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Letter to the Author of a Pamphlet


To the Author of a Pamphlet, entitled "A Candid Examination of the Mutual Claims of GREAT BRITAIN and her COLONIES, &c."

Philadelphia, March 8, 1775.

SIR: When your pamphlet was first put into my hands, I accidentally opened it at the last page but one, and was pleased to see the following words: "Thus I have, my dear countrymen, with the utmost candour and freedom, and the most benevolent regard for your true interest and happiness, laid before you the Constitutional extent of


Parliamentary jurisdiction, and deduced your rights from the most solid foundation, and explained your duties." Pleased with this declaration, I eagerly began a careful perusal of the pamphlet; but what was my surprise to find that instead of deducing the rights of America from a "most solid foundation," you have laboured to show that America has no rights at all; and that we are the most abject slaves on earth. This set me upon an examination of the principles on which you have grounded your arguments; and from this examination it evidently appeared that you have ignorantly misunderstood or wilfully misapplied them.

The first principle which you lay down, and which, indeed, is the groundwork of your whole performance, is this: "There must be in every State a supreme Legislative power of the Colonies, and that the Colonists are, therefore, subject to its laws."

It may be proper before we proceed, to observe, that though there is no difficulty in laying down general principles on the nature of Government, yet it requires judgment and understanding to make a proper application of them. If it shall appear that your several quotations are totally inapplicable to the situation of the Colonies, with respect to their connection with Great Britain, your arguments must fall, of course, to the ground. And I apprehend I shall not only be able to make, this appear, but clearly to show, as I said before, that you either did not understand the authors quoted, or that you have wilfully misapplied them.

Whoever has read, and is conversant with the authors on Government, will agree that whenever the above principle is laid down, it amounts in substance to this, and this only, viz: Wherever men have, from a state of nature, entered into a state of society, there must be somewhere; a power lodged to make laws obligatory on all, the members of that society. This power of making laws, however modified, is called the Legislative power; and any one will readily assent to the necessity there is, that this Legislative power should be supreme over the members; for it, after the Legislative power has ordained any thing to be done, the members should afterwards be left to their own choice to adopt or reject it, it follows clearly there must be an end of Government, Now let us consider whether this principle is not fully satisfied in the several Governments of America, without having recourse for an application of it to the Parliament of Great Britain. I will undertake to show that the principle is applicable to our several Governments, and to them only; and this I shall do from your own quotations.

Mr˙ Locke tells us that "The first fundamental positive law of all Commonwealths is the establishing the Legislative power; this Legislative is; not only the supreme powder of the Commonwealth, but; is sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have placed it." It cannot be denied. It is as well established as the legislature of Great Britain; its powers within the bounds the Province are as supreme and unlimited as the power of the Legislature of Great Britain. Here, then, the principle applies; — as there is a Legislative power in the Province of Pennsylvania, that power is, from the nature of all Governments, supreme, and all the inhabitants of the Province must be obedient, to its laws. But to proceed: "There can be but one supreme power, which is the Legislative; to which all the rest are, and must be subordinate." This principle is certainly right; but let us see How judiciously it is applied. Certainly in the Province Pennsylvania there neither is nor can be more than one supreme power, viz: the legislature of the Province. To them the several Corporations, and other inferiour jurisdictions must submit. But observe how completely wretched you aim to make the Americans. You quote Locke to prove that there can be but one supreme power, which is the Legislature; if so, and if the Parliament, as you say, is the Legislature of the Colonies, it follows that we have hitherto been deceived, and that there is no such thing as a Colony Legislature in existence. But, Sir, this supreme power, the community of Pennsylvania have undeniably vested in the Assembly and Governour, subject to our Sovereign' s negative; and, of course, the Legislature of Great Britain is not the Legislature of Pennsylvania; for it would be "irregular and monstrous" to suppose us subject to two Legislatures. But this will not satisfy you. You will have


it, that we shall be subject, not according to Mr˙ Locke, to "one" but to two supreme Legislative powers. Your quotation from Acherley is more pointed: "The supreme power in every Government and Nation is the Legislative power of making and altering those laws of it by which every man is to be bound, and to which he is to yield obedience." Is not every man in Pennsylvania bound by, and is he not to yield obedience to such laws as the Legislature of the Province shall enact? Every man will answer affirmatively; if so, is not this Legislative power of Pennsylvania, according to the express words of the above quotations, the supreme power in this Government? Can we then be subject to two supreme Legislative powers? But let us see whether you will not yourself prove sufficient for my argument. Page 43 you say, "Each Colony in the present Constitution, is capable, by its own internal Legislature, to regulate its own police within its particular circle of territory; but here it is confined: thus far, and no further can its authority extend." This, I hope, is sufficient to show that, each Legislature is supreme within its own circle; and that this is all that is required to satisfy the principle on which you have benevolently endeavoured to build your system of tyranny.

