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COMMON SENSE

Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine

 

OF THE ORIGIN AND DESIGN OF GOVERNMENT IN GENERAL,
WITH CONCISE REMARKS ON THE ENGLISH CONSTITUTION.

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave
little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but
have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by
our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our
affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages
intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first a patron, the last a
punisher.
Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is
but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer,
or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect
in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that
we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge
of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of
paradise. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly
obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he
finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for
the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence
which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least.
Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it
unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to
ensure it to us, with the least expence and greatest benefit, is preferable to all
others.
In order to gain a clear and just idea of the design and end of government,
let us suppose a small number of persons settled in some sequestered part of
the earth, unconnected with the rest, they will then represent the first peopling
of any country, or of the world. In this state of natural liberty, society will be
their first thought. A thousand motives will excite them thereto, the strength of
one man is so unequal to his wants, and his mind so unfitted for perpetual
solitude, that he is soon obliged to seek assistance and relief of another, who in
his turn requires the same. Four or five united would be able to raise a
tolerable dwelling in the midst of a wilderness, but one man might labour out
of the common period of life without accomplishing any thing; when he had
felled his timber he could not remove it, nor erect it after it was removed;
hunger in the mean time would urge him from his work, and every different
want call him a different way. Disease, nay even misfortune would be death,
for though neither might be mortal, yet either would disable him from living,
and reduce him to a state in which he might rather be said to perish than to die.
Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly
arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which, would
supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary
while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but heaven is
impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen, that in proportion as they
surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a
common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each
other; and this remissness, will point out the necessity, of establishing some
form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.
Some convenient tree will afford them a State-House, under the branches
of which, the whole colony may assemble to deliberate on public matters. It is
more than probable that their first laws will have the title only of Regulations,
and be enforced by no other penalty than public disesteem. In this first
parliament every man, by natural right, will have a seat.
But as the colony increases, the public concerns will increase likewise, and
the distance at which the members may be separated, will render it too
inconvenient for all of them to meet on every occasion as at first, when their
number was small, their habitations near, and the public concerns few and
trifling. This will point out the convenience of their consenting to leave the
legislative part to be managed by a select number chosen from the whole body,
who are supposed to have the same concerns at stake which those who
appointed them, and who will act in the same manner as the whole body
would act were they present. If the colony continue increasing, it will become
necessary to augment the number of the representatives, and that the interest
of every part of the colony may be attended to, it will be found best to divide
the whole into convenient parts, each part sending its proper number; and that
the elected might never form to themselves an interest separate from the
electors, prudence will point out the propriety of having elections often;
because as the elected might by that means return and mix again with the
general body of the electors in a few months, their fidelity to the public will be
secured by the prudent reflexion of not making a rod for themselves. And as
this frequent interchange will establish a common interest with every part of
the community, they will mutually and naturally support each other, and on
this (not on the unmeaning name of king) depends the strength of government,
and the happiness of the governed.
Here then is the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered
necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the
design and end of government, viz. freedom and security. And however our
eyes may be dazzled with show, or our ears deceived by sound; however
prejudice may warp our wills, or interest darken our understanding, the simple

voice of nature and of reason will say, it is right.
I draw my idea of the form of government from a principle in nature,
which no art can overturn, viz. that the more simple any thing is, the less liable
it is to be disordered; and the easier repaired when disordered; and with this
maxim in view, I offer a few remarks on the so much boasted constitution of
England. That it was noble for the dark and slavish times in which it was
erected, is granted. When the world was over run with tyranny the least
remove therefrom was a glorious rescue. But that it is imperfect, subject to
convulsions, and incapable of producing what it seems to promise, is easily
demonstrated.
Absolute governments (tho’ the disgrace of human nature) have this
advantage with them, that they are simple; if the people suffer, they know the
head from which their suffering springs, know likewise the remedy, and are
not bewildered by a variety of causes and cures. But the constitution of
England is so exceedingly complex, that the nation may suffer for years
together without being able to discover in which part the fault lies, some will
say in one and some in another, and every political physician will advise a
different medicine.
I know it is difficult to get over local or long standing prejudices, yet if we
will suffer ourselves to examine the component parts of the English
constitution, we shall find them to be the base remains of two ancient
tyrannies, compounded with some new republican materials.
First.—The remains of monarchical tyranny in the person of the king.
Secondly.—The remains of aristocratical tyranny in the persons of the
peers.
Thirdly.—The new republican materials, in the persons of the commons,
on whose virtue depends the freedom of England.
The two first, by being hereditary, are independent of the people;
wherefore in a constitutional sense they contribute nothing towards the
freedom of the state.
To say that the constitution of England is a union of three powers
reciprocally checking each other, is farcical, either the words have no
meaning, or they are flat contradictions.
To say that the commons is a check upon the king, presupposes two things:
First.—That the king is not to be trusted without being looked after, or in
other words, that a thirst for absolute power is the natural disease of monarchy.
Secondly.—That the commons, by being appointed for that purpose, are
either wiser or more worthy of confidence than the crown.
But as the same constitution which gives the commons a power to check
the king by withholding the supplies, gives afterwards the king a power to
check the commons, by empowering him to reject their other bills; it again
supposes that the king is wiser than those whom it has already supposed to be
wiser than him. A mere absurdity!
There is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of
monarchy; it first excludes a man from the means of information, yet
empowers him to act in cases where the highest judgment is required. The
state of a king shuts him from the world, yet the business of a king requires
him to know it thoroughly; wherefore the different parts, by unnaturally
opposing and destroying each other, prove the whole character to be absurd
and useless.
Some writers have explained the English constitution thus; the king, say
they, is one, the people another; the peers are an house in behalf of the king;
the commons in behalf of the people; but this hath all the distinctions of a
house divided against itself; and though the expressions be pleasantly
arranged, yet when examined they appear idle and ambiguous; and it will
always happen, that the nicest construction that words are capable of, when
applied to the description of some thing which either cannot exist, or is too
incomprehensible to be within the compass of description, will be words of
sound only, and though they may amuse the ear, they cannot inform the mind,
for this explanation includes a previous question, viz. How came the king by a
power which the people are afraid to trust, and always obliged to check? Such
a power could not be the gift of a wise people, neither can any power, which
needs checking, be from God; yet the provision, which the constitution makes,
supposes such a power to exist.
But the provision is unequal to the task; the means either cannot or will not
accomplish the end, and the whole affair is a felo de se; for as the greater
weight will always carry up the less, and as all the wheels of a machine are put
in motion by one, it only remains to know which power in the constitution has
the most weight, for that will govern; and though the others, or a part of them,
may clog, or, as the phrase is, check the rapidity of its motion, yet so long as
they cannot stop it, their endeavors will be ineffectual; the first moving power
will at last have its way, and what it wants in speed is supplied by time.
That the crown is this overbearing part in the English constitution needs
not be mentioned, and that it derives its whole consequence merely from being
the giver of places and pensions is self-evident, wherefore, though we have
been wise enough to shut and lock a door against absolute monarchy, we at the
same time have been foolish enough to put the crown in possession of the key.
The prejudice of Englishmen, in favour of their own government by king,
lords and commons, arises as much or more from national pride than reason.
Individuals are undoubtedly safer in England than in some other countries, but
the will of the king is as much the law of the land in Britain as in France, with
this difference, that instead of proceeding directly from his mouth, it is handed
to the people under the more formidable shape of an act of parliament. For the
fate of Charles the first, hath only made kings more subtle—not more just.
Wherefore, laying aside all national pride and prejudice in favour of modes
and forms, the plain truth is, that it is wholly owing to the constitution of the
people, and not to the constitution of the government that the crown is not as
oppressive in England as in Turkey.
