Proclamation of Rebellion
The party in Congress which still hoped for reconciliation succeeded, June 3, 1775, in passing a resolution for the appointment of a committee to prepare a petition to the King; and John Dickinson, Johnson, John Rutledge, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin were chosen by ballot as the members of the committee. The petition, drafted by Dickinson, was reported June 19, taken up for consideration July 4, and the following day agreed to.
On the 8th the engrossed copy was signed by the members present. The petition, together with other addresses adopted by the Congress, was entrusted to Richard Penn, to be carried to England and laid before the King. The petition was the last offer of reconciliation made by Congress; and the decision of the question of independence was thought by many to depend upon its reception. Already, in January, before the first petition had been laid before Parliament, the Privy Council had decided that force should be used to suppress the rebellion, and that all persons resisting the King should be proclaimed traitors.
The attention of Parliament, however, was immediately taken up with the conciliatory proposals of Chatham, Burke, and Lord North, and the acts restraining the trade of the northern and southern colonies; and the proclamation was not then issued. In the mean time, the British and American forces came into collision at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, and Congress chose Washington as commander-in-chief of the American army. The news of these proceedings fixed the determination of the King, and he ordered the proclamation to be drawn up.
On the 23d of August, the day on which Richard Penn and Arthur Lee were to have presented the Olive Branch Petition to Lord Dartmouth, the proclamation was issued. The petition was handed to Lord Dartmouth September 1, but the colonial representatives were refused an audience with the King, and were finally informed that no answer would be given. The news of the rejection of the petition reached America October 31. November 3, Congress recommended the people of New Hampshire to establish a form of government. December 6, a formal report on the proclamation was agreed to, in which, after repudiating the charge of treason, Congress declared that "whatever punishment shall be inflicted upon any persons in the power of our enemies, for favouring, aiding, or abetting the cause of American liberty, shall be retaliated in the same kind, and the same degree, upon those in our power, who have favoured, aided, or abetted, or shall favour, aid, or abet the system of ministerial oppression."
Full Text of the Proclamation
Whereas many of our subjects in divers parts of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, misled by dangerous and ill designing men, and forgetting the allegiance which they owe to the power that has protected and supported them; after various disorderly acts committed in disturbance of the publick peace, to the obstruction of lawful commerce, and to the oppression of our loyal subjects carrying on the same; have at length proceeded to open and avowed rebellion, by arraying themselves in a hostile manner, to withstand the execution of the law, and traitorously preparing, ordering and levying war against us:
And whereas, there is reason to apprehend that such rebellion hath been much promoted and encouraged by the traitorous correspondence, counsels and comfort of divers wicked and desperate persons within this realm:
To the end therefore, that none of our subjects may neglect or violate their duty through ignorance thereof, or through any doubt of the protection which the law will afford to their loyalty and zeal, we have thought fit, by and with the advice of our Privy Council, to issue our Royal Proclamation, hereby declaring, that not only all our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice, but that all our subjects of this Realm, and the dominions thereunto belonging, are bound by law to be aiding and assisting in the suppression of such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us, our crown and dignity;
and we do accordingly strictly charge and command all our Officers, as well civil as military, and all others our obedient and loyal subjects, to use their utmost endeavours to withstand and suppress such rebellion, and to disclose and make known all treasons and traitorous conspiracies which they shall know to be against us, our crown and dignity; and for that purpose, that they transmit to one of our principal Secretaries of State, or other proper officer, due and full information of all persons who shall be found carrying on correspondence with, or in any manner or degree aiding or abetting the persons now in open arms and rebellion against our Government, within any of our Colonies and Plantations in North America, in order to bring to condign punishment the authors, prepetrators, and abetters of such traitorous designs.
Given at our Court at St. James's the twenty-third day of August, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five, in the fifteenth year of our reign.
God save the King.
- Text in Force's American Archives, Fourth Series, III., 240, 241.
- The report of December 6 is in the Journals of Congress (ed. 1800, I., 263-265; Ford's ed., III., 409-412).
- Frothingham's Rise of the Republic, chap. 10.
- The petition of July 8 is in MacDonald's Select Charters, No. 77.