The Declaration of Independence: Its History Chapter 2, 1775
SEVENTEEN HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE SEVENTEEN hundred and seventy-five is the year of Paul Revere’s ride — the year of Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill. War had become a reality.
Strangely enough, however, the majority of the people still desired reconciliation ‘ — the love of Liberty of the Anglo-Saxon, as a race, not yet having overcome in them the cradle-nurtured spirit of the subject; and, of the comparatively few who favored independence, many feared and others seemed ashamed openly to express their opinions.
Only six days before the end of the year, Portsmouth, N. H., instructed her Representatives to the Provincial Congress: “We are of opinion that the present times are too unsettled to admit of perfecting a firm, stable and permanent government [for New Hampshire]; and that to attempt it now would injure us, by furnishing our enemies in Great Britain with arguments to persuade the good people there that we are aiming at independency, which we totally disavow . . . We particularly recommend, that you strictly guard against every measure that may have a tendency to cause disunion . . .”
|In England||In America|
1. A trial by a jury of his country, in all cases of life and property.
1. A trial by jury only in some cases, subjected in others to a single Judge, or a Board of Commissioners.
2. A trial where the offence was committed.
2. A trial, if a Governor pleases, 3000 miles from the place where the offence was committed.
3. A civil authority supreme over the military, and no standing army in time of peace kept up, but by the consent of the people.
3. The military superior to the civil authority, and America obliged to contribute to the support of a standing army, kept up without and against its consent.
4. The Judges independent of the Crown and people.
4. The Judges made independent of the people, but dependent on the Crown for the support and tenure of their commissions.
5. No tax or imposition laid, but by those who must partake of the burden.
5. Taxes and impositions laid by those, who not only do not partake of the burdens, but who ease themselves by it
6. A free trade to all the world, except the East-Indies.
6. A trade only to such places as Great-Britain shall permit.
7. A free use and practice of all engines and other devices, for saving labour and promoting manufactures.
7. The use only of such engines as Great-Britain has not prohibited.
8. A right to petition the King, and all prosecutions and commitments therefor illegal.
8. Promoting and encouraging petitions to the King declared the highest presumption, and the legislative Assemblies of America dissolved therefore in 1768.
9. Freedom of debate and proceedings in their legislative deliberations.
9. Assemblies dissolved, their legislative power suspended, for the free exercise of their reason and judgment, in their legislative capacity.
10. For redress of grievances, amending, strengthening and preserving the laws, parliaments to be held frequently.
10. To prevent the redress of grievances, or representations tending thereto, Assemblies postponed for a great length of time, and prevented meeting in the most critical times.
It is very significant of the spirit of the times that the same writer should declare: “When I hear America charged with aspiring after independence, I ask, Were we independent of Great-Britain in 1762? That is the era to which we all look back with regret, and to which we are anxiously seeking to return.” ” That the Americans have entire independence on the Mother Country in view, as the great object of their present contest . . . [is] false and groundless . . .”
Even Franklin — in a letter to Lord Howe, dated July 20, 1776 — declares that “tears of joy . . . wet my cheek, when, at your good sister’s in London, you once gave me expectations that a reconciliation might soon take place.” Indeed, in a letter to his son, written at sea, March 22d(1775), — speaking of a visit he had paid to Lord Chatham in London — he writes: “I assured him that, having more than once travelled almost from one end of the Continent to the other, and kept a great variety of company, eating, drinking, and conversing with them freely, I never had heard in any conversation from any person, drunk or sober, the least expression of a wish for a separation, or a hint that such a thing would be advantageous to America … he expressed much satisfaction … in the assurances I had given him that America did not aim at independence.”
The Assembly of Pennsylvania instructed her Delegates, November 9th: “We strictly enjoin you, that you, in behalf of this Colony, dissent from, and utterly reject, any propositions, should such be made, that may cause or lead to a separation from our Mother Country . . .”
Similar views prevailed in Maryland.
On August 2d, one of her clergymen writes to England: “The King has not more affectionate or loyal subjects in any part of his dominions than the Americans. They desire no other King; they wish not a division from, or independence on the Mother Country.”
