LETTER FROM CONGRESS TO THE “OPPRESSED INHABITANTS OF CANADA.”
Friends and Countrymen:
Alarmed by the designs of an arbitrary ministry to extirpate the rights and liberties of all America, a sense of common danger conspired with the dictates of humanity is urging us to call your attention, by our late address, to this very important object.
Since the conclusion of the late war, we have been happy in considering you as fellow-subjects; and from the commencement of the present plan for subjugating the continent, we have viewed you as fellow-sufferers with us. As we were both entitled by the bounty of an indulgent Creator to freedom, and being both devoted by the cruel edicts of a despotic Administration, to common ruin, we perceived the fate of the Protestant and Catholic colonies to be strongly linked together, and therefore invited you to join with us in resolving to be free, and in rejecting, with disdain, the fetters of slavery, however artfully polished.
We most sincerely condole with you on the arrival of that day, in the course of which the sun could not shine on a single freeman in all your extensive dominion. Be assured that your unmerited degradation has engaged the most unfeigned pity of your sister colonies; and we flatter ourselves you will not, by tamely bearing the yoke, suffer that pity to be supplanted by contempt.
When hardy attempts are made to deprive men of rights bestowed by the Almighty; when avenues are cut through the most solemn compacts for the admission of despotism; when the plighted faith of government ceases to give security to dutiful subjects; and when the insidious stratagems and manœuvres of peace become more terrible than the sanguinary operations of war, it is high time for them to assert those rights, and with honest indignation oppose the torrent of oppression rushing in upon them.
By the introduction of your present form of government, or rather present form of tyranny, you and your wives and your children are made slaves. You have nothing that you can call your own, and all the fruits of your labour and industry may be taken from you whenever an avaricious governor and a rapacious council may incline to demand them. You are liable by their edicts to be transported into foreign countries, to fight battles in which you have no interest, and to spill your blood in conflicts from which neither honour nor emolument can be derived. Nay, the enjoyment of your very religion, on the present system, depends on a legislature in which you have no share, and over which you have no control; and your priests are exposed to expulsion, banishment, and ruin, whenever their wealth and possessions furnish sufficient temptation. They cannot be sure that a virtuous prince will always fill the throne; and should a wicked or careless king concur with a wicked ministry in exacting the treasure and strength of your country, it is impossible to conceive to what variety and to what extremes of wretchedness you may, under the present establishment, be reduced.
We are informed you have already been called upon to waste your lives in a contest with us. Should you, by complying in this instance, assent to your new establishment, and war break out with France, your wealth and your sons may be sent to perish in expeditions against their islands in the West Indies.
It cannot be presumed that these considerations will have no weight with you, or that you are so lost to all sense of honour. We can never believe that the present race of Canadians are so degenerated as to possess neither the spirit, the gallantry, nor the courage of their ancestors. You certainly will not permit the infamy and disgrace of such pusillanimity to rest on your own heads, and the consequences of it on your children forever.
We, for our parts, are determined to live free, or not at all; and we are resolved that posterity shall never reproach us with having brought slaves into the world.
Permit us again to repeat that we are your friends, not your enemies, and be not imposed upon by others who may endeavour to create animosities. The taking of the fort and military stores at Ticonderoga and Crown Point, and the armed vessels on the lake, was dictated by the great law of self-preservation. They were intended to annoy us, and to cut off that friendly intercourse and communication, which has hitherto subsisted between you and us. We hope it has given you no uneasiness, and you may rely on our assurances that these colonies will pursue no measures whatever, but such as friendship and a regard for our mutual safety and interest may suggest.
As our concern for your welfare entitles us to your friendship, we presume you will not, by doing us an injury, reduce us to the disagreeable necessity of treating you as enemies.
We yet entertain hopes of your uniting with us in the defence of our common liberty, and there is yet reason to believe, that should we join in imploring the attention of our sovereign, to the unmerited and unparalleled oppression of his American subjects, he will at length be undeceived, and forbid a licentious ministry any longer to riot in the ruins of the rights of mankind.
JAY TO MRS. JAY.
