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Chapter 69:

The resolution of independence.

The first and second of July, 1776.

on the morning of the first of July, the day set
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apart for considering the resolution of independence, John Adams, confident as if the vote had been taken, invoked the blessing of heaven to make the new-born republic more glorious than any which had gone before. His heart melted with sorrow at the disasters and sufferings of the army that had been in Canada; he knew that England having now recovered that province, commanded the upper lakes and the Mississippi; that she had a free communication with all the numerous tribes of Indians, extending along the frontiers of all the colonies, and would induce them to take up the hatchet, and by bloodshed and fire drive in the inhabitants upon the middle settlements, at a time when the coasts might be ravaged by the British navy, and a single day might bring the army before New York. Independence could be obtained only by a great expense of life; but the greater the danger, the [449] stronger was his determination; for a free constitu-
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tion of civil government could not be purchased at too dear a rate. He called to mind the fixed rule of the Romans, never to send or receive ambassadors to treat of peace with their enemies while their affairs were in a disastrous situation; and he was cheered by the belief that his countrymen were of the same temper and principle.

At the appointed hour the members, probably on that day fifty one in number, appeared in their places; among them the delegates lately chosen in New Jersey. The great occasion had brought forth superior statesmen; none of them passionate revolutionists, but men who joined the power of moderation to energy. After they had all passed away, their longevity was remarked as a proof of their calm and temperate nature; full two thirds of the New England representatives lived beyond seventy years; some of them to be eighty or ninety. Every colony was found to be represented, and the delegates of all but one had received full power of action. Comprehensive instructions, reaching the question of independence without explicitly using the word, had been given by Massachusetts in January, by South Carolina in March, by Georgia on the fifth of April. North Carolina, in the words of Cornelius Harnett, on the fourteenth of April, was the first to direct expressly its representatives in congress to concur in a declaration of independence. On the first of May, Massachusetts expunged the regal style from all public proceedings, and substituted the name of her ‘government and people;’ on the fourth, Rhode Island more explicitly renounced allegiance, and made its delegates the representatives [450] of an independent republic; Virginia on

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the fifteenth, the very day on which John Adams in congress carried his measure for instituting governments by the sole authority of the people, gave her delegates at Philadelphia the positive direction to propose independence, and by a circular letter communicated her decision to all her sister colonies. The movement of Virginia was seconded almost in her words by Connecticut on the fourteenth of June, New Hampshire on the fifteenth, New Jersey on the twenty first, the conference of committees of Pennsylvania on the twenty fourth, Maryland on the twenty eighth. Delaware on the twenty second of March had still hoped for conciliation; but on the fourteenth or the fifteenth of June, from the imperfect state of her records the exact date is unknown, she took off all restraint from her members, and knowing that a majority of them favored independence, encouraged them to follow their own judgment. The vote of the eleventh of June showed the purpose of New York; but under the accumulation of dangers, her statesmen waited a few days longer, that her voice for independence might have the full authority of her people.

The business of the day began with reading various letters, among others one from Washington, who returned the whole number of his men, present and fit for duty, including the one regiment of artillery, at seven thousand seven hundred and fifty four. The state of the arms of this small and inconsiderable body was still more inauspicious; of near fourteen hundred the firelocks were bad; more than eight hundred had none at all; three thousand eight hundred and twenty seven, more than half the whole [451] number of infantry, had no bayonets. Of the militia

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 1.
who had been called for, only about a thousand had joined the camp; and with this force the general was to defend extensive lines against an army, near at hand, of thirty thousand veterans. An express from Lee made known, that fifty three ships with Clinton had arrived before Charleston, of which the safety was involved in doubt.

A more cheering letter which Chase had forwarded by express fiom Annapolis, brought the first news of the unanimity of the Maryland convention, whose vote for independence was produced and read. The order of the day came next, and congress resolved itself ‘into a committee of the whole to take into consideration the resolution respecting independency.’ For a few minutes, perfect silence prevailed; every one felt the responsibility of acting finally on the most important question ever agitated in the assembly. In the absence of the mover of the resolution, the eyes of every one turned towards its seconder, John Adams; and the new members from New Jersey requested that the arguments used in former debates might be recapitulated. He had made no preparation for that morning; but for many months independence had been the chief object of his thoughts and his discourse, and the strongest arguments ranged themselves before his mind in their natural order. Of his sudden, impetuous, unpremeditated speech no minutes ever existed, and no report was ever made. It is only remembered that he set forth the justice, the necessity, and the advantages of a separation from Great Britain; he dwelt on the neglect and insult with which their petitions had been treated by the king; [452] and on that vindictive spirit, which showed itself in

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 1.
the employment of German troops, whose arrival was hourly expected, to compel the colonists to unconditional submission. He concluded by urging the present time as themost suitable for resolving on independence, inasmuch as it had become the first wish and the last instruction of the communities they represented.

Dickinson of Pennsylvania rose not so much to reply, as to justify himself before congress. He took pride in being the ardent assertor of freedom; and was conscious that his writings had won him a great name. Accustomed to lead, he loved to be recognized as the guide. Now for the first time in his life his excessively sensitive nature was writhing under the agonies of wounded self-love. For one year he had been at variance with John Adams, and during all that time had till recently triumphed over him or kept him at bay; congress had loved to employ his pen, and had been only too ready to follow his counsel; yet at last he had been baffled even in his own province. He had seen the proprietary government go to its long sleep in the house of its friends; he had seen a delegate from Delaware bring before congress from the Pennsylvania conference instructions in favor of independence, which he did not mean to regard; and he had prepared himself with the utmost care to vindicate his opinions, which he would have held it guilt to suppress. It is from the report made by himself, that I abridge his elaborate discourse, using no words but his own:

I value the love of my country as I ought, but I value my country more, and I desire this illustrious [453] assembly to witness the integrity, if not the policy

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 1.
of my conduct. The first campaign will be decisive of the controversy. The declaration will not strengthen us by one man, or by the least supply, while it may expose our soldiers to additional cruelties and outrages. Without some prelusory trials of our strength we ought not to commit our country upon an alternative, where to recede would be infamy, and to persist might be destruction.

No instance is recollected of a people without a battle fought, or an ally gained, abrogating forever their connection with a warlike commercial empire. It might unite the different parties in Great Britain against us, and it might create disunion among ourselves.

With other powers it would rather injure than avail us. Foreign aid will not be obtained but by our actions in the field, which are the only evidences of our union and vigor that will be respected. In the war between the United Provinces and Spain, France and England assisted the provinces before they declared themselves independent; if it is the interest of any European kingdom to aid us, we shall be aided without such a declaration; if it is not, we shall not be aided with it. Before such an irrevocable step shall be taken, we ought to know the disposition of the great powers; and how far they will permit any one or more of them to interfere. The erection of an independent empire on this continent is a phenomenon in the world; its effects will be immense, and may vibrate round the globe. How they may affect, or be supposed to affect old establishments, is not ascertained. It is singularly disrespectful to France, [454] to make the declaration before her sense is known; as

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 1.
we have sent an agent expressly to inquire whether such a declaration would be acceptable to her, and we have reason to believe he is now arrived at the court of Versailles. The measure ought to be delayed, till the common interests shall in the best manner be consulted by common consent. Besides, the door to accommodation with Great Britain ought not to be shut, until we know what terms can be obtained from some competent power. Thus to break with her before we have compacted with another, is to make experiments on the lives and liberties of my countrymen, which I would sooner die than agree to make; at best it is to throw us into the hands of some other power and to lie at mercy, for we shall have passed the river that is never to be repassed. We ought to retain the declaration and remain masters of our own fame and fate. We ought to inform that power, that we are filled with a just detestation of our oppressors; that we are determined to cast off forever all subjection to them, to declare ourselves independent, and to support that declaration with our lives and fortunes, provided that power will approve the proceeding, acknowledge our independence, and enter into a treaty with us upon equitable and advantageous conditions.

