Historical Documents

of the United States of America

Address To The Inhabitants Of The United States ~ 1777

Passed 29 May 1777


     During the session of Wednesday, 30 April 1777, a committee, composed of James Wilson, William Duer and Thomas Burke, was resolved to "prepare an address to the inhabitants of the thirteen United States, on the present situation of public affairs."
      Note: Words, or groups of words, which the committee initially wrote, but then decided to change, are enclosed by braces, as: {    }.


     Friends and Fellow Citizens ~
     In free States an unreserved Communication of Sentiments, as well as an Union of Interests should always subsist between those who direct, and those who delegate to them the Direction of public Affairs. That your Interests and ours are inseparable, is a Truth of which we are clearly convinced; and our Conduct is, we trust an uniform Testimony of this clear Conviction. We wish that, upon every Occasion, you may have the fullest and most perfect Views of the Situation in which you stand; but we look upon it as peculiarly our Duty, at this Time when a new Campaign is opening, to address you upon some important Subjects, with which your Freedom and Happiness are very intimately connected.
     Let us begin with contemplating in Retrospect, the Scenes, which are already passed. Entitled to the Character of Freemen you saw a system formed for debasing you to the Condition of Slaves. Vested by bounteous Heaven with the Right of being governed by yourselves, or by those, upon whom you devolved the Powers of Government, you saw others, avow a Claim of governing you, without your Consent in all Cases whatever. Alarmed at Pretensions, to which Submission would have been Treason, you did, what a free and temperate People ought to do, ~ you petitioned and remonstrated against your Grievances; but you petitioned and remonstrated in a Tone which evinced your Determination never to bear them. Your Oppressors turned a deaf Ear to your Supplications. Your Wrongs were multiplied, and [their Severity was] increased. To feel, and to say that you felt them, were accounted Crimes. Arms were employed to punish you for not surrendering your Birth-right; and to wrest from you what you would not relinquish. What remained on your Part to be done? To oppose Force by Force. The Sword that is drawn in the Defence of Liberty is consecrated.
     Though War had been commenced by your Enemies, yet did not you nor your Representatives desist from applying, in the most respectful Manner, for Redress? It was deemed inconsistent with the Dignity of those, who assumed the Rule over you; to vouchsafe you an Answer. The ill founded Claim of governing you was the Injury offered; and you could not be heard till that ill-founded Claim was admitted. The War was prosecuted against you with unremitted Violence, and, on many Occasions, with Circumstances of Cruelty, disavowed by the Maxims and the Practice of civilized Nations. Though, at no Time, you had transgressed the Bounds of your Duty as subjects, and though your Resistance to illegal Government ought to have had peculiar Merit with a Prince whose Family [had been by a similar] Resistance {had led} [elevated] to the Throne, yet this virtuous Principle was pronounced Rebellion, and you were excluded from the Protection of the British Crown.
     Now the political Bands Connexion between you and Great Britain was {burst asunder; the Compact was on her Part dissolved, and you ceased to be} [was dissolved, and she would not consider you as] Subjects, because you would not be Slaves. But the Means of Freedom will never be wanting to those, who resolve to be free. Liberty was, in happier Times, enjoyed under the British Constitution: It will grow however with proper Culture, in every Soil. The [transplanted] Branch {which is transplanted} will flourish, though the Root be rotten. By your Authority your Delegates, in Congress assembled declared that you were free and Independent States.
     Much Industry has been employed, on this and on the other Side of the Atlantic to misrepresent this Declaration, and the Principles and Motives, on which it was founded. It has been considered as forming a new AEra in the Contest; as a Departure from the Maxims, on which you originally set out, and as the only Bar to an Accommodation with Great Britain: This Matter deserves to be placed in a clear and proper Point of View.
     Was it necessary for you to enter into this Controversy? An Attention to its Importance will discover the true Answer. It was not a Dispute about Affairs of trivial Consequence ~ about Claims or Rights which might have been admitted or given up, without materially affecting you. Your Property and your Lives ~ your Liberties and those of your Posterity ~ every Thing on Earth worth contending for ~ all were involved in the Decision of the momentous Conflict.
     If it was necessary to enter into the Controversy, at what Stage in its Progress, ought you to have stopt? Are there certain Lengths, to which Freemen may go, in asserting their Freedom, and no farther? Does the sacred Blessing deserve a Petition or a Remonstrance, and nothing more? If Arms may be taken up in its Defence, when should they be laid down? When the Attack upon it is abandoned, or effectually repulsed.
     The Truth is, that Independence was the natural, and when it was declared, the necessary Result of your Determination to defend and of the Determination of your Enemies to destroy your Liberties; that the Support of it is now become essential to the Success of your Cause; and that every Bar to an Accommodation with Great Britain which existed before it, exists still. Every Principle, which justified your Opposition at its Commencement, justifies it at its present Height.
     The Claim of Great Britain was to bind you, by her Laws, m all Cases whatever: Your Right was to be bound only by Laws made by yourselves, or your Representatives. Is your Right less certain, or of less Importance now, than it was at the Beginning of the Controversy? Has any Thing happened to shew the Propriety of receding from it? Is the Claim of Great Britain less pertinaciously prosecuted now than Formerly? Has any thing happened to shew the Propriety of admitting it? What Change, then, can be pointed out, in the Merits and Principles of the Contest? A fond Hope long lingered in your Breasts, that your Enemies would give up their unjust Pretensions; and that a Reconciliation, on the Principles of the British Constitution, would take Place. But Experience shewed the Hope to be vain. Determined never to part with your Liberties; and convinced that Great Britain would not suffer you to enjoy them in Connexion with her, you took the only Course left ~ you separated.
     This is a true and undisguised State of the Matter. Upon that Part of it, which relates to you, it is unnecessary for us to enlarge; because you know your own Rights, your own Principles, your own Conduct, and your own Determinations. What relates to Great Britain, her Prince, her Ministers and her Emissaries deserves a farther Illustration, in the Course of which we shall discover that the Disingenuity of the Arts has been equal to the Cruelty of the Arms employed against you.
     Commissioners, at the Head of Fleets and Armies were sent to restore Peace to America. After their Arrival, they issued a Proclamation, containing a Promise of Pardon. A Pardon implies a precedent Crime. What Crime was it, which the Pardon so graciously proferred, was meant to extinguish? That of refusing to surrender your Birthright and to be bound, in all Cases, by the Acts of the British Parliament. To receive a Pardon was to acknowledge that asserting the essential Rights of Freemen was criminal; and to promise never to assert them any more. And yet in the same Proclamation, mention is made of constitutional Liberty. What Meaning did those, stiled Commissioners intend to convey by these Expressions? What Meaning where they empowered to convey? Those Questions are far from being of the same Import. By an Art, unknown to Openness and Candour, the Commissioners insinuated that the Plea of Independence was the only one, that was inadmissible, when they were conscious, that though that Plea had been relinquished, they must have refused to admit every other; for till an absolute Submission was made on your Part, they had no Authority to enter into any Negotiation on theirs. This appears beyond all Contradiction from the Declarations of the Ministers and from the Debates in the Houses of Parliament. We descend not to the Animadversions, which such Duplicity merits.
     No middle Line can now be drawn. Absolute and unconditional Submission to their Power is the End, long intended, and now avowed on the Part of the King and Parliament of Great Britain. Freedom and Independence, now the necessary Guard and Instrument of Freedom, are the {Ends} Objects proposed by you. Which ought a wise and virtuous People to chuse? Absolute and unconditional Submission! These are Terms, to which your Ears have been unaccustomed. It behoves you {now} fully to understand their Meaning. Absolute and unconditional Submission! The Horrours of Asiatic Slavery rush into your View. Behold a Wretch ~ the Property of his Lord and Master ~ without any Thing that he can call his own ~ without Lands ~ without a Wife ~ without Children ~ without Enjoyment ~ without Hope ~ doomed to be subservient to the Luxury, the Pride, the Caprice, and the Ambition of another ~ that Wretch is under absolute and unconditional Submission. What would be the Consequences of your absolute and unconditional Submission? You would be degraded from the Rank of Freemen which you now possess: You would be numbered among Slaves. You might plow and plant and sow; but you would not plow or plant or sow for yourselves: Your haughty Masters would reap the Harvest of your Labours. The Expence of subjecting you, and of keeping you in Subjection would be required from your Hands: And it would be imputed to you as a Crime, that the Ambition and Jealous}~ of your Tyrant obliged him to be at that Expence. What would be the Lot of your Children? Your Feelings will not permit you to trace the Subject. Let us turn our Eyes from the dismal Scene; and direct them to the most delightful Prospects.
     What will be the Result of your Freedom and Independence? You will sit under your own Vine, and under your own Fig-tree, none being permitted to make you afraid. All political Power will be derived from you; and will be exercised only by such Persons, during such Terms in such Manner and for such Purposes as you shall appoint. Those who shall be entrusted with the Management of public Affairs, will be the Servants, and not the Masters of the States. Laws made by yourselves, or by your Representatives, will be the Rule of your Conduct. In those Laws Virtue will find Protection, and Vice will meet with her proper Punishment. Your Property will be secure; and Justice will be regularly and impartially {executed} dispensed. An honest Industry will have every Encouragement: Commerce will be {expanded} extended to every Quarter of the Globe: Learning and the Arts will flourish: All Circumstances will combine to render you free and good and happy: And you will have the best founded Hopes, that your Posterity will be free and good and happy after you.
     But are you able to establish and to support your Independance? This is an interesting Question; and as, from our Situation and the Trust, which you have been pleased to repose in us, it is in our Power to furnish you with Materials for an Answer to it, we shall with the utmost Plainness and Candour lay before you, on one Hand, the Dangers, to which you are exposed; and on the other, the Expectations, which you may reasonably entertain of Success.
