“Their particular fortune to be called to the trial”: American loyalists make an appeal to the King

On this date in 1788, a year before French revolutionaries stormed the Bastille in a bid for their constitutional rights, American loyalists from the War for Independence published an address to George III that perfectly articulated their own view of those rights–rights for which they, too, had pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honour.”  They had presented it to the King on July 2, including their thanks to him for recommending their claims to Parliament.  It’s a poignant reminder that the loyalists in the American Revolution, whom Bernard Bailyn once derided as “the losers,” were hardly the oversimplified “tory” menace created by patriot propagandists–and enshrined by generations of subsequent Whig historians. Those historians, and the patriots who preceded them, needed to create a narrative with antagonists who stood clearly against what only the American patriots could have been fighting for–the whiggish principles of individual rights and representative government.  Without them, the orthodox story of the American Revolution celebrated in 19th-century history books, modern school textbooks, and the tomes that continue to appear in the popular press, which provide a powerful impetus to the development and maintenance of American identity, just doesn’t work; the narrative collapses and the American Revolution becomes much more complex, and in need of a closer look, if the enemy was actually, as Edmund Randolph–the son of just such an oversimplified and maligned (in his time and ours) “tory”–put it: “spotless as to treason even in thought.”

As the loyalist writers–one of whom was Edmund’s brother-in-law, John Randolph Grymes–argued in their address of 1788, they had “devoted their fortunes, and hazarded their lives in defence of the just rights of the Crown, and the fundamental principles of the British Constitution,” which was “no more than their duty demanded of them.”  However, history had put their constitutional faith to the test in the War for Independence because the great Whig schism of 1776 made it “their particular fortune to be called to the trial.” But there was little question for them about the path to take, regardless of the hazards, as they believed that the British constitution held out “out to mankind the glorious principles of justice, equity, and benevolence, as the firmest basis of Empire.” They did not presume to claim more loyalty than other British subjects but, distinguished by their suffering, “they deem themselves entitled to the foremost rank among the most zealous supporters of the Constitution.” The loyalists stressed, despite their want, that at all times and on all occasions, they were equally ready, as they had been, “to devote their lives and properties to your Majesty’s service, and the preservation of the British Constitution.”

[Sources: Edmund Randolph’s History of Virginia, p. 219; 14 July 1788, Morning Chronicle or London Advertiser]

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“We are in confusion beyond parallel”: Nation-building in Revolutionary Virginia

Edmund Randolph's signature on a piece of Virginia currency issued in 1775.On June 21, 1776, Edmund Randolph was caught in a whirlwind in Williamsburg.  A member of the 5th Virginia Convention, he had already voted for the resolution for independence from Great Britain and adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  But then the hard work had to begin.  Randolph was at the center of building a new nation, with everything that tends to entail, from political infighting to fighting a war to constructing a whole new government.  And meanwhile, the remains of the old nation–of everything that Lord Dunmore and his family had left behind, including slaves, when they fled Williamsburg a year before–had to be dealt with.  It’s no wonder that the 22-year-old saw “confusion beyond parallel” in the opening months of the American Revolution, on this date 237 years ago.
We are in confusion beyond parallel: no government is in existence but such as is vested in the hands of the Convention. This august body yesterday elected delegates for Congress, and rejected Colonels Harrison and Braxton. It was first determined we should have only five. The fortunate candidates were Wythe, Nelson, Jefferson, R. H. Lee, and T. L. Lee. We are engaged in forming a plan of government. God knows when it will be finished. It is generally thought that the contest will be between President Nelson and Mr. Henry, who shall be governor. Hunter’s gun manufactory has turned out twenty or thirty excessively fine guns, upon which the Convention made a contract with him for all the guns he can make in the course of a twelvemonth, at the price of 6 each. I know not what to add, except that Lord Dunmore’s estate is ordered by Convention to be sold.

SOURCE: Edmund Randolph to George Baylor, 21 June 1776, printed in Moncure Daniel Conway, Omitted Chapters of History Disclosed In the Life And Papers of Edmund Randolph (1888), 29.