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7: Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson - John Adams, Revolutionary Writings 
The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams, Selected and with a Foreword by C. Bradley Thompson (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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Two Replies of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to Governor Hutchinson
Governor Hutchinson’s announcement that his salary and those of the judges would henceforth by paid out of crown revenue sent shock waves through Massachusetts. Fearing that Boston radicals were driving the colony to the brink of independence, Hutchinson called for two special joint sessions of the General Court in order to pacify the towns and to explain why Parliament must retain supreme authority over all British dominions. In theory and in practice, he argued, sovereignty cannot be divided and two independent legislative bodies could not exist in the same state.
Though not a member of the Massachusetts House at the time, Adams was asked by the committee charged with responding to the Governor’s two speeches to assist them in drafting a response. Adams answered Hutchinson by arguing that the colonists were not and had never been under the sovereignty of Parliament. Their original charter was with the person of the king and their allegiance was to him and him only. Thus, if a workable line could not be drawn between Parliamentary sovereignty and the total independence of the colonies, the colonies would have no other choice but to choose independence.
This dramatic confrontation between Hutchinson and the Massachusetts House represents one of the most important debates of the Revolutionary period. The Massachusetts Assembly was the first colonial legislature to publicly reject the theory and practice of parliamentary sovereignty. It was not until after Parliament’s passage of the Coercive Acts some eighteen months later that the other colonies followed the Massachusetts lead.
Answer to His Excellency’s Speech at the Opening of the Session
May it please your Excellency,
Your Excellency’s Speech to the General Assembly at the Opening of this Session, has been read with great Attention in this House.
We fully agree with your Excellency, that our own Happiness as well as his Majesty’s Service, very much depends upon Peace and Order; and we shall at all Times take such Measures as are consistent with our Constitution and the Rights of the People to promote and maintain them. That the Government at present is in a very disturbed State is apparent! But we cannot ascribe it to the People’s having adopted unconstitutional Principles, which seems to be the Cause assigned for it by your Excellency. It appears to us to have been occasioned rather, by the British House of Commons assuming and exercising a Power inconsistent with the Freedom of the Constitution to give and grant the Property of the Colonists, and appropriate the same without their Consent.
It is needless for us to enquire what were the Principles that induced the Councils of the Nation to so new and unprecedented a Measure. But when the Parliament by an Act of their own expressly declared, that the King, Lords and Commons of the Nation “have, had, 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 whatever,” and in Consequence hereof another Revenue Act was made, the Minds of the People were filled with Anxiety, and they were justly alarmed with Apprehensions of the total Extinction of their Liberties.
The Result of the free Enquiries of many Persons into the Right of the Parliament to exercise such a Power over the Colonies, seems in your Excellency’s Opinion to be the Cause of what you are pleased to call the present “disturbed State of the Government;” upon which you “may not any longer consistent with your Duty to the King, and your Regard to the Interest of the Province, delay communicating your Sentiments.” But that the Principles adopted in Consequence hereof, are unconstitutional, is a Subject of Enquiry. We know of no such Disorders arising therefrom as are mentioned by your Excellency. If Grand Jurors have not on their Oaths found such Offences, as your Excellency with the Advice of his Majesty’s Council have ordered to be prosecuted, it is to be presumed they have followed the Dictates of good Conscience. They are the constitutional Judges of these Matters, and it is not to be supposed, that moved from corrupt Principles, they have suffered Offenders to escape a Prosecution, and thus supported and encouraged them to go on offending. If any Part of Authority, shall in an unconstitutional Manner, interpose in any Matter, it will be no wonder if it be brought into Contempt; to the lessening or confounding of that Subordination which is necessary to a well regulated State. Your Excellency’s Representation that the Bands of Government are weakened, we humbly conceive to be without good Grounds; though we must own the heavy Burthens unconstitutionally brought upon the People have been and still are universally and very justly complained of as a Grievance.
You are pleased to say, that “when our Predecessors first took Possession of this Plantation or Colony, under a Grant and Charter from the Crown of England, it was their Sense and it was the Sense of the Kingdom, that they were to remain subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament;” whereby we understand your Excellency to mean in the Sense of the Declaratory Act of Parliament aforementioned, in all Cases whatever. And indeed it is difficult, if possible, to draw a Line of Distinction between the universal Authority of Parliament over the Colonies and no Authority at all. It is therefore necessary for us to enquire how it appears, for your Excellency has not shown it to us, that when or at the Time that our Predecessors took Possession of this Plantation or Colony, under a Grant and Charter from the Crown of England, it was their Sense, and the Sense of the Kingdom, that they were to remain subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament. In making this Enquiry, we shall, according to your Excellency’s Recommendation, treat the Subject with Calmness and Candor, and also with a due Regard to Truth.
Previous to a direct Consideration of the Charter granted to this Province or Colony, and the better to elucidate the true Sense and Meaning of it, we would take a View of the State of the English North American Continent at the Time when and after Possession was first taken of any Part of it, by the Europeans. It was then possessed by Heathen and Barbarous People, who had nevertheless all that Right to the Soil and Sovereignty in and over the Lands they possessed, which God had originally given to Man. Whether their being Heathen, inferred any Right or Authority to Christian Princes, a Right which had long been assumed by the Pope, to dispose of their Lands to others, we will leave to your Excellency or any one of Understanding and impartial Judgment to consider. It is certain they had in no other Sense forfeited them to any Power in Europe. Should the Doctrine be admitted that the Discovery of Lands owned and possessed by Pagan People, gives to any Christian Prince a Right and Title to the Dominion and Property, still it is vested in the Crown alone. It was an Acquisition of Foreign Territory, not annexed to the Realm of England, and therefore at the absolute Disposal of the Crown. For we take it to be a settled Point, that the King has a constitutional Prerogative to dispose of and alienate any Part of his Territories not annexed to the Realm. In the Exercise of this Prerogative, Queen Elizabeth granted the first American Charter; and claiming a Right by Virtue of Discovery, then supposed to be valid, to the Lands which are now possessed by the Colony of Virginia, she conveyed to Sir Walter Rawleigh, the Property, Dominion and Sovereignty thereof, to be held of the Crown by Homage, and a certain Render, without any Reservation to herself of any Share in the Legislative and Executive Authority. After the Attainder of Sir Walter, King James the First created two Virginia Companies, to be governed each by Laws transmitted to them by his Majesty and not by the Parliament, with Power to establish and cause to be made a Coin to pass current among them; and vested with all Liberties, Franchises and Immunities within any of his other Dominions, to all Intents and Purposes, as if they had been abiding, and born within the Realm. A Declaration similar to this is contained in the first Charter of this Colony, and in those of other American Colonies, which shows that the Colonies were not intended or considered to be within the Realm of England, though within the Allegiance of the English Crown. After this, another Charter was granted by the same King James, to the Treasurer and Company of Virginia, vesting them with full Power and Authority, to make, ordain and establish all Manner of Orders, Laws, Directions, Instructions, Forms and Ceremonies of Government, and Magistracy, fit and necessary, and the same to abrogate, &c. without any Reservation for securing their Subjection to the Parliament and future Laws of England. A third Charter was afterwards granted by the same King to the Treasurer and Company of Virginia, vesting them with Power and Authority to make Laws, with an Addition of this Clause, “so always that the same be not contrary to the Laws and Statutes of this our Realm of England.” The same Clause was afterwards copied into the Charter of this and other Colonies, with certain Variations, such as that these Laws should be “consonant to Reason,” “not repugnant to the Laws of England,” “as nearly as conveniently may be to the Laws, Statutes and Rights of England,” &c. These Modes of Expression convey the same Meaning, and serve to show an Intention that the Laws of the Colonies should be as much as possible, conformant in the Spirit of them to the Principles and fundamental Laws of the English Constitution, its Rights and Statutes then in Being, and by no Means to bind the Colonies to a Subjection to the Supreme Authority of the English Parliament. And that this is the true Intention, we think it further evident from this Consideration, that no Acts of any Colony Legislative, are ever brought into Parliament for Inspection there, though the Laws made in some of them, like the Acts of the British Parliament are laid before the King for his Assent or Disallowance.
