Today in History: The Continental Congress petitions King George III
October 26th, 2012
On October 26, 1774, the First Continental Congress petitioned King George III with a list of grievances, seeking his assistance to provide to the colonists their rights as English citizens. The letter was signed by fifty-one delegates to the Congress. Writing as “English Freemen” and “the heirs of freedom,” the Congress sought relief from the Coercive Acts, passed by the British Parliament in March of 1774, that the colonists thought infringed upon their rights as English subjects. Since the King refused to reply to the petition, matters did not improve, and many of the complaints listed in the letter later appeared in the Declaration of Independence.
To the King’s most excellent Majesty:
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your majesty’s faithful subjects, of the colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connnecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the counties of Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, on behalf of ourselves and the inhabitants of these colonies, who have deputed us to represent them in general Congress, by this our humble petition beg leave to lay our grievances before the throne.
A standing army has been kept in these colonies ever since the conclusion of the late war, without the consent of our Assemblies; and this army, with a considerable naval armament, has been employed to enforce the collection of taxes. The authority of the commander-in-chief, and under him the brigadier-general, has, in time of peace, been rendered supreme in all the civil governments of America.
The commander-in-chief of all your majesty’s forces in North America has, in time of peace, been appointed governor of a colony. […]
Assemblies have been repeatedly and injuriously dissolved.
Commerce has been burdened with many useless and oppressive restrictions.
By several acts of Parliament, made in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth years of your majesty’s reign, duties are imposed on us for the purpose of raising a revenue; and the powers of admiralty and vice-admiralty courts are extended beyond their ancient limits, whereby our property is taken from us without our consent, the trial by jury in many civil cases is abolished, enormous forfeitures are incurred for slight offenses, vexatious informers are exempted from paying damages to which they are justly liable, and oppressive security is required from owners before they are allowed to defend their right. Both Houses of Parliament have resolved that colonists may be tried in England for offenses alleged to have been committed in America, by virtue of a statute passed in the thirty-fifth year of Henry the Eighth, and in consequence thereof attempts have been made to enforce that statute. […]
Had our Creator been pleased to give us existence in a land of slavery, the sense of our condition might have been mitigated by ignorance and habit. But, thanks be to his adorable goodness, we were born the heirs of freedom, and ever enjoyed our right under the auspices of your royal ancestors, whose family was seated on the throne to rescue and secure a pious and gallant nation from the popery and despotism of a superstitious and inexorable tyrant. Your majesty, we are confident, justly rejoices that your our title to the crown is thus founded on the title of your people to liberty; and, therefore, we doubt not but your royal wisdom must approve the sensibility that teaches your subjects anxiously to guard the blessing they received from divine Providence, and thereby to prove the performance of that compact which elevated the illustrious house of Brunswick to the imperial dignity it now possesses.
The apprehension of being degraded into a state of servitude from the preeminent rank of English freemen, while our minds retain the strongest love of liberty, and clearly foresee the miseries preparing for us and our posterity, excites emotions in our breasts which, though we can not describe, we should not wish to conceal. Feeling as men, and thinking as subjects, in the manner we do, silence would be disloyalty. By giving this faithful information, we do all in our power to promote the great objects of your royal cares, the tranquility of your government and the welfare of your people.
Duty to your majesty, and regard for the preservation of ourselves and our posterity, the primary obligations of nature and society, command us to entreat your royal attention; and, as your majesty enjoys the signal distinction of reigning over freemen we apprehend the language of freemen will not be displeasing. Your royal indignation, we hope, will rather fall on those designing and dangerous men, who, daringly interposing themselves between your royal person and your faithful subjects, and for several years past incessantly employed to dissolve the bonds of society, by abusing your majesty’s authority, misrepresenting your American subjects, and prosecuting the most desperate and irritating projects of oppression, have at length compelled us, by the force of accumulated injuries, too severe to be any longer tolerable, to disturb your majesty’s repose by our complaints.
We ask but for peace, liberty, and safety. We wish not a diminution of the prerogative, nor do we solicit the grant of any new right in our favor. Your royal authority over us, and our connection with Great Britain, we shall always carefully and zealously endeavor to support and maintain.
Read the rest of the petition here. As you do, consider: How did the colonists view their relationship with King George III? What authority did they claim in petitioning the king? What rights did they consider to have been abridged?–and how were they able to claim those rights?
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Tags: American Revolution, primary sources, Today in History