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title:“George Mason to Richard Henry Lee”
authors:George Mason
date written:1770-6-7

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 8:03 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Jan. 21, 2018, 5:00 a.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to Richard Henry Lee." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 1. Ed. Bernard Bailyn and James Morton Smith. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 116-19. Print.
Recipient's Copy, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.

George Mason to Richard Henry Lee (June 7, 1770)

Gunston-Hall June 7th. 1770.
Your favor of the 26th May did not come to Hand till the 5th Instant, or I should have answered sooner. I now enclose you the Abstract f[rom the] Act of Parliament in the 4th. Year of his present Majesty's Reign, with some Remarks thereon; to which I beg to refer you, & think you will find them worthy of Consideration, as the sd. Act of Parliament has never been totally repealed.
I am glad to hear that the Members below intend to establish some further Regulations to render the Association effectual, & I know of none that will answer the End proposed, but preventing by all legal & peaceable Means in our Power (for we must avoid even the Appearance of Violence) the Importation of the enumerated goods; Experience having too fully proved that when the Goods are here, many of our People will purchase, even some who affect to be called Gentlemen. For this Purpose, the Sense of Shame & the Fear of Reproach must be inculcated, & enforced in the strongest Manner; and if that can be done properly, it has a much greater Influence upon the Actions of Mankind than is generally imagined. Nature has impress'd this useful Principle upon every Breast: it is a just observation that if Shame was banished out of the World, she wou'd carry away with her what little Virtue is left in it. The Names of such Persons as purchase or import Goods contrary to the Association should be published, & themselves stigmatized as Enemys to their Country. We shou'd resolve not to associate or keep Company with them in public Places, & they should be loaded with every Mark of Infamy and Reproach. The Interest, too of the Importer may be made subservient to our Purpose; for if the principal People renounce all Connection & Commerce for ever with such Merchants, their Agents & Factors, who shall import Goods contrary to the Tenor of the Association [? ] They will hardly venture to supply their worst Customers with such Articles, at the Hazard of losing their best; but I don't see how these Regulations can be effected by any other Means than appointing Committees in the Countys, to examine from Time to Time into the Imports, & to convey an Account of any Violation of the Association to the Moderator, to be by him publish'd, or by a Committee appointed for that purpose in Wmsburg, or in such other Manner as shall be judged best; for without such Committees in the Country, I am convinced we shall once more fail of carrying the Plans into Execution; as it is of great Consequence to have these committees composed of the most respectable men pos[sible]. It will be best that one Committee be appointed from two or more countys, as the Circumstances of particular Parts of the Country may require; & such of the Merchants as are Members of the Association, ought by all Means to be of [on?] these Committees. It is true in Maryland there is a Committee in every county; but their countys are generally larger than two of ours. The Committees, whenever there is an importation of Goods within their respective Districts, shou'd convene themselves, & in a civil Manner apply to the Merchants or Importers concern'd, & desire to see the Invoyces & Papers respecting such Importation, & if they find any Goods therein contrary to the Associati[on] let the Importers know that it is the Opinion & Request of the Country that such Goods shall not be opened or stored, but reship'd to the Place from whence they came; and in Case of Refusal, without any Manner of Violence, inform them of the Consequences, & proceed to publish an Account of their conduct. I am persuaded there are few Importers who wou'd persist in refusing to comply with such a Request, & proper Resolution in the Association, with one or two public Examples, wou'd quickly put an End to it. The Objection that this wou'd be infringing the Rights of others, while we are contending for Liberty ourselves, is ill founded. Every Member of Society is in Duty bound to contribute to the Safety & Good of the Whole; and when the Subject is of such Importance as the Liberty & Happiness of a Country, every inferior Consideration, as well as the Inconvenience to a few Individuals, must give place to it;1 nor is this any Hardship upon them; as themselves & their Posterity are to partake of the Benefits resulting from it. Objections of the same kind might be made to the most useful civil institutions.
It may perhaps be proposed to have such Goods as are imported contrary to the Association, stored here unopened, instead of reshiping them; but, besides the Risque of having such Goods privately sold, storeing them wou'd by no Means answer the same Purposes as reshiping them; for if the Goods are reship'd, they will most of them be returned to the wholesale Dealers, & Shop keepers, & occasion an imediate Stagnation of Business between them & the Manufacturers. This wou'd be Practice, not Theory; & beyond anything else, [convince the people] of Great [Britain that we are in earnest by an appeal to their own senses. I am at a loss to determine, even in my own mind, whether these proposed regulations ought to have retrospect, so as to require the reshiping of goods that were already imported before the 14th of this month. Not that I think there is any injustice in it, because all such persons as have imported goods contrary to the Association, have done it with their eyes open, and at their own peril, with a view to private gain, which deserves no countenance from the public; & those merchants who have conformed themselves to the opinion and interest of the country have some right to expect that violators of the Association shou'd suffer] upon the Occasion. The principal Objection, is the seeming Impracticability of such a Measure, which wou'd put the Committees upon very minute & difficult Inquirys. On the other Hand there are some strong Reasons for such Retrospect. There is great cause to believe that most of the Cargoes refused to be received in the other Colonies have been sent to this. I will mention some recent Instances; particularly a Ship a few Weeks ago from Baltimore in Maryland, with a Cargoe of about £ 3000—and a Committee which sat a few Days ago in Port Tobacco, after examining a Merchants Imports there, & finding nothing contrary to Association, at last accidentally stumbled upon an Invoyce of eight or nine hundred pounds of anti Association Goods—the Nest was there, but the Birds were flown— no such goods cou'd be found—they had been privately sent to Virginia. Unless these Machinations can be counteracted, and their Contrivers effectually disappointed, Virginia will become the Receptacle of all the Goods refused by the other Colonies, & from hence they will be sent again privately, in small Quantitys at a time, to frustrate the Associations of the other Parts of the Continent, to our everlasting Scandal, and to the weakening of that mutual Confidence, which in these oppressive and dangerous Times shou'd be so carefully cherished and preserved.
Suppose (to observe a Sort of Medium) that all Goods imported contrary to the Association which now remain unopened, or uncut, shou'd be directed to be reship'd; or if this is thought too much the Retrospect may be limitted to a certain Time; so as to include [the goods that shall come fro]m the neighbou[ring] Colonies, which I [believe is but a late practice. I have had some conversation with the neighboring merchants upon the subject; they profess themselves ready to acquiesce in whatever shall be thought the interest of the country. Mr. Henderson, in particular, declares that he will cheerfully order to be packed up such goods as are contrary to the Association in any of the stores he has the direction of (and you know he is concerned for one of the greatest houses in the tobacco trade), and either store them until our grievances are redressed, or reship them if the gentlemen of the Association shall require it. In his own store he says there are no goods contrary to the Association. In this I think he means] well; it is not the Interest of his Owners to forfeit the Esteem and Good-will of People of this Colony. To do the Merchants in this neighbourhood Justice, they have, so far as I have been able to observe, behaved in a very becoming Manner, & have all along testified their Willingness to accede to any Measures that shall be judged conducive to the Public Good.2
Whoever looks over with attention the Proceedings & arguments of the ministerial Party in the H——e of C——ns will be convinced that the late Vote for a partial, instead of a total Repeal of the Revenue Act complained of, was founded upon an Opinion that the Americans cou'd not persevere in their Associations; the Custom- House Books shew'd that the Exports to Virginia in particular were very little, if at all, lessened; and that the Exports to this Colony are of greater Importance to Great Britain than any other on this Continent, will not be denyed by any Man acquainted with the Subject, This shews the Necessity of our exerting ourselves effectually upon the present Occasion; our Sister Colonies all expect it from us, our Interest, our own Liberty & Happiness, as well as that of our Posterity, everything that is near & dear to us in this World requires it. The. . .

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