We have brought the first American Charters into View, and the State of the Country when they were granted, to show that the Right of disposing of the Lands was in the Opinion of those Times vested solely in the Crown— that the several Charters conveyed to the Grantees, who should settle upon the Territories therein granted, all the Powers necessary to constitute them free and distinct States—and that the fundamental Laws of the English Constitution should be the certain and established Rule of Legislation, to which the Laws to be made in the several Colonies were to be as nearly as conveniently might be, conformable or similar, which was the true Intent and Import of the Words, “not repugnant to the Laws of England,” “consonant to Reason,” and other variant Expressions in the different Charters. And we would add, that the King in some of the Charters reserves the Right to judge of the Consonance and Similiarity of their Laws with the English Constitution to himself, and not to the Parliament; and in Consequence thereof to affirm, or within a limited Time, disallow them.
These Charters, as well as that afterwards granted to Lord Baltimore, and other Charters, are repugnant to the Idea of Parliamentary Authority. And to suppose a Parliamentary Authority over the Colonies under such Charters would necessarily induce that Solecism in Politics Imperium in Imperio. And the King’s repeatedly exercising the Prerogative of disposing of the American Territory by such Charters, together with the Silence of the Nation, thereupon, is an Evidence that it was an acknowledged Prerogative.
But further to show the Sense of the English Crown and Nation that the American Colonists and our Predecessors in particular, when they first took Possession of this Country by a Grant and Charter, from the Crown did not remain subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament, we beg Leave to observe; that when a Bill was offered by the two Houses of Parliament to King Charles the First, granting to the Subjects of England the free Liberty of Fishing on the Coast of America, he refused his Royal Assent, declaring as a Reason, that “the Colonies were without the Realm and Jurisdiction of Parliament.”
In like Manner, his Predecessor James the First, had before declared upon a similar Occasion, that “America was not annexed to the Realm, and it was not fitting that Parliament should make Laws for those Countries.” This Reason was, not secretly, but openly declared in Parliament. If then the Colonies were not annexed to the Realm, at the Time when their Charters were granted, they never could be afterwards, without their own special Consent, which has never since been had, or even asked. If they are not now annexed to the Realm, they are not a Part of the Kingdom, and consequently not subject to the Legislative Authority of the Kingdom. For no Country, by the Common Law was subject to the Laws or to the Parliament, but the Realm of England.
We would, if your Excellency pleases, subjoin an Instance of Conduct in King Charles the Second, singular indeed, but important to our Purpose; who, in 1679, framed an Act for a permanent Revenue for the Support of Virginia, and sent it there by Lord Colpepper, the Governor of that Colony; which was afterwards passed into a Law, and “Enacted by the King’s most excellent Majesty, by and with the Consent of the General Assembly of Virginia.” If the King had judged that Colony to be a Part of the Realm, he would not, nor could he consistently with Magna Charta, have placed himself at the Head of, and joined with any Legislative Body in making a Law to Tax the People there, other than the Lords and Commons of England.
Having taken a View of the several Charters of the first Colony in America, if we look into the old Charter of this Colony, we shall find it to be grounded on the same Principle: That the Right of disposing the Territory granted therein was vested in the Crown, as being that Christian Sovereign who first discovered it, when in the Possession of Heathen; and that it was considered as being not within the Realm, but only within the Fee and Seignory of the King. As therefore it was without the Realm of England, must not the King, if he had designed that the Parliament should have had any Authority over it, have made a special Reservation for that Purpose, which was not done.
Your Excellency says, it appears from the Charter itself, to have been the Sense of our Predecessors who first took Possession of this Plantation or Colony, that they were to remain subject to the Authority of Parliament. You have not been pleased to point out to us how this appears from the Charter, unless it be in the Observation you make on the above-mentioned Clause, viz. “That a favourable Construction has been put upon this Clause, when it has been allowed to intend such Laws of England only as are expresly made to respect us,” which you say “is by Charter a Reserve of Power and Authority to Parliament to bind us by such Laws at least as are made expresly to refer to us, and consequently is a Limitation of the Power given to the General Court.” But we would still recur to the Charter itself, and ask your Excellency, How this appears from thence to have been the Sense of our Predecessors? Is any Reservation of Power and Authority to Parliament thus to bind us, expressed or implied in the Charter? It is evident, that King Charles the first, the very Prince who granted it, as well as his Predecessor, had no such Idea of the supreme Authority of Parliament over the Colony, from their Declarations before recited. Your Excellency will then allow us further to ask, by what Authority in Reason or Equity the Parliament can enforce a Construction so unfavourable to us. Quod ab initio injustum est, nullum potest habere juris effectum, said Grotius. Which with Submission to your Excellency may be rendered thus, Whatever is originally in its Nature wrong, can never be satisfied or made right by Reputation and Use.
In solemn Agreements subsequent: Restrictions ought never to be allowed. The celebrated Author whom your Excellency has quoted, tells us that “neither the one or the other of the interested or contracting Powers hath a Right to interpret at Pleasure.” This we mention to show, even upon a Supposition that the Parliament had been a Party to the Contract, the Invalidity of any of its subsequent Acts, to explain any Clause in the Charter; more especially to restrict or make void any Clause granted therein to the General Court. An Agreement ought to be interpreted “in such a Manner as that it may have its Effect.” But if your Excellency’s Interpretation of this Clause is just, “that it is a Reserve of Power and Authority to Parliament to bind us by such Laws as are made expresly to refer to us,” it is not only “a Limitation of the Power given to the General Court” to Legislate, but it may whenever the Parliament shall think fit, render it of no Effect; for it puts it in the Power of Parliament to bind us by as many Laws as they please, and even to restrain us from making any Laws at all. If your Excellency’s Assertions in this and the next succeeding Part of your Speech were well grounded, the Conclusion would be undeniable, that the Charter even in this Clause, “does not confer or reserve any Liberties” worth enjoying “but what would have been enjoyed without it;” saving that within any of his Majesty’s Dominions we are to be considered barely as not Aliens. You are pleased to say, it cannot “be contended that by the Liberties of free and natural Subjects” (which are expresly granted in the Charter to all Intents, Purposes and Constructions whatever) “is to be understood an Exemption from Acts of Parliament because not represented there; seeing it is provided by the same Charter that such Acts shall be in Force.” If, says an eminent Lawyer, “the King grants to the Town of D. the same Liberties which London has, this shall be intended the like Liberties.” A Grant of the Liberties of free and natural Subjects is equivalent to a Grant of the same Liberties. And the King in the first Charter to this Colony expressly grants that it “shall be construed, reputed and adjudged in all Cases most favourably on the Behalf and for the Benefit and Behoof of the said Governor and Company and their Successors—any Matter, Cause or Thing whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding.” It is one of the Liberties of free and natural Subjects, born and abiding within the Realm, to be governed as your Excellency observes, “by Laws made by Persons in whose Elections they from Time to Time have a Voice.” This is an essential Right. For nothing is more evident, than that any People who are subject to the unlimited Power of another, must be in a State of abject Slavery. It was easily and plainly foreseen that the Right of Representation in the English Parliament could not be exercised by the People of this Colony. It would be impracticable, if consistent with the English Constitution. And for this Reason, that this Colony might have and enjoy all the Liberties and Immunities of free and natural Subjects within the Realm as stipulated in the Charter it was necessary, and a Legislative was accordingly constituted within the Colony; one Branch of which consists of Representatives chosen by the People, to make all Laws, Statutes, Ordinances, &c. for the well ordering & governing the same, not repugnant to the Laws of England, or, as nearly as conveniently might be, agreeable to the fundamental Laws of the English Constitution. We are therefore still at a Loss to conceive where your Excellency finds it “provided in the same Charter, that such Acts,” viz. Acts of Parliament made expresly to refer to us “shall be in Force” in this Province. There is nothing to this Purpose expressed in the Charter, or in our Opinion even implied in it. And surely it would be very absurd, that a Charter, which is evidently formed upon a Supposition and Intention, that a Colony is and should be considered as not within the Realm; and declared by the very Prince who granted it, to be not within the Jurisdiction of Parliament, should yet provide, that the Laws which the same Parliament should make expressly to refer to that Colony, should be in Force therein. Your Excellency is pleased to ask, “Does it follow that the Government by their (our Ancestors) Removal from one Part of the Dominions to another, loses its Authority over that Part to which they remove; And that they are freed from the Subjection they were under before?” We answer, if that Part of the King’s Dominions to which they removed was not then a Part of the Realm, and was never annexed to it, the Parliament lost no Authority over it, having never had such Authority; and the Emigrants were consequently freed from the Subjection they were under before their Removal: The Power and Authority of Parliament being constitutionally confined within the Limits of the Realm and the Nation collectively, of which alone it is the representing and legislative Assembly. Your Excellency further asks, “Will it not rather be said, that by this their voluntary Removal, they have relinquished for a Time at least, one of the Rights of an English Subject, which they might if they pleased have continued to enjoy, and may again enjoy, whenever they return to the Place where it can be exercised?” To which we answer; They never did relinquish the Right to be governed by Laws made by Persons in whose Election they had a Voice. The King stipulated with them that they should have and enjoy all the Liberties of free and natural Subjects born within the Realm, to all Intents, Purposes and Constructions whatsoever; that is, that they should be as free as those who were to abide within the Realm: Consequently he stipulated with them that they should enjoy and exercise this most essential Right, which discriminates Freemen from Vassals, uninterruptedly in its full Sense and Meaning; and they did and ought still to exercise it, without the Necessity of returning, for the Sake of exercising it, to the Nation or State of England.