An inquiry into the constitutional errors in the English form of government
is at this time highly necessary, for as we are never in a proper condition of
doing justice to others, while we continue under the influence of some leading
partiality, so neither are we capable of doing it to ourselves while we remain
fettered by any obstinate prejudice. And as a man, who is attached to a
prostitute, is unfitted to choose or judge of a wife, so any prepossession in
favour of a rotten constitution of government will disable us from discerning a
good one.
OF MONARCHY AND HEREDITARY SUCCESSION.
Mankind being originally equals in the order of creation, the equality could
only be destroyed by some subsequent circumstance; the distinctions of rich,
and poor, may in a great measure be accounted for, and that without having
recourse to the harsh ill sounding names of oppression and avarice.
Oppression is often the consequence, but seldom or never the means of riches;
and though avarice will preserve a man from being necessitously poor, it
generally makes him too timorous to be wealthy.
But there is another and greater distinction for which no truly natural or
religious reason can be assigned, and that is, the distinction of men into kings
and subjects. Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the
distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted
above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth enquiring
into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind.
In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology, there
were no kings; the consequence of which was there were no wars; it is the
pride of kings which throw mankind into confusion. Holland without a king
hath enjoyed more peace for this last century than any of the monarchial
governments in Europe. Antiquity favors the same remark; for the quiet and
rural lives of the first patriarchs hath a happy something in them, which
vanishes away when we come to the history of Jewish royalty.
Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens,
from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most
prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry.
The Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the christian
world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones. How
impious is the title of sacred majesty applied to a worm, who in the midst of
his splendor is crumbling into dust!
As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the
equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of
scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet
Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. All anti-monarchical
parts of scripture have been very smoothly glossed over in monarchical
governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have
their governments yet to form. “Render unto Cæsar the things which are
Cæsar’s” is the scripture doctrine of courts, yet it is no support of monarchical
government, for the Jews at that time were without a king, and in a state of
vassalage to the Romans.
Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the
creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their
form of government (except in extraordinary cases, where the Almighty
interposed) was a kind of republic administred by a judge and the elders of the
tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being
under that title but the Lord of Hosts. And when a man seriously reflects on
the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of Kings, he need not
wonder, that the Almighty ever jealous of his honor, should disapprove of a
form of government which so impiously invades the prerogative of heaven.
Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a
curse in reserve is denounced against them. The history of that transaction is
worth attending to.
The children of Israel being oppressed by the Midianites, Gideon marched
against them with a small army, and victory, thro’ the divine interposition,
decided in his favour. The Jews elate with success, and attributing it to the
generalship of Gideon, proposed making him a king, saying, Rule thou over
us, thou and thy son and thy son’s son. Here was temptation in its fullest
extent; not a kingdom only, but an hereditary one, but Gideon in the piety of
his soul replied, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you.
The Lord shall rule over you. Words need not be more explicit; Gideon doth
not decline the honor, but denieth their right to give it; neither doth he
compliment them with invented declarations of his thanks, but in the positive
stile of a prophet charges them with disaffection to their proper Sovereign, the
King of heaven.
About one hundred and thirty years after this, they fell again into the same
error. The hankering which the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of the
Heathens, is something exceedingly unaccountable; but so it was, that laying
hold of the misconduct of Samuel’s two sons, who were entrusted with some
secular concerns, they came in an abrupt and clamorous manner to Samuel,
saying, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways, now make us a
king to judge us like all other nations. And here we cannot but observe that
their motives were bad, viz. that they might be like unto other nations, i.e. the
Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much unlike them as
possible. But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, Give us a king to
judge us; and Samuel prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said unto Samuel,
Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they
have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, THAT I SHOULD NOT
REIGN OVER THEM. According to all the works which they have done since
the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even unto this day; wherewith
they have forsaken me and served other Gods; so do they also unto thee. Now
therefore hearken unto their voice, howbeit, protest solemnly unto them and
shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them, i.e. not of any
particular king, but the general manner of the kings of the earth, whom Israel
was so eagerly copying after. And notwithstanding the great distance of time
and difference of manners, the character is still in fashion. And Samuel told all
the words of the Lord unto the people, that asked of him a king. And he said,
This shall be the manner of the king that shall reign over you; he will take
your sons and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his
horsemen, and some shall run before his chariots (this description agrees with
the present mode of impressing men) and he will appoint him captains over
thousands and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear his ground and to
reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his
chariots; and he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks
and to be bakers (this describes the expence and luxury as well as the
oppression of kings) and he will take your fields and your olive yards, even
the best of them, and give them to his servants; and he will take the tenth of
your feed, and of your vineyards, and give them to his officers and to his
servants (by which we see that bribery, corruption and favoritism are the
standing vices of kings) and he will take the tenth of your men servants, and
your maid servants, and your goodliest young men and your asses, and put
them to his work; and he will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his
servants, and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall
have chosen, and the Lord will not hear you in that day. This accounts for the
continuation of monarchy; neither do the characters of the few good kings
which have lived since, either sanctify the title, or blot out the sinfulness of the
origin; the high encomium given of David takes no notice of him officially as
a king, but only as a man after God’s own heart. Nevertheless the People
refused to obey the voice of Samuel, and they said, Nay, but we will have a
king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge
us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. Samuel continued to reason
with them, but to no purpose; he set before them their ingratitude, but all
would not avail; and seeing them fully bent on their folly, he cried out, I will
call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain (which then was a
punishment, being in the time of wheat harvest) that ye may perceive and see
that your wickedness is great which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in
asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder
and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And
all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God
that we die not, for we have added unto our sins this evil, to ask a king. These
portions of scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal
construction. That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against
monarchical government is true, or the scripture is false. And a man hath good
reason to believe that there is as much of king-craft, as priest-craft, in
withholding the scripture from the public in Popish countries. For monarchy in
every instance is the Popery of government.
To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and
as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed
as a matter of right, is an insult and an imposition on posterity. For all men
being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own
family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and though himself might
deserve some decent degree of honors of his cotemporaries, yet his
descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them. One of the strongest
natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature
disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by
giving mankind an ass for a lion.
Secondly, as no man at first could possess any other public honors than
were bestowed upon him, so the givers of those honors could have no power
to give away the right of posterity, and though they might say “We choose you
for our head,” they could not, without manifest injustice to their children, say
“that your children and your children’s children shall reign over ours for ever.”
Because such an unwise, unjust, unnatural compact might (perhaps) in the
next succession put them under the government of a rogue or a fool. Most
wise men, in their private sentiments, have ever treated hereditary right with
contempt; yet it is one of those evils, which when once established is not
easily removed; many submit from fear, others from superstition, and the more
powerful part shares with the king the plunder of the rest.
This is supposing the present race of kings in the world to have had an
honorable origin; whereas it is more than probable, that could we take off the
dark covering of antiquity, and trace them to their first rise, that we should find
the first of them nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang,
whose savage manners or pre-eminence in subtility obtained him the title of
chief among plunderers; and who by increasing in power, and extending his
depredations, over-awed the quiet and defenceless to purchase their safety by
frequent contributions. Yet his electors could have no idea of giving hereditary
right to his descendants, because such a perpetual exclusion of themselves was
incompatible with the free and unrestrained principles they professed to live
by. Wherefore, hereditary succession in the early ages of monarchy could not
take place as a matter of claim, but as something casual or complimental; but
as few or no records were extant in those days, and traditional history stuffed
with fables, it was very easy, after the lapse of a few generations, to trump up
some superstitious tale, conveniently timed, Mahomet like, to cram hereditary
right down the throats of the vulgar. Perhaps the disorders which threatened, or
seemed to threaten, on the decease of a leader and the choice of a new one (for
elections among ruffians could not be very orderly) induced many at first to
favor hereditary pretensions; by which means it happened, as it hath happened
since, that what at first was submitted to as a convenience, was afterwards
claimed as a right.
England, since the conquest, hath known some few good monarchs, but
groaned beneath a much larger number of bad ones; yet no man in his senses
can say that their claim under William the Conqueror is a very honorable one.
