Gambar halaman
PDF
ePub

founders of civil government-an institution, which hath its origin in the weakness of individuals, and hath for its end, the strength and security of all: and so long as the means of effecting this important end are thoroughly known, and religiously attended to, government is one of the richest blessings to mankind, and ought to be held in the highest veneration.

În young and new formed communities, the grand design of this institution, is most generally understood, and most strictly regarded. The motives which urged to the social compact, cannot be at once forgotten, and that equality which is remembered to have subsisted so lately among them, prevents those who are clothed with authority, from attempting to invade the freedom of their brethren ; or if such an attempt is made, it prevents the community from suffering the offender to go unpunished. Every member feels it to be his interest and knows it to be his duty, to preserve inviolate the constitution on which the public safety depends,* and he is equally ready to assist the magistrate in the execution of the laws, and the subject in defence of his right; and so long as this noble attachment to a constitution, founded on free and benevolent principles, exists in full vigor, in any state, that state must be flourishing and happy.

It was this noble attachment to a free constitution, which raised ancient Rome, from the smallest beginnings, to that bright summit of happiness and glory, to which she arrived; and it was the loss of this which plunged her from that summit into the black gulf of infamy and slavery. It was this attachment which inspired her senators with wisdom; it was this which glowed in the breasts of her heroes; it was this which guarded her liberties and extended her dominions, gave peace at home, and commanded respect abroad. And when this decayed, her magistrates lost their reve

1

* Omnes ordines ad conservandam rempublicam, mente, voluntate, studio, virtute, voce, consentiunt.--CICERO.

rence for justice and the laws, and degenerated into tyrants and oppressors; her senators, forgetful of their dignity, and seduced by base corruption, betrayed their country; her soldiers, regardless of their relation to the community, and urged only by the hopes of plunder and rapine, unfeelingly committed the most flagrant enormities; and, hired to the trade of death, with relentless fury they perpetrated the most cruel murders, whereby the streets of imperial Rome were drenched with her noblest blood. Thus this empress of the world lost her dominions abroad, and her inhabitants, dissolute in their manners, at length became contented slaves; and she stands, to this day, the scorn and derision of nations, and a monument of this eternal truth, that public happiness depends on a virtuous and unshaken attachment to a free constitution.

It was this attachment to a constitution, founded on free and benevolent principles, which inspired the first settlers of this country. They saw, with grief, the daring outrages committed on the free constitution of their native land; they knew, that nothing but a civil war could, at that time, restore its pristine purity. So hard was it to resolve to imbrue their hands in the blood of their brethren, that they chose rather to quit their fair possessions and seek another habitation in a distant clime. When they came to this new world, which they fairly purchased of the Indian natives, the only rightful proprietors, they cultivated the then barren soil, by their incessant labor, and defended their dear-bought possessions with the fortitude of the christian, and the bravery of the hero.

After various struggles, which, during the tyrannic reigns of the house of Stuart, were constantly kept up between right and wrong, between liberty and slavery, the connexion between Great Britain and this colony was settled in the reign of king William and queen Mary, by a compact, the conditions of which were expressed in a charter; by which all the liberties and immunities of British subjects, were confirmed to this

province, as fully and as absolutely as they possibly could be, by any human instrument, which can be devised. And it is undeniably true, that the greatest and most important right of a British subject is, that he shall be governed by no laws but those to which he either in person, or by his representative, hath given his consent: and this, I will venture to assert, is the grand basis of British freedom; it is interwoven with the constitution; and whenever this is lost, the constitution must be destroyed.

The British constitution, (of which ours is a copy,) is a happy compound of the three forms, (under some of which all governments may be ranged,) viz., monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Of these three the British legislature is composed, and without the consent of each branch, nothing can carry with it the force of a law. But when a law is to be passed for raising a tax, that law can originate only in the democratic branch, which is the house of commons in Britain, and the house of representatives here. The reason is obvious: they and their constituents are to pay much the largest part of it; but as the aristocratic branch, which, in Britain, is the house of lords, and in this province, the council, are also to pay some part, their consent is necessary; and as the monarchic branch, which, in Britain, is the king, and with us, either the king in person, or the governor whom he shall be pleased to appoint to act in his stead, is supposed to have a just sense of his own interest, which is that of all the subjects in general, his consent is also necessary, and when the consent of these three branches is obtained, the taxation is most certainly legal.

Let us now allow ourselves a few moments to examine the late acts of the British parliament for taxing America. Let us, with candor, judge, whether they are constitutionally binding upon us: if they are, in the name of justice let us submit to them, without one murmuring word.

First, I would ask, whether the members of the British house of commons are the democracy of this province? If they are, they are either the people of this province, or are elected by the people of this province, to represent them, and have, therefore, a constitutional right to originate a bill for taxing them: it is most certain they are neither, and, therefore, nothing done by them can be said to be done by the democratic branch of our constitution. I would next ask, whether the lords, who compose the aristocratic branch of the legislature, are peers of America ? I never heard it was, (even in those extraordinary times,) so much as pretended; and if they are not, certainly no act of theirs can be said to be the act of the aristocratic branch of our constitution. The power of the monarchic branch we, with pleasure, acknowledge resides in the king, who may act either in person or by his representative; and I freely confess, that I can see no reason why a proclamation for raising taxes in America, issued by the king's sole authority, would not be equally consistent with our own constitution, and, therefore, equally binding upon us, with the late acts of the British parliament for taxing us; for it is plain, that if there is any validity in those acts, it must arise altogether from the monarchical branch of the legislature. And I further think, that it would be at least as equitable; for I do not conceive it to be of the least importance to us, by whom our property is taken away, so long as it is taken without our consent; and I am very much at a loss to know, by what figure of rhetoric, the inhabitants of this province can be called free subjects, when they are obliged to obey, implicitly, such laws as are made for them by men three thousand miles off, whom they know not, and whom they never empowered to act for them; or how they can be said to have property, when a body of men, over whom they have not the least control, and who are not in any way accountable to them, shall oblige them to deliver up any part, or the whole of their substance, without even asking their consent. And yet, whoever pretends, that the late acts of the British parliament, for taxing America, ought to be deemed binding upon us, must admit, at once, that we are absolute slaves, and have no property of our own; or else, that we may be freemen, and, at the same time, under a necessity of obeying the arbitrary commands of those over whom we have no control or influence, and that we may have property of our own, which is entirely at the disposal of another. Such gross absurdities, I believe, will not be relished in this enlightened age: and it can be no matter of wonder, that the people quickly perceived, and seriously complained of the inroads which these acts must unavoidably make upon their liberty, and of the hazard to which their whole property is by them exposed. For, if they may be taxed without their consent, even in the smallest trifle, they may also, without their consent, be deprived of every thing they possess, although never so valuable, never so dear. Certainly it never entered the hearts of our ancestors, that, after so many dangers in this then desolate wilderness, their

hard-earned property should be at the disposal of the British parliament. And as it was soon found, that this taxation could not be supported by reason and argument, it seemed necessary, that one act of oppression should be enforced by another, and, therefore, contrary to our just rights as possessing, or at least having a just title to possess, all the liberties and immunities of British subjects, a standing army was established among us, in time of peace; and evidently for the purpose of effecting that, which it was one principal design of the founders of the constitution to prevent, (when they declared a standing army, in time of peace, to be against law,) namely, for the enforcement of obedience to acts, which, upon fair examination, appeared to be unjust and unconstitutional.

The ruinous consequences of standing armies to free communities, may be seen in the histories of Syracuse, Rome and many other once flourishing states;

« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »