Summary of the Humble Petition to King George III by the First Continental Congress
On October 1, 1774, the First Continental Congress agreed to prepare a “loyal address to his Majesty” to request “royal attention to the grievances that alarm and distress his…faithful subjects in North-America.” Further, the petition was to request the “removal of such grievances” in order to restore “harmony” between Britain and the colonies. A committee was formed to work on the petition. The members were Richard Henry Lee, John Adams, Thomas Johnson, Patrick Henry, and John Rutledge, with Lee serving as chairman. The petition was finalized and approved by Congress on October 25. The petition — which was officially called “The Petition of the Grand American Continental Congress, to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty” — was presented to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. However, according to Benjamin Franklin, it was “undistinguished by any particular Recommendation of it to the Notice of either House…” and it was given little attention. Further, the King never formally responded.
The Petition of the Grand American Continental Congress to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty
Editor’s Note: The text of the “Humble Petition” follows. Section headings have been added by the editorial staff to make the text easier to scan and read. Links have also been added to provide context, along with minor text corrections.
Introduction of the First Continental Congress
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,
WE your majesty’s faithful subjects of the colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, the counties of Newcastle, Kent and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, and South-Carolina, in behalf of ourselves and the inhabitants of those colonies, who have deputed us to represent them in general congress, by this our humble petition, beg leave to lay our grievances before the throne.
List of Grievances of the Colonies and First Continental Congress
A standing army has been kept in these colonies, ever since the conclusion of the late war, without the consent of our assemblies; and this army, with a considerable naval armament, has been employed to enforce the collection of taxes.
The authority of the commander in chief, and, under him, of the brigadiers general, has in time of peace, been rendered supreme in all the civil governments in America.
The commander in chief of all your majesty’s forces in North-America has, in time of peace, been appointed governor of a colony.
The charges of usual officers have been greatly increased, and new, expensive, and oppressive officers have been multiplied.
The judges of admiralty and vice-admiralty courts are impowered to receive their salaries and fees from the effects condemned by themselves.
The officers of the customs are impowered to break open and enter houses, without the authority of any civil magistrate founded on legal information.
The judges of courts of common law have been made intirely dependant on one part the legislature for their salaries as well as for the duration of their commissions.
Councellors, holding their commissions during pleasure, exercise legislative authority.
Humble and reasonable petitions from the representatives of the people have been fruitless.
The agents of the people have been discountenanced, and governors have been instructed to prevent the payment of their salaries.
Assemblies have been frequently and injuriously dissolved, and commerce burthened with many useless and oppressive restrictions.
By several acts of parliament made in the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth years of your majesty’s reign, duties are imposed on us, for the purpose of raising a revenue, and the powers of admiralty and vice-admiralty courts are extended beyond their ancient limits, whereby our property is taken from us without our consent; the trial by jury, in many civil cases, is abolished; enormous forfeitures are incurred for slight offenses; vexatious informers are exempted from paying damages to which they are justly liable, and oppressive security is required from owners before they are allowed to defend their rights.
Both houses of parliament have resolved, that the colonists may be tried in England for offences alleged to have been committed in America, by virtue of a statute passed in the thirty-fifth year of Henry the eighth; and in consequence thereof attempts have been made to enforce that statute.
A statute was passed in the twelfth year of your majesty’s reign, directing that persons charged with committing any offence therein described, in any place out of the realm, may be indicted and tried for the same in any shire or county within the realm, whereby inhabitants of these colonies may, in sundry cases by that statute made capital, be deprived of a trial by their peers of the vicinage.
In the last session of parliament, an act was passed for blocking up the harbour of Boston; another impowering the governor of the Massachusetts-Bay to send persons indicted for murder in that province, to another colony, or even to Great-Britain, for trial, whereby such offenders may escape legal punishment; a third for altering the chartered constitution of government in that province; and a fourth, for extending the limits of Quebec, abolishing the English, and restoring the French laws, whereby great numbers of British freemen are subject to the latter, and establishing an absolute government and the Roman Catholic religion throughout those vast regions that border on the westerly and northerly boundaries of the free protestant English settlements; and a fifth for the better providing suitable quarters for officers and soldiers in his majesty’s service in North-America.