A French bastard landing with an armed banditti, and establishing himself king
of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry
rascally original.—It certainly hath no divinity in it. However, it is needless to
spend much time in exposing the folly of hereditary right; if there are any so
weak as to believe it, let them promiscuously worship the ass and lion, and
welcome. I shall neither copy their humility, nor disturb their devotion.
Yet I should be glad to ask how they suppose kings came at first? The
question admits but of three answers, viz. either by lot, by election, or by
usurpation. If the first king was taken by lot, it establishes a precedent for the
next, which excludes hereditary succession. Saul was by lot, yet the succession
was not hereditary, neither does it appear from that transaction there was any
intention it ever should. If the first king of any country was by election, that
likewise establishes a precedent for the next; for to say, that the right of all
future generations is taken away, by the act of the first electors, in their choice
not only of a king, but of a family of kings for ever, hath no parrallel in or out
of scripture but the doctrine of original sin, which supposes the free will of all
men lost in Adam; and from such comparison, and it will admit of no other,
hereditary succession can derive no glory. For as in Adam all sinned, and as in
the first electors all men obeyed; as in the one all mankind were subjected to
Satan, and in the other to Sovereignty; as our innocence was lost in the first,
and our authority in the last; and as both disable us from reassuming some
former state and privilege, it unanswerably follows that original sin and
hereditary succession are parellels. Dishonorable rank! Inglorious connexion!
Yet the most subtile sophist cannot produce a juster simile.
As to usurpation, no man will be so hardy as to defend it; and that William
the Conqueror was an usurper is a fact not to be contradicted. The plain truth
is, that the antiquity of English monarchy will not bear looking into.
But it is not so much the absurdity as the evil of hereditary succession
which concerns mankind. Did it ensure a race of good and wise men it would
have the seal of divine authority, but as it opens a door to the foolish, the
wicked, and the improper, it hath in it the nature of oppression. Men who look
upon themselves born to reign, and others to obey, soon grow insolent;
selected from the rest of mankind their minds are early poisoned by
importance; and the world they act in differs so materially from the world at
large, that they have but little opportunity of knowing its true interests, and
when they succeed to the government are frequently the most ignorant and
unfit of any throughout the dominions.
Another evil which attends hereditary succession is, that the throne is
subject to be possessed by a minor at any age; all which time the regency,
acting under the cover of a king, have every opportunity and inducement to
betray their trust. The same national misfortune happens, when a king worn
out with age and infirmity, enters the last stage of human weakness. In both
these cases the public becomes a prey to every miscreant, who can tamper
successfully with the follies either of age or infancy.
The most plausible plea, which hath ever been offered in favour of
hereditary succession, is, that it preserves a nation from civil wars; and were
this true, it would be weighty; whereas, it is the most barefaced falsity ever
imposed upon mankind. The whole history of England disowns the fact. Thirty
kings and two minors have reigned in that distracted kingdom since the
conquest, in which time there have been (including the Revolution) no less
than eight civil wars and nineteen rebellions. Wherefore instead of making for
peace, it makes against it, and destroys the very foundation it seems to stand
on.
The contest for monarchy and succession, between the houses of York and
Lancaster, laid England in a scene of blood for many years. Twelve pitched

battles, besides skirmishes and sieges, were fought between Henry and
Edward. Twice was Henry prisoner to Edward, who in his turn was prisoner to
Henry. And so uncertain is the fate of war and the temper of a nation, when
nothing but personal matters are the ground of a quarrel, that Henry was taken
in triumph from a prison to a palace, and Edward obliged to fly from a palace
to a foreign land; yet, as sudden transitions of temper are seldom lasting,
Henry in his turn was driven from the throne, and Edward recalled to succeed
him. The parliament always following the strongest side.
This contest began in the reign of Henry the Sixth, and was not entirely
extinguished till Henry the Seventh, in whom the families were united.
Including a period of 67 years, viz. from 1422 to 1489.
In short, monarchy and succession have laid (not this or that kingdom
only) but the world in blood and ashes. ’Tis a form of government which the
word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.
If we inquire into the business of a king, we shall find that in some
countries they have none; and after sauntering away their lives without
pleasure to themselves or advantage to the nation, withdraw from the scene,
and leave their successors to tread the same idle round. In absolute monarchies
the whole weight of business, civil and military, lies on the king; the children
of Israel in their request for a king, urged this plea “that he may judge us, and
go out before us and fight our battles.” But in countries where he is neither a
judge nor a general, as in England, a man would be puzzled to know what is
his business.
The nearer any government approaches to a republic the less business there
is for a king. It is somewhat difficult to find a proper name for the government
of England. Sir William Meredith calls it a republic; but in its present state it is
unworthy of the name, because the corrupt influence of the crown, by having
all the places in its disposal, hath so effectually swallowed up the power, and
eaten out the virtue of the house of commons (the republican part in the
constitution) that the government of England is nearly as monarchical as that
of France or Spain. Men fall out with names without understanding them. For
it is the republican and not the monarchical part of the constitution of England
which Englishmen glory in, viz. the liberty of choosing a house of commons
from out of their own body—and it is easy to see that when republican virtue
fails, slavery ensues. Why is the constitution of England sickly, but because
monarchy hath poisoned the republic, the crown hath engrossed the commons?
In England a king hath little more to do than to make war and give away
places; which in plain terms, is to impoverish the nation and set it together by
the ears. A pretty business indeed for a man to be allowed eight hundred
thousand sterling a year for, and worshipped into the bargain! Of more worth
is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned
ruffians that ever lived.
THOUGHTS ON THE PRESENT STATE OF AMERICAN AFFAIRS.
In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain
arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with
the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and
suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put
on, or rather that he will not put off, the true character of a man, and
generously enlarge his views beyond the present day.
Volumes have been written on the subject of the struggle between England
and America. Men of all ranks have embarked in the controversy, from
different motives, and with various designs; but all have been ineffectual, and
the period of debate is closed. Arms, as the last resource, decide the contest;
the appeal was the choice of the king, and the continent hath accepted the
challenge.
It hath been reported of the late Mr. Pelham (who tho’ an able minister was
not without his faults) that on his being attacked in the house of commons, on
the score, that his measures were only of a temporary kind, replied “they will
last my time.” Should a thought so fatal and unmanly possess the colonies in
the present contest, the name of ancestors will be remembered by future
generations with detestation.
The sun never shined on a cause of greater worth. ’Tis not the affair of a
city, a country, a province, or a kingdom, but of a continent—of at least one
eighth part of the habitable globe. ’Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an
age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less
affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now. Now is the seed
time of continental union, faith and honor. The least fracture now will be like a
name engraved with the point of a pin on the tender rind of a young oak; the
wound will enlarge with the tree, and posterity read it in full grown characters.
By referring the matter from argument to arms, a new æra for politics is
struck; a new method of thinking hath arisen. All plans, proposals, &c. prior to
the nineteenth of April, i.e. to the commencement of hostilities, are like the
almanacks of the last year; which, though proper then, are superseded and
useless now. Whatever was advanced by the advocates on either side of the
question then, terminated in one and the same point, viz. a union with GreatBritain; the only difference between the parties was the method of effecting it;
the one proposing force, the other friendship; but it hath so far happened that
the first hath failed, and the second hath withdrawn her influence.
As much hath been said of the advantages of reconciliation, which, like an
agreeable dream, hath passed away and left us as we were, it is but right, that
we should examine the contrary side of the argument, and inquire into some of
the many material injuries which these colonies sustain, and always will
sustain, by being connected with, and dependant on Great-Britain. To examine
that connexion and dependance, on the principles of nature and common
sense, to see what we have to trust to, if separated, and what we are to expect,
if dependant.
I have heard it asserted by some, that as America hath flourished under her
former connexion with Great-Britain, that the same connexion is necessary
towards her future happiness, and will always have the same effect. Nothing
can be more fallacious than this kind of argument. We may as well assert that
because a child has thrived upon milk, that it is never to have meat, or that the
first twenty years of our lives is to become a precedent for the next twenty. But
even this is admitting more than is true, for I answer roundly, that America
would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European
power had any thing to do with her. The commerce, by which she hath
enriched herself are the necessaries of life, and will always have a market
while eating is the custom of Europe.