We cannot help observing, that your Excellency’s Manner of Reasoning on this Point, seems to us to render the most valuable Clauses in our Charter unintelligible: As if Persons going from the Realm of England to inhabit in America should hold and exercise there a certain Right of English Subjects; but in Order to exercise it in such Manner as to be of any Benefit to them, they must not inhabit there, but return to the Place where alone it can be exercised. By such Construction, the Words of the Charter can have no Sense or Meaning. We forbear remarking upon the Absurdity of a Grant to Persons born within the Realm, of the same Liberties which would have belonged to them if they had been born within the Realm.
Your Excellency is disposed to compare this Government to the Variety of Corporations, formed within the Kingdom, with Power to make and execute By-Laws, &c. And because they remain subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament, to infer that this Colony is also subject to the same Authority: This Reasoning appears to us not just. The Members of those Corporations are Resident within the Kingdom; and Residence subjects them to the Authority of Parliament, in which they are also represented: Whereas the People of this Colony are not Resident within the Realm. The Charter was granted with the express Purpose to induce them to reside without the Realm; consequently they are not represented in Parliament there. But we would ask your Excellency; Are any of the Corporations formed within the Kingdom, vested with the Power of erecting other subordinate Corporations? Of enacting and determining what Crimes shall be Capital? And constituting Courts of Common Law with all their Officers, for the hearing, trying and punishing capital Offenders with Death? These and many other Powers vested in this Government, plainly show that it is to be considered as a Corporation in no other Light, than as every State is a Corporation. Besides, Appeals from the Courts of Law here, are not brought before the House of Lords; which shows that the Peers of the Realm are not the Peers of America: But all such Appeals are brought before the King in Council, which is a further Evidence that we are not within the Realm.
We conceive enough has been said to convince your Excellency, that “when our Predecessors first took Possession of this Plantation or Colony by a Grant and Charter from the Crown of England, it was not and never had been the Sense of the Kingdom, that they were to remain subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament. We will now with your Excellency’s Leave, enquire what was the Sense of our Ancestors of this very important Matter.
And as your Excellency has been pleased to tell us you have not discovered that the Supreme Authority of Parliament has been called in Question even by private and particular Persons, until within seven or eight Years past; except about the Time of the Anarchy and Confusion in England which preceeded the Restoration of King Charles the Second; we beg leave to remind your Excellency of some Parts of your own History of Massachusetts-Bay. Therein we are informed of the Sentiments of “Persons of Influence” after the Restoration, from which the Historian tells us, some Parts of their Conduct, that is of the General Assembly, “may be pretty well accounted for.” By the History it appears to have been the Opinion of those Persons of Influence, “that the Subjects of any Prince or State had a natural Right to Remove to any other State or to another Quarter of the World unless the State was weakened or exposed by such Remove; and even in that Case, if they were deprived of the Right of all Mankind, Liberty of Conscience, it would justify a Separation, and upon their Removal their Subjection determined and ceased.” That “the Country to which they had removed, was claimed and possessed by independent Princes, whose Right to the Lordship and Sovereignty thereof had been acknowledged by the Kings of England,” an Instance of which is quoted in the Margin; “That they themselves had actually purchased for valuable Consideration, not only the Soil but the Dominion, the Lordship and Sovereignty of those Princes;” without which Purchase, “in the Sight of God and Men, they had no Right or Title to what they possessed.” That they had received a Charter of Incorporation from the King, from whence arose a new Kind of Subjection, namely, “a voluntary, civil Subjection;” and by this Compact “they were to be governed by Laws made by themselves.” Thus it appears to have been the Sentiments of private Persons, though Persons by whose Sentiments the public Conduct was influenced, that their Removal was a justifiable Separation from the Mother State, upon which their Subjection to that State determined and ceased. The Supreme Authority of Parliament, if it had then ever been asserted, must surely have been called in Question, by Men who had advanced such Principles as these.
The first Act of Parliament made expressly to refer to the Colonies, was after the Restoration. In the Reign of King Charles the Second, several such Acts passed. And the same History informs us there was a Difficulty in conforming to them; and the Reason of this Difficulty is explained in a Letter of the General Assembly to their Agent, quoted in the following Words, “They apprehended them to be an Invasion of the Rights, Liberties and Properties of the Subjects of his Majesty in the Colony, they not being represented in Parliament, and according to the usual Sayings of the Learned in the Law, the Laws of England were bounded within the four Seas, and did not reach America: However as his Majesty had signified his Pleasure that those Acts should be observed in the Massachusetts, they had made Provision by a Law of the Colony that they should be strictly attended.” Which Provision by a Law of their own would have been superfluous, if they had admitted the supreme Authority of Parliament. In short, by the same History it appears that those Acts of Parliament as such were disregarded; and the following Reason is given for it; “It seems to have been a general Opinion that Acts of Parliament had no other Force, than what they derived from Acts made by the General Court to establish and confirm them.”
