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TO WILLIAM WIRT. - John Adams, The Works of John Adams, vol. 10 (Letters 1811-1825, Indexes) 
The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10.
Part of: The Works of John Adams, 10 vols.
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TO WILLIAM WIRT.
Quincy, 7 March, 1818.
Be pleased to accept my cordial thanks for the present of an elegant copy of your Sketches of Mr. Henry. I know not whether I shall ever have time to make you any other return than thanks; but, as I see you wish to investigate the sources of the American Revolution, if you will give me leave, I will give you such hints as my memory affords, to assist you.
In 1764 was published, in Boston, a pretty little pamphlet, “The Sentiments of a British American,” the motto of which ought to have warned Great Britain to desist from her tyrannical system of taxation.
Considering “An Act for granting certain duties in the British colonies and plantations in America,” of the 4 G. III., he says; “The first objection is, that a tax is laid on several commodities, to be raised and levied in the plantations, and to be remitted home to England. This is esteemed as a grievance, inasmuch as they are laid without the consent of the representatives of the colonists. It is esteemed an essential British right, that no person shall be subject to any tax, but what, in person or by his representative, he has a voice in laying.”
I am indebted to you, Sir, for the reperusal of this pretty little thing. I had never seen it for fifty-four years, and should never have seen it again; but your book has excited me, having no copy of it, to borrow it as a great favor for a short time. It was written by Oxenbridge Thacher, a barrister at law in Boston. There is so much resemblance between this pamphlet and Mr. Jay’s address to the people of England, written ten years afterwards, that, as Johnson said of his Rasselas and Voltaire’s Candide, one might be suspected to have given birth to the other.
In 1764 was published, in Boston, “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved,” by James Otis, Esq. This work was read in the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, in manuscript, in 1764, and, though not ordered by them to be published, it was printed with their knowledge. In it these propositions are asserted as fundamental.
“1. That the supreme and subordinate powers of legislation should be free and sacred in the hands where the community have once rightfully placed them.
2. The supreme, national legislative cannot be altered justly till the commonwealth is dissolved, nor a subordinate legislative taken away without forfeiture or other good cause. Nor then can the subjects in the subordinate government be reduced to a state of slavery, and subject to the despotic rule of others.
3. No legislative, supreme or subordinate, has a right to make itself arbitrary.
4. The supreme legislative cannot justly assume a power of ruling by extempore arbitrary decrees, but is bound to dispense justice by known, settled rules, and by duly authorized, independent judges.
5. The supreme powercannot take from any man any part of his property,without his consent in person, or by representation.
6. The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands.
These are their bounds which, by God and nature, are fixed; hitherto have they a right to come, and no further.
1. To govern by stated laws.
2. Those laws should have no other end ultimately but the good of the people.
3. Taxes are not to be laid on the people, but by their consent in person, or by deputation.
4. Their whole power is not transferable.
These are the first principles of law and justice, and the great barriers of a free State, and of the British Constitution in particular. I ask, I want no more!”
This work, which in 1764 was as familiar to me as my alphabet, I had not seen for fifty-four years, and should never have seen it again, if your Sketches, for which I again thank you, had not aroused me. With some pains, and as a great favor, I have obtained the loan of it for a short time. In page 73 is an elaborate and learned demonstration, that all acts of Parliament, laying taxes on the Colonies, without their consent, are void.
In an appendix to this work is a copy of instructions, given by the city of Boston at their annual meeting, in May, 1764, to their representatives, Royal Tyler, James Otis, Thomas Cushing, and Oxenbridge Thacher, Esqrs. These instructions were drawn by Samuel Adams, who was one of those appointed by the town for that purpose. These instructions are a sample of that simplicity, purity, and harmony of style, which distinguished all the productions of Mr. Adams’s pen. I wish I could transcribe the whole; but the paragraph most directly to the present purpose is the following.
“But what still heightens our apprehensions is, that these unexpected proceedings may be preparatory to new taxations upon us. For, if our trade may be taxed, why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands, and every thing we possess or make use of? This, we apprehend, annihilates our charter right to govern and tax ourselves. It strikes at our British privileges, which, as we have never forfeited them, we hold in common with our fellow-subjects, who are natives of Britain. If taxes are laid upon us in any shape, without our having a legal representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary slaves?”
This whole work was published more than a year before Mr. Henry’s resolutions were moved. Excuse the trouble I give you, and believe, &c.