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Salus Populi to the People of Pennsylvania: On Independence and a United Continental Legislature



In my last directed to you, I pointed out the consequences of an Independency, so far as it respects the States of Europe. The reasons on which I founded our safety from foreign invasions, I think, will scarcely be denied, or if they should, will not be easily confuted.

I hear but little said on that head at present. Perhaps it ceases to be a scarecrow, and is therefore taken down; but as it will never do for the enemies of our liberties to give up the point, it is only to hang up a more terrifick in its stead. Intestine confusions, continual wars with each other, Republicks, and Presbyterian Governments, compose the bugbear of the day, and the very name of them frightens people, more than the whole force of Great Britain. My present design is to remove this dreadful chimera from your imaginations, and to show you that nothing but a reluctance in you to independency can ever be the cause of any such evils, and I earnestly crave your attention to the subject, and entreat you to weigh my reasons impartially.

In the first place, then, it never was, nor can it ever be, the interest of any civil society, to exalt any set of religious tenets above all others, or to unite the Church and State. Most of the wars which deluged the world in blood for centuries together, arose from this false policy. The priesthood of any sect in religion, with sorrow I repeat it; can easily be made the tools of tyranny and arbitrary power. To crowned heads they are useful; but where no such exist, there establishments of the kind are truly a nuisance. We have no establishment in this Province, and consequently little distinction of sects, all men living in good neighbourhood with one another, however different in religious sentiments. The States-General, even in the days of fiery persecution, soon found the necessity of effectually excluding religion from interfering in State affairs; and in our days, when that edge is totally destroyed, and mankind have learned to think more liberally, none can suspect anything of the kind, but those who labour incessantly to deserve it. And yet they have been hitherto disappointed, and I hope ever shall. I know the present Continental Congress, or any other assembly of men of sentiment and education in America, would as soon agree to subject the United Colonies to the King of Caffraria, or to the See of Rome, as to any one sect of religion now existing in the world. Doubtless, every sect will be permitted to enjoy its complete privileges within itself. But for any one to be allied to the State is absurd to imagine. Depend on it, they who hold it up to terrify you, believe no such thing. They cannot, unless they have taken leave of their senses. In the next place, war is not, nor can it ever be, our element. Trade and agriculture are the true sources of wealth and happiness to a society. The majority of no nation ever gained anything by war, except when in defence of their privileges. And even in that case, the retaining them is the utmost they can expect. An ambitious monarch, who prefers self-exaltation to the blood of his subjects, may be for war, because, as the war is carried on at the expense of the people, and he alone reaps the rewards of victory, he has a chance to be a gainer thereby. His subjects cannot, for they must not only fight his battles, but pay all the expense of the war. I set it down, therefore, that the representatives of a free people, if free from the influence of royalty, can never be for war, except when the rights of the society are invaded. Besides, the Colonies are at present nearly on an equality with respect to warlike knowledge, and will be completely so before the present war is at an end. There will therefore be no temptation on that score, and all the regular troops, as long as such are needful, will be in the pay of the Continent, and can never be employed by one Colony against another Disband them at the end of the war, and settle them on plantations, or assist them in setting up their trades, and let your strength consist in a well-regulated Militia, and you will have done with war forever.

For freemen to prefer the chance of war to peace, liberty, trade, and agriculture, is as unnatural as to prefer wounds, bruises, poverty, and death, to health, riches, and all the pleasures and enjoyments of life. To see a society of farmers, tradesmen, and merchants, quit their peaceful employments, and make war upon one another, would be a phenomenon which the world has not yet beheld, and I


will venture to say never will. God has placed us at the greatest distance possible from external oppressors, and he has placed our interest as far from internal ones.

Some men have an uncommon talent at making men forget what is before them, and calling off their attention from certainty to speculation; from truths supported by facts, to chimerical suppositions; and from what really exists, to what never can exist; and they can make many believe the one so firmly, that it is scarcely in the power of self-evidence to overcome their credulity. Hence it is that so many shudder at the, thoughts of what shall happen to us after we are fairly let loose from Great Britain, and are frightened almost out of their senses on account of the divisions which will then disturb our internal repose.

I have heard it alleged by able politicians, that the reason which induced the Crown to give so many different Constitutions to the several Colonies was, that it might make a union of them impracticable. Be this as it may, it is certain that a union of our Legislatures in any opposition to the Crown, was impracticable. It was not, nor is it now, in our power to get any Governour on the Continent, except two, to give his assent to any bill for the purpose; and according to the Constitution of the Colonies, no act of our Assemblies can be deemed law without such assent. This shows the evil of a negative on the voice of the people. Now, though a constitutional union of the Colonies by their Legislatures was impracticable, and though the Ministry and their Tory friends exerted their utmost influence to prevent any kind of union, and to break it afterwards; yet it took place, and still continues, contrary to every expectation and endeavour of internal and external enemies. All Colony distinctions are now at an end; and cursed will he be who endeavours to revive them. Can any be so stupid as to believe that they who remain united without law, without authority, and without restraint, merely because they know it to be their interest, will break that union when it shall be established under a Continental Legislature, and supported by publick authority? The same interest and wisdom which joined us against such odds, will certainly keep us together when aided by constitution and law. The arts of peace ever form the true basis of human felicity; and while we remain free, that mutual intercourse which adds wealth to every social enjoyment, will be constantly preferred to the wild schemes of mad ambition, which purchase a few days gratification to one, at the price of the lasting misery of thousands.

