(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Children's Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Discourse, delivered in Providence, in the colony of Rhode Island, on the 25th day of July, 1768. At the dedication of the tree of liberty, from the summer house in the tree"

DISCOURSE, 

DELIVERED in PROVIDENCE, 

IN THE 

COLONY of RHODE ISLAND, 

upon the 25th Day of July, 1768. 

AT 

The DEDICATION of the 

TREE of LIBERTY, 

From the Summer House in the TREE. 



By a SON of LIBERTT 

(SILAS DOWNER) 



PROVIDENCE 

PRINTED AND SOLD BY JOHN WATERMAN* 
AT HIS PRINTING OFFICE, AT THE PAPER-MILL 

M,DCC,LXVIII 



TARRYTOWN, N. Y. 

REPRINTED 

WILLIAM ABBATT 

1918 
BEING EXTBA NUMBER 64 OF THE MAGAZINE OF HISTORY WITH NOTES AND QUERIES 



A DISCOURSE 

DELIVERED AT THE DEDICATION OF 

THE TREE OF LIBERTY, 
IN PROVIDENCE 



Dearly beloved Countrymen. 

WE His Majesty s subjects, who live remote from the throne, 
and are inhabitants of a new world, are here met together 
to dedicate the Tree of Liberty. On this occasion we chear- 
fully recognize our allegiance to our sovereign Lord, George the 
third, King of Great Britain, and supreme Lord of these dominions, 
but utterly deny any other dependence on the inhabitants of that 
island, than what is mutual and reciprocal between all mankind. 
It is good for us to be here, to confirm one another in the principles 
of liberty, and to renew our obligations to contend earnestly there 
for. 

OUR forefathers, with the permission of their sovereign, emi 
grated from England, to avoid the unnatural oppressions which 
then took place in that country. They endured all sorts of mis 
eries and hardships, before they could establish any tolerable foot 
ing in the new world. It was then hoped and expected that the 
blessings of freedom would be the inheritance of their posterity, 
which they preferred to every other temporal consideration. With 
the extremest toil, and danger, our great and noble ancestors found 
ed in America a number of colonies under the allegiance of the 
crown of England. They forfeited not the privileges of English 
men by removing themselves hither, but brought with them every 
right which they could or ought to have enjoyed had they abided 
in England. They had fierce and dreadful wars with savages, 
who often poured their whole force on the infant plantations, but 
under every difficulty and discouragement, by the good providence 

311 



4 DISCOURSE DELIVERED IN PROVIDENCE 

of GOD they multiplied exceedingly, and flourished, without re 
ceiving any protection or assistance from England. They were 
free from impositions. Their kings were well disposed to them, 
and their fellow subjects in Great Britain had not then gaped after 
Naboth s vineyard. Never were people so happy as our fore 
fathers, after they had brought the land to a state of inhabitancy, 
and procured peace with the natives, They sat every man under 
his own vine, and under his own fig-tree. They had but few wants; 
and luxury, extravagance, and debauchery were known only by 
the names, as the things signified thereby had not then arrived 
from the old world. The public worship of GOD, and the educa 
tion of children and youth, were never more encouraged in any 
part of the globe. The laws which they made for the general ad 
vantage were exactly carried into execution. In fine, no country 
ever experienced more perfect felicity. Religion, learning, and a 
pure administration of justice were exceeding conspicuous, and 

kept even pace with the population of the country. 

> 

WHEN we view this country in its extent and variety of cli 
mates, soils, and produce, we ought to be exceeding thankful to 
divine goodness in bestowing it upon our forefathers, and giving 
it as an heritage for their children. We may call it the promised 
land, a good land and a large a land of hills and vallies, of rivers, 
brooks, and springs of water a land of milk and honey, and where 
in we may eat bread to the full. A land whose stones are iron, 
the most useful material in all nature, and of other choice mines 
and minerals; and a land whose rivers and adjacent seas are stored 
with the best of fish. In a word, no part of the habitable world can 
boast of so many natural advantages as this northern part of 
America. 

BUT what will all these things avail us, if we be deprived of 
that liberty which the GOD of nature hath given us? View the 
miserable condition of the poor wretches who inhabit countries 
once the most fertile and happy in the world, where the blessings 



AT THE DEDICATION OF THE TREE OF LIBERTY 5 

of liberty have been removed by the hand of arbitrary power. 
Religion, learning, arts, and industry, vanished at the deformed 
appearance of tyranny. Those countries are depopulated, and 
the scarce and thin inhabitants are fast fixed in chains and slavery. 
They have nothing which they can call their own; even their lives 
are at the absolute disposal of the monsters who have usurped 
dominion over them. 

THE dreadful scenes of massacre and bloodshed, the cruel 
tortures and brutal barbarities which have been committed on 
the image of GOD, with all the horrible miseries which have over 
flowed great part of the globe, have proceeded from wicked and 
ambitious men who usurped an absolute dominion over their fel 
lows. If this country should experience such a shocking change 
in their affairs, or its despotic sway should succeed the fair enjoy 
ment of liberty, I should prefer a life of freedom in Nova Zembla, 
Greenland or in the most frozen regions in the world, even where 
the use of fire is unknown, rather than to live here to be tyrannized 
over by any of the human race. 

GOVERNMENT is necessary. It was instituted to secure to 
individuals that natural liberty which no human creature hath a 
right to deprive them of. For which end the people have given 
power unto the rulers to use as there may be occasion for the good 
of the whole community, and not that the civil magistrate, who is 
only the people s trustee, should make use of it for the hurt of the 
governed. If a commander of a fortress, appointed to make de 
fence against the approaches of an enemy, should breech about 
his guns and fire upon his own town, he would commence tyrant, 
and ought to be treated as an enemy to mankind. 

THE ends of civil government have been well answered in 
America and justice duly administered in general, while we were 
governed by laws of our own make, and consented to by the Crown. 
It is of the very essence of the British constitution, that the people 

313 



6 DISCOURSE DELIVERED IN PROVIDENCE 

shall not be governed by laws in the making of which they had no 
hand, or have their monies taken away without their own consent. 
This privilege is inherent, and cannot be granted by any but the 
Almighty. It is a natural right which no creature can give, or 
hath a right to take away. The great charter of liberties, commonly 
called Magna Charta, doth not give the privileges therein mentioned, 
nor doth our Charters, but must be considered as only declara 
tory of our rights and in affirmance of them. The formation of 
legislatures was the first object of attention in the colonies. They 
all recognized the King of Great Britain, and a government in 
each was erected, as like to that in England as the nature of the 
country and local circumstances would admit. Assemblies or 
parliaments were instituted, wherein were present the King by 
his substitutes, with a council of great men, and the people by 
their representatives. Our distant situation from Great Britain 
and other attendant circumstances, make it impossible for us to 
be represented in the parliament of that country, or to be governed 
from thence. The exigencies of state often require the immediate 
hand of government; and confusion and misrule would ensure 
if government was not topical. From hence it will follow that our 
legislatures were compleat, and that the Parliamentary authority 
of Great Britain cannot be extended over us without involving 
the greatest contradiction: For if we are to be controuled by 
their Parliament, our own will be useless. In short, I cannot be 
perswaded that the Parliament of Great Britain have any lawful 
right to make any laws whatsoever to bind us, because there can 
be no fountain from whence such right can flow. It is universally 
agreed amongst us that they cannot tax us, because we are not 
represented there. Many other acts of legislation may affect us 
as nearly as taking away our monies. There are many kinds of 
property as dear to us as our money, and in which we may be great 
ly injured by allowing them a power in, or to direct about. Sup 
pose the Parliament of Great Britain should undertake to pro 
hibit us from walking in the Streets and highways on certain 

