<br /> Lee Letter: n216

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee
Recipient: the People of Great Britain and Ireland

To the People of Great Britain and Ireland

We The Delegates from the english Colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts
Bay, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania,
lower Counties on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina &
South Carolina assembled in general Congress at Philadelphia, find with
inexpressible concern that his Majesties faithful and loyal Subjects of
North America are driven by the hard necessity of their Situation to
adopt Measures from which injury may be derived to many of their fellow
subjects in Great Britain and Ireland. When the experience of a Century
and an half evinces that from the first settlement of these Colonies,
their Inhabitants have been most remarkable for steady loyalty, and for
an uniform zealous attachment to the interests and commercial Success
of the mother Country a candid mind will find no difficulty in
believing what is certainly true, that their conduct now results solely
from the overuling principles of self preservation, which demands the
Protection of their Liberty, the Security of their lives and property;
against a lately adopted System of plantation government, repugnant to
the english constitution, the faith of Charters, and constant Usage
from the first settlement of englishmen in North America: Against which
System the Assemblies of the different Colonies have by humble and
dutiful petitions frequently but in vain supplicated for relief.

The possession of Liberty and the security of property being of such great
and evident importance, so essentially necessary for human happiness,
so earnestly contended for and so long enjoyed by Britain from whence
we sprung; it is not to be wondered that our Ancestors before they
would hazard their lives and venture their private fortunes to explore
and settle this distant country, obtained royal charters, securing and
confirming to them and their Posterity forever, all the Franchises
privileges and immunities of the free people of England they left
behind them. It is most certain that nothing but an undeviating
attention to their charter rights and a firm reliance on the honor and
Justice of the mother country could have sustained them unaided,
unassisted as they were, in their slow and perilous advances to
settlement through the savage Wilderness. But the industry of human
nature being invincible when led by Liberty and a conscious Security of
Property, the first Settlers having with fortitude and perseverance
surmounted the greatest Difficulties, their Posterity, with the aid of
emigrants, at length furnish the mother country an inexhaustible fund
of materials for commerce with an almost unlimited demand for british
manufactures, and consequently produced employment for several hundred
sail of Ships and many thousand Seamen. It is well known how greatly
the american Trade has in creased the value of lands in Britain, and
what multitudes of People are entirely supported by the american
Consumption of british Mer chandize. Such immense advantages being
derived from the enter prizing and successful adventure of our
Ancestors, how well we their descendants are entitled to a peaceable
Possession of those just rights originally stipulated for by them and
to them granted by former Princes, we leave to the determination of all
reasonable men.

Soon after the close of the last war, all british America was stricken with
amazement and concern, to find the Ministry had adopted a plan for
taking the Property of the Colonists from them without the consent of
their Representatives, under the Pretence of raising a revenue in
America for the purposes of defending and protecting the Colonies, and
for supporting the Government and Administration of Justice here, with
the further plausible reason of reembursing Great Britain a part of the
Expence encurred by defending the Colonies in the last war. To inforce
this unconstitutional and unjust System of Taxation, every fence that
the wisdom of our british Ancestors had carefully erected against
Arbitrary power, has been violently thrown down in
America;2 and a variety of Acts of
Parliament have been passed depriving the american Subjects of the
invaluable Trial by Jury in Cases of Property, by enabling the
Prosecutor to carry the defendent into far distant Courts of Admiralty.
And as well by a late Statute in the [   ]3
year of his present Majesty’s reign as by an extension of an obsolete
and tyrannic Act of King Henry the eighth, the same equitable method of
Trial in cases that touch life is likewise taken away from the
Colonists, who are to be carried in chains 3000 miles from their native
country without evidence or Assistance of friends to be tried by a Jury
of strangers. A standing Army with all its oppressive concomitants has
been fixed without our consent.