The instructions of December to her Delegates in Congress contained the expressions “our strong desire of reconciliation ” and “disavowing in the most solemn manner, all design in these Colonies of independence “. Charles Carroll of Carrollton writes, from Annapolis to Washington, September 26th: “If a treaty is but once set on foot, I think, it must terminate in a lasting & happy peace; an event, I am persuaded, you most earnestly desire, as every good citizen must, in which number you rank foremost … If we cannot obtain a peace on safe & just terms, my next wish is, that you may extort by force from our enemies what their policy, & justice should have granted, and that you may long live to enjoy the fame of the best, the noblest deed, the defending & securing the liberties of your country.”
An idea of the feeling in Virginia in the early part of the year is given us by Wirt. He says that, when (March 23d) Patrick Henry offered, in the old church in Richmond, the resolutions that the Colony be put immediately into a state of defense, “some of the warmest patriots of the convention opposed them. Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton . . . resisted them with all their influence and abilities.” He adds that it was by Henry’s eloquence only that the resolutions were carried.
We know that, later in the year, Thomas Anderson was “charged with saying . . . that this Country . . . aimed at a state of independence,” and was acquitted (September 5th) by the Committee of Hanover County “from further prosecution” only upon signing a concession.
The position of Jefferson is outlined in his own letters. He writes from Monticello, August 25th, to John Randolph: “I am sincerely one of those [wishing reunion], and would rather be in dependence on Great Britain, properly limited, than on any nation upon earth, or than on no nation. But I am one of those, too, who, rather than submit to the rights of legislating for us, assumed by the British Parliament . . . would lend my hand to sink the whole island in the ocean.” To the same gentleman, November 29th, he says: “. . . there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain, than I do. But, by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose; and in this I think I speak the sentiments of America. We want neither inducement nor power, to declare and assert a separation. It is will, alone, which is wanting, and that is growing apace under the fostering hand of our King.”
So is also the position of General Charles Lee. On the 1st day of the last month of the year, he writes, to General Burgoyne: “You ask me, in your letter, if it is independence at which the Americans aim? I answer no; the idea never entered a single American’s head until a most intolerable oppression forced it upon them . . . On the contrary, do they not all breathe the strongest attachment and filial piety for their parent country? . . . I swear by all that’s sacred . . . that I most earnestly and devoutly love my native country; that I wish the same happy relation to subsist for ages, betwixt her and her children, which has raised the wide arch of her empire to so stupendous and enviable a height; but at the same time I avow, that if the Parliament and people should be depraved enough to support any longer the present Ministry in their infernal scheme … I would advise not to hesitate a single instant, but decisively to cut the Gordian knot now besmeared with civil blood”; and, three days later, speaking of this letter, he says, from “Camp on Prospect Hill”, to Dr. Benjamin Rush, that it “in my opinion is the best of my performances. I believe it does not tally with your political creed in some parts — but I am convinced that you have not virtue enough for independence nor do I think it calculated for your happiness; besides I have some remaining prejudices as an Englishman — but you will judge from the perusal of my letter whether they are honest and liberal — if they shock you be gentle in your censures.”
North Carolina, at least in one County, was more advanced — though to just what extent has been much mooted.
In the Essex Register (C) — published in Salem, Mass. — of June 5, 1819, appeared the following:
From the Raleigh Register.
DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.
It is not probably known to many of our readers, that the citizens of Mecklenburg county, in this state, made a declaration of independence more than a year before Congress made theirs. The following document on the subject has lately come in the hands of the editor from unquestionable authority, and is published that it may go down to posterity:
N. Carolina, Mecklenburg County, May 20, 1775.
In the spring of 1775, the leading characters of Mecklenburg county . . . held several detached meetings, in each of which the individual sentiments were, “that the cause of Boston was the cause of all . . .” Conformably to these principles, Col. Adam Alexander, through solicitation, issued an order to each Captain’s Company in the county of Mecklenburg . . . directing each militia company to elect two persons … to adopt measures … to secure, unimpaired, their inalienable rights, privileges and liberties . . .
… on the 19th of May, 1775, the said delegation met in Charlotte, vested with unlimited powers; at which time official news, by express, arrived of the battle of Lexington on that day of the preceding month . . . Abraham Alexander was then elected Chairman, and John M’Knitt Alexander, Clerk. After a free and full discussion of the various objects for which the delegation had been convened, it was unanimously Ordained —
1. Resolved, That whosoever directly or indirectly abetted, or in any way, form, or manner, countenanced, the unchartered and dangerous invasion of our rights, as claimed by Great Britain, is an enemy to this country, — to America, — and to the inherent and inalienable rights of man.
2. Resolved, That we, the citizens of Mecklenburg county, do hereby dissolve the political bands which have connected us to the Mother Country, and hereby absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the British Crown, and abjure all political connection, contract, or association with that Nation, who have wantonly trampled on our rights and liberties — and inhumanly shed the innocent blood of American patriots at Lexington.
3. Resolved, That we do hereby declare ourselves a free and independent people; are, and of right ought to be, a sovereign & self governing association, under the control of no power other than that of our God and the General Government of the Congress; to the maintenance of which independence, we solemnly pledge to each other our mutual co-operation, our lives, our fortunes, & our most sacred honor.
4. Resolved, That as we now acknowledge the existence and control of no law or legal officer, civil or military, within this county, we do hereby ordain and adopt, as a rule of life, all, each, and every of our former laws — wherein, nevertheless, the crown of Great Britain never can be considered as holding rights, privileges, immunities, or authority therein.
5.. . . After sitting in the court house all night, neither sleepy, hungry, or fatigued, and after discussing every paragraph, they were all passed, sanctioned, and decreed, unanimously, about two o’clock, A. M. May 20. In a few days, a deputation of said delegation convened, when capt. James Jack, of Charlotte, was deputed as express to the Congress at Philadelphia, with a copy of said resolves and proceedings, together with a letter addressed to our three representatives, viz. Richard Caswell, William Hooper, and Joseph Hughes, under express injunction, personally, and through the state representation, to use all possible means to have said proceedings sanctioned and approved by the general Congress. On the return of captain Jack, the delegation learned that their proceedings were individually approved by the members of Congress, but that it was deemed premature to lay them before the house. A joint letter from said three members of Congress was also received, complimentary of the zeal in the common cause, and recommending perseverance, order, and energy . . .
[The foregoing is a true copy of the papers on the above subject, left in my hands by John Matthew Alexander, deceased. I find it mentioned on file that the original book was burned in April, 1800; that a copy of the proceedings was sent to Hugh Williamson, in New-York, then writing a history of North Carolina, and that a copy was sent to general W. R. Davies.
John Adams, then at Quincy, immediately (June 22d) wrote to Jefferson: “May I enclose you one of the greatest curiosities and one of the deepest mysteries that ever occurred to me … it is entitled the Raleigh Register Declaration of Independence — How is it possible that this paper should have been concealed from me to this day — had it been communicated to me in the time of it — I know, if you do not know, that it would have been printed in every Whig Newspaper upon this Continent — you know if I had possessed it — I would have made the Hall of Congress Echo — and re-echo, with it fifteen months before your Declaration of Independence — What a poor ignorant, malicious, shortsighted, crapulous mass, is Tom Pains Common Sense; in comparison with this paper— had I known it I would have commented upon it — from the day you entered Congress till the fourth of July 1776. — The genuine sense of America at that moment was never so well expressed before nor since. — Richard Caswell, William Hooper, and Joseph Hughs the then Representatives of North Carolina in Congress you know as well as I do — and you know that the Unanimity of the States finally depended upon the Vote of Joseph Hughes — and was finally determined by him — and yet History is to ascribe the American Revolution to Thomas Paine — Sat verbum sapient —”
Another letter from Adams, dated July 15th, to William Bentley, says: “A few weeks ago I received an Essex Register, containing resolutions of independence by a county in North Carolina … I was struck with so much astonishment on reading this document, that I could not help inclosing it immediately to Mr. Jefferson, who must have seen it, in the time of it, for he has copied the spirit, the sense, and the expressions of it verbatim, into his Declaration … Its total concealment from me is a mystery, which can be unriddled only by the timidity of the delegates in Congress from North Carolina, by the influence of Quakers and proprietary gentlemen in Pennsylvania, the remaining art and power of toryism throughout the continent at that time.”
