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SECT. I.: Of the Justice of the War with America. - Richard Price, Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America 
Observations on the Nature of Civil Liberty, the Principles of Government, and the Justice and Policy of the War with America. To which is added, an Appendix and Postscript, containing, a State of the National Debt, an Estimate of the Money drawn from the Public by the Taxes, and an Account of the National Income and Expenditure since the last War. The 9th edition. (London: Edward and Charles Dilly and Thomas Cadell, 1776).
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Of the Justice of the War with America.
THE enquiry, whether the war with the Colonies is a just war, will be best determined by stating the power over them, which it is the end of the war to maintain: And this cannot be better done, than in the words of an act of parliament, made on purpose to define it. That act, it is well known, declares, “That this kingdom has power, and of right ought to have power to make laws and statutes to bind the Colonies, and people of America, in all cases whatever.”—Dreadful power indeed! I defy any one to express slavery in stronger language. It is the same with declaring “that we have a right to do with them what we please.”—I will not waste my time by applying to such a claim any of the preceding arguments. If my reader does not feel more in this case, than words can express, all reasoning must be vain.
But, probably, most persons will be for using milder language; and for saying no more than, that the united legislatures of England and Scotland have of right power to tax the Colonies, and a supremacy of legislation over America.—But this comes to the same. If it means any thing, it means, that the property, and the legislations of the Colonies, are subject to the absolute discretion of Great Britain, and ought of right to be so. The nature of the thing admits of no limitation. The Colonies can never be admitted to be judges, how far the authority over them in these cases shall extend. This would be to destroy it entirely.—If any part of their property is subject to our discretion, the whole must be so. If we have a right to interfere at all in their internal legislations, we have a right to interfere as far as we think proper.—It is self-evident, that this leaves them nothing they can call their own.—And what is it that can give to any people such a supremacy over another people?—I have already examined the principal answers which have been given to this enquiry. But it will not be amiss in this place to go over some of them again.
It has been urged, that such a right must be lodged somewhere, “in order to preserve the Unity of the British Empire.”
Pleas of this sort have, in all ages, been used to justify tyranny.—They have in Religion given rise to numberless oppressive claims, and slavish Hierarchies. And in the Romish Communion particularly, it is well known, that the Pope claims the title and powers of the supreme head on earth of the Christian church, in order to preserve its Unity.—With respect to the British Empire, nothing can be more preposterous than to endeavour to maintain its unity, by setting up such a claim. This is a method of establishing unity, which, like the similar method in religion, can produce nothing but discord and mischief.—The truth is, that a common relation to one supreme executive head; an exchange of kind offices; tyes of interest and affection, and compacts, are sufficient to give the British Empire all the unity that is necessary. But if not—If, in order to preserve its Unity, one half of it must be enslaved to the other half, let it, in the name of God, want Unity.
Much has been said of “the Superiority of the British State.” But what gives us our superiority?—Is it our Wealth?—This never confers real dignity. On the contrary: Its effect is always to debase, intoxicate, and corrupt.—Is it the number of our people? The colonies will soon be equal to us in number.—Is it our Knowledge and Virtue? They are probably equally knowing, and more virtuous. There are names among them that will not stoop to any names among the philosophers and politicians of this island.
“But we are the Parent State.”—These are the magic words which have fascinated and misled us.—The English came from Germany. Does that give the German states a right to tax us?—Children, having no property, and being incapable of guiding themselves, the Author of nature has committed the care of them to their parents, and subjected them to their absolute authority. But there is a period when, having acquired property, and a capacity of judging for themselves, they become independent agents; and when, for this reason, the authority of their parents ceases, and becomes nothing but the respect and influence due to benefactors. Supposing, therefore, that the order of nature in establishing the relation between parents and children, ought to have been the rule of our conduct to the Colonies, we should have been gradually relaxing our authority as they grew up. But, like mad parents, we have done the contrary; and, at the very time when our authority should have been most relaxed, we have carried it to the greatest extent, and exercised it with the greatest rigour. No wonder then, that they have turned upon us; and obliged us to remember, that they are not Children.
“But we have,” it is said, “protected them, and run deeply in debt on their “account.”—The full answer to this has been already given, (page 13.) Will any one say, that all we have done for them has not been more on our own account,(a) than on theirs?—But suppose the contrary. Have they done nothing for us? Have they made no compensation for the protection they have received? Have they not helped us to pay our taxes, to support our poor, and to bear the burthen of our debts, by taking from us, at our own price, all the commodities with which we can supply them?—Have they not, for our advantage, submitted to many restraints in acquiring property? Must they likewise resign to us the disposal of that property?—Has not their exclusive trade with us been for many years one of the chief sources of our national wealth and power?—In all our wars have they not sought by our side, and contributed much to our success? In the last war, particularly, it is well known, that they ran themselves deeply in debt; and that the parliament thought it necessary to grant them considerable sums annually as compensations for going beyond their abilities in assisting us. And in this course would they have continued for many future years; perhaps, for ever.—In short; were an accurate account stated, it is by no means certain which side would appear to be most indebted. When asked as freemen, they have hitherto seldom discovered any reluctance in giving. But, in obedience to a demand, and with the bayonet at their breasts, they will give us nothing but blood.
