Primary tabs

For the Massachusetts Gazette



Boston, April 13, 1775.

My worthy Friends and Fellow-Countrymen:

The charms of power are very intoxicating and bewitching. Mankind are naturally inclined to usurp authority over their fellow-men, whenever an opportunity presents; and it may be generally observed, that when their right to it is most questionable, their exercise of it is most wanton and unreasonable. This may be easily accounted for, as they fear its duration will be but short, and therefore are disposed to leave testimonial of their having enjoyed it. In no instance do we see this truth more strongly verified,


than in the conduct of the late American Continental Congress, who, in most of their proceedings, have exceeded the powers delegated to them, and in still more have counteracted the design of their appointment. That there are some grievances, or rather, that the time is come explicitly to define and settle the rights of the Americans and the bounds of Parliamentary authority, will be denied by none who wish well to Great Britain and her Colonies. But to demand too much of a Nation that is wealthy, powerful, and brave, that we may obtain enough, discovers a childish petulance and frowardness, tending much more to irritate and inflame, than to soften and appease. She will, like a kind parent, correct our insolence, and reduce us to due subjection, and then allow us every indulgence that we ought reasonably to desire. As it is not her interest, so we can never suppose it her inclination, to injure or oppress us; but we maybe equally satisfied that she will never see her just and constitutional authority abused and trampled on.

We cannot wonder, then, that the conduct of the Congress is so displeasing and provoking to Great Britain, when, among the articles of complaint, they have inserted matters which concerned them no more than the mandates of the Great Mogul, or the edicts of the King of France; matters which, if true, even in their very extensive construction, afford no real ground of uneasiness; matters which discover more a wanton exercise of their usurped authority, than a wish or inclination to restore harmony and peace between Great Britain and her Colonies. Indeed, when we review their proceedings, the manifest intention, tendency, and complexion of them force us to make a construction over which charity and candour would wish to throw a veil, if it was not too plain to mistake it, being written in the most legible characters. They have precluded every hope of accommodation, by the exorbitancy of their demands, and the illegality of the measures they have adopted. They have sacrificed their honour, honesty, and reputation, to a lawless, ambitious thirst of independence, and have purchased the worthless, transitory shouts and eclat of the restless and seditious multitude, at the expense of that lasting and satisfactory esteem and applause of the virtuous and the good, which alone ought to have been the object of their wishes, and the end of all their pursuits. The propriety of these observations will be apparent, in the consideration of the fifteenth and last general article of grievance, which, like the famed Cerberus of old, abounds with various sources of complaint.

" In the last session of Parliament an Act was passed for blocking up the Harbour of Boston; another empowering the Governour of the Massachusetts-Bay to send persons indicted for murder in that Province, to another Colony, or even to Great Britain, for trial, whereby such offenders may escape legal punishment; a third for altering the chartered Constitution of Government in that Province; and a fourth for extending the limits of Quebeck, abolishing the English, and restoring the French Laws, whereby great numbers of British freemen are subject to the latter, and establishing an absolute Government, and the Roman Catholick Religion throughout those vast regions that border on the westerly and northerly boundaries of the free Protestant English settlements; and a fifth for the better providing suitable quarters for Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty' s service in North America." The Boston Port Act, when it first arrived, filled all parties with astonishment and surprise; the peculiarity of the mode of punishment; the severity with which it was attended; the sufferings inflicted thereby on many innocent individuals, at first raised a suspicion of the justice, equity, and policy of the British Nation; but on a nearer view, and more mature consideration of the spirit and design of the Act, we plainly discovered that, in the midst of judgment they had remembered mercy. The authority of Parliament had been most iniquitously and flagrantly abused, insulted, and opposed, by the destruction of a large quantity of Tea, the private property of the East-India Company, by a number of the inhabitants of the Town of Boston and the adjacent Towns, in the most riotous and daring manner. This Tea was sent here in consequence of a particular Act of Parliament, empowering the East-India Company to do it, merely for the regulation of Trade; as the Dutch Tea was smuggled in by the way of the Northern Colonies, in such quantities, and


so cheap, as totally destroyed the sale of the English Tea, which, by being sold at publick auction in London to the merchant there, and by him with his advance upon it, to the merchant here; by the latter with his advance, to the retailer, and by him with his profits upon it, to the consumer, was raised to such a price as gave the Dutch Company the sole advantage of that article of commerce, as it came from them without any of these impositions, or the payment of any duty upon it.