But still further to show the Sense of our Ancestors respecting this Matter, we beg Leave to recite some Parts of a Narrative presented to the Lords of Privy Council by Edward Randolph, in the Year 1676, which we find in your Excellency’s Collection of Papers lately published. Therein it is declared to be the Sense of the Colony, “that no Law is in Force or Esteem there, but such as are made by the General Court; and therefore it is accounted a Breach of their Privileges, and a Betraying of the Liberties of their Commonwealth, to urge the Observation of the Laws of England.” And further, “That no Oath shall be urged or required to be taken by any Person, but such Oath as the General Court hath considered, allowed and required.” And further, “there is no Notice taken of the Act of Navigation, Plantation or any other Laws made in England for the Regulation of Trade.” “That the Government would make the World believe they are a free State and do act in all Matters accordingly.” Again, “These Magistrates ever reserve to themselves a Power to alter, evade and disannul any Law or Command, not agreeing with their Humour or the absolute Authority of their Government, acknowledging no Superior.” And further, “He (the Governor) freely declared to me, that the Laws made by your Majesty and your Parliament, obligeth them in nothing, but what consists with the Interests of that Colony, that the Legislative Power and Authority is and abides in them solely.” And in the same Mr. Randolph’s Letter to the Bishop of London, July 14, 1682, he says, “This Independency in Government, claimed and daily practised.” And your Excellency being then sensible that this was the Sense of our Ancestors, in a Marginal Note in the same Collection of Papers, observes, that “this,” viz. the Provision made for observing the Acts of Trade, “is very extraordinary, for this Provision was an Act of the Colony declaring the Acts of Trade shall be in Force there.” Although Mr. Randolph was very unfriendly to the Colony, yet as his Declarations are concurrent with those recited from your Excellency’s History, we think they may be admitted for the Purpose for which they are now brought.
Thus we see, from your Excellency’s History and Publications, the Sense our Ancestors had of the Jurisdiction of Parliament under the first Charter. Very different from that which your Excellency in your Speech apprehends it to have been.
It appears by Mr. Neal’s History of New-England, that the Agents who had been employed by the Colony to transact its Affairs in England at the Time when the present Charter was granted, among other Reasons gave the following for their Acceptance of it, viz. “The General Court has with the King’s Approbation as much Power in New-England, as the King and Parliament have in England; they have all English Privileges, and can be touched by no Law, and by no Tax but of their own making.” This is the earliest Testimony that can be given of the Sense our Predecessors had of the Supreme Authority of Parliament under the present Charter. And it plainly shows, that they, who having been freely conversant with those who framed the Charter, must have well understood the Design and Meaning of it, supposed that the Terms in our Charter “full Power and Authority,” intended and were considered as a sole and exclusive Power, and that there was no “Reserve in the Charter to the Authority of Parliament, to bind the Colony” by any Acts whatever.
Soon after the Arrival of the Charter, viz. in 1692, your Excellency’s History informs us, “the first Act” of this Legislative was a Sort of Magna Charta, asserting and setting forth their general Privileges, and this Clause was among the rest, “No Aid, Tax, Tallage, Assessment, Custom, Loan, Benevolence, or Imposition whatever, shall be laid, assess’d, impos’d or levied on any of their Majesty’s Subjects, or their Estates, on any Pretence whatever, but by the Act and Consent of the Governor, Council and Representatives of the People assembled in General Court.” And though this Act was disallowed, it serves to show the Sense which the General Assembly contemporary with the granting the Charter had of their sole and exclusive Right to Legislate for the Colony. The History says, “the other Parts of the Act were copied from Magna Charta;” by which we may conclude that the Assembly then construed the Words “not repugnant to the Laws;” to mean, conformable to the fundamental Principles of the English Constitution. And it is observable that the Lords of Privy Council, so lately as in the Reign of Queen Anne, when several Laws enacted by the General Assembly, were laid before her Majesty for her Allowance, interpreted the Words in this Charter, “not repugnant to the Laws of England,” by the Words “as nearly as conveniently may be agreeable to the Laws and Statutes of England.” And her Majesty was pleased to disallow those Acts, not because they were repugnant to any Law or Statute of England, made expressly to refer to the Colony; but because divers Persons, by Virtue thereof, were punished without being tried by their Peers in the ordinary “Courts of Law,” and “by the ordinary Rules and known Methods of Justice;” contrary to the express Terms of Magna Charta, which was a Statute in Force at the Time of granting the Charter, and declaratory of the Rights and Liberties of the Subjects within the Realm.
You are pleased to say, that “our Provincial or Local Laws have in numerous Instances had Relation to Acts of Parliament made to respect the Plantations and this Colony in particular.” The Authority of the Legislature, says the same Author who is quoted by your Excellency, “does not extend so far as the Fundamentals of the Constitution.” “They ought to consider the Fundamental Laws as sacred, if the Nation has not in very express Terms, given them the Power to change them. For the Constitution of the State ought to be fixed: And since that was first established by the Nation, which afterwards trusted certain Persons with the Legislative Power, the fundamental Laws are excepted from their Commission.” Now the Fundamentals of the Constitution of this Province are stipulated in the Charter; the Reasoning therefore in this Case holds equally good. Much less then ought any Acts or Doings of the General Assembly, however numerous, to neither of which your Excellency has pointed us, which barely relate to Acts of Parliament made to respect the Plantations in general, or this Colony in particular, to be taken as an Acknowledgment of this People, or even of the Assembly, which inadvertently passed those Acts, that we are subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament. And with still less Reason are the Decisions in the Executive Courts to determine this Point. If they have adopted that “as Part of the Rule of Law,” which in Fact is not, it must be imputed to Inattention or Error in Judgment, and cannot justly be urged as an Alteration or Restriction of the Legislative Authority of the Province.
Before we leave this Part of your Excellency’s Speech, we would observe, that the great Design of our Ancestors, in leaving the Kingdom of England, was to be freed from a Subjection to its spiritual Laws and Courts, and to worship God according to the Dictates of their Consciences. Your Excellency in your History observes, that their Design was “to obtain for themselves and their Posterity the Liberty of worshipping God in such Manner as appeared to them most agreeable to the sacred Scriptures.” And the General Court themselves declared in 1651, that “seeing just Cause to fear the Persecution of the then Bishop, and High Commission for not conforming to the Ceremonies of those under their Power, they thought it their safest Course, to get to this Outside of the World, out of their View and beyond their Reach.” But if it had been their Sense, that they were still to be subject to the supreme Authority of Parliament, they must have known that their Design might and probably would be frustrated; that the Parliament, especially considering the Temper of those Times, might make what ecclesiastical Laws they pleased, expressly to refer to them, and place them in the same Circumstances with Respect to religious Matters, to be relieved from which was the Design of their Removal. And we would add, that if your Excellency’s Construction of the Clause in our present Charter is just, another Clause therein, which provides for Liberty of Conscience for all Christians except Papists, may be rendered void by an Act of Parliament made to refer to us, requiring a Conformity to the Rites and Mode of Worship in the Church of England or any other.
Thus we have endeavoured to shew the Sense of the People of this Colony under both Charters; and if there have been in any late Instances a Submission to Acts of Parliament, it has been in our Opinion, rather from Inconsideration or a Reluctance at the Idea of contending with the Parent State, than from a Conviction or Acknowledgement of the Supreme Legislative Authority of Parliament.
Your Excellency tells us, “you know of no Line that can be drawn between the Supreme Authority of Parliament and the total Independence of the Colonies.” If there be no such line, the Consequence is, either that the Colonies are the Vassals of the Parliament, or, that they are totally independent. As it cannot be supposed to have been the Intention of the Parties in the Compact, that we should be reduced to a State of Vassallage, the Conclusion is, that it was their Sense, that we were thus Independent. “It is impossible, your Excellency says, that there should be two independent Legislatures in one and the same State.” May we not then further conclude, that it was their Sense that the Colonies were by their Charters made distinct States from the Mother Country? Your Excellency adds, “For although there may be but one Head, the King, yet the two Legislative Bodies will make two Governments as distinct as the Kingdoms of England and Scotland before the Union.” Very true, may it please your Excellency; and if they interfere not with each other, what hinders but that being united in one Head and common Sovereign, they may live happily in that Connection and mutally support and protect each other? Notwithstanding all the Terrors which your Excellency has pictured to us as the Affects of a total Independence, there is more Reason to dread the Consequences, of absolute uncontrouled Supreme Power, whether of a Nation or a Monarch, than those of a total Independence. It would be a Misfortune “to know by Experience, the Difference between the Liberties of an English Colonist and those of the Spanish, French and Dutch: And since the British Parliament has passed an Act which is executed even with Rigour, though not voluntarily submitted to, for raising a Revenue and appropriating the same without the Consent of the People who pay it, and have claimed a Power of making such Laws as they please to order and govern us, your Excellency will excuse us in asking, whether you do not think we already experience too much of such a Difference, and have not Reason to fear we shall soon be reduced to a worse Situation than that of the Colonies of France, Spain or Holland.
