This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Reasons Against Independence.
Among historic acts and political deliverances there is none more weighty in significance and results, none more famous in the annals of the world, than the American Declaration of Independence. The document which preserves it to all ages is “a witness to the world that freedom, resting not on institutions, but on the necessities of human nature, is no mere abstract idea, but a vital principle of national life.”
Around the time of the new millennium (year 2000) central ideas of the Declaration of Independence seem to have fallen out of fashion with the nation’s elites.
Human rights came from natural law and natural law came from God. The document declares “these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. . .” and then goes on to list three of those rights.
Nations come into existence and then create governments. Governments do not create nations. Nations own governments; governments do not own nations. July 4, 1776 is our nation’s birthday; not Constitution Day.
The selections are from:
- Memoirs by Thomas Jefferson published in 1830.
- The American Colonies by John A. Doyle published in 1907.
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s 2.5 installments by Thomas Jefferson and 1.5 installments by John A. Doyle.
Jefferson’s account of the proceedings day by day, given in his own Memoirs, is the best contemporary record of the momentous deliberations and decision of this body, assembled in Independence Hall, Philadelphia. A quarter of a century before, upon the fillet of the “Liberty Bell,” which hung in the steeple of that Old State House, had been cast the words of ancient Hebrew Scripture: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
Doyle’s reflections, as representing an enlightened English view of the Declaration and the great struggle which it lifted to its climax, is placed as a suggestive commentary after the uncolored narrative of the chief author of the great instrument itself.
In Congress, Friday, June 7, 1776, the delegates from Virginia moved, in obedience to instructions from their constituents, that the Congress should declare 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; that measures should be immediately taken for procuring the assistance of foreign powers, and a confederation be formed to bind the colonies more closely together.
The House being obliged to attend at that time to some other business, the proposition was referred to the next day, when the members were ordered to attend punctually at ten o’clock.
Saturday, June 8th. They proceeded to take it into consideration, and referred it to a committee of the whole, into which they immediately resolved themselves, and passed that day and Monday, the 10th, in debating on the subject.
It was argued by Wilson, Robert R. Livingston, E. Rutledge, Dickinson, and others — that, though they were friends to the measures themselves, and saw the impossibility that we should ever again be united with Great Britain, yet they were against adopting them at this time:
That the conduct we had formerly observed was wise, and proper now, of deferring to take any capital step till the voice of the people drove us into it:
That they were our power, and without them our declarations could not be carried into effect:
That the people of the middle colonies (Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, the Jerseys, and New York) were not yet ripe for bidding adieu to British connection, but that they were fast ripening, and, in a short time, would join in the general voice of America:
That the resolution, entered into by this House on May 15th, for suppressing the exercise of all powers derived from the Crown, had shown, by the ferment into which it had thrown these middle colonies, that they had not yet accommodated their minds to a separation from the mother-country:
That some of them had expressly forbidden their delegates to consent to such a declaration, and others had given no instructions, and consequently no powers to give such consent:
That if the delegates of any particular colony had no power to declare such colony independent, certain they were the others could not declare it for them, the colonies being as yet perfectly independent of each other:
That the Assembly of Pennsylvania was now sitting above stairs, their convention would sit within a few days, the convention of New York was now sitting, and those of the Jerseys and Delaware counties would meet on the Monday following, and it was probable these bodies would take up the question of Independence, and would declare to their delegates the voice of their State:
That if such a declaration should now be agreed to, these delegates must retire, and possibly their colonies might secede from the Union:
That such a secession would weaken us more than could be compensated by any foreign alliance:
That in the event of such a division, foreign powers would either refuse to join themselves to our fortunes, or, having us so much in their power as that desperate declaration would place us, they would insist on terms proportionately more hard and prejudicial:
That we had little reason to expect an alliance with those to whom alone as yet we had cast our eyes:
That France and Spain had reason to be jealous of that rising power, which would one day certainly strip them of all their American possessions:
That it was more likely they should form a connection with the British court, who, if they should find themselves unable otherwise to extricate themselves from their difficulties, would agree to a partition of our territories, restoring Canada to France, and the Floridas to Spain, to accomplish for themselves a recovery of these colonies:
That it would not be long before we should receive certain information of the disposition of the French court, from the agent whom we had sent to Paris for that purpose:
That if this disposition should be favorable by waiting the event of the present campaign, which we all hoped would be successful, we should have reason to expect an alliance on better terms:
That this would in fact work no delay of any effectual aid from such ally, as, from the advance of the season and distance of our situation, it was impossible we could receive any assistance during this campaign:
That it was prudent to fix among ourselves the terms on which we should form alliance, before we declared we would form one at all events:
And that if these were agreed on, and our Declaration of Independence ready by the time our ambassador should be prepared to sail, it would be as well as to go into the Declaration at this day.
On the other side, it was urged by J. Adams, Lee, Wythe, and others that no gentleman had argued against the policy or the right of separation from Britain, nor had supposed it possible we should ever renew our connection; that they had only opposed its being now declared:
That the question was not whether, by a Declaration of Independence, we should make ourselves what we are not; but whether we should declare a fact which already exists:
That, as to the people or Parliament of England, we had always been independent of them, their restraints on our trade deriving efficacy from our acquiescence only, and not from any rights they possessed of imposing them, and that so far, our connection had been federal only, and was now dissolved by the commencement of hostilities:
That, as to the King, we had been bound to him by allegiance, but that this bond was now dissolved by his assent to the last act of Parliament, by which he declares us out of his protection, and by his levying war on us, a fact which had long ago proved us out of his protection; it being a certain position in law, that allegiance and protection are reciprocal, the one ceasing when the other is withdrawn:
John A. Doyle begins here.
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