The Eve of Revolution

As dissatisfaction with the burdens of British rule were articulated more clearly, and the patriot cause gained momentum, Magna Carta served as a symbol of the rights of English subjects and as a framework for American grievances. In his popular Letters from a Farmer (1769), John Dickinson addressed the Townshend Acts (1767), and asked what could prevent the revocation of all colonial liberties. In the portrait, Magna Carta is depicted at Dickinson's arm. James Otis was another early voice against abridged rights and privileges. In his A Vindication of the Conduct (1762), he rejected taxation without consent and government opposed to the public good. Otis also decried the notorious general warrants that compromised the colonists' private property. The Constitutional Right of the Legislature of Great Britain, to Tax (1768), was one lively British response to American arguments about taxation.

Important to many colonists was religious liberty, which went beyond Magna Carta and was only partially addressed by the English Act of Toleration (1689). Printed toward the eve of revolution, The Palladium of Conscience (1774) highlighted the shortcomings of existing English religious laws. Likewise Henry Care's English Liberties, successful almost a century before, was expanded and printed in an influential Philadelphia edition (1774), with the text of Magna Carta and commentary, as a reminder to colonists of their rights.