Extracts from An Oration on the advantages of American independence: spoken before a publick assembly of the inhabitants of Charlestown in South-Carolina, on the second anniversary of that glorious aera. By David Ramsay, M.B.
… We are now celebrating the anniversary of our emancipation from British tyranny; an event that will constitute an illustrious aera in the his|tory of the world, and which promises an ex|tension of all those blessings to our country, for which we would choose to live, or dare to die.
Our present form of government is every way preferable to the royal one we have lately renounced. It is much more favorable to purity of morals, and better calculated to promote all our important interests. Honesty, plain dealing, and simple manners, were never made the patterns of courtly behaviour. Artificial manners always prevail in kingly governments; and royal courts are reservoirs, from whence insincerity, hypocrisy, dissimulation, pride, luxury, and extravagance, deluge and overwhelm the body of the people. On the other hand, republics are favorable to truth, sincerity, frugality, industry, and simplicity of manners. Equality, the life and soul of commonwealth, cuts off all pretensions to preferment, but those which arise from extraordinary merit: Whereas in royal governments, he that can best please his superiors, by the low arts of fawning and adulation, is most likely to obtain favour.
It was the interest of Great-Britain to encourage our dissipation and extravagance, for the two-fold purpose of increasing the sale of her manufactures, and of perpetuating our subordination. In vain we sought to check the growth of luxury, by sumptuary laws; every wholesome restraint of this kind was sure to meet with the royal negative: While the whole force of example was employed to induce us to copy the dissipated manners of the country from which we sprung. If, therefore, we had continued dependent, our frugality, industry, and simplicity of manners would have been lost in an imitation of British extravagance, idleness, and false refinements.
How much more happy is our present situation, when necessity, co-operating with the love of our country, compels us to adopt both public and private economy? Many are now industriously clothing themselves and their families in sober homespun, who, had we remained dependent, would have been spending their time in idleness, and strutting in the costly robes of British gaiety.
The arts and sciences, which languished under the low prospects of subjection, will now raise their drooping heads, and spread far and wide, till they have reached the remotest parts of this untutored continent. It is the happiness of our present constitution, that all offices lie open to men of merit, of whatever rank or condition; and that even the reins of state may be held by the son of the poorest man, if possessed of abilities equal to the important station. We are no more to look up for the blessings of government to hungry courtiers, or the needy dependents of British nobility; but must educate our own children for these exalted purposes. When subjects, we had scarce any other share in government, but to obey the arbitrary mandates of a British parliament: But honor with her dazzling pomp, interest with her golden lure, and patriotism with her heart-felt satisfaction, jointly call upon us now to qualify ourselves and posterity for the bench, the army, the navy, the learned professions, and all the departments of civil government. The independence of our country holds forth such generous encouragement to youth, as cannot fail of making many of them despise the syren calls of luxury and mirth, and pursue heaven-born wisdom with unwearied application. A few years will now produce a much greater number of men of learning and abilities, than we could have expected for ages in our boyish state of minority, guided by the leading strings of a parent country.
Union with Great Britain confined us to the consumption of her manufactures, and restrained us from supplying our wants by the improvement of those articles, which the bounty of Heaven had bestowed on our country. So numerous were the inhabitants of some provinces, that they could not all find employment in cultivating the earth; and yet a single hat, manufactured in one colony, and exported for sale to another, forfeited both vessel and cargo. The same penalties were inflicted for transporting wool from one to another. Acts of parliament have been made to prohibit the erection of slitting mills in America. Thus did British tyranny exert her power, to make us a needy and dependent people, obliged to go to her market, and to buy at her prices; and all this at a time when, by her exclusive trade, she fixed her own prices on our commodities.
How widely different is our present situation? The glorious fourth of July, 1776, repealed all these cruel restrictions, and holds forth generous prices, and public premiums, for our encouragement in the erection of all kinds of manufactures.
We are the first people in the world, who have had it in their power to choose their own form of government. Constitutions were forced on all other nations, by the will of their conquerors; or, they were formed by accident, caprice, or the over-bearing influence of prevailing parties or particular persons: But, happily for us, the bands of British government were dissolved at a time when no rank above that of freemen existed among us, and when we were in a capacity to choose for ourselves among the various forms of government, and to adopt that which best suited our country and people. Our deliberations on this occasion, were not directed by the over-grown authority of a conquering general, or the ambition of an aspiring nobility, but by the pole-star of public good, inducing us to prefer those forms that would most effectually secure the greatest portion of political happiness to the greatest number of people. We had the example of all ages for our instruction, and many among us were well acquainted with the causes of prosperity and misery in other governments.
In times of public tranquillity, the mighty have been too apt to encroach on the rights of the many: But it is the great happiness of America, that her independent constitutions were agreed upon by common consent, at a time when her leading men needed the utmost sup|port of the multitude, and therefore could have no other object in view, but the formation of such constitutions as would best suit the people at large, and unite them most heartily in repelling common dangers.