You proceed next to a perplexed, inaccurate, and defective delineation of the English Constitution, and of the different capacities of the King, in order to point out the absurdity (as you call it) of the Colonies in acknowledging allegiance to the King, and denying obedience to the laws of Parliament. In this also, I apprehend, you are equally wrong. Let us attend to your argument. "To the King, in his representative capacity, and as supreme executor of the laws, made by a joint power of him and others, the oaths of allegiance are taken; and by him, that obedience in the subjects to the laws, which entitle them to protection in their persons, and properties, is received. Is it then to him, as representative of the State, and executor of its laws, that the Americans profess their allegiance? This cannot be; because it would be owing an obedience to the laws of the State which he represents. It would be easy to prove that your idea of allegiance is totally defective; but as I intend only to expose the fallacy of your arguments, without advancing any plan of my own, it will perhaps be more satisfactory to refute you from your own words.

We Americans can, then, it seems, owe no allegiance to the King without involving in it a submission to the laws of the supreme Legislature of Great Britain, of which he is representative. Strange, indeed, that even our allegiance shall be drawn in as an argument in favour of Parliamentary power! But, Sir, let me, as a Pennsylvanian, address you and examine your argument. "The allegiance I owe to the King is due to him in his representative capacity, as the supreme executor of the laws made by a joint power of him and others." Agreed, Sir, for argument' s sake; but is not the King vested with the Executive power of this Government? Is he not the representative of our whole State, to see that our laws are duly carried into execution? And is not (on your principles) an oath of allegiance by a Pennsylvanian to the King, made to him as supreme executor of the laws, of Pennsylvania? And if, Sir, an oath of allegiance, taken by a subject in England to the King, is to him as representative of the supreme Legislature of Great Britain ask, where is the absurdity of supposing an oath of allegiance taken by a Pennsylvanian, to be taken by him to the King, as the representative of the Legislative power of Pennsylvania, which is the supreme power of the Government in which he lives? There can be none. But further, Sir; does not every American acknowledge that he is bound by the common law of England, and such statutes as were made before the settlement of the Colonies, and which are applicable to our situation? Is not the King supreme executor of these laws? And where is the impropriety of supposing the oath of allegiance to relate to him as supreme executor of these laws, which we acknowledge do bind us, and at the same time rejecting the absurd and dangerous idea of its including an obligation to be bound by every law that the British, Parliament has or may make?

I have sufficiently destroyed, I trust, the two main pillars of your system. But not content with endeavouring to prove the Americans subject to the uncontrolled power of


the British Parliament, you are for reducing the Legislatures of the several Colonies to the degrading situation of mere corporations. "The original intent of the prerogative, under which the inhabitants of particular districts of territory have been incorporated into bodies politick, was to enable the representative of the State to form inferiour communities, with municipal rights and privileges; this prerogative is very ancient; William the Conqueror granted to London two Charters," &c.

If we examine into the nature of corporations erected by the prerogative, we shall find you are still unhappy in the application of your principles. That the King, by his prerogative, may erect the inhabitants of particular districts into inferiour communities, with "municipal rights and privileges," is readily granted. But it requires more than this to show that the Colonies are mere Corporations. After granting all you call for, your conclusions do not follow; for though, as you say, the King may incorporate inferiour communities with municipal rights, yet it does not follow that the King can grant to mere corporations full Legislative power. Let any one consider what is the object of corporations, and the purpose for which they are granted, and the comparison must vanish. But, Sir, is not the King visiter of all corporations? And has not the Court of King' s Bench a power to inquire into, and correct all the irregularities that have arisen any of them? And is this, Sir, one of the "solid foundations" from which you have deduced the rights of Americans? Certainly you will have the thanks of the British Ministry for going further than even they have dared, They contend only that we are subject to the power of Parliament: You, Sir, go further, and meritoriously endeavour to prove that we not only are subject to Parliament, but to the Court of King' s Bench, where that friend to liberty, Lord Mansfield, now presides.

