The World's Famous Orations/Volume 3/Conquest of America Impossible

The World's Famous Orations (Volume 3: Great Britain I) (1906)
Conquest of America Impossible by John Wilkes

Arguing that the conquest of America would be impossible. Delivered to the House of Commons in 1777.

30737The World's Famous Orations (Volume 3: Great Britain I) — Conquest of America ImpossibleJohn Wilkes




Sir, it ill becomes the duty and dignity of Parliament to lose itself in such a fulsome adulatory address to the Throne as that now proposed. We ought rather, sir, to approach it with sound and wholesome advice, and even with remonstrances, against the ministers who have precipitated the nation into an unjust, ruinous, murderous and felonious war. I call the war with our brethren in America an unjust and felonious war, because the primary cause and confessed origin of it is to attempt to take their money from them without their consent, contrary to the common rights of all mankind, and those great fundamental principles of the English Constitution for which Hampden bled.

I assert, sir, that it is a murderous war, because it is an effort to deprive men of their lives for standing up in the defense of their property and their clear rights. Such a war, I fear, sir, will draw down the vengeance of Heaven on this devoted kingdom. Sir, is any minister weak enough to flatter himself with the conquest of the Americans? You can not, with all your allies—with all the mercenary ruffians of the North—you can not effect so wicked a purpose. The Americans will dispute every inch of territory with you, every narrow pass, every strong defile, every Thermopylæ, every Bunker's Hill! More than half the empire is already lost[2] and almost all the rest is in confusion and anarchy. We have appealed to the sword, and what have we gained? Bunker's Hill only—and that with the loss of twelve hundred men! Are we to pay as dear for the rest of America? The idea of the conquest of that immense country is as romantic as unjust.

The honorable gentleman who moved this address says, "The Americans have been treated with lenity." Will facts justify the assertion? Was your Boston Port Bill a measure of lenity? Was your Fishery Bill a measure of lenity? Was your Bill for taking away the charter of Massachusetts Bay a measure of lenity, or even of justice? I omit your many other gross provocations and insults by which the brave Americans have been driven to their present state. Sir, I disapprove, not only the evil spirit of this whole address, but likewise the wretched adulation of almost every part of it. My wish and hope, therefore, is, that it will be rejected by this House; and that another, dutiful yet decent, manly address, will be presented to his majesty, praying that he would sheathe the sword, prevent the further effusion of the blood of our fellow subjects, and adopt some mode of negotiation with the general Congress, in compliance with their repeated petition, thereby restoring peace and harmony to this distracted empire.


  1. The date of this speech is probably November or December, 1777, when Lord Chatham had already delivered against the American war the speech entitled "On Affairs in America."
  2. That is, by the overthrow of Burgoyne on October 7, 1777.