Jay, John (1745-1829) To the inhabitants of the State of New York
Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC00006
Author/Creator: Jay, John (1745-1829)
Place Written: Fishkill, New York
Type: Autograph manuscript
Date: December 23, 1776
Pagination: 23 p. : docket ; 31.1 x 21.5 cm. + 1 engraving ; b&w ; 27 x 19.9
Summary of Content: Delivered at Fishkill, New York, to the state’s constitutional convention shortly after the American defeats at Long Island, Manhattan and White Plains, and a few days before Washington surprised the Hessians at Trenton. As such, Jay addressed his fellow Americans disillusioned by British victories and questioning the moral rightness of the American cause. Speech explains why he felt it was necessary to fight against the British in the cause of liberty, even unto death. The unsigned manuscript is written and corrected entirely in Jay’s hand. There are many corrections, strike outs as well as notations in the left margin. The draft shows considerable revision from the printed version; many changes are syntactic but some weaken the vilification of Tories, stress unity of Americans, and shift the anti-British attacks from Parliament to George III. Later printed at Fishkill and at Philadelphia by Dunlap. The Continental Congress thought so highly of the address that it recommended that it be given ”serious perusal” by all Americans. Bound by a piece of string at the center portion of the top of the document. One full length engraving of John Jay included as collateral.
People: Jay, John, 1745-1829.
Historical Era: American Revolution, 1763-1783
Full Transcript: To the Inhabitants of the State of New York, An Address of the Convention of the State of New York to their Constituents At this important Period, when the Freedom & Happiness or the slavery & misery of the present & future Generations of Americans is to be determined on a solemn appeal to the supreme Ruler of all Events to whom every Individual must one Day answer for the Part he now acts, it becomes the Duty of the Representatives of a free People to call their attention to this most serious Subject. And the more so at a time when their Enemies are industriously endeavouring to delude seduce & intimidate by false suggestions artful misrepresentations & insidious Promises of Protection., The Great God of the universe created you and all men free, & authorized them to establish government for the Preservation of their Rights agt. oppression & the Security of the Liberty he had given them agt. the rapacious Hand of Tyranny & lawless Power. And it is not only necessary to the well being of Society but the Duty of every man to oppose and repress all those by whatever name or Title distinguished who prostitute the Powers of Govt. to the purpose of destroying the Happiness and Freedom of the People over whom they may be appd to rule, Under the auspices & Direction of divine Providence, your Fore Fathers removed to the wilds & wilderness of America. By their Industry they made it a fruitful, & by their virtue a happy Country. And we sh’d. still have enjoyed a continuance of the Blessings of Peace & Plenty, Had we had not forgotten the source from which those Blessings flowed, & permitted our Country to be contaminated by Irreligion & the many shameful tho fashionable vices which have prevailed among us., It is a well known Truth that no virtuous People were ever oppressed, and it is also true that a Scourge was never wanting to those of an opposite Character.  Even the Jews those favorites of Heaven met with the Frowns whenever they forgot the Smiles of their Benevolent Creator-by the Tyrants of Egypt, of Babylon, of Assyria, and of Rome, they were severely chastised. And when those Tyrants had executed the vengeance of the Almighty their own Crimes burst on their own Heads and they received the Rewards justly due to their wicked violations of the sacred Rights of mankind. You were born equally free with the Jews, and have as good Right to an Exemption from the arbitrary Domination & Tyranny of Great Britain as they had from the wicked Invasions of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria or Rome but they for their wickedness were permitted to be scourged by the latter and we for our wickedness are scourged by Tyrants as cruel and implacable as those-, Our Case, however, is peculiarly distinguished from theirs. Their Enemies were Strangers [illegible] and bound to them by no Tyes of Gratitude or Consanguinity.-Our Enemies on the contrary call themselves Christians are of a Nation and People bound to us by the Strongest Tyes-a People by whose Side we have fought & bled, whose Power we have contributed to Raise, who owe much of their wealth to our Industry, and whose Grandeur has been augmented by our Exertions., It is unnecessary to remind you that during the space of between  one and two hundred Years Every Man sat under his own Vine & his own Fig Tree & there was none to make him afraid. That the People of Britain never claimed a Right to dispose of us & every thing belonging to us according to their will and Pleasure till the reign of the present King of that Island-And that to enforce that abominable Claim they have invaded this country by Sea & by Land. From this very extravaigant & iniquitous Claim & the unreasonable as well as cruel manner in which submission to it is sought, it seems as if Providence was determined to use it as an Instrument to punish the Guilt of this country & bring us back to a sense of Duty to our Creator., You may remember that the most dutiful Petitions were presented for a Redress of the many grievances to wh. that King had subjected us, not only by the several Assemblies But By the Representatives of all America in general Congress and you cannot have forgoten with what Contempt they were rejected-Even a most humble Petition only to be heard was not answered except by the Sound of the Trumpet & the Clashing of arms. This however is not the only Instance in which the Hearts of Kings have been hardened and in all probabily will add to the number of Instances in which their Injustice-oppression & Hardness of Heart have workd their Destruction, Being bound by the strongest obligations to defend the Inheritance which God had given us, we referred our Cause to him, we opposed the Assaults of our Task masters and determined rather to die free rather than live Slaves, & entail Bondage on our Children., By our vigorous Efforts and the Goodness of divine Providence those cruel Invaders were driven the last Campaign from our country and we flattered  ourselves that the signal Success of our Arms & the unanimity & Spirit of our People would have induced our Enemies to desist from the further Prosecution of their wicked Designs and disposed them to Peace. But we had not as yet deserved Peace-Exultation took place instead of Thanksgiving, and we ascribed that to our own Prowess which was only to be attributed to the great Guardian of the Innocent-, The Enemy with greater Strength again invade us-invade us not less by their acts than their arms. They tell you that if you submit you shall have protection That their King breathes nothing but Peace that he will revise (not repeal) all his cruel acts & Instructions, & will recieve you into favour-But what are the Terms on which you are promised Peace-Have you heard of any except absolute unconditional obedience & servile Submission-If his Professions are honest-If he means not to decieve and cajole you, why are you not informed of the Terms, and whether the Parliament mean to tax you hereafter at their will & Pleasure upon this & the like Points, these military Comrs of Peace are silent, and indeed, are not authorised to say a word- They speake Peace but hold Daggers in their Hands. They-gracious invite you to accept of Blessings & strew your Habitations with Blood and Destruction. Their voice resembles the voice of Jacob, but their Hands are like the Hands of Esau. , why if their Sovereign intends to repeal any of the Acts of which we complain, are they not named, Why if he designs you shall be free, does he not promise that the Claim of his Parliament to bind you in all Cases whatsoever shall be given up and relinquished-Why if a reasonable Peace is intended, did he not empower his Comrs. to treat with the Congress or with Deps. from all the Assemblies or why was not some other mode devised in which America might be heard. it is highly ridiculous for them to pretend that they are authorized to treat of Peace between Britain & [illegible] with every man they meet. Was such a method of treating of Peace ever heard of before Is such an Instance to be found in the History of Mankind., The Truth is no Peace is meant & their specious Pretences & Proclamations are calculated only to disunite and deceive. If a Peace worthy the Acceptance of a free People were an Object of his Desire why did he order all your Vessels to be seized and confiscated, nay why did he most cruelly command that the Men found on Board such Vessels should be added to the Crews of his Ships of war and compelled to fight agt. their own Countrymen & spill the Blood of their Friends and Neighbours nay of their Gathers their Brothers & Children & all this before the pretended Emb. of Peace had arrived here-Does any History, sacred or prophane record any thing more horrid more impious, more execrably wicked tyrannical or devilish-Why if there be a single Idea of Peace in his mind does he order your Cities to be burnt, your Country desolated, your  Brethren to starve and languish & die in Prisons Why If any thing but Destruction Bloodshed and Devastation was intended are the Barbarians of Germany hired and transported near four thousand miles to plunder your Houses-to ravish your Wives and Daughters to strip your Infant Children to expose whole Families naked miserable and forlorn to want to Hunger to inclement Skies & wretched Deaths. If Peace was not reprobated by him why are those pusilanimous deluded servile Wretches among you, who for present Ease or impious Bribes will sell their Liberty their Children, & their Souls who like