Jefferson replied, July 9th: “what has attracted my peculiar notice is the paper from Mecklenburg county … I believe it spurious. I deem it to be a very unjustifiable quiz … if this paper be really taken M from the Raleigh Register, as quoted, I wonder it should have escaped Ritchie who culls what is good from every paper, as the bee from every flower; and the National Intelligencer too, which is edited by a N. Carolinian, and that the fire should blaze out all at once in Essex [Salem], 1000 miles from where the spark is said to have fallen, but if really taken from the Raleigh Register, who is the narrator, and is the name subscribed real, or is it as fictitious as the paper itself? it appeals too to an original book, which is burnt, to Mr. Alexander who is dead, to a joint letter from Caswell, Hughes and Hooper, all dead, to a copy sent to the dead Caswell, and another sent to Doctor Williamson whose memory, now probably dead, did not recollect, in the history he has written of N. Carolina, this Gigantic step of it’s county of Mecklenburg. Horry too is silent in his history of Marion, whose scene of action was the county bordering on Mecklenburg Ramsay, Marshal, Jones, Girardin, Wirt, Historians of the adjacent states, all silent, when Mr. Henry’s resolutions, far short of independence, flew like lightning thro every paper and kindled both sides of the Atlantic, this flaming declaration of the same date, of the independence of Mecklenburg county of N. Carolina, absolving it from British allegiance, and abjuring all political connection with that nation, altho’ sent to Congress too, is never heard of. it is not known even a twelve month after even a similar proposition is first made in that body, armed with this bold example, would not you have addressed our timid brethren in peals of thunder, on their tardy fears? would not every advocate of independence have rung the glories of Mecklenburg county in N. Carolina in the ears of the doubting Dickinson and others, who hung so heavily on us? yet the example of independent Mecklenburg county in N. Carolina was never once quoted, the paper speaks too of the continued exertion of their delegation, (Caswell, Hooper, Hughes) “in the cause of liberty and independence.” now you remember as well as I do, that we had not a greater Tory in Congress than Hooper, that Hughes was very wavering, sometimes firm, sometimes feeble, according as the day was clear or cloudy; that Caswell indeed was a good Whig, and kept these gentlemen to the notch, while he was present; but that he left us B soon, and their line of conduct became then uncertain till Penn came26, who fixed Hughes and the vote of the state. I must not be understood as suggesting any doubtfulness in the state of N. Carolina, no state was more fixed or forward, nor do I affirm positively that this paper is a fabrication: because the proof of a negative can only be presumptive, but I shall believe it such until positive and solemn proof of it’s authenticity shall be produced, and if the name of McKnitt be real, and not a part of the fabrication, it needs a vindication by the production of such proof, for the present I must be an unbeliever in this apocryphal gospel.”
On the 21st, Adams wrote again: “. . . your Letter of the 9th . . . has entirely convinced me that the Mecklenburg Resolutions are fiction … as they were unknown to you “, they must have been unknown to all mankind — I have sent a copy of your letter to Salem, not to be printed but to be used as decisive authority for the Editor [Warwick Palfray, Jr.] to correct his error, in the Essex Register. — But who can be the Demon to invent such a machine after five and forty years, and what could be his Motive — was it to bring a Charge of Plagiarism against the Congress or against you; the undoubted acknowledged draughtsmen of the Declaration of Independence — or could it be the mere vanity of producing a jeu d’esprit, to set the world a guess and afford a topic of Conversation in this piping time of Peace—Had such Resolutions appeared in June, they would have flown through the Universe like wild fire; they would have Elevated the heads of the inhabitants of Boston; — and of all New-England above the Stars — and they would have rung a peal in Congress — to the utter Confusion of Tory’ism and timidity, for a full year before they were discomforted —”
This letter was followed by a third (to Jefferson) but seven days later: “I inclose you a National Register, to convince you that the Essex Register is not to blame for printing the Mecklingburg County Resolutions, on the Contrary I think it to be commended — for if those Resolutions were genuine they ought to be published in every Gazette in the World — If they are one of those tricks which our fashionable Men in England call hoax’es and boares — they ought to be printed in all American journals; exposed to public resentment and the Author of them hunted to his dark Cavern—”
To Bentley, under date of August 21st, he says: “I thank you for the Raleigh Register and National Intelligencer. The plot thickens … I was on social, friendly terms with Caswell, Hooper, and Hewes, every moment of their existence in Congress; with Hooper, a Bostonian, and a son of Harvard, intimate and familiar. Yet, from neither of the three did the slightest hint of these Mecklenburg resolutions ever escape … I cannot believe that they were known to one member of Congress on the fourth of July, 1776 . . . The papers of Dr. Hugh Williamson ought to be searched for the copy sent to him, and the copy sent to General W. R. Davie. The Declaration of Independence made by Congress … is a document . . . that ought not to be disgraced or trifled with.”
