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An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain – July 1775 Print of Message that Went with the Olive Branch Petition
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On July 8, the Continental Congress approved and sent the Olive Branch Petition to King George III. At the same time, they sent an appeal stating the case directly to the British people. Both attempts failed, and we have found no evidence that the address was even published in England, as it was here, in Rivington’s New York newspaper, starting on page one.

[SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS]. Newspaper. Rivington’s New York Gazetteer; or, The Connecticut, Hudson’s River, New-Jersey, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser, July 21, 1775. New York, N.Y.: James Rivington. Front- and second-page printing of “The Twelve United Colonies by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain” (July 8, 1775). 4 pp., 11½ x 18 in.

Inventory #23544       Price: $12,500

Politically, these addresses were promoted by the more conservative elements in the Congress who wished to exhaust every possibility in finding a peaceful settlement; it was also done in the knowledge that a strong minority of the English public were sympathetic to the plight of the colonies. The entreaty was approved by Congress on July 8, 1775, following the battles of Lexington and Concord in April and Bunker Hill in June. It condemns “the wanton and unnecessary Destruction of Charlestown,” and notes that Boston “is now garrisoned by an Army sent not to protect, but to enslave its Inhabitants.” An exhaustive litany of wrongs, including a review of the Intolerable Acts. However, like the Olive Branch Petition issued by Congress on the same day, this declaration was issued “solemnly to assure you, that we have not yet lost Sight of the Object we have ever had in View, a Reconciliation with you on constitutional Principles, and a Restoration of that friendly Intercourse, which, to the Advantage of both, we till lately maintained.” It closes: “...let us entreat Heaven to avert our Ruin, and the Destruction that threatens our Friends, Brethren and Countrymen, on the other side of the Atlantic....

Historical Background

The “Letter of the Twelve United Colonies to the Inhabitants of Great Britain” is a historically significant record of the Continental Congress’s last serious attempt at reconciliation. The “Letter” was an appeal to their fellow British subjects to recognize that their resistance derived from their own sense of themselves as Britons and all the cultural and constitutional traditions that identification entailed. Hence, to some extent, the “Letter” also represents the last moments of the colonists’ identity as Britons. Though the “Letter” failed to circulate in Britain, and thus failed to sway public opinion there, it was made available in print in the colonies. Due to its length, it was not often printed in newspapers, but it was sold as a pamphlet by William Bradford in Philadelphia and likely in other colonies as well.

Speculation over the authorship of the document outside the Congress began almost immediately. Upon reading the “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms” and the “Letter of the Twelve United Colonies to the Inhabitants of Great Britain,” James Madison wrote to William Bradford on July 28, 1775 in Philadelphia that the “Letter” for “true Eloquence may vie with the most applauded Oration of Tully himself.” He then inquired, “Is it discoverable who are the original Authors of them?” He then went on to speculate, “I think the traces of Livingstons pen are visible in the one we are now speaking of.” Madison had long been familiar with the incendiary writings of William Livingston, and it seems likely that Madison was referring to William Livingston of New Jersey. The editors of the Papers of James Madison concluded in their annotation that “Richard Henry Lee was probably the principal author of that address” (James Madison to William Bradford, July 28, 1775).

However, the discovery of the manuscript of “The Twelve United Colonies, by their Delegates in Congress, to the Inhabitants of Great Britain” in 2013 revealed that Robert R. Livingston (1746-1813) was the principal author. The discovery of this document makes it clear that Lee’s original draft was rejected and that Livingston was charged with producing a new draft. (In 2014, Livingston’s manuscript of that revised draft sold at Keno Auctions for $912,500.)

John Adams reacted to this address by writing that it “will find many Admirers among the Ladies, and fine Gentlemen: but it is not to my Taste. Prettynesses Juvenilities, much less Puerilities, become not a great Assembly like this the Representative of a great People” (John Adams to James Warren, July 11, 1775). Abigail Adams, often more objective, thought better of it, writing to her husband on July 25 that the “Letter meets with general approbation here.”

The Continental Congress would receive word of the King’s “Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition” in November and, by January of 1776, a copy of his speech to Parliament had reached Philadelphia. Within six months, the Congress would declare independence.