Savages will worship any Devil that will promise not to hurt them or obey any Mandates however cruel for which they are paid. How is it that these sordid degenerate Creatures who bow the knee to this King and daily offer Incense at his Shrine should be denied the Peace so repeatedly promised them. Why are they indiscriminately abused robbed  and plundered with their more deserving Neighbours. But in this world as in the other it is right and just that the wicked should be punished by their Seducers-In a word if Peace was the Desire of your Enemies and Humanity their object why do they thus trample under foot every Right & every Duty human & divine. Why like the Demons of old will they be satisfied only with human Sacrifices, why do they excite the Savages of the wilderness to murder our Inhabitants & exercise Cruelties unheard of among civilized nations. No Regard for Religion or virtue remains among them your very Churches bear witness to their Impiety-They hesitate not to use them as Stables & Houses for Sport & theatrical Exhibitions. What Faith what Trust what Confidence can you repose in men thus deaf to the calls of Humanity, thus Dead to every Sentiment of Religion & devoid of all Regard for the Temples of the Lord of Hosts. And why all this Desolation, Bloodshed and unparalelled Cruelty. They tell you to reduce you to obedience-Obedience to what? To their Sovereign will & Pleasure-& what then-Why-then you shall be pardoned, because you consent to be Slaves , and why should you be Slaves now having been freemen ever since this Country was settled-Because forsooth the King & Parlimt of an Island 3000 miles off chuse that you shd. be Hewers of wood & Drawers of water for them. And is this the People whose proud Domination you are taught to solicit Is this the Peace which some of you so ardently desire.  For Shame! For Shame, But they tell you that their armies are numerous, their Fleet Strong, their Soldiers valiant, their Resources great, That you will be conquered, that victory ever attends their Standard, and therefore that your opposition is vain your Resistance fruitless. What then-You can but be Slaves at last if you shd think life worth holding on so base a Tenure., But Who is it that gives Victory? by Whom is a nation exalted? Since what period is it that the Race is always to the swift or the Battle to the strong? Can you be persuaded that the merciful King of Kings has surrendered his Crown & Sceptre to the merciless Tyrant of Britain, and committed the Affairs of this lower world to his controul, Guidance & Direction, We learned otherwise from our Fathers and God himself hath told us that Strength and Numbers avail not against him. Seek then to be at Peace with him, sollicit his alliance & fear not the boasted power and Strength of your Enemies., You may be told that your Forts have been taken, your Country ravaged, & that your armies have retreated, and therefore that God is not with  you-It is true that some Forts have been taken our Country Ravaged and that our Armies have retreated, and that our maker is displeased with us, but it is also true that the king of Heaven is not like the King of Britain implacable-If his Assistance be sincerely implored it will surely be obtained-If we turn from our Sins, he will turn from his anger-then will our arms be crowned with Success and the Pride and Power of our Enemies like the arrogance & majesty of Nebuchadnezar will vanish away-Let us but do our Duty and victory will be our Reward- Let a general Reformation of manners take Place-Let no more widows and orphans compelled to fly from their peaceful abodes complain that you make a market of their Distress & take cruel advantage of their necessities- When your Country is invaded and cries aloud for your aid fly not to some secure Corner in a neighbouring State & remain Idle Spectators of her Distress, but share in her Fate and manfully support her Cause. Let universal Charity, publick Spirit and private Virtues be inculcated encouraged & practiced-unite in preparing  for a vigorous Defence of your Country as if all depended on your own Exertions and when you have done that rely upon his good Providence for Success in full Confidence that all your Efforts without his Blessing will inevitably fail., A People moving on these Principles never have been & never will be subjected by any tyrant whatever. Cease then to desire the Flesh Potts of Egypt. remember their Task Masters & oppression, nor any longer hesitate about rejecting a Dependence on a King who will rule you only with a Rod of Iron-Tell those who blame you for declaring yourselves independent, that you did no more than what your late King had done for you-he declared you to be out of his Protection-he absolved you from all Allegiance he made war upon you & instead of your King became your Enemy & destroyer. By his own act, by his Consent, you became independent of his Crown-and if you are wise you will continue so-You now have it in yr Power to chuse what Govt. you please, and to chuse what Rulers you think proper. This