Speech of Sir Wm. Berkeley before the Grand Assembly in Virginia, March 1651 (1650/51).
GENTLEMEN you perceave by the Declaration that the men of Westminster have set out, which I beleeve you have all seene, how they meane to deal with you hereafter, who in the time of their wooing and courting you propound such hard Conditions to be performed on your parts, & on their own nothing but a benigne acceptance of your duties to them.
Indeed me thinks they might have proposed something to us which might have strengthned us to beare those heavy chaines they are making ready for us, though it were but an assurance that we shall eat the bread for which our owne Oxen plow, and with our owne sweat we reape; but this assurance (it seemes) were a franchise beyond the Condition they have resolu’d on the Question we ought to be in: For the reason why they talke so Magisterially to us in this, we are forsooth their worships slaves, bought with their money and by consequence ought not to buy, or sell but with those they shall Authorize with a few trifles to Coszen us of all for which we toile and labour.
If the whole Current of their reasoning were not as ridiculous, as their actions have been Tyrannicall and bloudy; we might wonder with what browes they could sustaine such impertinent assertions: For if you looke into it, the strength of their argument runs onely thus: we have laid violent hands on your Land-Lord, possess’d his Manner house where you used to pay your rents, therfore now tender your respects to the same house you once reverenced: I call my conscience to witnes, I lie not, I cannot in all their Declaration perceave a stronger argument for what they would impose on us, then this which I have now told you: They talke indeed of money laid out on this Country in its infancy: I will not say how little, nor how Centuply repaid, but will onely aske, was it theirs? They who in the beginning of this warr were so poore, & indigent, that the wealth and rapines of three Kingdomes & their Churches too, cannot yet make rich, but are faine to seeke out new Territories and impositions to sustaine their Luxury amongst themselves. Surely Gentlemen we are more slaves by nature, then their power can make us if we suffer ourselves to be shaken with these paper bulletts, & those on my life are the heaviest they either can or will send us.
‘Tis true with us they have long threatned the Barbados, yet not a ship goes thither but to beg trade, nor will they do to us, if we dare Honourably resist their Imperious Ordinance. Assuredly Gentlemen you have heard under what heavy burthens, the afflicted English Nation now groanes, and calls to heaven for relief: how new and formerly unheard of impositions make the wifes pray for barreness and their husbands deafnes to exclude the cryes of their succourles, starving children: And I am confident you
do believe, none would long endure this slavery, if the sword at their throats Did not Compell them to Languish under the misery they howrely suffer. Looke on their sufferings with the eyes of understanding, and that will prevent all your teares but those of Compassion. Consider with what prisons and Axes they have paid those that have served them to the hazard of their soules: Consider your selves how happy you are and have been, how the Gates of wealth and Honour are shut on no man, and that there is not here an Arbitrary hand that dares to touch the substance of either poore or rich: But that which I woud have you chiefly consider with thankfullnes is: That God hath seperated you from the guilt of the crying bloud of our Pious Souveraigne of ever blessed memory: But mistake not Gentlemen part of it will yet staine your garments if you willingly submit to those murtherers hands that shed it: I tremble to thinke how the oathes they will impose will make those guilty of it, that have long abhor’d the traiterousnesse of the act: But I confesse having had so frequent testimonies of your truths and courages, I cannot have a reasonable suspition of any cowardly falling of from the former resolutions, and have onely mentioned this last, as a part of my duty and care of you, not
of my reall doubts and fears: or if with untryed men we were to argue on this subject, what is it can be hoped for in a change, which we have not allready? Is it liberty? The sun looks not on a people more free then we are from all oppression. Is it wealth? Hundreds of examples shew us that Industry & Thrift in a short time may bring us to as high a degree of it, as the Country and our Conditions are yet capable of: Is it securety to enjoy this wealth when gotten? With out blushing I will speake it, I am confident theare lives not that person can accuse me of attempting the least act against any mans property? Is it peace? The Indians, God be blessed round about us are subdued; we can onely feare the Londoners, who would faine bring us to the same poverty, wherein the Dutch found and relieved us; would take away the liberty of our consciences, and tongues, and our right of giving and selling our goods to whom we please. But Gentlemen
by the Grace of God we will not so tamely part with our King, and all these blessings we enjoy under him; and if they oppose us, do but follow me, I will either lead you to victory, or loose a life which I cannot more gloriously sacrifice then for my loyalty, and your security.