John Adams warned us. When you spot even the slightest violation of the Constitution, it’s imperative that you nip it in the bud.
In 1774 and 1775, Daniel Leonard wrote a series of essays under the penname Massachusettensis asserting Parliaments unlimited authority in the colonies. A loyalist Boston newspaper published the essays. John Adams penned a lengthy rebuttal to Leonard titled Novanglus. His arguments for the limits on British imperial authority were extremely influential in the colonies.
In his essays, Massachusettensis trivialized the colonists’ grievances, calling them a “distraction owing to parliament’s taking off a shilling-duty on tea and imposing threepence.”
Adams replied with a list of complaints that went well beyond the tax on tea.
“Is the threepence upon tea our only grievance? Are we not in this province deprived of the privilege of paying our governors, judges, &c.? Are not trials by jury taken from us? Are we not sent to England for trial? Is not a military government put over us? Is not our constitution demolished to the foundation? Have not the ministry shown, by the Quebec bill, that we have no security against them for our religion, any more than our property, if we once submit to the unlimited claims of parliament? This is so gross an attempt to impose on the most ignorant of the people, that it is a shame to answer it.”
But even if these were just minor violations of the colonists’ rights, Adams insisted they must stand up against them.
“Obsta principiis,” he wrote; a Latin phrase meaning, withstand beginnings, or resist the first approaches or encroachments. Colloquially, we would say, “nip it in the bud,” which is exactly the phraseology Adams used.
“Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people.”
Adams recognized an important truth. When you allow a government to chip away at the limits on its power, eventually the dam will burst. You will end up with a government exercising virtually unlimited authority – arbitrary power. At that point, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to stop rein it back in.
“When the people give way, their deceivers, betrayers, and destroyers press upon them so fast, that there is no resisting afterwards.”
This was the situation the American colonists found themselves in. The Parliament claimed virtually unlimited authority to legislate and tax within the colonies. The colonists insisted this was never part of the bargain.
The British system operated based on an unwritten constitution. It was effectively a “living, breathing” constitution that evolved over time and was by and large defined by the government itself. While there were some limits on the powers