Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. III: Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 17651787
Of the Right to Freedom; and of Traitors
By John Dickinson (17321808)
[The Political Writings of John Dickinson, Esq. 1804.]
KINGS or parliaments could not give the rights essential to happiness, as you confess those invaded by the Stamp Act to be. We claim them from a higher sourcefrom the King of kings, and Lord of all the earth. They are not annexed to us by parchments and seals. They are created in us by the decrees of Providence which establish the laws of our nature. They are born with us; exist with us; and cannot be taken from us by any human power, without taking our lives. In short, they are founded on the immutable maxims of reason and justice. It would be an insult on the divine Majesty to say, that he has given or allowed any man or body of men a right to make me miserable. If no man or body of men has such a right, I have a right to be happy. If there can be no happiness without freedom, I have a right to be free. If I cannot enjoy freedom without security of property, I have a right to be thus secured. If my property cannot be secure, in case others over whom I have no kind of influence may take it from me by taxes under pretence of the public good, and, for enforcing their demands, may subject me to arbitrary, expensive, and remote jurisdictions, I have an exclusive right to lay taxes on my own property either by myself or those I can trust; of necessity to judge in such instances of the public good; and to be exempt from such jurisdictions .
Every man must remember, how, immediately after the tempest of the late war was laid, another storm began to gather over North America. Every wind that blew across the Atlantic brought with it additional darkness. Every act of the administration seemed calculated to produce distress and to excite terror. We were alarmedwe were afflicted. Many of our colonies sent home petitions; others ordered their agents to make proper applications on their behalf. What was the effect? They were rejected without reading. They could not be presented, without breaking through a rule of the house. They insisted upon a right, that, it was previously determined should not be admitted. The language of the ministry was that they would teach the insolent North Americans the respect due to the laws of their mother country. They moved for a resolution that the parliament could legally tax us. It was made. For a bill; it was framed. For its despatch; it was passed. The badges of our shame were prepared, too gross, too odiouseven in the opinion of that administrationto be fastened upon us by any but Americans. Strange delusion! to imagine that treachery could reconcile us to slavery. They looked around; they found AmericansO Virtue! they found Americans to whom the confidence of their country had committed the guardianship of her rightson whom her bounty had bestowed all the wreck of her fortunes could affordready to rivet on their native land, the nurse of their infancy, the protectrix of their youth, the honorer of their manhood, the fatal fetters which their information had helped to forge. They were to be gratified with part of the plunder in oppressive offices for themselves and their creatures. By these, that they might reap the rewards of their corruption, were we advisedby these, that they might return masters who went out servants, were we desiredto put on the chains, and then with shackled hands to drudge in the dark, as well as we could, forgetting the light we had lost. If I forget thee, let my right hand forget her cunningif I do not remember thee, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.