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between these and the instructions actually adopted, is of some curiosity, however, and it shows the inequality of pace with which we moved, and the prudence required to keep front and rear to gether. My creed had been formed on unsheathing the sword at Lexington.” (Lexington here is a lapsus linguae, or "plumae"; Boston is meant.)
This "Summary View of the Rights of British America” became the mine into which many delved for ideas and phrases in presenting the American side of the dispute.
The Virginia State “Convention” is worthy of note in this; that it is, as far as I know, the first of those peculiarly characteristic American institutions. A “Convention" with us is considered superior to an ordinary representative assembly; so much so, that a state convention can adopt a new constitution, without even referring it back to the people for their approval, as has been done in my State two or three times. It is looked upon as "the body of the people representatively assembled” and possesses full powers for state purposes, as a national convention would have for the purpose of completely altering the Constitution of the United States.
Jefferson's argument in the "Summary View” is based very strongly upon the assertion of the right of expatriation. Hence his constant insistence through life on that right. It was, according to his view, at the very root of our contention in the Revolution. The right of expatriation was not then admitted by any nation of the earth. It is not admitted by Russia at all, nor fully by Prussia, nor Austria, to this good day, and was denied by Great Britain up to and even after the War of 1812. It has not been very long since we abrogated
a treaty with Russia, growing out of differences between that Government and ours, based upon antagonistic views with regard to the doctrine of indefeasible allegiance. The “Summary View," however, takes the position that the American colonies expatriated themselves as fully as did the Angles and the Saxons from their old country, when they settled in England, and that except for their voluntary adhesion to the same crown, the independence between the two countries would have been as complete, as that between England and the old home of the race.
Jefferson had gone back to the Greek Republican conception of the status of colonies.
The assertion is made that Great Britain had rendered no assistance to the colonists until after they had established themselves on a firm and permanent footing, and had, therefore, become valuable as customers to the mother country; that we had submitted to trade regulations in our own interest, as long as they were not too restrictive to our own rights and were advantageous to the mother country, but that these had now become unbearable and too oppressive to be further permitted.
From the same instrument, I shall quote another sentence characteristically Jeffersonian, because it is a forerunner of what will later appear in the Declaration of Independence:
"Scarcely have our minds been able to emerge from the astonishment into which one stroke of Parliamentary thunder has involved us, before another, more heavy and more alarming, is fallen on us. Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period
and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate, systematical plan of reducing us to slavery.”
It is not too much to say that the “Summary View of the Rights of British America" contained most of the essential ideas of the Declaration of Independence. It antedated that document by nearly two years; it complained of the same wrongs and set forth the same inherent and natural rights, and, in some respects, was more advanced in its views than the Declaration itself.
It was scarcely a subject of wonder that it led to Mr. Jefferson's being placed upon the proscribed list. Here, as elsewhere, the student of Jefferson's life will find him always in advance, even of the progressive wing of the party with which he is coöperating, and will also find an illustration of his readiness to yield and concede non-essentials in order that all might move along together.
One thing is most remarkable; the “Summary View" goes out of its way to refer justifyingly to the execution of Charles I. This was done in a paper proposed to be adopted by a Virginia convention, where men sat whose forefathers had resisted in the cause of the Stuart the utmost power of Oliver Cromwell, until, indeed, a formal treaty had been entered into between the great Lord Protector and the Old Dominion. In that body sat men, whose forefathers had been killed in the King's service, or had left England for Virginia rather than submit to the rule of the “Commonwealth.”
A distinguished Ex-President speaks of Mr. Jefferson as being “timid” and “vacillating!” He was more nearly rash.
The reader of the “Summary View” will note the ground upon which Jefferson places his protest against closing the port of Boston. It is the punishment of the many innocent for the acts of the few guilty.
In this connection, it might be recalled that certain people in a Southern town, having signed a petition to a negro postmistress requesting her resignation, which was regarded by the Administration as a species of "intimidation,” the post office was closed, by order of an American President, and all of the people in the town and adjacent territory put to the inconvenience and expense of getting their mail from a place a dozen miles or more away. The Federal Court was open, with Federal judge, marshal, grand juries and petty juries, and the federal law could have been vindicated by an exercise of the ordinary powers of the court. Even a little instance like this shows the importance of keeping general principles of justice and right government always in view, and illustrates the truth of the timehonored maxim that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
Nobody in Virginia, or South Carolina, or New York, would have objected, or would have had any right to object, to the punishment by law of the men who unlawfully seized and threw the tea into the harbor, but the high-handed punishment of the whole people showed an absolute disregard of accepted rules of civilized government, and "an intention not to punish an act, but an opinion.” Still more tyrannical was the act of Parliament providing for the trial in England for certain classes of offenders. The plea in both cases and in the Southern post office case, that "the juries will not convict,” is one to which tyrants resort, but one which ought never to be entertained in a free country.
It is only needful to add that the ideas expressed in the “Summary View,” in the latter part of which Jefferson adjures George III, “no longer to persevere in sacrificing the rights of one part of the empire to the inordinate desires of another, but to deal out to all equal and impartial right,” and to "let no act be passed by one legislature which may infringe upon the rights and liberties of another," and reminds him that, “this is the important post in which fortune has placed you, holding the balance of a great, if a well-poised empire,” now constitutes the principle underlying the practice of the British empire towards her white colonies. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the mother country are virtually held together only by the common kingship — the sole tie binding Virginia and England under Jefferson's theory. Each has its own admittedly independent legislative assembly, and the Parliament of Great Britain would no more think of legislating for Canada, in any really Canadian concern, than the Canadian Parliament would think of legislating for England or Wales. If the British Empire has become "a well-poised empire,” with reciprocal advantages for all its connections, it has been because of the wise adoption of this salutary rule.
Again Jefferson says to the King: “Accept of every commercial preference it is within our power to give," etc. Today, if Canada, or any of the British colonies give trade preferences to Great Britain, it is because they choose to give them, and not because of any ac