If your Excellency expects to have the Line of Distinction between the Supreme Authority of Parliament, and the total Independence of the Colonies drawn by us, we would say it would be an arduous Undertaking; and of very great Importance to all the other Colonies: And therefore, could we conceive of such a Line, we should be unwilling to propose it, without their Consent in Congress.
To conclude, These are great and profound Questions. It is the Grief of this House, that by the ill Policy of a late injudicious Administration, America has been driven into the Contemplation of them. And we cannot but express our Concern, that your Excellency by your Speech has reduced us to the unhappy Alternative, either of appearing by our Silence to acquiesce in your Excellency’s Sentiments, or of thus freely discussing this Point.
After all that we have said, we would be far from being understood to have in the least abated that just Sense of Allegiance which we owe to the King of Great-Britain, our rightful Sovereign: And should the People of this Province be left to the free and full Exercise of all the Liberties and Immunities granted to them by Charter, there would be no Danger of an Independance on the Crown. Our Charters reserve great Power to the Crown in its Representative, fully sufficient to balance, analagous to the English Constitution, all the Liberties and Privileges granted to the People. All this your Excellency knows full well—And whoever considers the Power and Influence, in all their Branches, reserved by our Charter to the Crown, will be far from thinking that the Commons of this Province are too Independent.
Answer to His Excellency’s Speech
May it please your Excellency,
In your Speech at the Opening of the present Session, your Excellency express’d your Displeasure at some late Proceedings of the Town of Boston, and other principal Towns in the Province. And in another Speech to both Houses we have your repeated Exceptions at the same Proceedings as being “unwarrantable,” and of a dangerous Nature and Tendency; “against which you thought yourself bound to call upon us to join with you in bearing a proper Testimony.” This House have not discovered any Principles advanced by the Town of Boston, that are unwarrantable by the Constitution; nor does it appear to us that they have “invited every other Town and District in the Province to adopt their Principles.” We are fully convinced that it is our Duty to bear our Testimony against “Innovations of a dangerous Nature and Tendency:” but it is clearly our Opinion, that it is the indisputable Right of all or any of his Majesty’s Subjects in this Province, regularly and orderly to meet together to state the Grievances they labor under; and to propose and unite in such constitutional Measures as they shall judge necessary or proper to obtain Redress. This Right has been frequently exercised by his Majesty’s Subjects within the Realm; and we do not recollect an Instance, since the happy Revolution, when the two Houses of Parliament have been called upon to discountenance or bear their Testimony against it, in a Speech from the Throne.
Your Excellency is pleased to take Notice of some Things which we “alledge” in our Answer to your first Speech: And the Observation you make, we must confess, is as natural and as undeniably true, as any one that could have been made; that “if our Foundation shall fail us in every Part of it, the Fabrick we have rais’d upon it, must certainly fall.” You think, this Foundation will fail us; but we with your Excellency had condescended to a Consideration of what we have “adduced in Support of our Principles.” We might then perhaps have had some Things offered for our Conviction, more than bare Affirmations; which, we must beg to be excused if we say, are far from being sufficient, though they came with your Excellency’s Authority, for which however we have a due Regard.
Your Excellency says that “as English Subjects and agreeable to the Doctrine of the Feudal Tenure all our Lands are held mediately or immediately of the Crown.” We trust your Excellency does not mean to introduce the Feudal System in it’s Perfection; which to use the Words of one of our greatest Historians, was “a State of perpetual War, Anarchy and Confusion; calculated solely for Defence against the Assaults of any foreign Power, but in it’s Provision for the interior Order and Tranquility of Society extremely defective.” “A Constitution so contradictory to all the Principles that govern Mankind, could never be brought about but by foreign Conquest or native Usurpation:” And a very celebrated Writer calls it “that most iniquitous and absurd Form of Government by which human Nature was so shamefully degraded.” This System of Iniquity by a strange Kind of Fatility, “though originally form’d for an Encampment and for Military Purposes only, spread over a great Part of Europe:” and to serve the Purposes of Oppression and Tyranny “was adopted by Princes and wrought into their Civil Constitutions;” and aided by the Canon Law, calculated by the Roman Pontiff, to exalt himself above all that is called God, it prevailed to the almost utter Extinction of Knowledge, Virtue, Religion and Liberty from that Part of the Earth. But from the Time of the Reformation, in Proportion as Knowledge, which then darted its Rays upon the benighted World, increas’d and spread among the People, they grew impatient under this heavy Yoke: And the most virtuous and sensible among them, to whose Stedfastness we in this distant Age and Climate are greatly indebted, were determined to get rid of it: And tho’ they have in a great Measure subdued it’s Power and Influence in England, they have never yet totally eradicated its Principles.
Upon these Principles the King claimed an absolute Right to and a perfect Estate in all the Lands within his Dominions; but how he came by this absolute Right and perfect Estate is a Mystery which we have never seen unravelled, nor is it our Business or Design at present to enquire. He granted Parts or Parcels of it to his Friends the great Men, and they granted lesser Parcels to their Tenants: All therefore derived their Right and held their Lands, upon these Principles mediately or immediately of the King; which Mr. Blackstone however calls “in Reality a meer Fiction of our English Tenures.”
By what Right in Nature and Reason the Christian Princes in Europe claimed the Lands of Heathen People, upon a Discovery made by any of their Subjects, is equally mysterious: Such however was the Doctrine universally prevailing when the Lands in America were discovered; but as the People of England upon those Principles held all the Lands they possessed by Grants from the King, and the King had never granted the Lands in America to them, it is certain they could have no Sort of Claim to them: Upon the Principles advanced, the Lordship and Dominion like that of the Lands in England, was in the King solely: and a Right from thence accrued to him of disposing such Territories under such Tenure and for such Services to be performed, as the King or Lord thought proper. But how the Grantees became Subjects of England, that is the Supreme Authority of the Parliament, your Excellency has not explained to us. We conceive that upon the Feudal Principles all Power is in the King; they afford us no Idea of Parliament. “The Lord was in early Times the Legislator and Judge over all his Feudatories,” says Judge Blackstone. By the Struggles for Liberty in England from the Days of King John to the last happy Revolution, the Constitution has been gradually changing for the better; and upon the more rational Principles that all Men by Nature are in a State of Equality in Respect of Jurisdiction and Dominion, Power in England has been more equally divided. And thus also in America, though we hold our Lands agreeably to the Feudal Principles of the King; yet our Predecessors wisely took Care to enter into Compact with the King that Power here should also be equally divided agreeable to the original fundamental Principles of the English Constitution, declared in Magna Charta, and other Laws and Statutes of England, made to confirm them.