Let us next examine your favourite position, that the rights of the Commons to a share in legislation is derived from, and represent the lands within the Realm. Having, as you think, fully shown this, you proceed (no doubt, with "ineffable pleasure") to show that, by necessary consequence, the Americans have lost, not the right, but the exercise of the right of being represented In the British Parliament, though they still continue subject to all its laws. What does this amount to? Why, you have a right, but it is impossible you can derive any advantage from it. You have a right, but it is impossible you can exercise it. Want of right and want of remedy, is said, in law, to be the same. What an insult to an oppressed people, to tell them they have a right, but that it is impossible they can either exercise it, of derive any advantage from it. But let us next examine your position, and see if it is well founded. I apprehend it is not, and that your idea of representation is partial and inadequate. That the landed interest is represented in part, is granted and you might have saved yourself the trouble of several tedious pages to prove what every man would immediately assent to. But is the landed the only interest that is represented? Or, does representation arise from land only? I answer both in the negative; and thus I prove it: The Commons is the Democratick part of the English Constitution. In small Democracies, the people should, and in many (in Greece) they did exercise the Legislative power their aggregate capacity. In so large a State as England such a tumultuous meeting would be attended with danger and inconveniences; and, therefore, it is provided by the English Constitution, that the people shall exercise this power by their Representatives, which it would be inconvenient should be done in their collective capacity. This, Sir, Is the principle of representation, and by which every man of property in England has a voice In Parliament. It is upon this principle that the landed interest is represented by their Knights of the Shire. This, Sir, is not the origin, but the consequence of representation. Are not the Citizens and Burgesses chosen by the Mercantile or Trading interest of the Nation? Has not every man who is free of a Borough a vote, and consequently, is he not represented in Parliament, although he has not a foot of land? In short, the whole of representation, according to the English Constitution, is this: In all free Governments a branch of the Legislalive power should reside in the people. In so large a Government as England, this is not


practicable to be exercised in their collective capacities; from hence arose the necessity of representation, upon the genuine principles of which, every member of the community should have a voice. In forming this representation, care was taken of the landed interest, and Knights of the Shire were elected by proprietors of land to represent it. But this alone would have been a partial, inadequate representation; care was also taken to have the trading interest represented, that so not the landed interest only, but the whole body of the people should be represented by the House of Commons: in choosing whom, says a learned Judge, there is scarce a free agent in England who has not a vote. This subject might be continued further if necessary, but enough has been said to show your idea of representation to be erroneous.

According to you, Sir, we are bound by all laws made by the British Parliament. We have a right to be represented there, but it is impossible we can enjoy that right. So that the "persons, lives, and estates of the subjects in America are at the disposal of an absolute power, without the least security for the enjoyment of their rights." This is a dreadful situation! And the very reading of it is sufficient to freeze the blood of any man that has a spark of liberty in him. How it has roused your passions! How animated is your observations on it! You say, "most certain it is, that this is a situation which people accustomed to liberty cannot sit easy under." Sit easy under slavery! It is a situation that all your sophistry, threats, or the arms of Britain will never make an American sit under at all.

But now the curtain is drawn up — the plan of union gentlemen, which is to restore us to the enjoyment; of our lost rights! Having shown, as you think, that we have no rights at all, you very patriotically propose a plan, by which, if the British Administration pleases, we may be restored to some. But the very position tells us we are slaves. If our restoration to rights depends, upon the pleasure and will of the British Legislature, they are our masters; we must submit to their pleasure. But send the author of the plan over as a delegate to solicit your cause, "the expense will be trifling;" it is a task he would, no doubt, perform "with ineffable pleasure."

You say, Sir, you have often conversed with the author of the plan, and well understand his principles. Pray, Sir, ask him whether he did not, in a Committee of Congress, deny, from the same learned quotations about landed property, the power of Parliament to bind the Colonies in any case. His conclusions from the same premises were, I am told, very different from what you have drawn in this pamphlet. He insisted that the right of English liberty is a right to participate in legislation; that as the lands in America are not represented, Americans could not be represented, and not being represented, they, of course, could not be bound; from hence he drew an inference of the necessity of some plan of union. Did he not, Sir, on this principle, deny the power of Parliament even to regulate Trade? And did he not ever vote against it in Congress?

Much has been said against the Congress for rejecting this plan. The matter, I am told, stands thus: When it was first introduced in Congress, most of the members heard it with, horrour, as an idle, dangerous, whimsical, Ministerial plan. Some of the "Pennsylvania Oracles," Friends, with whom infinite pains had been taken before hand, moved to have it committed. This was rejected; then a motion was made that the plan might lie on the table, to be taken up at any future day. This was carried in the affirmative. When the minutes came to be revised, towards the end of the sitting, the plan was omitted. Here the patriot raged, and insisted on his right to have it on the minutes. The question was put, and a great majority thought the inserting it in the Journal would be disgracing their records, and accordingly rejected it. Certainly in such a society, every question must, of course be determined by a majority. If, then, a majority were of opinion that the inserting it on their Journal would be disgraceful and injurious, they unquestionably had a right to reject it. If his plan was defensible, why did he not enter into the argument with a gentleman from Virginia, who challenged him to it and who said he could prove it to be big with destruction to the Colonies? ' Tis true he did, when thus


called upon, say that he would defend it, if the Congress would appoint a day for that purpose. But this, Sir, was when all was hurry, and the forms of business only delayed their breaking up. Besides, it was a little remarkable, that this "Oracle" was not ready to undertake the defence of a plan, when he had been for months haranguing and caballing about it.

