Primary tabs

Queries offered to the Freeholders and People of Virginia at large



Williamstmrgh, April 13, 1776.

Is it your intention to be freemen or slaves? If it is your intention to be free, should you not adopt the sure means of being so, whilst these means are in your hands, and not put it in the power of fortune to wrest them out of your hands? Are not these means obvious to every common understanding? Is it not manifest that you have already sinned beyond forgiveness in the eye of the accursed Ministry of Great Britain, and of that more accursed tyrant, who will employ no Ministry unless they previously stipulate to work your ruin? Is there any circumstance in the whole life or character of this tyrant which gives you reason to think that he will relent? Was he ever known to forgive those that he had once oppressed or injured? Is there any symptom of virtue in either House of Parliament which can natter you that they will check the disposition of their masters? Is there any appearance of vigour and spirit in the people of Great Britain which can open a prospect of relief? Is it probable that a people who have suffered their own most sacred laws to be baffled, violated, and trampled upon with impunity, should rouse themselves in the cause of others, who are removed three thousand miles distant from them? On the contrary, is it not plain that they are scarcely less hostile to your rights and happiness than the tyrant himself? It is true a few virtuous men have appeared your advocates; but have not the virtuous, and friends to liberty in other parts of the globe, been equally your advocates? Have not the first geniuses of France, inspired by the sacred love of freedom and humanity, stepped forth as champions of that cause which is in fact the cause of all mankind? The Rhenels, Voltaires, and Alemberts, have exerted their talents in your defence; and they have exerted them not in vain: their works have been read with avidity and applause. Every man who thinks, every man who feels, through the different States of France, Italy, and Germany, is your friend, and sends up vows for your success; while, in England, argument, reason, wit, and eloquence, have been absolutely thrown away. As an evidence of this truth, has a single County petitioned in your favour? Some few manufacturing towns have indeed expressed their apprehensions that the present measures may be detrimental to their own commerce and interest; but on the injustice and inhumanity of these measures they have been utterly silent. Have not your fields been laid waste, your property confiscated, your citizens butchered, and your cities reduced to ashes? Have not the Savages been tampered with to deluge your frontiers with blood and slaughter? Have not your slaves been instigated to murder you and your wives and children? Are not these things (monstrous and incredible as they are) notorious? But in what manner have they affected the people of England? Have they shown the least resentment, indignation, or even compassion? Have they not, on the contrary, voted, or suffered their Representatives to vote fresh means for prosecuting the diabolical plan? Have they not negotiated with every power of Europe, for hireling instruments, to insure your destruction? Are these things facts, or are they not? And can you now sit patiently, with your arms across? Will you not rouse yourselves at the great call of nature? Will you suffer a few coward hearts, contemptible, confused heads, or perhaps treacherous bosoms, to keep you fascinated in a state of torpor, till the chain is fixed about your necks, by which you will be inextricably held? But, to speak without a figure, I will tell you plainly, fellow-citizens, your situation, and point out your interest and duty. You have already proceeded so far that, were your cause less righteous than it is, you could not in policy recede. You have overturned every form of the Constitution, if such a defective patchwork fabrick as yours can be called a Constitution; you have assumed the legislature into your own hands; you have raised troops; you have waged war; and you have, in appearance at least, expelled your Governour. In short, you have committed a multiplicity of acts, which a Prince less tyrannical, a Ministry less abandoned, and a Nation less imperious than that of Great Britain, might choose to construe treason, and which, if fortune, or your own indecision, should throw it into their power, they will infallibly punish as such. If you succeed, all these things, which you have done, will redound to your honour; but if you miscarry, (which may Heaven and your


own spirit avert,) the horrible slavery which must be the lot of you and your children, will be represented in history as scarcely adequate to the blackness and magnitude of your crimes. If anything in human affairs is certain, it may be affirmed that success or miscarriage are at your own option. Decision insures the former; hesitation incurs the latter.

You have an Army, the soldiers and officers of which have displayed more valour, order, and discipline, and the Generals more ability, than the enemy or yourselves could possibly have expected. They have been crowned with most wonderful success. And are they now to be stopped in the career of their good fortune? And are your liberties to be risked on the chance of a die, merely through complaisance to the fears, if not the treachery, of the most despicable and worthless part of the community? I speak not from passion or prejudice: I appeal to your own sense and experience. Look about you. Who, what are these men, thus sobbing and whining after their darling dependance, which they can neither understand themselves, nor do attempt to explain to others? Are they not the very men who, from the beginning, have either openly opposed, or thrown obstacles in the way of, every spirited measure of resistance? In short, are they not men of suspected principles, muddy, perplexed understandings, or of a timidity ridiculous to a proverb?

I shall now conclude, fellow-citizens, with urging and insisting upon these Incontrovertible truths: that although you have a numerous and gallant Army, although your Generals and officers are zealous and capable, although it has pleased Heaven to bless them hitherto with almost one continued series of success — I say, that although these things are, they are all in vain, unless you likewise exert, at this important crisis, that manly decision which has long been expected from you. The gallantry of your troops, the zeal and capacity of your officers, will only serve to make their defeat and destruction more humiliating and lamentable; and that they must ultimately be defeated, ruined, or dissolved, is most infallible, unless they are furnished with the requisite means of carrying on the war. They have not these means; they have neither arms, tents, blankets, nor a sufficient stock of ammunition. They can only be supplied with these requisites by a more certain, and less precarious intercourse with other States, than the little, dirty, disgraceful, smuggling method now pursued. This intercourse cannot be established without a declaration, on your parts, that you are a free and independent people. Whilst you remain in the predicament of Rebels, they are, in decency, obliged to keep aloof; but when you can be considered as an independent State, the eternal rules of policy will point out to them the advantages and honour which must result from a close alliance with you. For Heaven' s sake, why, wherefore do you hesitate? The pusillanimous mortals who labour to raise spectres in your imaginations similar to those which haunt their own, know very well that reconciliation and reunion with your butchers are impossible. You may, indeed, be their slaves, but to be their brethren and fellow-subjects is out of the nature of things. Procrastination only prolongs die calamities of war. Every day' s delay swells up the expense of America' s blood and treasure. Will you, then, I repeatedly demand, throw away the lives of so many thousands of your most valuable citizens, plunge yourselves into an enormous debt, from which you can never be extricated; will you stake the liberties of yourselves and posterity on hazard and fortune, merely in complacency to the fears of a few timid, or perhaps to the designs of a few disaffected men? Or will you, by a brave, spirited, and manly injunction on your servants in Congress to declare you a free and independent people, bring the calamities of war to a shorter issue, and fix your liberties on a firm and durable foundation?