Papers of John Adams, volume 1

From Joseph Palmer

From the Sons of Liberty

Clarendon to William Pym: 13–27 January 1766 Clarendon to William Pym: 13–27 January 1766
Clarendon to William Pym
13–27 January 1766




Editorial Note Editorial Note
Editorial Note

In January 1766 John Adams, signing himself Clarendon, published three letters in the Boston Gazette in reply to William Pym, who had published four letters in the London Public Ledger, 13, 19, 26, 30 August 1765. Only the second of Pym's letters was reprinted by a Boston newspaper, the Boston Evening-Post, 25 November. Adams' was not the earliest reply, for Hampden had taken up the challenge in the Boston Gazette, writing a series of eight letters running from 9 December 1765 to 27 January 1766. Hampden, who was James Otis Jr. (JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:287 and note), added a postscript to his last letter: “My most sincere, affectionate and respectful compliments to my Lord of Clarendon, when next you shall see him. Tell him there is great joy even on earth over a repenting sinner, of so eminent a genius.” So the two men kept up the joke; curiously, neither of them noted that the London polemicist had been mistaken about Pym's first name—John.

Not all that John Adams had to say appeared in the newspaper, and it is doubtful that he even read all four Pym letters. But he read Hampden, who by his quotations made it plain that he had read all that Pym had written. As so often happened, Adams used the debate as a springboard for his own reflections. He undoubtedly enjoyed the little fiction of these 156long-dead men commenting upon the reversal of positions of Pym and Clarendon. Where Hampden wrote in astonishment that Pym could have so departed from his principles as to write provocatively about taxation and jury trials, Adams, the student of history, was prepared to believe that the switch gave some insight into “the labyrinth of your Pym's politicks in 1641” and sorrowfully acknowledged that the change gave rise to “very painful reflections on the frailty, inconstancy and depravity of the human race” (Boston Gazette, 13 Jan.; No. I, below).

Adams' first thinking about Pym and how he should be answered was recorded in his diary on 23 December 1765, some two weeks after Hampden had made his first sally ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:272–273). These early thoughts were a fragmentary draft for his first published letter, No. I, below. There were seven other diary entries, those for 25, 26, 30 December, and 7, 9, 11, 18 January 1766 (same, 1:274–275, 275–277, 281–282, 287–288, 288–290, 290–292, 296–299). Those for 25, 26 December, and 7 January were drafts for No. II, and that for 18 January, for No. III, below.

Although William Pym refers more than once to “fellow subjects,” he takes the typical view that colonies by definition are dependent and that the recent war was fought largely in their interest; thus, they must now expect to pay their share of the costs of empire. He is convinced that the colonies really seek independence and asserts that they in fact become a separate people if they are not bound by the Stamp Act. To some degree he holds Great Britain to blame for the colonies' behavior, in that its trade policies have encouraged opulence and its administration has encouraged the growth of legislative capacity in the colonies—their raising of taxes, levying forces, and the like. The recent Virginia resolves on the Stamp Act, from which he quotes only the seventh, which was published but not actually passed, he labels as “indecent” (London Public Ledger, 13, 19 Aug. 1765; Morgan, Stamp Act , p. 91–95). He notes that Ireland, which also has a legislature, has accepted without fuss such laws as Parliament chooses to extend to it. Parliament at a stroke can abrogate any Irish law.

As for charters, Pym holds that they should be adhered to so far as “public contingencies will admit,” but he insists that Parliament can abrogate them at any time. Parliament must be concerned for the welfare of the larger community; its acts are bound to injure some. But those injured must acquiesce in Parliament's interpretation of the larger good (same).

Pym does feel that certain hardships have resulted from British policies. It was a mistake to forbid American trade with the Spanish settlements, a trade mutually beneficial to the colonies and the mother country. He thinks that perhaps the military establishment was increased too much, but that, unfortunately, the riotous behavior of the past months will only seem to justify larger forces. Finally, he sees a genuine grievance in the colonies' having no representation in Parliament; representation would benefit not only the colonies but the mother country as well. His final letter is de-157voted wholly to the “absolute necessity” for a proper number of American representatives in Parliament. The alternative may be unification of the colonies to shake off dependence. The price of representation, however, must be abolition of their assemblies, which can be dangerous only if continued. He sees a problem in how much representation to allow them, for without care the time may come when the seat of empire may shift to the “Oronoque” or the Ohio. He would give them enough representatives to provide advice but not enough to dictate. In any event, the colonies must remain the children of the mother country.

