On this date in 1775, King George III declared that the American colonists were in “open and avowed rebellion.”
After learning about the Battle of Bunker Hill, King George issued A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition on Aug. 23, 1775.
Ten days earlier, William Penn and Arthur Lee had arrived in England carrying the Olive Branch Petition drafted by the Second Continental Congress. Heavily influenced by John Dickinson’s desire for reconciliation, the petition was the colonists’ last-ditch effort to avoid all-out war. Primarily drafted by Dickinson and signed by representatives of 12 of the 13 colonies, the petition affirmed the their loyalty to the crown, but also emphasized the colonists’ rights as British citizens.
The petition asserted that the colonies “not only most ardently desire the former harmony between her and these colonies may be restored, but that a concord may be established between them upon so firm a basis as to perpetuate its blessings, uninterrupted by any future dissentions, to succeeding generations in both countries, and to transmit your Majesty’s Name to posterity.”
King George refused to receive the petition and issued his proclamation without reading it. The proclamation declared, “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 an open and avowed Rebellion, by arraying themselves in hostile Manner to withstand the Execution of the Law, and traitorously preparing, ordering, and levying War against Us.”
The proclamation also ordered 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.”
The Continental Congress officially responded to the proclamation in December 1775, asserting that they had never been disloyal to the King, but that Parliament didn’t have a legitimate claim to sovereignty over them because they were represented by their own democratically elected legislative bodies. The Congress also declared that the colonies would continue to resist the Parliament’s violations of the British Constitution.
A lack of constitutional fidelity was at the crux of the colonies’ grievances against the British. In 1767, Samuel Adams and James Otis Jr. asserted that “the supreme legislative derives its power and authority from the constitution, it cannot overleap the bounds of it without destroying its own foundation.” [Emphasis added]
King George’s proclamation made it clear that he wasn’t inclined to act in a conciliatory manner. This undercut moderates like Dickinson who still hoped to avoid separation from England and put the colonies on the path toward independence.
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