Farmer Refuted

“My name is Samuel Seabury and I present: “Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress!”

“My name is Samuel Seabury and I present: “Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress!”

In 1775, a pamphlet appeared in New York and began circulating among the colonies. This pamphlet was entitled Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress and was signed by someone calling themselves A. W. Farmer.

The pamphlet argued, “Confusion, and Discord, and Violence, and War, are sure destruction to the farmer.”[1] The writer used his wits to appeal by warning farmers of the consequences the colonies would undoubtedly face if they turned against Parliament and the King. “From the day the exports from this province are stopped, the farmers may date the commencement of their ruin. Can you live without money?”[2]

At this point, the First Continental Congress had recently met to discuss the blockading of Boston Harbor and the implementation of the Intolerable Acts, also known as the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act. These Acts were also known collectively as the Coercive Acts in England.

The Intolerable Acts had been passed in England as a punishment in response to both the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. On the one hand, many believed that the Administration of Justice Act, which stipulated that Royal Governors could order trials of accused royal officers to take place in Great Britain or elsewhere in the Empire, was unfair since John Adams and others had ensured that the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre had gotten fair trials. On the other hand, the Boston Port Act and the Massachusetts Government Act were explicitly designed to punish Massachusetts for their Tea Party.

At this point, the First Continental Congress had recently met to discuss the blockading of Boston Harbor and the implementation of the Intolerable Acts, also known as the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act. These Acts were also known collectively as the Coercive Acts in England.

The Intolerable Acts had been passed in England as a punishment in response to both the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. On the one hand, many believed that the Administration of Justice Act, which stipulated that Royal Governors could order trials of accused royal officers to take place in Great Britain or elsewhere in the Empire, was unfair since John Adams and others had ensured that the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre had gotten fair trials. On the other hand, the Boston Port Act and the Massachusetts Government Act were explicitly designed to punish Massachusetts for their Tea Party.

At this point, the First Continental Congress had recently met to discuss the blockading of Boston Harbor and the implementation of the Intolerable Acts, also known as the Boston Port Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Administration of Justice Act, and the Quartering Act. These Acts were also known collectively as the Coercive Acts in England.

The Intolerable Acts had been passed in England as a punishment in response to both the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre. On the one hand, many believed that the Administration of Justice Act, which stipulated that Royal Governors could order trials of accused royal officers to take place in Great Britain or elsewhere in the Empire, was unfair since John Adams and others had ensured that the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre had gotten fair trials. On the other hand, the Boston Port Act and the Massachusetts Government Act were explicitly designed to punish Massachusetts for their Tea Party.

In the wake of the Boston Tea Party, and Parliaments’ subsequent Acts, many colonists became increasingly frustrated. Therefore, many colonial leaders, including Peyton Randolph, John Jay, Patrick Henry, Roger Sherman, and John and Samuel Adams, met in the hopes of devising a plan. Their minds were far from on the same page, but, in a general sense, the majority believed that they needed to find a way to get Parliament to back down. They ended up passing and signing the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress that outlined the colonist’s objections to the Intolerable Acts. They also passed the Continental Association that called for a trade boycott against British merchants. They hoped that a boycott would help pressure Parliament into getting rid of the Intolerable Acts. Still, independence was not yet called for.

Nevertheless, the colonies’ problems always came back to taxes. A. W. Farmer attempted to address these notions in his pamphlet. “You know, my Friends, that the sale of your feed not only pays your taxes, but furnishes you with many of the little conveniences, and comforts of life; the loss of it for one year would be of more damage to you, than paying the three-penny duty on tea for twenty.”[3] He went on to say, “The loss of the sale of your feed only for one year, would be a considerable damage to you. And yet the Congress have been so inattentive to your interests, that they have laid you under, almost, an absolute necessity of losing it the next year.”[4]

A. W. Farmer was correct in his assumption that Parliament would respond negatively to the new Continental Congress. In doing the math, he figured out that “The common price [for tea] now is ten shillings; my feed then will fetch me five pounds, ten shillings for expense… five pounds… will pay the duty upon two hundred pounds of tea…”[5] A. W. Farmer believed that it would be better for farmers to simply pay the tea tax than to boycott British merchants. New York had been sitting and watching the happenings of Boston Harbor. Boston was suffering; New York did not want to be next.