Although Hampden makes virtually a point-by-point refutation of the arguments of Pym, John Adams as Clarendon seems more intrigued with the literary device of debate between these 17th-century gentlemen. Fascinated by the shifts in character, Adams spends about half his second Clarendon letter explaining how the noble lord could take the position he had assumed. Character analysis aside, the meat of the argument for Adams is the unconstitutionality of courts without juries and taxation without consent. He does not comment on Pym's strictures on Britain's past policies, nor does he say anything about Ireland's position in the empire, a matter of some concern in later Revolutionary debates. Most important, Adams says nothing directly about Pym's proposal to substitute representation in Parliament for local assemblies. In his diary entries he develops the implications of Hampden's assertion that the courts must be opened without stamps, noting that the people are perfectly loyal ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:289, 291). Indeed, he sees the “Liberties of Mankind” as in the keeping of America according to God's design (same, 1:282).

In asserting that liberty is the noble end of British government, the third published Clarendon letter rises to true eloquence. The British constitution “stands not on the supposition that kings are the favourites of heaven. ... It is not built on the doctrine that a few nobles or rich commons have a right to inherit the earth.” Contemporaries of Adams and some modern scholars who dismiss him as the proponent of aristocratic government have perhaps overlooked his ringing defense of the ordinary people and the vital role they have in constitutional government, both in lawmaking and in determining the facts in jury trials. The people “have no other fortification against wanton, cruel power: no other indemnification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and cloathed like swine and hounds.” Here speaks the lawyer in the best sense of that term—one who reveres the law and the protections it affords, without favor, to all.

For an interesting interpretation of the Clarendon letters suggesting that Adams used the occasion to pay tribute to his deceased father, Deacon John, under the guise of Clarendon's recalling his own father's good advice and high character, see Peter Shaw, The Character of John Adams, Chapel Hill, 1976, p. 50–51.

158 I. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym, 13 January 1766 JA Clarendon, Earl of Pym, William Boston Gazette (newspaper) I. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym, 13 January 1766 Adams, John Clarendon, Earl of Pym, William Boston Gazette (newspaper)
I. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym
Sir, Monday, January 13, 1766

The revolution which one century has produced in your opinions and principles, is not quite so surprizing to me, as it seems to be to many others. You know, very well, I had always a jealousy, that your humanity was counterfeited, your ardor for liberty canker'd with simulation, and your integrity problematical at least.

I confess however, that so sudden a transition from licentiousness to despotism, so entire a transformation, from a fiery, furious declaimer against power, to an abject hireling of corruption; tho' it furnishes a clue to the labyrinth of your politicks in 1641, gives me many very painful reflections on the frailty, inconstancy and depravity of the human race. These reflections nevertheless are greatly molified by the satisfaction I feel in finding your old friend and coadjutor Mr. Hampden, unalter'd and unalterable in the glorious cause of liberty and law. His inflexibility, has confirmed the great esteem my Lord Fau'kland and I, always had of his wisdom, magnanimity and virtue: and we are both of us at present as well convinced of his excellency as a subject and citizen, as we were formerly of his amiable accomplishments in private life. But your apostacy has confirmed our belief of what was formerly suspected, viz. your subornation of witnesses, your perjuries, briberies, and cruelties; and that tho' your cunning was exquisite enough to conceal your crimes from the public scrutiny, your heart was desperately wicked and depraved.

Can any thing less abominable have prompted you to commence an enemy to liberty? an enemy to human nature? Can you recollect the complaints and clamours, which were founded with such industry, and supported by such a profusion of learning in law and history, and such invincible reasoning by yourself and your friends; against the star chamber, and high commission; and yet remain an advocate for the newly formed courts of admiralty in America? Can you recall to your memory, the everlasting changes which were rung, by yourself and your party, against ship-money, and the other projects of that disgraceful reign; and on the consent of the subject, as indispensably necessary, to all taxations, aids, reliefs, tallages, subsidies, duties, &c. and yet contend for a taxation of more than Five Million subjects, not only without their consent expressed, or implied, but directly against their most explicit, and determined declarations, and remonstrances?


You of all mankind should have been the last, to be hired by a minister to defend or excuse such taxes and such courts.—Taxes, more injurious and ruinous, than Danegeld of old, which our countryman Speed1 says, “emptied the land of all the coyn, the kingdom of her glory, the commons of their content, and the Sovereign of his wanted wonted respects and observance”—Courts, which seem to have been framed in imitation of an ancient jurisdiction, at the bare mention of which I have often seen your eyes lighten, I mean the court of the masters of the King's forfeitures. I cannot omit so fair an opportunity of repeating the history and unfolding the powers of that court, as it seems to have been the very antitipe of the new courts of admiralty in America, and to have been created and erected with the same powers and for the same purposes. It was in the reign of King Henry the seventh that a British parliament was found to be so timid, or ignorant or corrupt, as to pass an act, that “justices of assize, as well as justices of peace, without any finding or presentment of twelve men, upon a bare information for the King, should have full power and authority, to hear and determine by their discretions, all offences against the form, ordinance and effect of certain penal statutes. This unconstitutional act was passed, in the eleventh year of that reign, and thus the commons were found, to sacrifice that sacred pillar, that fundamental law, that everlasting monument of liberty the great charter, in complaisance to the ravenous avarice of that monarch. In pursuance of this act, Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley, were made justices throughout England, and “masters of the King's forfeitures. The old sage Coke says that act was against and in the face of that fundamental law, Magna Charta, and that it is incredible what oppressions and exactions, were committed by Empson and Dudley, upon this unjust and injurious act shaking that fundamental law.” And that in the first year of the reign of King Henry the eighth the parliament recited that unconstitutional act, and declared it void.” And those two vile oppressors fell a sacrifice to the righteous indignation of an injured and exasperated nation. And he closes with an admonition, that the fearful end of these two oppressors, should deter others from committing the like, and admonish parliaments, that instead of this ordinary and precious tryal per pares, et per legem terrse, they bring not in absolute and partial tryals by discretion.

Give me leave, now, to ask you Mr. Pym, what are the powers of the new courts of admiralty in America? Are the tryals in these courts per pares, or per legem terras? Is there any grand jury there to find presentments or indictments? Is there any pettit jury to try the fact 160guilty or not? Is the tryal per legem terrse, or by the institutes, digests, and codes and novells, of the Roman law? Is there not a judge appointed or to be appointed over all America? Is not this a much more expensive jurisdiction than that of Empson and Dudley as justices over all England? Will you say that no Empsons and Dudleys will be sent to America?—Perhaps not.—But are not the jurisdiction and power, given to the judges greater than that to those oppressors? Besides, how can you prove that no Empsons will be sent there? Pray let me know, are not the forfeitures to be shared by the governors and the informers? Are we not to prophecy the future by the experience of the past? And have not many governors been seen in America, whose avarice, was at least as ravenous as that of Henry the seventh? Have not many of their tools, been as hungry, restless, insolent and unrelenting as Empson and Dudley in proportion to their power? Besides, are not the Americans at such a distance from their King, and the august council of the mother country, and at the same time so poor, as to render all redress of such insolence and rapacity impracticable?

If you reconsider the nature of these new American taxations, the temper and manners of the people in that country, their religious and civil principles; and if you recollect the real constitution of Great Britain, and the nature of the new courts of admiralty, you will not wonder at the spirit that has appeared in that country. Their resistance is founded in much better principles, and aims at much better ends, than I fear yours did in Charles's reign, tho' I own you was much nearer the truth and right of the cause then, than now.—And you know, if you had lived in America, and had not been much changed, you would have been the first, to have taken arms against such a law, if no other kind of opposition would do. You would have torn up the foundations, and demolished the whole fabrick of the government, rather than have submitted; and would have suffered democracy, aristocracy, monarchy, anarchy, any thing or nothing to have arisen in its place.

You may perhaps wonder to hear such language as the foregoing from me, as I was always in an opposite faction, to yours, while we lived on earth. I will confess to you, that I am in many respects altered, since my departure from the body, my principles in government were always the same, founded in law, liberty, justice, goodness and truth: But in the application of those principles I must confess, my veneration for certain churchmen, and my aspiring ambitious temper sometimes deceived me and led me astray. This was a source of remorse, at times, thro' my life, and since my seperation, and the sublimation of my 161faculties, and the purification of my temper, the detestation of some parts of my conduct has been greatly increased. But as these are subjects of very great importance, I shall make them the materials of a correspondence with you for some time to come.


Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 13 Jan. 1766, Suppl.); partial Dft in JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:272–273.


John Speed (1552?–1629), thought by some to be “the first of English historians as distinguished from chroniclers and annalists,” wrote The History of Great Britaine under the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans, London, 1611 ( DNB ). JA's quotation, from which he omits one phrase—“the Nobles of courage”—after “glory,” is on p. 393–394.

II. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym, 20 January 1766 JA Clarendon, Earl of Pym, William Boston Gazette (newspaper) II. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym, 20 January 1766 Adams, John Clarendon, Earl of Pym, William Boston Gazette (newspaper)
II. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym
Sir, Monday, January 20, 1766

You and I have changed Sides. As I told you in my last, I can account for your Tergiversation, only on the Supposition of the Insincerity, Baseness and Depravity of your Heart. For my own Part, as the Change in me is not so great, neither is it so unaccountable. My Education was, in the Law, the Grounds of which were so riveted in me, that no Temptation could induce me, knowingly, to swerve from them. The Sentiments, however, which I had imbibed in the Course of my Education, from the Sages of the Law, were greatly confirmed in me, by an Accident that happened to me, in my Youth. This is an Anecdote, relative to my Father and me, which I presume you must have heard—A Scene, which will remain with indelible impressions on my Soul, throughout my Duration. I was upon that Circuit, which led me down to my native Country, and on a Visit to my aged Father; who gave me an Invitation to take a Walk with him, in the Field. I see the good old Gentleman, even at this Distance of Time, and in his venerable Countenance, that parental Affection to me, that Zeal for the Law, that fervent Love of his Country, that exalted Piety to God and Good will to all Mankind, which constituted his real Character. My Son says he, I am very old, and this will probably be the last Time I shall ever see your Face. Your Welfare is near my Heart. The Reputation you have in your Profession, for Learning, Probity, Skill and Eloquence, will in all Probability, call you to manage the great Concerns of this Nation in Parliament, and to council your King in some of the greatest Offices of State. Let me warn you, against that Ambition, which I have often observed in Men of your Profession, 162which will sacrifice all, to their own Advancement. And I charge you, on a Father's Blessing, never to forget this Nation, nor to suffer the Hope of Honors or Profits; nor the Fear of Menaces or Punishments from the Crown, to seduce you from the Law, the Constitution, and the real Welfare and Freedom of this People.—And—these Words were scarcely pronounced, before his Zeal and Concern were too great for his Strength, and he fell upon the Ground before me,—never to rise more! His Words sank deep into my Heart, and no Temptation, no Bias, or Prejudice, could ever obliterate them. And you Mr. Pym, are one Witness for me, that, altho' I was always of the Royal Party, and for avoiding Violence and Confusion, I never defended what could be proved to be real Infringements on the Constitution, while I sat in Parliament with you I was as heartily for rectifying those Abuses, and for procuring still further Security of Freedom, as any of you. And after the Restoration, when the Nations were rushing into a Delirium with Loyalty, I was obliged, in Order to preserve even the Appearance of the Constitution, to make a Stand. And afterwards, in the Reign of my infamous and detestable, tho' Royal Son in Law James the Second, I chose to go into Banishment, rather than renounce the Religion and Liberties of my Country.1

I have made these Observations to excuse my Conduct in those Reigns, in some Degree; tho' I must confess there were many Parts of it, which admit of no Excuse at all. I suffered myself to be blindly attached to the King, and some of his spiritual and temporal Minions, particularly Laud and Stafford, in some Instances, and to connive at their villainous Projects, against my Principles in Religion and Government, and against the dying Precepts of my Father:—Besides my Intimacy with that Sort of Company, had gradually wrought into me, too great a Reverence for kingly and priestly Power, and too much Contempt of the Body of the People; as well as too much Virulence against many worthy Patriots of your Side the Question; with whom, if I had co-operated, instead of assisting the Court, perhaps all the Confusions and Bloodshed which followed might have been prevented, and all the Nation's Grievances redressed.

