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bal sophistry, and have not even the remotest alliance with the principles of reason or of law.
In the first place, then, I say, that the persons who allege, that those, employed to alter the charter and constitution of Massachusetts Bay, act by virtue of a commission from his majesty for that purpose, speak improperly, and contrary to the truth of the case. I say, they act by virtue of no such commission; I say, it is impossible they can act by virtue of such a commission. What is called a commission either contains particular directions for the purpose mentioned; or it contains no such particular directions. In either case can those, who act for that purpose, act by virtue of a commission? In one case, what is called a commission is void ; it has no legal existence; it can communicate no authority. In the other case, it extends not to the purpose mentioned. The latter point is too plain to be insisted on; I prove the former.
“ Id rex potest,” says the law, “ quod de jure potest." The king's power is a power according to law. His commands, if the authority of lord chief justice Hale inay be depended upon, are under the directive power of the law; and consequently invalid, if unlawful. “Commissions,” says my lord Coke," are legal; and are like the king's writs; and none are lawful, but such as are allowed by the common law, or warranted by some act of parliament.”
Let us examine any commission expressly directing those to whom it is given, to use military force for carrying into execution the alterations, proposed to be made in the charter and constitution of Massachusetts Bay, by the foregoing maxims and authorities; and what we have said concerning it will appear obvious and conclusive. It is not warranted by any act of parliament, because, as has been mentioned on this, and has been proved on other occasions, any such act is void. It is not warranted, and I believe it will not be pretended that it is warranted, by the common law. It is not warranted by the royal prerogative, because, as
has already been fully shown, it is diametrically opposite to the principles and the ends of prerogative. Upon what foundation, then, can it lean and be supported ? Upon none. Like an enchanted castle, it may terrify those, whose eyes are affected by the magic influence of the sorcerers, despotism and slavery; but so soon as the charm is dissolved, and the genuine rays of liberty and of the constitution dart in upon us, the formidable appearance vanishes, and we discover that it was the baseless fabric of a vision, that never had real existence.
I have dwelt the longer upon this part of the objections, urged against us by our adversaries, because this part is the
foundation of all the others. We have now removed it; and they must fall of course. For if the force, acting for the purposes we have mentioned, does not act, and cannot act, by virtue of any commission from his majesty, the consequence is undeniable, that it acts without his majesty's authority; that the resistance of it is no resistance of his majesty's authority, nor incompatible with the duties of allegi
And now, sir, let me appeal to the impartial tribunal of reason and truth; let me appeal to every unprejudiced and judicious observer of the laws of Britain, and of the constitution of the British government; let me appeal, I say, whether the principles on which I argue, or the principles on which alone my arguments can be opposed, are those which ought to be adhered to and acted upon; which of them are most consonant to our laws and liberties; which of them have the strongest, and are likely to have the most effectual tendency to establish and secure the royal power and dignity.
Are we deficient in loyalty to his majesty? Let our conduct convict, for it will fully convict, the insinuation, that we are, of falsehood. Our loyalty has always appeared in the true form of loyalty; in obeying our sovereign according to law: let those, who would
require it in any other form, know, that we call the persons who execute his commands, when contrary to law, disloyal and traitors. Are we enemies to the power of the crown? No, sir, we are its best friends : this friendship prompts us to wish, that the power of the crown may be firmly established on the most solid basis : but we know, that the constitution alone will perpetuate the former, and securely uphold the latter. Are our principles irreverent to majesty ? They are quite the reverse: we ascribe to it perfection almost divine. We say, that the king can do no wrong: we say, that to do wrong is the property, not of power, but of weakness. We feel oppression, and will oppose it; but we know, for our constitution tells us, that oppression can never spring from the throne. We must, therefore, search elsewhere for its source: our infallible guide will direct us to it. Our constitution tells us, that all oppression springs from the ministers of the throne. The attributes of perfection, ascribed to the king, are, neither by the constitution, nor in fact, communicable to his ministers. They may do wrong; they have often done wrong; they have been often punished for doing wrong.
Here we may discern the true cause of all the impudent clamor and unsupported accusations of the ministers and of their minions, that have been raised and made against the conduct of the Americans. Those ministers and minions are sensible, that the opposition is directed, not against his majesty, but against them; because they have abused his majesty's confidence, brought discredit upon his government, and derogated from his justice. They see the public vengeance collected in dark clouds around them: their consciences tell them, that it should be hurled, like a thunderbolt, at their guilty heads. Appalled with guilt and fear, they skulk behind the throne. Is it disrespectful to drag them into public view, and make a distinction between them and his majesty, under
whose venerable name they daringly attempt to shelter their crimes ? Nothing can more effectually contribute to establish bis majesty on the throne, and to secure to him the affections of his people, than this distinction. By it we are taught to consider all the blessings of government as flowing from the throne ; and to consider every instance of oppression as proceeding, which in truth, is oftenest the case, from the ministers.
If, now, it is true, that all force employed for the purposes so often mentioned, is force unwarranted by any act of parliament; unsupported by any principle of the common law; unauthorized by any commission from the crown; that, instead of being employed for the support of the constitution and his majesty's government, it must be employed for the support of oppression and ministerial tyranny; if all this is true, (and I flatter myself it appears to be true,) can any one hesitate to say, that to resist such force is lawful: and that both the letter and the spirit of the British constitution justify such resistance?
Resistance, both by the letter and the spirit of the British constitution, may be carried further, when necessity requires it, than I have carried it. Many examples in the English history might be adduced, and many authorities of the greatest weight might be brought to show, that when the king, forgetting his character and his dignity, has stepped forth, and openly avowed and taken a part in such iniquitous conduct as has been described; in such cases, indeed, the distinction abovementioned, wisely made by the constitution for the security of the crown, could not be applied; because the crown had unconstitutionally rendered the application of it impossible. What has been the consequence? The distinction between him and his minister has been lost; but they have not been raised to his situation : he has sunk to theirs.
SPEECH OF PATRICK HENRY,
IN THE CONVENTION OF DELEGATES OF VIRGINIA,
MARCH 23, 1775,
On the following resolutions, introduced by himself: “ Resolved,
That a well regulated militia, composed of gentlemen and yeomen, is the natural strength and only security of a free government ; that such a militia in this colony, would forever render it unnecessary for the mother country to keep among us, for the
purpose of our defence, any standing army of mercenary soldiers, always subversive of the quiet, and dangerous to the liberties of the peo
ple, and would obviate the pretext of taxing us for their support. 66 That the establishment of such a militia is, at this time, peculiar
ly necessary, by the state of our laws for the protection and defence of the country, some of which are already expired, and others will shortly be so; and that the known remissness of government in calling us together in legislative capacity, renders it too insecure, in this time of danger and distress, to rely, that opportunity will be given of renewing them, in general assembly, or making any provision to secure our inestimable rights and liberties
from those further violations with which they are threatened. “ Resolved, therefore, That this colony be immediately put into a state of defence, and that
be a committee to prepare a plan for embodying, arming ana disciplining such a number of men, as may be sufficient for that purpose."
MR. PRESIDENT, No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlem who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen, if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve.
This is no time for ceremony. The question, before the House, is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery: and in proportion to the magni