314 



AT THE DEDICATION OF THE TREE OF LIBERTY 7 

Saints days, or from being abroad after a certain time in the even 
ing, or (to come nearer to the matter) to restrain us from working 
up and manufacturing materials of our own growth, would not 
our liberty and property be as much affected by such regulations 
as by a tax act. It is the very spirit of the constitution that the 
King s subjects shall not be governed by laws, in the making of 
which they had no share; and this principle is the great barrier 
against tyranny and oppression? If this bulwark be thrown down, 
nothing will remain to us but a dreadful expectation of certain 
slavery. If any acts of the British Parliament are found suitable 
and commensurate to the nature of the country, they may be in 
troduced, or adopted, by special acts of our own Parliaments, 
which would be equivalent to making them anew; and without such 
introduction or adoption, our allowance of the validity or force 
of any act of the English or British Parliament in these dominions 
of the King, must and will operate as a concession on our part 
that our fellow subjects in another country can choose a set of 
men among themselves, and impower them to make laws to bind 
us, as well in the matter of taxes as in every other case. It hath 
been fully proved, and is a point not to be controverted, that in 
our constitution the having of property, especially a landed es 
tate, entitles the subject to a share in government and framing 
of laws. The Americans have such property and estate, but are 
not, and never can be represented in the British Parliament. It 
is therefore clear that that assembly cannot pass any laws to bind 
us, but that we must be governed by our own parliaments, in 
which we can be in person, or by representation. 

BUT of late a new system of politics hath been adopted in 
Great Britain and the common people there claim a sovereignty 
over us, although they be only fellow subjects. The more I con 
sider the nature and tendency of this claim, the more I tremble for 
the liberties of my country. For although it hath been unan 
swerably proved that they have no more power over us than we 

315 



8 DISCOURSE DELIVERED IN PROVIDENCE 

have over them, yet relying on the powerful logic of guns and cut 
lery-ware, they cease not to make laws injurious to us; and when 
ever we expostulate with them for so doing, all the return is a dis 
charge of threats and menaces. 

IT is now an established principle in Great Britain that we 
are subject to the people of that country, in the same manner as 
they are subject to the Crown. They expressly call us their sub 
jects. The language of every paultry scribler, even of those who 
pretend friendship for us in some things, is after this lordly stile, 
our colonies our western dominions our plantations our islands 
our subjects in America our authority our government with 
many more of the like imperious expressions. Strange doctrine, 
that we should be the subjects of subjects, and liable to be con- 
trouled at their will! It is enough to break every measure of pa 
tience, that fellow subjects should assume such power over us. 
They are so possessed with the vision of the plenitude of their 
power, that they call us rebels and traitors for denying their au 
thority. If the King was an absolute monarch and ruled us ac 
cording to his absolute will and pleasure, as some kings in Europe 
do their subjects, it would not be in any degree so humiliating and 
debasing as to be governed by one part of the King s subjects who 
are but equals. From every part of the conduct of the Adminis 
tration, from the acts, votes, and resolutions of the Parliament, 
and from all the political writings in that country and libels on 
America, this appears to be their claim, which I think may be said 
to be an invasion of the rights of the King, and an unwarrantable 
combination against the liberties of his subjects in America. 

LET us now attend a little to the conduct of that country to 
wards us, and see if it be possible to doubt of their principles. In 
the 9th of Anne, the post office act was made, which is a tax act, 
and which annually draws great sums of money from us. It is 
true that such an establishment would have been of great use, but 
then the regulation ought to have been made among ourselves. 

316 



AT THE DEDICATION OF THE TREE OF LIBERTY 9 

And it is a clear point to me that let it be ever so much to the ad 
vantage of this country, the Parliament had no more right to in 
terfere than they have to form such an establishment in the elec 
torate of Hanover, the King s German dominions. 

THEY have prohibited us from purchasing any kind of goods 
or manufactures of Europe except from Great Britain, and from 
selling any of our own goods or manufactures to foreigners, a few 
inconsiderable articles excepted, under pain of confiscation of 
vessel and cargo, and other heavy penalties. If they were indeed 
our sovereign lords and masters, as they pretend to be, such regu 
lations would be in open violation of the laws of nature. But 
what adds to this grievance is, that in the trade between us they 
can set their own prices both on our and their commodities, which 
is in effect a tax, and of which they have availed themselves. 
And moreover, duties are laid on divers enumerated articles on 
their import, for the express purpose of a revenue. They freely 
give and grant away our monies without our consent, under the 
specious pretence of defending, protecting and securing America, 
and for the charges of the administration of justice here, when in 
fact we are not indebted to them one farthing for any defence or 
protection from the first planting the country to this moment, but 
on the contrary, a balance is due to us for our exertions in the gen 
eral cause; and besides, the advantages which have accrued to 
their trade with us hath put millions in their pockets. As to the 
administration of justice, no country in the world can boast of a 
purer one than this, the charges of which have been always chear- 
fully provided for and paid without their interposition. There 
is reason to fear that if the British people undertake the business 
of the administration of justice amongst us it will be worse for us, 
as it may cause an introduction of their fashionable corruptions, 
whereby our pure streams of justice will be tainted and polluted. 
But in truth, by the administration of justice is meant the keeping 

317 



10 DISCOURSE DELIVERED IN PROVIDENCE 

up an idle sett of officers to rob us of our money, to keep us down 
and humble, and to frighten us out of our undoubted rights. 