Discussion was now rife; and, on February 18, 1820, the Raleigh Register printed a number of affidavits and letters, introduced as follows: “When the Declaration was first published in April last, some doubts were expressed in the Eastern papers as to its authenticity, (none of the Histories of the Revolution having noticed the circumstance.) Col. William Polk, of this City, (who, though a mere youth at the time, was present at the meeting which made the Declaration, and whose Father being Colonel of the County, appears to have acted a conspicuous part on the occasion,) observing this, assured us of the correctness of the facts generally, though he thought there were errors as to the name of the Secretary, &c. and said that he should probably be able to correct these, and throw some further light on the subject, by Enquiries amongst some of his old friends in Mecklenburg county. He has accordingly made Enquiries, and communicated to us . . . Documents as the result, which, we presume, will do away [with] all doubts on the subject.”
The matter was still further investigated, in 1831, under the direction of the General Assembly of the State and a report made.
These (the Raleigh Register of 1820 and the report of the General Assembly, embracing other affidavits) established, it would seem, many of the facts at issue — certainly that, sometime in May, 1775, certain resolutions of an advanced character were adopted in Mecklenburg County; that resolutions of an advanced character were publicly read by Thomas Polk and received with great joy; and that, in June, James Jack set out with a copy of resolutions of an advanced character for Congress, that he stopped at Salisbury, where, at the request of the General Court, an attorney by the name of Kennon read the resolutions, and that Jack delivered a copy of the resolutions to Caswell and Hooper in Philadelphia.
Many claim that these established also that the resolutions in question expressly declared independence and that the date of their adoption was May 20th.
With this, however, we cannot agree. Not only is the wording itself of almost all of the affidavits very uncertain, but it is very apparent that none of the affiants was considering — and we might in any event question the power of any of them to recall — the exact wording of the resolutions adopted or the exact day in May on which adopted.
Under these circumstances, The South-Carolina Gazette; and Country Journal 31 of June 13, 1775, which has since come to light, is, we think, of the first importance. It contains:
“Charlotte-town, Mecklenburg County, May 31, 1775 This day the Committee of this county met, and passed the following Resolves:
WHEREAS by an Address presented to his Majesty by both Houses of Parliament, in February last, the American colonies are declared to be in a state of actual rebellion, we conceive, that all laws and commissions confirmed by, or derived from the authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated, and the former civil constitution of these colonies, for the present, wholly suspended. To provide, in some degree, for the exigencies of this county, in the present alarming period, we deem it proper and necessary to pass the following Resolves, viz:
I. That all commissions, civil and military, heretofore granted by the Crown, to be exercised in these colonies, are null and void, and the constitution of each particular colony wholly suspended.
II. That the Provincial Congress of each province, under the direction of the great Continental Congress, is invested with all legislative and executive powers within their respective provinces; and that no other legislative or executive power, does, or can exist, at this time, in any of these colonies.
III. As all former laws are now suspended in this province, and the Congress have not yet provided others, we judge it necessary, for the preservation of good order, to form certain rules and regulations for the internal government of this county, until laws shall be provided for us by the Congress.
