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The British American, No. 6



Williamsburg, Va˙, July 7, 1774.

Friends, Fellow-citizens, and Countrymen:

It is the general opinion, that the great defect in the present Constitution of Britain is the enormous power of the Crown. However singular I may be thought in so doing, I consider this as a vulgar errour; for the first stab given to the Constitution was the Crown' s losing its independence on the other two branches of the Legislature. Queen Elizabeth transmitted the English Constitution, in its highest purity, to her successor, James the First; but he, equally a stranger to its true principles, his own interest, and the arts of Government, in his first Speeches to his Parliament, arrogated to himself powers he was not entitled to, and soon after indiscreetly lavished away those which would have rendered the others he claimed unnecessary; for, by alienating a great part of the ancient revenues of the Crown in ill-placed, unnecessary, and extravagant grants to its favourites, tools and parasites, he made himself dependent, in some measure, for the very


support of his household, upon the other two branches of the Legislature, at the very time he alarmed them to unite against him, by arbitrary and impotent threats of governing absolutely; and then, to increase that weight his own folly had lessened, and to replenish his coffers, he had recourse to the last expedient of weakened majesty, that of creating a number of Peers, which, though it put off the evil day, Increased the disorder of the state. His successor, Charles the First, nurtured in the principles of his father, pursued the same plan of lessening his hereditary revenues, and of provoking those upon whom he was dependent, till they would no longer support him; and then, by endeavouring to carry into execution those measures his father had threatened only, he fell a sacrifice to the errours of education. Monarchy, and nobility its attendant, being thus extinguished, when it was restored in the person of Charles the Second, was it surprising that the Nation, still bleeding at the wounds it had received from the usurpations of the Crown, contented itself with restoring it to those prerogatives only it possessed at its fall, without adding the independent hereditary revenue, which its two preceding Kings had indiscreetly alienated? Untaught by his own misfortunes, and the fate of his father, Charles the Second adopted the plan of Government pursued by his House; only, as he was sagacious enough to see he could not force, he endeavoured to corrupt the Nation to submit to despotick sway; and in so doing dissipated so great a part of what few ancient demesnes of the Crown his ancestors had left, that his brother James was reduced to the necessity of giving up the hereditary despotick notions of his family, or of recurring to force. He chose the latter, and by that means was obliged to abandon his Crown, but left the Constitution with a stab in its vitals, which has been festering ever since; for, at the accession of his glorious successor, though the Nation recurred to many of its first principles, it had suffered too much from its four preceding Kings to think of restoring the ancient independence of the Crown. Succeeding Monarchs, therefore, in order to preserve any kind of weight in the state, were reduced to the necessity of corrupting the people, by creating lucrative offices, granting pensions, and increasing the number of Peers; this, though it increased the power of the Minister, really weakened that of his master.

The great increase of manufactures, arising from the settlement of America, by drawing the inhabitants to the sea ports and other towns more conveniently situated for carrying them on, in a great measure depopulated the ancient boroughs of the Kingdom, so that the entire property of many of them were purchased up by the nobility, who, by that means, acquired a right of naming their Representatives in Parliament; the electors of others were so reduced in their numbers and circumstances, that it became easy for the wealthy, with a majority of their voices, to purchase seats in the House of Commons, and, by treating with the Prime Minister for some of the newly created lucrative offices, they were generally reimbursed the purchase money.

Thus the spirit of traffick extended itself to all ranks of people, and, as it too often happens in commercial nations, all those things which ought to have been the reward of merit were given only for money, and the people universally corrupted by the dint of it, grew indifferent to publick concerns; the electors and elected, passionately fond of lucre, grew careless of the Government, and every thing belonging to it, and waited, quietly for their salaries. As soon as it became obvious that wealth would purchase a majority of the seats of the Representatives of the people, Sir Robert Walpole endeavoured to apply the national wealth to that purpose, and succeeded to admiration in it for a long time, but, too open in the practice of corruption, he overshot his mark, and pointed out to the wealthy, that, by uniting together, they could wrest the power, even of appointing his own Minister, and other servants, out of the hands of their Sovereign, and by that means arrogate to themselves not only the persons who shall fill all lucrative offices, but of directing the whole concerns of the Nation. The nobles who possessed boroughs, and the wealthy Commons who could purchase them, united cordially in this scheme, and, inviting some of their ablest dependants to join them, soon carried all before them, destroyed that


beautiful system of legislation I described in my last; and set up an absolute aristocracy in its place.

