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Britain, of the destruction of the finest Constitution in the world, as the phrase is, and of the substitution of Republican Governments in the Colonies. Then follows a dreadful train of domestick convulsions in each Republick; of jealousies, dissensions, wars, and all their attendant miseries, in the neighbouring Republicks; in which form of Government they seem to imagine that nature breeds
Under the pressure of real calamities, which, if actually felt, cannot be exceeded, do men find comfort in the contemplation of those that are imaginary; and which, were we sure they would befall us, might claim our preference by being remote.
Others, with the ideas of the former, connect some dark mysterious scheme for tricking us into independence, to which most of our Continental measures, however speciously introduced, are supposed to be ultimately subservient. These men, my friends, are enemies to harmony. The motions of their spirits are dark and dull; and whatever be their professions or condition, let them not be trusted.
Of a much more numerous and respectable class are those who think that our opposition is founded in a virtuous determination to defend our liberty against a tyranny instant and impending; that no sacrifice, no suffering, should divert us from the necessary means of effecting so important a purpose; that if, in the course of events, a declaration of independence should become essential to our safety, we should instantly adopt the measure, considering it not as a primary object of the war, but, in a secondary view, as a means of conducting it successfully. Now, I verily believe this is all that nine-tenths of the Congress mean, notwithstanding that the presses of Philadelphia have lately brought forth Common Sense, Montgomerys Ghost, and other frightful forms, to the no small terrour of many of his Majestys liege subjects.
Without attempting to prove that these fears are much of the same puerile cast as those with which the armour of an heroick and affectionate parent impressed the son of Hector, I shall endeavour to show that the propriety of speedily declaring a temporary independence, at least, may be derived from a circumstance more generally interesting and solid than from the machinations of the Congress.
It is confessed, on all hands, that we cannot continue the war with very prosperous hopes, unless we can be supplied from foreign countries with warlike stores, (with many necessaries of which the restrictions on British trade deprive us,) and unless some market be furnished for the productions of our labours. Accordingly, men expect with impatience the freedom of exportation, when this trade may be pushed to the utmost extent. But, alas! in the small essays we have already made, we have found foreigners reserved and cold. They will tell us, In justice to your veracity, we must believe that you will be cordially reconciled to Great Britain so soon as certain acts of Parliament shall be repealed. Now, as she cannot carry on a vigorous war without you, she must either sit a silent spectator of our triumph, and of her own ruin, or repeal the acts, and, in conjunction with you, take vengeance for our friendly intentions, before we have received any advantage from them. We cannot, therefore, hazard so much with so precarious a prospect of an equivalent. We insist not that you should declare an everlasting separation from Great Britain, and thereby cut off all prospect of-an honourable renewal of old friendships; but that you will, with the freedom, solemnity, and good faith of sovereign States, enter into a treaty of commerce for a certain time, and into a treaty of neutrality, at least, should our efforts to serve you produce a rupture with that power.
A commerce thus established would be beneficial and honourable. Such manly and vigorous conduct would render us respectable to foreigners, and formidable to our enemies. But if we can only venture to steal a foreign trade, I can see nothing but disappointment, disgrace, and contempt, from all quarters. In the one case, the malice of our enemies will be awed into moderation by the increase of our power; in the other, by its decline they may enjoy, uncontrolled by any other passion, the rich prospect of a revenge insatiable. Here, however, independence steps in to terrify us. For my part, I see no terrour in it; but in an unconditional dependance, which seems, at present, our only alternative, I see a thousand. It wears, indeed, the rugged aspect of virtue; but, like the shield of Pallas, it petrifies alone the timid and the base. It is the invincible guardian of the brave and virtuous.
I fancy that many qualms on this subject would be overcome, if men would more thoroughly consider how very far we have already proceeded in effecting independence; and that many who have engaged in this business are irrevocably destined to the cord, whatever vain hopes they may entertain of drawing out a few strands from it, by an ill-timed and dangerous moderation. I apprehend that independence could in no way be more explicitly announced than by dissolving the Government on which it depended, and forming one with which it is utterly incompatible. Besides the overturning from without, Governments are dissolved from within, when the Legislature is altered, are the words of Mr. Locke. We have not only altered the Legislature, but exercised the judicial, the executive, and every other power of independent sovereignty, except the least considerable oneof negotiating with foreign States. Why have we so unanimously and cheerfully assumed the greater acts of sovereignty, and yet hesitate about the lesser? If the absolute necessity of commencing the contest directed us, insensibly, to the former, why tremble when the necessity of continuing it as absolutely directs us to the latter? I am at a loss to give an answer, except that we shall be obliged to call ourselves (what, for some months, we have really been) independent. In this dread sound our terrour seems to be comprehended. And shall we, by silent stealth, draw all its good effects, and shamefully deny our benefactor? I confess this conduct resembles more the dark guilt of rebellion, than the manly candour of a righteous resistance. While Congresses, Conventions, Councils of Safety, Military arrangements, Courts of Admiralty, County Committee Courts, Colonial Sheriffs, &c., are fresh in their memory, will our enemies believe us when we tell them we meant not to be independent? So mean a subterfuge would serve only to add the insolent lash of contempt to the scourge they have prepared for us.
The expectation of peace and reconciliation still fosters the irresolution of some men. The vague, unauthenticated hints of peace, (which were the harbingers of my Lord Norths olive-branch,) divided our councils, and enervated our preparations for defence. This, it might have been thought, would have furnished us, and on no very reasonable terms, with the wisdom of experience; but some, under an infatuation without example, are now deluded with an artifice of the same kind. We fondly expect Commissioners of peace. The King, on the contrary, tells us expressly, that he shall send them to receive the submissions of the penitent Rebels, and that they shall be accompanied with a very respectable force. This very respectable, very humane, and peace-compelling force, is neither more nor less than all which they could at present muster for our destruction. One of his servants tells us we may obtain anything by a constitutional application; while another, in his presence, (who has the sole power of enabling us to try the experiment, should we incline,) refuses by his concurrence to make it possible. And could this be done by the author of a late pathetick letter? It is adding insult to injury with a vengeance.*
Their smiles are not to be trusted, and their resentment should not be dreaded; the treachery of the first is not less formidable than the effects of the last.
I am, sir, yours, &c.
EXTRACT OF A LETTER FROM PETERSBURGH, VIRGINIA, DATED APRIL 12, 1776.
In my way through Virginia, I found the inhabitants warm for independence. I spent last evening with Mr., from South-Carolina. He tells me that the people there have no expectation of ever being reconciled with Britain again but only as a foreign State. They have formed a Government for themselves. John Rutledge, Esq., is appointed President, with all the powers that are vested in the Governour. From several letters I have received
* General Clinton and Lord Dunmore, in their late conference with Colonel Corbin.