Other objections to the declaration at this time are suggested by our internal circumstances. The formation of our governments, and an agreement upon the terms of our confederation, ought to precede the assumption of our station among sovereigns. A sovereignty composed of several distinct bodies of men, not subject to established constitutions, and not combined together by confirmed articles of union, is such [455] a sovereignty as has never appeared. These particu-

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 1.
lars would not be unobserved by foreign kingdoms and states, and they will wait for other proofs of political energy, before they will treat us with the desired attention.

With respect to ourselves, the consideration is still more serious. The forming of our governments is a new and difficult work. When this is done and the people perceive, that they and their posterity are to live under well regulated constitutions, they will be encouraged to look forward to independence, as completing the noble system of their political happiness. The objects nearest to them are now enveloped in clouds, and those more distant appear confused; the relation one citizen is to bear to another, and the connection one state is to have with another, they do not, cannot know. Mankind are naturally attached to plans of government that promise quiet and security. General satisfaction with them, when formed, would indeed be a great point attained; but persons of reflection will perhaps think it absolutely necessary, that congress should institute some mode for preserving them from future discords.

The confederation ought to be settled before the declaration of independence. Foreigners will think it most regular; the weaker states will not be in so much danger of having disadvantageous terms imposed upon them by the stronger. If the declaration is first made, political necessities may urge on the acceptance of conditions, highly disagreeable to parts of the Union. The present comparative circumstances of the colonies are now tolerably well understood; but some have very extraordinary claims to territory, [456] that if admitted, as they might be in a future confed-

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 1.
eration, the terms of it not being yet adjusted, all idea of the present comparison between them would be confounded. Those whose boundaries are acknowledged would sink in proportion to the elevation of their neighbors. Besides; the unlocated lands, not comprehended within acknowledged boundaries, are deemed a fund sufficient to defray a vast part, if not the whole of the expenses of the war. These ought to be considered as the property of all, acquired by the arms of all. For these reasons the boundaries of the colonies ought to be fixed before the declaration, and their respective rights mutually guarantied; and the unlocated lands ought also, previous to that declaration, to be solemnly appropriated to the benefit of all, for it may be extremely difficult, if not impracticable, to obtain these decisions afterwards. Upon the whole, when things shall be thus deliberately rendered firm at home, and favorable abroad, then let America, “Attollens humeris famam et fata nepotum,” bearing up her glory and the destiny of her descendants, advance with majestic steps and assume her station among the sovereigns of the world.

Wilson of Pennsylvania could no longer agree with his colleague. He had at an early day foreseen independence as the probable, though not the intended result of the contest; he had uniformly declared in his place, that he never would vote for it contrary to his instructions, nay, that he regarded it as something more than presumption to take a step of such importance without express instructions and authority. ‘For,’ said he, ‘ought this act to be the act of four or five individuals, or should it be the act of the people [457] of Pennsylvania?’ But now that their authority

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 1.
was communicated by the conference of committees, he stood on very different ground.

These are all the details of the debate which I have been able to find. Others spoke; among them probably Paca of Maryland, Mackean of Delaware, and undoubtedly Edward Rutledge of South Carolina; but I have not met with any authentic record of their remarks. Richard Henry Lee and Wythe were both on that day attendants on the Virginia convention in Williamsburgh. Before the vote was taken, the delegates from New York, of whom all but Alsop were personally ready to vote for independence and were confident of the adhesion of their constituents, read to the committee a letter which they had received from the provincial congress, explaining why their formal concurrence must, for a few days longer, be withheld. The resolution for independence was then sustained by nine colonies, two thirds of the whole number; the vote of South Carolina, unanimously, it would seem, was in the negative; so was that of Pennsylvania, by the vote of Dickinson, Morris, Humphreys, and Willing, against Franklin, Morton, and Wilson; owing to the absence of Rodney, Delaware was divided, each member voting under the new instruction according to his former known opinion, Mackean for independence and Read against it.

