It was during the 1774 summer when a 31-year old Thomas Jefferson fell ill on his way to attend a congressional meeting that he decided to draft a letter to the present members. After years of collaboration, Jefferson felt that the British Empire had begun to overstep their boundaries and were passing oppressive laws. Tension was high in the country as the Americans had already started defying the orders of the British, with some groups such as the Boston Tea Party leading resistance movements. Most of these 1774’s intolerable parliamentary acts were a retaliation against the Boston Tea Party’s action when they poured a whole shipment of tea in protest to the Tea Act.
In his letter, Jefferson pointed out several contentious issues that he felt needed to be addressed by the colonial government. First, he stated that the rights of the Americans to trade freely with anyone inside and outside the country, apart from the island of Great Britain, had been curtailed. The British had the right to purchase every produce that they required from the Americans and the surplus produce was left in the hands of merchants who exploited the traders by offering very low prices compared to the market values. The British were also the sole suppliers of imports while the Americans were prohibited to visit any market in search of unsupplied goods. The imports and exports were also charged duties and this was sheer unfairness and oppression for the Americans.
There were also series of impartial legislations that were not just to the Americans. For instance, Americans were denied the freedom to process or manufacture any products from any produce gathered from their own farms. No American was also allowed to use iron and steel that came from the American factories. The iron and steel would be shipped back to Britain, during which Americans were required to pay a commission and cater for their insurance and freight on board costs. This was a clearly exploitation of the people. Land rates that were charged then were also illegal according to Jefferson. These lands were also held by British creditors as collateral for debt and were at the same time allowed to do anything they so wished without the owner’s consent.
Jefferson also felt that the representation model was flawed and without logic. It did not make sense that 160,000 people in Britain elected representatives to make laws that governed four million Americans. He felt that Americans had a majority say and were able to elect their own leaders and govern themselves. Finally, he expressed reservations about the unjust and flawed judicial system that was designed to condemn rather than provide justice and specifically to the Americans.
In his address, Jefferson requested his majesty to revoke the intolerable Acts that were unjust and passed by his ‘rogue’ parliament. His majesty was also requested to veto any unjust legislations that would be brought before him. However, the king was also blamed for failing to approve or reject several American laws that Jefferson argued would benefit Americans. Given the manner in which parliamentarians had conducted their business, his majesty was requested to dissolve the parliament and call for fresh selection just like some governors in America had done. However, some of those governors failed to call for replacements after dissolving their parliaments, a situation that was unsteady for any state. Given the allodial nature of land holdings, the king was deemed to have no right over the land of Americans and as such, Americans needed not to pay land duties. Finally, his majesty was requested to be a servant of the people.
- Jefferson, T. (1774). A summary view of the rights of British America. S.L: Williamsburg, printed by Clementina Rind. London, re-printed for G. Kearsly.