It is farther said, “that the land on which they settled was ours.”—But how same it to be ours? If sailing along a coast can give a right to a country, then might the people of Japan become, as soon as they please, the proprietors of Britain. Nothing can be more chimerical than property founded on such a reason. If the land on which the Colonies first settled had any proprietors, they were the natives. The greatest part of it they bought of the natives. They have since cleared and cultivated it; and, without any help from us, converted a wilderness into fruitful and pleasant fields. It is, therefore, now on a double account their property; and no power on earth can have any right to disturb them in the possession of it, or to take from them, without their consent, any part of its produce.
But let it be granted that the land was ours. Did they not settle upon it under the faith of charters, which promised them the enjoyment of all the rights of Englishmen; and allowed them to tax themselves, and to be governed by legislatures of their own, similar to ours? These charters were given them by an authority, which at the time was thought competent; and they have been rendered sacred by an acquiescence on our part for more than a century. Can it then be wondered at, that the Colonies should revolt, when they found their charters violated; and an attempt made to force innovations upon them by famine and the sword?—But I lay no stress on charters. They derive their rights from a higher source. It is inconsistent with common sense to imagine, that any people would ever think of settling in a distant country, on any such condition, as that the people from whom they withdrew, should for ever be masters of their property, and have power to subject them to any modes of government they pleased. And had there been express stipulations to this purpose in all the charters of the colonies, they would, in my opinion, be no more bound by them, than if it had been stipulated with them, that they should go naked, or expose themselves to the incursions of wolves and tigers.
The defective state of the representation of this kingdom has been farther pleaded to prove our right to tax America. We submit to a parliament that does not represent us, and therefore they ought.—How strange an argument is this? It is saying we want liberty; and therefore, they ought to want it.—Suppose it true, that they are indeed contending for a better constitution of government, and more liberty than we enjoy: Ought this to make us angry?—Who is there that does not see the danger to which this country is exposed?—Is it generous, because we are in a sink, to endeavour to draw them into it? Ought we not rather to wish earnestly, that there may at least be one free country left upon earth, to which we may fly, when venality, luxury, and vice have completed the ruin of Liberty here?
It is, however, by no means true, that America has no more right to be exempted from taxation by the British parliament, than Britain itself.—Here, all freeholders, and burgesses in boroughs, are represented. There, not one Freeholder, or any other person, is represented.—Here, the aids granted by the represented part of the kingdom must be proportionably paid by themselves; and the laws they make for others, they at the same time make for themselves. There, the aids they would grant would not be paid, but received, by themselves; and the laws they made would be made for others only.—In short. The relation of one country to another country, whose representatives have the power of taxing it (and of appropriating the money raised by the taxes) is much the same with the relation of a country to a single despot, or a body of despots, within itself, invested with the like power. In both cases, the people taxed and those who tax have separate interests; nor can there be any thing to check oppression, besides either the abilities of the people taxed, or the humanity of the taxers.—But indeed I can never hope to convince that person of any thing, who does not see an essential difference(a) between the two cases now mentioned; or between the circumstances of individuals, and classes of men, making parts of a community imperfectly represented in the legislature that governs it; and the circumstances of a whole community, in a distant world, not at all represented.
But enough has been said by others on this point; nor is it possible for me to throw any new light upon it. To finish, therefore, what I meant to offer under this head, I must beg that the following considerations may be particularly attended to.
The question now between us and the Colonies is, Whether, in respect of taxation and internal legislation, they are bound to be subject to the jurisdiction of this kingdom: Or, in other words, Whether the British parliament has or has not of right a power to dispose of their property, and to model as it pleases their governments?—To this supremacy over them, we say, we are entitled; and in order to maintain it, we have begun the present war.—Let me here enquire,
1st. Whether, if we have now this supremacy, we shall not be equally entitled to it in any future time?—They are now but little short of half our number. To this number they have grown, from a small body of original settlers, by a very rapid increase. The probability is, that they will go on to increase; and that, in 50 or 60 years, they will be double our number;(a) and form a mighty Empire, consisting of a variety of states, all equal or superior to ourselves in all the arts and accomplishments, which give dignity and happiness to human life. In that period, will they be still bound to acknowledge that supremacy over them which we now claim? Can there be any person who will assert this; or whose mind does not revolt at the idea of a vast continent, holding all that is valuable to it, at the discretion of a handful of people on the other side the Atlantic?—But if, at that period, this would be unreasonable; what makes it otherwise now?—Draw the line, if you can.—But there is a still greater difficulty.