We all profess to be subject to the Acts for the regulation of Trade; for this purpose solely was this Act made; by it no new duty was imposed, but some heavy restrictions taken off, so that the destruction of the Tea could he considered as arising only from the most wanton and unreasonable desire of throwing off all subjection to the Parent State, and setting up for independence. Proportionate, therefore, to the criminality and atrocious nature of the offence, might we reasonably suppose the punishment would be. Not only the private property of the East-India Company had been destroyed, but the honour and authority of the Nation had been injured and violated. The former was to be compensated, and the latter to be satisfied and repaired. The inhabitants of Boston and the other towns concerned, could not be more generally and immediately affected by any other way whatever. It will here be said it is hard for the innocent to suffer with the guilty; but the answer is obvious: the offenders were disguised and unknown; no one appeared at the time to oppose it; all might, therefore, be considered as involved in the guilt in some measure. The friends of Government, by their silence and inactivity in the first of these troubles, when they might have prevented the mischiefs that have since ensued, and the daring outrage which was now the cause of their punishment, had they properly exerted themselves, have therefore little reason to complain of the disadvantages they suffer, or the loss they sustain on this account. However, admitting they were quite innocent, and had done their duty on this occasion, it should be remembered, that as in general calamities of lightning, earthquakes, famine, war, and pestilence, inflicted by Heaven on mankind, there is no respect to persons, the wicked and the good are equally exposed and actually affected; so in States and Kingdoms in this world, when general punishments of a people are found necessary, it is very difficult, if not impossible, discriminate and screen the innocent from the misfortunes which the guilty suffer. But in this instance, as was hinted above, with such wisdom, with so much lenity was the Port Act constructed, that the severity of its operation depended entirely upon the reasonable compliance or obstinacy of those who were to suffer by it. It was an indispensable act of common justice to pay for the Tea that had been destroyed, or it was equally just to punish those who were concerned in doing it. It has been said, that had the Act been conditional, to take place only if the terms were not complied with, there would have been some reason in it; no one would have complained; but not to be able to prevent the execution of it, had they been disposed to submit to the requisitions, was a degree of rigour without an example. Let us attend to the circumstances. It was made to take place the first of June; fourteen days after that were allowed for any vessels to fit out and sail; upon payment for the Tea being made, and some other trifling matters complied with, and a certificate procured from the Governour of the fulfilment of the terms of the Act, power was given to His Majesty in privy Council to suspend its execution. The Act arrived near the beginning of May, if I recollect right. Now, as the Spring ships are generally all arrived before the time that the Act was to take place, it would have little effect for some time after that upon foreign importation. If the Tea had been immediately paid for, and the requisite certificate procured, which might easily have been done, and transmitted home, the operation of the Act might have ceased at once; as it seems to have been particularly provided for this purpose, that the King in Council might suspend it, that so no delay might be occasioned by calling the Parliament together to repeal it. Orders for Fall goods might have been sent at the same time, and the Fall ships might have returned at their usual time, into an open and free Port; so that by a prudent conduct, the trade with Great Britain might not have been interrupted at all; other


