Content taken from The Writings of Samuel Adams – Volume 2, Samuel Adams, (1770-1773). Retrieved from Project Gutenberg (https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2092), 7/14/2016. Public domain in the USA.
THE RIGHTS OF THE COLONISTS, A LIST OF VIOLATIONS OF RIGHTS AND A LETTER OF CORRESPONDENCE.1
Adopted by the Town of Boston, November 20, I772.2
[Boston Record Commissioners’ Report, vol. xviii., pp. 94-108.]
The Committee appointed by the Town the second Instant “to State the Rights of the Colonists and of this Province in particular, as Men, as Christians, and as Subjects; to communicate and publish the same to the several Towns in this Province and to the World as the sense of this Town with the Infringements and Violations thereof that have been, or from Time to Time may be made. Also requesting of each Town a free Communication of their Sentiments Reported First, a State of the Rights of the Colonists and of this Province in particular — Secondly, A List of the Infringements, and Violations of those Rights. — Thirdly, A Letter of Correspondence with the other Towns. — 1st. Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men. — Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First. a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can – Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the Duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature –
All Men have a Right to remain in a State of Nature as long as they please: And in case of intollerable Oppression, Civil or Religious, to leave the Society they belong to, and enter into another. — When Men enter into Society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions, And previous limitations as form an equitable original compact. —-
Every natural Right not expressly given up or from the nature of a
Social Compact necessarily ceded remains.
All positive and civil laws, should conform as far as possible, to the Law of natural reason and equity. –
As neither reason requires, nor religeon permits the contrary, every Man living in or out of a state of civil society, has a right peaceably and quietly to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. –
“Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty” in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all Men are clearly entitled to, by the eternal and immutable laws Of God and nature, as well as by the law of Nations, & all well grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former. –
In regard to Religeon, mutual tolleration in the different professions thereof, is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced; and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind: And it is now generally agreed among christians that this spirit of toleration in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society “is the chief characteristical mark of the true church ” 3 & In so much that Mr Lock has asserted, and proved beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only Sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach Doctrines subversive of the Civil Government under which they live. The Roman Catholicks or Papists are excluded by reason of such Doctrines as these “that Princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those they call hereticks may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of Government, by introducing as far as possible into the states, under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty and property, that solecism in politicks, Imperium in imperio 4 leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war and blood shed –
The natural liberty of Men by entring into society is abridg’d or restrained so far only as is necessary for the Great end of Society the best good of the whole-
In the state of nature, every man is under God, Judge and sole Judge, of his own rights and the injuries done him: By entering into society, he agrees to an Arbiter or indifferent Judge between him and his neighbours; but he no more renounces his original right, than by taking a cause out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to Referees or indifferent Arbitrations. In the last case he must pay the Referees for time and trouble; he should be also willing to pay his Just quota for the support of government, the law and constitution; the end of which is to furnish indifferent and impartial Judges in all cases that may happen, whether civil ecclesiastical, marine or military. –
“The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man ; but only to have the law of nature for his rule.”-
In the state of nature men may as the Patriarchs did, employ hired servants for the defence of their lives, liberty and property: and they should pay them reasonable wages. Government was instituted for the purposes of common defence; and those who hold the reins of government have an equitable natural right to an honourable support from the same principle “that the labourer is worthy of his hire” but then the same community which they serve, ought to be assessors of their pay: Governors have no right to seek what they please; by this, instead of being content with the station assigned them, that of honourable servants of the society, they would soon become Absolute masters, Despots, and Tyrants. Hence as a private man has a right to say, what wages he will give in his private affairs, so has a Community to determine what they will give and grant of their Substance, for the Administration of publick affairs. And in both cases more are ready generally to offer their Service at the proposed and stipulated price, than are able and willing to perform their duty. –
In short it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one or any number of men at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights when the great end of civil government from the very nature of its institution is for the support, protection and defence of those very rights: the principal of which as is before observed, are life liberty and property. If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave —
2d The Rights of the Colonists as Christians – These may be best understood by reading – and carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and head of the Christian Church: which are to be found closely5 written and promulgated in the New Testament –
By the Act of the British Parliament commonly called the Toleration Act, every subject in England Except Papists &c was restored to, and re-established in, his natural right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. And by the Charter of this Province it is granted ordained and established (that it is declared as an original right) that there shall be liberty of conscience allowed in the worship of God, to all christians except Papists, inhabiting or which shall inhabit or be resident within said Province or Territory.6 Magna Charta itself is in substance but a constrained Declaration, or proclamation, and promulgation in the name of King, Lord, and Commons of the sense the latter had of their original inherent, indefeazible natural Rights,7 as also those of free Citizens equally perdurable with the other. That great author that great jurist, and even that Court writer W Justice Blackstone holds that this recognition was justly obtained of King John sword in hand: and peradventure it must be one day sword in hand again rescued and preserved from total destruction and oblivion.
