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The British American, No. 7



Williamsburg, Va˙, July 14, 1774.

Friends, Fellow-citizens, and Countrymen:

The true state of your case is now fully before you, and the questions naturally resulting from it, for your determination are:

1 st˙ Question, Will you acknowledge that the British Parliament have a right to make laws to bind you? Or will you, from a dread of the consequences of an opposition, submit to those laws?

2 d˙ Question, If you are determined not to submit, what mode of opposition, will you adopt as the most rational and effectual to shake off the jurisdiction usurped over you?

These questions require the coolest attention, and the most deliberate wisdom to determine on, a steady and unshaken intrepidity to carry the resolutions you form on them into execution — resolutions which will, in all human probability, preserve or sink the greatest Empire in the world, and extend happiness or misery to myriads of millions yet unborn. With regard to the first question, if you really think that the British Parliament have a right to make any laws whatsoever to bind you, give up the matter, and submit to slavery at once; for the distinction between the right of taxation and that of regulating trade is merely nominal and not worth contending for, since a regulation of trade can as easily restrain you from manufacturing the smallest article for your own use, as it hath already prevented you from erecting slitting mills; can as easily strip you of every shilling of your property as it hath already rendered useless the whole property of the town of Boston; can deprive you of your liberty by subjecting you to new modes of trial, and erecting Courts of Admiralty, invested with powers unknown to the Constitution, and can sacrifice your lives, by marking you out for slaughter to a licentious soldiery, who are to be rescued from the justice of the country offended, and to be carried to England, with a certainty of being screened, and with a hope, if not with a promise, of being rewarded for the murthers they are to commit in America.

But still if your ancestors unthinkingly placed you in this deplorable situation, and by settling in America have debased you so low as that you are become the slaves of your brethren in Britain; if the King, at the head of his respective American Assemblies, no longer constitutes the Supreme Legislature of the Colonies; if you are subject to two Supreme Legislatures; if the King may, at the head of the British Parliament, abrogate laws, which, as the head of his American Parliament, he hath assented to; revoke Charters more solemnly granted than those of Magna Charter to Britain; deprive his American subjects of that property, which, under the faith of those Charters, they have expended their best blood and treasure in acquiring


and if, to conclude all, you are to consider yourselves as dependent upon the British Parliament, and have hitherto only dreamed of liberties which you had no right to enjoy; why then, my countrymen, let us patiently acquiesce in our unhappy lot, let us deprecate the wrath of the British aristocracy by instant submission, and seriously and solemnly implore the God of all Mercies to inspire the minds of our lords and masters with some slight sentiments of moderation, some little degree of tenderness and compassion, towards those who were once their equals, are still their brethren, and are not conscious of having merited the base, the abject, the humiliating state, they are reduced to, or the rigorous treatment they are now suffering.

But it may be said, that though convinced that you have justice on your side, and though sensible that the jurisdiction claimed by the British Parliament over you is an unjust and arbitrary usurpation of the strong over the weak, yet you are not ripe for opposition; that, too feeble to resist the power of Britain, and to assert your title to freedom, you can at present only protest against the oppression, but must leave it to your growing prosperity to enforce those rights, which you can only claim. If these sentiments, my countrymen, prevail amongst you, if in order to avoid slight, temporary evils, and imaginary consequences, you are determined only to make an imaginary shew of resistance, and if that will not induce the British Parliament to withdraw her claim, to submit to that claim, and acknowledge the supremacy they contend for, let your submission be made immediately. With a good grace express contrition for your former obstinacy, humbly entreat forgiveness for what you have already done, promise implicit obedience for the future, and, if determined to submit to slavery at last, be careful how you exasperate your masters with the semblance of an opposition you do not intend to persist in; for I will venture to prophecy, that if America is not now ripe for asserting her just rights, she will be rotten before she is so.

The arbitrary laws which will be imposed upon you immediately upon your submission, the swarms of placemen and pensioners which you will be obliged to pay to enforce those laws, and the rigour with which they will be executed, by suppressing every idea of patriotism, before it can shoot up to maturity, and by stifling it in its cradle, every dawn of virtue will effectually restrain posterity from even wishing to emerge from that state of slavery which, by being habituated to from their infancy, will at length become familiar to them.