Excerpts from Letter of the Twelve United Colonies to the Inhabitants of Great Britain

Friends, Countrymen, and Brethren! By these, and by every other Appellation that may designate the ties, which bind us to each other, we entreat your serious attention to our second attempt to prevent their dissolution.” (p1/c3)

Our Enemies charge us with sedition: in what does it consist? In our refusal to submit to unwarrantable acts of injustice and Cruelty? If so, shew us a period in your History, in which you have not been equally seditious.” (p1/c4)

It is a fundamental principle of the British constitution, that every man should have at least a representative share in the formation of those laws by which he is bound.” (p2/c1)

If you have no regard to the connection that has for ages subsisted between us; if you have forgot the wounds we have received fighting by your side, for the extension of the empire; if our commerce is an object below your consideration; if justice and humanity have lost their influence on your hearts; still motives are not wanting to excite your indignation at the measures now pursued; your wealth, your honour, your liberty are at stake.

Rivington’s New York Gazetteer; or, The Connecticut, Hudson’s River, New-Jersey, and Quebec Weekly Advertiser (1773-1775; 1777-1783) was a weekly and semi-weekly newspaper published under various titles in New York City by James Rivington (1724-1802). Rivington was born in England and sailed in 1760 to North America, where he became a printer and publisher in Philadelphia. The following year, he moved to New York City and opened a print shop there. He began publishing this newspaper in 1773 and initially took an impartial stance toward the Patriot cause, but his advocacy of the measures of the British government led the Sons of Liberty to hang him in effigy. In May 1775, he had to flee to a British ship for his safety, and New York radicals destroyed his press and burned his house. He and his family fled to England, but he returned to British occupied New York in 1777 with an appointment as King’s printer. He resumed his Gazette as an overtly loyalist newspaper. However, unknown to virtually all New Yorkers, Rivington was also a key spy in the Culper Spy Ring that provided important information to Washington.

Additional Content

In a moment of ironic serendipity that reflects the colonial identity crisis of 1775, the next two columns print the congratulations of the Congress of Massachusetts Bay to George Washington upon his safe arrival in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army, along with his response.

Cambridge, July 6, 1775 Address from the Colony of Massachusetts Bay

To his Excellency GEORGE WASHINGTON, Esq; General and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army…impressed with every Sentiment of Gratitude and Respect, beg Leave to congratulate you on your safe Arrival.... we equally admire that disinterested Virtue, and distinguished Patriotism, which alone could call you from those Enjoyments of domestic Life, with a sublime and manly taste, joined with a most affluent fortune, can afford to hazard, and to endure the Fatigues of War, in the Defence of the Rights of Mankind, and the Good of your Country.... We beg Leave to assure you, that this Congress will, at all times, be ready to … contribute all the Aid in our Power, to the Cause of America, and your Happiness and Ease, in the Discharge of the Duties of your exalted Office…” (p3/c1-2)

George Washington’s Response:

His Excellency’s Answer. Gentlemen, Your kind Congratulations on my Appointment, and Arrival, demand my warmest Acknowledgments.... In exchanging the Enjoyments of domestic Life for the Duties of my present honourable, but arduous Station, I only emulate the Virtue and publick Spirit of the whole Province of Massachusetts Bay.... The Course of human Affairs forbids an Expectation, that Troops formed under such Circumstances, should at once possess the Order, Regularity and Discipline of Veterans.—Whatever Deficiencies there may be, will I doubt not, soon be made up by the Activity and Zeal of the Officers, and the Docility and Obedience of the Men. These Qualities united with their native Bravery and Spirit will afford a happy Presage of Success....” (p3/c2)

The Congress offers similar congratulations to Charles Lee for his appointment to the position of Major General of the Army, with his response. Further content includes a substantial part of the Congressional Act establishing Rules and Orders for the soldiers of the already-formed Continental Army (p2/c4-p3/c1; then to be continued in the next issue); a resolution of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress recommending the formation of committees of safety, correspondence, and inspection (p2/c3); an order for Boston voters to assemble in Concord to vote for new representatives (p2/c4); a resolution forbidding selling soldiers in camp liquor (p2/c4); reports that New Hampshire Royal Governor Benning Wentworth had fled to a British ship for his own safety (p3/c2) and other war news.

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