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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

His Declaration against the Proceedings of Nathaniel Bacon

By Sir William Berkeley (1605–1677)

[Born near London, England. Royal Governor of Virginia, 1641–51, 1660–77. Died at Twickenham, England, 1677. From the “Aspinwall Papers,” published by the Mass. Hist. Soc. 1871.]

THE DECLARATION and remonstrance of Sir William Berkeley, his most sacred Majesty’s Governor and Captain-General of Virginia, Sheweth: That about the year 1660, Col. Mathews the then Governor died, and then in consideration of the service I had done the country, in defending them from and destroying great numbers of the Indians, without the loss of three men in all the time that war lasted, and in contemplation of the equal and uncorrupt justice I had distributed to all men, not only the Assembly, but the unanimous votes of all the country concurred to make me Governor in a time when, if the rebels in England had prevailed, I had certainly died for accepting it. ’T was, Gentlemen, an unfortunate love showed to me, for, to show myself grateful for this, I was willing to accept of this government again, when by my gracious King’s favor I might have had other places much more profitable and less toilsome than this hath been. Since that time that I returned into the country, I call the great God, Judge of all things in heaven and earth, to witness, that I do not know of any thing relative to this country, wherein I have acted unjustly, corruptly, or negligently, in distributing equal justice to all men, and taking all possible care to preserve their proprieties and defend them from their barbarous enemies.

But, for all this, perhaps I have erred in things I know not of. If I have, I am so conscious of human frailty and my own defects, that I will not only acknowledge them, but repent of and amend them, and not, like the rebel Bacon, persist in an error only because I have committed it; and tells me in divers of his letters that it is not for his honor to confess a fault, but I am of opinion that it is only for devils to be incorrigible, and men of principles like the worst of devils; and these he hath, if truth be reported to me of divers of his expressions of atheism, tending to take away all religion and laws.

And now I will state the Question betwixt me as a Governor and Mr. Bacon, and say that if any enemies should invade England, any counsellor, justice of peace, or other inferior officer might raise what forces they could to protect his Majesty’s subjects. But I say again, if, after the King’s knowledge of this invasion, any the greatest peer of England should raise forces against the King’s prohibition, this would be now—and ever was in all ages and nations—accounted treason. Nay, I will go further,—that though this peer was truly zealous for the preservation of his King and subjects, and had better and greater abilities than all the rest of his fellow-subjects to do his King and Country service, yet if the King (though by false information) should suspect the contrary, it were treason in this noble peer to proceed after the King’s prohibition: and for the truth of this I appeal to all the laws of England, and the laws and constitutions of all other nations in the world. And yet further, it is declared by this Parliament that the taking up arms for the King and Parliament is treason; for the event showed that whatever the pretence was to seduce ignorant and well-affected people, yet the end was ruinous both to King and people,—as this will be if not prevented. I do therefore again declare that Bacon, proceeding against all laws of all nations modern and ancient, is rebel to his sacred Majesty and this country; nor will I insist upon the swearing of men to live and die together, which is treason by the very words of the law.

Now, my friends, I have lived thirty-four years amongst you, as uncorrupt and diligent as ever Governor was; Bacon is a man of two years amongst you, his person and qualities unknown to most of you, and to all men else, by any virtuous action that ever I heard of. And that very action which he boasts of was sickly and foolishly, and, as I am informed, treacherously carried to the dishonor of the English nation; yet in it he lost more men than I did in three years’ war; and by the grace of God will put myself to the same dangers and troubles again when I have brought Bacon to acknowledge the laws are above him, and I doubt not but by God’s assistance to have better success than Bacon hath had. The reason of my hopes are, that I will take counsel of wiser men than myself; but Mr. Bacon hath none about him but the lowest of the people.

Yet I must further enlarge, that I cannot without your help do any thing in this but die in defence of my King, his laws, and subjects, which I will cheerfully do, though alone I do it; and, considering my poor fortunes, I cannot leave my poor wife and friends a better legacy than by dying for my King and you: for his sacred Majesty will easily distinguish between Mr. Bacon’s actions and mine, and kings have long arms either to reward or punish.

Now, after all this, if Mr. Bacon can show one precedent or example where such actings in any nation whatever was approved of, I will mediate with the King and you for a pardon and excuse for him; but I can show him an hundred examples where brave and great men have been put to death for gaining victories against the command of their superiors.

Lastly, my most assured friends, I would have preserved those Indians that I knew were hourly at our mercy, to have been our spies and intelligence, to find out our bloody enemies; but as soon as I had the least intelligence that they also were treacherous enemies, I gave out commissions to destroy them all, as the commissions themselves will speak it.

To conclude, I have done what was possible both to friend and enemy; have granted Mr. Bacon three pardons, which he hath scornfully rejected, supposing himself stronger to subvert than I and you to maintain the laws, by which only, and God’s assisting grace and mercy, all men must hope for peace and safety. I will add no more, though much more is still remaining to justify me and condemn Mr. Bacon, but to desire that this declaration may be read in every county court in the country, and that a court be presently called to do it before the Assembly meet, that your approbation or dissatisfaction of this declaration may be known to all the country, and the King’s Council, to whose most revered judgments it is submitted.

Given the 29th day of May, a happy day in the 28th year of his most sacred Majesty’s reign, Charles the Second, who God grant long and prosperously to reign, and let all his good subjects say Amen.