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The British American, No. 9



Williamsburg, Va˙, July 28, 1774.

Friends, Fellow-citizens, and Countrymen:

I have observed in quarrels between two men, where each has been satisfied of the others' bravery, they have generally compromised their difference upon honourable terms; but where the person injured, under pretence of trying moderate measures, hath by this method of asking satisfaction, given his adversary reason to suspect his courage, a scandalous submission, or the duel, he wished to avoid, has been the consequence. The same passions which produce this effect between two men will operate equally upon two states, who are but a collection of individuals. It is my firm opinion, that if the British aristocracy were once convinced that you were determined to risk your lives and fortunes rather than submit to the legislation of a British Parliament, they would relinquish so despotick a measure rather than force you to draw the sword; if you convince them that you are determined to go even those lengths rather than submit, and nothing but a persuasion that you dare not do so hath induced them to proceed so far as they have done. But supposing it was otherwise, it is high time that the dispute between Britain and America should be brought to some fixed point, which being once determined, either one way or the other, may remove all future contests; for if you look no farther than the present moment, and only endeavour to obtain a repeal of any particular Act of Parliament you complain of, you will no sooner baffle oppression in one shape, than, Proteus like, it will attack you in another equally formidable. Jealousies, complaints, murmurs, and dissensions will eternally subsist; reciprocal provocations will totally destroy all harmony betwixt the inhabitants of the two countries; and implacable resentment end in mutual attempts to ruin, if not to extirpate, each other. What then, my countrymen, is it you demand? The answer is obvious. A right of exemption from the legislation of the British Parliament. If you are determined to enforce this right lay the axe at the root of the evil, boldly avow those intentions to the world, and pursue the proper measures to transmit that right to your posterity.

Of the three plans proposed the first appears too weak and timid; the second too violent, rash, and dishonourable to be adopted; then consider coolly the third plan proposed: that you shall absolutely determine at once that you will not in future suffer any Act of the British Parliament, made since the fourth of James the First, to be executed in the Colonies; that if any judge of any court whatever shall presume to pronounce any judgment to enforce such Act 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; and that you will, at the risk of your lives and fortunes, support every person injured by such judgments in repelling the execution of them by force. It is objected that this measure, strikes at the Navigation Acts, which we have long submitted to. The very objection evinces the folly of trusting the decision of this dispute to posterity, who, familiarized to oppression, will never resist it, and who, by long use; will be accustomed to look upon every badge of slavery with as little horrour as we do upon the Navigation Acts, which ought certainly to be considered as impositions of the strong upon the weak, and as such ought to be resisted as much as any of the other Acts we complain of; nor will this dispute ever be ended till, by refusing submission to them, we remove so dangerous a precedent. But it is said to be reasonable that your trade should be secured to Great Britain: I own I cannot see the force of this argument; for why should not Britons on this have as good a right to extend their trade to every corner of the globe as those on the other side of the Atlantic? Is it material to the Empire of Great Britain in what part other Dominions the wealth of her subjects lie, since it will finally centre in her happy Island? Bristol, Liverpool, and Whitchaven would esteem it an intollerable hardship to be obliged to lade or unlade all their ships at the port of London, and though they are not obliged to do this, their wealth finally centres in that city as the metropolis of the Kingdom; so if America was indulged in an unlimited trade it would be highly advantageous to Britain, as all the profits of such a trade must finally


