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READ STUDY GUIDE: On the Present Ability of America, with some Miscellaneous Reflections

Section 4:

I HAVE never met with a man, either in England or America, who hath not confessed his opinion, that a separation between the countries, would take place one time or other: And there is no instance, in which we have shewn less judgment, than in endeavouring to describe, what we call, the ripeness or fitness of the Continent for independance.

As all men allow the measure, and vary only in their opinion of the
time, let us, in order to remove mistakes, take a general survey of
things, and endeavour, if possible, to find out the VERY time. But
we need not go far, the inquiry ceases at once, for, the TIME HATH
FOUND US. The general concurrence, the glorious union of all things
prove the fact.
It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies;
yet our present numbers are sufficient to repel the force of all the
world. The Continent hath, at this time, the largest body of armed
and disciplined men of any power under Heaven; and is just arrived at
that pitch of strength, in which, no single colony is able to support
itself, and the whole, when united, can accomplish the matter, and
either more, or, less than this, might be fatal in its effects. Our
land force is already sufficient, and as to naval affairs, we cannot
be insensible, that Britain would never suffer an American man of war
to be built, while the continent remained in her hands. Wherefore, we
should be no forwarder an hundred years hence in that branch, than we
are now; but the truth is, we should be less so, because the timber
of the country is every day diminishing, and that, which will remain
at last, will be far off and difficult to procure.
Were the continent crowded with inhabitants, her sufferings under
the present circumstances would be intolerable. The more sea port
towns we had, the more should we have both to defend and to loose.
Our present numbers are so happily proportioned to our wants, that no
man need be idle. The diminution of trade affords an army, and the
necessities of an army create a new trade.
Debts we have none; and whatever we may contract on this account
will serve as a glorious memento of our virtue. Can we but leave
posterity with a settled form of government, an independant
constitution of it's own, the purchase at any price will be cheap.
But to expend millions for the sake of getting a few vile acts
repealed, and routing the present ministry only, is unworthy the
charge, and is using posterity with the utmost cruelty; because it is
leaving them the great work to do, and a debt upon their backs, from
which, they derive no advantage. Such a thought is unworthy a man of
honor, and is the true characteristic of a narrow heart and a pedling
The debt we may contract doth not deserve our regard if the work be
but accomplished. No nation ought to be without a debt. A national
debt is a national bond; and when it bears no interest, is in no case
a grievance. Britain is oppressed with a debt of upwards of one
hundred and forty millions sterling, for which she pays upwards of
four millions interest. And as a compensation for her debt, she has a
large navy; America is without a debt, and without a navy; yet for
the twentieth part of the English national debt, could have a navy as
large again. The navy of England is not worth, at this time, more
than three millions and an half sterling.
The first and second editions of this pamphlet were published
without the following calculations, which are now given as a proof
that the above estimation of the navy is a just one. SEE ENTIC'S
The charge of building a ship of each rate, and furnishing her with
masts, yards, sails and rigging, together with a proportion of eight
months boatswain's and carpenter's sea-stores, as calculated by Mr.
Burchett, Secretary to the navy.

For a ship of a 100 guns | | 35,553 L.

90 | | 29,886

80 | | 23,638

70 | | 17,785

60 | | 14,197

50 | | 10,606

40 | | 7,558

30 | | 5,846

20 | | 3,710

And from hence it is easy to sum up the value, or cost rather, of
the whole British navy, which in the year 1757, when it was as its
greatest glory consisted of the following ships and guns.


6 | 100 | 35,553 _l._ | 213,318 _l._

12 | 90 | 29,886 | 358,632

12 | 80 | 23,638 | 283,656

43 | 70 | 17,785 | 746,755

35 | 60 | 14,197 | 496,895

40 | 50 | 10,606 | 424,240

45 | 40 | 7,558 | 340,110

58 | 20 | 3,710 | 215,180

85 | Sloops, bombs, and
fireships, one
with another, at
| 2,000 | 170,000

Cost 3,266,786

Remains for guns | 233,214

Total. 3,500,000

No country on the globe is so happily situated, so internally
capable of raising a fleet as America. Tar, timber, iron, and cordage
are her natural produce. We need go abroad for nothing. Whereas the
Dutch, who make large profits by hiring out their ships of war to the
Spaniards and Portuguese, are obliged to import most of the materials
they use. We ought to view the building a fleet as an article of
commerce, it being the natural manufactory of this country. It is the
best money we can lay out. A navy when finished is worth more than it
cost. And is that nice point in national policy, in which commerce
and protection are united. Let us build; if we want them not, we can
sell; and by that means replace our paper currency with ready gold
and silver.
In point of manning a fleet, people in general run into great
errors; it is not necessary that one fourth part should be sailor.
The Terrible privateer, Captain Death, stood the hottest engagement
of any ship last war, yet had not twenty sailors on board, though her
complement of men was upwards of two hundred. A few able and social
sailors will soon instruct a sufficient number of active landmen in
the common work of a ship. Wherefore, we never can be more capable to
begin on maritime matters than now, while our timber is standing, our
fisheries blocked up, and our sailors and shipwrights out of employ.
Men of war, of seventy and eighty guns were built forty years ago in
New England, and why not the same now? Ship-building is America's
greatest pride, and in which, she will in time excel the whole world.
The great empires of the east are mostly inland, and consequently
excluded from the possibility of rivalling her. Africa is in a state
of barbarism; and no power in Europe, hath either such an extent of
coast, or such an internal supply of materials. Where nature hath
given the one, she has withheld the other; to America only hath she
been liberal of both. The vast empire of Russia is almost shut out
from the sea; wherefore, her boundless forests, her tar, iron, and
cordage are only articles of commerce.
In point of safety, ought we to be without a fleet? We are not the
little people now, which we were sixty years ago; at that time we
might have trusted our property in the streets, or fields rather; and
slept securely without locks or bolts to our doors or windows. The
case now is altered, and our methods of defence, ought to improve
with our increase of property. A common pirate, twelve months ago,
might have come up the Delaware, and laid the city of Philadelphia
under instant contribution, for what sum he pleased; and the same
might have happened to other places. Nay, any daring fellow, in a
brig of fourteen or sixteen guns, might have robbed the whole
Continent, and carried off half a million of money. These are
circumstances which demand our attention, and point out the necessity
of naval protection.
Some, perhaps, will say, that after we have made it up with
Britain, she will protect us. Can we be so unwise as to mean, that
she shall keep a navy in our harbours for that purpose? Common sense
will tell us, that the power which hath endeavoured to subdue us, is
of all others, the most improper to defend us. Conquest may be
effected under the pretence of friendship; and ourselves, after a
long and brave resistance, be at last cheated into slavery. And if
her ships are not to be admitted into our harbours, I would ask, how
is she to protect us? A navy three or four thousand miles off can be
of little use, and on sudden emergencies, none at all. Wherefore, if
we must hereafter protect ourselves, why not do it for ourselves? Why
do it for another?
The English list of ships of war, is long and formidable, but not a
tenth part of them are at any time fit for service, numbers of them
not in being; yet their names are pompously continued in the list, if
only a plank be left of the ship: and not a fifth part, of such as
are fit for service, can be spared on any one station at one time.
The East, and West Indies, Mediterranean, Africa, and other parts
over which Britain extends her claim, make large demands upon her
navy. From a mixture of prejudice and inattention, we have contracted
a false notion respecting the navy of England, and have talked as if
we should have the whole of it to encounter at once, and for that
reason, supposed, that we must have one as large; which not being
instantly practicable, have been made use of by a set of disguised
Tories to discourage our beginning thereon. Nothing can be farther
from truth than this; for if America had only a twentieth part of the
naval force of Britain, she would be by far an over match for her;
because, as we neither have, nor claim any foreign dominion, our
whole force would be employed on our own coast, where we should, in
the long run, have two to one the advantage of those who had three or
four thousand miles to sail over, before they could attack us, and
the same distance to return in order to refit and recruit. And
although Britain by her fleet, hath a check over our trade to Europe,
we have as large a one over her trade to the West Indies, which, by
laying in the neighbourhood of the Continent, is entirely at its
Some method might be fallen on to keep up a naval force in time of
peace, if we should not judge it necessary to support a constant
navy. If premiums were to be given to merchants, to build and employ
in their service, ships mounted with twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty
guns, (the premiums to be in proportion to the loss of bulk to the
merchants) fifty or sixty of those ships, with a few guard ships on
constant duty, would keep up a sufficient navy, and that without
burdening ourselves with the evil so loudly complained of in England,
of suffering their fleet, in time of peace to lie rotting in the
docks. To unite the sinews of commerce and defence is sound policy;
for when our strength and our riches, play into each other's hand, we
need fear no external enemy.
In almost every article of defence we abound. Hemp flourishes even
to rankness, so that we need not want cordage. Our iron is superior
to that of other countries. Our small arms equal to any in the world.
Cannons we can cast at pleasure. Saltpetre and gunpowder we are every
day producing. Our knowledge is hourly improving. Resolution is our
inherent character, and courage hath never yet forsaken us.
Wherefore, what is it that we want? Why is it that we hesitate? From
Britain we can expect nothing but ruin. If she is once admitted to
the government of America again, this Continent will not be worth
living in. Jealousies will be always arising; insurrections will be
constantly happening; and who will go forth to quell them? Who will
venture his life to reduce his own countrymen to a foreign obedience?
The difference between Pennsylvania and Connecticut, respecting some
unlocated lands, shews the insignificance of a British government,
and fully proves, that nothing but Continental authority can regulate
Continental matters.
Another reason why the present time is preferable to all others,
is, that the fewer our numbers are, the more land there is yet
unoccupied, which instead of being lavished by the king on his
worthless dependents, may be hereafter applied, not only to the
discharge of the present debt, but to the constant support of
government. No nation under heaven hath such an advantage as this.
The infant state of the Colonies, as it is called, so far from
being against, is an argument in favor of independance. We are
sufficiently numerous, and were we more so, we might be less united.
It is a matter worthy of observation, that the more a country is
peopled, the smaller their armies are. In military numbers, the
ancients far exceeded the moderns: and the reason is evident, for
trade being the consequence of population, men become too much
absorbed thereby to attend to any thing else. Commerce diminishes the
spirit, both of patriotism and military defence. And history
sufficiently informs us, that the bravest achievements were always
accomplished in the non age of a nation. With the increase of
commerce, England hath lost its spirit. The city of London,
notwithstanding its numbers, submits to continued insults with the
patience of a coward. The more men have to lose, the less willing are
they to venture. The rich are in general slaves to fear, and submit
to courtly power with the trembling duplicity of a Spaniel.
Youth is the seed time of good habits, as well in nations as in
individuals. It might be difficult, if not impossible, to form the
Continent into one government half a century hence. The vast variety
of interests, occasioned by an increase of trade and population,
would create confusion. Colony would be against colony. Each being
able might scorn each other's assistance; and while the proud and
foolish gloried in their little distinctions, the wise would lament,
that the union had not been formed before. Wherefore, the PRESENT
TIME is the TRUE TIME for establishing it. The intimacy which is
contracted in infancy, and the friendship which is formed in
misfortune, are, of all others, the most lasting and unalterable. Our
present union is marked with both these characters: we are young, and
we have been distressed; but our concord hath withstood our troubles,
and fixes a memorable area for posterity to glory in.
The present time, likewise, is that peculiar time, which never
happens to a nation but once, VIZ. the time of forming itself into
a government. Most nations have let slip the opportunity, and by that
means have been compelled to receive laws from their conquerors,
instead of making laws for themselves. First, they had a king, and
then a form of government; whereas, the articles or charter of
government, should be formed first, and men delegated to execute them
afterwards: but from the errors of other nations, let us learn
wisdom, and lay hold of the present opportunity—TO BEGIN GOVERNMENT
When William the Conqueror subdued England, he gave them law at the
point of the sword; and until we consent, that the seat of
government, in America, be legally and authoritatively occupied, we
shall be in danger of having it filled by some fortunate ruffian, who
may treat us in the same manner, and then, where will be our freedom?
Where our property?
As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensible duty of all
government, to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I
know of no other business which government hath to do therewith. Let
a man throw aside that narrowness of soul, that selfishness of
principle, which the niggards of all professions are so unwilling to
part with, and he will be at once delivered of his fears on that
head. Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all
good society. For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that
it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be diversity of
religious opinions among us: It affords a larger field for our
Christian kindness. Were we all of one way of thinking, our religious
dispositions would want matter for probation; and on this liberal
principle, I look on the various denominations among us, to be like
children of the same family, differing only, in what is called, their
Christian names.
In page [III par 47], I threw out a few thoughts on
the propriety of a Continental Charter, (for I only presume to offer
hints, not plans) and in this place, I take the liberty of
rementioning the subject, by observing, that a charter is to be
understood as a bond of solemn obligation, which the whole enters
into, to support the right of every separate part, whether or
religion, personal freedom, or property. A firm bargain and a right
reckoning make long friends.
In a former page I likewise mentioned the necessity of a large and
equal representation; and there is no political matter which more
deserves our attention. A small number of electors, or a small number
of representatives, are equally dangerous. But if the number of the
representatives be not only small, but unequal, the danger is
increased. As an instance of this, I mention the following; when the
Associators petition was before the House of Assembly of
Pennsylvania; twenty-eight members only were present, all the Bucks
county members, being eight, voted against it, and had seven of the
Chester members done the same, this whole province had been governed
by two counties only, and this danger it is always exposed to. The
unwarrantable stretch likewise, which that house made in their last
sitting, to gain an undue authority over the Delegates of that
province, ought to warn the people at large, how they trust power out
of their own hands. A set of instructions for the Delegates were put
together, which in point of sense and business would have dishonored
a schoolboy, and after being approved by a FEW, a VERY FEW
without doors, were carried into the House, and there passed IN
BEHALF OF THE WHOLE COLONY; whereas, did the whole colony know, with
what ill-will that House hath entered on some necessary public
measures, they would not hesitate a moment to think them unworthy of
such a trust.
Immediate necessity makes many things convenient, which if
continued would grow into oppressions. Expedience and right are
different things. When the calamities of America required a
consultation, there was no method so ready, or at that time so
proper, as to appoint persons from the several Houses of Assembly for
that purpose; and the wisdom with which they have proceeded hath
preserved this continent from ruin. But as it is more than probable
that we shall never be without a CONGRESS, every well wisher to good
order, must own, that the mode for choosing members of that body,
deserves consideration. And I put it as a question to those, who make
a study of mankind, whether REPRESENTATION AND ELECTION is not too
great a power for one and the same body of men to possess? When we
are planning for posterity, we ought to remember, that virtue is not
It is from our enemies that we often gain excellent maxims, and are
frequently surprised into reason by their mistakes. Mr. Cornwall (one
of the Lords of the Treasury) treated the petition of the New York
Assembly with contempt, because THAT House, he said, consisted but
of twenty-six members, which trifling number, he argued, could not
with decency be put for the whole. We thank him for his involuntary
honesty. [*Note 1]
TO CONCLUDE, however strange it may appear to some, or however
unwilling they may be to think so, matters not, but many strong and
striking reasons may be given, to shew, that nothing can settle our
affairs so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration for
independance. Some of which are,
FIRST—It is the custom of nations, when any two are at war, for
some other powers, not engaged in the quarrel, to step in as
mediators, and bring about the preliminaries of a peace: but while
America calls herself the Subject of Great Britain, no power, however
well disposed she may be, can offer her mediation. Wherefore, in our
present state we may quarrel on for ever.
SECONDLY—It is unreasonable to suppose, that France or Spain
will give us any kind of assistance, if we mean only, to make use of
that assistance for the purpose of repairing the breach, and
strengthening the connection between Britain and America; because,
those powers would be sufferers by the consequences.
THIRDLY—While we profess ourselves the subjects of Britain, we
must, in the eye of foreign nations, be considered as rebels. The
precedent is somewhat dangerous to THEIR PEACE, for men to be in
arms under the name of subjects; we, on the spot, can solve the
paradox: but to unite resistance and subjection, requires an idea
much too refined for the common understanding.
FOURTHLY—Were a manifesto to be published, and despatched to
foreign courts, setting forth the miseries we have endured, and the
peaceable methods we have ineffectually used for redress; declaring,
at the same time, that not being able, any longer, to live happily or
safely under the cruel disposition of the British court, we had been
driven to the necessity of breaking off all connections with her; at
the same time, assuring all such courts of our peacable disposition
towards them, and of our desire of entering into trade with them:
Such a memorial would produce more good effects to this Continent,
than if a ship were freighted with petitions to Britain.
Under our present denomination of British subjects, we can neither
be received nor heard abroad: The custom of all courts is against us,
and will be so, until, by an independance, we take rank with other
These proceedings may at first appear strange and difficult; but,
like all other steps which we have already passed over, will in a
little time become familiar and agreeable; and, until an independance
is declared, the Continent will feel itself like a man who continues
putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it
must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is
continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.

Note 1 Those who would fully understand of what great consequence a large and equal representation is to a state, should read Burgh's political Disquisitions.

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