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Otis's Political Pamphlets.


The Ameri.

be regarded as the first statement of the theory of government maintained by the leaders in that movement.

Otis's argument was, to a great extent, a mere restatement of the ground taken by Locke in his Essay on Government. Among other things, Otis declared

can theory. that “God made all men naturally equal” and that “ideas of pre-eminence are acquired.” Two years later (1764), in his long essay, which has been already mentioned, he asserted that men are naturally equal and that government is founded on the necessities of our nature. Government is described as being in the nature of a thing given in trust for the good of mankind, each society being at liberty to establish such a form as might seem to it best. If government were unfaithful to its trust, it should be opposed. Otis admitted that it was difficult to arrange for the carrying of the laws of Nature into effect. He regarded the British constitution as the most perfect arrangement for this purpose that had yet been devised. As to the rights of the colonists he declared that as men they have the same rights as other men, “the common children of the same Creator with their brethren in Great Britain. Nature has placed all such in a state of equality and perfect freedom.” “Every British subject, born on the continent of America, is, by the laws of God and Nature, by the Common Law, and by Act of Parliament entitled to all the natural, inherent, and inseparable rights of our fellow subjects in Great Britain.” Among these rights was one by which a man could not be deprived of his property without his consent in person or by representative. He also asserted that there was no ground for a distinction between external and internal taxation. Otis's premises pointed in one direction and in one direction alone - revolution. But so great was his regard for the British constitution that he could not bring himself to state the logical conclusion from his argument, and ended his essay by asserting that the colonists were only entitled to subordinate

It was


legislatures and that Parliament was supreme over all. thus given to another lawyer to state the American political theory in a more complete form. Otis made his speech against writs of assistance in 1761.

Some two years later, Patrick Henry of Virginia Henry's stated the opinions of a large portion of the speech.

people of Virginia as well as of the other colonies as to the exercise of the veto power by the king. The case is always cited as the “Parson's Cause," because it arose from the attempt of a Virginia clergyman to obtain money due to him under the law of Virginia as it stood and not as it would have been had the king allowed an act of the Virginia legislature to become law. Into the technicalities or, indeed, into the moralities of the case, it is not necessary to enter here. The Court had decided that the clergyman could recover, and the question before the jury was as to the amount. Patrick Henry was at that time an industrious young lawyer. He was of good British stock, partly English but more especially Scottish. He had received a good education for a man of his time and place; he had studied Greek, could read Latin with some ease, and was very familiar with the history and theory of the British constitution. This was his first appearance in any important cause calling for the display of oratory. Brushing aside the technicalities of the case, he denied the power of the king to veto an act of the Virginia Legislature passed for the good of the people of Virginia. "Government,” he asserted,

was a conditional compact between the king, stipulating protection on the one hand, and the people, stipulating obedience and support on the other.” A violation of these covenants by either party discharged the other party from its obligations. The act in question was a good act and its disallowance by the king an instance of misrule and neglect which made it necessary that the people of Virginia should provide for their own safety. The king from being a father of his people had “ degenerated



The Parson's Cause.


into a tyrant and forfeited all right to his subjects' obedience.” He told the jurors that, under the ruling of the Court, they must award damages, but that an award of one farthing would satisfy the law. They awarded one penny. In these two cases, Otis and Henry, between them, had cast a serious shadow on the authority of Parliament and on the prerogatives of the king. Nevertheless these were isolated outbreaks. They were the result, in each case, of peculiar local conditions. They attracted little attention in the colonies at the time, and, what was extraordinary, the English government gave way in the Virginia case. There seems every reason to believe that at the beginning of 1764 no more loyal and faithful subjects could be found than the American colonists. In November, 1765, they were in open rebellion from the Penobscot to the Altamaha. This change of sentiment was caused wholly by an attempt to tax them by acts passed by the Parliament of Great Britain.

The position in which the British government found itself at the close of the war was a most difficult one.

Conspiracy This much must be conceded at the outset. The of Pontiac, public debt had increased, and there seemed to

1763. be no end to the expenses to be incurred in America. The newly-conquered territory required a large body of troops to hold the hostile population in subjection. The Indians on the frontier, under the leadership of an able chieftain, Pontiac, and inspired by designing, or, perhaps, merely ill-informed French traders, burst into open revolt. The only way to establish the English supremacy was to crush them. The colonists on their part evinced little disposition to aid the authorities with colonial troops. They were still more unwilling to contribute to the support of the soldiers of the regular army, sent over for what the English government declared to be their protection. They felt able to take care of themselves, and doubted the necessity for much of the protection it was proposed to give them.


Besides, the colonists living in the different sections were very jealous of one another. The northern colonists felt that the southerners had not done their share in the late war. They were in no haste to hurry to their defence, nor were they willing to contribute money to fortify the southern frontiers. British expediency, or better, perhaps, political wisdom, demanded that such sectional feelings should be encouraged. Furthermore, it would be much better to gain what might be gained from the prosperity of the colonists in an indirect way, even at some cost in men and money, than, by an exercise of power, to unite the northern and southern colonies in opposition to the British government. This latter, however, was precisely what that government did. The Pitt-Newcastle Ministry was no longer in power. Mr

George Grenville was now at the head of the colonial policy, government. Of Grenville's honesty and good 1763-65.

intentions there cannot be the slightest doubt. He was an over-zealous, well-meaning, but narrow-minded lawyer. He saw that the colonists habitually refused to obey the trade laws, and also that they declined to take an effective part in what his military advisers declared to be necessary measures for their own security, and for the best interests of the Empire. He determined in the first place to lower the prohibitory duties on sugar and molasses, and then to enforce the acts, using the naval power of England if necessary. This new policy was begun in 1763. It affected directly the commercial interests of New England and aroused great ill-feeling there, especially in Massachusetts. The attempt to secure funds toward the support of the regular troops led to the passage of the Stamp Act, which affected all the colonies.

On the oth of March, 1764, Mr Grenville, in opening the budget of the year, stated that it might be thought prop the colonists to contribute towards the support of the army stationed among them for their protection. He therefore pro


The Stamp Act, 1765.


posed a resolution that it might "be necessary to charge certain stamp duties in America." He had

Passage of already informed the colonial agents of his in the Stamp Act,

1765. tention to bring forward this motion, and had directed them to consult their principals with a view to having the colonists themselves propose some more agreeable method of raising the necessary revenue. The resolution was passed without debate or opposition. Mr Grenville then suggested to the colonial agents that the colonial assemblies, by agreeing to this resolution before the final passing of the act, would thereby establish a precedent for being consulted in the future — or, he added, perhaps the assemblies might propose some other mode of being taxed by Parliament. Ample time was given them to formulate their wishes. Instead of so doing, the colonists protested in vigorous and well-considered language against being taxed at all by Parliament. But their petitions were not even received by the House of Commons, in conformity to “a monstrous rule,” as Lord Farnborough terms it, which forbade petitioning against certain money bills. The act levying stamp duties passed the Commons in March, 1765, without any considerable debate and with only fifty votes in the negative, and received the royal assent. The king, at the moment, was suffering from his first attack of mental disorder, and the royal assent was given by commission. The colonial agents, many of whom were Americans, believing the act would be peacefully carried out, secured the places of stamp distributers for themselves and their friends.

The Stamp Act, in itself, was a fair and equitable measure. In its essential features it was not unlike a

The Stamp Stamp Act passed by the Massachusetts legislature in 1755.

No duty was levied on the ordinary papers of exchange nor on receipts for money paid.

1 May, Constitutional History (edition of 1873), III. 347, and note i to p. 348. C. A.



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