[Volume 1, Page 587]
CHAPTER 16|Document 6
House of Representatives of Massachusetts to Dennys De Berdt12 Jan. 1768S. Adams Writings 1:137--39
It is observable that though many have disregarded life, and contemned liberty, yet there are few men who do not agree that property is a valuable acquisition, which ought to be held sacred. Many have fought, and bled, and died for this, who have been insensible to all other obligations. Those who ridicule the ideas of right and justice, faith and truth among men, will put a high value upon money. Property is admitted to have an existence, even in the savage state of nature. The bow, the arrow, and the tomahawk; the hunting and the fishing ground, are species of property, as important to an American savage, as pearls, rubies, and diamonds are to the Mogul, or a Nabob in the East, or the lands, tenements, hereditaments, messuages, gold and silver of the Europeans. And if property is necessary for the support of savage life, it is by no means less so in civil society. The Utopian schemes of levelling, and a community of goods, are as visionary and impracticable, as those which vest all property in the Crown, are arbitrary, despotic, and in our government unconstitutional. Now, what property can the colonists be conceived to have, if their money may be granted away by others, without their consent? This most certainly is the present case; for they were in no sense represented in Parliament, when this act for raising a revenue in America was made. The stamp act was grievously complained of by all the colonies; and is there any real difference between this act and the stamp act? They were both designed to raise a revenue in America, and in the same manner, viz. by duties on certain commodities. The payment of the duties imposed by the stamp act, might have been eluded by a total disuse of the stamped paper; and so may the payment of these duties, by the total disuse of the articles on which they are laid; but in neither case, without difficulty. Therefore, the subjects here, are reduced to the hard alternative, either of being obliged totally to disuse articles of the greatest necessity, in common life, or to pay a tax without their consent.
The security of right and property, is the great end of government. Surely, then, such measures as tend to render right and property precarious, tend to destroy both property and government; for these must stand and fall together. It would be difficult, if possible, to show, that the present plan of taxing the colonies is more favorable to them, than that put in use here, before the revolution. It seems, by the event, that our ancestors were, in one respect, not in so melancholy a situation, as we, their posterity, are. In those times, the Crown, and the ministers of the Crown, without the intervention of Parliament, demolished charters, and levied taxes on the colonies, at pleasure. Governor Andross, in the time of James II. declared, that wherever an Englishman sets his foot, all he hath is the King's; and Dudley declared, at the Council Board, and even on the sacred seat of justice, that the privilege of Englishmen, not to be taxed without their consent, and the laws of England, would not follow them to the ends of the earth. It was, also, in those days, declared in Council, that the King's subjects in New England did not differ much from slaves; and that the only difference was, that they were not bought and sold. But there was, even in those times an excellent Attorney General, Sir William Jones, who was of another mind; and told King James, that he could no more grant a commission to levy money on his subjects in Jamaica, though a conquered island, without their consent, by an Assembly, than they could discharge themselves from their allegiance to the English Crown. But the misfortune of the colonists at present is, that they are taxed by Parliament, without their consent. This, while the Parliament continues to tax us, will ever render our case, in one respect, more deplorable and remediless, under the best of Kings, than that of our ancestors was, under the worst. They found relief by the interposition of Parliament. But by the intervention of that very power, we are taxed, and can appeal for relief, from their final decision, to no power on earth; for there is no power on earth above them.
The Writings of Samuel Adams. Edited by Harry Alonzo Cushing. 4 vols. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904--8.
© 1987 by The University of Chicago