is a Priviledge with which few nations are indulged-value the heavenly Gift and remember that if you despise it, you offer an affront to the divine Hand that bestows it. Nor despair of keeping it., Despair and Despondency mark a little Mind and indicate a groveling Spirit., After the Roman armies had been repeatedly defeated by Hannibal that imperial City was closely beseiged by that brave and experienced General at the Head of a victorious and numerous army-but so far were those glorious Citizens from being dismayed by the loss of so many Battles and of all their Country that during the Siege the very Land on which the Carthaginian Camp was pitched was sold at public auction for more than the usual Price. Those heroic Citizens disdained to recieve his Protections or regard his Proclamations.  They remembered that their ancestors had left them free-ancestors who had bled in rescuing their Country & Posterity from the Tyranny of their Kings-They invoked the Protection of their Gods, they bravely defended their City, with undaunted resolution they repelled the Enemy and recovered their Country., Who can read this Instance of the noble magnanimity of those illustrious Citizens, without blushing for the Degenerate Spirit of those among us who because the Enemy have marched over three or four Counties in this & a neighbouring State, give all over for Lost, and basely fly to have the Yoke of Slavery fixed about their Necks and to swear that they & their Children after them shall & will be Slaves forever. Such men deserve to be Slaves, & are fit only for Beasts of Burden to the Rest of mankind, and it would be well for America if they were removed from the Country & not by continuing in it people it with a Race of Animals who from their Form  and Shape will always be Classed with the human Kind, but possess none of the Qualities which render man more respectable than Brutes., There never yet was a war in the course of which Victory and Success did not sometimes change Sides, and nothing very singular or decisive has as yet happened in this. Inquire dispassionately how the Account stands and do not be led away by the artful Tales which Emissaries from the Enemy so industriously circulate., A powerful & well disciplined Army invade this country-supported by a respectable Fleet. They are opposed by an Army tho numerous & well commanded yet undisciplined. Notwithstanding these Disadvantages the Enemy have never thought it prudent to give them Battle, tho they have often had the fairest Opportunities.  It is true that taking Advantage of the critical Moment when our armies were almost disbanded they have penetrated into Jersey & marched a considerable Distance without being attacked-but let those who are alarmed at this consider that it is not for a few acres of Land we are fighting it is for Freedom, it is for the Liberty & Happiness of millions yet unborn, and would it not be highly imprudent to risque Events so important on the Issue of a general Battle, when it is most certain that Great Britain cannot long continue the War and that by protracting it we become certain of Success. The Ministry sensible of this Truth & convinced that the People of England are aware of it have promised that the Present shall be the last Campaign. They are greatly & justly alarmed at their Situation their Country drained of Men and Money the Difficulty of supplying a Fleet and  Army at so great a Distance, daily increasing the Danger of domestic Insurrections, the Probability that the politic Nation of France will take Advantage of their present defenceless Situation the Destruction of their Trade by our Privateers are Circumstances truly alarming and it is well known that the People will not remain long content in such a dangerous Situation. Hence it is that the Enemy press so hard to make this Campaign decisive and hence it is that we should endeavour to avoid it. Suppose even Philadelphia which many think so important, taken or abandoned. The Conquest of America will nevertheless be at a great Distance., Millions will still remain to be subdued, Millions who are resolved to be free and who will nobly refuse to part with their Liberty their Consciences, & the Happiness of their Posterity for infamous Protections & Dishonorable Pardons., But amidst all the Dismay and Terror which has possessed some weake minds, Let the advantages under which the Americans  prosecute this War be considered., our Country supplies us with almost every Commodity necessary for Life or for Defence., Gun Powder arms & ammunition are now manufactured in almost all the american States in great abundance and our armies will have ample Supplies of all military Stores. We have more fighting men in America than Great Britain can possibly send into it-Our Trade is free, and every Port of France & Spain affords Protection to our Ships & other Nations invited by the advantages of our Commerce will doubtless soon follow their Example. Experience must convince the most incredulous that the british Navy cannot exclude us from the Sea, of the