Untitled and Rights of the Colonists

Samuel Adams

1769

[A] Adams’ Untitled Boston Gazette Article

 February 27, 1769

In the days of the STUARTS, it was look’d upon by some men as a high degree of prophaness, for any subject to enquire into what was called the mysteries of government: James the first thundered his anathema against Dr. Cowel, for his daring presumption in treating of—those mysteries, and forbad his subjects to read his books, or even to keep them in their houses. In those days passive obedience, non-resistance, the divine hereditary right of kings, and their being accountable to God alone, were doctrines generally taught, believ’d and practiced: But behold the sudden transition of human affairs! In the very next reign the people assum’d the right of free enquiry, into the nature and end of government, and the conduct of those who were entrusted with it: Laud and Strafford were bro’t to the block; and after the horrors of a civil war, in which some of the best blood of the nation was spilt as water upon the ground, they finally called to account, arraign’d, adjudg’d, condemn’d and even executed the monarch himself! and for a time held his son and heir in exile. The two sons of Charles the first, after the death of Oliver Cromwell, reigned in their turns; but by copying after their father, their administration of government was grievous to their subjects, and infamous abroad. Charles the second indeed reign’d till he died; but his brother James was oblig’d to abdicate the throne, which made room for William the third, and his royal consort Mary, the daughter of the unfortunate James- This was the fate of a race of Kings, bigotted to the greatest degree to the doctrines of slavery and regardless of the natural, inherent, divinely hereditary and indefeasible rights of their subjects.-At the revolution, the British constitution was again restor’d to its original principles, declared in the bill of rights; which was afterwards pass’d into a law, and stands as a bulwark to the natural rights of subjects. “To vindicate these rights, says Mr. Blackstone, when actually violated or attack’d, the subjects of England are entitled first to the regular administration and free course of justice in the courts of law—next to the right of petitioning the King and parliament for redress of grievances-and lastly, to the right of having and using arms for self-preservation and defence.” These he calls “auxiliary subordinate rights, which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights of personal security, personal liberty and private property“: And that of having arms for their defence he tells us is “a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”-How little do those persons attend to the rights of the constitution, if they know anything about them, who find fault with a late vote of this town, calling upon the inhabitants to provide themselves with arms for their defence at any time; but more especially, when they had reason to fear, there would be a necessity of the means of self preservation against the violence of oppression.-Every one knows that the exercise of the military power is forever dangerous to civil rights; and we have had recent instances of violences that have been offer’d to private subjects, and the last week, even to a magistrate in the execution of his office!- Such violences are no more than might have been expected from military troops: A power, which is apt enough at all times to take a wanton lead, even when in the midst of civil society; but more especially so, when they are led to believe that they are become necessary, to awe a spirit of rebellion, and preserve peace and good order. But there are some persons, who would, if possibly they could, perswade the people never to make use of their constitutional rights or terrify them from doing it. No wonder that a resolution of this town to keep arms for its own defence, should be represented as having at bottom a secret intention to oppose the landing of the King’s troops: when those very persons, who gave it this colouring, had before represented the people petitioning their Sovereign, as proceeding from a factious and rebellious spirit; and would now insinuate that there is an impropriety in their addressing even a plantation Governor upon public business-Such are the times we are fallen into!

 

[B] Adams’ Rights of the Colonists

November 20, 1772

Ist. Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men.

Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First. a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can-Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the Duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature

All Men have a Right to remain in a State of Nature as long as they please: And in case of intollerable Oppression, Civil or Religious, to leave the Society they belong to, and enter into another.

When Men enter into Society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions, And previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.

Every natural Right not expressly given up or from the nature of a Social Compact necessarily ceded remains.

All positive and civil laws, should conform as far as possible, to the Law of natural reason and equity.

As neither reason requires, nor religeon permits the contrary, every Man living in or out of a state of civil society, has a right peaceably and quietly to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience.

“Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty” in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all Men are clearly entitled to, by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, as well as by the law of Nations, & all well grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former.

In regard to Religeon, mutual tolleration in the different professions thereof, is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced; and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind: And it is now generally agreed among christians that this spirit of toleration in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society “is the chief characteristical mark of the true church”2 & In so much that Mr. Lock has asserted, and proved beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only Sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach Doctrines subversive of the Civil Government under which they live. The Roman Catholicks or Papists are excluded by reason of such Doctrines as these “that Princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those they call Hereticks may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of Government, by introducing as far as possible into the states, under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty and property, that solecism in politicks, Imperium in imperio3 leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war and blood shed-4

The natural liberty of Men by entring into society is abridg’d or restrained so far only as is necessary for the Great end of Society the best good of the whole

In the state of nature, every man is under God, Judge and sole Judge, of his own rights and the injuries done him: By entering into society, he agrees to an Arbiter or indifferent Judge between him and his neighbours; but he no more renounces his original right, than by taking a cause out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to referees or indifferent Arbitrations. In the last case he must pay the Referees for time and trouble; he should be also willing to pay his Just quota for the support of government, the law and constitution; the end of which is to furnish indifferent and impartial Judges in all cases that may happen, whether civil ecclesiastical, marine or military.

“The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man; but only to have the law of nature for his rule.”

In the state of nature men may as the Patriarchs did, employ hired servants for the defence of their lives, liberty and property: and they should them reasonable wages. Government was instituted for the purposed of common defence; and those who hold the reins of government have an equitable natural right to an honourable support from the same principle “that the labourer is worth of his hire: but then the same community which they serve, ought to be assessors of their pay: Governors have no right to seek what they please; by this, instead of being content with the station assigned them, that of honourable servants of the society, they would soon become Absolute masters, Despots, and Tyrants. Hence as a private man has a right to say, what wages he will give in his private affairs, so has a Community to determine what they will give and grant of their Substance, for the Administration of publick affairs. and in both cases more are ready generally to offer their Service at the proposed and stipulated price, than are able and willing to perform their duty.

In short it is the greatest absurdity to supposed it in the power of one or any number of men at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the mans of preserving those rights when the great end of civil government from the very nature of its institution is for the support, protection and defence of those very rights: the principal of which as is before observed, are life liberty and property. If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right of freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave-

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