Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rules by which a Great Empire may be Reduced to a Small One

In 1773, Benjamin Franklin had some rather candid thoughts towards ever increasing government power that ring as clear today as they did 237 years ago. His perspective would be well advised reading for any government official who believes in “fundamentally changing America.” While reading Franklin’s words to the British Parliament and King, think about the current political climate, behavior, and governing philosophy of Congress and the President.

Rules by which a Great Empire may be Reduced to a Small One, by Benjamin Franklin, 1773. Old English version edited and condensed by Dean Kalahar

When such governors have crammed their coffers, and made themselves so odious to the people that they can no longer remain among them with safety to their persons, recall and reward them with pensions. . . All will contribute to encourage new governors in the same practices, and make the supreme government detestable.

If . . . your colonies should vie in liberal aids of men and money . . . , upon your simple requisition, and give far beyond their abilities, reflect, that a penny taken from them by your power is more honorable to you than a pound presented by their benevolence. Despise therefore their voluntary grants, and resolve to harass them with novel taxes. They will probably complain to your parliaments that they are taxed by a body in which they have no representative, and that this is contrary to common right. They will petition for redress. Let the Parliaments flout their claims, reject their petitions, refuse even to suffer the reading of them, and treat the petitioners with the utmost contempt. Nothing can have a better effect, in producing the alienation proposed; for though many can forgive injuries, none ever forgave contempt.

In laying these taxes, never regard the heavy burdens those people already undergo, in defending their own (homes), supporting their own provincial governments, making new roads, building bridges, churches and other public edifices, . .which occasion constant calls and demands on the purses of a . . . people. Forget the restraints you lay on their trade for your own benefit, and the advantage a monopoly of this trade gives your exacting merchants. Think nothing of the wealth those merchants and your manufacturers acquire by the colony commerce; their increased ability thereby to pay taxes at home; their accumulating, in the price of their commodities, most of those taxes, and so levying them from their consuming customers: All this, and the employment and support of thousands of your poor . . . you are entirely to forget.

But remember to make your arbitrary tax more grievous to your provinces, by public declarations importing that your power of taxing them has no limits, so that when you take from them without their consent a shilling in the pound, you have a clear right to the other nineteen. This will probably weaken every idea of security in their property, and convince them that under such a government they have nothing they can call their own; which can scarce fail of producing the happiest consequences!

Possibly indeed some of them might still comfort themselves, and say, `though we have no property, we have yet something left that is valuable; we have constitutional liberty both of person and of conscience. This (government) who it seems are too remote from us to know us and feel for us, cannot take from us our habeas corpus right, or our right of trial by a jury of our neighbors: They cannot deprive us of the exercise of our religion, alter our ecclesiastical constitutions, and compel us to be Papists if they please, or Mahometans.' To annihilate this comfort, begin by laws to perplex their commerce with infinite regulations impossible to be remembered and observed; ordain seizures of their property for every failure; take away the trial of such property by jury, and give it to arbitrary judges of your own appointing, and of the lowest characters in the country, whose salaries and emoluments are to arise out of the duties or condemnations, and whose appointments are during pleasure. . .

And lest the people should think you cannot possibly go any farther, pass another solemn declaratory act, that (the federal government) had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the unrepresented provinces IN ALL CASES WHATSOEVER.' This will include spiritual with temporal; and taken together, must operate wonderfully to your purpose, by convincing them, that they are at present under a power something like that spoken of in the scriptures, which can not only kill their bodies, but damn their souls to all eternity, by compelling them, if it pleases, to worship the devil.

To make your taxes more odious, and more likely to procure resistance, send from the capital a board of officers to superintend the collection, composed of the most indiscreet, ill-bred and insolent you can find. Let these have large salaries out of the extorted revenue, and live in open grating luxury upon the sweat and blood of the industrious, whom they are to worry continually with groundless and expensive prosecutions before the above-mentioned arbitrary revenue-judges. . . Let these men by your order be exempted from all the common taxes and burdens of the province, though they and their property are protected by its laws.

Another way to make your tax odious is to misapply the produce of it. If it was originally appropriated for the defense of the provinces and the better support of government, and the administration of justice where it may be necessary, then apply none of it to that defense, but bestow it where it is not necessary, in augmented salaries or pensions to every governor who has distinguished himself by his enmity to the people, and by calumniating them to their sovereign. This will make them pay it more unwillingly, and be more apt to quarrel with those that collect it, and those that imposed it, who will quarrel again with them, and all shall contribute to your main purpose of making them weary of your government.

If you are told of discontents in your colonies, never believe that they are general, or that you have given occasion for them; therefore do not think of applying any remedy, or of changing any offensive measure. Redress no grievance, lest they should be encouraged to demand the redress of some other grievance. Grant no request that is just and reasonable, lest they should make another that is unreasonable. Take all your information’s of the state of the colonies from your governors and officers in enmity with them. Encourage and reward these leasing-makers; secrete their lying accusations lest they should be confuted; but act upon them as the clearest evidence, and believe nothing you hear from the friends of the people. Suppose all their complaints to be invented and promoted by a few factious demagogues, whom if you could catch and hang, all would be quiet. Catch and hang a few of them accordingly; and the blood of the martyrs shall work miracles in favor of your purpose.

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