Your Excellency says, “you can by no Means concede to us that it is now or was when the Plantations were first granted the Prerogative of the Kings of England to constitute a Number of new Governments altogether independent of the Sovereign Authority of the English Empire.” By the Feudal Principles upon which you say “all the Grants which have been made of America are founded” “the Constitutions of the Emperor have the Force of Law.” If our Government be considered as merely Feudatory, we are subject to the King’s absolute Will, and there is no Room for the Authority of Parliament, as the Sovereign Authority of the British Empire. Upon these Principles, what could hinder the King’s constituting a Number of Independent Governments in America? That King Charles the First did actually set up a Government in this Colony, conceding to it Powers of making and executing Laws, without any Reservation to the English Parliament, of Authority to make future Laws binding therein, is a Fact which your Excellency has not disproved if you have denied it. Nor have you shewn that the Parliament or Nation objected to it, from whence we have inferred that it was an acknowledged Right. And we cannot conceive, why the King has not the same Right to alienate and dispose of Countries acquired by the Discovery of his Subjects, as he has to “restore upon a Treaty of Peace Countries which have been acquired in War,” carried on at the Charge of the Nation; or to “sell and deliver up any Part of his Dominions to a foreign Prince or State, against the General Sense of the Nation” which is “an Act of Power” or Prerogative which your Excellency allows. You tell us that “when any new Countries are discovered by English Subjects, according to the general Law and Usage of Nations, they become Part of the State.” The Law of Nations is or ought to be founded on the Law of Reason. It was the saying of Sir Edwin Sandis, in the the great Case of the Union of the Realm of Scotland with England, which is applicable to our present Purpose, that “there being no Precedent for this Case in the Law, the Law is deficient; and the Law being deficient, Recourse is to be had to Custom; and Custom being insufficient, we must recur to natural Reason,” the greatest of all Authorities, which he adds “is the Law of Nations.” The Opinions therefore, and Determinations of the greatest Sages and Judges of the Law in the Exchequer Chamber ought not to be considered as decisive or binding in our present Controversy with your Excellency, any further than they are consonant to natural Reason. If however we were to recur to such Opinions and Determinations we should find very great Authorities in our Favour, to show that the Statutes of England are not binding on those who are not represented in Parliament there. The Opinion of Lord Coke that Ireland was bound by Statutes of England wherein they were named, if compared with his other Writings, appears manifestly to be grounded upon a Supposition, that Ireland had by an Act of their own, in the Reign of King John, consented to be thus bound, and upon any other Supposition, this Opinion would be against Reason; for Consent only gives human Laws their Force. We beg Leave, upon what your Excellency has observed, of the Colony becoming Part of the State, to subjoin the Opinions of several learned Civilians, as quoted by a very able Lawyer in this Country; “Colonies, says Puffendorf, are settled in different Methods. For either the Colony continues a Part of the Common Wealth it was sent out from; or else is obliged to pay a dutiful Regard to the Mother Common Wealth, and to be in Readiness to defend and vindicate its Honor, and so is united by a Sort of unequal Confederacy; or lastly, is erected into a separate Common Wealth and assumes the same Rights, with the State it descended from.” And King Tullius, as quoted by the same learned Author from Grotius, says “We look upon it to be neither Truth nor Justice that Mother Cities ought of Necessity and by the Law of Nature to rule over the Colonies.”
Your Excellency has misinterpreted what we have said, “that no Country by the Common Law, was subject to the Laws or the Parliament but the Realm of England,” and are pleased to tell us that we have expressed ourselves “Incautiously.” We beg Leave to recite the Words of the Judges of England in the beforementioned Case to our Purpose. “If a King go out of England with a Company of his Servants, Allegiance remaineth among his Subjects and Servants, altho’ he be out of his Realm whereto his Laws are confined.” We did not mean to say, as your Excellency would suppose, that “the Common Law prescribes Limits to the Extent of the Legislative Power,” though we shall always affirm it to be true of the Law of Reason and natural Equity. Your Excellency thinks you have made it appear, that “the Colony of Massachusetts-Bay is holden as feudatory of the Imperial Crown of England;” and therefore you say, “to use the Words of a very great Authority in a Case in some Respects analogous to it,” being feudatory it necessary follows, that “it is under the Government of the King’s Laws.” Your Excellency has not named this Authority; but we conceive his Meaning must be, that being Feudatory, it is under the Government of the King’s Laws absolutely; for as we have before said the Feudal System admits of no Idea of the Authority of Parliament, and this would have been the Case of the Colony but for the Compact with the King in the Charter.
Your Excellency says, that “Persons thus holding under the Crown of England remain or become Subjects of England;” by which we suppose your Excellency to mean, subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament “to all Intents and Purposes as fully as if any of the Royal Manors, &c. within the Realm had been granted to them upon the like Tenure.” We apprehend with Submission, your Excellency is Mistaken in supposing that our Allegiance is due to the Crown of England. Every Man swears Allegiance for himself to his own King in his Natural Person. “Every Subject is presumed by Law to be Sworn to the King, which is to his Natural Person,” says Lord Coke. Rep. on Calvins Case. “The Allegiance is due to his Natural Body.” And he says “in the Reign of Edward II. the Spencers, the Father and the Son, to cover the Treason hatched in their Hearts, invented this damnable and damned Opinion, that Homage and Oath of Allegiance was more by Reason of the King’s Crown, that is of his politick Capacity, than by Reason of the Person of the King; upon which Opinion they infer’d execrable and detestable Consequents.” The Judges of England, all but one, in the Case of the Union between Scotland and England, declared that “Allegiance followeth the natural Person not the politick;” and “to prove the Allegiance to be tied to the Body natural of the King, and not to the Body politick, the Lord Coke cited the Phrases of diverse Statutes, mentioning our natural liege Sovereign.”— If then the Homage and Allegiance is not to the Body politick of the King, then it is not to him as the Head or any Part of that Legislative Authority, which your Excellency says “is equally extensive with the Authority of the Crown throughout every Part of the Dominion;” and your Excellency’s Observations thereupon must fail. The same Judges mention the Allegiance of a Subject to the Kings of England who is out of the Reach and Extent of the Laws of England; which is perfectly reconcileable with the Principles of our Ancestors quoted before from your Excellency’s History, but upon your Excellency’s Principles appears to us to be an Absurdity. The Judges, speaking of a Subject, say, “although his Birth was out of the Bounds of the Kingdom of England, and out of the Reach and Extent of the Laws of England, yet if it were within the Allegiance of the King of England, &c. Normandy, Acquitain, Gascoign, and other Places within the Limits of France, and consequently out of the Realm or Bounds of the Kingdom of England, were in Subjection to the Kings of England. And the Judges say, “Rex et Regnum be not so Relatives, as a King can be King but of one Kingdom, which clearly holdeth not but that his Kingly Power extending to divers Nations and Kingdoms, all owe him equal Subjection and are equally born to the Benefit of his Protection, and altho’ he is to govern them by their distinct Laws, yet any one of the People coming into the other is to have the Benefit of the Laws wheresoever he cometh.” So they are not to be deemed Aliens, as your Excellency in your Speech supposes in any of the Dominions; all which accords with the Principles our Ancestors held. “And he is to bear the Burden of Taxes of the Place where he cometh, but living in one or for his Livelihood in one, he is not to be taxed in the other, because Laws ordain Taxes, Impositions and Charges as a Discipline of Subjection particularized to every particular Nation:” Nothing we think, can be more clear to our Purpose than this Decision, of Judges, perhaps as learned as ever adorned the English Nation; or in Favor of America in her present Controversy with the Mother State.
Your Excellency says, that by our not distinguishing between the Crown of England and the Kings and Queens of England in their personal or natural Capacities, we have been led into a fundamental Error.” Upon this very Distinction we have availed ourselves. We have said that our Ancestors considered the Land which they took Possession of in America as out of the Bounds of the Kingdom of England, and out of the Reach and Extent of the Laws of England; and that the King also even in the Act of granting the Charter, considered the Territory as not within the Realm; that the King had an absolute Right in himself to dispose of the Lands, and that this was not disputed by the Nation; nor could the Lands on any solid Grounds be claimed by the Nation, and therefore our Ancestors received the Lands by Grant from the King, and at the same Time compacted with him and promised him Homage and Allegiance, not in his publick or politick but natural Capacity only.—If it be difficult for us to show how the King acquired a Title to this Country in his natural Capacity, or separate from his Relation to his Subjects, which we confess, yet we conceive it will be equally difficult for your Excellency to show how the Body Politick and Nation of England acquired it. Our Ancestors supposed it was acquired by neither; and therefore they declared, as we have before quoted from your History, that saving their actual Purchase from the Natives, of the Soil, the Dominion, the Lordship, and Sovereignty, they had in the Sight of God and Man, no Right and Title to what they possessed. How much clearer then in natural Reason and Equity must our Title be, who hold Estates dearly purchased at the Expence of our own as well as our Ancestors Labour, and defended by them with Treasure and Blood.