centre in that Island. It hath been justly observed, "that natural inclination leads every man to the cultivation of the soil, and the extensive Continent of America will enable her inhabitants to indulge that inclination for centuries to come; nothing but oppression can ever induce them to turn their thoughts towards manufactures whilst the produce of their fields can supply them with those manufactures." Long custom, added to their natural connections with their mother country, will lead them to prefer those of Britain to any others; and the certain market they would meet with there, together with the danger they will run in trading with a foreign Power, who in case of a war may cancel all the debts due to them, will induce them to supply Britain with all the rough material she can manufacture, and to trade with other Nations for such only as would be superfluous to her. But it is objected that America would supply foreign Powers with tobacco, and Britain would lose that valuable branch of trade. To this I answer, that her own interest would induce America first to supply Britain with as much of that commodity as she wanted for home consumption; because so much would bring a better price from thence than from any other market. The revenue of Britain would not therefore be affected; and, with regard to the superfluity, Great Britain could never be said to lose those profits which any of her subjects gained, because the wealth would finally centre in the capital of the Empire. The happy temperature of her climate would invite the indolent, the residence of her Monarch would draw the ambitious, the grandeur of her metropolis would attract the vain and curious, and the refinements of her pleasures would induce the luxurious of her extensive Empire to spend all their superfluous wealth in a city where they could indulge every wish of their hearts; not to mention the vast superiority Great Britain would have over the Colonies by all the Officers of Government in them being appointed, the Government directed, and even the Legislature controlled, (in the exercise of the King' s negative) by the British Councils. But it is objected; that if America were indulged with this extension of trade, still she would not contribute to the support of Government, unless compelled to it by a British Parliament. Either this objection is true or false. Suppose it true. If all the wealth arising from the trade and labours of the Americans finally centres in Britain, it is as immaterial to the state whether America actually pays the taxes herself or enables others to do it, as it is whether the publican or tallow-chandler pay their taxes to the exciseman, who pays them into the Exchequer, or whether they pay them into the Exchequer themselves. But I deny the objection to be true. The Assemblies of the Colonies of America, when proper requisitions have been made of them as a free people, who had a right to exercise their judgment upon the expediency of the requisitions, have never refused to contribute to the utmost of their power towards supporting the dignity of the British Empire; nor can the British aristocracy produce a single instance of any one Colony' s having refused to grant supplies when their Sovereign hath requested them, but such where their Governours, instead of requesting those supplies with a respect due to free people, have insolently demanded them, with threats in case of refusal; or when, in the Proprietary Colonies, their proprietors have refused to pass any Supply Bills, by which his large estate in the Province would be obliged to contribute any thing towards warding off the common danger, and then, by the address of his Governour, Administration hath been abused with a belief that disloyalty in the people to their Sovereign occasioned the want of those supplies, which were really withheld by the avarice of the proprietor. In the last war, when the usual requisitions were made, the Assemblies , fond of demonstrating their loyalty to their Sovereign, and their regard for the dignity of the British Empire, exerted themselves so much beyond their ability, that the Parliament of Great Britain thought it but just to repay them what they had actually contributed more than their proportion. Have they ever since been asked to contribute and refused? Why then distrust them now? Or why run the risk of destroying the goose to get at that wealth which will be at the service of their Sovereign whenever he asks for it in the usual way? But it is objected, that the last war was undertaken solely on account of America, and therefore she was more materially


interested in its success than any of the inhabitants of Britain. The event has proved the very reverse. Each Colony possessed of more lands than their inhabitants could cultivate, were really prejudiced by Great Britain' s extending her Dominion in America. Their lands fell immediately fifty per cent in their value by the emigration of their inhabitants to the new conquered Colonies; the manufactures from Britain came much higher than formerly, by the great demand for them to supply their new acquired subjects; their exports to Britain were reduced in their price on account of the additional ones from the new Dominions; and, to crown all, the British aristocracy having no longer a foreign rival to fear in America to check their aspiring views, employed their victorious arms to destroy the rights of those subjects who had assisted them in obtaining the victories which now enable them to attempt to enslave you, with even a shadow of success. But if custom hath so far habituated you to these unjust laws that you are willing, for the sake of peace, to meet your mother country more than half way, upon her agreeing to repeal those Acts, together with every precedent of legislation, do you, on your parts, agree to secure the trade of the Colonies to Great Britain be re-enacting the laws of navigation in your own respective Assemblies, which, when they have obtained the Royal assent, will be eternally binding on you? But never consent to submit to those laws as the Acts of a British Parliament.

It is objected, that the third plan proposed is too violent and illegal to be adopted. Let us consider whether it is so; and here permit me to make a few distinctions which are supported by those laws of England, which our ancestors, when they, with leave of their Sovereign, settled America, imported with them.

When a Judge pronounces an erroneous judgment, in a cause properly within his jurisdiction, he is not answerable as a criminal for such an errour in judgment, because no man is infallible, and corruption is not presumed. The judgment so pronounced by him, though erroneous, is not absolutely void, but avoidable, and till it is regularly reversed, by a superiour Court of Judicature, it is to be considered as a judgment; may as such be enforced, but cannot be legally resisted.

