Editor’s note: Embedded within this eloquent response by a South Carolina patriot is the full text of a snotty ‘declaration’ written by British aristocrats opposing our July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence, in which they scold “misguided Americans” for “their extravagant and inadmissable Claim of Independency.” In reply, the South Carolinian asserts that what would in fact be inadmissable is “to submit to a Government abandoned to corruption, lost to a sense of justice, and already but a step behind absolute despotism.”
Address of a South Carolinian to British Aristocrats Declaring Opposition to American Independence
ADDRESS TO THEIR EXCELLENCIES RICHARD VISCOUNT HOWE, ADMIRAL, AND WILLIAM HOWE, ESQUIRE, GENERAL, OF HIS BRITANNICK. MAJESTY’ S FORCES IN AMERICA.
MY LORD AND SIR: Your Declaration at New-York has reached this place. It has occasioned surprise and concern. The known honour and abilities of your Excellencies, and your Declaration, appear perfect contrasts. The latter is an unnatural production. Hurt, as I am, to see your names so prostituted, I cannot restrain myself from making a few remarks to your Excellencies upon a subject which, by endangering your reputation, distresses every generous mind. I shall first state your Declaration:
By RICHARD VISCOUNT HOWE, of the Kingdom of IRELAND, and WILLIAM HOWE, Esquire, General, of His Majesty’ s Forces in AMERICA, the King’ s Commissioners for restoring peace to His Majesty’ s Colonies and Plantations in NORTH AMERICA, &c˙, &c˙, &c.:
“Given at New-York, 19th September, 1776,
” W˙ HOWE.
“By command of their Excellencies:
And now, not to detain your Excellencies by making observations upon Lord Howe’ s not assuming his military title displaying the nature of his supreme hostile command in America, by which unusual and designed omission, the ignorant, seeing his name contrasted with that of a General clothed in all his terrours, may be entrapped to believe that his Lordship is to be considered in a more amiable point of view, a mere Commissioner only, for restoring peace, without any military command to intimidate and coerce. Not to wound your delicacy by admiring the wisdom of your appealing from the Congress to people confessed by you to be directed by that honourable Assembly, my remarks shall be confined to the more material parts of your Declaration, which, I am sorry to say, are in every respect unworthy your good sense and high characters.
Your Excellencies “think fit to declare” that you are desirous “of restoring the publick tranquillity.” But is the end your Excellencies aim at, our honour and advantage? Is it to give a free scope to our natural growth? Is it to confirm to us our rights by the law of nature? No! It is to cover us with infamy. It is to chill the sap, and check the luxuriance of our imperial plant. It is to deprive us of our natural equality with the rest of mankind, by “establishing” every State “as a part of the BritishEmpire.” In short, your Excellencies invite men of common sense to exchange an independent station for a servile and dangerous dependence! But, when we recollect that the King of Great Britain has, from the throne, declared his “firm and steadfast resolutions to withstand every attempt to weaken or impair the supreme authority of that Legislature over all the dominions of his crown;” that his hirelings in Parliament and tools in office, abhorred by the English nation, have echoed the sentiment; and that America for ten years has experienced that King’ s total want of candour, humanity, and justice, it is, I confess, a matter of wonder that your Excellencies can appear so lost to decency as to hold out subjection as the only condition of peace; and that you could condescend to sully your personal honour by inviting us to trust a Government in which you are conscious we cannot, in the nature of things, place any confidence — a Government that you are sensible has been, now is, and ever must be, jealous of our prosperity and natural growth — a Government that you know is absolutely abandoned to corruption! Take it not amiss, if I hint to your Excellencies that your very appearing in support of such a proposal, furnishes cause to doubt even of your integrity, and to reject your allurements lest they decoy us into slavery.
The Declaration says: “The King is most graciously pleased to direct a revision of such of his royal instructions to his Governours,” &c˙, “and to concur in the revisal of all acts by which his Majesty’ s subjects may think themselves aggrieved.” But what of all this? Your Excellencies have not told the people who “think themselves aggrieved” that they are to be a party in the revision. You have not even told them who are to be the revisors. If you had, it would be nothing to the purpose; for you have not and cannot tell them, and engage that even any of the instructions and acts, being revised, shall be revoked and repealed; particularly those by which people “may think themselves aggrieved.” But if such are not to be repealed, why have you mentioned, “think themselves aggrieved?” If they are intended to be repealed, why did not your Excellencies come to the point at once and say so? It is evident your Excellencies are by your superiours precipitated into a dilemma. You have not been accustomed to dirty jobs, and plain dealing does not accord with your instructions; otherwise, in the latter case, I think you are men of too much sense and honour to have overlooked or suppressed so material a point of information. However, you say instructions and acts are to be revised. We see that you have laid an ambuscade for our liberties; the clause is carefully constructed without the least allusion to the revisors, or to the words revoke, redress, repeal. In short, it appears to be drawn up entirely on the plan of a declaration by King James the Second, after his abdication, as confidentially explained by James’ s Secretary of State, the Earl of Melford, to Lord Dundee, inScotland. For Melford writes to Dundee, “that notwithstanding of what was promised in the Declaration, indemnity and indulgence, yet he had couched things so that the King would break them when he pleased; nor would he think himself obliged to stand to them;” and your Excellencies have “couched things so,” that more words upon this subject are unnecessary.