These Reflections were a Sourse of Remorse, at Times, thro' my Life: And since my Departure from the Earth, I have revolved these Things so often, and seen my Errors so clearly, that were I to write an History of your Opposition now, I should not entitle it a Rebellion; nay I should scarcely call the Protectorate of Cromwell, an Usurpation.

With such Principles as these, and divested as I am of all Views and 163Motives of Ambition, as well as all Attachment to any Party, you may depend upon it, the Conduct of Barbados, has given me great Uneasiness.2 That Island, was settled in the Oliverian Times, by certain Fugitives of the Royal Party, who were zealous Advocates for passive Obedience: And I suppose a Remnant of the servile Spirit of their Ancestors, and of that ruinous Doctrine, has prevailed on them to submit. I own it as a severe Mortification to me, to reflect that I ever acted in Concert with a People with such Sentiments, a People who were capable of so mean, and meaching a Desertion of the Cause both of Liberty and Humanity.* But the gallant Struggle in St. Christopher's,3 and on the Continent of NORTH AMERICA, is founded in Principles so indisputable, in the Moral Law; in the revealed Law of God; in the true Constitution of Britain; and in the most apparent Welfare of the British Nation, as well as of the whole Body of the People in America; that it rejoices my very Soul. When I see that worthy People, even in the Reign of a wise and good King fetterd, chained, and sacrificed, by a few abandoned Villains, whose Lust of Gain and Power, would at any Time fasten them in the Interest of France or Rome or Hell, my Resentment and Indignation are unutterable.

If ever an Infant Country deserved to be cherished, it is America: If ever any People merited Honor and Happiness, they are her Inhabitants. They are a People, whom no Character can flatter or transmit in any Expressions, equal to their Merit and Virtue. With the high Sentiments of Romans, in the most prosperous and virtuous Times of that Common Wealth, they have the tender Feelings of Humanity, and the noble Benevolence of Christians. They have the most habitual, radical Sense of Liberty, and the highest Reverence for Vertue. They are descended from a Race of Heroes, who, placing their Confidence in Providence alone, set the Seas and Skies, Monsters and Savages, Tyrants and Devils, at Defiance for the Sake of Religion and Liberty.

And the present Generation have shewn themselves worthy of their Ancestors. Those cruel Engines, fabricated by a British Minister, for battering down all their Rights and Privileges; instead of breaking their Courage, and causing Despondency, as might have been expected in their Situation, have raised and spread thro' the whole Continent, a Spirit, that will be recorded to their Honor with all future Ages. In every Colony from Georgia to New-Hampshire, inclusively, the Executioners of their Condemnation, have been compelled by the unconquerable and irresistable Vengeance of the People to renounce 164their Offices. Such and so universal has been the Resentment, that every Man, who has dared to speak in Favour of them, or to soften the Detestation in which they are held, how great soever his Character had been before, or whatever were his Fortune, Connections and Influence; has been seen to sink into universal Contempt and Ignominy. The People, even to the lowest Ranks, have become more attentive to their Liberties, more inquisitive about them, and more determined to defend them, than they were ever before known, or had Occasion to be; innumerable have been the Monuments of Wit, Humour, Sense, Learning, Spirit, Patriotism and Heroism, erected in the several Provinces in the Course of this Year. Their Counties, Towns, and even private Clubs and Sodalities, have voted and determined; their Merchants have agreed to sacrifice even their Bread to the Cause of Liberty; their Legislatures have Resolved; the united Colonies have Remonstrated; the Presses have every where groaned; and the Pulpits have thundered: And such of the Crown Officers as have wished to see them enslaved, have every where trembled, and all their little Tools and Creatures been afraid to speak, and ashamed to be seen. Yet this is the People, Mr. Pym, on whom you are contributing for paltry Hire, to rivet and confirm, everlasting Oppression.


* Nova Scotia, Quebec, Pensacola, &c. are more excuseable on account of their Weakness and other peculiar Circumstances.

Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 20 Jan. 1766); partial Dfts in JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:274–277, 287–288.


