Item of the Day: An Appendix to a Letter to Dr. Shebbeare (1775)

Full Title:  An Appendix to a Letter to Dr. Shebbeare. To Which are Added, Some Observations on a Pamphlet Entitled, Taxation no Tyranny: In Which the Sophistry of that Author’s Reasoning is Detected.  By A Doctor of Laws.  London:  Printed for J. Donaldson, Corner of Arundel Street, in the Strand.  MDCCLXXV.

 . . .

The block up of the Port of Boston, and ruining the trade of North America, by a law now proposed to be made to starve the Americans, by preventing their fishing on the banks of Newfoundland, appears to me to be such severity as to be inconsistent with the treatment a government owes a free people; especially when it is considered, that the pretence for this severity is only this, that they refuse to submit to a Tax imposed contrary to their charters and the privileges they have been in possession of for 200 years.  There was a motion made in a great assembly, that had the appearance of moderation, by a minister, some weeks ago, but had no meaning in the opinion of people of understanding, but to divide the provinces of America, the only way to ruin them one after another; for no man of understanding can believe, that a minister, capable of ruining a whole province, where some hundred thousands of his Majesty’s subjects dwell, and which has distinguished itself by its zeal to sever Great Britain against its enemies, because a mob there threw into the Sea some chests of Tea, can have any good intentions to any province in America, who will not submit themselves to his absolute will.  By which submission the fund of corruption must be increased, to destroy the liberties both of America and Great Britain; and we should soon see pensioners and placemen multiply in America, as they do here and in Ireland, in order to carry on the arbitrary views of a minister. . . .

I hear the people in America are so alarmed on hearing the intention of our ministry to send a great army and fleet against them, that they are raising an army of observation, to prevent their being under the absolute power of that army, as to their lives, liberties and properties.  I wish, that before we had sent that army, our ministry, if they really mean to make up that matters with America in a peaceful way, had first tried the inclination of the Americans as to what proposals they had to make; for using force on one side, naturally produces force on the other, especially when that force is sent by people who had shown no friendly disposition towards them; and that old saying of a Trojan, when the Greeks professed friendship to them, has been always thought wise, Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes.

I am told there has been a pamphlet published by one Becket, advancing a very extraordinary doctrine, viz. That it would be proper to impower the crown to raise taxes by its own authority, in times of necessity.  If this doctrine was approved by our parliament, our situation would be the same with that of Spain in Charles V. the emperor’s time, when the Cortez of Spain granted that power to the crown, under the pretence of necessity; which enabled the crown never to call a Cortez afterwards, for they always found out some cause of necessity for continuing that power.  I hear the house of peers have ordered that pamphlet to be burnt by the hands of the hangman — but is that sufficient punishment for an author, who durst advance a doctrine which at once destroys the British constitution, and establishes arbitrary power; which, as I have said before, I look upon as political damnation.  It appears how the Romans prized the least breathing by liberty, during the time of their emperors, by looking into Tacitus’s history of the reign of Trojan, which he calls Rara Tempora, when the Romans could speak or write what they thought, without being ruined by it:  for as the most part of those emperors were monsters of cruelty, so they persecuted every body who regarded virtue, and who did not approve of their vile actions.

Tavernier, the famous jeweller, who went round the globe oftener than once, and made a considerable fortune, at length bought an estate in Switzerland: afterwards being at the court of France, he was asked by Lewis XIV why he did not rather chuse to buy an estate in France, he made him this answer:  I chose to settle what I had acquired by so much pains-taking, in a country where I could call what I had my own, without its being in the power of any body to take it from me.

To conclude; I am so much of Tavernier’s opinion, that I would rather live in the wildest parts of the Highlands of Scotland, under our present happy constitution, than in the finest county of England, under an arbitrary prince.  And as I bore arms against the Pretender in 1715, in defence of the liberties and religion of my country, so I shall end life in wishing there may be always found a sufficient number of British subjects, who will be able to defend that happy constitution which that great prince king William put us in possession of, till time shall be no more — and for that purpose, hope some method shall be found to destroy luxury and dissipation, which at present threatens the destruction of this country — This, and a good correspondence with America, is necessary to save us from Ruin.

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Filed under 1770's, American Revolution, England, Massachusetts, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

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