branches might have suffered a temporary damage, but it would have been trifling; as by the last of August we might have had the news of the Port' s being open again. So that by the folly, injustice, and madness alone of the popular leaders, has this Act been attended with the distresses and inconveniences which are now so sensibly felt. Now let me ask, with what reason, with what justice, could an Englishman, could an American, could any one, who wished the prosperity of Britain, complain of an Act which was made solely to benefit the English merchant in preference to the Dutch? especially in the sale of an article of so much importance, in such constant and extensive use and consumption; and after the people here, being deluded and hurried on by a seditious tribe of demagogues had, in open violation of the common rights of society, of every principle of justice, of their allegiance to their Sovereign, of their constitutional dependance upon Great Britain, so wantonly and maliciously destroyed so large and valuable a quantity of merchandise, let me ask, where is the man so destitute of every principle of honesty, of every sentiment of honour, so deaf to the call of equity and justice, and the demands of law, as to hesitate one moment to make the most ample and satisfactory restitution in his power? To this question, to which it must pain every loyal American to return an answer, I, with equal grief and astonishment, reply, the Town of Boston, in Town-Meeting assembled, were the men. These men, who, by their conduct, had drawn down the resentment of the Nation; by their subsequent unaccountable proceedings, have been the wilful cause of the continuation of those distresses, of which they now so highly complain and so sensibly feel the effects; and such has been their fatal, influence, that they prevailed upon the House of Representatives to appoint a solemn fast, to beseech of the Almighty a sanction to their violence and robbery. What unpardonable hypocrisy! What unheard-of mockery of Heaven! What unparalleled effrontery! Can it be supposed that the Divine Being, who, by the principles of natural religion implanted in the human mind, and by the repeated precepts in his written word, has so plainly commanded us to abstain from fraud, rapine, and injustice, and has denounced the most heavy woes upon those who are guilty of these heinous crimes, will ever hearken to the supplications of those who refuse to make restitution to their fellow-creatures, whom they have grossly, wantonly, and unreasonably injured? Nevertheless, the good people of the Province were so far deluded and misled, as to adopt so unpardonable a measure. It was, however, hoped, that the Members of the Continental Congress, free from the infatuation which was so prevalent here, unbiased by our prejudices, uninfluenced by passions, and attentive to the true interests of the Province and Continent, would have recommended the payment for the Tea, as a necessary step to a reconciliation. But alas! we find them influenced by the same factious leaders, by their conduct virtually approving of this daring injustice. Upon no other principle can we account for their inserting the Boston Port Act in the list of grievances, when a compliance with the most obvious, indispensable demands of justice, would at once have suspended the execution of it.

The next particular in this very comprehensive article, is another Act, "empowering the Governour of the Massachusetts-Bay to send persons indicted for murder in that Province to another Colony, or even to Great Britain, for trial, whereby such offenders may escape legal punishment." It is really astonishing to see the low artifice and glaring falsehood made use of in this description of the Act. It is not true that the Governour is thus empowered, as the Act expressly requires the advice and consent of the Council, before any person can be removed to any other place prescribed by the Act for trial; so that, however arbitrarily the Governour may be disposed to act in this instance, if the Council refuse their consent, he can do nothing. What could induce the Congress thus to sacrifice their characters as honest men, (as I presume some of them were,) is totally unaccountable. If the Act is really grievous, is it not much better to represent it in a true light, than by falsehood and high colouring, to mislead and deceive every reader who does not examine the statute for himself? To make the people believe that the Governour has it in his power to tyrannize at pleasure over them,


when in reality he can do nothing himself? If it is not grievous, will such misrepresentations make it so ? Can they be justified upon any good and virtuous principle? Ought not those men, who, by such pitiful, base methods, can attempt to stir up a people to acts of treason and rebellion, and destroy the peace and happiness of millions, to be held in everlasting infamy and contempt? Reason dictates, justice demands, that they should.