But she has protected us, say some. That she has engrossed us is true, and
defended the continent at our expence as well as her own is admitted, and she
would have defended Turkey from the same motive, viz. the sake of trade and
dominion.
Alas, we have been long led away by ancient prejudices, and made large
sacrifices to superstition. We have boasted the protection of Great-Britain,
without considering, that her motive was interest not attachment; that she did
not protect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her
own account, from those who had no quarrel with us on any other account, and
who will always be our enemies on the same account. Let Britain wave her
pretensions to the continent, or the continent throw off the dependance, and we
should be at peace with France and Spain were they at war with Britain. The
miseries of Hanover last war ought to warn us against connexions.
It has lately been asserted in parliament, that the colonies have no relation
to each other but through the parent country, i.e. that Pennsylvania and the
Jerseys, and so on for the rest, are sister colonies by the way of England; this
is certainly a very round-about way of proving relationship, but it is the
nearest and only true way of proving enemyship, if I may so call it. France and
Spain never were, nor perhaps ever will be our enemies as Americans, but as
our being the subjects of Great-Britain.
But Britain is the parent country, say some. Then the more shame upon her
conduct. Even brutes do not devour their young, nor savages make war upon
their families; wherefore the assertion, if true, turns to her reproach; but it
happens not to be true, or only partly so, and the phrase parent or mother
country hath been jesuitically adopted by the king and his parasites, with a low
papistical design of gaining an unfair bias on the credulous weakness of our
minds. Europe, and not England, is the parent country of America. This new
world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious
liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender
embraces of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far
true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants from
home, pursues their descendants still.
In this extensive quarter of the globe, we forget the narrow limits of three
hundred and sixty miles (the extent of England) and carry our friendship on a
larger scale; we claim brotherhood with every European christian, and triumph
in the generosity of the sentiment.
It is pleasant to observe by what regular gradations we surmount the force
of local prejudice, as we enlarge our acquaintance with the world. A man born
in any town in England divided into parishes, will naturally associate most
with his fellow parishioners (because their interests in many cases will be
common) and distinguish him by the name of neighbour; if he meet him but a
few miles from home, he drops the narrow idea of a street, and salutes him by
the name of townsman; if he travel out of the county, and meet him in any
other, he forgets the minor divisions of street and town, and calls him
countryman, i.e. county-man; but if in their foreign excursions they should
associate in France or any other part of Europe, their local remembrance
would be enlarged into that of Englishmen. And by a just parity of reasoning,
all Europeans meeting in America, or any other quarter of the globe, are
countrymen; for England, Holland, Germany, or Sweden, when compared with
the whole, stand in the same places on the larger scale, which the divisions of
street, town, and county do on the smaller ones; distinctions too limited for
continental minds. Not one third of the inhabitants, even of this province, are
of English descent. Wherefore I reprobate the phrase of parent or mother
country applied to England only, as being false, selfish, narrow and
ungenerous.
But admitting, that we were all of English descent, what does it amount to?
Nothing. Britain, being now an open enemy, extinguishes every other name
and title: And to say that reconciliation is our duty, is truly farcical. The first
king of England, of the present line (William the Conqueror) was a
Frenchman, and half the Peers of England are descendants from the same
country; therefore, by the same method of reasoning, England ought to be
governed by France.
Much hath been said of the united strength of Britain and the colonies, that
in conjunction they might bid defiance to the world. But this is mere
presumption; the fate of war is uncertain, neither do the expressions mean any
thing; for this continent would never suffer itself to be drained of inhabitants,
to support the British arms in either Asia, Africa, or Europe.
Besides what have we to do with setting the world at defiance? Our plan is
commerce, and that, well attended to, will secure us the peace and friendship
of all Europe; because, it is the interest of all Europe to have America a free
port. Her trade will always be a protection, and her barrenness of gold and
silver secure her from invaders.
I challenge the warmest advocate for reconciliation, to shew, a single
advantage that this continent can reap, by being connected with Great Britain.
I repeat the challenge, not a single advantage is derived. Our corn will fetch its
price in any market in Europe, and our imported goods must be paid for buy
them where we will.
But the injuries and disadvantages we sustain by that connection, are
without number; and our duty to mankind at large, as well as to ourselves,
instruct us to renounce the alliance: Because, any submission to, or
dependance on Great-Britain, tends directly to involve this continent in
European wars and quarrels; and sets us at variance with nations, who would
otherwise seek our friendship, and against whom, we have neither anger nor
complaint. As Europe is our market for trade, we ought to form no partial
connection with any part of it. It is the true interest of America to steer clear of
European contentions, which she never can do, while by her dependence on
Britain, she is made the make-weight in the scale of British politics.
Europe is too thickly planted with kingdoms to be long at peace, and
whenever a war breaks out between England and any foreign power, the trade
of America goes to ruin, because of her connection with Britain. The next war
may not turn out like the last, and should it not, the advocates for
reconciliation now will be wishing for separation then, because, neutrality in
that case, would be a safer convoy than a man of war. Every thing that is right
or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of
nature cries, ’Tis time to part. Even the distance at which the Almighty hath
placed England and America, is a strong and natural proof, that the authority
of the one, over the other, was never the design of Heaven. The time likewise
at which the continent was discovered, adds weight to the argument, and the
manner in which it was peopled encreases the force of it. The reformation was
preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to
open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford
neither friendship nor safety.
The authority of Great-Britain over this continent, is a form of government,
which sooner or later must have an end: And a serious mind can draw no true
pleasure by looking forward, under the painful and positive conviction, that
what he calls “the present constitution” is merely temporary. As parents, we
can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to
ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method
of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do
the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to
discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand,
and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a
prospect, which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.
Though I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offence, yet I am
inclined to believe, that all those who espouse the doctrine of reconciliation,
may be included within the following descriptions. Interested men, who are
not to be trusted; weak men, who cannot see; prejudiced men, who will not
see; and a certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world
than it deserves; and this last class, by an ill-judged deliberation, will be the
cause of more calamities to this continent, than all the other three.
It is the good fortune of many to live distant from the scene of sorrow; the
evil is not sufficient brought to their doors to make them feel the
precariousness with which all American property is possessed. But let our
imaginations transport us for a few moments to Boston, that seat of
wretchedness will teach us wisdom, and instruct us for ever to renounce a
power in whom we can have no trust. The inhabitants of that unfortunate city,
who but a few months ago were in ease and affluence, have now, no other
alternative than to stay and starve, or turn out to beg. Endangered by the fire of
their friends if they continue within the city, and plundered by the soldiery if
they leave it. In their present condition they are prisoners without the hope of
redemption, and in a general attack for their relief, they would be exposed to
the fury of both armies.
Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offences of
Britain, and, still hoping for the best, are apt to call out, “Come, come, we
shall be friends again, for all this.” But examine the passions and feelings of
mankind, Bring the doctrine of reconciliation to the touchstone of nature, and
then tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honour, and faithfully serve the
power that hath carried fire and sword into your land? If you cannot do all
these, then are you only deceiving yourselves, and by your delay bringing ruin
upon posterity. Your future connection with Britain, whom you can neither
love nor honour, will be forced and unnatural, and being formed only on the
plan of present convenience, will in a little time fall into a relapse more
wretched than the first. But if you say, you can still pass the violations over,
then I ask, Hath your house been burnt? Hath your property been destroyed
before your face? Are your wife and children destitute of a bed to lie on, or
bread to live on? Have you lost a parent or a child by their hands, and yourself
the ruined and wretched survivor? If you have not, then are you not a judge of
those who have. But if you have, and still can shake hands with the murderers,
then are you unworthy of the name of husband, father, friend, or lover, and
whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and
the spirit of a sycophant.