My Dear Sally:
My last to you was by Mrs. Graham which I hope you have received. It would give me pleasure to have an opportunity of acknowledging the receipt of one from you. I sometimes fear you are indisposed and that your silence proceeds from a desire of concealing it.
Your Papa is hearty and well. The Congress spent yesterday in festivity. The Committee of Safety [of Philadelphia] were so polite as to invite them to make a little voyage in their gondolas as far as the fort which is about twelve miles from the city. Each galley had its company and each company entertained with variety of music, etc., etc. We proceeded six or eight miles down the river when the tide being spent and the wind unfavourable, we backed about and with a fine breeze returned, passed the city and landed six miles above the town at a pretty little place called Parr’s Villa. It appears to have been the property of a gentleman of some taste—a garden, a walk, a summer house, etc, much out of order and partly in ruins. I wished you and a few select friends had been with me. This idea, tho’ amidst much noise and mirth, made me much alone.
Adieu, my beloved,
I am most sincerely yours,
Philadelphia, 29 September, 1775.
JAY TO COLONEL WOODHULL, PRESIDENT NEW YORK PROVINCIAL CONGRESS.
Philadelphia, November 26, 1775.
I have the honour of transmitting to you the enclosed resolutions of Congress relative to the island of Bermuda.
We have not yet had the pleasure of hearing that you had made a House, and are not without some anxiety on that head. In a few days we shall write you collectively, and should be glad frequently to be informed of the state of the Province.
The New England exploit is much talked of, and conjectures are numerous as to the part the Convention will take relative to it. Some consider it as an ill compliment to the government of the Province, and prophesy that you have too much Christian meekness to take any notice of it. For my own part, I do not approve of the feat, and think it neither argues much wisdom nor much bravery; at any rate, if it was to have been done, I wish our own people, and not strangers, had taken the liberty of doing it. I confess I am not a little jealous of the honour of the Province, and am persuaded that its reputation cannot be maintained without some little spirit being mingled with its prudence.
I am, sir, with respect and esteem, your most obedient servant,
To Colonel Nathaniel Woodhull, at New York.
JAY TO MRS. JAY.
My Dear Wife:
I have now the pleasure of informing you that the New York Convention has at length made some provision for their delegates, vizt., four dollars per day for their attendance on the last and this Congress, so that I shall not be so great a sufferer as I once apprehended. The allowance indeed does by no means equal the loss I have sustained by the appointment, but the Convention I suppose consider the honour as an equivalent for the residue.
The Congress this day refused to give me leave of absence for next week. There are but five New York delegates here, Col. Morris and Mr. Lewis being absent, so that should either of us leave the town, the Province would be unrepresented. We expect, however, soon to adjourn, and your Papa has engaged Mr. Hooper to accompany him to Elizabethtown, where I hope we shall soon be all very happy. My horses were new shod, wheels greased, cloaths put up, and every thing ready to set off early in the morning, when on going to Congress this morning all my pleasing expectations of seeing you on Christmas Day were disappointed. Don’t you pity me, my dear Sally? It is, however, some consolation that should the Congress not adjourn in less than ten days, I am determined to stay with you till ———, and depend upon it nothing but actual imprisonment will be able to keep me from you.
At present I find the objections of the Congress so reasonable that I am sure you would blame me were I to attempt leaving them without permission . . . To-morrow or on Tuesday next the Congress will I believe determine the time of adjournment, so that it is probable I shall have the happiness of wishing you a happy New Year.
Adieu, my beloved,
Philadelphia, 23 December, 1775.
JAY TO COLONEL McDOUGALL.
Since writing my last to you I find the Congress will not adjourn even for the holidays. They have not indeed so determined, but that seems to be the opinion of the members.
Where does Mr. Alsop stay? Should any thing happen to one of us the colony would be unrepresented. For my part I wish some of the absent gentlemen would return; we but just make a quorum. Did not this circumstance forbid my leaving the Congress I would pay you a short visit during the session of the Convention. What has become of Queens and Richmond? Rival governments or governors are solecisms in politics.
