Letter from a Virginia to the Members of Congress at Philadelphia

v1:759

A LETTER FROM A VIRGINIAN TO THE MEMBERS OF THE CONGRESS, TO BE HELD AT PHILADELPHIA, ON THE FIRST OF SEPTEMBER, 1774.

Let us no longer deceive ourselves with the vain hopes of a speedy repeal of the Tea Act, because we triumphed in the repeal of the Stamp Act; the Acts themselves are totally different in their principles and their operations; the occasion by no means similar. We have advanced from one extravagant claim to another, made such sudden turnings and windings, taken such wild and rapid flights, that the boldest of our followers can follow us no longer; our most zealous advocates are ashamed to plead a cause which all men, but ourselves, condemn. Can we any longer doubt that our friends, on the other side of the Atlantic, as well as our enemies, although they differ in the mode of exercising the authority of Parliament over us, are almost universally agreed in the principle? Are we not convinced from a thousand testimonies, that the clamour against us is universal and loud? Is this, gentlemen, a season to frighten the parent country into a repeal? No man of spirit in private life, even on the slightest quarrel, will submit to be bullied and exposed to the scorn and derision of the little circle he lives in. Can we seriously hope that a great Nation, a proud Nation, will be insulted and degraded with impunity by her Colonies, in the face of every rival Kingdom in Europe? Let us then, gentlemen, relinquish forever a project fraught with absurdity and ruin. Let your constituents hope that the occasion of such an important Assembly will not be wantonly squandered in opprobrious reproaches, in bidding defiance to the mother country, but in digesting and proposing some new plan of accommodation worthy her notice and exceptance. Disputes are generally vain and endless where there are no arbitrators to award, no judges to decree. Where arguments, suspected to be drawn from interest and passion are addressed to interest and passion, they produce no conviction. We may ring eternal changes on taxation and representation, upon actual, virtual, and non-representation. We may end as we began, and disagree eternally; but there is one proposition,

v1:760

a self-evident proposition, to which all the world give their assent, and from which we cannot withold ours: that whatever taxation and representation may be, taxation and Government are inseparable.

On the subject of taxation the authority of Mr˙ Locke is generally quoted by our advocates, as paramount to all other authority whatever. His Treatise on Government, as far as his ideas are practicable with the corrupt materials of all Governments, is undoubtedly a most beautiful theory, the noblest assertion of the unalienable rights of mankind. Let us respect it as the opinion of a wise and virtuous philosopher and patriot, but let us likewise, as good subjects, revere the laws of the land, the collected wisdom of ages, and make them the sole rule of our political conduct. Let not Mr˙ Locke be quoted partially by those who have read him, to mislead thousands who never read him. When he is brought as an authority that no subject can be justly taxed without his own consent, why do not they add his own explanation of that consent? i˙ e˙ "the consent of the majority, giving it either by themselves or their Representatives chosen by them." Do we compose the majority of the British community? Are we, or are we not, of that community? If we are of that community, but are not represented, are we not in the same situation with the numerous body of copy-holders, with the inhabitants of many wealthy and populous towns; in short, with a very great number of our fellow-subjects, who have no votes in elections? Shall we affirm that these are all virtually represented, but deny that we are so; and at the same time be too proud to solicit a representation? Or, under the trite and popular pretences of venality and corruption, laugh at it as impracticable? Shall we plunge at once into anarchy, and reject all accommodation with a Government (by the confession of the wisest men in Europe, the freest and the noblest Government on the records of history,) because there are imperfections in it, as there are in all things, and in all men? Are we confederates, or allies, or subjects of Great Britain? In what code of laws are we to search for taxation, under the title and condition of requisition, as we understand the word? In what theory of Government, ancient, or modern? Is it to be found any where on earth, but in modern harangues, modern pamphlets? And in these only as temporary expedients. The supply of Government must be constant, certain, and proportioned to the protection it affords; the moment the one is precarious, the other is so too; the moment it fails, civil society expires. We boast much of our bountiful compliance with the requisitions made during the last war, and in many instances with reason; but let us remember and acknowledge that there was even then more than one rich Province that refused to comply, although the war was in the very bowels of the country. Can Great Britain then depend upon her requisitions in some future war a thousand leagues distant from North America, on which, as we may have no immediate local interest, we may look perhaps with little concern.

