Friends and fellow Citizens
[ante May 29, 1777](1)
We your Delegates in Congress address you at this Period in order to give you a Just Notion of your affairs and of the Exertions Necessary for compleating your Freedom and Happiness.
Our Enemy are unwearied in their Endeavours to seduce you from that honest and virtuous firmness wherewith you have united against their Usurpations. They pretend that your resistance do's not arise from a Sense of Violence done to your Rights, but from a Delusion into which you have been lead by Some designing men whose purpose is only to set up an Independant Dominion that they themselves may enjoy the supreme Power.
These Suggestions your own Experience can best refute, to you it is best known that they are false and Groundless, and every honest unprejudiced man will be convinced of it from a short View of the progress of the Contest.
The British Parliament expressly declared that they had and of Right ought to have Power to bind the Inhabitants of America in all Cases whatsoever. They proceeded to the Exercise of such Power by laying Taxes to be paid in America, and they Instituted arbitrary Courts supported by Military Force to Compel Obedience. This Tax, confessedly, was not laid for the Value of the revenue, but to form a precedent for exercising the Power when and to what Extent they pleased.
The Representatives of the People in their general Assemblies Complained of those Doings as violating the Rights of their Constituents. They knew it was their distinguished Privilege to give and grant their own Money, and to Consent to all Laws which they were bound to obey.
Soon as the Governors perceived the Assemblies were in Deliberation on this Subject they dissolved them. Other Representatives were chozen and those Extravagant Usurpations Still presented themselves as the greatest Grievance. When they entered on the Consideration of them they were again dissolved. This mode was pursued until the People every where became Sensible that no Opportunity would be given them ever to Complain. Necessity pointed out to them that they must have recourse to other Methods of representing their wrongs and requiring redress. Nature pointed out to them the mode they Adopted, and they were so reluctant to do any thing which might even appear a Deviation from Established Form, that they long forbore assembling in Towns and Counties and did not at length yield to the Necessity until they found every hope of redress any other way was lost.
When obliged to take this first Step the People proceeded with the utmost Caution. No tumult or disorder appeared, every man was impressed with an awful Sense of the Necessity he was under of Exercising that Right which Nature gave to every Man, and which the British Constitution expressly Assented, that of Consulting and resolving Concerning his Safety and Happiness, and each was determined to Exercise it no farther than the Necessity pressingly required.
In the most humble manner they declared their attachment to the Established Government, and even affection to the person of the Prince, they Complained of Wrongs which they modestly supposed to have arisen from no ill Intention or design in the Prince or Parliament, and they determined to Communicate their Sentiments to their Neighbors in Conventions of representatives Chozen and Instructed for this purpose. The same Necessity pressing at the Same time in every Colony, the same Sense of Wrong being every where felt, and Simple Nature every where Suggesting the same Expedient the meetings were every where held nearly at the same time, and they produced Conventions nearly at the Same time in every one of the present United States. Instructions from the People were nearly the Same in every Town and County, and they all Breathed (nearly) the same Spirit of humility, Moderation and Loyalty. All pointed out the Propriety of a Common Communication between the Different Colonies, and of Joint Supplications to the Throne for redress of Wrongs and Protection from Usurpations.
This produced the first Congress, and that Congress Confined itself entirely to Stating the Grievances of the People of America, Peti[ti]oning the King for a redress of them, professing the most Loyal humility and recommending Frugality and A Suspension of Commerce, unless within a Certain time the Wrongs should be redressed.
It is fresh in every Ones Memory that their Petition was treated with the most Insulting Contempt. That another Congress Still fondly holding by the Hope that Britain would forego her unjust Claims and Harmony be Restored, most humbly entreated the King to point out Some Method by which the Complaints of America might find their way to him without offending him, but to this Petition, the lowest Condescention to which a free People ever Stooped, was refused even an Answer. This humiliating Measure which Nothing but the Extream reluctance of the People of America to seperate from Britain can Account for or Justify was as fruitless as every other, and Acts of Parliament were made to subject the persons and Properties of Americans every where to Military plunder and Execution. Regular Bands of Soldiers were marched into the Country under their officers to deal Hostile Murders and Ravages around them. A formidable Naval Force was employed to hinder the Commerce of populous Cities and thereby to reduce the poor Inhabitants to Wretchedness, and even to prevent their availing themselves of the Food which the Sea Washing their own Coasts afforded to their Industry-and it was expressly declared that no Mitigation of those violences could be obtained but by Submitting without Condition to the absolute Will of the Parliament of Great Britain, a Body composed of men unknown to and unchozen by the Inhabitants of America, and who showed but too little regard to the Rights of their own Constituents, and of human Nature.
