Chapter 70:

The declaration of the United States.

July 2—4, 1776.

The resolution of congress changed the old thir-
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teen British colonies into free and independent states. It remained to set forth the reason for this act, and the principles which the new people would own as their guides. Of the committee appointed for that duty, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia had received the largest number of votes, and was in that manner singled out to draft the confession of faith of the rising empire. He owed this distinction to respect for the colony which he represented, to the consummate ability of the state papers which he had already written, and to that general favor which follows merit, modesty, and a sweet disposition; but the quality which specially fitted him for the task was the sympathetic character of his nature, by which he was able with instinctive perception to read the soul of the nation, and having collected in himself its best thoughts and noblest feelings, to give them out in clear and bold [463] words, mixed with so little of himself, that his country,
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as it went along with him, found nothing but what it recognized as its own. No man of his century had more trust in the collective reason and conscience of his fellow men, or better knew how to take their counsel; and in return he came to be a ruler over the willing in the world of opinion. Born to an independent fortune, he had from his youth been an indefatigable student. Of a calm temperament and a philosophic cast of mind, always temperate in his mode of life and decorous in his manners, he was a perfect master of his passions. He was of a delicate organization, and fond of elegance; his tastes were refined; laborious in his application to business or the pursuit of knowledge, music, the most spiritual of all pleasures of the senses, was his favorite recreation; and he took a never-failing delight in the beauty of the various scenery of rural life, building himself a home in the loveliest region of his native state. He was a skilful horseman; and he also delighted to roam the mountains on foot. The range of his knowledge was very wide; he was not unfamiliar with the literature of Greece and Rome; had an aptitude for mathematics and mechanics; and loved especially the natural sciences; scorning nothing but metaphysics. British governors and officials had introduced into Williamsburg the prevalent freethinking of Englishmen of that century, and Jefferson had grown up in its atmosphere; he was not only a hater of priestcraft and superstition and bigotry and intolerance; he was thought to be indifferent to religion; yet his instincts all inclined him to trace every fact to a general law, and to put faith in ideal truth; the world [464] of the senses did not bound his aspirations, and he be-
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lieved more than he himself was aware of. He was an idealist in his habits of thought and life, as indeed is every one who has an abiding and thorough confidence in the people; and he was kept so in spite of circumstances by the irresistible bent of his character. He had great power in mastering details as well as in searching for general principles. His profession was that of the law, in which he was methodical, painstaking, and successful; at the same time he studied law as a science, and was well read in the law of nature and of nations. Whatever he had to do, it was his custom to prepare himself for it carefully; and in public life, when others were at fault, they often found that he had already hewed out the way; so that in council men willingly gave him the lead, which he never appeared to claim, and was always able to undertake. But he rarely spoke in public; and was less fit to engage in the war of debate, than calmly to sum up its conclusions. It was a beautiful trait in his character that he was free from envy; and had he kept silence, John Adams would have wanted the best witness to his greatness as the ablest advocate and defender of independence. A common object now riveted the two statesmen together in close bonds. I cannot find, that at that period, Jefferson had an enemy; by the general consent of Virginia, he already stood first among her civilians. Just thirty three years old, married, and happy in his family, affluent, with a bright career before him, he was no rash innovator by his character or his position; if his convictions drove him to demand independence, it was only because he could no longer live with honor [465] under the British constitution, which he still acknowl-
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edgedto he the best that the world had thus far seen. His enunciation of general principles was fearless; but he was no visionary devotee of abstract theories, which, like disembodied souls, escape from every embrace; the nursling of his country, the offspring of his time, he set about the work of a practical statesman, and his measures grew so naturally out of previous law and the facts of the past, that they struck deep root and have endured.

From the fulness of his own mind, without consulting one single book, Jefferson drafted the declaration, submitted it separately to Franklin and to John Adams, accepted from each of them one or two verbal, unimportant corrections, and on the twenty eighth of June reported it to congress, which now on the second of July, immediately after the resolution of independence, entered upon its consideration. During the remainder of that day and the two next, the language, the statements, and the principles of the paper were closely scanned.

In the indictment against George the Third, Jefferson had written:

‘He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every [466] legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this ex-

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ecrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.’

These words expressed with precision what had happened in Virginia; she, as well as other colonies, had perseveringly attempted to repress the slavetrade; the king had perseveringly used his veto to protect it; the governor, clothed with the king's authority, had invited slaves to rise against their masters; but it could not be truly said that all the colonies had been always without blame, in regard to the commerce; or that in America it had been exclusively the guilt of the king of Great Britain; and therefore, the severe strictures on the use of the king's negative, so Jefferson wrote for the guidance of history, ‘were disapproved by some southern gentlemen, whose reflections were not yet matured to the full abhorrence of that traffic; and the offensive expressions were immediately yielded.’ Congress had already manifested its own sentiments by the absolute prohibition of the slave-trade; and that prohibition was then respected in every one of the thirteen states, including South Carolina and Georgia. This is the occasion, when the slave-trade was first branded as a piracy. Many statesmen, among them Edmund Pendleton, president of the Virginia convention, always regretted that the passage [467] had been stricken out; and the earnestness of

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the denunciation lost its author no friends.