This is not inflaming or exaggerating matters, but trying them by those
feelings and affections which nature justifies, and without which, we should
be incapable of discharging the social duties of life, or enjoying the felicities
of it. I mean not to exhibit horror for the purpose of provoking revenge, but to
awaken us from fatal and unmanly slumbers, that we may pursue
determinately some fixed object. It is not in the power of Britain or of Europe
to conquer America, if she do not conquer herself by delay and timidity. The
present winter is worth an age if rightly employed, but if lost or neglected, the
whole continent will partake of the misfortune; and there is no punishment
which that man will not deserve, be he who, or what, or where he will, that
may be the means of sacrificing a season so precious and useful.
It is repugnant to reason, to the universal order of things to all examples
from former ages, to suppose, that this continent can longer remain subject to
any external power. The most sanguine in Britain does not think so. The
utmost stretch of human wisdom cannot, at this time, compass a plan short of
separation, which can promise the continent even a year’s security.
Reconciliation is now a fallacious dream. Nature hath deserted the connexion,
and Art cannot supply her place. For, as Milton wisely expresses, “never can
true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep.”
Every quiet method for peace hath been ineffectual. Our prayers have been
rejected with disdain; and only tended to convince us, that nothing flatters
vanity, or confirms obstinacy in Kings more than repeated petitioning—and
nothing hath contributed more than that very measure to make the Kings of
Europe absolute: Witness Denmark and Sweden. Wherefore, since nothing but
blows will do, for God’s sake, let us come to a final separation, and not leave
the next generation to be cutting throats, under the violated unmeaning names
of parent and child.
To say, they will never attempt it again is idle and visionary, we thought so
at the repeal of the stamp-act, yet a year or two undeceived us; as well may we
suppose that nations, which have been once defeated, will never renew the
quarrel.
As to government matters, it is not in the power of Britain to do this
continent justice: The business of it will soon be too weighty, and intricate, to
be managed with any tolerable degree of convenience, by a power, so distant
from us, and so very ignorant of us; for if they cannot conquer us, they cannot
govern us. To be always running three or four thousand miles with a tale or a
petition, waiting four or five months for an answer, which when obtained
requires five or six more to explain it in, will in a few years be looked upon as
folly and childishness—There was a time when it was proper, and there is a
proper time for it to cease.
Small islands not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects
for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something very absurd, in
supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. In no instance
hath nature made the satellite larger than its primary planet, and as England
and America, with respect to each other, reverses the common order of nature,
it is evident they belong to different systems: England to Europe, America to
itself.
I am not induced by motives of pride, party, or resentment to espouse the
doctrine of separation and independance; I am clearly, positively, and
conscientiously persuaded that it is the true interest of this continent to be so;
that every thing short of that is mere patchwork, that it can afford no lasting
felicity,—that it is leaving the sword to our children, and shrinking back at a
time, when, a little more, a little farther, would have rendered this continent
the glory of the earth.
As Britain hath not manifested the least inclination towards a compromise,
we may be assured that no terms can be obtained worthy the acceptance of the
continent, or any ways equal to the expence of blood and treasure we have
been already put to.
The object, contended for, ought always to bear some just proportion to the
expence. The removal of North, or the whole detestable junto, is a matter
unworthy the millions we have expended. A temporary stoppage of trade, was
an inconvenience, which would have sufficiently ballanced the repeal of all
the acts complained of, had such repeals been obtained; but if the whole
continent must take up arms, if every man must be a soldier, it is scarcely
worth our while to fight against a contemptible ministry only. Dearly, dearly,
do we pay for the repeal of the acts, if that is all we fight for; for in a just
estimation, it is as great a folly to pay a Bunker-hill price for law, as for land.
As I have always considered the independancy of this continent, as an event,
which sooner or later must arrive, so from the late rapid progress of the
continent to maturity, the event could not be far off. Wherefore, on the
breaking out of hostilities, it was not worth the while to have disputed a
matter, which time would have finally redressed, unless we meant to be in
earnest; otherwise, it is like wasting an estate on a suit at law, to regulate the
trespasses of a tenant, whose lease is just expiring. No man was a warmer
wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April
1775, but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the
hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England for ever; and disdain the
wretch, that with the pretended title of father of his people can unfeelingly
hear of their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul.
But admitting that matters were now made up, what would be the event? I
answer, the ruin of the continent. And that for several reasons.
First. The powers of governing still remaining in the hands of the king, he
will have a negative over the whole legislation of this continent. And as he
hath shewn himself such an inveterate enemy to liberty, and discovered such a
thirst for arbitrary power; is he, or is he not, a proper man to say to these
colonies, “You shall make no laws but what I please.” And is there any
inhabitant in America so ignorant, as not to know, that according to what is
called the present constitution, that this continent can make no laws but what
the king gives leave to; and is there any man so unwise, as not to see, that
(considering what has happened) he will suffer no law to be made here, but
such as suit his purpose. We may be as effectually enslaved by the want of
laws in America, as by submitting to laws made for us in England. After
matters are made up (as it is called) can there be any doubt, but the whole
power of the crown will be exerted, to keep this continent as low and humble
as possible? Instead of going forward we shall go backward, or be perpetually
quarrelling or ridiculously petitioning.—We are already greater than the king
wishes us to be, and will he not hereafter endeavour to make us less? To bring
the matter to one point. Is the power who is jealous of our prosperity, a proper
power to govern us? Whoever says No to this question is an independant, for
independancy means no more, than, whether we shall make our own laws, or
whether the king, the greatest enemy this continent hath, or can have, shall tell
us “there shall be no laws but such as I like.”
But the king you will say has a negative in England; the people there can
make no laws without his consent. In point of right and good order, there is
something very ridiculous, that a youth of twenty-one (which hath often
happened) shall say to several millions of people, older and wiser than
himself, I forbid this or that act of yours to be law. But in this place I decline
this sort of reply, though I will never cease to expose the absurdity of it, and
only answer, that England being the King’s residence, and America not so,
makes quite another case. The king’s negative here is ten times more
dangerous and fatal than it can be in England, for there he will scarcely refuse
his consent to a bill for putting England into as strong a state of defence as
possible, and in America he would never suffer such a bill to be passed.
America is only a secondary object in the system of British politics,
England consults the good of this country, no farther than it answers her own
purpose. Wherefore, her own interest leads her to suppress the growth of ours
in every case which doth not promote her advantage, or in the least interferes
with it. A pretty state we should soon be in under such a second-hand
government, considering what has happened! Men do not change from
enemies to friends by the alteration of a name: And in order to shew that
reconciliation now is a dangerous doctrine, I affirm, that it would be policy in
the king at this time, to repeal the acts for the sake of reinstating himself in the
government of the provinces; in order, that he may accomplish by craft and
subtilty, in the long run, what he cannot do by force and violence in the short
one. Reconciliation and ruin are nearly related.
Secondly. That as even the best terms, which we can expect to obtain, can
amount to no more than a temporary expedient, or a kind of government by
guardianship, which can last no longer than till the colonies come of age, so
the general face and state of things, in the interim, will be unsettled and
unpromising. Emigrants of property will not choose to come to a country
whose form of government hangs but by a thread, and who is every day
tottering on the brink of commotion and disturbance; and numbers of the
present inhabitants would lay hold of the interval, to dispense of their effects,
and quit the continent.
But the most powerful of all arguments, is, that nothing but independance,
i.e. a continental form of government, can keep the peace of the continent and
preserve it inviolate from civil wars. I dread the event of a reconciliation with
Britain now, as it is more than probable, that it will be followed by a revolt
somewhere or other, the consequences of which may be far more fatal than all
the malice of Britain.
