'Mercy! Mercy! Dear americans!' The display and discourse of mercy in the American Revolution

victorian engraving illustrating the battle of bunker hill

Wednesday 11 May 2022, 4.30-6pm
St Alphege Building 201, King Alfred Quarter, University of Winchester, SO22 4NR

With atrocities being committed in asymmetric warfare and humanitarian organizations hampered in their efforts to relieve civilians trapped in present day conflicts, we might ask what status mercy now has as a virtue or principle in international relations, as an attribute of power, and in the conduct of war? In this talk, organized by the Modern History Research Centre (MHRC) Dr James Gregory studies mercy’s history from the angle of rebellion and civil war in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century by examining Anglo-American representation during the War of Independence in public address, newspaper commentary and poetry, plays, histories and commemoration in painting and sculpture. Claims of mercy and counter charges of cruelty became critical to the loyalist and patriot discourses of the revolution. Congress, for example, made much of the calculated display of mercy by the Continental Army as at Stoney-point in July 1779 when the British troops’ pleas for ‘Mercy! Mercy! Dear Americans!’ were heeded. James Murray, a British critic of his nation’s conduct of the war, in his Impartial History of the War (1780) argued that had sovereign mercy been graciously bestowed in a spirit of forgiveness early on, ‘the American war had been ended long ago’. By contrast and indicating the contested history of mercy that this talk explores, a loyalist poet from Pennsylvania condemned the ‘Detested mercy, which from rebels spring’.

Dr James Gregory is Associate Professor in Modern British History at the University of Plymouth. He has recently published two books on the history of mercy in the British world, The Royal Throne of Mercy and British Culture in the Victorian Age and Mercy and British Culture, 1760 – 1960

Chairs and discussants: Prof Chris Aldous (University of Winchester), Dr Graciela Iglesias-Rogers (University of Winchester) and Dr Xavier Guégan (University of Winchester).

For more information, please email MHRC@winchester.ac.uk


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