The New International Encyclopædia/Declaration of Independence, American

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DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, American. A document proclaiming the independence of the thirteen English colonies in America, and finally agreed upon by the Continental Congress, July 4, 1776. Early in 1776 several delegates in Congress were directed by their constituencies to vote for independence. Such a vote would be, in some particulars, no more than a recognition of the existing state of affairs, for already there existed in several provinces a complete independence of England so far as the administrative system was concerned. As a result of advice given by the Continental Congress, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and South Carolina had early established commonwealth organizations entirely regardless of any connection with England. This organization of commonwealth governments on a permanent basis was strongly urged by John Adams, largely as a result of whose work the Continental Congress passed the resolutions of May 10 and 15, 1776, recommending to all of the colonies the formation of independent governments. This action was generally indorsed; and gradually the various States placed themselves on record as favoring the step which had now indeed become virtually inevitable—the declaration of their absolute independence. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee moved in Congress 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.” This motion was seconded by John Adams, but action thereon was deferred until July 1, and the resolution was passed on the following day. Two committees were appointed (on June 10), one to prepare a declaration, and the other to draw up a plan of confederation. On the declaration committee were Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and R. R. Livingston. They reported June 28, but action was delayed for several days. When the declaration finally came up for consideration, it was passed unanimously on July 4, by the delegates of twelve colonies, those representing New York not voting, since they had not as yet been authorized to support the movement for independence. On July 9, however, a New York convention formally pledged that State to support the Declaration. The document was engrossed on parchment in accordance with a resolution passed by Congress on July 19, and on August 2 was signed by the fifty-three members then present. Subsequently Matthew Thornton, Elbridge Gerry, and Thomas McKean also affixed their signatures. The Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, and but very slightly changed from his copy. The document itself was assigned for safekeeping to the Department of State upon the organization of the National Government; was deposited in the Patent Office in 1841, when that office was a bureau in the Department of State; was returned to the Department of State in 1877; and in 1894, owing to the rapid fading of the text and the deterioration of the parchment, was withdrawn from exhibition and was carefully put away out of the light and air. A facsimile was made in 1823, by order of John Quincy Adams, then Secretary of State, for the original signers and their families, and it is from a copy struck from the copper plate then made that the reproduction here given was obtained.

The text of the Declaration is as follows:

The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen
United States of America.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes 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, accordingly, all experience hath shown, that mankind 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.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly 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 meantime, 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 the 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 legislatures.

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

He has combined, with others, 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 armed troops among us;

For protecting them, by a 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 offenses;

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.

He has excited domestic insurrections among 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 injury. 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 connection 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 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; 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.

The fifty-six signers of the Declaration were as follows: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, and Oliver Wolcott, of Connecticut; Cæsar Rodney, George Read, and Thomas McKean, of Delaware; Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, and George Walton, of Georgia; Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, of Maryland; John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, and Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts; Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, and Matthew Thornton, of New Hampshire; Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, and Abraham Clark, of New Jersey; William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, and Lewis Morris, of New York; William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, and John Penn, of North Carolina; Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, and George Ross, of Pennsylvania; Stephen Hopkins and William Ellery, of Rhode Island; Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jun., Thomas Lynch, Jun., and Arthur Middleton, of South Carolina; and George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jun., Francis Lightfoot Lee, and Carter Braxton, of Virginia.

Bibliography. Much useful material may be found in Emmet, History of the Inception and Drafting of the Declaration of Independence; with a Collection of Autographs of the Signers, and Other Documents (New York, 1876), which however, is not generally accessible. Consult, also: Rise of the Republic of the United States (Boston, 1872); Greene, Historical View of the American Revolution (Boston, 1865); Ellis, “The Sentiment of Independence, its Growth and Consummation,” in Winsor, Narrative and Critical History of America, vol. vi. (Boston, 1888); Tyler, Literary History of the American Revolution, vol. i. (New York, 1897); Randall, Life of Thomas Jefferson (New York, 1858); Bancroft, History of the United States vol. iv. last ed. (New York, 1891); Stille, “Pennsylvania and the Declaration of Independence,” in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. xiii. (Philadelphia, 1889); Hays, “A Contribution to the Bibliography of the Declaration of Independence,” in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol. xxxix. (Philadelphia, 1900); a chapter, “The Authentication of the Declaration of Independence,” in Chamberlain, John Adams, with Other Essays and Addresses (Boston, 1898); Friedenwald, “The Declaration of Independence,” in the International Monthly, vol. iv. (Burlington, Vt., 1901); and Dana, “The Declaration of Independence,” in the Harvard Law Review, vol. xiii. (Cambridge, 1900). For collected biographies of the signers, consult: Sanderson, Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (9 vols., Philadelphia, 1823-27); Brotherhead, Book of the Signers (Philadelphia, 1861; new ed. 1875); Lossing, Biographical Sketches of the Signers of the American Declaration of Independence (New York, 1860); and Dwight, Signers of the Declaration of Independence (last ed., New York, 1895). Further references may be found in the biographical notices in this book of the individual signers.


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