Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources The Road to Revolution

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THE ROAD TO REVOLUTION

The Rights of Colonists

1215

No [tax] may be levied in our kingdom without its general consent.... To obtain the general consent of the realm.... We will cause the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and greater barons to be summoned individually by letter...

No freeman shall be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled,... nor will we proceed against or prosecute him except by the lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.

From the Magna Carta, signed by King John II following a rebellion by the nobles of England.

1649

No person or persons whatsoever within this province... professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall henceforth be in any way troubled, molested, or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion, nor in the free exercise thereof...

From the Maryland Toleration Act.

1682

Good laws may want good men, and be abolished or evaded by ill [evil] men; but good men will never want [lack] good laws, nor suffer [put up with] ill [bad] ones.

William Penn, Frame of Government of Pennsylvania.

1688

For all English liberties are restored to them: no persons shall have a penny of their estates taken from them; nor any laws imposed on them, without their own consent by representatives chosen by themselves.

Rev. Increase Mather, reporting that a charter of Massachusetts Colony would be restored by King William and Queen Mary, following the Glorious Revolution that threw out King James II. Mather called the new charter ‘a Magna Carta for New England.’

1693

It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person should be condemned.

Attack on the Salem (Massachusetts) Witch Trials by Rev. Increase Mather, in Concerning Evil Spirits. 1733

A governor turns rogue, does a thousand things for which a small rogue would have deserved a halter (hanging), and because it is difficult... to obtain relief against him,... it is prudent to... join in the roguery.

John Peter Zenger, account in the New-York Weekly Journal that resulted in his being arrested and put on trial for libel.

1736

It is agreed upon by all men that this is a reign of liberty, and while men keep within the bounds of truth, I hope they may with safety both speak and write their sentiments of the conduct of men in power.

From speech by Andrew Hamilton, defense counsel for newspaperman John Peter Zenger, whose trial established freedom of the press in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Ideas for Intercolonial Unity

1697

That the several colonies... do meet once a year, and oftener if need be during the war... to debate and resolve of such measures as are most advisable for their better understanding and the public tranquillity and safety.

William Penn, Plan of Union for the Colonies.

1754

It is proposed that humble application be made for an act of Parliament of Great Britain by virtue of which one general government may be formed in America, including all the said colonies....

From Benjamin Franklin’s Albany Plan of Union.

1755

Everyone cries a union is necessary. But when they come to the manner and form of the union, their weak noodles are perfectly distracted.

Benjamin Franklin, letter to Gov. William Shirley of Massachusetts.

CONFLICTS BETWEEN THE BRITISH AND THEIR AMERICAN COLONISTS'

Writs of Assistance

1761

Now, one of the most essential branches of English liberty is the freedom of one’s own house. A man’s house is his castle; and while he is quiet, he is as well guarded as a prince in his castle. This writ, if it should be declared legal, would totally destroy this privilege....

It appears to me the worst instrument of arbitrary power, the most destructive of English liberty and the fundamental principles of law, that was ever found in an English law-book.

James Otis, speech in court opposing Writs of Assistance, which allowed officials unlimited power of search for illegal goods; his reasoning would be the basis of the reasoning of the search and seizure provision of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

1761

Then and there, in the old Council Chamber, the child independence was born.

John Adams, then a young lawyer, in his later memories of watching James Otis attack the Writs of Assistance.

1764

Every British subject born on the continent of America or in any of the other British dominions is by the law of God and nature, by the common law, and by act of Parliament... entitled to all the natural, essential, and inseparable rights of our fellow subjects in Great Britain.

James Otis, Rights of British Colonies.

England’s Mercantilist Laws

1763

A colonist cannot make a button, a horse shoe, nor a hobnail but some sooty iron monger or respectable button maker of Britain shall brawl... that his... worship is... injured, cheated and robbed by the rascally Americans.

Benjamin Franklin, on British Mercantilist laws that limit manufacturing in Britain’s American colonies.

England’s Financial Crisis, 1763

1763

We have not yet recovered from a war undertaken... for their protection... and... no time was ever so seasonable for claiming their assistance. The distribution is too unequal, of benefits only to the colonies, and all of the burdens upon the Mother Country.

Thomas Whately, Considerations Upon This Trade and Finances of the Kingdom.

The Stamp Act Crisis

1765

The taxation of the people by themselves, or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them... is the only security against a burdensome taxation, and the distinguishing characteristic of British freedom.

Virginia House of Burgesses, resolutions attacking the Stamp Act.

1765

We are told to be quiet when we see that the very money which is torn from us by lawless force made us of still further to oppose us, to feed and pamper a set of infamous wretches who swarm like the locusts of Egypt.

Sam Adams, protesting in Boston that Stamp Act taxes would pay for British officials and troops in America.

1765

Why not our lands? Why not the produce of our lands and, in short, everything we possess and make use of?

James Otis, speech attacking the Stamp Act as leading to the possibility of the British tax-man taking everything American colonists owned.

1765

We can no longer forebear complaining that... some of the late acts of Parliament, have a tendency... to divest us of our most essential rights and liberties.... [T]he act of Parliament, commonly called the Stamp Act,... [is] a very burdensome and, in our opinion, unconstitutional tax....

John Adams, “Protest of Braintree, Massachusetts”.

1766

Our Colonies must be the biggest Beggars in the World, if such small Duties [taxes] appear to be intolerable Burdens in their Eyes. Pacificus, a pro-British writer, in the Maryland Gazette.

1765

The destructions, demolitions, and ruins caused by the rage of the Colonies... at that singular and ever memorable Stamp Act, will make the present year one of the most remarkable eras in the annals of North America. And that peculiar inflammation, which fired the breasts of the people of New England in particular, will always distinguish them as the warmest lovers of liberty; though undoubtedly, in the fur of revenge... they committed acts totally unjustifiable....

[The Sons of Liberty] did great damage in destroying... houses, furniture &c... and irreparable damage in destroying their papers.

Diary of Josiah Quincy, Jr., on the Stamp Act Riots and violence of the Sons of Liberty against Stamp Act agents.

1766

Such a day has not been seen in Boston before or since.... Music was heard in the streets.... The whole town was splendidly illuminated. The common was covered with multitudes. Rockets blazed in every quarter.

John Adams, on Boston’s celebration when news arrived that the British Parliament had repealed the Stamp Act.

1766

And may each clime with equal gladness see

A monarch’s smile can set his subjects free.

From a poem by Phyllis Wheatley, a Boston slave, thanking Britain’s King George III for the repeal of the Stamp Act.

The Declaratory Act

1766

[Parliament has] the full power and authority... to make laws... to bind the colonies and people of America... in all cases whatsoever.

From the text of the Declaratory Act (March 1766), passed by Parliament the same day that it repealed the Stamp Act.

The Townshend Acts

1767

[Taxes shall be] for defraying the charge of the administration of justice, and the support of the civil government.

From the Townshend Acts, passed in June-July 1767, which took the costs of courts and governors’ salaries away from appropriations of the colonial legislatures by having them paid directly from British tax collections.

1767

Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First had his Cromwell, and George the Third (‘Treason’ cried the Speaker) may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.

Patrick Henry, Speech in the Virginia House of Burgesses opposing the Townshend Acts.

1767

The Americans have not acted in all things with prudence and temper. They have been driven to madness by injustice. Will you punish them for the madness you have [caused]?... My opinion... is that the Stamp Act [must] be repealed absolutely, totally and immediately.

Former Prime Minister William Pitt, speech in Parliament.

1767

The issue is whether Parliament can legally take money out of our pockets without our consent.

John Dickenson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, protesting the Townshend Acts.

1768

We will destroy every soldier that dares put his foot on shore.... I look upon them as foreign enemies.

Samuel Adams, protesting the sending of British troops to Boston.

1768

[W]e will not send for or import any kind of goods or merchandise from Great Britain.

Nonimportation Agreement of Boston Merchants.

1768

[W]e were obliged to take refuge on board the Romney [British] man of war lying in Boston Harbor. Mrs. Burch, at whose house I was, had frequently been alarmed with the Sons of Liberty surrounding her house with most hideous howlings.... She had been exposed since her arrival and threatened with greater violence....

Ann Hulton, reporting on how the family of a British tax collector in Boston was persecuted by American opponents of British taxes.

The Boston Massacre

1770

Captain Preston stood between the soldiers and the mob, parleying with the latter, and using every conciliating method to persuade them to retire peaceably.... All he could say had no effect, and one of the soldiers, receiving a violent blow, instantly fired.

British General Thomas Gage, Report on the Boston Massacre.

1770

Counsel ought to be the very last thing that an accused person should want in a free country;... and... persons whose lives were ate stake ought to have the counsel they prefer.

John Adams, on his decision to give legal support to the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

1772

[I]nfringements of our rights [by Britain]... will by every candid person be judged sufficient to justify whatever measures have already been taken, or may be thought proper to be taken [by Americans], in order to obtain a redress of the grievances under which we labor.

John Adams, A List of Infringements and Violations of Rights.

The Boston Tea Party

1773

There must always be one tax to keep up the right [to tax the American colonies].

King George III, urging Parliament to pass the Tea Tax.

1773

When I first appeared in the street after being disguised [as an Indian], I fell in with many who were dressed, equipped and painted as I was, and... marched in order to the place of our destination....

We were ordered by our commander to open the hatches [of one of the ships] and take out all the chests of tea and throw them overboard.... In about three hours from the time we went on board, we had thus broken and thrown overboard every tea chest to be found on the ship, while those in the other ships were disposing of the tea in the same way, at the same time....

A Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party, the recollections published in 1834 of George Hewes, a participant in the Boston Tea Party.

1773

This destruction of the tea is so bold, so daring, so firm,... it must have such an important and lasting results that I can’t help considering it a turning point in history.

John Adams, diary entry of December 17, the day after the Boston Tea Party.

The First Continental Congress

1774

The good people of the several colonies... justly alarmed at these arbitrary proceedings of Parliament and administration [the Intolerable Acts], have severally elected, constituted, and appointed deputies to sit and meet in the city of Philadelphia in order to [ensure that] their religion, laws, and liberties may not be subverted.

Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress.

1774

The New England governments are in a state of rebellion, blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent.

King George III, letter to the Prime Minister, Lord North

1775

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be next week, or next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies have bound us hand and foot?

Sir, we are not weak is we make a proper use of those means which God hath placed in our power. Three millions of people armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.... The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest.

There is no retreat but in submission and slavery!

Our chains are forged!

Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston!

The war is inevitable — and let it come!

I repeat, sir, let it come!

It is vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. The gentlemen may cry peace, peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun!

The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why should we idle here?... Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Almighty God — I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!

Patrick Henry, speech on March 23 in the Virginia House of Burgesses.

1775

Whenever Great Britain has declared war they have taken their part.... What have we done for them? I believe precisely nothing at all.

Member of Parliament David Hartley in a speech supporting the Americans and calling for repeal of the Intolerable Acts.