Thousands are already ruined by British barbarity; (thousands more will
probably suffer the same fate) Those men have other feelings than us who
have nothing suffered. All they now possess is liberty, what they before
enjoyed is sacrificed to its service, and having nothing more to lose, they
disdain submission. Besides, the general temper of the colonies, towards a
British government, will be like that of a youth, who is nearly out of his time;
they will care very little about her. And a government which cannot preserve
the peace, is no government at all, and in that case we pay our money for
nothing; and pray what is it that Britain can do, whose power will be wholly
on paper, should a civil tumult break out the very day after reconciliation? I
have heard some men say, many of whom I believe spoke without thinking,
that they dreaded an independance, fearing that it would produce civil wars. It
is but seldom that our first thoughts are truly correct, and that is the case here;
for there are ten times more to dread from a patched up connexion than from
independance. I make the sufferers case my own, and I protest, that were I
driven from house and home, my property destroyed, and my circumstances
ruined, that as man, sensible of injuries, I could never relish the doctrine of
reconciliation, or consider myself bound thereby.
The colonies have manifested such a spirit of good order and obedience to
continental government, as is sufficient to make every reasonable person easy
and happy on that head. No man can assign the least pretence for his fears, on
any other grounds, than such as are truly childish and ridiculous, viz. that one
colony will be striving for superiority over another.
Where there are no distinctions there can be no superiority, perfect equality
affords no temptation. The republics of Europe are all (and we may say
always) in peace. Holland and Swisserland are without wars, foreign or
domestic: Monarchical governments, it is true, are never long at rest; the
crown itself is a temptation to enterprizing ruffians at home; and that degree of
pride and insolence ever attendant on regal authority, swells into a rupture
with foreign powers, in instances, where a republican government, by being
formed on more natural principles, would negociate the mistake.
If there is any true cause of fear respecting independance, it is because no
plan is yet laid down. Men do not see their way out—Wherefore, as an
opening into that business, I offer the following hints; at the same time
modestly affirming, that I have no other opinion of them myself, than that they
may be the means of giving rise to something better. Could the straggling
thoughts of individuals be collected, they would frequently form materials for
wise and able men to improve into useful matter.
Let the assemblies be annual, with a President only. The representation
more equal. Their business wholly domestic, and subject to the authority of a
Continental Congress.
Let each colony be divided into six, eight, or ten, convenient districts, each
district to send a proper number of delegates to Congress, so that each colony
send at least thirty. The whole number in Congress will be at least 390. Each
Congress to sit and to choose a president by the following method. When the
delegates are met, let a colony be taken from the whole thirteen colonies by
lot, after which, let the whole Congress choose (by ballot) a president from out
of the delegates of that province. In the next Congress, let a colony be taken
by lot from twelve only, omitting that colony from which the president was
taken in the former Congress, and so proceeding on till the whole thirteen shall
have had their proper rotation. And in order that nothing may pass into a law
but what is satisfactorily just, not less than three fifths of the Congress to be
called a majority.—He that will promote discord, under a government so
equally formed as this, would have joined Lucifer in his revolt.
But as there is a peculiar delicacy, from whom, or in what manner, this
business must first arise, and as it seems most agreeable and consistent that it
should come from some intermediate body between the governed and the
governors, that is, between the Congress and the people, let a Continental
Conference be held, in the following manner, and for the following purpose.
A committee of twenty-six members of Congress, viz. two for each colony.
Two members from each House of Assembly, or Provincial Convention; and
five representatives of the people at large, to be chosen in the capital city or
town of each province, for, and in behalf of the whole province, by as many
qualified voters as shall think proper to attend from all parts of the province
for that purpose; or, if more convenient, the representatives may be chosen in
two or three of the most populous parts thereof. In this conference, thus
assembled, will be united, the two grand principles of business, knowledge
and power. The members of Congress, Assemblies, or Conventions, by having
had experience in national concerns, will be able and useful counsellors, and
the whole, being impowered by the people, will have a truly legal authority.
The conferring members being met, let their business be to frame a
Continental Charter, or Charter of the United Colonies; (answering to what is
called the Magna Charta of England) fixing the number and manner of
choosing members of Congress, members of Assembly, with their date of
sitting, and drawing the line of business and jurisdiction between them:
(Always remembering, that our strength is continental, not provincial:)
Securing freedom and property to all men, and above all things, the free
exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; with such other
matter as is necessary for a charter to contain. Immediately after which, the
said Conference to dissolve, and the bodies which shall be chosen
comformable to the said charter, to be the legislators and governors of this
continent for the time being: Whose peace and happiness, may God preserve,
Amen.
Should any body of men be hereafter delegated for this or some similar
purpose, I offer them the following extracts from that wise observer on
governments Dragonetti. “The science” says he “of the politician consists in
fixing the true point of happiness and freedom. Those men would deserve the
gratitude of ages, who should discover a mode of government that contained
the greatest sum of individual happiness, with the least national expense.
Dragonetti on virtue and rewards.”
But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns
above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain.
Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be
solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on

the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the
world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the
law is king. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free
countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any
ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony
be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.
A government of our own is our natural right: And when a man seriously
reflects on the precariousness of human affairs, he will become convinced, that
it is infinitely wiser and safer, to form a constitution of our own in a cool
deliberate manner, while we have it in our power, than to trust such an
interesting event to time and chance. If we omit it now, some Massanello may
hereafter arise, who laying hold of popular disquietudes, may collect together
the desperate and the discontented, and by assuming to themselves the powers
of government, may sweep away the liberties of the continent like a deluge.
Should the government of America return again into the hands of Britain, the
tottering situation of things, will be a temptation for some desperate
adventurer to try his fortune; and in such a case, what relief can Britain give?
Ere she could hear the news, the fatal business might be done; and ourselves
suffering like the wretched Britons under the oppression of the Conqueror. Ye
that oppose independance now, ye know not what ye do; ye are opening a door
to eternal tyranny, by keeping vacant the seat of government. There are
thousands, and tens of thousands, who would think it glorious to expel from
the continent, that barbarous and hellish power, which hath stirred up the
Indians and Negroes to destroy us, the cruelty hath a double guilt, it is dealing
brutally by us, and treacherously by them.
To talk of friendship with those in whom our reason forbids us to have
faith, and our affections wounded through a thousand pores instruct us to
detest, is madness and folly. Every day wears out the little remains of kindred
between us and them, and can there be any reason to hope, that as the
relationship expires, the affection will increase, or that we shall agree better,
when we have ten times more and greater concerns to quarrel over than ever?
Ye that tell us of harmony and reconciliation, can ye restore to us the time
that is past? Can ye give to prostitution its former innocence? Neither can ye
reconcile Britain and America. The last cord now is broken, the people of
England are presenting addresses against us. There are injuries which nature
cannot forgive; she would cease to be nature if she did. As well can the lover
forgive the ravisher of his mistress, as the continent forgive the murders of
Britain. The Almighty hath implanted in us these unextinguishable feelings for
good and wise purposes. They are the guardians of his image in our hearts.
They distinguish us from the herd of common animals. The social compact
would dissolve, and justice be extirpated the earth, or have only a casual
existence were we callous to the touches of affection. The robber, and the
murderer, would often escape unpunished, did not the injuries which our
tempers sustain, provoke us into justice.
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the
tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression.
Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long
expelled her—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her
warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for
mankind.
OF THE PRESENT ABILITY OF AMERICA,
WITH SOME MISCELLANEOUS REFLEXIONS.
I have never met with a man, either in England or America, who hath not
confessed his opinion, that a separation between the countries, would take
place one time or other: And there is no instance, in which we have shewn less
judgment, than in endeavouring to describe, what we call, the ripeness or
fitness of the Continent for independance.
As all men allow the measure, and vary only in their opinion of the time,
let us, in order to remove mistakes, take a general survey of things, and
endeavour, if possible, to find out the very time. But we need not go far, the
inquiry ceases at once, for, the time hath found us. The general concurrence,
the glorious union of all things prove the fact.
