Background of the American Revolution
In 1772, Boston charged the Committee of Correspondence to provide (1) the State of Rights of the Colonists; (2) a List of Infringements and Violations of Those Rights; and (3) a Letter of Correspondence to other Towns. The Committe assigned Joseph Warren the writing of the Infringements and Violations of those Rights.
Votes and Proceedings 20th November 1772.
—Boston Town Records, 1770 through 1777.
The Votes and Proceedings of the Town at their late Meeting the 20. November 1772 were by Order of the Town, published in a Pamphlet, one of which was sent to each Town in the Province, and the same as accepted by said Meeting, is as follows Vizt—
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.—
[ as continued ]
Joseph Warren. †
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 tbeir consent; thereby depriving them of that right which every man has to keep his own earnings in his own hands untill he shall in person, or by his Representative, think fit to part with the whole or any portion of it. This infringement is the more 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 tb’s 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 upou 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 applanded 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, every attempt of the other two branches of the Legislative in favor of a distressed and wronged people: And least the complaints naturally occasioued 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 insults 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 knew 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 have 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 harrasscd 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 &e any Naval or Victualling Store &e 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 guiltv 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 thoir 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 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 labours 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 conformation 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.
[ ☞ Continuation of Report ]
† General Joseph Warren was killed at Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775.