If a Judge pronounces judgment in a cause in which he has no jurisdiction, or if a man constitutes himself a Judge, or is by others, who have no right to do so, illegally constituted a Judge, and as such presumes to enforce such usurped jurisdiction, even though the judgment is a just one, he is answerable for the consequences. The judgment thus pronounced by him, though a just one, is absolutely void, and as such may be legally resisted. The Judge and every person concerned in endeavouring to enforce such a judgment, are trespassers; and if any person should be killed in resisting such judgment, the Judge who pronounced the sentence, if present at the execution, and all his assistants, are answerable for the murder.

The Courts of Admiralty, at the time our ancestors settled America, had no Jurisdiction of any offence committed in any river or bay where the land could be seen across from one side to the other; and if they presumed to usurp such jurisdiction, by seizing any vessel in such places, they, and all acting under them, were trespassers; their judgments were absolutely void, and by the statute of second Henry the Fourth, chapter eleven, they were liable for double damages.

The King cannot create any new offence, which was not so at the common law, or alter the mode of trial of those already created in Britain, without the consent of his British Parliament, or, in other words, without the consent of the Representatives of the people, who are to be judged for such offences, and affected by such trials; and if he should, such trials would be illegal; the judgments absolutely void; the persons injured by them may not only maintain an action against, and indict as trespassers, the persons who attempt to enforce such illegal and void judgments, but may resist them by force, and if in such resistance they kill the trespassers, it will not be murder, because, say the books, the persons slain were trespassers, covering their violence with a show of justice; he who kills them is indulged by the law, and those who engage in such unlawful actions must abide by the event, at their peril.


For authorities in support of the doctrines I have thus laid down, I refer my reader to 10 Co˙ Rep˙ 76 and 77; 1 Salk˙ 201. 2 Mod˙ 30, 196; Rolls˙ Abr˙ Tit˙ Escape, 809. pl˙ 45; Cro˙ James 314, Cro˙ Car˙ 395; 2 Sid˙ 125; 1 Lev˙ 95; Hob˙ 267; Holt, Rep˙ 186; 1 Hawk˙ pl˙ cr˙ chap˙ 28, sec˙ 5 and 6. chap˙ 29, sec˙ 8. chap˙ 31, sec˙ 46. chap˙ 32, sec˙ 54,57, 58, 59, and 60; 2 Hawk˙ pl˙ cr˙ chap˙ 50, sec˙ 3, 4; Inst˙ 87, 97, 98,121, 134, to 142, 213, and 248; and a great multitude of precedents in those books referred to. From these doctrines and authorities I draw the following inferences:

First, That the jurisdiction exercised by the Courts of Admiralty in the bays and rivers in America being given, the very offences of which they take cognizance being created, and the modes of trial being altered from the common law, since the settlement of the Colonies by the British Parliament, in which the Inhabitants of the Colonies are not represented, the judgments given by those Courts are absolutely void; that the persons injured by them have a right to recover double damages of, and to indict the persons who enforce them, and to resist them with force, and if in such resistance the trespassers are killed, it will not be murder; but on the other hand, if the persons resisting are killed, all actually present in countenancing and enforcing such judgments will be guilty of murder.

Secondly, That as Acts of the British Parliament made since the settlement of America, (in which the inhabitants of America neither are or can be represented) cannot be binding upon the Americans, who have no share in framing them, the subject matter of such Acts of Parliament can never come within the jurisdiction of any Court of Judicature in America, and consequently any judgment given by an American Court of Judicature, to enforce such Acts of Parliament, are absolutely void, and may be legally resisted.

Thus, my countrymen, the dispute finally terminates in this single question: whether the British Parliament, in which you are not represented, have a right to make laws to bind you or not? If they have, all opposition is illegal; but if they have not, you may, without infringing the laws of your country, declare that you will not submit to any Act of Parliament made since your ancestors, with the leave of their Sovereign, settled in America, and determine to punish any Judge who shall dare to enforce such; for the man who as a Judge usurps a jurisdiction he has no right to, and under colour of a law, no way obligatory on you, attempts to wrest your property from you, is to be considered, as a plunderer and robber, and you have as good a right to repel by force the execution of his judgments, as you have to resist the highwayman who attacks you in the main road; the thief who breaks into your house; the bailiff who, by virtue of an execution against your estate, attempts to imprison your person, or the Gascon who would enforce an edict of the French Parliament. A just apprehension of personal danger, and the dread of immediate punishment, acts so powerfully upon the human mind, that I can readily imagine a regard for their personal safety would induce, and a dread of danger would, intimidate, all the Judges in the Colonies from enforcing Acts of Parliament of which they can have no legal jurisdiction. Thus your very Resolutions would, in many of the Colonies, end the dispute; for Acts of Parliament, which no Judge would dare to enforce obedience to could never injure you. But if, contrary to expectation, the Judges should still presume to proceed, I would not advise you to confine yourselves to resolutions only, or even to a bare resistance of the execution of their judgments, but by pursuing active measures, convince them you are in earnest, and make examples of the offending Judges.

