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Free Thoughts on the Present Times and Measures; Addressed to the People of Virginia



MY COUNTRYMEN: In popular, mixed, and free Constitutions, the fluctuation of power ought to be carefully marked, and diligently attended to, lest the different branches arrogate to themselves rights and privileges not originally inherent in them. To resolve such Constitutions to their first principles, is the best criterion to judge of their purity. If they will not stand this test, we may safely pronounce them defective; and then our next inquiry should be, where has the errour begun, or the violation originated? When this point is gained, like a skilful physician, who reckons a competent knowledge of the distemper of his patient half way towards his cure, we ought to exert ourselves to combat the evil in its origin, and eradicate it out of the political body. If lenitives should fail we should have recourse to corrosives; for the political as well as the human state must sooner or later sustain a convulsion, if the latent or obvious infirmities in its frame are not timely removed. As prudence will ever guard against the one, so it will endeavour to discover and heal the other. It is a duty of the first importance, interwoven in the honest man' s constitution, and founded in that love for his Country which, in the generous breast, supersedes all other considerations; it is a task Virginius has prescribed himself, and which he will constantly execute, let what may be the consequence.

In the present alarming situation of affairs between the American Colonies and Great Britain, if the publick attention were not wholly absorbed in the multiplicity of so many more alarming objects, a late Proclamation would scarcely fail of attracting notice; but though it be of an inferiour nature, and more capable perhaps of exciting our contempt than indignation, yet, ray fellow-citizens, I think it ought not to be suffered to pass unstigmatized. The person who manifests an intention of doing you an injury in your persons or properties, is perhaps a degree less criminal, than the real aggressor, under the strict letter of the law, but not a jot so in foro conscientiae. Whoever, therefore, would dare circumscribe your privileges, or abridge those rights which the jaws of God, of nature, and reason, and the liberties of the British Constitution have given


you, however dignified his station or exalted his condition, ought to be dragged out to open and publick view, and held up to the indignation of an injured, incensed people. Soothed as we have been hitherto by the Earl of Dunmore' s vacant indifference, amidst the convulsions of this distressed Country, if we did not consider him as a friend, we never imagined him an enemy. But time, the great revealer of secrets, has at last convinced us that we were sadly mistaken. His letter to the Earl of Dartmouth, replete with the most injurious misrepresentations and the most notorious falsehoods; his removal of the powder from the magazine of the Country, at a time that the minds of the people were alarmed with the justest apprehensions; his offers to our slaves, and the general turbulence thereby occasioned all over the Colony; his late Proclamation, charging you, my countrymen, with disaffection to the present form of Government, and a settled design of altering it; but above all, his late heroick transaction in setting a trap in the magazine, with the express intention to murder our incautious fellow-citizens; all these circumstances put together, leave no doubt, my dear countrymen, I hope, in your breasts of the intentions and views of your Governour.

A countryman, put a snake, pinched with cold and expiring with hunger, into his bosom. The snake no sooner began to feel a genial warmth and a renovation of strength from the fostering hand of its protector, than it displayed the native malevolence of its constitution; it bit the countryman, and if the kind protector did not expire of the wound, it was rather owing to the soundness and vigour of his constitution than to the leniency of the adder' s tooth.

In whatever light I behold the late conduct of John Earl of Dunmore, his disingenuity extorts my utmost contempt. As the representative of the King, candour and truth, at least, we had some reason to expect from him. But, alas! how have we been disappointed. Witness the above mentioned letter to the Earl of Dartmouth. As freemen, I humbly think, also, we were entitled to every species of freedom that a man in Great Britain claims. The British subject claims it as his undoubted right to associate with his fellow-citizens in a peaceable manner, deliberate on his grievances, and he thinks it no very extraordinary piece of presumption to petition the King for a redress. This privilege is denied you by the Earl of Dunmore. Your grievances he styles pretended, and the measures you have concerted to obtain a redress are termed unjustifiable; consequently, my countrymen, this pageant of State, this machine of Government, thinks it incumbent on him to inhibit you the exercise of a right that the King of Great Britain was never hardy enough to deny the British Nation. If I behold him gloriously engaged in clandestinely removing the powder from the magazine in the night, how is it possible to refuse him the tribute of my applause? Aided by your worthy compeer, Collins, (no despicable auxiliary,) the fame of that night' s transaction will certainly, if gratitude is not banished the world as well as virtue and honour, transmit your name, my Lord, with undiminished lustre to future ages. How will it sound in the annals of some future historian, that on such a night the Right Honourable his Excellency John Earl of Dunmore, Lieutenant-Governour and Commander-in-Chief of Virginia and Vice-Admiral of the same, had gone privately in the night, and burglariously broke open the publick magazine of the Country, and stole thereout about twenty barrels of gunpowder, lodged therein for the use and exigence of the Colony? And lest any part of this memorable transaction be forgot, I hope the historian will not omit to mention that Captain Henry Collins, commander of one of the King' s armed vessels (the terrour of oyster boats and fishing canoes) in the Bay of Chesapeake, had aided and assisted, and valiantly co-operated with your Lordship in that arduous and important exploit; that when remonstrated with on what the Virginians thought an imprudent, improper, absurd, disingenuous step, you honourably pledged your word that you would return the powder, and remove every cause of discontent, and that then, almost in a breath, you basely violated your word; that you made use of such low, unmanly evasions and subterfuges, to deceive the people of Virginia, as no one, unless totally dead to every sense of shame and every manly exertion, would have recourse to; that you have added the corruptions