All other changes and omissions in Jefferson's paper were either insignificant, or much for the better; rendering its language more terse, more dispassionate, and more exact; and in the evening of the fourth day of July, New York still abstaining from the vote, twelve States, without one negative, agreed to this Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled:

When, in the course of human events, it be-

comes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, [468] accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind

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are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present king of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having, in direct object, the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world:—

He has refused his assent to laws the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and, when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature; a right inestimable to them, and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. [469]

He has dissolved representative houses repeat-

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edly, for opposing, with manly firmness, his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining, in the mean time, exposed to all the danger of invasion from without and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose, obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of, and superior to, the civil power.

He has combined with others, [that is, with the lords and commons of Britain,] to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation: For quartering large bodies of [470] armed troops among us: For protecting them, by

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mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world: For imposing taxes on us without our consent: For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury: For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offences: For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries, so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these colonies: For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering, fundamentally, the powers of our governments: For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection, and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is, at this time, transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun, with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens, taken captive on the high seas, to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands. [471]

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst

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us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction, of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions, we have petitioned for redress, in the most humble terms; our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injuries. A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them, from time to time, of attempts made by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them, by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They, too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace, friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and in-dependent States; that they are absolved from all [472] allegiance to the British crown, and that all political

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connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that, as Free and Independent States, they have 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. And, for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

This immortal state paper, which for its composer was the aurora of enduring fame, was ‘the genuine effusion of the soul of the country at that time,’ the revelation of its mind, when in its youth, its enthusiasm, its sublime confronting of danger, it rose to the highest creative powers of which man is capable. The bill of rights which it promulgates, is of rights that are older than human institutions, and spring from the eternal justice that is anterior to the state. Two political theories divided the world; one founded the commonwealth on the reason of state, the policy of expediency; the other on the immutable principles of morals: the new republic, as it took its place among the powers of the world, proclaimed its faith in the truth and reality and unchangeableness of freedom, virtue, and right. The heart of Jefferson in writing the declaration, and of congress in adopting it, beat for all humanity; the assertion of right was made for the entire world of mankind and all coming generations, without any exception whatever; for the proposition which admits of exceptions can never be self-evident. As it was [473] put forth in the name of the ascendent people of that

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time, it was sure to make the circuit of the world, passing everywhere through the despotic countries of Europe; and the astonished nations as they read that all men are created equal, started out of their lethargy, like those who have been exiles from childhood, when they suddenly hear the dimly remembered accents of their mother tongue.

In the next place, the declaration, avoiding specious and vague generalities, grounds itself with anxious care upon the past, and reconciles right and fact. Of universal principles enough is repeated to prove that America chose for her own that system of politics which recognises the rule of eternal justice; and independence is vindicated by the application of that rule to the grievous instructions, laws, and acts, proceeding from the king, in the exercise of his prerogative, or in concurrence with the lords and commons of Great Britain. The colonies professed to drive back innovations; and not, with roving zeal, to overturn all traditional inequalities; they were no rebels against the past, of which they knew the present to be the child; with all the glad anticipations of greatness that broke forth from the prophetic soul of the youthful nation, they took their point of departure from the world as it was. They did not even declare against monarchy itself; they sought no general overthrow of all kings, no universal system of republics; nor did they cherish in their hearts a lurking hatred against princes. Loyalty to the house of Hanover had, for sixty years, been another name for the love of civil and religious liberty; the vast majority, till within a few years or months, believed the English constitution the best that had ever existed; neither [474] Franklin, nor Washington, nor John Adams, nor Jeffer-

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son, nor Jay, had ever expressed a preference for a republic. The voices that rose for independence, spoke also for alliances with kings. The sovereignty of George the Third was renounced, not because he was a king, but because he was deemed to be ‘a tyrant.’ The insurgents, as they took up self-government, manifested no impatience at the recollection of having been ruled by a royal line; no eagerness to blot out memorials of their former state; they sent forth no Hugh Peter to recommend to the mother country the abolition of monarchy, which no one seems to have proposed or to have wished; in the moment of revolution in America, they did not counsel the English to undertake a revolution. The republic was to America a godsend; it came, though unsought, because society contained the elements of no other organization. Here, and, in that century, here only, was a people, which, by its education and large and long experience, was prepared to act as the depository and carrier of all political power. America developed her choice from within herself; and therefore it is, that, conscious of following an inner law, she never made herself a spreader of her system, where the conditions of success were wanting.

Finally, the declaration was not only the announcement of the birth of a people, but the establishment of a national government; a most imperfect one, it is true, but still a government, in conformity with the limited constituent powers which each colony had conferred upon its delegates in congress. The war was no longer a civil war; Britain was become to the United States a foreign country. Every former subject of [475] the British king in the thirteen colonies now owed

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primary allegiance to the dynasty of the people, and became citizens of the new republic; except in this, every thing remained as before; every man retained his rights; the colonies did not dissolve into a state of nature; nor did the new people undertake a social revolution. The affairs of internal police and government were carefully retained by each separate state, which could, each for itself, enter upon the career of domestic reforms. But the states which were henceforth independent of Britain were not independent of one another; the United States of America assumed powers over war, peace, foreign alliances, and commerce.

The declaration was not signed by the members of congress on the day on which it was agreed to, but it was duly authenticated by the president and secretary, and published to the world. The nation, when it made the choice of a day for its great anniversary, selected not the day of the resolution of independence, when it closed the past, but that of the declaration of the principles on which it opened its new career.

end of Vol. VIII.

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