Had Mr˙ Pitt directed the reigns of Government a few years after the conclusion of the war, if his talents in the arts of peace had been equal to his abilities in carrying on a war, or (if I may be allowed the metaphor) could he have been as wise in taking every advantage of wind and tide, as he was skilful in avoiding rocks and quicksands in a storm, (and the noble stop he put to corruption during his administration give us strong reason to think he would,) Providence, at that period, pointed out to a wise and upright Minister the means of placing the natural, the necessary independence of the Kings of England, upon a permanent foundation. But the Minister who succeeded that great man was too intent upon enriching his countrymen to serve his Prince, and, more like a pedlar than a statesman, sold an inheritance of his master (which would have restored him to a King of England' s ancient weight in the national councils) for a mess of pottage; and the present Minister is at this instant either unthinkingly or diabolically pursuing the same infernal plan. Was our Sovereign, even now, to place a little more confidence in his American subjects, there are many amongst them whose knowledge of their country would enable, and whose affectionate loyalty to him would impel, them to point out constitutional modes of placing him in a very different situation from what a corrupt, selfish, British aristocracy wish to see; for, however humiliating the reflection may be to a Briton, it is the virtue of America only that can preserve Great Britain from becoming the prey of the most despotick aristocracy that ever yet vas elected, which will be the more firmly established, because, by retaining the ancient forms of the Constitution, it will not easily alarm the Nation to rouse, and to recur to its first principles, whilst the aristocracy posted in both Houses of Parliament, possessed of a large majority in the House of Commons, of a superiour influence in the House of Lords, and of an absolute command over all the powers of monarchy, with swarms of placemen and pensioned authors to trumpet forth their praises without doors, bears down all before it with such irresistible impetuosity, that I should not be surprised if, after the next general election, it should pursue its late victory over the County of Middlesex, nominate the Representatives of every shire in Britain, and utterly exclude from the House of Commons every member that should dare to arraign its conduct, if it should rapaciously seize the remaining wealth of the East India, and every other trading Company, and oblige every merchant and shop-keeper in Britain to account with its officers for whatever share of the profits of their trade it should think proper to demand. In short, nothing can put a stop to its carrying into execution every act of despotism it shall attempt, but the check it is likely to receive from the opposition of America.

It is not, therefore, the interest of the people of Great Britain that America should surrender up her liberties, and submit to the jurisdiction of this arbitrary, self-created aristocracy, though assuming the specious name of a British Parliament. But before I enter upon the measures necessary to be taken to ward off the blow aimed at American liberty, I shall consider the connections between Great Britain and her Colonies, in order to consider how far those Colonies may legally and constitutionally oppose the acts of a British Parliament.

As the laws of every country are made for the benefit of its inhabitants, and the privileges, the advantages and protection they expect to receive from those laws, are the considerations which induce a submission to them, any one, or any number of those inhabitants, may, by a voluntary banishment, and by renouncing the protection, with all


other, advantages of the laws, withdraw themselves from the subjection of the country in which they were accidentally born, if they find it for their interest so to do. And even admitting that, like vegetables, they cannot remove from the spot that produced them without the consent of the state, no man will deny that any subject of England formerly might, and that any subject of Great Britain may now, with the leave of their Sovereign, quit that Kingdom, and settle in any foreign Dominion; that our ancestors, therefore, when they, with the leave of Queen Elizabeth, and of King James the First, left England and discovered America, if they had been so disposed, might have incorporated themselves with the native inhabitants, laid aside all thoughts of returning, and dropped all correspondence with England, is undeniable; and if they had done so, in all human probability, neither their former Sovereign, or his Parliament, would have ever given themselves the trouble of inquiring what was become of them. And as they had a right to incorporate themselves with the natives, so, with respect to England, they had an equal right, at their own private risk and expense, to acquire, by purchase or conquest, from nations not in alliance with England, a settlement for themselves and their posterity, totally independent of England; for as they were no longer under her protection, they no longer were under subjection, and, therefore, might have provided for their own safety by any laws they thought proper. But, instead of doing this, a natural fondness for their native country, a predilection for her laws, an admiration of the most beautiful system of Government in the world, and the hopes of protection, induced them to wish to remain connected with England. But how? As partakers of her Constitution, by acknowledging allegiance to her King; as friends to their brethren, by reciprocal acts of kindness; but not as slaves to their fellow-subjects, by a humiliating, servile subjection to a British Parliament, in which, from their situation, they neither were, or could be represented.

With these views they generously offered to let England partake of the advantages of these conquests, in consideration of securing to themselves the rights of Englishmen in their new settlements, (not made at the expense of the Nation, as hath been falsely suggested, but) discovered at the risk, and acquired by the blood and treasure of private adventurers, who, having left their native country with the consent of their Sovereign, now returned to him, not as repenting prodigals begging to be received and forgiven, but as generous conquerors, offering to make him Sovereign of a new world upon reasonable and equitable conditions.

Is it to be wondered at, that, thus circumstanced, he acceded to their terms? Or, had the British Parliament any right to complain of the Charters granted to them, by which the Colonies have always enjoyed a supreme Legislature of their own, and have always claimed an exemption from the jurisdiction of a British Parliament. But even suppose that the territories of America (though conquered by private adventurers) became subject to Great Britain, because those adventurers were English subjects, still it by no means follows that those territories were dependent upon the British Parliament; and as this is proved to a demonstration by a late ingenious author, I shall not injure him so far as to repeat his arguments, but conclude this Letter with requesting the printer to republish the following Extract of his work.



* If any one doubts that the British Constitution is now purely aristocratical. let him attentively read the history of England, and the debates of Parliament, from the decision of the Chippenham election to the present time, and carefully compare facts with the characteristick attendants of a corrupt aristocracy, which, by being destitute of its principles of moderation, is become despotick, and he will no longer withhold his assent to the above position.

† For the distemper of the state is too far advanced to hope for any relief from a new election. The Representatives, indeed, may be changed by a nabob' s outbidding an Alderman; but the only real difference will be, the nabob becomes one of the aristocracy, and the Alderman is excluded, or, in other words, the master may be changed, but the slavery will remain.

* For it is observable that each Colony was suffered to struggle with every difficulty in their new settlements, unprotected, unassisted, and even unnoticed by the Crown itself, from twenty to fifty years, and even then the Royal care was no further extended towards them than to send over Governours to pillage, insult and oppress them.

† See Letter to Lord North, Folio 337-340.