<br /> Lee Letter: n229

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Richard Henry Lee’s
Recipient: the People of Great Britain

To the people of Great Britain from the Delegates appointed by the several
English Colonies of New Hampshire Massachusetts Bay Rhode Island and
Providence plantations Connecticut New York New Jersey Pennsylvania The
lower Counties on Delaware Maryland Virginia North Carolina South
Carolina and the Parish of St. Johns in Georgia to meet in Philadelphia
May 1775.

It is with the deepest concern that we find ourselves compelled by the
persevering and increased violence of administration again to appeal to
your reason and justice upon a subject of the last importance to the
safety, happiness, and wellfare of the British empire. It is well known
that the original cause of our present unhappy difference is the lately
assumed right and practise of Parliament, to raise revenue on the
subject in America, contrary to the clearest principles of justice and
the English constitution, which exempt from payrnent of Tax, Tallage,
Aid or other like charge not set by common consent. That British
America is not represented in the British Parliament, and consequently
its consent not involved in the Acts of that Assembly, is too true to
admit of doubt, too certain to be contested. But to obviate this
argument Administration say, many in England are not represented and
yet they are bound by Acts of the British Parliament concluding that
because the representation of England is imperfect therefore the people
of America must not be represented at all and by fallacious kind of
logic, reasoning from the existence to the infinite extention of evil.

