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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Loyalty to Law

By James Wilson (1742–1798)

[Born near St. Andrews, Scotland, 1742. Died at Edenton, N. C., 1798. From a Speech in Vindication of the Colonies, delivered in the Convention for the Province of Pennsylvania, January, 1775.]

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 thunder-bolt, 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 his 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 above mentioned, 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 ministers has been lost; but they have not been raised to his situation; he has sunk to theirs.