Congress Appeals to the King as British Subjects
To a sovereign, who “glories in the name of Briton,” the bare recital of these acts must, we presume, justify the loyal subjects who fly to the foot of his throne and implore his clemency for protection against them.
From this destructive system of Colony Administration, adopted since the conclusion of the last war, have flowed those distresses, dangers, fears, and jealousies, that overwhelm your Majesty’s dutiful Colonists with affliction; and we defy our most subtle and inveterate enemies to trace the unhappy differences between Great Britain and these Colonies, from an earlier period, or from other causes than we have assigned. Had they proceeded on our part from a restless levity of temper, unjust impulses of ambition, or artful suggestions of seditious persons, we should merit the opprobrious terms frequently bestowed upon us by those we revere. But so far from promoting innovations, we have only opposed them; and can be charged with no offence, unless it be one to receive injuries and be sensible of them.
Had our Creator been pleased to give us existence in a land of slavery, the sense of our condition might have been mitigated by ignorance and habit. But, thanks be to his adorable goodness, we were born the heirs of freedom, and ever enjoyed our right under the auspices of your Royal ancestors, whose family was seated on the British Throne to rescue and secure a pious and gallant Nation from the Popery and despotism of a superstitious and inexorable tyrant. Your Majesty, we are confident, justly rejoices that your title to the Crown is thus founded on the title of your people to liberty; and, therefore, we doubt not but your royal wisdom must approve the sensibility that teaches your subjects anxiously to guard the blessing they received from Divine Providence, and thereby to prove the performance of that compact which elevated the illustrious House of Brunswick to the imperial dignity it now possesses.
The apprehension of being degraded into a state of servitude, from the pre-eminent rank of English freemen, while our minds retain the strongest love of liberty, and clearly foresee the miseries preparing for us and our posterity, excites emotions in our breasts which, though we cannot describe, we should not wish to conceal. Feeling as men, and thinking as subjects, in the manner we do, silence would be disloyalty. By giving this faithful information, we do all in our power to promote the great objects of your Royal cares, the tranquillity of your Government, and the welfare of your people.
Duty to your Majesty, and regard for the preservation of ourselves and our posterity, the primary obligations of nature and of society, command us to entreat your Royal attention; and, as your Majesty enjoys the signal distinction of reigning over freemen, we apprehend the language of freemen cannot be displeasing. Your Royal indignation, we hope, will rather fall on those designing and dangerous men, who, daringly interposing themselves between your Royal person and your faithful subjects, and for several years past incessantly employed to dissolve the bonds of society, by abusing your Majesty’s authority, misrepresenting your American subjects, and prosecuting the most desperate and irritating projects of oppression, have at length compelled us, by the force of accumulated injuries, too severe to be any longer tolerable, to disturb your Majesty’s repose by our complaints.
These sentiments are extorted from hearts that much more willingly would bleed in your Majesty’s service. Yet, so greatly have we been misrepresented, that a necessity has been alleged of taking our property from us without our consent, “to defray the charge of the administration of justice, the support of Civil Government, and the defence, protection, and security of the Colonies.” But we beg leave to assure your Majesty that such provision has been and will be made for defraying the two first artiticles [sic], as has been and shall be judged by the Legislatures of the several Colonies just and suitable to their respective circumstances; and, for the defence, protection, and security of the Colonies, their Militias, if properly regulated, as they earnestly desire may immediately be done, would be fully sufficient, at least in times of peace; and, in case of war, your faithful Colonists will be ready and willing, as they ever have been, when constitutionally required, to demonstrate their loyalty to your Majesty, by exerting their most strenuous efforts in granting supplies and raising forces.
Yielding to no British subjects in affectionate attachment to your Majesty’s person, family, and Government, we too dearly prize the privilege of expressing that attachment by those proofs that are honourable to the Prince who receives them, and to the People who give them, ever to resign it to any body of men upon earth.
