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Address of a Planter, to the Inhabitants of Virginia



MY COUNTRYMEN: The state of our publick affairs appears to be at present in a more critical situation than it has been at any time since the commencement of the quarrel, which has so much agitated the minds of the people, both in Great Britain and America. The principles of a dispute, so long contested before the whole world, I need not recite to you. You have seen it in its birth, and your own deliberations and exertions have conducted it to its present point. The single question that has for many years disturbed the publick tranquillity is well known on this side of the Atlantick to be, whether the Parliament of England has a right to bind us by their laws in all cases whatsoever, or in no case at all, without our own consent — for reason and good policy can discern no medium. And, indeed, no medium has been sought on either side; for the former is maintained in its utmost extent in Britain; the latter with no less firmness in America. And after many resolves and petitions, and after a long suspension of trade, and the milder methods of obtaining redress, you have at last been constrained to take up arms in your own defence. And I pray God that the contest may be decided by arms alone; for I fear lest we should be led into a snare, where the bait may be disposed with so much craft that many, misled by generosity of disposition, and others wearied with uncertainty and delay, or seduced by motives of interest, may unwarily be decoyed by it, without observing their danger. The snare to which I refer is the negotiation which the British Ministry propose to enter into with the States of America, in the beginning of the next campaign. Although we have been declared Rebels by both Houses of Parliament as well as by the King, to preserve, a consistency with their former measures; and although they have menaced us with all the power they are able to command, to suppress this pretended rebellion; yet we receive the most authentick intelligence that they design to accompany their armaments with Commissioners to several of the Colonies, to negotiate terms of submission to Great Britain; a measure, it is evident, they would never have adopted, if they had not entertained some doubts of the success of the sanguinary projects in which they had before embarked; and if their long acquaintance with the policy of courts, and finesse of negotiations, had not taught them that success, if success be attainable, is most likely to be accomplished by this means. And if our attachment to Britain; if the prospect of peace (which seems to be doubly nattering, after distractions so great and of so long duration) do not blind us, and hurry us into the measure before we have anticipated maturely all its consequences, we may easily foresee that we shall be exposed to greater danger by negotiation than by arms. It is well known to what an excessive height bribery and corruption have been carried in England: as much of the publick treasure is prostituted to this iniquitous purpose as might redeem the nation in a few years from that enormous debt, under the load of which every nerve of the body politick begins to crack. And can we suppose that the treasure of England will be less profusely applied to buy their favourite measure into effect, from the men who lead the Councils of the Colonies, than it has been to purchase a majority in both Houses of Parliament?

They to whom we have hitherto delegated the task of steering the State through the present troubles, merit every acknowledgment we are capable of making to them, for the wisdom and integrity of their conduct; but they must have successors. Good policy, in a free State, requires that great power should not be successively intrusted in the same hands too often. The innocence of the cottage is frequently corrupted when it is produced into the publick scenes of honour and ambition. There is a situation in life in which a man may act with great and deserved applause; but we reason wrong if we therefore conclude that there are no temptations capable of corrupting his virtue. We may repent our credulity if we unsuspiciously resign too far to his honesty, without using any precautions against the frailty of human nature. I believe modern virtue is in no country carried to so great a height as it is in America. I have as high a veneration as a wise man ought to have for the Conventions of the different Colonies, and for the Continental Congress. But shall we be in no danger by acting with an incautious resignation, as if every man in these numerous assemblies,


like Curius, could reject the costly and royal bribes of the Samnites with a virtuous disdain? If they are to be bought; if they have not attained a perfection almost beyond the condition of human nature, they may make their own terms. No price will be denied that can be raised out of the future revenues of America.

Our danger is the greater, because all the parts of their demands are so inseparably linked together, that the minutest concession involves in it and draws after it all the train of evils, and Innumerable others, against which we have complained and fought so long. Or if the voice of one or two Colonies should be bought from among the rest, it may throw us into endless distractions, and prolong and increase the horrors of the war, by nursing enemies in our own bosom, more formidable than those we encounter from abroad.

Besides, what are we to expect from a negotiation? The single question in dispute is, whether we are subject to the British legislation, consisting of King and Parliament, or to the Legislatures of America, consisting of the King' s Representative, and the Parliaments or Assemblies of the different Colonies. If the English House of Representatives mean to relinquish their pretended rights, what is easier than to open the way to peace and harmony, in which we can meet them with confidence, by passing a single bill declaratory of our privileges? Such a bill they will make no difficulty to pass, if they mean to meet us upon sincere and equitable principles. If they make their approaches under any other pretext, they must be totally futile, and, according to the common policy of European Courts, only meant to deceive.

Are we likely to be any nearer an accommodation after they have repealed three of their obnoxious acts? The rest remain in force; and the principle, the iniquitous principle on which they are all founded, is still supposed to be true, and is kept up like a sluice, ready to pour in an inundation of oppressions whenever it shall be admitted on our side the water. Does it not kindle every honest man' s indignation to see the whole Continent insulted in the refusal of these acts, as much as or more than in their creation? I can scarcely suppress the expressions of the warmest resentment when I conceive them approaching my country with the falsest proposals of treaty, and at the same time insulting, with the utmost indignity, our supposed credulity or ignorance.

They have repealed the Boston Port Bill, it is said, and no doubt they will make a mighty merit of conceding so far for the sake of peace. A meritorious concession, indeed! to open the ports of a town to their half-starved soldiers, after they have expelled its native inhabitants, burnt its houses and stores, pillaged its wealth, blocked up the only passage by which it can manage its trade with the country, and rendered it totally impossible to reap any benefit from the repeal. In whose emolument does all this parade of condescension issue? Not in that of the Colony; still less in that of the just proprietors of the town. It is, then, I presume, for the use and behoof of their officers and soldiers — a company of miserable wretches, in the constant terrour of their lives, who neither know how nor have time nor money to make use of the privilege, unless it be to import some potatoes and porter, to keep in their souls and drown the sense of their misery. That, I suppose, the humanity of their masters would not have denied them, if the act had stood in the same predicament that it was. About half as much, upon a just computation, may be placed to the account of their merit, for the repeal of the Fishery Bill. I will venture to assert, and I dare almost engage to prove it, that they have had no design, for nine months past, to prevent the present inhabitants of Boston from devouring all the fish which they had time and courage to take. It would have been very cruel, because they were in a pet with New-England, to have made no distinction in their wrath, but have scourged their own children along with their servants, and set them down to a dry morsel of potato without any sauce. So that the sum total of Parliament merit may be pretty fairly expressed in the style of the algebraist thus: The repeal of 1 Bill for the administration of Justice + 1 Port Bill + 1 Fishery Bill = 0 — 3: that is, three full Bills less than nothing; a worthy bottom on which to open a negotiation. And yet, what concessions do they expect on this account from us? They have the insolence to demand an acknowledgment of the right to alter, cut up,


new-model, and annul our charters, whenever a whimsical Minister takes it in head that he is not complaisantly treated, because we refuse to choke ourselves with tea, or to glut the avarice of half a million of swag-bellied pensioners out of our private purse, and to be bound by their laws in all cases whatsoever. Since they offer terms of accommodation on one side, I think we have a right to state our demands on the opposite column. But this I shall reserve for another paper.


March 25, 1776.