AND here it may be proper to mention the grievances of the 
custom house. Trade is the natural right of all men, but it is 
forestrained, perplexed and fettered, that the officers of the cus 
toms, where there happens a judge of admiralty to their purpose, 
can seize and get condemned any vessel or goods they see fit. They 
will seize a vessel without shewing any other cause than their ar 
bitrary will, and keep her a long time without exhibiting any libel, 
during all which time, the owner knows not on what account she 
is seized, and when the trial conies on, he is utterly deprived of one 
by a jury, contrary to the usages among our fellow subjects in 
Britain and perhaps all his fortune is determinate by a single, 
base, and infamous tool of a violent, corrupt, and wicked adminis 
tration. Besides, these officers, who seem to be born with long 
claws, like eagles, exact most exorbitant fees, even from small 
coasting vessels, who pass along shore and carry from plantation 
to plantation, bread, meat, firewood, and other necessaries, and 
without the intervention of which the country would labour under 
great inconveriiencies, directly contrary to the true intent and 
meaning of one of the acts of trade by which they pretend to 
govern themselves, such vessels by that act not being obliged to 
have so much as a register. It is well known that their design in 
getting into office is to enrich themselves by fleecing the mer 
chants, and it is thought that very few have any regard to the in 
terest of the Crown, which is only a pretence they make in order 
to accomplish their avaricious purposes. 

THE common people of Great Britain very liberally give and 
grant away the property of the Americans without their consent, 
which if yielded to by us must fix us in the lowest bottom of slavery: 
For if they can take away one penny from us against our wills, 
they can take all. If they have such power over our properties 
they must have a proportionable power over our persons; and from 

318 



AT THE DEDICATION OF THE TREE OF LIBERTY 11 

hence it will follow that they can demand and take away our lives 
whensoever it shall be agreeable to their sovereign wills and pleas 
ure. 

THIS claim of the Commons to a sovereignty over us is found 
ed by them on their being the Mother Country. It is true that 
the first emigrations were from England; but upon the whole more 
settlers have come from Ireland, Germany, and other parts of 
Europe, than from England. But if every soul came from Eng 
land, it would not give them any title to sovereignty or even to 
superiority. One spot of ground will not be sufficient for all: 
As places fill up mankind must disperse, and go where they can 
find a settlement; and being born free, must carry with them their 
freedom and independence on their fellows, go where they will. 
Would it not be thought strange if the commonalty of the Massa 
chusetts-Bay should require our obedience, because this colony w r as 
first settled from that dominion? By the best accounts, Britain 
was peopled from Gaul, now called France, wherefore according to 
their principles the Parliaments of France have a right to govern 
them. If this doctrine of the maternal authority of one country- 
over another be a little examined, it will be found to be the great 
est absurdity that ever entered into the head of a politician. In 
the time of Nimrod, all mankind lived together on the plains of 
Shinar, from whence they were dispersed at the building of Babel. 
From that dispersion all the empires, kingdoms, and states in the 
world are derived. That this doctrine may be fully exposed, let 
us suppose a few Turks or Arabs to be the present inhabitants of 
the plains of Shinar, and that they should demand the obedience 
of every kingdom, state, and country in the world, on account of 
their being the Mother Country: would it be one jot more ridicu 
lous than the claim made by the Parliament of Great Britain, to 
rule and reign over us? It is to be hoped that in future the words 
Mother Country will not be so frequently in our mouths, as they 
are only sounds without meaning. 

