Wesley, A Calm Address to the American Colonies, 1775

John Wesley, A Calm Address to the American Colonies
London, 1775

Portrait of John Wesley 1789 by George Romney

“Let us put away our sins; the real ground of all our calamities … till we fear God and honour the king!”

Reference

John Wesley, A Calm Address to the American Colonies, reprinted in The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, vol. VI, ed. John Emory (New York, Mason and Lane, 1839), 293-99.

Key Quotes

I am taxed; yet I am no slave.

But whence then is all this hurry and tumult? Why is America all in an uproar? If you can yet give yourselves time to think, you will see the plain case is this …

What more religious liberty can you desire, than that which you enjoy already? May not every one among you worship God according to his own conscience? What civil liberty can you desire, which you are not already possessed of? Do not you sit, without restraint, “every man under his own vine”? Do you not, every one, high or low, enjoy the fruit of your labour?

No governments under heaven are so despotic as the republican; no subjects are governed in so arbitrary a manner as those of a commonwealth.

Excerpt

I am taxed; yet I am no slave. Ye nine in ten throughout England have no representative, no vote; yet the are no slaves; they enjoy both civil and religious liberty to the utmost extent.

“Who then is a slave?” Look into America, and you may easily see. See that negro, fainting under the load, bleeding under the lash! He is a slave. And is there “no difference” between him and his master? Yes; the one is screaming, “Murder! Slavery!” the other silently bleeds and dies!

“But wherein then consists the difference between liberty and slavery?”

Herein: You and I, and the English in general, go where we will, and enjoy the fruit of our labours: this is liberty. The negro does not: this is slavery.

Is not then all this outcry about liberty and slavery mere rant, and playing upon words?

BRETHREN AND COUNTRYMEN,

1. The grand question which is now debated (and with warmth enough on both sides) is this, Has the English parliament a right to tax the American colonies?

In order to determine this, let us consider the nature of our colonies. An English colony is, a number of persons to whom the king grants a charter, permitting them to settle in some far country as a corporation, enjoying such powers as the charter grants, to be administered in such a manner as the charter prescribes. As a corporation they make laws for themselves; but as a corporation subsisting by a grant from higher authority, to the control of that authority they still continue subject.

Considering this, nothing can be more plain, than that the supreme power in England has a legal right of laying any tax upon them for any end beneficial to the whole empire.

2. But you object, “It is the privilege of a freeman and an Englishman to be taxed only by his own consent. And this consent is given for every man by his representatives in parliament. But we have no representatives in parliament. Therefore we ought not to be taxed thereby.”

I answer, This argument proves too much. If the parliament cannot tax you because you have no representation therein, for the same reason it can make no laws to bind you. If a freeman cannot be taxed without his own consent, neither can he be punished without it; for whatever holds with regard to taxation, holds with regard to all other laws. Therefore he who denies the English parliament the power of taxation, denies it the right of making any laws at all. But this power over the colonies you have never disputed; you have always admitted statutes for the punishment of offences, and for the preventing or redressing of inconveniences; and the reception of any law draws after it, by a chain which cannot be broken, the necessity of admitting taxation.

3. But I object to the very foundation of your plea: That “every freeman is governed by Laws to which he has consented”: as confidently as it has been asserted, it is absolutely false. In wide-extended dominions, a very small part of the people are concerned in making laws. This, as all public business, must be done by delegation; the delegates are chosen by a select number. And those that are not electors, who are far the greater part, stand by, idle and helpless spectators.
The case of electors is little better. When they are near equally divided, in the choice of their delegates to represent them in the parliament or national assembly, almost half of them must be governed, not only without, but even against, their own consent. And how has any man consented to those laws which were made before he was born? Our consent to these, nay, and to the laws now made even in England, is purely passive. And in every place, as all men are born the subjects of some state or other, so they are born, passively, as it were, consenting to the laws of that state. Any other than this kind of consent, the condition of civil life does not allow.

But whence then is all this hurry and tumult? Why is America all in an uproar? If you can yet give yourselves time to think, you will see the plain case is this: –

A few years ago you were assaulted by enemies, whom you were not well able to resist. You represented this to your mother country, and desired her assistance. You was largely assisted, and by that means wholly delivered from all your enemies.

After a time, your mother country, desiring to be reimbursed for some part of the large expense she had been at, laid a small tax (which she had always a right to do) on one of her colonies.
But how is it possible that the taking this reasonable and legal step should have set all America in a flame?

I will tell you my opinion freely; and perhaps you will not think it improbable. I speak the more freely, because I am unbiassed ; I have nothing to hope or fear from either side. I gain nothing either by the government or by the Americans, and probably never shall. And I have no prejudice to any man in America: I love you as my brethren and countrymen.

11. My opinion is this: We have a few men in England who are determined enemies to monarchy. Whether they hate his present majesty on any other ground than because he is a king I know not. But they cordially hate his office, and have for some years been undermining it with all diligence, in hopes of erecting their grand idol, their dear commonwealth, upon its ruins.

I believe they have let very few into their design; (although many forward it, without knowing any thing of the matter); but they are steadily pursuing it, as by various other means, so in particular by inflammatory papers, which are industriously and continually dispersed throughout the town and country; by this method they have already wrought thousands of the people even to the pitch of madness.

By the same, only varied according to your circumstances, they have likewise inflamed America. I make no doubt but these very men are the original cause of the present breach between England and her colonies. And they are still pouring oil into the flame, studiously incensing each against the other, and opposing, under a variety of pretences, all measures or accommodation. So that, although the Americans in general love the English, and the English in general love the Americans, (all, I mean, that are not yet cheated and exasperated by these artful men), yet the rupture is growing wider every day, and none can tell where it will end.

These good men hope it will end in the total defection of North America from England. If this were effected, they trust the English in general would be so irreconcilably disgusted, that they should be able, with or without foreign assistance, entirely to overturn the government; especially while the main of both the English and Irish forces are at so convenient a distance.

12. But, my brethren, would this be any advantage to you? Can you hope for a more desirable form of government, either in England or America, than that which you now enjoy? After all the vehement cry for liberty, what more liberty can you have?

What more religious liberty can you desire, than that which you enjoy already? May not every one among you worship God according to his own conscience? What civil liberty can you desire, which you are not already possessed of? Do not you sit, without restraint, “every man under his own vine”? Do you not, every one, high or low, enjoy the fruit of your labour? This is real, rational liberty, such as is enjoyed by Englishmen alone; and not by any other people in the habitable world.

Would the being independent of England make you more free? Far, very far from it. It would hardly be possible for you to steer clear, between anarchy and tyranny. But suppose, after numberless dangers and mischiefs, you should settle into one or more republics, would a republican government give you more liberty, either religious or civil? By no means.

No governments under heaven are so despotic as the republican; no subjects are governed in so arbitrary a manner as those of a commonwealth. If any one doubt of this, let him look at the subjects of Venice, of Genoa, or even of Holland. Should any man talk or write of the Dutch government, as every cobbler does of the English, he would be laid in irons before he knew where he was. And then, wo be to him! Republics show no mercy.

13. “But if we submit to one tax, more will follow.” Perhaps so, and perhaps not. But if they did; if you were taxed (which is quite improbable) equal with Ireland or Scotland, still, were you to prevent this, by renouncing connection with England, the remedy would be worse than the disease. For O! what convulsions must poor America feel, before any other government was settled? Innumerable mischiefs must ensue, before any general form could be established. And the grand mischief would ensue when it was established; when you had received a yoke which you could not shake off.

14. Brethren, open your eyes! Come to yourselves! Be no longer the dupes of designing men! I do not mean any of your countrymen in America; I doubt whether any of these are in the secret. The designing men, the Ahithophels, are in England; those who have laid their scheme so deep, and covered it so well, that thousands, who are ripening it, suspect nothing at all of the matter.

These well-meaning men, sincerely believing that they are serving their country, exclaim against grievances, which either never existed, or are aggravated above measure; and thereby inflame the people more and more, to the wish of those who are behind the scene. But be not you duped any longer; do not ruin yourselves for them that owe you no good-will, that now employ you only for their own purposes, and in the end will give you no thanks. They love neither England nor America, but play one against the other, in subserviency to their grand design of overturning the English government.

Be warned in time; stand and consider, before it is too late; before you have entailed confusion and misery on your latest posterity. Have pity upon your mother country! Have pity upon your own! Have pity upon yourselves, upon your children, and upon all that are near and dear to you! Let us not bite and devour one another, lest we be consumed one of another! O let us follow after peace! Let us put away our sins; the real ground of all our calamities; which never will or can be thoroughly removed, till we fear God and honour the king!

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