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In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776 (1 Viewer)

Dave Hahn

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Here's hoping everyone has a safe, relaxing holiday!

I try to post this every year so that we can remember why we're drinking all that beer and lighting off all those fireworks.


In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

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 abolish it, and to institute 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 shewn, 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 the 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 of 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 dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations 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 benefit 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 neighbouring 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 Forms 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 compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & 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 amongst us, and has endeavoured 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 attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts 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 of 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 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.

Signed:

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

ZacharyTait

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I have to admit that it's the first time I've ever read this. I've read bits and pieces, particularly the last part, before. Some of this sounds awfully familiar, if you know what I mean. :)
 

Dennis Nicholls

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It's interesting to make a cross-reference chart between the grievances enumerated in the Declaration and the structure of government and individual rights enumerated in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
 

PhillJones

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Eh? Do what now?

What always struck me as odd is that you celebrate on July 4th. This seems odd to me as you've got to go to work on July 5th. Take a leaf out of the European book of getting hammered. Do it the night BEFORE you have a day off so that you don't have to go to work with a hang over.

Silly Americans.
 

Holadem

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The hang over is on July 6th. On July 5th, we go to work still hammered from the 4th.

--
H
 

Dennis Nicholls

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Phil, for example:

Declaration: "He [rotten King George] has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries."

Constitution, Art. III, section 1: "The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."

In this manner the Constitution solves the problems seen during the reign of George III.
 

Dave Hahn

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Phill, you silly European, :) that's exactly what we do! Most fireworks displays are on the night of July the 3rd, as are most parties. The next day, the day, we slowly nurse our hangovers with a little hair of the dog that bit us at picnics and barbecues. Of course, when the Fourth of July lands on a Friday or Saturday, we get hammered both nights! :laugh:
 

Yee-Ming

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Likewise.

Some observations: I wonder what the writers meant when referring to "abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province" etc? I'd guess they were talking about Canada, but had the Brits changed the Canadian legal system?

Also, it would seem George Washington didn't sign the Declaration? Although Presidents #2 and #3 (Adams and Jefferson) did. I also see a "Josiah Bartlett", no doubt an 'ancestor' of the fictional president of The West Wing.
 

Joseph DeMartino

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Yes, despite the difference in spelling the fictional President Josiah Bartlet is described in The West Wing as a descendent of Dr. Josiah Bartlett, who signed the Declaration. (Like his fictional descendant, Dr. Bartlett served as both Congressman from and Governor of his native New Hampshire.)

Regards,

Joe

P.S.

When I was at school in Annapolis, Maryland, I briefly lived in a dorm called the Paca-Caroll house, an actual former residence of those much-intermarried families that had been donated to my college. (If I recall the house was moved from its original location to the campus a few blocks away when the site it was built on was condemed for road construction or some other project.) My roommate was named Thomas McKeon (a variant spelling of "McKean"), but not related to the signer as far as he could determine. :) Visitors to Annapolis can tour the restored home and gardens of Charles Caroll of Carolton, which when I lived there was in poor condition and not open to the public. The gardens were sometimes invaded by drunken college students and midshipmen. (Or so I've heard.)
 

Dave Hahn

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Joseph,

Thanks for your, as always, insightful, accurate and interesting post!

If I may, let me add to the beginning of this sentence: After the end of hostilities Washington turned down an offer of his officers to use the Continental Army to place him as the new ruler, (read Military coup d'état and KING), of the colonies. He then voluntarily resigned his commission and retired to his estate in Virginia. To loosely paraphrase Twain, this was an act that astounded most Europeans and many colonists, and gratified those that knew him. This was, in my humble opinion, the single greatest act of personal patriotism by an American, ever.
 

Dave Hahn

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I'm a Free Mason; I could tell you, but then I'd have to, well, you know ... :D

Besides, after we intercepted a copy of the first-draft script for a certain movie, we moved everything of, em', interest. :crazy:
 

PhillJones

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It's been noted before, and not by me, that the declaration is mostly just whinging about King George III. ;) He couldn't help it, he was mental*.

Yee-Ming, purely as a guess, it may refer to the royal proclamation of 1763 which forbade colonists from settling or buying land west of the Appalations in order to try and keep peace with the native Americans and avoid war. Prblem is that it also tried to organize the British empire in America and gave the crown a monopoly on new land purchased from the Native Americans. That and the fact that it was a bit slow off the mark seeing as the Colonists were already living west of the proclamation line.

It's an early example of the expression of the American concept that the greater good cannot be served by the sacrifice of Individual freedom.

*I know he didn't go mental til much later, but the truth isn't as funny.
 

Joseph DeMartino

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Well, the case for independence had to take the form of an indictment of the King for a number of reasons, both political and philosophical.

