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Plain Hints on the Condition of the Colonies



Philadelphia, February 28, 1776.

Nothing can be more surprising than the great chain of events which have taken place in the American Colonies within the small compass of a few years. Possibly no instances occur in the history of mankind in which the universal opinion has been more frequently opposed. It is no wonder, then, that we now find ourselves at a loss, and uncertain where to fix. That the King can do no wrong; that the interests of Great Britain and the Colonies were the same, reciprocal and inseparable; that she could not injure


us without injuring herself, and, therefore, we were safe; that she was a tender parent, in whom we might confide implicitly; that she was the grand support of freedom and the Protestant religion; that the King was imposed upon by his Ministers; that a change in Administration would rectify evils complained of; that the abilities and weight of our friends in Parliament would prevent extremities; that our friends throughout the nation would return a better Parliament than the last; that the act declaring their right to tax us, in all cases whatever, would not be carried into execution, but remain a harmless letter; that the several repeals and seeming alterations in their plan of conduct, proved a relinquishment of any evil intentions; that the power of Britain was such as we could not oppose through one single campaign; that our Provincial troops could not face the regularity and discipline of British forces; that we have no resources to carry on a war; that jealousies and opposition of interests would ever prevent a junction of the Colonies. These, and a thousand other opinions in succession have taken full possession of us; and after a little while we have found ourselves obliged to relinquish them. They were the grafts which might be expected to grow from that attachment to, and veneration for, the idea we had been taught to form of the wisdom, justice, and tenderness of Britain. It has, also, been supposed, that we are so connected with, and dependant on Great Britain, that repeated injuries committed with an avowed intent to do them, and more, and that plundering, murder, executions, and conflagration, in short, that all the havock of halters, fire, sword, and famine, cannot destroy the debt of gratitude and justice we owe to that state, or make it our interest to dissolve the connection.

Let us examine this matter: Possibly the facts on which this opinion is founded may bear the inquiry not much better than the facts referred to above.

It is said we are indebted to Great Britain for the settlements of the Colonies. The truth is, when they were discovered it was the effect of accident, concurring with the disposition of the hardy adventurer. The settlement was made by persons who had no great reason to be obliged to King or Parliament; they were persecuted at home, and retired from mankind to a wilderness: There they suffered much, and risked all. If they obtained grants from the King, it could only be of security from further oppressions of his hand; more he could not grant; even this was for a while refused. The land was inhabited by Natives to whom God had given the property and dominion: Of these Natives the property was bought by the settlers, who cleared the country, cultivated the soil, and grew and prospered in the arts and in Government, without any expense to the King, or Parliament of Britain. It is said we are indebted to Great Britain for protection from our foes. It should be said, we have to charge Britain with all the foes and wars we ever had. In the infancy of the Colonies they were thought of little value, not worth contending for. The very settling of them has been treated with neglect and contempt. Then they were in no danger. When their consequence afterwards became more apparent, and, indeed, from their first origin to the present time, they have been so much advanced in population, wealth, and every advantage, as to be under no apprehensions from any of their neighbours: And had they, at any intermediate period, extended their trade generally to all parts of Europe, it is possible that the interest of every part in our commerce, might have prevented any one Power from oppressing or injuring us; even Britain herself would have found it her interest to protect our peace and trade. But our forefathers were fond of the pageantry of a King, and attached to the country that gave them birth. They chose the King of England to be their supreme head, and flattered themselves, that though they were persecuted at home, yet, that he would leave to them peace, liberty, and safety, in the wilderness. Thus we have been involved in every British war. Even a dispute in Hanover was sufficient to deluge America in blood; and till the year 1756, no war had any particular reference in its principles to American interests; nor ought we to be charged even with that. However, the Parliament of Britain has done us the justice to acknowledge we then overdid our proportion, and they have refunded accordingly. In all instances our coasts have by them been left unguarded, and our frontiers defenceless. When France and Spain


scoured our shores because we were connected with Britain, we have been left without a single ship-of-war. When we trafficked with the Indians back for their land, or for peace, or repelled their incursions, it was at our own expense, though in many cases they were set on us by the foes of Britain. Shall any commercial advantages which we have enjoyed be urged as a ground of gratitude or retribution? Let the most zealous advocate for continual dependance on Britain point out a single instance of preference given by that Court to the American trade if he can; and while he hunts the rusty records in vain for any such, let him not turn over unnoticed the numberless acts passed to, restrict our free commerce, to clog with impositions and duties, to discourage manufacturers and employments for our poor, and to give advantages, at our cost, to the lordly West-Indians. In a few words, the Colonies have paid more to Britain in a course of trade, by giving a greater price for goods of inferior value, &c˙, than if they had gone to other European markets, than any claims the British partisan can feign.

It is said, that under this connection and dependance we have grown and thriven. That we have thriven amazingly is true. The present state of these Colonies is the admiration of all who have given attention to the progress of mankind, of arts and sciences. But was it because our trade was restricted? Was it because we have never, as men, had the full improvement of our lands and property in our power? Was it because, as societies, or Governments, we had not the full and complete powers of legislation among ourselves? Let this account be fairly stated. Let us only make an experiment of an open trade, for half the time we have shackled ourselves with confinement to, as it were, one port. Let us try what improvements we may be drawn into by a general correspondence with the whole world, with people who will require from us every different article our lands, our different climates, can produce; and from whom may be had directly, at first hand, every thing requisite for us. Let us have access to the lowest and best market for every commodity. Let this be the case, but for half the time the Colonies have already existed, and the doubts and struggles too, concerning independence, will be at an end. Let all those people who are now groaning under oppression and poverty, in Europe, know that America is become an asylum for the injured, and is capable of giving encouragement to the industrious and skilful in every art and business of life, and, perhaps, the most sanguine expectations would fall vastly short of the multitude of honest, active, and ingenious citizens who would in a few years flock into this country. America has been hitherto little known abroad. Even our brethren in Britain, whom we left but a few years ago, and with whom we have a constant intercourse, know but little of us and our situation. The other parts of Europe must have been inconceivably less acquainted with it. The case is now greatly altered. Our late transactions have attracted the attention even of the common people of most of the European States; the lovers of liberty abroad have their eyes turned towards us; even to the head of the Rhine, it is said, they applaud our virtuous efforts, and wish us success. The fruits of our success they will wish with us to enjoy. A free and general intercourse will throw the doors of information and opportunity open. Possibly it might not totally depopulate the old world, but, without a doubt, it would multiply the millions now in this new one. Let it be granted we have grown under the connection and dependance contended for; are we, therefore, involved in a debt even of gratitude? Be it so: What obligations then is Britain under to us? Our connection with them has been acknowledged to be of the utmost consequence to their trade, to their well-being. This is the language of their best writers on commerce, and of almost every act of Parliament in which America is mentioned. Before they had Colonies, what was their fleet? How great was their dependance on other nations for the most necessary articles to carry on a war, even for their own defence, and for their manufactories? It has been said by themselves, that one person in America, supported four in Britain. Allow one in Britain to be supported by every person in America, and so striking an instance cannot be named in which we have received benefits from her. It is not necessary to depreciate the advantages derived from the connection; let it only be understood,


that they have been reciprocal, and at least equal on the part of Britain. This destroys the idea of any debt or any duty. As of inferiors, if a religious submission to this connection has rendered our growth and prosperity less flourishing, than they would have been in a general connection, it can only be compared to the situation of a tree in a little earth between two rocks, which, though it looks fair, and grows to a certain size, yet, had it been able to spread its roots, and imbibe the nourishment of an extended soil, might soon become the largest tree of the forest.

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