Lesson 59 – The American Revolution, Part III

Reading: The Declaration of Independence (1776). Also, read this excerpt from the Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (John Dickinson, 1767).

My dear Countrymen,

There is another late act of parliament, which appears to me to be unconstitutional, and as destructive to the liberty of these colonies, as that mentioned in my last letter; that is, the act for granting the duties on paper, glass, etc.

The parliament unquestionably possesses a legal authority to regulate the trade of Great Britain, and all her colonies. Such an authority is essential to the relation between a mother country and her colonies; and necessary for the common good of all. He who considers these provinces as states distinct from the British Empire, has very slender notions of justice, or of their interests. We are but parts of a whole; and therefore there must exist a power somewhere, to preside, and preserve the connection in due order. This power is[8] lodged in the parliament; and we are as much dependent on Great Britain, as a perfectly free people can be on another.

I have looked over every statute relating to these colonies, from their first settlement to this time; and I find every one of them founded on this principle, till the Stamp Act administration.* All before, are calculated to regulate trade, and preserve or promote a mutually[9] beneficial intercourse between the several constituent parts of the empire; and though many of them imposed duties on trade, yet those duties were always imposed with design to restrain the commerce of one part, that was injurious to another, and thus to promote the general welfare. The raising of a revenue thereby was never intended. Thus the King, by his judges in his courts of justice, imposes fines, which all together amount to a very considerable sum, and contribute[10] to the support of government: But this is merely a consequence arising from restrictions that only meant to keep peace and prevent confusion; and surely a man would argue very loosely, who should conclude from hence, that the King has a right to levy money in general upon his subjects. Never did the British parliament, till the period above mentioned, think of imposing duties in America for the purpose of raising a revenue. Mr. Greenville first introduced this language, in the preamble to the 4th of geo. III Chap. 15, which has these words–“And whereas it is just and necessary that a revenue be raised in your Majesty’s said dominions in america, for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same: We your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the commons of Great Britain, in parliament assembled, being desirous to make some provision in this present session of parliament, toward raising the said revenue in America, have resolved to give and grant unto your Majesty the several rates and duties herein after mentioned.” etc.

A few months after came the Stamp Act, which reciting this, proceeds in the same strange mode of expression, thus–“And whereas it is just and necessary, that provision be made for raising a further revenue within your Majesty’s dominions in America, towards defraying the said expences, we your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the commons of Great Britain, etc. give and grant,” etc. as before.

The last act, granting duties upon paper, etc. carefully pursues these modern precedents. The preamble is, “Whereas it is expedient that a revenue should be raised in your Majesty’s dominions in America, for making a more certain and adequate provision for defraying the charge of the administration of justice, and the support of civil government in such provinces, where it shall be found necessary; and towards further defraying the expences of defending, protecting and securing the said dominions, we your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the commons of Great Britain, etc. give and grant,” etc. as before.

Here we may observe an authority expressly claimed and exerted to impose duties on these colonies; not for the regulation of trade; not for the preservation or promotion of a mutually beneficial intercourse between the several constituent parts of the empire, heretofore the[11] sole objects of parliamentary institutions; but for the single purpose of levying money upon us.

This I call an innovation; and a most dangerous innovation.