truth of this the many Prizes our Privateers have taken & the many valuable Cargoes imported this Fall from foreign Countries bear Testimony.The article of Salt abt which some of you have been uneasy will soon be fully supplied. The shores of America are washed by the ocean for above two Thousand  Miles in Extent, and Works for manufacturing it have been erected & proved successful, and many Cargoes of this Commodity are daily arriving in the neighbouring States. Nor is there Reason to apprehend a Scarcity of any of the necessaries of Life. Food & Provisions of every kind abound among us-out of our Stores Great Britain it is well known has heretofore supplied her necessities, tho she now wantonly & ungratefully abuses those who fed her. Cloathing will not be wanting. The manufactures of this Country have rapidly increased and the Supplies Which are daily obtained from bay and Sea quiet all Fears on that Head. By the most authentic accounts from France we are assured that the People of that Kingdom are ripe for a War with Britain and will not omit the opportunity of extending her Commerce and humbling her Rival. Every European State viewed with a Jealous Eye the growing Power of Britain and the additional Strength she daily recd. from this amazing Continent  wisely percieving that their Security was diminished in Proportion as her Power to injure them increased. Whence is it then that some pretend to assure you that France & other States of Europe are not disposed to favour us. Several of their greatest men have pronounced our Cause to be just and approved the manner in which it has been conducted., Whoever therefore considers the natural Strength & advantages of this Country, the Distance it is removed from Britain, the obvious Policy of many European Powers the great Supplies of Arms & Ammunition chearfully afforded us by the French & Spaniards, the feeble & destitute Condition of Britain that she is drained of men & money, her Inhabitants divided, her King unpopular, her ministry execrated, obliged to hire foreign mercenaries to execute her wicked Purposes, & her Trade ruined, that she is overwhelmed with a monstrous Debt, cut off from the vast Revenue herefore obtained from Taxes on American Produce, its West India Islands in a starving condition, its Ships Taken, its Merchants involved in Bankrupcy, their Designs agt. us wicked unjust cruel contrary  to the Laws of God and man & pursued with a Spirit unrelenting implacable, and in a manner barbarous and opposed to the usage of civilized nations-That our Cause is the Cause of God, of human nature & Posterity, that we fight not for Conquest but only for Security, that we have humbly sought Peace & been refused, that we have been denied even a Hearing, all our Petitions rejected, all our Remonstrances disregarded Whoever we say, seriously considers these things, must entertain very improper Ideas of the divine Justice to which we have appealed and be very little acquainted with the Course of human Affairs, to harbour the most distant Doubt of our being successful-, Remember the long and glorious Struggle of the States of Holland with Spain. These State were once subject to Spain. Their Extent was small, their Country poor, their People far from numerous. Spain attempted to enslave them. They dutifully remonstrated agt. the Design. Their Petitions were treated with Contempt & Fire and Sword were carried into their Country to compell Submission. They nobly resolved  to be free, they opposed Force to Force, they declared themselves independent States, and after an Obstinate Struggle, frustrated the wicked Intentions of Spain. And it is worthy of notice-that Spain was then the most powerful Kingdom in Europe, her fleet was formidable, her Armies great inured to War, commanded by the best Generals of the Age, her Treasury full and Holland in her Neighbourhood., Switzerland presents us with another Instance of magnanimity. That Country was oppressed by cruel Tyrants, the people refused to be in bondage-with arms in their Hands they expelled those Tyrants, and left to their children free-, Even England itself whose Genius now blushes for the Degeneracy of her Sons has afforded Examples of opposition to Tyranny worthy the Imitation of all Nations. His sacred majesty Charles the first lost his head & his Crown by attempting to enslave his Subjects. And his Sacred Majesty James the second with all his family was expelled  the Kingdom for the same Reason, and the Prince of Orange elected King in his Stead., They were too wise to believe the Person of any Tyrant to be sacred, and suffered no man to wear the Crown who attempted to exercise the Powers of Royalty to the Destruction of the People from whom those Powers were derived., This Practice is not only consistant with human Reason, but perfectly consonant to the Practice and Will of God himself. The Jews you know were under his particular Direction-and you need not be informed of the many Instances in which the Almighty took the Crown from such of their Kings as refused to govern according