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ginians, under the wise administration of Sir George Yeardly, gave the new world the first example of legislative liberty, to 1776, the fundamental doctrines of freedom, were boldly maintained, and rigidly supported. Of these doctrines, that which recognised resistance to taxation without representation, and which ultimately issued in the Revolution, was earliest developed, and earliest tested. Indeed, for more than a century before the passage of the Stamp Act, the rapacious exactions of royal Governors presented numerous opportunities for resistance on this very point, which were not misimproved. The attempt of the West India Company, in 1654, to derive a revenue from the inhabitants of New Netherlands, (now New York,) the efforts to levy taxes in Virginia in 1662, and the arbitrary tallage of Lovelace, on the shores of the Delaware, in 1667; together with the insult offered to popular opinion by burning publicly, before the town-house, the votes of eight towns on Long Island against the tyrannic imposts of the Governor in 1670 ; and the revolution in Massachusetts in 1689, created in part by the extortionary measures of Sir Edmund Andros; combined to radicate in the minds of the colonists the clearest idea of their rights, as subjects and as men, and prepared the way for resisting, on a broader arena, the flagitious schemes of the Parliament of 1765.
One of the results of the English aristocratic revolution of 1688, was the general recognition of that unalterable law of nature, which the Magna Charta of Runnymede, nearly five hundred years before, had dimly shadowed forth, that property could not be taxed but with the consent of its
proper representatives; and the Royal Assembly of New York, catching the spirit of this fundamental principle, resolved,
years after, that "no tax whatever shall be levied on His Majesty's subjects in the Province, or on their estates, on any pretence whatever, but by the act and consent of the representatives of the people, in general assembly convened.”
The act, indeed, was rejected by King William, and severe task-masters sent over to discipline them into obedience ; but the spirit of resistance, like the trees described by Pliny near the Red Sea, only took deeper root in consequence of the storms designed to eradicate it.
In 1696, a pamphlet appeared in England, asserting the power of the Parliament to tax the colonies, and recom
mending the plan; but it was immediately answered from this side of the Atlantic, by several replies, which denied the right, and repudiated the design. It is indeed remarkable, when the tendencies of the Americans to self-government were so early discovered, and the indomitable spirit of liberty so conspicuously manifested, that a different course was not pursued, rather than the oppressive subjugating measures which, the common experience of humanity should have instructed the cabinet, could only ultimate in resistance and alienation.
As far back as 1701, the Lords of Trade publicly declared, “that the independency, the colonies thirst after, is now notorious ;” and in 1705, it was openly published in England, that “the colonists will, in process of time, cast off their allegiance, and set up a government of their own;" and yet, that same year, a memorial urging a direct tax on the colonists was transmitted by a Royalist to the Lords of Trade, but both the Board and the Ministry wisely suffered it to pass unnoticed.
In 1728, Sir William Keith suggested to the King the proposition to extend the duties of stamps upon parchment and paper already existing in England, to the plantations in America ; but the plan of the Ex-Governor, as also a similar suggestion made to Walpole in 1739, received no serious consideration from the high officers of the state.
In 1754 the commissioners assembled at Albany, to treat with the Six Nations, proposed a plan of colonial union, the expenses of which, originally defrayed by the Treasury Board, were to be reimbursed, by a tax levied on the Provinces by an act of the Parliament. But the able letters of Doct. Franklin to Governor Shirley, which this scheme immediately elicited, stated so luminously the objections to such taxation, that a parliamentary writer, in 1778, declared, that those who read them attentively would find, that scarcely any thing new had been advanced on the subject since.
