GEORGE III, King of England. Document signed ("George R," at head and at end), comprising "Orders and Instructions" for Viscount Richard Howe (1726-1799) and Major General William Howe (1729-1814), "Our Commissioners for restoring Peace to our Colonies and Plantations in North America," St. James's Palace [London], 6 May 1776. 16½ pages, folio (14½ x 9½ in.), with large papered wax Great Seal affixed on first page, neatly bound in pale blue silk ribbon, recipients' docket on final blank, enclosed in a quarter brown morocco protective case with the following. IN VERY FINE CONDITION.
[With:] GEORGE III, King of England. Document signed ("George R," at head and at end), comprising "Additional Separate Instructions" for Viscount Richard Howe and Major General William Howe, "Our Commissioners for restoring Peace to our Colonies and Plantations in North America," St. James's Palace [London], 6 May 1776. 4 pages, folio (14½ x 9½ in.), with papered Great Seal on page 1, bound with pink silk braided cord, recipient's docket on final blank.
A MONTH BEFORE THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, THE KING RE-ASSERTS THE "DEPENDENCE" OF THE COLONIES. GEORGE III'S OFFICIAL PEACE COMMISSION FOR THE HOWE BROTHERS, EMPOWERING THEM TO PARDON "SUCH OF OUR SUBJECTS...AS SHALL DESERVE OUR ROYAL MERCY"
A remarkable pair of documents issued to the brothers Howe, one commanding the Royal Navy, the other the British army in North America, granting them the unprecedented power to issue pardons in the King's name to any American rebels whom they deemed worthy of such mercy and empowering them to declare any town, county or colony which conforms to Royal decree "to be at our Peace." The peace commission had been proposed in 1774 by Lord North, and initially rejected by the King. North, who was about to impose a blockade on all American ports, felt a conciliatory gesture to be advisable. Lord George Germain was strongly opposed to the commission and determined to "handcuff the peace commission with instructions that would ensure its failure" (D. Cook, The Long Fuse, p.248). Admiral Howe, when he was shown the draft commission, even threatened to resign at what he felt to be the impossibly harsh demands it incorporated. The only modifications the King would grant was to make the commission a joint one with Howe's brother and to allow Howe to listen first to American grievances before presenting Britain's demands. "All Howe could do with these instructions was keep them secret--which he did" (ibid., p.248).
The stated purpose of the "Orders and Instructions" is "to restore the public Tranquillity...which ought...to be maintained between our Subjects in the colonies and the Parent State, to induce such a Submission on their part to lawfull authority, as shall consist with the just relation and Dependence in which they stand." The Howes are empowered to grant pardons "to such of our subjects who shall appear to deserve it," and who "shall return to their Allegiance"; they are further authorized to declare any Colony or smaller area "to be at Our Peace," and exempt from restraints on trade. Before any colony or province may be so exempted, it must meet certain preliminary conditions. One asserts that "any Provincial Congresses" that have seized unlawful powers must "be dissolved"; any "bodies of men armed...and acting under the authority of any Congress or Convention" must be "disbanded and dispersed, and all Forts...restored to Our possession." Any loyal subject who may have suffered In their persons or property" from the rebellion should receive compensation set by the duly authorized Court. Interestingly, sections 7-9 make a surprising concession, allowing that the contribution of each colony to its own defense shall be fairly apportioned, and that the taxes to raise such contributions may be set by each colony "in its own discretion," although taxes on imports from Britain are specifically exempted. The Howes are explicitly permitted to "confer with persons of authority" on grievances of the colonies which have led "to the weakening of the Constitutional relation" between the colonies and the crown. The Howes are further enjoined to make full reports of all negotiations they enter into. The "Additional & Separate Instructions" relate exclusively to Rhode Island and Connecticut, stipulating that adjustments must be made to their existing charters of government, to make them consistent with that of the other colonies, before any negotiations with their representatives will be allowed to take place.
Admiral Viscount Howe sailed for America on May 11, five days after the present commission was executed, no doubt with these papers in his sea chest. He intended to meet his brother in Halifax. But William had already gone with the main British army to Staten Island, and poor wind conditions slowed the Admiral's flotilla, so that it was not until July 12 that he reached New York. By that time, the Continental Congress had declared independence eight days earlier. Later, in the wake of the American defeat in the Battle of Long Island, Howe intimated a desire to meet with members of Congress. A Committee was duly appointed, comprising Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge, who met with Howe on September 6. The famous meeting has been recounted widely, most recently by David McCullough. After some discussion it became obvious that "Howe had no other authority than to grant pardons should America submit, which, as Franklin told him, meant that he had nothing really to offer." As McCullough observes, "the Declaration of Independence had passed a first test" (John Adams, New York, 2001, p.158).
Provenance: Philip D. Sang (sale, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 14 April 1978, lot 97). (2)