Item of the Day: Address to the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania (1777)
Full Title: An Address to the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania, by those Freemen, of the City of Philadelphia, who are now confined in the Mason’s Lodge, by Virtue of a General Warrant. Signed in Council by the Vice President of the Council of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Printed by Robert Bell, 1777.
[In opposition to the Revolution, Israel Pemberton addressed a group of Massachusetts delegates at a Quaker meeting at Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, urging them to grant liberty of conscience to the Friends and Baptists. As a result, in September of 1777, he and several prominent Quakers in Philadelphia were arrested and detained in the Free Mason’s Lodge without trial. They were later exiled to Virginia.]
For some time past, it has been a subject of public conversation, that lists were made out of great numbers of the citizens of Philadelphia, who were to be confined for offences, supposed to have been committed against the interest of America—These reports were generally supposed to arise from intemperate zeal, and personal animosities; and, until the attempt, which creates the necessity of calling your attention to us, little regard seem’d to be paid to them.
But a few days since the scene opened, and we, the subscribers, were called upon, by persons, not known as public officers of justice, to put our names to a paper, “promising not to depart from our dwelling-houses, and to be ready to appear, on the demand of the President and Council of the State of Pennsylvania, and to engage to refrain from doing any thing injurious to the United Free States of North America, by speaking, writing, or otherwise, and from giving intelligence to the commander of the British forces, or any other person whatever, concerning public affairs.”
Conscious of our innocence, in respect to the charges insinuated in this paper against us, and unwilling to part with the Liberty of breathing the free air, and following our lawful business beyond the narrow limits of our houses, disdaining to be considered in so odious a light, as men who by crimes had forfeited our common and inherent rights, we refused to become voluntary prisoners, and rejected the proposal. We demanded with that boldness, which is inseparable from innocence, to know by what authority they acted, of what crimes were accused meriting such treatment; and tho’ to some of us the small satisfaction was given, of acquainting us, they acted in pursuance of a recommendation of Congress; and to others was read, part of a warrant, from the President and council; yet, not one of us, was allowed the indisputable right, of either reading or copying it. –Altho’ the great number of messengers, employed in the execution of this warrant, and of the persons who were the objects of it, varied some of the circumstances attending it, yet the general tenor of their conduct was uniform, and marks the spirit which actuated them. We were all upon our refusal to subscribe, either immediately, or in some short time conducted to this place, where we remained in close confinement, under a military guard, for twenty-four hours, expecting to be inform’d of the cause of our being taken, and to have an opportunity of defending ourselves; but finding no notice taken of us by our persecutors, we, at length, unitedly demanded of one of the principal messengers a copy of the warrant, by virtue of which we were seized, on order that we might know from thence, what heinous crimes were charged on us, to justify such rigorous treatment; after consulting his employers, and causing some delay, he thought proper to grant our demand – But how were we astonished to find a General Warrant, specifying no manner of offence against us, appointing no authority to hear and judge, whether we were guilty or innocent, nor limiting any duration to our confinement. –Nor was this extraordinary warrant more exceptionable in these respects, than in the powers given to the messengers to break and search no only our own, but all the houses their heated imaginations might lead them to suspect. It would be tedious to remark all the gross enormities contained in this engine of modern despotism: We therefore present you with a copy, from a bare perusal of which, you will form a better idea of the arbitrary spirit it breathes, than from any description we could possibly give of it. . . .
That the evil and destructive spirit of pride, ambition and arbitrary power, with which you have been actuated, may cease and be no more; and that peace on earth, and good will to men may happily take the place thereof in your and all men’s minds, is the sincere desire of your oppressed and injured fellow-citizens.
Samuel R. Fisher,
Owen Jones, Junior,
William Drewet Smith,
William Smith, (Broker)