Towards the close of 1759, Mr. Pitt wrote to Governor Farquier, of Virginia, that he designed to raise a revenue from the Americans; but the Governor's reply, representing the disturbance it would occasion, induced him to change his opinions, and relinquish his design. The expensive war with Spain, which Great Britain had engaged in at the
solicitation, and for the defence of the colonies, and in which Georgia, through the military services of Oglethorpe, had largely participated, rendered the state of the finances desperate, and to replenish the treasury, Mr. Huske, a native of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, insinuated to Mr. Greenville the propriety of carrying into effect, what had so long remained a mere speculative scheme; and during the winter of 1764 and 1765 the bill entitled “an act for granting and applying stamp duties,” &c. was digested, and on the 22d of March, 1765, received the assent of the king. It was a fine sentiment of Edmund Burke, that “an English government must be administered in the spirit of one, or it will that moment cease to exist." The thirteen American Colonies, at the ratification of peace in 1763, were all loyal provinces, enjoying a high degree of commercial and agricultural prosperity, for they reposed in peace, under the chartered rights of “an English government, wisely administered in the spirit of one." But their quietude was of short duration ; like the blissful dreams of peace which visit the pillow of the soldier on the morn of battle. They had hardly enjoyed the sweet vision, ere the clarion trump of freedom's watchmen awoke them to their danger and their duty. The Assembly of Virginia, the only provincial legislature in session when the news of the passage of the act arrived, immediately passed resolves, denying the right of parliament to tax the colonies, and nearly every province echoed the spirit of the Old Dominion. Georgia, then but thirty-two years old, felt keenly this flagrant breach of that principle of the English constitution, which declared, that no Englishman should be bound by any laws, to which he had not consented; and, upon the reception of the Massachusetts letter, proposing a convention of delegates at New York, Mr. Alexander Wylly, speaker of the Commons House of Assembly, despatched expresses to the members, sixteen of whom, (about two thirds of the entire body,) assembled in Savannah on the 2d September, 1765, and responded, by a general letter intimating their hearty cooperation in every measure for the support of their common rights. Through the influence of Governor Wright they, like Virginia, and North Carolina, were prevented from sending delegates. In a letter of Governor Wright to the Lords of Trade, dated November 9th, 1765, he says, “I
am very sorry to acquaint your lordships, that too much of the rebellious spirit of the northern colonies has already shown itself here;" and, on the 22d of the same month, he writes, “I am still in a very perplexed situation with respect to the stamp duty, not yet having received the law, or the scrape of a pen from any of bis majesty's ministers, , or officers concerning it; nor is the paper or officer to distribute it, yet come to this Province. Opposition from the populace, I am apprehensive of, and, from what has hitherto passed, my Lords, I have too much reason to expect, that whenever the officer arrives he will be intimidated from acting, as the officers in the northern colonies have been.”
Among the hosts of pamphleteers which this crisis originated, were William Knox, Esq., the Assembly's agent, and Mr. Campbell, the Crown agent for Georgia. The former published a letter addressed to a friend in America, entitled “The claims of the Colonies to an exemption from internal taxes, imposed by authority of Parliament, examined;" and the latter, an octavo tract of one hundred and fourteen pages, was styled, “Regulations lately made concerning the colonies, and the taxes imposed upon them, considered.” Both defended the stamp bill, and both gave much umbrage to Georgians, who were especially incensed at the over-zealous officiousness of their agent, in entering the lists against the Americans. From the agent of the Crown they expected nothing better; but they presumed that Mr. Knox would at least have exhibited the prudence of silence, whatever might have been his private views; and therefore, at the meeting of the Assembly, Nov. 15th, 1765, the House “resolved to give instructions to the Committee of Correspondence to acquaint William Knox, agent for this Province, that the Province has no further occasion for his services."
In common with many others, Mr. Knox contended, that the colonies were virtually represented, but the excellent James Habersham, President of His Majesty's Council, a true loyalist, but a true patriot, in his private reply to Mr. Knox, dated 28th October, 1765, thus exposed the fallacy of the assertion : “It appears to me, an insult on the most common understanding, to talk of our being virtually represented, and I must own, I cannot fix any precise idea to the word virtual when we are speaking of the indefeasible
birthright of a British American subject. Surely our residing in a country and climate, where our persons and
properties are subject to a thousand casualties and inconveniences (unknown to our fellow subjects in Great Britain, and ultimately for their benefit,) should not deprive us of being tried by a jury, or subject us to a taxation by two Legislative bodies. One of them we indeed cheerfully submit to, because chosen by ourselves to represent us, and, as they know our situation and circumstances, they are consequently best qualified to impose any necessary burdens on us; but the other, cannot (I speak with submission) surely think themselves possessed of those very essential and absolutely necessary qualifications.”
66 The annual tax raised here for the support of our internal policy, is full as much as the inhabitants can bear. And suppose the stamps here produce only one eighth of what they would in South Carolina, it would amount to as much in one year as our tax laws will raise in three; and perhaps we have not five thousand pounds in gold and silver come into the province in five years, though the act requires it in one. If this is really the case, as I really believe it is, how must every inhabitant shudder at the thought of the act taking place, which, according to my present apprehension, must inevitably ruin them.”
Such were the calm and judicious views of this distinguished man in reference to the operation of this law in Georgia
. It was not possible, therefore, for them to remain passive under such exactions, and, in common with the other colonies, they determined to check them in their incipiency. If the exercise of unjust power was submitted to once, it would establish a precedent of the most hazardous character, and the Stamp Act was opposed, not so much from its intrinsic onerousness, as from its involving a question, on the issue of which, depended the liberty or the slavery of America. Truly did the profound Locke say, that “Men can never be secure from tyranny, if there be no means to escape it, till they are perfectly under it, and therefore it is, that they have not only a right to get out of it, but to prevent it.”
And to prevent it they were determined, or perish in the attempt.
On the evening of the 26th of October, the anniversary of His Majesty's accession, there was a great tumult in the