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Sir Henry Clinton's 1778 Manifesto and Proclamation
Digital History ID 156

Author:   Henry Clinton
Date:1778

Annotation:

In May 1778, General Henry Clinton (1738-1795) became commander of chief of British forces. He replaced William Howe (1729-1814), who was occupying Philadelphia. The British ministry ordered Clinton to abandon Philadelphia, go to New York, and dispatch some of his troops to the West Indies. While marching across New Jersey toward New York, patriots attacked neared Monmouth Court House, and Clinton's forces counterattacked. The Battle of Monmouth Court, which ended in a draw, was the last major battle in the North.

France, eager to rebuilt its prestige and power after the humilitating defeat in the Seven Years' War, had secretly aided America with money, arms, and supplies, and then in 1778 entered the war, thanks in part of Benjamin Franklin's successful diplomacy. Spain followed France in 1779, hoping to recover Gibraltar and the Floridas. In May 1780, French Count Rochambeau would land at Newport, Rhode Island, with 6000 troops, who would eventually march south to Yorktown in Virginia.

Alarmed in February 1778 by France's intervention, Lord North sent commissioners to North America with a peace offer, renouncing the right of taxing Americans. But Congress rejected this offer June 17, since with the French alliance, independence had become an attainable goal. Clinton subsequently offered amnesty to Americans and argued that only France would benefit from continued warfare. Clinton's proclamation of October 3, 1778, represented Britain's last formal attempt at reconciliation, offering the colonists all they had originally wanted.


Document:

Having amply and repeatedly made known to the Congress, and having also proclaimed to the inhabitants of North America in general, the benevolent overtures of Great-Britain towards a re-union and coalition with her colonies, we do not think it consistent either with the duty we owe to our country, or with a just regard to the characters we bear, to persist in holding out offers which in our estimation required only to be known to be most gratefully accepted....

To the members of the Congress then, we again declare that we are ready to concur in all satisfactory and just arrangements for securing to them and their respective constituents, the re-establishment of peace, with the exemption from any imposition of taxes by the Parliament of Great-Britain, and the irrevocable enjoyment of every privilege consistent with that union of interests and force on which our mutual prosperity and the safety of our common religion and liberties depend....

To the General Assemblies and Conventions of the different Colonies...we now separately make the offers which we originally transmitted to the Congress, and we hereby call upon and urge them to meet expressly for the purpose of considering whether every motive, political as well as moral, should not decide their resolution to embrace the occasion of cementing a free and firm coalition with Great-Britain. It has not been, nor is it, our wish, to seek the objects which we are commissioned to pursue by fomenting popular divisions and partial cabals; we think such conduct would be ill-suited to the generous nature of the offers made, and unbecoming the dignity of the King and the State which make them. But it is both our wish and our duty to encourage and support any men or bodies of men in their return of loyalty to our Sovereign and of affection to our fellow-subjects....

The policy as well as the benevolence of Great-Britain have thus far checked the extremes of war when they tended to distress a people still considered as our fellow-subjects, and to desolate a country shortly to become again a source of mutual advantage: but when that country professes the unnatural design not only of estranging herself from us but of mortgaging her self and her resources to our enemies, the whole contest is changed; and the question is, How far Great Britain may by every means in her power destroy or render useless a connexion contrived for her ruin, and for the aggrandizement of France. Under such circumstances the laws of self-preservation must direct the conduct of Great Britain....

WE ACCORDINGLY HEREBY GRANT AND PROCLAIM A PARDON OR PARDONS OF ALL, AND ALL MANNER OF TREASONS...BY ANY PERSON OR PERSONS, OR BY ANY NUMBER OR DESCRIPTION OF PERSONS WITHIN THE SAID COLONIES, PLANTATIONS, OR PROVINCES, COUNSELLED, COMMANDED, ACTED OR DONE, ON OR BEFORE THE DATE OF THIS MANIFESTO AND PROCLAMATION.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: Sir Henry Clinton, "Manifesto and Proclamation to the Members of the General Assemblies"

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