Overview

This, the first installment of "Novanglus" runs the whole gamut of the age-long liberal-conservative, Whig-Tory, radical-reactionary arguments. The Tories insisted that the political principles of the colonial Whigs might be "all right in theory but wouldn't work in practice." Novanglus replied that this was a most unscientific remark; if a thing didn't work out in practice it was because it wasn't all right in theory, and that as far as his observation of the English political laboratory was concerned, the ...
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Novanglus

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Overview

This, the first installment of "Novanglus" runs the whole gamut of the age-long liberal-conservative, Whig-Tory, radical-reactionary arguments. The Tories insisted that the political principles of the colonial Whigs might be "all right in theory but wouldn't work in practice." Novanglus replied that this was a most unscientific remark; if a thing didn't work out in practice it was because it wasn't all right in theory, and that as far as his observation of the English political laboratory was concerned, the theories for which he stood had been successfully practiced since the days of Magna Carta. The Whig principles were nothing new, they were simply the old and tried precepts of English legal and constitutional experience, and to say that in certain instances they were not applicable was like saying that in certain instances the law of gravity did not operate. The argument then moved along the usual channels; to the allegation that the colonies should be more patient, that "a small mistake in policy has often furnished a pretense to libel the government, and persuade the whole people that their rulers are tyrants, and the whole government a system of oppression," "Novanglus" counters that "on the contrary, there never was a government yet in which thousands of mistakes were not overlooked. The most sensible and jealous people are so little attentive to government that there is no instance of resistance until repeated and multiplied oppressions have placed it beyond a doubt that their rulers have formed settled plans to deprive them of their liberty," for indeed "Machiavelli himself allows that not ingratitude but much love is the constant fault of the people." To the contention of his adversaries that resistance will net the people nothing in the long run, he replied that he regarded that as equally wrong as to say that "the people are the sure losers in the end." "They can hardly be losers if unsuccessful, for if they live they will be but slaves, and if they die, they cannot be said to lose, since death is preferable to slavery. Resistance was a well known political weapon in the history of English politics, and indeed the opening papers are full of watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

With these preliminaries he plunged into that vital theme of the whole series, the nature of the relationship between the parts of the old British Empire. In this discussion his terminology is not always clear, but neither is our terminology clear after a hundred and forty additional years of experience. From the beginning, let it be understood, he believed the Parliament at Westminster had power to act as an imperial parliament in matters pertaining to the whole British Empire, such as the regulation of commerce or the conduct of war. But, simultaneously," we should bear in mind that he considered this a makeshift which was due to the absence of other and more suitable imperial machinery. Parliament had a double capacity, and when it acted as a Parliament of Great Britain it had no relation to the colonies. When acting in its imperial capacity it had only such relation to the colonies as they, by their consent accorded to it. It was indeed true that the colonies were connected with Great Britain, "but we never thought Parliament the supreme legislator over us. We never generally supposed it to have any authority over us, but from necessity, and necessity we thought confined to the regulation of trade and to such matters as concerned the colonies altogether." "The truth is, the general authority of Parliament was never generally acknowledged in America." "Parliament has no authority over the colonies except to regulate their trade, and this not by any principle of common law, but merely by the consent of the colonies, founded on the obvious necessities of the case." The significant aspect of the Acts of Trade and Navigation were to this colonial statesman no question of the "old colonial system," or the mercantilist school of economics. "Great Britain has confined all our trade to herself. We are willing that she should, so far as it can be for the good of the empire. We are obliged to take from Great Britain commodities that we could purchase cheaper elsewhere. This difference is a tax upon us for the good of the empire. We submit to this cheerfully." A curious mixture indeed was all this, but it needs no genius to detect the strenuous efforts to secure autonomy while at the same time remaining within the circle of the British Empire. This indeed was the real task as many men saw, and this determination enabled him to repel as "malicious and injurious" the insinuation of "Massachusettensis" that what the colonies really desired was independence. What the Americans wanted was a formula that would mediate between absolute dependence and absolute independence. "The Whigs allow from the necessity of the case, not provided by common law...
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