To the Inhabitants of the Several Anglo-American Colonies
IN CONGRESS IN PHILADELPHIA
October 21, 1774
WE, the delegates appointed by the good people of
these colonies to meet at Philadelphia in September last, for the purposes
mentioned by our respective constituents, have, in pursuance of the trust
reposed in us, assembled, and taken into our most serious consideration,
the important matters recommended to the Congress. Our resolutions thereupon
will be herewith communicated to you. But as the situation of public affairs
grows daily more and more alarming; and as it may be more satisfactory
to you to be informed by us in a collective body, than in any other manner,
of those sentiments that have been approved, upon a full and free discussion,
by the representatives of so great a part of America, we esteem ourselves
obliged to add this address to these resolutions.
In every case of opposition
by a people to their rulers, or of one state to another, duty to Almighty
God, the creator of all, requires that a true and impartial judgment be
formed of the measures leading to such opposition, and of the causes by
which it has been provoked or can in any degree be justified, that, neither
affection on one hand, nor resentment on the other, being permitted to
give a wrong bias to reason, it may be enabled to take a dispassionate
view of all circumstances, and to settle the public conduct on the solid
foundations of wisdom and justice.
From counsels thus tempered
arise the surest hopes of the divine favor, the firmest encouragement of
the parties engaged, and the strongest recommendation of their cause to
the rest of mankind.
With minds deeply impressed
by a sense of these truths, we have diligently, deliberately, and calmly
inquired into and considered those exertions, both of the legislative and
executive power of Great Britain, which have excited so much uneasiness
in America, and have with equal fidelity and attention considered the conduct
of the colonies. Upon the whole, we find ourselves reduced to the disagreeable
alternative of being silent and betraying the innocent, or of speaking
out and censuring those we wish to revere. In making our choice of these
distressing difficulties, we prefer the course dictated by honesty and
a regard for the welfare of our country.
Soon after the conclusion of
the late war, there commenced a memorable change in the treatment of these
colonies. By a statute made in the fourth year of the present reign, a
time of profound peace, alleging "the expediency of new provision, and
regulations for extending the commerce between Great Britain and his majesty's
dominions in America, and the necessity of raising a revenue in the said
dominions, for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing
the same," the commons of Great Britain undertook to give and grant to
his majesty many rates and duties to be paid in these colonies. To enforce
the observance of this act, it prescribes a great number of severe penalties
and forfeitures; and in two sections makes a remarkable distinction between
the subjects in Great Britain and those in America. By the one, the penalties
and forfeitures incurred there are to be recovered in any of the king's
courts of record at Westminster, or in the court of exchequer in Scotland;
and by the other, the penalties and forfeitures incurred here are to be
recovered in any court of record, or in any court of admiralty or vice-admiralty,
at the election of the informer or prosecutor.
The Inhabitants of these colonies,
confiding in the justice of Great Britain, were scarcely allowed and consider
this act, before another, well known by the name of the Stamp Act, and
passed in the fifth year of this reign, engrossed their whole attention.
By this statute, the British Parliament exercised in the most explicit
manner a power of taxing us, and extending the jurisdiction of courts of
admiralty and vice-admiralty in the colonies to matters arising within
the body of a county, and directed the numerous penalties and forfeitures
thereby inflicted to be recovered in the said courts.
In the same year a tax was
imposed upon us by an act establishing several new fees in the customs.
In the next year the Stamp Act was repealed, not because it was founded
in an erroneous principle, but, as the repealing act recites, because "the
continuance thereof would be attended with many inconveniences, and might
be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interest
of Great Britain."
In the same year, and by a
subsequent act, it was declared, "that his majesty in Parliament, of right,
had power to bind the people of these colonies by statutes in all cases
whatsoever." In the same year another act was passed for imposing rates
and duties payable in these colonies. In this statute, the commons, avoiding
the terms of giving and granting, "humbly besought his majesty that it
might be enacted," &c. But from a declaration in the preamble, that
the rates and duties were "in lieu of" several others granted by the statute
first before mentioned for raising a revenue, and from some other expressions,
it appears that these duties were intended for that purpose.
In the next year (1767,) an
act was made "to enable his majesty to put the customs and other duties
in America under the management of commissioners," &c., and the king
thereupon erected the present expensive board of commissioners, for the
express purpose of carrying into execution the several acts relating to
the revenue and trade in America.
