The Royal Colony of South Carolina

The Stamp Act - A Letter from Christopher Gadsden

Charles Town, the 4th day of Sept., 1764

To Charles Garth, Esq., Agent of the Colony of South Carolina:

Sir:

By the direction of the House, we transmit to you a copy of the report made by a Committee who were appointed to draw up a state of the paper currency in use in the province, which was agreed to by the House. And also a copy of the resolution thereupon, which recommended that you do use your utmost endeavors to procure for this province liberty to emit paper currency to the amount of £40,000 sterling, to be made a tender in law.

You will see by the report that the whole amount of legal currency of the province is only £106,500 currency, equal to about £15,214 sterling. That all the other moneys which have been from time to time issued were only temporary expedients, to serve pressing and emergent occasions, and have been, or will be, at the proper periods appointed by law, sunk and cancelled by a tax on the inhabitants, so that in a very short time the whole paper currency of the province, of all kinds and denominations, will consist only of the said sum of £106,500 currency. That something is absolutely necessary to answer the purpose of money, as a medium of trade, is a proposition that at this time of day needs not be insisted upon; and it follows as naturally that the quantity of such medium should be proportioned to the occasions for it; that the sum of £15,000 sterling is altogether insufficient and inadequate, must be apparent to every one the least acquainted with the trade and commerce of the province, the exports of which, (communibus annis,) for seven years last past, at the first cost of the several commodities, are of more value than sixteen times that sum; for, on a moderate computation, the value of our exports exceeds £250,000 sterling per annum. Add to this, that our taxesexclusive of what is raised by duties and impositions on goods, wares and merchandisedo, in some years, more than double the whole amount of our legal currency. These two considerations adverted to will be sufficient, we apprehend, to demonstrate the necessity of an increase of paper currency; could we presume it will not be thought unreasonable still to indulge this province in the exercise of a discretional powerwhich they have never yet abusedto issue and establish a paper currency, as a tender in law, not exceeding in the whole the value of £40,000 sterling, which, considering the increase of its inhabitants, trade and taxes, can scarcely be deemed equal now to what £15,000 was in the year 1731, when that sum was thought necessary.

The evils attending a wanton exercise of power, in some of the colonies, by issuing a redundancy of paper currency, has always been avoided by this province, by a proper attention to the dangerous consequences of such a practice, and the fatal influence it must have upon public credit. Our occasional issues, therefore, have been such as necessity alone has produced, and the faithful and punctual manner in which our bills of credit have been called in and cancelled, has preserved the value of them at an uniform and stated rate of exchange, equal with gold and silver coin.

We are clearly of opinion that the raising the value of gold and silver is very impracticable, and an attempt to do it will only serve to depreciate the value of our currency. We have particularly in charge from the House, to direct you to make all opposition you possibly can, in conjunction with the agent of the other colonies, in the laying a stamp duty, or any other tax by act of Parliament on the colonies.

The Committee thought your letter relative to this so alarming and important that they prayed the special direction of the House thereupon, and while it was under their considerationas you will perceive by a transcript of their journal herewith sent youand they had proceeded so far as to give us the above mentioned general charge, his honor the lieutenant-governor found it necessary to prorogue the assembly, so that the House had not an opportunity of furnishing us with reasons to be transmitted to you, but left it to the committee; and therefore we shall endeavor to supply such as we are able.

The first, and in our opinion the principal reason, against such a measure, is its inconsistency with that inherent right of every British subject, not to be taxed but by his own consent, or that of his representative. For, though we shall submit most dutifully at all times to acts of Parliament, yet, we think it incumbent on us humbly to remonstrate against such as appear oppressive, hoping that when that august body come to consider this matter they will view it in a more favorable light, and not deprive us of our birthright, and thereby reduce us to the condition of vassals and tributaries. This privilege is due to us as British subjects, born under the same allegiance and form of government, and entitled to the inestimable rights of the same laws and customs, founded on the reason and common sense of mankind. For doubtless the representatives of the people of any province must best know in what manner supplies may be most conveniently raised by their respective constituents; and, by residing in this province, we are sure we become not less but more useful and beneficial to our mother country, where we do actually contribute all in our power to relieve her from the great load of debt she lies under; and we may, with the greatest truth, aver, that every commodity produced by the labor of the inhabitants of this province is paid ultimately to her for her manufactures, imported and sold here at the advanced prices that the British taxes oblige the makers and venders to set on them; so that any tax raised on our colony must only take so much from the merchant and tradesmen of Great Britain, as it places in the hands of the officers appointed to collect the same; or, perhaps, oblige the people here, through inability to purchase British goods, or looking upon themselves as cast off by their mother country, to employ their slaves in manufacturing their own wool, of which they have great plenty of little or no value at present.

We are annually subjected, by our own laws, to a considerable tax for the charges and support of government, which, even in favorable times, often amounts to more than our whole legal currency, and, which, notwithstanding the care and prudent methods of the Legislature in imposing it, falls very heavily on the inhabitants, and is with difficulty paid, being at this time more, in proportion to the value of our estates, real and personal, than the land tax raised in Great Britain.

We are still farther burthened with a very heavy balance of debt, partly the effects of a long and expensive war with the Cherokee Indians, principally by the disgust given them in the Northern colonies, whither our zeal for his majesty's service alone prompted us to prevail with them to go, at the charge of this province, upon the pressing request of the Commander-in-Chief, and partly incurred by raising large sums of money, at the desire and upon the faith of his majesty's ministers, who positively promised that weas well as the other provincesshould be reimbursed. Now, if that must be deemed a reimbursement, which all the Northern governments have received, and is now, with large interest, to be recovered from them again, in a manner very dispiriting to a British subject, we hope we may for once think ourselves particularly lucky that we have so little to refund in this respect, having (as you know) only received our proportion of one (the first) grant from Parliament to the American Colonies, and not one farthing since (except the trifling sum mentioned in one of your last favors). Although it might be easily demonstrated that this province (considering the number of her inhabitants) did raise and keep in pay during the late war, as well for the general service of North America as for prosecuting the war with the Indians, a greater number of troops, and at a greater expense than any other government upon the continent, which, particularly in the expedition under Col. Grant, were equal in number to almost the fourth part of the men in the province able to bear arms. At present, our charge for troops to the crown is very trifling, only part of three companies of his majesty's forces being stationed in this province.

The laws of trade lay greater restrictions on this province than on many of her sister colonies. Almost all our commodities are enumerated, whereas few or none of theirs are so, notwithstanding ours are such as tend wholly to improve, and by no means to interfere with those of the mother country. Of course our exports must come to market under greater disadvantages; our trade, especially with regard to shipping, is much more cramped, and our imports much more confined, particularly that of saltan article of the greater consequence, which most of the other colonies are prepared to import directly from Portugal, but we are not allowed that privilege.

Our situation is dangerous, and at the same time weak, being surrounded with several numerous nations of Indians. Nothing shows this plainer than the late frequent insults and murders committed by the Creeks, which the province has been obliged to put up with unresented, and our frontier settlers, we know, are not much to be depended on, as, upon any great alarm, most of them immediately fly to the neighboring provinces, that are better peopled, for safety. Now, as it is absolutely necessary for the preservation of a people, in such a situation that they may be suddenly attacked by savage enemies, that they should not be so exhausted and impoverished by taxes as to be disabled from raising the necessary extraordinary supplies on such critical occasions, as they have already experienced, and know not how soon they may again experience, but that some resources should be left them against such calamitous times. We, therefore, desire you to represent in the most humble manner the inability of this province to bear any other taxes or impositions than those already laid, or that may be necessarily laid on them by their own laws, according to the exigencies of their affairs. But we would particularly avoid, if possible, the proposed tax on stamps, which we apprehend may be very prejudicial to many innocent people, who may err through ignorance, and more especially as it must greatly enhance the expense attending proceedings at law, which, to our back settlers, that live some at two hundred or three hundred miles' distance from Charles Town, must be very distressing indeed; besides, such additional and unexpected impositions on a people already overburthened with taxes and deeply in debt, who have so sickly a climate and such inclement seasons to struggle withal, as necessarily expose them to a much more expensive way of living than they would be liable to in a more healthy and temperate country, in order to keep up their spirits in any degree of fatigue, or even to preserve their lives, must tend to dispirit and ruin them, for how can it be expected they will be forward to exert themselves by raising money on every pressing occasion, when they cannot be sure but while they are doing so to the utmost of their power, that the Parliament may at the same time be laying still greater burthens upon them? What must many think best to be done in these circumstances and such complicated distress? What! but to leave such a precarious, unfortunate province, and, if necessity obliges them so to do, we are well assured they can scarce go any where else, where they will be so advantageous to Great Britain as they are here.

From these and many other considerations, we cannot be brought to think that a British Parliament, instead of alleviating, parent-like, the many hardships and difficulties peculiar to her sons settled in this hot and unhealthy climate, will endeavor still to augment them, and that to a degree so as to reduce us almost to despair, by carrying into execution so baneful an expedient as that proposed of laying any internal tax upon the provinces. However, if we should be so unhappy as to find ourselves mistaken, and if, as you give us to understand, no pleas of inability will indeed be heard, we herewith send you a copy of an act of Assembly lately passed in this province, intended to prohibit the importation of negroes for three years from the first of January, 1776. The reason for giving so long a day for its commencement is to take off any just cause of complaint from any persons who may be embarked in that trade, and who are or may be preparing to fit out vessels for that purpose, that they may have sufficient time given them to order their affairs so as to receive no prejudice. This law is thought so absolutely necessary to the safety and welfare of the province, as well to guard against the danger to be apprehended from too great a disproportion of slaves to white inhabitants, as also to give the planters an opportunity of discharging their debts, that we hope no artifice or interested views will be employed to defeat the salutary intentions of it. We, therefore, desire that should any application be made, or endeavors used to procure a repeal of it, that you will oppose to the utmost of your power any such attempt.

We also send you a transcript of the journals of the House from the last date you had them to the time of our prorogation a few days ago. By them you will see how the public business has been obstructed; a tax bill and a revival bill rejected by the council, because the House would not allow of their innovations and alterations, by which means a number of very important and necessary laws have expired, and a long and tiresome sitting rendered fruitless; and the public creditors, who were intended to be amply provided for and compensated with interest for the time they have been kept out of their money entirely disappointed.

The experience we have had of your diligent and faithful attention to the several matters heretofore recommended to your care, and the particular satisfaction you have given during your whole agency, leaves us not the least room to doubt of the continuance of your best services to the province, whose interest you so well understand.

We are sorry you should so long continue involved in the general misfortune of the other public creditors, and that the provision which was made for your salary and disbursements in the tax bill should by the late rejection thereof prove to no purpose.

We are, sir, your most obedient servants,

RAWS. LOWNDES,
ISAAC MAZYCK,
CHRIST. GADSDEN,
DAVID OLIPHANT,
THOS. LYNCH,
THOS. WRIGHT,
JAS. PARSONS,
THOS. BEE,
CHAS. PINCKNEY,
J. RUTLEDGE,
EBEN SIMMONS.

(From Documentary History of the American Revolution, by Gibbes, Volume 1, pp. 1-6)



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