IV. That the inhabitants of this county do meet . . . and having formed themselves into nine companies … do chuse a Colonel and other military officers, who shall hold and exercise their several powers by virtue of this choice, and independent of the Crown of Great-Britain, and former constitution of this province.
V. That for the better preservation of the peace and administration of justice, each of those companies do chuse from their own body, two discreet freeholders, who shall be empowered . . . to decide and determine all matters of controversy . . .
VI . . .
XIV. That all these officers hold their commissions during the pleasure of their several constituents.
XV . . .
XVI. That whatever person shall hereafter receive a commission from the Crown, or attempt to exercise any such commission heretofore received, shall be deemed an enemy to his country . . .
XVII. That any person refusing to yield obedience to the above Resolves, shall be considered equally criminal . . .
XVIII. That these Resolves be in full force and virtue, until instructions from the Provincial Congress, regulating the jurisprudence of the province, shall provide otherwise, or the legislative body of Great-Britain, resign its unjust and arbitrary pretentions with respect to America.
XIX . . .
XX. That the Committee appoint Colonel Thomas Polk, and Doctor Joseph Kennedy, to purchase 300 lb. of powder . . . Signed by order of the Committee,
EPH BREVARD, Clerk of the Committee.
This certainly should be considered, we think, adequate proof that the ” Committee of this county” of Mecklenburg passed the resolves there given on May 31, 1775; and the only question, therefore, we think, is, Were the resolves accredited (in 1819) to the “delegation” composed of “two persons” from “each militia company” “in the county of Mecklenburg” and to the 20th of the same month also passed?
We cannot but say that this seems to us very unlikely. We can see no reasons why the resolves attributed to the 20th, if in fact passed, should not have been the ones published in The South-Carolina Gazette, etc., rather than those of the 31st — especially as some resolves are admitted to have been read publicly in “Charlotte-Town” and in the General Court and sent to the Delegates in Congress and as it would be but natural to make public in the press the more pronounced, admitting that there were two sets of resolves. Indeed, if we can credit at all the resolves given in The South Carolina Gazette, etc., the military companies would seem not to have been organized in Mecklenburg County until after the 31st and in accordance with these resolves.
Certain it is that Hewes, who is stated “individually” to have “approved” of the “proceedings” a copy of which was carried to Philadelphia by James Jack, writes, from Philadelphia, December 1st, to Samuel Johnston (?): “no plan of Separation has been offered, the Colonies will never Agree to Any ’till drove to it by dire Necessity. I wish the time may not come too soon, I fear it will be the case if the British Ministry pursue their present diabolical Schemes, I am weary of politics and wish I could retire to my former private Station (to speak in the language of J. Child) a pence & farthings Man . . . P. S. The bearer William Chew who is sent express is to receive from you Sixty Dollars which you must charge to North Carolina, if he does not find you at Edenton he is to have Six pence per Mile and All ferryages paid, for any distance — that he may go out of his way to find you after he gets to Edenton[.]”
Of importance, too, are the facts that it also has come to light since the report of the General Assembly that there was attached to the ” Davie copy “a certificate from John M’Knitte Alexander and that this stated: “it may be worthy of notice here to observe that the foregoing statement though fundamentally correct, yet may not literally correspond with the original records of the transactions of said delegation and court of inquiry, as all those records and papers were burnt, with the house, on April 6th, 1800; but previous to that time of 1800, a full copy of said records, at the request of Doctor Hugh Williamson, then of New York, but formerly a representative in Congress from this State, was forwarded to him by Col. Wm. Polk in order that those early transactions might fill their proper place in a history of this State then writing by said Doctor Williams in New York. Certified to the best of my recollection and belief this 3d day of September, 1800, by J. McN. Alexander Mecklenburg County, N. C.”
On the other hand, it is zealously claimed that the resolves of the 20th were passed by a more or less popular assemblage (of which Alexander was clerk) and those of the 31st by the regular Committee of the County; or that those of the 31st were a revised set.
The passage in May, 1775, of even such resolutions as are given in The South-Carolina Gazette, etc., however, are greatly to the credit of Mecklenburg County; but they do not take from the fame of Jefferson.
It was not until Lexington and Concord — followed shortly by the death of Warren at Bunker Hill — that a declaration of independence became even a possibility.