319 



12 DISCOURSE DELIVERED IN PROVIDENCE 

ANOTHER grievance to be considered, is the alarming attempt 
of the people of Old England to restrain our manufactures. This 
country abounds in iron, yet there is an act of Parliament, passed 
in the late King s reign to restrain us from manufacturing it into 
plates and rods by mill-work, the last of which forms are absolutely 
necessary for the making of nails, the most useful article in a new 
country that can be conceived. Be astonished all the world, that 
the people of a country who call themselves Christians and a civi 
lized nation, should imagine that any principles of police will be a 
sufficient excuse for their prohibiting their fellow subjects in a 
distant part of the earth from making use of the blessings of the 
GOD of nature! There would be just as much reason to prohibit 
us from spinning our wool and flax, or making up our cloaths. 
Such prohibitions are infractions on the natural rights of men, and 
are utterly void. 

THEY have undertook, at the distance of three thousand 
miles, to regulate and limit our trade with the natives round about 
us, and from whom our lands were purchased a trade which we 
opened ourselves, and which we ought to enjoy unrestricted. Fur 
ther, we are prohibited by a people who never set foot here from 
making any more purchases from the Indians, and even of settling 
those which we have made. The truth is, they intend to take into 
their own hands the whole of the back lands, witness the patents 
of immense tracts continually solicited, and making out to their 
own people. The consequence will be shocking, and we ought to 
be greatly alarmed at such a procedure. All new countries ought 
to be free to settlers; but instead thereof every settler on these 
patent lands, and their descendants forever will be as compleat 
slaves to their landlords, as the common people of Poland are to 
their lords. 

A standing army in time of profound peace is cantoned and 
quartered about the country to awe and intimidate the people 
Men of war and cutters are in every port, to the great distress of 

320 



AT THE DEDICATION OF THE TREE OF LIBERTY 13 

trade. In time of war we had no station ships, but were obliged 
to protect our trade, but now in time of full peace, when there are 
none to make us afraid we are visited with the plague of men of 
war, who commit all manner of disorders and irregularities; and 
behave in as hostile a manner as if they were open and declared 
enemies. In open defiance of civility, and the laws of Great 
Britain, which they profess to be governed by, they violently 
seize and forcibly carry on board their ships the persons of the 
King s loving subjects. What think ye my brethren, of a military 
government in each town? Unless we exert ourselves in opposi 
tion to their plan of subjecting us, we shall all have soldiers quar 
tered about upon us, who will take the absolute command of our 
families. Gentry boxes will be set up in all the streets and pas 
sages, and none of us will be able to pass, without being brought 
to by a soldier with his fixed bayonet, and giving him a satisfac 
tory account of ourselves and business. Perhaps it will be ordered 
that we shall put out fire and candle at eight of the clock at night, 
for fear of conspiracy. From which fearful calamities may the 
GOD of our fathers deliver us! 

BUT after all, nothing which has yet happened ought to alarm 
us more than their suspending government here, because our Par 
liaments or Assemblies (who ought to be free) do not in their votes 
and resolutions please the populace of Great Britain. Suppose a 
parcel of mercenary troops in England should go to the Parlia 
ment house, and order the members to vote as they directed under 
pain of dissolution, how much liberty would be left to them? In 
short, this dissolving of government upon such pretences as are 
formed, leaves not the semblance of liberty to the people. We 
all ought to resent the treatment which the Massachusetts-Bay 
hath had, as their case may soon come to be our own. 

WE are constantly belied and misrepresented to our gracious 
sovereign by the officers who are sent hither, and others who are 
in the cabal of ruining this country. They are the persons who 

321 



14 DISCOURSE DELIVERED IN PROVIDENCE 

ought to be called rebels and traitors, as their conduct is superla 
tively injurious to the King and his faithful subjects. 

MANY other grievances might be enumerated, but the time 
would fail. Upon the whole, the conduct of Great Britain shews 
that they have formed a plan to subject us so effectually to their 
absolute commands, that even the freedom of speech will be taken 
from us. This plan they are executing as fast as they can; and 
almost every day produces some effect of it. We are insulted and 
menaced only for petitioning. Our prayers are prevented from 
reaching the royal ear, and our humble supplications to the throne 
are wickedly and maliciously represented as so many marks of 
faction and disloyalty. If they can once make us afraid to speak 
or write, their purpose will be finished. Then farewell liberty. 
Then those, who were crouded in narrow limits in England will 
take possession of our extended and fertile fields, and set us to 
work for them. 

WHEREFORE, dearly beloved, let us with unconquerable re 
solution maintain and defend that liberty wherewith GOD hath 
made us free. As the total subjection of a people arises generally 
from gradual encroachments, it will be our indispensible duty 
manfully to oppose every invasion of our rights in the beginning. 
Let nothing discourage us from this duty to ourselves and our pos 
terity. Our fathers sought and found freedom in the wilderness; 
they cloathed themselves with the skins of wild beasts, and lodged 
under trees and among bushes; but in that state they were happy 
because they were free. Should these our noble ancestors arise 
from the dead, and find their posterity trucking away that liber 
ty, which they purchased at so dear a rate, for the mean trifles 
and frivolous merchandize of Great Britain, they would return to 
the grave with a holy indignation against us. In this day of danger 
let us exert every talent, and try every lawful means for the pre 
servation of our liberties. It is thought that nothing will be of 
more avail, in our present distressed situation, than to stop our 

322 



AT THE DEDICATION OF THE TREE OF LIBERTY 15 

imports from Britain. By such a measure this little colony would 
save more than 173,000 pounds lawful money, in one year, be 
sides the advantages which would arise from the industry of the 
inhabitants being directed to the raising of wool and flax, and the 
establishment of manufactures. Such a measure might distress 
the manufacturers and poor people in England, but that would be 
their misfortune. Charity begins at home, and we ought primarily 
to consult our own interest; and besides, a little distress might 
bring the people of that country to a better temper and a sense of 
their injustice towards us. No nation or people in the world ever 
made any figure, who were dependent on any other country for 
their food or cloathing. Let us then in justice to ourselves and 
our selves and our children, break off a trade so pernicious to our 
interest, and which is likely to swallow up both our estates and 
liberties. A trade which hath nourished the people, in idleness 
and dissipation. We cannot, we will not, betray the trust reposed 
in us by our ancestors, by giving up the least of our liberties. We 
will be freemen, or we will die. We cannot endure the thought of 
being governed by subjects, and we make no doubt but the Al 
mighty will look down upon our righteous contest with gracious 
approbation. W T e cannot bear the reflection that this country 
should be yielded to them who never had any hand in subduing it. 
Let our w r hole conduct shew r that we know what is due to ourselves. 
Let us act prudently, peaceably, firmly, and jointly. Let us 
break all off trade and commerce with a people who would en 
slave us, as the only means to prevent our ruin. May we strength 
en the hands of the civil government here, and have all our exer 
tions tempered w r ith the principles of peace and order, and may we 
by precept and example encourage the practice of virtue and mo 
rality, without which no people can be happy. 

IT only remains now, that we dedicate the Tree of Liberty. 

WE do therefore, in the name and behalf of all the true SONS of 
LIBERTY in America, Great Britain, Ireland, Corsica, or whereso- 

323 



16 DISCOURSE DELIVERED IN PROVIDENCE 

ever they are dispersed throughout the world, dedicate and solemn 
ly devote this tree, to be a TREE of LIBERTY. May all our 

councils and deliberations under its venerable branches be guided by 
wisdom, and directed to the support and maintenance of that liberty 
which our renowned forefathers sought out and found under trees and 
in the wilderness. 



-May it long flourish, add may the SONS OF LIBERTY 

often repair hither, to confirm and strengthen each other 

When they look toward this sacred ELM, may they be pene 
trated with a sense of their duty to themselves, their country, and 

their posterity: And may they, like the house of David, grow 

stronger and stronger, while their enemies, like the house of Saul, 
grow weaker and weaker. AMEN. 



JOHN WATERMAN, 

The Printer hereof; 

GIVES Notice to his former good Customers and others, 
that he continues to make all Sorts of Paper as usual, 
and that he sells the same at the cheapest Rates for Cash. 
He also carries on the Printing Business at his office at the 
Paper-Mill, but intends shortly to remove his office into the 
most Public Part of the Town, where he proposes to extend the 
Business. The Public may depend upon his Fidelity, Care and 
Dispatch, in such Printing Work as they may employ him about. 

324 









REC CIR AU6 4 



FOR^A NO. DD6, 60m 




, 

i 



ERKELEY LIBRARIES