This would be the first of three pamphlets that A. W. Farmer would write. Of course, we now know that A. W. Farmer stood for A Westchester Farmer, a pseudonym Samuel Seabury used.

Samuel Seabury was the Anglican rector for the town of Westchester, New York. He was a man who had been educated at both Oxford and Yale and was considered to be a “man of massive physique and learned mind.”[6]

The Westchester community consisted of many farmers trying to earn a livable wage.
Westchester had been granted special privileges by a royal charter, and local farmers felt especially threatened by the trade embargo.[7] So after the Continental Congress adjourned, Seabury, under the pseudonym A. W. Farmer, wrote his pamphlets disparaging the Continental Congress and encouraging the farmers to continue their trade with the crown.

“For the revolution!”

“For the revolution!”

Seabury’s pamphlets were initially published by James Rivington in the New York Gazetteer. The paper soon reported that Seabury’s words did not inspire as much of a patriotic response as was intended. Instead, the response that he got could be called volatile and violent.

In January, the New York Gazetteer reported: “We can assure the public that at a late meeting of exotics, styled the Sons of Liberty, [the Farmer essay was introduced] and after a few pages being read to the company, they agreed… to commit it to the flames, without the benefit of clergy, though many, very many indeed, could neither write nor read.”[8] To add insult to injury, some copies were tarred, feathered, and slapped on whipping posts.[9]

Seabury’s pamphlets were initially published by James Rivington in the New York Gazetteer. The paper soon reported that Seabury’s words did not inspire as much of a patriotic response as was intended. Instead, the response that he got could be called volatile and violent.

In January, the New York Gazetteer reported: “We can assure the public that at a late meeting of exotics, styled the Sons of Liberty, [the Farmer essay was introduced] and after a few pages being read to the company, they agreed… to commit it to the flames, without the benefit of clergy, though many, very many indeed, could neither write nor read.”[8] To add insult to injury, some copies were tarred, feathered, and slapped on whipping posts.[9]

Seabury’s pamphlets were initially published by James Rivington in the New York Gazetteer. The paper soon reported that Seabury’s words did not inspire as much of a patriotic response as was intended. Instead, the response that he got could be called volatile and violent.

In January, the New York Gazetteer reported: “We can assure the public that at a late meeting of exotics, styled the Sons of Liberty, [the Farmer essay was introduced] and after a few pages being read to the company, they agreed… to commit it to the flames, without the benefit of clergy, though many, very many indeed, could neither write nor read.”[8] To add insult to injury, some copies were tarred, feathered, and slapped on whipping posts.[9]

Alexander Hamilton was a young spirit that was always trying to find ways to move up in the world. One of the ways that he did this was by writing. “Seabury gave Hamilton what he always needed for his best work: a hard, strong position to contest.”[10] In two to three weeks, Hamilton created “A Full Vindication of the Measures of the Congress,” in which he promised to answer A. W. Farmer. In it, he argued that “They endeavour to persuade us, that the absolute sovereignty of parliament does not imply our absolute slavery; that it is a Christian duty to submit to be plundered of all we have, merely because some of our fellow-subjects are wicked enough to require it of us, that slavery, so far from being a great evil, is a great blessing; and even, that our contest with Britain is founded entirely upon the petty duty of 3 pence per pound on East India tea; whereas the whole world knows, it is built upon this interesting question, whether the inhabitants of Great-Britain have a right to dispose of the lives and properties of the inhabitants of America, or not?”[11]

Hamilton’s Full Vindication was considered to be “verbose and repetitive.”[12] He supported the Boston Tea Party participants and put all blame on the British. “Besides the clear voice of natural justice in this respect, the fundamental principles of the English constitution are in our favour. It has been repeatedly demonstrated, that the idea of legislation, or taxation, when the subject is not represented, is inconsistent with that.”[13] He repeated a now common belief that the colonies were being taxed without representation. The colonies were, in fact, technically represented in Parliament. However, it was not considered a sitting representation but a virtual representation. The representation of the colonies is similar to the current non-voting representation of the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in contemporary American politics.

