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Washington’s Proclamation – Loyal Criticism

From Diary of the American Revolution, Vol I. Compiled by Frank Moore and published in 1859.

January 25. –The following proclamation was this day published by the Lord Protector, Mr. George Washington:

“Whereas several persons, inhabitants of the United States of America, influenced by inimical motives, intimidated by the threats of the enemy, or deluded by a proclamation issued the 30th of November last, by Lord and General Howe, styled the King’s Commissioners for granting pardons, &c., (now at open war, and invading these States,) have been so lost to the interest and welfare of their country, as to repair to the enemy, sign a declaration of fidelity, and in some instances have been compelled to take the oaths of allegiance, and engage not to take up arms, or encourage others so to do, against the King of Great Britain: And whereas it has become necessary to distinguish between the friends of America and those of Great Britain, inhabitants of these States, and that every man who receives protection from, and is a subject of any State, (not being conscientiously scrupulous against bearing arms,) should stand ready to defend the same against hostile invasion: I do, therefore, in behalf of the United States, by virtue of the powers committed to me by Congress, hereby strictly command and require every person, having subscribed such declaration, taken such oaths, and accepted such protection and certificate, to repair to head-quarters, or to the quarters of the nearest general officer of the Continental army or militia, (until further provision can be made by civil authority,) and there deliver up such protection, certificate, and passports, and take the oath of allegiance to the United States of America; nevertheless, hereby granting full liberty to all such as prefer the interest and protection of Great Britain to the freedom and happiness of their country, forthwith to withdraw themselves and families within the enemy’s lines. And I do hereby declare, that all and every person who may neglect or refuse to comply with this order, within thirty days from the date hereof, will be deemed adherents to the King of Great Britain, and treated as common enemies of these American States.”

‘Tis hardly possible to read over this miserable proclamation without pity and astonishment. That Mr. Washington, who once was esteemed a gentleman, should forfeit that character by becoming the tool of an impracticable ambition, is a matter of commiseration; but, that he should be so contaminated by the vice of his associates as to lose all regard to the common forms of morality, all dignity of sentiment, and decency of conduct, was not to have been expected from a man who owned the least pride, or felt the least consciousness of virtue. His desperate situation may be his apology, but it cannot be his excuse. He might have been mistaken in respect to his notions of civil polity; but he could not have been deceived in those actions and ideas of moral turpitude, which is the disgrace of human nature. ‘Tis an old and true observation, Magistratus indicat Virum, “the Ruler shows the Man;” and we have now nothing more to learn of this famous Mr. Washington.

He has the boldness to declare, that there are “some instances” of persons who “have been compelled to take the oath of allegiance.” This is an absolute falsehood in fact, and he knew it was a falsehood; he knew such conduct was repugnant to the genius and spirit of the British nation, or he would have produced one instance to confirm his assertion. The bravery of Britons, which sooner or later will make him tremble, disdains any but voluntary professions of allegiance, and above all things, despises the dastardly subterfuges of falsehood and slander.

The next material circumstance in this Proclamation, is sufficient to make an honest man shudder. It may be styled, a Proclamation for the encouragement of Perjury. Mr. Washington “strictly commands and requires every person,” who has taken a solemn oath of Allegiance to the King, and called God to witness the truth and sincerity of it, to repair to him or his officers, and take another solemn oath, and call God to witness the sincerity and truth of his adherence to the cause of rebellion. Such an impious disregard, such a flagrant violation of all that is serious and sacred among men, has rarely been seen in any age, country, or profession.

For the honor of human nature, it may be said, that it was left for rebels to their King and destroyers of their country, to give a public sanction to Wilful Perjury.

‘Tis no wonder that a principle of this kind should be attended with a suitable practice. Mr. Washington grants by this proclamation “full liberty” to all such as prefer tho protection of Great Britain to his own, “forthwith to withdraw themselves and families within the enemy’s lines.” This is only a trap to discover those who are not affected to the rebellion; and even this mean idea has been followed by a conduct of which a common Turk would have been ashamed. Doctor Brown, of Newark, in the Jerseys, relying not merely upon Mr. Washington’s word as a gentleman, but upon his public faith pledged in the foregoing paper as a public man, immediately wrote to him, desiring leave to withdraw himself and family to New York, pursuant to his proclamation. Instead of complying with the Doctor’s wishes, he sent a party of his rebels to drag him away to Morristown. He is now confined there in jail, his family is almost distracted, and all his property seized. So much for the public faith of Mr. Washington!

He seems indebted for the last cruel idea of his proclamation to the worthy author of “Common Sense,” and the “American Crisis.” This gentleman is for seizing all the property of people who refuse to join in his measures, for the sake of the spoil; and has the confidence to declare, that such a seizure would enable his rebellious adherents to carry on the war for two years longer. ‘Tis to be hoped, for the honor and safety of America, that the good people of this country will give an exact account of him and some of his associates in half the time. It is every man’s interest, who has any thing to lose, to take care of a person who has the impudence to profess himself a public robber and destroyer, and can call this unheard of cruelty and devastation by the name of “soft resentment.” However, if men who can encourage perjury by proclamation, and plunge thousands of families into irretrievable ruin, only for the purpose of answering their dark ambition; if men who can have the consummate boldness to break their public faith, and, calling the gentle government of Britain, tyranny, can become the most insolent and outrageous tyrants themselves; if such can possibly arrive at the rule of this once happy country, it will be the interest of every one who loves the enjoyment of liberty more than the sound, to retire from America as speedily as he can. In such an event, (which, however, is not likely to happen,) he would escape the anarchy, riot, and bloodshed, which these “unprincipled impostors” sooner or later would spread over the land, and which would then become the vengeance of Providence itself on this most ungrateful and unnatural rebellion.1


1 New York Gazette, February 10.

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