3d. The Rights of the Colonists as Subjects
A Common Wealth or state is a body politick or civil society of men, united together to promote their mutual safety and prosperity, by means of their union.8
The absolute Rights of Englishmen, and all freemen in or out of Civil society, are principally, personal security personal liberty and private property.
All Persons born in the British American Colonies are by the laws of God and nature, and by the Common law of England, exclusive of all charters from the Crown, well Entitled, and by the Acts of the British Parliament are declared to be entitled to all the natural essential, inherent & inseperable Rights Liberties and Privileges of Subjects born in Great Britain, or within the Realm. Among those Rights are the following; which no men or body of men, consistently with their own rights as men and citizens or members of society, can for themselves give up, or take away from others
First, “The first fundamental positive law of all Commonwealths or States, is the establishing the legislative power; as the first fundamental natural law also, which is to govern even the legislative power itself, is the preservation of the Society.”9
Secondly, The Legislative has no right to absolute arbitrary power over the lives and fortunes of the people: Nor can mortals assume a prerogative, not only too high for men, but for Angels; and therefore reserved for the exercise of the Deity alone. –
“The Legislative cannot Justly assume to itself a power to rule by extempore arbitrary decrees; but it is bound to see that Justice is dispensed, and that the rights of the subjects be decided, by promulgated, standing and known laws, and authorized independent Judges;” that is independent as far as possible of Prince or People. “There shall be one rule of Justice for rich and poor; for the favorite in Court, and the Countryman at the Plough.”10
Thirdly, The supreme power cannot Justly take from any man, any part of his property without his consent, in person or by his Representative. –
These are some of the first principles of natural law & Justice, and the great Barriers of all free states, and of the British Constitution in particular. It is utterly irreconcileable to these principles, and to many other fundamental maxims of the common law, common sense and reason, that a British house of commons, should have a right, at pleasure, to give and grant the property of the Colonists. That these Colonists are well entitled to all the essential rights, liberties and privileges of men and freemen, born in Britain, is manifest, not only from the Colony charter, in general, but acts of the British Parliament.
The statute of the 13th of George 2. c. 7. naturalizes even foreigners after seven years residence. The words of the Massachusetts Charter are these, “And further our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby for us, our heirs and successors, grant establish and ordain, that all and every of the subjects of us, our heirs and successors, which shall go to and inhabit within our said province or territory and every of their children which shall happen to be born there, or on the seas in going thither, or returning from thence shall have and enjoy, all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects within any of the dominions of us, our heirs and successors, to all intents constructions & purposes whatsoever as if they and every of them were born within this our Realm of England.” Now what liberty can there be, where property is taken away without consent? Can it be said with any colour of truth and Justice, that this Continent of three thousand miles in length, and of a breadth as yet unexplored, in which however, its supposed, there are five millions of people, has the least voice, vote or influence in the decisions of the British Parliament? Have they, all together, any more right or power to return a single number11 to that house of commons, who have not inadvertently, but deliberately assumed a’ power to dispose of their lives,12 Liberties and properties, then13 to choose an Emperor of China! Had the Colonists a right to return members to the british parliament, it would only be hurtfull; as from their local situation and circumstances it is impossible they should be ever truly and properly represented there. The inhabitants of this country in all probability in a few years will be more numerous, than those of Great Britain and Ireland together; yet it is absurdly expected by the promoters of the present measures, that these, with their posterity to all generations, should be easy while their property, shall be disposed of by a house of commons at three thousand miles distant from them; and who cannot be supposed to have the least care or concern for their real interest: Who have not only no natural care for their interest, but must be in effect bribed against it; as every burden they lay on the colonists is so much saved or gained to themselves. Hitherto many of the Colonists have been free from Quit Rents; but if the breath of a british house of commons can originate an act for taking away all our money, our lands will go next or be subject to rack rents from haughty and relentless landlords who will ride at ease, while we are trodden in the dirt. The Colonists have been branded with the odious names of traitors and rebels, only for complaining of their grievances; How long such treatment will, or ought to be born is submitted.