It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies; yet our
present numbers are sufficient to repel the force of all the world. The
Continent hath, at this time, the largest body of armed and disciplined men of
any power under Heaven; and is just arrived at that pitch of strength, in which
no single colony is able to support itself, and the whole, when united, can
accomplish the matter, and either more, or, less than this, might be fatal in its
effects. Our land force is already sufficient, and as to naval affairs, we cannot
be insensible, that Britain would never suffer an American man of war to be
built, while the continent remained in her hands. Wherefore, we should be no
forwarder an hundred years hence in that branch, than we are now; but the
truth is, we should be less so, because the timber of the country is every day
diminishing, and that, which will remain at last, will be far off and difficult to
procure.
Were the continent crowded with inhabitants, her sufferings under the
present circumstances would be intolerable. The more sea port towns we had,
the more should we have both to defend and to lose. Our present numbers are
so happily proportioned to our wants, that no man need be idle. The
diminution of trade affords an army, and the necessities of an army create a
new trade.
Debts we have none; and whatever we may contract on this account will
serve as a glorious memento of our virtue. Can we but leave posterity with a
settled form of government, an independant constitution of its own, the
purchase at any price will be cheap. But to expend millions for the sake of
getting a few vile acts repealed, and routing the present ministry only, is
unworthy the charge, and is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it
is leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from which
they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of honor, and is
the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a pedling politician.
The debt we may contract doth not deserve our regard if the work be but
accomplished. No nation ought to be without a debt. A national debt is a
national bond; and when it bears no interest, is in no case a grievance. Britain
is oppressed with a debt of upwards of one hundred and forty millions sterling,
for which she pays upwards of four millions interest. And as a compensation
for her debt, she has a large navy; America is without a debt, and without a
navy; yet for the twentieth part of the English national debt, could have a navy
as large again. The navy of England is not worth, at this time, more than three
millions and an half sterling.
The first and second editions of this pamphlet were published without the
following calculations, which are now given as a proof that the above
estimation of the navy is just. See Entic’s naval history, intro. page 56.
The charge of building a ship of each rate, and furnishing her with masts,
yards, sails and rigging, together with a proportion of eight months
boatswain’s and carpenter’s sea-stores, as calculated by Mr. Burchett,
Secretary to the navy.
£ [pounds sterling]
For a ship of 100 guns = 35,553
90 = 29,886
80 = 23,638
70 = 17,785
60 = 14,197
50 = 10,606
40 = 7,558
30 = 5,846
20 = 3,710
And from hence it is easy to sum up the value, or cost rather, of the whole
British navy, which in the year 1757, when it was at its greatest glory
consisted of the following ships and guns:
Ships. Guns. Cost of one. Cost of all.
Cost in £ [pounds sterling]
6 100 35,553 213,318
12 90 29,886 358,632
12 80 23,638 283,656
43 70 17,785 764,755
35 60 14,197 496,895
40 50 10,606 424,240
45 40 7,558 340,110
58 20 3,710 215,180
85 Sloops, bombs
and fireships, one
with another, at } 2,000 170,000
————
Cost 3,266,786
Remains for Guns 233,214
————
3,500,000
No country on the globe is so happily situated, or so internally capable of
raising a fleet as America. Tar, timber, iron, and cordage are her natural
produce. We need go abroad for nothing. Whereas the Dutch, who make large
profits by hiring out their ships of war to the Spaniards and Portuguese, are
obliged to import most of the materials they use. We ought to view the
building a fleet as an article of commerce, it being the natural manufactory of
this country. It is the best money we can lay out. A navy when finished is
worth more than it cost. And is that nice point in national policy, in which
commerce and protection are united. Let us build; if we want them not, we can
sell; and by that means replace our paper currency with ready gold and silver.
In point of manning a fleet, people in general run into great errors; it is not
necessary that one fourth part should be sailors. The Terrible privateer,
Captain Death, stood the hottest engagement of any ship last war, yet had not
twenty sailors on board, though her complement of men was upwards of two
hundred. A few able and social sailors will soon instruct a sufficient number of
active landmen in the common work of a ship. Wherefore, we never can be
more capable to begin on maritime matters than now, while our timber is
standing, our fisheries blocked up, and our sailors and shipwrights out of
employ. Men of war, of seventy and eighty guns were built forty years ago in
New-England, and why not the same now? Ship-building is America’s greatest
pride, and in which, she will in time excel the whole world. The great empires
of the east are mostly inland, and consequently excluded from the possibility
of rivalling her. Africa is in a state of barbarism; and no power in Europe, hath
either such an extent of coast, or such an internal supply of materials. Where
nature hath given the one, she has withheld the other; to America only hath
she been liberal of both. The vast empire of Russia is almost shut out from the
sea; wherefore, her boundless forests, her tar, iron, and cordage are only
articles of commerce.
In point of safety, ought we to be without a fleet? We are not the little
people now, which we were sixty years ago; at that time we might have trusted
our property in the streets, or fields rather; and slept securely without locks or
bolts to our doors or windows. The case now is altered, and our methods of
defence, ought to improve with our increase of property. A common pirate,
twelve months ago, might have come up the Delaware, and laid the city of
Philadelphia under instant contribution, for what sum he pleased; and the same
might have happened to other places. Nay, any daring fellow, in a brig of
fourteen or sixteen guns, might have robbed the whole Continent, and carried
off half a million of money. These are circumstances which demand our
attention, and point out the necessity of naval protection.
Some, perhaps, will say, that after we have made it up with Britain, she
will protect us. Can we be so unwise as to mean, that she shall keep a navy in
our harbours for that purpose? Common sense will tell us, that the power
which hath endeavoured to subdue us, is of all others, the most improper to
defend us. Conquest may be effected under the pretence of friendship; and
ourselves, after a long and brave resistance, be at last cheated into slavery.
And if her ships are not to be admitted into our harbours, I would ask, how is
she to protect us? A navy three or four thousand miles off can be of little use,
and on sudden emergencies, none at all. Wherefore, if we must hereafter
protect ourselves, why not do it for ourselves? Why do it for another?
The English list of ships of war, is long and formidable, but not a tenth part
of them are at any one time fit for service, numbers of them not in being; yet
their names are pompously continued in the list, if only a plank be left of the
ship: and not a fifth part, of such as are fit for service, can be spared on any
one station at one time. The East and West Indies, Mediterranean, Africa, and
other parts over which Britain extends her claim, make large demands upon
her navy. From a mixture of prejudice and inattention, we have contracted a
false notion respecting the navy of England, and have talked as if we should
have the whole of it to encounter at once, and for that reason, supposed, that
we must have one as large; which not being instantly practicable, have been
made use of by a set of disguised Tories to discourage our beginning thereon.
Nothing can be farther from truth than this; for if America had only a
twentieth part of the naval force of Britain, she would be by far an over match
for her; because, as we neither have, nor claim any foreign dominion, our
whole force would be employed on our own coast, where we should, in the
long run, have two to one the advantage of those who had three or four
thousand miles to sail over, before they could attack us, and the same distance
to return in order to refit and recruit. And although Britain by her fleet, hath a
check over our trade to Europe, we have as large a one over her trade to the
West-Indies, which, by laying in the neighbourhood of the Continent, is
entirely at its mercy.
Some method might be fallen on to keep up a naval force in time of peace,
if we should not judge it necessary to support a constant navy. If premiums
were to be given to merchants, to build and employ in their service ships
mounted with twenty, thirty, forty or fifty guns, (the premiums to be in
proportion to the loss of bulk to the merchants) fifty or sixty of those ships,
with a few guardships on constant duty, would keep up a sufficient navy, and
that without burdening ourselves with the evil so loudly complained of in
England, of suffering their fleet, in time of peace to lie rotting in the docks. To
unite the sinews of commerce and defense is sound policy; for when our
strength and our riches play into each other’s hand, we need fear no external
enemy.
