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The Misrepresentation of America


SIR, As the bare letter of a Governor of one of our provinces, accusing his People of rebellious intentions, is by many here thought sufficient ground for inflicting penalties on such province, unheard, without farther evidence, and without knowing what it may have to say in its justification: I wish you would give the Public the following Extract of a Letter, in which, Accusations of the Colonies from Officers of Government residing there, are set in a light very different from that they have usually been considered in. — It was written here at the time of our last year’s disputes, by one who had lived long in America, knew the people and their affairs extremely well — and was equally well acquainted with the temper and practices of government officers. Speaking of the opinion entertained in Britain of the Americans, he says,

“Much has been said of a virtual representation, which the colonies are supposed to have here. Of that I understand nothing. But I know what kind of actual representation, or rather misrepresentation, is continually made of them, by those from whom ministers chiefly have their information. Governors and other officers of the crown, even the little officers of the revenue sent from hence, have all at times some account to give of their own loyal and faithful conduct, with which they mix some contrary character of the people that tends to place that conduct in a more advantageous light. Every good thing done there in the assemblies, for promoting his Majesty’s service, was obtained by the Governor’s influence: He proposed, he urged strongly, he managed parties; — there was a great opposition; — the assembly were refractory and disaffected; — but his zeal and dexterity overcame all difficulties. And if thro’ his own imprudence, or real want of capacity, any thing goes wrong; he is never in fault; the assembly and the people are to bear all the blame; — they are factious, they are turbulent, disloyal, impatient of government, disrespectful to his Majesty’s Representative. — Then the Custom-house Officer represents the people as all inclined to smuggling. Dutch and French goods (by his account) swarm in the country; nothing else would be used if it were not for his extream vigilance; which, indeed, as it takes up all his time, he hopes will be considered in the allowance of a larger salary. — Even the Missionary Clergy, to whom all credit is due, cannot forbear acquainting the Bishops, and their other superiors here from whom they receive their stipends, that they are indeed very diligent in their respective missions; but that they meet with great difficulties from the adverse disposition of the people: — Quakers oppose them in one place, Presbyterians in another: — this country swarms with thwarting hereticks; t’other with malevolent sectaries: — Infidelity gains ground here, Popery is countenanced there. Their unwearied endeavours, which are never wanting, scarce suffice to prevent the colonists being overwhelmed with vice, irreligion, ignorance, and error! — Then the Military Officer, who has served in the colonies, represents them as abounding in wealth; the profuse tables they used to spread for him in their hospitable entertainments convinced him of it; for these he saw daily when he din’d from house to house, and therefore he had reason to imagine it was their common way of living; (though in truth that was extreamly different and much more suitable to their circumstances.) But, opulent as he supposes them, they must, in his opinion, be the meanest of mortals to grudge the payment of a trifling tax, especially as it is to maintain soldiers. Thus REPRESENTED, how can it be otherwise, but that the governing people in Britain should conceive the most unfavourable idea of Americans, as unworthy the name of Englishmen, and fit only to be snubb’d, curb’d, shackled and plundered.”

This seems a very natural, and I believe is a very true account of the matter. I am, Sir, yours, &c. F. B.

The London Chronicle, April 9, 1767