Be not alarmed, my countrymen, it is not my intention to advise you to proceed to extremities, and hang up these Judges at once; for if the laws of your country can be duly enforced, the authorities I have cited prove that private actions brought by the parties injured, the presentment of Grand, and the verdicts of. Petit Juries, will be amply sufficient to enable you to punish legally any Judge, who by arrogating to himself an illegal jurisdiction, shall presume to invade himself, or instigate others to invade, the property, restrain the liberty, or destroy the lives of his fellow-subjects. It is objected, that Administration will


exert its influence over all your Courts of justice to stifle such suits and prosecutions, or, at least, to prevent them from being carried into execution; to this I answer, that when violent and unconstitutional measures are taken to overturn the laws of, or to impede the course of justice in, any country, the first law of nature gives the people a right of preserving the one, and of enforcing the other; therefore, if your natural and political liberty should be thus trampled on, and your property should be thus illegally invaded, you will be strictly justifiable in recurring to force, and in proceeding to the last extreme; and to sacrifice to your just resentment three or four, or even three or four dozen unconstitutional and corrupt Judges in each Colony, will be a more moderate measure than that of entering into associations to starve twenty thousand of your innocent manufacturing fellow-subjects in Britain, or that of breaking off all connections with the mother country, and by that means reducing yourselves to the necessity of slaughtering some thousands of the British soldiers, or of exposing the lives of all America in a bad cause; for such it would be esteemed if you act dishonourably in withholding their debts from your creditors. Upon the whole, my advice to you, my countrymen, is, that you send Deputies from every Colony in America to form a general Congress. Let them be instructed to enter into the firmest resolutions of not submitting to any Acts of the British Parliament, made since the fourth of James the First (when your ancestors, with the leave of their Sovereign, made the first effectual, settlement in America, and by doing so, could be no longer subject to the legislation of a British Parliament, in which they could not be represented,) and of punishing any person who shall presume for the future to enforce such Acts of Parliament in America. Let them draw up, and transmit to England, an address to you gracious Sovereign, expressive of the most affectionate loyalty to his person, of their readiness to grant him supplies for the benefit of the whole Empire, to the utmost of their abilities, whenever he shall request it of his respective American Assemblies; but assuring him of their determined resolution to sacrifice their lives, and every thing that is valuable to them, rather than submit to the legislation of a British Parliament; and that as no evil can be so dreadful to them as a humiliating subjection to their fellow-subjects, the Lords and Commons of England, that if his Majesty, deaf to these their reiterated complaints, should persist in permitting such Acts of Parliament to be enforced in America, his subjects of that great Continent, though struck with horrour at the idea of disloyalty to his sacred person, are, though reluctantly, firmly determined to break off all connections with Great Britain, and trust to that God who hath told them that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, to support their endeavours, in preserving that liberty they received from their British ancestors. It is objected, that though this plan may be of service to the other Colonies, it will administer no relief to the town of Boston, who is now suffering in the common cause: to this I answer, that a particular emergency requires a special remedy. So far as relates to the removal of the seat of Government, I think resistance, would be illegal, it being t he undoubted prerogative of the Crown to fix , or to remove the seat of Government of any particular Colony, to whatever place the King pleases within that Colony; and though this prerogative may be exercised oppressively, still the subject must submit. He may petition, but Majesty only can redress the grievance.