Soon after Hamilton published his Full Vindication, Seabury responded with “A View of the Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies.” In this pamphlet, Seabury essentially scolds Hamilton:

“You speak of the impotence of such attempts; of the general indignation with which they are treated; you say ‘that no material ill consequences (i.e. to your party)’ can be dreaded from them. Why then did you take the pains to write so long, so elaborate a pamphlet, to justify decisions against whose influence none but impotent attempts had been made? – to prevent ill consequences which were not to be dreaded? – You felt, Sir, the force of the stubborn facts exhibited to the view of the public in Free Thoughts.”[14]
It is safe to say that Alexander Hamilton was offended by what Samuel Seabury had to say to him. Therefore, in exemplary Hamiltonian fashion, the young upstart responded to Seabury in an eighty-page pamphlet entitled “The Farmer Refuted.” The pamphlet was printed by James Rivington and brought out for purchase on February 23, 1775.[15] With many ‘I’ statements, Hamilton refutes any and all arguments that Seabury made. Hamilton reflects on the history of the colonies and how they came to be in such a position. He writes that. “From these reflections, it is more than probable, that America is able to support its freedom, even by the force of arms, if she be not betrayed, by her own sons. And, in whatever light we view the matter, the consequences to Great Britain, would be too destructive, to permit her to proceed to extremities, unless she has lost all just sense of her own interest.”

Although the pamphlet is eloquent, Hamilton does appear to protest a bit too much. In a sense, he almost proves Seabury’s point with such a long-winded pamphlet. “Unlike Franklin or Jefferson, he never learned to subdue his opponents with a light touch or a sly, artful, understated turn of phrase.”[16] In total, Hamilton’s two essays totaled about sixty thousand words.

Unfortunately, the story between Samuel Seabury and Alexander Hamilton did not end there. Hamilton’s words inspired. He inspired colonists to agree with Congress. He inspired people to stand up for their beliefs in no taxation without representation. He inspired violence.

On November 15, 1774, a man named Isaac Sears gathered a militia of one hundred men in Connecticut. These men kidnapped Samuel Seabury and terrorized his family in Westchester. The militia brought Seabury back to Connecticut, where they marched him through the streets of New Haven like a trophy. They tried to get Seabury to admit that he was A. W. Farmer, but he refused.[17]

These men then went further. They travelled to Manhattan where they raided the print shop belonging to James Rivington. An anonymous writer published that “The contents of all last week’s New York Gazetteer occasioned Mr. Rivington, the printer, to be surprised and surrounded on the 23rd of November by 75 of the Connecticut Light horse, with firelocks and fixed bayonets, who burst into his house between twelve and one o’clock at noon, and totally destroyed all his types, and put an entire stop to his business, and reduced him at upwards of 50 years of age to the sad necessity of beginning the world again. The astonished citizens beheld the whole scene without affording the persecuted proscribed printer the least assistance. The printing of the New-York Gazetteer will be discontinued until America shall be blessed with the restoration of good government.”[18] These words are believed to have been written by Alexander Hamilton.

Hercules Mulligan recorded Hamilton’s response to what happened to James Rivington. He wrote that “When Rivington’s press was attacked by a company from the eastward, Mr. H., indignant that our neighbours should intrude upon our rights (although the press was considered a tory one), he went to the place, addressed the people present and offered if any others would join him to prevent these intruders from taking the type away.”[19]

This certainly was not the first instance of mob mentality in the Americas, and it would not be the last.

