The Remonstrance to the House of Commons
In the fall of 1764, a specially-appointed committee from the Virginia House of Burgesses — made up of Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, Landon Carter, George Wythe, Edmund Pendleton, Benjamin Harrison, Archibald Cary, and John Fleming — were ordered prepare an Address, Memorial, and Remonstrance to His Majesty, King George III, the British House of Lords, and the House of Commons, protesting the impingement of the American colonies' rights due to the impending Stamp Act proposed by Parliament, which was to impose a direct tax on the colonies and would require that many printed goods be produced on stamped paper prepared in London.
Richard Henry Lee wrote the address to the King and memorial sections, while George Wythe penned this remonstrance to the House of Commons. Many of his colleagues found Wythe's remonstrance too bold — even bordering on treason — and subjected his declarations to substantial amendments. The House accepted this softened version of Wythe's resolution on December 18, 1764.
Although the petitions were adopted by the House, and duly given to the Agent of the Virginia Colony, they were most likely never delivered to Parliament. Despite the colonists' muffled protests, the Stamp Act was passed February 27, 1765, to take effect on November 1 of that year. Although the manuscript of the Address, Memorial, and Remonstrance is lost, the text was duly recorded in the Journals of the House of Burgesses.
Document text, 1907
To the Right Honourable the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses of Great-Britain, in Parliament assembled:
The Remonstrance of the Council and Burgesses of Virginia.
It appearing by the printed votes of the House of Commons of Great-Britain in parliament assembled, that in a committee of the whole House the 17th day of March last, it was resolved, That towards defending, protecting and securing the British colonies and plantations in America, it may be proper to charge certain stamp duties in the said colonies and plantations; and it being apprehended that the same subject which was then declined, may be resumed and further pursued in a succeeding session, the Council and Burgesses of Virginia met in General Assembly, judge it their indispensable duty in a respectable manner, but with decent sureness, to remonstrate against such a measure; that at least a cession of those rights, which in their opinion must be infringed by that procedure, may not be inferred from their silence at so important a crisis.
They conceive it is essential to British liberty that laws imposing taxes on the people ought not to be made without the consent of representatives chosen by themselves; who, at the same time that they are acquainted with the circumstances of their constituents, sustain a proportion of the burthen laid on them. This privilege inherent in the persons who discovered and settled these regions, could not be renounced, or forfeited by their removal
hither, not as vagabonds and fugitives, but licensed and encouraged by their Prince, and animated with a laudable desire of enlarging the British dominion, and extending its commerce; on the contrary it was secured to them and their descendants, with all other rights and immunities of British subjects, by a royal charter, which hath been invariably recognized and confirmed by his Majesty and his predecessors in their commissions to the several Governors, granting a power, and prescribing a form of legislation: according to which, laws for the administration of justice, and for the welfare and good government of the colony, have been enacted by the Governor, Council, and General Assembly; and to them requisitions and applications for supplies have been directed by the crown. As an instance of the opinion which former sovereigns entertained of these rights and privileges, we beg leave to refer to three acts of the General Assembly, passed in the thirty-second year of the reign of King Charles the Second (one of which is entitled An Act for raising a public revenue for the better support of the government of His Majesty's Colony of Virginia, imposing several duties for that purpose) which being thought absolutely necessary, were prepared in England, and sent over by their then Governor, the Lord Culpepper, to be passed by the General Assembly, with a full power to give the royal assent thereto; and which were accordingly passed after several amendments were made to them here. Thus tender was His Majesty of the rights of his American subjects: and the remonstrants do not discern by what distinction they can be deprived of that sacred birthright and most valuable inheritance, by their fellow-subjects; nor with what propriety they can be taxed or affected in their estates by the parliament, wherein they are not, and indeed cannot constitutionally be represented.
And if it were proper for the parliament to impose taxes on the colonies at all, which the remonstrants take leave to think would be inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the constitution, the exercise of that power, at this time would be ruinous to Virginia, who exerted herself in the late war it is feared beyond her strength; insomuch that to redeem the money granted for that exigence, her people are taxed for several years to come: this, with the large expenses incurred for defending the frontiers against the restless Indians, who have infested her as much since the peace as before, is so grievous that an increase of the burthen will be intolerable; especially as the people are very greatly distressed already from the scarcity of circulating cash amongst them, and from the little value of their staple at the British markets.
And it is presumed, that adding to that load which the colony now labours under, will not be more oppressive to her people than destructive of the interest of Great-Britain: for the plantation trade, confined as it is to the mother-country, hath been a principal means of multiplying and enriching her inhabitants; and if not too much discouraged, may prove an inexhaustible source of treasure to the nation. For satisfaction in this point, let the present state of the British fleet and trade be compared with what they were before the settlement of the colonies; and let it be considered, that whilst property in land may be acquired on very easy terms, in the vast uncultivated territories of North-America, the colonists will be mostly, if not wholly employed in agriculture; whereby the exportation of their commodities to Great-Britain, and the consumption of their manufactures supplied from thence, will be daily increasing. But this most desirable connection between Great-Britain and her colonies, supported by such an happy intercourse of reciprocal benefits as is continually advancing the property of both, must be interrupted, if the people of the latter, reduced to extreme poverty, should be compelled to manufacture those articles they have been hitherto furnished with from the former.
From these considerations it is hoped that the Honourable House of Commons will not prosecute a measure, which those who may suffer it cannot but look upon as fitter for exiles driven from their native country after ignominiously forfeiting her favours and protection, than for the posterity of Britons, who have at all times been forward to demonstrate all due reverence to the mother-kingdom, and are so instrumental in promoting her glory and felicity; and that British patriots will never consent to the exercise of anticonstitutional power; which even in this remote corner may be dangerous in its example to the interior parts of the British empire, and will certainly be detrimental to its commerce.
- John Pendleton Kennedy, ed., Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1761-1765 (Richmond, VA: Colonial Press, Everett Waddey Co., 1907), 257.
- Kennedy, ed., Journals, lvi-lxxvi.
- H.R. McIlwaine, ed., Legislative Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia, vol. 3 (Richmond, VA: Colonial Press, Everett Waddey Co., 1919), 1334.
- Kennedy, ed., Journals, lviii.
- Kennedy, ed., Journals, 302-304.
- Petition, Memorial, and Remonstrance from the House of Burgesses (Williamsburg, VA: Printed by William Rind, Printer to the Colony, 1769).