J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

King George Addresses the “Unhappy and Deluded Multitude”

On 27 Oct 1775, King George III addressed Parliament with his and his ministers’ views on the year’s developments in America, and what their government proposed to do:

Those who have long too successfully laboured to inflame my people in America by gross misrepresentations, and to infuse into their minds a system of opinions, repugnant to the true constitution of the colonies, and to their subordinate relation to Great-Britain, now openly avow their revolt, hostility and rebellion.

They have raised troops, and are collecting a naval force; they have seized the public revenue, and assumed to themselves legislative, executive and judicial powers, which they already exercise in the most arbitrary manner, over the persons and property of their fellow-subjects: And altho’ many of these unhappy people may still retain their loyalty, and may be too wise not to see the fatal consequence of this usurpation, and wish to resist it, yet the torrent of violence has been strong enough to compel their acquiescence, till a sufficient force shall appear to support them.

The authors and promoters of this desperate conspiracy have, in the conduct of it, derived great advantage from the difference of our intentions and theirs. They meant only to amuse by vague expressions of attachment to the Parent State, and the strongest protestations of loyalty to me, whilst they were preparing for a general revolt. On our part, though it was declared in your last session that a rebellion existed within the province of the Massachusetts Bay, yet even that province we wished rather to reclaim than to subdue. The resolutions of Parliament breathed a spirit of moderation and forbearance; conciliatory propositions accompanied the measures taken to enforce authority; and the coercive acts were adapted to cases of criminal combinations amongst subjects not then in arms.

I have acted with the same temper; anxious to prevent, if it had been possible, the effusion of the blood of my subjects; and the calamities which are inseparable from a state of war; still hoping that my people in America would have discerned the traiterous views of their leaders, and have been convinced, that to be a subject of Great Britain, with all its consequences, is to be the freest member of any civil society in the known world. . . .

When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy! and in order to prevent the inconveniencies which may arise from the great distance of their situation, and to remove as soon as possible the calamities which they suffer, I shall give authority to certain persons upon the spot to grant general or particular pardons and indemnities, in such manner, and to such persons as they shall think fit; and to receive the submission of any Province or Colony which shall be disposed to return to its allegiance. It may be also proper to authorise the persons so commissioned to restore such Province or Colony, so returning to its allegiance, to the free exercise of its trade and commerce, and to the same protection and security as if such Province or Colony had never revolted.
(Full text available through the Library of Congress’s American Memory website.)

According to a Lieutenant Carter of the British forces, the royal authorities in Boston sent copies of this speech “by a flag”—i.e., under a flag of truce—out to the American lines on 1 Jan 1776.


pilgrimchick said...

Statements of "ignorance" regarding people and their actions that we today view as ideal-infused and "revolutionary" or history-shaping are absolutely fascinating to me. It all falls into the "change is bad" category that we here so very often today from all sides of society. Go figure.

J. L. Bell said...

When I read political arguments from royal officials and their supporters, I'm often struck by how much contempt they had for the common people. Most of those writers made no effort to appeal to the populace and their interests, to win them over according to their interests.

Rather, they described those people as deluded dupes of an ill-minded faction of the elite. They aimed most of their arguments at loyal members of that elite rather than the populace as a whole.

With that sort of approach, it's no wonder the friends of the royal government weren't able to connect with the bulk of North America's white population, who were already egalitarian by eighteenth-century standards.

Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

"When the unhappy and deluded multitude, against whom this force will be directed, shall become sensible of their error, I shall be ready to receive the misled with tenderness and mercy!"

Take away the pomposity of the speech and does it not boil down to:
"The beatings will continue until morale improves."

J. L. Bell said...

Indeed. And this declaration turned out to be one of the most counterproductive acts of the British government during the whole war.