Library of Congress

Teachers

The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > Timeline
Timeline Home Page
home
The American Revolution
The Colonies Move Toward Open Rebellion, 1773-1774
Bryan Fairfax to George Washington, August 4, 1774

George Washington had close personal ties with only a few people. Among these were several members of the Fairfax family of Virginia. Bryan Fairfax was the half-brother of George William Fairfax, whose  business affairs Washington handled. In the following letter, what position on then current affairs does Bryan Fairfax take? How do his positions contrast with those of Washington?

View the original document from George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


However I am inclined, since the Receipt of yours, to think I am mistaken about the Plan determined on at Home. You have no Reason Sir to doubt your opinion; It is I that have Reason to doubt mine when so many Men of superior Understanding think otherwise. It has in Fact caused me to examine it again & again; but if I was not convinced of an Error, it appeared to me that it shewed as much Cowardice in a Man not to maintain his opinions when real as Obstinacy to persevere in them contrary to Conviction. Mr. Williamson told me the other day that he found afterwards that there were a great many of his opinion in the Court House who did not care to speak because they thought it would be to no Purpose; and it may be so, because a Person, present when he was telling me so, said he was at the Meeting and did secretly object to some of the Resolves but could not speak his Mind. That You may not think my Sentiments quite so singular as they appeared to be, I must observe, that the second Person's Opinion I heard after the Arrival of the Boston Port Bill was Mr. Dalton's, who asked me what I thought of it; whether I did not think that the Parliament were bound to do what they did or something like it to secure the Trade of their Merchants? If the same outrage had been committed in any foreign Port whether the Government could have acquiesced without demanding and enforcing Restitution? or something to this Purpose. And it really appeared to me then a distinct Thing from enforcing the Payment of the Duty. The next Person whose opinion I heard was Mr. Williamson's; and the next Mr. Henderson's, with this difference, that the Bostonians ought to have destroyed the Tea, but should have sent home the Payment for it immediately. But that the Government could not avoid taking the Steps &c. He joined with me in opinion that the People at Boston were blameable in their Behavior in other Respects; And when I expressed my Concern at the Bill then talked of for altering their Charter, he observed that the Measure might be necessary considering the factious Conduct of the people; and They have all along appeared to me to shew a different Spirit from the Rest of the Colonies; and if ever we have a civil War I think without some Check they will be at the head of it, and I can't conceive any thing Worse for America at present . . . By mentioning the word Check, I don't mean to approve of All or scarce one of the Measures lately exercised on N: England. A Charter should not be altered without the Consent or consulting with the Majority of the people, or upon some very flagrant or violent Occasions wherein the good of the whole is endangered. But even the consent of the whole ought to be obtained. No Constitution as I mentioned in my Letter should be altered unless the Consent of every part concerned can be had. We have no right to alter our Constitution without the consent of the King & Parliament. For the same Reason none of our Constitutions should be altered without our Consent: For the Parliament according to the opinion of good Civilians have no Right to alter the Constitution of England, without taking or obtaining a Sanction from the Voice of the people if it could be had; because the Constitution is fixed when the people's Representatives are chosen And therefore they must Act according to it and can't alter it . . . And as to ye Act for transporting Criminals to England for Trial tho' I wish every man could obtain strict Justice, and that no man in civil Disputes should be tried till the Passions of Men have a little subsided, I dislike it as much as any Man; But in regard to the Boston Port Bill I own I have no objection to it, except to the Power given to the Crown of shutting up the Port after the Tea may be paid for. I can see no Difference between demanding Satisfaction first, and sending a Fleet to demand it with conditional orders to block up the Port upon Refusal, or till Satisfaction is made. I own too that I have been inclined to think that the Tea ought to have been paid for before the other Colonies had joined in Support of Boston; but I suppose I am wrong as so many others think otherwise. However upon this occasion I can't help mentioning, that at a very full Meeting of Gentlemen at York relating to the Middlesex Election that there were only two, one a namesake of mine, who dissented from the whole Assembly; consequently their opinions were very unpopular. And yet I have lived [to] see some coming over to their opinion and as strongly of their opinion; two of them at least, Mr. Harrison and Mr. Grayson, as ever they were of a contrary one. This Example (if this Assembly were mistaken) would serve to shew, if there were not Many Instances in History where large Bodies of Men have been mistaken, that a Man, however doubtful he may become when he perceives a great Number to think otherwise, ought not to be too hasty in giving up his opinion. . . .

. . . As to Taxes I was never of opinion that the Parliament had a Right to impose them, and hardly ever had a Doubt upon the Subject of their taking our Money from us without our Consent; Tho' as to the Duty on Tea I never was so clear in opinion as to sign any Paper in Opposition to the Right; but as it is certainly unjust, I may refuse to trade with a Nation exercising that Injustice even if the Right was ever so clear.

There is a new opinion now lately advanced in Virginia that the Parliament have no right to make any or scarce any Laws binding on the Colonies. It has given me much Uneasiness. For altho' I wish as much as any one that we were legally exempted from it, yet I hold it clearly that we ought to abide by our Constitution. The common Consent and Acquiescence in the Colonies for such a Length of time is to me a clear Proof of their having a Right. And altho' it is said that it has only been exercised in Matters of Trade, it will be found to be a Mistake.

. . . I am very sorry we happen to differ in opinion. I hope however that our Sentiments will again coincide as in other Matters: I wish they could with regard to Storing the Goods. Perhaps it is only intended as a Threat to the Merchants. But if it is otherwise, and they should send any over, I am afraid that we shd. lie at the Mercy or Generosity of those Merchants whether they will apply to [the] Government for Troops to release those Goods or not. If the End could be answered otherwise it would be better. If there was Virtue enough in the Country to abstain from only half the Goods commonly consumed it might probably answer in a few years. If every man of Influence would encourage his Neighbour to persevere perhaps we might hold out; especially if the Names of those Merchants should be published who sell or import contrary to the Desire of the general Sense of the Country; As it might prevent others from doing the like. I am sorry to hear what you Mention of General Gage. I did not imagine he had been so weak as to call Resolutions not to trade with Great Britain by the name of Treason.

I must again apologize for this Letter, hoping You'l excuse it and believe that I am with great Regard.

... Dear Sir
... Your most obedt. Servt.
... BRYAN FAIRFAX
top of page


View the original document from George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.