First, the colonists claimed that Parliament had no right to make laws for the colonies, that they were under the direct rule of the King through their own colonial governors and assemblies or through royal governors. They could hardly deny Parliament's authority and then either appeal to or denounce Parliament. So even though most of the "Intolerable Acts" and other abuses they complained of were legislated by Parliament, some without any prompting or even support from the King, the legal case had to be made against the King personally.

Second, they knew that they had some support in England, and were therefore at pains not to alienate potential allies among the people or members of Parliament. (Hence the flattering references to the native justice and magnanimity of their "British Bretheren" and the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone of the portion of the Declaration addressed to them.)

Finally there were internal disagreements about how much blame they should cast on each party, and there were still some who hoped for some kind of reconciliation between the two sides, like the later commonwealth. (A few may even have hoped that the Declaration would shock the British into serious enough concessions that it could be rescinded, the war ended and a return to something like the status quo ante effected.) These, too, favored keeping the "quarrel" between the colonists and the King, and keeping Parliament and the British people out of the line of rhetorical fire.

Regards,

Joe
 

Yee-Ming

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I guessed Canada was involved because of use of the word "Province", which I don't recall ever having seen used in connection with an American state or entity.

Odd that Washington didn't simply sign later, if so many delegates likewise signed over the course of a year following from August 1776.

I do recall that Washington's voluntary laying down of his command, and indeed also his later refusal to run for a third term as President, being cited as reasons why the American Republic was able to take hold as a democracy, in that the 'supreme ruler' of the country would in fact peaceably relinquish his rule and allow the duly elected successor to take over, with no bloodshed or repercussions. After all, in Europe at the time 'regime change' would only occur by literally deposing the then-reigning king/queen. Instead, Washington 'walked away', and indeed IIRC Adams was a political opponent, yet was able to succeed Washington by winning the next election.

I seem to recall a novel (probably by either Frederick Forsyth or Jeffrey Archer) that involved the Declaration of Independence (probably a plot to steal it). It claimed that there was a misspelling in the original, which misspelling was omitted in a counterfeit to distinguish it from the original -- the misspelling being "Brittish". Anyone else remember this? And is there in fact a misspelling in the real thing? Wikipedia's article doesn't mention it.
 

Joseph DeMartino

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All of those who signed were sitting members of Congress - the rule being that you had to sign it in order take your seat (for reasons discussed above.) Washington had resigned his seat in Congress when he took command of the Army, and he never resumed it. Since he was not a member at the time independence was voted and the delcaration approved, and never sat in Congress afterwards, there is no reason why he would have signed it. He had a great deal to do with American independence, of course, but he had nothing to do with the declaration.

Adams was a political ally of Washington's. The Founders and the Framers despised political parties or "factions", as they called them, and made no allowance for them in their constitutional scheme. That's why under the original voting system the top two electoral vote getters became presidend and vice president. Personal rivalaries were taken for granted, but it was assumed that everybody would govern according to the same general prinicples of small-"r" republican government. That there would emerge a real split between farm and city, centralized government and state's rights, and the myriad other divisions that later developed was not anticipated. (The Constitution had to be ammended later to establish the current system of two candidates from the same party running for president and vice president.)

Despite these assumptions, two main parties had arisen by Washington's second term, the Federalists (represented by Washington himself, Adams and Alexander Hamilton) and the Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson.) Today's Republican party is descended from the Federalists (through the Whigs, who were founded by people who had previously belonged to the collapsed Federalist Party, just as the Republicans were formed by people who had broken away from the dying Whig Party), while Jefferson's "Republicans" later became the Democratic-Republicans and finally the Democratic Party.

It was Adams' succession by Jefferson the really cemented the idea that there could be a peaceful and orderly change of governments even between political rivals. (There is a legend that Adams deliberately snubbed Jefferson by "slipping out of the capital in the predawn darkness' and thus skipping his rival's inauguration. In fact Adams was anxious to see his wife Abagail, who was ill and living at home near Boston, and the only stage coach from Washington to Boston left in the early morning. Staying for the inaugural would have cost him a whole day. He probably didn't mind that this also meant he missed watching Jefferson sworn in, but the incident doesn't quite fit the sour grapes interpretation it usually gets.)

Regards,

Joe
 

Kevin Hewell

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Joe, where in the hell were you when I wrote my thesis? You said pretty much what I did but you did it so much more elegantly.
 

Ron C

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A question, I'm sort of playing the devils advocate here. Where did the legislators get the idea that they deserved the rights to get treated fairly by the government? I mean, its not like they had them in the first place and they were taken away. England (and pretty much every other country in the world) were ruled by Monarchies. The concept that "normal" people should have any say in the government was certainly not common through the world. What the declaration described was pretty much normal behavior by the governments at that time. Is there a book that explains this?
 

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