It appears to be prudent that you should begin to impose light taxes rather with a view to precedent than profit. Suppose saltpetre, wool, or yarn should be received in payment; I think such a measure would tend to encourage manufactures. They are essential to the support of the poor and care should be taken to increase materials for them. The people of this place are amazingly attentive to this object. It keeps people easy and quiet; by being employed they gain bread, and when our fellow mortals are busy and well fed they forget to complain. I hope your Convention will leave a Committee of Safety.
Adieu—yours most sincerely,
Philadelphia, 23 December, 1775.
ALEXANDER HAMILTON TO JAY.
N. York, Decemr. 31st, 1775.
It is hardly necessary to inform you that I received your favour in answer to my letter on the subject of Capt. Sear’s expedition, and that I shall be at all times ready to comply with your request of information concerning the state of the province, or any matters of importance that may arise. Any thing that may conduce to the public service or may serve as a testimony of my respect to you will be always gladly embraced by me.
I have much reason to suspect that the tories have it in contemplation to steal a march upon us, if they can, in respect of a new Assembly. I believe the governor will shortly dissolve the old and issue writs for a new one. The motives for it, at this time, are probably these— It is hoped the attention of the people being engaged in their new institutions, Congresses, and the like, they will think the Assembly of little importance, and will not exert themselves as they ought to do, whereby the tories will have an opportunity to elect their own creatures, or at least it is expected the people may be thrown into divisions and ferments, injurious to present measures.
The tories will be no doubt very artful and intriguing, and it behooves us to be very vigilant and cautious. I have thrown out a hand bill or two to give the necessary alarm, and shall second them by others.
It appears to me that as the best way to keep the attention of the people united and fixed to the same point, it would be expedient that four of our Continental delegates should be candidates for this city and county,—Mr. Livingston, Mr. Alsop, Mr. Lewis, and Mr. Jay. The minds of all our friends will naturally tend to these, and the opposition will of course be weak and contemptible, for the whigs I doubt not constitute a large majority of the people. If you approve the hint 1 should wish for your presence here, Absence you know is not very favorable to the influence of any person however great. I shall give you farther notice as I see the scheme advance to execution. I am Dr. Sir
Your very humb. servant,
Before its adjournment the Congress of 1774, referred to in note, p. 17, made provision for the meeting of another similar body on May 10, 1775. In New York a Provincial Convention was called for the special purpose of electing delegates to the new Congress, and on April 22, 1775, Mr. Jay was again chosen, with Messrs. Philip Livingston, James Duane, John Alsop, Simon Boerum, William Floyd, Henry Wisner, Philip Schuyler, George Clinton, Lewis Morris, Francis Lewis, and Robert R. Livingston, Jr., representing the different counties of the Province, as his colleagues. This Congress of 1775, which met, as before, at Philadelphia, became the continuous body known as the Continental Congress of the Revolution, the individual members changing from time to time. Jay’s first connection with it lasted until May 25, 1776, a little over a year. During that time he was closely absorbed with his public duties and served on many important committees, as the published proceedings of the Congress show. On May 26th he was appointed with Samuel Adams and Silas Deane, to prepare and report a letter to the people of Canada, which was approved, on the 29th, in the form given above. Jay’s biographer credits him with its authorship (vol. i., p. 34), as he does with the authorship of the “Address to the People of Ireland,” a document similar in style and having the same object as that to the Canadians. It appears in Force’s “American Archives.” Jay was also one of the committee to prepare the declaration issued by Congress July 6th, “setting forth the causes and necessity” of taking up arms against the mother country. Two days later the “Petition to the King” was signed by the delegates, the document being drawn up by Mr. Dickenson; the measure, however, originated with Jay, and was successfully urged by him against strong opposition. In regard to this, see “Life,” etc., vol. i., p. 36.
The reference here is to the destruction, November 23, 1775, of the Tory Rivington’s press in New York by a party of light horsemen from Connecticut under Captain Sears. The party also seized Bishop Seabury, “Lord” Underhill, Mayor of Westchester borough, and Judge Fowler, who had protested against the proceedings of the Continental Congress, and carried them off, with a portion of Rivington’s type, to New Haven.
Alexander McDougall, of New York City, at this date colonel of the First New York Continental Regiment and later brigadier and major-general in the army.
“Young Hamilton,” as Jay speaks of him at this date, then in his nineteenth year.