Your Excellency has been pleased to confirm, rather than deny or confute a Piece of History which you say we took from an anonimous Pamphlet, and by which you “fear we have been too easily misled.” It may be gathered from your own Declaration and other Authorities besides the anonimous Pamphlet, that the House of Commons took Exception, not at the King’s having made an absolute Grant of the Territory, but at the Claim of an exclusive Right to the Fishery on the Banks and Sea-Coast, by Virtue of the Patent. At this you say “the House of Commons was alarmed, and a Bill was brought in for allowing a Fishery.” And upon this Occasion your Excellency allows, that “one of the Secretaries of State declared that the Plantations were not annexed to the Crown, and so were not within the Jurisdiction of Parliament.” If we should concede to what your Excellency supposes might possibly or “perhaps” be the Case, that the Secretary made this Declaration “as his own Opinion,” the Event showed that it was the Opinion of the King too; for it is not to be accounted for upon any other Principle, that he would have denied his Royal Assent to a Bill formed for no other Purpose, but to grant his Subjects in England the Privileges of Fishing on the Sea Coasts in America. The Account published by Sir Ferdinando Gorges himself, of the Proceedings of Parliament on this Occasion, your Excellency thinks will remove all Doubt of the Sense of the Nation and of the Patentees of this Patent or Charter in 1620. “This Narrative, you say, has all the Appearance of Truth and Sincerity,” which we do not deny: and to us it carries this Conviction with it, that “what was objected” in Parliament was, the exclusive Claim of Fishing only. His imagining that he had satisfied the House after divers Attendances, that the Planting a Colony was of much more Consequence than a simple disorderly Course of Fishing, is sufficient for our Conviction. We know that the Nation was at that Time alarmed with Apprehensions of Monopolies; and if the Patent of New-England was presented by the two Houses as a Grievance, it did not show, as your Excellency supposes, “the Sense they then had of their Authority over this new-acquired Territory,” but only their Sense of the Grievance of a Monopoly of the Sea.
We are happy to hear your Excellency say, that “our Remarks upon and Construction of the Words not repugnant to the Laws of England, are much the same with those of the Council.” It serves to confirm us in our Opinion, in what we take to be the most important Matter of Difference between your Excellency and the two Houses. After saying, that the Statute of 7th and 8th of William and Mary favors the Construction of the Words as intending such Laws of England as are made more immediately to respect us, you tell us, that “the Province Agent Mr. Dummer in his much applauded Defence, says that then a Law of the Plantations may be said to be repugnant to a Law made in Great-Britain, when it flatly contradicts it so far as the Law made there mentions and relates to the Plantations.” This is plain and obvious to common Sense, and therefore cannot be denied. But if your Excellency will read a Page or two further in that excellent Defence, you will see that he mentions this as the Sense of the Phrase, as taken from an Act of Parliament, rather than as the Sense he would chuse himself to put upon it; and he expresly designs to shew, in Vindication of the Charter, that in that Sense of the Words, there never was a Law made in the Plantations repugnant to the Laws of Great-Britain. He gives another Construction much more likely to be the true Intent of the Words; namely, “that the Patentees shall not presume under Colour of their particular Charters to make any Laws inconsistent with the Great Charter and other Laws of England, by which the Lives, Liberties, and Properties of Englishmen are secured.” This is the Sense in which our Ancestors understood the Words; and therefore they were unwilling to conform to the Acts of Trade, and disregarded them all till they made Provision to give them Force in the Colony by a Law of their own; saying, that “the Laws of England did not reach America: And those Acts were an Invasion of their Rights, Liberties and Properties,” because they were not “represented in Parliament.” The Right of being governed only by Laws which were made by Persons in whose Election they had a Voice, they looked upon as the Foundation of English Liberties. By the Compact with the King in the Charter, they were to be as free in America, as they would have been if they had remained within the Realm; and therefore they freely asserted that they “were to be governed by Laws made by themselves and by Officers chosen by themselves.” Mr. Dummer says, “It seems reasonable enough to think that the Crown,” and he might have added our Ancestors, “intended by this Injunction to provide for all its Subjects, that they might not be oppressed by arbitrary Power— but—being still Subjects, they should be protected by the same mild Laws, and enjoy the same happy Government as if they continued within the Realm.” And considering the Words of the Charter in this Light, he looks upon them as designed to be a Fence against Oppression and despotic Power. But the Construction which your Excellency puts upon the Words, reduce us to a State of Vassallage, and exposes us to Oppression and despotic Power, whenever a Parliament shall see fit to make Laws for that Purpose and put them in Execution.
We flatter ourselves that from the large Extracts we have made from your Excellency’s History of the Colony, it appears evidently, that under both Charters it hath been the Sense of the People and of the Government that they were not under the Jurisdiction of Parliament. We pray you again to recur to those Quotations and our Observations upon them: And we wish to have your Excellency’s judicious Remarks. When we adduced that History to prove that the Sentiments of private Persons of Influence, four or five Years after the Restoration, were very different from what your Excellency appre-hended them to be when you delivered your Speech, you seem to concede to it by telling us “it was, as you take it, from the Principles imbibed in those Times of Anarchy (preceeding the Restoration) that they disputed the Authority of Parliament;” but you add, “the Government would not venture to dispute it.” We find in the same History a Quotation from a Letter of Mr. Stoughton, dated 17 Years after the Restoration, mentioning “the Country’s not taking Notice of the Acts of Navigation to observe them.” And it was, as we take it, after that Time, that the Government declared in a Letter to their Agents, that they had not submitted to them; and they ventured to “dispute” the Jurisdiction, asserting that they apprehended the Acts to be an Invasion of the Rights, Liberties, and Properties of the Subjects of his Majesty in the Colony, they not being represented in Parliament; and that “the Laws of England did not reach America.” It very little avails in Proof that they conceded to the Supreme Authority of Parliament, their telling the Commissioners “that the Act of Navigation had for some Years before been observed here, that they knew not of its being greatly violated, and that such Laws as appeared to be against it were repealed.” It may as truly be said now, that the Revenue Acts are observed by some of the People of this Province; but it cannot be said that the Government and People of this Province have conceded that the Parliament had Authority to make such Acts to be observed here. Neither does their Declarations to the Commissioners that such Laws as appeared to be against the Act of Navigation were repealed, prove their Concession of the Authority of Parliament, by any Means so much as their making Provision for giving Force to an Act of Parliament within this Province, by a deliberate and solemn Act or Law of their own, proves the contrary.
You tell us, that “the Government four or five Years before the Charter was vacated more explicitly,” that is than by a Conversation with the Commissioners, “acknowledge the Authority of Parliament, and voted that their Governor should take the Oath required of him faithfully to do and perform all Matters and Things enjoined him by the Acts of Trade.” But does this, may it please your Excellency, show their explicit Acknowledgment of the Authority of Parliament? Does it not rather show directly the contrary? For, what need could there be for their Vote or Authority to require him to take the Oath already required of him by the Act of Parliament, unless both he and they judged that an Act of Parliament was not of Force sufficient to bind him to take such Oath? We do not deny, but on the contrary are fully persuaded that your Excellency’s Principles in Government are still the same with what they appear to be in the History; for you there say, that “the passing the Law plainly shows the wrong Sense they had of the Relation they stood in to England.” But we are from hence convinced that your Excellency when you wrote the History was of our Mind in this Respect, that our Ancestors in passing the Law discovered their Opinion that they were without the Jurisdiction of Parliament: For it was upon this Principle alone that they shewed the wrong Sense they had in your Excellency’s Opinion, of the Relation they stood in to England.