The committee rose, and Harrison reported the resolution; but at the request of Edward Rutledge, on behalf of South Carolina, the determination upon it was put off till the next day.

A letter from Washington of the twenty ninth of [458] June, was then read, from which it appeared that

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Howe and forty five ships or more, laden with troops, had arrived at Sandy Hook, and that the whole fleet was expected in a day or two. ‘I am hopeful,’ wrote the general, ‘that I shall get some reenforcements before they are prepared to attack; be that as it may, I shall make the best disposition I can of our troops.’ Not all who were round him had firmness like his own; Reed, the new adjutant general, quailed before the inequality of the British and American force, and thus in private described the state of the American camp: ‘With an army of force before, and a secret one behind, we stand on a point of land with six thousand old troops, if a year's service of about half, can entitle them to the name, and about fifteen hundred new levies of this province, many disaffected and more doubtful; every man, from the general to the private, acquainted with our true situation, is exceedingly discouraged; had I known the true posture of affairs, no consideration would have tempted me to have taken an active part in this scene; and this sentiment is universal.’ No one knew better than the commander in chief the exceedingly discouraging aspect of military affairs; but his serene manner and unfaltering courage in this hour was a support to congress. His letter was referred to the board of war, which they had recently established, and of which John Adams was the president; the faculties of the members were on that day too intensely strained by their enthusiasm to be much agitated by reports of danger. Especially John Adams, revolving the incidents of the day at its close, not disguising to his [459] own mind the approaching terrible conflict of which
Chap. XLIX.} 1776. July 1.
America could not ward off the calamities, not even flattering himself with halcyon days among the colonies after their separation from Great Britain, was content with what he had done; for freedom was in his eyes a counterbalance to poverty, discord, war, and more.

On the second day of July there were present in

congress probably just fifty members. Rodney had arrived from Delaware, and joining Mackean secured that colony. Dickinson and Morris stayed away, which enabled Franklin, Wilson, and Morton, of Pennsylvania, to outvote Willing and Humphreys. The South Carolina members, for the sake of unanimity, came round; so though New York was still unable to vote, twelve colonies, ‘without one dissenting colony,’ 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.’

After this great day, the mind of John Adams heaved like the ocean after a storm. ‘The greatest question,’ he wrote,

was decided which ever was debated in America, and a greater, perhaps, never was nor will be decided among men. When I look back to 1761, and run through the series of political events, the chain of causes and effects, I am surprised at the suddenness as well as greatness of this revolution. Britain has been filled with folly, and America with wisdom. It is the will of Heaven that the two [460] countries should be sundered forever; it may be the

Chap. XLIX.} 1776. July 2.
will of Heaven that America shall suffer calamities still more wasting, and distresses yet more dreadful. If this is to be the case, the furnace of affliction produces refinement in states as well as individuals; but I submit all my hopes and fears to an overruling Providence, in which, unfashionable as the faith may be, I firmly believe.

Had a declaration of independence been made seven months ago, we might before this hour have formed alliances with foreign states; we should have mastered Quebec, and been in possession of Canada; but on the other hand, the delay has many great advantages attending it. The hopes of reconciliation, which were fondly entertained by multitudes of the honest and well meaning, though weak and mistaken, have been gradually and at last totally extinguished. Time has been given for the whole people maturely to consider the great question of independence, so that in every colony of the thirteen, they have now adopted it as their own act.

But the day is past. The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America; to be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival, commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.

You will think me transported with enthusiasm, but I am not. I am well aware of the toil, and blood, and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this [461] declaration, and support and defend these states; yet

Chap. LXIX.} 1776. July 2-4.
through all the gloom, I can see the rays of light and glory; that the end is worth all the means; that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction, even though we should rue it, which I trust in God we shall not.

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