After the repeal of the Stamp
Act, having again resigned ourselves to our ancient unsuspicious affections
for the parent state, and anxious to avoid any controversy with her, in
hopes of a favorable alteration in sentiments and measures toward us, we
did not press our objections against the above mentioned statutes made
subsequent to that repeal.
to trifling causes a conduct that really proceeded from generous motives,
were encouraged in the same year (1767) to make a bolder experiment on
the patience of America.
By a statute commonly called
the Glass, Paper, and Tea Act made fifteen months after the repeal of the
Stamp Act, the commons of Great Britain resumed their former language,
and again undertook to "give and grant rates and duties to be paid in these
colonies," for the express purpose of "raising a revenue to defray the
charges of the administration of justice, the support of civil government,
and defending the king's dominions," on this continent. The penalties and
forfeitures incurred under this statute are to be recovered in the same
manner with those mentioned in the foregoing acts.
To this statute, so naturally
tending to disturb the tranquility then universal throughout the colonies,
Parliament, in the same session, added another no less extraordinary.
Ever since the making the present
peace a standing army has been kept in these colonies. From respect for
the mother country, the innovation was not only tolerated, but the provincial
Legislatures generally made provision for supplying the troops.
The Assembly of the province
of New York having passed an act of this kind, but differing in some articles
from the directions of the act of Parliament made in the fifth year of
this reign, the House of Representatives in that colony was prohibited,
by a statute made in the last session mentioned from making any bill, order,
resolution, or vote, except for adjourning or choosing a speaker, until
provision should be made by the said Assembly for furnishing the troops
within that province not only with all such necessaries as were required
by the statute which they were charged with disobeying, but also with those
required by two other subsequent statutes, which were declared to be in
force until the twenty fourth day of March, 1769.
These statutes of the year
1767 revived the apprehensions and discontents that had entirely subsided
on the repeal of the Stamp Act; and, amid the just fears and jealousies
thereby occasioned, a statute was made in the next year (1768) to establish
courts of admiralty and vice admiralty on a new modeI, expressly for the
end of more effectually recovering of the penalties and forfeitures inflicted
by acts of Parliament framed for the purpose of raising a revenue in America,
&c. The immediate tendency of these statutes is to subvert the right
of having a share in legislation, by rendering assemblies useless; the
right of property, by taking the money of the colonists without their consent;
the right of trial by Jury, by substituting in their places trials in admiralty
and vice-admiralty courts, where single Judges preside, holding their commissions
during pleasure, and unduly to influence the courts of common law by rendering
the judges thereof totally dependent on the crown for their salaries.
The statutes, not to mention
many others exceedingly exceptionable, compared one with another, will
be found not only to form a regular system in which every part has great
force, but also a pertinacious adherence to that system for subjugating
these colonies, that are not, and from local circumstances can not he,
represented in the House of Commons, to the uncontrollable and unlimited
power of Parliament, in violation of their undoubted rights and liberties,
in contempt of their humble and repeated supplications.
This conduct must appear equally
astonishing and unjustifiable, when it is considered how unprovoked it
has been by any behavior of these colonies. From their first settlement,
their bitterest enemies never fixed on any of them any charge of disloyalty
to their sovereign or disaffection to their mother country. In the wars
she has carried on they have exerted themselves, whenever required, in
giving her assistance, and have rendered her services which she has publicly
acknowledged to be extremely important. Their fidelity, duty, and usefulness
during the last war were frequently and affectionately confessed by his
late majesty and the present king.
The reproaches of those who
are most unfriendly to the freedom of America are principally leveled against
the province of Massachusetts Bay, but with what little reason will appear
by the following declarations of a person, the truth of whose evidence
in their favor will not be questioned. Governor Bernard thus addresses
the two Houses of Assembly in his speech on the 24th of April, 1762: "The
unanimity and dispatch with which you have complied with the requisitions
of his majesty require my particular acknowledgment, and it gives me additional
pleasure to observe that you have therein acted under no other influence
than a due sense of your duty, both as members of a general empire and
as the body of a particular province."
