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Speech by James Iredell to the Edenton District Superior Court Grand Jury concerning the establishment of republican government in North Carolina and the United States, including the jury's response [Extract as printed in the North-Carolina Gazette]
Iredell, James, 1751-1799
May 1778
Volume 13, Pages 431-438

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North Carolina Gazette, June 6, 1778*.

To the Honourable James Iredell, Esq.; one of the Judges of the Superior Court held at Edenton, for the District of Edenton, on the first Day of May 1778.

We, the Grand Jury for the district of Edenton, return you our thanks for the Charge which you was pleased to deliver to us at the opening of this Court.

This Charge vindicates the conduct of the American States, in the establishment of Independency by arguments drawn from unreliable rights, and from real necessity, and grounded on incontestible facts. Every man who is not lost to the powers of reason and conviction, must feel their force, and must bear a very active testimony in support of them. It breathes a spirit of pure disinterested patriotism, and holds forth the most powerful incentives to persist in the opposition in which America has so successfully begun. It points out persuasively the importance of a faithful observation of the various political and relative duties of security, upon which the happiness of individuals, and of the whole, depends, and which will tend to give stability to our present constitution.

For these reasons, and as it may tend to invigorate the timid, rouse the indifferent, reclaim the disaffected, and call the united strength of the whole into exercise for the public good: We beg that your Honour would favour us with a copy of it, that it may be transmitted to the press and published for the information of those who did not hear it delivered. As we ask this not only for ourselves, but in behalf of the inhabitants of the district of Edenton, whom we represent, we flatter ourselves that you will give it to our solicitations, although you intended it merely as an exercise of official duty, and thought it not designed for a more extensive communication than to us the Grand Jury.

A Charge delivered by James Iredell, Esq., one of the Judges of the Superior Court, to the Grand Jury for the District of Edenton, on the second Day of May 1778.
Published at Their Request.

Gentlemen of the Grand Jury:

In compliance with a custom which has long obtained, and is probably founded on very good reasons, it becomes our duty to

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address a few words to you previous to your entrance on the discharge of the important office you are now called upon to exercise by your country; an office of great consequence to the community, and of which too awful ideas cannot well be entertained. This court of justice opens at a most interesting period of the policy of this country. We have been long deprived of such from a variety of causes, in some of which we have shared with our brethren on the continent; others were peculiar to ourselves. The event however, has been unhappy and distressing, and every well wisher to his country must view with pleasure a scene of anarchy changed for that of law and order, and powers of government established capable of restraining or punishing dishonesty and vice.

Such powers have been established under circumstances which should induce to them peculiar reverence and regard. They have not been the effect of usurpation; they have not proceeded from a wanton desire of change; they have not been imposed upon you by the successful arms of a tyrant; they have been peaceably established by the public at large, for the general happiness of the people, when they were reduced to the cruel necessity (a necessity they abhorred, and did all in their power to avoid) of renouncing a government which ceased to protect, and endeavored to enslave them, for one which enabled them with a proper share of courage and virtue to protect and defend themselves. You had not only for years been injured, and insulted in the grossest manner; you had not only felt innovations in your government, which were as repugnant to justice as they were unwarranted by precedent; your petitions for redress, couched in the most humble and expressive (though not in the most servile) terms, had not only been rejected and spurned at, but when the crisis at last arrived for more vigorous exertions, or a mean and dastardly submission, and every hope of relaxation of the tyrannical system was fled, war was brought into your territories, and carried on with unusual circumstances of cruelty and vigour; the British nation imposes upon by the vilest lies to exert every nerve in their power; foreign troops were hired to slaughter a people who had never offended them, the Indian scalping knife was employed; and even the diabolical purpose, of arming our domesticks to involve us in one indiscriminate massacre was

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openly and with triumph attempted. It was under these complicated circumstances of injustice, cruelty and insult, and with the just apprehension that these united efforts might overpower our own, if our opposition continued to be languidly supported with the reserve of subjects, that the once happy American Colonies, whose loyalty had been unexampled, and had been exerted in the most conspicuous instances; whose attachment to Great Britain was scarcely yet cooled by the numerous acts of oppression they had received from her; reduced to the melancholy necessity of choosing their fellow subjects for their masters, or of exerting those latent powers of resistance which Heaven and favourable circumstances had blessed them with; it was in this trying and painful situation that they resolved to sacrifice all old connexions, every favourite prepossession, and tear themselves from a country they would have bled to serve, but disdained to be enslaved by. It is known to us all how reluctantly this measure was adopted, and how ardently, until the moment when it appeared inevitable, we wished for a reconciliation with Great Britain upon those principles on which our opposition had all along proceeded; a wish that I can truly say (notwithstanding the base reports to the contrary) there is every reason to believe was almost universal.