You have mentioned some of the objections that were hinted against the plan, for it is false to say that the merits of it were ever regularly debated in Congress. One of those objections is, that the members of the Grand Council would be corrupted, and betray the interest of the Colonies. To this you answer, "that if American virtue way not firm enough to maintain liberty, it could be supported by no wisdom or policy whatever. But supposing the people to be in so corrupt a state, yet as the election was to be triennial, they might change them every three, years, &c˙; and besides, to avoid all risks of the Country, they might, by altering one word, as the plan, make the election duannual or annual, which must certainly remove the objection." No, Sir! it will not do yet, not even with the alteration. For let us once suppose this darling plan executed, an American Parliament met. Suppose when thus met, a motion is made, showing the inconvenience and difficulties of frequent elections, and proposing the making a law extending their political existence for seven years; precedents may be pleaded for it. But, Sir, supposing this Parliament to be but annual, may they not in one year, one month, one day, nay, in one hour pass a vote, which may forever annihilate the liberties of all America? But will you not trust the virtue of Americans? Sir, I entertain a high reverence for the virtue of my countrymen. But the trust is too sacred. Permit me to tell you, that neither "wisdom or policy" would dictate the leaving the liberties of a Country to the virtues of any men, however great or conspicuous. We know too well the fallibility of human nature, and both "wisdom and policy" teach us to support our liberties with other props and pillars. I did not intend to have touched on the merits of the plan, but when I saw one of the objections to it so mutilated, I thought proper to state the objections more fully and forcibly. The whole of the plan is confused, impracticable, and dangerous, as probably soon will be shown.

I have reserved till now, purposely, my remarks on the gross abuse and calumny thrown out in your pamphlet against the Congress. How unfair, how ungenerous, to take detached parts of their proceedings, and from thence draw inferences as to their principles! How dare you, Sir, in the face of America, assert that they have proposed no plan of accommodation? That every page conveys sentiments of independence? Have they not expressly said, (and is it not the groundwork of their whole proceedings,) place America in the situation she was in before 1763, and all our complaints will subside? Is this not proposing a plan of accommodation? Yes, Sir, and the only reasonable constitutional plan that can be devised. Tear away that system of Revenue Laws, and their attendants, and peace will be restored. And is this, Sir, talking on independence? Consider the Statutes prior to 1763, to which America, concedes obedience; consider the acknowledged prerogatives of the King of Great Britain, in all the Colonies; the appeal to the King and Council from judicial determinations; his negative to laws; and let any impartial man say, whether this is a system of independence. The labours and virtue of the Congress in the cause of liberty, will, to latest ages, be revered and esteemed, while you and your attempts will only be remembered to show posterity that even in these days of liberty, America had some degenerate sons — a Jefferies and a Filmer.

But, good Sir, before we part, let me ask you how you came to publish your friend to the world as a man of no principle or virtue. I see he has signed the Association. I am told he signed the Petition to the King. I find in the Association he says, (for it is certainly the art of all who signed it,) "the present unhappy situation of our affairs is occasioned by a ruinous system of Colony administration, adopted by the British Ministry about the year 1763, evidently calculated for enslaving those Colonies." And, Sir, I find further, that he did, for himself and those he represented, firmly agree and associate, under the sacred ties of virtue, honour, and love of his Country


to carry the Association into execution. Let us now hear your account of your friend' s conduct. Deluded by hopes that his plan would be considered, he was led weakly to sign the Association. And your inference is plain, that he is released from the obligation, because he was disappointed in his expectation. What, Sir, would your friend bind not only himself but his constituents to the performance of an agreement which must, in his opinion, lead to their destruction? Does his notions of the "sacred ties of honour, virtue, and love of his Country," sit so easy on him, that he can enter into them to carry a favourite political point, and shake them off at pleasure, when his views are disappointed? One of the Pennsylvania Delegates, who dissented on the Association, and could not agree to carry into execution, staid away and declined signing it. I have now done with you. My view in writing these hasty remarks was not merely to defend the Congress, but to remove any bad impressions from your ill-grounded, base, and illiberal attack on them. To the impartial publick I submit how far I have succeeded.