Jefferson writes, May 7th, to Dr. William Small: “This accident has cut off our last hope of reconciliation, and a phrenzy of revenge seems to have seized all ranks of people . . . This may perhaps be intended to intimidate into acquiescence; but the effect has been most unfortunately otherwise.”
Samuel Adams, according to his biographer, came to the second Continental Congress (May 10th) “impressed with the necessity of an immediate declaration of independence.” (Indeed, there is a note among the Bancroft papers in the New York Public Library, Lenox, which says: “Samuel Adams said to Rush: For seven years before the commencement of the war [i. e. from 1768] independence has been the first wish of my heart.”)
Franklin, May 16th, sends a letter to London in which he says: “The breach between the two countries is grown wider, and in danger of becoming irreparable; and, on December 9th, he writes, to Charles W. F. Dumas: “… we wish to know whether … if, as it seems likely to happen, we should be obliged to break off all connection with Britain, and declare ourselves an independent people, there is any state or power in Europe who would be willing to enter into an alliance with us for the benefit of our commerce . . .”
Dr. Benjamin Church writes, July 23d: “The people of Connecticut are raving in the cause of liberty . . . The Jerseys are not a whit behind Connecticut in zeal. The Philadelphians exceed them both … I mingled freely and frequently with the members of the Continental Congress; they were united and determined in opposition . . . A view to independence appears to be more and more general.”
John Adams writes, to James Warren, July 24th: “We ought to have had in our hands, a month ago, the whole legislative, executive, and judicial of the whole continent, and have completely modeled a constitution; to have raised a naval power, and opened all our ports wide; to have arrested every friend of government on the continent and held them as hostages for the poor victims in Boston, and then opened the door as wide as possible for peace and reconciliation. After this, they might have petitioned, negotiated, addressed, &c. if they would.”
This, with a letter to his wife, fell into the hands of the enemy and was sent to England and published. Adams, in his Autobiography, says: “They [the British] thought them a great prize. The ideas of independence, to be sure, were glaring enough, and they thought they should produce quarrels among the members of Congress and a division of the Colonies. Me they expected utterly to ruin, because, as they represented, I had explicitly avowed my designs of independence. I cared nothing for this. I had made no secret, in or out of Congress, of my opinion that independence was become indispensable, and I was perfectly sure that in a little time the whole continent would be of my mind. I rather rejoiced in this as a fortunate circumstance, that the idea was held up to the whole world, and that the people could not avoid contemplating it and reasoning about it. Accordingly, from this time at least, if not earlier, and not from the publication of ‘ Common Sense,’ did the people in all parts of the continent turn their attention to this subject . . . Colonel Reed . . . said that Providence seemed to have thrown those letters before the public for our good .. .”
A member of Congress writes, to London, August 26th: “All trade to England, and every other part of the world, will most certainly be stopped on the tenth of next month . . . Whether that will be one means of dissolving our connections entirely with Great Britain, I shall leave to wiser heads to determine. I am far, very far, from wishing such an event, but, nevertheless, I am very apprehensive, from the present temper of our people, that a few more violent steps will lay a foundation for it.”
General Greene writes, to Washington from Prospect Hill, October 23d: “I hinted, in my last, that people begin heartily to wish a declaration of independence . . .” On December 20th, he says: “George the Third’s last speech has shut the door of hope for reconciliation . . . We are now driven to the necessity of making a declaration of independence.”
Bowdoin writes, to Samuel Adams, December 9th: “Our salvation under God depends upon a spirited exertion upon our part, & therefore all delicacy in our hostilities ought to be laid aside . . . We have already shewn too much of it, which instead of attributing it to the true cause — a desire on our part of a reconciliation & the keeping open a door for it — they have looked on as proceeding wholly from pusillanimity, which they expected would end, if rigorous measures were taken with us, in an abject submission . . . The Independence of America will probably grow out of the present dispute. A willing dependence on Great Britain cannot easily be apprehended, as her injuries have been so many & grievous, & all confidence in her justice is lost: — to such a degree lost, that we should not know how to trust her, even if she were sincerely to offer equitable terms of accommodation … I beg you would present my best regards to Dr. Franklin, Mr. Lynch, Col. Harrison, & the Mass Delegates . . .”