But every thing that could be urged in our favour was disregarded. Our enemies proceeded from one extreme to another, until they brought about an event which fatally, and I trust has finally severed this country from the Dominion of Great Britain. Immense advantages have been lost in pursuit of a chimera, for such must ever the government of this country be, without the hearty support of the people. The profits of our trade, an inexhaustible and increasing source of wealth, we freely bestowed. Our allegiance to our sovereign was perfect, on the conditions of our charter. He had a negative on our laws, and the whole executive department of the state. This was a power sufficient for every useful purpose; we had no disposition to compliment him with any that was dangerous. We desired only the privileges of a free people, such as our ancestors had been, such as they expected we should be. We knew it was absurd to pretend we could be free, when laws might at pleasure be imposed on us by another people; a people who in many respects considered themselves our rivals, over whom we had no control, who were remarkably ig orant

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of our circumstances, who had strong (I had almost said irresistible) temptations to lay burdens on us, in order to ease themselves. We knew of no right they could have to such a power. Our charters did not recognize it. It certainly was not in our ancestors' contemplation, who left that very country because freedom could not be enjoyed in it. Custom had given it no sanction, but on the contrary, strongly discountenanced it. It was reconcilable to no principles of justice, or even common decency, that we could form to ourselves. We despised the miserable application of a few political maxims, calculated for a single government, to the various and extended governments of the British empire, and which to this hour is the basis upon which all the fraud, iniquity, injustice, cruelty, and oppression that America has experienced from Great Britain have been defended.

We may be thankful to divine providence, that we were called into this contest, at a time when the principles of liberty were generally and thoroughly understood. The divine right of Kings was exploded with indignation, in the last century. Men came at length to be persuaded that they were created for a nobler purpose than to be the slaves of a single tyrant. They did not confine this idea to speculation; they put to death one king, and expelled another. This was done in England, the seat of our haughty enemies, who seem to think the right of resistance is confined alone to their kingdom. It is under this expulsion (for such it is fact was) that the present sovereign of that country holds his title to the throne. Whatever doubt there might have been entertained before, there could be none afterwards, and the family, who were seated upon the vacant throne by the voice of the people, held it liable to the same resistance which had provided the vacancy for them. Accordingly, ever since this glorious revolution, it has been considered by the generality of the kingdom, and is now almost a settled axiom in their government, that all government was instituted for the good of the people, and that when it no longer answers that end, and they are in danger of slavery, of great oppression, they have a right to change it. I lay it down thus generally, because the principle extends so far, and no man of reason and candor would attempt to narrow it. It is a principle founded in the clearest reason. It is applicable to all conditions and circumstances. It is not calculated for any party, or

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one set of men, or to colour a particular Job. It affords universal relief to all who groan under any species of tryanny, and have the virtue and opportunity of resisting it. I trust, as it has had its influence under one species of arbitrary power in England, it will not want its effect under one, if possible, still more severe and detestable, attempted in America.

I confess, Gentlemen, when I speak on this subject, I cannot avoid expressing myself with warmth; that such great, such real advantages should be lost, in pursuit of no essential object, is a consideration extremely affecting. We can not help comparing, with a degree of regret and indignation, the former honourable and political conduct of the crown of Great Britain to the American Colonies, with that which has since been pursued. Happy in the enjoyment of liberty, in the formation of our own laws, in the grant of our own money, (subject only to a restriction we submitted to with pleasure, the negative of our sovereign) we felt a felicity that could only be equaled by the hardships with which it was originally obtained, and the mixture of filial and social gratitude with which it was enjoyed. Great Britain was the constant centre of our thoughts; her prosperity, the most ardent desire of our affections. We contemplated with a pleasure which no scene of human life perhaps ever gave occasion for before, the entire and cordial union of many distant people, descended from the same ancestors, possessed of nearly the same rights, endued with noble and generous minds, warm in their affection, and zealous in their attachment to each other, under the influence of one common sovereign, and by the participation of a common interest, mutually contributing to the prosperity of the whole; the authority of the sovereign, sufficient to preserve the whole in due order, but not to invade the liberties of any; all the branches of the great stock willingly resigning to the parent kingdom the absolute management of the only concern that could probably interfere with the general happiness, unless the minds of the people should grow irritated and discontented; which their exemplary loyalty seemed a sufficient guard against, except in the case of a just and severe provocation. And though we viewed such a scene at a distance, and indeed as almost a thing impossible (at least to happen in our day, never dreaming of men sacrificing real advantages to vain and visionary expectations) yet we had been too well instructed

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in the principles of liberty to view it with unconcern. We blessed Heaven, that it had made us, not only a happy, but a free people. Our ancestors came here to enjoy the blessings of liberty. They purchased it at an immense price. Their greatest glory was, that they had obtained it for themselves, and transmitted it to their posterity. God forbid, that their posterity should be base or weak enough to resign it, or to let it appear, that the true British spirit, which has done such wonders in England, had been lost, or weakened by being transplanted to America. The very people who are now embruing their hands in the blood of Americans, in the support of the most arbitrary principles, have a thousand times bled in opposition to them, themselves. Will you entertain so wretched an idea, that you are not as worthy of liberty as they are, and that merely because your ancestors quitted England, though with the public sanction, and guaranteed for the secure enjoyment of freedom, you are less deserving of human blessings than those who happen to reside in it, and not even entitled to the common benefits of what the worst of men have a right to claim, the sacred observance of public faith? But in this contest, I will dare to affirm, the people of Britain sacrifice to their pride and ambition, not only the immense advantages I have already spoken of, but the first principles of liberty, which are the common right of all mankind, and the sacred ties of honour, which even the worst people cannot violate without infamy.

You will I hope excuse, Gentlemen, the particular, perhaps the too great particularity, with which I have gone into this subject. Yet I thought it my duty to point out to you some of the principles upon which the revolution in our government has taken place, and which, in my opinion, prove not only the propriety of its being effected, but the indispensable obligation we are under to maintain and support it. This can only be done by great public virtue, and very spirited exertions. We have a great and exasperated people to contend against; a people who, tho' they have wantonly thrown away many of their resources, have many still left, and are, no doubt, capable of powerful efforts. These must be withstood by great efforts on our part. Let us not flatter ourselves, that the war is nearly over, and that we are on the eve of enjoying the blessings of peace. Such ideas are pleasing,

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but at present they seem to be chimerical, and certainly they are dangerous. They tend to throw us too much off our guard, and to lay us open to the artful designs of our enemies. Review the great scenes of history; you will find, mankind have always been obliged to pay dear for the blessings they enjoyed. This life may well be called a scene of trial, for vice has every where, and long been seen to triumph over virtue, but though the trial be severe, thank God, we have no reason to believe, it will be constantly unsuccessful. The struggles of a great people have almost always ended in the establishment of liberty. The enjoyment of it is an object, worthy of the most vigilant application, and the most painful sacrifices. Is there any thing we read with more pleasure than the sufferings and contentions of a brave people, who resist oppression with firmness, are faithful to the interest of their country, and disdain every advantage that is incompatible with them? Such a people are spoken of with admiration by all future ages. Their history is put into the hands of youth, to form them by a spirit of emulation, if possible, to equal their greatness of mind. Their posterity, for a long time (until the gradual corruption of all human affairs seizes upon them also) if they happen to be successful, which is generally the case, reap the benefit of their ancestors' virtue. Their souls glow with gratitude for the virtue and self denial of their forefathers. They consider them as patterns for their own conduct, on similar occasions, and are continually pointing them out to the reverence and imitation of their children. These are the glorious effects of patriotism and virtue. These are the rewards annexed to the faithful discharge of that great and honourable duty, fidelity to our country. On the contrary, what can we conceive more base and contemptible, than a set of men, careless and negligent of their rights, regardless of their value, indifferent to their preservation, mean enough to crouch under the first insolent menace, without spirit to defend, without virtue to deserve them, at length easily deprived of advantages which they might, without much difficulty, have secured, and which they are forced every instant to regret, with confusion themselves as the authors of their own and their children's misery, under the gloomy tyranny of a proud and arbitrary despot. I pray to God that the first character I have described may be that of America to the latest ages, and that
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mankind never may be disgraced by the existence of so wretched and despicable a set of people, as in the last.

Remainder in our next.