Be not deceived by imagining, that the submission of Boston to the three Acts of Parliament lately passed, arbitrary and humiliating as they are, is the ultimate end of the British aristocracy. No, it is only a part of the general plan they have formed for enslaving all America, by attacking each Colony singly; for as every Colony have refused to submit to the duty imposed upon tea, they will all, one after another, feel the resentment of, and be called upon for, the same submission to Parliament, if you do not cordially unite in supporting the first sufferer. And here permit me to address myself in a particular manner to such of my countrymen whose own industry, or the frugality of their ancestors, have blessed them with immense wealth. I confess your situations are truly alarming, for as you have more to lose, so you have more to fear than those of your fellow-subjects to whom Providence hath been less liberal of the goods of fortune. In as happy a state as your most sanguine wishes could have placed you, with a reasonable expectation of providing for a family deservedly dear to you, and of transmitting to your posterity those blessings of fortune, which, by tasting yourselves, you have experienced the value of, you wish not for a change. Satisfied that with your ample estates, you can ward off the evils of the most arbitrary Government, and, that though much may be taken from you unjustly, still there will remain abundantly sufficient to supply you with all the necessaries, with all the elegancies of life; whereas, on the other hand, even a slight commotion may expose part of your wealth to the ravages of the populace, or the plunder of a licentious army, and if you are unfortunate enough to choose the weaker party, however innate virtue may have directed your choice, you are sure to lose the whole, and, in your old age perhaps, be reduced


to poverty, aggravated with the corroding reflections on the enjoyments you once possessed. You therefore endeavour to dissuade every struggle for liberty, and if you cannot accomplish this, you sagely determine, by observing a strict neutrality, to avoid giving the slightest ground of offence to either party; and this you think a prudent method of preserving the blessings you at present enjoy.

When Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, (says a celebrated writer) were making large strides towards overturning the Constitution of Rome, the people were divided into two factions; the middle ranks, who are always the most wise and virtuous people in a state, opposed; the populace supported them; whilst the wealthy, who if they had thrown their weight into the scale, might have restrained the errours of the populace, and checked the ruinous designs of the triumvirate, observed a strict neutrality; foolishly imagining by doing so that their houses, their fish-pounds, their parks, their villas, and their gardens, would remain untouched when the laws of their country were abolished; instead of which, those safest fences of every man' s property were no sooner broke down, by overturning the Constitution, than in the second triumvirate of Augustus, Anthony, and Lepidus, they found themselves foremost in the list of proscriptions, and a confiscation of that wealth (which they vainly imagined would have secured to them all the enjoyments of life) marked them for destruction, and deprived them of life itself; leaving to those of their rank in succeeding Empires this useful lesson, that the surest means of securing wealth in every country is to unite firmly in opposing every attempt to overturn the laws, and that the greater opulence they possess the more they are interested in preserving the liberty of the state they belong to; because upon all occasions of this kind the old maxim, That he that is not for us is against us, prevails so far as to subject the wealthy neutrals to the confiscations of which ever party gains the superiority.

Can you suppose you sordid sons of Avarice, that three millions of people will surrender their liberties without a single struggle? Or if they should, when the British aristocracy have beat down every barrier of property in America, do you really imagine that your fertile fields will escape their rapacious hands? Or that they will not find or make some pretext for sacrificing the present owner, to gratify their interested views, by dividing his spoils amongst them? If these are your sentiments, pursue the delusion, and experience the consequence. But if, on the other hand, my countrymen, all ranks of you are convinced that it is not only dangerous but absurd to subject yourselves to a double taxation, and to two supreme Legislatures; if you think that your Sovereign ought to be considered as supreme Ruler of the whole Empire, providing for the welfare of his subjects within the Realm, at the head of his British Parliament, and of those without, at the head of his American Assemblies, by laws adapted to the local situation, and suited to the emergencies of each, and by that negative with which he is invested by the Constitution, restrain the different states of his extensive Dominions from enacting laws to destroy the freedom or to prejudice the interest of each other; if you are satisfied that the independence of America upon the British Parliament is essentially necessary to check the growing power of aristocracy in Great Britain, and to restore your Sovereign to that weight in the National Councils which he ought to possess; if you still retain a just sense of your best birth-right, that of being governed only by such laws as you or your ancestors have or had a share in framing; if you deem it incompatible with every idea of liberty to trust the legislative power with men you have not chosen, and who, from their situation, will reap the advantages, but cannot share in the inconveniences of the laws they make to oppress you; if you look upon slavery as the greatest evil that can possibly befall you in this world; and if reposing your trust in the Supreme Being, to assist a just cause, you are determined to unite firmly in asserting your native rights, coolly consider the second question: "What mode of proceeding will you adopt as the most rational and effectual to shake off the jurisdiction usurped over you?"

