Thomas Jefferson and the “Summary of Rights of British America”

–Franciene McDonald

I was reading the “Politically InCorrect Guide to the Constitution” by Kevin R. C. Gutzman and came across a reference to an early pamphlet written by Thomas Jefferson. I have excerpted a few quotes from the pamphlet below as well as an introductory paragraph found in the “Annals of America“, published by Encyclopedia Britannica in 1968.

 “News of the Boston Port Bill, closing and otherwise punishing Boston until it apologized for the Tea Party of the previous December, reached Williamsburg, Virginia in May 1774.” In response, certain younger members of the Virginia House of Burgesses, among them Thomas Jefferson, submitted a resolution calling for June 1, 1774 to be set aside as a day of fasting and humiliation for this and “every injury to American Rights.” The royal governor of Virginia then dissolved the House of Burgesses. The members reconvened in Raleigh Tavern, where they called for a general congress of the colonies to consider “those measures which the united interest of America may from time to time require”.

A special revolutionary convention met on August 1, 1774 to decide what might be done to help the people of Boston. Thomas Jefferson drew up a “draft of instructions” in July which he hoped would guide the delegates. From that draft came a pamphlet entitled “A Summary View of the Rights of British America.” The convention rejected the pamphlet as being too radical, but it established the reputation of Thomas Jefferson as a revolutionary pamphleteer. (Source: Annals of America, 1968.)

A Summary View of the Rights of British America” by Thomas Jefferson.

“…to propose to the said congress that an humble and dutiful address be presented to his majesty, begging leave to lay before him, as chief magistrate of the British empire, the united complaints of his majesty’s subjects in America”

…America was conquered, and her settlements made, and firmly established, at the expense of individuals, and not of the British public. Their own blood was spilt in acquiring lands for their settlement, their own fortunes expended in making that settlement effectual; for themselves they fought, for themselves they conquered, and for themselves alone they have right to hold. Not a shilling was ever issued from the public treasures of his majesty, or his ancestors, for their assistance, till of very late times, after the colonies had become established on a firm and permanent footing…

… “That settlements having been thus effected in the wilds of America, the emigrants thought proper to adopt that system of laws under which they had hitherto lived in the mother country, and to continue their union with her by submitting themselves to the same common sovereign, who was thereby made the central link connecting the several parts of the empire thus newly multiplied. But that not long were they permitted, however far they thought themselves removed from the hand of oppression, to hold undisturbed the rights thus acquired, at the hazard of their lives, and loss of their fortunes…

….Accordingly that country, which had been acquired by the lives, the labors, and the fortunes, of individual adventurers, was by these princes, at several times, parted out and distributed among the favorites…

…History has informed us that bodies of men, as well as individuals, are susceptible of the spirit of tyranny. A view of these acts of parliament for regulation, as it has been affectedly called, of the American trade, if all other evidence were removed out of the case, would undeniably evince the truth of this observation…

…That these are our grievances which we have thus laid before his majesty, with that freedom of language and sentiment which becomes a free people claiming their rights, as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate: Let those flatter who fear; it is not an American art. To give praise which is not due might be well from the venal, but would ill beseem those who are asserting the rights of human nature. They know, and will therefore say, that kings are the servants, not the proprietors of the people…

…This, sire, is our last, our determined resolution; and that you will be pleased to interpose with that efficacy which your earnest endeavours may ensure to procure redress of these our great grievances, to quiet the minds of your subjects in British America, against any apprehensions of future encroachment, to establish fraternal love and harmony through the whole empire, and that these may continue to the latest ages of time, is the fervent prayer of all British America!”

American citizens, who work diligently to care for themselves and their families, have been, for some time now, expected to support others who will not take responsibility for themselves. Americans are required to bail out businesses which should be allowed to fail due to mismanagement or failure to obey the law. It is demanded that American citizens support individual states and nations which fail to properly budget their resources. Americans who speak out about the abhorrent practices of the government and illegal activities of their representatives are ridiculed and threatened by their own government.

The “princes” written about in Jefferson’s pamphlet could  be applied to members of our Congress and Administration. The “favorites” to whom our wealth is being given are the many constituents our own native “princes” hope will vote them into office again.

The Summary View of the Rights of British America” is available on the internet. Reading the document will give you a taste of Jefferson’s early ideas as he recounts the history of his times and the long scope of English history. You will recognize ideas which were later incorporated into his writing of the Declaration of Independence. While it may be difficult reading due to language usage differences, it is worth the effort. These original documents serve to remind us that the rights which were won for us two centuries ago are once again under siege. Thomas Jefferson’s words could easily be adapted to reflect our own times and circumstances.

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