To imagine, therefore, that our remaining united until we had obliged Great Britain to acknowledge us an independent people, would be the cause of future wars among the Colonies, is as absurd and irrational as to imagine that harmony could produce discord. On the contrary, every cause of quarrel would forever subside. All the unlocated lands in America would be taken under the care of the Continental Legislature, and settled upon one general plan; which would prevent a thousand contentions, which must remain while they are in the gift of the Crown. Lands will then be equally open to all. America will be the country, and all of us as much one people as the inhabitants of any one Colony are at present. Let proper care be taken by the people at large, at the time of forming the Continental Constitution, to fix such an equal plan of representation on principles which will continue it so, as will make the general good the general interest, and to secure that motion to power and authority which is necessary to preserve it from corruption by a constant rotation, and war will be unknown in America.

I have shown in a former number, directed to the people of North America, the impossibility of a reunion with Great Britain, on the principles of the year 1763, if we mean to preserve our liberties. To be effectually secured from future mischief' s and machinations in case of a reunion, there must not be one Crown-Officer, either civil or military, left on the Continent, nor a British ship-of-war permitted to enter our harbours. From them our present distresses sprang, and by them they will be continued. And while any such is permitted to remain among us, we keep our enemy in our bosom, and the robber in our house. Be our doors ever so strongly bolted, it will add nothing to our security. Nothing but a division among the Colonies, when it shall be finally debased in Congress, whether we shall be independent or not, can be the cause of future wars to


America. This is the single point on which our future happiness or misery will finally turn.

It is easy talking of a reunion, and permanent security to our liberties; and publick orators may say it is very plain. I am no Member of Congress, no Committee-man, nor in the secrets of either; but I will throw out some hints to both, which it might not be amiss to consider. Our welfare will greatly depend on the weight they have in the minds of those who are intrusted with our publick affairs.

He betrays an uncommon degree of ignorance of human nature who thinks that a cordial reunion can take place between Great Britain and any one of the United Colonies. Slaves have been known to prefer servitude to freedom, but this has always happened where their masters used them exceedingly well. The moment ill usage and a disregard of their interest take place, the happiness of such a dependance and connection is gone forever. Our connection can no longer exist on former principles. These principles did not, nor could not protect us. They once existed, and what good did they do us? Did they save us from our present troubles? I say, therefore, if a reunion takes place, it must he on the principles of unlimited dominion on the one hand, and absolute submission on the other. They will sooner treat with you as independent States, than grant you all that is necessary to secure your privileges while you, acknowledge subjection. But granting they should be willing to grant absolute security, (which they never will,) the Colonies which have suffered least may reunite on these terms; others, I am confident, neither can nor will, until they are deprived of that foresight which distinguishes them from the lamb which licks the hand of the butcher. To imagine what three of the Southern, and four of the Northern Colonies can ever reunite on any other principle than that of absolute conquest, is folly in the extreme.

Blood once shed puts a final period to all other accommodations; and the exciting a slave to cut the throat of his master produces a similar effect. A spirit once kindled by blood, can never be cooled but by the same, or a total extinction of its fire. And God is so far from desiring or expecting a friendly reunion and connection in such cases, that he has continually declared the contrary in every dispensation since the murder of Abel, by constantly repeating, "that he who sheddeth man' s blood, by man shall his blood be shed." I therefore repeat it, that a reunion of most of the Colonies is now become impossible. Can any of the New-England Colonies ever be cordially united to Great Britain? Can they ever approach their sea-coasts without viewing with horrour and indignation the ravages of her fleets and armies? Can Virginia, the Carolinas, or even New-York, ever be content with Governours appointed by the Crown? The day they can contentedly submit to such appointments, or such reunion, the spirit of freedom will forsake these Colonies. Freemen will, never grow on such a soil. When this takes place, Great Britain may convert her African into an American Company of Slave-traders, and send her ships to carry her white negroes to the West-Indies to work her sugar plantations. I have a better opinion of them than to think them ripe for such a metamorphosis. I therefore conclude they will fight for independency, and they will obtain it. On this account, an attempt of any of the Colonies to be reunited to Great Britain, would be a very unwise and unhappy measure. A war twice fought always costs less blood and treasure than once effectually gone through. There are some who, knowing that a Republick well regulated is ever unfavourable to that ambition which aims to be aggrandized at the publick expense, will make strenuous opposition to independency; and they would willingly disunite the Colonies rather than join in asserting it. To such I would throw out some cautionary observations.

1st˙ A division of the Colonies will not prevent the independence of those which stand out.

2dly˙ The Provinces which submit will return to trade and agriculture, and consequently lose the use of arms, while they that stand out will be expert warriors.

3dly˙ The Continent will be divided into two distinct Empires or Republicks — a Northern and a Southern. For, assure yourselves, Virginia will never submit, and the Carolinas (if not Maryland) will join her.

4thly˙ While there is land to settle, and two Empires on the Continent, war will be the consequence.


5thly˙ When Great Britain is so far reduced as to declare them independent, who will protect the submitting Colonies from the resentment of incensed warriors, whom they deserted? Such Colonies will finally be divided between the two powers.

The man who traces these hints fairly, be he who he may, if he means not to sell his right to America, will be a strenuous advocate for independency, and a united Continental Legislature.