Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Congress Passes the Tory Act.
On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress passed the infamous (but often forgotten) Tory Act. The act was designed to reveal with citizens, particularly those of prominence, still remained loyal to Great Britain and King George III. The bill also called for the disarming of any and all citizens loyal to the British crown, and even suggested that individuals of "particular prominence" be imprisoned (which is what happened to Benjamin Franklin's son William).
The History Channel's website has an interesting article on the Tory Act. Here is a segment of some of the more important parts:
The act called on colonial committees to indoctrinate those "honest and well-meaning, but uninformed people" by enlightening them as to the "origin, nature and extent of the present controversy.” The Congress remained “fully persuaded that the more our right to the enjoyment of our ancient liberties and privileges is examined, the more just and necessary our present opposition to ministerial tyranny will appear.”
The lengths Congress and lesser colonial bodies would go to in order to repress Loyalists took a darker tone later in the act. Listing examples of the “execrable barbarity with which this unhappy war has been conducted on the part of our enemies,” Congress vowed to act “whenever retaliation may be necessary” although it might prove a “disagreeable task.”
In the face of such hostility, some Loyalists chose not to remain in the American colonies. During the war, between 60,000 and 70,000 free persons and 20,000 slaves abandoned the rebellious 13 colonies for other destinations within the British empire. The Revolution effectively created two countries: Patriots formed the new United States, while fleeing Loyalists populated Canada.
The hectic nature of the colonies in 1776 reveals just how polarizing the revolution had become. With thousands of colonials fleeing for "safer" ground, one can gain a sense of how the revolution created extreme apprehension and fear for the average citizen. After all, nobody was sure how this was going to turn out. It's only natural that some would seek to remain loyal or flee for safety.