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SPEECH OF JAMES WILSON,
IN THE CONVENTION FOR THE PROVINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA,
IN VINDICATION OF THE COLONIES.
* A most daring spirit of resistance and disobedience still prevails in Mas
sachusetts, and has broken forth in fresh violences of a criminal nature. The most proper and effectual methods have been taken to prevent these mischiefs ; and the parliament may depend upon a firm resolution to withstand every attempt to weaken or impair the supreme authority of parliament over all the dominions of the crown.”-Speech of the King of Great Britain to Parliament, Nov. 1774.
MR. CHAIRMAN, Whence, sir, proceeds all the invidious and ill-grounded clamor against the colonists of America ? Why are they stigmatized in Britain as licentious and ungovernable? Why is their virtuous opposition to the illegal attempts of their governors, represented under the falsest colors, and placed in the most ungracious point of view ? This opposition, when exhibited in its true light, and when viewed, with unjaundiced eyes, from a proper situation, and at a proper distance, stands confessed the lovely offspring of freedom. It breathes the spirit of its parent. Of this ethereal spirit, the whole conduct, and particularly the late conduct, of the colonists has shown them eminently possessed. It has animated and regulated every part of their proceedings. It has been recognized to be genuine, by all those symptoms and effects by which it has been distinguished in other ages and other countries. It has been calm and regular : it has not acted without occasion : it has not acted disproportionably to the occasion. As the attempts, open or secret, to undermine or to destroy it, have been repeated or enforced, in a just degree, its vigilance and its vigor have been exerted to defeat or to disappoint them. As its exertions have been sufficient for those purposes hitherto, let us hence draw a joyful prognostic, that they will continue sufficient for those purposes hereafter. It is not yet exhausted: it will still operate irresistibly whenever a necessary occasion shall call forth its strength. Permit me, sir, by appealing, in a few instances, to the spirit
and conduct of the colonists, to evince that what I have said of them is just. Did they disclose any uneasiness at the proceedings and claims of the British parliament, before those claims and proceedings afforded a reasonable cause for it? Did they even disclose any uneasiness, when a reasonable cause for it was first given ? Our rights were invaded by their regulations of our internal policy. We submitted to them: we were unwilling to oppose them. The spirit of liberty was slow to act. When those invasions were renewed; when the efficacy and malignancy of them were attempted to be redoubled by the stamp act; when chains were formed for us; and preparations were made for riveting them on our limbs, what measures did we pursue ?
The spirit of liberty found it necessary now to act; but she acted with the calmness and decent dignity suited to her character. Were we rash or seditious ? Did we discover want of loyalty to our sovereign ? Did we betray want of affection to our brethren in Britain ? Let our dutiful and reverential petitions to the throne; let our respectful, though firm, remonstrances to the parliament; let our warm and affectionate addresses to our brethren and (we will still call them) our friends in Great Britain,- let all those, transmitted from every part of the continent, testify the truth. By their testimony let our conduct be tried.
As our proceedings, during the existence and operation of the stamp act, prove fully and incontestably the painful sensations that tortured our breasts from the prospect of disunion with Britain ; the peals of joy, which burst forth universally, upon the repeal of that odious statute, loudly proclaim the heartfelt delight produced in us by a reconciliation with her. Unsuspicious, because undesigning, we buried our complaints, and the causes of them, in oblivion, and returned, with eagerness, to our former unreserved confidence. Our connection with our parent country, and the reciprocal blessings resulting from it to her and to us, were the favorite and pleasing topics of our public discourses and our private conversations. Lulled into delightful security, we dreamed of nothing but increasing fondness and friendship, cemented and strengthened by a kind and perpetual communication of good offices. Soon, however, too soon, were we awakened from the soothing dreams! Our enemies renewed their designs against us, not with less malice, but with more art. Under the plausible pretence of regulating our trade, and, at the same time, of making provision for the administration of justice, and the support of government, in some of the colonies, they pursued their scheme of depriving us of our property without our consent. As the attempts to distress us, and to degrade us to a rank inferior to that of freemen, appeared now to be reduced into a regular system, it became proper, on our part, to form a regular system for counteracting them.' We ceased to
import goods from Great Britain. Was this measure dictated by selfishness or by licentiousness? Did it not injure ourselves, while it injured the British merchants and manufacturers ? Was it inconsistent with the peaceful demeanor of subjects to abstain from making purchases, when our freedom and our safety rendered it necessary for us to abstain from them? A regard for our freedom and our safety was our only motive; for no sooner had the parliament, by repealing part of the revenue laws, inspired us with the flattering hopes, that they had departed from their intentions of oppressing and of taxing us, than we forsook our plan for defeating those intentions, and began to import as formerly. Far from being peevish or captious, we took no public notice even of their declaratory law of dominion over us : our candor led us to consider it as a decent expedient of retreating from the actual exercise of that dominion.
But, alas ! the root of bitterness still remained. The duty on tea was reserved to furnish occasion to the ministry for a new effort to enslave and to ruin us; and the East India Company were chosen, and consented to be the detested instruments of ministerial despotism and cruelty. A cargo of their tea arrived at Boston. By a low artifice of the governor, and by the wicked activity of the tools of government, it was rendered impossible to store it up, or to send it back, as was done at other places. A number of persons, unknown, destroyed it.
Let us here make a concession to our enemies : let us suppose, that the transaction deserves all the dark and hideous colors in which they have painted it: let us even suppose (for our cause admits of an excess of candor) that all their exaggerated accounts of it were confined strictly to the truth : what will follow? Will it follow, that every British colony in America, or even the colony of Massachusetts Bay, or even the town of Boston, in that colony, merits the imputation of being factious and seditious ? Let the frequent mobs and riots, that have happened in Great Britain upon much more trivial occasions, shame our calumniators into silence. Will it follow, because the rules of order and regular government were, in that instance, violated by the offenders, that, for this reason, the principles of the constitution, and the maxims of justice, must be violated by their punishment ? Will it follow, because those who were guilty could not be known, that, therefore, those who were known not to be guilty must suffer ? Will it follow, that even the guilty should be condemned without being heard that they should be condemned upon partial testimony, upon the representations of their avowed and imbittered enemies? Why were they not tried in courts of justice known to their constitution, and by juries of their neighborhood?_Their courts and their juries were not, in the case of captain Preston, transported beyond