Legislative and Executive, and if ever that Nation recovers its former liberty, it will own it to the efforts of those Assemblies. In Turkey, where every thing is centered in the Sultan, or his Minister, despotic power is in its meridian, and wears a most dreadful aspect." — 5 BLACKSTONE, 269, 270.

* Both Houses of Parliament resolved two or three years ago, that persons might be sent for from any of the Colonies for acts done there and tried in England, under the old statute of Henry the Eighth, made before the Colonies existed. The late Court at Rhode-Island was established on tliat principle. The intention of Parliament in passing the Bill above mentioned is chiefly to screen persons acting in support of their unconstitutional claims. They have declared they have no doubt but that the thirty-fifth of Henry has established a just and legal mode of cutting American throats.

"I can live, although another, who has no right, be put to live with me; nay, I cm live, although I pay excises and impositions more than I do; but to have my liberty, which is the soul of my life, taken from me by power, and to have my body pent up in a jail," (then thrown into a ship of war, transported three thousand miles across the Ocean, to a land of bitter, selfish, furious, and revengeful enemies, there thrust into the jaws of dungeons,) "without remedy by law, and to be adjudged: O improvident ancestors! O unwise forefathers! to be so curious in providing for the quiet possession of our laws, and the liberties of Parliament, and to neglect our persons and bodies, and let them lie in prison, and that durante bene placito, remediless! If this be law why do we talk of liberties? Why do we trouble ourselves with a dispute about law, franchises, property of goods, and the like? What may any man call his own if not the liberty of his person? I am weary of treading these ways." — Speech of ROBERT PHILIPS, a member of the wise and moderate Parliament that met in the year 1627.

† Private letters give a further proof of this fact.

* Nor was any thing more advantageous to us against very powerful nations, than their imprudence in not consulting together for the intererst of the whole. Conventions for repelling a common danger were rare. Thus, while each State resisted singly, all were subdued. — TACITUS, in vit˙ Agric..

† The Act for shutting up the port of Boston orders, "that it shall not be opened until peace and obediance to the laws shall be so far restored in the said town of Boston, that the trade of Great Britain, may safely be carried on there, and his Majesty' s duties duly collected," &c. Thus, it appears, if the inhabitants renounce the common cause of the Colonies, the port may be opened — if they adhere to that cause it will remain shut.

‡ By the new modeling their Parliaments.

* "To live by one man' s will became the cause of all men' s misery." — HOOKER' S Eccles˙ Pol.

"Is not universal misery and rain the same, whether it comes from the hands of many or of one?" — Bishop HOADLY' S Disc˙ on Gov.

"Of so contrary an opinion was this good man (Hooker) to that of some others, who can never oppose one extreme, without running into another, as bad, if not worse, and think they cannot enough condemn rebellion without giving the divine sanction to tyranny and oppression. This judgment ought likewise to be of the more weight with such as profess the most profound veneration for the memory of Charles the First, and the honour of the old Church of England; because this treatise in which it was to be found was chosen out of many others, by that Prince, to be recommended to his children as the best instructor they could converse with, and was had in such estimation by all churchmen, from the time of its appearance, that it may well pass, not only for his own judgment in particular, but for the judgment of the whole Church of England at that time." — Bishop HOADLY, ibid.

"Would not the unhappiness of this Nation in particular have been the game, whether a late King, alone, or by a former law, has subjected it to the religion of Rome and the maxims of France? And, upon supposition of such an attempt, would not our late deliverance have been as glorious, as great, and justifiable, as much wanted, and as truly beneficial, as it was upon the attempt of the King alone? Would not the invitation of the Prince of Orange, the election and meeting of the persons who made the Convention, and the consequent establishment in the Protestant line, have been as requisite and as useful? Nay, would not the ends of Government have been more effectually answered this way, than by submission to a total dissolution of all happiness at present, and of all hopes for the future? How than can it be said that the ends of Government require that degree of submission upon the one supposition, which they are allowed not to do upon the other, when the same misery and destruction must follow a submission in both cases, and the same universal happiness must in both be the consequence of a just and well managed defence? Or would the ends of Government be destroyed, should the miserable condition of the whole people of France, which hath proceeded from the King' s being absolute, awaken the thoughts of the wisest heads amongst them, and move them all to exert themselves, so as that those ends should be better answered for the time to coma?" — Bishop HOADLY, ibid.

It was resolved by the House of Commons, that this Bishop, then Mr˙ Hoadly, and Rector of St˙ Peter' s Poor, London, "for having often strenuously justified the principles on which her Majesty and the Nation proceeded in the late happy revolution, had justly merited the favour and, recommendation of the House;" and accordingly addressed Queen Anne, "that she would be graciously pleased to bestow some dignity in the Church on the said Mr˙ Hoadly, for his eminent services both to the Church and State."

"Whatever dishonours human nature, dishonours the policy of a Government which permits it; and a free State which doss not communicate the natural right of liberty to all its subjects, who have not deserved by their crimes to lose it, hardly seems to be worthy of that honourable name." — Lord LITTLETON' S History of HENRY II.

"Without goodness power would be tyranny and oppression, and wisdom would degenerate into craft and mischievous contrivance."— Archbishop TILLOTSON' S Sermons.

" Etiamsi non sit molestus dominus, tamen est miserrimum, posse, si velit." CICERO. Even if a Sovereign does not oppress, yet it is a most miserable condition for the subjects that he has the power, if he has the will.

† 1 Blackstone, 161.

‡ Edicts cannot so bend the common sense of human nature.

* Lord North' s Speech.

* "‘By justice (saith the Scripture) the Throne is established,’ and ‘by justice a Nation shall be exalted.’ I resemble justice to Nebuchadnezzar' s tree, shading not only the palace of the King, and the house of nobles, but sheltering also the cottage of the poorest beggar. Wherefore, if now the blast of indignation hath so bruised any of the branches of this tree, that either our persons, or goods, or possessions, have not the same shelter as before, let us not, therefore, neglect the root of this great tree; but rather, with all our possible means, endeavours, and unfeigned duties, both apply fresh and fertile mould unto it, and also water it even with tears, that so those bruised branches may be recovered, and the whole tree prosper again and nourish." — Mr˙ CRESKELD' S Speech in the Parliament that met in 1727.