A List of Infringements & Violations of Rights
We cannot help thinking, that an enumeration of some of the most open infringments of our rights, will by every candid Person be Judged sufficient to Justify whatever measures have been already taken, or may be thought proper to be taken, in order to obtain a redress of the Grievances under which we labour.
Among many others we Humbly conceive, that the following will not fail to excite the attention of all who consider themselves interested in the happiness and freedom of mankind in general, and of this continent and province in particular.
1st – The British Parliament have assumed the power of legislation for the Colonists in all cases whatsoever, without obtaining the consent of the Inhabitants, which is ever essentially necessary to the right establishment of such a legislative –
2d – They have exerted that assumed power, in raising a Revenue in the Colonies without their consent; thereby depriving them of that right which every man has to keep his own earnings in his own hands until he shall in person, or by his Representative, think fit to part with the whole or any portion of it. This infringement is the most extraordinary, when we consider the laudable care which the British House of Commons have taken to reserve intirely and absolutely to themselves the powers of giving and granting moneys. They not only insist on originating every money bill in their own house, but will not even allow the House of Lords to make an amendment in these bills. So tenacious are they of this privilege, so jealous of any infringement of the sole & absolute right the people have to dispose of their own money. And what renders this infringement the more grievous is, that what of our earnings still remains in our own hands is in a great measure deprived of its value, so long as the British Parliament continue to claim and exercise this power of taxing us; for we cannot Justly call that our property which others may, when they please take away from us against our will. –
In this respect we are treated with less decency and regard than the Romans shewed even to the Provinces which They had conquered. They only determined upon the sum which each should furnish, and left every Province to raise it in the manner most easy and convenient to themselves –
3d – A number of new Officers, unknown in the Charter of this Province, have been appointed to superintend this Revenue, whereas by our Charter the Great & General Court or Assembly of this Province has the sole right of appointing all civil officers, excepting only such officers, the election and constitution of whom is in said charter expressly excepted; among whom these Officers are not included. –
4th – These Officers are by their Commission invested with powers altogether unconstitutional, and entirely destructive to that security which we have a right to enjoy; and to the last degree dangerous, not only to our property; but to our lives: For the Commissioners of his Majestys customs in America, or any three of them, are by their Commission impowered,” by writing under their hands and seales to constitute and appoint inferior Officers in all and singular the Port within the limits of their commissions” Each of these. petty officers so made is intrusted with power more absolute and arbitrary than ought to be lodged in the hands of any man or body of men whatsoever; for in the commission aforementioned, his Majesty gives & grants unto his said Commissioners, or any three of them, and to all and every the Collectors Deputy Collectors, Ministers, Servants, and all other Officers serving and attending in all and every the Ports and other places within the limits of their Commission, full power and authority from time to time, at their and any of their wills and pleasures, as well By Night as by day to enter and go on board any Ship, Boat, or other Vessel, riding lying or being within, or coming into any Port, Harbour, Creek or Haven, within the limits of their commission; and also in the day time to go into any house, shop, cellar, or any other place where any goods wares or merchandizes lie concealed, or are suspected to lie concealed, whereof the customs & other duties, have not been, or shall not be, duly paid and truly satisfied, answered or paid unto the Collectors, Deputy Collectors, Ministers, Servants, and other Officers respectively, or otherwise agreed for; and the said house, shop, warehouse, cellar, and other place to search and survey, and all and every the boxes, trunks, chests and packs then and there found to break open.” –
Thus our houses and even our bed chambers, are exposed to be ransacked, our boxes chests & trunks broke open ravaged and plundered by wretches, whom no prudent man would venture to employ even as menial servants; whenever they are pleased to say they suspect there are in the house wares &c for which the dutys have not been paid. Flagrant instances of the wanton exercise of this power, have frequently happened in this and other sea port Towns. By this we are cut off from that domestick security which renders the lives of the most unhappy in some measure agreable. Those Officers may under colour of law and the cloak of a general warrant, break thro’ the sacred rights of the Domicil, ransack mens houses, destroy their securities, carry off their property, and with little danger to themselves commit the most horred murders. –
