John Jay’s 1776 Appeal to the Inhabitants of New York

Author:   John Jay


Toward the end of 1776, when John Jay (1745-1829) made this appeal to the inhabitants of New York, a pall of despair lay upon the American cause. The New York Assembly had fled to Fish Kill, New York, to escape the British army. Jay, who himself came from a slaveholding family, declares that New Yorkers face two alternatives: slavery or freedom.

The patriot cause had reached a low point. A British of army of 30,000 opposed an American forces of only about 18,000. The patriots suffered a series of demoralizing defeats and by December 1776, the British had forced Washington and his troops to retreat from New Jersey across the Delaware into Pennsylvania. Desertions depleted the colonial ranks and on January 1, 1777, one-year enlistments of troops were to expire.

With his forces near collapse, Washington made a bold move. On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington and 2400 men recrossed the Delaware and marched through the night. The next day, they captured 900 Hessian mercenaries. Victory at Trenton and at Princeton on January 3 gave fresh impetus to the colonial cause. An English observer commented: “A few days ago they had given up the cause for lost. Their late successes have turned the scale and now they are all liberty mad again.”


At this important Period…the Freedom & Happiness, or the slavery & misery, of the present & future Generations of Americans is to be determined…. It becomes the Duty of the Representatives of a free People to call their attention to this most serious subject, and the more so at a time when their enemies are industriously endeavoring to delude, seduce & intimidate them by false suggestions, artful misrepresentations, & insidious promises of Protection.

The Great God of the universe created you and all men free, & authorized them to establish government for the Preservation of their Rights against oppression & the Security of the Liberty he had given them against the rapacious Hand of Tyranny & lawless Power….

Under the auspices & Direction of divine Providence, your Forefathers removed to the wilds & wilderness of America. By their Industry they made it a fruitful, & by their virtue a happy Country. And we should still have enjoyed a continuance of the Blessings of Peace & Plenty, Had we had not forgotten the source from which these Blessings flowed, & permitted our country to be contaminated by Irreligion & the many shameful tho’ fashionable vices which have prevailed among us….

You may remember that the most dutiful Petitions were presented for a Redress of the many grievances to which that King had subjected us not only by the several Assemblies but by the Representatives of all America in general Congress. And you cannot have forgot with what contempt they were rejected….

By our vigorous Efforts and the Goodness of divine Providence, those cruel Invaders [the French] were driven [in] the last Campaign from our country and we flattered ourselves that the signal success of our Arms, the unanimity & spirit of our People, would have induced our Enemies to desist from the further Prosecution of their wicked Designs, and disposed them to Peace. But we had not yet deserved Peace. — Exultation took place of Thanksgiving, and we ascribed that to our own Prowess which was only to be attributed to the great Guardian of the Innocent.

The enemy with greater strength again invade us–invade us not less by their acts than arms. They tell you that if you submit you shall have protection. That their king breathes nothing but Peace, that he will revise (not repeal) all his cruel acts & Instructions, & will receive you into favour. — But what are the Terms on which you are promised Peace? Have you heard of any except absolute, unconditional obedience & servile submission[?] If his professions are honest -if he means not to deceive and cajole you, why are you not informed of the Terms, and whether the Parliament mean to tax you hereafter at their will & Pleasure[.] Upon this & the like Points, these military comm[issione]rs of Peace are silent….


Why if there be one single Idea of Peace in his mind, does he order your Cities to be burned, your country desolated, your Brethren to starve, and languish, & die in Prisons[?] Why If any thing but Destruction, Bloodshed, and Devastation was intended, are the Barbarians of Germany hired and transported near four thousand miles to plunder your Houses — ravish your wives and Daughters, to strip your Infant children, expose whole Families naked, miserable and forlorn, to want, to Hunger, to inclement Skies, and wretched Deaths?… Why do they excite the Savages of the wilderness to murder our inhabitants & exercise cruelties unheard of among civilized nations[?]… Your very Churches bear witness of their Impiety. They hesitate not to use them as stables & Houses for sport & theatrical Exhibitions….

You may be told that your Forts have been taken, your country ravaged, & that your armies have retreated, and therefore that God is not with you. It is true that some Forts have been taken, our country ravaged, and that our Armies have retreated, and that our Maker is displeased with us, but it is also true that the king of Heaven is not like the King of Britain, implacable. If his Assistance be sincerely implored, it will surely be obtained. If we turn from our Sin, he will turn from his anger. Then will our arms be crowned with success….

Amidst all the Dismay and Terror which has possessed some weak minds, let the advantage under which the Americans prosecute this war be considered….

Gun Powder, arms & ammunition are now manufactured in almost all American States in great abundance and our armies will have ample supplies of all military stores. We have more fighting men in America than Great Britain can possibly send into it. Our Trade is free, and every Port of France & Spain affords Protection to our Ships…. By the most authentic accounts from France, we are assured that the people of that Kingdom are ripe for a war with Britain and will not omit the opportunity of extending her commerce and humbling her rival….

Whoever therefore considers the natural strength & advantages of this country, the Distance it is removed from Britain, the obvious Policy of many European Powers, the great supplies of arms & ammunition cheerfully afforded us by the French & Spaniards, the feeble & destitute condition of Britain[:] that she is drained of men & money, & her Trade ruined, her Inhabitants divided, her King unpopular, her ministry execrated, obliged to hire foreign mercenaries to execute her wicked purposes, her Trade ruined, that she is overwhelmed with a monstrous Debt, cut off from the vast Revenue heretofore obtained from Taxes on American produce, its West India Islands in a starving condition, its Ships Taken, its Merchants involved in bankruptcy, their Designs against us wicked, unjust, cruel, contrary to the Laws of God and man & pursued with a spirit unrelenting, implacable, and in a manner barbarous and opposed to the usage of civilized nations — that our cause is the cause of God, of human nature & Posterity….

Remember the long and glorious struggle of the States of Holland with Spain. These states were once been subjected to Spain. Their extent was small, their country poor, their people far from numerous. Spain attempted to enslave them. They dutifully remonstrated against the Design. Their Petitions were treated with contempt, & fire and sword were carried into their country to compel submission. They nobly resolved to be free, they opposed force to force, they declared themselves independent States, and after an obstinate struggle, frustrated the wicked Intentions of Spain….

Rouse, therefore — do your Duty like men and refuse to be persuaded that the divine Providence will permit this Western World to be involved in the Horrors of slavery.


Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute