August 23, 1775: A Proclamation of Rebellion

Perspective Chronology of the Reign of King George the Third (0053.1886) Engraved circular with an image of King George in the center. Major events and information about his reign are arranged by year coming out of the center image as spokes.

On August 23rd, 1775, King George III issued A Proclamation for Suppressing Rebellion and Sedition, also known as the Proclamation of Rebellion. Written in response to the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill, in April and June 1775 respectively, the Proclamation warned colonists that their hostile reactions to British authority would not be tolerated. The King accused the colonists of “forgetting the allegiance which they owe to the power that has protected and supported them,” and stated that they “have at length proceeded to open and avowed rebellion, by arraying themselves in a hostile manner, to withstand the execution of the law, and traitorously preparing, ordering and levying war against us.”  He went on the warn the colonists that British military officers, as well as any subjects of the Crown, were to “exert their utmost endeavours to suppress such rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice.”

King George III’s Proclamation of Rebellion was tantamount to a declaration of war against the colonists – end the rebellion now or there will be consequences. But how did tensions between the colonists and King George reach this boiling point?

In the eleven years leading up to the Proclamation of Rebellion, Parliament passed several regulatory statutes and laws designed to exert control over the colonists and draw revenue to pay for the French and Indian War. Among these were the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Declaratory Act, Townshend Acts, Tea Act of 1773, and the Coercive Acts. In response to these statutes, the colonists rebelled by refusing to import English goods. Some even took matters a step further when they boarded three ships on December 16, 1773 and dumped over 90,000 pounds of tea, packed in 340 chests, into Boston harbor.

By the time King George III issued the Proclamation of Rebellion in 1775 there was a divide amongst the colonists. Some believed that Parliament had no authority over them and reconciliation was no longer a possibility, while others still hoped for a level a peace to be reached between the colonies and England. Congress made one last attempt at reconciliation when it sent a proposal to King George III in July 1775. In this proposal, known as the Olive Branch Petition, the delegates referred to themselves as “faithful subjects of the colonies”, and proclaimed that they “desired the former harmony” that existed between the colonies and England. They ended the letter by requesting that “such statutes as more immediately distress any of your Majestys colonies be repealed.”

When the petition arrived in England in August 1775, the King refused to see it. At that point, the Declaration of Rebellion was already being drafted and King George had no interest in negotiating or repealing statutes. Two months after he issued the Proclamation of Rebellion, King George addressed Parliament on their opening day. In the address, he accused the colonists of waging war “for the purpose of establishing an independent empire”, blamed them for the “torrent of violence” that had occurred over the years, and vowed to “put a speedy end to these disorders by the most decisive exertions.” The King went on to state that he was increasing his navy and adding to his army in preparation for war with the colonies. The time for reconciliation, it seemed, was officially over.