And we complain of it as a further grievance, that notwithstanding by the Charter of this Province, the Governor and the Great and General Court or Assembly of this Province or Territory, for the time being shall have full power and authority, from time to time, to make, ordain and establish all manner of wholesome and reasonable laws, orders, statutes, and ordinances, directions and instructions, and that if the same shall not within the term of three years after presenting the same to his Majesty in privy council be disallowed, they shall be and continue in full force and effect, untill the same shall be repealed by the Great and General Assembly of this Province: Yet the Parliament of Great Britain have rendered or attempted to render, null and void a law of this Province made and passed in the Reign of his late Majesty George the first, intitled “An Act stating the Fees of the Custom- house Officers within this Province” and by meer dint of power, in violation of the Charter aforesaid, established other and exorbitant fees, for the same Officers; any law of the Province to the contrary notwithstanding –
5th – Fleets and Armies have been introduced to support these unconstitutional Officers in collecting and managing this unconstitutional Revenue; and troops have been quarter’d in this Metropolis for that purpose. Introducing and quartering standing Armies in a free Country in times of peace without the consent of the people either by themselves or by their Representatives, is, and always has been deemed a violation of their rights as freemen; and of the Charter or Compact made between the King of Great Britain, and the People of this Province, whereby all the rights of British Subjects are confirmed to us. –
6th – The Revenue arising from this tax unconstitutionally laid, and committed to the management of persons arbitrarily appointed and supported by an armed force quartered in a free City, has been in part applyed to the most destructive purposes. It is absolutely necessary in a mixt government like that of this Province, that a due proportion or balance of power should be established among the several branches of legislative. Our Ancestors received from King William & Queen Mary a Charter by which it was understood by both parties in the contract, that such a proportion or balance was fixed; and therefore every thing which renders any one branch of the Legislative more independent of the other two than it was originally designed, is an alteration of the constitution as settled by the Charter; and as it has been untill the establishment of this Revenue, the constant practise of the General Assembly to provide for the support of Government, so it is an essential part of our constitution, as it is a necessary means of preserving an equilibrium, without which we cannot continue a free state. –
In particular it has always been held, that the dependence of the Governor of this Province upon the General Assembly for his support, was necessary for the preservation of this equilibrium; nevertheless his Majesty has been pleased to apply fifteen hundred pounds sterling annually out of the American revenue, for the support of the Governor of this Province independent of the Assembly, whereby the ancient connection between him and this people is weakened, the confidence in the Governor lessened and the equilibrium destroyed, and the constitution essentially altered. –
And we look upon it highly probable from the best intelligence we have been able to obtain, that not only our Governor and Lieuvetenant Governor, but the Judges of the Superior Court of Judicature, as also the Kings Attorney and Solicitor General are to receive their support from this Grievous tribute. This will if accomplished compleat our slavery. For if taxes are raised from us by the Parliament of Great Britain without our consent, and the men on whose opinions and decisions our properties liberties and lives, in a great measure depend, receive their support from the Revenues arising from these taxes, we cannot, when we think on the depravity of mankind, avoid looking with horror on the danger to which we are exposed? The British Parliament have shewn their wisdom in making the Judges there as independent as possible both on the Prince and People, both for place and support: But our Judges hold their Commissions only during pleasure; the granting them salaries out of this Revenue is rendering them independent on the Crown for their support. The King upon his first accession to the Throne, for giving the last hand to the independency of the Judges in England, not only upon himself but his Successors by recommending and consenting to an act of Parliament, by which the Judges are continued in office, notwithstanding the demise of a King, which vacates all other Commissions, was applauded by the whole Nation. How alarming must it then be to the Inhabitants of this Province, to find so wide a difference made between the Subjects in Britain and America, as the rendering the Judges here altogether dependent on the Crown for their support. –
