Page:American Archives, Series 4, Volume 1.djvu/526
CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, OCTOBER 21, 1774.
by a single man—a creature of the Crown; and, according to the course of a law, which exempts the prosecutor from the trouble of proving his accusation, and obliges the defendant either to evince his innocence, or to suffer. To give this new Judicatory the greater importance, and as if with design to protect false accusers, it is further provided, that the Judge's certificate of there having been probable causes of seizure and prosecution, shall protect the prosecutor from actions at common law for recovery of damages.
By the course of our law, offences committed in such of the British Dominions in which Courts are established and justice duly and regularly administered, shall be there tried by a jury of the vicinage. There the offenders and the witnesses are known, and the degree of credibility to be given to their testimony, can be ascertained.
In all these Colonies justice is regularly and impartially administered, and yet, by the construction of some, and the direction of other Acts of Parliament, offenders are to be taken by force, together with all such persons as may be pointed out as witnesses, and carried to England, there to be tried in a distant land by a jury of strangers, and subject to all the disadvantages that result from want of friends, want of witnesses, and want of money.
When the design of raising a Revenue from the Duties imposed on the importation of Tea into America, had, in a great measure, been rendered abortive, by our ceasing to import that commodity, a scheme was concerted by the Ministry with the East India Company, and an Act passed enabling and encouraging them to transport and vend it in the Colonies. Aware of the danger of giving success to this insidious manœuvre, and of permitting a precedent of taxation thus to be established among us, various methods were adopted to elude the stroke. The people of Boston, then ruled by a Governour, whom, as well as his predecessor, Sir Francis Bernard, all America considers as her enemy, were exceedingly embarrassed. The ships which had arrived with the Tea, were, by his management, prevented from returning; the duties would have been paid; the cargoes landed and exposed to sale; a Governour's influence would have procured and protected many purchasers. While the Town was suspended by deliberations on this important subject, the Tea was destroyed. Even supposing a trespass was thereby committed, and the proprietors of the Tea entitled to damages, the Courts of Law were open, and Judges appointed by the Crown presided in them. The East India Company, however, did not think proper to commence any suits; nor did they even demand satisfaction, either from individuals or from the community in general. The Ministry, it seems, officiously made the case their own, and the great Council of the Nation descended to intermeddle with a dispute about private property. Divers papers, letters, and other unauthenticated ex parte evidence were laid before them; neither the persons who destroyed the Tea, nor the people of Boston, were called upon to answer the complaint. The Ministry, incensed by being disappointed in a favourite scheme, were determined to recur from the little arts of finese, to open force and unmanly violence. The Port of Boston was blocked up by a Fleet, and an Army placed in the Town. Their trade was to be suspended, and thousands reduced to the necessity of gaining subsistence from charity, till they should submit to pass under the yoke and consent to become slaves, by confessing the omnipotence of Parliament, and acquiescing in whatever disposition they might think proper to make of their lives and property.
Let justice and humanity cease to be the boast of your Nation! Consult your history; examine your records of former transactions, nay, turn to the annals of the many arbitrary States and Kingdoms that surround you, and show us a single instance of men being condemned to suffer for imputed crimes, unheard, unquestioned, and without even the specious formality of a trial; and that, too, by laws made expressly for the purpose, and which had no existence at the time of the fact committed. If it be difficult to reconcile these proceedings to the genius and temper of your Laws and Constitution, the task will become more arduous, when we call upon our Ministerial enemies to justify, not only condemning men untried, and by hearsay, but involving the innocent in one common punishment with the guilty; and for the act of thirty or forty, to bring poverty, distress, and calamity, on thirty thousand souls, and those not your enemies, but your friends, brethren, and fellow-subjects.
It would be some consolation to us if the catalogue of American oppressions ended here. It gives us pain to be reduced to the necessity of reminding you that, under the confidence reposed in the faith of Government, pledged in a Royal Charter from a British Sovereign, the forefathers of the present inhabitants of the Massachusetts Bay left their former habitations and established that great, flourishing and loyal Colony. Without incurring or being charged with a forfeiture of their rights; without being heard; without being tried; without law, and without justice, by an Act of Parliament their Charter is destroyed; their liberties violated; their Constitution and form of Government changed; and all this upon no better pretence than because in one of their Towns a trespass was committed on some merchandise said to belong to one of the Companies, and because the Ministry were of opinion that such high political regulations were necessary to compel due subordination and obedience to their mandates.
Nor are these the only capital grievances under which we labour. We might tell of dissolute, weak, and wicked Governours having been set over us; of Legislatures being suspended for asserting the rights of British subjects; of needy and ignorant dependents on great men advanced to the seats of Justice, and to other places of trust and importance; of hard restrictions on Commerce, and a great variety of lesser evils, the recollection of which is almost lost under the weight and pressure of greater and more poignant calamities.
Now mark the progression of the Ministerial plan for enslaving us.
Well aware that such hardy attempts to take our property from us; to deprive us of that valuable right of Trial by Jury; to seize our persons and carry us for trial to Great Britain; to blockade our Ports; to destroy our Charters and change our forms of Government, would occasion, and had already occasioned great discontent in the Colonies, which might produce opposition to these measures, an Act was passed to protect, indemnify, and screen from punishment such as might be guilty even of murder, in endeavouring to carry their oppressive edicts into execution; and by another Act the dominion of Canada is to be so extended, modelled, and governed, as that by being disunited from us, detached from our interests, by civil as well as religious prejudices, that by their numbers daily swelling with Catholick emigrants from Europe, and by their devotion to Administration, so friendly to their religion, they might become formidable to us, and, on occasion, be fit instruments in the hands of power, to reduce the ancient, free, Protestant Colonies to the same state of slavery with themselves.
This was evidently the object of the Act; and in this view being extremely dangerous to our liberty and quiet, we cannot forbear complaining of it as hostile to British America. Superadded to these considerations, we cannot help deploring the unhappy condition to which it has reduced the many English settlers, who, encouraged by the Royal Proclamation, promising the enjoyment of all their rights, have purchased estates in that country. They are now the subjects of an arbitrary Government, deprived of trial by jury, and when imprisoned, cannot claim the benefit of the Habeas Corpus Act, that great bulwark and palladium of English Liberty. Nor can we suppress our astonishment that a British Parliament should ever consent to establish in that country a Religion that has deluged your Island in blood, and dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder, and rebellion, through every part of the world.
This being a true state of facts, let us beseech you to consider to what end they lead.
Admit that the Ministry, by the powers of Britain, and the aid of our Roman Catholick neighbours, should be able to carry the point of taxation, and reduce us to a state of perfect humiliation and slavery; such an enterprise would doubtless make some addition to your National Debt, which already presses down your liberties, and fills you with pensioners and placemen. We presume, also, that your commerce will somewhat be diminished. However, suppose you should prove victorious, in what condition will you