Let us attend to the other expressions used in the description of this Act: "Send persons indicted for murder in that province to another Colony, or even to Great Britain, for trial." Is not this expression plainly calculated to induce a belief that all persons indicted for any murder may be thus removed? Is it not general and indefinite, without any exception, without any restriction, to the particular offences specified in the Act? I grant, that were the Act such as is here represented, it would be a most alarming grievance, a matter requiring every effort in our power to get it redressed; and the more distressing and oppressive it would be if true, so much greater is the guilt and wickedness of those men who would make us believe it to be so. But if we examine the statute itself, we shall find it really calculated to promote the more impartial administration of justice in those instances to which it relates. If we advert to the design of its being made, and the cause which gave rise to it, we shall be convinced of its propriety and expediency. The destruction of the Tea above mentioned had been effected in open and direct opposition to, and violation of, an Act of Parliament; no Magistrate had interposed to prevent it; it was the prevailing opinion of the common people, who formed their political creed upon the principles, practices, and information of their seditious leaders, that Acts of Parliament were not binding in America. They, therefore, did not consider themselves as committing an act of treason in destroying it, but at most a trespass at common law; nay! some, in their phrensy, thought it a meritorious action, and that they were doing God service by their zeal in such a cause. If, therefore, any civil Magistrate, or others by his command, had, in resisting these rioters and traitors, put any of them to death, and had been brought to a trial for it here, such was the ferment of the times, so infectious and extensive, the infatuation, that the chance was ten thousand to one that the jury to pass upon their lives would consist of men who had adopted these erroneous opinions, who would therefore think the conduct of the accused unlawful and criminal, and consequently bring them in guilty of murder; and I have no doubt but this would have been the case, had such resistance been made at that time. The Parliament might justly suppose that this notorious violence passing "uncontrolled and unpunished," was owing to this cause; at least this is the most favourable and charitable construction that they could put upon it. But be that as it may, their attention to future instances of the same kind, to prevent such daring outrages, to induce submission to Acts of Parliament, and to encourage the civil Magistrate and others in the execution of their duty, was evidently the design of the Act; and it is equally evident, to use the words in the preamble of the Act, that Magistrates, and others might "be discouraged from the proper discharge of their duty, by an apprehension that, in case of their being questioned for any acts done in execution of the Laws and Statutes of the Realm, they might be liable to be brought to trial for the same before persons who do not acknowledge the validity of the laws, in the execution whereof, or the authority of the Magistrate, in support of whom such acts had been done." Especially when, for a bare disavowal of the violence and opposition to British laws, and the illegal, dangerous spirit that then did and still does prevail, whole Towns have been stigmatised, and individuals insulted and abused. Nay, if those who would venture to resist and quell any riots or mobs fortunately were acquitted by their peers, upon a fair, open, and impartial trial, they have still been pursued with unrelenting vengeance, and their names and characters held up to publick view in the most infamous and odious light: witness the institution on the fifth of March; that disgrace to humanity, dishonour to the laws, and paragon of infernal malice! Thus, while every discouragement has been given to the due execution of the laws, when we were absolutely reduced to a state of lawless anarchy, can we with reason complain of an Act calculated


to restore us to peace, quietness, and order; an Act which provides an impartial trial for men who shall laudably venture to enforce a due obedience to the laws and constitutional authority of the Parent State.

But the fatal mischief which the quick-sighted Congress have discovered, in this Act, that "hereby such offenders may escape legal punishment," at once excites our pity for their weakness, and resentment for their dishonesty. Surely their complaisance to this Province arose to an unbounded height, thus to compliment us, not only at the expense of all the other Colonies upon the Continent, but even of Great Britain. I am apt to suspect they undertook the description of this Act immediately after the adoption of the Suffolk Resolves; in these two instances their conduct seems to be uniform and consistent. And is there not, then, to be found in the Kingdom of Great Britain, nor in all the Colonies; an uncorrupted Court and twelve impartial Jurors, who will act agreeable to law and justice, save in the renowned Province of the Massachusetts-Bay Cannot a fair and legal trial be had in any other part of the Dominions? Or, what I was not aware of before, did the Congress think there could not be found elsewhere a Court and Jury so intoxicated with popular rage and delusion, as to condemn men, as guilty of murder, who had only discharged their duty in the due execution of the laws? And, therefore, in their great humanity complain that they should have any chance for an acquittal! I am at a loss on which of these principles to account for the conduct of the Congress. But it is so ridiculous to pretend that a fair trial cannot be had out of this Province, when every circumstance favours a contrary supposition, that it hardly deserves a serious answer. Thus, in my dear friends and fellow-countrymen, have the Congress left that path which their duty and our interest pointed out, and followed the lead of a few men, who, had they been influenced by any laudable or virtuous considerations, we should have been saved from the calamities that now awaits us.

As this publication is so lengthy, I must defer the remaining part of the article for a future paper.