7th – We find ourselves greatly oppressed by Instructions sent to our Governor from the Court of Great Britain, whereby the first branch of our legislature is made merely a ministerial engine. And the Province has already felt such effects from these Instructions, as We think Justly intitle us to say that they threaten an entire destruction of our liberties, and must soon, if not checked, render every branch of our Government a useless burthen upon the people. We shall point out some of the alarming effects of these Instructions which have already taken place. –
In consequence of Instructions, the Governor has called and adjourned our General Assemblies to a place highly inconvenient to the Members and grately disadvantageous to the interest of the Province, even against his own declared intention –
In consequence of Instructions, the Assembly has been prorogued from time to time, when the important concerns of the Province required their Meeting –
In obedience to Instructions, the General Assembly was Anno 1768 dissolved by Governor Bernard, because they would not consent to rescind the resolution of a former house, and thereby sacrifise the rights of their constituents. –
By an Instruction, the honourable his Majesty Council are forbid to meet and transact matters of publick concern as a Council of advice to the Governor, unless called by the Governor; and if they should from a zealous regard to the interest of the Province so meet at any time, the Governor is ordered to negative them at the next Election of Councellors. And although by the Charter of this Province the Great & General Court have full power and authority to impose taxes upon the estates and persons of all and every the proprietors and inhabitants of this Province, yet the Governor has been forbidden to give his consent to act imposing a tax for the necessary support of government, unless such persons as were pointed out In the said instruction, were exempted from paying their Just proportion of said tax –
His Excellency has also pleaded Instructions for giving up the provincial fortress, Castle William into the hands of troops, over whom he had declared he had no controul (and that at a time when they were menaceing the Slaughter of the Inhabitants of the Town, and our Streets were stained with the blood which they had barbariously shed) Thus our Governor, appointed and paid from Great Britain with money forced from us, is made an instrument of totally preventing or at least of rendering [futile], every attempt of the other two branches of the Legislative in favor of a distressed and wronged people: And least the complaints naturally occasioned by such oppression should excite compassion in the Royal breast, and induce his Majesty seriously to set about relieving us from the cruel bondage and insult which we his loyal Subjects have so long suffered, the Governor is forbidden to consent to the payment of an Agent to represent our grievances at the Court of Great Britain, unless he the Governor consent to his election, and we very well know what the man must be to whose appointment a Governor in such circumstances will consent –
While we are mentioning the infringement of the rights of this Colony in particular by means of Instructions, we cannot help calling to remembrance the late unexampled suspension of the legislative of a Sister Colony, New York by force of an Instruction, untill they should comply with an Arbitrary Act of the British Parliament for quartering troops, designed by military execution, to enforce the raising of a tribute. –
8th – The extending the power of the Courts of Vice Admirality to so enormous a degree as deprives the people in the Colonies in a great measure of their inestimable right to tryals by Juries., which has ever been Justly considered as the grand Bulwark and security of English property.
This alone is sufficient to rouse our jealousy:And we are again obliged to take notice of the remarkable contrast, which the British Parliament has been pleased to exhibit between the Subjects in Great Britain & the Colonies. In the same Statute, by which they give up to the decision of one dependent interested Judge of Admirality the estates and properties of the Colonists, they expressly guard the estates & properties of the people of Great Britain; for all forfeitures & penalties inflicted by the Statute of George the Third, or any other Act of Parliament relative to the trade of the Colonies, may be sued for in any Court of Admiralty in the Colonies; but all penalties and forfeitures which shall be incurred in Great Britain, may be sued for in any of his Majestys Courts of Record in Westminster or in the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, respectively. Thus our Birth Rights are taken from us; and that too with every mark of indignity, insult and contempt. We may be harrassed and dragged from one part of the Continent to the other (which some of our Brethren here and in the Country Towns already have been) and finally be deprived of our whole property, by the arbitrary determination of one biassed, capricious Judge of the Admirality.
