Author: Thomas Gage and Laurence Fishburne
In British eyes, the Revolution was the work of a small group demagogues and radicals who plotted with debtors and smugglers to overthrown British rule. This proclamation, issued by British commander General Thomas Gage (1721-1787), offers a pardon to all Bostonians except John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Ghost-written by British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne (1722-1792), this amnesty proclamation badly backfired. Not only did loyalists fail to flock to the British side, but many previously apathetic colonists were repelled by the document’s patronizing tone. After the battles at Lexington and Concord, the miliitas of Massachusetts and other New England colonies surrounded Boston to tie down the British troops.
Whereas the infatuated multitudes, who have long suffered themselves to be conduced by certain well known Incendiaries and Traitors in a fatal progression of crimes against the constitutional authority of the state, have at length proceeded to avowed rebellion; and the good effects which were expected to arise from the patience and leniency of the King’s government, have been frustrated, and are now rendered hopeless, by the influence of evil counsels; it only remains for those who are entrusted with supreme rule, as well for the punishment of the guilty, as the protection of the well affected, to prove they do not bear the sword in vain.
The infringements which have been committed upon the most sacred rights of the crown and people of Great Britain are too many to enumerate…. All unprejudiced people…will find upon a transient review, marks of premeditation and conspiracy that would justify the fullness of chastisement…. The authors of the present unnatural revolt never daring to trust their cause, or their actions to the judgements of an impartial public, or even to the dispassionate reflection of their followers, have uniformly placed their chief confidence in the suppression of truth: And while indefatigable and shameless pains have been taken to obstruct every appeal to the interest of the people of America; the grossest forgeries, calumnies and absurdities that ever insulted human understanding, have been imposed upon their credulity. The press, that distinguished appendage of public liberty…has been invariably prostituted to the most contrary purposes…. The name of God has been introduced in the pulpits to excite and justify devastation and massacre….
A number of armed persons, to the amount of many thousands assembled on the 19th of April last and from behind walls, and lurking holes, attacked a detachment of the King’s troops, who…unprepared for vengeance, and willing to decline it, made use of their arms only in their own defense. Since that period, the rebels, deriving confidence from impunity, have added insult to outrage; have repeatedly fired upon the King’s ships and subjects, with cannon and small arms, have possessed the roads, and other communications by which the town of Boston was supplied with provisions; and with a preposterous parade of military arrangement, they affect to hold the army besieged; while part of their body make daily and indiscriminate invasions upon private property, and with a wantonness of cruelty every incident to lawless tumult, carry degradation and distress wherever they turn their steps….
In this exigency…I avail myself of the last effort within the bounds of my duty, to spare the effusion [of blood]; to offer, and I do hereby in his Majesty’s name, offer and promise, his most gracious pardon to all persons who shall forthwith lay down their arms, and return to the duties of peaceable subjects, excepting only from the benefit of such pardon, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, whose offenses are of too flagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment.
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute