Continental Congress, December 6, 1775
Note on the e-text:
was transcribed, July 2007, by Sandra Jones from a reproduction of
the original as found in American Archives, Fourth Series,
Vol. 3, 1775, Ed. Peter Force, 1840. Teachers may wish to use this text
as a companion piece to: Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. A Bill To prohibit all Trade and Intercourse with the Colonies... 27 November 1775.
Content unique to this presentation is copyright © 2007
of Oregon. For nonprofit and educational uses only. Send comments and
to the publisher, rbear[at]uoregon.edu
CONGRESS, DECEMBER 6, 1775.
December 6, 1775.
The Committee of Claims reported, that there is
due to Robert Erwin, for Wagon hire, the sum of 355.7 Dollars.
Ordered, That the said Account be paid.
Upon motion made, Resolved, That the
three Prisoners taken by Captain A. Whipple, and who are now on board
his Vessel, be delivered to the Committee of Safety of the Colony of Pennsylvania,
who are directed to secure them in safe custody in some Jail in said Colony.
A Return being laid before Congress of the
number of Flints in this City, amounting to upwards of two hundred thousand,
On motion made, Resolved, That the
Committee of Inspection of this City be desired to purchase the said Flints,
for the use of the Continent ; and that, in making the purchase, attention be
paid to the Resolution of Congress, against raising the prices of Goods.
The Congress resumed the consideration of the
Instructions to be given to the Committee of Claims; on motion made, and
Resolved, That the charge for Bounty, in the Account exhibited by Rhode-Island
against the Continent, be not allowed.
The Committee to whom the Petition of Captain Dugal
McGregor was referred brought in their Report, which, being read, was
agreed to, as follows, viz :
Resolved, That it is the opinion of the Committee, that the circumstances stated
in the said Petition will not justify a license to export the said Lumber and
Naval Stores, contrary to the rules of the American Association.
Resolved, That if the said Dugal McGregor will give bond, with sufficient
security, in a penalty of double the value of the said Lumber and Naval Stores,
to the President of the Provincial Council of North-Carolina, with condition
that he will not carry the said Cargo to Great Britain, Ireland,
Guernsey, Jersey, Sark, Alderney, or Man, or any European
Island or settlement within the British Dominions, nor to the British
West-Indies; and that he shall, within six months after exporting the same,
import into Edenton, Newbern, or Bogue Inlet, in the
Colony of North-Carolina, and there deliver to the Commander of the
Continental Troops in the said Colony, such quantity of Muskets or Gunpowder as
shall be equal to the value of the said Lumber and Naval Stores, the publick
interest requires that lie be permitted to export the same; and that a permit
for that purpose, signed by the said President, be given him, on his executing
such bond as aforesaid.
The Congress resumed the consideration of the
Report of the Committee on Proclamations, which being debated by paragraphs,
was agreed to, as follows:
We, the Delegates of the thirteen United
Colonies in North-America have taken into our most serious consideration
a Proclamation, issued from the Court of St. James's on the 23d day of August
last. The name of Majesty is used to give it a sanction and influence, and, on
that account, it becomes a matter of importance to wipe off, in the name of
the People of these United Colonies, the aspersions which it is
calculated to throw upon our cause, and to prevent, as far as possible, the
undeserved punishments which it is designed to prepare for our friends. We are
accused of “forgetting the allegiance which we owe to the power that has
protected and sustained us.” Why all this ambiguity and obscurity in what ought
to be so plain and obvious as that he who runs may read it ? What allegiance is
it that we forget? Allegiance to Parliament? We never owed, we never owned it.
Allegiance to our King ? Our words have ever avowed it; our conduct has ever
been consistent with it. We condemn, and, with arms in our hands, (a resource
which freemen will never part with,) we oppose the claim and exercise of unconstitutional
powers, to which neither the Crown nor Parliament were
ever entitled. By the British Constitution, our best inheritance,
rights as well as duties descend upon us. We cannot violate the latter by
defending the former. We should act in diametrical opposition to both, if we
permitted the claims of the British Parliament to be established, and
the measures pursued, in consequence of those claims, to be carried into
execution among us. Our sagacious ancestors provided mounds against the
inundation of tyranny and lawless power on one side, as well as against that
of faction and licentiousness on the other. On which side has the breach been
made? Is it objected against us, by the most inveterate and the most uncandid
of our enemies, that we have opposed any of the just prerogatives of the Crown,
or any legal exertion of those prerogatives? Why, then, are we accused of
forgetting our allegiance? We have performed our duty. We have resisted in
those cases in which the right to resist is stipulated as expressly, on our
part, as the right to govern is, in other cases, stipulated on the part of the
Crown. The breach of allegiance is removed from our resistance, as far as
tyranny is removed from legal government. It is alleged that “we have
proceeded to an open and avowed rebellion.” In what does this rebellion consist?