9th – The restraining us from erecting Stilling Mills for manufacturing our Iron the natural produce of this Country, Is an infringement of that right with which God and nature have invested us, to make use of our skill and industry in procuring the necessaries and conveniences of life. And we look upon the restraint laid upon the manufacture and transportation of Hatts to be altogether unreasonable and grievous. Although by the Charter all Havens Rivers, Ports, Waters, &c. are expressly granted the Inhabitants of the Province and their Successors, to their only proper use and behoof forever, yet the British Parliament passed an Act, whereby they restrain us from carrying our Wool, the produce of our own farms, even over a ferry; whereby the Inhabitants have often been put to the expence of carrying a Bag of Wool near an hundred miles by land, when passing over a River or Water of one quarter of a mile, of which the Province are the absolute Proprietors, would have prevented all that trouble. –
10th – The Act passed in the last Session of the British Parliament, intitled, An Act for the better preserving his Majestys Dock Yards, Magizines, Ships, Ammunition and Stores, is, as we apprehend a violent infringement of our Rights. By this Act any one of us may be taken from his Family, and carried to any part of Great Britain, there to be tried whenever it shall be pretended that he has been concerned in burning or otherwise destroying any Boat or Vessel, or any Materials for building &c. any Naval or Victualling Store &c. belonging to his Majesty. For by this Act all Persons in the Realm, or in any of the places thereto belonging (under which denomination we know the Colonies are meant to be included) may be indicted and tryed either in any County or Shire within this Realm, in like manner and form as if the offence had been committed in said County, as his Majesty and his Successors may deem Most expedient. Thus we are not only deprived of our grand right to tryal by our Peers in the Vicinity, but any Person suspected, or pretended to be suspected, may be hurried to Great Britain, to take his tryal in any County the King or his Successors shall please to direct; where, innocent or guilty he is in great danger of being condemned; and whether condemned or acquitted he will probably be ruined by the expense attending the tryal, and his long absence from his Family and business; and we have the strongest reason to apprehend that we shall soon experience the fatal effects of this Act, as about the year 1769 the British Parliament passed Resolves for taking up a number of Persons in the Colonies and carrying them to Great Britain for tryal, pretending that they were authorised so to do, by a Statute passed in the Reign of Henry the Eighth, in which they say the Colonies were included, although the Act was passed long before any Colonies were settled, or even in contemplation. –
11th – As our Ancestors came over to this Country that they might not only enjoy their civil but their religeous rights, and particularly desired to be free from the Prelates, who in those times cruilly persecuted all who differed in sentiment from the established Church; we cannot see without concern the various attempts, which have been made and are now making, to establish an American Episcopate. Our Episcopal Brethren of the Colonies do enjoy, and rightfully ought ever to enjoy, the free exercise of their religeon, we cannot help fearing that they who are are so warmly contending for such an establishment, have views altogether inconsistent with the universal and peaceful enjoyment of our christian privileges: And doing or attempting to do any thing which has even the remotest tendency to endanger this enjoyment, is Justly looked upon a great grievance, and also an infringement of our Rights, which is not barely to exercise, but peaceably & securely to enjoy, that liberty wherewith CHRIST has made us free.
And we are further of Opinion, that no power on Earth can justly give either temporal or spiritual Jurisdiction within this Province, except the Great & General Court. We think therefore that every design for establishing the Jurisdiction of a Bishop in this Province, is a design both against our Civil and Religeous rights: And we are well informed, that the more candid and Judicious of our Brethren of the Church of England in this and the other Colonies, both Clergy and Laity, conceive of the establishing an American Episcopate both unnecessary and unreasonable. –
12th – Another Grievance under which we labour is the frequent alteration of the bounds of the Colonies by decisions before the King and Council, explanatory of former grants and Charters. This not only subjects Men to live under a constitution to which they have not consented, which in itself is a great Grievance; but moreover under color, that the right of Soil is affected by such declarations, some Governors, or Ministers, or both in conjunction, have pretended to Grant in consequence of a Mandamus many thousands of Acres of Lands appropriated near a Century past; and rendered valuable by the labors of the present Cultivators and their Ancestors. There are very notable instances of Setlers, who having first purchased the Soil of the Natives, have at considerable expence obtained confermation of title from this Province; and on being transferred to the Jurisdiction of the Province of New Hampshire have been put to the trouble and cost of a new Grant or confermation from thence and after all this there has been a third declaration of Royal Will, that they should thence forth be considered as pertaining To the Province of New York. The troubles, expences and dangers which hundreds have been put to on such occasions, cannot here be recited; but so much may be said, that they have been most cruelly harrassed, and even threatned with a military force, to dragoon them into a compliance, with the most unreasonable demands.
A Letter of Correspondence to the Other Towns.