In almost every article of defense we abound. Hemp flourishes even to
rankness, so that we need not want cordage. Our iron is superior to that of
other countries. Our small arms equal to any in the world. Cannon we can cast
at pleasure. Saltpetre and gunpowder we are every day producing. Our
knowledge is hourly improving. Resolution is our inherent character, and
courage hath never yet forsaken us. Wherefore, what is it that we want? Why
is it that we hesitate? From Britain we can expect nothing but ruin. If she is
once admitted to the government of America again, this Continent will not be
worth living in. Jealousies will be always arising; insurrections will be
constantly happening; and who will go forth to quell them? Who will venture
his life to reduce his own countrymen to a foreign obedience? The difference
between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, respecting some unlocated lands,
shews the insignificance of a British government, and fully proves, that
nothing but Continental authority can regulate Continental matters.
Another reason why the present time is preferable to all others, is, that the
fewer our numbers are, the more land there is yet unoccupied, which instead
of being lavished by the king on his worthless dependants, may be hereafter
applied, not only to the discharge of the present debt, but to the constant
support of government. No nation under heaven hath such an advantage as
this.
The infant state of the Colonies, as it is called, so far from being against, is
an argument in favour of independance. We are sufficiently numerous, and
were we more so, we might be less united. It is a matter worthy of observation,
that the more a country is peopled, the smaller their armies are. In military
numbers, the ancients far exceeded the moderns: and the reason is evident. For
trade being the consequence of population, men become too much absorbed
thereby to attend to anything else. Commerce diminishes the spirit, both of
patriotism and military defence. And history sufficiently informs us, that the
bravest achievements were always accomplished in the non-age of a nation.
With the increase of commerce, England hath lost its spirit. The city of
London, notwithstanding its numbers, submits to continued insults with the
patience of a coward. The more men have to lose, the less willing are they to
venture. The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit to courtly power
with the trembling duplicity of a Spaniel.
Youth is the seed time of good habits, as well in nations as in individuals.
It might be difficult, if not impossible, to form the Continent into one
government half a century hence. The vast variety of interests, occasioned by
an increase of trade and population, would create confusion. Colony would be
against colony. Each being able might scorn each other’s assistance: and while
the proud and foolish gloried in their little distinctions, the wise would lament,
that the union had not been formed before. Wherefore, the present time is the
true time for establishing it. The intimacy which is contracted in infancy, and
the friendship which is formed in misfortune, are, of all others, the most
lasting and unalterable. Our present union is marked with both these
characters: we are young and we have been distressed; but our concord hath
withstood our troubles, and fixes a memorable area for posterity to glory in.
The present time, likewise, is that peculiar time, which never happens to a
nation but once, viz. the time of forming itself into a government. Most
nations have let slip the opportunity, and by that means have been compelled
to receive laws from their conquerors, instead of making laws for themselves.
First, they had a king, and then a form of government; whereas, the articles or
charter of government, should be formed first, and men delegated to execute
them afterward: but from the errors of other nations, let us learn wisdom, and
lay hold of the present opportunity—To begin government at the right end.
When William the Conqueror subdued England, he gave them law at the
point of the sword; and until we consent, that the seat of government, in
America, be legally and authoritatively occupied, we shall be in danger of
having it filled by some fortunate ruffian, who may treat us in the same
manner, and then, where will be our freedom? where our property?
As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government, to
protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business
which government hath to do therewith. Let a man throw aside that
narrowness of soul, that selfishness of principle, which the niggards of all
professions are so unwilling to part with, and he will be at once delivered of
his fears on that head. Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane
of all good society. For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is
the will of the Almighty, that there should be diversity of religious opinions
among us: It affords a larger field for our Christian kindness. Were we all of
one way of thinking, our religious dispositions would want matter for
probation; and on this liberal principle, I look on the various denominations
among us, to be like children of the same family, differing only, in what is
called, their Christian names.
In page forty, I threw out a few thoughts on the propriety of a Continental
Charter, (for I only presume to offer hints, not plans) and in this place, I take
the liberty of re-mentioning the subject, by observing, that a charter is to be
understood as a bond of solemn obligation, which the whole enters into, to
support the right of every separate part, whether of religion, personal freedom,
or property. A firm bargain and a right reckoning make long friends.
In a former page I likewise mentioned the necessity of a large and equal
representation; and there is no political matter which more deserves our
attention. A small number of electors, or a small number of representatives,
are equally dangerous. But if the number of the representatives be not only
small, but unequal, the danger is increased. As an instance of this, I mention
the following; when the Associators petition was before the House of
Assembly of Pennsylvania; twenty-eight members only were present, all the
Bucks county members, being eight, voted against it, and had seven of the
Chester members done the same, this whole province had been governed by
two counties only, and this danger it is always exposed to. The unwarrantable
stretch likewise, which that house made in their last sitting, to gain an undue
authority over the delegates of that province, ought to warn the people at large,
how they trust power out of their own hands. A set of instructions for the
Delegates were put together, which in point of sense and business would have
dishonoured a schoolboy, and after being approved by a few, a very few
without doors, were carried into the House, and there passed in behalf of the
whole colony; whereas, did the whole colony know, with what ill-will that
House hath entered on some necessary public measures, they would not
hesitate a moment to think them unworthy of such a trust.
Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which if continued
would grow into oppressions. Expedience and right are different things. When
the calamities of America required a consultation, there was no method so
ready, or at that time so proper, as to appoint persons from the several Houses
of Assembly for that purpose; and the wisdom with which they have
proceeded hath preserved this continent from ruin. But as it is more than
probable that we shall never be without a Congress, every well wisher to good
order, must own, that the mode for choosing members of that body, deserves
consideration. And I put it as a question to those, who make a study of
mankind, whether representation and election is not too great a power for one
and the same body of men to possess? When we are planning for posterity, we
ought to remember, that virtue is not hereditary.
It is from our enemies that we often gain excellent maxims, and are
frequently surprised into reason by their mistakes. Mr. Cornwall (one of the
Lords of the Treasury) treated the petition of the New-York Assembly with
contempt, because that House, he said, consisted but of twenty-six members,
which trifling number, he argued, could not with decency be put for the whole.
We thank him for his involuntary honesty.
To Conclude, however strange it may appear to some, or however
unwilling they may be to think so, matters not, but many strong and striking
reasons may be given, to shew, that nothing can settle our affairs so
expeditiously as an open and determined declaration for independance. Some
of which are,
First.—It is the custom of nations, when any two are at war, for some other
powers, not engaged in the quarrel, to step in as mediators, and bring about the
preliminaries of a peace: but while America calls herself the Subject of GreatBritain, no power, however well disposed she may be, can offer her mediation.
Wherefore, in our present state we may quarrel on for ever.
Secondly.—It is unreasonable to suppose, that France or Spain will give us
any kind of assistance, if we mean only, to make use of that assistance for the
purpose of repairing the breach, and strengthening the connection between
Britain and America; because, those powers would be sufferers by the
consequences.
Thirdly.—While we profess ourselves the subjects of Britain, we must, in
the eye of foreign nations, be considered as rebels. The precedent is somewhat
dangerous to their peace, for men to be in arms under the name of subjects;
we, on the spot, can solve the paradox: but to unite resistance and subjection,
requires an idea much too refined for common understanding.
Fourthly.—Were a manifesto to be published, and despatched to foreign
courts, setting forth the miseries we have endured, and the peaceable methods
we have ineffectually used for redress; declaring, at the same time, that not
being able, any longer, to live happily or safely under the cruel disposition of
the British court, we had been driven to the necessity of breaking off all
connections with her; at the same time, assuring all such courts of our
peaceable disposition towards them, and of our desire of entering into trade
with them: Such a memorial would produce more good effects to this
Continent, than if a ship were freighted with petitions to Britain.
Under our present denomination of British subjects, we can neither be
received nor heard abroad: The custom of all courts is against us, and will be
so, until, by an independance, we take rank with other nations.
These proceedings may at first appear strange and difficult; but, like all
other steps which we have already passed over, will in a little time become
familiar and agreeable; and, until an independance is declared, the Continent
will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business
from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it
over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.

 

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