It is thus described: “Arraying ourselves in hostile manner, to withstand the
execution of the law, and traitorously preparing, ordering, and levying war
against the King.” We know of no laws binding on us, but such as have been
transmitted to us by our ancestors, and such as have been consented to by
ourselves, or our representatives elected for that purpose. What laws, stamped
with these characters, have we withstood? We have, indeed, defended them, and
we will risk every thing, do every thing, and suffer every thing, in their
defence. To support our laws, and our liberties established by our laws, we
have prepared, ordered, and levied war. But is this traitorously, or against
the King? We view him as the Constitution represents him; that tells us he can
do no wrong. The cruel and illegal attacks, which we oppose, have no foundation
in the royal authority. We will not, on our part, lose the distinction between
the King and his Ministers. Happy would it have been for some former princes,
had it always been preserved on the part of the Crown.
Besides all this, we observe, on this part of
the Proclamation, that " rebellion " is a term undefined and unknown
in the law; it might have been expected that a Proclamation, which by the British
Constitution has no other operation than merely that of enforcing what is
already law, would have had a known legal basis to have rested upon. A
correspondence between the inhabitants of Great Britain and their
brethren in America produced, in better times, much satisfaction to
individuals, and much advantage to the publick. By what criterion shall one
who is unwilling to break off this correspondence, and is, at the same time,
anxious not to expose himself to the dreadful consequences threatened in this
Proclamation—by what criterion shall he regulate his conduct? He is admonished not to carry on
correspondence with the persons now in rebellion in the Colonies. How shall he
ascertain “who are in rebellion and who are not?” He consults the law, to learn
the nature of the supposed crime : the law is silent upon the subject. This, in
a country where it has been often said, and formerly with justice, that the
Government is by law, and not by men, might render him perfectly easy. But
Proclamations have been sometimes dangerous engines in the hands of those in
power ; information is commanded to be given, to one of the Secretaries of
State, of all persons “who shall be found carrying on correspondence with the
persons in rebellion, in order to bring to condign punishment the authors,
perpetrators, or abetters, of such dangerous designs.” Let us suppose, for a
moment, that some persons in the Colonies are in rebellion, and that those who
carry on correspondence with them might learn, by some rule which Britons are
bound to know, how to discriminate them, does it follow that all correspondence
with them deserves to be punished? It might have been intended to apprize them
of their danger, and to reclaim them from their crimes. By what law does a
correspondence with a criminal transfer or communicate his guilt? We know that
those who aid and adhere to the King's enemies, and those who correspond with
them in order to enable them to carry their designs into effect, are criminal
in the eye of the law. But the law goes no farther. Can Proclamations, according to the principles
of reason and justice, and the Constitution, go farther than the law?
But perhaps the principles of reason and
justice, and the Constitution, will not prevail: experience suggests to us the
doubt. If they should not, we must resort to arguments drawn from a very
different source. We, therefore, in the name of the People of these United
Colonies, and by authority, according to the purest maxims of
representation, derived from them, declare, 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. The essential difference between our cause and that of our enemies
might justify a severer punishment; the law of retaliation will unquestionably
warrant one equally severe.
We mean not, however, by this declaration, to
occasion or to multiply punishments; our sole view is to prevent them. In this
unhappy and unnatural controversy, in which Britons fight against Britons
and the descendants of Britons, let the calamities immediately incident
to a civil war suffice. We hope additions will not, from wantonness, be made to
them on one side; we shall regret the necessity, if laid under the necessity,
of making them on the other.
Ordered, That the above be published.
A Petition and Memorial from Colonel J. Bull
was presented to Congress and read.
Resolved, That the same be taken into consideration on Friday next.
On motion made, Resolved, That
Lieutenant Jocelyn Feltham have leave to join the officers of the
Twenty-Sixth Regiment, and reside with them, in the places destined for their
On motion made, Resolved, That Major Preston
and the Officer with him remain in Philadelphia until further orders
from this Congress.
Ordered, That the President inform Major Preston of the foregoing
A Letter from General Washington, dated
28th November, being received, was read.
Resolved, That the same be taken into consideration tomorrow morning.
The several matters to this day referred being
Adjourned to nine o'clock, to-morrow.