Boston November 20: 1772
Gentlemen We the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of Boston in Town Meeting duly Assembled, according to Law, apprehending there is abundant to be alarmed at14 the plan of Despotism, which the enemies of our invaluable rights have concerted, is rapidly hastening to a completion, can no longer conceal our impatience under a constant, unremitted, uniform aim to enslave us, or confide in an Administration which threatens us with certain and inevitable destruction. But, when in addition to the repeated inroads made upon the Rights and Liberties of the Colonists, and of those in this Province in particular, we reflect on the late extraordinary measure in affixing stipends or Salaries from the Crown to the Offices of the Judges of the Superior Court of Judicature, making them not only intirely independent of the people, whose lives and properties are so much in their power, but absolutely dependent on the Crown (which may hereafter, be worn by a Tyrant) both for their appointment and support, we cannot but be extremely alarmed at the mischievous tendency of this innovation; which in our opinion is directly contrary to the spirit of the British Constitution, pregnant with innumerable evils, and hath a direct tendency To deprive us of every thing valuable as Men, as Christians and as Subjects, entitled, by the Royal Charter, to all the Rights, liberties and privileges of native Britons. Such being the critical state of this Province, we think it our duty on this truly distressing occasion, to ask you, What can withstand the Attacks of mere power? What can preserve the liberties of the Subject, when the Barriers of the Constitution are taken away? The Town of Boston consulting on the matter above mentioned, thought proper to make application to the Governor by a Committee; requesting his Excellency to communicate such intelligence as he might have received relative to the report of the Judges having their support independent of the grants of this Province a Copy of which you have herewith in Paper N. 1.15 To which we received as answer, the Paper N. 2.16 The Town on further deliberation, thought it advisable to refer the matter to the Great and General Assembly; and accordingly in a second address as N. 3.17 they requested his Excellency that the General Court might Convene at the time to which they then stood prorogued; to which the Town received the reply as in N. 4.18 in which we are acquainted with his intentions further to prorogue the General Assembly, which has since taken place. Thus Gentlemen it is evident his Excellency declines giving the least satisfaction as to the matter in request. The affair being of publick concernment, the Town of Boston thought it necessary to consult with their Brethren throughout the Province; and for this purpose appointed a Committee, to communicate with our fellow Sufferers, respecting this recent instance of oppression, as well as the many other violations of our Rights under which we have groaned for several Years past – This Committee have briefly Recapitulated the sense we have of our invaluable Rights as Men, as Christians, and as Subjects; and wherein we conceive those Rights to have been violated, which we are desirous may be laid before your Town, that the subject may be weighed as its importance requires, and the collected wisdom of the whole People, as far as possible, be obtained, on a deliberation of such great and lasting moment as to involve in it the fate of all our Posterity – Great pains has been taken to perswade the British Administration to think that the good People of this Province in general are quiet and undisturbed at the late measures; and that any uneasiness that appears, arises from a few factious designing and disaffected men. This renders it the more necessary, that the sense of the People should be explicitly declared. – A free communication of your sentiments to this Town, of our common danger, is earnestly solicited and will be gratefully received. If you concur with us in opinion, that our Rights are properly stated, and that the several Acts of Parliament, and Measures of Administration, pointed out by us are subversive of these Rights, you will doubtless think it of the utmost importance that we stand firm as one man, to recover and support them; and to take such measures by directing our Representatives, or otherwise, as your wisdom and fortitude shall dictate, to rescue from impending ruin our happy and glorious constitution. But if it should be the general voice of this Province, that the Rights as we have stated them, do not belong to us; or that the several measures of Administration in the British Court, are no violations of these Rights, or that if they are thus violated or infringed, they are not worth contending for, or resolutely maintaining; – should this be the general voice of the Province, we must be resigned to our wretched fate; but shall forever lament the extinction of that generous ardor for Civil and Religeous liberty, which in the face of every danger, and even death itself, induced our fathers to forsake the bosom of their Native Country, and