In actuality, Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon (1609–1674), fled from England during the reign of Charles II in 1667 to escape prosecution by Parliament for alleged treason ( DNB ). JA owned at least two of Hyde's works: A Collection of Several Tracts . . . , London, 1727; The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England, Begun in the Year 1641 . . . , vols. 2 and 3, Oxford, 1720 ( Catalogue of JA's Library ).


Since the beginning of Jan. 1766, JA had been aware that Barbados had submitted to the Stamp Act ( Diary and Autobiography , 1:285; Gipson, Empire before the Revolution , 10:326–327).


On 31 Oct. 1765, the eve of the day on which the Stamp Act was to go into effect, St. Christopher demonstrated its resistance to the act through mob action, forcing the stamp distributor and his deputy to swear not to execute the law and by destroying about £2,000 worth of stamped paper. News of this incident was printed in the Boston Gazette, 9 Dec. 1765.

III. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym, 27 January 1766 JA Clarendon, Earl of Pym, William Boston Gazette (newspaper) III. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym, 27 January 1766 Adams, John Clarendon, Earl of Pym, William Boston Gazette (newspaper)
III. The Earl of Clarendon to William Pym
Sir, Monday, January 27, 1766

You are pleased to charge the Colonists with ignorance of the British constitution—But let me tell you there is not even a Son of Liberty among them who has not manifested a deeper knowledge of it, 165and a warmer attachment to it, than appears in any of your late writings. They know the true constitution and all the resources of liberty in it, as well as in the law of nature which is one principal foundation of it, and in the temper and character of the people, much better than you, if we judge by your late most impudent pieces, or than your patron and master,1 if we judge by his late conduct.

The people in America have discovered the most accurate judgment about the real constitution, I say, by their whole behaviour, excepting the excesses of a few, who took advantage of the general enthusiasm, to perpetrate their ill designs: tho' there has been great enquiry, and some apparent puzzle among them about a formal, logical, technical definition of it. Some have defined it to be the practice of parliament; others, the judgments and precedents of the King's courts; but either of these definitions would make it a constitution of wind and weather, because, the parliaments have sometimes voted the King absolute and the judges have sometimes adjudg'd him to be so. Some have call'd it custom, but this is as fluctuating and variable as the other. Some have call'd it the most perfect combination of human powers in society, which finite wisdom has yet contrived and reduced to practice, for the preservation of liberty and the production of happiness. This is rather a character of the constitution, and a just observation concerning it, than a regular definition of it; and leaves us still to dispute what it is. Some have said that the whole body of the laws; others that King, Lords, and Commons, make the constitution. There has also been much inquiry and dispute about the essentials and fundamentals of the constitution, and many definitions and descriptions have been attempted: But there seems to be nothing satisfactory to a rational mind, in any of these definitions: Yet I cannot say, that I am at any loss about any man's meaning when he speaks of the British constitution, or of the essentials and fundamentals of it.

What do we mean when we talk of the constitution of the human body? What by a strong and robust, or a weak and feeble constitution? Do we not mean certain contextures of the nerves, fibres and muscles, or certain qualities of the blood and juices, as fizy, or watery, phlegmatic or fiery, acid or alkaline? We can never judge of any constitution without considering the end of it; and no judgment can be formed of the human constitution, without considering it as productive of life or health or strength. The physician shall tell one man that certain kinds of exercise, or diet, or medicine, are not adapted to his constitution, that is, not compatible with his health, which he would readily agree are the most productive of health in another. The patient's habit 166abounds with acid, and acrimonious juices: Will the doctor order vinegar, lemmon juice, barberries and cramberries, to work a cure? These would be unconstitutional remedies; calculated to increase the evil, which arose from the want of a balance, between the acid and alkaline ingredients, in his composition. If the patient's nerves are overbraced, will the doctor advise to jesuits bark? There is a certain quantity of exercise, diet, and medicine, best adapted to every man's constitution, will keep him in the best health and spirits, and contribute the most to the prolongation of his life. These determinate quantities are not perhaps known to him, or any other person: but here lies the proper province of the physician to study his constitution and give him the best advice what and how much he may eat and drink; when and how long he shall sleep; how far he may walk or ride in a day; what air and weather he may improve for this purpose; when he shall take physick, and of what sort it shall be; in order to preserve and perfect his health, and prolong his life. But there are certain other parts of the body, which the physician can in no case have any authority to destroy or deprave; which may properly be called stamina vitae, or essentials and fundamentals of the constitution. Parts, without which life itself cannot be preserved a moment. Annihilate the heart, lungs, brain, animal spirits, blood; any one of these, and life will depart at once. These may be strictly called fundamentals, of the human constitution: Tho' the limbs may be all amputated, the eyes put out, and many other mutilations practiced to impair the strength, activity and other attributes of the man; and yet the essentials to life may remain, unimpaired many years.

