“I am to Do My Duty": Letter to Peyton Randolph, President of the Continental Congress

“I am to Do My Duty": Letter to Peyton Randolph, President of the Continental Congress

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Colonial Americans responded to British attempts to assert additional control over their political and economic affairs with varying degrees of resistance. For the most part, the colonists attempted to balance their desire for imperial recognition of their traditional rights with statements of loyalty and affection towards the British king (and, to a lesser extent, Parliament). Public gatherings, for example, often included toasts that honored individual members of the British nobility, the long heritage of royal governance, the traditional rights of Englishmen, and the achievements of America in rapid succession. In a tempestuous time, these were not seen as contradictions: indeed, for Gouverneur Morris, the tensions between these concepts might have been all that stood between the colonists and complete anarchy. On the other hand, neither Thomas Jefferson (in A Summary View of the Rights of British America, August 1774) nor General Thomas Gage (in his letter to Peyton Randolph) appears to feel any tension over the question of loyalty whatsoever.

Joseph Galloway’s Plan of Union attempted to use the political confusion constructively, by proposing a new type of political union between the colonies and Britain in which political sovereignty would be divided more evenly. The Continental Congress ultimately rejected this solution, and it was never proposed to the crown.

Ford, et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1:114-15. General Thomas Gage (1719–1787) served in the French and Indian War and was Commander-in-Chief of British forces in North America from 1763 to 1775.

Representations should be made with candor, and matters stated exactly as they stand. People would be led to believe, from your letter to me of the 10th instant, that works were raised against the town of Boston, private property invaded, the soldiers suffered to insult the inhabitants, and the communication between the town and country, shut up and molested.

Nothing can be farther from the true situation of this place than the above state. There is not a single gun pointed against the town, no man’s property has been seized or hurt, except the king’s, by the people’s destroying straw, bricks, etc. bought for his service. No troops have given less cause for complaint, and greater care was never taken to prevent it; and such care and attention was never more necessary from the insults and provocations daily given to both officers and soldiers. The communication between the town and country has been always free and unmolested, and is so still.

Two works of earth have been raised at some distance from the town, wide off the road, and guns put in them. The remainder of old works, going out of the town, have been strengthened, and guns placed there likewise. People will think differently, whether the hostile preparation throughout the country, and the menaces of blood and slaughter, made this necessary; but I am to do my duty.

It gives me pleasure that you are endeavoring at a cordial reconciliation with the mother country, which, from what has transpired, I have despaired of. Nobody wishes better success to such measures than myself. I have endeavored to be a mediator, if I could establish a foundation to work upon, and have strongly urged it to people here to pay for the tea,1 and send a proper memorial to the king, which would be a good beginning on their side, and give their friends the opportunity they seek to move in their support.

I do not believe that menaces, and unfriendly proceedings, will have the effect which too many conceive. The spirit of the British nation was high when I left England, and such measures will not abate it. But I should hope that decency and moderation here, would create the same disposition at home; and I ardently wish that the common enemies to both countries may see, to their disappointment, that these disputes, between the mother country and the colonies, have terminated like the quarrels of lovers, and increased the affection which they ought to bear to each other.

  1. 1. Gage is referring to the tea that was destroyed in the Boston Tea Party (December 1773); in retribution, the British Parliament passed the Boston Port Act in March 1774, ordering the port of Boston be closed until the city’s residents paid for the nearly $1 million worth (in today’s money) of lost revenue.
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