Three plans have been proposed to you:

1st Plan. That all the Colonies in America, except New England, shall agree to pay for the tea destroyed by


the people of Boston upon the repeal of the duty imposed upon that article to be paid in America, and upon the repeal of the Act for shutting up the port of Boston.

2d Plan. That you should immediately stop all exports and imports to and from Great Britain and the Islands, till the Tea and Boston Acts are repealed.

3d Plan. That you shall absolutely determine, at once, that you will not in future submit to any Act of the British Parliament, made to be executed in the Colonies since the fourth of James the First; that if any Judge of any Court whatsoever, shall presume to pronounce any judgment to enforce such Acts of Parliament, he shall incur the resentment of an injured people, and be treated as an enemy to America; that the judgment so pronounced by him shall be absolutely void; that the person injured by such judgment shall by force repel the execution of such judgment, and that you will, at the risk of your lives and fortunes, support him in repelling such execution.

A moments reflection will convince you, that to pursue the first plan proposed may be productive of evil, but cannot possibly be attended with any good consequences. Is it reasonable to imagine that the East India Company intended to erect a number of booths or little grocers' shops in America, for the convenience of retailing their tea by the ounce? For if they only intended to deal in the wholesale way, by supplying the different stores in America, that they not only might, but actually have done, for many years from their warehouses in Great Britain; it is therefore generally supposed that the project of the East India Company' s sending ship loads of tea to America was concerted between the Minister and them, to establish a glaring precedent of your having submitted to an internal tax, imposed upon you by the British Parliament, for the sole purpose of raising a revenue, or, in case of resistance, to furnish a plausible pretext for dragooning you into obedience. If this was really the case, that Company (as tools of arbitrary power) have suffered no more than they deserved, and to indemnify their losses would only be to invite fresh injuries of the same kind. Again, as their consignees had trifled with the people of Boston till they became liable for the duty, they would add that duty to the price of their tea; and if the Minister can extract the duty, and the East India Company receive the price, whether the tea is destroyed by the populace of one Colony, and paid for by the Assemblies of the others, or whether it is purchased and consumed in the regular course of business, will be a matter of no greater concern, either to the Minister or to the Company, than that, in the first case, it will, by becoming the avowed act of different Assemblies, be a more dangerous precedent than that of private consumption, which might be supposed to proceed from the want of virtue in a few individuals. But even supposing that the East India Company were in no combination with the Minister to enslave you, and that, convinced of the danger of sporting with the liberties of their fellow-subjects, they are determined to relinquish their project of sending tea to America, still the plan proposed cannot be attended with any good consequences.

The British aristocracy have already proceeded to great lengths in endeavouring to enforce implicit obedience from the Colonies to be diverted from their despotick views, with any trifling concessions you can make, or any timid measures you can pursue. The language they now use is, that the honour of Parliament is at stake, and nothing but an implicit submission to its authority, and an absolute surrender of your liberties, will preserve that honour, or, in the words of their insolent demagogue, America is not even to be heard till she prostrates herself at their feet; and the two Acts of Parliament, altering the Charter of New England, abrogating the rights solemnly granted by it, and Instituting new modes of trial to encourage the British soldiers to murther the inhabitants of America in general, leave you no room to doubt of their hostile intentions.

Timid or temporizing measures will answer no other end than to swell their pride, heighten their arrogance, and increase their contempt of you. The first plan proposed cannot, therefore, be effectual to relieve us.

In my next I shall consider whether the second can be adopted with greater propriety.