The second Continental Congress also met (May 10th) in Philadelphia — but at the State House, not at Carpenters Hall. Franklin had left England on March 21st, had arrived in Philadelphia on May 5th and had been unanimously chosen a Delegate by Pennsylvania on the 6th. The other new Delegates who appeared in Congress on the 10th were John Hancock of Massachusetts, John Langdon of New Hampshire, Thomas Willing of Pennsylvania and John Hall of Maryland. Still others attended later: Lyman Hall from the Parish of St. John’s in Georgia and Thomas Stone of Maryland on the 13th; Philip Schuyler, George Clinton, Lewis Morris (who arrived in Philadelphia on the 10th) and Robert R. Livingston of New York and James Wilson of Pennsylvania on the 15th; Jefferson of Virginia on June 21st; and Archibald Bullock, John Houston” and Rev. J. J. Zubly” of Georgia on September 13th. New York had elected for the first time also Francis Lewis. On the last day (September 13th) appeared as well George Wythe, Thomas Nelson, Jr., and Francis Lightfoot Lee of Virginia — who had been elected for the first time following the adjournment of Congress. Following this adjournment, New Hampshire also elected one new Delegate — Josiah Bartlett; North Carolina also one new Delegate — John Penn; Connecticut also two new Delegates — Samuel Huntington and Oliver Wolcott (together with one new alternate — William Williams; Pennsylvania two new Delegates — Robert Morris and Andrew Allen; Maryland two new Delegates — Robert Alexander and John Rogers; and Virginia one new Delegate — Carter Braxton.
Randolph was for the second time elected President.
He served, however, for a few days only. On the 24th of May, as shown by the Journal, ” The Congress met according to adjournment, but the honorable” Peyton Randolph Pres’ being under a necessity of returning home & having set out this morning early the chair was vacant wherefore on motion, the Honorable John Hancock was unanimously chosen President.”
This Congress, during the year, like the Congress of 1774, took no action whatever upon the question of independence.
John Adams writes to his wife, June nth: ” I have found this Congress like the last. When we first came together, I found a strong jealousy of us from New England, and the Massachusetts in particular; suspicions entertained of designs of independency; an American Republic; Presbyterian principles, and twenty other things. Our sentiments were heard in Congress with great caution, and seemed to make but little impression; but the longer we sat, the more clearly they saw the necessity of pushing vigorous measures. It has been so now . . . But America is a great unwieldy body. Its progress must be slow . . . Like a coach and six, the swiftest horses must be slackened, and the slowest quickened, that all may keep an even pace.”
Franklin, in a letter of October 3d, says: “We have as yet resolved only on defensive measures.”
The spirit73 which prevailed in the body is well shown by an incident described by Jefferson in his Autobiography: “Mr. Dickinson . . . still retained the object of reconciliation … he was so honest a man, and so able a one that he was greatly indulged even by those who could not feel his scruples . . . Congress gave a signal proof of their indulgence to Mr. Dickinson, and of their great desire not to go too fast for any respectable part of our body, in permitting him to draw their second petition to the king according to his own ideas, and passing it with scarcely any amendment, the disgust against it’s humility was general; and Mr. Dickinson’s delight at it’s passage was the only circumstance which reconciled them to it. the vote being past, altho’ further observe on it was out of order, he could not refrain from rising and expressing his satisfaction and concluded by saying “there is but one word, Mr. President, in the paper which I disapprove, & that is the word Congress.” on which Ben Harrison rose and said “there is but one word in the paper, Mr. President, of which I approve, and that is the word Congress [.] “”
Indeed, looking backward, many of the words of this Congress seem like anomalies! Especially is this true of the declaration — the most important measure of the year — setting forth the causes of taking up arms. Though, in effect, a declaration of war, it said: “Lest this declaration should disquiet the minds of our friends and fellow subjects in any part of the Empire, we assure them that we mean not to dissolve that union which has so long and so happily subsisted between us, and which we sincerely wish to see restored.”
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