Abingdon Resolves: Natural Right of Opposing Force with Force is Again Devolved upon Us

in about Warren

Date: August 1770

Authors: John Greenleaf in committee with Daniel Noyes, Samuel Pool, Aaron Hobart, David Jones, Jr. and Thomas Wilkse

“Ever since what they call the massacre of the 5th of March, the news-papers have been full of resolves from the different towns, in support of the non-importation agreement, totally denying the power of parliament over the colonies, and the King’s right of lodging troops in any of the provinces, without the previous consent of their legislature, and never forgetting their best respects to the Commissioners of the Customs, &c. &c.

As the resolves from the town of Abingdon are of a very singular nature, they are here inserted at full length.

Abingdon, March 10.  A considerable number of the respectable inhabitants of this town, on the 21st day of February 1770, petitioned the selectmen of the town in the words following, viz.

“To the Selectmen of the town of Abingdon, Gentlemen, The bold and wicked attempts of the enemies of the English constitution, on both sides of the Atlantic, to enslave a free people, (who are at all events determined to be free),  is very alarming. To counteract their attempts is become necessary and virtuous: Therefore we the subscribers desire you to assemble the town forthwith, that they may consult upon such measures , come to such  determinations, as may then appear to them likely to prevent the enemies of our happy constitution from effecting their pernicious designs.” –The substance of which being inserted in the warrant for this day’s meeting, the town took into serious consideration their unhappy and distracted state, as well as that of the province, and all America; and after mature deliberation and advisement, passed the following votes, viz.

Voted, as the opinion of this town,

  1. That all nations of men that dwell upon the face of the whole earth, and each individual of them, are naturally free; and while in a state of nature, have a right to do themselves justice when natural rights are invaded.
  2. That mankind, while in their foresaid natural state, always had, and now have, a right to enter into compact, and form societies, and erect such kind of government as the majority of them shall judge most for the public good.
  3. That Great Britain had an undoubted right to erect a monarchial government, or any other mode of government, had they thought proper; to appoint a King, and subject him to laws of their own ordaining; and always had, and now have, upon just occasion, a right to alter the royal succession.
  4. That the right of sovereignty over the inhabitants of this province, claimed by any former British King, or by his present Majesty, by succession, was derived to them, and is derived to him, by recognition of the forefathers of this country of his then majesty as the sovereign, upon the plan of the English constitution; who accordingly plighted his royal faith, that himself, his heirs and successors, had, and would grant, establish, and ordain, that all and every of his subjects which should go to, and inhabit this province, and every of their children which should happen to be born there, or on the seas on going thither, or in returning from thence, should have and enjoy “all liberties and immunities of free and natural subjects,” within any of their dominions, “to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever, “ as if they, and every one of them, were born in the realm of England.
  5. That the last act of parliament of G. Britain, imposing duties on American subjects, “for the sole purpose of raising a revenue,” are an infringement of our natural and constitutional liberty, and contrary both to the spirit and letter of the above-mentioned royal grant, ordination, and establishment, of having and enjoying all liberties and immunities of free and natural-born subjects.
  6. That no acts passed in either of the parliaments of France, Spain, or England, for the aforesaid purpose of raising a revenue, are binding on us; and that the obedience due from us to his present Majesty, is no other, in kind or degree, than such as he has a constitutional right to from our fellow-subjects in G. Britain.
  7. That therefore the above-mentioned acts are, in themselves, a mere nullity; and that he who , ni dg armi:[sic], seizes the property of an American subject, for not paying the duties imposed on them by the said acts, ought to be deemed no better than a highwayman, and should be proceeded against in due course of law.
  8. That the troops (may we not more properly say murders?) sent to Boston by Lord Hillsborough, at the request of Governor Bernard, to aid and protect the commissioners of the customs, in levying the taxes imposed on us by said acts, amount to an open declaration of war against the liberties of America, and are an unjust invasion thereof; and as we are refused any legal redress of these grievances, we are, in this instance, reduced to a state of nature, “whereby our natural right of opposing force with force is again devolved upon us.”
  9. That the agreement of the merchants and traders of the town of Boston relative to non-importation, has a natural and righteous tendency to frustrate the schemes of the enemies of the constitution, and render ineffectual the said unconstitutional and unrighteous acts, and is a superlative instance of self-denial and public virtue, which, we hope, will be handed down to posterity, even to that latest generations, to their immortal honour.
  10. Voted, That those persons who have always persisted in the scheme of importation, and those who, having acceded to the agreement of non-importation, have violated their promises, and as it were stolen their own goods, and sold them, to purchase chains and fetters, ought to be, and are, and shall be, by us, held in the utmost contempt; and that we will no sort of commercial connection with them, or with any that deal with them; and that their names shall stand recorded in the town-book, and be posted up in all public places in town, as enemies to their country.
  11. Voted, That we are in duty bound not to use or consume any articles imported from G. Britain, subject to duties on the forgoing plan; and that we will not, knowingly, purchase of any person whatsoever, any such articles, until the said acts are repealed; neither will we use, or suffer (willingly) to be used in our families, any bohea-tea, cases of sickness only excepted.
  12. Voted, That a respectful letter of thanks be addressed to the merchants and traders of the town of Boston, for the noble and disinterested, and very expensive opposition made by them, to the late attempts to enslave America.—And whereas it appears probable to us, that the goods of the infamous importers, both in this and the neighboring governments, are vended among us by pedlars, therefore,
  13. Voted, That we will not purchase any thing of them, or suffer any person under us to trade with them; but that we will, as much as in us lies, discourage them, and endeavour to have the laws executed against them, and all such inn-holders as entertain them contrary to law.
  14. Voted, That a committee be chosen to inquire who among us act contrary to the foregoing votes, and return their names to the town-clerk, to be entered in the town-books, and published in Mess. Edes and Gill’s paper, as persons confederating with the importers to ruin their country.—And whereas the eras of our earthly sovereign, by the intervention of his wicked ministers, are rendered deaf to the cries of his oppressed American subjects, and as we apprehend we have a righteous cause, and as we are assured that the ears of the King of kings are always open to the cries of the oppressed, therefore,
  15. Voted, That we will unitedly petition the Throne of Grace, for protection again[st] incroaching power, whereby our civil liberties are so violently attacked, and our religious liberties endangered; and that Thursday the 3d day of may next be set apart by this town for said purpose; that the Selectmen be a committee to wait upon our Reverend Pastor, desiring him to lead in the exercise of said day; and that by an advertisement, they invite the neighboring towns to join with us in similar exercises on said day.
  16. Voted, That the foregoing votes be recorded, and that a copy thereof be forthwith transmitted to the committee of inspection in Boston, together with our letter of thanks to the merchants and traders there.”

The meeting was then dissolved.

[The resolves, it is said, were written in Boston, under the inspection of a certain holy Doctor, and sent to the poor ignorant deluded people, to pass as a public act of the town.]”

From the Massachusetts Spy:  “London, June 16th… The Resolutions of the town of Abingdon in America, relative to the current state of affairs, have been represented, we hear, by a noble Lord to a great Personage, as approaching very nearly the verge of declared Rebellion.”

Sources: The Scots Magazine, Vol. 32, extract, pp. 417-419; and Massachusetts Spy, September 8, 1770.  Benjamin Hobart’s History of the Town of Abingdon, Plymouth County, Massachusetts [Boston: T.H. Carter and Son, 1866] lists the committee members and John Greenleaf’s authorship.

Commentary: The Abingdon Resolves were published just after the Boston Massacre by a committee headed by Joseph Greenleaf. Abingdon is a town near Plymouth, MA, where Greenleaf was the town constable. The Resolves are notable for asserting that the colonists were in a state of nature [i.e. recognized no formal government] as a justifiable reaction to unconstitutional British ministerial actions. The Resolves garnered attention on both sides of the Atlantic, for example in this negative coverage in Scots Magazine; and the above inflammatory mention in a September 1770 issue of the Massachusetts Spy.

The sentiments expressed in the Abingdon Resolves of 1770 question the legitimacy of royal government when subjects perceive that the British constitution has been violated. At that time the declaration of a “state of nature” was a more extreme stance than that taken by  radical Patriots like Samuel Adams and Joseph Warren. The Abingdon Resolves presage the overthrow of royal government in the Massachusetts countryside in September of 1774.

Stylistically, the Resolves are legalistic and convoluted in phrasing, attributes useful in identifying the pseudonymous Patriot writer of 1771, Mucius Scaevola. The latter has variously been identified as a pseudonym of Joseph Warren or of this Joseph Greenleaf. In next week’s documents, both Greenleaf and Mucius settle the matter.

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