The Conduct of the British Court towards the Americans in the repeated dissolutions of their Assemblies whenever they attempted to Complain, in disregarding their Complaints when offered in the most humble and supplicating Manner by their Representatives in Congress, in refusing even to point out a Mode whereby they might find an Inoffensive passage to the Royal Ear, in disregarding all Rules of Justice and humanity by Subjecting their persons and Properties to Military Violence and Endeavouring even to Starve them, and by denying any Mitigation of those Enormities, Unless absolute Submission Should be made. this Conduct of the B[ritish] C[ourt] left no room to doubt that they considered the Americans as objects merely of Dominion not of Government. of Plunder not of Protection, of Military Tyranny not of Legal administration of Justice. No choice was left but to Oppose Arms to Arms, or submit to the absolute dominion of Men whose pride and Cruelty is incurrable, and whose rapacity is without Bounds. No alternative was left to the Citizen but to rouse into a Soldier or Sink into a Slave and entail Servitude Irrevocably on his posterity.
Yet even after this altho the People of America Could not Hesitate to take Arms, they kept in view their much loved Constitutional Connection with Britain, and altho they knew that when Protection was denied them, and they were driven to arms for their Safety, all relation between them and the Crown of Britain was dissolved, yet they chose to overlook this, and so long as any Hope remained of obtaining it on Just and reasonable Grounds to leave every possible Avenue open to reconciliation, nor did they forego this pleasing tho Imaginary prospect until they four.d that Britain was arming Slaves, Savages, and foreign Mercenaries against them and that she was totally regardless of their sufferings and Intent only on Subduing them to absolute Slavery. It now became Folly to indulge any Hope of Reconciliation. The Americans were universally Sensible that in all her progress Britain was determined to Establish over them an unlimitted Tyranny, that nothing less would Satisfy her ambition, and to Effect this She would Not Scruple to Expose them to the Undistinguishing Plunder and Massacres of Slaves, Indians, and more unfeeling Mercenary Soldiers. All Connection with Britain became impossible Except as Slaves without Right or property, but what must be held at the Precarious Will and pleasure of her Ministers.(2) Reconciliation became the same thing as Slavery, Independence the same thing as Freedom. Independance was not the voluntary choice of America but the Alternative which she prefered to Servitude, for no other Choice but one of them was left.
Every Man in America knows that during the whole Progress until the Declaration of Independance Britain might have disarmed America and made her perfectly Happy by recalling her Fleets and armies, renouncing her claims to absolute Dominion and declaring she would be Satisfied with regulating Commerce. That the Declaration of Independance was adopted at length as a Measure of Necessity to which Britain herself had driven America, and every Man of Common Sense and Honesty must be convinced it is Necessary to maintain it. Because to give it up would be to Sink into the most abject Slavery to a People who have given the most convincing Proofs that they regard us only as objects of their rapine; whose Policy it must be to keep us always poor, dejected and oppressed in order to Subdue our Spirit of Resistance to their Tyranny and to blot out even the Memory of that Liberty which Animates us at present to defend our Rights under so many disadvantagesw Even to suspend it would deprive us of the Confidence of Foreign Powers, and Consequently of their Friendship and assistance. Thus Britain could she prevail in this would deprive us of every prospect of Support and might pursue her purpose of enslaving us without danger of any Effectual resistance, and we should be deprived of every resource which enables us to make a stand for our Liberties.
In short it is manifest that from the Begining Britain has pursued a purpose of making the People of America Submit to her absolute Dominion, and regardless of Right, Justice and humanity, has employed means the most destructive and Calamitous.
On the other Hand America has Supplicated with the most humble Voice and manner of Complaint, have prayed with most Submissive humility for Peace, Liberty and Safety, but in vain, and at length when forced to take Arms for self-preservation She raised them with reluctance against Britain even in Defence of her own Bosom, and at length unwillingly seperated altho she plainly saw that any further Connection must involve her in Circumstances worse than utter Perdition.
To maintain this Seperation is to maintain the Religion, Liberty and Property of ourselves and our Posterity, to renounce it is to Sink into the lowest meanness and Slavery.
May God remove every such thought from every American Breast! Welcome first the Life of the most uncivilized Savages ! Welcome Death itself and everlasting Oblivion to our race!
Your own Experience, Fellow Citizens, will best bear Testimony to the Truth of the Facts here set forth. Your own Experience can best prove the Falshood of the Suggestion that you are deluded by Individuals who aim at Nothing but Power. You know how little Influence Individuals have over you. You know that every Man trusted or Employed by you is a creature of your free Choice, and by every choice you make and every act you do you manifest that you feel you are Sovereign and supreme, and Influenced by Nothing but a Conviction that you ought to be free, a Determined Resolution to remain so and to transmit freedom unimpaired to your Children. You well know that you Command Your Servants to Execute Certain Duties which tho arduous and dangerous they think they ought not to refuse because every Citizen is devoted to his Country, and ought Serve on such Duty as his Country shall think proper to require.
It is not Strange that our Enemies should have fallen at first into this Error, accustomed to a Country where only the Shadow of Liberty remains to the People, where Multitudes know no more of freedom than the Liberty of following their choice of leaders, where the most groce [gross] and wicked artifices are every day practized in order to acquire Power and trust to Individuals who afterwards abuse them, to the purposes of avarice and Luxury, where the People in short are Considered as fit for Nothing but to toil that men of high birth and Fortune may (riot on what) live in Ease and Splender. Accustomed to this it is not surprising they should expect to find the Same in America. They know not the Plenty which the fruitful Soil of America yields to the Hand which gives it Cultivation, that penury and oppressive Landlords are here equally unknown, that Americans undebauched by Luxury have few wants and these few are always supply'd by a chearful and Laborious Industry, that wanting nothing they have nothing to Hope from Individuals, and no Individuals having Power or Inclination to hurt they have nothing from Individuals to fear. That each man has Leisure to Search out and understand what are his rights and that none Can Comprehend any reason why they should be given up to the absolute will of another. In Such a state as this no One is in a Situation to delude or be deluded, and the People of America well know that it is their State, altho of such the present race of Men in Britain have no Experience. But it is not to be believed that they Still Continue in this Error. They have Seen the People change their Servants frequently since they were compelled to take arms for their Defence, and yet the resistance has rather increased upon every change. They have seen the People in every State Erect Governments by their Sovereign authority, and in these Governments take special care that no Individuals should ever acquire any Influence over them. They have met with one Common Spirit of resistance every where in America, and that Spirit actuated the People without Distinction. This must undoubtedly have Convinced them long before this that the Americans are all apprehensive of Danger from the same Object and are Influenced by nothing but that Common Apprehension, and a firm resolution to meet it with Effectual Opposition.
But altho they cannot believe it they make use of it as an Engine wherewith to deceive the timorous and unwary amongst us. They put it as an argument into the mouths of their Emissaries, and Such Inhabitants of America, as are insensible of the Blessings of Freedom, Such as are unfeeling and mean spirited enough to prefer their present ease and oppulence to the Happiness of Milions now living and of Myriads yet unborn, Such as have wickedly determined for the Hopes of private advantages to assist in enslaving the Country which gave them birth, or Support, or altered them by the pleasing prospect of Liberty and plenty, Such endeavour to avail themselves of it, to excuse their Indolence, their selfishness or their Criminal Endeavours.(3) We flatter ourselves their are few of our fellow Citizens who answer this description, but we are sorry to find there are Some, and we warn you against all who use these arguments to you. Every Man who uses them is himself convinced of their falshood, and every Man to whom they are used need but apply one moment to his own Experience to refute them. We advise you therefore to Consider all such as men who wish you to Submit to the absolute Will of a People whose rapine as appears by their Treatment of Ireland and the East Indies can never be Satisfied, as long as the most Cruel Violence can Extort any thing from you.(4)
The War in which we are engaged for the defence of the Liberty Religion, and property of ourselves and our Posterity was begun under every disadvantage which a brave and virtuous People could struggle with. A powerfull and warlike oppressor whose Numbers of Inhabitants and boundless Commerce render her resources infinite and inex-haustable, with armies disciplined and officers Experienced, with a Fleet in every respect the Dread and Envy of the World on our part Inexperience, (went of Numbers,) want of Commerce, of warlike stores and even of (arms), and of every resource but an Inextinguishable Love of Liberty and a Confidence in the Justice of Divine Providence. In this Situation were we opposed to that Power which a few years ago Shook the most formidable Monarchies in Europe and carried Terror all over the World, (and who ungenerously as well as unjustly relying on her Superior Force insisted on binding us in all Cases whatever without our Consent, and on binding us to an absolute Submission to the Will and pleasure of her Corrupt and venal Ministers). Not detered by such Disadvantages, nor despairing of Divine aid and Protection the Virtuous Inhabitants of America determined (without Hesitation) to resist all attempts to enforce such unjust and extravagant Claims, and to maintain that Freedom which Heaven had originally bestowed on Mankind, and which their Ancestors had wrested from the Hands of usurping Tyrants, and rendering it more valuable by their Blood shed in its defence transmitted Improved to their Posterity, chusing rather to trust to the Issue of any War however callamitous, than to the boundless and Insatiable rapine of Ministers who had a whole People once great and Free to corrupt, and Consequently Innumerable Minions to employ, whose avarice or Luxury must be Satiated with the plunder extorted from the Industrious Poor in America. The Events of the War hitherto have justified our Trust in Divine Providence, and prove to us that an all wise and beneficent God will never forsake men who have virtue enough to Struggle for those Blessings which he has bestowed upon them, and who will rely on his Protection against all superiority of worldly Power, for, our unfeeling Enemy, tho possessed of the advantages of superior Force, Discipline and Experience, and employing every Engine of Fraud and violence in a three years War have acquired only one City and a small Teritory round it which by reason of their superiority in shipping could not be defended and they have been baffled in every (Considerable Enterprize) attempt to Penetrate into the Country whether from Canada or the Sea. They have been forced to fly from Boston, and have been repelled and defeated with disgrace at Charlestown, and their Efforts against Virginia, North and South Carolina, either by Invasion from the Sea, by Inroads which they procured the Savage Indians to make on Western Frontiers or the Insurrections Excited by them among the Slaves, the Ignorant Highlanders, and disaffected Tories have been all repelled and suppressed, with little Damage to us; but with Irreparable Ruin to their Instruments. Their attempts against Pennsylvania were rendered abortive, their Troops defeated, and Captivated, and their Generals forced to retreat in order to save the remains of their army from utter destruction, altho this Enterprize was undertaken under the Conduct of their most experienced officers, with a numerous, well disciplined and well appointed army at a time when we had but few Troops, and these Few under every disadvantage. This Happy event was produced by the Superior Skill and Sagacity of our Commander in Chief, by the Indefatigable perseverance and Intrepidity of our fellow Citizens who composed the army under his Command great part of which consisted of the Militia of Philadelphia, and other parts of Pennsylvania, Jersey and Maryland, and above all by the peculiar Interposition of Divine Providence. Ever Since they have been confined to Straight Quarter and never attempted to pass without them but they are repulsed defeated or taken Prisoners.
The Campaign is now nearly ready to open. We have large Supplies of Arms and Military Stores, we have large Magazines of Provisions, and our Country abounds in plenty, for among other marks of Divine favor Heaven has blessed us with Extraordinary fruitfulness. Your Delegates in Congress have provided a liberal, and they Hope useful Establishment for the assistance and care of all who during the Course of the War may be afflicted with Wounds or diseases and are taking every precaution to preserve the Health of their fellow Citizens who must form the armies. Nothing is now wanting but the Zealous Exertions of our brave fellow Citizens to Compleat our armies, and to man our Navy, and to watch, detect, and suppress the Tories amongst us with Spirit and Vigilence.
