Letter to the Author of the Letters to the Inhabitants



SIR: The Declaratory Act, passed by the Parliament at the time they repealed the Stamp Act, was such a violation of the Constitution, such an assumption of new powers, so subversive of liberty, and so destructive of properly, that it deserves particular observation. That it has hitherto passed unnoticed is owing to the gratitude and joy with which America received the repeal of the Stamp Act. For the same reason the principal on which the repeal was founded, was suffered to pass without animadversion; and the people who claimed the repeal as a point of equity and right received it with gratitude as a free gift.

The English Constitution, whose object is liberty, has, for the preserving of that liberty, and for the security of property, vested peculiar powers in the different brandies of the Legislature, which are to be exercised for the


good and safety of the subject. Salus populi suprema est lex. The abuse of these powers, or the attempt of one branch of the Legislature to extend its peculiar powers so as to abridge those of the others, has been the foundation of many civil wars and struggles in Britain.

From the earliest period of the English Constitution, it has ever been deemed the prerogative of the Crown to grant charters to the subjects, and terms of capitulation to conquered countries, who were taken under the Dominion of the Crown. And the statute of quo warrento, eighteenth of Edward First, expressly declares that, "illi qui habent chartas regales, secundum chartas istas et earundem plenitudinem judicentur." On which statute Lord Coke observes, "in the first place that as it was enacted, ex speciali gratia domini regis, ‘it binds the King,’ and consequently in binding the King must also bind his Parliament; in the second place, from the words ‘earundem plenitudinem,’ that this statute is to be construed ‘as fully and beneficially for the charters, as the law was taken at the time when charters were granted.’" In the third place says he, certainly this ancient statute was a direction to the sages of the law for their construction of the King' s charters, as it appeareth in our books."

On this foundation rests the Declaratory Act respecting Ireland. When Henry the Second conquered Ireland he granted the Irish peace, and annexed them to his Crown on this condition: "That the Kingdom and people of Ireland should forever be governed by the same mild laws as England was governed." And the statute passed in the thirty-first of Edward Third, confirms and renews this charter, by declaring that his Majesty' s subjects in Ireland, being either natives of that Kingdom or English born subjects, only resident there, "sint veri anglici, et sub eisdem degant domino et regimine, et eisdem legibus utantur." And hence the Act of the sixth George First, chapter six, assume no new power, lays no new restrictions upon his Majesty' s good subjects of Ireland, nor claims any new right, but simply declares, "that the King' s Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords, spiritual and temporal, and Commons of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, hath full power and authority to make laws of sufficient force and validity to bind the Kingdom and people of Ireland."

Here is no charter violated, no claim of power to deprive them of property, or levy taxes on them without their consent. Their Parliament, their right and trial by jury, and of granting supplies to their King in their own way for the support of Government, administration of justice, and defence of the Kingdom, remain untouched. But the Declaratory Act passed against America, fifth of George Third, in violation of their charters, declares, that the claim of the Houses of Representatives in his Majesty' s Colonies and Plantations in America, to the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon his Majesty' s subjects in the said Colonies and Plantations, is against law; that the votes, resolutions, and orders, passed in pursuance of such claim, are derogatory to the Legislative authority of Parliament; that the said Colonies and Plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon, the imperial Crown and Parliament of Great Britain, and that the King' s Majesty, by and with the advice, &c˙, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the Colonies and people of America, subjects of the Crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever. What is this but the high hand of power to break down the barriers of the Constitution, and make us tenants at will, of our lives, liberty, and property.

There was a time when the Crown held lands in England, "sacra, patrimonia coronoe," the annual rent of which, if now resumed would amount to four millions sterling. These have been conveyed to subjects, and are now held by virtue of charters from the Crown. If the chartoe regales, or chartered rights of the Colonies can be violated and annulled by Parliament, what security can the possessors of those lands have for the estates they enjoy? Let the Parliament try the experiment on their fellow-subjects in Great Britain, and judge of the temper and disposition of the Colonies by the effect such a step will produce among themselves.