Background of the American Revolution
Prior to the Revolution, Samuel Adams sends one of his firey letters—under the psuedonym, T. Z.—to the Boston Gazette, advancing his beliefs in Liberty, against the Stamp Act, and that acquiring property is an essential natural right.
‘T is true, this strange claim has occasioned much contention, and it always will, as long as the people understand the great charter of nature upon which Magna Charta itself is founded—No man can take anothers property from him without his consent—This is the law of nature, and a violation of it is the same thing whether it be done by one man who is called a King or by five hundred of another denomination.
Article Signed “T. Z.”
Boston Gazette, JANUARY 9, 1769.
Messieurs EDES & GILL,
IT seems to be generally agreed, that every man who is taxed has a right to be present in person or by his own representative, in the body that taxes him; or as Lord Cambden has expressed it, that “taxation and representation are inseparable.” A man’s property is the fruit of his industry; and if it may be taken from him under any pretence whatever, at the will of another, he cannot be said to be free, for he labors like a bond slave, not for himself, but for another: Or supposing his property comes by inheritance or free gift, it is absolutely his own, and it cannot rightly be taken from him without his consent. This I take to be the commonly receiv’d opinion, concerning liberty, as it regards taxation: And it is moreover generally understood, that upon this opinion the very being of a free government depends. The writer who signs Z. T. in the two last Evening-Posts, thinks it very hard that “he and others should be treated with sneers and ridicule, and as enemies of their country for not falling in with the commonly receiv’d opinion of liberty and taxation”; but till he makes it appear that it is not a just and very important opinion, he has no reason for his complaint.
He tells us that in the year 1764, “it was proposed in Parliament to tax the colonies for the charge of their government and defence”; and intimates the reason “The nation being then more than 140 millions in debt; which was above 60 millions more than it was the last war.”—I would ask this gentleman, whether the old settled colonies, or particularly whether this province ever put the nation to a farthing’s expence for its government or defence, from the first settlement of it to this day? If he can prove it ever did, he will do that which no one has been able to do before; but if he cannot, and I presume he cannot, the reason he offers why the colonies or particularly why this province, should be obliged to pay any part of the national debt, is of no validity: But he seems to be aware of this himself; and therefore advances another reason why it was propos’d that the parliament should tax America, viz. to defend the conquered provinces “which ought not to be left without troops.” And it was not reasonable that, “England after having run so deeply in debt for acquiring them, should now tax itself for the maintenance of them.” But did England alone run deeply in debt in conquering the French in America? Did not the colonies bear a great share in the expence of it? Undoubtedly: Why then should not England tax herself at least for a part of the maintenance of them? Because “great stability and security was given thereby to all the American governments.” Was Canada conquered then only for the sake of giving stability and security to the American governments? Had Great Britain no view to her own profit? to the advancement of her own glory, the increase of her trade, and the enlargement of her empire? Has she not the sole advantage of the trade, and the immense tracts of land which the colonies helped her to conquer? And is it a sufficient reason why they should pay the whole expence of defending these acquisitions, because stability and security was given to them by means of the conquest, after they had pushed their settlements to the infinite advantage of the mother country, at their own expence and in continual wars with the French and Indian enemies some of them for a century and a half!—But the plan is laid: “10,000 troops must be kept up in America,” the charge of them only computed at,£250,000, and the charge of troops and government, £350,000 per annum, and—”considering the distress of the nation, none could expect to prevail against a tax on the colonies.” And further—“all that Mr. Grenville desired was, that America would bear the charge of its own government and defence.” In pursuance of this plan, the stamp act, he tells us, pass’d the house of commons; but “in complaisance to the colonies, and as Mr. Grenville expressed it, to consult their ease, quiet and good-will, it was hung up till the next year, to give them the opportunity to pass it themselves or some other equivalent.” This then was the state of the case; the house of commons was resolv’d to propose to the colonies, that they should tax themselves £350,000 sterling a year for the maintenance of 10,000 troops to be kept up in America, and for the support of their own government, (which they had always before honorably supported) or they would tax them by the passing of the stamp act: And our writer, by way of question, expresses his surprise that instead of “considering the distress of the nation, and the justness of the demand, the legality of their right to tax us was disputed, and we proceeded boldly to assert what we called our liberties.” But he ought to have shown that the colonies could be said to be free in either case propos’d, or in the one more than in the other; and until he does this, he cannot reasonably find fault with them for thinking the propos’d alternative a just occasion to awaken their attention, & that it was high time for them boldly to assert what they knew to be their indefeasible right, viz. to grant their aid with a free consent & without constraint. I never yet heard it said, that a man who had his purse demanded of him by a superior power, acted freely, tho’ he delivered it with his own hand, instead of waiting for it to be taken from him by force: His will and consent certainly cannot be at all concerned in the matter.
Our writer tells us that the “stamp-act being hung up (in its state of a bill) for a year, might have favoured us with time to plead our cause, and he doubts not but we might have been freed from the greatest part of those charges”; But does he not consider, that in pleading our cause, as he terms it, we implicitly put it in the power of others to be the judges whether they shall tax us without our consent; for I do not find among the pleadings which he would have had us to make, there is any thing that looks like a saving of our right. And supposing that after having pleaded our cause, in the manner in which he would have had us to have done it, we should not have prevailed upon them to have receded from their purpose of taxing us if we did not tax ourselves; would they not have done it with a much better grace, and told us that we ought not surely to complain, since in pleading our cause before them, we left it to their sole judgment and decision, whether they had not the right to tax us, or which is the same thing, oblige us to tax ourselves, and they had determined that they had the right. This it must be own’d would have afforded a happy precedent for all futurity.
But this matter it seems was already determined; for he tells us that “the parliament previous to the repeal resolved that they had a right to tax us”; If his inference is, that they really had the right, because they resolv’d that they had, I shall only say, that his reasoning is much like that of a late letter writer from London, whose wonderful performance, if I mistake not, was inserted in all our news papers, who says that “when an act of parliament is once pass’d, it becomes a part of the constitution.” This I confess, at once shuts the mouths of all Americans from complaining of revenue acts, or any other acts of parliament as unconstitutional; for what is an essential part of the constitution, I think, cannot be unconstitutional.
Our writer intimates very strongly, that the repeal of the stamp act was a matter of favor rather than justice to the colonies—that the act itself was the discipline of a tender and prudent parent—that the colonies in opposing it, discover the symptoms of distraction—that the repeal was derogatory to the honor of the parliament, but it was done to give the colonies time to come to reason—that instead of this, their obstinate temper, manifested by assuming and insulting airs, has made TROOPS necessary for the order of society: All which no doubt entitles him to m—l favor, with a pension of two hundred a year, or at least a place under the right worshipful the American b———d of C—m—rs.
After all, he acknowledges that “there is a great deal of justice and propriety in the case, that the subjects taxed should give their consent by their representatives”; but he fears that if our plea stands good, that the parliament cannot tax us now, it will hold good at another time; and therefore he would have had us, against the time to come, when he supposes we may “become equal to a fourth part of the whole”, to acknowledge that they had the right to tax us, whenever we should refuse to tax ourselves, for such sums as they shall think proper to demand of us; and if the matter had been “thus stated and pleaded in a public manner”, he apprehends, “it would have influenced the people in the colonies to have made a different choice of persons to represent them”, and things would have taken a different turn. Perhaps it would have pleas’d this writer if they had chosen persons who would have given up the whole dispute about the right; for I cannot see that there is any difference, with regard to the right in question, between the Americans consenting forever hereafter to tax themselves such sums as the parliament of Great Britain shall apportion them to pay, and their consenting that the parliament shall tax them as well as apportion the sum: The mode of taxation in the one case, might have been allowed to the Americans, and that is generally allow’d even to an enemy in the case of military contribution; but the right of consenting to the taxation itself would be given up; and in that case would not the colonies be tributary to the people of Great-Britain, instead of fellow subjects, co-equal in dignity and freedom.
Our writer says, that “if such grants and privileges as are pleaded by the Colonists, (such as Charters, &c.) may ever exempt them from paying such a proportion of taxes, it must be concluded that the empire is founded on unjust principles, which needs a reform, in order to make an equality among the subject.”—But he seems to be too apt to forget that the rights of nature, as well as the constitution of Great-Britain, exempts the subjects from paying any money at all, upon any account, without their consent. This is one of the principles upon which the British empire is founded, and has stood firmly for many ages; if this writer thinks it needs a reform to make an equality, surely his proposal that one part of the empire should consent that the other should be the lords proprietors, has no tendency to promote an equality among the subjects—He tells us that formerly the Right of taxation was in the King only—I should have been glad if he had pointed us to that time—We know that Kings, even English Kings, have lost their crowns and their heads for assuming such a right. ‘T is true, this strange claim has occasioned much contention, and it always will, as long as the people understand the great charter of nature upon which Magna Charta itself is founded—No man can take anothers property from him without his consent—This is the law of nature, and a violation of it is the same thing whether it be done by one man who is called a King or by five hundred of another denomination.—He tells us that by Magna Charta & the Bill of Rights, “the King may tax his subjects with the consent of parliament.” I deny it—The King never taxes his subjects—they grant him their aid of their own free accord, and tax themselves in their own mode.—Taxation is their own voluntary, and if I may be allow’d the expression, sovereign act—it is a gift of the people to the King—Indeed the law whereby each individual becomes oblig’d to pay his share of the sum which he has consented to give to the King, is the joint act of King, Lords and Commons. The people of Great-Britain are always in the parliament of Great-Britain by their representatives—therefore the consent of parliament is the consent of the people—but the people of America never were represented in the parliament of Great-Britain, consequently the consent of the commons of Great-Britain to tax them cannot be said to be their consent. His conclusion therefore that our rights are in no wise infring’d, because as he says we are taxed by the King with the consent of the British parliament, admitting that it were so, evidently fails—This writer seems to be very zealous for the power of parliament, but to use his own words “certainly ignorant of what it is founded upon.”
In his conclusion he finds fault with the people for giving out “that they will defend their liberties at the peril of their lives”; he indeed says it is the language of a party only, but I hope, nay I believe he is mistaken—I hope it is the resolution of the whole people of America, when called, to defend their liberties at the peril of their lives—He talks very loosely and strangely of opposing the landing of the King’s troops—a thing which never I suppose existed in the minds of any, but those who wish’d for it, that they might have an occasion of justifying the representations they had made of this people as rebellious—However, he acknowledges that in some cases, “if there had open’d any prospect of succeeding by opposition, he should have readily join’d in the cause of his country against such oppression”—Pray who joins now in the party who give out that they will defend their liberties at the peril of their lives?—I suppose in this case he would have us to understand that he would have acted boldly and risqued his life—but he says his opposition must be “in case of unreasonable exertions of the power of parliament”, of which he will judge for himself before he makes opposition; and pray why will he not give others the like liberty? but I would advise him and all others who talk after this manner, if there be any besides him, to take care that the cause is just, upon which alone they may depend for success; and moreover to be sure that this is the mind of the publick, without which they cannot flatter themselves with even a prospect of success. It is not likely however that he would have joined with all his countrymen against the board of commissioners, for he declares his opinion that “the true British spirit would have been lost, if the ministry had not exerted the power of the nation for their relief”, when they had voluntarily, and to serve the turn, immured themselves in Castle-William. I desire to know before I conclude, how long the ministry has had authority to exert the power of the nation—this I always tho’t belong’d to the parliament generally, in some cases to the King, but I never heard that the power of the nation was left in the hands of the ministry, but so it is according to our writer, who would have looked upon the present exertions of power in America to be neither parliamentary, nor legal, but merely ministerial. The ministry he says has exerted the power of the nation, by which he must mean its military power, for the relief of the commissioners of the customs; I suppose in his next he will acknowledge, what I really believe to be true, that it was done by their special application.