The colony of Massachusetts Bay has had its antient charter subverted,
thirty thousand People in the Town of Boston invested by military
violence, and the horid Crime of murder there encouraged by an Act
authorising the removal of Offenders from the Justice of the Province
and carryed to Great Britain, where distance and expence will surely
prevent there being followed. Nor has the fury of ad ministration
stopped here, but determined to destroy both the religion & Liberty
of british America they have procured an act of the last Session for
extending the Province of Canada in such manner as to border on the
western frontiers of all the Northern Colonies and there established a
dispotic Government and the roman catholic Religion, well knowing from
the truth of history that this bloody and intollerant religion is at
such fatal variance with Protestanism, that the inhabitants of that now
greatly extended Country will thereby be well fitted both from civil
& religious Principles to carry Slaughter and destruction into the
free protestant Colonies whenever they shall be encouraged by a wicked
Ministry to do so.4

It has been already observed that the ostensible reasons which have been
assigned for this Attempt to destroy natural, constitutional,
chartered, and antient rights, is for the purpose of raising a revenue
to protect and defend the Colonies, to support Government and the
Administration of Justice here and to reimburse Great Britain the
Expence of defending the Colonies in the last war. The two former
reasons are sufficiently answered by stating the notorious facts, that
from the first Settlement of the Colonies until the late War they
sustained these Expences themselves and during the Continuance of that
war having at their own charge supported [   ]5 men, in doing which our late &
present Sovereigns were so well satisfied, that we had consulted our
Zeal for the common cause more than our Ability, that declarations from
the throne to this effect abound on the Journals of Parliament,
recommending the Justice of reembursing us, and although Parliament did
vote considerable sums for this purpose, yet it is a truth well known
that these were chiefly applied to the further support of the war and
in consequence did not operate to remove the Burthens created by these
zealous and unrestrained Efforts against the common enemy. The royal
recommendation to Parliament to reimburse The Colonies is founded upon
this clear principle of substantial justice, that wealth, the sinews of
war, is withheld from the Colonists by the British acts of Navigation
which place them under a monopolized Trade, confining their purchase of
european Commodities to the british markets and directs the Disposal of
american Products through the same Channel, which in fact obliges the
Colonists who consume british Merchandize to the amount of three
millions annually, to pay the Taxes of all Manufacturers, Merchants and
Seamen concerned in making, selling and transporting the same. In the
Acts of Navigation therefore, and not by unconstitutional Taxation, a
just and rational Man will search for & find the American
assistance of the common cause.

Conclusive as this reasoning is yet the Colonists have given ample
testimony in the two last wars of their Zeal and readiness to strain
every Nerve in aid of the mother country, whenever called upon to do so
in a constitutional manner by royal requisitions to their respective
Colony Assemblies. When we contend against being taxed by the british
parliament where we are not, and in which from our Distance we cannot
be represented, we find ourselves warranted by rea son, the english
Constitution, by express compacts with our Princes, and by usage as old
as the Settlement of these Colonies. We should certainly be Slaves if
we were not exempted from such Taxation. Property must become too
precarious for the Genius of a free people, which can be taken from
them at the will of others who cannot know what Taxes such people can
bear, or the easiest mode of raising them; and who are not under those
restraints which are the greatest Security against abuse, the Danger of
removal at a new election and being themselves affected by every tax
imposed on the people. It cannot be necessary for us to prove to a
british understanding that liberty is essential to human happiness, and
that the safety of property is the security of liberty; every page of
english history proves their generous, brave attachment to these
principles, and we should be unworthy of the british Ancestry which is
now our boast, if we did not esteem our constitutional liberty far
above the possession of Life, disgraced with the Shackles of Slavery.