In another speech, on the 27th
of May in the same year, he says, " Whatever shall be the event of the
war, it must be no small satisfaction to us that this province hath contributed
its full share to the support of it. Every thing that hath been required
of it hath been complied with; and the execution of the powers committed
to me for raising the provincial troops hath been as full and complete
as the grant of them. Never before were regiments so easily levied, so
well composed, and so early in the field as they have been this year: the
common people seem to be animated with the spirit of the General Court,
and to vie with them in their readiness to serve the king."
Such was the conduct of the
people of the Massachusetts Bay during the last war. As to their behavior
before that period, it ought not to have been forgot in Great at Britain
that not only on every occasion they had constantly and cheerfully complied
with the frequent royal requisitions, but that chiefly by their vigorous
efforts Nova Scotia was subdued in 1710, and Louisbourg in 1745.
Foreign quarrels being ended,
and the domestic disturbances that quickly succeeded on account of the
Stamp Act being quieted by its repeal, the Assembly of Massachusetts Bay
transmitted an humble address of thanks to the king and divers noblemen,
and soon after passed a bill for granting compensation to the sufferers
in the disorder occasioned by that act.
These circumstances, and the
following extracts from Governor Bernard's letters, in 1768, to the Earl
of Shelburne, Secretary of State, clearly show with what grateful tenderness
they strove to bury in oblivion the unhappy occasion of the late discords,
and with what respectful deference they endeavored to escape other subjects
of future controversy. " The House," says the governor, "from the time
of opening the session day, has shown a disposition to avoid all dispute
with me, every thing having passed with as much good humor as I could desire,
except only their continuing to act in addressing the king, remonstrating
to the Secretary of State, and employing a separate agent. It is the importance
of this innovation, without any willfulness of my own, which induces me
to make this remonstrance at a time when I have a fair prospect of having
in all other business nothing but good to say of the proceedings of the
"They have acted in all things,
even in their remonstrance with temper and moderation; they have avoided
some subjects of dispute, and have laid a foundation for removing some
causes of former altercation."
"I shall make such a prudent
and proper use of this letter as I hope will perfectly restore the peace
and tranquility of this province, for which purpose considerable steps
have been made by the House of Representatives."
The vindication of the province
of Massachusetts Bay contained in these letters will have greater force
if it be considered that they were written several months after the fresh
alarm given to the colonies by the statutes passed in the preceding year.
In this place it seems proper
to take notice of the insinuation of one of those statutes, that the interference
of Parliament was necessary to provide for "defraying the charges of the
administration of justice, the support of civil government, and defending
the king's dominions in America."
As to the first two articles
of expense, every colony had made such provision as by their respective
assemblies, the best judges on such occasions, was thought expedient and
suitable to their several circumstances, respecting the last, it is well
known to all men the least acquainted with American affairs that the colonies
were established, and generally defended themselves, without the least
assistance from Great Britain; and that, at the time of her taxing them
by the statutes before mentioned, most of them were laboring under very
heavy debts contracted in the last war. So far were they from sparing their
money when their sovereign constitutionally asked their aids, that, during
the course of that war, Parliament repeatedly made them compensations for
the expenses of those strenuous efforts which, consulting their zeal rather
than their strength, they had cheerfully incurred.
Severe as the acts of Parliament
before mentioned are, yet the conduct of administration hath been equally
injurious and irritating to this devoted country.
Under pretense of governing
them, so many new institutions, uniformly rigid and dangerous, have been
introduced, as could only be expected from incensed masters for collecting
the tribute, or, rather, the plunder, of conquered provinces.
By an order of the king, the
authority of the commander-in-chief, and under him of the brigadier-generals,
in time of peace, is rendered supreme in all civil governments in America,
and thus an uncontrollable military power is vested in officers not known
to the Constitutions of these colonies.
A large body of troops, and
a considerable armament of ships of war, have been sent to assist in taking
their money without their consent.
Expensive and oppressive offices
have been multiplied, and the acts of corruption industriously practiced
to divide and destroy.
The judges of the admiralty
and vice-admiralty courts are empowered to receive their salaries and fees
from the effects to be condemned by themselves.
The commissioners of the customs
are empowered to break open and enter houses without the authority of any
civil magistrate, founded on legal information.
Judges of courts of common
law have been made entirely dependent on the crown for their commissions
and salaries. A court has been established at Rhode Island for the purpose
of taking colonists to England to be tried. Humble and reasonable petitions
from the representatives of the people have been frequently treated with
contempt, and assemblies have been repeatedly and arbitrarily dissolved.
From some few instances it
will sufflciently appear on what pretenses of justice those dissolutions
have been founded.
The tranquility of the colonies
having been again disturbed, as has been mentioned, by the statutes of
the year 1767, the Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State, in a letter
to Governor Bernard, dated April 22d, 1768, censures the "presumption"
of the House of Representatives for "resolving upon a measure of so inflammatory
a nature as that of writing to the other colonies on the subject of their
intended representations against some late acts of Parliament," then declares
that "his majesty considers this step as evidently tending to create unwarrantable
combinations, to excite an unjustifiable opposition to the constitutional
authority of Parliament," and afterward adds, "It is the king's pleasure
that, as soon as the General Court is again assembled at the time prescribed
by the charter, you should require of the House of Representatives, in
his majesty's name, to rescind the resolutions which gave birth to the
circular letter from the speaker, and to declare their disapprobation of
and dissent to that rash and hasty proceeding."
"If the new Assembly should
refuse to comply with his majesty's reasonable expectation, it is the king's
pleasure that you should immediately dissolve them."
This letter being laid before
the House, and the resolution not being rescinded, according to order the
Assembly was dissolved. A letter of a similar nature was sent to other
governors, to procure resolutions approving the conduct of the representatives
of Massachusetts Bay to be rescinded also, arid the Houses of Representatives
in other colonies refusing to comply, assemblies were dissolved.
These mandates spoke a language
to which the ears of English subjects had for several generations been
strangers. The nature of assemblies implies a power and right of deliberation;
but these commands, proscribing the exercise of judgment on the propriety
of the requisitions made, left to the assemblies only the election between
dictated submission and threatened punishment: a punishment, too, founded
on no other act than such as is deemed innocent even in slaves, of agreeing
in petitions for redress of grievances that equally affect all.
The hostile and unjustifiable
invasion of the town of Boston soon followed these events in the same year,
though that town, the province in which it is situated, and all the colonies,
from abhorrence of a contest with their parent state, permitted the execution
even of those statutes against which they were so unanimously complaining,
remonstrating, and supplicating.
to subdue a spirit of freedom which English ministers should have rejoiced
to cherish, entered into a monopolizing combination with the East India
Company to send to this continent vast quantities of tea, an article on
which a duty was laid by a statute that in a particular manner attacked
the liberties of America, and which therefore, the inhabitants of these
colonies had resolved not to import. The cargo sent to South Carolina was
stored and not allowed to be sold. Those sent to Philadelphia and New York
were not permitted to be landed. That sent to Boston was destroyed, because
Governor Hutchinson would not suffer it to be returned.
On the intelligence of these
transactions arriving in Great Britain, the public spirited town last mentioned
was singled out for destruction, and it was determined the province it
belongs to should partake of its fate. In the last session of Parliament,
therefore, were passed the acts for shutting up the port of Boston, indemnifying
the murderers of the inhabitants of Massachusetts Bay, and changing their
chartered constitution of government. To enforce these acts, that province
is again invaded by a fleet and army.
To mention these outrageous
proceedings is sufficient to explain them. For though it is pretended the
province of Massachusetts Bay has been particularly disrespectful to Great
Britain, yet, in truth, the behavior of the people in other colonies has
been an equal "opposition to the power assumed by Parliament." No step,
however, has been taken against any of the rest. This artful conduct conceals
several designs. It is expected that the province of Massachusetts Bay
will be irritated into some violent action that may displease the rest
of the continent, or that may induce the people of Great Britain to approve
the meditated vengeance of an imprudent and exasperated ministry. If the
unexampled pacific temper of that province shall disappoint this part of
the plan, it is hoped the other colonies will be so far intimidated as
to desert their brethren suffering in a common cause, and that thus disunited
all may be subdued.
To promote these designs another
measure has been pursued. In the session of Parliament last mentioned,
an act was passed for changing the government of Quebec, by which act the
Roman Catholic religion, instead of being tolerated, as stipulated by the
treaty of peace, is established, and the people there are deprived of a
right to an assembly, trials by jury, and the English laws in civil eases
are abolished, and instead thereof the French laws are established, in
direct violation of his majesty's promise by his royal proclamation, under
the faith of which many English subjects settled in that province; and
the limits of that province are extended so as to comprehend those vast
regions that lie adjoining to the northerly and westerly boundaries of
The authors of this arbitrary
enactment flatter themselves that the inhabitants, deprived of liberty
and artfully provoked against those of another religion, will be proper
instruments for assisting in the oppression of such as differ from them
in modes of government and faith.
From the detail of facts herein
before recited, as well as from authentic intelligence received, it is
clear, beyond a doubt, that a resolution is formed and now carrying into
execution to extinguish the freedom of these colonies, by subjecting them
to a despotic government.
At this unhappy period we have
been authorized and directed to meet and consult together for the welfare
of our common country. We accepted the important trust with diffidence
but have endeavored to discharge it with integrity. Though the state of
these colonies would certainly justify other measures than we have advised,
yet weighty reasons determined us to prefer those which we have adopted.
In the first place, it appeared to us a conduct becoming the character
these colonies have ever sustained, to perform, even in the midst of the
unnatural distresses and immediate dangers which surround them, every act
of loyalty, and therefore we were induced once more to offer to his majesty
the petitions of his faithful and oppressed subjects in America. Secondly,
regarding with the tender affection which we knew to be so universal among
our countrymen, the people of the kingdom from which we derive our origin,
we could not forbear to regulate our steps by an expectation of receiving
full conviction that the colonists are equally dear to them. Between these
provinces and that body subsists the social band, which we ardently wish
may never be dissolved, and which can not be dissolved, until their minds
shall become indisputably hostile, or their inattention shall permit those
who are thus hostile to persist in prosecuting, with the powers of the
realm, the destructive measures already operating against the colonists,
and in either case shall reduce the latter to such a situation that they
shall be compelled to renounce every regard but that of self preservation.
Notwithstanding the violence with which affairs have been impelled, they
have not yet reached that fatal point. We do not incline to accelerate
their motion, already alarmingly rapid; we have chosen a method of opposition
that does not preclude a hearty reconciliation with our fellow citizens
on the other side of the Atlantic. We deeply deplore the urgent necessity
that presses us to an immediate interruption of commerce that may prove
injurious to them. We trust they will acquit us of any unkind intentions
toward them, by reflecting that we are driven by the hands of violence
into unexperienced and unexpected public convulsions, and that we are contending
for freedom, so often contended for by our ancestors.
The people of England will
soon have an opportunity of declaring their sentiments concerning our cause.
In their piety, generosity, and good sense, we repose high confidence,
and can not, upon a revieiw of past events, be persuaded that they, the
defenders of true religion, and the asserters of the rights of mankind,
will take part against their affectionate Protestant brethren in the colonies,
in favor of our open and their own secret enemies, whose intrigues, for
several years past, have been wholly exercised in sapping the foundations
of civil and religious liberty.
Another reason that engaged
us to prefer the commercial mode of opposition arose from an assurance
that the mode will prove efficacious if it be persisted in with fidelity
and virtue, and that your conduct will be influenced by these laudable
principles can not be doubted. Your own salvation and that of your posterity
now depends upon yourselves. You have already shown that you entertain
a proper sense of the blessings you are striving to retain. Against the
temporary inconveniences you may suffer from a stoppage of trade, you will
weigh in the opposite balance the endless miseries you and your descendants
must endure from an established arbitrary power. You will not forget the
honor of your country, that must, from your behavior, take its title, in
the estimation of the world, to glory or to shame; and you will, with the
deepest attention, reflect that if the peaceable mode of opposition recommended
by us be broken and rendered ineffectual, as your cruel and haughty ministerial
enemies, from a contemptuous opinion of your firmness, insolently predict
will be the case, you must inevitably be reduced to choose either a more
dangerous contest, or a final, ruinous, and infamous submission.
Motives thus cogent, arising
from the emergency of your unhappy condition, must excite your utmost diligence
and zeal to give all possible strength and energy to the pacific measures
calculated for your relief; but we think ourselves bound in duty to observe
to you, that the schemes agitated against these colonies have been so conducted
as to render it prudent that you should extend your views to mournful events,
and be, in all respects, prepared for every contingency. Above all things,
we earnestly entreat you, with devotion of spirit, penitence of heart,
and amendment of life, to humble yourselves, and implore the favor of Almighty
God: and we fervently beseech his divine goodness to take you into his
IN CONGRESS, PHILADELPHIA, October 21, 1774.
PEYTON RANDOLPH, President.