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.
The New-York Journal; or, The General Advertiser (New York), March 24, 1774.
Friday last, the 18th of March, being the anniversary of the repeal of the STAMP ACT, the same was celebrated at the house of Mr. Abraham De La Montagne, where a considerable number of gentlemen were assembled, who spent the day in the greatest harmony and good order. The day was celebrated in the like manner by other gentlemen at Protestant Hall, on Long Island; and at Mr. David Grim’s, by the German Protestants in this city. The following loyal toasts were drank, viz.
1. The King. 2. The Queen. 3. The Prince of Wales, and Royal Family. 4. A pleasant passage, and speedy return, to his excellency, our worthy governor, and his family. 5. Prosperity to the province. 6. The lieutenant governor, and the honorable members of his Majesty’s Council. 7. The present worthy General Assembly. 8. The mayor and corporation. 9. Great Britain and her colonies. 10. The navy and army. 11. The Earl of Chatham. 12. Our worthy agent, Mr. Burke. 13. The patriotic ministry of 1766. 14. The glorious majority of both houses of Parliament. 15. The spirited Burgesses of Virginia in 1765. 16. The Pennsylvania Farmer. 17. Loyalty, unanimity, and perseverance to the true Sons of Liberty in America. 18. May the authors of discord, and promoters of intestine feuds, meet with their just demerits. 19. Prosperity to Ireland, and the worthy sons and daughters of St. Patrick. 20. The German Protestants. 21. Trade and navigation. 22. The Chamber of Commerce. 23. The Marine Society. 24. The liberty of the press. 25. The Protestant interest. 26. May the House of Hanover rule the British Empire to the end of time. 27. The day.
A. Consider the enumerated lists of persons and things toasted; what do they suggest about how those attending the celebrations understood the ideas of “loyalty” and “rights”? What issues or concerns do they seem to have? Would you expect such persons to be “revolutionaries”? How do Gouverneur Morris and Thomas Jefferson respectively understand the political moment? How would you characterize the Galloway Plan in light of the other documents? Where does Joseph Galloway’s loyalty seem to lie?
B. Taken as a whole, how do these documents suggest citizens draw the line between “rights” and “loyalty” when considering their political activism? Compare this to the range of responses one might gather from later periods in American history, like the Civil War. What differentiates these situations from one another?
C. How does the understanding of “loyalty” of those advocating for American security in the twentieth century compare with the understanding of “loyalty” presented here? How would we evaluate the legacy of these early American political leaders and citizens against the arguments about “the end of history”?