Jul 5, 2011

And now, a rebuttal to the Declaration of Independence

Short Review of the Declaration (1776) & Manifesto of the Province of Flanders

In examining this singular Declaration, I have hitherto confined
myself to what are given as facts, and alleged against his Majesty
and his Parliament, in support of the charge of tyranny and
usurpation. Of the preamble I have taken little or no notice.

The truth is, little or none does it deserve. The opinions of the
modern Americans on Government, like those of their good
ancestors on witchcraft, would be too ridiculous to deserve any
notice, if like them too, contemptible and extravagant as they
be, they had not led to the most serious evils.

In this preamble however it is, that they attempt to establish
a theory of Government; a theory, as absurd and visionary, as the
system of conduct in defence of which it is established, is nefarious.

Here it is, that maxims are advanced in justification
of their enterprises against the British Government. To these
maxims, adduced for this purpose, it would be sufficient to say,
that they are repugnant to the British Constitution. But beyond this
they are subversive of every actual or imaginable kind of Government.
They are about “to assume,” as they tell us, “among the powers of
the earth, that equal and separate station to which”—they have
lately discovered—“the laws of Nature, and of Nature’s God entitle
them.” What difference these acute legislators suppose between
the laws of Nature, and of Nature’s God, is more than I can take
upon me to determine, or even to guess. If to what they now
demand they were entitled by any law of God, they had only to
produce that law, all controversy was at an end. Instead of this,
what do they produce? What they call self-evident truths. “All
men,” they tell us, “are created equal.” This surely is a new discovery;
now, for the first time, we learn, that a child, at the
moment of his birth, has the same quantity of natural power as
the parent, the same quantity of political power as the magistrate.

The rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—by
which, if they mean any thing, they must mean the right to enjoy
life, to enjoy liberty, and to pursue happiness—they “hold to be
unalienable.” This they “hold to be among truths self-evident.” At
the same time, to secure these rights, they are content that
Governments should be instituted. They perceive not, or will
not seem to perceive, that nothing which can be called Government
ever was, or ever could be, in any instance, exercised, but
at the expense of one or other of those rights.—That, consequently,
in as many instance as Government is ever exercised,
some one or other of these rights, pretended to be unalienable,
is actually alienated.

That men who are engaged in the design of subverting a lawful
Government, should endeavour by a cloud of words, to
throw a veil over their design; that they should endeavour to
beat down the criteria between tyranny and lawful government,
is not at all surprising. But rather surprising it must certainly
appear, that they should advance maxims so incompatible
with their own present conduct. If the right of enjoying life be
unalienable, whence came their invasion of his Majesty’s province
of Canada?
Whence the unprovoked destruction of so
many lives of the inhabitants of that province? If the right of enjoying
liberty be unalienable, whence came so many of his Majesty’s
peaceable subjects among them, without any offence,
without so much as a pretended offence, merely for being suspected
not to wish well to their enormities, to be held by them
in durance? If the right of pursuing happiness be unalienable,
how is that so many others of their fellow-citizens are by
the same injustice and violence made miserable, their fortunes
ruined, their persons banished and driven from their friends
and families? Or would they have it believed, that there is in
their selves some superior sanctity, some peculiar privilege, by
which those things are lawful to them, which are unlawful to all
the world besides? Or is it, that among acts of coercion, acts by
which life or liberty are taken away, and the pursuit of happiness
restrained, those only are unlawful, which their delinquency
has brought upon them, and which are exercised by
regular, long established, accustomed governments?

In these tenets, they have outdone the utmost extravangance
of all former fanatics. The German Anabaptists indeed went so
far as to speak of the right of enjoying life as a right unalienable.
To take away life, even in the Magistrate, they held to be unlawful.

But they went no farther, it was reserved for an American
Congress, to add to the number of unalienable rights, that of
enjoying liberty, and pursuing happiness;—that is,—if they
mean anything,—pursuing it wherever a man thinks he can see
it, and by whatever means he thinks he can attain it:—That is,
that all penal laws—those made by their selves among others—
which affect life or liberty, are contrary to the law of God, and
the unalienable rights of mankind:—That is, that thieves are
not to be restrained from theft, murderers from murder, rebels
from rebellion.

Here then they have put the axe to the root of all Government;
and yet, in the same breath, they talk of “Governments,”
of Governments “long established.” To these last, they attribute
some kind of respect; they vouchsafe even to go so far as to admit,
that “Governments, long established, should not be changed for
light or transient reasons.”

Yet they are about to change a Government, a Government
whose establishment is coeval with their own existence as a
Community. What causes do they assign? Circumstances which
have always subsisted, which must continue to subsist, wherever
Government has subsisted, or can subsist.

For what, according to their own shewing, what was their
original, their only original grievance? That they were actually
taxed more than they could bear? No; but that they were liable
to be so taxed. What is the amount of all the subsequent grievances
they allege? That they were actually oppressed by Government?
That Government had actually misused its power?
No; but that it was possible they might be oppressed; possible that
Government might misuse its powers. Is there any where, can
there be imagined any where, that Government, where subjects
are not liable to be taxed more than they can bear? where is it
not possible that subjects may be oppressed, not possible that
Government may misuse its powers?

This, I say, is the amount, the whole sum and substance of all
their grievances. For in taking a general review of the charges
brought against his Majesty, and his Parliament, we may observe
that there is a studied confusion in the arrangement of
them. It may therefore be worth while to reduce them to the
several distinct heads, under which I should have classed them
at the first, had not the order of the Answer been necessarily
prescribed by the order—or rather the disorder—of the Declaration.
The first head consists of Acts of Government, charged as so
many acts of incroachment, so many usurpations upon the present
King and his Parliaments exclusively, which had been constantly
exercised by his Predecessors and their Parliaments.
In all the articles comprised in this head, is there a single
power alleged to have been exercised during the present reign,
which had not been constantly exercised by preceding Kings,
and preceding Parliaments? Read only the commission and in-
struction for the Council of Trade, drawn up in the 9th of King
William III, addressed to Mr. Locke, and others. See there what
powers were exercised by the King and Parliament over the
Colonies. Certainly the Commissioners were directed to inquire
into, and make their reports concerning those matters
only, in which the King and Parliament had a power of controlling
the Colonies. Now the Commissioners are instructed to
inquire—into the condition of the Plantations, “as well with regard
to the administration of Government and Justice, as in relation
to the commerce thereof;”—into the means of making “them
most beneficial and useful to England; into the staples and manufactures,
which may be encouraged there;”—“into the means of diverting
them from such trades.” Farther, they are instructed “to examine
into, and weigh the Acts of the Assemblies of the Plantations;”—“to
set down the usefulness or mischief to the Crown, to the Kingdom, or to
the Plantations their selves.”—And farther still, they are instructed
“to require an account of all the monies given for public uses by the Assemblies
of the Plantations, and how the same are, or have been expended,
or laid out.” Is there now a single Act of the present reign
which does not fall under one or other of these instructions.

The powers then, of which the several articles now before us
complain, are supported by usage; were conceived to be supported
then, just after the Revolution, at the same time these
instructions were given; and were they to be supported only
upon this foot of usage, still that usage being coeval with the
Colonies, their tacit consent and approbation, through all the
successive periods in which that usage has prevailed, would be
implied;—even then the legality of those powers would stand
upon the same foot as most of the prerogatives of the Crown,
most of the rights of the people;—even then the exercise of
those powers could in no wise be deemed usurpations or encroachments.
But the truth is, to the exercise of these powers, the Colonies
have not only tacitly, but expressly, consented; as expressly
as any subject of Great Britain ever consented to the Acts of the
British Parliament. Consult the Journals of either House of Parliament;
consult the proceedings of their own Assemblies; and
innumerable will be the occasions, on which the legality of
these powers will be found to be expressly recognised by Acts
of the Colonial Assemblies. For in preceding reigns, the petitions
from these Assemblies were couched in a language, very
different from that which they have assumed under the present
reign. In praying for the non-exercise of these powers, in particular
instances, they acknowledged their legality; the right in
general was recognised; the exercise of it, in particular instances,
was prayed to be suspended on the sole ground of inexpedience.

The less reason can the Americans have to complain against
the exercise of these powers, as it was under the constant exercise
of the self-same powers, that they have grown up with
a vigour and rapidity unexampled: That within a period, in
which other communities have scarcely had time to take root,
they have shot forth exuberant branches. So flourishing is their
agriculture, that—we are told—“besides feeding plentifully
their own growing multitudes, their annual exports have exceeded
a million:” So flourishing is their trade, that—we are
told—“it has increased far beyond the speculations of the most
sanguine imagination.” So powerful are they in arms, that we
see them defy the united force of that nation, which, but a little
century ago, called them into being; which, but a few years
ago, in their defence, encountered and subdued almost the
united force of Europe.

If the exercise of powers, thus established by usage, thus recognised
by express declarations, thus sanctified by their beneficial
effects, can justify rebellion, there is not that subject in
the world, but who has, ever has had, and ever must have, reason
sufficient to rebel: There never was, never can be, established,
any government upon earth.

The second head consists of Acts, whose professed object
was either the maintenance, or the amendment of their Constitution.
These Acts were passed with the view either of freeing
from impediments the course of their commercial transactions,
or of facilitating the administration of justice, or of poising
more equally the different powers in their Constitution; or of
preventing the establishment of Courts, inconsistent with the
spirit of the Constitution.

To state the object of these Acts, is to justify them. Acts of
tyranny they cannot be: Acts of usurpation they are not; because
no new power is assumed. By former Parliaments, in former
reigns, officers of customs had been sent to America: Courts of
Admiralty had been established there. The increase of trade and
population induced the Parliaments, under the present reign,
for the convenience of the Colonists, and to obviate their own objections
of delays arising from appeals to England, to establish a
Board of Customs, and an Admiralty Court of Appeal. Strange
indeed is it to hear the establishment of this Board, and these
Courts, alleged as proofs of usurpation; and in the same paper, in
the same breath, to hear it urged as a head of complaint, that
his Majesty refused his assent to a much greater exertion of
power:—to an exertion of power, which might be dangerous;
the establishment of new Courts of Judicature. What in one instance
he might have done, to have done in another, cannot be
unconstitutional. In former reigns, charters have been altered;
in the present reign, the constitution of one charter, having
been found inconsistent with the ends of good order and government,
was amended.

The third head consists of temporary Acts, passed pro re natâ,
the object of each of which was to remedy some temporary
evil, and the duration of which was restrained to the duration
of the evil itself.

Neither in these Acts was any new power assumed; in some
instances only, the objects upon which that power was exer-
cised, were new. Nothing was done but what former Kings
and former Parliaments have shewn their selves ready to do,
had the same circumstances subsisted. The same circumstances
never did subsist before, because, till the present reign, the
Colonies never dared to call in question the supreme authority
of Parliament.

No charge, classed under this head, can be called a grievance.
Then only is the subject aggrieved, when, paying due obedience
to the established Laws of his country, he is not protected in his
established rights. From the moment he withholds obedience, he
forfeits his right to protection. Nor can the means, employed to
bring him back to obedience, however severe, be called grievances;
especially if those means be to cease the very moment
that the end is obtained.

The last head consists of Acts of self-defence, exercised in
consequence of resistance already shewn, but represented in the
Declaration as Acts of oppression, tending to provoke resistance.
Has his Majesty cut off their trade with all parts of the
world? They first attempted to cut off the trade of Great Britain.
Has his Majesty ordered their vessels to be seized? They
first burnt the vessels of the King. Has his Majesty sent troops
to chastise them? They first took up arms against the authority
of the King. Has his Majesty engaged the Indians against them?
They first engaged Indians against the troops of the King. Has
his Majesty commanded their captives to serve on board his
fleet? He has only saved them from the gallows.
By some, these acts have been improperly called “Acts of punishment.”

And we are then asked, with an air of insult, “What!
will you punish without a trial, without a hearing?” And no
doubt punishment, whether ordinary or extraordinary; whether
by indictment, impeachment, or bill of attainder, should be preceded
by judicial examination. But, the acts comprised under
this head are not acts of punishment; they are, as we have called
them, acts of self-defence. And these are not, cannot be, preceded
by any judicial examination. An example or two will
serve to place the difference between acts of punishment and
acts of self-defence in a stronger light, than any definition we
can give. It has happened, that bodies of manufacturers have
risen, and armed, in order to compel their masters to increase
their wages: It has happened, that bodies of peasants have risen,
and armed, in order to compel the farmer to sell at a lower
price. It has happened, that the civil magistrate, unable to reduce
the insurgents to their duty, has called the military to his
aid. But did ever any man imagine, that the military were sent
to punish the insurgents? It has happened, that the insurgents
have resisted the military, as they had resisted the civil magistrate:

It has happened, that, in consequence of this resistance,
some of the insurgents have been killed:—But did ever any
man imagine that those who were then killed, were therefore
punished? No more can they be said to be punished, than could
the incendiary, who should be buried beneath the ruins of the
house, which he had feloniously set on fire. Take an example
yet nearer to the present case. When the Duke of Cumberland
led the armies of the king, foreign and domestic, against the Rebels
in Scotland, did any man conceive that he was sent to punish
the Rebels?—Clearly not.—He was sent to protect dutiful
and loyal subjects, who remained in the peace of the King,
against the outrages of Rebels, who had broken the peace of the
King.—Does any man speak of those who fell at the battle of
Culloden, as of men that were punished? Would that man have
been thought in his senses, who should have urged, that the armies
of the King should not have ben sent against the Rebels in
Scotland, till those very Rebels had been judicially heard, and
judicially convicted? Does not every man feel the fact, the only
fact, necessary to be known, in order to justify these acts of
self-defence, is simply this:—Are men in arms against the authority
of the King?—Who does not feel, that to authenticate
this fact, demands no judicial inquiry? If when his Royal Highness
had led the army under his command into Scotland, there
had been no body of men in arms; if, terrified at his approach,
they had either laid down their arms and submitted, or had dispersed
and retired quietly, each to his own home, what would
have been the consequence? The civil magistrate would have
searched for and seized upon those who had been in arms;
would have brought them to a court of justice: That court
would have proceeded to examine, and to condemn or to acquit,
as evidence was, or was not, given of the guilt of the re-spective culprits. The Rebels did not submit, they did not lay
down their arms, they did not disperse; they resisted the Duke:
a battle ensued: some of the Rebels fled, others were slain, others
taken. It is upon those only of the last class, who were
brought before and condemned by Courts of Justice, that punishment
was inflicted. By what kind of logic then are these acts
ranked in the class of grievances?

These are the Acts—these exertions of constitutional, and
hitherto, undisputed powers, for which, in this audacious paper,
a patriot King is traduced—as “a Prince, whose character is
marked by every Act which may define a tyrant;” as “unfit to be
the ruler of a free people.” These are the Acts, these exertions
of constitutional, and, hitherto, undisputed powers, by which
the Members of the Congress declare their selves and their
constituents to be “absolved from all allegiance to the British
Crown;” pronounce “all political connection between Great
Britain and America to be totally dissolved.” With that hypocrisy
which pervades the whole of the Declaration, they pretend
indeed, that this event is not of their seeking; that it is forced
upon them; that they only “acquiesce in the necessity which denounces
their separation from us:” which compels them hereafter
to hold us, as they “hold the rest of mankind; enemies in war; in
peace, friends.”

How this Declaration may strike others, I know not. To me,
I own, it appears that it cannot fail—to use the words of a great
Orator—“of doing us Knight’s service.” The mouth of faction,
we may reasonably presume, will be closed; the eyes of those
who saw not, or would not see, that the Americans were long
since aspiring at independence, will be opened; the nation will
unite as one man, and teach this rebellious people, that it is one
thing for them to say, the connection, which bound them to us,
is dissolved, another to dissolve it; that to accomplish their independence
is not quite so easy as to declare it: that there is no peace with
them, but with the peace of the King: no war with them, but that war,
which offended justice wages against criminals.—We too, I hope,
shall acquiesce in the necessity of submitting to whatever burdens,
of making whatever efforts may be necessary, to bring this ungrateful
and rebellious people back to that allegiance they have
long had it in contemplation to renounce, and have now at last
so daringly renounced.

Source: [John Lind and Jeremy Bentham,] An Answer to the Declaration of the
American Congress (London, 1776), 119–132.

I bolded a few discussion points, as these scream out as moments where Jeremy is calling the American Founders are all hypocrites. The author also seems to be trying to convince the reader that the stated goal is impossible to attain so they shouldn't even try .. and instead just submitting to the monarchy.

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