Original Document
Original Document
Proposal for a theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Packet, February 17, 1789.

The Honorable the General Assembly of Pennsylvania. The subscribers being committee of the Dramatic Association on behalf of themselves and the many citizens who have prayed for a repeal of any law or part of a law, that prohibits dramatic entertainments, beg leave, with the utmost respect, to submit the following representation: ...
The Drama is now a subject of earnest discussion: from a topic of private discussion, it has become the object of legislative decision, and contending parties are formed, on the one hand denying and on the other asserting, the propriety of tolerating the stage....

Those who wish the establishment of the Drama, desire a thing, which it is in the power of their opponents, deeming it an evil, to avoid, even after it is established; and which, at all events, intrudes upon no right and interferes with no privilege. But those who wish the prohibition of the Drama seek to deprive their opponents of what they consider as a rational enjoyment, and by their success, will abridge the natural right of every freeman to dispose of his time and money, according to his own taste and disposition, when not obnoxious to the real interests of society, ...

The petition of favor of the theatre, offers to the legislature an opinion of upwards of two thousand citizens (who think the business of life requires some recreation) that the Drama, divested of every other consideration, is a rational amusement. At the same time it is respectfully, and temperately, intimated, that it is not just to call on the subscribers to sacrifice that opinion, merely in compliance to the prejudice of those of their fellow citizens, who think [Drama] ... contrary to the laws of conscience and virtue.

But the petition against the theatre, in a spirit less gentle and conciliatory, unequivocally declares that the toleration of a theatre would be impolitic, and injurious to the virtue, happiness, and productive of many vices and mischiefs: thence necessarily leading to this inference, that every man of a contrary opinion (expressed by signing the other petition) is a friend and promoter of the predicted inundation of wickedness and ruin....

Here indeed, is a fair criterion to decide this controversy. An Act of Assembly has prescribed a certain test, or political obligation to be taken by every citizen. This, it is said, is incompatible with the opinions of a respectable body. An application is, therefore, made for a repeal of the law, and, we believe, every generous mind entertains a favorable wish upon the subject, for the members of the same community, certainly owe a mutual deference and respect to the sentiments, and even to the conscientious weaknesses of each other. But let us suppose that a petition was presented, stating that allegiance is a debt, which every man incurs, as a necessary consequence of the protection that he receives from the government, and picturing a cloud of visionary evils, which might result from allowing these persons to partake in the administration of public affairs, who were adverse from giving a solemn and unequivocal marls of their attachment to the Commonwealth. What should be said of a petition of this kind? Precisely what may be said of the petition against the theatre; with this difference only, that, in one instance, the pretense would be for the sake of the political safety, as it is in the other, for the salve of the moral happiness of the people. Neither of which would, in fact, be endangered by the repeal of the said law, or the establishment of the Drama.

From these premises, we think, the following inferences are fairly deducible:

1st. That whether the theatre is, or is not, a proper institution rests, on this occasion, merely upon the opinion of the respective subscribers.

2d. That, it is thought to be advantageous by men, whose profession best enables them to judge upon the subject; by parents, on whom it is most encumbent to suppress every real-instrument of corruption, and by citizens whose experienced patriotism, and extensive interest in the state, entitle them to the consideration of the legislature,

3d. That if a theatre is tolerated, no man sustains an injury, no man is deprived of a means of recreation from the toils and cares of life; nor anyone compelled to act contrary to his principles, or his prejudices.

4th. That if a theatre is not tolerated; many respectable citizens will be disappointed in their reasonable hopes, a source of rational amusement will be destroyed, and every freeman must incur a forfeiture of a natural right, which he ought to possess - the right of acting as he pleases, in a matter perfectly indifferent to the well-being of the community...

Credit: Pennsylvania Packet, February 17, 1789.
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