“In times of such commotion as the present, while the passions of men are worked up to an uncommon pitch, there is great danger of fatal extremes. The same state of the passions which fits the multitude, who have not a sufficient stock of reason and knowledge to guide them, for opposition to tyranny and oppression, very naturally leads them to a contempt and disregard of all authority. The due medium is hardly to be found among the more intelligent. It is almost impossible among the unthinking populace. When the minds of these are loosened from their attachment to ancient establishments and courses, they seem to grow giddy and are apt more or less to run into anarchy”[20]

Farmer Refuted

Farmer Refuted

[SEABURY]
Hear ye, hear ye!
My name is Samuel Seabury and I present:
“Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress!”
Heed not the rabble who scream revolution,
They have not your interests at heart.

[MULLIGAN]
Oh my God. Tear this dude apart.

[SEABURY]
Chaos and bloodshed are not a solution.
Don’t let them lead you astray.
This Congress does not speak for me.

[BURR]
Let him be.

[SEABURY]
They’re playing a dangerous game.
I pray the king shows you his mercy.
For shame, for shame…

[HAMILTON & SEABURY]
Yo!
He’d have you all unravel at the sound of screams
But the Revolution is comin’
The have-nots are gonna win this,
It’s hard to listen to you with a straight face.

Heed not the rabble who scream Revolution
They have not your interests at heart.
Chaos and bloodshed are not a solution
Don’t let them lead you astray
This Congress does not speak for me,

Chaos and bloodshed already haunt us,
Honestly you shouldn’t even talk
And what about Boston?
Look at the cost N’ all that we’ve lost n’ you talk about Congress?!

My dog speaks more eloquently than thee!

They’re playing a dangerous game.

But strangely, your mange is the same

I pray the king shows you his mercy.

Is he in Jersey?

For shame,

For the Revolution!

For shame!

[COMPANY]
For the revolution!

[SEABURY]
Heed—

[HAMILTON]
If you repeat yourself again I’m gonna—

[SEABURY/HAMILTON]
Scream—

[HAMILTON]
Honestly, look at me, please don’t read!

[SEABURY]
Not your interests—

[HAMILTON]
Don’t modulate the key then not debate with me!
Why should a tiny island across the sea regulate the price of tea?

[BURR]
Alexander, please!

[HAMILTON]
Burr, I’d rather be divisive than indecisive, drop the niceties.

[ENSEMBLE]
Silence! A message from the King!
A message from the King!

[FULL COMPANY]
A message from the King!


[1] Samuel Seabury, Free Thoughts, on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress, Held at Philadelphia, Sept. 5 1774: Wherein Their Errors Are Exhibited, Their Reasonings Confuted, and the Fatal Tendency of Their Non-Importation (Creative Media Partners, LLC, 2018), 46.
[2] Samuel Seabury, Free Thoughts, on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress, 27.
[3] Ibid, 10.
[4] Ibid, 12.
[5] Ibid, 11.
[6] Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (New York, New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 57.
[7] Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 57.
[8] New York Gazetteer, December 15, 1774.
[9] Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 10.
[10] Ibid, 58.
[11] The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1, 1768–1778, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, pp. 45–78.
[12] Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 59.
[13] The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, vol. 1, 1768–1778, ed. Harold C. Syrett. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961, pp. 45–78.
[14] Samuel Seabury, A View of the Controversy Between Great-Britain and Her Colonies: Including a Mode of Determining Their Present Disputes, Finally and Effectually; And of Preventing All Future Contentions (Creative Media Partners, LLC, 2018), 4.
[15] Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, 59.
[16] Ibid, 60.
[17] Ibid, 68.
[18] Royal Danish American Gazette, April 10, 1776.
[19] Michael J. O’Brien, Hercules Mulligan: Confidential Correspondent of General George Washington – A Son of Liberty in the American War of Independence (Pantianos Classics, 2019), 184.
[20] PAH, vol.1, p. 176-177, letter to John Jay, Nov. 26, 1775.

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