For these purpose[s] we Exhort you every where to use every Effort for recruiting the Battalions from our brave and Magnanimous Youth, to whom must be due the Glory of Freeing their Country from Oppression, and bestowing Liberty and Happiness on their Families to be transmitted to future ages in a bright and improving Succession, to Apprehend all Deserters who not only disgrace themselves by quitting so Noble a Conflict, but Rob you of the Monies which have been advanced to them, to Seize and bring to legal punishment all who Endeavour to deceive any men into a Belief that they ought to Submit to the absolute Dominion of Britain or to renounce that Independance which alone can Secure us from it, in a Word to Employ the most vigorous and Zealous Vigilence in Executing the Laws Enacted by every State upon Offenders against the public cause. We have the Strongest Confidence that the men You entrust with the Power of making Laws will provide such as will be Competent to every desirable purpose, and we assure you that we shall not remit the greatest care, attention and Vigor in discharging the Duties you have Enjoyned us to perform.(5)
May the all bountiful, Merciful, and Gracious God enable us to Conclude the War in a short time, and with as little Misery to Mankind as possible, and so may he prosper our Endeavours as he knows our Intentions are void of ambition, and of every Motive but that of Securing those Blessings which we derive from him as the Great and bountiful Father of Mankind. We hope Fellow Citizens that your Virtue and Piety will always merit his Divine Protection, and we humbly beseech him to make you the Care of his All righteous Providence. MS (Nc-Ar). In the hand of Thomas Burke and endorsed by him: "Rough [draft] of an address to the People drawn when member of Congress in 1777."
1 In order to mobilize popular support for the forthcoming campaign, Congress appointed Burke, William Duer, and James Wilson on April 30 "to prepare an address to the inhabitants of the thirteen United States, on the present situation of public affairs." On May 29 the committee submitted a draft address to Congress, written by Wilson and containing marginal comments by Burke, which reviewed the controversy between America and Great Britain and exhorted the American people to defend their rights vigorously against British tyranny. Congress read the address but took no further action on it. There is no explanation in the journals or in the delegates' surviving correspondence of Congress' failure to approve the address, but Wilson's bombastic style and occasional lack of clarity may have convinced many delegates that his work was unsuited for a popular audience. This conclusion is suggested by a marginal comment Burke made about Wilson's justification of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence: "This does not enter my Mind with sufficient force, clearness and Simplicity, neither the reasoning or motive is full, satisfactory or conclusive." PCC, item 24, fols. 233-39; and JCC, 7:314, 8:397-404. Burke's remark is reminiscent of Congress' reaction to one of Wilson's earlier literary efforts, for in February 1776 it had rejected his proposed address to the colonies on the grounds that it was "very long, badly written & full against Independence." See Richard Smith's Diary, February 13, 1776.
Burke doubtless drafted the address printed here sometime between his appointment to the committee on April 30 and the submission of Wilson's address to Congress on May 29. Burke's address differs greatly in content and style from Wilson's and a careful comparison of the two fails to reveal any influence by Burke on Wilson's work. As there is no known testimony of the three committee members about their work, it is impossible to determine why they preferred Wilson's draft to Burke's, which is in many respects a more vigorous statement.
2 On a detached sheet Burke wrote what might be a variant draft of the preceding sentence: "By this the Political union between you and Great Britain was dissolved, and because you would not be slaves you were not suffered to be subjects."
3 After this sentence in the MS Burke first wrote and then deleted: "of all such we warn you to beware."
4 At this point Burke apparently decided to discontinue the present draft and start afresh. On the next MS page he first drew up an outline for a new draft- "1. General Situation of affairs. 2. Suggestions of the Enemy's Arts. 3. Cautions and Incentives-[traitors?], Deserters. Trace the Steps leading to Indepen[den]ce and Shew the Necessity of Defending that in order to prevent the claims of our Enemies"-and then wrote a salutation and paragraph identical to the opening of the present address. After this, however, he deleted both the outline and opening paragraph and resumed writing his original draft.
5 On a detached sheet Burke wrote a sentence that might have been intended for insertion near the end of this paragraph: "We advise you to be dilligent in bringing all such men to the Chastisement provided by Law for their Offenses, and Suppress and disappoint their Endeavours as you would prevent your Enemy from gaining an advantage over you."