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Letter I, to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies



Philadelphia, May 24, 1774.

BRETHREN: Divine Providence has been pleased to place us, in this age and country, under such circumstances as to be reduced to the necessity of choosing one of these conditions: either to submit to the dominion of others holding our lives, liberties, and properties, by the precarious tenure of their will; or, to exert that understanding, resolution, and power, with which Heaven has favoured us, in striving to maintain our rank in the class of freemen.

The importance of these objects is so immensely great, and the treatment of one of these Colonies so extremely alarming, as to call for your most earnest and immediate consideration.

The subject of the present dispute between Great Britain and us is so generally understood, that to enlarge upon it is needless. We know the extent of her claims; we begin to feel the enforcement of those claims; we may foresee the consequences of them; for, reason teaching us to infer actions from principles, and events from examples, should convince us what a perfection of servitude is to be fixed on us and our posterity; I call it perfection, because the wit of man, it is apprehended, cannot devise a plan of domination more completely tending to bear down the governed into the lowest and meanest state in society, than that now meditated, avowed, and in part executed on this Continent.

If this system becomes established, it may with truth be said of the inhabitants of these Colonies, "that they hold their lives, liberties, and properties, by the precarious tenure of the will of others."

Allowing the danger to be real at the prospect of so abject and so lasting a subjection, what must be the sentiments of judicious and virtuous Americans? They will quickly determine whether the first part of the alternative should be adopted.

Here arguments would be absurd; not more ridiculous would be an attempt to prove vice preferable to virtue; the climate of St˙ Vincent more pleasant than that of Pennsylvania; the natives of Indostan, under the Government of the East India Company, as happy as English freeholders; or the inhabitants of Great Britain more loyal subjects than those of the Colonies.

That liberty is inestimable, and should if possible, be preserved, you know. To pretend to convince you of the truth of the former proposition, or of the duty of the latter, would be to insult you. You must be; you are resolved to observe the most proper conduct for securing your best and dearest interests. What that may be, deserves, demands, your closest attention, your calmest deliberation.

On this head, I venture to submit some observations to your consideration. I am by every tie of interest and duty an American; and, unless my heart deceives me, I am an American in affection; my fortunes, hopes, and wishes are bound up in your prosperity; with my countrymen I must mourn or rejoice; and therefore, though I am perfectly sensible I cannot present to them reflections arising from great abilities, or extensive learning, and adorned by elegance of composition; yet, I trust they will lend a careful and candid attention to plain thoughts; dictated by honest intentions, and a participation of afflictions. Aiming solely at your welfare, and not at the trifling reputation of a writer, far be from me, the over-weening presumption that my opinions are free from errour; conscious of my frailties, I desire those opinions,to be severely examined; the correction of them will confer a real obligation upon


me, if it serves my country; and happy shall I esteem myself, if the detection of my mistakes shall open to you a dear view of the most expedient measures to be pursued.

There are some men who say that the late Act of Parliament, abolishing the privileges of the port of Boston, was occasioned by the particular imprudence of the inhabitants, and in no manner concerns the other Colonies.

To form a true judgment on this point, it will be proper to take a short review of some other transactions.

Great Britain, triumphant by your assistance in the late war, found at the conclusion of it, by a peace hastily bestowed on her haughty and hereditary foes, her Dominions enlarged; her fleets formidable: her armies disciplined; her trade flourishing; her enemies intimidated and exhausted; her Colonies thriving, affectionate, and dutiful.

The cup of prosperity large and full, courted her lips. Deep she drank of the enchanted beverage, as if the vessel like the cruise of Serepta' s widow, could not fail; after a short but feverish repose she roused herself, may I say, as one of Homer' s giants; a race,

" By whom no statutes and no rights were known,"
to injure those that never injured her. She had conquered her enemies; that, other Kingdoms had done. Should no exploits of a more transcendent energy illustrate the annals of George the Third? no achievements so shockingly great and advantageous, that even the pensioned historians of the animated era must weep in tracing them, and blush in reciting them. Luckily for her fame, perhaps for her profit, the near-sighted policy and low-spirited humanity of every State, in every period, had left untouched for her, the novel glory of conquering friends, children, flesh of her flesh, and bone of her bone, unstained by any former reproach; resting in perfect tranquillity, acknowledged loyalty, and actual obedience to every kind of authority hitherto by her exercised over them; perpetually pouring into her lap those fruits of their industry, which she would permit them to collect from the different parts of the world. Proud of their connection with her; confiding in her; loving, revering, almost adoring her; and ready and willing as they ever had been, to spend their treasure, and their blood, at her request, in her cause.
"Parcere superbis, et debellare subjectos,"
was a thought that had escaped the sagacity of statesmen, and even the fancy of poets. The subtlety of Machiavel' s Italian brain had missed it, and no Boeotian had blundered upon it.

The temptation was too great to be resisted; the parent resolved to seize that treasure, and if not tamely resigned, to spill that blood herself. "O sapiens et beata regina."

The greatest Ministers who had heretofore conducted her affairs, had discovered, and declared, that we were continually toiling for her benefit, that she was sure of receiving, in the course of commerce, all those emoluments of our labour which reason could require; and, therefore, tenderly cherished and supported us. Notions too dull! and advantages too just! to merit the slightest regard from his Majesty' s enlightened and magnanimous Counsellors.

"They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance; they fall down; yea! they worship" (them.) Remember this, and show yourselves men.

P˙ P.



* Non nobis nati sumus. It is for our posterity we desire to provide — that they may not be in worse case than villains. For a freeman to be a tenant at will for his liberty! I will not agree to it. It is a tenure not to be found in all Littleton." — Speech of Sir EDWARD COKE, Lord Chief Justice. — Par˙ His˙ Vol˙ 8˙ p˙ 61.

* "To spare the proud and to subdue the subject."

† "O wise and happy Queen."

‡ Sir Robert Walpole, and every other Minister to whom the project of taxing the Colonies was mentioned, rejected it.

"When I had the honour of serving his Majesty, I availed myself of the means of information which I derived from my office. I speak therefore, from knowledge. My materials were good, I was at pains to collect, to digest, to consider them; and I will be bold to affirm that the profit of Great Britain from the trade of the Colonies, through all its branches, is two millions a year; this is the fund that carried you triumphantly through the last war; the estates that were rented at £2,000 a year, three score years ago, are £3,000 at present; those estates sold then from fifteen to eighteen years purchase; the same may now be sold for thirty. You owe this to America; this is the price that America pays you for her protection. I dare not say how much higher these profits may be augmented. Upon the whole, I will beg leave to tell the House what is really my opinion: it is that the Stamp Act be repealed absolutely, totally, and immediately; that the reason for the repeal be assigned, because it was founded on an erroneous principle." — MR˙ PITT' S Speech.

All the most distinguished writers on the trade of Great Britain previous to the present reign, held a language entirely agreeing with Mr˙ Pitt' s sentiments. — See Davenant, Child, Tucker, Beawes Postlethwaite, &c.