In prosecution of this new scheme of taxation a system of Statutes and
regulations has taken place by which the trial by Jury is abolished;
the oppressive powers of excise extended to all cases of revenue; the
sanctuary of private houses exposed to violation at the pleasure of
every Officer and Servant of the customs; the dispensation of justice
corrupted by making Judges totally dependant on the Crown; life and
liberty rendered precarious by supposed Offenders being liable to be
transported over the Ocean to be tried for treason or felony, whereby
the condemnation of the most innocent may follow from distance, want of
evidence, money and friends; the profligate encouraged to shed the
blood of the people by a mode of trial offering in demnity to the
murderer; the Capital of one Colony condemned without being heard to
most unequal punishment, involving with unexampled rigor the innocent
and the guilty in the same undistinguished ruin; that great palladium
of English liberty the Habeas Corpus Act suppressed; Charterd rights
taken away without forfeiture proved and a new form of government
established to prevent legal efforts against the despotism of wicked
Rulers; the antient limits of Canada extended over immense regions
bordering on the frontiers of all the Colonies and Arbitrary government
created there, as well by immediate exertions as by future efforts to
banish liberty with all its attendant virtues from this great
Continent; and finally a fleet and army sent to execute these oppresive
edicts. In this state of unparalled abuse the people of America, by
their Representatives in Congress Septemr 1774 presented a petition to
his Majesty so full of duty, loyalty, and affection; so full of humble
desires “of peace liberty and safety” as malice itself could not except
against. The world will judge, what more could be done on this side the
Atlantic to soften the rigor of authority and appease the rage of
despotic Ministers, unless we had tamely surrendered our lives,
liberty, and property into the hands of Administration, thereby
rendering ourselves unworthy of the British Ancestry and undeserving
the rights of men, by betraying the dignity of human nature. The duty
of a British Minister should lead him to protect the just rights of the
Subject in every part of the Empire, but the present Administration at
variance with freedom in every Clime equal foes to British and American
rights, under the fatal guidance of a Favorite at enmity with the
glorious constitution of England, that work of Ages and admiration of
surrounding nations instead of redressing grievances of such magnitude
and so justly complained against, proceed to bitter declarations of
rebellion, determination to subdue by force and increasing Armies in
North America have at length drawn the Sword of violence to ravage this
Country, burn houses, and destroy his Majesties faithful American
subjects. When Ministry charge millions of people with cowardice
faction and rebellion, it necessarily leads to reflect how extensive
must be the abuse, and how different the present from former ad
ministrations, which has worked so wonderful a change in a whole
nation, acknowledged frequently by the parent State, to be a brave,
loyal, and useful people. Equally unjust is the charge of refusing to
support civil government and the administration of justice, and denying
contribution to the necessary expence of protection and defence. We
have already declared “that such provision has been and will be made
for defraying the two first articles, as has been and shall be judged,
by the Legislatures of the several colonies just and suitable to their
respective circumstances.” And the journals of Parliament shew that in
time of war our Aids have been admitted to transcend our abilities. In
times of peace justice and magnanimity will be content with the immense
profits derived from our confined commerce, establishing so grievious a
monopoly of our imports, and of our great staple commodities of
exportation, as to impoverish us in proportion as it enriches Great
Britain. A Monopoly that annually fixes so large a ballance against
these Colonies, as to preclude, without great oppression the payment of
fixt revenue, added to the necessary support of our respective civil
establishments, and other large contingent expences. Whenever it shall
be thought proper to indulge us with a Trade a<s> extensive as you our
fellow subjects possess, we shall then, provided with the means of
procuring wealth, freely contribute at all tim<es> our full proportion
to the expences of the Empire. The injurious and unaccommodating
intentions of our Ministerial enemies are fully manifested by a plan of
conciliation (as it is called) so inconsistent with its avowed design,
as to be incapable of deceiving the most unthinking; for when the
Americans, upon constitutional ground, claim a right of being concerned
in the disposal of their own property; Administration after various and
violent attempts to destroy this claim, propose to conciliate, by
<retaining> a power of controuling both the sum and its application;
leaving the injured American the wretched choice of payment, or of
punishment in case of refusal. Unprejudiced Men will determine whether
this plan is intended to conciliate, or by insulting the understanding
to convert dissatisfaction into despair. It appears by the conduct of
Administration upon our humble petition for peace presented unto his
Majesty and the demands they make; that the design which hath for
sometime been carried on to alter the frame and constitution of these
Colonies, is now come to ripeness; and the Contrivers of it conceive
themselves arrived to that condition of strength, that they shall be
able to put it into present execution. For what else can be signified
by an unprovoked declaration of rebellion by the Commander of the
British forces, after having converted the large and flourishing Town
of Boston into a Military Garrison, marching into the Country,
slautering the inhabitants, burning their houses, and ravaging all
before him? Necessity hath therefore brought on this Congress and
possessed it with the power of acting with more vigor and resolution
than former Congresses had done, nor do the principles of Self
preservation longer permit us to neglect providing a proper defence to
prevent the pernicious practices of wicked men and evil Counsellors,
alike enemies to the religion, laws, rights, and liberties of England
and America. How necessary this was to be done, is sufficiently
manifest from the designs and attempts of the despotic Governor of
Canada to march an army of Canadians and Savages into these Colonies.
Great cause therefore hath all good men to bless God, who put it into
the heads and hearts of our Countrymen to possess themselves of the
fortresses of Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and to make themselves
Masters of those Lakes that cover the frontiers of many Colonies, and
secure them from such cruel and wicked designs. For were these bad
Ministers to succeed in their evil intentions and put North America in
slavery, it is not difficult to foresee with what ease they might
afterwards master the liberties of Great Britain. In this state of
extreme danger to the British Empire, we have once more implored our
common Sovereign to save the whole from the meditated ruin of his
Ministers, and by redressing the unmerited grievances of his faithful
American Subjects, restore peace to his afflicted people. We call God
to witness, that it is the earnest wish of our hearts to be firmly
united with you on the broad basis of civil and religious liberty
equally extended to all the subjects of this great empire. And we
earnestly entreat your powerful aid may be interposed to calm the
distractions, and quiet the apprehensions, by removing the grievances
of British America. We shall then with joy behold the return of those
halcyon days, when peace, happiness, and flourishing Commerce,
established the glory, strength, and safety of the British empire.

Notes:

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

1 Congress agreed to present a second address to the people of Great Britain
on June 3, 1775, and appointed Richard Henry Lee, Robert R.
Livingston, and Edmund Pendleton as a committee to prepare a draft.
On June 27 the committee reported a draft, which was read but not
considered further until July 6, when it was debated and recommitted.
The committee reported again on the seventh, and on the eighth the
address was debated and approved. JCC, 2:80, 110, 127, 157, 162.

The Lee draft does not appear to have been utilized in drafting the final
version of the address. There is marked contrast in the organization
and style of the two documents, but apparently no other drafts of the
address survive. The Lee draft does however represent the views of a
committee member and may have been the draft submitted to Congress
June 27. Nothing is known about the work of the committee after the
address was recommitted, and the authorship of the final draft has
not been established. A contemporary printed text is reprinted in
JCC, 2:163 – 70. See also JCC, 3:509 – 10.