of the worst of hearts to the blunders of the worst of heads; that having once gone wrong, you think it your duty to persist in the road of errour; that as you have done so, recrimination you think is your best asylum; and that to avoid the importunity of a free expostulation, (too severe a trial to the self-condemned,) your last retreat is the Fowey. Tracing you, my Lord, through all the mazes of your iniquity, I will drop the ridicule, and seriously ask you if you can wonder that the people of this Colony have withdrawn their confidence from you? Can any confidence be reposed in a murderer? I know not how your Lordship could reconcile to your feelings the idea of the secret assassin, the dark murderer. But I believe there are very few who do not rank you in that class. I care not whether the incautious but brave young fellows who have fallen victims to your dark plans, have expired of their wounds or not; it is the intention of the agent that should regulate our judgment of any action, and here you should stand self-convicted. Will you, then, confess that evil counsellors and pernicious advisers betrayed you into that diabolical project? Or that it was the machination of your own corrupt heart? Deviate, I conjure you, for once, into candour, and make atonement for the many injuries you have done this distressed Country; drive from your presence the reptiles that have involved you in your present difficulties and embarrassment with a brave and free people, who, I believe, once esteemed you, and would doubtless continue to do so, had you, continued to merit their approbation; candidly acknowledge your faults, and you may yet mitigate the resentment of the Virginians, but you can never recover their esteem.

To what fatality, my Lord, can it be imputed that you, who have been hitherto considered as an inoffensive, easy, good natured man, should suddenly become black as the Ethiop, and prostitute abilities never, indeed, designed to shine in the superiour spheres of life, but which, in the calm retreats of social converse, if properly managed, might exempt you from censure? Is the paltry emolument of the government of Virginia so intrinsically considerable that you must sacrifice your honour, your virtue, your reputation, (if you ever had any,) to the preservation of it? Does it necessarily follow as an indispensable conclusion, because you have accepted an office from our most pious and gracious Sovereign, that you must, chameleon-like, alter your colour, your complexion, your sentiments, and, in short, that you must become the very reverse of what you were at the time of your investilure? Are not the strongest marks of an overbearing influence discernible in your whole conduct? Or must we impute the complexion of your political manoeuvres, to a parity of sentiments in your royal master? These are questions, my Lord that the late tenour of your conduct would require a solution of. It rests with you to determine whether it needs any justification, I shall urge you no further at present, but leave you to brood in solitude, disappointed and baffled, as I wish you and all the enemies of America ever may be, over half-formed schemes of imaginary promotion, despicable as a Bernard or a Hutchinson, and with Woolsey' s last consolation: "Had I as industriously served my God as I have my King, he would not now have forsaken me!"

Wonderful and unaccountable are, my dear fellow-citizens, the works and dispensation of Providence! By a strange but noble species of alchymy, we perceive the greatest possible good resulting from the greatest evil. The Boston Port Bill, intended by a most abandoned Ministry to intimidate and divide, has joined together in an indissoluble union the whole American Continent from the Bay of Fundy to the Gulf of Florida. The famine bills to the Northward were designed for the same purpose, as well as the restraining bills, to operate in these Southern Colonies; but instead of answering the ends of their devisers, I trust they will cover their guilty beads with ruin and confusion. Tyrants I from my soul abhor, and whether individuals or aggregate bodies, they are equally the objects of my detestation. Oh! if there is a God, and that there is all nature cries aloud throughout her works, he must delight in virtue, and that which he delights in must be happy. Your exertions for liberty, my countrymen, must be pleasing to the great Creator of the Universe. Your cause, O Virginians,


is the cause of virtue 32, of justice, and of truth. Never, then, relinquish it but with your latest breath, and let it be the last glorious boast of your lives that you have transmitted the precious inheritance inviolate to your sons.




*Published the 28th of March last, by our Governour.

* See the Governour' s reasons for leaving Williamsburgh, to reside on board the Fowey.