Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vol. III: Literature of the Revolutionary Period, 17651787
The Colonies to the Mother Country
By Richard Henry Lee (17321794)
[Born in Stratford, Va., 1732. Died at Chantilly, Va., 1794. From the Address adopted by Congress, July 8, 1775.]
AFTER the most valuable right of legislation was infringed; when the powers assumed by your Parliament, in which we are not represented, and from our local and other circumstances cannot properly be represented, rendered our property precarious; after being denied that mode of trial to which we have long been indebted for the safety of our persons and the preservation of our liberties; after being in many instances divested of those laws which were transmitted to us by our common ancestors, and subjected to an arbitrary code, compiled under the auspices of Roman tyrants; after those charters, which encouraged our predecessors to brave death and danger in every shape, on unknown seas, in deserts unexplored, amidst barbarous and inhospitable nations, were annulled; when, without the form of trial, without a public accusation, whole colonies were condemned, their trade destroyed, their inhabitants impoverished; when soldiers were encouraged to imbrue their hands in the blood of Americans, by offers of impunity; when new modes of trial were instituted for the ruin of the accused, where the charge carried with it the horrors of conviction; when a despotic government was established in a neighboring province, and its limits extended to every part of our frontiers; we little imagined that anything could be added to this black catalogue of unprovoked injuries: but we have unhappily been deceived, and the late measures of the British ministry fully convince us, that their object is the reduction of these colonies to slavery and ruin .
If still you retain those sentiments of compassion by which Britons have ever been distinguished; if the humanity which tempered the valor of our common ancestors has not degenerated into cruelty, you will lament the miseries of their descendants.
To what are we to attribute this treatment? If to any secret principle of the constitution, let it be mentioned; let us learn that the government we have long revered is not without its defects, and that while it gives freedom to a part, it necessarily enslaves the remainder of the empire. If such a principle exists, why for ages has it ceased to operate? Why at this time is it called into action? Can no reason be assigned for this conduct? or must it be resolved into the wanton exercise of arbitrary power? And shall the descendants of Britons tamely submit to this? No, sirs! We never will; while we revere the memory of our gallant and virtuous ancestors, we never can surrender those glorious privileges for which they fought, bled, and conquered. Admit that your fleets could destroy our towns, and ravage our sea-coasts; these are inconsiderable objects, things of no moment to men whose bosoms glow with the ardor of liberty. We can retire beyond the reach of your navy, and, without any sensible diminution of the necessaries of life, enjoy a luxury, which from that period you will wantthe luxury of being free.
We know the force of your arms, and was it called forth in the cause of justice and your country, we might dread the exertion; but will Britons fight under the banners of tyranny? Will they counteract the labors, and disgrace the victories of their ancestors? Will they forge chains for their posterity? If they descend to this unworthy task, will their swords retain their edge, their arms their accustomed vigor? Britons can never become the instruments of oppression, till they lose the spirit of freedom, by which alone they are invincible.
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, show us a period in your history in which you have not been equally seditious. We are accused of aiming at independence; but how is this accusation supported? By the allegations of your ministersnot by our actions. Abused, insulted, and contemned, what steps have we pursued to obtain redress? We have carried our dutiful petitions to the throne. We have applied to your justice for relief. We have retrenched our luxury, and withheld our trade .
The great bulwarks of our constitution we have desired to maintain by every temperate, by every peaceable means; but your ministers (equal foes to British and American freedom) have added to their former oppressions an attempt to reduce us, by the sword, to a base and abject submission. On the sword, therefore, we are compelled to rely for protection. Should victory declare in your favor, yet men trained to arms from their infancy, and animated by the love of liberty, will afford neither a cheap nor easy conquest. Of this, at least, we are assured, that our struggle will be glorious, our success certain; since even in death we shall find that freedom which in life you forbid us to enjoy.
Let us now ask, What advantages are to attend our reduction? The trade of a ruined and desolate country is always inconsiderable, its revenue trifling; the expense of subjecting and retaining it in subjection, certain and inevitable. What then remains but the gratification of an ill-judged pride, or the hope of rendering us subservient to designs on your liberty?
Soldiers who have sheathed their swords in the bowels of their American brethren, will not draw them with more reluctance against you. When too late, you may lament the loss of that freedom which we exhort you, while still in your power, to preserve.
On the other hand, should you prove unsuccessful; should that connection which we most ardently wish to maintain, be dissolved; should your ministers exhaust your treasures, and waste the blood of your countrymen in vain attempts on our liberty, do they not deliver you, weak and defenceless, to your natural enemies?
If you have no regard to the connection which 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 not 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 honor, your liberty are at stake.
Notwithstanding the distress to which we are reduced, we sometimes forget our own afflictions, to anticipate and sympathize in yours. We grieve that rash and inconsiderate counsels should precipitate the destruction of an empire, which has been the envy and admiration of ages; and call God to witness! that we would part with our property, endanger our lives, and sacrifice everything but liberty, to redeem you from ruin.
A cloud hangs over your heads and ours: ere this reaches you, it may probably burst upon us; let us, then (before the remembrance of former kindness is obliterated) once more repeat those appellations which are ever grateful in our ears; 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.