” It is recommended to the inhabitants at large to reflect seriously upon their present condition.” Is it possible your Excellencies can be serious, and mean any thing by this recommendation? Can you be ignorant, that ever since the birth of the Stamp Act, the inhabitants at large have been reflecting upon their deplorable condition? Can you have an idea that, after such a length of time, during which they have been continually kept to their reflections, by the Declaratory Law, the Tea Act, the Boston Port Bill, and those then passed to annihilate the Charter of Massachusetts-Bay, the Quebeck Bill to establish Popery, the Fishery Bill to coerce by famine, the Britishcommencement of the late civil war, and the act of Parliament in December last, declaring the inhabitants Rebels — I say, after such a series of causes for reflection, and that your Excellencies now find us in arms against you, determined on independence or death, can you possibly entertain an idea that we have not reflected seriously? On the contrary you know, that we are prepared to offer up our lives in evidence of our serious reflections! In addressing a world, you ought to have some attention to the propriety of your recommendations, if only from a regard to your own reputation.
You are pleased to term our cause “unjust.” In this there is nothing so surprising, as your being lured to give such a sentiment under your hands — signing your own disgrace with posterity. You know that the virtuous characters throughout Europe, on this point differ with your Excellencies; and I most respectfully submit, whether there is not some little degree of presumption in your signing an opinion, in contradiction to the opinion of thousands, who, without derogating from your Excellencies, are at least as well able to judge upon the point as you are?
But you add, that our cause is “precarious.” Allow me to make a proper return to your Excellencies by informing you that all the affairs of men are precarious, and that war is particularly so. However, if your Excellencies meant to insinuate that our cause is precarious from an inability in us to maintain it, I beg leave to ask General Howe what progress his arms made during his command atBoston? And what shining victories, and important conquests you have achieved since your junction at Staten-Island? The eulogium,
— duo fulmina belli
cannot yet be applied to your Excellencies. General Howe’ s repulse from the lines on Long-Island, and his victory over the advanced guard of three thousand men, reflect no great degree of glory on the corps of at least twelve thousand that he commanded. Nor can you boast much of the action on New-York Island on the 15th September, when a few more than eight hundred Americans, attacking three companies of light troops supported by two regiments, the one Scotch, the otherHessian, drove them from hill to hill back to your lines, and carried off three pieces of brass cannon as trophies of their victory. And when General Washington, on the 2d of October, caused a large detachment to draw up to Harlaem– Plains to cover the inhabitants between the two armies, while they carried off their effects, the march and continuance of the British troops in order of battle, within long shot, without firing a gun to interrupt the service, is at least some slight degree of evidence that they respect and stand in awe of the American arms. In short, without being unreasonable, I think I may be allowed to say, that these particulars do not show that our cause is so precarious as your Excellencies would insinuate it to be, and to recommend that your Excellencies “reflect seriously upon your present condition,” and abandon “the unjust cause in which you are engaged,” while you yet may preserve your reputation from the reproaches of posterity.
Your Excellencies call upon the inhabitants at large “to return to their allegiance.” It is as if you had commanded a body of troops to advance to the assault before you had put them in order of battle. I tell your Excellencies, that protection must precede allegiance; for the latter is founded on the benefit of the former. That the operations of the forces by sea and land under your orders, demonstrate that your King is not our protector; and that the allegiance of America to the King ofGreat Britain is now utterly out of the question.
But you attempt to allure the inhabitants by telling them they may “be secured in a free enjoyment of their liberties and properties, upon the true principles of the Constitution.” Will your Excellencies tell us where those principles are to be found? You must say they are not to be found in the present British Government. Do we not know that the majority of the two Houses of Parliament are absolutely under the King of Great Britain’ s direction? They make and repeal laws; they agree with or reject motions; they vote money even without limitation of sum at the pleasure of that King’ s Minister, in whose pay they actually are; and your Excellencies as men of honour dare not deny these things. Will you then say that, where there is such a dependence, the true principles of the Constitution operate? The history of the present reign, all Europe would witness against you. Those principles have been long despised by the rulers, and lost to the people — otherwise, even at the commencement of the present reign, we should not have seen the dismission of the virtuous Chancellor of the Exchequer, Legge, because he would not quit his seat in Parliament at the instigation of the last Prince of Wales; nor the massacre in St˙ George’ s Fields, and the royal thanks to the assassins; nor the repeated and unredressed complaints to the Throne; nor the unheard of profusion of the publick treasure, far exceeding the extravagance of a Caligula or aNero; nor the present ruinous situation of Great Britain; nor the present war in America, for the worst of purposes kindled by your King. Can your Excellencies be so wanting to yourselves, as, at this time of day, on the part of your master, seriously to talk to us of a security upon the true principles of the Constitution! Did it never strike you that the Americans would expect to see such principles operating in England, before they could be duped into a belief that America could possibly feel their effects from the dark recess of the royal palace? The Lord Mayor of London has openly charged Lord North, and the Lords of Admiralty, with licensing ships to trade to all parts ofAmerica, in direct disregard, contempt, and ‘ defiance of an act of Parliament to the contrary, passed so late as December last. And yet, your Excellencies do not scruple to talk to us of a security upon the true principles of the Constitution! Let the fountain be sweet, and then its stream may be salutary.