begin a settlement on bare Creation – But we trust this cannot be the case: We are sure your wisdom, your regard to yourselves and the rising Generation, cannot suffer you to dose, or set supinely indifferent on the brink of destruction, while the Iron hand of oppression is dayly tearing the choicest Fruit from the fair Tree of Liberty, planted by our worthy Predecessors, at the expence of their treasure, & abundantly water’d with their blood – It is an observation of an eminent Patriot, that a People long inured to hardships, loose by degrees the very notions of liberty; they look upon themselves as Creatures at mercy, and that all impositions laid on by superior hands, are legal and obligatory. – But thank Heaven this is not yet verified in America! We have yet some share of publick virtue remaining: we are not afraid of poverty, but disdain slavery. – The fate of Nations is so Precarious and revolutions in States so often take place at an unexpected moment, when the hand of power by fraud or flattery, has secured every Avenue of retreat, and the minds of the Subject debased to its purpose, that it becomes every well wisher to his Country, while it has any remains of freedom, to keep an Eagle Eye upon every inovation and stretch of power, in those that have the rule over us. A recent instance of this we have in the late Revolutions in Sweden, by which the Prince once subject to the laws of the State, has been able of a sudden to declare himself an absolute Monarch The Sweeds were once a free, martial and valient people: Their minds are now so debaced, that they rejoice at being subject to the caprice and arbitrary power of a Tyrant & kiss their Chains. It makes us shudder to think, the late measures of Administration may be productive of the like Catastrophe; which Heaven forbid! – Let us consider Brethren, we are struggling for our best Birth Rights & Inheritance; which being infringed, renders all our blessings precarious in their enjoyments, and consequently trifling in their value. Let us disappoint the Men who are raising themselves on the ruin of this Country. Let us convince every Invader of our freedom, that we will be as free as the Constitution our Fathers recognized, will Justify. – 19
1 A complete draft of the “Rights of the Colonists,” in the handwriting of Adams, is in the Committee of Correspondence Papers, Lenox Library; in the same collection is a copy of the “List of Violations,” said to be in the handwriting of William Eustis, a medical student under Joseph Warren; also in the same collection is a draft of the ” Letter of Correspondence,” with corrections in the autograph of Adams. The preface to the English edition of the “Rights of the Colonists” is printed in J. Bigelow, Complete Works of Benjamin Franklin, vol. iv., pp. 542-548, and in the Boston Gazette, May 3, 1773. 2 In the Committee of Correspondence Papers, Lenox Library, is the original warrant for this town meeting, with the original return thereon signed by the twelve constables of the town. The collection also contains the rough draft minutes of the meeting, made by the town clerk, William Cooper. 3 See Locks Letters on Toleration. 4 A Government within a Government- 5 So printed. The draft and pamphlet edition read “clearly.” 6 See x. Wm. and Mary. St. 2. C. 18 – and Massachusetts Charter. 7 Lord Cokes Im.2 Blackstone, Commentaries – Vol. 1st, Page 122. 2 So printed. The draft and pamphlet edition read “Inst.” 8 See Lock and Vatel – 9 Locke on Government. Salus Populi Suprema Lex esto – 10 Locke – 11 So printed. The draft and pamphlet edition read “member.” 12 See the Act of the last Session, relating to the Kings Dock Yards – 13 So printed. The draft and pamphlet edition read “than.” 14 So printed. Corrected by Adams in the draft to read that. 15 Prepared by a committee consisting of Adams, Joseph Warren and Benjamin Church. The text is in Boston Record Commissioners’ Report, vol. xviii., p. 89. 16 The text is in ibid., p. 90. 17 Prepared by a committee consisting of Adams, James Otis and Thomas Cushing. The text is in ibid., p. 91. 18 The text is in ibid., p. 92. 19 The four papers mentioned in the Letter of Correspondence” are included in the pamphlet edition of the three principal documents printed by order of the town for distribution among the other towns of the province. (Cf. Boston Record Commissioners’ Report, vol. xviii., p. 94.) The title page of the pamphlet edition was as follows: The Votes and Proceedings of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, In Town Meeting Assembled, According to Law. [Published by Order of the Town.] To which is prefixed, as Introductory, An attested Copy of a Vote of the Town at a preceeding Meeting. Boston: Printed by Edes and Gill, in Queen Street, and T. and J. Fleet, in Cornhill. For a claim that the “Letter of Correspondence” was written by Benjamin Church, see R. Frothingham, Life of Joseph Warren, p. 206. As to the “Rights of the Colonists,” see also W. V. Wells, Life of Samuel Adams, vol. i., p. 501. In addition to the complete draft, a preliminary draft, or outline of topics, of the ” Rights” is in the Samuel Adams Papers.