But the stopping up the port of Boston, and prohibiting the owners from using their own wharves, under colour of Acts of Parliament, which the inhabitants, or their Representatives, had no share in framing, is such an illegal stretch of power, such a despotick invasion of property, that may be legally resisted, and ought not to be submitted to; indeed, I look upon it as little less than a declaration of war, which would justify all America in running immediately to arms, to repel so hostile an attack upon their


liberties. But still, my countrymen, I would wish to see you adopt constitutional measures of redress. Let subscriptions be opened in every town and county on the Continent of America, to supply the inhabitants of the town of Boston liberally with every necessary. Let every supply of fresh provisions and other necessaries be withheld from the Navy and Army employed in the detestable service of endeavouring to enslave their brethren and fellow-subjects. Let every Colony in particular, and, all America in general Congress, protest against the illegality of the measures, and resolve to support every person who shall infringe or oppose it. Let vessels attempt togo in and out of the port of Boston, as usual, as if no such Act of Parliament existed. If the ships of war should seize them, or the soldiers obstruct any man in the use of his wharf, prosecute in the Courts of law every officer, either of the army or navy, for acting so illegally, and every Judge who shall presume to condemn the vessels seized. Let the expense of such prosecutions be defrayed, and the losses of private men made good by the general contributions of all America. If any violent measures are taken by the tools of the British aristocracy to impede the course of justice, recur to the first law of nature, and repel the aggressors; and though the inhabitants of New England are sufficiently numerous to repel any illegal force which can be raised upon such an occasion, yet, in order to make it one general act of all America, let each Colony send a quota of men to perform this service, and let the respective quotas be settled in the general Congress.

These measures will, in my opinion, be the most moderate, the most constitutional, and the most effectual, you can pursue, and will, I doubt not, add such weight to your Address to the Throne, that the British aristocracy, convinced that you are in earnest, will listen to reasonable terms of accommodation; and you, by preserving your own liberty, be such a constant check to their ambitious designs as will restrain them within the bounds of moderation, even in Britain; and by restoring your Sovereign to his necessary weight in the National Councils, prevent Great Britain from becoming a prey to those aristocratical vultures which are endeavouring to destroy her very vitals. But, if debased by corruption, prostituted by venality, and lost to all sense of shame, Britain, like a contented fond wanton, loves and caresses the ravishers who have debauched and undone her, should attempt to sacrifice her American offspring to their ambition, and, regardless of your complaints, determine to enforce the legislation of a British Parliament in America; or, in other words, if all your efforts are ineffectual to save your mother country, and she must sink, you must then take care not to sink with her; but, by preserving your own liberty, prepare an asylum in America for such of the inhabitants of Britain who still desire or deserve to be free. You must then, and not till then, break off all connections with Great Britain; you must stop your imports and exports to and from thence; you must banish every custom-house officer from amongst you; you must invite all other Nations of the world to supply you with necessaries, by giving them liberty to trade with you, duty free; you must proclaim universal freedom throughout America; you must draw your swords in a just cause, and rely upon that God who assists the righteous, to support your endeavours to preserve that liberty he gave, and the love of which he hath implanted in your hearts, as essential to your nature. But these are measures which the British aristocracy, when they reflect upon those consequences of a war with the Colonies, which I enlarged upon in a former letter, will never force you into. They are


measures which nothing but necessity can justify; measures too delicate to be enlarged upon, and measures which I touch with a trembling hand, because though they will, they must effectually preserve the liberty of America, they will probably occasion the destruction of Britain; and though she has treated us unnaturally, and, I will add, ungratefully, she is our mother country still, and as such I would wish to preserve her.

And now, my friends, fellow-citizens, and countrymen, to convince you that I am in earnest in the advice I have given you; notwithstanding the personal danger I expose myself to in so doing; notwithstanding the threats thrown out by the British aristocracy, of punishing in England those who shall dare to oppose them in America; yet, because I do not wish to survive the liberty of my country one single moment; because I am determined to risk my all in supporting that liberty, and because I think it in some measure dishonourable to skulk under a borrowed name upon such an occasion as this, I am neither afraid or ashamed to avow, that the Letters signed by A British American, were written by the hand, and flowed from the heart of



* I would advise that Fredericktown in Maryland, or Winchester in Virginia, should be fixed upon as proper for the meeting of this Congress, as no ships of war could bombard either of those towns, and the number of expert riflemen in those parts would, be able to prevent any unwelcome visitors from interrupting the Congress; and though it is to be hoped that no such thing will be attempted, a discreet caution will do no harm.