Sunday, July 4, 2010

What Led to the Declaration of American Independence

"For numerous years the commercial policy of Great Britain, in her dealings with the American Colonies, was narrow and selfish, and its effects influenced the whole social compact here. The colonists felt the injustice of many laws, but their want of representation in the National Legislature, and their inherent political weakness, obliged them to submit. It wasn't until the wars with the French and Indians that the colonists began to unite their once disjointed settlements.

The enactment of the Stamp Act in 1765, and the events that followed, made it clear in the minds of the colonists that even common justice would be denied them by the Home Government. The colonists saw plainly that the King and Parliament were resolved to turn a deaf ear to all petitions and remonstrances that were based upon the righteous assumption that "taxation and equitable representation are one and inseparable."

On the 5th of September, 1774, delegates from various colonies assembled in Carpenter's Hall, in Philadelphia. Their deliberations were orderly but firm. Loyalty to the crown, notwithstanding its oppressions, was a leading theme in their debates. Not a word was whispered of dismemberment and independence. They humbly petitioned the King, remonstrated with Parliament, and appealed to their brethren in Great Britain for justice. Their petitions and remonstrances were in vain. New oppressions were laid upon them, and the blood of American citizens was shed by British soldiery at Lexington and Concord.

Another Congress assembled in May, 1775, organized a temporary general government, made provisions for an army, and appointed Washington commander-in-chief. And yet they talked not of independence. They armed in defense of rights, bestowed by the British Constitution, and they were still willing to lay them down, and avow their loyalty, when those rights should be respected. Their petitions were unheeded and their remonstrances were insultingly answered. Their demands for justice were met by swarms of armed mercenaries, purchased by the British Government of petty German princes, and sent hither to butcher British subjects for asserting the rights of British subjects.

Hope for reconciliation faded away at the opening of 1776. In June of that year, Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia, offered a resolution in the General Congress, declaring all allegiance of the colonies to the British crown. This bold proposition was soon after followed by the appointment of a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence. This committee consisted of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. The draft was made by Jefferson, and after a few verbal alterations by Dr. Franklin and Mr. Adams, it was submitted to Congress on the 28th of June. It was laid upon a table until the first of July, when it was taken up in committee of the whole, and after several amendments were made, nine States voted for Independence. Maryland and Pennsylvania refused their concurrence; but conventions of the people having been called, majorities were obtained, and on the fourth of July, votes from all the Colonies were procured in its favor and the thirteen united Colonies were declared free and independent States.

The Declaration was signed on that day, only by John Hancock, the President of Congress, and with his name alone, it was first sent forth to the world. It was ordered to be engrossed upon the Journals of Congress, and on the 2nd day of August following, it was signed by all but one of the 56 signers whose names are appended to it. That one was Matthew Thornton, who, on taking his seat in November, asked and obtained the privilege of signing it.

The signing of that instrument was a solemn act, and required great firmness and patriotism in those who committed it. It was treason against the home government, yet perfect allegiance to the law of right. It subjected those who signed it to the danger of an ignominious death, yet it entitled them to the profound reverence of a disenthralled people. But neither firmness nor patriotism was wanting in that August assembly. And their own sound judgment and discretion, their own purity of purpose and integrity of conduct, were fortified and strengthen by the voice of the people in popular assemblies, embodied in written instructions for the guidance of their representatives.

Such were the men unto whose keeping, as instruments of Providence the destinies of American were for the time entrusted. And it is a matter of just pride to the American people, that not one of that noble band who periled life, fortune, and honor, in the cause of freedom, ever fell from his high estate into moral degradation, or dimmed, by word or deed, the brightness of that effulgence which halos the DECLARATION OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE."

--Excerpts from ~B.J. Lossing 1848

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