Similar observations may be made with equal propriety concerning every kind of machinery. A clock has also a constitution, that is a certain combination of weights, wheels and levers, calculated for a certain use and end, the mensuration of time. Now the constitution of a clock, does not imply such a perfect constructure of movement as shall never go too fast or too slow, as shall never gain nor lose a second of time, in a year or century. This is the proper business of Quare, Tomlinson, and Graham,2 to execute the workmanship like artists, and come as near to perfection, i.e. as near to a perfect mensuration of time, as the human eye and finger will allow. But yet there are certain parts of a clock, without which, it will not go at all, and you can have from it no better account of the time of day, than from the ore of gold, silver brass and iron, out of which it was wrought. These parts therefore are the essentials and fundamentals of a clock.

Let us now enquire whether the same reasoning is not applicable 167in all its parts to government. For government is a frame, a scheme, a system, a combination of powers, for a certain end, viz the good of the whole community. The public good, the salus populi is the professed end of all government, the most despotic, as well as the most free. I shall enter into no examination which kind of government, whether either of the forms of the schools, or any mixture of them is the best calculated for this end. This is the proper inquiry of the founders of Empires. I shall take for granted, what I am sure no Briton will controvert, viz. that Liberty is essential to the public good, the salus populi. And here lies the difference between the British constitution, and other forms of govenment, viz. that Liberty is its end, its use, its designation, drift and scope, as much as grinding corn is the use of a mill, the transportation of burdens the end of a ship, the mensuration of time the scope of a watch, or life and health the designation of the human body.

Were I to define the British constitution, therefore, I should say, it is a limited monarchy, or a mixture of the three forms of government commonly known in the schools, reserving as much of the monarchial splendor, the aristocratical independency, and the democratical freedom, as are necessary, that each of these powers may have a controul both in legislation and execution, over the other two, for the preservation of the subjects liberty.

According to this definition, the first grand division of constitutional powers is, into those of legislation and those of execution. In the power of legislation, the King, Lords, Commons, and People, are to be considered as essential and fundamental parts of the constitution. I distinguish between the house of commons, and the people who depute them, because there is in nature and fact a real difference; and these last have as important a department in the constitution as the former, I mean the power of election. The constitution is not grounded on “the enormous faith of millions made for one.” It stands not on the supposition that kings are the favourites of heaven; that their power is more divine than the power of the people, and unlimited but by their own will and discretion. It is not built on the doctrine that a few nobles or rich commons have a right to inherit the earth, and all the blessings and pleasures of it: and that the multitude, the million, the populace, the vulgar, the mob, the herd and the rabble, as the great always delight to call them, have no rights at all, and were made only for their use, to be robbed and butchered at their pleasure. No, it stands upon this principle, that the meanest and lowest of the people, are, by the unalterable indefeasible laws of God and nature, as well intitled to 168the benefit of the air to breathe, light to see, food to eat, and clothes to wear, as the nobles or the king. All men are born equal: and the drift of the British constitution is to preserve as much of this equality, as is compatible with the people's security against foreign invasions and domestic usurpation. It is upon these fundamental principles, that popular power was placed as essential in the constitution of the legislature; and the constitution would be as compleat without a kingly as without a popular power. This popular power however, when the numbers grew large, became impracticable to be exercised by the universal and immediate suffrage of the people: and this impracticability has introduced from the feudal system, an expedient which we call a representation. This expedient is only an equivalent for the suffrage of the whole people, in the common management of public concerns. It is in reality nothing more than this, the people chuse attornies to vote for them in the great council of the nation, reserving always the fundamentals of the government, reserving also a right to give their attornies instructions how to vote, and a right, at certain stated intervals of choosing a new, discarding an old attorney, and choosing a wiser and a better. And it is this reservation, of fundamentals, of the right of giving instructions, and of new elections, which creates a popular check, upon the whole government which alone secures the constitution from becoming an aristocracy, or a mixture of monarchy and aristocracy only.