Your Excellencies say “the King is most graciously pleased to direct a revision” of instructions and acts. If you really mean to conciliate, why will you insult the inhabitants at large? It was “the King’ s” bounden duty to have directed, not only a revision, but an amendment of his instructions, and to have recommended a repeal of the acts when the people first complained of them. But he, having been criminally deaf to the cries of the injured, to terrify them into silence — having burnt their towns, restrained their trade, seized and confiscated their vessels, driven them into enormous expenses, sheathed his sword in their bowels, and adorned the heads of their aged, women, and children, with a cincture made by the seal ping-knife of his ally the Indian savage — you now tell these injured people, that “the King is graciously pleased to direct a revision!” His very mercies are insults!
And so your Excellencies, besides your military commands as Admiral and General, are also “Commissioners for restoring peace.” Is there not some errour in this title? Ought we not instead of “peace” to read tyranny? You seem armed at all points for this purpose, and your very language detects the latent design. But you are Commissioners, and for the important purpose of “restoring peace,” you are honoured with a power — “to confer.” And you have condescended to be mere machines through which, as through speaking trumpets, words are to be sounded fromAmerica to Britain! How much lower is it possible for your Excellencies to degrade yourselves in the eyes of the world? By this, it is most evident, the British King has not one generous thought respecting America. Nor does he mean to grant terms upon the true principles of the Constitution. For, if to grant such terms was bona fide. the intention of your master, without doubt you would have been vested with competent powers. But he plainly means to grant nothing that he can possibly avoid, and therefore he would have the matter of negotiation drawn into length under his own eye. Can we place any confidence in such a Prince? His aim is to divide, not to redress, and your Excellencies Declaration is but a continuation of Lord North’ s conciliatory plan.
Thus, while we remember that Lord North declared, on the 20th of February, 1775, that his famous conciliatory plan was rather calculated to break a link in the American chain of union than to give satisfaction to the people, and that the exercise of the right of taxing every part of the Britishdominions must by no means be given up, that Lord Mansfield, on the third reading of the bill declaring war against the United Colonies, affirmed that he did not consider who was originally in the wrong, they were now to consider only where they were, and the justice of the cause must now give way to their present situation. When we consider the King of Great Britain’ s speech to the Parliament on the last of November, and the Commons’ address and his answer on the 7th ofDecember, 1774 — the Commons’ address of the 9th of February, 1775, and the royal answer; and the speech from the throne at the last opening of the Parliament, October the 26th, 1775 — all declaring an unalterable purpose to maintain the supreme authority of that Legislature, over all the dominions of the Crown — in other words, their unalterable purpose, to bind us in all cases whatsoever; when we see your hostile array and operations, in consequence of those declarations — I say, when we consider these things, we can be at no loss to form a just idea of the intentions of your King, or to conceive what your Excellencies mean by “the true principles of the Constitution.” Nor are we to be caught by any allurements your Excellencies may throw out: you confess, and we know that you, as Commisioners, have not any power to negotiate and determine any thing.
But, unanswerable as the reasons are against America returning to a subjection under the British Crown, now in fact become despotick — and America, after unheard-of injuries, infinite toil, hazard and expense, her inhabitants called cowards by your master’ s servants, civil and military, having declared herself independent — did not your Excellencies feel a little for our honour, when you, at the head of your armies, held out to us subjection and peace? Did not you feel the dignity of your characters affected when you, under the guise of a security upon the true principles of the Constitution, recommend to “the inhabitants at large” to rescind their decree, and by their own mouths declare themselves the most contemptible people in history, which gives no example of such baseness — render their name a term of reproach among all nations — and forbid each other from placing any, the least degree of confidence in, and all foreign States from paying the least degree of credit to, their most solemn declarations? In short, to submit to a Government abandoned to corruption, lost to a sense of justice, and already but a step behind absolute despotism — a Government that has long been and ever must be jealous of our rise, and studious to depress our natural growth! Did not your Excellencies blush and shrink within yourselves when you asked men, who had been almost ruined by your gracious master, to abandon the honourable and natural station of independence, and stoop to kiss his hand, now daily bathed in, and which ever must continue stained by, the blood of a friend! a brother! a son! a father!
That your Excellencies may “reflect seriously” upon “the unjust cause in which you are engaged,” and that the name of Howe may be enrolled with the names of Marlborough and Effingham, are the wishes of
South-Carolina, Charleston, October 22, 1776.
Principles and Acts of the Revolution in America, Hezekiah Niles, Ed. Baltimore: William Ogden, 1822, p. 115