It grieves us to find that some malignant Spirits in Great Britain charge
us with designing independency and wanting to dissolve all connection
with the parent State. To such incendiaries, foes to the happiness of
both countries, we reply that our whole history from the beginning, our
uniform tenor of conduct is directly in the teeth of their assertion.
And altho’ we cannot help being misrepresented by the Agents of
dispotism & avarice, we absolutely and solemnly disavow all
thoughts of Disunion from Great Britain and we do profess and declare
our steady loyalty to our sovereign Lord king George the third, and our
ardent wish to promote the glory happiness and commercial interest of
the Mother Country, which would be in emminent danger indeed, if three
millions of people already in these Colonies by submitting to Slavery
should render themselves fit Instruments to enslave the rest of their
fellow subjects; a plan it would seem, in great favor with
administration, who design the ruin of American Liberty by establishing
Popery and Despotism in Canada, that thereby the people and property of
all North America being at Ministerial devotion, may with great effect
be applied to subdue that stubborn English Virtue, which heretofore
contending for its darling Liberty, has proved the ruin of many wicked
Ministers and evil Counsellors, too many of whom have of late years
unhappily sur rounded the Throne and vitiated the British councils, to
the infinite distress and confusion of the whole Empire. Whenever
Parliament is pleased to restore us to the state we were in at the
conclusion of the last war, by repealing the Acts claiming a right to
and establishing the means of raising a revenue in America: and those
most oppressive Statutes against the Colony of Massachusetts Bay,
because they have bravely contended for their own and American freedom;
when the law shall be declared against endangering the life of every
American by making him liable to transportation to England for Trial;
when the dangerous Quebec Act is no more; these oppressive grievances
being removed, we shall think no longer of restraining our Exports and
Imports, but intent on promoting the common interest and happiness of
the united Empire will be industrious to improve the vast uncultivated
territory of North America, and being chiefly engaged in Agriculture,
the commodities for exportation, and the consumption of British
Manufactures will be continually increasing. But this most desirable
connection between Great Britain and the Colonies supported by such a
happy intercourse of reciprocal benefits must be interrupted, if the
people of America are distressed and ruined by unconstitutional Taxes.
Their Liberty and antient rights being taken away, no encouragement to
industry will remain, but ignorance and idleness the constant
Attendants on Slavery will overrun this great Continent, hitherto the
seat of freedom, virtue, and growing Science.

Notes:

Manuscript, Harvard University Libraries. In the hand of Richard Henry Lee.

1 On October 11, Richard Henry Lee, William Livingston, and John Jay were
appointed a committee to prepare a draft of both “a memorial to the
people of British America” and “an address to the people of Great
Britain.” JCC, 1:62. The committee reported a draft address to the
people of Great Britain on October 18, “which was read, and ordered
to lie on the table, for the perusal of the members,” and on the 19th
it was debated by paragraphs, amended, and recommitted “in order that
the amendments may be taken in.” The amendments having been made as
directed, the address was brought in and approved on October 21. JCC,
1:75, 81.

Although no draft of the address finally approved by Congress or other
contemporary evidence bearing upon the authorship of this document
has been found, John Jay was undoubtedly its author. Years later, in
response to questions about the work of the committee, Jay
unequivocally affirmed his authorship of the address, and no known
accounts of the work of Congress have questioned that claim. For a
discussion of inquiries directed to Jay and other contemporaries
about the work of individual members of the committee, see John
Dickinson’s Draft Memorial to the Inhabitants of the Colonies,
October 19 21? 1774. For an imaginative reconstruction of events that
may have led up to adoption of the final version, see Frank Monaghan,
John Jay … (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1935), p. 61.

The document printed here, although not technically an early version of
Congress’ address to the people of Great Britain, reflects the
thinking of one member of the committee and was undoubtedly perused
by the others. It does not appear to have had much influence on Jay’s
work, although one elaborate passage from Lee’s draft, noted below,
appears verbatim in the final address. Lee’s eight-page draft
actually appears to be a fair copy of an expanded version of an
earlier five-page draft “Memorial from the Deputies of the several
Colonies,” bearing the heading “To the Gentlemen Merchants, and
Manufacturers of G. Britain Trading with North America.” University of Virginia Archives. The
latter memorial is printed in the Southern Literary Messenger 30
(March 1860): 173 – 75; and nearly 80 percent of it appears in the
address printed here, including major portions that are repeated
verbatim.

2 This passage appears verbatim in the final version. JCC, 1:85.

3 MS blank.

4 This lengthy sentence, containing strong objections to the Quebec Act,
represents the only substantive addition to Lee’s earlier draft
memorial “To the Gentlemen Merchants, and Manufacturers of G. Britain
Trading with North America.”

5 MS blank.