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Home > Document Library > Founding Principles > The Rights of the Colonists


The Rights of the Colonists
Adopted by the Town of Boston
November 20, 1772

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[One of the clearest statements of principle published by an elected body during the founding era, this document gives a fuller account of the principles of the Declaration. — TGW]

 

1st. Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men.

Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can—Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the Duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature—

All Men have a Right to remain in a State of Nature as long as they please: And in case of intollerable Oppression, Civil or Religious, to leave the Society they belong to, and enter into another. —

When Men enter into Society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions, And previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.—

Every natural Right not expressly given up or from the nature of a Social Compact necessarily ceded remains. —

All positive and civil laws, should conform as far as possible, to the Law of natural reason and equity. —

As neither reason requires, nor religeon permits the contrary, every Man living in or out of a state of civil society, has a right peaceably and quietly to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. —

"Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty" in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all Men are clearly entitled to, by the eternal and immutable laws Of God and nature, as well as by the law of Nations, & all well grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former. —

In regard to Religeon, mutual tolleration in the different professions thereof, is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced; and both by precept and example inculcated on mankind: And it is now generally agreed among christians that this spirit of toleration in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society "is the chief characteristical mark of the true church" (footnote: See Locks Letters on Toleration.) & In so much that Mr. Lock has asserted, and proved beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society….

The natural liberty of Men by entering into society is abridg’d or restrained so far only as is necessary for the Great end of Society the best good of the whole—

In the state of nature, every man is under God, Judge and sole Judge, of his own rights and the injuries done him: By entering into society, he agrees to an Arbiter or indifferent Judge between him and his neighbours; but he no more renounces his original right, than by taking a cause out of the ordinary course of law, and leaving the decision to Referees or indifferent Arbitrations. In the last case he must pay the Referees for time and trouble; he should be also willing to pay his Just quota for the support of government, the law and constitution; the end of which is to furnish indifferent and impartial Judges in all cases that may happen, whether civil ecclesiastical, marine or military. —

"The natural liberty of man is to be free from any superior power on earth, and not to be under the will or legislative authority of man; but only to have the law of nature for his rule." — [Locke, Second Treatise, sec. 22.]

In the state of nature men may as the Patriarchs did, employ hired servants for the defence of their lives, liberty and property: and they should pay them reasonable wages. Government was instituted for the purposes of common defence; and those who hold the reins of government have an equitable natural right to an honourable support from the same principle "that the labourer is worthy of his hire" but then the same community which they serve, ought to be assessors of their pay: Governors have no right to seek what they please; by this, instead of being content with the station assigned them, that of honourable servants of the society, they would soon become Absolute masters, Despots, and Tyrants. Hence as a private man has a right to say, what wages he will give in his private affairs, so has a Community to determine what they will give and grant of their Substance, for the Administration of publick affairs. And in both cases more are ready generally to offer their Service at the proposed and stipulated price, than are able and willing to perform their duty. —

In short it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one or any number of men at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights when the great end of civil government from the very nature of its institution is for the support, protection and defence of those very rights: the principal of which as is before observed, are life liberty and property. If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in [explicit] terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave—

2d. The Rights of the Colonists as Christians

These may be best understood by reading—and carefully studying the institutes of the great Lawgiver and head of the Christian Church: which are to be found closely written and promulgated in the New Testament

By the Act of the British Parliament commonly called the Toleration Act [of 1689], every subject in England Except Papists &c was restored to, and re-established in, his natural right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. And by the Charter of this Province it is granted ordained and established (that is, declared as an original right) that there shall be liberty of conscience allowed in the worship of God, to all christians except Papists, inhabiting or which shall inhabit or be resident within said Province or Territory. (footnote: See I. Wm. and Mary. St. 2. C. 18—and Massachusetts Charter.)…

3d. The Rights of the Colonists as Subjects

A Common Wealth or state is a body politick or civil society of men, united together to promote their mutual safety and prosperity, by means of their union. (footnote: See Lock and Vatel—)

The absolute Rights of Englishmen, and all freemen in or out of Civil society, are principally, personal security personal liberty and private property.

All Persons born in the British American Colonies are by the laws of God and nature, and by the Common law of England, exclusive of all charters from the Crown, well Entitled, and by the Acts of the British Parliament are declared to be entitled to all the natural essential inherent & inseperable Rights Liberties and Privileges of Subjects born in Great Britain, or within the Realm. Among those Rights are the following; which no men or body of men, consistently with their own rights as men and citizens or members of society, can for themselves give up, or take away from others

First, "The first fundamental positive law of all Commonwealths or States, is the establishing the legislative power; as the first fundamental natural law also, which is to govern even the legislative power itself, is the preservation of the Society." (footnote: Locke on Government [sec. 134]. Salus Populi Suprema Lex esto— ["Let the safety of the people be the supreme law." Locke, sec. 158])

Secondly, The Legislative has no right to absolute arbitrary power over the lives and fortunes of the people: Nor can mortals assume a prerogative, not only too high for men, but for Angels; and therefore reserved for the exercise of the Deity alone. —

"The Legislative cannot Justly assume to itself a power to rule by extempore arbitrary decrees; but it is bound to see that Justice is dispensed, and that the rights of the subjects be decided, by promulgated, standing and known laws, and authorized independent Judges;" that is independent as far as possible of Prince or People. "There shall be one rule of Justice for rich and poor; for the favorite in Court, and the Countryman at the Plough." (footnote: Locke [sec. 136, 142] —)

Thirdly, The supreme power cannot Justly take from any man, any part of his property without his consent, in person or by his Representative. —

These are some of the first principles of natural law & Justice, and the great Barriers of all free states, and of the British Constitution in particular. It is utterly irreconcilable to these principles, and to many other fundamental maxims of the common law, common sense and reason, that a British house of commons, should have a right, at pleasure, to give and grant the property of the Colonists. That these Colonists are well entitled to all the essential rights, liberties and privileges of men and freemen, born in Britain, is manifest, not only from the Colony charter, in general, but acts of the British Parliament…. Had the Colonists a right to return members to the British parliament, it would only be hurtful; as from their local situation and circumstances it is impossible they should be ever truly and properly represented there. The inhabitants of this country in all probability in a few years will be more numerous, than those of Great Britain and Ireland together; yet it is absurdly expected by the promoters of the present measures [that is, the British attempt to tax and rule the colonies without their consent], that these, with their posterity to all generations, should be easy while their property shall be disposed of by a house of commons at three thousand miles distant from them….

A List of Infringements & Violations of Rights [omitted here].

[From Writings of Samuel Adams, ed. Cushing, 2:350-369. The footnotes are in the original. Material in angular brackets was added by the editor.—TGW.]







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