     The first, and indeed the chief Danger, which we wish to point out to you, is that of forgetting and forsaking the Principles and Maxims by which your Hearts were animated, and your Conduct was directed, at the Commencement of the present Controversy. While the Struggle shall continue, the Virtues necessary for supporting it must be cultivated. These are Industry, OEconomy, Patriotism, Vigour and Disinterestedness. Ease and Opulence will naturally follow, but will never produce a prosperous Issue of the Conflict.
     Another Danger arises from Dissensions and Animosities about Matters of Government. We are far from wishing you to be indifferent about the Constitutions, under which you and your Posterity are to live. What we mean to recommend is, that the Differences which arise concerning them should be conducted in such a Manner as not to withdraw or exclude your Attention, your Zeal or your Services from the great Cause, in which we are all engaged, and on the Decision of which the Freedom and Happiness, or the Slavery and Wretchedness of all depend. Above all, let not private or party Interest rise superior to that of the public: No Symptom forebodes more fatal Consequences than this.
     A third Danger proceeds from the secret Arts and Machinations of Emissaries sent among you by the Enemy, and of the Disaffected among yourselves. They gain and transmit Intelligence: They invent and propagate false and injurious Reports: They create and foment Jealousies between States and Individuals: They magnify the Power, Numbers, and Resources of the Enemy: They undervalue yours. By these Means, the timid are dismayed; and the honest but unsuspicious, are misinformed and misled.
     Let us now consider the Expectations of Success, which you may reasonably entertain: Your Troops are animated with the Love of Freedom: They have fought and bled, and have often been victorious in the Discharge of their Duty as good Citizens, as well as brave Soldiers. Regardless of the Inclemency of Seasons, and of the Length and Fatigue of Marches, they have gone and acted, with Cherrfulness, wherever the cause of Liberty and their Country has required their Service: They have not, we confess, enjoyed the Advantages arising from Experience and Discipline: But Facts have shewn that native Courage, warmed with Patriotism, are sufficient to counterbalance those Advantages. Their Experience and Discipline will daily increase: Their Patriotism will receive no Diminution: The longer those who forced you into this War, oblige you to continue it, the more formidable you will become.
     The Army is now put upon a very respectable Footing; whether we regard its Numbers, or the Term of its Inlistment. The most liberal Establishments are made for procuring Relief and Assistance for the sick and the wounded. Arms, Ammunition, Artillery and military Stores are amply provided. Cloathing has been imported and manufactured in very large Quantities: The increasing Industry and Skill of the Inhabitants; and the growing Commerce and Connexion with foreign Countries promise still larger Supplies. The Fertility of your Fields and Pastures, and the little Labour necessary for cultivating them ensure Plenty of Provisions of every Kind.
     But your Strength and your Resources are not confined to the Operations by Land. You can exert yourselves likewise by Sea. Your Sailors are hardy and brave: You possess, beyond any Nation on Earth, all the Materials for Shipbuilding: Your Artificers can work them into Form. You cannot yet vie with the Navy of England; though that Navy too had its Beginnings: But you may nevertheless be able to defend your own Coasts; and in Time ~ a much shorter Time, perhaps than the most sanguine now imagine ~ may control that haughty maritime Power, which has so long spread her Terrors to the most remote Regions of the Globe. Your Fleet will soon be in a Situation to perform important Services. Your Privateers have already given a severe Blow to the British Commerce; and have enriched you, at the same Time that they have distressed your Enemies.
     Along with these Advantages on your Side, many Disadvantages on that of the Enemy should be taken into the Account. The War is carried on by them at a very great Distance from the Seat of their Power. Their Troops, and the Stores and Provisions necessary for them, must be transported, with much Cost and Risque, by Sea. The Number of Men employed in their Shipping is almost equal to that of those serving in the Field. This enhances the Expence of their Armaments. Add to all those Circumstances, the Delays and Losses, which must be occasioned by the long Voyages of numerous Fleets.
     It is in your Power to avoid every Danger, and to check the Progress of every Evil, which threatens you. The Advantages on your Side, and the Disadvantages on that of the Enemy are continually increasing. You entered into the War without Money, without Arms, without Ammunition, without Experience, without Preparations of any Kind. You have sustained it during two Campaigns against the most vigorous Efforts of a Kingdom, which has been long the Dread of the Nations in Europe; and you are more powerful now, than you were at its beginning.
     Is there, then, any reason to doubt of your being able to establish and to support your Independence. None, if you are not wanting to yourselves.
     Let Sobriety, Vigilance, Fortitude, Disinterestedness, and firmness form your Character and regulate your Conduct. Join together, with Emulation, but without Jealousy, in the Prosecution of the great Cause, with which all must stand or fall. Watch suspicious Persons: Detect and punish disaffected ones. Let Devotion to the Public invigorate your Actions. Do what it is in your Power to do; and you have the greatest Reason to rest assured that, under the gracious Protection of divine Providence, your virtuous Struggles will be crowned with abundant Success.
From Journals Of The Continental Congress 1774-1789, Volume VIII, 1907, Government Printing Office, Pages 397-404.