Circular letter from the Massachusetts House of Representatives to the provincial legislatures in America
Massachusetts. General Court
February 11, 1768
[From MS. Records in Office of Secretary of State.]
Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, Feby 11th 1768.
Sir [to the Speaker of the House of Assembly.]
The House of Representatives of this Province have taken into their serious Consideration, the great Difficulties that must accrue to themselves and their constituents, by the Operation of the several Acts of Parliament imposing Duties and Taxes on the American Colonies.
As it is a Subject in which every Colony is deeply interested, they have no Reason to doubt but your Assembly is duly impressed with its Importance; and that such constitutional measures will be taken by them as are proper.
It seems to be necessary, that all possible Care should be taken that the Representations of the several Assemblies upon so delicate a Point should harmonize with each other: The House therefore hope that this Letter will be candidly considered in no other Light, than as expressing a Disposition freely to communicate their mind to a Sister Colony, upon a common Concern, in the same manner, as they would be glad to receive the Sentiments of you or any other House of Assembly on the Continent.
This House have humbly represented to the Ministry their own Sentiments, that his Majesty’s high Court of Parliament is the supreme legislative Power, over the whole Empire: That in all free States the Constitution is fixed; and as the supreme Legislative derives its Power and authority from the Constitution, it cannot overleap the Bounds of it without destroying its own Foundation: That the Constitution ascertains and limits both Sovereignty and Allegiance; and therefore his Majesty’s American Subjects who acknowledge themselves bound by the Ties of Allegiance, have an
equitable Claim to the full Enjoyment of the fundamental Rights of the British Constitution: That it is an essential unalterable Right in Nature, ingrafted into the British Constitution, as a fundamental Law, and ever held sacred and irrevocable, by the Subjects within the Realm, that what a man has honestly acquired is absolutely his own, which he may freely give, but cannot be taken from him without his Consent: That the American Subjects may therefore, exclusive of any Consideration of Charter Rights, with a decent Firmness adapted to the Character of Freemen and Subjects assert their natural constitutional Rights.
It is moreover their humble Opinion, which they express with the greatest Deference to the Wisdom of the Parliament, that the acts made there, imposing Duties on the People of this Province, with the sole and express Purpose of raising a Revenue, are Infringments of their natural Constitutional Rights, because as they are not represented in the British Parliament, his Majesty’s Commons in Britain by those Acts grant their Property without their Consent.
This House further are of Opinion, that their Constituents, considering their local Circumstances, cannot by any Possibility be represented in the Parliament; and that it will for ever be impracticable that they should be equally represented there, and consequently not at all; being separated by an Ocean of thousand Leagues: and that his Majesty’s royal Predecessors were graciously pleased for this Reason to form a subordinate Legislature here, that their Subjects might enjoy the unalienable Right of a Representation; and that considering the utter Impracticability of their being fully and equally represented in Parliament, and the great Expense that must unavoidably attend even a partial Representation there, this House think that a Taxation of their Constituents, even without their Consent, grievous as it is, would be preferable to any Representation that could be admitted for them there.
Upon these Principles, and also considering that were the Right in the Parliament ever so clear, yet for obvious Reasons it would be beyond the Rules of Equity that their Constituents should be taxed on the manufactures of Great Britain here, in addition to the Duties they pay for them in England, and other advantages, arising to Great Britain from the acts of Trade, this House have preferred a humble, dutiful and loyal Petition to our most gracious Sovereign, and made such Representations to his Majesty’s Ministry, as they apprehended would tend to obtain Redress.
They have also submitted it to Consideration, Whatever any People can be said to enjoy any Degree of Freedom, if the Crown in Addition to its undoubted Authority of constituting a Governor, should also appoint him such a Stipend, as it shall judge proper without the Consent of the People, and at their Expence; and whether while the Judges of the Land, and other civil officers in the Province hold not their Commission during good Behavior, their having Salaries appointed for them by the Crown, independent of the People, hath not a Tendency to subvert the Principles of Equity, and endanger the Happiness and Security of the Subject.
In addition to these measures, the House have wrote a Letter to their Agent Mr Deberdt, the Sentiments of which he is desired to lay before the Ministry, wherein they take notice of the Hardships of the Act for preventing Mutiny and Desertion, which requires the Governor and Council to provide enumerated articles for the King’s marching Troops, and the People to pay the Expence; and also of the Commission of the Gentlemen appointed Commissioners of the Customs to reside in America; which authorizes them to make as many appointments, as they think fit, and to pay the appointees what Terms they please; for whose mal conduct they are not accountable from whence it may happen that Officers of the Crown may be multiplied to such a Degree as to become dangerous to the Liberties of the People, by virtue of a Commission which doth not appear to this House to derive any such advantages to Trade, as many have been led to expect.
These are the Sentiments and Proceedings of this House and as they have too much Reason to believe that the authorities of the Colonies have represented them to his Majesty’s Government and the Parliament as factious, disloyal and having a desire to make themselves independent of the Mother Country, they have taken Occasion in the most humble Terms to assure his Majesty and his Ministers, that with regard to the People of this Province, and as they doubt not of all the Colonies, the Charge is unjust.
The House is fully satisfied, that your Assembly is too generous and enlarged in Sentiment, to believe, that this Letter proceeds from an Ambition of taking the Lead or dictating to the other Assemblies: They freely submit their opinion to the Judgment of others, and shall take it kind in your House to point out to them any Thing further which may be thought necessary.
This House cannot conclude without expressing their firm Confidence in the King, our common Head and Father, that the united and dutiful Supplications of his distressed American Subjects, will meet with his royal and favorable acceptance.
For further reading:
Massachusetts Circular Letter at NCPedia (https://www.ncpedia.org/massachusetts-circular-letter)
Correspondence of Governor William Tryon (http://digital.ncdcr.gov/cdm/ref/collection/p249901coll22/id/413146)
Samuel Adams, the Sugar Act, and Taxation (https://www.sarawhitford.com/samuel-adams-on-the-sugar-act-or-taxes-then-and-now/)