I. Natural Rights of the Colonists as
Among the natural rights of the Colonists
are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property;
together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.
These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of
self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.
All men have a right to remain in a state of nature as
long as they please; and in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious,
to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another.
When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent;
and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such
conditions and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.
Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the
nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains.
All positive and civil laws should conform, as far as
possible, to the law of natural reason and equity.
As neither reason requires nor religion permits the
contrary, every man living in or out of a state of civil society has a right
peaceably and quietly to worship God according to the dictates of his
"Just and true liberty, equal and impartial
liberty," in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all men are
clearly entitled to by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, as
well as by the law of nations and all well-grounded municipal laws, which must
have their foundation in the former.
In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different
professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever
practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind. And it is
now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the
fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief
characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and
proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such
toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of
society. The only sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws
are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach doctrines subversive of
the civil government under which they live. The Roman Catholics or Papists are
excluded by reason of such doctrines as these, that princes excommunicated may
be deposed, and those that they call heretics may be destroyed without mercy;
besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of
government, by introducing, as far as possible into the states under whose
protection they enjoy life, liberty, and property, that solecism in politics,
imperium in imperio, leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil
discord, war, and bloodshed.
The natural liberty of man, by entering into society, is
abridged or restrained, so far only as is necessary for the great end of
society, the best good of the whole.
In the state of nature every man is, under God, judge and
sole judge of his own rights and of the injuries done him. By entering into
society he agrees to an arbiter or indifferent judge between him and his
neighbors; but he no more renounces his original right than by taking a cause
out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to referees or
In the last case, he must pay the referees for time and
trouble. He should also be willing to pay his just quota for the support of
government, the law, and the constitution; the end of which is to furnish
indifferent and impartial judges in all cases that may happen, whether civil,
ecclesiastical, marine, or military.
The natural liberty of man is to be free from any
superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority
of man, but only to have the law of nature for his rule.
In the state of nature men may, as the patriarchs did,
employ hired servants for the defence of their lives, liberties, and property;
and they should pay them reasonable wages. Government was instituted for the
purposes of common defence, and those who hold the reins of government have an
equitable, natural right to an honorable support from the same principle that
" the laborer is worthy of his hire." But then the same community
which they serve ought to be the assessors of their pay. Governors have no right
to seek and take what they please; by this, instead of being content with the
station assigned them, that of honorable servants of the society, they would
soon become absolute masters, despots, and tyrants. Hence, as a private man has
a right to say what wages he will give in his private affairs, so has a
community to determine what they will give and grant of their substance for the
administration of public affairs. And, in both cases, more are ready to offer
their service at the proposed and stipulated price than are able and willing to
perform their duty.
In short, it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in
the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to
renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those
rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its
institution, is for the support, protection, and defence of those very rights;
the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property.
If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any
essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society
would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom being the gift
of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and
voluntarily become a slave.
II. The Rights of the Colonists as Christians.
These may be best understood by reading and
carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the
Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the
By the act of the British Parliament, commonly
called the Toleration Act, every subject in England, except Papists, &c.,
was restored to, and re-established in, his natural right to worship God
according to the dictates of his own conscience. And, by the charter of this
Province, it is granted, ordained, and established (that is, declared as an
original right) that there shall be liberty of conscience allowed in the worship
of God to all Christians, except Papists, inhabiting, or which shall inhabit or
be resident within, such Province or Territory. Magna Charta itself is in
substance but a constrained declaration or proclamation and promulgation in the
name of the King, Lords, and Commons, of the sense the latter had of their
original, inherent, indefeasible natural rights, as also those of free citizens
equally perdurable with the other. That great author, that great jurist, and
even that court writer, Mr. Justice Blackstone, holds that this recognition was
justly obtained of King John, sword in hand. And peradventure it must be one
day, sword in hand, again rescued and preserved from total destruction and
III. The Rights of the Colonists as
A commonwealth or state is a body
politic, or civil society of men, united together to promote their mutual safety
and prosperity by means of their union.
The absolute rights of Englishmen and all freemen, in or
out of civil society, are principally personal security, personal liberty, and
All persons born in the British American Colonies are, by
the laws of God and nature and by the common law of England, exclusive of all
charters from the Crown, well entitled, and by acts of the British Parliament
are declared to be entitled, to all the natural, essential, inherent, and
inseparable rights, liberties, and privileges of subjects born in Great Britain
or within the realm. Among those rights are the following, which no man, or body
of men, consistently with their own rights as men and citizens, or members of
society, can for themselves give up or take away from others.
First, "The first fundamental, positive law of
all common wealths or states is the establishing the legislative power. As the
first fundamental natural law, also, which is to govern even the legislative
power itself, is the preservation of the society."
Secondly, The Legislative has no right to absolute,
arbitrary power over the lives and fortunes of the people; nor can mortals
assume a prerogative not only too high for men, but for angels, and therefore
reserved for the exercise of the Deity alone.
"The Legislative cannot justly assume to itself a
power to rule by extempore arbitrary decrees; but it is bound to see that
justice is dispensed, and that the rights of the subjects be decided by
promulgated, standing, and known laws, and authorized independent judges";
that is, independent, as far as possible, of Prince and people. "There
should be one rule of justice for rich and poor, for the favorite at court, and
the countryman at the plough."
Thirdly, The supreme power cannot justly take from any
man any part of his property, without his consent in person or by his
These are some of the first principles of natural law and
justice, and the great barriers of all free states and of the British
Constitution in particular. It is utterly irreconcilable to these principles and
to many other fundamental maxims of the common law, common sense, and reason
that a British House of Commons should have a right at pleasure to give and
grant the property of the Colonists. (That the Colonists are well entitled to
all the essential rights, liberties, and privileges of men and freemen born in
Britain is manifest not only from the Colony charters in general, but acts of
the British Parliament.) The statute of the 13th of Geo. II, C. 7, naturalizes
even foreigners after seven years' residence. The words of the Massachusetts
charter are these: "And further, our will and pleasure is, and we do hereby
for us, our heirs, and successors, grant, establish, and ordain, that all and
every of the subjects of us, our heirs, and successors, which shall go to, and
inhabit within our said Province or Territory, and every of their children,
which shall happen to be born there or on the seas in going thither or returning
from thence, shall have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free and
natural subjects within any of the dominions of us, our heirs, and
successors, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever as if they
and every one of them were born within this our realm of England."
Now what liberty can there be where property is taken
away without consent ? Can it be said with any color of truth and justice, that
this continent of three thousand miles in length, and of a breadth as yet
unexplored, in which, however, it is supposed there are five millions of people,
has the least voice, vote, or influence in the British Parliament? Have they all
together any more weight or power to return a single member to that House of
Commons who have not inadvertently, but deliberately, assumed a power to dispose
of their lives, liberties, and properties, than to choose an Emperor of China?
Had the Colonists a right to return members to the British Parliament, it would
only be hurtful; as, from their local situation and circumstances, it is
impossible they should ever be truly and properly represented there. The
inhabitants of this country, in all probability, in a few years, will be more
numerous than those of Great Britain and Ireland together; yet it is absurdly
expected by the promoters of the present measures that these, with their
posterity to all generations, should be easy, while their property shall be
disposed of by a House of Commons at three thousand miles' distance from them,
and who cannot be supposed to have the least care or concern for their real
interest; who have not only no natural care for their interest, but must be in
effect bribed against it, as every burden they lay on the Colonists is so much
saved or gained to themselves. Hitherto, many of the Colonists have been free
from quit rents; but if the breath of a British House of Commons can originate
an act for taking away all our money, our lands will go next, or be subject to
rack rents from haughty and relentless landlords, who will ride at ease, while
we are trodden in the dirt. The Colonists have been branded with the odious
names of traitors and rebels only for complaining of their grievances. How long
such treatment will or ought to be borne, is submitted.