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ON THE POWERS OF THE COMMISSIONERS.
Philadelphia, April 20, 1776.
The people throughout the Continent, and particularly in this Province, have been lately entertained with a fond expectation, and many anxiously look for the arrival of sundry great personages; by some called Ambassadors of Peace, by others Ambassadors of Corruption, sent on pur pose to divide and conquer; and by his most gracious Majesty they are called Commissioners, empowered to grant general or particular pardons and indemnities, in such manner and to such persons as they shall think fit. He also adds, in case that any Colony should be disposed to submit, (despairing of success in the present opposition,) in consequence of the great fleet and army which his Majesty has so greatly augmented by taking into his service a part of his electoral troops, and which is then to act against us, then these Commissioners shall have authority to receive the submission of such Province or Colony, which shall be so disposed to return to its allegiance, and to restore to it the free exercise of its trade and commerce. The act of Parliament which is said to authorize the Commissioners to treat with the people of America, provided it be the Prohibitory Act, (and as no person has been bold enough to say that there is another for that special purpose, I take it for granted that this is the act so much talked of,) which is now made publick, and, from the very title, as well as from the tenour and consequences of it, tends to alienate, divide, and entirely separate us from Great Britain; no longer viewing us as joint subjects. How absurd a falsehood, then, to declare that there are such persons as Commissioners coming to treat with America, to heal our differences, and to restore to us our liberty, or to secure to posterity the privileges of Englishmen. In the act of Parliament before alluded to, there is not one word to this effect; neither is it, in substapce, any more than what the King has declared in his speech of the 27 th of October last, in which he assures his Lords and Commons that he hath fully opened to them his views and intentions, and then adds: I shall give authority to certain persons on the spot to grant general or particular pardons and indemnities; but not a word of sending over Commissioners to treat with America, to effect a reconciliation upon constitutional principles. Nay, on the contrary, Governour Tryon has informed the people of New-York that he has it in command from the King to encourage, by every means in his power, the expectations of his Majestys well-disposed subjects in that Government of every assistance and protection the state of Great Britain will enable his Majesty to afford them. Governour Martin, also, in his commission of the 10th of January, 1776, to Allan McDonald and others, after setting forth that, by virtue of the powers and authorities in him vested by his Majesty, he thereby commissions, authorizes, and empowers those persons to raise, levy, muster, and array in arms, for the purpose of subduing the rebellion, &c.; and then adds, to the end that the people who have been deluded into rebellion may be made sensible it is his Majestys most gracious and Royal intention and earnest desire to reclaim them to a proper sense of their duty and obedience to lawful Government, without involving the country in the horrors of a civil war, if by timely and dutiful submission they make such extremities avoidable.
But to return: If we examine the transactions of Parliament, in order to discover what powers are given the Commissioners now said to be coming out, we shall find that his Majesty, having declared his intentions of granting commissions for the purpose of pardoning such persons as might choose to submit to the Commissioners, the Parliament, by virtue of a clause in the Prohibitory Act, makes it lawful for any person or persons authorized by his Majesty to grant a pardon or pardons to any number or description of persons, by proclamation in his Majestys name, to declare any Colony or Province, Colonies or Provinces, or any County, Port, District, or place, in any Colony or Province, to be at the peace of his Majesty. Now, for the Commissioners to do anything more than this, is not lawful; nor would the Parliament be bound thereby. This clause (and it is the only clause relative to Commissioners) gives them not the least power to treat with America on any other terms than by our direct and absolute submission, without reserve; nor can his Majesty grant to such Commissioners any other powers than what the Parliament has given him authority to grant. Therefore, he that expects a reconciliation by virtue of Commissioners empowered to treat with America in consequence of this act, expects it on no other terms than on our absolute submission; and it would, do credit to the espousers of that cause were they honest enough candidly to avow their sentiments on this head; but this answers not their purpose, for it would be plainly telling us that we should then be treated by our conquerers as subdued enemies, and deprived of the liberty of assenting or dissenting to the disposal of our property.
So that upon a review of the foregoing circumstances, I think we have very little reason to believe that Commissioners are coming; or, if they are, I am confident it must appear very evident to every impartial person, that they are not coming for the purpose of restoring peace to the Colonies, but at the expense of our liberty and property; nor for effecting a constitutional reconciliation with our cruel and unnatural stepmother on any other terms. If the Parliament of Great Britain were disposed to heal the differences now subsisting between her and the Colonies, why did they reject the motion made in the House of Commons by the Honourable Mr. Luttrell, to empower the Commissioners to treat with any Convention, Congress, or Assembly, of one or more Provinces? They well knew, and all the enemies of American liberty who have fled to the Ministry, and are now begging their protection and support from the impoverished revenue, could declare, that all the Assemblies throughout the Continent referred the motion which Lord North made in Parliament last year to the Congress: how absurd, then, to think of treating with the Colonies separately. Were the Parliament really desirous of peace, would they risk it on the present plan which is now talked of? No; the Commissioners would be directed to apply to the Congress without delay. But this is not their drift. The Prime Minister continues in the maxim he adopted last year, to divide and conquer. Every measure he adopts proves this to be his creed. And after subduing you he may, perhaps, think a particular share of the confiscated estates a proper and reasonable compensation for his indefatigable pains, assiduity, and care, in scheming and contriving your ruin. Beware, then, of every offer of clemency, favour, and protection, lest, like the poor victims in Boston, you smart for it in the end; they vainly thought themselves safe, whilst under the protection of a few mercenaries, but were deceived. Remember the treaty made between General Gage and the Selectmen of Boston, whereby he disarmed the inhabitants; and forget not how he observed it. This very General is now engaged in assisting the enemy to form their last plan. No publick censure passed upon him for his treachery; which shows they fully approved it. Can you confide in the treaties of such enemies? Look at Lord Mansfields speeches, and be convinced of the folly of such expectations, particularly his last, published in the Evening Post of the 9th instant. Fail not, then, to unite in every measure the patrons of our liberty may think necessary for our preservation. Be cautious how, by show, or appearance of disunion, you add to the numbers already slain, and increase those torrents of blood which have already flowed in defence of our liberty. I am certain that there is not a more effectual method of augmenting the number of martyrs to their country, than a submission of any Colony, or a part of any Colony, to the tools of Administration. Suppose, for a while, (what I hope may never be accomplished,) that such a disunion takes place, and conquest on the part of the Kings troops ensues, what a dreadful catastrophe appears! Who can answer for the numbers that shall be slain in battle, and in cold blood? For a just representation of the fatal consequences of such a conduct, suffer me to lay before you the proceedings and cruelty of a British Army after conquering Rebels, as handed to us by a noted English historian. Though they were Rebels against the State, and we are not, yet, as we are both involved in the same character, we must expect, if conquered, the same merciless treatment. In the month of May, (says Smallet,) the Duke of Cumberland advanced with the armies into the highlands, as far as Fort Augustus, where he encamped, and sent off detachments on all hands to hunt down the fugitives, and lay waste the country with fire and sword. The Castles of Glengary and Lochiel were plundered and burned; every house, hut, or habitation, met with the same fate, without distinction; all the cattle and provision were carried off; the men were either shot upon the mountains like wild beasts, or put to death in cold blood