Today’s installment concludes Declaration Of Independence (USA) Signed,
the name of our combined selection from Thomas Jefferson and John A. Doyle. The concluding installment, by John A. Doyle from The American Colonies, was published in 1907. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed four thousand words from great works of history. Congratulations!
Previously in Declaration Of Independence (USA) Signed.
On March 27th South Carolina proceeded to construct a government. They asserted as their principle of action that the good of the people is the origin and end of all government, and they set forth the misconduct of the King, the Parliament, and the officers of the English Government. At the same time they introduced no change into the system of representation or the qualification of voters. On May 4th the Assembly of Rhode Island passed an act discharging the inhabitants of the colony from allegiance to the King, and at the same time authorized its delegates in Congress to conclude a treaty with any independent power for the security of the colonies. On May 6th the Assembly of Virginia met at Williamsburg. After a declaration that all pacific measures were useless, and that “they had no alternative left but an abject submission to the will of those overbearing tyrants, or a total separation from the Crown and Government of Great Britain,” they passed two resolutions; the first empowering their delegates at the convention to propose a declaration of independence and a confederation of the colonies; the second appointing a committee to draw up a declaration of rights and a scheme of government for the colony. On June 12th the Declaration of Rights was laid before the Assembly, and on the 29th a constitution was produced.
The Assembly then proceeded to elect a governor. The choice fell on Patrick Henry. Rightly was he, who had first foreseen independence and bidden his countrymen look the danger of it in the face, deemed worthy to be the first to govern the State which he had called into being. All the colonies except Pennsylvania and Maryland followed the example of Virginia, and when, on July 1st, the motion for independence was laid before the Congress, the delegates of nine colonies were pledged to vote in its favor. The delegates of Pennsylvania and Maryland were divided, those of South Carolina unanimously opposed independence. The New York delegates were all in favor of independence, and represented the opinion of the colony, but could not vote, as their convention had not yet been duly elected. When the question came forward for decision next day, Dickinson, who had opposed it on the first day with great earnestness, stayed away, as did one of his colleagues, and the vote of Pennsylvania was altered. Another delegate arrived from Delaware, whose vote turned the scale, and South Carolina, rather than stand alone, withdrew its opposition. New York alone was unable to vote, and on July 2d, by the decision of twelve colonies, without one adverse vote, it was resolved “that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.” Seldom was the irony of history more strikingly illustrated than when Hancock, a rebel specially selected for proscription by the English government, put the question to the vote, and declared the American colonies forever independent.
Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, was selected to draw up the Declaration which had been resolved upon. His pen had already served his country. In 1774 he had published A Summary View of the Rights of British America, setting forth the dangers which menaced the country, and encouraging the people in defense of their liberties. He had signalized himself in his own colony by his opposition to slavery. “Wherever he was, there was found a soul devoted to the cause of liberty, power to defend and maintain it, and willingness to incur all its hazards.”
On July 4th the Declaration was produced. It declared the abstract principles on which their secession was justified; it then drew up an indictment against the King, in eighteen heads, setting forth the various ways in which he had proved himself “a tyrant unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Finally it declared that the united colonies were free and independent states; that the connection with Great Britain was and ought to be totally dissolved, and that as free and independent states, they had full power to “levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.”
Seldom in human events do the facts of history carry their own explanation so clearly with them. A people who had grown up gradually, almost unconsciously, under democratic institutions, at last saw those institutions subverted. To preserve the spirit of them, they changed their form. We must not be misled into the error of underrating the importance of the American struggle by any idea of the insignificance of the issue at stake. We must not suppose that it was, as an earnest and eloquent writer has called it, “a war for the vindication of the principle of representative taxation.” Its immediate origin, it is true, involved no vital interest, such as often has been at stake when nations have risen against their rulers. But “rebellions may fall out on small occasions; they do not spring from small causes,” was said by the first and wisest of political philosophers. Taxation was, as Burke says, that by which the colonists felt the pulse of liberty, “and as they found that beat, they thought themselves sick or sound.”
The whole key to the American Revolution lies in two facts; it was a democratic and a conservative revolution. It was the work of the people, and its end was to preserve, not to destroy or to construct afresh. The policy of an early father of New England, “In a revolution burn all, and build afresh,” was far from being that of his descendants. Throughout the whole War of Independence the colonists had a fixed known end in view. More than that, they had already within themselves the means for effecting that end, and making it enduring, as far as what is human can endure. The future that they proposed to themselves was not independent of their past: it was a fuller development of it. There was no need for beginning with the year one, or for throwing aside as worn out anything that their ancestors had left them. And it was essentially a democratic revolution. Throughout, the movement came from the people. The very blunders made by the hesitation and timidity of Congress were the mistakes of an assembly of delegates, not of representative statesmen. When the final step was taken, the Congress was not the originator of it, but was little more than a mouthpiece giving expression to the declared wishes of the nation.
This ends our selections on Declaration Of Independence (USA) Signed by two of the most important authorities of this topic:
- Memoirs by Thomas Jefferson published in 1830.
- The American Colonies by John A. Doyle published in 1907.
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