« PreviousContinue »
be justified? On the acts of parliament? They are already proved to be void. On the discretionary power which the king has of acting where the laws are silent ? That power must be subservient to the interest and happiness of those, concerning whom it operates. But I go further. Instead of being supported by law, or the principles of prerogative, such an alteration is totally and absolutely repugnant to both It is contrary to express law. The charter and constitution, we speak of, are confirmed by the only legislative power capable of confirming them; and no other power, but that which can ratify, can destroy. If it is contrary to express law, the consequence is necessary, that it is contrary to the principles of prerogative; for prerogative can operate only when the law is silent.
In no view can this alteration be justified, or so much as excused. It cannot be justified or excused by the acts of parliament; because the authority of parliament does not extend to it: it cannot be justified or excused by the operation of prerogative; because this is none of the cases, in which prerogative can operate: it cannot be justified or excused by the legislative authority of the colony; because that authority never has been, and, I presume, never will be given for
purpose. If I have proceeded hitherto, as I am persuaded I have, upon safe and sure ground, I can, with great confidence, advance a step further and say, that all attempts to alter the charter or constitution of that colony, unless by the authority of its own legislature, are violations of its rights, and illegal.
If those attempts are illegal, must not all force, employed to carry them into execution, be force employed against law, and without authority? The conclusion is unavoidable.
Have not British subjects, then, a right to resist such force—force acting with authority-force employed contrary to law-force employed to destroy the very existence of law and of liberty? They have, sir,
and this right is secured to them both by the letter and the spirit of the British constitution, by which the measures and the conditions of their obedience are appointed. The British liberties, sir, and the means and the right of defending them, are not the grants of princes; and of what our princes never granted they surely can never deprive us.
I beg leave, here, to mention and to obviate some plausible but ill founded objections, that have been, and will be, held forth by our adversaries, against the principles of the resolution now before us. It will be observed, that those, employed for bringing about the proposed alteration in the charter and constitution of the colony of Massachusetts Bay, act by virtue of a commission for that purpose from his majesty; that all resistance of forces, commissioned by his majesty, is resistance of his majesty's authority and government, contrary to the duty of allegiance, and treasonable. These objections will be displayed in their most specious colors; every artifice of chicanery and sophistry will be put in practice to establish them; law authorities, perhaps, will be quoted and tortured to prove them. Those principles of our constitution, which were designed to preserve and to secure the liberty of the people, and, for the sake of that, the tranquillity of government, will be perverted on this, as they have been on many other occasions, from their true intention, and will be made use of for the contrary purpose of endangering the latter, and destroying the former. The names of the most exalted virtues, on one hand, and of the most atrocious crimes, on the other, will be employed in direct contradiction to the nature of those virtues, and of those crimes; and, in this manner, those, who cannot look beyond names, will be deceived; and those, whose aim it is to deceive by names, will have an opportunity of accomplishing it. But, sir, this disguise will not impose upon us.
We will look to things as well as to names; and, by doing so, we shall be fully satisfied, that all those objections rest upon mere ver
bal sophistry, and have not even the remotest alliance with the principles of reason or of law.
In the first place, then, I say, that the allege, that those, employed to alter the charter and constitution of Massachusetts Bay, act by virtue of a commission from his majesty for that purpose, speak improperly, and contrary to the truth of the case. I say, they act by virtue of no such commission; I say, it is impossible they can act by virtue of such a commission. What is called a commission either contains particular directions for the purpose mentioned; or it contains no such particular directions. In either case can those, who act for that purpose, act by virtue of a commission? In one case, what is called a commission is void ; it has no legal existence; it can communicate no authority. In the other case, it extends not to the purpose mentioned. The latter point is too plain to be insisted on; I
prove the former. “ Id rex potest,” says the law, " quod de jure potest." The king's power is a power according to law. His commands, if the authority of lord chief justice Hale may be depended upon, are under the directive power of the law; and consequently invalid, if unlawful. 6 Commissions,” says my lord Coke,“ are legal; and are like the king's writs; and none are lawful, but such as are allowed by the common law, or warranted by some act of parliament."
Let us examine any commission expressly directing those to whom it is given, to use military force for carrying into execution the alterations, proposed to be made in the charter and constitution of Massachusetts Bay, by the foregoing maxims and authorities; and what we have said concerning it will appear obvious and conclusive. It is not warranted by any act of parliament, because, as has been mentioned on this, and has been proved on other occasions, any such act is void. It is not warranted, and I believe it will not be pretended that it is warranted, by the common law. It is not warranted by the royal prerogative, because, as has already been fully shown, it is diametrically opposite to the principles and the ends of prerogative. Upon what foundation, then, can it lean and be supported ? Upon none. Like an enchanted castle, it may terrify those, whose eyes are affected by the magic influence of the sorcerers, despotism and slavery; but so soon as the charm is dissolved, and the genuine rays of liberty and of the constitution dart in upon us, the formidable appearance vanishes, and we discover that it was the baseless fabric of a vision, that never had any real existence.
I have dwelt the longer upon this part of the objections, urged against us by our adversaries, because this part is the foundation of all the others. We have now removed it; and they must fall of course. For if the force, acting for the purposes we have mentioned, does not act, and cannot act, by virtue of any commission from his majesty, the consequence is undeniable, that it acts without his majesty's authority; that the resistance of it is no resistance of his majesty's authority, nor incompatible with the duties of allegi
And now, sir, let me appeal to the impartial tribunal of reason and truth; let me appeal to every unprejudiced and judicious observer of the laws of Britain, and of the constitution of the British government; let me appeal, I say, whether the principles on which I argue, or the principles on which alone my arguments can be opposed, are those which ought to be adhered to and acted upon; which of them are most consonant to our laws and liberties; which of them have the strongest, and are likely to have the most effectual tendency to establish and secure the royal power and dignity
Are we deficient in loyalty to his majesty? Let our conduct convict, for it will fully convict, the insinuation, that we are, of falsehood. Our loyalty has always appeared in the true form of loyalty; in obeying our sovereign according to law: let those, who would require it in any other form, know, that we call the persons who execute his commands, when contrary to law, disloyal and traitors. Are we enemies to the power of the crown? No, sir, we are its best friends : this friendship prompts us to wish, that the power of the crown may be firmly established on the most solid basis : but we know, that the constitution alone will perpetuate the former, and securely uphold the latter. Are our principles irreverent to majesty ? They are quite the reverse: we ascribe to it perfection almost divine. We say, that the king can do no wrong: we say, that to do wrong is the property, not of power, but of weakness. We feel oppression, and will oppose it; but we know, for our constitution tells us, that oppression can never spring from the throne. We must, therefore, search elsewhere for its source: our infallible guide will direct us to it. Our constitution tells us, that all oppression springs from the ministers of the throne. The attributes of perfection, ascribed to the king, are, neither by the constitution, nor in fact, communicable to his ministers. They may do wrong; they have often done wrong; they have been often punished for doing wrong.
Here we may discern the true cause of all the impudent clamor and unsupported accusations of the ministers and of their minions, that have been raised and made against the conduct of the Americans. Those ministers and minions are sensible, that the opposition is directed, not against his majesty, but against them; because they have abused his majesty's confidence, brought discredit upon his government, and derogated from his justice. They see the public vengeance collected in dark clouds around them: their consciences tell them, that it should be hurled, like a thunderbolt, at their guilty heads. Appalled with guilt and fear, they skulk behind the throne. Is disrespectful to drag them into public view, and make a distinction between them and his majesty, under