Britain is now, I will suppose, the seat of Liberty and Virtue; and its legislature consists of a body of able and independent men, who govern with wisdom and justice. The time may come when all will be reversed: When its excellent constitution of Government will be subverted: When, pressed by debts and taxes, it will be greedy to draw to itself an increase of revenue from every distant Province, in order to ease its own burdens: When the influence of the crown, strengthened by luxury and an universal profligacy of manners, will have tainted every heart, broken down every fence of Liberty, and rendered us a nation of tame and contented vassals: When a General Election will be nothing but a General Auction of Boroughs: And when the Parliament, the Grand Council of the nation, and once the faithful guardian of the state, and a terror to evil ministers, will be degenerated into a body of Sycophants, dependent and venal, always ready to confirm any measures; and little more than a public court for registering royal edicts.—Such, it is possible, may, some time or other, be the state of Great Britain.—What will, at that period, be the duty of the Colonies? Will they be still bound to unconditional submission? Must they always continue an appendage to our government; and follow it implicitly through every change that can happen to it?—Wretched condition, indeed, of millions of freemen as good as ourselves!—Will you say that we now govern equitably; and that there is no danger of any such revolution?—Would to God this were true!—But will you not always say the same? Who shall judge whether we govern equitably or not? Can you give the Colonies any security that such a period will never come? Once more.
If we have indeed that power which we claim over the legislations, and internal rights of the Colonies, may we not, whenever we please, subject them to the arbitrary power of the crown?—I do not mean, that this would be a disadvantageous change: For I have before observed, that if a people are to be subject to an external power over which they have no command, it is better that power should be lodged in the hands of one man than of a multitude. But many persons think otherwise; and such ought to consider that, if this would be a calamity, the condition of the Colonies must be deplorable.—“A government by King, Lords, and Commons, (it has been said) is the perfection of government;” and so it is, when the Commons are a just representation of the people; and when also, it is not extended to any distant people, or communities, not represented. But if this is the best, a government by a king only must be the worst; and every claim implying a right to establish such a government among any people must be unjust and cruel.—It is self-evident, that by claiming a right to alter the constitutions of the Colonies, according to our discretion, we claim this power: And it is a power that we have thought fit to exercise in one of our Colonies; and that we have attempted to exercise in another.—Canada, according to the late extension of its limits, is a country almost as large as half Europe; and it may possibly come in time to be filled with British subjects. The Quebec act makes the king of Great Britain a despot over all that country.—In the Province of Massachusett’s Bay the same thing has been attempted and begun.
The act for betterregulating their government, passed at the same time with the Quebec act, gives the king the right of appointing, and removing at his pleasure, the members of one part of the legislature; alters the mode of chusing juries, on purpose to bring it more under the influence of the king; and takes away from the province the power of calling any meetings of the people without the king’s consent.(a) —The judges, likewise, have been made dependent on the king, for their nomination and pay, and continuance in office.—If all this is no more than we have a right to do; may we not go on to abolish the house of representatives, to destroy all trials by juries, and to give up the province absolutely and totally to the will of the king?—May we not even establish popery in the province, as has been lately done in Canada, leaving the support of protestantism to the king’s discretion?—Can there be any Englishman who, were it his own case, would not sooner lose his heart’s blood than yield to claims so pregnant with evils, and destructive to every thing that can distinguish a Freeman from a Slave?
I will take this opportunity to add, that what I have now said, suggests a consideration that demonstrates, on how different a footing the Colonies are with respect to our government, from particular bodies of men within the kingdom, who happen not to be represented. Here, it is impossible that the represented part should subject the unrepresented part to arbitrary power, without including themselves. But in the Colonies it is not impossible. We know that it has been done.
[(a) ]This is particularly true of the bounties granted on some American commodities (as pitch, tar, indigo, &c.) when imported into Britain; for it is well known, that the end of granting them was, to get those commodities cheaper from the Colonies, and in return for our manufactures, which we used to get from Russia and other foreign countries. And this is expressed in the preambles of the laws which grant these bounties. See the Appeal to the Justice, &c. page 21, third edition. It is, therefore, strange that Doctor Tucker and others, should have insisted so much upon these bounties as favours and indulgences to the Colonies.—But it is still more strange, that the time representation should have been made of the compensations granted them for doing more during the last war in assisting us than could have been reasonably expected; and also of the sums we have spent in maintaining troops among them without their consent; and in opposition to their wishes.—See a pamphlet, intitled “The rights of Great Britain asserted against the claims of America.”
[(a) ]It gives me pleasure to find, that the author of the Remarks on the Principal Acts of the 13th Parliament of Great Britain, &c. acknowledges this difference.—It has, however, been at the same time mortifying to me to find so able a writer adopting such principles of government, as are contained in this work. According to him, a people have no property or rights, except such as their Civil Governers are pleased not to take from them. Taxes, therefore, he asserts, are in no tense the gift, much less the free gifts of the people. See p. 58. and 191.
[(a) ]See Observations on Reversionary Payments, page 207, &c.
[(a) ]See page 12.