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Speeches of Mr. Brush



[On Thursday, February 23, the General Assembly now sitting, entered into the consideration of Mr˙ Thomas' s motion for the appointment of Delegates on the part of this Colony, to attend the General Congress to be held at Philadelphia, in the month of May next. The House being divided on this important question, the matter was fully debated on both sides. In the course of the debates, Mr˙ Brush, Member for Cumberland, offered his sentiments on the subject; in the answers given to which, that gentleman being frequently charged with using expressions which threw indecent reflections both on the conduct of the gentlemen of the Opposition, and on the proceedings of the last Congress, in order that the publick may form their own judgment on this subject, the Printer has been favoured with the following, by a friend, who assures him it contains nearly the very words made use of by Mr˙ Brush on that occasion.]

Mr˙ SPEAKER: The time and attention of this House during the present session, has been principally engaged by a series of motions tending to extort our approbation of the measures dictated by the late Congress, The address that has been shewn in varying the expressions of the several motions for that purpose, may evince the ingenuity of


the gentleman who framed them; but it would reflect the utmost dishonour on this House, if it was to be so destitute of discernment as not to perceive their true intent. For my part, sir, I again freely repeat my opinion, that as the late Congress acted without any power or authority derived from this House, and (at least as far as respected this Province,) from the Laws and Constitution of our country, its Proceedings could not, with propriety, come before us for consideration. Of the same opinion was the majority of this House, upon a motion made at the beginning of the session, and I therefore hoped, that without entering into unnecessary debates, we would all have seriously applied ourselves; to the constitutional mode of obtaining redress of our grievances; but I cannot help mentioning the precipitate manner in which the intemperate zeal of some gentlemen induced them to act, with respect to the motion which extracted this opinion. A special call of the House was resolved on the 20th of January, the time for which did not expire until the 7th of this month. This call was expressly resolved upon, that the present important and critical situation of publick affairs might be discussed in a full House; but the design of these gentlemen could by no means admit of so tedious a delay in the discussion of the motion to which I have alluded. The concurrence or non-concurrence of this House with that motion, was universally allowed to be a matter of the most weighty and important nature ever offered to the consideration of a General Assembly of this Colony; and yet, setting aside every regard to the thinness of the House, and the indelicate treatment of many Members who were absent, the immediate design of that very weighty and consequential matter was urged with unremitting ardour, before the expiration of the call, from no other motive than an expectation that in the present situation of the House it was the only probable opportunity which would offer of laying the great corner stone of their future operations. But notwithstanding the sense of the majority was fully expressed upon this important point, and consequently the House precluded from taking up the Proceedings of the late Congress during the present session, yet two subsequent attempts have been made to extract from us an implied approbation of those very Proceedings; the first by a motion to return the thanks of the House to the Delegates from this Colony, which would naturally imply an unlimited approbation of what we had agreed ought not even to be considered, since upon the face of the Proceedings, it appears that those gentlemen had concurred in them all without any reserve, whatever private sentiments they may have then entertained or since adopted. This extraordinary motion meeting with the fate it deserved, a second was framed to obtain our thanks to the Merchants and Inhabitants of this City, for their firm adherence to the Association enacted by the Congress, which this House had already resolved not to consider, and consequently could not determine to be either good or bad. This motion, therefore, as well as the last, carried absurdity upon the very face of it, and if agreed to, would have subjected this House to the charge of inconsistency, must, in a great measure, have frustrated our designs for a constitutional redress of grievances, and, in all probability, would have been wrested from its genuine meaning, and made a sanction for past and future disorderly, illegal, and tumultuous acts of violence. The House having rejected all these motions, and firmly adhered to the principle which it at first established, another motion was now made, different in appearance, but similar in reality, to those already determined, for appointing Delegates on the part of this Colony, to meet at the General Congress to be held at the City of Philadelphia in May next.

As the proposed Congress is to be a continuation of the last, and is to meet in consequence of their vote declaring the necessity of holding it, by nominating Delegates for it we shall, in effect, recognise the last Congress, and make ourselves, parties to all the measures then agreed upon. If this will be the consequence, as I conceive it clearly will, of the present motion, no other reason can be necessary why this House should not agree to it; because we have already determined not to consider the Proceedings of that Congress, much less espouse its principles or adopt its measures. But, sir, we are the legal and constitutional Representatives of the people; to us the care of their liberties is, in the most sacred manner, entrusted; and I think


it would be a breach of our trust to delegate that most important charge to any body of men, whose powers are circumscribed by no law, and their existence unknown to the Constitution. If, indeed, we acknowledge ourselves incapable of executing the trust reposed in us, there may be some plea for agreeing to the present motion, but the moment we do, we agree to our own annihilation, and, with the powers of this House, subvert the Constitution of our country. I am sure, however, that an idea of this kind could never prevail within these walls, where such measures are at this very time in contemplation, as are most likely to establish a firm and permanent union between Great Britain and her Colonies, and maintain the liberties of the latter, without injuring the just and natural superiority of the former. I must therefore, sir, be of opinion, that the appointment of Delegates would involve us in inconsistency, be a departure from the trust reposed in us by our constituents, and plainly reduce this House to the condition of a Corporation, which only meets to enact by-laws, whilst all matters of higher importance are referred to a superiour assembly.

I have hitherto, sir, avoided particularizing the Proceedings of the late Congress; but as they have been frequently alluded to in our debates, and some gentlemen appear to lay great stress upon them, give me leave to add, that reasons of the most forcible nature against this motion, may be derived from the powers assumed and the spirit manifested by them. I believe no gentleman could have imagined, had not experience convinced him, that a Congress could have supposed itself vested with a power to enact laws for the government of the whole Continent. I say, sir, to enact laws, with the severest penalties, without previously consulting the several Colony Legislatures. But, sir, strange as this may appear, yet no one can be ignorant that the late Congress, (which even if it had been regularly chosen, yet, from its very nature was only to advise and consult upon the proper mode of obtaining redress of our grievances,) swelled with the idea of its own importance, erected itself into the Supreme Legislature of North America. How dangerous, then, must it be for us to countenance the meeting of a body which could in so glaring a manner deviate from its obvious intention, and assume to itself the powers peculiar only to the Legislature?

I am now to consider the spirit which the Congress manifested at their last meeting; and here I must observe, that in the present unhappy disputes between Great Britain and her Colonies, it was the wish of every wise and good member of society, that such a plan of conduct might be adopted as might tend to heal our differences, and bring about a firm and permanent reconciliation. For this purpose the most conciliating measures were proper; our disease required medicines of an emolient nature, not such as would irritate and inflame the parts affected. Our contest was with a parent country, from which we had always received protection, and with which we were connected by the ties of language and manners — by the ties of religion, and by the ties of law. Such being the case, what must we think of those who, so far from endeavouring to close, have attempted to widen the breach between us? The late Congress, sir, (I speak it with that boldness which truth inspires,) seem to have entertained a design of that nature; they have not only insisted upon the redress of real grievances, but have even industriously sought after and inserted in their catalogue what can never be esteemed as such; and they not only advise the people of the Colonies to prepare for mournful events, but seem resolved, even for the most trivial reasons, to involve this country in blood and confusion. They will not relinquish the most inconsiderable of their demands, and threaten that in case some late Acts are even attempted to be put in execution, all America shall unite in the opposition; by which they clearly mean to unsheath the sword and come to an open rupture. To keep this fiery spirit alive, is evidently the intention of the approaching Congress. The same Delegates, or others of still warmer sentiments, have been chosen in the other Colonies, so that we have not the least reason to expect greater moderation from them than appeared at their last meeting. I need not, sir, enter into a more minute examination of the late Congress, which as far at least as they regard Ireland and the West Indies, are


fraught with inhumanity, and totally destitute of good policy. It is sufficient for me, that the spirit by which they are actuated, and which is likely again to predominate, is a spirit of so dangerous a nature as ought not to receive our countenance. Whilst, therefore, we regard the dignity and importance of this House; whilst we desire to preserve consistency in our conduct, we cannot consent to a motion which would establish a body who have assumed the most unlimited powers, and are actuated by the most dangerous principles; therefore, I hope this House will have too much prudence, as well as virtue, to give a sanction to an assembly who would sap our Constitution, and may probably involve this once happy country in all the horrours of a civil war. However, let their determination be as it will, I shall have the satisfaction of doing my duty, in declaring my dissent to the motion now before the House.



* Colonel Schuyler and Mr˙ Cinton spoke several times in support of the motion, and were answered with great clearness and precision by Mr˙ Wilkins.