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Letter from the Virginia House of Burgesses to the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Commons
Virginia. General Assembly.
May 09, 1768
Volume 07, Pages 746-749

[From MS. Records in Office of Secretary of State.]
Letter from the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Virginia, May 9th 1768.


The House of Burgesses of this colony having very attentively considered several late acts of the British Parliament, and being of opinion that they manifestly tend to deprive the Inhabitants of the Colonies of their essential rights and privileges, have thought it their duty, as Representatives of a free people, to take every regular step to assert that constitutional liberty, on the destruction of which those laws seem to be erected.

They have therefore thought proper to represent, That they are sensible of the happiness and security they derive from their connexions with and dependence on Great Britain, and are under the greatest concern that any unlucky incident should interrupt that salutary harmony, which they wish ever to subsist. They lament that the remoteness of their situation often exposes them to such misrepresentations, as are apt to involve them in censures of disloyalty to their Soverign, and the want of a proper respect to the British Parliament: whereas they have indulged themselves in the agreeable persuasion, that they ought to be considered as inferior to none of their fellow subjects in loyalty and affection.

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That they do not affect an independency of their parent Kingdom, the prosperity of which they are bound to the utmost of their abilities to promote; but cheerfully acquiesce in the authority of Parliament to make laws for preserving a necessary dependence, and for regulating the trade of the Colonies. Yet they cannot conceive, and humbly insist it is not essential to support a proper relation between a Mother country and Colonies transplanted from her, that she should have a right to raise money from them without their consent: And presume they do not aspire to more than the natural rights of British subjects, when they assert, that no power on Earth has a right to impose taxes on the people, or to take the smallest portion of their property without their consent, given by their Representatives in Parliament. This has ever been considered as the chief Pillar of the constitution; without this support no man can be said to have the least shadow of liberty, since they can have no property in that which another can by right take from them when he pleases, without their consent.

That their ancestors brought over with them entire, and transmitted to their descendants, the natural and constitutional rights they had enjoyed in their native country; and the first principles of the British constitution were early engrafted into the constitution of the Colonies. Hence a legislative authority, ever essential in all free states, was derived, and assimilated as nearly as might be to that in England; the executive power and the right of assenting or dissenting to all laws reserved to the Crown, and the privilege of choosing their own Representatives continued to the people, and confirmed to them by repeated and express stipulations. The Government thus established, they enjoyed the fruits of their own labours with a serenity which liberty only can impart. Upon pressing occasions they applied to his Majesty for relief, and gratefully acknowledge they have frequently received it from their Mother Country: wherever their assistance was necessary, requisitions have constantly been made from the Crown to the Representatives of the people, who have complied with them to the utmost extent of their abilities. The ample provision made for the support of the civil Government, in the reign of King Charles the second, and at his request, and the large supplies voted during the last War, under requisitions from his Majesty and his royal Grandfather, afford early and late instances of the dispositions of the assemblies of this Colony, and are sufficient proofs that the Parliament of Great Britain did not,

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till lately, assume a power of imposing taxes on the people, for the purpose of raising a revenue.

To say that the commons of Great Britain have a right to impose internal taxes on the Inhabitants of this continent, who are not and cannot be represented, is in effect to bid them prepare for a state of Slavery. What must be their situation should such a right be established? The Colonies have no constitutional check on their liberality in giving away their money, cannot have an opportunity of explaining their grievances, or pointing out the easiest method of taxation, for their doom will generally be determined before they are acquainted that the subject has been agitated in Parliament; and the commons bear no proportion of the taxes they lay upon them. The notion of a virtual representation, which would render all our rights merely ideal, has been so often and so clearly refuted that nothing need be said on that head.

The oppressive stamp act confessedly imposed internal taxes, and the late Acts of Parliament giving and granting certain duties in the British Colonies plainly tend to the same point. Duties have been imposed to restrain the commerce of one part of the empire that was likely to prove injurious to another, and by this means the welfare of the whole promoted, but duties imposed on such of the British exports as are necessary to life, to be paid by the colonists on importation, without any view to the interests of Commerce, but merely to raise a revenue, or in other words to compel the Colonists to part with their money against their inclinations, they conceive to be a tax internal to all intents and purposes. And can it be thought just or reasonable, restricted as they are in their trade,—confined as they are in their exports, obliged to purchase these very necessaries at the British Market, that they shou'd now be told they shall not have them without paying a duty for them.

The Act suspending the legislative power of New York they consider as still more alarming to the colonies, tho' it has that single Province in View. If the Parliament can compel them to furnish a single article to the troops sent over, they may, by the same rule, oblige them to furnish clothes, arms, and every other necessary, even the pay of the Officers and soldiers, a doctrine replete with every mischief, and utterly subversive of all that's dear and valuuable: For what advantage can the people of the Colonies derive from their right of choosing their own representatives, if those representatives when chosen, not permitted to exercise their own judgments

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were under a necessity (on pain of being deprived of their legislative authority) of enforcing the mandates of a British Parliament.

This, Sir, is a sketch of their sentiments, as they are expressed in a petition to his Majesty, a Memorial to the Right Honorable the Lords spiritual and temporal in Parliament assembled, and in a remonstrance to the Knights Citizens and Burgesses of Great Britain in Parliament assmbled. In all these proceedings the Council of this Colony have concurred, and have directed their Agent James Abercrombie, Esqr; to join Edward Montague Esqr; the Agent for this Colony in applying for redress of the grievances they so justly complain of. Copies were delivered to the President, who is desired to transmit them to the Secretary of State, appointed by his Majesty to manage the affairs of North America; and Mr Montague is enjoined to consult the Agents of the other Colonies, and to co-operate with them in every measure that shall be thought necessary on this delicate point.

The House hope they have expressed themselves on this occasion with a firmness that becomes freemen pleading for fundamental rights, and with a decency that will exempt them from any imputation of faction or disloyalty. They have made known their proceedings on this subject, with a view that the Representatives of your province, being acquainted with them, may go hand in hand in their opposition to measures, which they think have an immediate tendency to inslave them; and are persuaded that the candour of Your respectable House will consider it in no other light. They are not without hopes that by a hearty union of the Colonies, the constitution may be again established on its genuine principles that are equally to be desired both by our Mother Country and her Colonies.

In the Name and by order of the House of Burgesses—I am with the greatest respect

Your most Obedient humble Servant,