A copy of a letter from a gentleman in Virginia, to a merchant in Philadelphia.
Dickinson, John, 1732-1808.
Page  [unnumbered] Page  [unnumbered]

A Copy of a LETTER from a GENTLEMAN 〈◊〉Virginia, To a Merchant in Philadelphia.


"I Have read, with much Attention, your Apology for the Merchants of Philadelphia; and think you have great Merit, in at∣tempting to vindicate a Conduct, which is deemed inexplicably spiritless by the Inhabitants of every other Colony.

"One would imagine there has been something very mysterious in the Behaviour of the Merchants of Boston, to have induced you to treat them with so much Contempt; if their Conduct, since the first Dispute with our Mother-Country, had not been man∣ly, candid and ingenuous.

"You confess, that many of you opposed the Suspension in Consequence of Advice received from your particular Friends in London, that prudent and pacific Measures would be most a••••able to the Ministry and Parliament; and that it was dangerous to provoke them. This, no doubt, influenced some among you—But, in my Opinion, we must look somewhere else for the real Cause of your Opposition: perhaps an Examination into the Nature and Design of the Stamp-Act, and the grevious one, to which you still bend the Knee, may discover the lurking Principle, ••on which you acted.

"The Stamp-Act was intended to raise a Revenue in America: 〈◊〉 the Produce of the several Duties were ordered to be paid into the Receipt of his Majesty's Exchequer, and there reserved, to be, from Time to Time, disposed of by Parliament, towards defending, protecting, and securing the American Colonies and Plantations.—This Act, in your Resolutions for Suspending the Importation of Goods from Great-Britain, you, without Ceremony, declared to be UNCONSTITUTIONAL; you likewise entered into spirited Measures for obtaining a Repeal of it, which had an immediate and a desired Effect.—You observed, justly, that the Stamp-Act was unconstitutional —altho your Reasons, for believing it to be so, were not then explained. Your Opinion must have been founded upon this obvious Truth, That no Power on Earth had a Right to take Money out of your Pockets without your Consent, expressly declared by yourselves or your chosen Representatives.—Not content with barely remonstrating against the Stamp-Act.—You also insisted "That the many Difficulties you then laboured under, as a trading People, were owing to the Restrictions, Prohibitions, and ill-advised Regulations made in the several other Acts of the Parliament of Great-Britain, late∣ly passed to regulate the Colonies; which had encreased the Cost and Expence of many Articles of your Importation, and cut off from you all Means of supplying yourselves with Specie enough to pay the Duties imposed on you, much less, to serve as a Me∣dium of your Trade."

"The Acts, against which, you spoke thus freely—still remain in full Force and Virtue; and when you obtained a Repeal of the Stamp-Act, glorious as it was—you obtained but a Part of your Demand.—The Repeal of it was well worth the Pains and Trouble it cost you.—It was indeed so replete with ministerial Venom, and proved such a general and oppressive Burthen, that Judges, Lawyers, Physicians, Parsons, Merchants, Farmers, nay Shool-Boys and Orphans, were alike subject to its baneful Influence.

"The Sufferings of all Ranks of People induced them to oppose it—Business was consequently at a Stand.—The civil Courts were shut, and you could sue no Man for the Recovery of a Debt—You were therefore obliged to sacrifice a very considerable In∣terest; and you determined to import no Goods from Great-Britain, until it was repealed.—This was your Virtue! —This your Resolution!—Your Patriotism and private Interests were so intimately connected, that you could not prostitute the one, without endangering the other: And you would have been particularly fortunate, if Great-Britain, when she repealed the Stamp-Act, and redressed all your Grievances; and had never thought of imposing new ones— You would, then, have been distinguished, in the Annals of America, among her best and most virtuous Sons, for a timely and resolute Defence of her Liberties; and the Virtues, which under the present Tax you have despised and slighted, would have been, tho' unmerited, your greatest Glory— But Charles Townshend, with an artful and penetrating Eye, saw clearly to the Bottom of your Hearts—He knew, that, the private Interests of the Merchants were the Rocks against which Greenville's favorite Argo had unfortunately split; and that no Act of Parliament, for raising a Revenue in America, could be executed without their Consent and Approbation.

"To this Gentleman, you must attribute the Loss of your Reputation: and it was, certainly, your Misfortune, and the Mis∣fortune of all America, that you did not know him, as well as he knew you,—He imposed Duties upon Paper, Glass, and Painters Colours; Articles of Commerce, which will prove most grevious Taxes upon the Country in general; but cannot affect you, as Merchants: For it is notorious, that a Merchant must have his Profit on every Article of his Trade, let the Original Cost be what it may:

The Purchaser of any Article, very seldom reflects that the Seller raises his Price, so as to indemnify himself for the Tax he has paid. He knows that the Prices of things are continually fluctuating, and if he thinks about the Tax, he thinks at the same Time, in all probability, that he might have paid as much, if the Articles he buys had not been taxed. He gets something visible and agreeable for his Money; and Tax and Price are so confounded together, that he cannot sepa∣rate, or does not chuse to take the Trouble of separating them.
—Thus have the People of your Province been deceived into a Pacisic Compliance with this particular Act, the Preamble of which declares it is intended to raise a Revenue in America. You did not esteem it your Duty, as Merchants nor as American Freemen, to oppose it; BECAUSE IT DID NOT DIRECTLY AFFECT YOUR PRIVATE INTERESTS. The Parliamentary Right, of Taxing America, you thought of little Consequence, when compared with your own Ease and Safety—You concluded, that although it was unconstitutional, it could not do much Harm in your Time, and, that, if your Posterity did not like it, or found it insupportable,—they might endeavour to remove it.—By such deceitful Reasoning, you persuaded yourselves you were discharging your Duty; when you were industriously riveting Chains upon your Descendants, who will have no great Cause of Obligation to you for such distinguished Favours—The Merchants in the Northern Colonies, despised these inglorious Motives: They were willing to lose their whole Trade, rather than suffer their Coun∣try to be enslaved—and for this Reason determined to suspend the Importation of Goods from Great-Britain, until the several Acts of P—t imposing Duties on America, were repealed.—This was their Virtue! This their Resolution!—Your Opposition to this Measure prevented it from taking Effect, and you may thank yourselves for the blessed Consequences which are like to follow. —

"These Reflections may appear harsh and uncharitable; but they are the Reflections of every man, who is not tinctured with the local Prejudices of your Province—Believe me, your Opposition to the Proposal of the Merchants of New-York and Boston, although it might have been founded upon specious Arguments, has done infinite Prejudice to the American Cause; and created great Jealousies in your Neighbours Breasts; which, nothing, but your determined Resolution to assist in removing those heavy Burthens, with which they and you are equally oppressed, will effectually heal—An Union, between the several Colonies in Sentiment and Action, is essentially necessary to their Preservation; and had not my Lord H— h been informed, that we were dis-united in both—he would never have treated the Inhabitants of the Massachusetts-Bay with so much severity; nor the other Colonies with such indignity. His Lordship imagined, from the Disunion of these Provinces, of which no Doubt he has had faithful Intelligence, that Dragooning of One would intimidate and silence the Rest; and his Judgment was founded upon a plausible Principle—However, "there are things which at sometimes even Slaves will not bear;" and I apprehend his Lordship Letter will prove too hard even for you to bear. This Letter is an express Declaration, that the Ministry intend to direct and influ∣ence our Assemblies, by threatning them with a Dissolution, whenever they may have the Confidence, c••••ary to ministerial Mandates, to consult or promote the Safety, Honor and Interest of their Constituents. I hope your Assembly will take the first Opportunity to resent the grossest Indignity ever offered to the Representatives of a free and loyal People, and shew no Symptoms of that Modesty of which Mr. Pitt so justly complained to the House of Commons.—if a P— M—r in 〈◊〉 he can intimi∣date an American Assembly, Threats, nay Punishments, will be made use of to execute the most slavish Maxims; and the very Men, whom we may invest with Power to promote and secure our Interests, will under such Influence, effectually ruin us. For what Faith can we repose in our Assemblies, when they do not 〈…〉 answerable to us for this Conduct; but to arbi∣trary Ministers, who will always make it their Interests to oppress 〈…〉? We had better have no Representatives, if we cannot, when we think proper, instruct and direct 〈◊〉; and, at the same time, have a reasonable Ass••••ce of their obeying our Orders. The People are to all Intents and Purpo•••, Masters.—Their Representatives are their 〈◊〉 Servants — And we shall be justly chargeable with political Suicide, if we are stupidly fond of an Establishment, which, on the principle of ministerial 〈◊〉, will destroy our Civil Existence.

"It is, certainly, a most cruel Dilemma, to be obliged to sacrifice every Thing that is most dear and valuable among Men, or to contend with our Mother Country.—But let us not, in this Case, distinguish Great-Britain from any other Power — To Page  [unnumbered]Freemen it must be different, who their Oppressors are—If Britons oppress us, and strive might and main to enslave us—all pretended Ties of ancient Favours, Friendship, Duty, are destroyed: G—B —, France, or any Power on Earth, pursuing the same Measures, ought indiscriminately to be opposed.—I shall conclude this Letter with an historical Fact very appli∣cable to the present Subject.

"The Privernates had been several Times subdued by the Romans, and had as often revolted; but their City was at last retaken by the Consul Plautius—In these distressed Circumstances they sent Ambassadors to Rome, to sue for Peace—Upon a Senator's asking them what Punishment they thought they deserved; one of them answered, 'That which is due to Men who think themselves worthy of Liberty.' Then the Consul asked them, whether there was any Room to hope, that they would observe the Peace, if their Fault was pardoned? 'The peace shall be perpetual between us,' replied the Ambassador, "and we shall faithfully observe it, if the Conditions you lay upon us are just and reasonable; but if they are hard and dishonorable, the peace will not be of long Continuance, and we shall very soon break it.'

"Though some of the Senators were offended at this Answer, yet most of them approved of it, and said that 'it was worthy of a Man and of a Man that was born free:' acknowledging therefore the Force of the Rights of human Nature, they cried out, that 'those alone deserved to be Citizens of Rome, who esteemed nothing in comparison of Liberty.' Thus the very Persons, who were at first threatned with Punishment, were admitted to the Rights of Citizens, and obtained the Conditions they wanted; the generous Refusal of the Privernates to comply with the Terms of a dishonourable Treaty, gained them the Privilege of being incorporated into a State, which at that Time could boast of the bravest, and most virtuous Subjects in the Universe."