Your Excellency in your second Speech condescends to point out to us the Acts and Doings of the General Assembly which relates to Acts of Parliament, which you think “demonstrates that they have been acknowledged by the Assembly or submitted to by the People:” Neither of which in our Opinion shows that it was the Sense of the Nation, and our Predecessors when they first took Possession of this Plantation or Colony by a Grant and Charter from the Crown, that they were to remain subject to the Supreme Authority of the English Parliament.
Your Excellency seems chiefly to rely upon our Ancestors, after the Revolution “proclaiming King William and Queen Mary in the Room of King James,” and taking the Oaths to them, “the Alteration of the Form of Oaths from Time to Time,” and finally “the Establishment of the Form which every one of us has complied with, as the Charter in express Terms requires and makes our Duty.” We do not know that it has ever been a Point in Dispute whether the Kings of England were ipso facto Kings in and over this Colony or Province, the Compact was made between King Charles the First, his Heirs and Successors, and the Governor and Company, their Heirs and Successors. It is easy upon this Principle to account for the Acknowledgment and Submission of King William and Queen Mary as Successors of Charles the First, in the Room of King James: Besides it is to be considered, that the People in the Colony as well as in England had suffered under the Tyrant James, by which he had alike forfeited his Right to reign over both. There had been a Revolution here as well as in England. The Eyes of the People here were upon William and Mary, and the News of their being proclaimed in England was as your Excellency’s History tells us, “the most joyful News ever received in New-England.” And if they were not proclaimed here “by Virtue of an Act of the Colony,” it was, as we think may be concluded from the Tenor of your History, with the general or universal Consent of the People as apparently as if “such Act had passed.” It is Consent alone, that makes any human Laws binding; and as a learned Author observes, a purely voluntary Submission to an Act, because it is highly in our Favor and for our Benefit, is in all Equity and Justice to be deemed as not at all proceeding from the Right we include in the Legislators, that they thereby obtain an Authority over us, and that ever hereafter we must obey them of Duty. We would observe that one of the first Acts of the General Assembly of this Province since the present Charter, was an Act requiring the taking the Oaths mentioned in an Act of Parliament, to which you refer us: For what Purpose was this Act of the Assembly passed, if it was the Sense of the Legislators that the Act of Parliament was in Force in the Province. And at the same Time another Act was made for the Establishment of other Oaths necessary to be taken; both which Acts have the Royal Sanction, and are now in Force. Your Excellency says, that when the Colony applied to King William for a second Charter, they knew the Oath the King had taken, which was to govern them according to the Statutes in Parliament, and (which your Excellency here omits) the Laws and Customs of the same. By the Laws and Customs of Parliament, the People of England freely debate and consent to such Statutes as are made by themselves or their chosen Representatives. This is a Law or Custom which all Mankind may justly challenge as their inherent Right. According to this Law the King has an undoubted Right to govern us. Your Excellency upon Recollection surely will not infer from hence, that it was the Sense of our Predecessors that there was to remain a Supremacy in the English Parliament, or a full Power and Authority to make Laws binding upon us in all Cases whatever, in that Parliament where we cannot debate and deliberate upon the Necessity or Expediency of any Law, and consequently without our Consent, and as it may probably happen destructive of the first Law of Society, the Good of the Whole. You tell us that “after the Assumption of all the Powers of Government, by Virtue of the new Charter, an Act passed for the reviving for a limited Time all the local Laws of the Massachusetts-Bay and New-Plymouth respectively, not repugnant to the Laws of England. And at the same Session an Act passed establishing Naval Officers, that all undue Trading contrary to an Act of Parliament—may be prevented.” Among the Acts that were then revived we may reasonably suppose was that whereby Provision was made to give Force to this Act of Parliament in the Province. The Establishment therefore of the Naval Officers was to aid the Execution of an Act of Parliament; for the Observance of which within the Colony, the Assembly had before made Provision, after free Debates, with their own Consent and by their own Act.
The Act of Parliament passed in 1741, for putting an End to several unwarrantable Schemes, mentioned by your Excellency, was designed for the general Good, and if the Validity of it was not disputed, it cannot be urged as a Concession of the Supreme Authority, to make Laws binding on us in all Cases whatever. But if the Design of it was for the general Benefit of the Province, it was in one Respect at least greatly complained of by the Persons more immediately affected by it; and to remedy the Inconvenience, the Legislative of this Province pass’d an Act, directly militating with it; which is the strongest Evidence, that altho’ they may have submitted sub silentio to some Acts of Parliament that they conceived might operate for their Benefit, they did not conceive themselves bound by any of its Acts which they judged would operate to the Injury even of Individuals.
Your Excellency has not thought proper to attempt to confute the Reasoning of a learned Writer on the Laws of Nature and Nations, quoted by us on this Occasion, to shew that the Authority of the Legislature does not extend so far as the Fundamentals of the Constitution. We are unhappy in not having your Remarks upon the Reasoning of that great Man; and until it is confuted, we shall remain of the Opinion, that the Fundamentals of the Constitution being excepted from the Commission of the Legislators, none of the Acts or Doings of the General Assembly, however deliberate and solemn, could avail to change them, if the People have not in very express Terms given them the Power to do it; and that much less ought their Acts and Doings however numerous, which barely refer to Acts of Parliament made expresly to relate us, to be taken as an Acknowledgment that we are subject to the Supreme Authority of Parliament.
We shall sum up our own Sentiments in the Words of that learned Writer Mr. Hooker, in his Ecclesiastical Policy, as quoted by Mr. Locke, “The lawful Power of making Laws to command whole political Societies of Men, belonging so properly to the same intire Societies, that for any Prince or Potentate of what kind soever, to exercise the same of himself, and not from express Commission immediately and personally received from God, is no better than mere Tyranny. Laws therefore they are not which publick Approbation hath not made so, for Laws human of what kind soever are available by Consent.” “Since Men naturally have no full and perfect Power to command whole politick Multitudes of Men, therefore, utterly without our Consent we could in such Sort be at no Man’s Commandment living. And to be commanded we do not consent when that Society whereof we be a Part, hath at any Time before consented.” We think your Excellency has not proved, either that the Colony is a Part of the politick Society of England, or that it has ever consented that the Parliament of England or Great-Britain should make Laws binding upon us in all Cases whatever, whether made expresly to refer to us or not.
We cannot help before we conclude, expressing our great Concern, that your Excellency has thus repeatedly, in a Manner insisted upon our free Sentiments on Matters of so delicate a Nature, and weighty Importance. The Question appears to us to be no other, than Whether we are the Subjects of absolute unlimitted Power, or of a free Government formed on the Principles of the English Constitution. If your Excellency’s Doctrine be true, the People of this Province hold their Lands of the Crown and People of England, and their Lives, Liberties and Properties are at their Disposal; and that even by Compact and their own Consent. They are subject to the King as the Head alterius Populi of another People, in whose Legislative they have no Voice or Interest. They are indeed said to have a Constitution and a Legislative of their own, but your Excellency has explained it into a mere Phantom; limitted, controuled, superceded and nullified at the Will of another. Is this the Constitution which so charmed our Ancestors, that as your Excellency has informed us, they kept a Day of solemn Thanksgiving to Almighty God when they received it? and were they Men of so little Discernment, such Children in Understanding, as to please themselves with the Imagination that they were blessed with the same Rights and Liberties which natural-born Subjects in England enjoyed? when at the same Time they had fully consented to be ruled and ordered by a Legislative a Thousand Leagues distant from them, which cannot be supposed to be sufficiently acquainted with their Circumstances, if concerned for their Interest, and in which they cannot be in any Sense represented.