Joseph Priestley and American Independence

Stuart Andrews profiles a scientist, controversialist, and pillar of the British enlightenment; Joseph Priestley found his spiritual home in the United States.

On 21 June 1791, less than a month before the Birmingham mob destroyed his meeting-house, his home and his laboratory, Joseph Priestley wrote to James Watt commending the principles of the proposed Constitutional Society of Birmingham. The first three principles read as follows:

I That the sole object of all civil government is the temporal interest of the people...

II That the people at large are the only judges in what manner their own interest is to be promoted; that they have the sole right of making laws or regulations for that purpose, and of appointing persons who are to administer them.

III That when abuses are introduced into any government, the people who are aggrieved by them ought to inquire into their source, and apply whatever remedy shall to them appear adequate to the purpose, whether by making new laws, repealing old ones, or removing the persons who administer them.

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