to the Laws of the Jews, If then, God has given us Freedom, are we not responsible to him for the Loss of that as well as other Talents? If it be our Birth Right, Let us not sell it for a Mess of Pottage or suffer it to be  torn from us by the Hand of Violence. If the means of Defence be in our Power what Excuse shall we make to our Children & our Creator for not using them? These are Questions of the deepest Concern to us all, and materially affect our Happiness, not only in this World but in the World to come. For (as says a great and virtuous nobleman) if ever a test for the Trial of Spirits can be necessary it is now if ever those of Liberty & Faction ought to be distinguished from each other it is now if ever it is incumbent on the People to know what truth is it is now., Rouse, therefore-do your Duty like Men and refuse to be persuaded that the divine Providence will permit this Western World to be involved in the Horrors of Slavery. consider that Religion Liberty & Empire have from the earliest ages been bending their Course towards the setting Sun. The Gospel is yet to be preached to those western Regions, & we have the highest Reason to believe that the Almighty will not suffer Slavery & the Gospel to go Hand in Hand-it cannot, it will not be., But if there be any among us dead to all Sense of Honor & Love to their Country, if deaf to all the Calls of Virtue, Religion, & Liberty; If forgetful of the Magnanimity of their ancestors and the Happiness of their children If neither the Example & Success of other Nations, the Dictates of Reason & of Nature or the great Duties  they owe to their God themselves or their Posterity have any Effect upon them all If neither the Injuries they have recd., the Prize they are contending for, the future Blessings or Curses of their Children, the applause or Reproach of all Mankind, the approbation or Displeasure of their Great Judge-or the Happiness or Misery consequent to their Conduct in this & a future State can move them. Then let them be assured that they deserve to be Slaves, and have a Right to nothing but Tribulation & Anguish-Let them banish from their memories the Reputation of their Forefather, the Freedom & Happiness they left them, forget every Duty human & Divine-remember not that they have Children, & beware how they call to Mind the Justice of the supreme being. Let them go into Captivity like the idolatrous disobedient Jews, and be a Reproach and a Bye word among the Nations., But we think better things of you. We believe & are persuaded that you will do yr Duty like men, & chearfully refer your Cause to the great & Righteous Judge. If Success crown  your Efforts, all the Blessings of Freedom will be your Reward-If you fall in the Contest you will be happy with God & Liberty in Heaven., , , [docket], Dr. Address of Convention, to their Constituents, 23 Decr: 1776, , , , Note: Researchers should consult the original document. None of the numerous insertions and strikeouts are noted in this transcript.
Keywords/Subjects: Slavery;, Liberty;, Loyalist;, Continental Army;, Continental Congress;, Government and Civics;, Religion;, Judaism;, Civil Rights;, Commerce;, Global History and US Foreign Policy;, Global History and US Foreign Policy;, Children and Family;, Pardon;, Ammunition;, Navy;, Battle of Long Island (Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights);, Battle;, Christianity;
Sub Era: The War for Independence
Background: Toward the end of 1776, when John Jay made this appeal to the inhabitants of New York, a pall of despair lay upon the American cause. The New York Assembly had fled to Fish Kill, New York, to escape the British army. Jay, who himself came from a slaveholding family, declares that New Yorkers face two alternatives: slavery or freedom. The patriot cause had reached a low point. A British army of 30,000 opposed an American force of only about 18,000. The patriots suffered a series of demoralizing defeats and by December 1776, the British had forced Washington and his troops to retreat from New Jersey across the Delaware into Pennsylvania. Desertions depleted the colonial ranks and on January 1, 1777, one-year enlistments of troops were to expire. , With his forces near collapse, Washington made a bold move. On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington and 2400 men recrossed the Delaware and marched through the night. The next day, they captured 900 Hessian mercenaries. Victory at Trenton and at Princeton on January 3 gave fresh impetus to the colonial cause. An English observer commented: ”A few days ago they had given up the cause for lost. Their late successes have turned the scale and now they are all liberty mad again.”
LOC Search Terms: New York (State)--History--Revolution, 1775-1783., Fishkill (N.Y. : Town)., United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783. , United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--British forces. , Liberty., Constitutional conventions--New York (State)--History. , New York (Colony). Provincial Congress.Order Image