From the infancy of our Colonies to this very hour we have grown up and flourished under the mildness and wisdom of her excellent laws; our trade, our possessions, our persons, have been constantly defended against the whole world, by the fame of her power, or by the exertion of it. We have been very lately rescued by her from enemies who threatened us with slavery and destruction, at the expense of much blood and treasure, and established after a long war (waged on our accounts, at our most earnest prayers) in a state of security, of which there is scarce an example in history. She is ever ready to avenge the cause of the meanest individual among us, with a power respected by the whole world. Let us then no longer disgrace ourselves by illiberal, ungrateful reproaches, by meanly ascribing the most generous conduct to the most sordid motives; we owe our birth, our progress, our delivery, to her; we still depend on her for protection; we are surely able to bear some part of the expense of it; let us be willing to bear it. Employ then, gentlemen, your united zeal and abilities in substituting some adequate, permanent, and effectual supply (by some mode of actual representation,) in the place of uncertain, ineffectual requisitions, or in devising some means of reconciling taxation, the indispensable obligation of every subject, with your ideas of the peculiar and inestimable rights of an Englishman.

v1:761

These are objects worthy a Congress; measures that will confer lasting benefits on your country, and immortal honour on yourselves.

If, on the contrary, like independent states, you arrogate to yourselves the sole right of judging and deciding in your own cause; if you persist in denying the supreme power of Parliament, which no Parliament will ever renounce, like independent states, we have no appeal but to the God of Battles. Shall we dare lift up our eyes to that God, the source of Truth and Justice, and implore his assistance in such a cause? There are causes, where, in spite of the ridiculous tenets of pious, deluded enthusiasts, or of the wicked and monstrous doctrines of slaves and tyrants, the very principles, the original principles on which civil society depends, require, where God and nature call aloud for resistance. Such causes existed in the horrid catalogue of oppressions and crimes under a Philip the Second, a Catharine of Medicis, and in the list of grievances during one period at least, of the reign of the ill educated, the ill advised, the unhappy Charles. On such melancholy occasions, men of sentiment, spirit, and virtue, the only genuine sons of liberty, engage in the honourable cause of freedom, with God on their side, and indignantly sacrifice every advantage of fortune, every endearment of life, and life itself. Do such causes exist now among us? Did they ever exist? Are they likely to exist?

Open, if it be not too late, the eyes of our infatuated countrymen; teach them to compare their happy situation with the wretchedness of nine-tenths of the globe; shew them the general diffusion of the necessaries, the conveniences and pleasures of life, among all orders of people here; the certain rewards of industry, the innumerable avenues to wealth, the native unsubdued freedom of their manners and conversation; the spirit of equality, so flattering to all generous minds, and so essential to the enjoyment of private society; the entire security of their fortunes, liberty and lives; the equity and lenity of their civil and criminal justice; the toleration of their religious opinions and worship.

Teach them to compare these invaluable privileges and enjoyments with the abject and miserable state of men debased by artificial manners, lost to all generous and manly sentiment; alternately crouching and insulting, from the vain and humiliating distinctions of birth, place, and precedence; trembling every moment for their liberty, their property, their consciences, and their lives; millions toiling, not for themselves, but to pamper the luxury and riot of a few worthless, domineering individuals, and pining in indigence and wretchedness; save them from the madness of hazarding such inestimable blessings, in the uncertain events of a war, against all odds, against invasions from Canada, incursions of savages, revolt of slaves, multiplied fleets and armies; a war which must begin where wars commonly end, in the ruin of our trade, in the surrender of our ports and capitals, in the misery of thousands. Teach them in mercy, to beware how they wantonly draw their swords in defence of political problems, distinctions, refinements; about which the best and the wisest men, the friends as well as the enemies of America, differ in their opinions, lest while we deny the mother country every mode, every right of taxation, we give her the right of conquest.