Had we been permitted to enjoy, in quiet, the inheritance left us by our forefathers, we should, at this time, have been peaceably, cheerfully, and usefully employed in recommending ourselves, by every testimony of devotion, to your Majesty, and of veneration to the state, from which we derive our origin. But though now exposed to unexpected and unnatural scenes of distress by a contention with that Nation in whose parental guidance on all important affairs, we have hitherto, with filial reverence, constantly trusted, and therefore can derive no instruction in our present unhappy and perplexing circumstances from any former experience; yet, we doubt not, the purity of our intention, and the integrity of our conduct, will justify us at that grand tribunal before which all mankind must submit to judgment.
We ask but for Peace, Liberty, and Safety. We wish not a diminution of the prerogative, nor do we solicit the grant of any new right in our favour. Your Royal authority over us, and our connection with Great Britain, we shall always carefully and zealously endeavour to support and maintain.
Filled with sentiments of duty to your Majesty, and of affection to our parent state, deeply impressed by our education, and strongly confirmed by our reason, and anxious to evince the sincerity of these dispositions, we present this Petition only to obtain redress of Grievances, and relief from fears and jealousies, occasioned by the system of Statutes and Regulations adopted since the close of the late war, for raising a Revenue in America — extending the powers of Courts of Admiralty and Vice Admiralty — trying persons in Great Britain for offences alleged to be committed in America — affecting the Province of Massachusetts Bay — and altering the Government and extending the limits of Quebec; by the abolition of which system the harmony between Great Britain and these Colonies, so necessary to the happiness of both, and so ardently desired by the latter, and the usual intercourses will be immediately restored. In the magnanimity and justice of your Majesty and Parliament we confide for a redress of our other grievances, trusting, that, when the causes of our apprehensions are removed, our future conduct will prove us not unworthy of the regard we have been accustomed in our happier days to enjoy. For, appealing to that Being, who searches thoroughly the hearts of his creatures, we solemnly profess, that our Councils have been influenced by no other motive than a dread of impending destruction.
Permit us then, most gracious Sovereign, in the name of all your faithful People in America, with the utmost humility, to implore you, for the honour of Almighty God, whose pure Religion our enemies are undermining; for your glory, which can be advanced only by rendering your subjects happy, and keeping them united; for the interests of your family depending on an adherence to the principles that enthroned it; for the safety and welfare of your Kingdoms and Dominions, threatened with almost unavoidable dangers and distresses, that your Majesty, as the loving Father of your whole People, connected by the same bands of Law, Loyalty, Faith, and Blood, though dwelling in various countries, will not suffer the transcendent relation formed by these ties to be farther violated, in uncertain expectation of effects, that, if attained, never can compensate for the calamities through which they must be gained.
We therefore most earnestly beseech your Majesty, that your Royal authority and interposition may be used for our relief, and that a gracious Answer may be given to this Petition.
That your Majesty may enjoy every felicity through a long and glorious Reign, over loyal and happy subjects, and that your descendants may inherit your prosperity and Dominions till time shall be no more, is, and always will be, our sincere and fervent prayer.
Signers of the Humble Petition to King George III
- President of Congress: Henry Middleton
- New-Hampshire: John Sullivan, Nathaniel Folsom
- Massachusetts Bay: Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine
- Rhode-Island: Stephen Hopkins, Samuel Ward
- Connecticut: Eliphalet Dyer, Roger Sherman, Silas Deane
- New-York: Philip Livingston, John Alsop, Isaac Low, James Duane, John Jay, William Floyd, Henry Wisner, Simon Boerum
- New-Jersey: William Livingston, John De Hart, Stephen Crane, Richard Smith
- Pennsylvania: Edward Biddle, Joseph Galloway, John Dickinson, John Morton, Thomas Mifflin, George Ross, Charles Humphreys
- Delaware: Caesar Rodney, Thomas McKean, George Read
- Maryland: Matthew Tilghman, Thomas Johnson, William Paca, Samuel Chase
- Virginia: Richard Henry Lee, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Edmund Pendleton, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison
- North-Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, Richard Caswell
- South-Carolina: Thomas Lynch, Christopher Gadsden, John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge