Primary tabs

To the Emigrants Lately Arrived From the Highlands of Scotland



Williamsburgh, November 23, 1775.

FRIENDS AND COUNTRYMEN: A native of the same island, and on the same side of the Tweed with yourselves, begs, for a few moments, your serious attention. A regard for your happiness, and the security of your posterity, are the only motives that could have induced me to occupy your time by an epistolatory exhortation. How far I may fall short of the object I have thus in view, becomes me not to surmise. The same claim, however, has he to praise (though, perhaps, never equally rewarded) who endeavours to do good, as he who has the happiness to effect his purpose. I hope, therefore, no views of acquiring popular fame, no partial or circumscribed motive?, will be attributed to me from this attempt. If this, however, should be the case, I have the consolation to know that I am not the first, of many thousands, who have been censured unjustly.


I have been lately told that our Provincial Congress have appointed a Committee to confer with you, respecting the differences which at present subsist between Great Britain and her American Colonies; that they wish to make you their friends, and treat with you for that purpose; to convince you, by facts and argumentation, that it is necessary that every inhabitant of this Colony should concur in such measures as may, through the aid of a superintending Providence, remove those evils under which this Continent is at present depressed.

The substance of the present contest, as far as my abilities serve me to comprehend it, is, simply, whether the Parliament of Great Britain shall have the liberty to take away your property without your consent. It seems clear and obvious to me that it is wrong and dangerous they should have such a power; and that if they are able to carry this into execution, no man in this Country has any property which he may safely call his own. Adding to the absurdity of a people' s being taxed by a body of men at least three thousand miles distant, we need only observe that their views and sentiments are opposite to ours, their manners of living so different that nothing but confusion, injustice, and oppression could possibly attend it. If ever we are justly and righteously taxed, it must be by a set of men who, living amongst us, have an interest in the soil, and who are amenable to us for all their transactions.

It was not to become slaves you forsook your native shores. Nothing could have buoyed you up against the prepossessions of nature and of custom, but a desire to fly from tyranny and oppression. Here you found a Country with open arms ready to receive you; no persecuting landlord to torment you; none of your property exacted from you to support court favourites and dependants. Under these circumstances, your virtue and your interest were equally securities for the uprightness of your conduct; yet, independent of these motives, inducements are not wanting to attach you to the cause of liberty. No people are better qualified than you, to ascertain the value of freedom. They only can know its intrinsick worth who have had the misery of being deprived of it.

From the clemency of the English Nation you have little to expect; from the King and his Ministers still less. You and your forefathers have fatally experienced the malignant barbarity of a despotick court. You cannot have forgot the wanton acts of unparalleled cruelty committed during the reign of Charles II. Mercy and justice were then strangers to your land, and your countrymen found but in the dust a sanctuary from their distresses. The cries of age, and the concessions of youth, were uttered but to be disregarded; and equally with and without the formalities of law, were thousands of the innocent and deserving ushered to an untimely grave. The cruel and unmerited usage given to the Duke of Argyle, in that reign, cannot be justified or excused. No language can paint the horrors of this transaction; description falters on her way, and, lost in the labyrinth of sympathy and wo, is unable to perform the duties of her function. This unhappy nobleman had always professed himself an advocate for the Government under which he lived, and a friend to the reigning monarch. Whenever he deviated from these principles, it must have been owing to the strong impulses of honour, and the regard he bore to the rights of his fellow-creatures. "It were endless, as well as shocking, (says an elegant writer,) to enumerate all the instances of persecution, or, in other words, of absurd tyranny, which at this time prevailed in Scotland. Even women were thought proper objects on whom they might exercise their ferocious and wanton dispositions; and three of that sex, for refusing to sign some test drawn up by tools of Administration, were devoted, without the solemnity of a trial, to a lingering and painful death."

I wish, for the sake of humanity in general, and the royal family in particular, that I could throw a veil over the conduct of the Duke of Cumberland after the last rebellion. The indiscriminate punishments which he held out equally to the innocent and the guilty, are facts of notoriety much to be lamented. The intention may possibly, in some measure, excuse, though nothing can justify the barbarity of the measure.

Let us, then, my countrymen, place our chief dependance on our virtue, and, by opposing the standard of despotism


on its first appearance, secure ourselves against those arts in which a contrary conduct will undoubtedly plunge us. I will venture to say, that there is no American so unreasonable as even to wish you to take the field against your friends from the other side of the Atlantick. All they expect or desire from you is, to remain neutral, and to contribute your proportion of the expenses of the war. This will be sufficient testimony of your attachment to the cause they espouse. As you participate of the blessings of the soil, it is but reasonable that you should bear a proportionable part of the disadvantages attending it.

To the virtuous and deserving among the Americans, nothing can be more disagreeable than national reflections; they are, and must be, in the eyes of every judicious man, odious and contemptible, and bespeak a narrowness of soul which the virtuous are strangers to. Let not, then, any disrespectful epithets which the vulgar and illiterate may throw out, prejudice you against them; and endeavour to observe this general rule, dictated at least by humanity, "that he is a good man who is engaged in a good cause."

Your enemies have said you are friends to absolute monarchy and despotism, and that you have offered yourselves as tools in the hands of Administration, to rivet the chains forging for your brethren in America. I hope and think my knowledge of you authorizes the assertion that you are friends to liberty, and the natural and avowed enemies of tyranny and usurpation. All of you, I doubt not, came into the Country with a determined resolution of finishing here your days; nor dare I doubt but that, fired with the best and noblest species of human emulation, you would wish to transmit to the rising generation that best of all patrimonies, the legacy of freedom.

Private views, and offers of immediate reward, can only operate on base and unmanly minds. That soul in which the love of liberty ever dwelt must reject, with honest indignation, every idea of preferment, founded on the ruins of a virtuous and deserving people. I would have you look up to the Constitution of Britain as the best and surest safeguard to your liberties. Whenever an attempt is made to violate its fundamental principles, every effort becomes laudable which may tend to preserve its natural purity and perfection.

The wannest advocates for Administration have candour sufficient to admit that the people of Great Britain have no right to tax America. If they have not, for what are they contending? It will, perhaps, be answered, for the dignity of Government. Happy would it be for those who advance this doctrine to consider, that there is more real greatness and genuine magnanimity in acknowledging an error, than in persisting in it. Miserable must that state be, whose rulers, rather than give up a little punctilio, would endanger the lives of thousands of its subjects in a quarrel, the injustice and impropriety of which is universally acknowledged. If the Americans wish for any thing more than is set forth in the Address of the last Congress to the King and people of Great Britain — if independence is their aim — by removing their real grievances, their artificial ones (if any they should avow) will soon appear, and with them will their cause be deserted by every friend to limited monarchy, and by every well-wisher to the interest of America. I have endeavoured, in this uncultivated homespun essay, to avoid prolixity as much as possibly I could. I have aimed at no flowers of speech, no touches of rhetorick, which are too often made use of to amuse, and not to instruct or persuade the understanding. I have no views but your good, and the credit of the Country from whence you came.

In case Government should prevail, and be able to tax America without the least show of representation, it would be to me a painful reflection to think, that the children of the land to which I owe my existence, should have been the cause of plunging millions into perpetual bondage.

If we cannot be of service to the cause, let us not be an injury to it. Let us view this Continent as a country marked out by the great God of nature as a receptacle for distress, and where the industrious and virtuous may range in the fields of freedom, happy under their own figtrees, freed from a swarm of petty tyrants, who disgrace countries the most polished and civilized, and who more particularly infest that region from whence you came.