The other grand division of power, is that of execution. And here the King is by the constitution, supreme executor of the laws, and is always present in person or by his judges, in his courts, distributing justice among the people. But the executive branch of the constitution, as far as respects the administration of justice, has in it a mixture of popular power too. The judges answer to questions of law: but no further. Were they to answer to questions of fact as well as law, being few they might be easily corrupted; being commonly rich and great, they might learn to despise the common people, and forget the feelings of humanity: and then the subjects liberty and security would be lost. But by the British constitution, ad questionem facti respondent juratores, the jurors answer to the question of fact. In this manner the subject is guarded, in the execution of the laws. The people choose a grand jury to make enquiry and presentment of crimes. Twelve of these must agree in finding the Bill. And the petit jury must try the same fact over again, and find the person guilty before he can be punished. Innocence therefore, is so well protected in this wise constitution, that no man can be punished till twenty four of his Neighbours 169have said upon oath, that he is guilty. So it is also in the tryal of causes between party and party: No man's property or liberty can be taken from him, till twelve men in his Neighbourhood, have said upon oath, that by laws of his own making it ought to be taken away, i.e. that the facts are such as to fall within such laws.

Thus it seems to appear that two branches of popular power, voting for members of the house of commons, and tryals by juries, the one in the legislative and the other in the executive part of the constitution are as essential and fundamental, to the great end of it, the preservation of the subject's liberty, to preserve the balance and mixture of the government, and to prevent its running into an oligarchy or aristocracy; as the lords and commons are to prevent its becoming an absolute monarchy. These two popular powers therefore are the heart and lungs, the main spring, and the center wheel, and without them, the body must die; the watch must run down; the government must become arbitrary, and this our law books have settled to be the death of the laws and constitution. In these two powers consist wholly, the liberty and security of the people: They have no other fortification against wanton, cruel power: no other indemnification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and cloathed like swine and hounds: No other defence against fines, imprisonments, whipping posts, gibbets, bastenadoes and racks. This is that constitution which has prevailed in Britain from an immense antiquity: It prevailed, and the House of Commons and tryals by juries made a part of it, in Saxon times, as may be abundantly proved by many monuments still remaining in the Saxon language: That constitution which had been for so long a time the envy and admiration of surrounding nations: which has been, no less than five and fifty times, since the Norman conquest, attacked in parliament, and attempted to be altered, but without success; which has been so often defended by the people of England, at the expence of oceans of their blood, and which, co operating with the invincible spirit of liberty, inspired by it into the people, has never yet failed to work the ruin of the authors of all settled attempts to destroy it.

What a fine reflection and consolation is it for a man to reflect that he can be subjected to no laws, which he does not make himself, or constitute some of his friends to make for him: his father, brother, neighbour, friend, a man of his own rank, nearly of his own education, fortune, habits, passions, prejudices, one whose life and fortune and liberty are to be affected like those of his constituents, by the laws he shall consent to for himself and them. What a satisfaction is it to 170reflect, that he can lie under the imputation of no guilt, be subjected to no punishment, lose none of his property, or the necessaries, conveniencies or ornaments of life, which indulgent providence has showered around him: but by the judgment of his peers, his equals, his neighbours, men who know him, and to whom he is known; who have no end to serve by punishing him; who wish to find him innocent, if charged with a crime; and are indifferent, on which side the truth lies, if he disputes with his neighbour.

Your writings, Mr. Pym, have lately furnished abundant Proofs, that the infernal regions, have taken from you, all your shame, sense, conscience and humanity: otherwise I would appeal to them who has discovered the most ignorance of the British constitution; you who are for exploding the whole system of popular power, with regard to the Americans, or they who are determined to stand by it, in both its branches, with their lives and fortunes?


Reprinted from the (Boston Gazette, 27 Jan. 1766); Dft in JA, Diary and Autobiography , 1:296–299.


Probably an allusion to George Grenville.


Daniel Quare, William Tomlinson, and George Graham were watch and clockmakers of the early 18th century (Catalogue of the Museum of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers of London in the Guildhall Library, London, 3d edn., London, 1949, passim). Quare and Graham are included in the DNB .